Karma is a bitch, yo.  There I was, blithely speculating about which other natural disasters could round out our very exciting, week-long parade of horribles, and therein practically begging the universe to shit on me.  Never one to resist a challenge, the universe proved it was equal to the task.  I just had no idea the disaster would be in my own head.

Or, rather, my mouth.  Last week, I started noticing a dull pain in my jaw, which was annoying, but that's why God made Advil, right?  However, by mid-hurricane, the pain was becoming intense, radiating up and over my head in full on migraine fashion, which of course the Advil was no longer touching, and the back of my mouth was totally inflamed.  (Ow.)  By Sunday, I was crying uncle.  (Or just crying.  Whatever.)  I am a total dentist-phobe, so not having a dentist of my own, I called Mark's.  I was expecting an answering service, but the after hours number was his cell; will miracles never cease?  Luckily, because my husband is both fastidious about his dental care AND delightfully charming, the dentist knows him well and was happy to help me out over the phone.  He called in prescriptions for antibiotics and pain meds (HALLELUJAH) to tide me over until he could see me.  I have been pleasantly snowed ever since.  HAAA -- no, I wish.  They were only ibuprofen 800s; they helped with the pain, but I still mostly have been clutching my face and moaning for the better part of a week.  Good times.

Well, yesterday was my appointment, and as I feared, I have a bit of a wisdom tooth situation going on.  (I am 32 and TEETHING.  Seriously, I think I would have preferred the volcano.)  There is one that is breaking through, albeit unsuccessfully, and that is what's causing all the trouble.  There is another above it that already came in but is poorly placed.  Those both have to go.  There is nothing visible on the other side, but x-rays will show whether there is anything to remove there as well.  I have orders to see an oral surgeon, as well as an appointment to return for a cleaning and a couple of fillings.  This is awesome.  AAAAAWESOME.  I mean, I have already paid $65 in copays, and that was just for him to look in my mouth and take an x-ray.  I can't imagine surgery is going to be exactly inexpensive.

I ... yeah.  Just send wine, ok?

I knew we should have used that half bath rough-in for a safe room.

I live just outside of Washington, D.C., a city that generally saves its sturm und drang for the Capitol itself.  In terms of weather, the mid-Atlantic is a pretty mild place to be.  It has definite seasons -- a lovely spring and fall, a relatively brief and bearable winter, and a never ending summer straight from the swampy bowels of hell itself.  We have lots of quick summer thunderstorms (PSA:  If you're flying to or from DC in the summer, do yourself a favor and fly in the morning.  Trust me on this one.), but no real rainy season.  It doesn't even snow much; with the exception of Snowpocalypse 2010, snow is rare and, when it occurs, fleeting.

That said, we have had both an earthquake and a hurricane in the course of five days, so I'm kind of wondering what's next.  I mean, personally, we got off scot-free in these last two brushes with Mother Nature.  You saw our pathetic earthquake "damage" and the hurricane "destruction" was just as wee, so I'm assuming The Big One must be coming, whatever it is.  Locusts wouldn't really surprise me, what with the stink bug and termite issues we have had this year.  I mean, they're gross, but I'm thinking it will be something more exotic.  Perhaps an ancient and long dormant volcano in the Virginia countryside?  A tsunami probably isn't too likely given our distance inland.  Perhaps a limnic eruption?  Or a comet obliterating the beltway?

I know I am making light of a disaster that affected many, when I just should be grateful we survived without so much as our power flickering, and believe me, I really am.  But COME ONNNN -- a hurricane and a freaking EARTHQUAKE?  In a matter of five days?  In a place where hurricanes are unusual and earthquakes are really rare?  Between this and Lady Gaga with the Joe Calderone debacle, I'm beginning to see how one might argue that the end of days is nigh.


So!  That was crazy, right??  Lucky lady that I am, despite being born and raised in Massachusetts and never living west of the Mississippi, this was not my first earthquake.  Back when I was working with my first firm (the one that didn't break me), my boss and I had this fantastic client that was based in El Segundo, CA.  They were working on a HUGE project with a tight deadline, and because of tight security, they required at least one of us on site at their facility 2-3 days per week.  My boss and I both lived in Chicago at the time, so this meant we became close friends with everyone at LAX, as well as most of the LAX hotel staffers.  (It is shocking how often Friday night flights from LAX to O'Hare are cancelled.  SHOCKING.)  Anyway, after about six months of this crazy travel schedule (7 am flight on Wednesday morning, 5:30 pm flight home on Friday -- EVERY WEEK), my boss decided to transfer temporarily to our firm's LA office.  Because LA is surprisingly awesome (no one expected this less than I, let me assure you), the transfer quickly became permanent.  (Incidentally, this is what allowed me to transfer back to the firm's DC office -- wheee!)  Given her new status as a California resident, my boss had to sit for the bar exam, so I was called back to LA to cover the client while she was out.  This is how I came to spend the summer of 2008 at the Residence Inn in Manhattan Beach, which is precisely where I was when the magnitude 5.4 Chino Hills earthquake struck.*  At first I had no idea what was happening; it felt more like vertigo than anything else.  However, once I saw the curtains swaying and heard the walls creaking, I realized what was happening.  Not having any idea what to do (I'm more of a blizzards and hurricanes kind of gal), I decided to get the hell OUT.  Fight or flight FTW!

Evidently this is my standard earthquake MO, because yesterday was no different.  It was just before 2 and I was sitting in the kitchen, working.  Mark had come home early because he had meetings close to home and didn't want to drive all the way back into the city.  He was working from home, sitting down in the basement.  All of a sudden, there was this really loud rumbling outside, like a super loud garbage truck or 18-wheeler out on the main road, but then it got ... bigger, and everything started shaking like crazy.  The dishes and glasses were rattling, the chandelier was swinging, the house was wobbling, and the walls were creaking.**  The rumbling was just SO LOUD.  It was really scary -- my first thought was that a gas line was rupturing or something, but then I just KNEW.  I jumped up in abject terror and yelled for Mark, and do you know what he shouted back as he sprinted for the front yard?  "Get on the deck!"  Gee, thanks, darling love of mine, I'll be sure to go right toward the least stable structure on the property, which also happens to be many many feet off the ground.  Good plan!  Instead I FLEW down the stairs and out the front door; I don't think my feet actually touched the ground, I went so fast.  I ran out to the front yard, and Mark was like, "What is going on?" and I was all, "EARTHQUAAAAAKE!!"  All of the neighbors were running outside too because, like the good little east coasters we are, no one had any idea what in the hell to do in an earthquake.  It briefly crossed my mind to stand in a doorway as I was sprinting through the dining room, but then I was like, OH HELL NO.  I didn't want any part of being in a collapsed building that was doomed to explode because the gas dryer was running.  (Of course that was what I pictured happening.  What, me?  Irrational?  Surely you jest!)

After a few minutes, we went back inside to assess the damage (crooked picture frames, bath items thrown from shower shelves and medicine cabinet -- ohhh, the huMANity), but I could not stop my heart racing and my hands shaking.  We decided around 4 that it was definitely a good day for a cocktail hour.  Nothing like a little booze to calm the nerves!  I am still all freaked out though.  A really big truck drove by earlier and my whole body tensed, waiting for the rumbling to intensify again.  Big day here in the 'burbs!

*I would like to take this opportunity to call BULLSHIT on all of the west coasters mocking the response to the VA quake.  I can personally attest to the nonstop local news coverage of the smaller 2008 LA earthquake, and according to the NY Times (yep, it made the east coast news!), office buildings and schools were evacuated, trains were interrupted, and even Disneyland had a brief shutdown.  So much for eating 5.8 quakes for breakfast, tough guys...
**I do NOT like the creaking, not one little bit.  It freaks my shit right out.  DO NOT LIKE.

UPDATED! I'm sure your grandma is great, but mine? Cutest ever, hands down.

(Can I start by mentioning how mortifying it is that people actually read that last post?  GAH.  Of course that would be the post on top when people other than my one friend who knows about this blog (and would appreciate the subject matter) would stop by.  OF COURSE.  Anyway, moving on, and because there is nowhere else to go, moving up!) 

So, Grandma.  My wee little grandmother is AH-dorable.  We call her the "pocket sized piece of history."  She is all of 4'11" and 90 lbs. soaking wet (hence, pocket sized), and she is just ... so cute.  She is absolutely incapable of being unkind or impolite, sometimes to the point of ridiculous.  I mean, the woman sends me thank you notes for my thank you notes TO HER.  How sweet is that?  She came to visit with my parents over Easter, and while she was here, I asked her about her zucchini bread, which I distinctly remember LOVING as a kid.*  Grandma is so adorable that, upon returning home, she wrote out the recipe on her good stationery and sent it to me: 

Grandma has not been in the best of health lately, so I have been calling to chat more often than usual.  On one of our recent calls, when she asked if I had tried out the recipe yet, I decided it was time, especially with all of the incredible zucchini in the farmers markets lately.  The ingredients are really basic, so on a recent morning when I just couldn't sleep, I got to work.

Grandma's Zucchini Bread
(Although the G-ma would like to note that this is her basic bread recipe and can be adapted to suit any number of ingredients.  SO CUTE.)

2 c flour
3/4 c sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
dash salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup grated unpeeled zucchini (plus 1 tbsp sugar)
1 egg
1/3 c "salad oil" (by which she means canola or other veg oil, which is odd, seeing as the woman has never not used olive oil to dress a salad)
1/2 c raisins or dates (re-plump by soaking in water and sticking in microwave for 30 seconds)
1/2 c chopped walnuts (optional)

1.)  In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon, and whisk to combine.
2.)  Separately, combine the sugared zucchini, oil, egg, and raisins.  Add to dry ingredients and mix well.
3.)  Pour batter into a greased and floured 9x5x3 loaf pan and bake at 350 for about 55 minutes.  Cool 10 minutes in pan, then remove to rack.

Sounds easy, right?  Well, it seemed to be, until I was getting ready to combine the wet and dry ingredients.  I was looking at them, all, there is NO WAY there is enough liquid here.  I ended up having to practically knead the mixture together to thoroughly combine everything; there was no "pouring" of the batter -- it fell into the pan in one big clump.  While I cook a lot, I'm not exactly known for my baking prowess, so I assumed it was user error (although I couldn't fathom where).  I plowed ahead, smoothing the batter and popping it into the oven.  True to Grandma's word, it was ready in 55 minutes.  After it cooled, I was anxious to try it out.  It was not exactly as I remembered:
The texture was, how shall I say?  Rather arid.  I called my mom, as I usually do after botching a family recipe, to figure out where the hell the wheels came off.  This time, though, it appears it was my memory that was botched, because mom's response was, "Well, yeah, don't you remember?  Grandma's breads were always like sawdust!"

Huh.  So you're saying I did it right then?  SWEET.

I'm thinking a few tweaks are in order, because it really is tasty.  First, I swapped out part of the flour, as I usually do, using 1 c white and 1 c whole wheat.  I also added 1 tsp of vanilla extract to the wet ingredients.  Next time, I am going to begin increasing the "salad oil" content, because the batter is really similar to my favorite apple cake, which calls for 1 c of oil; I'll start with 1/2 c, then maybe bump it up to 2/3 or 3/4 if it's still really dry.  I'm out of eggs, so I'll post an update once I'm restocked and can test it out again.

In the meantime, what to do with the rest of the tasty but parched loaf?  French toast it, baby.  My sister came by for breakfast this weekend, and this was super easy to throw together.  I sliced thin-ish slices of the bread, and whipped up an egg, a little vanilla, some cinnamon, and a splash of half and half.  After coating the bread lightly in the custard, I browned it in a hot, buttered pan, cooking until the custard sets and is no longer soggy.  It was incredible, and so decadent with a thin smear of butter and a splash of maple syrup.  Enjoy!

*It seems I may have been exaggerating things in my memory.

UPDATE:  I made the bread again, and 1/2 cup of oil was perfect.  Same deliciousness, but without the sawdust quality.  I did have to bump up the baking time another 12 or so minutes, so now we're looking at 65-75 minutes to fabulousness.  Enjoy!

My apologies to Jamie Lee Curtis...

So let's lay it out there.  Sometimes people need to be very diligent about their fiber intake, for whatever reason, otherwise things might become ... uncomfortable.  Like, more uncomfortable than this here conversation.  (Insert nervous laughter.)  I may or may not be able to sympathize with these people, many of whom are big fans of Jamie Lee Curtis.  Ahem.  However, much as some people may love Jamie Lee in theory, she does not necessarily work for everyone in practice, if you will; she is just too painfully good at her job.  (Oh my god, this is going downhill so rapidly.)

Anyway, this is all to say that I have been on the lookout for a tasty and high fiber breakfast, preferably with some protein too.  Once again, my sister, who is a much better cook than I, came to the rescue.  She told me that she had been making fruit crisps regularly, keeping them in the fridge, and scooping them over yogurt for breakfast parfaits.  I figured it was worth a shot, and oh my god, what a game changer.  It is delicious, filling, and, um, effective.  Who knew?

Peach Breakfast Crisp
(Adapted from the old school Betty Crocker Apple Crisp recipe.)

4-5 peaches (or fruit combination of choice), skin on (for peaches; I would peel apples) and thinly sliced
1/2 c whole wheat flour
3/4 c old-fashioned oats
1/3 c brown sugar
1/2 c toasted pecans (or nuts of choice), chopped
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2-1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 c unsalted butter, softened (1/2 stick)
Additional cinnamon sugar (and possibly flour) for sprinkling

1.)  Preheat oven to 375.
2.)  Spray an 8x8 glass baking dish or pie plate with Pam.  Slice fruit and scatter in baking dish.  Sprinkle with the vanilla (I just kind of eyeball it) and additional cinnamon sugar.  If the fruit is very juicy, sprinkle with a little extra flour.
3.)  Toast some pecans.
4.)  In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients and use a pastry cutter to cut in the softened butter.  (The original recipe calls for more butter and sugar, but I tried to cut back here to keep this a somewhat reasonable breakfast food.)
5.)  Pour the topping over the peaches and pat it down. 
6.)  Place the baking dish on a foil lined baking sheet (it can spill over, esp. if using a pie plate) and bake at 375 for 45-60 minutes, until golden and bubbling.  Cool, cover, and refrigerate.

For breakfast, scoop a serving of greek yogurt into a bowl (I use Chobani non-fat plain) and top with a scoop of the chilled crisp.  Enjoy!

Nutrition Facts  (Alone and With 6 oz. Yogurt)
Calories:  230 and 330
Fat:  10.5g and 10.5g
   Sat Fat:  4g and 4g
Carbs:  43g and 50g
   Fiber:  5g and 5g
   Sugar:  20g and 27g
Protein:  3g and 21g

WW Points (for full parfait):  10 

Friday Night Pizza

I think you can tell a lot about a person by the way they spend their Friday nights.  Some people are the work hard, play hard type who go directly from the office to the bar to the club, briefly stopping for a nap and a shower before their Saturday brunch.  I have never been that girl.  My Friday nights?  They absolutely SCREAM "homebody."  Even senior year of college, when our entire class had a designated bar for each night of the week, Fridays remained somewhat low key.  In law school, there were often kegs in the cafeteria on Friday afternoons, but the big nights out were reserved for Saturdays.  Then once I started working, Friday nights became sort of a sacred down time.  I would go home, drained by the week, change into some pjs, fix a nice dinner, and catch up with my DVR over a glass of wine.  It's miraculous I even managed to meet Mark, seeing as we met in a bar on a Friday night, but that's a story for another time.

Anyway, for at least as long as we've lived together, and maybe longer, our Friday night tradition has been pizza night.  We used to order in or bake a frozen pizza, but one of Mark's aunts bought us a pizza stone as a shower gift, and since then, it's been homemade all the way.  I was really skeptical of the pizza stone at first, having heard mixed reviews, including tales of cracked stones, but I absolutely LOVE ours.  It is beyond easy to use.  It's heavy, so I store it on the bottom shelf of the oven and just leave it there, regardless of whatever else I am baking.  When making pizza, I heat the oven to 525, and once the oven has preheated, the stone is ready to go.  I prepare the pizza on a sheet of parchment paper and use the parchment and a cutting board to transfer the pizza to and from the stone.  That's it!  If something bubbles over badly (like the peach crisp I really need to tell you about), I run a self cleaning cycle with the stone in and it basically burns off.  Easy!

Last night's pizza, while a little fussier than our usual, was spectacular.  I used a white dough for the crust (one half of a package of Wegmans frozen pizza dough) and topped it with fontina cheese, caramelized onions, sauteed broccoli rabe, sausage, and a layer of mozzarella.  SO GOOD!

Sausage & Broccoli Rabe Pizza
pizza dough (at room temperature)
2 mild italian sausages, cooked (I grilled them) and thinly sliced
1 head of broccoli rabe, cleaned and prepared 
1 sweet and 1 red onion, sliced and caramelized
sliced fontina cheese
grated mozzarella cheese (I like using a block that I grate rather than the bagged stuff -- melts better)

1.)  Prepare the onions by sauteing them in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and/or butter, seasoning with salt, pepper, and herbs of your choice (I like thyme).  Let them cook slowly, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden.  Use a lid to keep moisture in if they are browning too quickly.  Set aside to cool.
2.)  Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Prepare the broccoli rabe by trimming the stems and chopping (I slice horizontally across the head in 1" sections).  Salt the boiling water well and add in the greens, stirring until it is fully submerged.  Cook the greens for about 3-4 minutes; this helps to remove some of the bitterness.  While the greens are cooking, heat garlic and olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat.  Strain the greens and add them directly to the garlic and oil.  Season well with salt and pepper, and toss occasionally until the greens have softened, approximately 5 minutes or so.  Finish them with a sprinkling of a sharp cheese, like pecorino romano or parmesan.  (They are insanely good just like this.  I would eat them every night if Mark didn't claim to hate them.  I am trying to break him in by smothering them in sausage and cheese.)
3.)  Prepare the sausages or brown some well seasoned ground pork.
4.)  Roll out the dough on a floured surface and transfer dough to a sheet of parchment paper roughly the size of your pizza stone.  Dough may need additional rolling out if it shrinks back during the transfer.
5.)  Begin layering the toppings however you choose.  (I started with the thin slices of fontina.  Fontina melts well, so I did not cover the dough fully; I figured it would spread sufficiently.  Next up was the onion.  It's messy, but I found it easiest to just grab by the handful and scatter it evenly across the dough -- same with the broccoli rabe.  Finally, I scattered the slices of sausage and topped the whole thing with a layer of shredded mozzarella.)
6.)  Transfer the parchment paper to a peel or cutting board and gently slide the paper and pizza onto the hot stone.  Bake for approximately 10 minute, until the cheese is fully melted and bubbly and beginning to brown. 

Serves 3-4.  (Mark and I can usually split a pizza of this size, but this was way more intense than our standard pesto/diced tomato/mozzarella fare.  We were both stuffed, and still had nearly half a pizza leftover.)


I'm Back!!

Honestly, how is it even possible for vacation to go by so quickly?  Ridiculous!  Anyway, despite some of the crappiest weather Cape Cod has produced in recent memory, I had a great time.  There was (again) much lobster eating, wine drinking, and book reading while rocking lazily on the front porch.  I also got to spend some time with one of my best college friends and her gorgeous and charming baby boy.  (I was *thisclose* to just sticking him in my luggage, he was that awesome.)  In short, it was all summer vacation is meant to be.  Mark had an equally fabulous time in South Dakota where, judging by the laundry, he alternated between sweaty hard labor and rolling in dirt.  (And he wonders why I have no desire to spend a week and a half building houses...)

The big news is that my mom and I went house hunting while I was home, which was so fun.  I even got a chance to see this house, and it turns out I still love it.  Hooray!  However, all of my adorable little cosmetic ideas?  Those would totally have to be on the back burner, because this house?  It needs some MAJOR work.  Let's see, there's the roof, the furnace, an oil-to-gas conversion, windows, asbestos removal, and some moisture issues in the basement to ameliorate before we even begin to think about the HIDEOUS bathrooms.  I'm guessing there's about $50-75k of work needed. 

And despite this, I can still see us there.  It has so much living space for the square footage.  Sure, it's not a master suite kind of house (the master bath and closet are WEE), but I can see a Christmas tree in the corner of the living room, I can imagine our huge family clogging up the kitchen at parties (as we do), and I can practically smell snowy nights curled up by one of the three fireplaces.  The yard is YOOOGE, and only about 1/3 of the property has actually been cleared of trees, which Mark likes, of course. 

Let's not forget, Mark's job is here, and though I have job prospects in Massachusetts, nothing is even close to set in stone.  I really need to relax and embrace the "wait and see" approach we have chosen, but it's tough.  I'm kind of hoping that the owners (two brothers who have not occupied the house in years; it was most recently a rental, but is now unoccupied) might be more willing to negotiate after another harsh winter on the market, seeing as even the seller's agent admitted that the house is way over priced.  I'm also banking on other buyers being driven away by the work required, despite the huge parcel of land in a nice part of a great town that has a low housing inventory, even in this market.  HAAAAAA.

Oh, and if this isn't a sign -- I was lamenting to my mom while we were driving through the town that the grocery options (Stop & Shop and Whole Foods) were less than stellar, particularly when compared to my beloved Wegmans.  However!  I happened upon an article this morning announcing the newest Wegmans location in Massachusetts, and I kid you not, it is less than 10 minutes from the house.  Meant to be?  We'll see.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed though.