#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.

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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!)

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Brush the puff pastry with a beaten egg.

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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.

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

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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.

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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…

Sasha'sspot

Run Like A Girl 10K

A departure today.

This past weekend, I ran in a race here in Columbus. Shock and awe on the part of some readers, no doubt! Over the past couple of years, I have slowly (in every respect that the word “slowly” can be applied to me as a runner, go ahead and apply it) taken up running. No one (except maybe my mom…thanks for the support, FAMILY) is as surprised by this as I am.

I have basically spent my entire life hating running. Even in elementary school, I would DREAD the day in gym class where we had to run the mile. Actually, who am I kidding, I basically hated every day in gym class because I’m bad at sports, uncompetitive, have anxiety about team activities and I had to wear shorts or pants, which I hated like CRAZY. But the days when we had to run the mile really stand out in my mind as being especially bad because, although I hated all the other stuff we had to do, I wasn’t physically incapable of doing any of it. With the mile though, it was a different story. I just could not do it.

(Pretty sure the fact that I did things like this is why my mom had to have a talk with me about why I had to wear shorts in gym class...)

(Pretty sure the fact that I did things like this is why my mom had to have a talk with me about why I had to wear shorts in gym class…)

Now it’s not like I have always been in terrible shape or anything. Growing up, I was pretty active in things like dance, gymnastics, swimming, tennis, etc. But I didn’t really play any sports for which running was a major requirement. Again, the anxiety about team sports. And then in college and law school, I worked out pretty regularly but I never would just go out and go for a run. So I can honestly say that it wasn’t until embarrassingly recently that I actually conquered my first one-mile run. Oh and did I mention that it was about three weeks before I was supposed to run an entire half-marathon? Ha.

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After college and law school, as I was settling into life as an attorney, I came to two realizations. One, I realized that I had gotten ridiculously out of shape. And two, I realized that I hadn’t done anything in recent memory that made me feel nothing but happiness and pride. Yes I had graduated from college and law school, passed the bar exam and begun working, but all of those things felt like more of a relief than anything else. It’s kind of expected when you go to college that you’ll graduate. Same with law school. So even though it was great and I felt good about it, I never had an overwhelming sense of happiness about those things. So I set out to find something I could do that would challenge me in a new way and make me feel a sense of accomplishment and joy.

And that’s about the time my friends, Jamie and Sara, suggested that I run a half marathon with them.

My friend, Sara, is a pretty serious runner. She planned to come to Cincinnati to visit another friend of hers and to run the Flying Pig Half Marathon, and she somehow convinced Jamie to run it too. They texted me about six months before the race and basically said, “You live so close and you have six months to train so there are no excuses and we’ll hate you forever if you don’t run this race with us.” Well long story short, I signed up for the half marathon. And I could barely run a quarter of a mile at a time. That is not an exaggeration (i.e., “One, I realized that I had gotten ridiculously out of shape”).

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I did actually complete that Cincinnati half marathon. But it was not fun. In fact, it hurt. A lot. First, there’s the fact that it’s 13.1 miles. Secondly, Cincinnati is hilly. Third, I SUCK AT RUNNING. And fourth, six months is not enough time to go from being an out of shape person who can barely run a quarter of a mile to being a person who can comfortably run 13.1 miles of hills.

Yet for some completely insane reason, after The Flying Pig (like, pretty long after…once I had kind of forgotten how much I hated every single second of it), I wanted to do another half marathon. I thought, if I could finish The Flying Pig under some pretty terrible circumstances, imagine how much better I could do if I ran another one. I also felt that toward the end of my “training,” I had made somewhat of a breakthrough with my ability to run, and I didn’t want to let all the hard work it had taken to get to that point slip away. And by breakthrough, I mean that I actually ran for two straight miles on the treadmill once.

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So here we are today and I have run three half marathons. I am still incredibly slow. But each one has been less painful than the one before it.

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And this weekend, I ran a 10K. For the first time in my life, running 6 miles didn’t suck and didn’t make me want to die. It actually felt good? As I was running, I was aware of what a strange turn of events this is in my life. At some point during the past year and a half, I have become a person who can just go out without really having trained, run 6.2 miles and not hate it. Weird.

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Fodor’s 2014 Hotel List

Have I mentioned here before how much I love hotels? Well, even if I have, it bears repeating. I love hotels. Even mediocre hotels. Honestly, eating room service in a Hampton Inn could possibly make me the happiest person alive. (I also love room service. I think this contributes to my love for hotels, but even without room service, there’s just something about staying in a hotel that makes me very happy).

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Sometimes, when I’m bored and feeling especially masochistic, I get online and look at luxury hotels and apartments. Jetsetter.com is a favorite online destination of mine. It’s basically Groupon for luxury vacations. They have deals on gorgeous hotels around the world and I like to look at all the beautiful pictures and read about the amazing amenities the hotels offer. I would say that compulsively looking at pictures of amazing places I’ll never go is among my more depressing online pastimes. Not my most depressing online pastime, mind you, but it’s up there.

(For the record, the internet habit that I would consider to be the most depressing thing I do online is constantly checking and looking at pictures of all of the adoptable puppies at various shelters around town. Why I do these things to myself, I’ll never understand.)

So uh yeah, back to hotels. I came across Fodor’s 2014 Hotel List earlier this week, and I was intrigued. It is a list of all the best hotels around the world broken down into different categories.

My favorite categories were Country Retreat and Trip of a Lifetime, BUT there was one hotel in the “Boutique Chic” category that stuck out in my mind – The Cavas Wine Lodge. The Cavas Wine Lodge in Mendoza, Argentina sounds so up my alley. First of all, as the name implies, it’s a wine lodge. So there’s that. The description also notes that it has a wonderful spa where you can partake in relaxing activities such as aromatherapy and vinotherapy. VINOTHERAPY.

Listen, I have absolutely no idea what vinotherapy entails. I actually don’t think it’s a real thing that people do or know about (and if it is, I clearly am hanging in the wrong circles). But in my mind’s eye, vinotherapy involves sitting in a whirling hot tub at this amazing luxury hotel in Argentina, drinking wine and gossiping. Because that is alllll the therapy – aroma, vino or otherwise – that I would ever need if I could go on a vacation like that.

Anyway, if you’re bored and feeling like you need to hate your life choices a little bit more, check out the list! Or, if you’re the kind of person who is going to use this list for the purpose of planning your future vacations, adopt me!

Law School Friends Cook

This post is a unique one – a bit of cooking, a bit of sappiness and a bit of abject failure. As everyone who reads this blog knows, I currently live in my hometown, Columbus, Ohio; however, I went to college in Nashville and law school in St. Louis. During the seven years I was in school, I made some of the absolute best friends in the world. No joke. College and law school were where I met my people. This was such a huge blessing, and I am so lucky that at every stage of my life, I have been lucky enough to meet some truly amazing, interesting and intelligent people who I love and who know and (seem to) like me for me. It’s a double edged sword that now none of us live in the same city. On the one hand, it’s amazing to know people in just about every city you can imagine. On the other hand, it’s hard to have most of your good friends living far away from you.

A couple weeks ago, I ventured back to St. Louis to hang out with some of my friends from law school. It was a really fun trip despite the fact that we only did the dorkiest activities like hanging out in a classroom at the law school and discussing all the ethereal and difficult legal doctrines we didn’t quite learn in school and starting a book club the premise of which is to read only the least fun literature and drink no wine while we discuss the books in a scholarly manner.

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Quick side note – the building we’re standing in front of in this photo is our law school. You’ll notice that the building is called Anheuser-Busch Hall. I swear I went to a legitimate and accredited law school. Everything in St. Louis is just connected to AB in some way!

My friend, MK (the one on the left in the above photo), used to occasionally write an extremely funny blog where she documented her usually unsuccessful attempts to learn how to cook. Over the course of the weekend, Meg (the one in the middle) and I begged her to revive her blog because it was so enjoyable to read – partially because it makes me happy to hear that other people are bad at things and partially because it makes me happy to hear about MK being bad at things. HA! I kid, I kid.

MK came up with a modified concept for her blog wherein she will have various friends send her recipes to try and after making them, she will write about her experience. I volunteered to be the first recipe contributor. I picked out this Skinnytaste recipe for Chicken Francese. When selecting a recipe, I was looking for something that would be relatively straightforward but not completely foolproof. I mean where’s the fun in foolproof? Well guess what. This came back to bite me. MK’s final product turned out to be edible and mine well…did not. Let’s dive right in.

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Now, the actual recipe is pretty straightforward and this post is getting extremely long, so I’m not going to go into all the details of what I did and what went wrong. The short version is that I had the heat on my pan way too high and it’s really difficult to sear something in a pan without using actual oil. What ended up happening was that the outside of the chicken got burned, yet the interior remained raw.

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I texted Meg and MK to inform them that my own recipe had backfired on me. Meg suggested putting the chicken in the oven and cooking it for 15 minutes so that it would at least be edible. Meg’s suggestion ended up salvaging this recipe for me and preventing me from having to throw away two pounds of chicken. Yes, that’s right. I had cooked TWO POUNDS of chicken for myself. I mean seriously, what kind of lunatic does that?

MK on the other hand, I can only assume, made a normal amount of chicken for individual consumption. However, what she lacked in chicken, she more than made up for in parsley. When we were in St. Louis, MK had mentioned wanting to purchase an entire herb garden and grow fresh herbs on the balcony of her apartment. I didn’t purposefully choose a recipe that called for a small amount of fresh herbs, but in retrospect, the fact that the recipe suggested using parsley ended up being my favorite part of this entire experience.

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I, for one, used these dried parsley flakes…like a normal person. MK, on the other hand, decided that this was the perfect reason to buy the herb garden she’d been wanting. She literally bought an entire potted plant of parsley from which she harvested the three tablespoons of parsley she needed for this recipe. Realizing that her balcony did not get enough direct sunlight to keep her parsley alive, she began searching for alternative solutions. Many people would come up with “sun lamp” or “don’t buy an herb garden.” MK, on the other hand, came up with this idea:

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Yes. That’s right. My friend MK is literally transporting a plant to and from her office so that it can sit in her car and get sun while she works. It is receiving text messages like this that remind me that I really have the best and most amazing friends in the world.

In conclusion, the chicken francese was not the best tasting thing I’ve ever made, but I can honestly say that if this the price I have to pay to coerce MK into blogging again, then I will gladly pay it! MK – GAME ON.