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I remember standing in a Crumbs bakery a few months ago, staring down the delicious rows of icing and cake.  Along with the cheerful decorations and fluffy icing mounds also came the “sticker shock”-and I’m not talking about price.  That’s right, friends.  Right there, next to my mounds of joy, was listed the calorie count for each cupcake.

My immediate reaction was “I don’t want to know.”  And I’ll be honest-there are still times when I don’t want to know.  Sometimes, when you’re celebrating something special or just want to treat yourself, I don’t really think it’s bad to eat something with abandon and not care about its fat or calorie content.  In fact, I’d go as far as to say that denying yourself all the time has negative effects on your weight loss.  But that’s another story!

However, living with the Weight Watchers plan has taught me to be a lot more aware of what I choose to eat when we eat out.  When I first started this blog, we were eating out up to 2-3 nights a week, sometimes more depending on where we went over the weekend.  We started cutting back on that as I started counting calories again, and since I started Weight Watchers, we’ve cut down to only eating out once a week.

Some restaurant chains have nutrition information available on their Web sites.  Sometimes, you have to dig for it, and with places like  Rita’s that give ranges, it can be hard to figure out what fits into my plan.  That’s why I was excited to see that the FDA recently announced its latest proposal regarding menu nutrition labeling.

To summarize:  “The proposed rules would apply to restaurants and similar retail food establishments with 20 or more locations, and vending machine operators with 20 or more machines. Consumers would see calories listed in restaurants and similar retail food establishments that are part of a chain with 20 or more locations doing business under the same name and offering for sale substantially the same menu items. Movie theaters, airplanes, bowling alleys and other establishments whose primary purpose is not to sell food would not be subject to these proposed regulations.”
I’m psyched about this, and think that more places, particularly local establishments, should be required to provide this information on their Web sites or elsewhere.  Since we don’t frequent any chain restaurants, this won’t really help me too much, but I do hope it’s a step in the right direction for food establishments as a whole.  In fact, knowing I could find out nutritional information about menu items before I eat somewhere would encourage me to choose one restaurant over another one with no information.
What do you think about menu nutrition labeling requirements?  Do you just not want to know, or do you think it would help you make better choices?  While I can’t say that I’ll always pay strict attention to it while eating out, it’s certainly helpful for vacations and other times when eating out is the only option!
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I don’t know how many other people do this, but every time we visit a new area, we always think we’ll just find restaurants as we’re walking around to wander in to and enjoy.  Sometimes, that’s easy.  However, during off season in Cape May, it’s not!  I had done a bit of research before our trip, and written down a few restaurants, however, many of them ended up still being closed for the season.   After asking around at the Cape May Winery, we decided to have dinner at Axelsson’s Blue Claw Restaurant.

Funny enough, Jared had actually also been here with his parents when he visited Cape May years ago.  To be honest, in my research I had been avoiding strict seafood restaurants, as I’m not a huge seafood fan.  Not easy to do when you’re visiting a shore town.  I was a bit nervous that Axelsson’s wouldn’t have anything that would not only fit with my Weight Watchers plan, but that would also leave me feeling satisfied.  I was happy to find that the menu was diverse enough to include seafood options that weren’t too over the top “fishy” so to speak.  We settled on the Fromage as an appetizer (because who can resist brie??).   For an entree, I had the crabcakes and Jared had the seafood kabob, a totally new pick for him!

The food was fantastic at Axelsson’s.  The man we talked to at the winery had told us that “you can’t go wrong with anything you get there” and he was right.  The service was friendly and attentive without rushing you through, although it was a busy night.  They did seat us right by the piano, which I thought would annoy Jared, but the music blended in nicely and wasn’t overpowering to the point where you can’t talk.  While we did skip dessert, we had a full view of the station where these were being made, and they looked wonderful!  Although Axelsson’s is about a 5-10 minute drive from where we were staying, it was definitely worth the trip (however, if we had to give up parking, I might change my mind about that!!).

After our fabulous dinner, we returned to the Carroll Villa and hit up The Mad Batter for dessert.  Jared had been talking about a white chocolate mousse for days that he remembered having as a kid, and lucky him, it was still on the menu.  The Mad Batter bar was alive with groups of people hanging out, listening to the live music, so we ended up sitting at an actual table.  Jared was correct about the White Chocolate Mousse-it was worth the points.  Topped with whipped cream, strawberries, and a light strawberry sauce, the mousse was creamy, with bits of white chocolate in it, and so rich I almost couldn’t finish it (and I never say that!).  Definitely worth it!

Our trip included a voucher for brunch at The Mad Batter, so we returned the next morning to sit in the “sun room” type portion of the restaurant.  The Mad Batter had a great assortment of brunch-type libations, such as mimosas and bellinis, along with a pretty extensive menu.  The food was your typical brunch fare, but I’d certainly go back to check out the dinner options.  All around, a great experience with The Carroll Villa and The Mad Batter!

While The Mad Batter did not take reservations while we were there for brunch, it’s worth an ask in the summer if they do.  The restaurant was pretty busy for off-season, so I’d call ahead if you’re visiting during a busy time.

Looking for more options?  Find more Cape May restaurants here.    Happy eating, travelers!

 

Given the title of this blog and my previous posts, I think all of you know that Jared and I appreciate a nice, quality craft beer.  As I’ve mentioned, one of the hardest things about Weight Watchers for me initially was cutting out having a nice pint once or twice a week.  For the beers that Jared and I enjoy, Weight Watchers assigns 5 points to a 12 oz. glass, whereas wine is only 4 points for 5 ounces.  If I choose to drink during the week, I almost always choose the lower points value and go with wine, which eliminates beer almost entirely from my rotation.

Weight Watchers does assign only 3 points to light beer.  However, I have never really found a light beer that is worth drinking.  The Bud Lights and Miller Lights of the world are not worth the points to me, so I thought I was doomed to cutting out beer altogether, unless we were celebrating a special occassion.

Fitness Magazine had a list recently listing the best light beers, which obviously caught my attention.  However, when I saw that the “winner” was Bud Light, I seriously had to question if the people that made this list even LIKED or understood real beer at all.  I almost chose not to look through the list at all, given their top choice, but I browsed through and found that Sam Adams Light was their First Runner Up.  Now, Sam Adams is a real beer.  Could this be possible?  I was intrigued to try the light version, and I’m happy to say that it is a fine substitute to my usual Stella, Yuengling or Magic Hat.

Sam Adams Light could certainly never replace the insanely hoppy, flavorful taste of a real craft brew, but for people that enjoy the taste of beer, it is most definitely a great alternative, providing enough complex flavor to make you feel like you’re indulging without the guilt and points.

Anyone else have any suggestions for a decent light beer?  Miller, Coors, and Bud need not apply……

Thanks to Living Social, Jared and I recently had the opportunity to check out Cape May, New Jersey for the first time (well, my first time-Jared was there as a kid).  As we walked around, I started thinking about all the great places we’ve been to in New Jersey that might get overlooked for those of us that live in-state.  Hence my new mission to tell you about them as we go along.  🙂

We covered a lot of ground while we were in Cape May, so I’ll start today by reviewing the lodging that we used.  The next set of installments will cover dining and area attractions.  We don’t want a super long post, after all!

The Carroll Villa Bed and Breakfast
The deal we purchased included a one night stay at the Carol Villa Bed and Breakfast, located less than a block from the beach.  Upon arrival, we received our complimentary bottle of champagne, as well as some coupons to area attractions (all part of our deal).  The check-in attendant was very friendly and made us feel welcome.

While the room we stayed in was certainly a bit small, it worked fine for us since we didn’t spend too much time in it anyway.  The shower had great pressure, and the bathroom was very clean and well kept.  Our room was right above The Mad Batter, the restaurant at The Carroll Villa, and during the live music, it was a bit noisy.  As in we could hear the specific songs the singer was performing.  However, we got back to our room around 9:45 p.m., and it all seemed to stop by 10.  If you’re sensitive to noise, though, as I know many are, this may not be the place for you!  I believe there are rooms on the other side of the hotel, so I would ask about those just to make sure.

Given that it was off-season, we were able to find parking about a block away.  In the summer, I can definitely imagine that parking is a challenge for guests at The Carroll Villa.  If you’re planning to stay in the summer, I would recommend calling ahead to find out what is recommended.

As mentioned, The Caroll Villa does have a restaurant, The Mad Batter, which is a great restaurant with a modest bar as well.  I’ll talk about this more in dining, but our deal did included a breakfast voucher, and we liked the convenience of having something right there.

Overall, The Caroll Villa was a beautiful place to stay, with an at-home feel that made even our short stay relaxing and comfortable.  If you’re thinking of vacationing somewhere this summer, I’d call early-I’m sure they book up pretty fast!  Thanks to Living Social and The Carroll Villa for helping us find out what Cape May has to offer!

We all know how this goes.  Things are running smoothly with your diet and exercise plan-you’re losing weight, working out more than ever before, and just feeling fantastic.

Then Friday sneaks up on you.  One look at the weekend’s calendar, and you know trouble is looming.  After all, Happy Hour, followed by a dinner party followed by Sunday brunch with your in-laws can’t possibly be doing you any good.

If you’re anything like Jared and I, you typically spend an average of 3 waking hours at home over the course of any given weekend, making it hard to control what you’re eating.  After all, all of our social activities with friends simply can’t revolve around my dietary needs.  So, how do you strike a balance between losing weight and keeping up with an active social life?

Fitness Magazine recently ran an article called “Weekend-Proof Your Diet“.  Here are some of the main takeaways I took from reading this:

1.)  The more you drink, the more you munch. I’ve always known this to be true.  I mean, who doesn’t remember carrying pretzels in our bags in college to fend off the munchies?  The same holds true for an evening out with the girls, or simply drinks with my husband at a nice lounge.  My main goal on the weekends is to work toward enjoying a single glass of red or white wine without eating everything in sight or having a second round.

2.)  Stick to my guns. I’ve found that I’m embarassed to tell people that I’m on Weight Watchers.  Why?  Well, having suffered from some disordered eating, any time someone I’m dining with mentions they are on a diet, I instantly feel guilty for eating whatever it is I’m about to order.  The article recommended finding a partner in crime, who was following the same plan as you, or simply ordering first so that you’re not swayed by the decisions of others.  Self control plays a big role in this, and that’s something I need to focus on heavily over these next 6 weeks of weekend trips.

3.)  Plan Accordingly.  My survival strategy when I know we’re going to be heading off to a calorie fest, whether it’s a restaurant or a friend’s party, is to eat like a rabbit alll day, to allow myself the extra calories later.  I can’t say this ever works out well, though, because then I just end up over indulging because I’m hungry.  By sticking to my regular schedule, the article suggests that I’ll avoid arriving ravenous and over indulging on things that may not fit into my plan.

4.)  Share and indulge. When discussing Sunday brunch, the article mentions that it’s ok to order something that you really want, like chocolate chip pancakes, that the table can share.  By having a few bites, you satisfy your craving without giving in to a poor food choice.  That cupcake I may want to have?  As long as I don’t eat hte whole thing, it should satisfy my need for sweets.

How do you fend off temptation and stay healthy when you’re out of your routine?

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions when it comes to my health.  After all, that’s a year round thing.  However, I am constantly on the look-out for new ways to lose weight.  I’ve been ignoring the Weight Watchers hype for so long, that I thought it was finally time to give it a try.

To combat all the protests I’ve been hearing such as “Why do you need to do that??” or “You shouldn’t pay for something like that!” let me just say that when you’ve been at this weight loss and working out thing as long as I have, sometimes you just need something else to move the needle.  I’ve had to promise myself not to get frustrated by the stories of people who lose like 20 pounds in the first few months.  For me, that’s just not going to happen.  In my mind, the people that lose so much weight right out the gate probably haven’t been monitoring their calories on LiveStrong or working out with Jackie and Jillian.

Tomorrow, I’ll be going a bit more in depth about the Weight Watchers tools that are available to subscribers.  I’ve been on it a bit over a week, and have lost 4 pounds, so I’m hoping all is not lost.  As I track my progress, here are some challenges I know I’ll face.

1.)  Weekends. My weekend currently looks like this:  Friday, drinks and dinner with one of Jared’s high school friends.  Saturday, The Melting Pot with some girlfriends, and possibly a piano bar later that night.  Considering that Jared and I won’t have a weekend at home until March 19th, I know it’s going to be hard for me to control where and when I eat on weekends.  This has by far been my biggest hurdle so far to weight loss, so I’m anxious to see how I may be able to conquer it this time around.

2.)  Jared. It’s a proven fact that when you embark on a weight loss plan, it’s much easier to do it with someone else.  However, Jared isn’t into the whole not being able to enjoy a beer or a treat when he wants to, so I’m doing this alone.  While he’s been very good about allowing me to plan our menu around my “Points”, it’s extremely hard for me to say no to him when he wants to go grab a quick drink with friends or eat out.  So far, we’re doing well, but guilt is definitely setting in.  Especially since one meal I made he hated due to the amount of vegetables it had.  Oops….

3.)  Myself. I’m only supposed to weigh in every Wednesday.  Do you think that keeps me away from the scale?  Nope.  If I see numbers I don’t like, I tend to get discouraged.  So discouraged, that I almost throw in the towel.  I know I need to keep going, since this is a process, but I’ll have to conquer a lot of my body image demons to make this work.

Game on, Weight Watchers.  See you at the finish line.  If there really is one….

I mentioned The Beer Mapping Project when I was talking about Egan & Sons recently, and felt this site deserved a bit more exploration.  As I mentioned, Jared is pretty familiar with this site in his constant quest to find quality beers in our area.  There are a lot of great features on this site, so I’ll highlight just a few of them in this post.

1.)  Location Lookup:  This is great for people that travel a lot or simply want to get a bit more familiar with breweries, beer bars, home brew options, beer stores or brewpubs.  Simply type in a city or zip code, and a list will populate with the option to sort by the type of venue you are looking for.  I had to search using just New Jersey, since a zip code search wasn’t giving any results for me.  Still a great way to find places in the area, just make sure you refine your search.  And again, perfect if you’re in an unfamiliar city and need a place to eat and drink!

2.)  Beer Trip Planner:  This is a beer lover’s personal heaven-the ability to plan a trip centered around quality beer drinking.  Simply type in a city, name, or postal code, and a list will populate with suggested options in the area.  Add that to your list, and once you are done adding, the site takes you to Google Maps for directions. Pretty sweet. Once again, a great way to plan a trip!

3.)  City Beer Maps:  If you live in, or are planning to visit a big city and need help finding a great place to have a beer, this is another search function that makes that super easy.  Simply click on your city, and a map loads which pinpoints different types of beer establishments around the city.  I chose New York, and each listing allows you to click through for more details.

Whoever came up with the idea for this site should really be Jared’s best friend.  Seriously, Jared is addicted to this site.  I could go on and on about the fabulous features of this site.  But it would take days.  And we have drinking to do.  So, off with you to search!

If you hadn’t figured it out already, most of our restaurant choices come from NJ Monthly or from Jared’s tireless searches for breweries or restaurants with a great beer selection.  Our selection of Egan & Sons was a blend of both.  Jared recently found a Web site that lets you type in your zip code for a listing of breweries, beer bars, and other quality beer venues near you.  Egan & Sons came up on the list in Montclair, and was one we hadn’t tried yet.  Couple that with the fact that I remembered it from NJ Monthly, and we were set to meet some friends out for a great meal.

I was expecting Egan & Sons to be crowded to the point of hatred.  After all, it was Saturday night, it’s a bar/restaurant with quality beer, and the Jets were on.  The parking lot in the back off Label Street was full, but we got lucky when someone pulled out just as we were coming in.  The train station isn’t too far down the street, so perhaps parking wouldn’t be too much of an issue.  We only had to wait about 20 minutes for a table for 4, and there was a decent amount of room at the bar to wait and have a drink without feeling like you’re standing around awkwardly.  Egan & Sons had a very decent selection of beers on tap, as well as a great selection of bottled beers and their own craft beers.

While I wasn’t really feeling like trying the craft beers, Jared of course tried a sample of their beers, which included a lager, an amber, a pale ale and a stout for only $4 (which is great).  He decided to have a larger glass of the lager and stout since he thought that these had the most flavor and had a bit of character.  He thought the pale and the amber were lacking in flavor, making them taste the same. I had a small sip of the lager, which I didn’t find to be too heavily flavored, but I’ll defer to him on that one.  Overall, not our favorite place for beer, but the fact that they feature so many other great selections makes up for it.

The food at Egan & Sons, however, did not disappoint.  A mix of Irish pub/Americanized food choices, the menu had everything from simple bar food to fancy steaks.  Since I had been dieting all week, I went straight for the sliders with fries.  My only complaint was that they came with ketchup on them, which I hate.  No restaurant should just put the condiments on for you.  I was able to scrape it off, and I’m sure I ended up saving some calories on the bread, but still.  Jared had the Falafel burger, which was delicious.  Our friends had Fish and Chips, as well as a fabulous looking steak in a wonderful sauce that was on the specials menu.  One of our friends that joined us is a chef with extensive culinary training, so I was hoping the food would be up to par.  She thought everything was very delicious, with the exception of something the waiter referred to as “mushy peas.”  Not sure why anyone would order those, but avoid them as a side.  🙂

Recently I’ve been let down by the dessert choices in the restaurants we’ve been to.  Egan & Sons did me proud with their Sticky Toffee Pudding, which is absolutely my most favorite dessert.  While it certainly didn’t compare to the time I had it in London, it was still a very authentic replica, all warm and spongy and doused in caramel.  The NY Cheesecake our friends shared was very creamy and huge, a dessert I don’t even think I could have tackled.  Maybe it bordered on being too sweet, but apparently still delicious.

The overall atmosphere and experience at Egan & Sons really won me over.  While I came in expecting something a bit more like what we frequented in Ireland with sticky floors and rowdy college kids, the dining room made the experience very upscale without taking out the fun.  Egan & Sons food and beer selection certainly makes us wish we lived within walking distance, as I could see this quickly becoming a favorite!

My rating:  8/10

Egan & Sons
118 Walnut Street
Montclair, NJ 07042
973-744-1413
http://www.egannsons.com/

Maestro 206 is located in Hillsborough on, you guessed it, 206.  There used to be a restaurant there when we first moved to this area that looked great, however, it closed before we had the chance to try it.  We tried Maestro 206 out a few weeks ago to break up the boredom of a long week, and it ended up being a lot different than I was expecting.

From the Web site and Twitter, I was expecting  a bit more of a pub type atmosphere, however, the dining room is actually comparable to restaurants that cost twice as much without being too stuffy or over the top.  Of course I picked this restaurant because we had a coupon, but it also boasts a pretty thorough beer list for my beer brewing husband, with some very nice seasonals.  (And if you hadn’t figured it out yet,  we love a place that appreciates high quality beer as much as we do!

Service was honestly a bit slow, which was strange to me since it wasn’t that crowded.  It seemed to take longer than usual for our drinks to arrive and for our server to notice we were there.  However, the wait staff was very pleasant and friendly, and our food came out in a timely fashion.  To start, they bring out warm rolls that can be dipped in what we think was a pesto sauce or a roasted red pepper sauce.  Totally worth the extra calories.

The dinner menu was a pleasant surprise, with everything from duck to steak to a chicken salad wrap.  From the looks of the dining room, I was afraid that maybe there was a separate bar menu, and the choices in the dining room would be limited to the usual entrees, but the menu did not dissapoint, and certainly provides enough variety for groups with different tastes or moods.  I started with the soup of the day, which happened to be a carrot soup (*editors note-I can’t remember if it was carrot or not, but it was some vegetable that I don’t usually eat in a soup).  Although I’m not a huge fan of carrots (or insert other vegetable here), it was seriously delicious.  For my meal, I had the Chicken Waldorf Salad Wrap, which was very good.  Sometimes I’ve found that restaurants are too heavy on the mayo, but this was just the right mix.

We’re not ones to balk over paying good money for food.  At Maestro 206, Jared actually laughed when we got the check.  Our dinner total was more “lunch” total than dinner for a place that was so great, even though I forgot to use the coupon.  Maestro 206 seems like a great place to have a private party, or even just stop in for a drink.  And if you get the Clipper Magazine, you’re sure to find at least $5 off for your next visit!

My rating:  8/10

Maestro 206
150 U.S. 206
Hillsborough, NJ 08844
732-301-2555
http://www.maestro206.com/

3 West in Basking Ridge has been on our list of restaurants to try for awhile now.  We finally got around to trying it last Friday and certainly weren’t dissapointed.

As per usual, we checked out the reviews on Yelp to get a sense for dress and what to expect.  It’s actually amusing, but there was one review by Dominic F. that made us want to try it.  Although he only gave the restaurant one star, he said, “Another thing that i thought was funny is i ordered a miller lite and was told “we don’t serve that here”…a VERY snooty place.”  Sounded perfect for those of us that actually enjoy the taste of beer and aren’t just drinking for the sake of drinking.

3 West is part of the same restaurant group as Trap Rock, a local restaurant and brewery in Berkeley Heights we’ve been to before.  3 West serves beer from Trap Rock, as well as a seasonal Magic Hat Jared had never tried.  Hence why they don’t serve watered down sorry excuses for beer.

The atmosphere of 3 West is lovely.  With a fireplace in the center of the restaurant that all patrons could see as well as a kitchen that can be viewed through lovely farm house style windows, the ambience is up scale without being untouchable.

The manager seated us, and we were immediately taken care of by part 1 of our serving team.  I believe his name was Mike.  He took our drink orders.  The second half of our serving team, Laura, I believe, was super dynamic and a real pleasure.  I decided to be bold and order the Pumpkintini.  However, upon first sip, I knew it was not going to be very fun to drink for someone like me that’s not a huge liquor fan.  Laura asked me how it was, and when I admitted I was sure it was a good drink, it just wasn’t for me, she offered to take it back.  Let me just preface this by saying I would NEVER return something to the kitchen or bar, no matter how wrong it is.  I usually just chalk it up to being my fault.  I told her it was ok, but she very politely insisted, telling me a lot of people weren’t into that drink.  She totally saved the evening for me, and handled it in a way that didn’t embarrass me!

The food at 3 West was as delightful as the wait staff.  Usually the specials menus aren’t that interesting to me, but this specials menu was so fabulous, I ended up ordering my entire meal from it.  Jared and I both started with a soup from the specials menu.  I had the butternut squash, which is my favorite soup, and it did not disappoint.  Laura pointed out some great dinner choices from the specials menu and regular menu. She was so knowledgeable, she actually caused Jared to switch his choice to one of her recommendations!  We both got a steak dish featured on the specials menu.  Steak is not my usual, but she talked it up as being a thinner variety, which sometimes I’m in the mood for.  And the sides certainly made the meal for both of us.  Mine came with a side of mashed sweet potatoes with caramelized brown sugar that was to die for. Jared’s came with an herbed polenta cake that was absolutely fantastic.  Overall, Jared’s steak had a bit more flavor than mine, but it was cooked to my liking, and definitely a treat.

Dessert was probably the best I’ve ever had.  We weren’t super hungry for it, but decided to split the Caramel Brownie Sundae.  Usually, brownie sundaes are pretty blah to me, but it’s always something Jared and I can agree on, since he’s not a chocolate fan.  This was literally a sundae, served in a sundae dish, with pieces of brownie mixed in with vanilla ice cream and delicious, legitimate caramel.  Simply stunning.

After our meal, the manager came back over to see how we had enjoyed it, and we actually told him about the review and that that was the reason we came.  We also took the time to complement him on his staff.  Although the restaurant got very busy by the time our meal was wrapping up and things were a bit slower, I never felt as if the attention lagged.  Great service makes a difference at a place like this, and 3 West certainly has it down to a science.

While the food at Trap Rock is not really that fantastic, I was pleased to see that 3 West did not disappoint in any area from the food to the drinks.  Thanks for a great experience!

My rating:  10/10

3 West
665 Martinsville Road
Basking Ridge, NJ 07920
908-647-3000
http://www.3westrest.com/

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