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Road Tripping: We Did It All Wrong

20 Jan

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For about five years or so, the Boy and I have pointed the car south to spend Christmas with the family in Florida. Sure, it’s a long trip–two days at least–but we like having access to a car, and it’s fun to experience little bits of the country along the way. Driving south reminds me of how vast and different our country is–how interesting it is–and how those differences weave together to become one.

Over the years, we got pretty good at making this trip, finding great stops that we looked forward to making every drive. This year? Not so much. It’s as if we had never taken the car out of state before. How bad was it? Well, it made me feel like I needed to turn in my frequent traveler card.

It was a learning experience though, and if you’re not experienced with road-tripping, here are some of our biggest blunders. Learn from them so you can have a better time in the car!

  • The night before you leave, don’t go to bed so late that you oversleep the next day and are forced to make a late start.
  • Don’t start late enough to avoid Boston rush hour traffic, and then wonder why you’re in New York/Philadelphia smack dab in the middle of evening rush hour.
  • Know where you’re going to spend the night more than an hour before you decide to stop so that you’re not driving from hotel to hotel looking for a room.
  • If you don’t want to deal with full-service gas stations, don’t calculate your gas tank refill to be smack dab in the middle of New Jersey.
  • Stop at Wawa. Don’t bypass Wawa.
  • Find decent restaurants for meals. We actually did better on Day 2, when we found Molly MacPherson’s in Richmond Hill, GA, and had decent food (including excellent salads) and great service).
  • If you want to stop and see something along the way, figure that out early on in the day, not when you’re driving by and realize it’s closed for the day.
  • Pack good snacks.

We did make our traditional stop at South of the Border, but having spent far too long on the road, we were in and out as fast as possible.

Needless to say, we got to Florida in a less than optimal mood, and that’s not a great way to start holiday vacation. It got better, for sure–because sun and warmth really do make a difference–and we had a really fun trip. However, we also pledged to make sure our drive home was something we actually wanted to remember.

 

I, Influencer (or, How Did I Get on this List?)

2 Dec

Yesterday started out with a round a questioning from the Boy:

“Where are you going again tonight?”

“I’m going to CambridgeSide to an Influencers’ holiday party.”

“How are you an ‘Influencer’ again?”

How am I an Influencer?! What kind of question is that? Is this not the face of an Influencer?

International woman of awesomeness!

This person makes you want certain stuff and things.

 

 

 

 

No? Well, how about this?

Yeah! This girl is on. Point!

Want to be me, or else!

 

 

 

 

 

Still no? One more try:

No, seriously, I'm looking at something so amazing. You should want that something.

There are no words for this level of influence.

 

Needless to say, the folks at CambridgeSide thought I was an Influencer, bless them, and put me on the list for this holiday shindig. Since there’s a party involved, I’m going, and I’m going to roll with the ambiguity of why I’m actually invited or who even found me. This time, I’m going to do it right. Admittedly, last time I didn’t do it completely wrong, but I certainly knew that I could’ve worked it a lot better.

See, the last time I found myself invited to a place I know I didn’t belong, was several years ago when I lived in Chicago and Chicago was bidding to host the 2016 Olympics. One of the big Chicago business councils–the kind where all of the bigwigs get together and promote business within the city–held a luncheon with Mayor Daley and then-International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge. A bunch of former Olympic stars came out to support the event, and it was a big deal, particularly since a lot of companies had a big interest in helping the Olympics come to Chicago.

A bunch of higher ups in my office decided to go, and since I love the Olympics, I jumped at the chance. The Boy also decided to come along and check out the scene. We left work kind of late so that we’d hit the end of the mingling portion and be there for the lunch part. But that turned out to be a mistake.

When we checked in at the registration table, they found the Boy’s name, they found my co-workers’ names, but they couldn’t find mine. We slid down a few people to a different registration list, where the check-in lady found my name and said, “You’re supposed to be down in the VIP room.”

Wait, what?! VIP list? How did I…?

But there was no time for questions because another person was whisking me away to a downstairs room where some of the city’s heavy hitters were hanging out and waiting to say a little private hello to Jacques. And then there was me.

Thankfully I had ironed my cheap chinos and button-down shirt that morning. And maybe my makeup hadn’t worn off. The sad thing is that I knew I didn’t fit in, and I let that thought take center stage in my brain. I latched onto some wine and talked to a couple of people–one of whom was one of the more influential priests in the city and took pity on me enough to sit next to me at lunch, as VIPs also got prominent seating in the middle of the room.

I learned a few things that day:

  • Being a VIP means you’re likely turning down dessert in order to maintain your VIP figure.
  • If the mayor repeatedly mispronounces the guest of honor’s name, it might not bode well on your future chances of winning the Olympics.
  • If you find yourself in a place where you have no idea how you got put on “the list,” say yes to it and fake belonging as best you can, because maybe you actually do belong there and you owe yourself the courtesy of actually believing in yourself for a change.

But back to my being an Influencer. Yes, that’s right. Me. Jill. Influencer. With a party to attend.

I got to the mall way before the party started, so I walked around every level to kill time…and kill a little more of my Christmas shopping list. I played the “one for you, one for me” game, buying a gift for someone and then a glittery polka dot sweater for me, since I realized I have to go to a fun party this weekend and had nothing appropriate to wear. TJMaxx to the rescue–I found it, tried it on and was out the door in 10 minutes or less!

The party itself was a nice way to start December–we got to see holiday fashions, test MAC lipstick if we wanted, have snacks courtesy of some of the mall’s restaurants, get a swag bag and participate in a Yankee swap grab bag. And we got to take pictures with this guy:

I *have* been good this year, Santa!

Big Influencer hero, Mr. S. Claus.

Which isn’t really even a fancy Influencer-type perk, since the mall’s giving away pictures with Santa this year.

So did I belong there? Sure!

I think.

I was a first-timer, so I had that insecurity that you have whenever you’re someplace for the first time and don’t know people like everyone else seems to know people. I don’t vlog, so I wasn’t one of those who were instantly Snapchatting or whatever it was that they were doing with video.

But I didn’t feel like I didn’t belong, so that’s something. And that’s at least influential to me.

The M&M Easter Story

9 Apr

Continuing on with my church shopping experience…

Did you know that M&Ms are a symbol of Easter? Well, at least that’s what I learned from the “Conversation with our Young People” portion of Easter worship.

An aside: Is “Conversation with our Young People” better than “Children’s Sermon” or “Children’s Time”? I’d think kids could relate to being children, and “conversation” is a pretty long word. It is PC though, I’ll give you that. Kids, do you care about that?

Anyway, a woman who wasn’t the pastor gave the children’s sermon, and bless her heart, she came up with this story of M&Ms and what the M stands for. Now, I kind of tuned out when the talk started with the traditional, “Did the Easter Bunny come visit you today?” But when she got into what the printed M on the M&M stands for, I perked up.

The “m” is for “mercy,” which God gives to us. Turn the piece of candy 90º and you’ve got a “3,” which reminds us of the three days after Jesus died before rising from the dead. Now, turn it 180º, and you’ve got the “E” for “Easter.” Finally turn it so you see a “w,” and that’s for “worthy” because we’re worthy of God’s love. As you eat your springtime M&Ms, keep this Easter promise in mind.

As the Boy said after he wrapped his brain around this story, mad props to this woman for trying to be creative. I give that to her, and I know she told this with the best intentions–for all I know, she spent Saturday night swearing about having no ideas for the conversation time, was stress-eating M&Ms and got this lightning bolt. Yet, even the best intentions have a way with playing with kids’ minds. Who knows which one of them will think about this every time they eat M&Ms. Or apply for a job there because they feel the company really speaks to their beliefs? Or experience extreme disappointment when they learn the true meaning of the m? Who knows–maybe I’m going overboard–I’ve still got crazy camp songs going through my brain. Nope, nothing could toy with young people’s minds at all.

The 200-lb. (or Maybe 20 lb.) Ham

7 Apr

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When planning a big meal, I’m not the best judge of how much food to actually buy. Case in point, this year’s Easter ham. We had ten people over–which is a lot for us–and when you figure in that our friends really like the Boy’s ham recipe (this is an understatement), leftovers for everyone, and the weight of a bone, we definitely needed a ham that was over ten pounds. This, of course, set off the stressful situation of exactly what size ham to buy when I went to the store. Do I go with the 13-lb. ham that doesn’t mention any of the features the Boy asked for (fully cooked, bone in, etc.)? Or do I go to the 20-lb. ham that’s exactly what we want? And why don’t I feel like asking the guy at the meat counter if they’ve got another size? I just asked him about casing, for crying out loud!

Well, the Boy is a man, and he gets a kick out of cooking a massive pile of meat. We also have this enormous stock pot (known to us as the “Ham Pot”) that’s so big, it only fits in one tall cupboard in our kitchen, and it’s a point of pride to be able to cook a ham so big that it needs a restaurant-sized stock pot for the boiling phase. A twenty pound challenge? Bring it!

The Boy was happy, the Ham Pot got used, the ham was delicious. However, what complicated things is that we also made five pounds of kielbasa, which essentially competed with the ham for share of stomach. This contributed to a ton of leftovers, and suddenly it seemed like our 20-lb. ham had yielded way more than 20 pounds. Our leftover happy friends should’ve managed to clean up nicely, but for some reason, everyone was a bit skittish and now we have a couple of bags of ham in our fridge and freezer.

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Missed Holidays and Moping

26 Feb

It’s not been the best week here, friends, and today I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel because I refuse to say, “I’ve got nothing.” Winter’s getting me a little down, and even though we’re about to turn the calendar to March, it just doesn’t seem like the snow will melt–or that I’ll be able to go outside without putting on massive amounts of layers. Or walk down the sidewalk without having to put one foot directly in front of the other because some building owner didn’t shovel. Or fear that I’ll slip on the thick layers of ice that are coating said sidewalks. The one saving grace is that every few days, we get a dusting of snow to cover the grey, slushy crap. That keeps it pretty, so there’s something.

To try to shake things up a little, I pulled out Eat the Year. Surely there’s got to be a good food holiday to help pull me out of a funk, right?

Well, today is National Pistachio Day. Not my favorite nut, so that’s a strike out. But two days ago, it was National Tortilla Chip Day! How could I miss that? I even noted it at the beginning of the week: Get chips. But then I had a fiasco celebrating Monday’s National Banana Bread Day: Make banana bread, stick toothpick in center to test for doneness, start eating it and find one tiny raw section in the lower central part of the load. It’s not a mushy banana section. I kept trying it, and I’m pretty sure it’s raw.  It’s not that hard to make banana bread. A mess-up? Really?

So today or tomorrow I’m probably going to have a belated Tortilla Chip Day, which in and of itself is its own stress because honestly, good tortilla chips can be hard to come by. Tostito’s is OK. Utz is fine. Snyder’s? Um, no. They can be like cardboard. When the Boy and I went to the store before the Super Bowl, the tortilla chips were completely cleared out–except for Snyder’s. He started to grab a bag, and I had to give him a what for. Seriously, if every other brand of tortilla chips–including store brands, which, for the most part also aren’t the best–is gone, and there are bags and bags of one brand left, that tells you something right there.

When we lived in Chicago, we loved El Milagro chips. They had a good heft and a good crunch. Held salsa well. Filled you up rather quickly. They don’t distribute to New England.

So I suppose today I should get out of the house and put myself on a quest to find better chips. We’ve got a bunch of little man stores near me that are likely to have something different. Perhaps I can find a good alternative to the norm. Or else I may have to break down and learn how to make them myself.

I’d Like to Thank….

23 Feb

I’m writing this as I finish watching last night’s Academy Awards ceremony. Old friends might wonder how this is possible–the Oscars used to be my thing. I’d have a big party (dress up as a nominated character! Themed food! Prizes!) and see as many movies as I could. This year, I thought, Oh yeah, it’s Oscar night. How many movies have I seen again? Two? 

Sure, people change–and I simply don’t make the same time for movies that I used to (in part thanks to being really turned off of the movies by “Gangs of New York,”), but every year I still get some form of the Fever. This year I was able to watch a good chunk of the ceremony before I compromised with the Boy and taped the rest so that we could continue catching up with the rest of the country by watching another episode of “Breaking Bad” (we’re on season 3).

Now that means that I’m quickly trying to finish watching it so that I can look at the rest of the Internet. And then quickly get some work done because now I really, really want to see a movie. I know some are on demand, others are on Netflix, or I could figure out how to download them; however I still love the theater, the experience of being enveloped by a movie, and the slow coming out of it once the lights come back up. That’s the magic of movies.

Still, like anyone who sits at home watching the big show, during the lower moments (technical awards previously given, odd Lady Gaga tributes to “The Sound of Music”), I do spend a fair amount of time crafting my own acceptance speech, so I thought I’d share that with you this year.

The Oscar viewer knows that acceptance speech strategy is key, particularly in any category I might win. You get your 30 seconds (if that), and you are quickly played off. Heaven forbid I be nominated with somebody–it always stinks to be the second (or third or fourth) person who doesn’t get more than two seconds to try to yell their thank you’s over the strings (or if the conductor’s pissed, the brass).

The key part of my strategy would be preparation, and for that I have one word: Intervals. Hustle to the stage, and you could get an extra five or six seconds. This whole “let’s move slowly and gracefully because this is a big deal” is bunk because we know the show runs long for no good reason, and people have to get up in the morning (which is hell on the East Coast). So practice those sprints and wear something pretty, yet moveable.

Next is to say something different. Acceptances shouldn’t be 100% thank you. Say something unique, something they’ll remember. This year was great–Patricia Arquette talking about equality for women; Graham Moore, the screenwriter for “The Imitation Game” talking about being weird; John Legend mentioning the fact that there are more incarcerated black men than there were slaves; Eddie Redmayne talking about ALS; Julianne Moore pumping the cause of Alzheimer’s research; the guy who thanked his dog. What a great year!

Me? I’d thank the people who hired me, of course; the Boy for believing in me; but honestly, I’d also give a shout out to all of the Oscar partiers, the ones who truly make the awards what they are. Sure, it’s Hollywood’s big party for itself, but it wouldn’t be as big of a spectacle if people at home didn’t celebrate, so really, I’d celebrate them. And hope to hell they’ve got me picked in their Oscar bingo or drinking games.

Pancakes + Paczkis = A Fat Tuesday Indeed

18 Feb

The success of a party can usually be figured out by the mess you have to deal with the next day. Yes, we filled up the garbage can. Yes, we’ve already put a load of dishes in the dishwasher. However, these remnants are what I’m cleaning up today:

The bottle of fish oil and the Japanese picture dictionary did play a role in the festivities last night, believe it or not. Our group has apparently hit the age where “vitamin chat” is an important topic of conversation. One guest started talking about how she used to take fish oil and saw great results, though she’d stopped taking it. That, of course, meant a beeline to the cabinet to pull out the fish oil and try to foist it on people. We needed the book to show some important point–or perhaps it just got to the point in the night where it’s time to pull out books for show and tell purposes. You know what it’s like, right?

You foodies, though, may really only care how the food turned out. Well, the mess in the kitchen is mainly due to me starting prep late and throwing things together quickly. I did not use a sieve when making British pancakes, nor did I let the flour “get a good airing.” I threw ingredients in a bowl, mixed them together, then realized that the recipe really needed to be doubled, so I threw another batch into the same bowl, “well in the centre” and “adding milk gradually” be damned. An actual European who knows a little something about making crepes was on pan duty, so they turned out all right. I’m sure that if I’d followed the recipe to the T, the pancakes’ texture might have been slightly different, but nobody complained–perhaps because it’s been a year since we’ve all had them. It’s all about the fillings anyway, and we had some lovely beef with raisins, a creamy mushroom, fruit, Nutella, lemon juice, powdered sugar, and multiple varieties of jam. Nothing to complain about!

Next on the docket was buttermilk pancakes, which was on the menu for the pickier eaters in our group. The Boy has a really good dairy-free pancake recipe that calls for orange juice, but I went with straight buttermilk, because I thought the slight orange flavor those cakes acquire might have not played well on a picky eater’s palate. Did I make the right call there? At any rate, the batter was fine, but since I’m not that practiced with cooking pancakes, they got a little scorched. To make up for it, we also cooked a couple of packages of bacon, which cures all cooking issues.

Our last pancake was okonomiyaki, cooked up by our Japanese friend. I haven’t had this dish in a while, and it was so good! Light, fluffy eggs, onions and cabbage, sauce, perhaps some mystery ingredients (don’t ask, just eat). Delicious!

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The hard thing about three types of pancakes is that you need to have room for dessert, and as it was FYOP (Fill Your Own Paczki) night, that stomach space was essential.

Dude, can I just say that Jenny Jones has a good recipe? Sure, I fried them (she bakes), and I didn’t do the final steps to coat them in sugar because I’m used to a dusting of powdered sugar. They’re on the small side because I don’t have a proper cutter and was cutting them out with a 1/2-cup measure, but the German in our group loved the fact that they were the proper size for the German version of a Fat Tuesday donut. By next year I may have to acquire some sort of pastry syringe [as used in the latest episode of “The Great British Baking Show,” which coincidentally also feature donuts this week!] so we can do some proper injection. Me? I just cut the whole thing in half, to get in as much filling as possible.

So there you have it. I pulled off Pancake Day without being British…and without a Brit there for guidance, as ours was sick. A bunch of cooks in the kitchen made it happen, and a bunch of happy guests made for a nice jolt to the week–and I’m sure a jolt to my waistline. On to the austerity of Lent!

Get Your Flip On!

17 Feb

Happy Pancake Day! Yes, today is Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday too, but in England it’s Shrove Tuesday, and you eat pancakes. My Brit friend Angwa is pretty keen on the day, so there’s always a celebration with British crepe-like pancakes and tons of fillings (I think the idea is to clean out your pantry in preparation for Lent). This year we’ll also do American flapjacks, for those who aren’t fans of crepes, and our Japanese friend will make up some okonomiyaki, a Japanese pancake/pizza type dish.

And for me it’s also Paczki Day.

This year, instead of going on a big paczki hunt, I’m going to attempt to make my own for the first time, thanks to a Jenny Jones recipe. I know! Jenny Jones! She’s still around and putting things out into the world (read her bio–she’s done some pretty cool stuff in her lifetime). And she has a paczki recipe. How can I not try it?!

Tonight we eat–whether you’re eating pancakes or paczkis or celebrating with a drink or two, eat well. Tomorrow we share pictures.

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