Monday, November 10, 2014

Four Semesters Down and Thanksgiving Plans

Saturday morning I submitted my final paper for "Graduate Seminar in American Literature," my fourth semester in my MA at SNHU. There's always a bit of an odd empty feeling at the end of the semester, like "what am I gonna do now?" Although not because I don't have stuff to do (believe me, the house really needs to be cleaned) but because I don't know what to do first, now that nothing has a specific due date. Alternately you can say everything has a specific due date, which is before the next class starts...

The way SNHU structures their online graduate programs (which are aimed primarily at working adults), there are roughly 5 ten-week semesters a year, with a week break in between. (If you're a nerd like me, you'd notice that that would equal 54 weeks, even before you factor in a spring break and winter break, so obviously the semesters will undergo a creeping shift as the years go on... kind of like the Jewish calendar, sans leap year.) Dan and I have been trying to use these off weeks to go on a little family vacation. Last time we went to the beach. This time we're going camping-- just a few days at a state park north of Houston. We try to choose pet friendly things (no flying) so we can take Raider with us rather than stick him in the kennel.

Next semester, starting on the 17th, is Gender and Text. I'm pretty excited about this one-- it was newly added this semester and I even put myself on the wait list at first, hoping to get in. We're reading The Handmaid's Tale (among other books) which is possibly the greatest thing ever for combining my two favorite genres: feminism and dystopian future (or maybe it's feminist dystopia, a rather specific subgenre?). On the other hand, The Handmaid's Tale is drifting from fiction to prediction at an alarming rate, so it might hurt to read. One thing I have really enjoyed in my classes is the exposure to different types of books than I would ever have picked up on my own. So while I love this one already, I'm also excited to read some of these other Gender and Text selections... maybe my next favorite book is lurking inside!

In other news, we're hosting Thanksgiving at our house this year for our local friends who aren't heading out of town for the holiday. Our friend group at JSC is mostly young, single or recently married, childless, and transplants to this area. So that means the majority of them head out of town every year for the holidays to visit family. I, of course, refuse to travel for both Thanksgiving and Christmas if at all possible. It's partially about the money, but more about the hassle of traveling on the biggest travel days of the year with all those other people (PS, can we discuss how ridiculous it is that the biggest flying holidays also come in the middle of winter and its always snowing in Chicago and gumming up the works? Yuck.). Plus there's the matter of leaving the dog, which breaks my heart each time they lead his sad sack self into the back and he cries, and he's too big to fly with so he has to stay home.

In addition to avoiding all that, it's also a little bit about the balance and boundaries between being a newly married mini-family and being part of an extended family. I want us to have holidays here, with our people, in our home. We need to get used to being away from extended family, to start our own traditions, to become established in our own city. We can't do that if we are constantly jetting off for every holiday. Already one of my favorite traditions is that we host Passover. Since I moved into my house 4 years ago, I have hosted all but one year; I have had my parents over twice for Passover and his parents once (it was Easter weekend, too) and I always invite any Jewish friends I can round up, and non-Jewish friends who might be up for a cultural experience. Sadly, we skipped it this year because I was increment lead, but that just means next year we can bring it back and better than ever!

To help set those boundaries, we have some loose rules: one large trip to visit each of our parents each year, travel Christmas or Thanksgiving but not both, and take at least one vacation just for ourselves. Earlier this year we went to North Carolina for my parents 30th anniversary reunion celebration and spent 6 days there; for Christmas we are going to Dan's parents in Virginia for 5 days. For our personal vacation, we went to the beach.

So far its been going pretty well, but not without a few bumps from the families, who are understandably sad that we don't visit as often as they'd like. I just hope they remember that they were once young and starting out,  and couldn't flit home at the drop of a hat, and had a cabinet full of new wedding china begging to be used for a holiday of their own. And I hope that they keep visiting us, too, so we can all share the travel burden.

Hope you enjoy great weather, great food, and great company this November! I'm off work tomorrow for Veterans Day and I've got some pumpkin brownies to bake!

Monday, November 3, 2014

November already?

Wow, I can't believe its November already! Feels like time is flying.

I last wrote in early September that I was starting a new diet. So far it's been working. As of today, 2 months later, I have lost 8.6 pounds, roughly on track for the 1 pound per week I was trying for. I have also managed to exercise 3x a week, mostly keeping to the swim, bike, run cycle. Although as the weather turns colder, my desire to swim decreases, but I do plan to swap that swim for another run and keep working out 3x a week.

My current grad school class is over next weekend, so I'm in the midst of writing a 15 page paper on Lee Smith's Fair and Tender Ladies. Have you heard of it? I'm not particularly fond of it, not enough killer robots from outer space.
Dan is out of town for the weekend. I am not, because I was supposed to be on console... until this happened:
Full story. I had spent months planning for this visiting vehicle mission and was expecting to support console this weekend when it arrived at ISS. Definitely a bummer, but glad there was no loss of life and it's looking like minimal damage to the launch facility.
Unfortunately, it was not a good week for commercial spaceflight all around, as yesterday brought news that Virgin Galactic's ship crashed during test flight, killing one pilot and injuring another. Just another reminder that spaceflight is hard. My prayers go out to the injured crewmember and his family, as well as the family of the deceased. There's a quote by Gus Grissom, one of 3 astronauts killed in the Apollo 1 accident, on the wall in the Saturn V building at JSC, that I think of in times like this:
If we die, we want people to accept it. We're in a risky business, and we hope that if anything happens to us it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life.
Other, better news? My little sister got engaged at the end of September. Their wedding will be next October. Last weekend I headed to Orlando to help her dress shop (she said Yes to the dress!) and got a bonus football game out of it!

The weekend before we went to a wedding in VA for a childhood friend of Dan's. I actually met the bride at the groom's brother's wedding last September and immediately asked Dan "is she Jewish?" Jew-dar I guess... Turns out that she was, and she asked for my help planning their Jewish-Catholic interfaith wedding.
Waiting for ceremony to start.

Pretty but cold ceremony. Poor bridesmaids!
I  sent her our ceremony and program, which she borrowed from liberally-- with permission of course. I spent countless hours on that stuff, and am glad it is having an extended life and helping others with their own wedding plans.

They had a beautiful (but chilly) ceremony outside on a hillside at sunset, then we went into a tent to (warm up and) party. Dancing helps you warm up quick!

I have become something of an interfaith wedding fairy-- recently 2 different readers contacted me by email (nerdsinloveblog[at]gmail.com, if you're curious!) with interfaith wedding conundrums of their own. If you've got one, write in...don't be shy. I can help.. and if I can't, well, I can commiserate!

Well, here's hoping for a better week in spaceflight news.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Potato Salad Recipe

Last weekend we went to a friend's house to watch the Washington Redskins play the Houston Texans. My husband grew up outside DC and has been a fan of the Redskins for many years. As luck would have it, a coworker's husband is also a Redskins fan, but for a more convoluted reason. They are from NM, where there isn't a pro football team anywhere nearby. Many people are either Broncos or Cowboys fans, owing to falling within the market where those games air, despite being hundreds of miles from either team. Some special people, though, choose to be Redskins fans since they are the Cowboy's biggest rival. 

Unfortunately, for both Dan and our friend, the games are hardly ever aired here due to some garbage with NFL licensing and markets. I refuse to shell out for NFL Sunday Ticket type cable nonsense, so he is forced to check box scores... except for the lucky few times they play teams where we do get the games. 

Anyways, they had us over at their house to watch the Redskins/Texans game and I brought some epic potato salad to share. I adapted from this recipe. Things that are awesome about this recipe:
I hate mayonnaise (mostly a texture problem... white gloopy stuff freaks me out) so I always look for mustard-based binder and this was a great one. Plus, mayo is fatty and mustard is good for you. It's kinda like a vegetable or something.
It uses 2 kinds of potatoes (pretty and flavorful) and it roasts instead of boils. I would never have thought of that, but it has a much better flavor and also the potatoes are less turned-to-mush.


Ingredients:
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 1.5 lbs red potatoes
  • 2 Russet potatoes
  • 2 Tbsp mayo
  • 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 Tbsp Apple cider vinegar
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 1/4 red onion (although it depends on the size of your onion and how much you like onion... my husband isn't a fan of raw onion so I went light on it)
  • 3 green onions
  • Parsley
  • Olive Oil, salt, pepper to taste. I'm not gonna give you measurements for this. Buy a lot, keep on hand and liberally add to everything. Because food should taste good.
1) Roast your garlic and let cool. 
I always play the long game with my meal planning, so I bought a head of garlic a week in advance and roasted it on the grill one night we were already grilling other things. You can also do it in the oven along with the potatoes. Cut the top (the non-root end) off so the cloves are slightly exposed. Put in foil, drizzle with olive oil, wrap tightly, and cook 30-45 mins. You want the cloves to be tender, but keep a nose out for burning.
2) Preheat oven to 400. 
3)Prep Potatoes: Wash and dry potatoes. Cube them, lay out on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Do not be afraid of the salt. Salt is a flavor enhancer. It's much better to salt things in the pre-cooked stage. 
4) Bake potatoes at 400 for about 25 mins. Let cool.
Do not overcook them, or they turn to mush-- you're making potato salad not mashed potatoes. Make sure they are nice and brown around the edges and a fork slides in cleanly. Seriously, please cool your potatoes before you mix with everything else. It keeps your sauce tasty and your veggies crispy.
5) Make the sauce: In a food processor (or by hand if you're one of those people) combine mayo, mustard, all of the roasted garlic (don't be shy!), and the cider vinegar. Mix until liquidy. Add more mustard or vinegar to get the consistency you'd like. 
6) Dice the onion, celery, and green onions. Mix potatoes, onions, celery, and sauce. 
7) Chop parsley, sprinkle over top for a pretty and tasty garnish.  Serve chilled. 

Time: An hour of active time, plus however long it takes your potatoes to cool. So probably 1.5 hours. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Getting on Track

I suppose I'll start this out with a trigger warning for eating disorders. If talk of dieting is a problem for you, don't keep reading. And might want to generally steer clear of this blog for awhile (not that I have been posting that often anyways, so you probably won't even miss me). 
During the 2 and a half weeks of August that I did actually go to work, I had to get my flight controller physical done, not my most favorite part of the job. I understand the point, of course-- they basically want to make sure that we aren't going to have a heart attack at the first sign of trouble while on shift (although I think that's mostly because if we die then who will save the space station).
My physical went ok, in that they have decided I'm far enough from a heart attack to be allowed to control the ISS for another 2 years before they check me again. So, that's good. However, both my cholesterol and blood pressure were a bit higher than they've been in previous years.  I have, among other interesting health data, my weight as it was in mid-August every other year since 2008. And you know what I noticed while looking at my records from previous physicals... I've gotten fat, y'all.
I mean I guess I already knew that. The size 8 pants I wore when I started working out here in 2008 are but a distant memory, probably long since purchased from the Goodwill I left them at when they no longer fit. My weight really took a big hike since 2010, the year I (probably not so) coincidentally got certified for console, met my husband, and moved half an hour from work (previous commute was about 3 mins- I could have walked if it wasn't so damn hot all the time). A potent combination of sedentary workdays, sleep shifting, less free time, and love. Seeing the numbers was a bit horrifying. Between 2010 and 2012, I gained 15 pounds. And between 2012 and 2014... another 15 pounds. So that's 30 pounds in the last 4 years. Ouch.

It's time to reverse that trend. I've decided to try out LoseIt (loseit.com and a phone app). I just started using it a week ago, but I like it so far. Basically you track all the foods you eat and exercise you do, and it tracks calories in and burned. It has a barcode scanner to scan and add foods, which is pretty convenient and I love the future. I had a lot of success in college with Weight Watchers (that's how I fit into those glorious size 8's in the first place) and I know that a little portion control, a lot more salad, and some awareness of how many calories are in things will work for me... as long as the dedication is also there. If you're curious about LoseIt, there's a free version that you can try out, but I opted to subscribe ($39 for the year, no monthly option) mostly for the future meal tracking option which is not available on the free version. It's a lot easier for me to enter my breakfast and lunch when I pack it the night before, so I know what I have to play with for dinner and snacks (and, lets be honest, beer).
If you're already on LoseIt... please add me as a friend! It's sad when I log in and it says I have no friends.

I also have committed to working out 3x a week (sorry, that probably means another semester without any blog posts). My goal is to do one swim, one bike, and one run workout per week. A lot of weight loss advice suggests that you consider exercise as another thing you have to do rather than something that can be skipped if necessary. On one hand I get that if you think of exercise as vital, like going to work or doing homework, you're more likely to do it. But are you less likely to enjoy it if you see it as an obligation rather than a bonus? I like to think of working out as time I get for me and try to enjoy it. But then sometimes it feels selfish or irresponsible to take it-- since it means that my husband has to do my share of the housework, or that my homework won't be given the time it needs to be great, or that my puppy is not getting all the snuggles he deserves. And that guilt can lead to skipped workouts. No good. So for now, I'll be considering these 3 workouts per week to be as mandatory as work and homework.

One interesting feature of Lose It is that I put in a goal weight and based on my weight trend, it calculates when I will reach my goal weight. It's currently showing that I'll reach my goal weight on Feb 24, 2015. That feels like a long time away from now. I am not sure if I am more or less happy knowing that.

Mostly Unrelated Side Story:
Remember the string of posts last year about the logistical horror of changing one's name? Turns out that saga wasn't over yet. When I went for my physical, I was informed that I was a new patient. I protested that I was not, before it dawned on me that I sort of was. Turns out, they didn't get the memo that my name changed last year. Oops. So they had started a whole new electronic chart for me. Then due to whatever stupidness with their system (how is it that women changed their names to their husband's long before computers existed and yet no computer system is designed to accommodate that?) they couldn't change it until after my physical was complete. This is a 2 week process, so after that every time I called or visited the clinic for something, I had to use my old name. And then the form they gave me that says I'm medically qualified for 2 more years had my maiden name on it, too. Luckily, the secretary who had to enter that in the computer accepted it, because I have a space station to fly and no time to be two people. I have been assured that when I go back in 2 years they will know who I am. We'll see about that.

Now soliciting... friends on LoseIt or salad dressing recipes that make a big pile of lettuce actually seem appealing in the comments. Go...

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Labor Day Vacation

After NC, it's hard to believe we only had 3 weeks of work before our next vacation. Those weeks were pretty busy for me. I spent a week on console and 2 weeks preparing procedures for an ISS software upgrade that is being performed this week. At the same time, I had a few weeks left of my Literary Theory class which meant a 15+ page paper to write.

I finished and sumbitted my paper on Saturday (a day early, go me!). This was a goal for me because we had plans for Houston Restaurant Weeks brunch the next morning and I wanted to drink at brunch... no day drinking when there's still homework to do! It was worth it too, as I got my money's worth in unlimited mimosas that day and took an afternoon nap on the couch.

With one week off between the end of my last class and the beginning of my next class, plus the long Labor Day weekend, Dan and I decided it was the perfect opportunity for a little getaway. Even while we were in NC for the week, I still spent a fair amount of time doing homework (and work-work, as I had a Cygnus cargo vehicle undocking to plan for the Friday after we got back)-- my husband even went to see Guardians of the Galaxy with my siblings while I spent that afternoon working.

We booked 3 nights at a beach house on South Padre Island, a barrier island in the way south of Texas (only 20 mins from Mexico!) on the gulf coast. Again we drove the rocketmobile so we could take the dog. We decided to grocery shop before we left and bring enough to eat all our meals at the house, which had a full kitchen, plenty of cookware, and a grill. This turned out to be a good thing, since the closest real grocery store was 6 miles away on the mainland.

The house was a duplex that had been converted into 3 units-- 1 upstairs lived in full-time by the property manager, a 2-bed unit for rent upstairs, and a one-bedroom unit for rent downstairs. We stayed in the small downstairs unit which was the perfect size for us, and had the benefit of exclusive access to a fenced yard for the dog to run around in.

We drove the 6 hours on Thursday morning, arriving in time to spend a couple hours at the beach that afternoon. Unfortunately it rained on and off the next two days, but we still spent a lot of time hanging on the beach. I finished a book and started a new one... it's been awhile since I read for fun. (should I be embarrassed to admit it was Beautiful Creatures and the sequel Beautiful Darkness, YA lit about witches?)

Raider even got to spend a bit of time on the beach. We took him for a nice long beach walk every day, and let him swim in the surf a few times.

We came back Sunday night, so we could spend Labor Day Monday getting ready for the week. Monday night we had another Restaurant Weeks dinner planned, to celebrate my birthday (which was yesterday) and then it was back to the grind on Tuesday. I'm supporting console this week in the backroom for the software upgrade I mentioned. Hard to imagine a better way to spend a bday than commanding the ISS... except maybe sleeping in and snuggling all day with this guy:
Cute dog, or the cutest dog? 

Monday, September 1, 2014

NC Road Trip

Hello! Hard to believe I haven't written anything here since the fridge-pocalypse. We did finally get a new fridge on July 23rd, 20 days after it died, and following a series of unfortunate events and the freon-murder of many ozone molecules. I finally became convinced that I was in some cosmic comedy sketch when the truck carrying our brand new fridge broke down 45 mins from our house and we had to wait one more day for delivery. Since then, it's been a very eventful summer.

On August 1st we packed up the rocketmobile* and headed east to Sapphire, NC where my parents bought a vacation home last year. We decided to drive so we could take the pup, who was a champ in the car. On the way, we camped overnight at a state park in northern MS:
Campsite. We even bought a new tent for the occasion!
Can you even handle the cuteness of that face?
Once in NC, he received lots of belly rubs from lots of different people, but I think I'm still his favorite. It was a bit of a family reunion, since we hadn't gotten the whole family together since my wedding last Feb. My sister and her boyfriend drove from Ocala to Orlando, linked up with my brother and flew out together. My grandparents have been staying in the house most of the summer (even more than my parents), and my other grandfather flew up with his "very special friend Phyllis" (that's how he introduced her to my friend a few years ago, and we thought it hilarious) for a few days. And my aunt and uncle drove up from Atlanta for a few days as well.

The family at dinner (before my aunt and uncle arrived): Counterclockwise is my sister, her bf Steve, my mom's dad, his special friend Phyllis, my mom and dad, my dad's dad and mom, my brother... and you know that last guy.
Dan and the boys played a lot of golf and I spent a lot of time relaxing. We did go on a nice hike up Whiteside Mountain and spent a day on a pontoon boat with the whole family.
We spent a whole week there before heading back to Houston. We planned to camp overnight in Tuscaloosa, AL but there ended up being terrible rain storms so we checked into a hotel instead.

*The rocketmobile is my beloved 2002 Honda CRV, my first car that I got when I was 16 (actually that my mom got and drove around for a few months when I was 15.5, before passing it on to me). Though I daily drive my new (well newer, can't believe its 3 already) blue Juke, the rocketmobile has a special place in my heart. It's also the perfect size for our family of three (well, 2 people and 1 dog) to take a decent-length road trip and not be short on space. When I road trip, my snacks get a whole seat to themselves!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Turbulence

Turbulence, noun. Conflict or confusion. The state of agitation or tumult. (source)

I consider myself a very organized person. My husband would probably say "too organized." Every Friday or Saturday I plan meals for the week. Then every Saturday or Sunday I hit the grocery story to buy all the ingredients for those meals. I do not grocery shop during the week if I can at all help it. I put the meals in order of the things I think will go bad first... fish on Sunday or Monday night, fresh cilantro by Tuesday, etc.

Now this is stuck in my head. source

On Thursday, our refrigerator died. When it died, we had ingredients for 3 more dinners inside, plus a few random leftovers, and my console snacks for the weekend (never go to console without snacks is a hard and fast rule in my life). Because I was organized. I was ahead for the week. I like it that way.

But the fridge did not. We went through the five stages of grief...
  • "Maybe the door wasn't closed all the way last night. Let's put a thermometer in there and see if it recovers by the time we get home from work." (Denial)
  • "This refrigerator is only four years old. What a piece of crap." (Anger)
  • "What do you mean you can't come out until NEXT Friday? Don't you have emergency appointments saved for things that are actually, you know, emergencies." (Anger, again)
  • "Well maybe it's something easy. Let's crack it open and see what it looks like inside." (Bargaining)
  • "How am I gonna live without a refrigerator? #firstworldproblems" (Depression)
  • Then we put some of our perishables in a cooler full of ice, and made a shopping list for everything nonperishable. On the back has day by day shopping list for perishables for that night which one of us will pick up on the way home each day. (Acceptance)
We've since bought 6 bags of ice and 2 bags of dry ice to keep our perishables alive... and keep the beer cold. Why isn't "drink the pain away" one of the stages of grief? Because it's ALL stages of grief. It hasn't been so terrible yet, but I am rather upset over the quantity of food I've had to throw away. Less about the cost then about the total waste involved.
And because now I'm disorganized. Agitated. Turbulent.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

I Should Have Written / Staycation

There are many times I should have written. I should have written when interesting things happened. (Some are enshrined forever in half-written posts, likely never to be finished.) I should have written when nothing happened, but I had a spare moment to write. If I am to be a writer, then I should have written.

I learned last semester that all one needs to make a decent personal essay is to sit down and write. You don't even need an idea half the time, your fingers will find it for you. So, I should have written. All that one needs, I should say, is the discipline to sit down and write.

The discipline to spend roughly 50 hours a week at work, 6 or 7 hours a week driving to and from work, 2 hours a week exercising, 30 minutes a day walking the dog, an hour a day making, eating, and cleaning up from dinner... and to follow all that up not with snuggles on the couch with husband and pup, but with an hour or two of writing. As it turns out, I guess I can't write at all.

----
This weekend, Dan and I declared it a staycation. After my increment, recovering from my increment, a bachelorette party in New Orleans, and a visit by my in-laws, we found ourselves facing the last free weekend before my next set of classes start up. We thought we might go away for the weekend to a B&B in Texas Hill Country, but with only about a month's notice had trouble finding a place that was reasonably priced and would allow us to bring Raider along. Instead we opted to stay home and have a "staycation" instead.

Reasons "staycation" is better than vacation:

  1. No airports.*
  2. No suitcase to pack... and worse, to unpack.
  3. Laundry gets done and fridge gets stocked, so you can start the week off on the right foot. 
  4. You actually get to relax rather than having to "go" and "do."
We decided to rule out all the usual chores, except the ones that not having done is actually more stressful than having to do. So, groceries were bought and clothes were washed. Toilets were not scrubbed, rooms were not dusted. With our spare time we:
  • Went to the dog park. 
  • Saw X-men. (Loved it.)
  • Ate dinner at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino, a lovely Italian eatery in downtown Houston which also happens to be #32 on the Houston Chronicle's Top 100 Restaurants in Houston.
  • Went for a nightcap at Anvil Bar & Refuge, which I highly recommend if you'd like a cocktail rather than a beer (my husband, of course, got beer anyways).
  • Slept in.
  • Had brunch, including grapefruit and orange juice mimosas.
  • Lounged poolside.
  • ... and still started the week with clean clothes, no suitcase to unpack, and a fridge full of food. 
That was my weekend. How was yours?
----
*Once upon a time I loved to fly. Technically I still love to fly, because it is not the time in the seat in the sky that bothers me. Rather, after a string of bad luck (terrible cold-- zero tissues, lost bag, many delays, traumatic 2-hour line to check bags followed by mad dash-- shoes in hand-- to the plane, lost bag, another delay, etc.) I just dread every new flying experience. A new chance to lose a bag (I'm pressing my luck, sooner or later one won't make it back), a new chance to be delayed, to have to make a mad dash to a connection, to be stranded somewhere I don't want to be. All the fun has been sucked out of flying. Happily, I haven't been on a plane since Christmas, and only have plans to take 3 plane trips this year. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Our Wedding: Spice Rub Favors

Perfect teeny bow tied by my father, who ties tiny knots inside people for a living.
 Back in the wedding planning phase, I wrote about making our spice rub favors for the wedding. However the recipe I kept secret... until now.

Logistics:

  • The bottles I ordered entirely too many of (there are about 40 still in my guest closet) from Spice Barn, before I had even sent out invites let alone seen how many people were actually coming. 
  • The labels came from Labels on the Fly; I spent countless hours looking for affordable labels that I could customize the look, text, and color...these were perfect!
  • The spices we bought mostly in bulk from Sam's, except for the secret ingredient which we had to order from Amazon.
We chose to make spice rub for a couple reasons: we wanted something personal/DIY rather than just something we bought. We wanted something that tied in our love for cooking and eating. And we wanted something that people would actually use.... and it seems that people have used it, since I've gotten a few requests for the recipe.

To form the recipe, Dan and I kept iterating spice rubs (we ate a lot of steak... poor guy!) until we got one we liked but thought had mass appeal... keeping track of the ingredients and proportions until we got it just right. No joke, this recipe has lived in my kitchen junk drawer on the very post-it-note that we wrote it down on a year and a half ago to guide our mixes:

After getting a couple requests for the recipe, we talked about it and decided that we'd give it out after our 1 year anniversary.. which was almost 3 months ago, sorry it's taken me so long to write it down!
We made ours in cup measures (1/4 cup, 1 cup, etc.) since we were making 100 jars, but you can make yours in teaspoon proportions instead (unless you WANT almost 6 cups of this stuff?).

Nerds in Love Wedding Spice Rub (around here we call it "Stephanie & Dan Seasoning")

  • 1/4 tsp Cumin
  • 1/4 tsp Ground Celery
    If you prefer saltier rubs you can use celery salt instead; we chose to omit salt from our rub because not everyone likes it and it can always be added separate.
  • 1/2 tsp Chili Powder
  • 1 tsp Italian Seasoning
  • 1.5 tsp Lemon Pepper
  • 2 tsp Paprika
  • and the secret ingredient... 1/4 tsp of Chinese Five Spice.
    As I said, we ordered this one from Amazon because Sam's didn't sell it in bulk. You can also make your own, but I think it'd be just as hard to find some ingredients (ground Sichuan pepper?) as it would to find the pre-made mix.
  1. Mix all the ingredients and store in an airtight container. 
  2. Sprinkle on meat, fish, or veggies before cooking. 
  3. Eat!
From our kitchen to yours... enjoy!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Meet our New Arrival

Meet Raider!
He came with a different name, but he didn't seem to know it, so we renamed him Raider. As in...
(Source) Cylon Raiders from Battlestar Galactica. We don't call it Nerds in Love for nothing! When I suggested "Raider" as a name, Dan said "As in 'Cylon Raider?'" He knows me. :-)
Dan and I adopted Raider last week. We had been talking about getting a dog for awhile. We almost did in November, but we had a week-long trip for Christmas already planned and I worried about boarding a dog for so long when he was so new to us. Finally the weekend before last we went to the Houston Humane Society shelter to pick out a new best friend.

We looked at an Australian Shepherd first, but this little guy stole our hearts. He was surrendered by his owners at the beginning of February, but they didn't give a reason. It was obviously not because he was a bad dog though. He's the sweetest!
He's really good at "sit." We're working on "down" and "stay."
He's definitely part German Shepherd, but only 43 pounds which is about half the size of a typical German Shepherd (he's 2 years old, so fully grown). I think that's good though, he's a good size! His body proportions seem a bit off, so we think the other half is Corgi... long body, short legs, big ears.
Are you my mother? (Source)
 We took him home Thursday after he got neutered and some shots and he took to the house pretty quickly. He's housebroken, sits on command, and seems to do fine with the crate (took some coaxing to get in the first time, but now he'll lay in there of his own accord when he wants a break). The only bad habit he seems to have is jumping up on people, but he'll get there.
Raider's likes: Food. All kinds of food. Will do anything you ask, for a treat. Snuggling. Making friends with other dogs. (He doesn't bark, just sniffs.)
Raider's dislikes: Toys. He will eat the treats out of his Kong but then immediately abandons it. And we bought him a plushy squeaky thing but he literally hides behind us/things to get away from it. He also doesn't seem to enjoy when other dogs bark at him. He's a lover not a fighter, I guess.
Thinks he's a lapdog.
Welcome to the family, Raider!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Austin Half Marathon, part 3 recap

Previously, the race story and our stats. Now, overall race impressions and the rest of the Austin trip.

We had planned to leave around 10am on Saturday morning, arrive in the early afternoon and enjoy a leisurely day in Austin. But on Friday night we got a frantic text from a college friend of Dan's who lives in Washington D.C. and was also running the race. Due to all the winter weather they were having, her flight to Austin was cancelled! They couldn't get her into Austin at all until Monday; instead they were suggesting she fly through Houston to San Antonio and then drive the almost-3 hours to Austin. We had no agenda, so we figured we'd wait for her. Her flight was all ready to go... and then ended up sitting on the tarmac for another hour due to technical difficulties. Finally she landed around noon; we were watching her flight status and swung by the airport to get her on the way out of town.

Our next stop was Kreuz Market in Lockhart, TX. Lockhart is central Texas BBQ country, and this place is Dan's favorite. We had planned to stop for lunch on our way to Austin, so we made it a late lunch. We ended up waiting almost an hour in line before getting our food at 3pm on a Saturday! You order direct from the smoker, meat by the pound. We ordered a huge pile of brisket, plus some sausage for those pork-eaters!
Me, Dan, and a pile of meat. (Stolen from Emma's fb page)
Their rules are: no sauce and no forks (eat with your hands). The fat from the brisket is really all the sauce you need. It was delicious! After that, we drove the last hour to Austin. When we arrived, the expo was closing in about 90 minutes so we headed straight there. Which brings me to my first gripe about the race: Expo traffic disorganization!
I think they must know it too, since I heard they were allowing race day packet pickup which was not previously planned. We arrived to a long line of cars waiting to turn into this narrow, winding, single-lane driveway to the parking garage entrance. There was a couple cops directing pedestrian traffic across the driveway, but nobody directing cars into the driveway: it was a free-for-all between people turning in left, people turning in right, and oncoming traffic trying to get through a very backed-up light and people trying to get out of the garage the same way. Also we found out later there was a much less crowded back entrance to the garage, but no people or signs telling you to go there. Terrible traffic handling. We finally parked with about a half hour of expo time left, grabbed our packets, picked up a couple freebies (most of the booths were packing up) and then finally drove off to our hotel to check in.

Race compliment number 1: The hotel was delightful.
We stayed at the Radisson, an older building that had recently been renovated. They had a lovely pool (although we didn't bring our suits, oops!) and backed up onto the Colorado River, with a private entrance to the path that goes along the river. Parking was included in our discounted race price (saved us $12 a night for self parking) and it was easy walking distance to the start line, easy stumbling distance home! Sadly our air conditioner was broken the first night, it only blew hot air no matter how much we turned it down. But I called the desk about it and they fixed it right away, which is the best you can hope for.

Race gripe number 2: I alluded to this in my previous posts, but they definitely needed more bathrooms on the course. There was actually a huge bank of probably 15 around mile 2, but after that it thinned out a lot. I don't think anyone really has to pee by mile 2, they should have conserved those port-o-potties for the later miles!

Race compliment number 2: The food trucks. I covered all our delicious eats last post. Suffice it to say, I wish every race would end with a few food trucks!
Overall I would definitely consider running this race again: Austin is a fun city and it's close to home. The finish chute and food trucks were done well, as was traffic control on the day of the race... but those bathrooms man! Nine whole minutes. Kills me.

After the race, we hobbled home, showered, and napped a little. Then we went out for a walk along the river. We turned north after that and wandered around the city until we found a wine bar to sit at. The weather was clear skies with a cool breeze, so we drank our wine outside.
After that, I had a craving for chocolate so we stopped in a yogurt shop on the way back for me to get a chocolate chip cookie and froyo sandwich. Randomly the shop had this remote control mosaic on the wall so I snapped a pic.

Me and my ice cream sandwich!
We ate dinner at an Austin institution, a food truck turned stationary restaurant: Torchy's Tacos. No pics, you'll just have to imagine how tasty it looked. (Very, very tasty.)
Our original plan was to explore a little more on President's Day Monday before heading back, but I had to go on the overnight shift Monday night, so we got up on the early side Monday, had breakfast at Jo's Coffee Shop (random and cool: they have a projector TV and they show the Walking Dead live on Sunday nights) and then drove back.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Austin Half Marathon, part 2 recap

Last, I posted a more creative nonfiction look at the race. Now, a "traditional" race recap with pictures and numbers and all that good stuff.

Dark, foggy view of the Capitol as we walked towards the start line. Dan thinks I'm weird, but I'm a little bit in love with the Texas State Capitol building. It's just really cool and interesting and "very Texas Republic." It was a cool start/end point for the race.

 My goals going into the race were:
A) Finish in sub-3 hours.
There were times this seemed possible, but also times when I wasn't sure we'd manage. One time that I didn't think it would happen is when we took a NINE minute bathroom break (45 seconds to pee, the rest of the time waiting in line)
B) Run a personal best.
Our last half (also our first half) we ran in 3:06, so this gave us a little margin beyond the A goal.
C) Not die.
You should always have "not die" be one of your goals, right?

At the aforementioned 9 min bathroom stop. We spent a lot of time contemplating peeing behind that abandoned building.

Mile 9-ish. See the Capitol (the finish line) wayy in the distance?

Finishers!
 So how did we do?
  • Mile 1: 12:59
  • Mile 2: 12:59
  • Mile 3: 13:15
  • Mile 4: 13:23 (includes a walked water stop)
  • Mile 5: 12:57
  • Mile 6: 22:01.
    But if you take out the 9 min bathroom break at 5.6 miles, this was actually our fastest mile at ~11mins. I think I sprinted the first 0.6 miles because I had to pee so badly, and then finished out fast because I was mad about all the time we lost.
  • Mile 7: 12:16 (includes a walked water stop)
  • Mile 8: 13:04
  • Mile 9: 12:23 (walked water stop)
  • Mile 10: 12:27
  • Mile 11: 12:50 (includes the world's most evil hill!)
  • Mile 12: 12:37 (walked water stop)
  • Mile 13: 13:07
  • 0.3 mile bit: 4:38 (13:12 pace) (although I forgot to stop my Garmin when we stopped running, so maybe a little shorter?)
After the race, we picked up our finisher t-shirts, our medals, our post-race snacks, and (well-earned) beer! We had decided to check a bag with some warm/dry clothes. It wasn't very cold, but it gets chilly when you're all wet and sweaty, so we changed before hitting up the food trucks.
(I'm sorry to the food truck worker who had to handle the super-sweaty $20 bill that had been inside my butt pocket during the race.)

Mmmmpanadas! I had soy chorizo with brie, and it was delicious. The outside was awesomely golden friend. One thing I really loved about Austin was all the vegetarian and non-pork options everywhere. Houston food is yummy, but this is really a porky town.

Next up, a BBQ chicken taco for me, pork banh mi slider for Dan from The Peached Tortilla:

And awesome fresh guac and chips from Guac n Roll. This one had tomatoes, cilantro, onion, jalapeno, dried papaya and pepitas on it... the peptias gave it such a great crunch!
We sat at some nearby tables set up by the race to eat all our food truck spoils before heading back to the hotel for a shower and a nap... as you do, after running 13.1 miles.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Austin Half Marathon, part 1 recap

Going to try a creative nonfiction style recap for this post, put that book learnin' to some use. Cold hard stats in the next post...

The alarm went off at 5:30am. "Doo doodoo doo do!" it said, from across the room, way too happy to be awake at this hour. I silently cursed the hotel for not having enough plugs next to the bed (do they ever?!) as I trudged to the desk to snooze the alarm before flopping back into bed. Five minutes later the backup alarm went off, and it was time to get up for real. It was dark, but not too dark. Wisely, we'd decided to leave the curtain cracked so the city lights could stream in, rather than wake to pitch black. Running is all about mind games.

I peered out the window. From our hotel room we could see the Texas Capitol building in the distance. Fog hung low in the sky, obscuring the top half of the rotunda. The facade was lit, the rust-red brick both inviting and imposing. Behind it was the start line, 15 blocks away; in front of it was the finish line, 8 blocks-- but 13 miles-- away. Too late to back out. I put on my clothes, which I'd laid out on the couch the night before, in reverse order of how they would be put on. I rubbed body glide all over my feet (I got blisters, anyways), taped my bad left foot (it bothered me for about 9 miles, anyways), and tied on my shoes.

I couldn't decide if I wanted to wear my sweatshirt, a Goodwill purchase meant for discarding at the start line. 65 degrees seemed too warm for a jacket so I left it behind; I should have brought it. Waiting in line for the race to start for 20 minutes... 30 minutes... an hour; mist began to fall from the sky-- droplets too small to be rain, just condensing fog. It was chilly. Shivering wastes energy, our friend had said at dinner the previous night. I would need that energy. We stood towards the back of the group, self-seeding with the other slow-pokes. We heard the national anthem, then an airhorn... and then the excited chatter from surrounding runners drowned out the announcements. At some point the sun had come up, and although it was still foggy, it was no longer dark. Sunrises happen gradually, and yet also all at once; it's dark and then it's not. The line began to move, we marched forward at a shuffle; nobody wanted to begin running until they crossed the start line. Finally we could see it, and then lumbered across it.

We joined the herd, running first east then south along the Austin city streets. We rounded the Capitol, headed south toward the Colorado River, took in the sights, the sounds, the spectators. "There are no refunds, so you might as well  keep running," said one sign. "Free nipple massages (women only)" said another, held by a man in a green full-body suit. "Do not say you know the Lord and his commandments," shouted the crazy street preacher, "for you are a sinner!" He wore a dirty olive military-style hat and a backpack, and had long, dirty hair and a scraggly beard; I wondered if he was homeless, I wondered why he wasn't in church this Sunday morning, I wondered how he was so sure we were sinners. I kept running (trudging, jogging) forward. We ran past our hotel, I told Dan "We could just quit now and go back to bed." We kept running.

Out into South Congress, the "weird" in the slogan "Keep Austin Weird." Past a food truck lot, and another; an antique shop, or several; a costume store called "Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds." I laughed. I kept running.

I didn't notice the timing strip at 5k. I had to pee. There were no port-o-potties. Finally we passed some-- 6, in a restaurant parking lot, with a line of ~10 people. No thanks, I said to myself, there'll be another. There wasn't. Not until mile 5.6. Here the line was longer. Too bad.

After that, we kept running. Up a hill, down a hill, around a bend. "Free nipple massage (women only)" guy was back, still in his green suit. A woman jumped up and down in a red fleece onesie; a baby gave out high-fives and looked very confused why so many people were grabbing his hand. More shot blocks, more water, more running. At mile 10 I noted that the winner of the marathon had already finished. We kept trudging along. The mother of all hills, sadistically located at mile 11.8. I almost made it to the top, but ran out of steam with 15 feet to go. Briefly, I stopped running and gasped for air. "Come on!" said Dan. So I kept running.

Another little hill, and then we ran around the Capitol building again. The finish line was in sight. I sprinted. 13.1 miles done! But the hotel was still 8 blocks away...

Friday, February 7, 2014

Semi-Homemade Super Bowl

Do you watch Semi-homemade with Sandra Lee?
To be honest, she kind of annoys me. A little too perfect and chipper for my taste. What can I say, I like my cooking shows grittier? Um, something like that... But, she's kind of right about this whole thing right: use some things fresh/homemade with some things store-bought so it tastes good but doesn't take you all damn day.
As I wrote on Wednesday, we had a Super Bowl party for almost 50 people at our house Sunday night. After our long run on Saturday (12 miles, what?!) we spent the afternoon prepping (cupcakes have to be baked in advance so they don't melt the frosting!). Then on Sunday we worked basically the wholllle day getting ready before people arrived around 4:30 to start the party.

So I decided to be sensible and not make everything (I love cooking from scratch, but I do not have infinite time).



Store bought  Homemade
Drinks Beer, Soda Sangria (I <3 alcoholic fruit)
Appetizers Sour Cream and Onion dip
Tomato basil dip (SO good)
Salsa
Spinach and Artichoke in slow cooker
Guacamole
Dinner Pre-marinated fajita beef
Refried beans
Tortillas
Marinated chicken breasts
Mexican Rice
Peppers and Onions
Dessert Box-mix cupcakes (2 kinds)
Leftover wedding cake
Frosting (2 kinds)
Chocolate chip cookies


We ordered a keg of Southern Star Bombshell Blonde (made in Conroe, just north of Houston) and it was nearly emptied out. We recently exchanged our AT&T UVerse Receiver for a wireless version, and we were able to set up an extra TV in the garage. We had beer pong going in the garage while the game played. (I tried to put on the puppy bowl but was overruled...)

Inside, I put out my appetizers on the dining room table, and booze on the kitchen table. Most people showed up with either an appetizer or dessert, so the tables filled up quickly and spilled over to the kitchen counters.

We grilled the fajita meat and veggies earlier in the day and cooked the rice, and stored it in disposable aluminum pans. Shortly after the game started, I put the beans on the stove and the rest of the food in the oven at 250 degrees. At halftime, we set dinner out.

After that, I pulled everyone's desserts out of the fridge and set them on the raised kitchen bar. People trickled out when the game ended, but some of us stayed up snacking (and doing shots) until almost 2am!

By the way, you need our fajita marinade recipe:
(Adapted from Food Network)
- Juice of 1 lime
- 2 coarsely chopped chipotle chiles in adobo sauce and pour in some of the sauce
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- pinch of salt
-1 lb chicken of your choice (skinless works best for soaking up the flavor)

Combine all ingredients in a plastic bag and let marinate in the fridge overnight. Grill. Eat.
That's it! Of course we like quintupled this recipe for our party, but it was still fabulous.

Here's my guacamole recipe:
- 2-3 avocados, mashed
- Half of a white onion, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- Juice of one lime (flavor + anti-browning)
- ~1tsp of kosher salt (seriously, its better than table salt for this)
- Cayenne pepper to taste (how spicy do you want it?)

It's simple but delicious. I could eat avocado on EVERYTHING. I also tripled this recipe (ended up using 8 avocados) for the party, and it was scraped clean. I went through a guacamole phase a few years ago where I would make this and eat it with my roommates like twice a week for dinner. Just this and chips, for dinner. Yum-o!

And there you have it, a semi-homemade but entirely delicious Super Bowl Party!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Super Anniversary

Our first wedding anniversary was this Sunday night. To celebrate, Dan and I threw a HUGE Super Bowl party.
Dan actually used to throw Super Bowl parties every year, since before we were dating. Then, once we were dating, he kept throwing them but I kept having to work. Last year, we drove back from the wedding hotel during the Super Bowl and opened presents through the second half.

This year, I ended up kind of accidentally inviting over 70 people (I just put all the people I liked in an email... didn't take a count until after it went out.) Although I like everyone I invited, I am a little grateful some people said no... we ended up with almost 50 people passing through at one point or another!

Because there were so many people and I was being a busy hostess, I didn't take any pictures. We did manage to snap a picture of us eating the top tier of our wedding cake:

Chomp!
Feb 2nd 2013, for comparison.
It wasn't bad at all! Here's what I did: We stayed overnight at the hotel so I kept it in the fridge. As soon as I got home the next day, I wrapped it up immediately. First in plastic wrap, tight to the frosting. Then in tin foil. Then I double bagged it with Ziplocs. It worked great- still moist, still tasty, no freezer burn.

We are so glad to have had our friends come out and celebrate (and watch the game) with us. It was a pretty epic party... when we woke up the next morning, we had to mop before we could walk around barefoot. Sign of a good time? I think so!

Happy anniversary to my dear husband!
 
P.S. Last year it was a beautiful, sunny 70 degree day when we got married, as you can see from this picture. This year it was frigid and rainy. I am a lucky lady, in many ways!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

They Lost, We Won, Let's Eat!

A few weeks ago, I read this article interviewing Abe Foxman. Foxman is the director of the Anti-Defamation League, an anti Anti-Semitism organization. I don't know much about the guy, or whether I agree with his politics, but he said something that particularly stuck out to me.
Q: I don’t think a lack of pride or self-esteem is the problem with the American Jewish community these days.
A: No, but I’ll tell you. It can be. I went a couple of years ago to a retreat, a Wye Plantation retreat, where the subject was, will Jewish civilization survive the year 2025? And there were 10 Israelis, 10 Americans, and a whole group of scholars. And the scholars had distilled the essence of survival, they studied Gibbon and Spengler, et cetera. And they analyzed why was it that the Roman, the Greek, and the Incan civilizations all passed on and the Jewish civilization survived? And out of their distillation came the idea that the difference between all these great civilizations was that after a great trauma or defeat, the Romans got up and said, “I don’t want to be a Roman.” The Greeks got up and said, “Hell, I don’t want to be a Greek.” The Incas ran all over the place. But the Jews, after every tragedy, brushed themselves off and said, “I want to be Jewish!”
So, call it pride, call it self-pride, I don’t know. There are two modern-day miracles—one is Soviet Jewry, michias hamatim. The even greater miracle was after the Holocaust, that the Jews still wanted to want to raise their kids Jewish.
So, the question now is, with the freedom and the assimilation of America, will Jews still get up in the morning and affirm that they want to continue to be Jews? It’s an open question.

 Jews often joke about Jewish holidays. Their theme, we tease, is "They tried to kill us, we won, let's eat!" Which is funny, but is also, I think, the point of Judaism. Once I wrote about how modern Jews might not be Jews if not for the Holocaust. I said it like it was a sad thing. But maybe, just maybe, it's actually the most Jewish of things.

The first truly Jewish holiday is Passover. Before then, there were no Jews, just tribal Israelites. God took us out of Egypt "with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm" and made us a nation. Egyptians were the first "they" who tried to kill us.
In the Ten Commandments we are commanded to remember "I am the Lord, your God, who took you out of Egypt." It's right there, commandment number 1.
Later, we are commanded specifically to remember the exodus from Egypt and eat unleavened bread each year to commemorate. From that moment on, it sets the stage. Remember where you came from, remember how you got there. Remember that they tried to kill you, but God saved you with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm... now let's eat.

That same formula is repeated several times:
In Hanukkah, it's the Greeks. Worse than tried to kill us, they defaced the holy temple with pork products, and forbid studying Torah. The Maccabees fought back against the Greek tyranny. They lost, we won, the oil that should have lasted for 1 day lasts for eight, let's eat some fried stuff!

In Purim, it's the Persians. The king's evil advisor was a real anti-Semite, just hated the Jews for existing. He convinces the king to kill us, but Esther, his wife, is secretly Jewish and reveals that, convincing him to maybe not kill the Jews. Haman, the evil advisor, is hung on the gallows intended for the Jews. He lost, we won, let's eat some triangular cookies and get really drunk.

And now, the Shoah, the Holocaust. Hitler, a modern-day Haman, wants to kill the Jews for being Jews. He very nearly succeeds, but he arrogantly fought a war on two fronts. The mighty hand (Allied Forces) and the outstretched arm (Soviet Union) defeat him, liberate the concentration camps. They lost, we won (if you can call it winning), and now we live in a land flowing with milk and honey and suicide bombers.

Point is, Foxman is right. We have been trained since the very beginning of Judaism to get up, to brush ourselves off, and to keep on being Jewish. It's not in spite of the Holocaust, in spite of the destruction of the Second Temple and before that the First Temple. It's not in spite of the Anti-Semites who would try to kill us. It's because of them. It's because God said "I am the Lord, your God, who took you out of Egypt," and commanded us to remember.

In Exodus 3:7-8, God appears to Moses in a burning bush:
And the Lord said, "I have seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and I have heard their cry because of their slave drivers, for I know their pain. I have descended to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and to bring them up from that land, to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey.
And every time since, it goes the same way. They tried to kill us, we won, let's eat.