November 18, 2017

That Time I Made Chicken Marsala...

I decided to bring back an old feature, and only some weeks. I stopped using my recipe blog, so why not post some food stuffs here sometimes?

This recipe is easier than you think, it's super-duper yummy, and it's one of my favorites. Yes, I just said 'super-duper.' Anyway, like in all my recipes calling for some kind of wine, I use grocery store cooking wine so feel free to do the same if you don't feel like hitting up a liquor store.

Chicken Marsala

Ingredients:

3 boneless chicken breasts
1/4 c flour
1/2 tsp salt
pinch ground pepper
1/2 tsp oregano
4 Tbsp olive oil
4 Tbsp butter
8oz c fresh, sliced mushrooms
1/2-3/4 c Marsala wine


Directions:
1) Slice chicken breasts into two or three pieces, height-wise (...? I didn't know how to describe this in words so it actually makes sense, so I found a picture online, I guess it's butterflying, but cut all the way through.)









2) Mix together flour, oregano, salt, and pepper.
3) Heat the oil and butter in a large skillet on med-high heat until butter is melted and bubbling lightly.
4) Dredge (coat) chicken pieces in flour mixture and cook on medium heat on each side for about 2 minutes, moving to a plate afterwards.
5) Once all chicken has been cooked and removed, add mushrooms to skillet and cook for about 2 minutes.
6) Stir the mushrooms then add the wine to the mushrooms.
7) Return the chicken to the skillet, over lapping pieces if needed, so that it's at least partially submerged in the wine. Add a little more wine if needed.
8) Simmer for 5 minutes, then flip the chicken pieces over, and simmer for an additional 5 minutes.
9) Serve and enjoy!

November 17, 2017

That Time I Went to Great Stirrup Cay...

One of the stops on my recent cruise was at Great Stirrup Cay (pronounced "key"... look it up). GSC is owned by Norwegian cruise line so the only way to visit it is to cruise there (specifically on NCL).

Because it is a private island, lunch is provided for free, just as the buffet is on board, and drinks are included if you have the beverage package. 
I think there were 4 different bars to get drinks from, they were all packed by mid-day. We went to the island early and were able to get drinks easily for the first couple of rounds.
Also because it is a private island, it is BEAUTIFUL. There are no businesses or residents to trash the island or pollute the water.
Getting to and from the cruise ship requires a ride on a "tender," a small ferry-type boat that holds about 100 people.
If seas are rough, NCL will skip this port because the tenders are more affected by the waves than the giant cruise ships are. I feared this would happen as we were technically still in hurricane season, but we were met with calm seas and beautiful weather that day.
There are several spots to hit the beach. The farther you go, the less crowded. The beach is sandy but there are rocks in the water. Boyfriend and I did okay barefoot but water shoes may be advisable. We just tread lightly. You are able to go out pretty far and still be able to touch the ground in some areas.

We were there the first week of November and the water was exactly warm enough to be easy to get into while still being refreshing.
On the beach there are loungers which are free, loungers with a top that are not free (I would call these cabana's but...) and cabanas that are rented ahead of time through NCL - small and large.

The fancy cabanas are away from the sand, have loungers, chairs, and ceiling fans. As far as I know you still have to go get drinks yourself.

For lunch there is a buffet (I recommend the ribs) and a taco stand (we were underwhelmed with all varieties). It was pretty good for not having to pay for lunch as you would at most ports. Something to note: There are 4 buffet lines that are all identical but only two of them are obvious. Go over to the side of the buffet pavilion and skip the line.

If you want some Bahamas merch, you can shop for souvenirs at the "straw market" (what I would call kiosks).
Before leaving the island, make sure to stop by the photo op tower (to the right after going thorough the entrance, past the straw market near some of the lounger-cabanas and get a shot with the ship behind you.
Though honestly, you can do this in a lot of places on the island, this is just where you can get closest.
I highly recommend selecting an NCL itinerary that hits GSC if you are cruising the Bahamas or Caribbean.

November 16, 2017

That Time I Rode a Bike...

Recently my campus got a ride share program called Zagster. I was interested in it as it is sometimes difficult to get from point A to point B in a timely manner. I signed up for an account right away and finally gave it a try today.

It works either by text or a smartphone app. I located a bike at a nearby station, or which several are located around campus.
 I followed the instructions to unlock the bike of my choice, put my purse in my basket and off I went... feeling just like Lorelai.
What I learned en route to my destination is that I'm even less in shape than I thought. I knew that all the walking up stairs on my cruise two weeks ago was going to be hard. I even had to do the elevator a couple of times on the last day because my legs weren't getting time to heal.

A slight uphill on the bike CRUSHED me. I am aware that the campus is sloped but it's not that noticeable when walking. On the bike was another story. It's exactly like walking up stairs, very steep ones. I lowered my gear which helped a little but eventually had to walk part of the way. Yes, this was embarrassing.

I reached the nearest Zagster location to where I was going, locked my bike up and skipped away (okay, I didn't really skip).

The return trip was all downhill and I had no problem on the way back.

I like the program in theory. There was one time that I was on foot and wanted to grab a bike but the station I went to had none available. I wasn't on a time crunch so I just walked, but had I been counting on the bike I'd have been upset. I may try to use it more now, just to get a different kind of exercise than walking.

November 10, 2017

That Time I Cruised The NCL Breakaway...

After much anticipation I have completed my first NCL cruise! So. Much. Fun. And that is saying a lot because going in and out of NYC in late October, it was too cold to spend time outside on days 1, 2, and 7. I realized about 3/4 of the way into this post that I didn't even mention the ports of call. Since this post is already long enough, I decided to write separate posts about them. We satayed on the boat in Cape Canaveral, and visited Great Stirrup Cay, NCL's private island in the Bahamas, and Nassau,  Bahamas.

Our day started with actual NYC pizza. Because we had to. We went to a spot called Don Antonio's that is close to the nearest Metro stop to the Cruise Terminal (we stayed in a hotel the night before and were on foot). They open at 11:30 but we were running late, and had a bit of a hike to the pier (15 minute walk), so we sped the process along by asking for the check as we finished ordering.
We then paid the check before getting our food which allowed us to ditch out as soon as we were done eating. Worth it because the pizza on board was pretty awful.

Pier 88 is enormous.
We were toward the back of the ship which meant checking in and boarding all the way at the end of the terminal. I was glad to be wearing my walking shoes because it was like walking through an airport.

We ended up at check in around 2pm, waited in a slow-a** line, and were amongst the last to board.

Day 1
We made it to the ship and were immediately assaulted with a spray bottle of hand sanitizer... I think? The crew member held the bottle out to us and said "washy-washy!" Additionally there are hand sanitizer and hand washing stations all over the place. I get it... but... the bird flu outbreak was years ago.

We got to our balcony cabin (14216) and it was beautiful! It was one deck down from the Garden Cafe (buffet eatery), so I was worried it would be kind of loud based on warnings I've read about cabin locations. We did hear running a few times but it was really not bothersome, and was only during the day. The only thing I would change about the cabins is that none of the on-demand movies were free and there was no way to know what movies and TV shows (one channel for each medium) ahead of time.
We waved goodbye to New York from our balcony since it was all rainy outside.
We had dinner the first night at the Cirque Dinner and Jungle Fantasy since we knew it was going to be chilly outside. This was $47 and I would say worth doing exactly once. The dinner was decent but not amazing and there is a prix fixe menu. Ask for a second round of drinks early- like, when your food is delivered, or you may not get a second. The show was pretty good which combined with the meal  is worth the money once, but not really worth seeing a second time.
The dinner was pretty small so afterwards, Boyfriend and I hunted down O'Sheehan's for some wings - his favorite. We returned for wings many times throughout the week. We didn't try everything on their menu, but we also recommend the ceasar salad, steak fajitas, and coney island hot dog, and discourage you from ordering the spinach/artichoke dip. The nachos looked sad and were meh. The brownie cheesecake is also really good if you want dessert.

Day 2
We started the day with room service for breakfast. Breakfast room service, basically continental breakfast items, does not have a charge, but any other food is a flat $7.95 per delivery. The food was fine but the coffee was bad so we didn't bother for the rest of the trip.

First thing on the agenda was a Meet & Greet that was organized via Cruise Critic. The setup wasn't super conducive to chatting with people, unfortunately, but there was a raffle for which I won a deck of cards, and I met some folks I'd met though the Cruise Critic forum who I then kept running into throughout the cruise which was fun.

After the M&G there was a "slot pull" which means, everyone puts in the same amount of money, everyone does x amounts of pulls, and then the winnings are split evenly. We each lost $2, but there was a prize for highest pull so I left with a bottle of champagne! (Though I'd rather have had the $135 :P )

Days 3-6

We tried breakfast at Margaritaville because it's the only meal you can eat there for free. There was a small buffet set up and we ate outside which was still a bit chilly but nice. After we were done, we stopped at the main buffet (Garden Cafe) for a beverage. We learned that Margaritaville's breakfast was a mistake. The buffet had everything Margaritaville had and more. If you want to eat outside, get your breakfast at the buffet and take it upstairs.
It wasn't until day 4 that Boyfriend said that Carnival wins for breakfast food because of the lox and bagels we had on the Vista last year. I remembered that someone had posted a photo of exactly that in our meet and greet Facebook page. I went back to it and someone had even asked where to get it and the answer was also posted. Days 5 and 7 we dragged ourselves out of bed in time to get Boyfriend the smoked salmon he so needed.
Rock of Ages is a must-see. I am dead serious. As soon as you can, make a reservation for it. It is a musical but every song is a rock song that you know-and-love. If it helps, it's like how Mamma Mia uses only Abba songs... but has a plot that is interesting, not weird and boring.
Second City is pretty famous and I should have been excited that they were on board. But they are a sketch/improv troupe and I really just wanted to see stand-up comedy. That said, their shows were all very funny and I recommend seeing them at least once. I opted for the shows that are scripted and used NCL's iConcierge app to find out ahead of time when which shows will be and then made reservations at the box office.
Burn the Floor this was a great show but I wouldn't call it a must-see. I generally like singing and dancing but it was just kind of boring to me. If I do another cruise that has Burn the Floor, I would try to be at dinner in Manhattan room when they will be there (they alternate b/t some Burn the Floor numbers and a jazz band. The latter is very good.).

I've never done an Escape room before because it doesn't really appeal to me, and it's expensive. We saw that the Breakaway has "Escape the Big Top" which is an Escape Room type game that takes place in then Speigel tent (their circus tent-like theater that Cirque takes place in), and thought it would be fun because its free! SPOILER ALERT: I'm not going to give everything away, but It. Is. Really. Hard. Especially if your randomly assigned teammates are more hindrance than help. Rather than "escaping," you are racing other teams to solve the puzzle(s) first. None of the teams in my time slot completed the mission in the allotted time. I will give one clue that is needed because of bad graphic design: SOME OF THE RED LETTERS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE ORANGE. YOu'll see what I mean. Use your cell phone flashlight to tell them apart.

Our favorite food the entire week was their Linguine with Prawns in the main dining rooms. It was prepared with mushrooms, Parmesan cheese, and lobster cream sauce. I got it because I love all of those things, but did not expect it to be SO good.
Boyfriend and I loved it so much that we finished dinner, went to see Second City, and went back and each ordered another one. The waiter was really confused that we didn't want any appetizers. I said, "we had a late lunch." We also got dessert this time (we didn't have time at First Dinner), the lava cake, which was also amazing.

We hit up two specialty restaurants on board: Ocean Blue, a seafood restaurant, and Wasabi, a sushi restaurant.
Wasabi is a sushi bar. It has some interesting menu items that are decent. Not sure if intentional or not but we had to ask for wasabi to add to our sushi. We would have liked if there were some standard items since we just wanted a bit to eat, not a full meal's worth.
We went to Ocean Blue specifically so that I could get lobster. I got the whole-lobster. They had cracked it open for me making it easier to eat, but it was a bit dried out. Not as good as the mushroom pasta. That is saying a lot. Boyfriend got the scallops and pork belly which was good but tiny. I think it was 3 scallops and 3 pieces of pork belly. My advice would be to go for a drink and just the calamari appetizer which was amazing.
We also had dinner once at the Shanghai Noodle Bar. I like the thing I ordered, Peking Shrimp and Chicken, and Boyfriend really liked the pork dumplings. We didn't make it back a second time because the menus int he MDRs sounded better the rest of the week. If anyone from NCL is reading this: have the Noodle Bar open at lunch time, at least on sea days. The we would have gone way more.

The main reason we booked this cruise was due to it coinciding with Halloween. We didn't REALLY have money to spare for it, but the price was decent and Boyfriend was turning 30 the day before the cruise, so we splurged. There wasn't a huge Halloween aspect to it. There were cheesey Halloween decorations put out all over the ship and there was a dance party that included a costume contest at Spice H20. It was pretty fun. Being on a cruise, I felt that this was the only time I'd ever not feel under-dressed/over-exposed in this costume, and now Boyfriend might stop suggesting it as my costume every year.
The GLOW Party sounded like fun, but we didn't really feel it. We packed white clothing to wear and everything, but we arrived late so we missed the glow paint and the light up wands. We were able to get a (terrible) long island iced tea in a light-up cup, but we didn't know we were going to be charged for them until it was too late which I was not happy about. Before you ask, no, there was no sign, and no one warned us.

By day 6 we were so confused about Margaritaville ever being open as a regular restaurant. We went there numerous times because there is a bar there and we wanted to try them all. Every day it was closed. I finally checked the Freestyle Daily and discovered that both the restaurant and the bar are only open until 4 and 5 respectively. They had some fun margaritas, so it was worth seeking out, but wish we knew it had such limited hours.

Also on day 6, thwarted by crowded hot tubs, I tried the temperature of the main swimming pool. I saw somewhere "heated pool available," but two days before it was too cold for me. Lo and behold it was heated! It was just warm enough for me to go in but not so warm that it wasn't refreshing (not that that's what I was looking for. I don't know why they heated it that day and not others.Also, I wish it was less deep. I'm by no means short (5'8") and I couldn't touch the bottom w/o going under. They have railings along the sides to hang on to, presumably for this reason, but I'd like to be able to, like, bounce around across the pool, not have to doggy paddle. We spent maybe 45 minutes relaxing and listening to the band before leaving to get ready for dinner.

The water slides! I almost forgot. They have technically 5 water slides, but only 3 truly different slides. I'm sorry, I don't know what they are called. The smallest one is fun but not particularly special. The taller normal ones start fast, somehow go faster and then they're done. On both of these, I felt every spot where the pieces connect, making them a bit painful and unenjoyable due to the distraction. Idk why this happens to me. It also happened on one of the Carnival Vista slides. Boyfriend did not have the same experience.
The last one has this pod-like starting point. A hatch opens and there is a shelf you stand on. Then they close (and lock) the hatch, the shelf drops out from under you and you (kind of) free fall into the slide. It goes up a little to slow you down and then wooshes you to a stop. Very very fun, but very stressful! Just stepping on the shelf freaked me out. Then you have to stand there and wait. I heard a count down which helped, boyfriend said he didn't hear one (there are two side-by-side that launch together. I also felt the cracks on this one, but it's shorter and there is more water so it was less painful. You are not allowed to wear any jewelry of any kind whatsoever and they weren't running it most of the time. I didn't find out why. It seemed to me like the employees didn't feel like the extra work they had to do to run it and they just ran the other ones instead.

At some point we hit up Howl at the Moon, a dueling pianos show. The songs were all really good and the performers' banter was very entertaining.

Day 7
Day 7 started like any other day... Aside from NCL bringing us Daylight Savings Time a day early, resulting in my watch being wrong for the entire day because I couldn't hack my Fitbit to show the right time. After breakfast, I wanted to attend the final art auction  because they kept saying that you get a "free art" if you attend. This stayed in my brain because they listed it as "free art," not "a free piece of art" or "free artwork." We waited way to long to discover that you had to sign up for a credit card to get your free art. We watched a few items get auctioned off to see what it's like and what we saw was people buying small painted acrylic statues that were the price of my car.

For lunch we hit up O'Sheehans again because we JUST missed lunch in the MDRs because of the art auction... and because we didn't know lunch ended at 1:30 there. While we were waiting for a table, as O'Sheehan's gets packed between meals, we grabbed a hot-dog appetizer from the hot dog cart.
The cart is legit. On warm, sunny days, you'll find it on the sun deck, on rainy/cold days, it's inside by O'Sheehan's.

After lunch we finally made it to the giant chess board. Neither of us play ever really, but it's fun to do things that are a giant version of the original. I almost won.
We had grand plans for after dinner. We were going to go to both karaoke events because we hadn't made it to one yet, Bliss, and we were going to use up our $0.15 casino ticket. When in the casino, I noticed that the coin-pusher games have tokens (but basically coins) in them instead of quarters.
At the start of the cruise, I had wanted to get a casino chip as a souvenir, but the cheapest ones were too expensive. A 25 cent token was more what I was looking for. We cashed a dollar which got us 4 tokens.... but then we needed to put the extra three into the game... just in case. This was the beginning of the end.

We headed to dinner after a bit of playing the coin game, when our buzzer went off. When we walked in, the Manhattan band was playing our song, Fly Me to The Moon. We got a beautiful spot on the aft wall of the dining room where we could see the wake of the ship. Our food was delicious and the night was just perfect.

After dinner we found our way back to the coin game and spent HOURS playing it. Boyfriend and I played on the same machine, strategizing and getting so excited every time coins fell. Then we had to go for the bonus items that can fall if you play long enough. Once you figure out how the bonus game works (after a certain amount of time, you get a chance at bonus tokens), and devise strategy for getting coins to drop, you can actually play for a long time with out putting in more money. For I-dont-even-know-how-many hours of entertainment, we only lost $25.

Once we finally called it quits, we made to Bliss for one drink and one song of dancing. We had one more round of wings at O'Sheehans and headed to bed.

We forgot to pack before going to bed which was fun in the morning but we were only a few minutes late leaving our room. A long line to disembark, a much longer line at customs, and a 5 hour bus ride later, we arrived home, ready to go on our next cruise.

As a public service, I took photos of as many menus as I could. Check them out on my Cruise Menus page.