Blogmas Day 8: Thinking Out Loud

For Blogmas today, I thought it might be fun to do a link-up I’ve never done before. Thinking Out Loud is a series where you basically group together a whole bunch of random thoughts. Thanks Amanda for hosting!

  1. I’m pretty sure I somehow managed to get gummy priobiotic up my nose. And now it’s burning. How does that even happen??
  2. I made my friend pumpkin bread with brown butter maple icing for her birthday. I’ve never browned butter before. It was cool to see all the changes it went through and it was a bit of an anxiety inducing process because I was worried I was going to burn it. Once it was done I was so sure it was burned but it wasn’t. The brown butter icing was AMAZING. It makes such a difference to brown the icing! I had a little leftover, and my family and I spread the icing on cookies. So good.                                                                            img_0958   img_0959
  3. It’s actually so nice to be home. St. Louis was a fantastic experience but California is such a great place. Even better, all my people are here. Basically all of my high school and all of my college friends are in this area. And seeing my hometown for the first time in a while makes me see it in a fresh light: it’s a cute town among majestic hills. Missouri is pretty flat, you guys.
  4. I really, really love routine. So coming home with no job or school was a tough transition. However, I have a TON of work to do for my online Microbiology class, and I have the hardest time getting anything done at home. The time just evaporates. Tuesday I spent the day at the local library and just got SO much done, and it felt great. I even packed a lunch, which was a nice return to routine.img_0962 img_0963
  5. Trader Joe’s Cranberry Chèvre is amazing. And it went perfectly in my pear salad. SO creamy and delicious. The blueberry chèvre is also amazing.
  6. I FINALLY found the new Halo Top! I’m so excited. There are only 3 of the new flavors I can eat (lunch allergies+wheat) but that is exciting enough for me! I was a little disappointed by the oatmeal cookie; it didn’t have quite enough cinnamon-y flavor. The sea salt caramel and black cherry were really good too, though I only tried a bite of each. The black cherry was a surprise, since I’m not usually a fruity ice cream person. It will be awesome with fudge sauce.img_0964
  7. I’m not really sure what’s going on when I eat gluten but it’s definitely something weird. After avoiding it for over a year completely thanks to a chronic stomach illness, I’ve had it a few times now and had varying reactions. The first 2 times it made my super sleepy. So I figured, hey, I guess it doesn’t hurt my stomach at least, so that’s cool. But then I had some Monday (not a lot) and had a peculiar reaction. I got really hot and my throat felt a little tight. I thought it was somewhat in my head but my mom said that my face was really red. Huh. Then I spent the night dreaming I had the stomach flu, and I’ve only had those dreams in association to eating gluten, haha! Then I felt sort of sick and sort of shaky the next morning, though luckily it didn’t stick around. So I guess a little gluten causes a little flare? Strange.
  8. We finally have our tree all done up! This year we decided to go with an almost all animal ornament theme. Because to be honest, we have a crazy amount of animal ornaments. The new addition this year was a Budweiser clydesdale, a little nod to my time in St. Louis!img_0973 img_0975
  9. I’m on a major Flapjacked muffin for breakfast kick. I ordered these in bulk, so I guess I don’t feel the need to limit my consumption? That and I’m sick to death of yogurt. For now at least. Plus, healthy chocolate for breakfast? How can you go wrong??img_0974
  10. I really love San Francisco, especially during the holidays. I missed my city. St. Louis is nice, but very different. I’m hoping to go up more during the holidays this year, especially given I don’t have finals and such to worry about.img_0968
  11. I am having an absolute blast doing Blogmas. It does take more effort for the most part to do each post, but it’s so worth it. It brings me back to the type of creative blogging I really love but don’t normally have time for, and it forces me to be creative in the kitchen. Which really is a win-win for everyone.

What are you thinking today?

Blogmas Day 7: Best Coffee in St. Louis, Ranked

Happy Blogmas! I hope everyone is having a fantastic start to this busy month!

Today’s Blogmas post will conclude my Coffee Tour of St. Louis, where I tried all the top ranked coffeeshops in the city, in search for the best place. I used this list as my guide, and added another place that I frequented. One that was also highly rated that I didn’t try was Coffee Cartel, so if I ever return, I may have to try that!

After 3 months of research, here’s my list. I’m linking to my visits and initial impressions. I evaluated each place by ordering a decaf cappuccino, and scored based on taste, milk foam, ambiance.

  1. Blueprint. This was actually the first place I went, but it looks like I lucked out with my first! High quality coffee, and you can tell they know their stuff. In addition, a ton of other coffeeshops in this area brew Blueprint coffee, so you know it’s legit. img_0439
  2. Comet Coffee. High quality coffee and milk foam, and bonus for serving the coffee in a mug with a black cat.img_0202
  3. Living Room (ArtHouse Coffee). To be honest, I had the hardest time remembering this place at the end of my time here, but past Aurora ranked it pretty highly.
  4. Foundation Grounds: This one won in terms of ambiance. It was a cozy, bright shop and felt like the perfect place to curl up with a cappuccino and a laptop on a cold day.
  5. Rise. This was a solid cappuccino, and I wen there several times to study.
  6. Kayak Coffee. This wasn’t on the original list, but it was nearish to the zoo, and I went there a few times to study since the food was good. The coffee looked excellent, so I decided to try it out! I loved the presentation: served with sparkling water and a chocolate covered espresso bean. I also had a maple pumpkin latte here that was awesome.
  7. Mississippi Mud House. Good milk foam, quality coffee, really cook vibe. It’s at the front of an art gallery. My cappuccino was a little on the milky side, but it was high quality milk. I really enjoyed the drink but I’m docking a little bit due to deviation on style.
  8. The Mud House. I liked the coffee a lot, but I’m pretty sure my decaf was actually full caff which made me a little sick. The food was really good as well. I went there again on my last weekend for cheesy grits and kombucha.
  9. Sump Coffee. This coffee was really, really good. However, they didn’t offer decaf, and the neighborhood wasn’t the greatest (not dangerous per se, but I was a little worried about leaving my car parked on the street).
  10. Park Avenue Coffee. I didn’t really like the cappuccino, and the milk foam wasn’t great. However, they have some of the best gooey butter cake in the city (featured on Food Network) in a crazy variety of flavors. I can attest that it was delicious. Also, I didn’t try the original location, I tried the Hill location.
  11. Northwest Coffee Roasting Company. Not my favorite coffee, and no air conditioning which was little rough on an August morning.

There you have it! My full coffee rankings for St. Louis. Next up—San Francisco?

Where is your favorite coffee?

 

Blogmas Day 6: Everything Since Blogmas

Is this a Blogmas cop-out? I don’t know. I’ve been going a little crazy with recipes lately, but I did want to also share what I’ve been up to since Blogmas started. I’m not quite willing to post nothing but recipes for all of December! So what have I been up to over the past few days?

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These crackers are so good. I think they remind me a little of the flavor blasted goldfish? I used to love those things!

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Pumpkin soup from a box with havarti and avocado toast. Classic.

I took another visit to a little college town. My mom came with me this time. We were considering grabbing dinner after a 2.5 hour drive at Whole Foods, but instead saw a make your own salad type of place next door and decided to try something new.

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I find make your own salads very intimidating, but this one actually turned out well. Chicken, mushrooms (could have left these out…), dried cranberries, roasted butternut squash, grapes, and parmesan tossed in balsamic vinaigrette.

Dessert was a GF lemon sandwich cookie from Whole Foods.

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Since the place was only 1/4 mile from our hotel, we were able to walk and get a close up of this giant sculpture.

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I started the following morning with a really short run. I didn’t want to tire myself out, but it is a great way to explore the area!

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In the afternoon, I had a little free time so my mom and I went to a local coffeeshop. I’ve been in this area a little bit before for conferences, and last time I found a really great coffeeshop, but couldn’t remember the name. The place we ended up at wasn’t the same one, but the huge display of baked goods won me over, even though the milk foam wasn’t top notch.

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After a long and tiring day, we decided to just go to Whole Foods for a quick dinner before hitting the road. My mom convinced me to get a beer, but it was a bit of a swing and a miss. California beer is the worst. It’s SO hoppy. I miss St. Louis. I didn’t come close to finishing it. For my meal, I had some Indian food over greens.

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We also picked up some caramel apples, which we ate upon arriving home after the longish drive.

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Other randomness:

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There is nothing better than fresh rotisserie chicken. I threw this in a salad with fresh mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes. Cracker remains on the side.

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I have the best/most intrusive study and blogging buddy. He’s currently snoozing a purring under my elbow.

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I got this wine a year ago during my first ever wine tasting in Napa. Finally, it was time to break it out! A lot of my college friends are in the area, and I saw a few of them the other night. It was so nice to catch up over a glass of good wine.

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This sweater is everything. I love it, but feel like it’s hard for me to rationalize a once a year piece of clothing!

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I tried Peanut Butter Runner’s Brussels Sprout and Kale Salad with Balsamic Date Vinaigrette. This one has been on my radar, because it has everything delicious about fall in it. We skipped the pecans, and used baby kale because #lazy, and also used Trader Joe’s cranberry goat cheese, since we had it on hand. YUM! We also roasted the shaved brussels, this this was a warm and delicious salad.

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My puppy is so neurotic! She won’t let me walk her alone. I was all set to walk her on Saturday morning, but we got out of my driveway and she just stopped in the middle of the road and looked at me. She WOULD NOT walk, even with a treat! UGH. I called in the emergency backup: one of my friends from high school has expressed an interest in walking her before and happened to be free, so we drove to her and she was an angel. We ran into someone else from high school and chatted for quite a while, and Chloe behaved great. She even snoozed on the sidewalk for a little bit!

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I FINALLY found some Sunbutter cups. I found these at Target. I’ve been dying for them since Halloween since I’m allergic to peanuts. I liked the other brand I’ve tried before a little better, but I’m certainly not complaining.

Other delicious Target finds?

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The cocoa brown ale was just okay, but the cappuccino oatmeal stout was awesome. AND, it’s decaf!

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I ran at my favorite place by the bay this weekend. It’s so beautiful in the winter, especially on still days. And at a pretty good pace (for me) too! I negative splitted it like a pro: 9:00, 8:30, 8:00. I partly negative split because I’m lazy and it’s easier mentally for me to speed it up when I know I don’t have too far left to go!

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We got our tree! In our area, Whole Foods actually has the best trees, and at a good price. So far, the pup has totally left it alone. Last year we had baby gates keeping her from that side of the house since she was still having potty training issues. We shall see though.

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I made my mom a pomegranate gin and tonic the other day. Just a normal g&t with a splash of pomegranate juice.

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This lunch was super exciting. It was leftover parmesan spaghetti squash with chicken and PESTO! I found quinoa pest at Trader Joe’s, which is nut-free! Thanks to allergies, I haven’t had pesto in probably 3 years, so to say I was excited is an understatement. I felt like I had seen a nut-free version at some point there but not in the last couple of years. I liked this a lot, but my only caution is that it’s not very saucy so it might not be very good in pasta.

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And finally, I had coffee with my college friend at Bliss, a great coffeeshop in the area. The goal was to study but more chatting than studying occurred. Also, can I say how nice it is to be back in CA? It’s December and there was no indoor seating, so we simply sat outside. It got chilly as it started to get dark, but still! So lucky. It’s nice to be back.

 

Blogmas Day 5: 4 Ways to Make Spaghetti Squash for the Lazy College Grad

It’s Blogmas Day 5!

In case you missed it, check out my latest recipe for pumpkin gingerbread.

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Today, however, we’re talking squash. Spaghetti squash. I went through a major spaghetti squash phase when I was in St. Louis, and realized how easy it could be. I actually wanted to post a microwave spaghetti squash tutorial with various ways of flavoring the squash earlier, but I had it for every dinner for 2 weeks straight and was kind of sick to death of it.

But now it’s back!

For today’s Blogmas, I’m going to go through how to cook spaghetti squash in the microwave, and some different ideas on how to season it and make it delicious. One thing I will say though, is that the size of spaghetti squash varies greatly so take the cooking times and ingredients as guidelines.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash

DO NOT CUT IT RAW. I repeat: DO NOT CUT IT RAW. That’s a fantastic way to lose a finger, especially if you’re as fabulous with a knife as I am. Simply score the outline of where you’ll eventually cut with a knife. Carefully. If you’re not comfortable doing that, I think it will be just fine.

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Next, you want to microwave it just enough to soften it to cut. Probably about 10 minutes. Yes, you can just throw the whole thing in the microwave. Yes, it looks a little ridiculous.

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Cut it in half along the lines you scored. BE CAREFUL: it’s hot and steamy. I used an even mitt to hold it.

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Scoop out the seeds.

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Then put it one half face down on a microwave safe plate with about a 1/4 inch of water in the bottom. Microwave until soft, such that you are able to scrape all the squash from the shell. This took me about 10 minutes.

Scoop it out of the shell. Unless you’re serving a big group, or are super hungry, I recommend putting the other half in the fridge for another day, and then cooking it the rest of the way when you’re ready to eat it. I found that 1/4 of a squash was a big portion for one. Half of our large squash (from our CSA box!) served 3 with plenty of leftovers.

Now, you have your blank canvas.

Spaghetti Squash Mac n Cheese

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The key to spaghetti squash is making sure the squash tastes good before doing anything to it. Squash is actually a lot blander than pasta, and this may come out if you’re not careful. For mac n cheese spaghetti squash, I took my favorite seasoning blend, salt, and pepper, and tossed it into a 1/4 of a squash. Next, microwave 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar (reduced fat works but I would not recommend fat free) with 1/4 cup of milk, a little garlic powder, and salt and pepper to taste. Heat until the cheese melts and stirring creates a sauce. Simply toss the sauce with your spaghetti squash. I like adding broccoli as well. For some bonus flavor, top the whole thing for 1/4 cup of shredded parmesan and microwave until the parmesan is ready.

Delicious. Minimal dishes. High in veggies.

Traditional Spaghetti 

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(Also note the delicious roasted heirloom carrots and broccoli, also from our CSA. Both were actually a lot more flavorful and sweet than what you find at the grocery!)

This “recipe” served 3, and used half of a squash. It’s a crime to call it a recipe. Again, the key here is to make sure the squash tastes good before adding sauce. Simply mix 1/2 a squash with 1/2c shredded/grated parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste.

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Then, just top it with your favorite spaghetti sauce, more cheese (mozzarella is my cheese of choice!), or meatballs if that’s your thing!

Cheesy” Warm Spaghetti Squash

This one is based on “Cheesy” Vegan Mushroom Quinoa from Fannetastic Food. I tried and loved that recipe years ago, and when I was on my squash kick I thought, that would be delicious in squash form. I love the coriander in this dish: it brings a really warm flavor that is perfect for winter.

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(Aesthetics though? 0/10)

Start by sautéing about 1 cup of mushrooms in olive oil and about a tablespoon of minced garlic. Mushrooms sautéed in garlic=house instantly smells amazing. Once the mushrooms start to soften, add about 2 handfuls of spinach.

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Salt and pepper to taste.

Then, take 1/4 of a squash and and toss in 1/2 teaspoon of coriander, 1/4 cup nutritional yeast, and salt and pepper to taste. Once blended, stir in mushrooms and spinach.

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I like this one more as a side dish than a main course. I had it with the next recipe, but they totally don’t go together. Gotta do it for the blog!

Enchilada Spaghetti Squash

I wasn’t sure how this one was going to turn out, but it was a major win in my house!

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This one requires an oven, but that’s about as difficult as it gets. Feel free to microwave the whole thing just to melt the cheese if that’s easier!

For this, I used a little over 1/4 of a MASSIVE squash, so the amounts might be about right for half of a squash. Mix your squash with about 3/4 cup store bought enchilada sauce. Then, divide the portion of squash in half. (I just put half back in the squash shell to save a dish. No shame.) In a small casserole dish, spread one half over the bottom.

Then, on top of that, put on a layer of your favorite salsa. I used Trader Joe’s Fall Harvest Salsa, and just used the rest of the jar which was maybe 1/2 cup.

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Then add a layer of spinach.

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Next, 1/2 cup of cheese. I like the Mexican Cheese blend.

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Then, top with the remaining squash. On top of that, pour over another 1/4 cup of enchilada sauce and 1/4 cup of cheese.

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Bake for 15-20 minutes at 350, or until the cheese is melty and the sauce starts to bubble.

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Optional but highly recommended is topping it with avocado!

Happy squashing!

 

 

Blogmas Day 4: Best Moments

Today in Blogmas we’re taking a break from recipes (more to come though) to talk about something a little bit different: being grateful and finding light in dark times. Everyone has been talking about how 2016 was a terrible year, that we’re just waiting to end. While a lot of terrible things did happen this year, life is too short to write off a whole year, or even a whole bunch as we wait for 2016 to end.

As 2016 draws to a close, I encourage everyone to take a moment and look back on the good times in 2016. What’s done is done, but we can shift our mindset. Don’t let the negatives wash out the positives for 2016. Life really is filtered by whatever attitude you take on. I challenge you to look back over the past year and find 10 of your “best moments.” 10 times that you were exhilaratingly happy, times that you were proud, times that you felt loved. Let go of the negativity and hold these 10 best moments close to you as we hop into 2017.

For inspiration, here are my best moments.

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A fantastic night with a best friend resulted in a victory in which we won expensive wine.

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I finally made it out to some Stanford baseball games. One of my big college regrets was not going to more games, so I made it happen in my final year.

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Doing better than expected in the Crossfit Open. I didn’t rank super highly by any means, but I made some big breakthroughs in Crossfit and I think they started to come out in the Open. Plus, good workouts with good people? Always fun.

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Going to Seattle for spring break with some of my best friends, and especially this night. I had dark beer for the first time and the beer I had was the best I’d ever had. Still on a beer kick since then!

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Running the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler in DC. This race was a dream for me to run, and I was so excited to get in through the lottery. I may have been slightly sick, had a broken foot, and run in sub-freezing 50 mph wind, but it was all totally worth it.

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Going to a beach house with some good friends. It was so great to spend time together, get off campus, and unplug (no cell signal there).

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Not letting the boot hold me back. I tried to have fun with it and do all the same fun activities with it. I put lights on it. It was my pal, my trusty sidekick. Always find the positive in negative situations.

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This is one of the moments where I was just so overwhelming happy. I had a little graduation party during the last week of school, and everyone I care about came. It was incredible. There was a school tradition of walking around campus as a giant group on the last night of the year, ending in the fountain. I had never been since I would usually go home earlier than that, and everyone wanted to go. I had just gotten my boot off and could barely walk, and surely couldn’t make it all the way across campus on foot. My friends literally took turns carrying me across campus. So grateful for them.

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Visiting Emily in Nashville when I was living in Tennessee. I had such an amazing time, and it was great to see a friendly face and catch up after some time living alone, plus getting some solid life advice.

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My time in Knoxville was incredible. I think one of the best moments was leading an alpaca around, although I don’t have pictures of that for confidentiality reasons. It was one of those moments where I just thought, “this is so freaking cool.” When I came home, I felt like a completely different person thanks to all my experiences there. And it got me even more excited about my future career path.

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Coming home from Knoxville and seeing old friends, and getting a good look at this view. I love my city.

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Doing something I never thought I’d do: go to a country concert. After living in Tennessee for 5 weeks, I felt pretty qualified to attend a Florida Georgia Line concert in St. Louis. I went alone, but still had a blast. Made me miss TN!

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The Giant’s wildcard win, which was incredible and allowed me the chance to take a trip to Chicago (my first time there!) to see my home team play in the playoffs. We can also toss in our Game 3 victory which was the biggest roller coaster of emotions and kept me up past 3 am.

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Bottle feeding young goats at Grant’s Farm. Or even just being surrounded my goats. I love goats.

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Running the Halloween Race in St. Louis. It was my grand return to racing post-stress fracture, and it’s always fun to do races in new cities.

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Yindi (Tasmanian Devil) playing with a pumpkin. This made my morning, my week, and my year. This was the only thing that was going to cheer me up the day after the election.

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Wine tasting in Missouri wine country with my fantastic coworkers. But seriously, my zoo buddies were incredible and I miss them dearly!

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And finally, having the opportunity to spend hours a week with this fantastic creature. I miss Kali!

What is one of your best moments?