Let the Christmas season begin (NaBloPoMo day 30)

Tomorrow is December 1st. I can’t believe the final month of the year is already here. Why does time seem to accelerate starting in October? It’s infuriating. But my love of the holiday season is all the more reason to try to slow down and enjoy every moment of it while it lasts. Tomorrow night is the Seal Beach Christmas parade and I’m planning to watch with some friends. Luckily I only have to walk one block from my house to the parade route on Main Street so it’s one of my most convenient holiday traditions. While there are folks in the community who think that the parade is being held too early this year (they always find something silly to complain about), I think it’s the perfect way to kick off December. My weekend is going to be filled with Christmas activities and other such entertainment so it might as well start with a parade! Last weekend I put up my Christmas tree, after Thanksgiving of course, but it doesn’t have any ornaments on it yet. I’ll try to squeeze some tree trimming into my unusually busy schedule over the next few days. Tonight I was able to get a dozen Christmas cards ready to mail. Like last year I have a list of recipients a mile long so I’d like to get them done quickly otherwise I’ll be scrambling to get them sent before I leave for Florida on the 22nd. As I was getting the first cards ready to go today I realized that I only have Star Trek stamps in the house. Couple that with the fact that some of my Christmas cards are Star Wars themed and I’m worried that I’ll get arrested by the nerd police for mixing franchises! I’ll have to swing by the post office and get some holiday stamps tomorrow so that I can mail a couple more batches of cards over the weekend.

And thus ends NaBloPoMo 2017. I think I was fairly successful this year except for that one night where WordPress didn’t cooperate. If I can manage it I’ll try to keep posting every day for the rest of the year. This is always a tall order as the demands on my time increase during the holiday season, but I feel like writing about all of my celebrations makes them even more enjoyable. Happy December, everyone!

Turkey Day 2017 (NaBloPoMo day 25)

Thanksgiving was two days ago and I’m just now sitting down to write about it. Holidays are always busier than I imagine. But today I’m resting in preparation for a 20 mile run (or attempt, at least) tomorrow morning so I finally have time to finish this recap while I’m sitting on the couch watching Star Wars movies.

On Thursday I woke up at 4 AM so that I could get ready for the Oceanside Turkey Trot. Of course I picked one an hour away so I had a bit of a drive to get drive down there, but luckily the traffic was nonexistent that early in the morning. I was even able to use cruise control. I took advantage of that time to listen to my “Hamilton” soundtrack because I want to be adequately prepared for the show at the Pantages next month. The Oceanside 10K started at 6:55 AM. This was the race I ran with a friend two years ago in order to earn a new personal record. It was tough, but she helped me reach that goal. This year I had an idea in the back of my mind that I wanted to try for a new PR, and without too much effort I was actually doing well for a majority of the race. But then my mile 5 was a full minute slower than it needed to be due to a couple of hills and running on the uneven planks of the Oceanside Pier. That pretty much ruined my PR attempt because I didn’t have enough buffer to make up for the slow down. In the end I finished faster than I did in 2015 (1:08:05), but about 1 minute slower than my current 10K PR from the Avengers 10K last year. It was a valiant effort, but I just couldn’t keep up the right pace for the full 6.2 miles. After getting good and tired during the 10K, it was time to walk back to the start line and run the 5K! It was basically my cool-down and I ran much slower than usual to recover. After that race was over I picked up my shirt, walked back to my car, and started driving home. Much to my surprise the traffic going north wasn’t bad at 9 AM, and I had enough time to finish the “Hamilton” soundtrack.

The second half of my day was dedicated to Thanksgiving dinner. Before I left for Oceanside I put a block of cream cheese out on the counter to warm up so that it would be at room temperature a few hours later. The plan worked perfectly and I was able to mix up my pumpkin dip appetizer shortly after I got home. (It’s basically cream cheese frosting with some added pumpkin and spices. Not exactly healthy, but it’s definitely seasonal and everyone loves it. Even the kids. My goddaughter ate a whole bunch of ginger snaps with pumpkin dip before we even sat down to dinner.) I watched some of the Mystery Science Theater annual Turkey Day Marathon online while making my final Thanksgiving preparations (i.e., slicing apples and pears for the pumpkin dip and throwing everything in a bag for transport.) It was a scorching hot day for late November (95 deg at Natalie’s house) so I decided to wear a dress to dinner. Pretty fancy for a work holiday! I had another long drive to get to Pasadena, but I must have made offerings to the right gods that day because I had very little trouble with traffic once again. Folks driving south on the 605 weren’t as lucky, though. Poor souls. Thanksgiving dinner with Natalie and her family was amazing. I ate a whole plate full of the traditional dishes (turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, potatoes, etc.) as well as a lot of delicious extras. Baked brie with cranberries, roasted Brussels sprouts, and even some bread pudding for dinner. I was completely stuffed afterwards. It was a great time, even with the ensuing food coma. Eventually I had to drive home (my fourth and final extended journey of the day) and go to sleep after such a long and eventful day. Thanksgiving 2017 was quite the success. Now it’s time for the Christmas season to officially begin!

Can I buy stock in Pyrex? (NaBloPoMo day 24)

It’s Black Friday, but I didn’t do much to contribute to the growth of the economy today. After realizing that I’ve already spent a lot of money this month I decided to avoid taxing my credit card on the biggest shopping day of the year. Now that the day is almost over I can say that I was fairly successful. Besides the breakfast I bought at McDonald’s this morning, the only other item I purchased was a plastic lid for one of my Corningware casserole dishes. Exciting, huh? With all the cooking I’ve been doing this fall I’ve discovered that I don’t own enough containers to refrigerate and freeze all of the leftovers for future consumption. It didn’t help that until recently I didn’t have any plastic lids for my Corningware casserole dishes at all, and the glass lids weren’t satisfactory for freezing food. It’s actually been quite an ordeal trying to find a plastic lid for my larger Corningware dish and I had to return two I ordered from Amazon on separate occasions because they weren’t the right size, in spite of their online descriptions. Very frustrating. So today I broke down and ordered a lid directly from the Corningware website. Let’s hope the third time’s the charm!

Regarding Pyrex, which I referenced in the title of this post, I have another story to tell. Late on Tuesday night I reluctantly headed to Target to do some last-minute shopping for Thanksgiving necessities. I hated going anywhere near a store that close to Turkey Day, but it was sadly unavoidable. I had prepared two batches of my homemade cranberry sauce that afternoon in preparation for the Thursday feast, but afterwards I realized that all of my Pyrex smelled like chili! Apparently my leftovers have infused the containers with a distinctive smell that was decidedly incompatible with the cranberry sauce. So as I was picking up a few things at Target I added four new Pyrex dishes in my basket – two for cranberry sauce and two for pumpkin dip (as shown above). A couple of them were even Christmas-themed! Very festive. This is in addition to the two Halloween-themed containers I bought in October while I was cooking up a storm for Whole30. All told I have acquired six new Pyrex containers in the last two months and I had limited kitchen cabinet space to begin with. As one of my co-workers pointed out, I should have bought stock in Pyrex beforehand! I guess I’ll have to keep cooking massive amounts of food throughout the holiday season to justify my purchases!

Giving thanks (NaBloPoMo day 23)

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Continuing the trend this week, I’m sitting down to write this blog post much later than I wanted to and I’m completely exhausted. It’s been a really busy day. But in spite of its hectic nature, Thanksgiving 2017 has been fantastic. I ran the Oceanside Turkey Trot this morning and then spent the afternoon and evening at Natalie’s house for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Come to think of it, a lot of my time was spent driving today. I guess it wouldn’t be a real holiday without a lot of travel! I’ll share more details tomorrow when I have a little more time and a hopefully a lot more energy. But right now I can’t stop yawning! Goodnight, Thanksgiving 2017!

Thanksgiving 2008 (NaBloPoMo day 22)

It’s Thanksgiving Eve and I have no idea what to write. My day certainly hasn’t been interesting enough to fill even half of a decent blog post. I basically worked all day, didn’t exercise, and wasn’t even able to make the pumpkin pies I intended to. What a mess. Tomorrow morning is the Oceanside turkey trot so that’s not going to help me find time to do any baking before I need to leave for Natalie’s house. I’ll reassess the situation when I get home from the race. But tonight I figured I’d share a photo from the spirit of Thanksgiving past. I was going to go back a full decade, but in November 2007 Dan and I went to Texas to spend the holiday with his mom’s family. That trip was pretty much a disaster because I caught the stomach flu and actually ended up in the hospital on Thanksgiving Day. So the next year we decided to stay in Los Angeles – specifically, Thanksgiving at Disneyland! This was back before I had an annual pass and only went to the parks about twice a year so it was a real treat. This was also before we had iPhones so I have very few pictures from that visit. It’s a shame because I remember we had a great time. Our Thanksgiving dinner at Napa Rose, the fine dining restaurant at the Grand Californian Hotel, was amazing. That was in sharp contrast to the single piece of bread I was able to choke down the year before! (And, FYI, it didn’t even stay down.) I bought one of my oldest Disney pins that day and I still have it on one of the cork boards in my bedroom. Disneyland always provides great holiday memories!

Thanksgiving prep begins (NaBloBoMo day 21)

Once again it’s late and I have very little time to write anything. I have a feeling that’s going to be the theme for the rest of the week. The holidays are always crazy – I’m not sure why I expected anything different this year! I left work at 6 PM today with a very long list of things I needed to do, but I fell asleep on my couch instead. I was so stressed out about getting everything done before Thanksgiving that all I wanted was to shut down and rest. So I decided not to go for my nightly run and forgot about all of my obligations for a little while. Eventually I got up off the couch, went to Target to buy that extra pie dish that I needed, and made two batches of cranberry sauce in preparation for Thursday (one with diced apple and pear and one without). I regret skipping my run, but my legs could certainly use a rest day after an intense lower body day at boot camp last night. I’ll make up for it this weekend. Right now I need to start thinking about going to bed so I can tackle one last day of work before Thanksgiving, but first I need to wash a dink full of dishes so they aren’t waiting for me when I get home tomorrow night. ‘Tis the season to be sleep deprived!

A Seal Beach Christmas (NaBloPoMo day 20)

I don’t have a lot of time to write today because I just barely got out of work in time to grab a snack, change clothes, and hustle to boot camp. Then on my way home I made one last Thanksgiving grocery shopping trip to get cranberries, apples, and pears. The store was basically empty tonight so assuming I didn’t forget anything I shouldn’t have to deal with the Turkey Day food rush. Too bad I still need to get another pie dish at Target tomorrow. That might not be as pleasant. I just finished scarfing down a bowl of chili for dinner, but now I need to wash a bunch of dishes and get ready for bed as quickly as possible. The next two days before Thanksgiving are going to be really busy and I need to get to work early both days. I’m trying to get as much prep done before Thursday as possible so I can relish the holiday. Isn’t that my goal every year? This time of year always goes by too quickly and I want it to be as enjoyable as possible!

Weekend before Thanksgiving (NaBloPoMo day 19)

Considering it’s the weekend before Thanksgiving I should have been a lot more productive. I did check a few things off of my to do list, but not nearly as many as I planned. First of all, I slept in yesterday morning and skipped my weekly run with my Galloway group. According to my training plan I needed to run 7 miles this weekend which was more than the group had scheduled, and I also just wanted to get some more sleep for a change! I did get up in time to go to Target just as it opened to pick up a few items before the store got crowded. (Too bad I didn’t realize that I need another pie dish ahead of time. I’ll have to go back this week.) I also hit the Ralph’s next door to cross a few more Thanksgiving ingredients off my grocery list before the holiday rush later this week. The only other thing I still need to buy is cranberries and other fresh fruits that I don’t want to purchase too soon. I’ll make one more shopping trip tomorrow or Tuesday. When I got home I got started on some boring but necessary chores – laundry and cooking. While performing these tasks I watched Friday’s episode of “Once Upon A Time” (still one of my favorite shows) and the first few episodes of “The Gifted” that I’ve been hoarding on my DVR since it premiered. Much to my annoyance, “The Gifted” seems to be pretty decent. Don’t get me wrong, I love most anything associated with the X-Men, but I certainly don’t need any more shows to watch this season. Eventually my laziness caught up with me and I had to force myself to run those 7 miles I skipped in the morning. Fortunately the Seal Beach Christmas tree lighting was taking place last night so I was able to experience it on my run. I actually went past the event at the pier three times before I was done with my exercise. I love running in my little beach town when the Christmas tree and other festive lights are up. My Saturday night ended with me making an unexpected and major purchase. I was chatting with my friend Natalie and she reminded me that “Hamilton” will be at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood starting soon. Back when the tickets originally went on sale I wasn’t nearly prepared enough to acquire one that way, but I figured I could browse the secondary market and get a single seat for myself for one of the shows. So I went on StubHub and spent way more money than I should have for the opportunity to attend the matinĂ©e show on December 30th. But I got a seat on the first row of the mezzanine so I’ll have an unobstructed view. I’m so excited!

My Sunday was decidedly less interesting, and slightly less productive too. I had to go back to the grocery store because I realized that I didn’t have any broccoli for my lunches this week. And when I got home I had to roast said broccoli (as well as some carrots for good measure) and put my Pyrex dishes of food together for the week. Luckily I’ll only need three lunches, at most, since we have Thursday and Friday off. I might leave work early on Wednesday as well in order to make my pumpkin pies. I’d like to avoid baking on Thanksgiving Day if I can help it. Now it’s getting late on Sunday night and I still have to eat dinner, fold some laundry, and wash some dishes before I can go to bed. Holy cow, where did the weekend go? I was hoping to put up my Christmas tree before Thanksgiving (because why not?), but I guess it’ll stay Halloween in my house for a little bit longer. Now excuse me while I finish up my weekend chores by the glow of jack-o-lanterns!

Three Little Piggies Chili (2017 chili cook-off recipe)

I’ve posted a lot of chili recipes over the years and I like every one, but some have greater mass appeal than others. Judging by my successes and failures at the annual chili cook-off at work, the common factor in my most popular chilis is bacon! My co-workers fall all over themselves for a taste of anything with bacon in it. So as easy as it is to whip up a batch of chili that I’ll enjoy, this year I challenged myself to make something that folks would absolutely love. Of course was going to include bacon, but why stop there? I started with the general concept of my bacon chili, but I replaced the ground beef with ground pork. However, there still seemed to be something missing. Two kinds of pork just wasn’t enough! So in order to turn this recipe up to eleven, and also make the texture something different from my usual chili, I decided to add some delicious homemade carnitas. The spices in the carnitas are complimentary to my chili seasoning so it seemed like the perfect fit. So I ultimately ended up creating this triple pork chili, aptly named Three Little Piggies chili by my friend Anjanette, to take to work for the cook-off and the rest is history! Second place in the judge’s favorites was a much better showing that I ever expected. Not bad for a mild chili. I’ll have to come up with something even crazier next year!

INGREDIENTS:
3/4 lb maple-flavored bacon
1 lb ground pork
1 medium bell pepper, diced (I like to use a red one for color uniformity)
1 medium sweet onion, diced
2 Tbsp chili powder
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp oregano
1 1/2 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 cans (14.5 oz each) diced tomatoes
2 cans (8 oz each) tomato sauce
3/4 lb carnitas

DIRECTIONS:
In a small bowl, combine the spices (chili powder, cumin, paprika, oregano, allspice, cinnamon, salt, garlic powder, black pepper, and cocoa powder) and set aside. This will save you time and trouble later. Cut the bacon into 1/2 in pieces. In a large pot (I have an aptly named chili pot that I love), cook the bacon over medium heat. Use a splatter guard if you have one because that bacon grease is hot! Once the bacon pieces are crispy (watch carefully because they can burn quickly!), remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside for later. Add the ground pork, diced onion, and diced pepper to the pan with the leftover bacon grease and cook over medium heat until the pork is cooked through. Add the bowl of spice mix from earlier and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and reserved bacon and stir to combine. Finally, add the carnitas and stir to combine. I am not exactly sure how much I added, but I’m guessing about 3/4 lb. Add more or less to your taste. Bring the chili too a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Put the lid on the pot, but leave it propped open a bit so steam can escape. Cook for 90 minutes, stirring about every 15 minutes. Enjoy!

Based on My Amazing Bacon Chili and My Cincinnati-Style Chili.

One week ’til Thanksgiving (NaBloPoMo day 16)

Thanksgiving is one week away and I can’t wait! I’m spending the holiday with my dear friend Natalie and her family (including my beloved goddaughter) so I don’t have to do the lion’s share of the cooking, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to arrive empty-handed. What kind of a friend would I be if I did that? So far I’m planning to make my favorite pumpkin dip with fruit as an appetizer, some scrumptious homemade cranberry sauce to go with the rest of the main meal, and Food Network’s Ginger Coconut Pumpkin Pie which is the best pumpkin pie I’ve ever tasted. Even though these are three relatively small items, I’m still a little worried about getting them all done and ready for Thanksgiving dinner, especially since I need to transport everything to Natalie’s house. Fortunately I think I can make all three on Wednesday so that I won’t be too stressed on Thursday. However, the only time I’ve made the pumpkin pie was in Tallahassee and I had my mom to help me! I’m concerned about getting it right on my own, especially I’m no expert at making my own crust, but I’ll do my best. And I’m going to attempt to make a gluten-free version just for Natalie. I stocked up on gluten-free gingersnaps at Whole Foods for the crust yesterday. Fingers crossed that they work just as well as the wheat-filled ones. I’ll let you know how it goes!