Hot Spot

Hi dee ho, neighbors, and happy Tuesday! Sorry I’ve been AWOL for a few days. Things have been seriously running away from me lately. Between book writing, sequestration-fretting, and helping my boyfriend Sean look at houses, it’s been a busy stretch! 2/3 things are good though, so in spite of the looming threat of cut work hours or worse (we haven’t been told yet how the sequester is affecting my contract specifically), I’m staying positive. You know how I do.

So in that light, I thought I would share with any of you local readers one of my favorite new finds! Sean and I stumbled upon this restaurant only a week or two ago, and I’m already obsessed. We’ve already been twice! It’s in Fairfax, VA, in the same little strip mall as our favorite branch of Bon Chon Chicken. Welcome to Hot Spot!

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Preface: I lived in Taipei, Taiwan for three years (grades 9 – 11) and one of my absolute favorite things about living there was, in fact, going to eat shabu shabu, or hot pot. Hot pot is like… Asian fondue. If you’ve ever been to the Melting Pot and eaten one of their entree courses, it’s pretty much the same thing (only at a much, much better price point, hahaha). You get served up raw foods that have been prepared for you — thinly sliced meats, pre-cut noodles, veggies galore, etc, and cook them yourselves at the table in a pot of boiling broth.

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Hot Spot is an all-you-can-eat sort of place, so they give you a little card where you can choose all the awesome stuffs you want, as well as the types of broths you’d like to cook in. They offer you a pot with a divider in the middle so you can choose two types — they offer plain shabu shabu, spicy variations and even a kimchi broth! Then, you just check off all the meats, veggies, and whatnot that you want, and they bring it to your table. Simple and easy.

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The first time Sean & I went here, we got the spicy broth and the herbal broth. When we took my parents here a week later, we got the spicy and the shabu shabu. Both times were awesome! Between our two visits I think we tried just about everything on the menu, but I really loved how this place not only serves ALL the meats and ALL the seafoods (seriously, scallops, clams, shrimp, fish, OCTOPUS — you name it, they’ve got it), but also fish/beef/shrimp balls, and lots of different kinds of tofu. It made it feel really authentic.

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So you toss the stuff in the pot, pull it out a minute later (it all cooks crazy fast), and go to town! By the time you reach the end of your meal, the broth itself is suuuuuper flavorful and delicious. I always get a raw egg at the end of the meal, poach it in the broth ’til it’s still runny-yolked, then break it into my bowl. The broth gets amazingly thick and delicious, and… aw man, mouth watering. Crap.

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Hot Spot also offers a pretty robust sauce bar. It’s equipped with all your basics — soy, hoisin, oyster, vinegar — and then some fancier options — sesame oil, chili sauces, ponzu. They also offer cilantro, chilis, green onion, minced onion, salt, sugar, sesame seeds, garlic, and more (!) to mix into the sauces. It’s fun to throw together some various combos, but honestly, most of the food doesn’t need it. I’d say equipping yourself with a little bowl of sriracha (if you like spicy) and a thing of hoisin sauce (my faaaave) is probably all you’d really need… though it definitely didn’t stop me from trying every available sauce, hehe.

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I haven’t been to too many other hot pot restaurants in the area, so part of the reason why I may be so in love with Hot Spot is simply due to nostalgia and lack of places to compare it to. That said, both times we went, our servers were SUPER friendly and attentive, and the general vibe of the place is really fun. It’s surprisingly young and modern, which is not what I would have expected from a good hot pot place. It felt really trendy. I think the owners are pretty young, and who knows, maybe hot pot is gonna be the next big thing!

The price is a little bit high — I think it was $22.99 per person? Which is fine for dinner but kind of expensive for lunch. Of course, as mentioned, it’s all you can eat, and they do provide a lot of higher-cost food options (all the aforementioned seafood). Plus, it’s totally customizable! If you wanted nothing but marinated beef and scallops for your meal, you could do that. They offer $2.50 beers during happy hour, too, which we found out by accident. It’s a LOT of fun for a group to dine together, provided you’re all okay with communal cooking and whatnot, of course, and it’s probably not the best choice for a group with mixed dietary preferences/exclusions. All that being said, obviously I LOVED this place and want to go back again and again and again. Like I said, tons of fun to go with a group — especially people who have never experienced hot pot before! Sean hadn’t before we went here, and I think I’ve made a believer out of him.

Have you ever eaten hot pot? If not, think you’d be willing to try? I know some people get a little icked out at the thought of communal eating situations, but I guess growing up eating Chinese food “family-style” my whole life — especially with my 80,000 uncles, aunts, and cousins at my grandparents’ house — really made that sort of thing a non-issue for me. If you live in the area, I HEARTILY recommend giving Hot Spot a try!

Chasin’ Tails

Happy Vampire Diaries Day Thursday, everyone! Today is a particularly bittersweet one, because it holds the much-anticipated and much-feared season finale of my beloved TVD. This is a show that KNOWS how to do a season finale (I still remember yelling at my TV after the first season finale), so I’m already nervous about what’s going to happen and who they’re going to kill off. Eeep!

In other, non-teenager related news, I got to have a super fun dining experience last night! I met up with the fantastic Kate last night, marking our first foray into real-life interaction. We’ve been blog buddies for a while, and live so close to each other that we finally realized we had no excuse not to get together! The two of us met up at Chasin’ Tails, a Cajun/New Orleans-style seafood restaurant in Falls Church/Arlington (On 29, where the Bear Rock Cafe used to be, if you’re familiar with the area).

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We are having crawfish, woman, not HAM. Tsk.

Their motto? “No plates, no forks, no rules.” It’s quite apt, since they just bring your order in a big bag, which you then dump onto your paper-lined table and knock yourselves out. It was very reminiscent of those crab boil places in Ocean City where you sit at a table lined with brown paper, you get a bib and a hammar, and they just dump a bucket of crabs in front of you. It always makes for a fun, if rather messy, dining experience! Chasin’ Tails also gives you a big metal bucket to dump your trash in, as well as a roll of paper towels that was WELL UTILIZED.

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Their menu concept is pretty simple: the main feature is the “Bayou N’ A Bag”, where you pick your seafood (crawfish, shrimp, crab legs, lobster, mussels, clams, etc) in 1 lb. amounts (no half-pounds), pick a sauce (cajun, lemon-pepper, garlic butter, or the whole shebang which combines all three), and pick your spiciness level. They also have a bunch of fried side items and appetizers, and serve gumbo and jambalaya as well (you get a spoon for those, haha).

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We ordered a pound of crawfish (it was both of our first time trying it!) and mussels, the former done cajun style, and the latter done in the “Whole Shebang” sauce. We got them both medium spicy, and we are SO glad we did. The spice really built up, so I can’t even imagine how hot “Hot” is… let alone “Nawlins Hot”, which was the top level of spicy you could order. ::shudder::

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Each bag came with a little cob of corn, a slice of andouille sausage, and a baby potato in them as well. They were both SUPER delicious! We had to get our waitress to show us how to eat the crawfish (is it pronounced craw-fish or cray-fish?), which looked to me like the mutant lovechild of a lobster and a shrimp.

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Right??

I was initially wary of trying “mud bugs”, as they are apparently called sometimes, though I’m not really sure why? I guess I just don’t love eating anything that really looks like an animal… which I’m sure is making all of my vegetarian readers shake their heads in shame. Turns out that I really had no reason to be squeamish – they’re easy and you really get used to the spindly legs and whatnot. The process for eating them evidently goes like this: Pull the tail and head apart, suck the juice out of the head, then pull the meat out of the tail!

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Kate, proud of her handiwork! 🙂

The meat from the tail tasted just like shrimp to me, though perhaps a little less delicate in texture. Really yummy, though I’m not sure I would eat it again for the meat itself. I think it was more about the experience. Otherwise, it’s a lot of work for very little meat!

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Neither of us had a very good concept of how much was appropriate to order, and it turned out that the seafood alone didn’t end up being too much. After all, it’s not like you’re really eating and entire pound of seafood MEAT, the pound includes the weight of the shells/casings/whatever. So I think that ordering three lbs of the seafood dishes between two people would be a good amount (so there would be 1 1/2 pounds each, that way).

We ended up ordering a couple of side items halfway through our seafood chow-down because I could tell that it wasn’t going to be enough. Chasin’ Tails doesn’t really have any non-fried side items though, other than the corn and stuff that comes in the seafood bags, so in the future I’ll definitely make sure I order enough of the main dishes to go around.

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Kate and I ended up splitting an order of the cajun fries and six chicken wings, both of which were incredibly delicious but obviously super fried and terrible for you, hahaha. Our waitress was really talking up the wings and sold me on trying them. Three wings for each of us isn’t TOO bad, right? 😉

I would definitely come back here. It’s a pretty unique restaurant for this area, and while I’ve never been to New Orleans, or really had THAT much experience with cajun food, it all seemed pretty delicious to me! I think it would be super fun to take a bigger group of people to, so you can all get different kinds of seafoods to share. The food was flavorful (the Whole Shebang sauce was epic!), our waitress was really nice, and they definitely know what they’re doing in terms of spiciness. My recommendation would be to order conservatively on the spice level if you’re at all wary about it.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

The Hunger Games: A Review

Opening weekend has come and gone, having secured $155 million dollars in the bank, and making The Hunger Games the 3rd highest grossing opening weekend of all time (behind Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 and The Dark Knight). I saw the movie again last night (yay!) and I think enough time has passed that those who OMG!DESPERATELY needed to see the film probably have, so I can go into more depth and be a little more critical than I was in my last post about it.

Consider this your official warning for those who hate spoilers and/or those who hate The Hunger Games to stop reading now. (Though if you’re in the latter category, I have to ask, why? Just… why?) If you haven’t read the books yet, but intend to, you might also want to consider coming back to this entry later, since I’m sure there will be a few non-movie spoilers in here, too. I also apologize that this is probably going to be a really long and really wordy post, since, you know, I REALLY love The Hunger Games.

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As you already know, I loved the movie overall, and it was just as good the second time. Turns out, going at 6:30 on a Monday means an almost empty theatre which made it the perfect second-viewing experience. I’ve never been the kind of person to nitpick the little things when it comes to book-to-movie adaptations. In fact, my favorite Harry Potter films were not the ones that followed the books to a T (like the first two), but the ones that took a few artistic and film-making liberties without detracting from the overall storyline (like 3, 4, and 8). As long as all the major plot points and characters are included, who cares that things didn’t happen exactly “the way it was in the book”? It’s only natural that some things will be left out and changed to make these adaptations into good MOVIES, as opposed to just page-by-page retellings of the books (which, granted, I would love, but any non-book-readers would decidedly not).

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The movie is action-packed, well-cast, and extremely well-acted. I’ll start with casting: I thought they really hit the nail on the head with both of the main stars. Jennifer Lawrence made a fantastic, simultaneously vulnerable and stoic, Katniss. I thought she really looked the part, too. (Am I the only one who thinks she looks better as a brunette?) I heard a lot of initial complaints about Katniss’ casting at first: Lawrence is 20 but Katniss is supposed to be 16. Lawrence is too healthy-looking to be Katniss, who is supposed to be petite and kind of waifish. And I swear, if I hear one more thing about how she’s not the right race because she’s described as having “olive skin” in the book, I will shoot myself. I mean, seriously. Of all the things to care about!

Not only is it a non-issue for 20-somethings to play high school age kids these days (hello, ANY show on The CW!) but Katniss is supposed to have a very mature quality to her. After all, she had to essentially take over the role of provider for her family after her father died and her mother subsequently went catatonic for a while. As for the “too healthy looking” comments, yes, she is from a district where food is scarce and her family is poor, but Katnissis a badass hunter, yo! The book makes it very clear that once Katniss started hunting (which is illegal, so it makes sense that it took some time for her to start doing so regularly), her family didn’t starve.

Hopefully all qualms with regard to the casting of Katniss (say that 10x fast!) have been put to rest after seeing Lawrence’s performance anyway. That scene with her and Cinna (Lenny Kravitz, who was a surprising delight!) before she goes into the tube? Chills. Also, as mentioned, tears.

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I also have mad love for the casting of Peeta. I think Josh Hutcherson is adorable, has immense charm, and is still boyish which is exactly what Peeta needs to be. I know that a lot of fans were upset that they didn’t cast more of a stud to play the part of Peeta, but I thought that he did a great job (and the blonde hair was very natural-looking, IMO). I also loved the contrast that you get between him and Gale, who is a giant with rakish, manly handsomeness, and is pretty much a physical opposite of Peeta. Aside from the physical though, I can kind of take-or-leave Liam Hemsworth as Gale. Perhaps it’s because he had so little screen time, or because he’s tainted from being Miley Cyrus’ boytoy but in general, meh.

My overall favorite casting choice was probably Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman though, teeth and everything. That man is truly flawless in every role he plays.

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Moving onto the main plot: As mentioned, I honestly didn’t feel like they left out anything crucial. Of course there were some things that happened in the book that would have been neat to see on the silver screen (the flashback of Katniss and Gale witnessing the redheaded girl being captured by the hovercraft outside District 12, or the muttations having the eyes of the Tributes, as examples), but leaving them out didn’t detract from the story in any way. In fact, not including those kinds of details may have increased overall understanding of what was going on to those that haven’t read the book. One example of this is how in the book, Katniss’ friend Madge was the one to give her the Mockingjay pin, and getting to wear it in the Arena wasn’t a secret, it was allowed. But the way they did it in the movie was still effective even without that exposition.

When talking with Sean (who hasn’t read the book) about whether there were any parts of the movie that were confusing, he said that the only thing for him was the flashback between Katniss and Peeta. In the book, the occurrence of Peeta purposefully burning the bread from his family’s bakery to be able to give to a starving Katniss is extremely significant to both characters. Without the narrative inside her head, however, we have no way of knowing how Katniss feels when Peeta’s name is called at The Reaping. There’s no way to know of the connection that already exists between them, despite them having barely ever spoken. For this reason, I also feel that Peeta’s revelation of being in love with Katniss while he’s being interviewed may have had slightly less impact to a non-book-reader as well (though I still loved it, obviously).

katniss i love you

One issue I’ve heard some people have with the movie is how Katniss’ first couple of days in the Arena don’t play out the same way as originally written. In the book, she nearly dies from dehydration at first, way before the whole forest-fire-plus-fireballs scenario. I totally understand why they chose to change this. Not only would it have slowed down the pace of the movie immensely, but it’s hard to showcase something like the effects of dehydration in a way that A) makes sense but is B) not boring. This change, as well as the general brevity of Peeta & Katniss’ time in the cave, are things that I can support because I felt that they really helped the pacing of the film overall.

Another thing that I’ve been hearing a lot about is critics’ displeasure with how the movies “glosses” over the multitude of deaths that occur. I actively disagree. Yes, this is a PG-13 movie so it’s obviously not as gory as the book describes, but I thought that the portrayals of the Tributes’ deaths were plenty gruesome and disturbing — especially paired with the aftermath shot of the initial bloodbath where the camera pans in on several of the dead Tributes’, including the face of one girl with her eyes still open. *shudder* Cato breaking the neck of the District 3 boy after Katniss blows up their food supplies was also particularly jarring to me (ugh, the sound!).

As I mentioned in my first impressions post, there was really only one part that detracted from the movie, for me. (I should insert that I didn’t really feel this way the second time around, but this is definitely how I felt after the first viewing.) I didn’t feel that the movie gave enough time for Katniss and Rue to forge their bond. The story moves incredibly quickly, from the tracker jacker attack (I imagined tracker jackers MUCH bigger, by the way) to their plan to blow up the Careers’ food, to (SPOILER ALERT!) Rue’s death. While I enjoyed the actresses’ scenes together (I also thought that Rue was extremely well-cast, and looked exactly as I pictured her), they really didn’t spend that much time together. I don’t think that Katniss’ hysteria over her death made as much sense to someone who hadn’t read the book, for that reason.

The book makes it very clear how protective Katniss is of Rue, how she reminds her of Prim and of how she COULD have been Prim, had Katniss not volunteered in the first place. Through her discourse with Rue, we learn so much about how the Districts operate, and why District 11 in particular is so ripe for rebellion. You just don’t get much of that from their short scenes together, unfortunately. Of course, I do think that Gary Ross (the director) did as good a job as he could with the time allotted for their relationship to develop. Goodness knows I cried! One of the most unfortunate effects of the midnight release viewing was that after the death scene (during which there was some intense SOBBING coming from the row behind us), the movie cuts to the riots in District 11 and then back to a hysterically crying Katniss. When they cut back to her, unfortunately the theatre erupted in laughter. I know it was likely because of all the residual emotional tension but still. I was ready to pimpslap some teenage girls, you better BELIEVE.

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Okay, so let’s move onto some of the deviations from the book that I absolutely LOVED. I see movie adaptations of books as an opportunity to explore things that we don’t get to see in novels (especially ones that follow a single character, like The Hunger Games). I really enjoyed getting to see into the Gamemaker’s control room and the tete-a-tetes between President Snow and Seneca Crane. I felt like the latter especially set up President Snow to become the truly heinous villain we see in the 2nd and 3rd book (since we don’t really see him at all in the first book, actually). I also loved the emphasis that the movie placed on the fact that The Hunger Games is a reality TV show. Yes, a totally sick, horrible one, but a show nonetheless. When you’re reading the book, and you’re there IN the Arena with Katniss, you kind of forget that’s what’s going on outside. The sports-like commentary with Caesar Flickerman and Claudius Templesmith really helped this hit home, too.

Showing the District 11 riot is also something that isn’t present in this book, but I was utterly enthralled by it and thought it was a really great addition. Unlike in the books, where you don’t get proof of unrest in the Districts for a long, long time, we were afforded a glimpse of the unhappiness of Panem’s citizens. I felt it was powerful and appropriate.

On a totally superficial note, I pretty much expected that Katniss and Peeta wouldn’t look too banged up at the final confrontation at the Cornucopia. I mean, this is still Hollywood, after all. They can’t get their beautiful stars too uglied up! I also was selfishly kind of happy that they didn’t end up amputating Peeta’s leg. After all, it was barely mentioned afterward in the books anyway! And I like my Peeta WHOLE. Always.

So there you have it! I’m sure I have even more (erratic) thoughts that I could go on about further, but let’s be honest: I’m probably pushing my luck with you lot as it is. Kudos to anyone who actually read through all of this, haha. The bottom line is: I clearly loved it, I think it’s an incredibly provocative book AND movie, and cannot wait until the second installment is released (slated for November 2013!). Happy Hunger Games!

Thoughts? Do you agree? Disagree? Just want these Hunger Games posts to stop?

The Hunger Games: Initial Reactions

First off, I got less than four hours of sleep last night, so you’ll have to forgive me if it seems like I’m pumped full of tracker jacker venom as I type this.

Secondly, as you already know I went to the midnight premiere of The Hunger Games last night. I had all the best intentions to nap between work and getting to the theatre which, of course, didn’t happen. Instead, I paced around my house, braiding and re-braiding my hair for a few hours.

Team Peeta

Oh, and I also did my Girl on Fire makeup, natch.

We got to Tysons just before 10, which my fellow Tributes Sean and Erin were not super excited about. It ended up being a good call though, because instead of being greeted with a long line of anxious moviegoers, we walked into an essentially empty lobby. At first, I felt really sheepish. Where were the legions of squealing teenagers? After talking to an employee what the deal was, however, we realized that they had been letting people in as they arrived. We walked in to our theatre (okay, okay, so maybe I ran… sprinted… whatever) just in time to snag the last three non-front-section seats that were together.


A good boyfriend supports your dreams… of regressing to your 14-year-old self.

I have a love-hate relationship with midnight premieres. On the one hand, I am totally That Girl, the one who needs to see the movie OMGASAP! But there are always some unfortunate side-effects of choosing to see an incredibly popular movie with a theatre full of puberty-ridden teenagers. Sometimes it’s fun, like pretty much any time before the movie actually starts. But once the opening credits start rolling, I swear, you need to shut your mouth hole or I will punch you in the throat.

Naturally, the most annoying ones in attendance always end up either directly in front of or behind me. I misled myself and got my hopes up last night, because the entire theatre was ahush and enraptured as soon as the movie started. Of course, as soon as Josh Hutcherson made his first appearance I knew I had spoken too soon. (“Heeheeheehee, he’s so cute! LOL OMG SHHHHHH!”). But hey, it’s not like I won’t be seeing it again. (Duh.) I’ll just have to select a pre-noon movie time (while the legions are still curled up under their comforters) next time to avoid as much inappropriately-timed laughter as possible.

Okay, so now for the the down and dirty of it. My overall take on the movie?

So excited for The Hunger Games!

It. Was. Awesome.

I am going to bite my tongue (er, fingers?) and not give an in-depth review of the movie yet, since it technically only opens today and most of you haven’t seen it yet. That said, I do have a lot of thoughts on it and can’t wait to hear what you all think! I will say this much: I was not disappointed, and I support all of the (for the most part, insignificant) deviations and changes from the book. There was really only one part/aspect that gave me a little pause, but I’m already over it. I also don’t think you need to have read the book in order to A) understand what’s happening or B) enjoy it.

UGH. It was so awesome, I can’t even stand it. I cried no less than four separate times, and was essentially in a heightened emotional state for the entire 2.5 hours. Combine that with the aforementioned few hours of sleep that I got (yes, I am at work today), and I am a total zombie right now. But do you even need to ask? OF COURSE it was worth it. 🙂

I CAN HAZ COFFEE AND GOES AGAIN?!

Have a great weekend, everyone! And Happy Hunger Games! Friday!

Smooth Operator (Giveaway!)

Ho, ho, ho! There’s a reason my middle name really is “Ho”, y’know.

4 Days!

In honor of the fourth day ’til (of?) Christmas, I have a fun giveaway for you! A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted and asked if I would be willing to review V8’s newest products: V8 V-Fusion Smoothies. I really like regular V8 (despite having a less-than-stellar experience with the low-sodium kind — blech), so I was totally up for it.

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They sent me a bottle of each of the three flavors: mango, strawberry banana, and wild berry. They tasted pretty good! You can’t taste the veggies and the smoothies were very fruity and sweet. Well, okay, I should elaborate: two of the three of them tasted good. I really liked the strawberry nanner, and the mango flavor was my favorite (Ben and Taylor both liked it as well), but I was NOT a fan of the wild berry. Then again, I’m not too into berry-flavored beverages in general. Ick.

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While I do like the fact that these smoothies provide the whole “one full serving of vegetables and one full serving of fruit” thing that V8 offers, the nutritional stats aren’t perfect. There’s no fat, but each 8 oz. serving has 130 calories (Wild Berry has 120), with 21 grams of sugar. So this definitely isn’t the kind of thing that should be consumed with wild abandon. That said, the flavor of two of them was very nice, and the drink itself was substantial enough to take the place of breakfast one day last week when I was running late for work, hahaha.

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Along with the three full-sized (!) containers of the V8 V-Fusion Smoothies, I was also sent a nice “smoothie bottle”, which is a glass bottle with a cute impact cover over it. I really like that it has measurement amounts listed on the side, so you know exactly how many ounces you’ll be drinking — especially since, as I mentioned, one serving is 8 ounces (which is standard), but the bottle holds 16 ounces. In addition to that, I also received…

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A Vera Bradley tote! I was floored when I saw that this was part of the package. Back in college, every girl on campus carried one of these (VB tote + Northface jacket + Uggs = JMU girl uniform) and I swore never to own one… and then promptly bought one within a year of graduating. What can I say? I just couldn’t resist the pull of the paisley.

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The pattern on the bag I was sent is admittedly a little bit flowery (literally, ha!) for my usual tastes, but I’ve been using it for the past week or so, and I love how BIG it is. So now it’s your turn to win one of your very own!

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One reader will win the exact same package from V8: three full bottles of the smoothies (one of each flavor!), a smoothie bottle, and a Vera Bradley tote bag!

How to Enter:

1. Like Honey, I Shrunk the Gretchen! on Facebook.
2. Follow @shrinkinggretch on Twitter.
3. Blog, tweet or post on Facebook about this giveaway, mentioning my blog, Twitter handle, or Facebook page depending on the medium. Here’s some sample text for you to play with:

Win a Vera Bradley tote bag + 3 bottles of V8’s new smoothies via @shrinkinggretch/Honey, I Shrunk the Gretchen!‘s sweet #giveaway! http://bit.ly/vBqlMJ

That’s up to 5 different ways to enter and win! As always, multiple entries are definitely allowed, just don’t forget to come back here and leave separate comments for each one. A winner will be randomly selected on Monday, December 26th — a belated Christmas present for one of you! 🙂