Archive | December, 2013

Merry Christmas [Cookies]

24 Dec

Every year we have Christmas cookie traditions: we make Swedish spritz cookies, gingers and sugars. By “we” I mean my mom often makes the dough or hands me the recipe, and then I get some crazy decorating idea on Pinterest and spend hours I can never get back getting carpal tunnel in my powdered sugar-covered wrists as I announce “Next year I’m just slathering icing on!” But of course the cycle repeats the following year as I get some new decorating idea.

This year I decided to keep my ginger cookies “simple” by only using a few shapes and two colors of icing: white and blue, because I’ve never seen blue Christmas cookies before.

billy madison blue duck

blue ginger cookiesThe marble technique looks pretty, but as usual, takes entirely way too much time.

Instead of rolled out sugar cookies, this year I decided to make copycat Lofthouse cookies (those delicious round iced sugar cookies you get at the grocery store bakery). They came out mini, which is probably better. I could have used green and red icing, but decided on purple and turquoise because they’re more fun.

copycat lofthouse

And look great when you drop your new iPad mini onto them:

ipad icing fail

I also traditionally make my own birthday cake to take to our family gathering in Cleveland on Christmas, and often get carried away. Two years ago I made a rainbow cake, last year I made a panda, and this year I decided to make chocolate Biscoff icing and decorate it using a technique I found on Pinterest.

Expectation:

decorated cake

Reality:

biscoff icing

At least the buttercream I made with this bad boy tastes amazing:

chocolate cookie buter

We took Squirt to the kennel this morning before I got a chance to take a Christmas photo of him, so here he is hoping some sprinkles will land on the floor:

squirt tongue

Hope you have a happy Christmas and can resist the sugar coma!

Chicago, Chicago, that freezing cold town

23 Dec

*Obligatory holy crap how is Christmas Eve tomorrow, where has the time gone, I should post more often*

Last weekend I made my annual Megabus trip to Chicago and Milwaukee to visit friends and the city I once called home. I immediately realized two things about Chicago: it is dirty and sweet mother of Prince George is it cold! It was 19 degrees in downtown Cincinnati when I was waiting for the Megabus (which was delayed two hours), but somehow 19 degrees in Chicago felt much colder than Cincinnati — must be the windchill. Needless to say, the first thing I did after checking into my hotel was buy some thick wool socks.

OK — that was the second thing I did. This was the first:

Ghiradellis chicago

Every time I’m in Chicago I must go to Ghirardelli to get a free chocolate square and then have to spend a few minutes wandering the store as if I intend to buy something and aren’t there just for the free sample.

The next day I met a friend at the Christkindlmarket in the Loop, where we got delicious mulled wine in collectable mugs, which I promptly spilled on my expensive scarf when I tried to chug it in order to see Santa. (Santa doesn’t allow booze in his house.)

chicago christkindlmarket 2013

This was my third time visiting Chicago since I moved. Every time I notice so many changes, yet when I get on that Megabus back to Cincinnati, the city resets to 2010 Chicago in my mind and everything shocks me again the next time.

filenes

The ghost of Filene’s Basement still makes me sad.

I had some time to kill before my bus back so I decided to visit Seven on State, the food court at Macy’s where Stephen and I used to eat ramen often. I think I knew there was no way the noodles could taste as delicious as they did in my memory, but I ordered them anyway. Of course I had forgotten that they changed the recipe for the miso ramen right before I moved and so I ended up paying $13 for a sub-par bowl of noodles at an upscale food court. I miss you sometimes, Chicago, but not your inflated prices and outrageous sales tax. (I know, says the girl who lives in Central London.)

macys miso ramen

I wandered into the American Girl Place, where I would have been in heaven 15 years ago, mainly to use their toilets. The doll holder on the wall of the stall amused me:

american girl bathroom

On my train from Milwaukee back to Chicago I happened to look out the window to this:

illinois london

For a split second I thought I was back in London somehow!

As usual, my trip was too short, but I had some precious time with some good friends. My Megabus ride back went a lot more smoothly than the ride in, and we even saw another Megabus while paying the toll:

megabus

yo dawg megabus

I’ll end now with the greatest moment of American football ever aired: a monkey… wearing a Bengals jersey… riding a dog… chasing rams. I think I could really get into football if more of this were involved!

monkey riding dog bengals

A Portrait of the Chihuahua as an Old Man

5 Dec

Sometime circa 1998 my brother and I started pestering my parents for a dog, as all kids tend to do at some point. We watched every dog show and special on Animal Planet and started brainstorming names.

“We are not getting a dog!” my mom said each time we asked. “You know I’m allergic!”

But that didn’t stop us. We laid subtle hints and I even went to the extent of convincing my dad to tell his coworker that I would dog-sit her Chihuahuas. So when a little (OK, big) 1-year-old black Chihuahua named Squirt was dropped off at the local animal hospital in need of a home, the receptionist (the wife of one of my dad’s coworkers) called his other coworker, who said she already had enough Chihuahuas, but she knew just the person — Bob’s daughter loves Chihuahuas!

So in late July 2000 I came home from my gymnastics class to find my mom on the phone with the animal hospital receptionist who was convincing her that a little Allerpet and plenty of baths would subdue her allergies.

“Don’t freak out, but we might be getting a dog!” my brother told me. Of course I freaked out.

Just hours later an SUV pulled into our driveway and out came a giant bag of dog food, a crate smaller than our guinea pig’s cage, and a timid 9.8-pound Chihuahua named Squirt.

“Does he bark? I want to hear him bark!” my brother said.

“Oh, he barks…” said his current owner.

And he hasn’t stopped barking 13 years later.

(Squirt would like me to pause here to clarify that this is not a eulogy, he is not dead yet, nor does he plan on kicking the bucket any time soon.)

He was there for me throughout high school and welcomed me back each time I came home from college, working life in Chicago and now London. Although I’m pretty sure he thinks I live at the airport now since he comes along to pick me up and drop me off. He battled obesity, tipping the scales at 18 pounds in 2007, but eventually swapped caloric dog treats for his new favorite treats — carrots, green beans and radishes. At 14 1/2 years old he’s definitely slowed down, rusted out and is going deaf, but he’s still a tough little squirt.

My Christmas present to myself arrived yesterday, a 35mm prime lens for my DLSR. I could think of no better subject to test it out with than my favorite crotchety old Chihuahua who wanted nothing more than for me to get the big black thing out of his face so he could go sleep in his crate.

old black chihuahua

(It turns out the shallow depth of field blurred background effect I favor is called bokeh, and prime lens capture it well.)

squirt profile

The poor old guy had most of his teeth pulled, so sometimes his tongue won’t stay in his mouth.

chihuahua tongue

chihuahua lick

squirt smile

chihuahua yawn

senior chihuahua

squirt portrait

Eventually he decided he had enough of this portrait session and retreated to his crate.

squirt crate

And since I know you’re curious, here is what 1-year-old Squirt looked like when we got him in 2000. He was so black, shiny and skinny!

baby squirt

(Excuse the photo quality, these are both photos of photos — that’s how old Squirt is, pre-digital age!)

chihuahua puppyI guess even then he had a hard time keeping his tongue in his mouth!

So here’s to you, old gray Chihuahua who used to be black — may you have many more years of radishes in your future and may you get your hearing back, but not so much that you can hear me preparing lunch and continue to bark until I’m done eating.

I am a real runner now

3 Dec
It’s hard to believe it’s been a week since I traded the high street for strip malls, my shopping trolley for a car trunk, and healthy protein smoothies for brown butter salted caramel snickerdoodles and layered pumpkin pie toffee cheesecake. Yes, it’s good to be back in the land of the free and the home of the brave and high fructose corn syrup. It’s also been a week since I’ve gotten a real moment to myself when I’m not baking or rushing out the door to shop or run.

Speaking of run, on Thanksgiving I officially ran 10K, my first race ever. It still amazes me that six months ago I couldn’t run a minute without wanting to die, and five days ago I ran for an hour and 5 minutes through the streets of Cincinnati and northern Kentucky without stopping. I was proud of my time considering it was my first race and 25 degrees outside (-4 C), but I looked at the results and saw an 81-year-old man beat me. I guess that’s just motivation to go faster and try harder next time. I’m not sure when my next race will be, but I have a feeling my first won’t be my last. I really enjoyed the race atmosphere, the two guys dressed as pilgrims in a boat screaming, “You just got passed by a boat,” the high-fives and encouragement from random strangers as well as my family along the course, and that final sprint to the finish. I have no idea where that energy came from, but I gunned it at the end. So much that I finished disoriented and went right past the place to cut off my chip timer. Did I have enough energy to do the whole course again, which would equate to a half marathon? I don’t think so, but then again I never thought I’d be capable of 10K.

thanksgiving 10k edit

(I am wearing two thermal tops, the official race shirt, a jacket, thermal pants, leggings, shorts and a South Park scarf. The only parts of me that were cold were my hands until I scored free handwarmers and my feet until I got running. There was a lot of standing around time beforehand because we got there over an hour early because we are race noobs and thought there wouldn’t be enough parking at the Bengals stadium.)