New York City (Part 1) – Jul 2011

When we were planning our summer trip, Dave suggested we stay overnight on the East Coast before flying all the way to the West Coast.Β  It just so happens that my sister lives in NYC, and Qatar Airways has a direct flight to JFK, so we planned a 24 hour layover there before we headed out to LAX.

We arrived around 2:30 PM or so on a Friday, and breezed right through customs. We had arranged for a taxi for pick us up, so we called when we landed, and they came in about 10 minutes. We hopped in the car and headed to the Bronx, where my sister lives.

Unfortunately for us, we arrived on one of the hottest days in New York! It was 104 degrees! While we are certainly used to the heat, but we’re also pretty accustomed to air conditioning everywhere. We arrived at my sister’s apartment where she had made us fresh, delicious bacon sandwiches! It was the perfect thing to welcome us back to the US!

After eating, we just took some time to relax and get settled, and then it was time to head to Eataly, where we had reservations at the roof top beer garden! While it was really hot, it was still a really neat place! Eataly has a bunch of restaurants and shopping center on the main floor, but we wanted to do the beer garden πŸ™‚

Here’s Dave and I with the Empire State Building behind us!

Here’s my sister and her boyfriend Allan πŸ™‚

After a yummy dinner and a few beers, we were exhausted and it was time to go home for some rest!

The next morning we hopped on the subway and headed to a cute little place called The Smith. We met up with Aja, a good friend of my sister’s from Cincinnati who had just recently moved to NYC. I met her when my sister lived in Cinci, so it was great to see her again! We had great brunch cocktails, food and conversation! I had the best Eggs Benedict!

After that we headed back home so we could go to the airport to head to LAX. Little did we know, we wouldn’t be going anywhere that day 😦  We got to the airport super early, and were all checked in, and about an hour before we were supposed to leave, we were told our flight was canceled due to mechanical issues.

After a lot of waiting, we were told a new flight had been created for us and we were re-booked at 8 AM the next morning. So we picked up our luggage and headed to the information desk to find a hotel close by for the evening. We found a Holiday Inn Express that had a shuttle to and from the airport, and had a vacancy, so we booked it. They handed us some menus at check in, and we ended up just ordering a NY style pizza for dinner and spending the night relaxing.

We also stopped in NYC at the end of our trip, and that will be another post – too much to put here! Stay tuned for Part Two πŸ™‚

Summer Vacation

Did you go on vacation every summer with your family when you were younger? We very rarely went on vacation, unlike some of my friends who go to go to the beach every single summer! I was always jealous of those friends! They were so lucky.

Summer in Doha is possibly one of the best times to be here (aside from the scorching heat)! Since the majority of the population are ex-pats, a lot of them head home for the summer. So Doha becomes aΒ  ghost town, especially at the universities.

While I don’t have the whole summer off, and have to work hard during June/July for end of fiscal year, I was able to take a few weeks this summer to travel with Dave back to the US to visit friends and family, and attend a family reunion and wedding.

We decided to make a few stops while in the US, and I’m not sure that was the best idea! We flew from Doha direct to New York, then to LA, Montana, and then back to LA, NY, and Doha. Not to mention that I am an over packer, and had to drag my 50 lb suitcase everywhere! Pretty sure we won’t do that much traveling within the US in the future.

I’ll be breaking down the trip by city – since we did so many different things! It really was a wonderful trip, and a well needed break. We were lucky to see a lot of our families on this trip, and a big thanks to those that also traveled to see us!

For now, we’re back in Doha, getting over our jet lag and preparing for the start of the semester! It’s bound to be a busy one! πŸ™‚ Hope you are all having a great summer, and I’ll try to post more about our trip soon!

Zumba! :-)

Before moving to Doha, Dave and I used to live in Regent Square, which is an awesome neighborhood in Pittsburgh. We were only a few blocks from some good eats, drinks and shopping. It’s one of my favorite neighborhoods, and I would love to live there again someday!

There is a karate studio there, and one day I saw a sign advertising Zumba. I had heard about it, and knew it involved dancing, which I love to do, so I decided to try it out. I grabbed some friends (so I wouldn’t feel silly going alone) and attended a class. It was a blast while still being a really great workout. Zumba involves lots of latin dances, like cumbia, salsa, mambo, samba, tango, etc.Β  It also involves really great music to dance to! At first, you have no idea what you’re doing, and you spend most of the class laughing at yourself. The more you go, and start to learn the routines, then you can begin to work on your technique, since you’re no longer trying to concentrate on what your feet are doing! πŸ™‚

We had two of the most amazing instructors who coreographed really fun dances that made class fly by! I became a regular attending two classes a week, and more if possible. (If you’re in Regent Square, go see Krista and Erin! You won’t regret it)!

When I found out we were moving to Doha, I was immediately sad to think I’d have to give up my weekly Zumba classes. The Zumba website lists classes all over the world, and in 2009, there were no classes in Doha. Fast forward to 2011, while browsing the Zumba site, I decided to search again. To my surprise, there are about 4 or 5 instructors teaching twice a week in various locations around the city!

I emailed the instructor who teaches evening classes, and told him I was planning to try his class. He was enthusiastic and gave me all the information I needed. The first class was great! Everything I remembered and loved about Zumba was there. I’m now becoming a regular in his class, learning the routines, and enjoying every minute!

I’ve also introduced some pretty willing friends to Zumba, and they’ve enjoyed themselves and also continue to come with me πŸ™‚ I’m excited to be back doing Zumba, working out and having fun at the same time πŸ™‚

If you’re looking for a fun way to work out, burn some calories, dance and just have fun, then Zumba is for you! Check out a class in your neighborhood! You can search here on Zumba’s website:

Zumba Classes – Search

So come on! Join the party and ditch the workout πŸ™‚

 

 

More Dubai :-P

Just got back from another Dubai trip…possibly our last one for the summerΒ  😦  Here’s a few highlights of this trip!

On Friday afternoon for lunch, we checked out Shake Shack! Their original location is Madison Square Garden in NYC, and this is the only international location. I am not sure what they do to their burgers, but it was delicious! Definitely one of the best I’ve had over here!! We’re planning on a visit or two to In N Out when we’re in LA, so we’ll have to see how it matches up!

After our burgers and shakes, we had an awesome movie theater experience! The Reel Cinemas at Dubai Mall offer what they call the Platinum Suites seating, which offers you the luxury of recliners, blankets, pillows, and your very own call button in case you need to order food or beverages during the movie. Also, it’s over 18 only, so its a quiet, enjoyable way to watch a movie!

We decided to see the Hangover Part 2, so we purchased our tickets and headed up the Lounge. While waiting for the movie to start in the lounge, we looked over the menu and decided what to order. I got some popcorn and a black currant slushy. (They had lots more options – nachos, samosas, crepes, etc but we ate lunch and weren’t all that hungry). About 20 minutes before the movie started, we were taken to our seats, and shortly after, the food we ordered was delivered to us. It is definitely a great way to enjoy a movie!

And while Hangover Part 2 was slightly edited (as all movies are in the Middle East), we still enjoyed it! It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a proper movie! Here’s me and Marisa all comfy, ready for the movie to start πŸ™‚

After the movie, we decided to head back to our friend’s, Marisa and Kevin’s place for a little cookout. We stopped at Waitrose to pick up some magical pork goodness that included hot dogs, brats, and bacon! πŸ™‚ We also got some veggies and cheese to snack on while we were busy waiting for all that food to cook! We had a great time at our friends house, and we got to meet their cute little kitties!

We finished off the evening with some gelato from Cone Street, located on the JBR, called The Walk. It was conveniently close to our hotel, and they make a lemon mint gelato that is fantastic!

Lastly, I need to talk about an amazing place for lunch in the Middle East. We’ve not been to Automatic for Lebanese twice, and both times, it’s been phenomenal. It’s casual, inexpensive lebanese food, but it’s so good! We always get the hummous (creamiest, smoothest hummous I’ve ever had!!!), garlic paste, and chicken schwarma plate. Then combine it all together on some fresh pita, and you’ve got a yummy, inexpensive meal. I am all ready craving more!

Sorry this post is mainly about food….but there are such good options in Dubai! Despite the summer heat, we still managed to have a great time in Dubai πŸ™‚ Looking forward to heading back soon I hope!

Boot Camp!

So my boss and her friend started doing a boot camp program and they were always mentioning it to me (mostly about how sore they were)!! πŸ™‚ When the second session came around, they asked if I’d be interested in joining. I thought about it, and figured it would be a good way to kick my butt into gear and shape up a little for the summer. So I said yes!

I went to my first class (which was a Saturday) not knowing what to expect. I met Joe, our instructor, and he went over all the different exercises we’d be doing that evening. They included jumping rope, using resistance bands for our arm exercises, stability ball for ab crunches, and lots of lunges/squats/push ups etc. It looked super easy when Joe did it….but I soon found out it was not so easy!

The class consists of circuit training, and went around the room three times in total. I definitely used muscles I haven’t been using in quite some time! It was almost sort of fun….dare I say it? πŸ˜›

The next morning after my very first class, I was incredibly sore! It hurt to walk, take the stairs, everything! I was worried that I would be unable to do anything useful Monday night at our next boot camp class. Monday came and I went to class. Surprisingly, my muscles reacted by working through the pain.

After class was over, I felt what what runners must feel when they finish a marathon! I felt great, and was actually excited for the next class! Boot camp also really made me think about what I eat, drink, etc. So I’ve decided to stop drinking soda and trying to eat healthier all around. So I’m trying to reach for veggies instead of junk food when I am hungry! It’s not easy, but it’s a good start for me!

The session lasted three weeks, and we just finished up the final class this past Wednesday! While it’s been grueling and sometimes difficult, I am definitely glad I decided to do it!

For the nest few weeks, Joe is on vacation, so we’re off until he returns. In the meantime, I am going to check out Zumba, which has finally come to Doha! I know I’ll love Zumba, so I still haven’t quite decided what I’ll do about boot camp when Joe returns. I’d like to try and do both….but I might exhaust myself by working out that much. I’ll need to decide in a week or so! I’ll keep you all posted πŸ˜›

Also, if you’re in the Doha area, and are interested in joining….let me know! Joe is always looking for more people who’d like to join!

Dubai!

I apologize for not blogging more often, it’s been a really really crazy and busy few months! With the upcoming summer, I hope to be a little less busy, so I’ll try my best to blog more!! πŸ˜›

I’ve mentioned in a few posts here and there that I’ve been going to Dubai for some quick weekend trips, once for my birthday, another time to see Usher, and a few other times just to see friends. I thought I would post some highlights from all my Dubai trips, and give some tips on where to go if you ever find yourself in Dubai (much more likely than finding yourself in Doha)! πŸ˜›

1. Friday boozy brunches are quite popular in Dubai, and I think we’ve stumbled upon the best one! It’s at Spectrum on One at the Fairmont Hotel. This is a fantastic brunch with so many food options! Everything from sushi, dim sum, all you eat king crab legs, fresh crepes, a cheese room, mojito bar, martini bar, carving station, schwarma/mixed grill station, tons of desserts and teppenyaki made fresh! I am sure I am forgetting things, but it’s a fantastic brunch, and the prices vary depending on what you want to drink. It’s definitely worth a try at least once! And definitely call ahead for reservations.

Here’s us at brunch for my friend Rena’s birthday!

2. Burj Khalifa – This is a super touristy thing to do, but if you’re going to be in Dubai, it’s worth it to do it so you can say you did it! I’ve done it twice now, and will do it again if other visitors come to Doha, and we hop over to Dubai. The elevator ride is fun, and there is an observation deck that you can overlook all of Dubai. It’s not too scary (or at least I didn’t think so), and it was neat to see it from the top! Again, book tickets in advance onlineΒ  if you decide to go!

Me at the top of Burj Khalifa! (Well the 125th floor at least)!

3. Barasti Beach – This is one of my favorite spots in Dubai! It’s a place where you can relax, hang out on the beach in the sand, enjoy some drinks and shisha with friends in a low-key, non club setting. It’s the kind of place I wish Doha had!

4. Souq Madinat – This is a mall designed to look like a souq, but mainly with your regular mall stores in it. There’s a Starbucks, Cinnabon, and Baskin Robbins along with lots of other shops to browse around. There are also lots of restaurants, and since it’s attached to a resort, they sell alcohol. We prefer Trader Vic’s for good food and drinks.

5. On our most recent trip, we spent time at the Dubai Creek, and really loved it! It’s the older part of Dubai, and it has a lot of culture. We went to the gold souq, spice souq, and rode an Abra across the creek for 1 dirham. We had a blast!

Riding an abra across the creek!

These are just some highlights of fun things to do while in Dubai! If you are really going, and need suggestions on hotels and other touristy stuff, let me know, and I’ll be happy to recommend more things you can do while you’re there! πŸ™‚

Pasta Jenny

What is Pasta Jenny, you might ask? It’s what my husband has affectionately nicknamed my version of Penne Alla Vodka.

I am sad to admit that for me, Pasta Jenny used to be jar sauce (For shame!), with vodka and cream mixed in, and then just adding the pasta. Quick and easy dinner right? But as I start to try more things in my quest to become better at cooking and baking, I’ve found a recipe that makes the sauce from scratch, and I haven’t looked back! No more jarred sauce for me, ever!

I initially found this recipe on one of my very favorite blogs, The Way the Cookie Crumbles. This is the same blog where I found my new pizza crust recipe. Bridget of The Way the Cookie Crumbles is awesome – she has great recipes, gorgeous photos, and she does a lot of comparisons between numerous recipes to determine which is the best. (I am currently trying Alton Brown’s The Chewy Choc Chip Cookie thanks to her – more on that later!). But back to the penne alla vodka!

I saw this recipe on her blog, and I knew I had to try it! It came together easily, and it’s soooo GOOD! The first time Dave tried it, he asked if I made the sauce from scratch, and I was proud to say yes! You can definitely taste a difference if you’re used to using jarred sauces. Give this recipe a try, it’s quick, easy and really delicious! Maybe your husband will give it own nickname πŸ™‚

Check out Bridget’s pictures – they’re way better than mine πŸ˜›Β  Also, I agree with Bridget’s notes on this one. Feel free to edit this however you like, it won’t turn out bad! I use regular canned unseasoned tomato sauce instead of diced tomatoes because we like ours saucier. I usually omit the basil because I can’t find it here. I never make this the same, but it’s always delicious.Β  Trust me πŸ™‚

Penna alla Vodka

(Sourced from How the Cookie Crumbles & Cook’s Illustrated)

My omissions/additions are in Italics.

Ingredients:

1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved (I’ve used half diced, half sauce as well as all sauce – it’s personal preference)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Β½ small onion, minced (about ΒΌ cup)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
ΒΌ-Β½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp Italian Seasoning (I usually add this to the tomato mixture)
1/2 teaspoon sugar – I like a little sweetness along with the spicy in this dish!

1/2 tsp table salt
β…“ cup vodka
Β½ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil leaves (I usually omit this since I can’t find it here, but add it if you have it!)
fresh parmesan cheese, for serving

1. Puree half of the tomatoes in a food processor until smooth. Dice the remaining tomatoes into Β½-inch pieces, discarding cores. Combine the pureed and diced tomatoes in a liquid measuring cup (you should have about 1β…” cups). Add reserved tomato liquid to equal 2 cups. (I don’t measure this out, since I use all sauce and no diced tomatoes normally, and it’s fine).

2. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and tomato paste and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are light golden around the edges, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and pepper flakes; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

3. Stir in the tomatoes and Β½ teaspoon salt. Remove the pan from the heat and add the vodka. Return the pan to medium-high heat and simmer briskly until the alcohol flavor is cooked off, 8 to 10 minutes; stir frequently and lower the heat to medium if the simmering becomes too vigorous. Stir in the cream and cook until hot, about 1 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large Dutch oven over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta. Cook until just shy of al dente, then drain the pasta, reserving ΒΌ cup cooking water, and transfer the pasta back to the Dutch oven. Add the sauce to the pasta and toss over medium heat until the pasta absorbs some of the sauce, 1 to 2 minutes, adding reserved cooking water if sauce is too thick. Stir in the basil and adjust the seasoning with salt. Divide among pasta bowls and serve immediately, passing Parmesan separately.

Enjoy! πŸ™‚