Day Off Date!

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With everything that happened in the month of June, I never actually got around to commencing my yearly “Summertime in New England” rite of passage with a weekend away (or in this case, a day trip) to Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. I’d been so distracted, so stressed out, and so swamped with work and personal/relationship matters that I hardly found the time to eat or sleep properly- never mind take an afternoon to head up North and catch some sun and surf.

Last Tuesday, after running some errands that I grossly overestimated would take up the majority of my day- I was pleasantly surprised to find I had a chunk of my afternoon and evening left in front of me to do whatever I pleased. With the sun still beating down and my toes freshly painted a pretty awesome glow-in-the-dark neon coral color- I opted to finally hit the sand and made the mini-trek to Hampton to cruise the coast from Portsmouth, sit by the waves for a couple of hours and finally get my hands on a lobster roll (I EARNED IT) from The Beach Plum.

I may have actually cried from joy while I ate this.

I may have actually cried from joy while I ate this.

After putting myself in a mini-food coma, I stopped by my favorite surf shop along the coast- just a couple miles north from the main section of Hampton’s boardwalk and casino- Cinnamon Rainbows. I always try to make it a point to pop in whenever I’m in the area because they have the cutest assortment of clothes, shoes and accessories- the staff are really friendly- and I like looking at the finished/unfinished surfboards and skateboards they keep near the back of the shop. Crafting those boards takes a level of patience, talent and dedication I wish I had. It’s an art form. Truly.

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I didn’t go home empty handed, though. I couldn’t resist picking up a new thin, loose-fitting t-shirt to rep the shop (I used to have a tank top I loved that has since been misplaced or shamelessly stolen from my laundry bin by my dog) for when I got back home to the city- and some Sun Bum leave-in color protector spray for my hair because color-treated red hair and salty air/water is a dangerous combination. I love Sun Bum’s products- and this spray is no different. It keeps my hair frizz-free and fade-proof. It smells really nice, too.

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It wasn’t until the sun had started to set when I headed back over towards the boardwalk to pick up some fudge for my mom from one of her favorite candy shops (and a Slush Puppy for myself) and sit by the water again to watch the clouds overhead turn different shades of orange and pink. It was a much needed calm and peaceful moment in my life- which has otherwise been swirling around me like a tornado at times.

I’ve lived by bodies of water my entire life. I grew up near a lake, and I currently live beside a river- but none are as beautiful or as calming for me as the ocean is. I keep telling myself that if and when I ever get myself out to California (or outside Massachusetts, really)– I’m going to be as close to the Pacific as possible. I want to wake up and fall asleep to the sounds of crashing waves every day.

It was a nice day- and today is yet another day off for me. I’ve purposefully avoided making concrete plans since I’d very much like to head back up to the coast for some more sun and sand later on this afternoon (and also get my skee-ball on at the arcade and grab some fried dough)– so we’ll see how that goes!

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xx

Seafood Festival: 2015

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Every year around this time, for as long as I can remember, I’ve always headed up to Hampton Beach with my family for the annual end-of-the-Summer Seafood Festival. Since my dad passed away a few years ago, I’ve been making the drive with my mom and my cousin Paige (and occasionally with other relatives who were around and wanted to come, too-) for a carefree day of shopping, eating, skee-ball, and strolling the surf before the water gets too cold.

This past Saturday, the three of us got a bright and early start in an attempt to beat traffic (it kind of worked!) and find a decent parking spot (and that sort of worked, too!) before the mid-afternoon crowds descended upon the boardwalk and made it almost impossible to move around and get in and out of the area.

The head start gave us the advantage of being able to do some thorough browsing of the sales racks without bumping elbows with other people over and over- and I found some incredible bargains!

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I’ve always really liked the look of varsity jackets, especially in the Fall over boot cut jeans and a chunky knit sweater- so when I saw this really nice quality jacket (with a stitched Hampton Beach patch)  for only $10 (!!!!)– I knew I had to snatch it up. I’m so excited to rock this in the coming weeks. I love it!

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I found a couple of really cute, comfortable pieces for work, too. The grey-ish dress above, with fancy-looking embroidery and dark brown decorative buttons- was marked down to $13. I’m going to be layering it over black tights, and maybe over a black turtleneck on colder days since it hangs a little loosely on me.

The black and white skirt, marked down to $8- is made of lightweight material and will also be worn over black tights (and probably paired with a sweater, too.) I like the way it sways with every step I take. It’s fun.

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I took it easy on accessories this year, opting to skip purchasing any jewelry and picking up this $13 bag, instead. I love the size, which accommodates all of my stuff- and I love the colors. I typically carry deeper-toned bags in the Fall/Winter- like dark browns, navy blues, and hunter greens- but the orange, blue, and pink stripes on this bag are a beautiful combination. I’ll be using this to brighten up my “Colder Months” looks!

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Finally, I visited the booth for my favorite all-natural soap company, Scentastics, and treated myself to three bars- one of each of their newer fragrances. I love how soft and clean these bars make my skin feel- and they all smell amazing. My favorite of the bunch is ‘Woodstock’, which has a touch of patchouli in it (but it isn’t overpowering.)

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Of course, a seafood festival doesn’t live up to it’s name if there’s no actual seafood- so prior to leaving Hampton for the evening- we stopped to enjoy some incredible crab cakes and a fresh fish dinner on an outdoor patio right across from the ocean. Everything was delicious, and our server was a sweetheart (and kudos to her for staying calm and composed even though the place was packed!)

As the sun began to sat- my mom, Paige, and I made one final stop before we started for home- a more secluded part of the beach where we watched the waves roll in from the rocks, paid tribute to my dad in our own special way, and wrote silly messages in the sand. It was the perfect way to end what was a really, really nice day.

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“We’re gonna’ need a bigger boat.”

Battle of the Beaches

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Yes, I know- Summer 2015 is unfortunately coming to an end. In just a couple more weeks there will be an undeniable chill in the air, the leaves will begin their gradual change from green to orange, red, and yellow- and the pumpkin spice latte will be making it’s triumphant return to coffee shops around the country. Autumn is almost here- and right behind it is sure to be another gruesome Winter- especially for those of us here in New England who typically get buried under feet of snow each and every year.

If you’re like me, you’re trying to savor these final Summer days as much as possible- and that can range from throwing one last backyard BBQ and bonfire with your friends, to heading out for one final weekend at the beach to say goodbye to the season before it’s gone at one of the many popular spots along the coast. If that’s the case- then picking the perfect location might prove to be a little difficult. For that reason, I’ve broken down the pros and cons of two of my longtime favorite beaches: Hampton Beach in New Hampshire, and Old Orchard Beach in Maine.

I’ve been working on this comparison post little by little over the past couple of months, unsure of when to actually publish it, but now seems a good time as any- not just for those who are looking to have a memorable Labor Day weekend- but for those who want to get an early start on planning their 2016 Summer season, too!

First, let’s take a look at the contenders:

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Hampton Beach (and my decade-old high tops)

Hampton Beach (New Hampshire)

Having been born and raised in Massachusetts, Hampton Beach was always the go-to Summer destination for my friends and I from the time we were little kids until the time we were old enough to drive ourselves. Just over an hour North of Boston, and about twenty minutes away from scenic Portsmouth, New Hampshire- Hampton Beach is one of the more populated beach destinations during the hotter months- and plays host to multiple restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, arcades, motels and shops that stretch across it’s boardwalk and side streets. While many establishments close in the off-season, certain areas at Hampton Beach stay open year-round- making it ideal for those who want a more quiet and less crowded beach getaway- and who don’t mind colder temperatures.

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The Pier, Old Orchard Beach

Old Orchard Beach (Maine)

A little further North from Hampton Beach lies Old Orchard Beach (OOB) in Maine. While considerably less populated than Hampton Beach- OOB offers a more “classic” beach experience- including an old wooden pier that stretches out over the ocean and numerous beach-side surf and souvenir shops mixed in among motels and seafood shacks. My very first trip to OOB was with my best friend in high school when we were both 16. We spent nearly a week there (with minimal supervision) and the place made a lasting impression. So much, in fact- that I’ve been going back regularly- not minding the nearly 2 hour long drive it takes to get there in the least.

I’ve broken down each of these beaches, the good and the bad, into a few different categories. Each one was carefully considered based on my personal experiences at each location, what I’ve seen, and what I’ve liked and haven’t liked. I tried to be as thorough as possible when comparing the two- and I hope it’s helpful!

SCENERY:

I love the ocean in general (it’s my place of zen and inner peace) so having to make a decision as to which beach offers a more pleasant and unobstructed visual of it proved to be a bit difficult. Hampton Beach, with it’s winding roads along the coast past beautiful mansions and gardens, is perfect for those looking for a peaceful drive with breathtaking views- while Old Orchard Beach gives retro-fanatics an eyeful of classic and weathered shops, shacks, and motel-fronts for as far as the eye can see- like something right out of a postcard.

Beach cleanliness comes into account, as well. While cleanup crews work ’round the clock and to the best of their abilities to keep the sand and sidewalks in spotless conditions- sometimes Hampton Beach can feel a little gross. In all the times I’ve been to OOB- I’ve never once hesitated to put my bare toes in the sand, but on more than one occasion while visiting Hampton- I’ve spotted trash (specifically lots of Dunkin’ Donuts cups. Ugh.) strewn across the beach and eventually being picked at by seagulls before anyone bothers to pick it up.

Winner: Old Orchard Beach. As a big fan of Ocean Beach in San Diego, and it’s overall laid-back atmosphere- OOB is the closest thing to it I’ve found thus far here on the East Coast. I love the pier, I love the seaside shops and restaurants, I love the lights from the amusement park and arcades (especially at sunset)-and I really love how clean everything is. OOB may not have the beautiful scenic drive leading to Portsmouth that Hampton Beach offers, but it’s wonderful for long, relaxing walks and for taking photographs.

CROWD CONTROL:

Nobody wants to go to a beach to relax and soak up the sun when they can’t even move without tripping over someone else- and all that traffic just to get there? Ew. While both Hampton Beach and Old Orchard Beach can get crowded (especially during popular Summer holidays like the Fourth of July), OOB is considerably less crowded than Hampton Beach at any given time. Hampton Beach’s pedestrian and automobile traffic can get so heavy that circling the boardwalk just to find a parking spot can take anywhere from a half hour to 45 minutes (sometimes longer.)

If you’re lucky enough to find parking in Hampton and you’re braving the beach-side attractions on foot- be sure to stay close to your party as it’s very easy to get separated in the throngs of people, with pedestrians often spilling out into the roadways due to lack of sidewalk space.

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Hampton Beach

Winner: Old Orchard Beach. While the arcade areas and the pier can sometimes get a little packed from time to time- it’s nothing like Hampton Beach’s daily overcrowding. Parking is usually easy to find (and is relatively cheap and easy, unlike Hampton Beach’s standard $20+ parking fees where you’ll be packed into a motel lot like sardines)– and you can move about freely with your friends without risking being separated from them and having to send a series of texts to try and find them.

FOOD:

I love fried dough, clam strips, and soft-serve ice cream as much as the next person- but I can usually only eat them for an afternoon, maximum. If I’m going to be spending a weekend at the beach, I’d like some meal options that I’m not going to regret by the time I’m heading home. OOB has plenty of seaside shacks that serve up lots of fried foods and sweet treats- and sure, a couple of decent beach-side restaurants and bars scattered here and there, too- but Hampton has a ton of great places to eat an actual meal (and the fried goods, too!) along the boardwalk and a couple of miles inland, too- like the Old Salt restaurant or the Beach Plum.

If you’re feeling a little adventurous- you can make that twenty minute drive North to Portsmouth, too- where you’ll find even more dine-in and take-out options.

Winner: Hampton Beach. I can’t recall ever having a bad meal here- be it a more healthy and filling dinner, to a quick mid-afternoon snack. The wait time might be a little long depending on where you go and how crowded it is at the time- but you won’t go hungry in Hampton. There’s simply too many options to prevent that from happening.

SHOPPING:

I don’t do a lot of shopping when I go to the beach, unless it’s the end-of-the-season sale time and I’m stocking up on discounted clothing, jewelry, or bath & beauty products. What could I possibly need to purchase, right? I usually already have my essentials and my bikini packed with me. Even still, I know many people like to shop while they’re on vacation- be it for themselves or others. Like most beaches, OOB has it’s fair share of novelty t-shirt and souvenir shops/stands- which is just fine when you’re looking for quick and cheap gifts in a pinch- but if you want something more thoughtful and maybe a bit more unique- Hampton Beach has you covered.

Amid Hampton’s own sea of cheesy and often unfunny t-shirt, caricature and airbrushing stands- there’s a few hidden gems along the boardwalk like the Deja Vu boutique and The Cow’s Ass (it’s a leather goods store. Just try to look beyond the name.) There is also a shop, Rock Palace, that used to cater to fans of classic rock, 80’s hair metal and the early 90’s grunge movement with t-shirts, collectibles, posters, etc. It’s since been taken over by Insane Clown Posse merchandise- but if you’re feeling daring- you might still be able to find some good stuff in there!

Winner: Hampton Beach. Every Fall during Hampton’s annual Seafood Festival, nearly every store puts their entire inventory on sale in order to make room for the following Summer season’s products. I like to go up and browse because you can find incredible deals on a variety of different things for a fraction of the price. It’s a great time to pick up those things that may have caught your eye in July or August- but without having to pay an arm and a leg for them.

LODGING:

Like the ‘SCENERY’ category- picking a winner for lodging proved to be difficult. Both Hampton Beach and Old Orchard Beach have a wide selection of oceanfront motels and beach-side bungalows that are fairly priced and tended to (meaning the rooms and the grounds aren’t gross.) To make my decision, I factored in the aforementioned crowd control. While Hampton has beautiful rooms for rent that overlook the beach and the boardwalk- getting to and from the motels can be problematic with the pedestrian traffic, and the peaceful sounds of the ocean can often be drowned out by rowdy crowds and screaming kids during and after events in the area.

Old Orchard Beach offers motels that are a short walk to and from the beach- but are also still far away enough from the actual pier and adjacent amusement park where any much needed rest and in-room relaxation won’t be disturbed. Best of all? Parking is so much easier at these locations.

Winner: Old Orchard Beach. I love to walk, so taking a brisk stroll a few blocks to get to where the action is doesn’t bother me at all when I know that I’ll be able to sleep soundly and easily in nice room conditions when I get back- and not have to worry about anything happening to my car in the motel parking lot.

FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT:

The amusement park at Old Orchard Beach

The amusement park at Old Orchard Beach

When I was a little kid, one of the biggest draws to Hampton Beach was it’s indoor amusement park. It didn’t boast a roller coaster or a ferris wheel like Old Orchard Beach does- but there was a merry-go-round, bumper cars, and plenty of smaller, safer rides to keep a kid amused and entertained for hours. Hampton has since done away with that section of the boardwalk, replacing it with a casino for adults only- but the beach still hosts a couple of arcades and an updated playground right on the sand. Every Friday night throughout the Summer- Hampton also has it’s own fireworks display, which is great to watch for all ages if you can secure yourself a spot along the beach- and each Summer visitors are invited to view the annual sand sculpture contest winners- which are pretty incredible most of the time.

If you’re looking to bring your child to the water, let them play some pinball, and use whatever prize tickets they win to trade in for penny candy or a stuffed bear- then they’d probably enjoy Hampton Beach the way I did when I was a kid- but if you plan on spending any time longer than an afternoon or an evening in the area- OOB might be better for you and your family. Old Orchard Beach has an amusement park (with an old wooden roller coaster that I LOVE) and it’s own large arcade- which is perfect when you or your kids need a break from the sand and the sun for a while. Everything is within walking distance from places to eat and motels, too- which is also tremendously convenient.

Winner: Old Orchard Beach. My love of bumper cars aside, and looking at this from the perspective of someone who does not have kids of her own but has watched plenty of parents struggle with fussy toddlers while at Hampton- OOB is a lot more kid-friendly than Hampton Beach is these days. There’s more for kids of all ages to do, and it’s less crowded- which means parents aren’t losing their minds trying to keep track of their little ones as they weave in-between arcade games and carnival rides.

21+ ENTERTAINMENT:

On the flip-side, Hampton Beach is a much better weekend option for the 21+ crowd. Old Orchard Beach has some nice little bars and pubs, including two on the actual pier itself- but Hampton also has the added bonus of the Casino Ballroom, a music venue where some pretty good artists (and some not-so-good ones, let’s be real) have performed throughout the years. With raunchy t-shirts clearly on display along the boardwalk, a popular smoke shop right in the middle of everything, multiple bars, the small casino and the Casino Ballroom easily accessible from nearly every direction-  Hampton Beach is definitely the more adult-friendly option for beach-goers.

Winner: Hampton Beach, by a landslide. While I love Old Orchard Beach’s amusement park and overall relaxed look/feel, I go to Hampton when I want to have a few drinks and sprawl out in the sand with my friends and not have to worry about negatively influencing any small children within the vicinity.

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Me hamming it up in OOB, 2014.

SUMMARY:

It was definitely close, but my love of Old Orchard Beach surpassed that of Hampton Beach by just a little bit. OOB is infinitely more laid-back, less-crowded, less expensive, and much cleaner than Hampton Beach presently is- which makes it my favorite destination when I’m just looking to get away and relax for a few days, but Hampton has more to offer foodies and adults looking to have a fun-filled weekend of boozing and shopping- so it really comes down to what exactly it is you’re looking for and for how long you plan to stay.

If you’re from New England and you frequent either one of these beaches- I’d love to hear your opinion. Do you agree or disagree? Are there any other two beaches in the area you think I should compare in a future post? Feel free to leave a comment or contact me!

Have a great Labor Day weekend, everyone!

xo

The 2014 Seafood Fest Mini-Haul.

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Every September, as is tradition (and typically at my mother’s insistence,) her, myself, my cousin, and any other relatives that have an afternoon to kill- meet at her house, pile into one vehicle- and head up to Hampton Beach for their annual Seafood Festival for a day or two. The festival is exactly what it sounds like: a huge three-day gathering along the boardwalk where Hampton’s best restaurants cook up and serve their most delectable dishes and local vendors come to push their end-of-the-season merchandise- usually marked ridiculously low- during a weekend-long sidewalk sale before the beachfront shops board up and close for the Winter.

Although the whole thing is almost always crowded and parking can be downright nightmarish at times- the food is nothing short of incredible and some of the bargains and steals you can find on a wide variety of goods make the trip worth it. In past years, I’ve found so many brilliantly priced pieces of clothing and accessories that have long since become cherished staples in my wardrobe.

My family and I headed up this past Sunday (in two cars this time!) to do a little shopping and sampling. Naturally, we ate our fair share of lobster, crabs, and clams- and my cousin and I couldn’t resist getting in some quality skee-ball and pinball at one of the local arcades- but we took plenty of time to walk from booth to booth, table to table- and pick up some necessities (and some, not so much a necessity,) too.

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Whenever I go to the Seafood Festival, I make a point to stop by the Scentastics booth. I’ve been a longtime fan of their all-natural soaps and body oils- which are total lifesavers in the winter since they cleanse and condition my skin- leaving it soft, smooth, and lightly fragranced. I stocked up on five soaps this year for the upcoming colder months (after I run out of my pumpkin-scented body washes,) all of which smell heavenly. The company, based out of Vermont- has a wide array of other products available on their website, too- such as air fresheners, chap sticks, hand/body creams, candles, etc- but if you have sensitive skin- they are definitely worth checking out!

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Although I saw quite a few dresses and tops I was tempted to buy, I kept my purchases to a minimum this year- opting to budget instead of splurge. Apart from the soap, the only other things I picked up on the boardwalk are the two necklaces pictured above- one, a cross to add to my growing collection- and the other, a cow skull, which caught my eye and piqued my interest (I love unusual jewelry!)

Crowds and parking aside, I did have a nice time at the festival this year. I’m sure I’ll be heading back next September for the 2015 one, too.

A Sample of Summer…

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It’s been chilly and rainy outside for most of today, so to keep myself occupied (as well as warm and dry,) I’ve been going through some of my photos from this past Memorial Day weekend. The photos above were taken off of a sleepy, winding road in Rhode Island on Saturday. The house, which had caught my eye early last year when I drove by it after photographing another abandoned location- has been left to be claimed by the elements and the plants growing around and into it. The small barn/garage next to it, which had been standing the last time I’d seen it- has since buckled and somewhat caved in- presumably under the weight of all that snow we had this past Winter.

What I hadn’t noticed my last time in the area, however- was the old, abandoned bus-like vehicle tucked away in the woods across from the house- hidden behind some tall grass and trees. That was a pleasant surprise.

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On Memorial Day, I layered my most patriotic (and adorable) crop-top and headed up to Hampton Beach to kick off the 2014 Summer season with an afternoon by the sea. The actual boardwalk was a mob scene, with bumper to bumper traffic and pedestrians everywhere- so I headed North along the coast and found a nice little spot a few miles away where I could park my car, climb over the rocks, and have a peaceful and spectacular view of the water.

I know it feels like Spring only just got here not that long ago, but I’m already excited for Summer. I’m a total beach bunny at heart- and this past weekend was enough of a tease for me to want to go back and just dive right into the ocean instead of sitting on the rocks above it!

Escape to the Coast.

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Good afternoon! I’m home from work early today as a result of- you guessed it- another snowstorm passing through the area and making a mess of the roads. I’m waiting for this latest assault on Massachusetts to pass over, or die down just a little bit, before I head back outside to attempt to shovel what’s been accumulating since mid-morning.

Yesterday, in another bout of cabin fever, I headed up to Hampton, New Hampshire for the afternoon. I anticipated it being a lot colder since ocean + heading North and all- but I’d always been under the impression that the coast never got hit with quite as much snow as those of us inland did (I’m pretty sure I heard someone say that to me once a while back and it just stuck with me as one of those “yeah, that sounds legitimate enough” kind of facts.)

Unfortunately, my attempt to escape the mounds and mounds of snow didn’t work. Hampton was a slushy, icy mess. I usually love walking around the boardwalk in the off-season since the place resembles a post-apocalyptic ghost town and it’s eerily peaceful, but it was difficult to relax since I was so pre-occupied with watching my footing on the frozen over areas outside the closed up shops and arcades.

Above are some of the photos I managed to snap before it got too cold for me to be outdoors any longer, and I sought refuge back in my car with my hot coffee and the heat cranked up as high as it would go.

xx

Beach Bum.

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Just a few shots (one including my strange looking toes) from a drive to Hampton Beach I took this past Sunday afternoon. When I wasn’t perusing the surfboards, the shoes, and the bohemian style tops at Cinnamon Rainbows (my favorite surf shop), I was perched on one of the concrete walls by the water- taking in the sound of the waves, the salty air, and the sun on my face. Heavenly.

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Also, it’s not so much a “Quick Eats” recipe post, but I just wanted to share that I absolutely love cooking the above-pictured spinach penne, chicken, and vegetables dish. It’s delicious, good for you- and so easy and fast to make.

You just need:

One package/box of spinach penne pasta

1/2 pound of chicken (cut into pieces)

1 thinly sliced yellow squash

A handful of fresh snap pea pods

And as much broccoli as you want.

While you’re boiling the spinach pasta, you simply sauté the cut chicken pieces, the thinly sliced pieces of yellow squash, the snap pea pods, and the broccoli in some olive oil until everything is cooked and crisp.

Strain the pasta, mix all the ingrediants together into your sauté pan, and voilà!

The dish I prepared was served with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese and garlic toast.

So yummy.