Saturday, December 5, 2009

Cooking My Way to Thanksgiving, Part Two

I survived! But more importantly, so did my Thanksgiving-food eaters.

This year's eaters included: my mom, dad, brother, brother's fiancee, brother's roommate, aunt and uncle (and of course me). It's safe to say we had a full table.

Preparation started the day before. My aunt and uncle came over to my apartment at around 9 a.m. to make our family cinnamon rolls as a surprise for my dad's birthday which happened to land on Thanksgiving this year. I got up early to get some of the cooking done ahead of time so I could talk to my relatives without neglecting my food babies.

I frosted the turkey birthday cake (it only looked like a turkey, I didn't think the family would be ready for a cake that tasted like turkey, but maybe next year...), boiled and mashed the sweet potatoes and started the pumpkin torte. That's when I encountered my first problem. I couldn't understand the recipe, it seemed like steps were missing and for all I know, it could have been written in another language. Luckily, my aunt is fluent in confusing recipes and explained it to me a language I can understand: simple-ese.

Later that day on the eve of Thanksgiving, I decided that our spread was lacking something. Sure, we had turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, corn, green bean casserole, squash, sweet potatoes, cinnamon rolls, cranberry sauce, fudge (oh yeah, I made that too!), turkey birthday cake and pumpkin torte. As I was driving away from my parents house to the grocery store to pick up some things I forgot to buy the other three times I was at the grocery store, it dawned on me: we didn't have any pie. I'm not sure why I didn't think of it earlier, my mom subtlety mentioned it several times before because that's one of her favorite desserts.

Standing in the grocery store, I googled "easy pie recipes" on my phone. I wanted to make something with blackberries but I thought my mom would want something with apples so I compromised with a blackberry-apple pie with a latticed top. How hard could that be?

The next five or so hours were spent peeling, washing, coring, slicing, dicing, folding, kneading, mixing, spreading, baking and cooling (not necessarily in that order). There also was a lot of spilling, standing, sweating (not in the food of course), tasting and maybe a bit of swearing. Then I scrubbed, washed and dried the messiest kitchen I'd even seen in my life.

The food turned out delicious, my family was full and satisfied so in the end it was worth it. I took a bunch of pictures of the food and saved them here. I forgot to get quotes from our guests so I'll end with this one:

"This Thanksgiving food was the best I've ever tasted. It must have been cooked by highly skilled chef." ~Alissa

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Cooking My Way to Thanksgiving, Part One

I'm not a bad cook. I like spending time in the kitchen. But mostly I only enjoy successful cooking endeavors. I have three recipes I could make blindfolded: chocolate chip cookies, homemade mac and cheese and homemade pizza dough.

Every now and then I'll try something new. Sometimes I don't read the recipe thoroughly or I forget an ingredient (who knew how important baking powder is in some recipes?). My honey glazed chicken stir fry was pretty tasty, but my marionberry pie was runny. My meatless tacos were flavorful and healthy but there are countless dishes that have ended up in the trash because of a slight error on my part (or maybe it's my tools? the oven?).

Friends and family have suffered through these "creative interpretations" of some recipes. One that stands out spectacularly is a snickerdoodle "loaf." I like to think at least I have dedication to my creations. Sure, the cookie dough is oozy and won't hold it's shape, but I'll stand by my dough and refashion it as a loaf of snickerdoodly deliciousness. Or a sure fire way to sentence my family to an evening indisposed.

I could be a great cook. People love the food I make using recipes I'm familiar with. I just need to focus, read the recipes carefully and not take shortcuts. And where else would be an excellent place to showcase my new method of cooking?


That's right. This year my mom split the cooking duties with me. My responsibilities are all sides and desserts (I'm not trusted with the Holy Turkey). They range from the simple (rolls, cranberry sauce) to the "Alissa's never tasted or tried to make before." I almost said difficult but I'm afraid real cooks will laugh at me if I say a sweet potato casserole is difficult.

Here is what I'm in charge of (in order of expected difficulty):
-Cranberry sauce
-Cake (Thanksgiving also happens to be my Dad's birthday this year)
-Green bean casserole
-Sweet Potato casserole
-Pumpkin Torte
I've lined up most of my ingredients and am starting to create my battle plan. I've taken the Wednesday before Thanksgiving off of work to prepare mentally, physically and emotionally (and of course to do some cooking).

Wish me luck for Thursday, I'll be sure to take lots of pictures and get some reviews from my family.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Becoming a Soccer Star

I wouldn't call myself athletic. Actually, a lot of people wouldn't call me athletic. Especially my old P.E. teachers. I like to picture one in particular, and what his face would look like if he saw me now.

Recently, my company's soccer team desperately needed more female players. I was asked and of course I said yes.

Here's the problem: I've seen a few Sounders games, but I barely grasp the basic rules of the sport.

Do I know how to say "no?" Probably not. Some may consider this a character flaw - but not me. Because I say yes, I've tried a lot of exciting and different things I never would have done on my own.

Over the years, I have learned that I go through five stages after saying "yes." The first stage is excitement. I think to myself that this may be my true calling. Maybe I could have a hidden talent for soccer. I could be to the soccer world what Tiger Woods is to the golf world. But then I actually start thinking about what I've agreed to do.

Stage two begins when the dread sets in. "What was I thinking? I'm going to get hit in the face with a soccer ball!!"

The purchasing phase comes next, it's somewhat similar to negotiating. "I may know nothing about soccer, but I bet buying shin guards and a pair of soccer socks will help somehow." (This is explains why I own barely used wood carving tools, tap dancing shoes, knitting needles and boxes full of other dabblings.)

The fourth stage is panic. This generally takes place right before the event and on the drive there. "How are socks supposed to make me play better?!"

The final phase is acceptance. This generally doesn't happen until I've started or possibly even after whatever I said yes to has taken place.

Anyway, back to becoming the next Brandy Chastain (she's a famous soccer player, right?) ... I showed up to the game (fully in panic phase) knowing little more than not to touch the ball with my hands. I also realized the field looks a lot bigger when you're standing on it as opposed to sitting in a seat looking down on it.

Lucky for me, I wasn't the only person playing for the first time. And even luckier, I'm pretty decent at doing what I'm told. I played defense and ran around a lot. I can't say I fully understood what was happening, but I did know when to run, put on the pressure, kick the ball and act as a human shield (not willingly of course).

We didn't win the game but I did have a lot of fun. And as an embarrassing side note, when the game was over the guy I had been guarding said "Good game." I, in my naivety, thought he geniunely believed I played well, so I thanked him and then he gave me a weird look. Anyway, I now know that's what everyone says to players on the other team after the game. Duh.

Would I play soccer again? Yes! And I have, we won our last two games!

I also said yes to playing on the winter team ... maybe I should buy some active winter wear ... and cleats!

Running a 5K Obstacle Course

Standing at the start line with my three teammates, my heart pounding, I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into again, when I realized I didn't even know how many miles were in a 5K. What had I agreed to?? I asked one of my teammates how many miles a 5K was and just as we started running she replied, "Only 3.1 miles."

Only 3.1 miles. Phew. Or not. I haven't run 3.1 miles since...maybe ever. At least not straight. I'm more of a walker, always have been, always will be. I don't even run to catch the bus (not anymore, after a few unfortunate instances in high heels). But to my teammates - marathon runners - this was nothing.

How did I end up at the starting line of a 5K obstacle course (did I mention I ran AND did obstacles?!?)? The company I work for has some very active employees. They run marathons, triathalons, compete in cyclocrosses and all sorts of other feats of endurance and physical strength. At our last staff meeting, someone mentioned the Winter Pineapple Classic. A fun, obstacle course filled 5K that raises money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Everyone who participated last year had a great time.

I can do this, I thought to myself. How hard can a 5K obstacle course be? Forget the minor details that I don't run, climb over walls, play on monkey bars or jump hurdles. So I signed up.

And then there I was, running with my teammates to our first obstacle. I jumped over hurdles (somewhat haphazardly), climbed over hay stacks, crossed the monkey bars, climbed over a 5 foot wall, pulled myself up a rope ladder, mounted a ten foot wall, army crawled through mud and eventually crossed the finish line. All in about 40 minutes. Not bad.

The first thing my mom asked was "Did you finish?" Of course I finished. I had teammates relying on me. Did I want to stop before the finish line? YES. I was hoping, praying that someone would stop running and start walking so I could too. When I saw I had to army crawl through mud, I hesitated. But I sucked it up and pushed through.

Will I run again? Maybe, but not for awhile. I hurt everywhere. I make old person noises when I sit down, stand up and bend over. I also have some gruesome bruises on my legs.