Monday, November 30, 2009

A Von Trapp family Thanksgiving

I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving. Nick and I finally got back from Maryland last night at about 12:30. Worst. Traffic. Ever. Seriously, a trip that was supposed to take 8 hours took almost 11 hours. It should have taken longer but I was past the point of nagging my husband about his tendency to speed and merely kept my mouth shut.

We had a great weekend with Nick's family though. I love visiting my in-laws but I am always just totally spent by the time we get home. They are not restful people, but that is why I like them and, in a way, why I married my husband. There is always screaming and chaos and confusion and changing plans and completely hysterical laughter. It is quite a pleasant shock to my persona of ruthless German efficiency.


On Wednesday we were about 2 hours away from the DC area when Nick just starts giggling to himself. I, of course, inquire about this. He responds with, "Well, you know how my mom sorta gets the jump on us when we show up," (Which is absolutely true. I don't know how she does it but every time we visit she is outside screaming before we have even turned off the car.) Nick continues, "well, I was thinking about how funny it would be if we could sneak in."

So within a few minutes Nick is on the phone with his brother (Mathieu), who is out at the moment so Mathieu calls the house to have one of Nick's other sisters stealthily unlock the door leading into the basement. Then at about 8:30 my mother-in-law calls Nick to check our progress on the road and Nick starts in with this huge melodramatic, "Oh Mom, there is so much traffic. I think there has been an accident or something. We are totally stuck it is going to be a while." Which, true to form, she immediately checks traffic on the Internet and calls Nick back within about 10 minutes explaining that she "found the accident" and they had just cleaned it up and surrounding traffic was starting to move again. Nick started to get a little nervous about being able to pull everything off.

My mother-in-law is pretty much a maternal mystic. She is the type of mom that could simply wake up in the middle of the night and know one of her kids, no matter where they are in the world, are in trouble. Nick joked, "I don't know if we can pull this off. I half expect her to be at the basement door when we show up and I'll ask 'Mom, what are you doing here?' and when she is done screaming about us being home she'll answer, 'I don't know, I just had a feeling I should come stand by this door.'"

About 30 minutes later we arrive in their neighborhood and very carefully pull up to the culdesac, lights off, all Von Trapp family style and park a few houses away. We open our doors just enough to turn on the dome light and just in time to see my father-in-law cross the street. We both freeze and slowly duck behind the dash. As soon as the coast was clear I grabbed the cat bag and Nick grabbed the dog and we dashed across the pavement and out of view behind the house. We tiptoed around back to the door leading into their basement and carefully snuck in. With Nick leading the way we made our way to the stairs and Nick crept to the top unleashed our dog, Bennet, and let him slip through the door. We heard my mother-in-law start to scold their dog for barking when she stopped mid-sentance and screamed "BENNET!!! How did you get in here? Where are they?" At which point she comes tearing around the corner, laughing her head off, to find us and scream and laugh some more.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Chemistry at home

Last night Nick and I made chocolates. I had been preparing for this all week, well, sort of. I had been doing some Internet research on the whole process, ingredients, etc. However, I did that really cool thing where you read "make sure you don't get baker's chocolate" but somehow in imprints in your brain as "you must get baker's chocolate" so I end up grabbing like 2 packages of it. Bottom line is my kitchen now has like 10 cups of unsalted stick butter, 3 packages of bakers chocolate, 3 bags of chocolate chips, a quart of heavy whipping cream, chocolate flavored almond bark, white almond bark....basically my kitchen is a diabetic nightmare....and it is awesome.

So last night, being as I don't have the skill or equipment to start tempering my own chocolate, Nick and I decided to start by using the chocolate almond bark as our shell...totally idiot proof....and focus on experimenting with our filler.

I stress Nick and I due to the fact that Nick is really getting into this whole thing. Th
e kid was a chemistry major so he is just eating up all this information I am getting on the Internet about the make-up of different types of chocolate and how it reacts to heat and so on. His eyes are just lighting up with the idea of playing with heat, melting solids into liquids, trying to maintain a certain temperature, and the idea of not just blending things together but altering their essentials.

Thi
s first round we decide to try filling our shells with nutella, straight up, and experiment with a dark chocolate cointreau truffle. Results were promising. While the nutella proved to be delicious it was a little hard to work with so next time we plan on trying to develop a nutella truffle. The cointreau truffle, however, was damn good. So good, in fact, that Nick took a finger of it while I wasn't looking and just screamed, "SHIT!" I was startled and thought he had lit something on fire or at least spilled the whole saucepan on the floor. He just looked at me wide-eyed and said, "Erika, this is really awful and you aren't going to like it. I am just going to have to take this whole thing to work tomorrow and I'll just take care of it myself."

So here's how we did it:

You need -

1 pkg dark chocolate chips (get the good stuff - check the ingredients and make sure they use cocoa butter and not vegetable oil)

2 Tbsp unsalted butter

1/4 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup Cointreau

Start by heating the butter and chocolate chips on low heat, stirring constantly until completely melted and smooth
Stir in cream cream and liquor then stir aggressively to thoroughly blend.
Leave on heat and firmly stir for a few additional minutes to burn off a little of the alcohol
Remove from heat and move into fridge to cool for roughly 30 - 40 minutes.
Check truffle and stir frequently.


For filling chocolates you will want to use the truffle while still malleable. If not filling chocolates the truffle will set into a moldable solid form. While I haven't tried this yet I have a little extra in the fridge I intend to form into balls, dip into Cointreau then coat in unsweetened cocoa powder.

Surprisingly easy.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Safari

Well, I am still running. I realize that it has only been like 3 weeks, but that is still an accomplishment for me. Usually by this point I have already gotten bored or frustrated and given up, or at the very least have started rationalizing my way out of running on 5 of the 7 days in a week. It isn't habitual yet. I still usually stall my run by like a half hour or so and I really have to make myself do it, but they are happening. I think, for me, this is all the power of structure. AND to add to the accomplishment we have finally hit the point where Nick is spending entire days at work so I have to make myself go run solo. Which, I know for some people, sounds like a total drag. I have friends who run and gossip at the same time and that is not how I work. I throw my ear buds in and then completely zone out and if you try talk to me, well, lord help you cause my wrath with reign down on you like fire. Nick learned that the hard way:
"Hey, Erika, how you doing? You feeling ok? Is this a good pace?"
"Shut the hell up and leave me alone."
Thankfully Nick doesn't take things personally and he has a great learning curve. I also got new running shoes. Here they are: They are so deliciously gaudy. I love it. I mean really what is better than running shoes that are primarily a shade of pink that totally assaults your eyes, right? They actually make a difference too. I really thought that this whole emphasis on the right shoe was just you know, Nike propaganda or whatever, but I really noticed a difference with the new kicks vs. my old worn out sneaks that were to wide for the nubs at the end of my legs most people call feet.

I have been running a circuit around our apartment complex which is actually built on a nature conservation area. There's a bald eagle that lives here so, boom, nature conservation, no more building. I actually have this secret fantasy that they were planning several more buildings and the powers that be were out surveying when suddenly this majestic eagle just flies in and lands in a tree and just hangs out there like a squatter in an old building and everyone just looks at each other and then the complex owner screams, "Damnit!" and throws his blueprints on the ground in a rage.

So, yeah, there is way more wildlife I have to deal with while running than I ever experienced near our place in West Seattle or downtown San Diego. The other day I noticed a dead squirrel in the road. Just dead, not hit by a car but like he had a little squirrel heart attack. So then every time I passed that part of our complex I had to focus on controlling my breathing and not puking or going into one of those little girly squirm-seizures I get as a result of seeing something gross all the while chanting in my head, "Don't look at the squirrel, don't look at the squirrel." There are also two small ponds with fountains on the property, both have signs warning that alligators MAY live here. It took me like two weeks to get over that and not slow down completely eyeballing the pond every time I passed half expecting some giant 10 foot gator to make it's way stealthily out of the 20ft pond to attack me on my jog. However, my biggest concern presented itself early this week.

As I was making my circuit I came upon the eastern portion of the complex and lo and behold I spot this mythical eagle that lives on the grounds. It is up in the air, soaring, looking all patriotic and like something out of a video designed for a civics class. Then I realize that this thing is circling. Now I don't know much about birds of prey but what I do know is that falcons are smaller than eagles and you still have to be trained to keep them and wear protective gear cause they could maim if not kill you. My logic was that this eagle is much bigger than a falcon so it could probably do me some serious harm. And, let's be honest, I am in the middle of my jog, an activity at which I do not excel. So I am still jogging, although I have slowed my pace, and I have my eyes on this bird the entire time. What does one do? I am already winded and this thing has friggin' wings so I certainly couldn't out run it. If it came at my I wouldn't have the first clue as to how one defends oneself from a bird of prey and then on top of that it is an endangered species so if I killed it, even out of self defense, how much trouble would I be in? I aired this concern to Nick when he got home and he laughed and promised me that I was to big for the bird to attack. I don't trust it though. Hitchcock could have been on to something.


Today the eagle wasn't out. There were no wildlife sightings until I saw a little lizard climb our mailbox. However, something else happened to me while running. I was running my last set and Vampire Weekend's song
"A-Punk" shuffled up on my playlist. For those of you who may not be aware this particular song by this most awesome band is on guitar hero 5 which Nick and I have been playing excessively. So here I am jogging and I hear the beginning riff of this song and like Pavlov's dog suddenly my left hand is on the fretboard and my right hand is on strings with my thumb plucking the rhythm. So sad.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Erika shakes her fist a little.......

Ok, I really didn't want to go this route on the blog but this week really laid the final straw. So here goes:

Now, it should be said that I don't
hate Charleston out of principle. In fact, I would recommend a visit or even living here to almost everyone I know. I, however, feel like a fish out of water here. There really is no other way to explain it. It is a like being in another country for me. The culture, the social expectations, the dress code all make me feel like a foreigner in my own country. And I think that is what makes it so hard. This should be "home" to me, but it isn't. And I had hoped that maybe we would move here and I would be pleasantly surprised to find that I love it here. That it was simply that our first year of marriage was hard cause it was our first year of marriage. That I was so upset cause I could barely land an interview the first time and when I did the guy interviewing me told me point blank I was going to have a really hard time finding a job cause, "Charleston runs on a good ole' boy system and if you don't know anyone here you are going to have a hard time." (No seriously, that actually happened.) Or that we just didn't make enough money to enjoy ourselves. While all of those things are true, and certainly effected our first year here, I maintain that I am a square peg being hammered into a round hole.

As such, there are a few things I need to get off my chest. First, as crazy as it sounds, I felt more comfortable driving in California than I do here. California drivers are as aggressive as they come but at least they have their head in the game and (for the most part) aren't
too thoughtless or inconsiderate cause you never know who might have a serious case of road rage. Not so with Charleston.

Evidently, Charleston has not caught up with this whole "no cell phone while driving" thing cause it is perfectly routine to get caught behind someone exiting onto the interstate 10 miles below the speed limit cause they are texting or have their phone glued to their ear. But that isn't even the worst of it. There is a startling lack of traffic signals in general so it is like vigilante justice on the roads. A couple days ago I went to grab some groceries and got caught in line for a stop light in the right hand lane. Now I drive a Mini Cooper so the front and back end of my car are very short so I usually end up leaving extra room between myself and the car in front of me. Well, during this particular stop the two old bats pulling out of the drive at Walgreens (on my right) decided that there were just enough INCHES to sneak between my car and the SUV in front of me. (So few inches, in fact, that I had to throw the car in reverse.) Then they stopped in front of my car and waited for a window to turn left. Now everyone close your eyes. Imagine you have just caught your child trying to stick a fork in a light socket. Now imagine your face as you yell, "What the hell are you doing?" This was the face and the words I was mouthing at the two old ladies as they passed me. And I know they could see me cause no one had tinted windows and they were close enough I could tell you what prescription glasses they were wearing.

Nick came back from the standard Navy brief outlining the basic tenets of don't drink and drive and don't drive like a moron and was SO creeped by THIS presentation he point blank told me, "Umm so basically don't drive anywhere unless you have to."

Point two: shopping carts. Seems petty, but really is exemplar of attitude toward customer service. This has become a pet peeve of mine within the three weeks we have lived here. Few people put them away. It makes me crazy. Driving through the parking lot at Costco is like taking on an Olympic ski slalom. Carts everywhere. There are cart corrals. They are clearly visible. NO ONE USES THEM. This isn't just a Costco thing either. I went to the grocery store last week and people were just leaving their carts in the middle of the exit, 5 ft away from the cart line up. Really? How hard is it just to slip your cart in with the others. So I took my time while balancing my grocery bags on my arms to put a couple up, audibly huffing and puffing as other people walked through the exit. Yeah, that's right. I have become that chic. Oh, and in the past month I have had to send Nick back to two separate grocery stores to exchange dairy products that had been left on the shelf too long. (After which I deduced that all the employees were too busy putting carts away to take those expired items off the shelf, of course, of course.)

It feels good to get that all said. Phew. And I will admit, maybe...if you get me liquored up and in a really good mood, that I am saying all this out of frustration. Like the kid who hates his math teacher cause he doesn't understand the subject.....Or maybe not.

Despite all my kavetching it shouldn't be said I am not having a good time, cause I totally am. (I just have to shake my fist once and a while.) I have totally retreated into the kitchen. I have been cooking up a storm. In the past few weeks I have made re fried black beans from scratch. Tonight we made deep fried zucchini. I have also started on my quest to learn to bake in a way that would just blow the minds of you and the person sitting next to you. I made cupcakes from scratch and even rocked myself some lavender icing. That's right. I own a mortar and pestle and I kicked some lavender into gear and made some of the most delicious icing you might ever have. Up next, I am tackling home made chocolates. I am just waiting for my molds to come in the mail.

Beyond my own resourcefulness Charleston has more than represented. I have found two really delightful wine shops. One has wine and cheese tasting on Mon and Thur for $5 and the other has wine tasting for $1 on Fri and Sat. (For those of you doing the math that leaves Sun, Tue, & Wed without a cheap tasting.) Remember sometime last month I mentioned the truffled tater tots? Yeah, they were everything I would have hoped for and more. I will be learning to replicate those at home.

Now that I have vented a little off to bed. Tomorrow I run, design some address cards (fingers crossed), do some laundry, plan some meals, then hit Avondale wine & cheese for some wine and fondue...mmm wonderful fondue......

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dead Bug

I was going to write some random little post about my weekend today but then something huge happened today. I killed my first roach.....ever.

Since I got married and have frequently been without my husband at home I have forced myself to learn dispatch flies, spiders, silverfish etc. Thankfully though I never had to kill a roach. We didn't have roaches in our place in Seattle (between that and the lack of mosquitoes it only further verifies my conviction that Seattle is one of the best cities on the planet). We did have a few roaches in our first Charleston apartment however I had either let those run back into the wall and then buy roach baits later or I even let our cat kill on once and then I made Nick discard the little roach remains when he got home. Otherwise I just ask Nick to kill them and I don't have a history of asking very gracefully.

One evening after we had been married and living in Charleston for several months Nick had gone to bed and washed up to hit the rack about 20 minutes later. As I was washing my face I saw what looked like a hair on the counter next to the little toothbrush holder. I went to brush it away but it wasn't there anymore. So I moved the holder and found that the "hair" I saw was really the antenna of a roach. I full on screamed. Like the type of scream straight out of a horror film. Then I ran into the bed room. Nick had already leaped out of bed from a dead sleep. When he tells the story he explains that my scream was so blood curdling that he fully expected to see me dead or at least without an arm. I told him there was a roach in the bathroom so Nick, still in nothing but his undies after being in bed, pulls on his black work socks and combat boots, grabs some raid, another random aerosol can, and heads into the bathroom to put some hurt on the roach. It was classic. We talked about it later and I said I understood the Raid and the boots but I didn't understand the other can of cleaner. He said he thought he could use it to beat the roach if things got real bad.

So skip some years later to this past Sunday. We are getting ready to hit the rack again when I step into our kitchen with the lights off to put a water glass on the counter when I see something scurry across the counter out of the corner of my eye. I suck in this huge gasp and Nick comes running again and I head into the bedroom to try and forget that I just found a roach on my KITCHEN COUNTER. Sadly the roach was to quick for Nick and it retreated to the cabinet from whence it came. Naturally, I called the leasing office and luckily for me their pest control guys was schedule to come by today. So this morning he came by and sprayed the kitchen and seriously no more than 10 minutes after he left I spy a roach crawling out of my kitchen. I froze. Do I try kill it or do I let it go about it's business? Maybe the cat will get it? Finally I scrambled to grab our can or Raid, took a deep breath and started spraying. Little jerk was fast but finally after about 4 or 5 missed shots I got it once. But it just started running in circles cause it was stunned and disoriented. So I went in for the final blow and unleashed holy hell on that little bug. Once it flipped on its back and its legs stopped moving I promptly squealed like a little girls and danced around in circles shaking my hands like I was trying to shake water off them and immediately called my husband. He didn't answer his phone so of course I called my dad. I didn't even say "Hi" I just blurted out, "I just killed a roach, what do I do?" He just laughed.

After staring at the little corpse for a few minutes I finally gave up the ghost and grabbed a dustpan, gingerly scooped it up and made my way to the trash. Here's hoping that the one roach was a fluke and we don't see anymore.

Friday, November 6, 2009

I Heart New Mexico

Let's start this post by explaining that since, I would say college, I have been traveling with the fervor of a nutritionist's child discovering candy for the first time. My parents, for reasons of their own, never really did the family vacation bit. (Which I always found a little odd considering they both came from a generation of road trips, campers and national parks.) However, as an adult now, I will totally go out of my way to see some place new. Nick and I once traveled space available via the air force and actually opted for a flight that was both longer and landed in a different state because we could score a 4 hour layover in Iceland. That's right. I said "score a 4 hour layover." Cause my thought was, why opt not to go to Iceland when we could go, even for four hours on a military base that was being shut down. That layover is easily one of the most memorable and impressing travel experiences to this day. But that is a whole post worth for another day. My point is, with travel, as with life, it is so important to be open and conscious of the opportunities that fall before you. To know that, even though it may be hard, it may be unexpected, and it may seem a little odd, it is an opportunity that could pass you up so you best buck up, put on the big girl pants and hit it head on.

This past weekend I went to Santa Fe, New Mexico with a good friend of mine from college. Her name is Nicole. The reason we went there really boils down to nothing more than we had never been to the southwest. (Although, I must give serious props to my mom for recommending it.) It was amazing. And as with so many of the trips I go on I find that, against the background of a new place, I grow a little as a person and become a little more grounded in who I am and who I want to become. And because I really can't think of an eloquent way to link these anecdotes together here are a few highlights in list form:

1.
I heart Georgia O'Keefe. Lady was original and amazing. If you want to know a little more go here. AND, according to the docent at the museum, she never felt totally at home in South Carolina either, nice to know I am not the only one.

2. Chocolate is like mother's milk to my friend, Nicole. Leave it to her to find the Chocolate walking tour in Santa Fe. First night day we are in Santa Fe we are all crazy jet lagged and ate dinner super early so I thought we should go find some chocolate for an evening snack. There is only one place left open after 6. It is called Kakawa Chocolate. Being as we have been in town for about 4 hours and have no idea where anything is I called the shop and reach one of the owners. His name is Peter. He explains to me that he has never given on foot directions and it is a little confusing to find on foot. I won't toy with anyone's intelligence by going through a play by play of 20 minutes of wandering, but I will tell you that I made several phone calls to Peter, he actually called me AND texted my phone, and at one point he was telling us to head down and alley and across a parking lot at which point I started to wonder if he was hunting us down to shank us in some dark corner of historic Santa Fe. But I am trying to have more faith in people, cause generally people are guilty til proven innocent in my book, and I don't like giving up. So on we trudged. Cold, tired, jet lagged. Finally, we found the place. What a gem! The chocolate was worth every wrong turn. Peter graciously gave us cups of chocolate on the house and a fantastic suggestion for lunch the next day.

3. Sunday we visited a couple national parks. The first of which had several old Native American cliff dwellings. So gorgeous. Went through a guided hike with a park ranger then continued the hike on our own. Now the ranger had explained there was a spot called the "alcove house" that was very pretty but up a series of ladders so if your are out of shape or have issues with heights, probably not the thing for you. Now my friend has a paralyzing fear of heights so she was like "I'm out" right away. And I thought man, that sounds like a lot of work and I'd have to do it by myself. Maybe not for me. But as we got closer there were little informational signs with artist renderings of the spot and you could see the ladders and the hike up. All I could think was man, I am going to be so pissed if I pass this up cause I was a little nervous. So on I went. Lone wolf. First ladder of like 20 pegs. A few feet rounding the cliff face in steep stairs cut into the rock and 8 inch wide "trail." Second ladder of about 30 pegs, another wind around the cliff face. Third ladder, about 45 pegs. Another small trail and finally the last ladder about 10 pegs. While the view and the native site above was beautiful and impressive in it's own right, it was made more special by the effort required to get there. With each ladder peg you are sort of forced to think about the age of the cliff, and what it must have been like to live there, and how damn athletic these people must have been. I will totally admit to being winded at the end of the climb and despite having no pre-existing qualms with heights I almost freaked on the way down the biggest ladder. My hands were shaking and I have very slight bruises on my shins from clinging to that ladder for dear life.

Overall, a wonderful little getaway. Very much needed, in fact. Originally, I sort of felt like a crazy person thro
wing together this vacation so shortly after moving but as we have unpacked and Nick has started going to work I was having trouble grounding myself. A new city that wasn't really all that new, no real plans, no idea where I am going to be tomorrow much less next month, really easy to loose your sense of self amidst so much uncertainty and traveling has always made me more comfortable in my own skin. This time, like all the others, was no different.