Wildcards Vacation 2017: Colds and Charleston

This year my friends decided to switch up our normal Nagshead beach trip and travel an extra few hours south to Charleston, SC. It was a week-long adventure of discovering new places, seeing beautiful architecture, eating amazing food, and spreading germs between fourteen people and two apartments.

Our car — affectionately and not at all competitively referred to (by us) as the “best” car — carried four people and one massive cold virus. The trip began with an immediate stop for cough drops and ended with none of the other three passengers feeling sick, so we didn’t think too much of it beyond hoping our friend felt better.

Until another wildcard fell ill. Then another. Then another. Every day it seemed a new person woke up feeling crappy. Still, those of us from the best car didn’t feel it. We were invincible. We were immune to what became known — affectionately — as the Tyler Plague.

We went to the beach — both Folly and Sullivan’s Island. We went out to bars every night (even if a lot of those nights we still made it home before midnight and in bed shortly thereafter — when did we become grownups?). We wandered through neighborhoods of houses from the 16- and 1700s. My husband convinced almost everyone to try our favorite burrito spot (Minero) at least twice. (Side note: I’d previously had the best burrito of my life here. This trip, the catfish taco blew me away.) He also had avocado toast at a restaurant near our airbnb (Park Cafe) for the first time…and every day of our trip. By the last day, they knew him there.

Some wildcards went golfing. Some did stand-up paddle-boarding. Some did an escape room. Some went on a ghost tour that turned out to just be a walking history tour about brothels, murder, and conspiracy theories (which is way better in my — slightly terrified of ghosts — opinion). We played our usual drinking games without our usual, youthful enthusiasm, and spent a lot more time just hanging out and chatting.

It was a wonderful trip, even if I personally missed having a pool to lounge around beside. We reflected on how far we’ve come, how grown up we’ve all gotten, and looked forward to future trips and more changes as life spurs us onward.

The magic faded on the drive home. Two passengers were coughing instead of just the original one. We all insisted it was tickles in throats or residual from A/C and late nights and drinking and whatever else we could think of.

Then the Tyler Plague hit my home. My husband got it first, but I was (am) only about a day behind him. Now, we’re shuffling around the apartment, thankful that — due to our upcoming move I still have yet to blog about in detail — we no longer have work to suffer through or obligations that can’t be pushed back a day. Our coffee table is a mess of Dayquil and cough drop bags and tissue boxes. We’re drinking tea all day (echinacea and ginger and lemon and “cold 911” from David’s Teas on repeat). Our pantry is stocked with chicken soup. We’re going to crush this thing.

Our lack of complete immunity is a somewhat humbling blow. Still, it’s a worthwhile price to pay for a week with the Wildcards.

Uh-Oh, Spaghettios

I forgot that used to be a thing, until someone showed me a joke:

her: “I’m breaking up with you.”

him: “Is it because I keep saying ‘uh oh, spaghettios’?”

her: “Actually, yes.”

him: “Uh oh, spaghettios…”

Now it keeps popping into my head. Which leads me to think about — what else? — spaghettios. I love spaghettios almost as much as Kraft mac n cheese or hot dogs. It’s so easy to pop open a can and have that cheesy-tomato goodness in my belly in a matter of minutes. But I am an adult now, and therefore I must limit my lazy junk food splurges to desperate times (like when I’m really needing quick comfort food, or at the beach with my garbage friends). The good news is there are plenty of “adult” (read: homemade) versions of the comfort food I so enjoy. I’m still searching for the *perfect* macaroni and cheese recipe, but I’ve found enough good ones that I can whip up a decent pot when the craving strikes. I save the hot dogs for the ballpark (or a particularly fantastic grilling day). That leaves spaghettios as my only semi-justifiable lazy-splurge.


Until recently.

I stumbled across the original recipe on Pinterest (I am obsessed with Pinterest recipes), but you can find it here. I can never thank Nikki Gladd enough for the post that gave me permission to eat spaghettios like an adult. I’ve made my own tweaks and adjustments, which to me give the dish even more of an authentic taste, still while maintaining an air of healthiness.

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The recipe says use a saucepan, but as you can see, any pan will do in a pinch!

The most important item: spaghetti rings. I found them at Wegmans (which is hands down the best grocery store.)

I skip the garlic. I’m a big fan of garlic, but I’ve found eliminating it from this particular dish actually makes it better (which is rarely the case). The other major trick I found is cooking the noodles directly in the sauce, rather than separately and combining with the sauce at the end. The starch from the pasta thickens the sauce and the tomatoey-taste fattens the pasta.

Check out the full recipe if you’re feeling like reconnecting with the kid inside you (or if, like me, you feel a little guilty for all the canned junk you eat).

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Homemade Spaghettios:

  • Olive Oil for pan (~1 tbs)
  • 1/4 tsp Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1 can Tomato Sauce
  • 1 scoop Tomato Paste (~1 tbs. The time I made this the best, I used a regular spoon and eyeballed it)
  • 3 cups water
  • 8 oz spaghetti rings (or other round pasta)
  • Generous pinch of granulated sugar
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste
  • 2-4 tbs butter (you can cut down to make it even ‘healthier’)
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • ~1 cup shredded cheese (I used pre-shredded Mexican cheese. I also just dropped two handfuls in rather than measuring an actual cup)
  1. In medium saucepan, saute the red pepper flakes in olive oil over Medium heat for about 30 seconds.
  2. Add the tomato sauce, paste, water, pasta, sugar, salt and pepper.
  3. Bring to low boil, stirring frequently to keep pasta from sticking to bottom of pan.
  4. Add butter. Stir until melted.
  5. Stir in milk.
  6. Simmer over Medium-Low for about 10 minutes or until pasta is cooked.
  7. (If sauce seems too runny, add a second scoop of tomato paste to thicken. Stir until fully distributed, then turn off heat) Add cheese one handful at a time, stirring between to melt fully.
  8. Enjoy!

This recipe makes about 4 servings.

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Rambling Review: 13 Reasons Why

*UPDATED WITH FINAL THOUGHTS*

Ok full disclosure again: this is not a book review. I did *almost* purchase the book from Barnes and Noble two months ago, but then saw it was soon to be a Netflix show and decided to save my dollars because Netflix has really impressed me with their original shows and adaptations (see: A Series of Unfortunate Events).

I just started watching the show and I’ve made it through four episodes. It’s wonderful. It has drama and mystery and heart-wrenching situations all around. I find myself feeling angry along with the narrator, then so sad for those who she claims has ruined her lives. It makes me think of my own interactions, even now, long after high school, and how one little look or joke or terse word could so adversely affect someone. It looks at how interconnected we are all, whether we acknowledge it or not.

I’m pretty glad I decided to wait for the show, because I have a terrible habit of harshly judging the movie/tv version of a good book. Now, I can enjoy the twists and turns without sighing or complaining “that’s not like the book!”. I do still want to read the book, and this way, I know I won’t stay up reading it all night to find out the next reason. I’m frustrated by the pace of the main character moving through the tapes, because I’m a binge-watcher/reader/listener. It doesn’t detract from the show (though I do appreciate the characters who point out how long he’s taking) — and I think it would have detracted from my enjoyment if I were reading, because I would devour the book too quickly. With episodic shows (and a husband who interrupts my binge sessions with things like “walks” and “dinner” and “the March Madness Championship”), I’m able to slow down (a little bit) and digest a chunk of episodes before plunging ahead.

As it handles a teenager’s suicide, I think the show does a good job of showing how different people are affected. The parents and their relationship, the careful, “be sympathetic but cover our ass” approach by the school, all the different students processing (their selfishness, their guilt, their callousness, their pain) all feels authentic to me. The mom is so well-played; I’ve loved Kate Walsh since her days as Addison Montgomery-Shepherd in Grey’s Anatomy, but her performance is raw and achingly beautiful as a mom coming apart at the seams, just trying to understand, to find some sort of justice.

As I’m not even halfway through, I’ll reserve full judgment until I’ve reached the end, but so far, I would highly recommend this show.

Updated–

I blew through the last few episodes. The last four made me cry for different reasons (PS — I tend to cry a lot over good books/movies/shows/songs/art). They were very emotional and intense, and I would definitely say they should come with a “trigger warning” for anyone struggling with issues like self-harm/suicidal ideation/depression/etc. Or if your life has been touched by these, it can be hard to watch.

Immediately after watching, I still felt this was a well-done show. There was some discussion online about the possibility of a Season 2, but I like to think that — much like real life — some things are left unanswered or at the very least not tied up perfectly in a nice little bow. I felt hollow and sad for how many lives had been changed, not all for the better, and I think the show does a great job of showing the ripple effect of one person’s actions, and how everyone’s lives intertwine.

However, I was shocked that there were only two “graphic scene” warnings, neither of which pertained to the episode in which the suicide actually occurred. There were no hotline phone numbers offered, or blurbs at the end of the episode advising viewers to seek help for themselves or loved ones struggling with thoughts of suicide or self-harm. In fact, in one scene, self-harm is explained away almost as a “healthy” alternative to suicide. The more I think over the show, the more I uncomfortable I get with recommending it. The most important subject matter is dealt with carelessly. There isn’t any discussion of mental health or how a person’s mental state affects how they process and respond to external issues. As one friend of mine pointed out, two people could experience the same bullying and respond in vastly different ways; if someone is already predisposed to negative self-talk and hopelessness, she will internalize her problems much differently than a healthy person. Yet the show never delves into any sort of examination of her mental state and blames her suicide fully on the actions of others, and makes it seem like the only option to avoid her problems.

I would strongly recommend viewers keep this in mind while watching. There are many aspects that I think are well-done and well-acted, but the mishandling of such an important issue as mental health awareness makes me hesitate to continue to recommend the show.

 

Whiskey Mushroom Risotto *Updated with Photos*

Guys, last night, I made something pretty fantastic. I did not take any pictures because I wasn’t sure it would turn out well (and then once we knew it turned out well, we were too busy scarfing it down to pause for artistry). I promise to update this with pics the next time I make the dish — which will probably be pretty soon since my husband loves Mushroom Risotto.

Usually when we make risotto, I saute the mushrooms in red wine and butter the way my mama taught me (with a nice large glass for myself, of course). Last night, we were out of Red. I had an opened bottle of White I usually use in soups and such, but it struck me that we have a full liquor cabinet that gets almost no cooking love from us at all. I made the off-handed suggestion of trying whiskey in place of wine, to which my husband enthusiastically agreed. He set about stirring that risotto like a champion, and I tasted my options and settled on Eagle Rare for this dish.

There’s only the barest hint of grains on the tail end of the dish, enough to notice but not enough to overwhelm. The whiskey mixes deliciously with a pinch of thyme and the melted butter, and gets absorbed at the last minute by the fat risotto grains. Even if you don’t like drinking whiskey (I personally am not a fan), give this dish a try!

Whiskey Mushroom Risotto – serves 4

1 tbs Olive Oil
1 cup Arborio Rice (Risotto)
3 cups Chicken Broth
2 tbs butter
2 shots of whiskey (I used Eagle Rare, but a cheaper brand would probably work just as well)
1 package Sliced White Mushrooms
1 tsp Dried Thyme
Pinch of Kosher Salt and Fresh-Cracked Pepper

  1. Heat olive oil in sauce pan over Medium. Add the risotto and saute ~2 minutes, until they start to turn golden.
  2. Add 1 cup of broth, stirring constantly until all absorbed. Add another cup of broth. Continue until all broth has been absorbed.
  3. Meanwhile, melt butter in saute pan over slightly more than Medium (but not quite Medium-High).
  4. Add whiskey and mushrooms. Toss to coat.
  5. Saute 3-4 minutes, until mushrooms start to soften.
  6. Add thyme, salt and pepper. Continue sauteing until mushrooms are soft and brown, ~3-4 more minutes.
  7. Pour mushrooms and remaining sauce over the risotto. Stir until liquid mostly absorbed. Can garnish with a sprinkle of freshly-grated Parmesan cheese and sprig of fresh thyme.

*NOTE: If you can get yourself a risotto-stirrer, it makes everything so much easier. In the past, my husband and I have traded off turns stirring, but this time he did it the entire time like some sort of Herculean hero, and it was amazing. For me. He complained of a sore arm, but I was too busy enjoying our culinary masterpiece to pay attention.

My risotto stirrer hard at work

I should probably learn how to plate better

Man’s Best Friend

My family experienced a terrible loss last summer: a vanquished king. My husband’s first (thus far only) dog–yes, El Rey Louis Dandy–passed away. A constant loving, grounding presence in most of my husband’s life, gone.

I started to write this not long after Rey passed, but it was too difficult.

The thing about dogs is their loss is always unexpected. No matter how you prepare, no matter how old and frail and sick, no matter the decisions a family makes out of love and sacrifice. Nothing prepares you for the shock of the loss. A dog spends such a short time on this earth — completely insignificant amount of time, in the grand scheme of things. If our lives equal a blink of an eye, a dog is the muscle twitch preceding the blink. Most of our life is consumed by everything and nothing; rarely do we give huge chunks of it to our pets. For them, though, we are everything. Every second of their short life is focused on their owner. Where is he? Does she want to play? Will she rub my belly? Can I get him to share his food?

If you’ve ever been around a dog, you know what love looks like. A dog is content to sit and stare at you. I imagine they think things like “look at him, he’s so beautiful.” or “She’s mine and I just love her so much.” You’ve seen their tail start to thump the ground if their owner casts them a brief glance, their ears twitch at the sound of his voice.

They don’t seem to register rejection, or annoyance, or anger. They’ll skulk away for a moment, sure, but then they realize they aren’t with the love of their stupidly-short life and come trotting back to let you shoo them away again. They stare out the window or at the solid front door, always waiting, yearning, hoping for you to return.

I’ve known a dog to smile — teeth bared, breath snorting, tail furiously wagging — when anyone she loves walks into the room. I’ve known one to leave his treat beside my pillow, a Valentine’s Day gift. I’ve known one to follow you around and drop a ball at your feet and stare, waiting as long as it took for you to toss it for him. And he’d follow you still, with his big, brown, love-filled eyes, even when you never threw the ball. When I was small, our German Shepherd would lay perfectly still so I could use her as a pillow or a seat.

Dogs are selfless and glorious and perfect. And as much as it hurts to lose them, it would be sadder still to never love one.

And Now the Apartment Smells Like French Fries

So there’s a cold going around, because it’s that time of year. Also because some people like to show up at work and cough and sneeze and touch everything and moan about how they hope no one else gets this cold because it’s just awful.

I’m not bitter.

I just have a sore throat and my nose is runny. But I’ve been assured if I picked up the office cold, it would have happened before now. Because I mean, it’s been three whole days since they were really feeling badly.

Regardless of the culprit, despite the day randomly feeling like spring instead of January, I needed soup. Loaded up with carrots and turmeric and ginger, just in case it *is* possible to catch a cold from someone three days after the fact.

We’ve recently changed our diet at home, because one of us needs to try out the FODMAP elimination diet and the other is spectacularly supportive. So coming up with a healthy, anti-cold soup without using my usual go-to ingredients like garlic and onion presented a challenge.

Because of the low-FODMAP diet (basically, we’re temporarily cutting out simple carbs/sugars, but we’ve also had to cut out a lot of spices, dairy, wheat…like pretty much everything) we’ve started eating more potatoes (and eggs, if you’re wondering what else is left). Therefore, my husband recently learned how to peel and chop potatoes. He loves when I let him help in the kitchen, so, as I was feeling scratchy and stuffy and not-happy, I figured our soup would be potato-based and set him to carefully cubing potatoes. We threw in carrots and celery, along with a bunch of turmeric, ginger, and a few other spices I know are easy on the tummy (at least in small little sprinkle-quantities). I “cheated” and sauteed a crushed clove of garlic in olive oil for about a minute before removing the garlic and adding the rest of the veggies. Obviously, this would be great with minced garlic and chopped onions, so feel free to add along with the other veggies.

Low-FODMAP Cold-Fighting Potato Soup:

Ingredients:
3 large brown potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 medium carrots (or about a dozen baby carrots), peeled and chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed with the flat side of the knife
olive oil, for sauteeing
Salt and Pepper
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
Turmeric
Ginger
Oregano
Basil
juice of 1/2 a lemon

  1. In large, heavy-bottomed pan, heat olive oil over M heat. Add garlic and saute about 1 minute, until fragrant. Remove garlic and discard.
  2. Add vegetables. Sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh-cracked pepper. Saute until slightly golden, about 7-10 minutes.
  3. Add the broth and water. Bring to a boil. Stir in generous sprinkles of turmeric and ginger, and pinches of oregano and basil. Cover and reduce heat to M-L.
  4. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes or until all veggies are soft.
  5. Stir in lemon juice.
  6. Remove from heat and puree smooth, in a blender or with an immersion blender. Return to pan and heat through.

This could be good with a generous pinch of cheese on top. We stirred in avocado chunks into our individual bowls, which was delicious, too. And, it reheats well for lunch the following day — always a plus in my book!

Bonus: all those browning potatoes will leave your apartment smelling like French fries, in the best possible way.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Our wee little Chrismukkah corner…pending a *real* tree

And by that I mean baking season. Fireplaces curling smoke from chimneys. A hint of snow seasoning the air. Christmas trees glowing from living room windows. Festive music in every store, pumping up shoppers while slowly destroying the poor workers’ souls.

It’s CHRISTMAS TIME!

My husband said the most awful thing I’ve ever heard yesterday: “You know Christmas is just one day, right?”

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After demanding he get out of my life, I told him in no uncertain terms do I get to have a Christmas SEASON (and really, it’s limited to the confines of post-Thanksgiving to 12/25 so it’s not even technically a full season, so there), and I mean he gets 8 whole freaking days for Hanukkah, so he can just shut his mouth and let me do my Christmas thing.

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We just spent a week-plus in California with my in-laws for Thanksgiving, and I had many adventures I’ll be sure to write about in the coming weeks, but right now, I want to talk about cookies. My sister-in-law and I discussed a baking cookies before, during, and after Thanksgiving, but the timing wasn’t right (there were SO MANY DESSERTS already). When we got home, amidst setting up the tree and singing Christmas songs off-key, it felt like a cookie kind of day. The sky was that snowy-gray, the apartment was toasty-warm, and my fantasy football team was holding steady against a team I was sure I’d lose to.

All that was missing was a flurry of Earl Grey Lavender Cookies.

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The original recipe I used is here. I went a little wild and halved the recipe, making a small batch of my standard Earl Grey Lavender Cookies (using Adagio teas Earl Grey Lavender loose leaf tea — seriously my favorite tea ever) and experimented with the other half to create a Cocoa-Coffee Shortbread.

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*This is the result of three chopped kisses…wayyy too much

Because this recipe yields like two dozen cookies, I wasn’t trying to risk all that goodness on an experiment. Plus it’s super easy to halve, especially if you just got an amazing set of measuring spoons that range from 1/8 tsp to 2 tbs from Crate & Barrel for your birthday (husband win). For the Cocoa-Coffee batch, I subbed just under a tablespoon of Peet’s coffee and one finely chopped dark chocolate Hershey’s kiss (man am I product-placing like a champ right now or what?) in place of the tablespoon of tea leaves. These cookies came out a shade overcooked — they’d probably be best coming out of the oven right at 12 minutes. The tea cookies I had to leave for another 3 minutes or so.

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In case you need a little extra calories (wink), a swipe of Nutella across the top of the still-warm coffee cookies is heavenly. Come on, it’s the holidays. Calories don’t count at Christmas! And as we’ve already established, Christmas is all month long!

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Base Recipe – Tea Shortbread Cookies

  • 2 cups Flour
  • 2 tbs Tea Leaves
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 3/4 cup Confectioners Sugar
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1 cup Butter
  1. Sift/whisk together the flour, tea leaves, and salt, until the leaves are spotted throughout.
  2. In stand mixer with paddle attachment, cream flour mixture with confectioners sugar, vanilla, and butter.
  3. Put dough on a piece of plastic wrap and roll into a log, twisting both ends to seal closed. Place in fridge for about 30 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  5. Cut dough in 1/4-inch sections and arrange on silpat or parchment-lined baking sheet ~2 inches apart (they do spread a little).
  6. Bake 12 minutes or until the edges are just turning golden.
  7. Let cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to wire rack to cool completely.

Experiment with the add-ins! My best so far has been the Earl Grey Lavender, but I’ve tried other herbs, too. The coffee is pretty tasty. Thyme was…less enthusiastically received.

I’d love to hear what you try!