Jetlagged

In the past year and a half, since Chris and I, got married, we:

– Went on a “honeymoon” that I actually worked through half of

– Took a couple of weekends away – 2 to the Finger Lakes, one to Vermont

– Took a trip to Disney World with his family

In addition, I met him in Portland for our friends’ wedding (4 days) and I also met him in New Orleans (4 days), both trips I made while he was on 6 week long road trips.

Finally – FINALLY – I was in a position where, during the final 6 week road trip (he’ll have a couple more, short ones, but this is the last long one), I could meet him for a whole week.

Yes, we’ve been on mini-vacations.  Yes, we went to Disney with family.  But this was a whole week, and that whole week was OURS and ours alone.  No obligations to anyone.  No truncated trips because I was unable to take leave.  A full week.

In Sonoma wine country.

It was fantastic.

We never did make it to Napa County (we had thought we might spend a day there), but we had such a lovely time in Sonoma County that I was unconcerned.  Russian River, Dry Creek, Alexander, and Sonoma Valley – and we didn’t even make it everywhere we would have liked.  There is a lot left to explore the next time around.  Then, San Francisco!  Dim sum, taco trucks, sushi, craft beer, and quite possibly the coolest farmer’s market I’ve ever been to in my life.  We also took an impromptu trip to Santa Cruz.

I don’t want to say it was perfect … nothing is perfect.  But this was pretty damned close.

Even still, I underestimated JFK’s security lines and nearly missed my flight (thank goodness I am in good shape, as I had to run across the terminal to make it on time); not to mention, thank goodness jetBlue rocks); the flight home was a red eye, complete with an infant whose ears were no doubt throbbing, as he (she?) cried through most of the flight; at age 30, drinking wine all day for 4 days in a row means falling asleep in the car and In-N-Out Burger for dinner, instead of the original plan to go to the cute bistro in town; and, of course, the jet lag.

Oh, the jet lag.

Here’s the thing about jet lag, that no one really explains to you.  If you’re going west, it’s a challenge to acclimate.  You feel like it’s time for bed at 7pm and you want to wake up at 4am.  Except, if you power through with a cup of coffee (or, in my case, let the sun fool your body into thinking there really are more hours in the day – this actually sort of works) on the front end, and a good book on the back end, and you’re pretty well acclimated within a day or so. At least, I was, both times I’ve been to the west coast.

However, forcing yourself to go to bed at 10pm when your body thinks it is 7pm (like, right now, for example) is another matter entirely.  Even if you are successful, you’ll wake up in a couple hours.  Body says, “Wow, great nap! What’s next?!” Then, when you finally do get back to sleep, it’s about an hour before you actually need to get up.  You’re a zombie all day, and when you get home and think, “OK, tonight I’m going to re-regulate!”  Nope!  Just kidding! 10pm rolls around and you, my friend, have your second wind.

Annoying, to say the least.  Thank goodness The Profussor instructed me to go to Blue Bottle Coffee for a Gibralter, as I picked up a bag of their deliciously aromatic coffee to bring home.  It’s made the additional, necessary caffeine a joy, because when it comes to New Things, I’m a 5 year old and I overindulge.

So, I’m totally not sorry about my jet lag.  Just a little sorry that I didn’t take an extra day off to recuperate.  Though, honestly, would it really have mattered?  Regardless, my jet lag means you get a blog post.  Yay! 🙂  Aren’t you stoked?!

The trip also meant spending a couple days on either end in Long Island, as Chris’ mom watched Finnegan and I flew out of JFK.  This meant Finnegan got a long-awaited trip to the beach.  This was taken right before he lept in the quicksand-mud.  He was a muddy, briny, (happy), mess.

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Funk

I’m out of sorts this week.

There are a number of reasons for this, the least significant of which is not the fact that Chris is back on the road.  He’ll be visiting 8 states (7 1/2, actually, as he’s already done 1/2 of Texas), which will bring his total to 44 of the lower 48 by the end of this trip.  They’re large states, so averaging 3-4 days per state, plus my weeklong vacation to California to meet him in May, plus the travel time to and from the western part of the country (let’s average up and say 5 days) = about 6 weeks, give or take.  He’ll be home sometime around the middle of May.

It took me a while to admit both to myself and to others that these absences are hard on me.  When he first started the project, he did New England (6  smallish states, 1.5 weeks) and the mid-Atlantic (6 states – 3 smallish, 3 of them much larger – just shy of 3 weeks).  These were not done consecutively, so the absences weren’t as acutely felt.  When he went down South (11 large states … or, rather, 10 1/2), he was gone for over 6 weeks.  He left at the beginning of November and returned a couple of weeks before Christmas.  The clocks had gone back.  We had been married less than 2 months.  It was cold.  It was dark.  I was working at an office where we were conducting layoffs.

Thank goodness for my dog and cat, though I’m sure they felt a bit neglected during this time as well.

The next long trip was the southern Midwest, Great Plains and Pacific Northwest.  This was an ambitious 14 states (which, in hindsight, he thinks he should have chopped up so that his next trip to the upper Great Lakes states would be full Midwest and an 8 state trip instead of a 3 state trip … but a 3 state trip will only be a couple of weeks, so at least it is behind us; the last state, New York, will be the capstone and a separate trip).  He was gone most of the summer.  It was easier this time – I had changed jobs and was happier as a result, and summer days are long and bright and hot.  While he was gone I took Finnegan on a trail where he chased a bear onto a golf course, and then was stung by a bee and required a trip to the emergency vet for a benadryl shot.  (Turns out, my dog is allergic to bees, and they don’t make epi-pens for dogs.)  However, there is no doubt that it was easier in part because I had let myself admit that it was hard.

So, anyway, now he’s gone again.  And it’s hard.  And this time, admitting it to myself is not making it easier.  I keep thinking about Finnegan, home alone, something he’s not used to.  We were unfortunate enough to have the doggie daycare vacation coincide with Chris’ first week on the road.  Finnegan has been stressed and lonely and bored.  On top of that, work has been a rollercoaster, which seems to finally be calming down … however, I’m feeling the after-effects of a crash from an adrenaline-filled March.  On top of that, Chris’ father dying suddenly a couple of months ago, while on the opposite coast, has me irrationally nervous for Chris on this particular trip.

So, adrenaline crash + worry + sadness = a very preoccupied woman, having strange dreams and not sleeping well.

And it is only Thursday.  At least tomorrow is Friday.

Voting the Slate

I was supposed to write about the Great Albany Cupcake Off, and I put it off.  For two weeks.  And now it’s two weeks past, and lots of other local bloggers wrote some great posts.  You don’t need to hear my deeper thoughts, other than Woo-Hoo to Fluffalicious.

However, as much as I enjoy a good cupcake, I’ve never been much of a dessert person on a whole.  There are certain desserts I love, but I’ve never been one to “save room for dessert” at the expense of what I deem a delicious meal.  So, while I slacked off on writing about the cupcakes, I’m trying to make up for it by writing about the FUSSYlittleBALLOT.

Those of you who do not (and have never, nor plan to) live in the Capital Region may want to stop reading, particularly if you’re not a foodie.  However, for those of you 518-based followers, I urge you to read on DESPITE whether you are a foodie or not.

Some of you are already familiar with Daniel’s quest to bring awareness and better food to the Capital Region.  He started off as a vociferous Yelp-er that I, admittedly, was annoyed by at first.  “Yeah, okay, we get it.  The SF Bay has better food.  The Pope is also Catholic.  Move along.”  It wasn’t until he launched his blog that I began to understand what he was really trying to do.  This was, also, when my own palate was beginning to evolve more, I was beginning to care more about food in general – taste and quality, as well as sustainability – and when the restaurant scene in Albany truly began to improve.  We were on an upswing, and it was time to ride the wave.

Anyway, a part of his quest was the FUSSYlittleBALLOT.  He was sick and tired of seeing the likes of the Olive Garden, SUBWAY, and Pizza Hut winning key categories in the TU’s Best Of poll.  Sometimes it makes sense to choose a chain.  It does not make sense, in this region, to choose one for Italian, sandwiches, or pizza.  Or, for that matter, a number of other categories (these are just among the most egregious).  So, his idea was to create a slate for readers to vote in the poll, to lend the best local joints some credibility.  The catch – the slate may not always represent what you, personally, would vote for.

There are some areas I had to vote my conscience.  I could not, for example, vote for Roma’s for best butcher.  I’ve never been there, nor do I really have a reason to go there, though that is beside the point.  I voted for Cardona’s, because they’re the only area butcher (that I know of) that is completely transparent about where they source their meat.  This is huge for me.  If I am not going to buy locally/regionally butchered meat (such as from Honest Weight, or from one of the farmer’s markets), I go to Cardona’s.  The meat isn’t local, but they make a point to use humane/sustainable producers, and they’re also a local, family run institution. As the old adage goes, two out of three ain’t bad.

However, in most cases I kept in mind the Greater Good.  Case in point:  For best sandwich, I voted for Andy’s, even though I really truly think Genoa is better.  But I would have no problem with Andy’s winning, particularly if it beats out Subway. I like Andy’s.  They’re my second favorite place to get a sandwich.  They’re local, they’re an institution, and they’re also among my favorite places to get coldcuts (I like Cardona’s for convenience as I do other shopping there, and I like Oscar’s best because they SMOKE THEIR OWN but they are decidedly NOT convenient).

All I ask is that you read Daniel’s slate and you take it under consideration when you submit your ballot (and I think you should submit a ballot).  The region has a lot to offer that is so far beyond Walmart America.  I for one am tired of the homogenization of this country, and this is one (admittedly very small) way to throw some rocks at Goliath.

 

Yes, Virginia, there is a St. Patrick. But he was kind of a terrorist.

*peeks around corner*
*blows off the cobwebs*

Perhaps I should stop intro-ing my posts like this, eh?  Maybe when I start updating more than once per month. 🙂

Anyway, I’m feeling a bit disappointed.  Not terribly sad, mind you.  More like when you find out there is no more Santa Claus.  You’re sad initially, but when you really think about it, you’re really not terribly surprised.  I’m feeling that way about St. Patrick’s Day.

St. Patrick’s Day, for the second time in my “adult” life, is on a Saturday.  Well, not true, really.  It was a Saturday in 2001.  However, I was only 19 in 2001 and therefore not legal to drink, so OF COURSE I certainly did not imbibe any alcoholic beverages that evening.  Nope, not me!

So, second time in my post-21 life.  It was a Monday in 2003, my first post-21 St. Paddy’s.  Wednesday in 2004 (leap year), Thursday in 2005, Friday in 2006, and Saturday in 2007.  I was 25 that year.  I was really stoked.  It was going to be epic.  And then we got 2 feet of snow on March 16th.  And my new boyfriend, who I just thought was the bees knees and I wanted to spend every moment with him that I could, ended up getting the flu.  Not so epic.  (As it turned out, I married him.  I still think he’s pretty nifty.)

And so the cycle continues.

So, this year, it was a Saturday, again.  However, unlike last year, we did not get a dumping of 2 feet of snow.  On the contrary, it was sunny and 65 degrees yesterday.  I haven’t really partook in St. Patrick’s Day since 2006 (the Friday year).  In 2008 we went to the parade (3/15), were actually a bit bored, and then that Monday we went for a few beers at the erstwhile Tess’ Lark Tavern, which was somewhat more crowded than usual for a Monday, but nonetheless pretty tame.  In 2010, on “Parade Day” (Saturday, 3/13), we skipped it entirely and went beer tasting in Vermont with friends.  You get the picture.  It’s been somewhat anticlimactic for me for some time.  I haven’t taken time off for it like I did when I was younger.  I haven’t even wanted to.  However, this year, because it was a Saturday, I felt like I should do something Cool.  I hadn’t really defined Cool in my head, and I wasn’t even sure what that meant, other than it meant imbibing alcohol in some capacity.

Except, Saturday rolled around, a couple of friends whom I would normally hang with on the day were out of town for one reason or another, and as I looked around the unfolding nonsense that is Parade Day in Albany (it was on 3/17, of course, as it was a Saturday this year), I just wasn’t into it.  I knew anywhere I might want to go was going to be packed with sweaty, blackout drunks.  I wasn’t going to be able to navigate to the bar.  When I did, I probably was going to be handed a plastic cup, which while I understand why the bars do this on days like that, I’m 30 years old and I don’t want to drink out of plastic, thankyouverymuch.

I wanted to be excited about St. Patrick’s Day, but I wasn’t.  This realization, in itself, was disappointing.

What I did do yesterday:
1.  Participated in FUSSYlittleBLOG’s Cupcake-Off (which I will let Daniel and All Over Albany write about before I publish my own thoughts on the cupcakes), which put me in a bit of a sugar coma that afternoon;
2.  Drove back to my neighborhood and dodged parade-goers who were parked illegally all over the place and hoped beyond hope I would be able to find a place to park within a mile of my apartment.  I finally did find something, in a “one hour only” parking area.  I figured, in an hour, at least some of the parade-goers would clear out and I would be able to find a spot.  I was correct.
3.  An hour later, Chris and I drove out to Thompson Lake State Park to take Finnegan swimming.  
4.  Drove back via Delaware Ave.  Got a closeup look of Lark/Madison.  Decided, at this point, that getting a beer, well, anywhere, was going to be obnoxious and futile.  
5.  Had an Indian buffet dinner at Aashiana.

I was in bed by 10pm.  This was, in part, due to a sugar crash from the cupcakes.  🙂

On a day that wasn’t 3/17, I would deem that as a Really Good Day.  Because it WAS a really good day.  I had a lot of fun at the Cupcake-Off.  Finnegan had a blast at the lake, and Chris and I got to enjoy the beautiful weather that we’re having due to this lovely early spring.  We had a yummy dinner and I got to curl up and read my book later that evening.  But because it was 3/17, I feel disappointed.  

I suppose I’ll get over it.  I never thought there would come a day that I wasn’t excited about St. Paddy’s Day, and realizing that day came and went for me a long time ago is a bit of a blow.

Health nut

Before I begin, I think it’s interesting that The Profussor posted about fad diets on the day I planned to write about the carb-filled Italian food mecca that is Long Island.  I LOVE Italian food, and would never want to cut that out of my diet completely without a really good reason.  However, everything in moderation, right?  My body just can’t handle a carb-heavy diet.  Then again, I don’t know many people who can.

There’s something you need to understand about Long Island.  A lot of people have a lot of misconceptions about the bedroom communities surrounding New York City.  Admittedly, I was one of them until a few years ago.  Long Island isn’t just a commuter exention of New York City – in fact, of my now-family and friends collected in northwest Suffolk county, the vast majority of them not only do *not* work in Manhattan, but they don’t even venture into Manhattan all that often.  Long Island is a collection of small towns, some looking like sprawling suburbs, but many looking like cutesy coastal villages.  Well, I shouldn’t say “looking like” – they ARE cutesy coastal villages.  They just happen to also have a light rail line that puts you into Manhattan in about an hour.  Get to know some Long Islanders, and you’ll see, they’re not all that different from 518ers — actually, if anything, many of the people I’ve met in my husband’s hometown remind me more of Glens Falls than anyone in Albany does.  Sure, Long Islanders pronounce their “o”s more like “ah”s, and they overpronounce their “r”s, while upstaters don’t annunciate their “t”s and often sound like they’re speaking with their noses plugged … but once you get beyond the speech patterns, they’re a lot alike.

I mean this in a good way, mind you.

However, one of the key differences (aside from quick, easy, and cheap train access to Manhattan, that is), is really good Italian food.  Sure, we have a few good places.  But on Long Island, you can’t drive more than a mile without seeing an Italian deli or pizzeria or more-than-pizzeria-but-not-

quite-fine-dining Italian restaurant.  Long Islanders take their Italian food seriously.  People’s favorites in each town cultivate fierce loyalty.  I was greeted with eye-daggers for proclaiming that I prefer Filetto’s penne ala vodka to Chef’s, for example.  (By the way – they’re both amazing.  They’re also a block away from one another, which further illustrates my point.)

The other regional specialty is bagels.  There are fierce arguments as to whether New York City or Long Island has better pizza,  and similarly, there’s the argument about bagels.  I think NYC wins on pizza, but it is a close race.  It’s not close on bagels.  Long Island wins, solidly.  Even the supermarket bagels are good, though why would you do that?  Bagel cafes are as prevalent as pizzerias.

Anyway, after a few days in a row of bagels and Italian food, I felt awful.  My diet consisted of refined carbs, cheese, and (very) limited amounts of protein, most of it loaded with nitrates, with no vegetables to speak of.  I started fantasizing about whitefish and leafy green vegetables.  What I wouldn’t give for a low-calorie meal with lean protein, loads of iron, and fresh greens.  Okay, it didn’t have to be fish – I would have been happy with chicken.  Or maybe a delicious stir fry!  Oh, how I longed for these healthy foods!  But, how could we justify going grocery shopping when we had no room in the refrigerator from all of the Italian dishes that kindhearted family, friends, and neighbors had sent our way?  It would have been easier if it hadn’t been any good, but of course it was all delicious, even days later reheated in the microwave.

Now that my body has replenished with proportionate amounts of vegetables and lean protein, my mouth waters remembering that penne ala vodka.  But at the time, my head was cloudy, my stomach was unhappy and uncomfortable, and I just in general felt lethargic.  My body is so used to eating balanced meals (for the most part, anyway), that a week of what is one step above junk food was really taking it’s toll.

Monday morning, after I returned, I did a morning workout, ate some cereal with almond milk, had a hearty chicken noodle soup for lunch, and met my friends for a birthday dinner at Sake.  I ordered swordfish, and though it was quite delicious, I found myself wishing I had just ordered the vegetables, because that was all I wanted.  They were gone in less than 5 minutes of being on my plate – the swordfish wasn’t even cooked yet.  Those of you who know me know how much I loathe even the smell of broccoli … and even the broccoli tasted good.  I left most of the noodles on the plate.

My inner ten-year-old is flummoxed.  I have turned into a health nut.

Uber Alles

It’s been a rollercoaster lately.

I’m not stating that to make excuses for not blogging.  Sebastien reminded me that I really don’t need to do that, and his comment was extremely freeing.

Quite simply, I haven’t had time.  And, I haven’t had time for damn good reasons (though, the reasons don’t really matter), but even still, I miss it.  I am fortunate that I generally like my paying job, and my paying job isn’t soul-sucking and emotionally draining, but is still intellectually stimulating.  It’s not my love, but that’s OK.  Because I’ve already done what I love as a career – writing, that is – and I hated nearly every minute of it.  (Not EVERY minute, mind you – but more minutes than not, let’s say.)  Sometimes, doing what you love doesn’t mean what you think it means.

Anyway, that’s a tangent.

I mention that it’s been a rollercoaster lately, not to make an excuse, but rather said rollercoaster is something I want to write about.

Tuesday night, two weeks ago, I was making dinner.  Well, actually, Chris was coaching me through every baby step of making a pot roast without the McCormack seasoning packet.  Specifically, though, I was cutting mushrooms to add to a pot roast, made with some of the meat I had purchased at the Troy Winter Market (or, as I prefer to call it, Foodie Mecca).  I had just washed the mushrooms and began to chop when I heard my husband exclaim, “What?!”  I hadn’t heard his phone ring, so I thought he was speaking to me.

I poked my head into the living room.  “What’s that, babe?  I didn’t say anything.”

I saw him on the phone, oblivious to me.  “How is Mom doing?” he asked.

I knew then whatever it was, it wasn’t good.  I sat down next to him.

“My father died,” he said to me.

I gasped, covered my mouth, and, in shock, went back to cut the mushrooms.  Tears blurred my eyes as I chopped, and I thought to myself, “The last thing Chris needs right now is to drive me to the ER because I chopped off a finger because I was crying while cutting the mushrooms!”

I didn’t chop off a finger.  And the roast came out delicious.  Bill would have liked the roast.

This was two weeks ago.  It still doesn’t feel real.

No, it was not expected.  He was traveling for work – because, yes, he still worked at age 75, and yes, it was an active choice – and had a massive heart attack.  On the other side of the continent.  My brother-in-law and his wife hopped on a plane to California to fight the bureaucratic, red-tape nightmare that ensues when one dies in another jurisdiction.  My husband drove down the next day to be with his family, and I followed a few days later.

Funerals are exhausting.  You don’t really think about it until you’re in the midst of mourning a loved one, but the days are so emotionally charged, that to think about anything else is just too much.  Most places of employment only allow for three days of bereavement.  Fortunately, most places of employment also are flexible about employees supplementing those three days, because three days really isn’t enough.

My last memory of Bill was wearing 3D glasses.  He got my mother-in-law a Smart Television and a Blu-Ray player for the living room.  (He already had a Blu-Ray player for his large screen TV in the basement, though it was not a 3D capable TV.)  He scoured his Blu-Ray collection for ones that were 3D and popped in Cars 2.  My 75-year-old father-in-law, sitting on the couch, with 3D glasses on, watching Cars 2.  You can rest assured it wasn’t for the plot.

I am pretty sure I saw him without the 3D glasses on before we left that night.  But that’s what I have as my last memory of him – playing with gadgets.  He loved gadgets.

As sad as I was, however, I found myself saddened most because of those he left behind.  My mother-in-law, whom he was married to for 52 years.  My brother-in-law and his fiancee, whose wedding he won’t be here to dance at.  His grandchildren, the oldest whom was barely out of college, and the youngest who only recently got to know him.  His German Shepherd, Abby, who, upon realizing that his suitcase came home without him, walked out of the room with her head down, into an empty room to sit by herself.  And, of course, for my husband, who lost his father.

Nothing is more heart wrenching than watching someone you love in pain.

Jen’s Adventures in Cooking, vol. 478

… or, rather, this should be titled, The Adventure that Didn’t.

Last year, our CSA, the last week of the season, pulled into our pickup spot with, literally, a truckful of gourds.  They grow like weeds in the Northeast, and I love winter squash of all kinds, so this is certainly not a problem for me.

Chris was traveling most of last fall, so I experimented on my own in cooking winter squash. I even decided to make one of my most favorite desserts ever for family on Thanksgiving – yup, you guessed it. Pumpkin pie.  It came out tasty, however it needed to bake a little longer in the oven, and/or sit a little longer on a cooling rack.  Or some ratio adjustment of some sort.  You see, I added a little bit of apple butter and a little bit of pumpkin butter, and it made the consistency more pudding and less pie.  Not that this is necessarily a bad thing – pumpkin pudding on a gingersnap crust was well-received.

Anyway, this year, because of Hurricane Irene, there was a gourd-shortage in New York.  No truckload of gourds this year.  No pie pumpkins to recreate my pumpkin pie from last year. Even still, I was determined to make one, and purchased a pie pumpkin from our local co-op.  The pumpkin was from California, not New York.  But, pumpkins are pumpkins, and it would do the job.

That is, it would do the job if I remembered to bring it with me to my in-laws on Christmas Eve so I could BAKE the damn pie.  Oops.

No matter, I thought.  I’ll make it for the sauerbraten dinner MIL makes each New Years’ Day.  In fact, that will be BETTER, as she uses ginger snaps in the gravy.  It will complement the meal!  Perfect!

This time, I remembered my pie pumpkin and my butters.  I knew there were ginger snaps handy for the crust.  I was ready. 

Then, yesterday morning, I printed out the recipe to set to work.  And I read the total time for the recipe – 3 hours and 50 minutes.

Because, oh yeah.  You have to bake the damn pumpkin first. 

What?! It’s been a year since I’ve made a pie! How should I know?

Anyway, my MIL had already put the roast in the oven, so there was no way this pie would be made for New Years’, either.

My SIL and niece are coming up from Florida in two weeks, and they often lament the lack of delicious gourds in the Sunshine State.  I’ll make the pie for them.  But I’ll take note to bake the pumpkin in advance.  Third time’s a charm?