Oatmeal Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

One word: YUM.  Yep, Mr. Bunches and I decided to make cookies the other night.  Why?  Well, it’s part of our no-TV week.  That’s right folks–we’ve sworn off TV this week and instead of just taking care of Mini Bunches, we decided to try doing some other stuff.  And making cookies was one such “other stuff” type thing.  Did that make sense?  Anyways, here’s the recipe.  I decided to just alter my mom’s oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe by adding peanut butter.  It was sort of an experiment, which I’ve never really done with baking, but it turned out well, so here you go:

Mrs. Bunches’ Oatmeal Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter (I used creamy, but you could substitute chunky if you prefer)
  • 1 3/4 cups packed brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup wheat germ
  • 4 1/2 cups oats (uncooked)
  • 1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup chopped peanuts (optional)

1. Beat together butter, peanut butter, and sugar until light and fluffy.

2. Blend in eggs and vanilla.

3. Combine flour, soda, salt, cinnamon, and wheat germ.  Add combination to wet ingredients and mix well.

4. Stir in oats, chocolate chips, and peanuts.

5. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet.

6. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 10-12 minutes, until lightly golden.

Makes about 7-8 dozen cookies.

I always make these in my KitchenAid mixer, and use an ice cream scoop to make even-sized cookies.

Here they are all ready to be baked.

And then after baking . . .

They don’t spread out that much, but rather maintain their shape fairly well.  I usually transfer them to a cookie rack to cool . . .

They generally don’t last that long on the cookie rack . . . I mean, just look how good that looks:

Mmmm . . .

They go perfectly with a nice glass of milk (and yes, I know that’s a stemless wine glass, but in my current state of nursing-every-two-hours, they’re milk glasses :) ).

My one last tip is this: this dough actually freezes really well.  So instead of baking 8 dozen cookies and then embarking on an all-cookie diet for the next few days (you think I’m kidding, but I’m not–I’ve done it before and yes, it’s disgusting.  And right now, with my post-baby bulges, it’s pretty much the last thing I need), you can freeze the dough and then bake only a few cookies at a time as you please.  Just scoop the dough onto a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet and then put it in the freezer for ~1-2 hours.

You don’t need to make sure that the cookies have room to spread out in the oven since you’re not baking them at this point.  So load up the cookie sheet accordingly . . .

Once they’re frozen, just put them all in a ziploc freezer bag, write the baking instructions on it, and voila!  Homemade cookie dough ready as you need it.  You may need to add an additional minute or two to the baking time since they’re frozen, but just keep an eye on them in the oven and you should be fine.

And since some of you (ahem, Auntie E, ahem) are hooked on pictures of Mini B, here are a couple to tide you over.  Looks like someone isn’t quite on board with the no-TV week . . . 

But at least she’s getting the hang of posing for mom’s never-ending photo shoots . . . of course, I still haven’t managed to catch a smile on camera, but that’s my next challenge.

Hope this finds you all enjoying your summer, and maybe some cookies?

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Babymoon, Canada-Style

Yes, so I get that this post isn’t exactly timely in lieu of the fact that our Mini Bunches arrived a few weeks early (more on her here); but, better late than never has become my new motto (and for those of you who have sent baby gifts, please understand that the motto applies to thank you notes as well–they’re coming, I promise!).

So here’s just a quick post about our last major outing before Mini Bunches arrived . . . where to?  Toronto!  Yep, we didn’t want to travel too far from home given my ginormous state  (I was 33 weeks pregnant at the time) . . .

So we just drove a couple hours north to the bumping metropolis that is Toronto.  But, of course, what trip to Canada would be complete without a little trip down memory lane for Mr. Bunches?  First stop: Port Credit, Ontario.

Mr. Bunches played hockey here as a kid and had very fond memories of the place.  And I can see why–it was freaking adorable!!  We just might have to move there, especially because directly across from the hockey arena was a rowing boathouse–I mean, could it be more perfect for the two of us?  Oh, and there was also a super rad playground that I’m sure Mini Bunches will just love some day . . .

Yeah, we were those people.

It was really neat seeing the rink where Mr. B used to play (and seeing him get all giddy about it to boot) . . .

We’ll definitely have to take Mini B there some day . . . and who knows–maybe she’ll be a hockey player like her daddy?

After our little detour, we took another brief one in St. Catharine’s and then another one in Burlington, Ontario.  We didn’t snap any pictures, but both were fantastic towns that I’m sure we’ll visit again.  We’ll be sure to take pictures when we go next time with Mini B.  But now, on to Toronto and our little adventure there . . .

First up: FOOD.  What else, right?  I mean, I was 33 weeks pregnant people!  And what better place to find food than the St. Lawrence Market . . .

Kangaroo meat anyone?

It was hard to decide what to eat with all those options, but we finally decided on some seafood at Buster’s Sea Cove (it didn’t hurt that the line for this place was about 50+ people long):

Yay salmon sandwich!

After we finished up at the market, we decided to just wander around the city and see what we could discover.  And what did we find?  Why, more food of course . . .

Yep, we discovered Marche, an amazing food market with basically everything you could ever want to eat . . .

And then look at what we stumbled upon across from Marche: a hockey store!  Oh happy day for Mr. Bunches!

Of course, unbeknownst to us, the store was actually the gift shop for the Hockey Hall of Fame.  What a happy accident, right?

We got to see a lot of cool hockey stuff, like an homage to Wayne Gretzky, aka Mr. Bunches’ hero:

A mock-up of a pro locker room (I forget which team it was):

Some interactive shooting games for Mr. Bunches to relive his glory days . . .

And there’s the team with a special place in Mr. B’s heart . . .

Some championship trophy blow-ups . . .

And a little trophy that some of you may have heard of . . .

Yep–the Stanley Cup!  Turns out it only spends about 30 days a year at the Hockey Hall of Fame, but our timing was just right–lucky us, eh?

Not too bad, eh?  We were pretty jazzed.  Anyways, to wrap this up, Mr. Bunches took me to a fantastic Mother’s Day Brunch at One Restaurant.  I wish we had taken pictures, but we were a bit too hungry (again, 33 weeks pregnant folks).

So there you have it: our last big adventure before the greatest adventure yet . . .

C’mon–you know I had to throw in at least one picture of our Mini B!

Eat Mor Chikin

They spoke.

We listened.  But no, this post is not about Chik-Fil-A opening up in Western NY.  But, this post is about chicken.  But not just any chicken.  No, no, no.  Not here in Western NY.  You see, even though it’s been over a year since we moved to WNY, there are apparently still many things that I have yet to experience.  And the phenomenon known as the Chicken B-B-Q was one of them.  That is, until Memorial Day weekend . . .

That’s right–we found ourselves a Chicken B-B-Q (basically a fundraising event that seems to be uniformly the same around the Buffalo area, and arguably around Brockport and Rochester too?  I’ll have to defer to Idiot Nation on that one, but based on Mr. Bunches’ affinity for these things, I think he started on these as a young lad, so it’s probably safe to say that they’re pretty standard around much of Western NY).

Here’s how it works: You buy tickets at the prices listed above for whichever meal you’d like (Chicken Dinner or Hot Dog–this isn’t a restaurant folks, and let’s just say varied choices are not part of the Chicken B-B-Q model).

Then you stand in line to pick up your food (using the aforementioned tickets of course).

Then, you rejoice (and avoid eye contact with the unfortunate plumber-butt situation on the bench behind Mr. Bunches).

You take your delicately-prepared mass-produced meal to an empty picnic table . . .

Of course, I wasn’t going to let Mr. Bunches have all the fun carrying our bag o’ food; Mini Bunches and I wanted our own turn . . . 

And then–enjoy!

Yep–that’s basically half a chicken, one scoop potato salad, one scoop cole slaw, a roll, and some butter.  Now, I was a bit skeptical at first, but I have to admit: I’m a Chicken B-B-Q convert.  You see, the chicken at these things seems to be exclusively prepared by Chiavetta’s and it’s pretty amazing.  It’s not slathered in a typical barbecue sauce.  No, this sucker’s marinated.  And seasoned.  And juicy.  And basically all-around delicious.

And that’s what Chiavetta’s does–it barbecues chicken.  That’s actually how we found this particular Chicken B-B-Q (usually you just have to keep your eyes peeled for a homemade sign on the side of the road)–turns out Chiavetta’s posts all the area Chicken B-B-Qs on its website (found here).  I think it’s safe to say that, while Mr. Bunches didn’t think it possible to love me anymore, when I found that schedule of events, his love reached a whole new level.  I’m not kidding–this man loves him some Chicken B-B-Q!

Turns out that Chiavetta’s is so popular in Western NY, that it’s vinegary marinade is sold pretty much everywhere.

So that’s it–the story of my first Chicken B-B-Q.  And you know what that means, right?  Those of you coming to visit this summer will undoubtedly also get the opportunity to experience first-hand the Chicken B-B-Q phenomenon.

Bonjour!

It’s finally here–my Paris recap post.  I apologize for the delay, but sorting through hundreds of pictures, readjusting to the time zone, growing a baby in my belly, and embarking on some recent house projects (more to come on those later this week) has left me little time to do the proper tribute to the City of Light.  So to do it right, and to maintain some level of order in my mommy-to-be brain, I’m going to break this post up into categories: Sights, Eats, School, and Exports.  Fair warning–it’s a long one.  Here goes.

Sights

First up, some sights.  Needless to say Paris has a TON of them, and my overly capable tour guide Dana (of previous BofJ Adirondacks fame) managed to show me most of them.

BTW–I kind of loved the fact that many of my pictures had the Eiffel Tower poking up in the background.  Sigh.

Dana managed to usher me through 15 of Paris’ 20 arrondissements (districts) in less than 72 hours.  Let’s just say that’s no small feat considering Paris covers an area of 41 square miles and we did much of our traveling on foot . . .

With so much to see in so little time, I was lucky to just catch my breath, let alone be able to snag pictures of it all.  But here’s some of the highlights:

The Louvre.  One word: MASSIVE.  Okay, some more words: way beyond anything I could have ever pictured in my mind.  It’s enormous!  And we didn’t even attempt to go in it (except to see the bottom of I.M. Pei’s masterpiece in the shopping mall underneath; sidenote: if you’re itching for a Starbucks, there’s one underneath the Louvre–those things are everywhere!).

It’s so large that there was no way I could even attempt to capture the whole of it in one picture.  So I’ll spare you my 20+ pictures of all the different pieces of it.

The Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel.  At the western end of the Louvre, this smaller Arc is perfectly aligned with the Carrousel and the larger Arc de Triomphe–can you see them?

We then ventured over to the Washington Monument and an empty fountain of mermen and merwomen hugging fish (er, at least, that’s the Mrs. Bunches version of what we saw, although I’m guessing the Paris guidebook would offer a different interpretation) . . .

Okay, so maybe that’s actually the Luxor Obelisk.  Moving right along . . .

Up next, the Ferris Wheel.  I don’t know what it is about them, but I love taking pictures of ferris wheels.  Riding in them?  Not so much.

We then ventured down a side street from the Avenue des Champs-Elysees and found ourselves outside of the Eglise de la Madeleine, one of Paris’ famous churches.  It was absolutely breathtaking . . .

They just don’t build ‘em like they used to, huh?

We then headed back up the Avenue des Champs-Elysees and got our fill of every store you’ve ever seen in an American mall.  No joke–the stores on this street were so Americanized it was crazy . . . I couldn’t believe the line outside of Abercrombie & Fitch.  Gross.

Although, there were some French gems on the street as well, like the Public Drug Store, which might have been the most deceptive shop name ever.  This store was anything BUT your local drug store:

Nope–it was a super chic store/restaurant/boutique/all things good from Paris.

I have to say that I feel much obliged to Dana for taking me on the long, touristy walk up the Champs Elysees, and I can feel quite comfortable saying that, should I find myself in Paris again, I think I’ll skip that street.  For me, it was kind of one and done.  But, we were well rewarded when we arrived at the top of the street to this site . . .

That’s right–the Arc de Triomphe!  It’s pretty dang impressive.  And well worth the walk.  Good job us.  Of course, that walk pretty much wiped out baby and me, so I pleaded with convinced Dana to take the metro home.  And I have to say I was blown away by the cleanliness of it–well done Paris.  Well done.

After our relaxing ride back, we crossed back over the Seine . . .

. . . and that was only half of one day.  Crazy, huh?  But besides some of the major sites, Dana also showed me some of the regular character of Paris . . .

A typical street (that woman better hurry up because there is no way that car will brake for her.  Absolutely. No. Chance.)

A typical Parisian man (they really do wear berets!):

Another famous historic site?  Nope–just a Paris hotel.  Ridiculous, right?

Complete with a public ice-skating rink out front and an adorable carrousel:

There was also some vandalism, although it was decidedly more tasteful than much of the vandalism I’ve seen in the US . . .

Another random monument (there was stuff like this around every corner–it was seriously crazy):

We also came across the Place des Vosges, the oldest planned square in Paris (again–thanks to Dana for her outstanding French translation skills):

The Place des Vosges is a true square–140 m by 140 m (this was also quite large and made capturing it via camera a bit difficult, so forgive the crappy pics):

There was a beautiful garden in the center (admittedly it’s likely much more beautiful in the spring/summer, but I could see the potential):

The square also housed the former residence of Victor Hugo.  Ten points to anyone who can identify Hugo . . . anyone?

That’s right–Hugo wrote Les Miserables and the Hunchback of Notre-Dame.  Consider yourself learned.

Continuing our meandering, here’s just a random little sculpture that someone decided was a good place to dispose of his water bottle.  Seriously?

I guess when there’s beautiful stuff around every corner, then you just start taking it for granted?  Who knows.

During our walkabouts, we also managed to come across a rare sight in Paris . . .

Yep–that’s a picture of someone in Paris running!  Actually working out!  I’m not sure what’s going on in Paris, but everyone’s thin and no one works out.  Seriously–we walked around 15 districts and we only came across one gym the entire time.  One!  For that reason alone I think I might need to move there–staying thin by osmosis?  Yes please.

Well, not only did we catch a glimpse of the rare Parisian runner, but we also got to walk through the Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris’ second largest public park.

I was really tired at this point and didn’t feel like backing up the two steps necessary to get a picture of the entire sign.  Blame the baby if you must.

I kind of loved that the park had public table tennis.  How rad is that?!

Dana pretty much fits into Paris perfectly, don’t you think?

So there you have it–the sights of Paris.  I have to say, everything was just spectacularly amazing–especially all the little streets with shops, restaurants, and apartments up above.  I mean, c’mon–could it really be any quainter?

Eats

As my resident partner-in-food-crime from Boston, Dana knew that one of my top priorities for my first visit to Paris was to sample the best of Parisian cuisine.  And let’s just say, Dana fulfilled that expectation ten-fold.  The food was so good, in fact, that I often found myself devouring the meal before I had a chance to properly snap a picture.  So this section, unfortunately, will be somewhat abbreviated.

My first meal in Paris was at the “best” falafel place in town–L’as du Fallafel.

We split a falafel pita and a chicken pita.  Oh, and since we were in France, a plate of frites (duh).  The food was amazing, and we were so hungry that there was no time for pictures (plus, the place was closing in 30 minutes, so we were mad-dashing it).  Two thumbs WAY UP.  So far, Dana was 1 for 1.

Our dinner that night was at L’Aoc, a quaint bistro serving only the top quality agricultural products of the area (does Dana know me or what?).  We ordered a foie gras terrine for an appetizer, which I didn’t manage to snag a picture of (it doesn’t look that appetizing anyways), but I did snap a pic of how sweetly they wrapped up the leftovers . . .

Oh, and that burlap sack–that was how our bread came to the table.  I loved that!  Up next, our main course of roasted pork loin and potatoes.  They kindly agreed to split the entree for us since neither one of us was all that hungry after filling up on foie gras and bread.

Even though we left L’Aoc completely stuffed, our walk home led us directly past this gentleman . . .

. . . and that GIANT jar of Nutella in the window.  Are you kidding me?!  There was no way we were skipping this.

Ahhh . . . my first Nutella crepe in Paris.  Can’t you just read the joy on my face?

Our next day of adventure led us first to a croissant from Gerard Mulot (we were hoping for fresh-from-the-oven ones since it was 7 AM, but somehow that didn’t happen :( ).  Oh well, I still thought it tasted great.  We then went to a half day of class (more on that in my next section), and grabbed ourselves a Parisian lunch of fresh cheese, butter, and bread.

You could smell the cheese shop from 1/4 mile away–I’m not joking.  It was crazy.  Crazy good, that is.  And the butter!!

Don’t even get me started.  I literally could’ve eaten it with a spoon.  With a nice baguette, we made ourselves quite the good lunch . . .

French bread really is better in France.  Sigh.

Up next?  Dinner at La Fontaine de Mars–ya’ know, where Barack Obama took Michelle back in 2009.  ‘Cuz that’s how we roll.  Of course, while the restaurant was always popular, since the Obamas’ visit, it’s become even more so.  Which would explain our 9:30 PM reservation.  Well, that, and everyone in Paris dines late, so we were just trying to fit in with the locals ;).  The food was fantastic–I had the special–a white fish over a bed of leeks with some sort of butter sauce:

Dana got one of their famous cassoulets, and we got an order of the best-ever potatoes gratin for the table.  Seriously, I could live on nothing but that gratin for the rest of my life . . .

We also partook of some desserts, but those were devoured way too swiftly for the camera.  Sorry.

La Fontaine de Mars is also very near to the Eiffel Tower, so I did manage to see it all lit up.  However, it was raining pretty hard, so I also don’t have any pictures of it.  Wah-wah.  Next time maybe?

Okay, with only one day of eating seeing Paris left, Dana pulled out all the stops . . . this time she took me to Angelina (and no, I don’t mean the Brad variety):

Angelina’s famous Salon de The has the most sinfully delicious hot chocolate ever created.  In the world.  I’m serious.  And it comes with a mini pot of whipped cream on the side.  Seriously?!  I could’ve stayed there all day . . .

But it was a good thing we got there early since the line forms quickly for a seat in the restaurant.  We only had to wait ~20 minutes, which was totally worth it once that little carafe of steaming chocolatey goodness landed on our table.  Oh, and they also have some pretty outstanding desserts, which we of course had to sample.  I completely forget what this was called, but it’s one of their signature items so if you go there, you won’t be able to miss it . . .

Okay, so then it was on to our last dinner together in Paris, and this one was by my request.  See, Dana has her own blog where she’s chronicling her life abroad, with the dual purpose of making us all regret certain choices in our own life and secretly yearning to follow in her footsteps.  Oops–did I say that aloud?  Moving on . . .

So a few weeks before I visited Dana, she wrote a post about her dinner at Relais de l’Entrecote where there is no menu (except for desserts and wine) because the only thing you get there is a salad starter with the most amazing Dijon mustard dressing, and then two (yes–TWO) servings of steak with french fries.  Which look like this (keep in mind you get TWO plates of this):

And that sauce on the steak?  Oh, let’s just call it a little bit of heaven.  But don’t even bother asking what’s in it because they won’t tell you.  Needless to say, that did not stop me from eating both of my servings.  Yes sir, I was most definitely a member of the clean plate club that night.  So much so that we had to skip dessert.  Er, well, at least at Relais de l’Entrecote; of course, we did manage to get another Nutella crepe on our walk home.

Oh, and apparently the popularity of this Parisian staple (with four restaurants in Paris alone) has made its way to Manhattan: Le Relais de Venise.  I seriously doubt it’s as good as the Parisian original, but it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than flying to Paris for some steak frites.

Okay, so that rounds out what I ate in Paris.  Is it sad that this section was longer than the sight-seeing section of this post?  I guess now you know where my true passions lie.

School

Most of you are probably wondering what school has to do with my trip to Paris.  Well, the reason Dana is living abroad is because she’s attending the original Le Cordon Bleu, the famed culinary school.  And that means that I got to go to class with her one day; and for any of you that know me, you know that combining food with school is basically my dream come true (yeah, I’m pretty much a nerd, so I get kind of geeked up about taking tests and going to classes).  And Le Cordon Bleu certainly did not disappoint.

Now, I’d like to say that I have a ton of pictures to share with you, but since taking pictures in the classroom is against the rules, I basically don’t.  The only thing you’re allowed to take pictures of are the prepared dishes.  So during this class, the chef prepared three items:

  1. An appetizer of Huitres Chaudes au Muscadet (Warm Oysters with Muscadet Wine)
  2. An entree of Canette Rotie Aux Navets (Roast Duckling with Turnips)
  3. A dessert of Souffle Chaud au Couintreau (Warm Orange and Cointreau Souffle)

Sounds fantastic, right?  Well, it was (they make a LOT so that everyone in the class gets to taste a sample of each).
I loved everything but the souffle (it had candied orange bits in it which, in my opinion, definitely could’ve been left out).  But regardless, watching the chef prepare everything, all the while in French (don’t worry–there was an English interpreter) was amazing.  I learned more about cooking in three hours than I have in the past few years.  Made me kind of wish I could take 8 months off to go to culinary school . . . something tells me that’s not going to happen, huh?
Exports
So now that we’ve come to the end of my uber-long Paris post, I’ll attempt to be brief.  Since this will likely be my last trip abroad for quite some time, and possibly my only trip to Paris for the foreseeable future, I figured I should get some mementos.  But shopping isn’t really my thing (obviously eating is), so I consulted the Internet and found a great article by food blogger David Lebovitz about the 10 things you should bring back from Paris.  And I got at least a few of them . . .
Dijon Mustard: apparently the French invented mustard as a strong condiment to mask the taste of rotten food back in the day.  So I figured I’d better bring some back and see what this overly zealous Grey Poupon was all about . . .
While there are about a million brands of mustard, I went with a supermarket staple: Amora.  Haven’t tried it yet, but I’ll keep you posted.
Next on the list–salt.  Apparently it comes from all different regions, and the Beluga Caviar of salt is the fleur de sel de Geurande:
I went with the supermarket brand, which only cost me about $4.  Much better than the $15 price tag on the same salt at the duty free shop at the airport, eh?
And since I was in Paris, I had to get something for Mr. Bunches.  But first, a little back story.  Mr. Bunches has some close friends with ties to Belgium; when he last visited them (they live in Philly), he tasted what he described as pure nectar of the Gods (okay, so maybe I’m paraphrasing).  Well, these friends were nice enough to send us a jar (which reminds me–I still haven’t gotten a thank you note in the mail!  AARGH–I’m so sorry.  I’m going to blame it on 1st trimester morning sickness, but I promise to get one out soon):
What is it, you ask?  Well, just take a look at the ingredients . . .
It’s basically pureed cinnamon biscuits.  I mean, c’mon!  Who’s the genius that came up with that?  I (and Mr. B) would like to shake her hand.  So, since we’ve never seen Speculoos in the US, I figured I’d better get us a back-up jar.  I couldn’t find the same organic one, but the grocery store did have lots of options (note–the grocery stores have tons of different types of nut spreads, e.g. nutella, and things like Speculoos, but they only carried one peanut butter and it was almost $8 for a teensy jar of it . . . makes you wonder what the incidence of peanut allergies is over there, huh?  But I digress . . . ).  I opted for this one:
Happy gift from Paris Mr. Bunches!
Okay, and since it was pretty painful to not be able to partake of any of the fine French wine during my visit, well, that just meant I had to bring some back.
Yep, I brought back two bottles.  I’m sure they will taste amazing in 4 months.
Yep–a. maz. ing.  4 months.  sigh.
Okay, and since I raved about the bread, I figured I should bring back a baguette from Gerard Mulot.  Just to share the bread love with Mr. B.
And last, but certainly not least, a little sweet treat: Macarons from Laduree.  Can we say beautiful?  They almost look too good too eat . . .
Now, the Parisians love their Macarons–you can see them in just about every other shop window.  I especially loved the display here–like little pieces of art:
And I wish I could say that I had pictures of the six I brought home, but they didn’t actually last too long in our house.  They were just so yummy!  My favorites were the vanilla and the colombian chocolate.  Mr. B was a pretty big fan too.  So unfortunately, I just have the darling little box left . . .
Alright kids, so there you have it.  67 pictures and 3174 words to sum up my 3-day trip to Paris.  Au revoir!

Wearing My Apron High

Now that I’m back from traveling, it’s time for me to get back to some things that I love–ya’ know, to be in the family way so to speak.  And so I thought today I’d share my new favorite bread recipe.  See, ever since my good friend Joanne encouraged me to read Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, I haven’t purchased a regular loaf of bread.  And by regular I mean the loaves that come packaged in plastic at your grocery store which can sit on your counter for weeks at a time and still be “fresh.”  Kind of like this one:

And while I love making bread totally from scratch, it does take a fair amount of time (although kneading it does give you a great arm workout–sort of killing two birds with one stone: baking and working out).  So, in the interest of practicality and my own sleep, I had to figure out a way to make good bread in our bread machine (the Zojirushi Home Bakery Supreme).  I hate to say it, but most bread machine bread tastes, well, icky–too thick crust, overly dense, etc.  And so who did I turn to?  Why, Joanne–the true queen of bread.  She even makes her own flour (she’s basically my bread hero).  So here’s her original recipe for Whole Wheat Bread that tastes good from a bread machine:

Joanne’s Whole Wheat Bread Machine Recipe

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1/4 cup milk (Joanne prefers whole, raw milk)
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 3 tbsp lightly salted butter
  • 3-1/2 cups freshly ground whole wheat flour (warmed to room temperature; sidenote: you should always store your flour in the freezer so it doesn’t go rancid)
  • 4 tsp vital wheat gluten (to supplement the freshly ground flour)
  • 1-1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1-1/2 tsp salt

Add the ingredients to your bread machine in the order specified by your manufacturer.  Bake on the “Basic” setting with the crust color set to “Light.”  Once it’s done, let it cool for about an hour on a wire rack (it’s really a no-no to cut into freshly baked bread right away).

So there you have it–Joanne’s version.  Now, for those of you (like me) who do not grind their own flour, I created a slightly altered recipe with ingredients available at the local grocery store:

Mrs. Bunches’ Whole Wheat Bread Machine Recipe

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1/4 cup organic milk (I used 1%)
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 3 tbsp unsalted organic butter
  • 2-1/2 cups organic whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup bread flour
  • 1/4 cup wheat germ
  • 2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 2 tsp salt 

Again, just add all the ingredients in the order specified by your bread machine, set to “Basic” with “Light” crust and hit go!  I’ve also made it with all whole wheat flour and no bread flour, and that comes out well too.  This last time I just ran out of whole wheat flour, so I had to improvise.

Now for the pictures–bear in mind that bread machine bread never looks as appetizing as baked-in-the-oven bread.  And with that caveat, here’s what the final loaf looked like (and yes–I’m aware of its lopsidedness):

I’d ask you to keep an open mind at this point . . . even though it doesn’t look so hot, it still tastes delicious.  Just like whole wheat sandwich bread you’d buy at the store, but without all the nasty chemicals and preservatives.

See what I mean?  Oh, and I recommend slicing it and freezing it either the same day or the day after you bake it.  Since it doesn’t have all those nasty preservatives, that means it won’t last long on your kitchen counter.  And you should never refrigerate bread–it just dries it out.  So slice it, freeze it, and then just take out slices as you need them.  I like it toasted into a nice pb&j sandwich.  Mmm . . . mmm!

Not only have I been baking more bread lately, but I also made some dinner buns the other night.  I won’t plagiarize that recipe (it came from Cook’s Country if you’re curious), but here’s a shot of my bun in the oven . . .

Hopefully I’ve convinced some of you to get that ol’ bread machine out of storage and fire it up . . .

Oh, and there was a slight ulterior motive to this post . . . can anyone guess what it was?!  Okay, I’ll give you some hints by recapping a little . . . wearing my apron high . . . in the family way . . . bun in my oven.  Any guesses now?!

Got it now?  That ain’t a basketball in my belly!  Nope–I’m pregnant!  Due this summer, and Mr. Bunches and I couldn’t be happier.  We’re waiting until delivery day to find out the sex, so we’ve got no girl or boy info for you–sorry.  And we’re also keeping names under wraps, so don’t even bother asking.  Although I hear that Mr. Bunches’ brothers are pushing for Thurman (he’s apparently some famous Bills player); um, let’s just say that they shouldn’t hold their breath. ;)

Okay, so that’s it for today.  I’m still working on getting my Paris shots together and I’m hoping to get a post out this week with all the deets on that whirlwind trip.  In the meantime, here’s one more baby bump shot–this time at the Arc de Triomphe.

A Homecoming (of sorts)

As most of you saw yesterday, we got a BRAND NEW CAR.  Nope, the novelty of it hasn’t worn off yet, so I’m still doing Bob Barker announcements each time I get in it.  I’m starting to think the Mr. might be getting annoyed, but when has that ever stopped me?  And so you also know that we bought it in Cleveland.  And since we were in Ohio, I thought it worthwhile to see if I could get a quick fix.  You know–something to quell that craving that’s been nagging me ever since we moved to Western NY.  Of what?  Oh, just my favorite place in the whole wide world (second of course to our new home, but still–it’s up there) . . .

Oh Happy Day!!  I was so excited when our Garmin found not one, but three Costco’s just outside of Cleveland and one was oh-so-conveniently right on our way back to Buffalo.  Joy.  Rapture.  Best.  Day.  Ever.  I love Costco–yes, I said LOVE.  And I meant it.

So we did some shopping.  Some serious shopping.

You know, for the essentials.  Like Cheerios.  M&Ms.  Cheez-Its.  Water.  Just the four main food groups.  (I’m actually a little embarrassed by this cart picture because we really don’t eat that much junk.  The thing is that we’re having a bunch of house guests for a little football game in a couple of weeks, so the junk food is for that.  Uh, yeah, that’s it–it’s for the football party.  I mean, I don’t even like Cheez-Its.  Or M&Ms.)

And since we had to fuel up for the ride home, food was key.  And what better place to dine than Costco?

$1.50 for the world’s best hot dog AND a fountain drink?  Yes please!

Oh how I missed you.

I love Buffalo and I love that we moved from Boston to Western New York, but not having a nearby Costco has been tough.  Real tough.  At least now I should be good for another few months.  The tremors have at least stopped.  Sigh.

Good Luck Eating

No, I’m not wishing you good luck in your eating endeavors (I’m guessing since you’ve got reading down, then you’ve probably mastered chewing and swallowing).  Nope–this post is all about a great eating discovery that the Mr. and I made (well, I actually made the discovery, but I’ll share the limelight with my Mr. B): Good Luck Restaurant in Rochester’s Village Gate (an artsy area with restaurants, studios, and shops).  The restaurant itself is in an old warehouse . . .

We liked the vibe right from the beginning–no sign (good thing we knew the address or we might have not been able to find it), low-key, unpretentious.  Just check out the candles lighting the stairs . . .

Love the Ball jar!  And then the bulletin board upon walking in the front door . . .

Pretty rad vintage pictures, don’t you think?

Luckily we made reservations since it was a Saturday night and it was B-U-S-Y.  The place was bumpin’–no joke.  They have a large bar, a chef’s table in the kitchen (um, yes please?  Of course, you need a minimum of 6 to reserve the chef’s table–any locals interested?  Just let us know . . . ), and then a good-sized dining room.  All the tables were different, but rustic; each chair was wood, but a different shape.  Kind of like Monica’s kitchen set from Friends, except not painted . . .

Oh, and check out the dark wood floors–sort of raw and unfinished with just stain thrown on haphazard-like.  Love them!  Which of course means I’m still confused about what direction we should go with our floors.  Oh well, more food for thought, right?  (Yeah, that was a pun.  Deal.)

I bet you also noticed the amazing chalkboard menu wall too, right?

Totally amazing, right?

Much better than my attempt at Big Guy’s back in Boston, but oh well–this gives me something to aspire too in case we ever go down the food road again . . . never say never, right?

The tables were set simply, with all the tools you’d need to serve a family meal . . .

. . . which was a good thing since the food all came family-style.  Yep–everything on the menu comes out of the kitchen whenever it’s ready, and everything’s served to the center of the table for passing and sharing.  Like I said before–totally unpretentious and low-key.  And yet the menu is anything but just your standard simple fare . . .

The most difficult thing about Good Luck was trying to decide what to get.  But we managed.

First up?  Drinks.  Duh.  The Mr. had himself a cold one . . .

. . . while I opted for a glass of wine.

We could have brought our own bottle for a $10 corkage fee (or you can bring a bottle on Thursday nights when there’s NO corkage fee), but the Mr. wasn’t feeling wine.  Next time.  Then we placed our order for food and got the warning from our waitress that things come out when they’re ready, not necessarily in the order that we ordered them.  We said, “No problem.”  After all, we were in no rush.  And it kind of made the meal exciting–what was going to come out next?!  Yeah, I know–not that exciting for most, but for us, it was right up there with the Royal Wedding.   We’re talking edge of your seats exciting :).

First thing to make it to our table? The Mesclun Greens with avocado vinaigrette . . . can we say ridiculously yummy?

And of course, that’s when the serving tools came in handy.  Up next?  Well, we opted for the chef’s choice small charcuterie plate–two meats, two cheeses of the chef’s choosing.  With accompaniments of course.  Ours ended up being Manchego (a favorite from our honeymoon in Spain), Camembert, Duck Confit, and house-made Chorizo (bonus!  another fav from our honeymoon).  Oh, plus some honeyed blueberries and a roasted onion jam.  Mm-mm-good!

My favorite combo?  The creamy Camembert with blueberries on a baguette.  The Mr.’s?  Manchego, Chorizo, and Duck Confit on bread.  Basically, it was all fantastic.  I could have just eaten another Charcuterie plate, but we had more goodness on its way . . .

Any guesses?  No?  Okay, I’ll spill it–that’s the Braised Oxtail with Tripe and Tomato Sauce.  Yeah–we ate tripe.  And it was good.  How’s that for exciting eats, huh?!

At this point, we were pretty comfortably full, but we had one more item on its way . . .

I forgot to take a picture of it before we attacked it served ourselves, but it’s the Grilled Lamb Sausage with Roasted Fingerling Potatoes.  It had quite a kick, but that didn’t stop us . . .

Yeah, let’s just say we were Gold Star members of the Clean Plate Club that night.

So there you have it!  Gourmet dining in Rochester?  Check!  Of course, we’re definitely going to have to go back before our big move to Buffalo (let’s just say we were drooling over some of our fellow diners’ food–you should’ve seen the 1 pound burger served family style!) . . . maybe even on a Thursday?  Good Luck finding someplace better (get it?)!  Ha!

Vegas–Take Two

Our trip with Blue Monkey Mike ended in Vegas, so of course we had to go out in style.  And since I have a sister who basically invented style, she and her beau were our go-to’s (plus, it was my sister’s birthday the day we arrived in Vegas, so what better place to celebrate, right?).  We decided to get a room at the Cosmopolitan Las Vegas, one of the newest (and in our opinion, the MOST luxurious) hotels on the strip.

Notice the balconies in that picture?  Almost all the rooms have balconies–one of the many things that makes the hotel unique.

Cosmopolitan Balcony

And the rooms?  I think my sister said it best with simply, “This is the best hotel room I’ve ever seen . . . ” (and coming from her, that’s saying A LOT).

Yeah, we not only had our own private balcony, but also a living room, mini kitchen (complete with a dishwasher!), a massive closet and dressing area, jacuzzi tub, separate shower, two huge TVs that controlled everything from the lighting to the room temperature (there were settings for romance as well as party–not only did the lights change, but so did the music), and all the hip accessories to make you wish you were that cool.

Colored pencils?!  Yes–colored pencils.

But I think my favorite parts were the hidden surprises . . . like the toilet room with it’s amazing wallpaper that made you look twice:

There’s nothing like some naked lady silhouettes when you’re in the loo, eh?

But hands-down my favorite was the closets . . . are you ready?!

(That’s all leather trim by the way.)  Shall I open them for you?

How fantastic slash creepy is that wallpaper?!  I totally want to do this to the closets in our master bedroom–what do you think?  Quick post update–I found this wallpaper!  It’s Tema e Variazioni Wallpaper by Cole and Son in their Fornasetti Collection and costs about $100 per roll. 

Okay, but enough about the Cosmopolitans’ rooms–they were just the beginning.  The hotel also had fabulous restaurants and shops.  To celebrate my sister’s 21st (sort of) birthday, we dined at Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill which was truly outstanding . . . both the food and the service were excellent.

We then let my sis and her beau have some alone time while we went and met up with a couple locals . . .

Yep, just a couple of the Mr.’s buddies . . . you may remember Matt from Vacation Bunches’ last trip to Vegas:

I’m not sure if he’s the one on the right or the left . . . but either way he was in town “on business” and so we met him and Taylor out for a drink at Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill at Harrah’s (sidenote: if you want to do some country line dancing next time you’re visiting Sin City, this is your place).

Of course, I got tired pretty quickly, so the boys walked me back to the Cosmopolitan and then decided to put on their gambling pants for a bit (and by a bit, I mean until 4 AM; no worries, though–they both came out winners that night).  Apparently, this was where it all went down (yep–that’s a private table for high rollers at the Cosmo; in short–don’t ask):

The next morning started with brunch at the Cosmopolitan’s amazing buffet, Wicked Spoon (you may remember that we visited it on our last trip to Vegas), and we couldn’t wait to get back in there.

We were pretty hungry once we arrived since you have to walk practically a mile to get there (the hotel is H-U-G-E), and there was some enticing artwork along the way . . . chocolate shoes?  Yes please!

Oh, and there were these old-school cigarette machines called Artomat that sold mini art from Etsy artists . . . how cool is that?  (The Mr. bought me two–isn’t he sweet?)

The walk also lent itself to some out-of-the-ordinary photo ops that my sister totally rocked . . .

Yeah, we were a bit ridiculous.

All that posing though really worked up our appetites.  Good thing it was all you could eat . . .

Cheese polenta with roasted mushrooms, mac and cheese, a pork bun (far right above), polish sausage, and some shortribs and pasta (hiding under the lid).  Not to mention the beet salad!!  Love, love, love me some beet salad (gotta give a quick shout-out to Joanne for introducing me to the wonderful world of beets) . . .

Beet Salad at Wicked Spoon

Oh, and the dessert bar?  Yeah–I hit that.

Wicked Spoon Dessert Bar

After we rolled out of left Wicked Spoon, we decided to walk the strip a little.

And found ourselves at Sugar, the posh sweet spot in Paris Las Vegas.

They had every type of sweet imaginable: from the world’s largest gummy bear . . .

World's Largest Gummy Bear

. . . to everything in bulk you could possibly ever want (including a Happy Birthday lollipop shout-out for my sis):

Even Jeremiah found something . . . looks like my sister was going to be getting an extra-special birthday treat.

Sugar Candy Underwear

I think she may have been more entranced, though, by the cupcakes on display . . . sorry Jeremiah!

Sugar Cupcakes

What a fun store, huh?

It even put the Mr. in a dancing kind of mood (sugar rushes tend to do that for him) . . .

After we got our fill of sweet sugary goodness, we headed back to the Cosmopolitan to say goodbye :(.  But first, we did a bit more marveling at all the swankiness that the Cosmo had to offer (and we may or may not have gotten a backstage tour of the most popular day and night club in the world, Marquee Las Vegas–sometimes opening the unlabeled doors in a hotel has its perks).  But sorry, no pictures of that–I was too scared wowed.  But here’s the ground level of the Cosmopolitan’s Chandelier Bar, an amazing three-story bar that makes it feel like you’re literally sitting inside a chandelier.

Chandelier Bar

The Bond Bar also had some cool bits and pieces, although I’m sure it’s much more lively at night than when we were tooling around . . .

Bond Bar Gaming

Love this wall treatment . . .

Alright, so that’s all she wrote . . . I’ll leave you with this image of the Grand Canyon from our flight home.  Sigh.

Blue Belly Grill

Blue Monkey Expeditions just keeps delivering, but this time, instead of amazing vistas and soul-satisfying hikes, it’s fabulous food.  Our welcome dinner was held at the Blue Belly Grill at Zion Ponderosa Ranch, and it totally blew us away.

I’m still kicking myself for not bringing my camera to dinner to photograph the amazing array of food that Executive Chef Francis prepared for us, but it’s probably for the best–if you saw pictures, you’d be starving for it . . . we started with Buffalo Nachos (yep, with Bison meat), a farm-fresh crudite with chipotle dip (it included the best-tasting carrots I’ve ever had, and also re-introduced me to jicama . . . yum!), and home-made grilled flatbread with an olive oil dipping sauce (basically a combination of all things perfect in this world).

The salad course was next with a choice of a chipotle ceasar salad (amazing, with just a hint of heat) or a bowl of baby greens with a blue cheese viniagrette (dynamite–a crowd favorite for sure).  Chef Francis then surprised us with her Besos Calientes (that’s “hot kisses” for those of you non-Spanish speakers) which was a huge shrimp wrapped in bacon and grilled with a spicy barbeque dipping sauce.  FAN-TAS-TIC.

Entree choices included salmon, organic chicken, or steak, and all rivaled the most gourmet preparations I’ve ever had.  I’m getting hungry just thinking about it again . . .   And then, as if that wasn’t enough, we were served a huge apple crisp (with apples from the farm right down the street) to finish the meal.  Yeah, we had to roll out of there.

Mallorie worked the front of the house, and she was the absolute epitome of a great server (this pic was taken on our last night, from the ranch’s casual restaurant, Gus & Rosey’s).

The nice thing about staying at Zion Ponderosa was that we got to see the same friendly faces at breakfast that we saw at dinner the night before, including both Mallorie and Francis (we grabbed Chef Francis for this shot as she was running back and forth from the kitchen to the dining room).

Everything we ate (breakfasts, lunches, and dinners) at Zion Ponderosa was wonderful, and I think that’s because Chef Francis had a hand in all of it ;).  Here’s a shot of the casual dining room at the end of a dinner service . . .

So if you find yourself visiting Zion National Park, I highly recommend taking a drive out to the Blue Belly Grill–you’ll definitely be happy you did!

Westward and Onward

To celebrate the acceptance of the offer on our soon-to-be home, we’ve headed west!  Okay, so maybe we had this trip planned for months, and it was just really coincidental that it started the day our offer was accepted, but either way . . . we’re in the midst of adventouring (yep, that’s another homemade word by yours truly; deal with it).  So far, the trip has been AMAZING, thanks to our fantastic tour guide, Blue Monkey Expeditions.

Blue Monkey Adventours

Blue Monkey picked us up from the Paris in Las Vegas after we (of course) sampled yet another buffet at Le Village BuffetQuick side note: don’t do the Paris breakfast buffet; at $15.99 per person, it’s most definitely not worth it.  You’re much better going across the Strip to the new Cosmopolitan hotel for a couple bucks more (I think $17.99) at the Wicked Spoon and eating food that you can’t prepare yourself at home.  Last time we were in Sin City, that’s what we did and it was totally worthwhile; unlike this sad shot:

Skip it

But enough about Vegas; Sin City was just the starting point for our adventure, which began when Mike and Carrie picked us up in the travel van . . .

Blue Monkey Rider
We met our other adventourers (10 in total, including us) and quickly became friendly in the way that only happens when traveling in a van over a long distance with strangers.  We headed to Zion National Park, where our first stop was at the Kolob Canyons.

Yep, it was basically Gorgeous with a capital G.  We did a short hike up Timber Creek Trail and had a picnic lunch along the way.

The Mr. himself was pretty excited . . .

And look how sweet our guides looked at the first stop . . .

We even managed to catch a glimpse of some of the local wildlife, which only wet our appetites for sightings of more critters later in the trip . . .

This was such a great way to get a taste of hiking Zion before we embarked on a full-day adventure in the heart of the park the next day.  Of course, to get to our resort, we had to drive all the way through Zion, and that was difficult–at every turn we just wanted to jump out of the van and soak in our surroundings, but we had to press on . . .

The drive itself meandered through the park, and included a pitch-black mile-long tunnel!  Boy were we glad that Mike handled the twists and turns so well!  Every way we looked was awe-inspiring . . . check out the moon’s cameo in this shot:

We eventually arrived at Zion Ponderosa Resort, where we would be staying for three nights.  It was tucked away in the canyons surrounding Zion and was truly a remarkable place . . . great food, mini golf, campfires, ziplines, ATVs, barn dances, cabins–you name it, and they had it.  The place is owned by the founder of JetBlue, but you’d never know it from being there.

The staff was outstanding, and our cabin couldn’t have been more cozy . . .


Doesn’t the Mr. just look so outdoorsy?!  Blue Monkey totally outdid themselves and picked a great place to call home for a few days.

Okay, so more tomorrow on Zion, Bryce Canyon, and even Lake Powell (we’re in Lake Powell now) . . . but for now, I’ve got to go get my adventouring on (I think if I use the word enough, then it’ll catch on–what do ya’ think?). :)

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