It’s a Wilderness Out There

April 23rd, 2014

Dear Friends,

April has been a full, exciting and, frankly, exhausting month for The Wilderness Girls. We have traveled for work and for fun and for work again. Big events, heavy workloads in our day jobs and family members who needed our help have made it tough to post on our regular schedule so we are taking the rest of April as a mini-vacation to rest, recharge and get ahead of our crazy schedules.

We love our readers and our blog and we appreciate your support. See you in 2 weeks!

Warm Regards,
Christina, Jenny and Rachael

Organize It: Navigating the Grocery Store

April 16th, 2014

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Grocery shopping is hands-down one of my least favorite chores. It’s crowded, people aren’t paying attention and by the time I get through the checkout line and to my car, I am ready for a stiff drink and a nap.

Even with all the chaos in the store, I have found a sure fire way to shop as quickly and efficiently as possible, and get out relatively unscathed. Just like my tips in my last post — Organize It: Meal Planning Tips — the key is planning and organization.

Step 1. Make your grocery list.

Once you have your meals planned for the week, make a list of everything you need for those dishes. After that, add staples — like milk, eggs and bread. Finally, add any miscellaneous items you are in need of like cleaning supplies, soap, toothpaste, etc. (I keep a pad of paper and pen in my “junk drawer” in the kitchen so that I can write down items that we run out of immediately. It helps me to remember them when I go to make my grocery list.)

Step 2. Organize your grocery list to the schematic of your store.

Have you ever gotten all the way through your list only to realize that you forgot an item that is on the other end of the store? Me too. The solution to this is to organize your grocery list to the flow of your store. So, you will group all produce together, and then group items by aisle.

For example, see my list (top) and crude (er, I mean, super amazing) drawing of the layout of my local grocery store (bottom):

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You can see that I go from right to left in the store, and I have my items grouped by aisle from right to left. Doing this keeps me from having to look at my entire grocery list every time I go to a new section of the store. I just have to review the list for that particular area of the store. I have had far fewer instances of getting home and realizing I forgot something by doing this method (although it does still happen, usually with ice, because I am so happy to be done that I forget to ask the cashier to add it to my bill).

This method will be tricky at first, but the more you do it, the easier it will be, and you will then be able to combine steps 1 & 2.

Step 3. Organize your cart.

Ok, you have your list and you are ready to go. So, now what? When you get to the store, make sure to set up your cart before you get started. I like to put my reusable shopping bags in the top basket in the cart and then I keep my list and a pen in my purse along with the bags.

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I also make sure that I have my store’s loyalty card and payment card ready to go in my wallet. There is nothing that stresses me out more than realizing that my debit card is not in its normal spot when I am halfway through the checkout process.

Step 4. Divide and conquer. (If you bring a shopping buddy.)

This step I can only do if my husband comes with me to the store. If you have an organized list, you can easily put your shopping buddy to work! When we are in the produce section, for example, I will assign items for Bryan to go and gather, and we then are able to more quickly get through our list and get home.

If you have kids that are old enough that you feel comfortable with them helping with this step, it’s a great way to get them involved in the shopping process.

Step 5. Review and check.

After you get through each aisle/department, do a quick visual check of your cart and list and ensure that every item you have checked is actually in your cart, and that you haven’t missed any items on the list.

Step 6. Get out of there!

You did it! You survived your weekly trip to the grocery store! Now it’s time to head home, put away the groceries, clean your reusable bags (I make this a part of my grocery process so that I remember to it every time), and put your feet up. You deserve it!

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Do you have any tips on surviving the grocery store? Share them in the comments below.

Happy shopping!

I Pinned It, I Did It: Microwave Fudge

April 14th, 2014

My Mom is pretty famous in our family for her fudges. She makes a chocolate fudge with marshmallows and walnuts that is always a hit at parties and people can’t seem to get enough of her peanut butter fudge. At Christmas time she creates an assembly line and sends bricks of homemade fudge in those small Priority Mail flat rate boxes from the post office. The truth is, she doesn’t really enjoy making the fudge. It’s quite a chore for her with all of the cooking and stirring over a hot stove and watching to be sure you don’t scorch the chocolate or overcook the peanut butter to a dry, crumbly mess. In fact, watching her make fudge over the years made me not want to try it for myself because it seemed like way too much hassle. That is, until the day I read about Dark Chocolate Almond Fudge.

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Photo credit: Mary Younkin, barefeetinthekitchen.com

I’ve known food blogger Mary Younkin of Barefeet in the Kitchen for several years and I have always admired her work. Her recipes are delicious and well-tested. She offers a wide variety and includes lots of gluten free options if your family needs them. She also has the perfect recipe for Dark Chocolate Almond Fudge and — get this — it only takes 90 seconds in the microwave!

I figured 90 seconds was within my candy-making skill set and it met my threshold for prep time so I had to try it. It was a hit. Everyone loved it and when I shared how quick and easy the recipe is, my tasters were astonished. This got me thinking about Mom’s peanut butter fudge. What if that could be accomplished in 90 seconds as well? If I used the basic recipe from Barefeet in the Kitchen what other concoctions could I create?

Using Mary’s ratios and method, I created a few more varieties of quick microwave fudge. Check out her blog for the exact recipe and technique.

Dark Chocolate Orange Fudge
This one was a fan favorite among my taste-testers. The consensus was that this reminded them of the chocolate oranges that are popular at Christmas time. The texture was soft and the orange flavor was just right.

You can make this variety by substituting the following ingredients: 1 bag (12 oz) of dark chocolate chips, 1 can of sweetened condensed milk, 1/2 stick of butter, and 1 teaspoon of orange extract

Peanut Butter Fudge
Taste testers really liked this variety, but the consistency was really sticky. I ended up using a chef’s knife to cut this into small squares but I had to run the knife under hot water between each cut. I then loosely wrapped it in parchment and stored it in the fridge. Once cut, the squares dried a bit and became firmer. I think letting this one hang out in the fridge for an extra day exponentially improves the texture.

You can make this variety by substituting the following ingredients: 1 bag (12 oz) of peanut butter chips, 1 can of sweetened condensed milk, 1/2 stick of butter, and 1 teaspoon of Mexican vanilla extract

Mint Chocolate Chip Fudge
This one was a whim and I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out, but I wanted to re-create the essence of mint chocolate chip ice cream. It worked and everyone loved it. Of all of my experimental batches, this had the firmest texture and cut most easily. While it doesn’t necessarily beat a chocolate craving because mint is the predominant flavor, it is a nice sweet bite after a meal.

You can make this variety by substituting the following ingredients: 1 bag (12 oz) of white chocolate chips, 1 can of sweetened condensed milk, 1/2 stick of butter, 1 teaspoon of peppermint extract, and 3-4 drops of green food coloring. I garnished this with a handful of miniature semi-sweet chips I picked up in the bulk food section to complete the mint chocolate chip ice cream look.

The ease and popularity of these varieties has inspired me to try more. I have plans to try layering flavors to create Dreamsicle and root beer float fudges. Christmastime recipes are dancing in my head and they include dried cranberries and crystallized ginger. The possibilities are endless!

Are you a recipe modifier or do you go by the book? What variations might you try on this tasty recipe? Let us know in the comments below.

 

Ready for Takeoff: Flying with My Dad

April 8th, 2014

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This past week, I flew to Dallas for a business trip. I am not the best flyer, but since it’s the fastest way to get from Point A to Point B in most cases, I have learned to deal with it over the years. The scariest moment for me has always been as the plane speeds down the runway and takes off.

When I was a kid, my dad had a little trick for getting me through this phase of the flight. He would say “Jenn. We have to help the plane take off, are you ready?” and as the plane would race down the runway, we would turn our arms so they were on our laps but facing up, and we would move our hands upward in a jerking motion, as if we were helping to lift the plane from below. We would sometimes even grab the armrests and pretend we were pulling them up. Anything we could to “help” the plane into the air.

You are going to laugh, but whenever I can, I still do this (Bryan will vouch for that). When I can’t, the thought of it makes me smile, and distracts me enough to get me through the takeoff.

This is a memory I cherish because any time I fly, I think of my dad, and the weird habit he gave me to get through takeoff.

Do you have any superstitions or acts that help you get through stressful times that you learned from your parents? I would love to hear your nostalgic moments in the thoughts below.

Wine Tasting Party: An Experiment

April 4th, 2014

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Wine is both something I love, and am intimidated by. Whenever I go to a restaurant, and the waiter pours a “taste” of what I ordered, I am able to fake my way through the swirl, sniff and sip test, but I am not really sure what I am looking for. Instead, it feels like a ransom I am paying to get the rest of my glass of wine from the waiter, who I probably wrongly assume is a master of all things wine and judging my every move.

After years of being a drinker of wine, and stressing out every time someone asked me to bring a bottle for dinner (fearing that the jig would be up, and they would see that I know nothing of this beverage I claim to love), I decided enough was enough. It was time to learn more, and what better way than to host a wine tasting.

I invited my fellow Wilderness Girls, Christina and Rachael, as well as my friends from work, Laura and Erica, and we booked a day to start the first of what will be a series of tastings. I wanted this to be a journey that we took together, so that we could help improve the process as we went.

For my first tasting, I decided it would be a good idea to go back to basics and focus on Cabernet Sauvignon. I did some online reading, and headed to Total Wine to pick a bottle from each of the regions that are known for Cabs (France, US, Argentina, Chile and Australia).

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I had appetizers and seltzer available for us to enjoy as everyone got acquainted, and bought some chocolates and cookies for dessert. I didn’t concern myself too much with what I served since we weren’t doing a pairing with the wine, but it doesn’t hurt to look online to make sure you aren’t serving a spice or type of food that might clash with the wine if it lingers on the palette.

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The first tasting was far from perfect, but we learned a lot and had a fantastic time.

Here are my tips from our experience:

Tastings are best done with a group of 6-10 people.
I started by inviting 8 and we ended up with 5, so in the future, we are going to build our group to 12 so that we always have a larger number at each event. The more opinions and knowledge around your table, the better. You may be surprised at some of the facts your friends know, and at our tasting, everyone brought some new tidbit to the table.

Laura taught us that the “legs” are what you look for after you swirl, as they will drip down the glass, and the higher the alcohol content, the stronger the legs will be. Erica chimed in that she learned from her wine tasting trip to Argentina, that the best Malbecs have a 14% or higher alcohol content (and we also found this to be true in our small sample of Cabs). Rachael advised us when tasting that if we wanted to have a better sense of the elements of the wine, to inhale a little air through our mouth as we let the wine cross our palate.

Plan ahead.
Unlike my normal routine, I had a particularly busy week and did the majority of my planning the day before and the day of the event. If you are hosting, you don’t have to be an expert on the wine you serve, but it helps to do some research so that you can select wines properly. What I did was pick a wine from each region that Cabs are known for coming from, but what I would do next time is pick the best regions, and then both research options through an online wine site and survey my attendees for suggestions.

As a group we decided that a wine cheat sheet would be the perfect addition to future events. On the sheet we will list the traits and information on the type(s) of wine we are serving so that each attendee has access to review them during the tasting.

Keep score.
If you are a novice group, start with a simple scoring sheet. We used this scoring sheet from Total Wine, but half of us didn’t even use the scoring method and just took notes. For me, it almost made the experience too intimidating and less enjoyable. You can always add to the sheet you start with after each tasting. We are customizing our own sheet for our next event.

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Have a “control bottle.”
If possible, have a “control. bottle” What I mean by that is if you are focusing on one type of wine, buy a bottle that you know for sure is a good representation of that wine. It will ensure that you have something to compare everything else to, and that you know at least one of the selections will be good. We decided to end with the “control bottle” for future tastings.

Put your big girl pants on.
Try not to get offended if a few of the wines you selected score poorly with the group. I totally failed at this with my first tasting. The first three wines were a mix of “this is ok,” “tastes like a Pinot – a bad Pinot,” and “meh.” Being the perfectionist that I am, I didn’t want anything to go wrong, and ideally, I wanted all the wines to be good. But that’s not realistic or helpful. The point of these events is that you have the opportunity to openly discuss wines with your friends in a safe environment. And the interesting thing was that except for two wines (Michel Gassier (France) and Chateau Los Boldos (Chile)), we all disagreed on whether or not we liked most of them. So, next time, I will remember the big girl pants.

Make it a team effort.
I learned a lot at our first tasting and am already looking at wine bottles differently (for example, I never cared about the alcohol content before, but with some wines it makes a difference). The biggest thing I learned was that a tasting will go best if you make it a team effort. We all were there with the same goal – to learn – and you can’t be too proud to ask for help, or assign tasks.

At the end of the event, over dessert, we had a discussion on what we are going to do differently next time, and things that we wanted to keep from our current tasting. We agreed that we will have this same discussion after each tasting so that we can continue to improve the event.

Here are our items to keep or improve for next session:

* Keep the white tablecloth. I read that having a white tablecloth helps in the swirling stage when you are looking at the color, and we found this one to be true. This tip is a keeper, and if you decide to do this, you can get a very affordable tablecloth from Amazon.

* Go potluck. Having one person prep and pay for all the food is a lot, and most everyone who came wanted to bring something anyway, so we will all contribute food in the future (unless the host prefers to do it all themselves).

* The host selects the wine. Although it might be fun to have each person bring a bottle, we decided that it’s better to have the host do the research and select all the wines.

* Buy-in fee. We each decided that all who attend will chip in a $15 buy-in fee for the tasting. Our hope was that this would enable the host to buy a few inexpensive bottles and potentially spring for a more expensive bottle for our “control bottle,” if needed.

* Increase the attendee count. We are adding a few more people so that regardless of schedules, we always have a group that ranges from 6-10 people. The more people that attend, the more we learn.

* Take more pictures. I realized by the end of the night that I had very few pictures of the event, so make sure to keep your phones handy. It is a good idea to assign that task to one attendee each event so that one person has it top of mind.

We already have our next tasting adventure booked. We will be sampling alternative whites with our wonderful host, Laura.

Check back in May for a recap of our second event, and for an additional post this summer with our official “Guide to Hosting a Wine Tasting Party.”

Organize It: Meal Planning Tips

March 27th, 2014

Eating out is bad for your wallet and your waistline, but we succumb to the temptation on a regular basis because we can’t figure out how to incorporate cooking into our busy schedules. In addition to picking out meals and shopping, the prospect of making a meal when we get home from an exhausting day at work usually has us waving the white flag in defeat, and speed-dialing our local pizza place for delivery.

How do you get out of this cycle of fast food and delivery every night? The key is developing a meal plan routine.

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Each Sunday morning, I sit down with a cup of coffee and put together a meal plan for the week. I then plot out my grocery list and hit the store (keep an eye out for a future post with tips on efficiently navigating the grocery store).

Step 1: Recipe Research
The first step is to decide what you are going to cook for the week. This can be an overwhelming task, so I have three sites I would recommend to help you in getting started.

Pinterest: Like most of us, I am on Pinterest daily, so I pin recipes as I see them, and then use my boards as a one-stop shop for planning my week.

Sweet Peas & Pumpkins: This Jamie Oliver Food Revolution award-winning blog is written by self-proclaimed “foodie mom” Sweet Pea Chef. She tasks herself with designing healthy meals that her kids will actually eat. One of my favorite recipes is her Mexican BBQ Chicken. I marinade sliced chicken breast, along with peppers and onions, and use it for tacos. I also love her Sesame Ginger Chicken Burgers.

Skinnytaste: Skinnytaste is another site I visit daily, and most of our meals come from here. Gina creates recipes that are delicious and low-calorie, and she lists all the nutritional information on her site (including Weight Watchers Points!). Our favorites include her Stuffed Buffalo Chicken Breasts, Zucchini Tots and Turkey Chili Taco Soup.

Tips on picking your meals:

* Whenever possible, try to pick at least one meal that you can have for two nights. This makes it so that one night during the week, you just have to reheat your meal instead of starting from scratch.
* If the recipe makes more servings than you need (say it’s six servings and you are a family of two), cut the recipe in half, or use the leftovers for lunches, or freeze them for future meals.
* Share ingredients between recipes. Did you find a recipe that uses a 1/2 pound of chicken, but you are buying a pound? Find another recipe that you can use chicken in so that you reduce food waste.
* Don’t pick complicated meals. I usually do a quick read-through on any recipe before I add it to my meal list to make sure that it’s not something that needs to simmer for 3 hours, or something that has dozens of steps in order to complete. The more complicated it is, the higher your chances are of giving up and getting take out.
* Want to be adventurous? Check out Rachael’s post on how you can source locally grown produce inexpensively. Most of these local vendors will even provide recipes on how you can use your produce. It’s a great way to save money, and be more inventive with your cooking.

Step 2: Schedule Meals
Once you decide what your meals are going to be by day, either take a piece of paper and write them out, or do what I do and compose an e-mail to yourself. In the e-mail, I usually list out each day, what we are having, and below that I put a hyperlink to the recipe, for easy access. I title the e-mail “Recipes for the week of (Date Here)” that way it’s easy to find in my Inbox.

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It is a good idea to take inventory of any produce or perishables you have before you make your schedule for the week, and use items that are close to expiration first. For example, if you have a zucchini on hand that’s starting to get a little soft, you can schedule your Skinnytaste Zucchini Tots for earlier in the week.

Step 3: Make a Grocery List
Finally, you have to make your grocery list. To do this, I go through each recipe, write the ingredients on my grocery list, and then go into the kitchen and cross off any item I already have. When I don’t do this, I usually end up buying something I already have, which is why I have three tubs of white pepper.

The more you practice your routine, the better you will get, and the easier it will be to shop each week. I can tell you from experience that if you have the ingredients at home, you are more likely to stick to your meal plan.

Do you have any tips on creating your own meal plan? What recipe sites are your favorite and why? I would love to hear about it in the comments below.

Bus Adventure

March 25th, 2014

When was the last time you rode the bus? For me, it was just a few weeks ago at the invitation of my daughter, Betty. My Mom doesn’t drive because she is visually impaired so she and my daughter ride the bus together all the time. No matter how mundane the destination, Betty has christened these little trips “bus adventures” because, when you really think about it, everything is an adventure to a two-and-a-half-year old.

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On the day of our bus adventure, Betty invited me to join her and G-ma for a trip to the playground at the mall. Usually when the three of us go anywhere together it is by car, so this “Three Generations” bus trip was a first. Since she never knew me as a broke twenty-something, Betty thought I never rode a bus before and she wanted to show me how it’s done. She told me all about how we hold hands at the bus stop, how we put our dollars in the machine by the driver and where to find the best seats. When we got close to the mall, she told me all about pulling the cord to make the bus stop and reminded me to say “Thank You” to the bus driver on the way out.

Parenting my daughter teaches me new things all the time, but this was the first time she actually realized she was teaching me something. Of course, I asked a lot of questions, being a first time rider and all. She was so confident. I could see it in her body language, her strong little shoulders and her head held high as she looked me in the eye and explained each step of the process. Later, as we rode home from the mall after playing hard in the kids’ zone, grabbing a slice of pizza in the food court and making an impromptu stop at The Disney Store, I watched her as she quietly looked out the window at the neighborhoods going by. She was sleepy but satisfied; proud of herself. I thanked her for taking me on a bus adventure and told her what a good job she did teaching me how to ride the bus. She snuggled into me and sighed, “I love you, Mommy.” It was a pretty good day.

I <3 PHX: Bodega 420

March 21st, 2014

A couple weeks before Christmas I wanted to get a few jars of Peanut Butter Americano to give as gifts, but I missed the public market that weekend. Fortunately, the PB Americano website pointed me to Bodega 420 as one of the places I can get a PB fix any day of the week. One visit and I knew this was my kind of place.

Bodega 420 sits at the corner of Fifth Street and Roosevelt, in an old house right in the middle of an active community full of artists, students and young professionals. In 2012, owners Adrian & Mona Fontes and John Sagasta recognized the neighbors needed groceries and other basics but lacked easy access to those everyday essentials. They opened Bodega 420 with a small assortment of products and decided to see how it would go. The sign outside touts hardware, smokes and snacks but this little store offers something better than all of that – connection with the community.

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The shop is eclectic with a wide variety of merchandise in a pretty small space. In the first room, there is the counter where you can buy basic convenience store things like cigarettes, candy, headache or upset stomach medicine, allergy remedies and condoms. Above the old fireplace behind the counter hangs a pegboard full of hardware and art supplies. When I asked Adrian about it he told me, “It’s back there so [customers] need help with it, which makes an interaction happen. It’s not just grab it, pay for it, and leave and keep your head down and don’t talk. You have to actually interact to get to that stuff, and that’s by design.” Customers can also ask for bulk grains, beans and pastas. Local musicians count on Bodgea 420 for a little stash of everyday music essentials like strings and drumsticks and can even special order instruments and supplies.

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¿Wachoo Want?
On day one the owners painted a chalkboard on the front wall and christened it “The ¿Wachoo Want? Board.” Customers add products to this communal wish list and their neighbors come along and add a checkmark if they agree. When an item gets enough checkmarks it is added to the product assortment in the store. This is also how they’ve grown from a few shelves of hardware and household basics to include an expanded selection of grocery items, an impressive variety of fresh produce, music and art supplies, bulk foods and local specialties. Their newest endeavors include a weekly farmer’s market and new cold-pressed juices.

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Fresh Produce in the Food Desert
Before Bodega 420 the neighborhood was a complete food desert which means there was no place to buy fresh, affordable, healthy food for miles in each direction. Now, local produce from Crooked Sky Farm on 16th St & Buckeye shares space with hyper-local fare that is grown on-site.

The garden is in its second year and going strong. Carrots, bok choy, spinach, arugula, lettuce, kale, parsley, fennel, sweet peas, beets, basil, heirloom tomatoes and sunflowers grow in the rich earth that master gardener Tim has coaxed and composted from desert tan to rich brown. The kale plants are so prolific that they look untouched the day after Mona and Adrian harvest them for juicing. Their parsley patch can’t be stopped. I can only hope the heirloom tomato starter I bought will do as well under my care as they’re doing in the bodega garden.

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Local Favorites
One of the many things I love about Bodega 420 is the focus on local. The community needs a reliable source for Spaghetti-Os and ramen noodles and you’ll find those items on the bodega shelves. You’ll also find Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap right next to the Irish Spring because there is a demand for both products. Sometimes people are surprised that a place that carries so many fresh foods and local products would also carry Hunts ketchup or Fancy Feast cat food, but that’s what the community wants and needs so that’s what is on the shelves.

Still, there are many local treasures to be found. All of the ice cream, butter, farmer’s cheese and Greek yogurt they sell is from Udder Delights in Gilbert. The eggs come from Hickman’s Farm. I already mentioned the PB Americano – they carry all the flavors and the new almond butter, too. The peppers, pickles and relish are by Mrs. Klien’s and made over on 43rd avenue. They carry coffee beans from Jobot coffee just across the street. The Olive Leaf Tea Company just opened their first brick and mortar store but Bodega 420 was the first place to give them shelf space to sell their product. If you need seasonings you can find the locally mixed Slavo Salt or the most perfect chile powder and condiments ever from Santa Cruz Chile and Spice Company. When the demand for e-cigarettes increased, they found a local supplier who produces lab-grade product in a safe environment, so they rolled out a line of e-cigs and accessories just in time for First Friday this month.

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Art and All the Rest
As if all of this wasn’t enough, Bodega 420 is a gallery. Adrian says, “Every month we put a new artist up. [This month’s artist is] a photographer and you can see her work all through the store…so that’s how we do our art shows. And it is really a function of sticking with the roots of the place. We’re in an arts community, so we want to have art on the walls.” In addition to the artists they nurture, Bodega 420 is something of a business incubator. There’s a jeweler who sells her work in the shop. The soap guy makes his product just a few blocks away and sells it at the market. Local artists were asking for more types of paint but it wouldn’t work well at the shop so Adrian urged a neighbor to create a paint shop on his property. A small children’s clothing shop called The Squid and The Monkey got its start at Bodega 420.

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Tonight is Third Friday. If you’re in the ‘burbs like me, consider a trip downtown tonight and be sure to stop by the store. Grab yourself an old-fashioned Faygo Root Beer, sit down on the porch and chat with a new friend. Listen to live music. Watch the people go by. Be part of a community and appreciate all that Bodega 420 has to offer. I hope to see you there!

Birthday Ditch Day!

March 19th, 2014

Birthday ditch day was born four years ago when I was having lunch at one of my favorite CenPho spots – Postino – with some co-workers. It was a beautiful spring day and we were sitting on the patio, eating and lamenting how we wished we had the day off, so that we could drink some wine and just enjoy the weather. That’s right. Birthday ditch day was spawned so that we could day drink on a work day. That first ditch day, two of my girlfriends took the day off with me and we hiked, got manis and pedis, and drank wine.

We had our very own “Treat Yo Self” day ala Donna and Tom from “Parks & Recreation.”

Ditch day technically doesn’t have to be a weekday or an expensive endeavor. My friends, Adele and Chris, spend a weekend day for Chris’ birthday each year together as a family, and end the day with a trip to Whole Foods to buy ingredients to make dinner. If you want to keep it even more simple, there are a lot of free items you can get on your birthday, so you can use your ditch day to take part in Rachael’s favorite tradition – the birthday freebie scavenger hunt!

Ditch day for me has evolved into taking a Friday off with my husband Bryan, and spending the day together. Although each year the agenda is different, the idea of spending some weekday quality time with my best friend has become a birthday tradition that makes my teenage self green with envy.

This year we had donuts and coffee on the couch, then I headed out for some morning pampering at my favorite mani/pedi spot. Pink glitter nails? Yes, please!

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After a relaxing morning, we headed to the Phoenix Art Museum to see two exhibits I have been really excited about – “Read My Pins!” (a selection of broaches from the collection of former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright) and “Lifelike” (an exhibit where the art is not necessarily created in the medium that it appears to be – I will be writing a future post on this).

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The rest of the day involved food (lunch at Short Leash Hot Dog’s brick & mortar store – Sit…Stay! and dinner at my favorite Phoenix occasion restaurant, The Gladly) and a movie.

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We had such a good time that we are already planning out what we might do on Bryan’s birthday ditch day.

Just because we aren’t kids anymore, doesn’t mean that we can’t take time to relax and enjoy getting to be another year older. What will you do this year on your own ditch day?

I <3 PHX: Desert Botanical Garden

March 17th, 2014

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When I say “Phoenix”, what comes to mind? Most people would likely respond with something about our intense heat or the vast Sonoran Desert that stretches through Arizona. If you’ve never traveled to Phoenix you probably underestimate the amount of delicious food, art and history our great city has to offer. The Desert Botanical Garden is one of my most favorite places in Phoenix to visit. Each trip to the garden is a new experience, an opportunity to witness nature’s lifecycle. A Phoenix Point of Pride, the DBG opened in 1939 and boasts over 55,000 plant displays stretching across 140 acres of land. It’s a sprawling oasis in the middle of the city. Acres of cacti are flanked by lush gardens filled with shade trees and wildflowers. Native wildlife is all around too, from butterflies and hummingbirds to rabbits, lizards and squirrels.

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Over the weekend, Rob and I went to the DBG to see the Chihuly in the Garden exhibition. Dale Chihuly is a world renowned artist, best known for his brightly colored glass sculptures which are massive and extravagant. The exhibition was like nothing I’ve ever seen. In Chihuly in the Garden, Chihuly has created colorful pieces of glass that mimic the native desert plants. The pieces appear to have been planted and many seem to have grown since the exhibit opened, they stretch out and curl around the plants they share space with. At times it felt like a wonderful Easter egg hunt, walking along the meandering trails we’d spot a splash of color, and walk just a little bit faster, anxious to see what was up ahead.

The DBG is open daily from 8:00am-8:00p. General admission tickets for Chihuly in the Garden are $22.00 (adults), $20.00 (seniors), $12.00 (students) and $10.00 (children ages 3-12). Note: ticket prices vary based on current events and featured exhibition.

Have you been to the Desert Botanical Garden? What’s your favorite place to visit in Phoenix? Be sure to let us know in the comment section below.