Archive | November 2012

Merry Christmas?

I keep getting e-mails from the company that took the race photos at the Columbus Marathon.  They want, obviously, for me to buy pictures that they took of me during the race.

Have they looked at those pictures?  They are bad.  They could have been worse as I spent so much time blowing my perpetually runny nose in my hoodie sleeves (I’m a pretty girl).  There are no pictures of that.  But I swear there are pictures where I somehow grew four extra chins.  My mouth is always open (because I can’t breathe through my runny nose).  It’s grotesque.  I am the opposite of the ridiculously photogenic runner.

Which is crazy because I am normally photogenic.  Running is the kryptonite to my photogeneity.

Anyway, one of the purchase options is to have a race photo of my choice printed as Christmas cards.  Seriously, no one looked at these photos before they sent out that e-mail.

Or, maybe they did see them.  And they think that’s how I look normally.

That Was Nuts!

I knew this was going to be a good week when, at 7:10 am Monday morning, an intern at work came in and says

I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure I found a bag of weed laying in the hall.  What do I do?

By 7:15 am, I had gotten her to retrieve the bag of pot, had confirmed that yes, it was pot, and told her she should flush it, baggie and all.

That is an auspicious start to any week.

Then the other people at work got involved.  Our safety guy wanted to try and fish the bag of pot out.  I don’t know why.   The boss joked that he would like to find pot in his office.  The HR guy said we couldn’t use this a reason to do random drug screens.  Every one wanted to speculate how the pot got there and discuss why I shouldn’t have had it flushed.

If only my coworkers would be so engaged and responsive when it came to solving actual problems at work.  We wouldn’t have had the massive layoffs that cut the headcount from 200 down to 60 or so.

Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Batman

I have a coworker who isn’t too far removed from his college days.  He’s young and shiny and happy and innocent and he can always come up with a situationally appropriate Disney song.

When we first went out after work he was incredibly disappointed in Cleveland night life.  He couldn’t find a place that could make his favorite drink.  He couldn’t find his favorite kind of place (apparently, 7 night a week Irish Karaoke bars are big in Columbus?  I tried to find one while I vacationed there but couldn’t).

While now, my friend is moving on and I’m in charge of organizing the group gift.  It’s a fantastic, interesting, sad, and annoying task.

The fantastic part of the group gift is getting to show someone how much they are appreciated.  It’s finding a personal gift.  It’s getting to do something completely good and cheerful and kind.

The interesting part is seeing people react to the invitation to chip in.  You can learn so much about a person by the way they respond to this kind of request coupled with the way they normally interact with the honoree.

Anyway, on one of our first after work outings, he wanted so badly to introduce us to a drink called the Batman.  It was one of his favorites.  Our usual spot didn’t know the drink but happily attempted to make it for us when my friend googled the recipe.  He insisted afterwards that the attempt was subpar.

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Adobe Walls

What is up Adobe? Every time I actually reboot my laptop, Adobe Flash Player needs an update. I realize I only reboot once a month or so but what could you be possibly updating every month? It would be different if I noticed improved performance. What’s especially obnoxious is the crapware, McAfee Antivirus that Adobe tries to trick you into downloading.

I don’t want McAfee. If I did, I would go and seek it out myself.

So knock it off Adobe. Stop trying to trick me into installing programs I don’t want. Quit trying to trick me into automatically allowing Adobe to update itself. Otherwise, I might have to completely uninstall Flash Player. It’s just too annoying.

What Are You Thankful For?

When I was little, every major holiday was at my maternal grandmother’s house. I loved having that constant in my life. My family is fractured now and some holidays, we’re trying to visit 3 different houses. It’s crazy. So, I want to be sure that my kids have some stable, solid holiday traditions.

My favorite Thanksgiving tradition is one we started 3 Thanksgivings ago. We do a 5k as a family. It’s just a nice way to start Thanksgiving Day.

Last year I decided I wanted to have my own Thanksgiving dinner. I used to host holidays for my side of the family, but in recent years, we have gotten away from that. So, I have a small guest list of the black sheep family members and we gather for my Day After Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving Dinner. And I love it. I get to give my kids another stable tradition, I get to see family members I love and don’t see often, and I get to cook for them. I love to cook for people whom I love.

It’s fun but it’s also a ton of work.

I started three days before by putting my thawed turkey in my brining solution.

Two days before, we put up the tree, cleaned the house from top to bottom, and made the bread to dry (for stuffing, bread pudding, and meatballs).

Thanksgiving morning, after our run/walk (the Monkey King will have to train with me next year so that he can run), I made my cheesecake, cornmeal honey bread, stuffing, sweet potato puree, sweet potato bread pudding, ricotta meatballs, and French bread.

The day of my dinner, I wrote out my Christmas cards, made my turkey, green beans, pasta sauce, and mashed potatoes. By spacing it out, it was much more manageable. One of my biggest problems is that I get anxious and make everything early and struggle to keep it warm. I only have a regular oven which is not nearly enough space to keep all these different dishes warm. This year I thought I’d be slick and wait but that backfired. I was so behind that when my husband came home from work, he jumped in and started taking over some dishes. With the extra table in the kitchen and so many things going, there was no room. I had the crockpot on the counter with the sauce, all 4 burners were going at one point. When I pulled the ham out of the oven, I set it on a burner which I thought I had turned off. Oops. Pyrex shards were everywhere. All my guests were already in my kitchen and I had red hot, flying pyrex shards. Great.

My husband led the cleanup charge but the ham was not safe to eat. We ended up without gravy also because the shards very likely had hopped over into the pan. It was lucky I added pasta to my menu at the last minute; otherwise we would not have had enough food.

After dinner, the younger people all played a very competitive game of Monopoly while my husband once again took control of the kitchen. He washed more dishes. He only asked that I dry when the dish rack got too full. I was so happy. I wore myself out Wednesday and Thursday with all the cooking and cleaning. My husband wore himself out with clean up duty. Because of this I was able to sit and talk to my dad and his girlfriend for several hours at the dinner table. It was amazing as my dad is rarely talkative.

So, I am thankful for having such a great husband. I often bust his chops but I am confident that there are few men who would have swooped into the kitchen straight from work like he did. Everyone helped some with clean up, but my husband was in command and did the vast majority of the dishes.

I am thankful for my family. My kids, my father, and all our other guests.

I am thankful that I am physically and financially able to host my gathering.

I’m a little cranky though. Because now I need to come up with a way to top my exploding pyrex stunt at Christmas. That’s a high bar!

Au Pair

This evening, I was looking at the 3 tiny, very ripe D’Anjou pears I had sitting in my produce bowl. I hate wasting food so I did a google search on pear recipes. This landed me on the Martha Stewart site. She has a lovely seasonal produce recipe guide for pears. Many of them were too complicated or called for ingredients I don’t have on hand. But then I found the perfect recipe: Caramelized Pears.

As with most things, I can’t just make a recipe. I have to fiddle with it; even when there are only 2 ingredients.

First, I looked up what would happen if I tried to substitute Splenda for sugar. It wouldn’t work, that’s what would happen. So I gave up on that idea. And I prepared the pears according to the recipe. In the meantime, I also prepared a little something extra. I thought, “caramelized pears should be accompanied by vanilla and maybe raisins.” I followed the recipe below, from Martha Stewart, however, I substituted something else for the water. See below.

Caramelized Pears

Ingredients

  • 4 red Bartlett pears
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar

Directions

  1. Halve pears lengthwise; remove cores. (A melon baller removes cores easily, but a small spoon works, too.) Place sugar on a plate.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium. Press cut side of each halved pear in sugar. Pressing the cut sides of pears in sugar before cooking helps them caramelize. Place cut side down in skillet (fit will be snug). Cook until beginning to brown, 7 to 8 minutes.
  3. Add 1/2 cup water. Cover; simmer until pears are tender, 5 to 10 minutes (depending on ripeness), adding more water if sugar begins to burn.
  4. If liquid in pan is thin, simmer until thickened to a saucelike consistency; if it is thick, add more water. Serve sauce over pears.

Vanilla-Soaked Raisins

While performing steps 1 & 2 from the Martha Stewart recipe, I took a ½ cup of raisins and put them in a coffee cup with ½ cup of some homemade vanilla liqueur (my husband used vanilla bean pods and a bottle of Everclear). I microwaved this on high for 1 minute and then another 3 minutes on 20% power.

I added this instead of the water in step 3.

This smelled so good, I took a bite before I remembered to take a picture! But here is what I got:

A word of warning, straight out of the pan, the pears are scorchingly hot and smell irresistible. That is a dangerous combination. We didn’t have ice cream, so my husband dug some whipped cream out of the freezer (doesn’t everyone have whipped cream in their freezer?). It was perfect. What a lovely, easy, unexpected dessert.

Thanks Martha Stewart?

Muffins Everywhere

It was my turn to provide breakfast for the swim team this past Thursday morning. The swim team moms volunteer to make “to go” breakfasts for the team and the coaches because otherwise, many of the kids simply wouldn’t eat breakfast. And those kids definitely need to replenish those calories. They swim hard for an hour and a half and then go to school only to return to the pool for up to 2 ½ hours in the afternoon. Those kids don’t need to miss any meals.

One mom was kind enough to negotiate bulk quantity discounts at some local restaurants and bakeries. I prefer to make something in my kitchen.

Last year, each parent only needed to volunteer once as morning practice was only a couple mornings a week. This year it’s daily and I will volunteer once each month (4 times total).

For my one breakfast last year, I made 2 bagels per kid. One bagel per bag and cream cheese and one had nutella. Then I packed a mandarin orange and a napkin. This year, it was requested that parents also pack a drink, preferably chocolate milk.

The bagels were a pain. Hand forming, then boiling, then baking 40+ bagels is a lot of work. I decided I’d make muffins instead. There are 23-ish kids. I can make 2 muffins per kid in 2 batches as I have 2 muffin pans. Easy. My kids requested that I also make a batch for home. No problem. I found a recipe for Chocolate Chip Muffins, here’s the original although I will include the recipe below, came home from work and started off making a double batch.

As it was one of my normal crazy nights), I was in the middle of making dinner and doing chores when I started. The butter was still cold and I let it sit so that it would properly cream. I actually ended up leaving to drop dinner off for my swim team girl as she worked immediately after evening swim practice

When I came home, I creamed the sugar and butter and finished making the muffins. – Side note, although, it’s not listed in the instructions, take the time to cream the sugar and butter before you add any other ingredients. You’ll get a nicer texture in your muffins. – Unfortunately for me, I forgot to double the flour and the chocolate chips. This is what I ended up with:

They certainly tasted good, but all the chips went and melted into a solid mass at the bottom. I couldn’t serve these to the swim team. Oh darn (sarcasm); we just had to keep these for ourselves. Unfortunately, that meant I still needed to make 2 batches of good muffins.

I did it correctly, although I did omit the sparkling sugar topping and only used half of the chocolate chips. Two cups of chocolate chips split between 24 muffins was just plenty. When I used the proper amount of flour, here’s what I ended up with:

These are something I could proudly feed to my daughter’s teammates. Now, I must admit, I didn’t have any of these. I sent them to swim team and took the leftovers to work. But I received enthusiastic feedback from the people who did eat them. The cinnamon was a nice touch, and something many people commented on.

I decided that I wasn’t done for the night though, and made a healthier version for my husband and me. Here’re my modifications:

  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) butter
  • 1 cup sugar 1 cup Splenda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) milk
  • 2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) king Arthur white whole wheat flour or all-purpose flour 2 cups of whole wheat flour
  • 2 cups (12 ounces) chocolate chips 1 cup chocolate chips
  • coarse sparkling sugar, for topping

Since I already had 24 defective muffins,I didn’t quite dare to substitute Olivia for the butter. I have had issues with that at times when baking. The muffins were much less fluffy and light but very tasty.

You can really tell how many chocolate chips are really in these. 2 cups per single batch would have been an obnoxious amount of chips. The kids aren’t really hip to these muffins but are very happy with their defective ones. It made breakfasts really easy on Thursday and Friday. I froze the remaining and look forward to many more easy breakfasts.

I’m already plotting my December swim team breakfast. I’m thinking cheese soft pretzels, bananas, and chocolate milk.