A fortune for the ages

I was at work for 11 hours today supporting an important event. Catered meals are one of the only enjoyable aspects about these kinds of activities and today we had a variety of options from Pick Up Stix for lunch. The food was pretty tasty, and we ended our meal with the usual fortune cookies. My co-workers each opened theirs and read the fortunes to the group. Most were encouraging but vague phrases about something like friends or trusting your instincts – exactly what you’d expect from mass-produced products meant to satisfy a wide variety of consumers. I was anticipating something similar from my fortune as I cracked open the cookie and pulled out the tiny slip of paper inside, but when I read what was written on it I was completely taken aback. It said, “Your judgement [sic] is a little off at this time. Rely on friends.” WTF? Did I just get insulted by a fortune cookie? Luckily I was in a positive state of mind so my first reaction was amusement. I found it so hilarious that I could barely compose myself enough to share it with my co-workers. They were all flabbergasted as well! Who in their right mind thought to put such a pessimistic statement into a fortune cookie? At least we all got a good laugh out of it, which was very therapeutic after our trying day at work. So maybe it wasn’t such a bad choice after all!

P.S. I decided to highlight my dubious judgment by photographing the fortune in question surrounded by my still not put away Christmas decorations. As you can see, Santa Yoda doubts my judgment too.

Potluck Day 2016

Yesterday was my favorite day of the year – holiday potluck day! It was a great day. Since it was Casual Friday I got a chance to finally wear the holiday running shirt I ordered last month. I arrived to work early to get the hot chocolate started. It needed two hours in the Crockpot before it would be ready for the breakfast crowd. When I tested it at 6 AM it was the perfect temperature, and so delicious! I can’t believe anything that simple could be so popular, but I had several people ask me for the recipe again this year. I am happy to share it, of course. The biggest lesson I learned is that I need to get an extra large Crockpot so that I can make a double batch next year! (Also, I need to get a picture of a finished batch and post the recipe again. A good recipe is worth another share.)

Speaking of breakfast, I’m not sure if you’ll believe it, but I only had two scones yesterday – one caramel apple one and one maple bacon. They were amazing, but I didn’t want to go overboard before 9 AM. However, those two scones were accompanied by half of a waffle, a glass of milk, and a little hot chocolate. Maybe I did go overboard after all, but my scone consumption was still significantly reduced this year. When lunchtime rolled around I was still pretty full from breakfast, but I still loaded my plate with Chinese chicken salad, BBQ lil smokies, stuffing, and sweet potato casserole from the buffet. My contribution to the feast was turkey meatballs with cranberry barbeque sauce which turned out really well – and disappeared fast! I started cooking them in my other Crockpot at 6 AM so they were just right when everyone was ready for lunch. This was just the second time using the recipe, but this time I used a whole cup of barbeque sauce rather than the usual 1/2 cup, and I think the sauce was great. I’ll have to make those more often. I did indulge in a rare can of Coke, as you can see in the above photo, because of the cute polar bears on the can.

After all of the food I consumed at breakfast and lunch I absolutely zero room for dessert. Nothing looked at that exciting to me anyway, but I did take a couple of extra scones back to my desk with me. I thought they’d be great when I got hungry later. But by the end of the day I was still so full that the idea of eating them didn’t appeal to me at all so I shared them to my cubical neighbors. ‘Tis the season for giving! As usual, my favorite day of the year didn’t disappoint. Good food and a lot of laughs with my co-workers. I can’t wait for nest year!

It was supposed to be a quiet day

Today was supposed to be a quiet day. I had originally planned to get up early and go running before work to get some of my weekly miles out of the way, but it was still raining when my alarm went off this morning. A lovely and much-needed rain storm swept through Los Angeles overnight and it hadn’t quite cleared out by 5 AM. A pre-dawn run in the rain was definitely not going to happen so I went back to sleep for another glorious hour. I had my annual health screening at 7:30 AM, but I didn’t give myself quite enough time to find the right location (a conference room in a different building) after I arrived at work. I was a bit late and slightly sweaty when I got there. It was the wrong day to wear a fleece jacket! Luckily all of the numbers from my blood work turned out really well. Who’d have thought diet and exercise were good for your health? Ha ha! At least I got my screening done for the year. One less thing to worry about in 2016! It was my last day of work before the Thanksgiving holiday and I was expecting light attendance at the office. And it was indeed lighter than usual for a typical Monday, but that didn’t mean things didn’t go awry. On a whim I dialed into a meeting at 11 AM only to discover that our schedule for January and February was being completely reworked and one of my events was being moved up three weeks! No one had even invited me to the conversation (the meeting itinerary didn’t include this topic) and I’m getting three fewer weeks to prepare for an activity that I’m responsible for. What the heck? It doesn’t help that I essentially have four different high-profile events in the first two months of 2017. Doesn’t that sound like fun? It took the rest of the day, but by the time I left work at 5 PM we had settled on a new scope and lower expectations for the revised schedule that would be easier to meet. I’m still not happy about it, but I think it’s at least doable. After all that craziness I drove home and started packing for my trip to Tallahassee for Thanksgiving tomorrow. Nothing like waiting until the last minute! I also ran four miles tonight so that I don’t have to worry about getting no exercise tomorrow due to sitting in airports and on planes all day. Hopefully I’ll have time to write something more substantial that this short little post. Unfortunately I need to finish packing and go to bed right now because I have to drive to LAX way too early tomorrow morning. Happy Monday before Thanksgiving, everyone!

Halloween recipe variations

On Monday we had our 5th annual chili cook-off at work. It’s a Halloween tradition! It’s also one of my favorite days of the year (maybe second to the annual holiday potluck) and I’m happy to say that even though it was a lot of work it turned out really well. Due to being on the Nutrisystem diet since Labor Day I didn’t get a chance to make any test batches of chili before the cook-off. What a shame! So on Sunday night I simply combined a couple of my favorite old recipes, crossed my fingers, and hoped for a decent outcome. I figured mixing and matching successful recipes couldn’t go wrong! In order to please several non-carnivores at work I promised to make something that was vegetarian friendly. I started with my vegetarian chili recipe, but substituted the spices from my Cincinnati style chili that I made for last year’s cook-off. To my surprise it was absolutely delicious, and actually came in fourth place out of 16 chilis in the popular vote. So in the spirit of Halloween, making a Frankenstein’s monster-style unholy mashup using pieces from different chili recipes can result in something better than the sum of its parts!

Speaking of unholy mashups, the pumpkin bread I made for the chili cook-off got a similar treatment. I originally planned to make a sheet cake, and I even bought some new Halloween sprinkles to decorate it, but some of my co-workers requested pumpkin bread instead. On the plus side it’s easier to throw together, and I already had a can of pumpkin puree in my cupboard so that’s one less ingredient I had to purchase! But which of my favorite recipes to use? The one I posted in September was the best pumpkin bread I’ve ever tasted, but when I tried something different a couple of weeks later I got even better feedback from the taste testers. What a conundrum! In the end I used the recipe from September (mostly so I could avoid buying buttermilk which I never managed to use all of before it spoils), but with a couple of key changes. First of all, I substituted half of the white sugar for light brown sugar for a richer flavor. But more importantly I used a different spice combination:

2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp salt

The result was absolutely incredible! Not only did my co-workers gobble it up, but I loved it too. I’ll have to remember that for next year. The moral of today’s story is that experimental cooking can sometimes turn out even better than you could possibly imagine. So be brave and try something new! I am going to try and keep that in mind with the rest of my holiday baking. ‘Tis the season to be bold!

Emergency M&M’s

In February we had some unseasonably warm days. (After a relatively short and mild winter this really annoyed me. Summer is going to be here soon enough without it arriving in February.) On one of these scorching days we were discussing this phenomenon over our cubicle walls at work when I got an instant message from one of the guys who sits across the aisle from me. It went like something like this:

Him: I just remembered I have a bag of M&Ms in my car!
Me: Ha ha ha ha!
Him: I put it in my center console during the winter for emergencies.

Maybe I’m uninformed on the latest in snack trends, but I’d never heard of emergency M&M’s before! I laughed so hard after this conversation. He was so worried that the peanut M&M’s in his car had melted into a puddle of chocolate, nuts, and pieces of candy shell. He ran to his car shortly after expressing his concern and was happy to discover that the individual M&M’s were still intact. Crisis averted! So when I opened my Sunday paper and I saw an ad for these to-go containers of M&M’s (see above photo) I just had to share it with him. They seemed a timely and well-suited solution to his mobile winter sustenance situation. If you’re going to leave M&M’s in your car “for emergencies,” they might as well be in a decent container!

Traveling to DC

I made a mistake this morning. Considering all of the difficulty on the East Coast due to the blizzard last weekend I should have checked my flight status before I left for the airport, but I didn’t. As soon as I parked my car and caught the shuttle to the airport I found an email in my inbox informing me that my flight to DC was delayed – by two and a half hours! I thought I was running late while getting ready to go to the airport this morning, and I was actually a little worried about not being able to grab anything for breakfast before getting on the plane. Little did I know I could have stopped for a leisurely morning meal on the way! As it was, I got to sit down and have a nice egg sandwich after going through security, and then I had enough time leftover to wander around the United terminals for over an hour. It was boring, but luckily I had no reason to get to DC by a certain time today. Before takeoff the pilot explained the delay – the plane that was originally assigned to our flight was coming from Hawaii this morning, but it had to divert for some reason and obviously didn’t make it to Los Angeles on schedule. Weird. Funny enough, after everything the region had to deal with this week, the delay had nothing to do with the weather!

I didn’t get as much sleep as I should have last night because I had too many things to check off my to do list before going on my trip. I left work early yesterday so I’d have more time to prepare. My first order of business when I got home was baking the three batches of cookies that I promised my East and West Coast co-workers. I didn’t want to make them earlier in the week because I was afraid they’d dry out and get stale before anyone got to eat them. The cookies I ended up making were slightly different from what I described in my previous post. The “classic” chocolate chip cookies ended up including browned butter, bacon fat, and molasses. And they were amazing! (I sampled quite a few while slicing up the cookies. This is why I limit my baking these days!) I will share that recipe later this week. Of the other two batches of chocolate chip cookies, one had a full pound of cooked and crumbled bacon mixed into the batter, and the second had some reconstituted dried cherries (but no liquor as I originally planned). After the cookies were done I seriously considered skipping my planned 5-mile run because I still needed to finish packing my suitcase and attempt to get to bed at a decent hour. I figured I could hit the treadmill after arriving in DC instead. But then I remembered how much I hate running on the treadmill so I threw on my shoes and went for a run on the sidewalks of Seal Beach instead. There’s a possibility that it will be warm enough for me to run outside while I’m in DC, but more than likely I’ll be stuck on the treadmill in the hotel fitness center instead. It’s not ideal, but there’s no way I’m going to miss any of my training runs this week. The Surf City Half Marathon is next Sunday and I need to be ready! But I digress. I stayed up too late last night getting ready for my trip, but it was worth it. I will sleep well tonight!

Lunch with co-workers

The first week of November I was really burned out after all of the Halloween events that I’d participated in (parties, races, Disneyland, etc.), but the excitement wasn’t over quite yet. That week one of my co-workers from Denver was in town for his quarterly visit and I usually bring in lunch for our group when he’s here. I generally make something in my Crockpot because it makes heating and serving really simple, but this time I whipped up a lasagna and a couple of salad options to share. As I’ve said before, I make the world’s best lasagna, but it’s not the healthiest option. So I rounded out the meal with a mixed greens salad with balsamic vinaigrette, and a cucumber salad with a red wine vinaigrette. Fancy! I never leave work to go to lunch anymore so this was an opportunity to eat some good food (better than my usual lunch fare, at least) without having to go somewhere to get it. And there’s always so much work to do when our Denver colleague is in town so having lunch at our desks is helpful. We always have so much fun when we’re all working together. We catch up, gossip, and make stupid jokes. I swear we laugh all day. It’s a blast. And sometimes we even accomplish stuff at the same time! I was leaving for Orlando the day after our working lunch so it made my trip preparation a lot more difficult, but I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. I love my co-workers and spending quality time with them, even if it’s just at work, always brightens my day.

Second Halloween weekend

The second weekend of Halloween celebrations actually included Halloween, but it started a few days before. On Wednesday the 28th I made my batch of chili for the cook-off at work on Friday. Not only would the chili taste better after spending some time in the fridge, but I had signed up to bring a cake to the cook-off as well and I didn’t want to have to scramble to make both items Thursday night. (I posted this year’s chili cook-off recipe over the weekend if you’re interested.) On Thursday the 29th I started setting up for the annual chili cook-off at work the next day. One of my co-workers helped me put festive tablecloths on all of the tables so that we wouldn’t make as much of a mess. Also, we had to procure some extra power strips so that all of the Crockpots could be plugged in to keep the chili warm. We had a record thirteen entries this year so we actually reserved a second conference room just to accommodate that many Crockpots. Then when I got home that night I whipped up my favorite chocolate sheet cake after I got home from work. I added some Halloween sprinkles to match the occasion because otherwise it would have been just a boring (but delicious) brown cake. Friday the 30th was the chili cook-off which is always a really busy day for me. Every year I think, “I’ll be able to get some work done before lunch.” But that never happens. Between organizing all of the items everyone brings in, fielding questions from participants, and fending off hungry vultures before the cook-off actually starts, I’m always swamped. And after lunch I’m exhausted! But it’s worth it.

By the time the weekend rolled around I desperately wanted a break, but I had a lot of events planned. On Halloween morning I drove to Laguna Niguel for the Grab the Swag 10K (my second of three Halloween-themed races). According to my car it was only 52 deg when I got there so I was excited to run in some pleasant weather for a change! The race was in Laguna Niguel Regional Park and it was mostly on dirty paths. My poor running shoes got really dirty, but I enjoyed the race. When I got home I turned on the Rugby World Cup finals that I DVRed that morning. It was New Zealand vs. Australia and I was rooting for the All Blacks, of course. And they won! That was fun to watch. Then at 12:30 the Florida vs. Georgia game came on. This season has been a bit of a surprise for Gator fans. We didn’t expect much, but the results have been much better than anyone predicted. Besides a loss to LSU (by only a touchdown) a couple of weeks earlier, every other game has been a win. Go Gators! I was pretty nervous watching them play Georgia because the Bulldogs were very highly ranked at the beginning of the season. But it turns out that they are underperforming as much as the Gators are exceeding expectations this year. Despite the Florida quarterback not being that great (Our first string QB was suspended for a year after he tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. Oops.), the Gators won 27-3. That was really exciting. There are two more conference games this year so the SEC East championship is in sight. Let’s hope they can keep it up! I have to admit that I spent the rest of Halloween being pretty lazy. I was invited to go trick or treating with some friends and their kids that night, but I was just too exhausted by the time dusk rolled around. So instead I stayed on my couch and watched “The Simpsons” Treehouse of Horror episodes, Wholloween (scary “Doctor Who” episodes), and “Game of Thrones.” An enjoyable holiday evening.

On Sunday November 1st I had another race. Ever since October started my brain somehow thinks that two days in a weekend equals two chances to run races. I am completely nuts. When I first found out about the Dinosaur Dash in Tustin the day after Halloween I thought it was a great idea. They had a 5K and 10K, and I figured a 5K would be enjoyable after the 10K on Halloween. However, after doing some more research I discovered that the 10K started at 7:15 AM and the 5K started at 8:30 AM. Then I remembered that Daylight Savings Time started overnight and that meant the sun would be coming up around 6 AM rather than 7 AM. The 7:15 AM 10K was going to be much more pleasant so I registered for it instead. Two 10Ks in one weekend. Didn’t I tell you I was nuts? I’m glad I did it, though. Due to a variety of factors (weather, work, holidays, etc.) I haven’t been running much during the week so these weekend races are helping me maintain some semblance of an exercise routine. Getting 12.4 miles of running in over the weekend was definitely beneficial. I will dedicate a post to my myriad of fall races soon. Let’s just say there are a lot of them. The rest of November 1st was spent doing things around the house. I made a lasagna to feed my co-workers on Tuesday (more on that later), roasted vegetables for my lunches, and did as many chores as possible in preparation for my Disney World vacation this week. I should have gone to work to make up a few of the hours I’m going to miss while I’m gone, but that didn’t happen. I was lazy instead. I needed the rest for more crazy days to come!