Category Archive: Life

Apr 13 2014

Depression, Again

I know there’s been a bit of an echo here during the last week and I apologize. It just happened to be one of those weeks when the joy in life was sucked right out of me and I was barely treading water to keep my head from submerging. I had no energy left for anything else.

I should have been happy. The seven months of dealing with my now-properly-deemed lemon of a new car are coming to a close. We received the repurchase agreement, signed and submitted it, and are simply waiting for the third party company to find time in their schedule for me to surrender possession of the car to them. But the thought of having to start all over with purchasing another new car is exhausting. I didn’t plan on doing this for at least 6 years. And every time I read reviews online, I’m disheartened by all the complaints across the board. There is no guarantee the next car won’t have problems, too, and that may just break me.

river

Friday night was the culmination of the suckage. I had loose plans to go out with a friend that ended up being canceled before I left work. I had built up the evening so much in my mind that the cancellation was a huge blow. It wasn’t the case, but it felt like utter rejection, and I couldn’t stand being rejected yet again. I went for a long drive (in my lemon) in the rain, eventually happening upon People’s State Forest. I parked the car and watched the rain fall as I chewed on a hunk of Asiago bread from Panera. What can I say? I find comfort in carbs. Then I dragged myself out into the drizzle. I wasn’t attired for this at all, in my holey-crocheted cropped sweater, no rain coat, and flats that make my unstable ankle wobblier than usual. Still, I strutted across the field. I was drawn to the river. I had to see it.

By the river, not much was different. The water level was high and it rushed by with great force. The pines surrounded me, not quite blocking the rain that was falling more heavily now. The weather suited my mood quite nicely. I took a selfie and posted it to Instagram, if for no other reason than to show where I was. I have this morbid obsession with establishing where I am when I’m out alone so my path can be recreated should something happen. I watch too many crime shows.

moody selfie

My mood was not improved, but the quiet felt comforting. I could disappear in the immenseness here, evaporate from existence. In the forest, the little things don’t matter.

In spite of being ill-prepared for a hike, I made my shaky way down the path to the river’s edge and found a beach. The mist in the distance was swirling in as the sky darkened. It was as if I was controlling the scene subconsciously. And it was absolutely beautiful.

perfect river scene

The rain started coming down harder and I was growing colder. I returned to the car just as humans proved to still exist. My peace was shattered.

Friday night, I returned home and slept for 12 hours.

Saturday I watched my nephew. I took the kids to an Easter egg hunt that was over before it even started. A false start couldn’t be stopped and the kids took over the field as the Parks crew looked on in defeat. My nephew didn’t mind–he didn’t seem to know what was going on anyway. My kids made the best of it. Nobody was really disappointed, but it seemed like a perfect metaphor for my life–left behind as everyone surges forward.

playground

Saturday afternoon I felt exhausted again. I should have been outside enjoying the sunshine and warm temps. Instead, I curled up on the couch, hiding under a blanket, shutting out the world. I napped for at least 2 hours.

Sleep doesn’t make the world go away, though.

My husband insisted I go out Saturday night. I would be alone–as I often am when I go out–which is a mixed blessing. I can do what I want, when I want–I am in control of my destiny. But it gets lonely, and I grow tired of fiddling with my phone before events start so that I look like I belong. Or like I’m waiting for someone to show, instead of being that loser girl all by herself again. I wasn’t sure I had it in me to take on another event alone, even though I had been looking forward to it.

In the end, he won. I showered, dressed, and headed out.

The night began much the way I described. I awkwardly selected a chair in the corner, alone and yet accidentally in a patch of light where I couldn’t hide. I felt exposed. And I was terrified. I knew an old friend would be at this event, but we hadn’t spoken in almost four years. The last time we did speak, I was on a path of self-destruction and tried to drag him along with me. There wasn’t enough vodka in my smoothie to muster the courage I was pretending to have.

And then, what I feared most happened: he talked to me. And it wasn’t to kick me out. Somehow, the tension of these past few years was broken, in an instant, and it was over. It no longer was there to hang over my head, and I was free to enjoy myself. Or, at least try.

Bella's Bartok

Free. As free as one can be when she lives in the same town where she grew up. At least I was mostly anonymous in that crowd.

Slowly, the music I had been looking forward to hearing lured me out of my shell. I bopped a little in time to it, despite my complete lack of rhythm. By the time the second band came on, I was much looser and even accepted the outstretched arm of one of the more passionate patrons, overcoming the fear of tripping over my gimp left foot as I pranced across the floor with him. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know this guy. In fact, that probably helped. I was having fun.

At the end of the night, I was sweaty and tired, but in a good way. I didn’t feel quite so drained anymore. My cup was starting to fill up again. I’m still working on getting it to half full. At least I’m heading in the right direction now.

Feb 11 2014

Jones Dairy Farm Event at the CIA: Day 2 #spon #jonesdairyfarm

Disclosure: Jones Dairy Farm sponsored this event. No other compensation was received for this post. All opinions and photos remain my own.

Saturday morning we re-convened with our hosts at The Culinary Institute of America for our day of learning and good eats. Breakfast was served from the Jones Dairy Farm kitchen in Farquharson Hall, a space straight out of Hogwarts. No house elves here though–just students and their instructors hard at work at what they love.

Farquharson Hall at The Culinary Institute of America

Rick Lowry, Executive Vice President, welcomed us and gave us a little history on Jones Dairy Farm, maker of my favorite breakfast sausage. Did you know that Jones Dairy Farm has been around for 125 years? On top of that, it has been 100% family-owned for its entire history! That’s amazing! Milo Jones, a government land surveyor from Vermont, founded the farm when he moved to Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin in 1838. He and his wife, Sally, worked a 500-acre dairy farm that was self-supporting, including having its own brickyard, tannery, and blacksmith shop. Their son, Milo Cornelius Jones, was expected to take over the farm in the 1880s, but he was plagued with debilitating rheumatoid arthritis. This setback was the catalyst for what Jones Dairy Farm is known for today: sausage. Milo C. Jones began selling sausage made from his mother’s recipe and the rest is history. By 1910, Jones Dairy Farm sausages were being shipped nearly nationwide. Today, the recipe remains almost unchanged from its original form: pork, salt, and spices. They leave out the MSG, chemical additives, gluten, and other common allergens found in other brands of breakfast sausage. This must be why it all tastes so good!

So what does Jones Dairy Farm have to do with The Culinary Institute of America anyway? Surprisingly a lot.

Jones Dairy Farm products

Philip H. Jones, a Paris-trained chef and President of Jones Dairy Farm since 2001, gave The Culinary Institute of America a substantial amount of money to establish the Jones Dairy Farm Endowed Scholarship fund. This fund makes it possible for three students per year to receive aid toward their pursuit of a Bachelor of Professional Studies degree in culinary arts management. What a huge difference that makes! Recipients must be the cream of the crop–they have to excel academically, demonstrate community service on campus, create a recipe utilizing Jones Dairy Farm products, and explain how Jones Dairy Farm’s history may affect their future in the culinary world. That’s a tall order to fill, but it ensures they are helping the best of the best fulfill their culinary dreams.

Rick Lowry, Jones Dairy Farm Executive Vice President

After breakfast, we moved into the teaching kitchen. There, we received a bit of a pork anatomy lesson. Thank goodness we weren’t expected to perform surgery after! Rick told us about how sausage is made, let us examine different kinds of casings that are used, and showed us where the piggy parts we love come from. He shared their dry aged bacon–a rarity, as it takes a lot longer to produce, but it also is a heck of a lot more flavorful for that time investment. Mmm… bacon. He also showed us one of the more disgusting things I’ve seen in my life–mechanically-separated turkey meat. Or white slime, as some call it. This mushy slurry is an assortment of all the leftovers when the bones have been picked nearly clean–and other unscrupulous companies will not hesitate to use it in their products to cut costs. Bottom line: you get what you pay for. Jones Dairy Farm is not the least expensive in the grocery store for a reason: their goal is to produce the best quality product they can. Cutting costs results in cut quality, too, and none of us wants that to happen.

knife skills class

We followed up the pork lesson with a knife skills class with Chef Justin Ward. I have been wanting to take a knife skills class forever. I manage just fine, but there is no art to what I do with a knife; it is as utilitarian as possible. Chef stressed over and over again that stability is key. You need to trim down what you’re cutting until it will sit securely on your cutting board; you don’t want a carrot to roll while you’re cutting. That’s how accidents happen. A small part of me resisted at first–my frugal mother taught me not to waste anything and all that paring away to a rectangular shape made me a little nervous. But Chef assured us that what we cut off could be saved for making stock–no waste here.

knife skills

Each of us had a station set out for us equipped with a massive cutting board, a chef’s knife, an apron, a towel, a toque, and a plate with a single carrot and a lonely, already-peeled onion. Our challenge: to cut our carrots into 4 cuts: batonnet, medium dice, julienne, and small dice. For the onions, half needed to be julienne and the rest was to be diced. I managed just fine, but I panicked a little when I was being watched by one of the culinary students. She offered encouragement and was very positive–I’m just not used to having someone watch me work a knife. Regardless, I’m pretty happy with the results:

carrot cuts - batonnet, medium dice, julienne, small dice

Next came the ham. Ham! Makes me think of that claymation pirate movie that my kids love–oh, how those pirates love their ham night. Me, too! Rick demonstrated for us how to find the line where the bone goes through the ham so you can find the meatiest part to carve from. Don’t forget to cut a piece off to stabilize it when cutting, just like with your veggies. It looked so darn easy! We then sampled two of Jones Dairy Farm’s hams, which were both delicious. Then again, when isn’t ham delicious? If you’d like a primer on how to carve ham, too, try this video from their website:

carving ham

The real challenge came after this: the cooking challenge. We were divided into 4 groups and each was given a tray of ingredients–a secret until the unveiling. I was seriously nervous about this task. Being more of a baker than a cook, I had some anxiety about what would happen with the big reveal. Luckily, I was given some awesome teammates: Cristina of Cooking with Jeff and Cristina, Dan of The Food in My Beard, and Cate of Sweetnicks. Their fresh perspective on seasonings saved the day when we were given whole heads of broccoli and cauliflower, kale, lettuce, bulgar, oranges, and Greek yogurt. We also needed to select at least 2 Jones Dairy Farm products to feature in a main and side dishes. Cate, fortuitously, had just made a spicy whole roasted cauliflower the night before that could be easily replicated with the cauliflower, Greek yogurt, and juice from the oranges. We sprinkled bits of bacon over the finished product. Cristina and Dan were talking lettuce wraps and making a sort of salad filling with the bulgar, some loose sausage, roasted broccoli, and the kale. The direction they were taking was a new one for me, but an exciting one, too.

cooking challenge

Instructor chefs and culinary students were available and assisting the entire time we were in the kitchen. And I must say, cooking in a professional kitchen is quite different than at home. Spider burners! How I love you! And what an endless assortment of ways to add flavor–nothing like my often inadequate pantry at home! Each of us got to work on our components. I felt a bit like a fish out of water–you know my history with cooking–but I can make bacon like nobody’s business. I slice the bacon before cooking if I want bits–this keeps you from getting bacon shards in your eyes–and sauté in a pan. In less than 20 minutes you have perfectly-cooked bits that are better than potato chips for munching. At least, the chefs in the kitchen seemed to agree on that. We had to hide our bacon from roving hands seeking a snack.

bacon

Lunch was to be what the teams prepared, plus we each had to plate 4 portions for the judges. It was a little surreal–were we part of a television show?–but fun, all the same. I’m so proud of my teammates! I would have been lost without them!

our cooking challenge plate

In the end, team 4 won with their Boston lettuce and pear salad with bacon and onion vinaigrette and scrapple croutons and swiss chard ricotta pesto stuffed mushrooms topped with slab bacon. Great job, Sarah, Lisa, Ashley, and Otis!

The day was capped off with a tour of the facilities. The grounds were blanketed in snow, so we remained in the main building, but there was plenty to see there. Typically there are 2500 students enrolled at any given time, with the average student age being 19. The 5 restaurants on site (one is being renovated currently) serve food prepared by the students–which had already impressed me the night before at The Bocuse Restaurant. I was very interested in the baking classrooms on the top floor but, since it was a Saturday, there was no action to spy on. The work stations, the mixers, the marble–oh, my! That would have been my calling, had I decided to go to culinary school. And the thought did cross my mind several times.

mixer

The drive home was full of fond memories. Being located only 1.5 hours away will make it easy for me to return–I must check out the other restaurants on campus and see the view of the Hudson River! In the meantime, I have Jones Dairy Farm to thank for all the food, fun, and learning of the weekend.

If you’d like to find out more about Jones Dairy Farm

…please do check out their Facebook page. They also collect awesome recipes on their Pinterest page. Or chat with them on Twitter. It’s all good!

Other bloggers at this event included:

Feb 09 2014

Jones Dairy Farm Event at the CIA: Day 1 #spon #jonesdairyfarm

Disclosure: Jones Dairy Farm sponsored this event. No other compensation was received for this post. All opinions and photos remain my own.

I don’t like bridges. I never have; I never will. I don’t think people should be suspended precariously high above water, just waiting to drop to their deaths. And I hate driving on them.

This past summer, I joined Nutmeg Nanny on a road trip to the Big Summer Potluck. She drove us over the Hudson River. It was the first time we had met in person and so I had to try my best not to hyperventilate, lest she think me a freak. Nearby, another bridge perched even higher, a walk- and bike-way where people could get more intimate with the dizzying height. I looked straight ahead, pretending we were on any other road. I did not want to encounter this bridge again.

Unfortunately, because I make a better co-pilot than pilot, I not only encountered it again Friday, I had to drive over it, too–twice.

You see, I was invited by Jones Dairy Farm to participate in a blogger event at the Culinary Institute of America this weekend. For many years now, I have wanted to visit this well-known campus and see for myself the wonders that lie inside. It was a dream come true to be chosen for this quest! Not only would I be participating in a day of fun at the campus, but they offered to put us up for the night at the famed historic Beekman Arms Inn in Rhinebeck, New York. What an opportunity! I couldn’t wait!

New York countryside

I get nervous about travel. I don’t do it often, and almost never alone. I plan my route far in advance and try to take into account any- and everything that may come up. I also prefer traveling in daylight hours, so I took half of a personal day off at my day job so I could ensure I was safely ensconced in my room before darkness fell.

It was a gorgeous day for a country drive. The snow from the storm 2 days prior had been mostly cleared and the sky was a perfect shade of cerulean blue. Barely a cloud dared smudge this canvas. Perfection. I tried my best to take in all the countryside had to offer, but for some reason, the speed limits in New York are really high. I can’t imagine any corners we’d be allowed to take at 50 mph in Connecticut, yet here, they’re encouraged. With two cars following closely behind, and no shoulder to pull off on, I had to keep my eyes mostly on the road. Mostly.

Beekman Arms Inn

When I arrived in downtown Rhinebeck, I had 20 minutes to spare until check-in. I figured I’d take a little drive down Route 9, knowing at some point I would come across the Culinary Institute of America itself, and at the end of Route 9 was Poughkeepsie. It was too nice to sit in a parking lot and wait, so I pointed my car south and carried on.

This area of New York is full of history. Alright, just about anywhere is full of history, but you are bombarded with signs for historic sites: Vanderbilt mansion, Roosevelt homestead, Mills mansion, etc., etc., etc. In the warmer months, I may return to check these out. For the time being, I ventured on.

Eventually I did find the CIA and tried to quickly assess where I’d be going the next day. But then I got a little confused. Marist College? Oh, hey. I didn’t realize that was here. And the next thing I knew, I was merging onto the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Mid-Hudson Bridge. The bridge from last summer. And I was in the driver’s seat this time.

My eyes remained glued to the car in front of me. Mostly. Oh, look, ice chunks in the river! It must be really cold way down there… Eeek! My heart was pounding. I crossed the bridge in very little time, but it felt like an eternity. And once I finally exited the highway, I realized I would have to cross it again–and pay for the privilege! Darn tolls. We don’t have those in Connecticut…

So I paid my $1.50 and tried again. This time, in front of a cop. As if I wasn’t nervous enough! I found my way back to the East side and onto Route 9 again without incident. Phew! I survived the bridge and lived to tell the tale! Let’s not do that again…

Beekman Arms Inn

Back at the Beekman Arms Inn, after struggling to find a parking spot in the maze of spaces behind the building, I checked in. They claim to be the oldest continuously-run inn in America. And it’s rumored to be haunted. Have you watched The Innkeepers? I have. Many times. Because it’s based on our own purportedly-haunted inn in Torrington, the Yankee Pedlar Inn. It made for a very rough night sleeping. I’m not ashamed to admit I left the light on all night.

The inn is charming. Just what you’d expect an old establishment to offer. My room was on the 3rd floor at the end of the hall, set off in a corner by itself. It was adorably cute and cozy, and far more than I expected. A fantastic way to start the weekend.

Beekman Arms Inn room 36

After having a breather in my room, I met up with some of the other bloggers who would be attending the event at the CIA–as well as representatives from Jones Dairy Farm and their marketing company–for a meet-and-greet cocktail-and-appetizers hour in the lobby. It was casual, allowing us all to get to know each other a little better while sampling treats made with products from Jones Dairy Farm. My favorite: the risotto balls with bacon. What isn’t improved by bacon?

From there, we caravanned to the CIA campus for dinner at The Bocuse Restaurant. What a treat! Bocuse is the French restaurant at the CIA–a white table cloth venue where dressing up is a must. As you walk in, you are greeted by an illuminated wall of wine. Swanky!

The Bocuse Restaurant wine

We started with a champagne toast and then Black Truffle Soup. There were the cutest little mushrooms ever enveloped in that pastry crust! For my entree, I chose Braised Beef Short Rib with celeriac-potato puree, hibiscus-infused parsnips, wild mushrooms, and beef jus. WOW! I am not much of a cook, but I want to know how to prepare this–it was phenomenal. The beef was so tender it could be cut with a fork and the mushrooms were so flavorful. I had to keep myself from licking the plate!

The Bocuse Restaurant

Dessert was, in a word, amazing. I’m not entirely sure what we ate, but they prepared blood orange ice cream tableside with a KitchenAid mixer equipped with a hand-crank and a little bit of liquid nitrogen magic. Each scoop was served with a pizzelle wedge. Following that came an assortment of chocolate delights including a sugar capsule that was ceremoniously cracked open to reveal a liquid interior that seeped out. I envy anyone who can master sugar arts–after my candy cane endeavor, I’m not sure I’m ready to try that again any time soon. And if the chocolate on the rest of the plate wasn’t enough, out came another plate with fruit gelees, nougat, espresso truffles topped with gold flakes, and olive oil cake bites. The perfect finishing touch to an already amazing meal.

Back in Rhinebeck, the group divided. A few of us went for a drink at The Liberty Public House before calling it a night. Others couldn’t resist the pull of their pillows, eager to get the night’s sleep over that lay between them and the big day at the CIA. There was much to look forward to… (which I will discuss in the next post…)

back in my room at the Beekman Arms Inn

Jan 12 2014

Stuffy Heads and Moving Miles

I’m on my second cold of the winter. The last one took 3 weeks to move on its merry way, leaving me with only 5 or 6 days of respite before the next one moved on in. Lovely. I could tell it was coming. I went out on my lunch break and everything was fine. I walked back to the office and my throat was scratchy and sore. Misery ensues.

I’m not a resolutions girl. I kind of hate the idea of saving all our changes for one designated time of the year. If something isn’t working in your life, why not address it right away? Why put it off? Still, a new year is a time for reflection, and it seems that, despite my disdain, I tend to accidentally jump on the bandwagon. I just don’t make any hard and fast rules and go with it. Then if it doesn’t stick, I don’t have to beat myself up over it later. Self preservation.

So, yeah, head cold. Misery. Smoothies. But I can’t seem to ever make them myself. My blender is too underpowered to do much more than make a mess of things, leaving chunks of kale and other things that make them far from smooth. Gag. But I’ve really grown to love Bolthouse Farms‘ offerings, and have been supplementing my lackluster diet with them lately to ensure I’m getting at least some fruits and veggies in my diet. The Green Goodness‘s color was a little off-putting at first, but it tastes pretty darn good. I just pour into a fancy glass, add a snazzy straw, and look the other way. I’m also a big fan of the Multi-V Goodness. I wonder how it would taste with vodka…?

Then I stepped it up a notch. Because I’ve been paying for my gym membership and haven’t gone since April. (I swear, that’s what Foursquare told me!) Because most of my friends are far more physically active than I am. And because they were talking about this 100 Days of Miles thing for 2014.

100 Days of Miles… It’s supposed to be that you run 100 miles in 2014, spread out over 100 days throughout the year. I ran my mouth off on New Year’s Eve and announced that even a gimp-footed girl like myself could do this. I mean really, it’s only 1 mile at a time, 3 times a week. I used to run 3 times that! Piece of cake.

Except that I’m not really supposed to run. One of my frequent sources of frustration post-discectomy was that every time I asked my orthopedic surgeon if I could run again, his response was evasive. With good reason–I have the honor of having the most disc removed out of all surgeries performed by that man–but annoying, nonetheless. Running represented far more than physical activity to me. I came to it at a time in my life when it felt like all the walls were crumbling down on me. It saved me. It taught me that I could do so much more than I thought I ever could do. It gave me confidence. It gave me strength. It made me proud of myself. And it kept me sane. All that was taken away with it.

So no, I’m not running 100 miles in 2014. But I figured I can at least walk them. That’s extremely manageable. And so I have begun this new journey…again. Combined with attempting to join my friend in her new round of daily exercise. I’m on Day 4 and have racked up 8.73 miles so far. Today was the worst–I absolutely did not want to go to the gym at all. I wanted to lie on the couch in a DayQuil haze, watching old episodes of Girls preparing for the new season starting tonight. By 3 PM, I had to draw the line. There would be no more episodes until I earned them. No more Hannah or Marnie or Jessa or Shoshanna until I had worked up a good sweat and worked off some of those Doritos I ate in a moment of weakness. So I did it. I dragged my butt out the door, down the street, and into the gym. I got myself up on that elliptical and powered away. I even added 5 minutes on to my program. And I’m happy I did.

Tomorrow? I’ll try again. It’s easy to avoid. I work a desk job. I blog at night. And the Charlie horses, nerve pain, and backaches that continue nearly 3 years post-surgery make it easy to come up with excuses. But I hate that rusty Tin Man feeling I get when I don’t incorporate some level of activity in my life. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and see where the path takes me. That’s all I can ask for.

What changes are you making in your life for 2014?

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