Friday, September 23, 2011

Shrimp and Grits for Pat

When I sat down with this blog post last Sunday, I had no idea how to start it, what direction I would take it in, or if I'd even post it.  I think when one is faced with an insurmountable tragedy, one can either be swallowed up in it or find a way to keep it in your heart without having your heart break.  For the past few hours I've been lost, completely lost in the devastating tragedy of unexpectedly losing a close friend.  What does one do with themselves at a time like this?  Write?  Read?  Watch TV?  Go for a run?  Do homework?  Bake?  I have no desire to do any of these things and yet at the same time I need to do something.

After beginning this post, I kept going back and forth in my head over whether or not I wanted to still attend my new ultimate frisbee fall league.  I spent every Sunday this summer playing ultimate with Pat including countless Yellow Sundays with the G-Dub ultimate team, so I didn't know if playing that Sunday would send me over the edge or help me find some peace.  I forced myself to commit by telling people I was coming and asking my friend Jenn to pick me up at my house.  On the way down, we talked and I began to feel somewhat better.  During the second game, I didn't have to play savage (shocker), so I was able to sit on the sideline for a moment.  Of course, that's when the gravity of everything that had happened hit me, and I sat there silently sobbing as I watched the sport Pat and I used to play together.  As I was watching, I noticed that one of my teammates kept dropping the disc and making silly mistakes, and at one point I threw my hands up in the air and yelled "TIM!  WHAT THE HELL?!" with this look of obvious aggravation plastered all over my face.  At that moment I was floored by this memory of Pat running down the sidelines with his hands up in the air screaming about a bullshit call or yelling at someone for throwing a hammer.  Maybe I picked up a few bad habits from Pat this summer, but the wonderful thing about Pat was he always made sure to apologize for his outbursts and ask people to forgive his actions.  It takes a man with a big heart to be able to admit when he was wrong and ask for forgiveness, I don't know many people that can do that.  The next time I got on the field I gave Tim a hug and told him I was sorry for yelling at him (repeatedly).  So maybe I picked up some good habits from Pat as well...

I'd be a complete liar if I told you this past week was fine.  I had no idea how to deal with my grief.  My emotions ranged from full-blown panic attacks while driving through campus, manic episodes in which I decided to go for a run and sprinted a mile, and fits of rage in which I chucked cleats at doors and an avocado across my kitchen.  But nothing, absolutely nothing, seemed to make it better.  Being with friends and loved ones this week did help me get through the services, and for the rest of the week I tried to take solace in the memories I had of Pat.  I tried to look past all of my anger and sadness and I clung to the happy memories I had left, and somehow I began to cope.

Pat, his girlfriend Brittney, Chris, and I went on a few double dates during the past year when I would go out to Long Island.  Pat and Brittney loved to go out to eat and wanted Chris and I to join them at a restaurant that opened around this time last year.  Nothing on the menu was really jumping out at me until the waiter came by with the specials, one of them being shrimp and grits.  When I hear the word "grits" I usually think of that chewy, bland paste they give out at the Cracker Barrel, but when I heard Pat was going to try it I thought I would too, since nothing else really caught my interest.  To my surprise and delight, the dish was delicious, and Pat and I raved how happy we were that we went with this special.  We spent the night talking about music, work, life, ultimate, and decided next weekend we'd do this again at a different restaurant.  I was thrilled to have found another couple to double date with, especially since they were people I very much enjoyed being with and had known for a long time.

Pat and I did so many things together.  We went to school together, we played ultimate together, we went out together, we went on vacations together.  Brittney and I always joked that the next time we went out, the boys would have to be the designated drivers since the two of us always had to drive them home.  Cape Cod was the last time I saw Pat, so we never got to have that chance.

There are so many things we never got to do.  A life was ripped out of all of our hands, and it will take a while to put the pieces back together.

How do you cope with something like that?

For now, I'm reliving everything we did get to do, like enjoy a dish of shrimp and grits together.  Pat, you were a wonderful friend, you will be missed by so many including myself.  The memories I have of our time spent together are some of my favorite memories and I have forever been changed because I had you as a friend.  Thank you for everything, rest easy my dear friend.

Shrimp and Grits
Serves 4

-       1 c polenta (stone ground grits, not the Quaker Oat kind)
-       tbsp unsalted butter
-       1 c shredded cheddar cheese
-       1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
-       Juice from 1 lemon
-       2 tbsp parsley, chopped
-       ½ c scallions, thinly sliced
-       1 large garlic clove, minced
-       Salt and pepper, to taste

Follow the directions on the polenta package to determine how much water should be used (I boiled about 4 cups).  Bring water in a large pot to boil.  Add the polenta to the boiling water and begin whisking immediately to avoid clumping.  Lower heat and bring polenta to a simmer and cover.  Remove from heat when all water is absorbed, which takes less than 5 minutes.  Stir in 3 tbsp of the butter and shredded cheese.

Rinse and pat shrimp dry.  Coat a skillet with butter and put over medium heat.  Add the shrimp and cook until both sides are pink.  Add lemon, parsley, scallions, garlic, and salt and pepper and cook for an additional 3 to 5 minutes. 

Spoon grits into a bowl and top with the shrimp mixture.  Serve immediately. 

Adapted from Joy the Baker

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

One Day

A few weeks ago, I saw a trailer for this movie called “One Day.”  My heart instantly leapt when I saw the leading roles would be played by Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess, two of my favorite actors.  I barely had an idea of what the movie was about but I noticed that it was based on a novel.  I immediately went online to reserve a copy David Nicholl’s book and all but 2 copies were checked out, so sadly the book came while I was in Cape Cod and I didn’t get a chance to read it until I got back.

The first night I had a chance to read it I was absolutely entranced by the two main characters, Emma and Dexter.  The book opens on July 15, 1988 with Dexter and Emma just waking up from one of those awkward college hook ups the night after their graduation from university.  The book is unique in the way that each chapter meets with the characters on that same date, July 15, for the next 18 years.  The first night I read it I forced myself to put it down after reading the first two chapters because I knew once I got into the story I wouldn’t be able to put the book down.  And I didn’t – I finished it in the 13-hour drive down and back to Virginia to drop my brother off at school. 

One Day is a wonderfully heartbreaking story about these two lives that, at the same time, were always yet never meant to be together.  At some chapters you find yourself absolutely in love with the concept of Dexter and Emma and then at other times the characters frustrate you beyond belief.  One reason I think I really loved the book was because of the way I related to Emma’s character.  At graduation, she sought out to change the world, full of optimism with the world at her feet.  It’s the typical feeling that many graduating seniors have, yet when you meet with her the following year she’s stuck in this job she absolutely despises, jaded and dreams shattered, complacent to just go to work every day, do her job, and go home.  She later decides to take hold of her life, following a new path not too dissimilar from mine and begins to find herself.  Her character was a classic portrayal of the recent college graduate and I can’t remember the last time I read a book and was so connected to a character from it.

Sometimes after reading a good book I choose not to see the movie because I do not want the movie to be the lasting impression I have of the book (which is why I don’t think I can ever watch Marley and Me).  I don’t want the actors to ruin the characters I created in my mind and I don’t want the director to leave out parts of the story that I loved.  For this movie, I have decided that I will go to see it after all because I love Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess and I don’t think they will ruin the story for me at all.  Plus it was directed by the same man who did An Education, which was nominated for a best motion picture Oscar so he must be good.  Has anyone ever gone to see a movie by themself?  I think I may try stepping out of my comfort zone a little and go see this movie by myself so I can completely engross myself in it, much like I did when I read the story.  If you are also planning on seeing the movie, I highly recommend reading the book first (as with any movie made from a book).  This was one of the most wonderful books I have read and now I can finally say I have a favorite book.  I gush about it to my friends and family and have reread certain chapters a few times already.  It has rekindled my love for reading and it’s a story I could read over and over and will never forget.

[This is not a paid review of One Day, it was just a book that I absolutely loved and had to share with you all.] 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Project Bedroom - Day 1

When I moved back home after graduation, I never truly moved back into my room.  I told myself that this move was temporary, and once I had saved up enough money from working at the zoo or started working at a different one I'd move out.  So in actuality there was no reason to unpack and really settle in, right?

Well here I am, 1 and 1/2 years later and still living at home.  And I'm still not fully unpacked or settled in.  I did clean out my dresser and my closet so I'd have somewhere to put all of my student teaching clothes and I did clean out my bookshelf so I'd have somewhere to put all of my notebooks and school books.  However, my desk kind of became this teetering mass of papers that I always told myself I would "look at later" and somewhat more important papers that I needed to save but had nowhere to put them.  A few nights ago, I had some reading to do for class and had nowhere to just sit and focus on my work.  So I decided enough was enough and after 1 and 1/2 years of staring at that clutter I was going to clean it off and set up a place for me to do my work (and my blogging...).

So this is what I started with.  Yeah I know, pretty terrible.  My goal for that night was to get the main part of my desk cleared off.

When I was a freshman, I toyed with the idea of getting an Archaeology minor.  I found the science of archaeology fascinating and I had a teacher that was really passionate about it.  I wanted to go on an expedition one summer, but it was in Israel and it was expensive so that ended up not happening.  Well I definitely got a taste of being an archaeologist tonight.

The first few things I found weren't that spectacular: some books my mom had given me for tutoring, old newspaper clippings from 2009, and racing bibs and the article about my first 5K.  But then I dug a little deeper and pulled up some amazing (and some disgusting) things.

Like my Gameboy color with 3 copies of Pokemon.  Plus a connector cable!  Score.

I found a card, photograph, and some candy that the juniors gave me when I went to go visit their Sectionals game in 2010.  I remember wishing so badly that I could play with them.  I think they went to Regionals that year too.

This might be my second favorite finding: my bulletin board from freshman year.  I did some really awesome things in DC.  I saw Rilo Kiley, the Goo Goo Dolls, Flight of the Concords, Snow Patrol, Paramore, and Bloc Party while living in D.C.  I went to 2 Nationals games, was a Big Sister, and volunteered with an Animal Rescue League.  Over my spring breaks I traveled to Vegas (I still have that plane ticket) and saw Spamalot on Broadway.  I wish venues gave out paper tickets still instead of the vouchers you can print offline, they're such great mementos.

But my absolute favorite artifact that I uncovered was my first UPA card, back when it was the UPA and not USA Ultimate.  It was in an envelope with information about my membership and a booklet of the official rules.  I can't believe I still had it.  I guess it's ok to be messy sometimes...

I'm not even going to show you a picture of what the bare desk looked like before bleached the you-know-what out of it.  I didn't think even the Clorox bleach spray could do it, but I was able to bring my desk back to a dazzling white.

The whole process took me about an hour, and next I hope to tackle those shelves on the side of and above my desk.  That reading that I needed to get done?  Well, that didn't really happen - I still can't really use my desk since I don't have a desk chair.  Whoops.  IKEA here I come!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Grilled Pizza

When we were in Cape Cod, my friends and I attempted to save as much money possible by making all of our dinners at the house.  One of my favorite and most memorable dinners was when we made grilled pizzas.  My friend Brittney and I both love to read food blogs (just check out my blogroll on the right) and throughout the summer we saw many, many posts that raved about how much better pizza tasted when it was grilled, so we thought we should give it a shot since the house came with a grill.  The dinner was a huge hit, probably even more so than the lobsters and steak we had another night, and everyone had a really fun time making their own pizzas.  I wanted to recreate this experience with my friends at home before the summer was over, so I chose the last day of summer to host a pizza making party at my house.

Our bracket
The day actually started off with a tennis tournament I organized with my friends.  What started with a group of four people who played tennis last summer (not including myself) has turned into a huge clinic where more experienced players will help each other and battle each other in heated matches to see who is the best.  We had mentioned doing a tournament this summer so we could figure out where everyone ranked, so I found out what day of this past weekend worked best for everyone, ranked them based on how well they performed over the summer, and set up a bracket so that people could play against each other to see where they ranked amongst our friends.  We're a pretty competitive bunch so the tournament was a huge hit.  One of our friends has this amazing knack for tennis so he crushed everyone 6-0 or 6-1 (we only played 1 set per match), but everyone else who fell in the middle of the rankings had some really amazing and intense matches.  All in all, the tournament was a huge success and we hope it will become something we can do at the beginning and the end of the summer annually.  Needless to say, after a 4 and 1/2 hour ultimate practice on Sunday and a three-round tournament yesterday, my legs are completely destroyed.

Alright, so back to the grilled pizza.  When planning for your grilled pizza party, the first step is to make the dough.  Here is the recipe I used for the dough:

Pizza Dough
Makes about 3 pies

- 1 ½ c water, lukewarm
- 2 ¼ tsp active dry yeast (1 ¼ oz packet)
- 4 ½ c flour
- 1 tsp salt

Pour packet of active dry yeast into lukewarm water and whisk with a fork until the yeast is dissolved.  Let sit for about 10 minutes to activate the yeast. 

Dissolve the yeast in lukewarm water
Combine flour and salt in a large bowl and form a well in the center of the flour.  Pour the water into the well and, using your hands or a dough hook on an electric mixer (not a beater!), mix the flour and the water together.  When combine, transfer half of the dough to a floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, not sticky.  Repeat with the second half.

If using immediately, place the balls of dough in a bowl.  If not using immediately, the dough can be placed in a plastic bag or Tupperware container in the refrigerator for 48 hours or frozen.  Do not leave uncovered if placing in the fridge or freezer. 

Adapted from: The Kitchn

Sticky dough - not what you want
The dough is going to be incredibly sticky when you first combine it with the water, kind of like a giant wad of bubblegum.  Do not despair!  When you're kneading it on the floured surface, just continue to work flour into the dough until it no longer sticks to your hands.  When the dough is ready it will be smooth and not tacky.  It is also easier to work with the dough if it is in a smaller portion, so be sure to work with only half of this recipe at a time.  When I tried to knead the entire batch of dough, the outside would be smooth but the inside of the ball would still be very sticky.  This recipe makes a lot of dough, but you can always freeze it to be used at a later date, or to be used immediately if you have to make 11 individual pizzas...

The next step is to make the sauce.  If you have read even one food blog this past year I am sure you have read about this pasta sauce.  Food bloggers have obsessed over it and how something so simple could turn into such a rich, velvety sauce.  It's three ingredients: crushed (or whole) tomatoes, butter, and an onion that sacrifices itself for the sake of the sauce.  You cut an onion in half, place it in the pot, and then throw it out at the end.  So in actuality, this sauce is just tomatoes, butter, and essence of onion.  This sauce is so simple you will wrack your brain trying to figure out what makes it so tasty.  Just accept it, and make this sauce.  Oh and to make this sauce even better, if you use crushed tomatoes rather than whole ones, you can skip the step in which you stand over the pot and crush the tomatoes with a wooden spoon and just plop the ingredients in, set it on low heat, and let the sauce simmer for 30 minutes.  I honestly cannot get over how easy and delicious this sauce is.  It worked great as a pizza sauce but can of course be used on pasta.  And please resist the urge to throw in a sprinkle of sugar or dried herbs or minced garlic when making this sauce.  You want to make it as is and once you do, you'll be very happy you did.

3-Ingredient Tomato Sauce

- 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
- 5 tbsp butter
- 1 onion, ends cut off and halved with outer skin removed

Combine all ingredients in a large sauce pan and place over medium heat.  Bring the sauce to a simmer, stirring occasionally, and then lower the heat so the sauce is barely simmering.  Simmer for an additional 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen 

The third step is to make the toppings.  Here is a very special note about the toppings: any toppings that need to be cooked need to be cooked ahead of time.  The pizza will be on the grill for about 10 minutes and it cooks from the bottom up, so it will not cook raw meat or poultry.  If you have any vegetables, like onions or mushrooms, that you would like cooked, that needs to be done ahead of time too.  Once you have all of your toppings, set them up in plates or bowls on a table near the grill.  This will make the grilling process much easier. 

Now that you have all of your ingredients together, the final step is to grill the pizza!  Once everyone arrived, I called them into the kitchen and gave them each a ball of dough about the size of a baseball.  Everyone used a different method to spread out the dough: some of them pulled it apart in their hands until they got a rough circle while others flattened it out on a plate.  When you flatten out the dough it is going to look small and thin, but keep in mind that the crust is going to rise a lot and it will be very filling, regardless of how small it looks on the plate. 

The left side of the grill is on medium-low heat,
the right side is on medium heat
After everyone had their dough ready, we took the party outside to the grill.  Next to your grill, have a bowl of olive oil with a brush, the pizza sauce, the cheese, and two spatulas.  When you heat your grill, heat one half on medium heat and the other half on medium - low heat.  This will make sense in a minute.  Have the first person put his/her dough on the medium heat side of the grill, and don't worry it's not going to fall through the grates.  Once the underside of the crust becomes browned and slightly charred, flip it over to the medium-low heat side of the grill (at this point the second person can start their pizza).  You want the pizza to finish cooking on the cooler side of the grill so that the toppings have time to meld together.  Because the pizza cooks on the underside only, you want to add the cheese followed by the sauce, meats, and veggies.  This will make sure the cheese gets nice and melted.  Remove once the underside is browned.

Have the toppings ready to go!
The grilled pizzas were well received by everyone.  Grilling the crust makes it extra crispy, something that is hard to replicate in an oven.  Plus the whole process should only take about 10 minutes per person, so having your toppings ready and your sauce and cheese next to the grill will help ensure that you get everything on your pizza before it's done cooking.  If you're having a party, it's a really great interactive way to include everyone, plus it can be used for any age group.  My 20-something friends contributed some really delicious toppings, but younger kids will also get a kick out of making their own dinner by hand.  I know summer is over, but for those of you who are still in denial like myself and are cringing at the pumpkin and halloween recipes on everyone's blogs (come on guys, it's September 6th), it's a really fun dinner to make with friends and family.  Enjoy!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Runner's High and a Chocolate Banana Shake/Smoothie

Chris's mother once asked me if I loved running because of the runner's "high."  Truth be told, I've never really had a runner's high - that complete state of euphoria many runners get when they're going for a run. I usually got it when I got home and was stretching and reflecting on my workout.  Running always made me feel good, but usually when I'm on a run I'm more focused on my time, my form, and my tempo rather than on the run itself.

I've mentioned before that I usually start my runs off too quickly and the last quarter mile seems like a huge battle.  My splits go from 9:30, to 10:00, and then to around 11:30.  So for this run, I really treated the first mile like my warm up and took it at my target pace time: 10:00/mile.  Well at the 1st mile mark my split time was 10:00, so already I was off to a good start.

I've always struggled with the middle of my run because that's when I start to think about how far I am from finishing.  When my mind begins to lag, my body begins to lag, and by the last mile I'm defeated and just pushing myself to finish.  Yet with this run, I was on my 2nd mile and instead of feeling like the road was an endless stretch in front of me, the crackled sidewalks and overgrown hedges looked like an enticing adventure.  I ran for about half of a mile more and I looked down at my feet and almost fell over - they looked like they were going so fast underneath me.  And yet instead of letting my head tell my legs to get it under control, I let my legs set the tempo for the first time and allowed myself not to think.  It was a completely different feeling for me.  I didn't have the need to glance at my watch and bemoan over the fact I was behind pace or still had 15 minutes left.  I had let my mind go blank and was just listening to the music and just going along for the ride.  Before I knew it I was closing in on my third mile and still had lots of energy to spare.  When I reached the hill on Lincoln, it felt more like a friendly competition than an insurmountable challenge and I powered up that incline.  I felt like I could have kept running straight down my neighborhood streets for miles and miles.  But I knew the run had to end and longer runs would come later.

I have never felt like this before during a run.  I honestly couldn't describe it as anything else than a runner's "high."  I had let my mind go blank, allowing my legs to push me along, and just savored the run.  It was a pretty amazing experience.

Usually when I get back from my runs, I make myself a glass of chocolate milk.  When I became serious about my running, I had an understanding that when I ran, my muscles would tear (hence the soreness) and as they rebuild themselves, they become stronger.  Yet I wanted to make sure I was getting the right nutrients to make sure my muscles did repair themselves quickly and efficiently.  The thought of drinking whey protein turned me off because I had no desire to put on muscle - I just wanted to help repair my muscles naturally.  After talking to a few people, a woman I know told me her husband went to an Army training clinic and the doctors were recommending chocolate milk as a post workout recovery drink because it has the 4:1 carbs to protein ratio in a recovery drink that your muscles need to replenish themselves.  Plus it's absolutely delicious so why would I complain?

After this run, I decided to amp up my chocolate milk a bit because I was hungry so I made a chocolate banana shake/smoothie (I couldn't decide which one to call it because it has milk and ice).

I started with my cup of milk.

Then added my 2 tbsp of chocolate syrup (with only one hand on the camera, my hand was shaking uncontrollably.  Sorry for the blurry image).

Then put in a whole banana and about a handful of ice to add some body.

Blended it all together and poured it into my awesome travel cup.  Seriously, how great is this cup?  It's reusable and perfect for iced coffees, smoothies, shakes, and any juice you want to take with you.  It's not the type of container you can just put in your bag and forget about because the straw is open, but it's great to carry along with you on your way to work or class.