Big Sur Half Marathon on Monterey Bay

Hiya pals! Sorry for the delay in getting to this post. I traveled to Chicago for part of last week for work (and then stayed for the weekend to hang out with friends), and didn’t bring my personal laptop. I have carried two laptops through security before and it is NOT fun. And it’s super heavy. I decided not to do that to myself just for the off chance that I would have time to get to this lovely little race recap.

(Tangent: When you think about it, having to bring a work computer with you everywhere you go comparatively disadvantages women a lot more than men. When you account for your computer bag and your purse, your carry-on allotment is already used up! You either have to stuff your purse into your suitcase, thereby sacrificing quite a bit of valuable luggage space, or you have to check a bag. Either way it’s not ideal, it’s costly and it’s something men don’t have to worry about. #FEMINISM).

So anyway, back to the half marathon. It was terrible. I’ve already talked about how great of a time I had on the trip, overall. And I’ve mentioned how much I loooovveee Northern California. So when I say the half marathon was terrible, I’m literally only talking about the actual running of the half marathon.

J+L 13

I also understand that saying that running a half marathon was not fun is not a radical or surprising statement. It’s especially not surprising to hear that *I* didn’t enjoy running a half marathon because I’ve been very vocal about how much I hate running. So even by these already low standards, it sucked.

Big Sur BannersLet me start at the beginning. On Saturday, we went to the race expo to pick up our bibs and shirts. The expo was tiny. I have run three half marathons prior to the Big Sur half marathon, but they were all bigger ones. The Flying Pig had over 35,000 participants! The Big Sur half only had 9,000, so by comparison, it was really small. The expo was nice; unfortunately, though, I have gotten used to seeing really huge expos that have tons and tons of really nice merchandise and I usually learn about a new product or see a lot of cute workout clothes I want to buy. Nothing at this expo really caught my eye, so we were in and out in about 10 minutes.

expo

We spent the rest of Saturday having a great time in Big Sur and carbo loading for Sunday’s race (you can read a recap of Saturday here). Before going to bed Saturday night, we set our alarms for 5:30 am (never a pleasant time to wake up on a Sunday morning…), chugged lots of water and applied some flash tats to get in the racing mood!

pre race 2

Sunday morning, we woke up, chugged some more water, applied some more flash tats (seriously, we got a little bit carried away with these), donned our matching outfits, and headed to the starting line.

pre race 3

pre race

That was when the fun ended.

For some reason, Big Sur was just not my race. Obviously, the first half marathon I did was pretty painful. That stemmed from being incredibly out of shape overall and not really training appropriately (or really at all) for it. Ever since that one, though, each race has gotten better and significantly less painful. Until Big Sur.

From mile one, I was just uncomfortable. Mistake number one was putting on my usual daily moisturizer right before walking out the door. In my mind, it was important to put some SPF on before spending 2.5 hours out in the sun (I’ve gotten sunburned on long runs enough times to know this is important). Unfortunately, what I didn’t consider was that my daily moisturizer is not waterproof or sweatproof. The non-waterproofness ended up creating some issues. During the first few miles, as I began to sweat, my face started to feel greasy and my skin was feeling suffocated. It basically felt like there was warm goop all over me that I couldn’t get off. That was distracting and unpleasant but not the end of the world. At the same time, though, I was feeling winded and crampy. Not a great way to start a 13 mile run.

I tried to distract myself by focusing on my surroundings, but I couldn’t help but notice that I was already struggling. In the second and third half marathons that I did, the first few miles completely fly by. There is so much to look at and think about – the people around you, the spectators, the scenery, etc. As I was struggling along the course, I noticed an increasing sense of dread as I realized that I hadn’t even gone one mile and I already felt uncomfortable. I couldn’t get my head into the race.

The beginning of this course is also by far the least pretty so that didn’t help matters. We began in Monterey and wove through the town a bit. We ran through a couple streets with shops, cafes and restaurants. We ran through some residential areas. Then we got to Cannery Row.

cannery row

I told myself, “Hey, you love Steinbeck! Think about how awesome this is and how lucky you are. Think about that so you stop thinking about your stupid skin!” Unfortunately, this little mind game didn’t really work. I mean, I thought about those things for like 30 seconds and it was great and I did feel lucky. But then I went back to feeling a stitch in my side and pain in my hip.

After Cannery Row, the course got far more beautiful. The route took us out 7 miles down the Monterey Peninsula and then back 6. Some people don’t like out and back courses. I; however, tend to think they’re great. Compared to a lot of people who run these races, I’m pretty slow. So the out and back course is kind of fun for me because I get to watch a bunch of fast people race by me. Some people probably find this depressing, but I like it because it gives me something to watch and think about and makes the time go by a bit faster. Since I knew Jamie was ahead of me, I spent a long time searching for her in the sea of faces on the other side of the street. I also spent a lot of time just trying to take in the scenery. I honestly can’t imagine a more gorgeous place to run a half marathon than the Monterey Peninsula. I mean, I literally saw a seal sunning itself on a rock! I was looking for whales but didn’t see any.

course scenery use

I won’t get into the entire play-by-play (or should I say mile-by-mile) breakdown of the race. Suffice it to say that despite how absolutely gorgeous the setting was, I just wasn’t feeling it. I’ll also mention the fact that this is now the second half-marathon I’ve run where my extremely subpar math skills have created some issues. In this race and in the Nike Women’s Half I did in April, I have gotten to mile 7 and been so relieved because (in my mind), I only have five miles left. Five miles is a significant milestone for me because I know that takes me about an hour to run that far. I start telling myself, “Only an hour left. That’s not bad. You can do anything for an hour. If people survive in Guantanamo Bay for years, you can jog along the coast for an hour.” (If you can’t tell, my inner dialogue is a somewhat major part of running for me. Trust me when I say that you do not want to be alone in my head for 2.5 hours of running). *Note: I realized after posting this that most people would consider the voices in their head to be an “inner monologue.” I’m leaving it as is, though, because I think it’s more descriptive of how I actually feel at any given time. #CRAZY.

course scenery 2 use

Anyway, by now my more astute readers will have picked up on the fact that 7+5 ≠ 13.1. Inevitably, I come to mile 8 and think “YES! Only five miles left…WAIT…A…MINUTE!” And then I’m crushed. I realize that I am not running at a miraculous pace and that I still have another whole hour left and that I’m stupid. It’s honestly a soul-shattering experience.

By mile 12, I was on the brink of tears. I wanted to stop so badly. But how lame would it be to quit on mile 12 of a 13 mile run? Also, our hotel happened to be on the other side of the finish line so I knew I would have to get across it one way or another. Anything I could do to expedite that process was a plus. So onward I went. I started to notice a pain in my right foot. I tried to put it out of my mind. It was NOT the only part of my body that hurt at that point, so I kept trudging along, wincing with every step.

Finally, I saw the finish line! Only .1 miles away. That .1 mile was the longest .1 mile I have ever seen in my life. I was honestly not even happy when I crossed the finish line. I was in pain and all I could think about was getting back to the hotel. photo (6)

Unfortunately, the post finish line area was highly disorganized. I got my medal, which I was kind of disappointed by, and continued on to find Jamie. They had a line where you could pick up some free food and drinks. Unfortunately, the selection was not all that great. I grabbed a quarter of a bagel, some Baked Lays (um what is the point of running 13 miles if you can’t even eat real fried potato chips afterward…), three loose strawberries and a banana. The line took quite a while to get through and as I stood there, I just kept feeling worse. I realized how badly my feet were hurting and I was just all around miserable.

I finally found Jamie and we snapped a few photos (not my most flattering, obviously…) and we began hobbling back to the hotel.

post race

I realize I sound like a complete Debbie Downer right now, which is annoying. I oddly finished this race with my best time ever and once I realized that, I was pretty proud (and surprised). It was an absolutely amazing course and I loved being able to run along the ocean in such a gorgeous setting for a few hours. My issues with this race were mostly my own and I don’t really understand why this race was so hard for me. I guess some days you’re just off.

Regardless of my personal struggle, I would absolutely recommend the Big Sur Half Marathon to anyone looking for a half marathon to do. The course is flat and, as I already said a million times, amazingly beautiful. It’s a smaller event, so that’s something to consider. I think a lot of people prefer to run in smaller events. I actually kind of liked the size, but there were aspects of it that were just different than what I’ve come to expect.

Phew, sorry this post is so long! Probably very few people actually care to know this much detail about my Big Sur Half experience. The long and short of it is that I flew across the country for it, ran it, hated it, hobbled around for the next two weeks and haven’t run since. Literally.

But I did get to take a great trip to one of my favorite places in the world, and because of that, I’m very, very grateful.

Book Review: Not That Kind of Girl

Even though it wasn’t on my list of books to read before the end of 2014, I recently read Lena Dunham’s book, Not That Kind of Girl. I came across it in the airport right as I was finishing up White Teeth, and despite thinking that I didn’t want to read it, I found that I just couldn’t quite pass it up.

I fully recognize that Lena Dunham is a polarizing person. In fact, my own opinions of her are difficult to articulate precisely because I actually, somehow, agree with almost every criticism of her and every defense. Personally, I do think she’s a little bit over the top. I find myself wishing she would just get her act together a bit more and stop purporting to speak for an entire generation of young women of which I am a part. I do not identify with any character on her show and I’m relatively offended at the notion that I should. (For those who have never watched it, it’s actually a good show, but each character is just so incredibly self-absorbed and whiny that it’s disheartening to watch and comprehend that there are people in the world who actually share this world view).

I’ve basically never felt more like a Republican old man than I do when I watch the show or even listen to Lena Dunham speak on her own behalf. I usually find myself thinking “Not everything is about you!” or “Life’s not fair!” or “Grow up and learn how to be an independent, fully-formed person!” Like, seriously? I think I’m really hard on women sometimes. Some of this stems from the fact that I find myself saying at least one of the above sentiments to myself on literally a daily basis and I don’t really understand girls who don’t seem to feel the same level of anxiety about projecting even some modicum of competence and awareness of actual world issues. Then again, maybe Lena Dunham is my id? Who knows…

HOWEVER, and here is where the confusion comes in, despite my personal opinions of Lena Dunham, I somehow also really admire and look up to her as being a very important person in current cultural discourse. I am almost the exact same age as Lena Dunham. I am confident that I will absolutely never be as comfortable in my own skin as she is in hers. I truly respect the way she makes no apologies for being exactly who she is and I think it sends an important message to women and girls. Does this make sense? Yeah, not to me, either. Oh well.

Regardless of my conflicted inner monologue about Lena Dunham as a person and as a cultural icon, I thought Not That Kind of Girl was a really great book. For those looking for the next Bossypants or Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, you will probably be disappointed. Despite the fact that Lena Dunham writes a comedic television show, like Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling, her book is not really intended to be a comedic book in the same way that those two are. It really is more appropriately categorized as a memoir. And again, here I find myself saying, “Seriously, you haven’t done anything interesting, who are you to think you can write a memoir?” #whyamisomean

In actuality, I found Lena Dunham to have a really interesting writing style. I was frequently surprised by her eloquence and the strength of her voice. I alternated between laughing and crying and found myself identifying with far more than I expected to.

I certainly would not recommend this book to everyone. Some will not understand it. Some will be completely horrified by it. But for the right audience, this book is a really insightful and captivating piece of writing and it made me really appreciate Lena Dunham in spite of all the things I really dislike about her.

***

“But no matter what, nothing can ever be as it was. Everything has changed in a way that sounds trite and borderline offensive when recounted over coffee. I can never be who I was. I can simply watch her with sympathy, understanding and some measure of awe. There she goes, backpack on, headed for the subway or the airport. She did her best with her eyeliner. She learned a new word she wants to try out on you. She is ambling along. She is looking for it.”

Big Sur

Big Sur is a really interesting place. Mostly in the sense that it’s not really place. There is no city of Big Sur or anything like that, it’s just a strip of land that has no defined boundaries. Generally speaking, though, it’s considered to be a 60-90 mile stretch of coast line that begins just south of Carmel. So when people refer to things being in Big Sur, there’s not really a specific town that they’re referring to. You kind of haphazardly come upon these little roadside places as you’re driving down the coast. Some look kind of cute and some look pretty ramshackle.

big sur bridge (use)

Nepenthe is one such roadside place, definitely far more cute than ramshackle. It would probably be hard to miss it completely, but it would be easy to drive past and never really give it a second thought. That, however, would be a mistake.

nepenthe useMore than one person told Jamie that we needed to go to Nepenthe during our time in Big Sur. As I already mentioned, my friend Caroline and her boyfriend, John, planned to drive down the coast to meet Jamie and me at Nepenthe for lunch. Before we left Carmel, I spoke with Caroline who told me that she and John were about an hour behind us on the road down to Nepenthe. The drive down Highway 1, gorgeous though it is, is not a cell-phone reception heavy area. Once Jamie and I got down the coast a bit, we realized that even though Caroline and John were quite a bit behind us, we would never be able to meet up with them if we moved around from place to place.

payphone

We pulled into Nepenthe, and I planned to text Caroline and John to let them know that we’d just wait for them there, but again with the no service thing. Luckily, Nepenthe is the last place on Earth that still has a working pay phone! I actually used this thing to make two calls. #Blastfromthepast!

Luckily, Nepenthe is a great place to kind of just hang out so it was fine to wait there for a while. A lot of the restaurant is outside, and there are some large concrete stairs that have pillows on them. We sat there in the sun, taking in the views and people watching until Caroline and John made it down. (We actually ate lunch while we waited because we were absolutely starving and then we hung out with Caroline and John while they ate).

Nepenthe 1

There are times when running half-marathons while traveling is great; however, there are a lot of times when running a half-marathon on your “vacations” seems like the stupidest idea you’ve ever had. Being at Nepenthe, I found myself seriously questioning my commitment to the next day’s run since all I could think about was how amazing it would be to sit there in the sun, overlooking the cliffs and the pacific ocean, drinking a beer (or three). I don’t even really like beer. But drinking beer outside at Nepenthe just seemed like it would be an absolutely perfect way to pass an afternoon. But alas, large quantities of beer and running don’t really mix. And actually, neither do large quantities of beer and the winding, cliffside roads leading back to our hotel. Instead, I reluctantly focused on hydrating.

Nepenthe 2

After lunch, we continued our drive down the road for a while to see a waterfall that John knew about. The waterfall was about fifteen minutes further down the road than Nepenthe so we all piled in Caroline’s car to head down there. Once we got there, we noticed that a lot of people were just pulling off to the side of the road to park. We decided to pull into the parking lot and park in the official lot.

Once there, we got out of the car and took the path that led down to the waterfall. It was about a quarter of a mile walk to get down to the waterfall. And once we got to the waterfall, we realized that calling this scenic attraction the “waterfall” is a bit misleading. Well…there is a waterfall there. But it is just not even close to the most beautiful part of the vista. The waterfall is pretty darn tiny, but the view is just incredible.

beauty 2

I found out after the fact that this is one of only a few waterfalls in the world that empties into an ocean, so there is some geological significance, I suppose. But regardless, it’s a pretty lame waterfall.

beauty

J L & C

After taking in the waterfall views, we thought we’d stop at this pink sand beach we’d heard about, Pfeiffer Beach. Pfeiffer Beach, we learned, is a pink or purple (depending who you ask) sand beach that has gorgeous sunset views. The entrance to the beach is entirely unmarked. There’s an unassuming side road off of Highway 1 that leads you two miles down to the beach. The road down to the beach is only one lane so you’re constantly having to stop and pull over to allow cars coming the opposite direction to pass.

I want to say that once you get down there, it’s totally worth the stressful drive. HOWEVER, annoyingly, we drove all the way down and didn’t actually get to see the beach. I guess that going to Pfeiffer Beach for sunset is a really popular idea and unfortunately, we were a little bit too late. When we got there, they were only letting one car in for every car that came out. They were also charging $10 to park there. This was a little bit obnoxious. I mean, we all hear about how California taxes are out of control; however, their extreme dedication to charging people for parking in state parks is kind of outrageous. We actually got a ticket at the “waterfall.” It made this incredibly lovely experience just the slightest bit irritating.

Anywho, the point is that, unfortunately, we turned around and drove back out to the main road to head back to Monterey instead of seeing the beach. The plus side was that we were able to take in the sunset from the beautiful drive on Highway 1 as we were heading back.

We arrived back in Monterey just in time to change and rest at the hotel for a couple minutes before heading out to dinner. I made reservations for four at a restaurant called Lovers Point in Pacific Grove, one town over from Monterey. Lovers point is known for having really great views of the shoreline because it sits right on the beach. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any of the famed views since it was already dark once we arrived. Luckily, the food was really great, so even though we missed the views, we still had a nice meal. Monterey and Carmel are known for having a lot of world class restaurants. I’m not sure I’d put Lovers Point up there with them; however, it was a delicious, relatively casual restaurant that had really nice, yet not too fancy, food. I would definitely recommend it to anyone heading to the area.

We saw a lot of other runners at Lovers Point, so it was obviously a popular pre-race destination. And coincidentally, the race route took us past the restaurant the next morning. It was like deja vu! Except instead of eating delicious pasta and enjoying myself, I was running along the coast (which sounds a lot better than it felt at that moment), questioning my decision-making capabilities and wanting to kill myself. So yeah, deja-vu.

Beach Pic 4

Back soon with a race recap.

#NoCal

One of my favorite places in the world is Northern California. My mom and I took a trip out to San Francisco and Carmel around this time last year, and I knew I couldn’t wait too long to get back.

IMG_1483

Somewhat unrelatedly (though you will see the connection soon enough), I have recently begrudgingly taken up running. I like to think that I was conned into it by two of my friends, Sara and Jamie, when they suggested that I run the Cincinnati Flying Pig Half Marathon with them a year-and-a-half ago. Ever since I agreed to run that race with them, the three of us have had an ongoing text and email conversation about running, general working out, healthy eating, etc. We also talk about way more fun and interesting stuff, of course, but for basically anything health, fitness or running related, we know we have a receptive audience in each other. It’s been a really great way to keep in touch with some of my friends who I don’t live as close to as I would like.

Ever since that first half marathon, we seem to get together once every six months or so to do another one in a different city. A few months ago, Jamie sent around an article she found online about the best spring marathons across the country. One of the marathons on the list was the Big Sur Marathon. Because of my love for Northern California, I clicked on the link contained in the article and began perusing the official marathon site. I came across the sub-page dedicated to the Big Sur Half Marathon. (As a rule, I’m much more interested in half marathons than full-length marathons.) It turns out that the half takes place in November of each year, so it’s a completely independent event from the full-length marathon. Finally, I had found my reason to get back to Northern California!

I will dedicate a separate post to the actual race, but we had a great (albeit very short) trip to San Francisco, Monterey and Big Sur, so I definitely want to make sure to talk about the non-running portion of the trip, too. For such a short trip, we accomplished a lot, so I’m going to break things up into a few posts, but I promise I will post about it all! I’m still so enamored with everything we saw while we were there, that I definitely need to document and share.

Jamie and I arrived in San Francisco at about 10:00 pm on Friday. We flew out of San Francisco at 6:00 am the next Monday. So it was a super short trip, but we were able to cram a lot of fun activities into a short amount of time. Once we arrived at SFO on Friday, we rented a car to drive down to Monterey. (The half marathon actually takes place in Monterey rather than Big Sur, so that’s where we stayed.)

rental

Two things about this. One: the rental car situation at SFO is completely insane. I honestly do not think I could have navigated my way to the rental car counter had I been alone. Not only is it extremely far away from the airport, the signage is very unclear and unhelpful. Even if you know exactly where to go, though, it would take you 20 minutes to get there because the rental car counter is nowhere near the actual terminals. Once we actually made it there, things went pretty smoothly. We were even upgraded from whatever-the-cheapest-car-on-the-website-was to a Lincoln SUV. Hey, if it’s good enough for McConaughey, it’s good enough for me. The second thing is that Monterey is about a two-hour drive from San Francisco. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend trying to drive down there after flying across the country after a full week of work. Live and learn. But seriously, don’t do this. We arrived in Monterey at about 1:00 am local time…4:00 am Ohio time. Woof.

Based on its proximity to the start of the race, we had booked a room at the Hotel Abrego. It ended up being a nice hotel and it was really convenient to the race, so it was perfect for our needs. Unfortunately, our check-in experience was a bit on the creepy side so I think our impression of the hotel was kind of tainted from the get-go. Let’s just say that Hotel Abrego apparently does not believe in staffing their most appealing, competent and non-ghost-like employees to work the night shift. But we successfully checked in, made it to the room and passssssed out.

In the morning, I woke up to a gentle light flickering on the ceiling. We had our blackout curtains drawn and I had covered the light emanating from the alarm clock before going to sleep. For the longest time, I just laid there wondering where the heck that flickering light was coming from. Eventually, I realized that the fireplace in the room had somehow automatically ignited in the middle of the night!! So weird!! Definitely contributed to the strange vibes we had gotten the night before.

Despite the blackout curtains and the peaceful crackling (…) of the fireplace, Jamie and I are both early-risers, so by 9:00 am on Saturday, we were ready to start our day.

Big Sur Banners

After swinging by the Expo to pick up our race bibs, we headed out for a scenic drive. Our only plan for the day was to eat lunch at a restaurant in Big Sur called Nepenthe. My friend, Caroline, and her boyfriend, John, planned to drive down from San Francisco, where they live, to have lunch with us and hang out for the day. We didn’t need to leave Monterey right away, so we decided to take a detour on the famous 17-mile-drive before getting on the road to Nepenthe.

17-Mile-Drive is a stretch of road (a seventeen mile stretch, if memory serves…), between Carmel and Monterey. It is winding and incredibly scenic, as most of it goes right along the coast. There are all sorts of incredible homes and vista lookout points. Pebble Beach, the famous golf course, is also located along this stretch of land. Jamie and I, being the incredible dorks that we are, got out at almost all of the scenic lookout points to take photos and admire the beauty of the surroundings. Rather than blabber on about how amazing it is (which, it really is), I’m just going to post some photos below. I’m also posting a few from the trip I took there last year.

After completing this drive of indeterminable distance, we got on the road to head down to Big Sur and Nepenthe. I will be detailing our time in Big Sur in a separate post since this one is getting pretty lengthy. Let me just conclude by pointing out that I have absolutely never been on a more breathtaking drive in my entire life than the drive down Highway 1 from Carmel to Big Sur. During the hour that we were in the car, I think I must have commented at least 1,000 times on just how beautiful the scenery was. It may be cheesy to say, but there were times, I could have sworn I had left the United States and ended up in Ireland.

big sur bridge (use)

(I also remarked how glad I was that I was the one driving because I think this portion of the trip would have made me feel incredibly car sick had I been a passenger. There is certainly no shortage of twists, turns and hills, so that’s definitely something to keep in mind if you get bad motion sickness like I do!)

Anywho – check back soon for a recap of our Saturday afternoon in Big Sur as well as a race recap! Hopefully I won’t ramble quite as much in those posts…but we all know I will.

Two Mediocre Appetizers

Does the title of this post give away the fact that I’m not good at SEO? To be honest, I actually don’t even know what SEO stands for and, based on my readership, neither do any of you. So let’s move on.

This website is nothing if it’s not honest, and mediocre is exactly what the appetizers in this post were. Why am I posting about them, you ask? Great question. Let’s go with, “If I can prevent just one of my loyal readers from the embarrassment of showing up to a holiday party with mediocre culinary contributions, then I will consider this post to have been worth it.” Please, learn from my mistakes.

pastry puffs

Mini mushroom and apple tarts with caramelized onions and gruyere cheese

goat cheese balls

Pistachio crusted goat cheese truffles with roasted red pepper and bacon

I recently went to a Halloween party and everyone was asked to bring a couple of dishes or a cocktail for everyone to share. I always enjoy a chance to cook fun stuff for other people, so I was excited about picking out two great recipes that I thought would be crowd pleasers. I chose pistachio crusted goat cheese truffles with roasted red pepper and bacon and mini mushroom and apple tarts with caramelized onions and gruyere. I know what you’re thinking: how could either of these apps be anything other than amazingly delicious?? Well, sadly, they were. However, I think with a couple of minor changes, each of these dishes could have been really great.

I thought it would be informative to go through these recipes step-by-step describing what I actually did and I wish I would have done. I’m no chef, but I do think I’ve messed up enough stuff while cooking to know how to salvage things to some extent ;)

Mini Mushroom and Apple Tarts

  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 oz. baby bella mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1½ granny smith apples, cubed into ½” cubes
  • 1 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 1½ oz. grated gruyere cheese
  • 2 tbsp. chives, minced
  • ½ tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 package (1 pound) of frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 1 egg, beaten

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. (Modification number one would be to cook these at a WAY lower temperature – in the future, I’d probably do around 325-350. The toppings on my puff pastries got really burned cooking at 400 degrees. I think it would work better to cook them at a lower temperature for a few more minutes.)

Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats and set aside. (I only own one silicone baking mat so I didn’t do this. I lined one baking sheets with aluminum foil and one with nothing at all. This possibly contributed to the oven temperature being too high.)

In a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil and cook the onions with one teaspoon of salt until they are golden brown, approximately 30 minutes. (Caramelized onions are Heaven on Earth, so nothing to change here apart from the fact that I would probably dice, rather than slice, the onions if I make this again. The only reason for this is that it would make them fit on the mini puff pastries a bit more easily.)

oniony goodnessSet the onions aside in a large bowl. In the same pan, saute mushrooms until tender, about five minutes. Set the mushrooms aside in the same bowl as the onions.

In the same pan, melt the butter and add the apples with the sugar.

apples

Cook the apples until softened, about ten minutes. (I can’t even begin to tell you how wonderful your kitchen will smell at this point. That smell is more or less the only reason why I’m convinced that this recipe has a lot of potential to turn out great!) Once the apples are cooked, add them to the bowl with the onions and mushrooms.cooking apples

Add cheese, chives and thyme to the bowl and stir with onions, mushroom and apple mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Using pizza cutters, cut the puff pastry into two-inch squares and spread them evenly on the baking pans. (This is the one thing I am certain that I did right! Remember how bad I am at baking and crust-related activities? Well I learned my lesson this time around and bought pre-cut puff pastry. Genius!)

photo 1 (12)

Brush the puff pastry with a beaten egg.

photo 4 (11)

Using a tablespoon, place the filling in the middle of the puff pastry squares. (This is the part when I realized that I should have diced each component of the filling a lot smaller. These pastry squares aren’t very big, so it was hard to pile on as much topping as I would have liked. The large size of the chunks made it hard to get a good mix of ingredients on each pastry.)uncooked

Bake for 25 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through and switching the pan on the bottom rack to the top rack and vice versa. (Again, I would strongly advise against baking these for 25 full minutes. If you have the oven set to 400 degrees, I think about 15 minutes would probably be enough. See how burned the final result ended up being?)

pastry puffs

Listen, I’m not gonna lie. I clearly still ate a couple of these tarts. And they weren’t terrible. A couple people at the party told me they thought they were really good. However, I’m convinced that they could have been a LOT better. Like a lot. If you make them, let me know!

Now, onto the truffles!

Pistachio Crusted Goat Cheese Truffles with Roasted Red Pepper and Bacon

  • 8 ounces plain goat cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup chopped roasted red pepper
  • 3 slices thick-cut bacon, fried and chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 3/4 cup pistachios, chopped and crushed

ingredients

This recipe is extremely simple to make. All you do is combine all the ingredients other than the pistachios in a bowl using either a big spatula or your hands. You want to ensure that the bacon and roasted red peppers are evenly distributed in the cheese. I found it easier to accomplish this using my hands rather than a spoon but if you don’t want goat cheese all over you, get off this website. No wait, sorry. If you don’t want goat cheese all over you, a large spoon may be a better option. But it’s definitely not going to work as well.

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Then, you just take a bit of the mixture and roll it into a ball shape. I used about a tablespoon of the cheese mixture and the resulting truffles were about an inch in diameter. Then, you simply roll the truffles in the crushed pistachios until they’re completely coated.

goat cheese balls

Really my only complaint with this recipe was that the ratio of goat cheese:other ingredients was way too high. Trust me when I say that “too much goat cheese” is a complaint I didn’t know was possible to have. Rather than lessen the amount of goat cheese, though, I would just want to increase the amount of the other ingredients. And when the other ingredients are bacon and roasted red peppers, I think that’s a fair solution.

other ingredients

I would suggest using five pieces of bacon and about 3/4 cup of roasted red peppers rather than the three pieces and 1/2 cup that the original recipe calls for. I would also make the truffles a bit smaller, so the result would be to have a greater number of smaller truffles each with a higher density of ingredients.

Now I have no idea why anyone, in the world of great appetizers in which we are lucky enough to live, would choose to make either of these recipes now that I have basically gone on record as saying that they’re not that good. But, if for some reason you do try them with my suggested modifications, let me know how they turn out. I’d love to know whether I’m as much of a recipe wizard as I currently feel like I am! Inquiring minds must know…

Spaghetti Squash and Turkey Sausage Bolognese

Over the past couple weeks, I have FINALLY gotten back in the kitchen! When I get tired, busy or, to be honest, just plain lazy, it’s so tempting to just order takeout or eat simple things like scrambled eggs, yogurt with fruit or a sandwich. But ultimately, I enjoy cooking when I have the chance and it feels so much better to have some good, nutritious food at the end of the day.

You may have also noticed that I tend to make a lot of stuff that makes good leftovers, too. That’s because most recipes out there make too much food for one person. I enjoy bringing leftovers to work with me to eat at lunch. We have a really nice cafeteria at my office, but at the end of the day, it’s still a cafeteria and it gets pretty old eating there every single day.

A couple Sundays ago when I had the chance, I cooked up a big batch of bolognese sauce to put over spaghetti squash. The recipe makes a lot and it saves really well in the refrigerator, so it was great for lunches and dinners throughout the week.

Spaghetti Squash with Turkey Sausage Bolognese

spaghetti squash - finalIngredients

- 1 large spaghetti squash*

- Olive Oil

- Salt & Pepper

- 3 slices thick-cut bacon

- 1 medium yellow onion, diced small

- 2 carrots, diced small

- 3 stalks celery, diced small

- 3 garlic cloves, minced (or crushed – I put mine through the garlic press)

- 1 pound italian (mild or hot) turkey sausage

- 2 cups crushed tomatoes

- red pepper flakes, to taste

- 2 bay leaves

First, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut the spaghetti squash in half, lengthwise (CAREFULLY), drizzle olive oil over the cut side and add salt and pepper to taste. Put each half on a baking sheet (I’ve done this cut side down and cut side up and it really does not make a difference in the final outcome) and roast for about 40-45 minutes, until the inside is tender and can be easily pierced with a fork.

While the squash roasts, using a large, heavy pan, cook the bacon. Once bacon is finished, remove it from the pan and set it aside on a paper towel.

Add one tablespoon of olive oil to the same pan and add the onion, carrots, celery and garlic.

veggies

Saute the veggies until they are tender, about 15 minutes.

spread

Once veggies are tender, remove them and set them aside in a medium-sized bowl.

Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan and add the turkey sausage. I have made this recipe a couple of times now, and I’ve noticed that the quality of the sausage you use makes a huge difference. For most things, I just buy whatever sausage or meat that they sell at the grocery. However, after making this with fresh ground sausage from a local butcher, I’m a complete convert. It made such a difference in how the recipe turned out. It’s a good dish either way, but honestly, if you have the time and the inclination, using a nice, flavorful sausage will make all the difference in the world.

Once the meat is cooked through, add the bacon and vegetables back to the pan. Add the tomatoes, the red pepper flakes, the bay leaf and salt and pepper to taste. Bring the sauce to a simmer and let it sit for at least a few minutes. At this point, you could serve the sauce over the squash and you’d have a lovely meal on your hands. I usually like to let the sauce cook a bit longer, though, so that all the flavors meld together. This is also a good time to tinker with the consistency, too. I tend to like a bit of a thicker sauce, so I will leave the sauce uncovered while it cooks for a while. If you’re okay with the consistency once you’re finished adding all the ingredients, you can just cover the pan and let it simmer.

While the sauce is simmering away, pull the squash out of the oven. Let it cool for a few minutes, and then gently scrape the interior with a fork. The inside will come out in strands, like spaghetti.

squash

Once everything is finished to your liking, compile it into one bowl, top with parmesan cheese, and dig in!

* Listen, I’m not going to be one of those people that acts like spaghetti squash tastes just like actual pasta. It does not. It tastes like squash. Squashy though it may be; however, the flavor is mild and relatively neutral. Therefore, when you add spaghetti squash to a dish like this, it serves as a great, lower calorie alternative to pasta and the end result is a light, yet comforting and hearty meal.

The Literary United States

I recently came across this article in Brooklyn Magazine, The Literary United States. The author has compiled a list of books that she believes are representative of each state in the country. In the words of the author, the goal was to “come up with a list that was more than just a general reflection of a place, but rather paid attention to the specifics, even at the risk of the exclusion of the whole. No one book, after all, can completely capture the spirit of something so unwieldy as a state…And yet there are those stories that so beautifully evoke a time and a place and a way of life that it becomes close to impossible to separate the literary perception of a place from its reality—one winds up informing the other.”

Before a “girls trip” to New York this past summer, my mom came up with the idea to pick a book about New York City that everyone going on the trip could read in advance. The thinking was that it would be like a mini book club and would give us some context for the places we would see. (We settled on Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote.) I thought doing that was a really cool idea, but I haven’t thought to do something similar in advance of any of my other recent trips.

So reading this article gave me the idea to apply that same great idea to all of my future travels. I began planning my next trip to the bookstore. The next trip I have planned is to Northern California. Unfortunately, the book that this article lists as the novel most evoking Northern California does not seem like it’s going to be a great choice.

It’s called Suicide Blonde and the quote from the book that the author of the article chose to highlight is, “You’ll see, there are a million ways to kill off the soft parts of yourself.” Okay, so right off the bat, it seems pretty emo. I suppose that is consistent with my impression of Northern California. I also don’t hate reading moody, self-indulgent books. I actually just finished one, Nobody Is Ever Missing, that I liked a lot. So I thought I’d give Suicide Blonde a shot.

However, after quickly googling some reviews, I’m on the fence. The first two reviews that popped up on my Google results page were, “Vanity Fair called this intensely erotic story of a young woman’s sexual and psychological odyssey ‘a provocative tour through the dark side.'” and, “What i learned: sometimes, even a not-that-great book can break your heart.”

Soo…yes, I’m on the fence. I really don’t want to give up on this idea before I’ve even begun; however, I also don’t really want to read Suicide Blonde. Anyone have any other suggestions for books that are representative of Northern California? I’ve read mostly all of Steinbeck’s books and apart from that, I’m at a loss! Help!

Book Club: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Hi, friends! Long time no…talk (?). Truth be told, I unfortunately have not been doing a lot of cooking recently, so there are no fun updates to be shared. I’m hoping to turn that around this evening, but in the meantime, I thought I’d continue on my recent streak of posting about books.

We had our inaugural law school friends book club earlier this week and it was AMAZING! My friend, MK (who STILL HAS NOT BLOGGED ABOUT COOKING THAT CHICKEN), suggested that we kick off our book club with Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. It’s kind of hard to believe that none of us (all of whom I would consider to be fairly well-read people) had read this classic before.

photo (2)

This book surprised me (and not just when I opened my used copy to find these two coupons from 1990). On some level, I think I must be traumatized by my high school english experience because I’ve found that when I think about picking up a book like this, I automatically assume that it will be dry and hard to get through. Consequently, I have a hard time getting excited about starting. That’s why I was so surprised when, within the first fifty pages of this book, I found myself literally laughing out loud.

Now, that’s not to say that I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a comedy. This book is Maya Angelou’s autobiography of her childhood growing up in rural Arkansas. Or, as the cover on my old-school version of this book says, it’s “the moving and beautiful autobiography of a talented Black woman.” For some reason, that description strikes me as hilarious.

Most of the story is decidedly not funny. In fact, a lot of the subject matter is very heavy: race relations in the rural south in the 1930’s, gender relations in the rural south in the 1930’s, rape, religion, parental abandonment. No one would say that Maya Angelou had an easy upbringing. However, in spite of the seriousness of the subject matter of the book, the writing style is easy and even enjoyable to read. I believe that all five of us felt that the book was relatable. Which is an amazing feat, seeing as how none of us are now, nor have we ever been “talented Black women” living in the south in the 1930’s.

I also couldn’t help but notice that the way the book is written seems very simple. You have the sense that the narrator (Maya) doesn’t necessarily have a lot of thoughts about the things that happened to her. She just lays out the story and allows the reader to come to his or her own conclusions. In our meeting, we decided that that writing style has the effect of making the message more powerful.

All in all, I absolutely loved this book. Not only was it very eye-opening and thought-provoking, it was enjoyable to read. We had a wonderful discussion about the book via google hangout. It was actually really nice to discuss a book in-depth like this after reading it. Our conversation illuminated some interesting perspectives and definitely gave me a greater understanding of some of the plot lines and literary devices.

Oh, and luckily, there was wine.

If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat. It is an unnecessary insult.” 

Book List 2014

It has recently become painfully obvious that, in any given week, there are just simply not enough hours to accommodate all of the various “lounging” activities that I want to accomplish. I’m definitely not one of those people who always likes to have a “project.” No, I’m generally happiest when I have plenty of time in my schedule to do basically anything that can be done laying down sitting up like a respectable human with a glass of wine in hand. I mean, between watching Netflix, keeping up with new fall television on Hulu, perusing the internet, cooking, and reading books, blogs and magazines, there is really plenty to keep me occupied in the relaxation department. (It’s this mentality that has me convinced that I will be the best and happiest retiree ever…)

Recently, however, I’ve realized that I’ve let the balance shift a bit too far in favor of Netflix and Hulu at the expense of other equally important endeavors like reading actual books. I am adding books to my reading list far faster than I’m crossing them off and it’s time to do something about it!

I’m challenging myself to finish four of the books on the list below (in no particular order) between now and December 31.

  • White Teeth, Zadie Smith - I’m currently about halfway through this book. Zadie Smith has been on my list for quite some, but she recently got bumped up to the top of my list when I found out she is speaking at the Wexner Center in November. So far, I’m loving her writing style. Based on how acclaimed she is, I was surprised by how humorous and accessible this book is.
  • On Beauty, Zadie Smith - very excited to start this one next!
  • The Secret History, Donna Tartt – I read The Goldfinch, but didn’t think it lived up to the hype. I’ve heard that some people prefer this book by the same author, so I’ll be interested to see how it compares.
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou - this is the inaugural book of the law school friends book club. It’s about time I read this classic.
  • The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls – a good friend of mine recommended this to me and since then, I feel like I’ve been hearing about it everywhere. This is a pretty short book, so it may be a good choice for my four-books-before-2015 challenge.
  • The One and Only, Emily Giffin – hey, man. Everyone needs a silly book every once in a while. I liked Something Blue but didn’t really get into any of the other books in that series. I’m willing to give this one a shot, though!
  • The Husband’s Secret, Liane Moriarty - I’ve heard a lot about this one from a lot of different people. Based on its apparent far-reaching popularity, I’m sure that I will really enjoy it once I read it, but I have to say that the concept and author don’t really draw me in and excite me.
  • Thirty Girls, Susan Minot - I read a review of this book in Vanity Fair, and the premise sounded really intriguing. It deals with girls captured by Kony’s army, but in a personal and human way. We’ll see!
  • The Nixon Defense, John Dean - I like reading nonfiction but I almost never do. It feels so daunting to dive in to something so heavy. I’m sure that I will continue to move this book to the bottom of my list, but it’s on there and hopefully someday I’ll get to it!

There are more books on the actual list of books to read that I keep on my phone, but I’ll leave it at that for this post. I’ll plan to report back with my progress and thoughts on the books that make it into the next four!

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins

Almost as soon as I mentioned in this post how much I hate baking, I got this weird craving to bake something! I can’t tell you how unprecedented that is for me. I decided to run with it, though, and have actually made TWO different baked items so far this fall!

The first one was pumpkin bread which I believe turned out pretty well. I gave it away to my friend, Meghan, and her husband, who was sick. The thing about making bread for someone is that, because it would be fairly awkward to deliver someone a loaf of bread with a slice or two missing, you don’t get to sample the bread to make sure that it’s edible before you deliver it to your unwitting lucky friends…So like I said, I believe the pumpkin bread turned out well, but I really can’t say for sure.

With that in mind, I decided that for my second baking endeavor, a “welcome back to Columbus!” treat for my friend, Jessica, I should to stick with something that I could actually taste before giving to her. I had found these pumpkin cream cheese muffins on Pinterest a while back, and I just knew that I needed to use my rare baking ambition on them.

photo 4 (9)

I immediately read through the list of ingredients and made a list of the things I needed to buy. My plan was to make the muffins on a Sunday night so that I could deliver them to Jessica when I saw her on Monday. Once I got home with the ingredients, I put everything away and planned to begin baking a few hours later. What I had neglected to do at this point, was to read through the entire recipe.

Listen, there is very little that I remember from sixth grade science. I honestly don’t even know one substantive thing we learned that year and I only think that my teacher was named Ms. Hutchins. Needless to say, I was not destined to be a scientist. BUT. The one thing I do remember from that class is one particular lesson that I think about (and disregard) often.

We were handed a piece of paper with instructions for whatever experiment we were supposedly conducting that day. I, like most students, read instruction number one, completed it, moved on to the next, and so on and so forth until I got to the last item on the list. The final instruction said, “Tear up this paper and do not perform this experiment” or something to that effect. The lesson was that you should always read through ALL of the instructions before beginning a project. A really, really great little tidbit that can save you a lot of time if you ever remember to do it. Or, if you’re me, this sixth grade science lesson can just frustrate the hell out of you every. single. time. you don’t do it and it comes back to bite you in the butt.

So, if it wasn’t obvious by now (which I’m not saying it should be, as I’m relatively notorious for going on these long tangents that serve no obvious purpose), reading the instructions in advance on this recipe would have been helpful and prevented me from being awake until midnight finishing the muffins.

The first step of making these muffins is to prepare the cream cheese filling (which is DANGEROUSLY easy to do and I’m somewhat upset that I know that now) and then let it chill in the freezer for at least two hours so that it’s easier to work with.

creamcheesefilling

THEN, two hours later, you start baking in earnest. And luckily for me, the muffins were pretty easy to make.

baking

half filled

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photo 4 (8)

Aaaaand luckily for me, they turned out great!

finalproduct

I ate a couple and then gave the rest away. A few to Jessica, a few to my dog walker and more than a few to my parents, figuring that my brother and “someone else” (my dad) would eat them.

One final tangent: baking is usually a lot easier when you don’t have to straddle a giant dog while doing it…

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