Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving alone

Today was the first holiday I’ve ever spent alone- no family, no friends, not even a puppy to keep me company, and I think I learned a lot about myself. I got up early and made the decision to be happy, rather then dwelling on the fact that my plans were cancelled at the last minute and being sad and gloomy all day. Since I hadn’t bought food for Thanksgiving the first thing I had to do was buy some food…I was not going to be hungry on Thanksgiving, no matter how alone I was. I decided to go the route of comfort food and bought the ingredients for some chicken and gnocchi soup (I was hoping it would taste like Olive Garden’s soup, alas it did not) and decided to buy a bottle of wine as well—a nice Zinfandel I have had in the past that never disappoints—plus it was on sale!
I spent all morning making soup, enjoyed it around noon, and then proceeded to sit around doing nothing. It was at this point that I realized that I wasn’t extremely sad or lonely, I was content just relaxing in my apartment with some good soup and the full day ahead of me.

I’m not going to go through my entire days activities, mostly because it would bore you to tears, but I did get some good practicing in. Unfortunately my upstairs neighbors do not appreciate flute music, we have gotten into mini fights about the amount of time I practice, the amount of loud music I am always playing (note that I do not play loud music all the time), and various other things of this nature. So I wasn’t too surprised when I started hearing a lot of obnoxious stomping around upstairs and loud shouting. Alas, such is life.

I’m thankful for so many things in my life: my wonderful family and friends, the teachers and colleagues I have met at my new university, my students who seem to teach me more then I teach them, and my newfound comfort with being alone. It’s not that I was always afraid of being alone before, but I always preferred being with people, running around and doing stuff with friends and family. It was very rare for me to want to stay home and actually stay home all day and enjoy myself. I think a big part of growing up is being comfortable enough with yourself to go out alone, stay home and relax, and just enjoy those moments of alone time without being bored or distracted or just wanting to be somewhere else.

Although this Thanksgiving didn’t have turkey, mashed potatoes, ham, stuffing, pumpkin pie, or good time with family, I think I have found myself to be more thankful for much more of my life after thinking about it all day alone then I would have if I had spent all day with family and friends. Sometimes one needs time to reflect in order to truly appreciate how much one has.
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, I hope you enjoyed your day of food, friends, and family—or if you didn’t get the chance to partake in those traditional activities I hope you enjoyed yourself anyways!

So much soup!
….also here’s a picture of my soup! Yummy!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Stress Relief

I think everyone has those weeks where you are just so ridiculously busy and stressed out that you don’t even know what part of your to-do list to begin on. Whether you’re a graduate student, undergrad, full time employee, full time parent, or whatever it is that you do between waking up and going to sleep again, we all have busy weeks. For me it has been an interesting orchestra tour, many different concerts and rehearsals, important tests and long papers, stressful relationships and sleepless nights. To sum it up: all hell broke loose a few weeks ago, and it’s only now clearing up.

What do you do for stress relief? I go to the gym, I make time for sleeping, and lately, I’ve been baking. Honestly the gym is the most important part for me, lifting weights, getting stronger, playing my newfound sport of racquetball (which is hard to do alone, so I don’t do it very often), these all combine into a de-stressing exercise that becomes essential after a while. Trust me, you don’t want to run across me if I haven’t been to the gym in weeks, I will be irritable and easily annoyed.

So it’s not surprising that I have been periodically searching through blogs and sites for a new recipe to annihilate (in a good way, as in—make some damn good food and have a good time doing it). Somehow I stumbled across this blog post over at Smitten Kitchen, which is just about the greatest blog ever: awesome pictures, humorous dialogue, and some super delicious recipes. This recipe, cheesecake and brownies, all in one, need I say more?

I knew my friend Ashley was pretty stressed out lately too, so I invited her over to indulge in our domestic sides in an attempt to make this brownie mosaic cheesecake. It seems that I have been stocking my kitchen with the proper ingredients for these things lately, because all we needed was cream cheese, the springform pan, and some baker’s chocolate. And since Laramie has countless different wonderful kitchen stores to choose from, we found the cutest one and began the adventure to buy the springform pan. Not. Walmart was the only option—which is probably a good thing on my tight budget.

Ten minutes after entering the store we left with bulging plastic bags (what ever happened to the option of paper?) filled with cheesecake ingredients as well as snacks to tide us over until we were done baking.

I won’t go into a step by step instruction of how to make the cheesecake (if you really want to know you can go to Smitten Kitchen’s blog and check it out), but I’ll go through the highlight reel:

So innocent..
The first thing we needed to make was the brownies—a brownie mosaic cheesecake has tiny little chunks of brownies within the cheesecake itself. Luckily for everyone involved we only needed to cups of chopped up brownies for the recipe, that meant that we could eat the rest of the brownies before the cheesecake was finished (fatties need something to hold ourselves over until the pièce de résistance). Unfortunately for you all, we devoured those brownies before taking a picture of them for the blog… alas, such is life.
Many teddy graham lives
were lost that day.

The cheesecake itself was quite simple. The crust was to be made out of teddy grahams and butter (with a few other ingredients, but really… those are the only important ones). Which means that I got the task of chopping each of those tiny little bears into a find powder—much easier said than done I’m afraid. It was very reminiscent of my youth, biting of the heads of the teddy grahams, or the arms, or the legs, before finishing off the entire thing. Teddy grahams are pretty sadistic now that I think about it, why do they have to be smiling and waving at you?

As you can see, pure manpower
was not going to work.
The cheesecake itself require, you guessed it, cream cheese! And a few eggs and some sugar, luckily Ashley had a hand mixer at her apartment, because I was attempting to whip it into pure, decadent fluffiness with a spoon and I could feel the tendonitis and carpal tunnel just dying to assert their dominance in my arms. After carefully adding the brownie pieces to the cheesecake mixture and unceremoniously dumping it all into the teddy graham graveyard of a crust, we got to sit back and relax…

…for about fifty-five minutes. We couldn’t leave out the cherry on top could we? The cherry is a metaphor for chocolate ganache... we wanted to put chocolate ganache on top of the cheesecake. Right-o, moving on.

In a word: delicious.
Have you ever encountered the directions “scald the butter and cream”? If so, did you immediately know what to do? If so, leave me alone, we googled it and were still confused. According to the handy website we found, to scald butter and cream meant to put it in a pan and heat it on low until it boils. A process that supposedly would only take 30 seconds. Perhaps that website wasn’t account for the ridiculously high elevation I have somehow managed to live at, because it took about five minutes and me impatiently turning the burner up to medium before the butter and cream were scalded sufficiently. Adding this to our blender-acting-as-food-processor (I’m very good at improvising) concoction of bakers chocolate, doubling the recommended amount of confectioners sugar, and throwing down some vanilla and voila! Ganache!

Man, does this cheesecake taste good! I think Ashley agrees, and it was definitely a day well spent. But now I might need to hit up the gym a few more times in the upcoming week or my de-stressor of baking may have added a new stress of possible obesity to my plate. Get it? Because I ate the cheesecake on a plate?
My jokes are bad and I should feel bad. 

What do you do to relax and unwind?