Friday, November 26, 2010

How much sugar and butter does it take to turn a sweet potato into a yam?

Thanksgiving has again come and gone. I'm enjoying a long weekend away from work. I've done a lot of baking. I've eaten a lot of dressing. I've gained three pounds. As I do year after year, I've again dealt with the dilemma that occurs at the intersection where my love of cooking crosses my families' stubborn, picky appetites.

The past few holidays have not gone particularly well. Two years ago there was the pecan pie that would never set (can't blame anyone but myself for that one...although I'm still trying to figure out what went wrong...). Also the squash casserole that no one seemed to eat. Still don't understand that one. My family all loves squash. Or so I thought. I made what I considered to be a delicious squash casserole. It was yummy! My aunt and grandmother liked it. My mother said she did, but I'm pretty sure she lied to preserve my feelings. At the end of the night I took home an almost untouched squash casserole! The explanation: they just prefer their squash fried! Oh, for the LOVE...

Last year there was the sweet potato debacle. I, myself, am not a fan, but my family seems to like I volunteered to make them for both family functions. I peeled about a dozen and shoved the peels into the garbage disposal in what I thought was reasonable intervals. Fast forward to an hour later when my husband was disassembling the disposal and wet sweet potato mush was pouring out onto my kitchen floor! Looking back this was, while humorous, not one of my favorite moments in our marriage. And again, at the end of the Thanksgiving festivities, I was coming home with much fuller dishes than I would have liked. This year's excuses: Granddad doesn't like cinnamon, and there were too many competing sweets.

Now on to this year's Thanksgiving festivities. For my dad's family's get-together, my food assignments had been doled out weeks ago. I was instructed to make their favorite Texas sheet cake and a peach cobbler that everyone seems to love. Done. My mom's family was much more difficult. Determined to cook something to impress (fueled by my past failures), I analyzed the entire Thanksgiving lunch menu and finally found the obvious gap in the mealtime offerings...(drum roll, please)...sweet potatoes. And so I volunteered.

Follow this up with a desperate phone call to my mother, as I tried to figure out how to prepare them in such a way that my family would not turn their noses up at them. What followed was a vague overview of how my Grandmother used to prepare candied yams. A. very. vague. overview. I searched online and finally found a recipe that resembled what my mom described. It involved only 5 ingredients (a plus in my family's book!)...sweet potatoes, butter, sugar, water, and time.

Please note what ingredient was NOT a part of said recipe: yams*. There are none in there. Nevertheless the recipe proudly proclaims itself as "Yummy Candied Yams." And they were! Accordingly to my family, that is. I ate one bite to test them as I was removing them from the stove. I might as well have been eating a sugar packet. But, hey, whatever floats your boat. It is, after all, Thanksgiving! The "yams" were a hit! Even with my picky Grandfather! I let him keep all the leftovers and came home with nothing but my clean, empty dish! And still no yams were harmed in the process!

Q: How much sugar and butter does it take to turn a sweet potato into a yam?
A: No amount of sugar and butter can accomplish this, but if my family will eat them...WHO CARES?!

*Yams and sweet potatoes are not the same vegetable. They're not even close. While both are tubers, they aren't even related. Sweet potatoes come in both hard and soft varieties. When the soft variety was first sold commercially in the US, there was a need to differentiate them. They were referred to as "yams" because of their similarity to the African vegetable they resembled. However, unless you've ever specifically sought one out in an international market, you've probably never actually eaten a yam.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Are there any actual benefits to two-a-days?

I realized, too late, at work this afternoon that I had drank entirely too much water to be able to successfully complete the 2-mile run I had planned for this afternoon. But this is not actually where this story begins. Back up a few days...

I decided, again too late, this past weekend that I would run my second 5k...leaving myself a very short 2 weeks to prepare for the Jingle Bell Run on December 4th. Still, though, a little more background is needed. Let's back up to this past spring...

That's when I decided to run my first ever 5k. By "first ever" I don't just mean my first organized running event. What I actually mean is the first time I've ever worked towards any physical goal. Ever. In the history of me.

Luckily, I coerced two of my coworkers into joining me in this venture. We worked hard. We trained. We followed a plan that required us to run almost every day of the week. We sweated. Sometimes we missed a few days. We contemplated running twice in one day to make up for it (but, really, who were we kidding?!). A few times we almost vomited. But...WE DID IT! We all ran the entire 3.1 miles without falling, fainting, or just generally having to lie down. And...then we stopped. Well, for the most part. I myself have run sporadically since our race in June. By sporadic, I mean maybe once per week. That is, until this past weekend...

Propelled by an increasing desire to shed the few pounds I gained during our trip to Chicago, as well as a desperate urgency to run another race before 1.) I lose any endurance I have built up from preparing for my first 5k, 2.) it gets entirely too cold for me to run and/or set foot outside at all, 3.) my running buddies also lose enthusiasm, leaving me to sit my butt at home all the time watching HGTV and eating potato chips.

Anyway, back to today. From my [limited] experience, very few things cause me to suffer from the dreaded stitch in my side so much as eating/drinking too soon prior to running. At 3:15 this afternoon (prior to my 4:00 p.m. run) this realization came too little too late, as I chugged down cup number 2 or 3 since lunch! But what could I do at that point? I drove from work over to the trail, warmed myself up with a pep talk, and gave it my best. Which was NOT good enough.

The pain in my side (along with all the water I could feel sloshing in my stomach) began at the 3/4 mile mark. I had to slow to a walk for a few seconds as we turned around at the one mile line. Aaaaaand then again a few minutes later. Thoroughly disappointed in myself (given the short amount of time I have to work up to 3.1 miles), I scolded myself under my breath all the way back to the car. FAIL.

I recharged on the way home with my iPod playing and the sunroof open, on the scenic route, and made a quick run through the grocery store to pick up the things I needed for the Thanksgiving dishes I've been assigned for my various family gatherings. When I finally got home the full moon was bright, the temperature was still 71 degrees, and I felt like a new person. Soooo...I ran again! Not far, mind you. But made me feel better about my poor performance earlier this afternoon.

I have no idea what this will mean for me tomorrow. One struggling run + another shorter, yet more successful one could = soreness and disaster. Of course, the internet is full of a variety of opinions on this topic. Some say two-a-days are the ultimate way to mix-up your routine. Supposedly you burn more calories taking the same workout and breaking it into two segments. Other sources say two-a-days can lead to burnout and overexertion. I seriously doubt that the minimal effort I put into a second run this evening could do much to help or harm me. But, if nothing else, it certainly helped my feelings! I just hope I can walk [and run again] tomorrow!

Q: Are there any actual benefits to two-a-days?
A: I'll let you know tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

quirk [kwurk] (noun): a peculiarity of action, behavior, or personality; mannerism

I just returned from a girls' weekend in Chicago. Two of my best friends and I spent 3 fun-filled nights in the Windy City. We did a lot of eating, shopping, walking, and most of all...laughing! Mostly at each other.
We agreed after this trip that you don't really know someone...I mean REALLY KNOW them...until you go on vacation together. For example, my travel companions and I work together in the same office. We've known each other for multiple years now. My desk is an approximate 45 second walk from one of their desks and about 7 feet away from the other's. The three of us eat lunch together practically every day. We talk all the time and frequently hang out outside of work. But I gained a deeper understanding of both of them after this trip. I would have never dreamed I had so many things yet to learn about them. And about myself.
Although unplanned, this was not however a difficult feat. It seems that one's oddities become much more clear and more evident when reflected in the eyes of friends. I know ours were!

Let's start with Harmony:

Many of her odd behaviors revolve around her nighttime routine. She beds down like a dog for several minutes before she actually lies still and goes to sleep. This activity combined with the crispness of fresh hotel linens results in what sounds like someone crumpling a paper bag repeatedly in the bed next to you. This noise, however, does not in fact offend the offender as...alas, she happens to sleep in earplugs. Among her other faux pas...she loses all decorum when trying to hail a cab, lacks the ability to avoid looking like a tourist, and is incapable of maintaining her balance while standing in a moving subway train.

Now on to Anna...

This chick wakes up freakishly early in the morning. Even on vacation! She also lacks the capability to go back to sleep! Finding herself subject to her own pre-trip rule (that the first person who wakes up is NOT to awaken the others), she consequently lined the bathtub with pillows and read a book until we decided to get up. Which is probably the main contributor to her next quirk: an intense desire for all things breakfast! Among her more impressive traits is her uncanny knack for using her love of Auburn football to make fast friends (or enemies if the case may be) of any group of fellow sports enthusiasts.

My turn. Although I'd love to be able to say that my performance on this trip was nothing short of flawless...I, too, was ridiculed for my eccentricities. Those who know me realize this isn't easy for me. I'm pretty uptight and don't generally enjoy being the butt of a joke. However, on this trip, it's safe to say that I found myself on the tail end of quite a few of them.

Here goes...

My biggest overshadowing quirk is my inability to just let loose, cut up, and have fun. I overcame this inhibition as best I could over the past weekend, as evidenced by my posing for this photo with a piece of sushi hanging out of my mouth. I was teased for my general obsessive compulsive behaviors...a major one being my need to begin on the right-hand side of a store and work my way back around systematically in a counter-clockwise direction...rather than just meander through. My secret fear of revolving doors was brought to light. And my religious dependence on my iPhone Maps app, while well-intentioned, sent us in the wrong direction more than once. You can also imagine the skeptic looks my friends gave me as I covertly used it to run checks and balances on our cab driver to make sure he wasn't ripping us off with his little detour through Wrigleyville.

While it may sound like these quirky behaviors were the annoyances of our trip, the opposite is in fact true. They were the highlights! The things that made us laugh so hard we cried and that caused us to be so loud in the cab that I actually apologized to the driver for having to put up with us! And in reality I couldn't have been any less embarrassed. We. Had. Fun. Just being who we are and doing what we do...which, when you really break it dang funny.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The "Ho" Code

On my way home from work today, a local talk radio show was recapping some highlights of something they referred to as the "bro code." I missed the beginning of the segment, but the limited research I've done since arriving home suggests they could have been referring to the list of rules popularized by Barney Stinson, Neil Patrick Harris' character on the sitcom "How I Met Your Mother." The various rules discussed related to everything from not dating your Bro's sister, to the appropriate urinal choice when there's another bro in the bathroom, and even...of course...the number one rule of bro-dom: Bros before Hos*.

As a Ho, I must admit I'm a bit jealous. Relationships with others of your same gender are incredibly simplified when there's a list of rules. We Hos aren't so lucky. There are a lot of assumptions, uncertainties, and guesswork involved. And often times we get it wrong. So, to assist my sister Hos...I've begun a list of rules for us.

I submit to you...The "Ho" Code. It's by no means exhaustive. Nor could it ever be. We Hos are a complex species. Not only would an all-inclusive list of rules to help us live together peaceably require years of research, focus groups, and careful study of the species in its natural habitat (the shopping mall) could neither be performed by a man (because he's too simple-minded) or a woman (because she'd be too busy shopping). But it's a start!

1.) When a group of three Hos eat in a restaurant at a booth, the Ho who is sitting alone shalt offer to share her bench with the other two Hos' purses.

2.) A Ho shalt not steal the look of another Ho.** An outfit another Ho pointed out to you in the mall the day before payday is off limits to you. Thou shalt not rush to beat her to the store to buy it after work the next day. As a side note, a Ho who has borrowed an article of clothing or an accessory from another Ho may accept a compliment on said item only after giving appropriate credit to its rightful Ho.

3.) A Ho shalt not upstage another Ho. Another Ho's wedding is not the place to announce to everyone that you're expecting. After hearing about another Ho's child's milestone, no Ho should mention that her own child just got accepted to age 7.

4.) A Ho is obligated to tell her Ho if she overhears another Ho (or group of Hos) talking negatively about her Ho. After doing so, the Ho should be prepared to engage in one of the following: a.) convincing her Ho that the gossip is completely incongruous, b.) watching her Ho commence to sobbing, c.) aid her Ho in beating down the other Ho (or group of Hos).

5.) All Hos are commanded to advise another Ho immediately upon realizing that their Ho's prospective man is cheating, wrong for them, or a registered sex offender. This responsibility is not to be taken lightly. Love is blind. We see things they miss.

6.) The failure of a Ho to notify her Ho of food in her teeth, a crazy fly-away hair, or a dress tucked into her panties (when it can be proven that the Ho could have or should have had constructive knowledge of said anomaly, as well as an opportunity to make the Ho aware of the condition in a way that does not further call it to the attention of those around the Ho) is a serious offense punishable by varying degrees of torture beginning with a mere reprimand and escalating up to and including termination of the friendship, depending on the severity.

7.) Hos shall not bear false witness.*** Period. Casual evasion is permitted (i.e. Well, it's not my favorite hairstyle you've had.) Lying is not (i.e. It looks great! Mullets are totally IN!)

8.) Hos shall not take offense to their Hos who offer sincere constructive criticism, when it is offered out of love. Concur with their critique? Thank them. Their actions took courage. If not, agree to disagree. And move on.

9.) Hos may only refer to their very closest friends as "Hos." That is, to their face.

10.) (and this one is key) A pact exists between all Hos that we will maintain a position of shock and disdain when being referred to as "Hos" by any member of the "Bros"!

*This rule was suggested by my friend Harmony so, if you were entertained or enlightened by it, you/I have her to thank.
**The journalist in me has resorted to using the same plural form of "ho" that the Associated Press used when quoting Don Imus.***
***OK, I copied that one too. Credit goes to God himself. He was on to something.
****The nerd in me feels the need to explain why I chose "Hos" over "Hoes" or "Ho's."