Monday, December 15, 2014

It's beginning to smell a lot like Christmas!

As an adult, Christmas stresses me out more than it did when I was a kid (duh, obviously Amanda!).  There is more to do - gifts to buy, decisions on whose family to see when, working full time, trying not to eat every sweet treat in sight so that the pants still fit come January 1...  Know what I mean??   

In truth, Christmas was wonderful in our family when I was a kid (it still is!).  We had a big family breakfast will all the aunts/uncles/cousins/grandparents you could fit into my parents' cozy old house.  Then we'd trek over to my grandparents' home for an all day, open house - family and friends would stop by all day, we'd eat, nap, and eat some more.  Pasta, sauce, braciole (or involtini, to be accurate), cookies, cakes... It was amazing.  A big, loud, Italian-Irish Christmas.  I only regret one thing...

I never appreciated biscotti!  Silly, I know.  Those crunchy, twice-baked Italian cookies that my mom always made.  Now, as an adult, I don't know how I wasn't enchanted by the sweet, almond-apricot treats (that is the flavor I remember mom baking), the zing of the apricot brandy and chunks of dried apricots in the biscuits.  

A couple years ago my mom shared with me the Almond Apricot Biscotti recipe that she got from my aunt, Bethann, many years ago.  I dug it out and made a batch last night. Of course, I can't leave well enough alone and had to dip the finished cookies in melted white chocolate to make them even more enticing.  I instantly craved a strong cup of coffee and wanted to eat the whole batch.  

These do take some time to make, but trust me, it is all worth it! Check out the recipe at the end of this post. 

So, in addition to my Sunday baking bonanza, I made my annual hand-dipped, dark chocolate-covered Oreos.  Um...yes.  These are always a favorite of my colleagues.  I dipped close to five dozen cookies in some delicious Ghirardelli 60% cacao chips, melted until smooth.  My technique as improved quite a bit over the years. When I first started making the chocolate-covered Oreos, it looked like a toddler did them (true story!). 

And finally, I experimented a little and made my own biscotti creation - dark chocolate cranberry.  These taste every bit as good as they sound...even if I was a little heavy-handed on the chocolate. ;)  

Yes, that is a 3 pound bag! 

There is a bunch of sugar  in these cookies, so I opted for the reduced sugar Craisins

Chocolate cranberry biscotti - before the first bake

Almond Apricot Biscotti

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup chilled, unsalted butter
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
3 1/2 oz (about a cup) white chocolate (I use Ghirardelli chips)
1 2/3 cup sliced, toasted almonds
2 large eggs
2 tsp almond extract
1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp of apricot brandy
6 oz chopped dried apricots

Mix together in a food processor flour, sugar, ginger, salt, baking powder, and butter.  Pulse until blended.

Next, mix in white chocolate and toasted almonds.

In a bowl, mix eggs, almond extract, and apricot brandy.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients in the food processor.  Put the mixture in a large bowl and carefully mix in apricots.  It might take some muscle, as the dough will be quite thick now. 

On a foil-lined cookie sheet sprayed with cooking spray, shape the dough into 3 logs - about 2" x 12" each.  Refrigerate for 30 min.  

Then, bake for 30 min. until golden brown.  The logs will be kind of squishy in the middle.  Transfer to a cooling rack and cool.  Reduce oven to 300 degrees.

Cut into 3/4" wide slices.  I use a serrated knife and cut carefully!  Bake for 10 min. on each side.  Cool, then store in an air-tight container for up to 2 weeks (if they last that long!)

*Dark chocolate cranberry version - use dark chocolate instead of white chocolate, and dried cranberries instead of apricots.  I eliminated the almonds, used vanilla extract instead of almond, and used Grand Marnier in place of apricot brandy. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Fridge Dills!

Hey party people!  This year, I decided to purchase a CSA share from a local farm through a program at work.  For a set price paid in advance, I get a bucket of local fruits/veggies every week for 20 weeks (June thru October)!!! How cool is that?!?!  It worked out to be about $15 a week for hubs-to-be and I to get a bin of fresh veggies, locally-grown at Nourse Farm.  That's a win in my book!  

Anyway, for a couple weeks I got some pickling cucumbers in my bin. Being that I (and hubs-to-be) LOVE pickles, I figured "Why not try to make my own??"  I found a plethora of recipes for refrigerator dill pickles on Pinterest and the interwebs.  I decided to modify a couple recipes and create my own blend of perfectly "dill-ified" cold and crunchy cukes!

The finished product!
The process was super easy - as in, I was surprised it didn't take more work - but I'm not complaining!  The hardest part was waiting 3 DAYS to try these dilly, crunchy snacks.  

Here are some photos of the process, and the recipe that I used. 

The goods!

Boiling and waiting for it to cool was the loooonngest part!

Sliced the cukes and packed the jar while I was waiting for the liquid to cool.
All packed up and ready for the pickling liquid
Refrigerator Dills

3 ½ cups water
1 ¼ cups white vinegar
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp sea salt
4 cups cucumber spears or slices
3-4 cloves garlic, whole and peeled
3-4 sprigs of fresh dill
1 Tbsp black pepper corns

Mix water, vinegar, sugar, and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Let it cool completely. Put all the cucumbers and spices into a mason jar or jar with tight-fitting lid. You might need to divide the cukes and liquid between two jars, depending on the size of the jar.  Pour liquid into the jar(s). Refrigerate for 3 days.  

Caution - once opened, the pickles are irresistible.  They will not last long. You have been warned. ;) 


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Better late than never! (a.k.a. Boston Marathon Weekend 3 months later)

Tomorrow it will be 3 months since I took a little run from Hopkinton to Boston.  I have been meaning to blog my feelings and reactions to that day, but, ya know, life gets in the way!  

Alas, here I am: 3 months post-Boston Marathon and I am finally writing about it.  I remember it with amazing clarity.  Slightly warmer than ideal, horrendous traffic getting into Hopkinton, nervous energy, oh yeah, and a terrible chest cold!! :(  I started to feel "not right" the Thursday before... I was burning up, felt super tired, and just blah.  Friday morning I woke up to a full blown cold.  In April. 3 days before I got to finish what I started on April 15, 2013.  There was only one thing I could focus on: I was going to finish that damn race!!!

I rested as much as I could, tried not to laugh (because that induced massive coughing fits), and drank water and tea, and anything laced with vitamin C like a fiend.  I HAD to feel better.  Saturday night was the highlight of my runner geek life - I was going to meet Hal Higdon!  You might remember his book, 4:09:43, that he wrote soon after that life-changing day.  He selected my story to be part of his book, a walk (er, run) through the day from the eyes of those involved: runners, spectators, officials, all of us.  

I rallied on Saturday to visit the expo, get my number, and have dinner in town for The Gathering of the 75, as our group was dubbed from Mr. Higdon himself.  I felt like death, but as many of us runners can be, I was stubborn and was not going to miss this opportunity for anything.  

We went to dinner and met up with the man himself.  Such a great guy, approachable, and fun.  We met a few new friends - Mary and Dave from Milwaukee, John and Helen from Scotland, and of course Janine who organized the whole shindig.  

I definitely made out in race schwag! 

Run like Hal!
Mary and Dave

John and Helen

After muddling my way through Easter Dinner with the in-laws-to-be (I'm sure I was in a medicated fog), marathon Monday was upon us. Traffic was awful getting into Hopkinton - CRB had to drop me off a mile from the center of town and I gave a State Trooper a coronary because I was carrying a backpack.  He let me continue on my way to the branch when I nearly burst into tears on the sidewalk.  

After the obligatory 3+ hour wait, it was time for us wave 4 folks to head to our corrals.  

Raquel and yours truly
Raquel, me, Henry, Stacy

I really wanted to finish in under 5 hours, but when the evil death cold descended into my chest a few days before, I knew that was not going to be possible.  I decided to sight see, be careful (as careful as one can be while running a marathon), and just run for that painted line on Boylston Street.  

I took my time, knowing where friends and family would be stationed.  It turned out to be warmer than any of us expected that day.  I saw my work friends in Natick.  Huge thanks to Nick for replenishing my sport beans and coconut water stores! 

I saw my amazing friend Amy in Wellesley where she was volunteering at the Mile 14 water stop.  Water and a hug - exactly what I needed right about then!

I saw my dad and my CRB at Newton-Wellesley Hospital.  I stopped to chat a little and take some water. Dad said I looked good, so I knew I wasn't looking like death. (He's pretty honest about stuff like that). Patty gave me a cheer at Mile 17-ish right before the Newton fire station turn onto Comm Ave.

I struggled the whole day, but I really started to feel bad around Mile 20 or so.  I saw my friends Jo and Amanda right before then, and they reassured me I looked great.  Hey, I might not be fast, but at least I still looked OK at Heartbreak Hill, right?!  A guy offered me a beer, and I actually considered it at that point.  I mean, I had 6-ish miles left, it was hot, I was much worse could it get?  Well, 200 yards past my girls, it got worse.  I hurled.  Sitting on the curb halfway up THE hill, I actually thought for a minute that I was going to see the inside of a medical tent that day.  But no. That wasn't an option.  Crossing that painted line was my ONLY option that day. 

Surprisingly, I felt better after I got sick.  Once I got past the hills and began my final descent into the city, I knew I was going to finish.  Not fast, and not pretty, but I would finish. (If only that nagging side cramp had subsided, it would have been SO much better!)  

I worked my way through the route, getting closer and closer with every step.  I was amazed at how many fans were still along the course.  It was amazing.  Once I saw the Citgo sign, I knew I was almost there.  When I hit Kenmore Square, that's when the emotion really hit me.  This is where I was stopped last year.  The Sox game had been over little while, thus Kenmore was packed with energy and emotion.  The tears started then.  

At the "1k to go" banner, I saw blue singlets.  Could that be Tedy's Team, and my friend Christine?  Nah...I hadn't seen her since we loaded into the corrals at the start.  But it was!  She and I stuck together with other Tedy's Team peeps for the final .62 miles.  I saw my family when I took the right onto Hereford.  Mom, Dad, CRB, Andy, Aunt Beth...all there for me.  They were there last year and were closer to the tragedy than I was.  They showed up again to support me and the tens of thousands of others for the love of the event.

Taking the left onto Boylston, I was in awe of what I saw. People, 10 deep, lining the street, cheering for complete strangers, cheering because they were there.  After what happened last year, I was worried.  Worried that the finish line wouldn't be the same, that the energy wouldn't be the same.  I had been on Boylston to see my brother finish the Boston Marathon in 2009.  I felt the energy, the amazing vibe, just everything.  I had hoped that wouldn't change.  And it didn't.  Maybe I was delirious by then, but I think I ran my best in the last 386 yards than I had the entire race.  I saw the NF Inc. Northeast ladies just before I got to the finish line.  Cheering like crazy!  

Then, at long last..... that line of paint. I had it. No one could take that away from me now.  

Hugged Christine, made sure she was ok, and then I was off to find my family (albeit very slowly).  

Since it was later, and so many people had already finished, grabbing a bite to eat of something other than Sport Beans or post-race snacks in Boston was out of the question.  CRB and I bid farewell to my family and made our way to the car to head home.  Back in Hudson, I thoroughly enjoyed a draft and dinner at Rail Trail Flatbread Co., proudly wearing my jacket and my medal.  Smiling and nodding when other patrons, who realized what that neon jacket meant, asked, "You ran today, right? How did you do?"  And to the awesome woman who insisted on buying me a beer and/or dessert, much love. I opted for a beer. :)

Since the marathon was right after Easter, I felt a Peeps donut was warranted. 

I had purchased this shirt in 2013 at the expo, but never wore it.  I hadn't had the chance to take that right, and that left.  But now, I will wear it with pride.

Oh, and I am now the proud owner of some pretty sweet tan lines.  No, I am not wearing red socks. Yes, this is what happens when you forget sunblock on your legs.  Oops!  (P.S. It is July 20, and I STILL have lines on my legs.)

And an amazing gift from my future MIL's friend, Terri.  She works for the sign company that makes all the banners for the marathon.  She had this made for me.  What a wonderful gift. 

Everyone has asked, "Will you run it again?"  Training for and running a marathon is no joke.  I'm not what you would call a "typical" runner.  But you know what, I run.  And I will run Boston again.  

Sunday, March 16, 2014

March Musings

Here we are - 36 days away from Boston...  

Pre-15 miler! 
This winter has been harder for me than last year.  As far as marathon training goes, it has been one thing after another.  A head cold that morphed into a sinus infection, nagging IT band tightness and pain that resulted in a new knee pain, and my stomach now hates me after any run longer than 10 miles.  BUT, here's the thing - mentally, I'm in a better place.  Last year at this time, I had my first marathon meltdown. Crying, self-doubt, yelling, pity party...yeah, it was NOT one of my finer moments.  I feel like I've been able to weather the storm of Boston Marathon training better this year.  Sure, I have done less running and have had more pains, but all in all, I'm okay with that. 

A few months ago I made a choice.  I decided to keep my head in the right place.  What does that mean?  Well, I made a conscious decision to keep my mindset positive. Yes, s#!$ happens, but it is all how you handle it.  I keep making this choice every day to stay positive about what is going on around me.  My results?  I feel fantastic.  Of course I have had some bumps in the road to a more positive outlook, but I keep coming back to my decision to keep my head on straight, as I like to call it.  

Don't be fooled - reality still exists.  I don't pretend like everything is sunshine and rainbows all the time.  I know this.  But I choose to not let negativity get the best of me.  We all have choices to make, and I choose to keep moving forward.  

Just as negativity breeds more negativity, positive attitudes do the same.  Positive vibes are contagious.  Spread the love. 

Ok, enough of my soap box for now! :)   This week, the B.A.A. announced bib numbers and wave/corral assignments.  Woohoo!!!  

Given the increased field size, there are 4 waves of runners - I am in Wave 4, which starts at 11:25 am on Marathon Monday.  A little later than the last wave usually goes off, but there are 9,000 more registered runners than last year.  Now that I have my number, I am getting excited for Boston.  I will run my best, and I will cross that finish line on April 21.