Wednesday, March 30, 2011

some dc eye candy

I don't live or work in DC, so I can unfortunately go weeks at a time without setting foot in the District if I get particularly lazy. When the annual Cherry Blossom Festival started last weekend, Allie and I decided to venture in.  Only problem was, Saturday was already booked solid (if you count a long overdue hair appointment and an inaugural trip to ikea as "booked solid").  And Sunday's forecast called for balmy 30 degree temperatures and flurries (not to mention we had long since planned an Italian feast for the evening).  

Since Tuesday was projected to be warm (relatively speaking, of course, since we're apparently in the midst of spring's longest cold snap), we grabbed some sandwich fixings from Giant, and hit the Tidal Basin.  Dodging less than nimble older tourists and families with sidewalk-hogging stroller caravans, we circled the basin, took a billion identical pictures, ate some sandwiches (avoid Pepperidge Farm ciabatta, by the way--the 9 grain version, at least, is like a giant block of less than airy dough), and generally congratulated ourselves for visiting on a warm (again, all relative), sunny day in the middle of the week (thereby avoiding the prohibative flocks of tourists who descend on the basin during the weekend). 

Anyways, I did my best to just pick a few of my favorite shots from the afternoon--see below!

see how this is a wee bit tilted downward on the left? yeah, all my pictures end up that way

i remembered to straighten this one first!

kudos to allie for the surprisingly decent candid

Monday, March 28, 2011

"it's ok, i'm ready to be fat"

Recently, possibly after plentiful wine, Allie decided she wanted to try making gnocchi from scratch.  When we studied in Venice, I pretty much lived on gnocchi alla bolognese from one of the neighborhood restaurants, so my immediate reaction was "OOOH, I'LL MAKE BOLOGNESE" (yes, that obnoxiously.  see: wine reference).  

There are not many dishes with a high degree of preparation, attention, and involvement that I had even attempted prior to this Lent.  Bolognese is one major exception.  Shortly after returning from Venice the second time, our family friend Sonya made bolognese, and I promptly could not shut up about how authentic it was.  I demanded the recipe, and actually tried it a few times for my "I'll eat pretty much anything" family down at the lake.  

Despite their accommodating attitudes, I think they were all a little surprised by authentic Italian bolognese.  In a lot of American-Italian restaurants, it's served as tomato sauce with ground beef.  In Italy (or very authentic restaurants stateside), it is ground meat (usually pork, beef, and/or veal) with carrots, celery, onions, chicken stock, wine, tomato paste, and milk.  It is heaven.  It is something stratospherically beyond heaven when you put in on top of fresh made gnocchi.  

So what I'm trying to say, really, is that I was pretty stinking excited about this Italian feast we were plotting.  We got a few girlfriends in on the action, and they seemed happy to be our food critics.  

Everything I contributed to Sunday sauce night was time and labor intensive, but once and a while, I need that.  I started by making tiramisu, which, in case you don't read cooking magazines (like I now do, crazy, right?), involves whisking several different ingredients into "stiff peak form," and let me tell you, when you have teeny muscles, that's some slow going.  But tiramisu is to dessert what bolognese is to sauce for me--they are really in their own league of deliciousness.  

(the final tiramisu product)

Once the tiramisu was in the fridge to set, I moved on to rosemary olive oil bread.  If you're double checking to make sure you're reading the proper blog, yeah, I hear you.  Homemade bread?  So not my thing. I routinely live off of easy mac and cereal.  I do not knead dough for 10 minutes straight.  In more typical Jenny fashion though, I epically mis-read the recipe, and didn't realize the dough needed to rise for FOUR hours, not two.  Luckily I caught my error at 2pm.  Still felt like one heck of a dumb blond though.  

As the tiramisu set and the dough for the bread rose, I cranked up Allie's stove for the bolognese.  I practically burned out my mini-food processor mincing onions, carrots, celery, and garlic, because I decided to double the recipe.  Four or so hours, 3 cups of wine, 3 cups of chicken stock, 2 pounds of ground meat, and probably a pound of minced vegetables later, we were almost there. 

(early in the bolognese process)

While I was worried that the rosemary olive oil bread might be a flop, it emerged from the oven golden on the outside and just a touch doughy on the inside.  Either my friends are excellent actresses, or it was delicious, because all four loaves flew out of the basket.  (Which is fortunate, because there was enough red wine flowing to pickle your liver, we desperately needed some carbs at this point). 

(the second round of olive oil bread)

The gnocchi alla bolognese turned out beautifully as well, and I was pleased with the tiramisu.  By the time I brought out the dessert, there was little space to spare in our stomachs, so Allie and I will be eating leftovers for a few days. (the title of the post, by the way, came from my friend Alicia when we were dishing up hearty portions of gnocchi--now that's my kind of dinner guest)  

(the spread)

Aside from stepping on some unfortunate ingredients (mascarpone, pork) and an egg separation mishap, I really had a good time just hanging out with Allie cooking all day.  Obviously spending all day in the kitchen isn't something I plan on making a habit out of, but it actually served as surprisingly effective frustration relief.  

Best of all, the Sunday night dinner thing already seems to be evolving into a bit of a tradition for the four of us who got together last night, and I'm sure the circle will only expand.  

Saturday, March 26, 2011

friday night dinner (#3)

Allie and I decided, somewhat by default, that we'd start taking turns cooking Friday night dinner during Lent.  Last night was my night, and I decided to attempt  a couple of the recipes I found in her Food Network magazines.  

Only problem was, I hadn't yet bought most of the ingredients.  I had grand plans of working from home to accept my wine shipment, then using my "lunch hour" to go to Giant.  According to the first and second "delivery attempt" notices that UPS left on my door, they could not leave the wine at the front desk (as they do with other packages) because they needed to card me and prove I was 21.  Yesterday would be their third and final delivery attempt before returning it to the sender.  Given my slightly obsessive love for wine, I was not about to let THAT happen.  So, I got the blessing from my boss to work from home.  And long after the "10:30 to 2" estimated delivery window passed, there had been no knock at the door.  

I abandoned my grand plan, I did not shower, and I barely even had the tv on for fear I'd miss the UPS man.  I even opened the door a few times when I thought I'd heard commotion out there. By the time 4 rolled around, I was more than a little antsy.  When 6 arrived, I was plain mad. I called my mom to complain heartily, and she suggested calling UPS to see if they'd clue me in to the driver's predicted arrival time at my building.  Before I did that, I checked the tracking number one last time online.  

THE WINE HAD BEEN SITTING AT THE FRONT DESK SINCE 10 A.M.  I specifically worked from home and religiously waited for a knock, only for UPS to decide "heck with those 'we gotta card wine recipients' rules, I'm just gonna leave this at the front desk."  I was about ready to throw the wine out the window at this point. Except that I badly needed a glass or two. 

So I calmly collected the wine, set it inside my front door, and practically sprinted to Allie's (did I mentioned I had gotten antsy?).  We walked to Whole Foods for the final ingredients, then went back to her apartment to cook.  I made chile-garlic edamame to satiate our hunger while I started the sauce of sorts for the thai pork and noodles (with a substitute of shrimp for Lent compliance).  While I'm becoming more comfortable cooking, I'm definitely still a slow poke in the kitchen, and a messy one at that.  

Allie put her camera on the counter and set it to take one picture every thirty seconds, which creates a time lapse movie. The hilarious result is below.  It's me seemingly flying around her kitchen (taking the occasional cell phone/wine sipping break).  While I don't actually cook that spastically, it's not a huge hyperbole.  My favorite is how the movie ends. (I just realized you can't see enough detail to see why I like the ending so much--but basically I'm holding the bowl with the steaming noodles and shrimp and smiling in bewilderment like "oh I made this?")

ps-Allie and I both highly recommend both recipes. (Although I have made the executive decision that, from now on, I am mincing garlic regardless of what garlic-related action the recipe actually suggests, so may I advise you to make that tweak in both cases).  Allie even told me "the shrimp are beautifully cooked" and I had my own little Top Chef moment.  

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

that night i ate wine for dinner

It was bound to happen.  Despite all my semi-careful planning, there was going to be an unforeseen after work event that would keep me from eating at a reasonable hour.  I didn't think it'd happen the day I put a pork roast in the crock pot at 7 a.m., expecting to check on it at 4 p.m. (yes, I realize how old and boring that statement makes me sound...stop judging)

I finally extricated myself from a work happy hour at 9 p.m. I'm not sure if you've seen a piece of pork overcooked by five hours, but ugly is a polite adjective.  Not only was my dinner in charred shambles, my apartment smelled like scorched soy sauce, and there were some seriously unpleasant dishes to wash.  

But I was famished, having only had a few glasses of wine to "eat" since about 2.  (Note: I did not start drinking at 2, I just hadn't eaten anything since then). I did a commendable job of turning down the bar food everyone offered me, even though I found my hand wandering towards the fries more than once.  

So I tried the pork.  I grabbed a couple forks and attempted to salvage a little bit that wasn't hopelessly attached to the bottom of the crock pot.   And I ate it.  It was about as bad as you'd expect, so I washed it down with half a sleeve of cookies, and called it a night.  {the picture of the burn-y aftermath is downright sad, so I'm not going to force you to look at it}

I did all the dishes today, and I've mostly eradicated the scent of crispy soy sauce from the apartment.  And I've decided I need to start scarfing down a sleeve of crackers before I get talked into a marathon work happy hour, because while I like wine, I prefer to chew my meals, not drink them. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

best laid plans

what I actually had for dinner

what I was supposed to have for dinner

I had really respectable intentions for my meals this week.  I even drafted a rudimentary dinner line up (although you can see that it fell apart a bit when I got both bored and overwhelmed and decided I couldn't possibly plan for NEXT weekend).  I had Allie's cooking magazines marked, and I made sure to include every last necessary ingredient on my grocery list to minimize the chances of straying from the plan.  

And then I devoted a sizable percentage of my weekly adventurous culinary spirit to some seriously successful biscuits and meatballs yesterday.  And after a day of being up to my elbows in goo, I think I lost a little steam.  Plus, I realized there was no way I was setting my alarm for one single second before 6:30, making a shower AND crock pot prep unlikely if I wanted to get to work on time.  

So spicy pork lost out to hygiene (I'm sure my coworkers would be grateful if they weren't such heathens themselves), and I figured there was no harm in swapping Tuesday's and today's planned meals.  

I was still on track, albeit a slightly parallel one, when I sat down to copy Allie's food magazines before cooking dinner.  One of the first recipes I had dog-eared was for buttermilk pancakes.  I happen to have just enough buttermilk sitting in my fridge.  My sweet tooth has returned with a vengence after winter.  And I love breakfast for dinner. DINNER = DERAILED.  

I threw some fruit on there to make myself feel a little better about a dinner swimming in maple syrup.  And there's turkey bacon for protein.  Let's just say there were a few more than 2 slices involved, but I got hungry while I was making the pancakes.  I mean, who can turn down "thin and crispy" turkey bacon (which reminds me, I need to write a thank you email to whatever genius at Oscar Meyer decided to manufacture that)?  

I feel just the tiniest bit guilty about succumbing to the siren call of syrup, but whatever.  This whole adventure is about becoming more comfortable and self-sufficient in the kitchen (and, you know, religion, too).  And I think being in a quasi-sugar coma will actually prove helpful as I battle Comcast to get my cable back in working order.  

Sunday, March 20, 2011

sunday success stories

what, you don't use a tomato can as a trivet?

(cutting board may or may not be drying in this position)

In case you couldn't tell, the LKTC has seen a lot of action today.  And these are just the post-dinner dishes...

This morning, I practically bounded out of bed, which is a welcome change from the troubling lethargy that's otherwise been weighing me down most days (yeah, I'll go to a doctor soon...).  I beat the majority of my fellow fifth floor residents to the laundry room, and aside from some awkward conversation with an older Greek man who was basically only wearing boxers, I pretty much had the place to myself.  While an embarrassing volume of my clothing spun around the dryer, I took another stab at buttermilk biscuits. 

SUCCESSSS.  Ok, so I haven't reached Biscuitville quality by any means just yet.  But this batch was a marked improvement.  I was actually disappointed that I made so few biscuits (last time, I took one bite of each batch, and tossed the rest). They were flaky and light and delicious.  Sophie can vouch for me--we ate them as snacks while shopping this afternoon (unconventional? yes.  but snacking will get a little unconventional when you can't eat out, but happen to have an interest in marathon shopping). 

After an expensive afternoon at Tyson's, Sophie and I came back to my apartment, and while she worked on her taxes, I decided to face another former kitchen failure.  Meatballs.  While I sort of consider myself southern (hence the slight obsession with acquiring awe-inspiring biscuit skills), I definitely identify more with my Italian-ness, so I was especially bummed when my first stab at this staple failed.  And knowing Allie was coming over to join for dinner, the pressure was on (she's not only a fantastic cook, but also Italian). 

Maybe I was just in the right place to be up to my elbows in food today, but the meatballs were also a success (buttermilk biscuits also involve a fair amount of hands-in-goo time).  I am slowly beginning to find a soothing rhythm in the onion dicing, herb chopping, and garlic mincing that tend to initiate many of the dishes I cook.  And let me tell you, if you have never hand squeezed whole tomatoes from a can into a pot, you have not lived, my friend.  Nor have you had especially delicious sauce (or so claims Food Network magazine, which says whole canned tomatoes retain the most flavor).  

Anyways, not only am I getting better about literally getting my hands dirty, I'm also learning to just RELAX. I think cooking has always stressed me out because I get caught up in following the directions perfectly, telling myself it won't turn out properly if I don't.  And then, as I started cooking more, I managed to turn out some blah meatballs and flat biscuits, even after following the directions perfectly. So I've started taking more liberties (why yes, I do think that dough needs another 2 tablespoons of butter) and tailoring recipes to my taste (um, parsley is gross.  sub basil...and don't tell food network).  I never thought I'd get to the point where I could stick my hands into a bowl of ground meat, raw egg, cheese, bread crumbs, and herbs without gagging (ok, when you type it all out, it does sound gross...).  I'm still not ready to clean out a whole roasting chicken, pat it down with butter, and "massage" it (a technique my sister swears by), but I'm working my way there...

Now that I've so appetizingly described food and its many (gooey) stages, scroll on back up to those photos and remind yourself that even if I can't do the recipes justice with words, I can at least show you pretty pictures of the final product. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

weekend update

Friday night - Moroccan spiced shrimp, brown rice, garlic naan

Saturday night - sauteed beef, fried rice, more garlic naan

Saturday morning - buttermilk biscuit experiment

Saturday morning - buttermilk biscuit fail 

Sunday morning - pre-opera brunch picnic

For someone who gave up eating out (and hates to cook), I'm eating pretty well.  Not healthy, but well.  There's a big difference.  And I did not give up eating junk (although I probably should have), so I'm totally ok with it.  

Friday night, I made shrimp, rice, and naan for Allie and I. In the spirit of full disclosure, Trader Joe's made the naan, and it was delicious.  The spice rub on the shrimp was also pretty amazing, but in this case, I also can't take credit for anything other than my blog-trolling skills, which led me to this cool site called Dinner: A Love Story (where I found the recipe).  Saturday I used the remainder of the naan as a vehicle for rice and sauteed beef.  It was just so/so, but that's what I get for using pre-packaged rice mixes (Sarah, if you're reading this, I clearly need some cooking lessons-your fried rice rocks).    

Saturday morning, I decided to experiment with two different biscuit recipes to prepare for today's pre-opera picnic brunch.  The first one was for plain biscuits from Paula Deen and the second one was for buttermilk biscuits from Epicurious.  I didn't want to be too wasteful, so I cut each recipe down by half or more, which turned out to be an excellent decision, because both were total flops.  I tried really hard to follow the directions verbatim and to not overwork the dough (a no-no for biscuits, shortbread, etc).  And yet I pulled two separate pans of flat, blah biscuits out of my oven.  I refuse to throw in the towel, though, because I think every self-respecting quasi Southern woman should be able to make biscuits from scratch in a pinch.  If anyone out there knows the secrets to the fluffy, flaky Bojangles style biscuits, we can negotiate recurring payments for access to this (dangerous) intel. 

Because I had strawberries and fresh whipped cream (as in, I poured heavy cream into a bowl and created deliciousness), I had to develop a vehicle for that sugary goodness.  Enter shortbread.  I found a shortbread recipe by accident when I was searching for biscuit recipes, and decided I also wanted to give that a go.  (Are we noticing a butter-related trend yet?).   So after spending yesterday with Allie (more on that in a minute), I came home and made shortbread.  I was disheartened by how crumbly the dough was (I could barely roll it out), and by the fact that the cookies weren't pretty (did I remember to warn you all that I'm a very typical first-born perfectionist/type A? and that part of my disdain for cooking is this trial and error process? ok, well now you've been warned).  In case you're also trying to consume your weight in butter, here's the shortbread recipe.  I got a little wild and added some grated lemon peel to balance the sweetness of the cream and strawberries.  

But the cookies were delicious, and were, in fact, the perfect vehicle for spoonfulls of fresh whipped cream and sliced strawberries.  We also had eggs, bacon, muffins/danish, pasta salad, and cheese and crackers along with our champagne.  Then we piled into a cab in our fancy dresses and saw Madama Butterfly at the Kennedy Center.  Oh, and it was about 65 degrees and sunny today.  PERFECT SUNDAY.  

And finally, yesterday was basically a perfect Saturday.  I bookended the day with baking experiments, and spent the middle of the day shopping and crafting with Allie.  We originally set out to just go to the craft store, but detoured to Bed, Bath, and Beyond, World Market, Marshalls, Old Navy, and Home Goods first.  I picked up all sorts of random accessories for the LKTC (microplane, biscuit cutters, carafe, mini bottles of champagne, etc).  Then we went to Michael's and JoAnn's, where we tried to find the perfect fabric and trim to make a headboard out of scratch for Allie's room.  See pictures of the entire process right here.  

Ok, that was the most disjointed account of my weekend that I could have possibly dreamed up.  I'd lie to you and say it was intentional...trying to keep you on your toes and all that...but mostly I'm just exhausted and not thinking (or writing) all that logically.  Sorry to confuse/bore you...I'll be back on top of things after I kick daylight savings time's little butt.    

Thursday, March 10, 2011

come on over, valerie

Something really kind of unusual but fantastic is happening right now.  I am cooking as a form of stress relief.  Or maybe it's a diversion from an even less savory task at hand (writing cover letters).  Let's not question it, ok?

I'm bouncing around the LKTC singing along to the Glee cast (knocking off Amy Winehouse, among others) and dicing potatoes and garlic for what will hopefully become a tasty/healthy/filling roasted potato and green bean concoction.  I'm sure those above and below me are really happy about the sing along part, because in case you haven't heard it, my voice is something special.  I should probably worry about how much you're judging me right now, but I figure if you're still with me at this point, you're either not the judgey type, or we're the same kind of quirky.  

Anyways, this is a particularly welcome development for me (the cooking as stress relief, not the off-key singing).  I've long been known to stress bake, but never to stress cook.  Stress baking is great (assuming you can find enough non-weight obsessed people to consume the end result), but you can only call cookie dough "dinner" so many times before you start to worry that someone is going to knock on your door and tell you that you've failed at adult life.  And considering I ate wine and leftover spring rolls (from Fat Tuesday, relax people) for dinner last night, I decided I needed to move in a slightly more nutritious direction (or at least stop my whining when I find myself face down on my keyboard throughout the day due to "inexplicable" exhaustion).  This might be followed by some stress baking if my potatoes end up undercooked and my beans end up mushy...

On an only slightly related note, I had my first brush with serious food envy today.  I went to Pentagon City with my work friend Sarah to keep her company while she was indulging her fried chicken craving.  (Yeah, I hear you...going to a food court at prime lunch time while hungry but incapable of purchasing food was TOTALLY NOT MY BRIGHTEST IDEA.  Stay with me here, I have a larger point).  Sarah got a biscuit with her meal.  I love biscuits.  Seriously.  For my 18th birthday, my best high school friends kidnapped me at the crack of dawn and took me to Biscuitville for birthday biscuits, complete with candles and a serenade (and people look down on the South...)

Anyways, this biscuit of Sarah's made me want to go to extreme lengths to consume it.  And it made me think of this article I read a while back (either in Cosmo or NYT...I'm guessing the former, but the latter makes me sound less vapid).  The male author was perplexed by his girlfriend's near-constant fad dieting, and in an attempt to see what she was going through, he decided to undertake her diet of the moment (a liquid-based fast).  About a day in, he went to lunch with his long-time best friend, who ordered something predictably tempting (a cheeseburger I think?) and the author's hunger and self-deprivation made him literally want to attack his friend.  

I did not actually jump across the table and swipe Sarah's biscuit, but it's only day two and I can already sympathize with the author's thoughts.  So, friends beware. I probably should not be trusted at restaurants for the next 38 days.  Now back to those potatoes (and, sigh, cover letters). 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

a la carte (catholic)

In the lead up to Lent, I focused more (at least in the blog) on the looming "sacrifice" than the religious imeptus behind it.  Unfortunately that only highlights my concern that I've become a little bit of an "a la carte Catholic."   By that I mean that I don't go to mass nearly as often as I used to, and the church and I disagree on some key points (especially the roles [un]available to women). I worry that I'm trolling buffet-style through my religion and cherry picking the parts I like (instead of educating myself on the tenets of other religions).  But the bottom line is, I find myself selecting from the "buffet" the majority of the things Catholicism has to offer, and that's why I keep going back.  Nevertheless, it's time to be a little more active (i.e. going to church regularly). 

So today Allie and I went to Ash Wednesday mass, and I'm already getting all sorts of funny looks due to the ashes remaining on my forehead (I imagine the look will only improve after yoga tonight).  I really appreciated what the priest had to say in his homily--aside from a funny comment about how the church hadn't been so full since this time last year, his words were refreshingly absent of criticism for those of us who are less than regular attendees.  Instead, he emphasized that this was the perfect time of year to "get your house in order with God."  For someone often plagued by "Catholic guilt," that is a welcomed sentiment. 

That said, I'll never be an evangelical Catholic.  I find religion an intensely personal choice, and I don't feel compelled to persuade others to make it a part of their lives.  So I hope this doesn't come across as preachy--I just wanted to recognize the fact that Lent (for me) isn't just a convenient excuse to try and change some specific behavior.  Instead, it's a chance to get my house in order, so to speak, which I hope will come to mean more than just cooking more often. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

the final hurrah

It seems like forever ago that I decided to give up eating out for Lent, and suddenly it's Fat Tuesday.  Eek.  I haven't exactly done a fantastic job of planning ahead (aside from poking through my parents' cookbooks and copying a few recipes).  And after two incredibly hectic days at work and some persistent exhaustion, the last thing I want to do is make a grocery list and drag my tired little behind to Giant.  Especially because I still haven't unpacked from Miami...

I tried to take maximum advantage of my final day to buy pre-made food for a while.  My plan was slightly foiled when I got to my desk at 7:30 only to learn I needed to leave less than an hour later to get to a conference.  After some metro drama, I found the conference and took advantage of their free coffee (I bought some at work, and managed to spill most of it en route to the conference).  I spent most of the conference itself furiously transcribing notes and trying to convince the dude to my right that just because I work for the Inspector General, it does NOT mean I am an inspector.  (I failed, for he insisted on referring to me as Madame Inspector the entire time)

On a tangent, I'm starting to enjoy all these side "projects" I get to take on at work.  Now, let's be serious, I get to attend hearings, conferences, and speeches on behalf of my team because I'm one of the most dispensible.  But, it's still nice to know that my bosses trust me to be the eyes and ears of the team and to listen to everything said and analyze it as it relates to all the reports the team is writing. Plus, getting to escape into the city is a nice break from the monotony that takes over in Rosslyn sometimes.  

Anyways, following the conference, I dodged the "Madame Inspector" guy and ducked into Pret a Manger and got a pain au chocolat.  I've been craving one since I was in Miami, and I no longer have to worry about what my behind looks like in a bathing suit, so I just went for it.  Not long thereafter, I got lunch with a work friend at a local cafe.  And when I got home, I ordered a plethora of Thai for dinner. I'll just go ahead and declare today a "final hurrah win."

Sadly now it's time to put down the take out container, and figure out my plan of attack for this adventure.  

Monday, March 7, 2011

a line in the sand (almost)

The wine glasses pictured are the ones we drank out of all weekend at my friend Allie's condo in South Beach.  Note the "regular" size glass for comparison.  Yeah, it was a relaxing weekend (full of wine, sun, voracious reading, and some crazy wind).  And Allie cooked for me, which made the whole thing even better.  

So why am I drained, and still a little anxious?  

Lately I've been uncharacteristically forgetful.  There was the day I left the burner on with an empty pan over it long after I consumed the food cooked in said pan (and got a nice little burn on my thumb as a stern warning never to do that again).  Then I packed my bag for South Beach very efficiently and quickly....and left my camera battery in its charger IN THE WALL (it is now ruined).  Also in my luggage was this nifty interchangeable charger with the ipod and Blackberry attachments in the little travel bag...make that the wrong Blackberry attachment. While in South Beach, I dropped my phone at least twice, and now it won't hold a charge.  And today, I dashed out of the office to grab a cab to my late afternoon doctor's appointment and left my wallet sitting on my desk....which I didn't realize until the cab and I were nearly to the doctor, morphing what should've been a $6 or $7 cab into a $20 ordeal and causing me to seriously toe the line of punctuality. But most troubling is the flight anxiety ordeal that went down last night at the Miami airport.  

So let's back up a few steps.  As I'm sure I've warned you, I'm a nervous passenger. But after a nearly two-year hiatus from air travel, I've flown a few times a month since September.  I even managed to maintain my composure to and from Egypt, people.  And I flew basically without incident TO Miami.

Yet for some reason that I would love to have some insight on, I basically lost my marbles at MIA last night.  It certainly did not help matters that I was sleep deprived, Allie was flying out of a different terminal (aka no pre-flight chatting could happen), and my phone was dying (preventing me from calling someone else to chat and distract me).  It didn't go downhill immediately.  It was more like a slow motion disaster. 

Once I checked in (and silently thanked the American Airlines rep who put me in a window seat at the front of the economy cabin after I explained my irrational fear and subsequent coping mechanisms) and cleared security, I decided the key to staying calm was distracting myself prior to departure (which was still roughly 2.5 hours away).  This lasted for maybe 20 minutes, and then I decided I should set up shop at my gate and concentrate on calming myself while stationary.  I called my parents, and realized my phone was going to die any second (still hours from departure), so I trekked back to a techie store and forked over money for a charger (this is the second time in less than 2 months I've paid for an item I already own but neglected to bring to an airport, and wouldn't have even happened had I brought my proper Blackberry attachment).  

My phone and I then sat on the floor by a column with a power outlet, and I commenced crying.  Let's be very clear about this--I do not condone public displays of emotion or affection.  Typically my fear of flying is not easily detected by unknowing observers.  I tend to withdraw completely, and the most outward sign of the anxiety is wringing of hands.  But for some reason, yesterday I was particularly anxious.  At my mom's urging, I took my anti-anxiety drugs early (let's also be really clear about this--I do not typically take medicine unless basically forced to do so under duress, but the anxiety is so bad that I welcome any relief when it comes to flying). 

Even an hour later, I was still a mess.  I called my parents back, and I'm sure my dad owes my mom one for taking that call.  I don't remember exactly what I said for the hour leading up to the flight, but that could be because most of it was not coherent.  I'm sure my mother was ready to just tell me to get over it and get on the stinking plane, but, she kept it together impressively, even when I asked her to look up the times and prices of an Amtrak train back to DC from Miami ($220 and roughly 22 hours, in case you were curious).  

I think she and I were both surprised by the intensity of the fear this time.  If I were a betting woman, I would have put a huge sum on my not getting on that plane.  I said as much to my mother at least a dozen times. 

See, my fear is centered around turbulence, and there was some rough weather up and down the East coast yesterday.  So knowing that it was dark, we'd be flying over an ocean, and there might be significant turbulence, I was genuinely unsure that I could calm myself down and then remain calm for the 2.5 hour flight.  The absolute last thing I wanted was to be in full-on panic mode for 2.5 straight hours.  What if I needed to get off the plane and couldn't?  Knowing that I wouldn't be able to see the ground below (a strangely comforting thing for me during turbulence) was definitely getting to me.  But nearly equally disturbing to me were the implications of walking away from that flight and climbing on a 22 hour train. I was terrified that I would be drawing a line in the sand in terms of ever getting on a plane again.  And I've got a lot of life ahead of me to just throw in the towel on flying. 

Anyways, the crew of my flight arrived late, so boarding was delayed by nearly 45 minutes.  I think that extra 45 minutes made a big difference.  I had a chance to continue talking to mom, who did everything she could to calm me down (short of jumping through the phone and forcing me to take deep yoga-type breaths and drink some water).  And then I got on the stinking plane.  

Per mom's advice, I didn't go straight to my seat, I actually stopped right inside the door when I saw the purser (the head flight attendant).  I said something like "I need to talk to you really quick" (not my most articulate day ever, really) and the minute she saw me (again, a huge mess), she immediately went into protective mother mode.  She said "oh no, what is it? what's wrong? whatever it is, we can fix it!" and she pulled me into the galley, shut the little "privacy curtain," gave me a hug, poured me some water, and we talked about the fear of flying issue. I was mortified all around, but she assured me that they see many people as anxious (or worse) as me.  She distracted me by talking about where she's from (also NC) and where she lives now (near the Pentagon), and then she took me into the cockpit.  The pilots showed me pictures of their families (their impetus, in part, for flying as safely as humanly possible) and we talked about my turbulence issues.  I asked the pilots to estimate how much turbulence we could expect, and they answered honestly.  Then the flight attendant escorted me to my seat, and explained to my seat mates that they should keep an eye on me (embarrassing, but appreciated).  She also said she'd check on me constantly, and that I could come sit with her if I wasn't doing well.  By now, my whole body had stopped shaking violently, I was breathing like humans are supposed to, and I was committed to staying on the plane, but I was still anxious.  There were definitely some bumps, but the flight attendant kept coming by to reassure me that the airplane was fine.  When we landed, I got another hug, and was led to the cockpit again to chat with the pilots. 

I realize this all sounds absolutely ridiculous.  I'm 24 years old and I can't get on a plane without having a near-panic attack, despite nearly a dozen successful flights in the past 6 months.  But fear is not rational, and that makes it difficult to manage.  I did an exceptionally bad job of managing it yesterday.  And I'm incredibly grateful to the flight attendant and the pilots, who had absolutely no obligation to treat me as well as they did.  I might still be on a train on my way back from Miami right now if it weren't for them.  

I intend to try and think through what went (especially) wrong yesterday, but for now, I'm just relieved to be home.  I can't believe how quickly my time in Miami passed, and that tomorrow is my last chance to eat out before Lent.  Don't worry, I already fit in one last trip to Chipotle...

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

"much more than a soup"

Yes, it's nearing 9pm and I'm just now sitting down to "dinner" in the form of cup noodles.  I probably should've mentioned this long before now, but I have pretty simple taste in food, and if that's a problem, well, we're just not going to be friends.  (Although I do plan to get a little more adventurous during this Lent cooking adventure).

My taste in food becomes even more undiscerning when I'm especially hungry. I go from satiated to ravenous in a disturbingly brief time span (and subsequently have a very short window of moderate hunger).  Once I reach the ravenous stage, if I don't eat something pretty much immediately, I become shaky, nauseated, and have a massive headache (none of which subside even after food intake if I wait too long).  This makes productivity, especially at work, feel like climbing a cliff with shoes coated in crisco.

So sometimes, I eat whatever I can find and consume quickly.  Like yesterday when I spent 5 hours non-stop listening to testimony on wartime contracting.  I ate as many small, subtle snacks as possible while safely ensconced in the back row (I saw not one other person eat the entire time.  I am obviously evolutionarily inferior), then high-tailed it to the nearby Chipotle (I'm telling you, people, I have an addiction).  That was definitely an eat like no one is watching situation (and luckily I know very few people on the Hill). Attractive? Clearly not.  But it saved me from the line up of less than pleasant side effects that accompany my extreme hunger.  Same story tonight with the cup noodles (and no, there's no "of" on the package, I'm not just forgetting it).

But I have a headache, I just found out my tax return is less than 1/3 of what was initially estimated, and I have to get on a plane tomorrow.  I'm really hoping that my cup (of) noodles is, in fact, "much more than a soup," as promised on the package.

ps--I realize this sounds like a super whiny post, which was totally not the intent, especially because the plane I'm getting on tomorrow will be Miami bound, delivering me to South Beach for four days of sun, sleeping in, eating whatever/whenever, quality time with Allie, etc.  So, the only reason I might be a litttttle on the whiny side is the flight anxiety (if you don't believe me, ask my family, who has flown with me and can vouch for said anxiety).