26 December 2009

Christmas 2009

We started planning Christmas before Thanksgiving. We tried to think of gifts throughout the year and we tried to write them down. Turns out it's difficult for adults to go months without getting something they want. Still, we had a good list and promised to get everything ordered / shipped / delivered in time. We put up our own little tree and our one string of lights. We posted our cards on the wall and made a birthday pile for Joel - whose birthday is December 24th. This year, our Christmas was planned early and thoroughly. And the snags were deep and complicated.

I had to work late on Christmas Eve. I am not going into details, but my schedule was changed at the last possible minute. The circumstances were out of my control and the fallout was severe. I worked two hours later than planned on Christmas Eve, which is when we have dinner & presents. It was not because of any emergency or unforeseeable happening. Human error rained in our Christmas parade and I was angry. Jesse was furious. The situation changed the mood but we did our best to recover.

Jesse made macaroni & cheese with white cheddar and broccoli. He also cooked a turkey breast. Joel made knishes and I made pie & brownies. We also had extra lefse left from Thanksgiving. It was more than enough for three people and I thought we had done well not going overboard. But we actually had, we just didn't know it. I am not complaining.

We opened presents right after dinner. It's nice that Joel (who is not a Gentile) has his birthday at the same time. I think it would have been odd for us to be opening presents while he just sat there. In terms of presents, we had a great haul. I liked every single thing I was given. Some exchanges need(ed) to be made. Jesse got me rain boots that seemed too wobbly. He questioned their "structural integrity." My mom & Vicki sent glasses and some were broken. My dad & Deva sent us a 12 cup coffee maker. While we do have 12 coffee mugs, we can't fit 12 people in our apartment.

We also had to facilitate our own exchanges. Both of Jess's parents received the wrong gifts. They were ordered from different companies and our receipts are correct. But the items were wrong. Let me reach deep into my vernacular to say it sucks to think you have Christmas in the bag only to find the bag does not contain what you ordered. Jesse's dad recommended we go outside and actually shop for gifts in order to make sure people get what we want them to have. He may be on to something.

24 December 2009

Pie Making: 101

Bottom line: everything I did associated with the making of my pies was wrong.

I went to the baking aisle and did not see Pillsbury crust. So I bought Betty Crocker's crust. She's reputable in the baking world right? Her crust was not already made. I had to add water and roll it out. I set the (4) potatoes boiling and I got to rolling. It did not go well. Everything was sticky. So I added more flour. And while wondering how I got flour on my foot (and shoulder) I dropped the whole bag. First mess of The Great Pie Bake involved an ingredient I shouldn't have even needed.

I rolled and cut my dough. I buttered my dishes. I hit a wall. I did not know if I was supposed to bake the crust first. I mean I was supposed to be using ready-made crust. Was that stuff already cooked? Why didn't Betty Crocker explain that on the box. I decided to bake the crusts -- for just a few minutes -- because I would have hated for them to have been underdone.

Lesson: crusts cook quickly.

In less than 8 minutes, the crusts had browned. I knew that was bad. Aunt Shelia had already told me what the crust should look like at the finish and I already had it -- at the start. So I set those aside.

The potatoes were fork tender and (since I was told the skin had to come off in cold water) I ran cold water on them until the skin peeled away. It worked just like I had expected it too and I was pleased.

I then added a stick of butter and started mashing. I added (3) eggs, (2.5 cups) sugar, (.5 cup) milk and (half a large bottle) vanilla extract, and I kept mashing. One does not want lumpy pies.

The filling turned to soup. One second I'm attacking a piece of potato that won't break. The next, I have sweet potato stew.

I didn't panic, I added flour.

And more flour.

And more flour.

The taste changed. I got nervous. I added more vanilla and was done with it. I poured my concoction into my crusts and covered the edges with foil. Joel said that would keep them from baking any longer and burning.

I called Aunt Shelia, feeling accomplished. That did not last.

In Summary, and with expletives removed:
  • Pillsbury crust is frozen. It would not have been in the baking aisle. I really should have asked someone.
  • Pillsbury crust comes in a metal container, not a glass container like mine. So my baking time was off.
  • No one told me to butter the pan. I could have burned the crust.
  • My filling was soupy because I boiled the potatoes too long.
  • The potato skins were not supposed to peel away as cold water ran on them. They were supposed to peel away after sitting in cold water.
  • It was important to add four eggs, as eggs hold pie together. Skipping that fourth egg doomed me to soup just as much as the boiling did.
My aunt had also never heard of this foil over the crust business and was highly skeptical. I reminded her I do go to her for help and that she said nothing about frozen crust. Why would I know crusts come frozen? I told her I needed first grade instruction. She recommended kindergarten. Aunt Shelia even said "Betty Crocker crust. Who uses Betty Crocker's crust?" I told her Betty is reputable. She scoffed and told me to pray. And then she said I had obviously put love in the pies and that they would be just fine.

She was right. The pies were fine. I would even dare say they were good. I ate them both. I took some to work. Joel had some too. Jesse took a bite and said "it's sweet." He's special.

I'll make pies again next year and in the interim I hope to get out east to see my grandma make them in person. I'll take measurements and that'll be that. No more of that "stick and a little bit" business.

23 December 2009

Intro to Pie Making

23 December 2009
While thinking of my grandmother one night, I got a strong craving for one of her sweet potato pies. It was stronger than a craving - more like a hankering - and it could not be denied. It must be noted I have no experience making pies. When I was a kid, they just appeared. And since I've been an adult, I've lived too far from my pie-making relatives. It's been years since I've had one of my grandmother's pies. But I have vivid memories of the taste. That was the largest problem in my decision to make pies. Knowing how you want something to taste means you know when it's wrong. It doesn't have to mean you know how to make it right. So I went right the source and called my grandma for her recipe. She was of little help.

First of all, my grandma doesn't just make one pie. She specifically said "oh Danie I don't know how to make just one pie.". I brought myself up to two and even then I could tell my grandma had to reach. I'm one of nine grandchildren you know. And we're all used to getting our own pies. So for two pies, my grandma told me to use sweet potatoes, sugar, butter, milk, eggs and vanilla.

That's a great grocery list but a terrible recipe. I asked for more detail.

Grandma said to use 3 - 4 medium potatoes and 2 - 3 eggs. I was to use a half bottle of vanilla extract, a "stick and a little bit" of butter, and "a half teacup of milk." I told my grandma I feared for the future of these pies. She told me to pray.

I then went out among the ranks. My grandma is the best sweet potato pie maker. Surely her offspring know the tricks. I asked my mom for specifics, but she's not exactly a baker. There was a lot of "um, I think it's..." during our conversation. My mother basically said mix it all up, and when it tastes like you want it to taste, put it in the oven.

My dad asked why I didn't want his recipe. I told him it was because I didn't want his pies, I wanted grandma's pies. Sheesh.

I then called my Aunt Marion. She couldn't remember if she even put eggs in her pies.

Aunt Shelia had some numbers - but they were the highest I'd heard. She said 4 eggs and 2.5 cups of sugar. That seemed like a lot. But she also was the only one who told me which crust to get (Pillsbury) and what temperature was good for baking (325) and to add flour if the mix got too soupy. Also, the pie loses sweetness as it's baked, so Aunt Shelia told me to make the filling a little sweeter than I want the pie. She had lots of helpful information. And armed with that, I got my ingredients together and started baking.

I now see why pie making is reserved for special occasions.

21 December 2009

AND I Appeared in A Magazine

Just as I was arriving back in San Francisco, Lucy called to tell me she had received my magazine. I of course had no way of getting it that night, but I was sure to tell the world it was available. I appeared in the January 2010 issue of Fitness Magazine. I'm on page 55, next to Carrie Underwood and across from Bob Harper from The Biggest Loser. I know! It's awesome. I owe it all to Twitter.

I follow Fitness Magazine. I happened to see a tweet from the staff back in September asking people to explain how they had reached their weight loss goals. I replied. A few days later, someone asked me for my e-mail address and an editor contacted me. She asked me a few questions about how I lost the weight and if tips from the magazine had helped me. The honest answer was no, and I told her as much. Still, she told me my story was selected to appear as a blurb in the January issue. I got really excited, but not too excited. I mean I work in media. I know things can change up until the last second. While I had e-mail confirmation, it meant nothing until someone had a printed copy in their little hands. And that someone was Lucy.

It's cool seeing a (great) picture of myself in a magazine. I know lots of people lose weight. But it's so much more difficult than it sounds. Appearing in this magazine was my grand prize. I mean there's no reward for not eating too much. There's no pat on the back when you don't eat something you shouldn't. Even when you dodge unhealthy mistakes, you still have to add healthy choices in order to get results. Losing weight takes a lot of work and there are very few rewards. So this made being not-as-huge, a huge deal for me.

I find it's also inspiring my parents. I've challenged them both to lose 50lbs this year. They can do it. They need to do it. I'm offering a ridiculous (yet so far undetermined) prize. They both have young children. So they need their energy. This magazine is a tangible reminder to them that it's possible. And it's a reminder to me that I have to stay strong to help them.

All that, from a tweet.

20 December 2009

My Friend, Tab The Planner

I have a friend named Tabitha. Tabitha is an event planner. I don't mean that in a "defining Tab by her job" way. Yes, it's her job, but if she were a lawyer, she'd still be an event planner. It's the way she thinks, the way she approaches everything. I mean I plan. I pay attention to detail. I am efficient. And I am in awe of Tab.

She's married to Mike & even though I met them at Ithaca College in New York, they live in Southern California. We saw them fairly regularly when we lived in Vegas. But somehow moving to the same state brought literally us further apart. We attended their wedding in May, but that was just for a couple of days and we really on saw them for just for a few moments. So when Tab invited us to their place for a Christmas party, I decided I would go. Jesse would have gone if not for his having to work Sundays.

The drive from San Francisco to Burbank really isn't that bad once you get past Sacramento. Yes, traveling North to get to Southern California is counter intuitive. But it worked and was fairly easy. There were moments when I questioned my decision. I mean it was the week before Christmas and just a few weeks after the Thanksgiving road trip. I didn't need to be leaving home. I didn't want to be leaving home. However I really did want to see my friends. Some time after I got through traffic (yet before I hit the part of the state that smells like manure), I decided to make friends and family a 2010 priority. I want to see the people who have made me who I am and helped me get where I've gotten. I've made a lot of great friends in my travels. Now that I'm in a place where I want to stay, I'm not worried about being ready to move. So why not travel for leisure. With that decision made, I arrived in Burbank excited to just lounge.

Tab had set up a room for me, complete with welcome note and bedside magazine. I crashed their gift exchange (attended by other IC alum) and ate lots of treats (just to keep myself awake). Once the crowd dispersed, a regular person might have cleaned up and gone to bed. Tab did clean - then started prepping for the next day. She appeared with platters (each adorned with a post-it) and placed them around the apartment. She set the table, had Mike hang a few decorations and checked her extensive list.

She was up before 8AM the next day -- crushing, mixing and baking for the 7PM party. Mike was allowed to sleep in (until 9) and was sent out with his own list of errands and groceries. As a guest, I got to watch. As a friend, I wanted to help. But I had no idea what she was making. Tab's recipes ventured far deeper than my entertaining repertoire.

I watched as she rolled, cut and arranged and after each plate I kept waiting for her to be done. But she wasn't. I swear she made one item for every scheduled guest - and maybe two for me. My personal favorite was the cream cheese / pesto / tomato Christmas tree. We took a break to get lunch but she was back in the kitchen soon after, making sure the turkey pigs were in their crescent roll blankets and that the peanut butter balls were atop their brownie cookies. And then I had a visitor.

Her name is Kerry. She and I used to work together in Fargo. I've been friends with her since before I started "hanging out" with Jesse. I don't remember if she left Fargo before or after we did but life brought her to Pasadena, making her & the Tabs practically neighbors. Kerry stopped by for a visit and she too was quickly impressed with Tab's creations. Kerry & I did a quick rundown of the latest in our lives and (since she was about to go visit her sister for Christmas) she was off again. It was decidedly too quick a stop but it was better than what we had accomplished in the last five or six years.

Eventually Tab did finish cooking. Candles were lit, drinks were poured, guests arrived, the food was eaten - partially. There really was just too much. I did my best to eat everything in sight. But I am only one woman. I had a fantastic time indulging myself and just being around friends. The drive home the next day was uneventful. I remembered drive time is perfect for both calling friends and singing loudly. As much as I hadn't looked forward to making the trek, I'm really glad I did. It brought me to my first and most significant resolution of 2010. And that's exciting.

19 December 2009

LV Marathon 2009

No. It has not taken me two weeks to run the half marathon. Something ought to be said about running a race after one holiday and while planning for another. I mean there are only so many hours in a day.

The event was great. Everything was organized. There were several vendors at the expo. The necessary information was presented clearly and easily. My race was just okay. I was one of those people who drove to the venue, instead of getting a ride. I arrived later than I wanted and almost missed meeting my running mate, Cassie. She just happened to be in Vegas on business that weekend. And decided at the last minute to run with me. Cassie already runs, so for her it was a question of if she wanted to exercise that day or not. Bless her little running heart.

Like I said, I was late. And Cassie does not run with her phone. And there were 27,000+ people registered. Still - at one intersection in the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, we found each other. I thought that was a fortuitous sign of things to come. We then bobbed, weaved and scurried to our corral. That was the mistake that set the tone.

I signed up to be in Corral 22, based on my projected finished time. I'm slow but not so slow that I should be at the end of the marathon line. Unfortunately, that's where we were. Corrals 23+ were empty. Sure some people filed in behind us, but we were not where we should have been. Actually, we were. The people around us weren't and they screwed us from the start. The race started at 6:15 and we didn't cross the start until 6:58. One can lose a lot of steam in 43 minutes. Even worse, the start wasn't much of a start. A lot of those corral jumpers were walkers, So us runners trying to get going had to do a lot of weaving. I'm not a fan of weaving. It wastes energy and part of me is always worried about twisting something during a zig or a zag.

And of course the nerves started talking to me. I questioned my training. I questioned my hydration. I questioned my decision to run a race so close to Nike. I questioned my legs. I basically waited until the start to think about any and every regret I could have at the finish. Folks, that's just not smart.

Cassie and I saw the street sweeper a little more than a mile behind us. Disheartening? Indeed. We plugged along though, finding Kate & David at 3 miles and taking a potty break before Cassie pulled ahead at mile 4-ish.

The race was otherwise uneventful . The course for the half marathon was flat, and ended about where it started. I got to see CityCenter and other new businesses that have popped up on The Strip. I didn't think Vegas in December could be colder than San Francisco in October, but one lives and one learns. My hands were numb were the first few miles. Fortunately there were gloves all over the ground for my convenience. I made it a point to walk for almost a mile, to make sure my injured leg was going to make it without any serious problems. Kate & David were there again at mile 11, and Kate ran with me, even when I needed to walk.

I finished strong, but not as fast as I wanted. My leg did bother me, but it wasn't nearly as bad as it was after Nike. Aside from being lonely at the finish line (not a familiar face to be found), the race was a success. I proved t myself I could do it again and I set a new goal: to become faster. I also decided to take four weeks off from running to focus on leg strength and IT band healing. i plan to run the Oakland half in March. And I want to be faster and leaner than ever.

05 December 2009

Time to Rock n Roll

If I hadn't already spent too much money, I would have bought this shirt.

I'm in Vegas for the inaugural Rock n Roll Marathon & 1/2. It's bed time and I'm clearly not as asleep as I should be.

There are a lot of differences this time around. I'm confident in my ability to finish, but only to a point. I'm not at all worried about my heart or lungs. But I'm worried about my legs. One has an IT band injury. I am planning a full non-running recovery beginning tomorrow afternoon. The other leg is a little sore from my work out yesterday. It's not a big deal, but it is there. As of right now, my second to worst fear is not being able to finish. My absolute worst fear is not being able to finish, being too stubborn, ignoring my body, and doing real damage. It's worth noting how my fears have changed in just six weeks. I suppose that's progress.

~ Courtesy of my VZW Pinkberry