Thursday, February 26, 2009

Contest Update

It occurred to me that some of you might be wondering about the status of our PB&J video.

Voting has officially closed and we're pretty sure we ended it in the top 10, which means our video will be reviewed by the real judges and evaluated on the following criteria: 

(i) Creativity/Originality - 25%
(ii) Use of Welch's Grape Jelly - 25%
(iii) Presentation and Communication Effectiveness - 25%
(iv) Relevance to theme - 25%

Based on all that, I think we've got a good chance! 

I haven't received any word from the contest people, so it's all just a waiting game now. The site says that the winner won't be announced until March 25, so we've got awhile. 

THANK YOU for voting. The boys read your comments (even their teacher went on and voted!) and are anxiously awaiting the outcome. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Sunny Side of the Street

I come bearing good news today, blogosphere. 

Firstly, I got a job! At a bakery! Not as a baker, of course, since I have no discernible skills in that area (yet), but at least I will get to hang out with the pastries, inhaling their sweet, sweet goodness. Let no one be surprised if I gain 10 pounds by summer. 

The outpouring of support from my friends has been amazing. I admit it, I feel a little sheepish about returning to the world of (almost) minimum wage food service after once having a mildly successful corporate career. I mean, it's not an obvious step forward. Except it is, kinda. I don't know if it will actually get me any closer to making pastry, but it at least sets me back in motion, heading in a new direction and that's something to be excited about. 

Next, I'm reading a really great book: Writers on Writing: Collected Essays from the New York Times. It's really interesting and insightful to read what writers have to say about their craft. It's inspiring. I think I might be on the cusp of (gasp) actually writing something

And for the final good news of the day, my BFF-turned-expat has arrived safely in India. Not that I didn't think he would, but you know, it's still nice to hear. (and if you want to get in on the ground floor of his expat adventures, the link to his blog is over there to the left)

AND the Top Chef finale is on tonight! It's a good day. 

Monday, February 23, 2009

FYI, Your Kid is Trouble

My sweet little Owen has been getting in trouble at school. He's received two of the dreaded pink slips in the last month. The title on the slip says "FYI Ticket," as if they just wanted to pass along a little info, but the checklist of "violations" is a bit more sinister...

My favorites are "Body out of control" and "Sitting inappropriately," although the grammar geek in me also likes the strange use of quotes in "Out of seat 'repeatedly'," as if the word repeatedly is some kind of jargon and not just a regular old adverb.

As you can see, today he got the "Disrespectful" box checked. (Btw, I also like how they write "Parent" above the signature line, as if he might attempt to sign it himself.) It's not funny, of course. He shouldn't be disrespectful to anyone, but I wish they'd provide more of an explanation because, based on his retelling of the story, it sounds like he was in one of his silly moods where he doesn't focus (vs. his spacey moods where he is silent, but also doesn't focus) and he ended up arguing with his more studious classmate, who told him to knock it off. 

Did we get slips like this when we argued with other kids? I don't remember. Plus, I usually just kept my mouth shut as a kid, so although I don't ever want him to be rude, I do appreciate the fact that he stands up for himself. I think it's a trait that will serve him well (and I think we have his twin brother to thank for instilling it in him). I do, however, think his autism makes (and will continue to make) it much harder for him to gauge when he's crossing over from honest to rude. 

Still, it seems we need to step up our efforts to teach him the different between standing up for himself and being standoffish or insubordinate. But, really, even if he was old enough to really understand the difference at this point, I'm afraid that my threshold for acceptable disobedience (the kind with a valid argument behind it) won't jive with the school's quest for unquestioning deference...I predict there are many more pink slips in our future. 

Friday, February 20, 2009

Together Forever

Alright, this weekend I am taking a break from being bummed about my lack of direction and prospects...instead, I'm going to be bummed about one of my BFFs moving clear across the planet* (more specifically, to India). I'm a ray of sunshine lately, I know.

This isn't the first time I've had a friend move away. There was the mass exodus to college, of course, where roughly 90% of my friends flew away to other parts of the country. Then there were the few stragglers who either didn't leave right away or moved back home briefly and then left again. But that was in college and we were all busy starting new lives and it all seemed okay. 

It's harder as an adult, I guess. It's harder to make friends, so the ones I have seem even more precious. Ok, so I know it's not like he's dying or anything -- I'm not trying to be all melodramatic -- but at least with my other friends, there's a chance I might be able to hop a cheap flight or even take a road trip and see them. I don't think I'll ever bank enough miles to score a free flight to Bangalore. 

Plus (and here comes the mushy part), it's him. I'll miss him. He gets me. He shares my cynicism, but is also quick to offer words of encouragement or advice when needed - and not vague, Hallmark card advice, but relevant suggestions. He likes shoes, although he thinks all of mine are ugly. He doesn't mind bringing dinner to my house if my husband is traveling and I can't get a sitter. (that sounded so scandalous that I had to laugh) He's just a really good friend/gay husband. Plus, he's my cosmic twin! Same birthday, same initials. What will I do without him on our birthday this year?

So yes, I'm sad. But I'm also really, really happy for him. I wish that he could find fulfillment somewhere on this continent, but I respect the risk that he's taking and admire his ability to set a goal and reach it. And I also think he's a little crazy, which I suppose is one of the qualities I like about him...

Times like these call for an 80's rock ballad. Yes, this will do:

*You can follow his expat adventures on his blog: Kevin from 55407.

Have you watched and rated our PB&J Video today?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Building blocks

Is it possible that I'm having a midlife crisis? A one-third-life crisis maybe? (Because I certainly intend to live beyond age 62)

It's as if my career is a tower of blocks…like every job, every promotion, every “skill” I’ve acquired has been stacked up precariously over the years and now it’s all tumbling down on me. So now I have to decide if I want to rebuild the tower with the same blocks or find some new ones. It’s daunting.

I used to want to write for Rolling Stone. Now I can barely read most of that crap. I used to feel like I could hit up editors anywhere with a story idea and have a shot at actually getting an assignment. I used to think that getting a college degree was an assurance of something…job security? Never having to stand behind a counter asking, “Would you like a drink with that?” again.

I suppose the question of fulfillment went unasked. I suppose I just assumed that if I got a degree and then did something with that degree, then viola!, I would be a productive citizen and therefore be fulfilled. Honestly, I have no idea what I thought. I don’t think I thought at all.

So here I am, pondering veering off into a second career (of the baking variety), while still nursing the wounds of the first one. The truth is that I don’t feel very good at much of anything at the moment. I’m not convinced that I possess any actual skills, just a lot of fantasies and questions. The fact that I’ve spent enough time doing enough things to fill a resume seems of little consequence.

All if this is to say that I went in to get an application at a bakery/cafĂ© today - a part-time job remotely related to my love of pastry - and ended up having an interview, which threw me into a bit of a panic attack (not the medical kind, more my own personal kind of panic attack). How do I navigate this place where getting a college degree and working in a profession for a decade actually makes you less qualified for the job? I had to go back and use examples from my teenage years to show that I had a clue about working in food service. And really, I don’t blame the manager for being suspicious…

What am I doing here? I’m not sure. I guess I’m trying something new…something else…I guess I’m just doing something because something is better than nothing…though it’s no less confusing.

Have you watched and rated our PB&J Video today? 

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Heat is On

I'm a cynical person. I'm a realist. I don't tend to expect the best from people, but I was not prepared for how cut throat a f*ing peanut butter and jelly competition could be. 

Negative comments...sabotaging other contestants' ratings...I mean, yes, it's an awesome prize, but it's not like we're competing for a million dollars, here. What really bothers me is that the majority of the entries feature little kids. Now, who watches a video with little kids laughing or singing or just generally being happy and then takes the time to write a comment along the lines of "You suck"? Who are these people? 

Anyway, despite the haters, our video is doing well. Sadly, in what does appear to be an act of sabotage, we've dropped from a solid 4 jelly jar rating down to 3. But, we've still got time to bring it back up, so please continue to watch and rate. 

Remember, you have to click the "Rate This" link in order to register your vote. And you can vote as many times as you care to open and close your browser. 

Thanks for your support! Food Network, here we come!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Help Us Win!

Remember weeks ago when I told you my family was entering a contest and I'd be requesting your participation? Well...

I am proud to announce that we have submitted our video to Welch's Ultimate PB&J Challenge! As you can see, our video is an awesome homage to Iron Chef America. 

Now we need you to go to the contest site and Watch it. Rate it. Repeat. 

And please also leave a comment mentioning how hungry the video makes you for Welch's jelly...

Finalists are chosen based on which videos receive the most views and highest ratings from the general public, then it's up to Welch's and the Food Network. That means that we need everyone we know and everyone all of you know to get us into the finals! 

In case you missed that other link, click here to vote now.

Why are we doing this? The winner gets a trip for four to NYC. But this isn't just any trip, it includes a tour of the Food Network studios and dinner at one of the Food Network chef's restaurants. Now, I know you're all familiar with my love for the Food Network, but I'm more excited about the possibility of giving this experience to my kids, who choose the Food Network over cartoons most days. They have watched Rachael Ray since they were three...they get excited when they see Bobby Flay...Aidan has recently taken a liking to the Barefoot Contessa...this would be a big deal to them.  

This could be the pivotal thing that motivates little Aidan to become the next Anthony Bourdain! Or the inspiration Owen needs to take molecular gastronomy to the next level! Their culinary futures hang in the balance here! Please vote! Right now! 

P.S. My husband worked really, really hard to edit this video together. Were it not for his art school education, we probably would have been stuck with a clip of my children smearing jelly on a piece of bread. Thank you, sweetie.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Results are In

Hooray! My weeklong calorie counting experiment is over! I know you're dying to know how it went, so please let me tell you...

First, a bit about methodology: I used the Calorie Counter site to track my daily intake. I don't know how it compares to other such sites, but it did what I needed it to do. Why a hard-boiled egg has 78 calories while a poached egg has only 71 remains a mystery to me, but whatever.

The results:
Day one was the easiest. Maybe because my body figured it was only temporary. 

Day two was the hardest and I cursed this experiment all day, but I still managed to stay at my limit. 

Day three was a bad day and so I ate a brownie. Had I not eaten that brownie, I would have been under my limit. But the brownie was delicious. 

Day four was surprisingly easy again and I made it under my limit without having to obsess about it all day.

Day five I met friends for a coffee playdate and ate a stupid cinnamon roll, which was not worth the amount of calories I imagine that it contained. Again, had I not eaten the unnecessary treat, I would have made my limit. 

Day six was Valentine's Day and, as noted in my previous post, calorie counting was put on hold. If I had to guess, I'd say that I probably went over my limit by close to 1000 calories. But it was a lovely evening. 

Day seven was alright. I was helpless against the custard bismarck a friend brought to my house. I mean, it would have been rude not to eat it, right? Other than that, I did okay. I didn't quite make my limit. 

So, no, I didn't meet my goal to stick within a certain calorie limit for a full week. However, what I learned was that if I just cut out the stupid shit that I already know I shouldn't be eating (I'm talking to you, baked goods), my calorie intake is actually at a pretty healthy level. 

And, really, the only way I could ever truly stick to a hardcore calorie limit would be to eat only packaged foods, where the calorie count is clearly displayed for me. That doesn't really jive with my love of cooking and baking, so I'm just going to be smarter about what I eat and choose recipes that have more good stuff and less butter.

In summary, eating donuts makes you fat. Vegetables are good for you. Wow, that was totally worth a week of my life. 

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Love, Food and Art

Whether you were celebrating or boycotting, I hope you all had a nice Valentine's Day. Mine was even better than expected thanks in part to a last-minute offer by my wonderful stepsister to take the boys overnight. (In case you've ever thought of making such an offer to a parent that you care about, let me assure you that there is no greater gift.)

We celebrated with the boys during the day by eating some heart-shaped pizza. Then once they left for their overnight adventure, we had to figure out what to do with ourselves. We assumed dinner anywhere nice was sort of out since we didn't have reservations, but we decided to take our chances at the bar of an Italian place and since we got there before 6 p.m. (yes, we know how to party), we got a table! 

Now, let me preface all this by saying that I suspended my calorie counting for the night because calorie counting is neither fun nor romantic. So along with some lovely Shiraz, we shared some overly creative bruschetta and then some lobster fettuccini, which was yummy, yummy, yummy. I enjoyed every single calorie. 

We had decided to see "Slumdog Millionaire" after dinner, so we were going to skip dessert and then maybe get some after the movie, but when I saw Bananas Foster on the menu, I knew what I must do.

To assuage my guilt for eating this, I've decided that the pleasure it brought me far outweighs its unhealthy qualities. (I wonder why I can't lose weight?) Seriously, I need a personal trainer purely so that I can eat dessert with every meal. Anyway, dinner was really nice. 

Then there was "Slumdog Millionaire." Amazing. I realize we were late in seeing it, but if any of you haven't seen it yet, go now. It's a beautiful film and a brilliant story. The kind of movie where you leave the theater feeling better for having seen it. And the soundtrack is awesome, too.

All in all, it was a perfect Valentine's Day. No roses or chocolates required. 

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Not That I'm Taking the Credit...

I'm thinking that Fabio has a time machine that allowed him to come to the future yesterday, read my blog, accept the challenge of surprising me, and go back in time to last night's episode so that he could not just win the challenge, but kill it with a broken hand

How else can you explain his vault from good to "he could open a restaurant tomorrow and this would be his signature dish" great? Luck? Timing? The alignment of stars?

No, time travel (and the reading of my blog) is totally the most plausible explanation. Case closed.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Let's have a Top Chef moment, shall we? 

It's been a good season, although the product placement challenges are way out of hand. Was Quaker Oats really hoping to attract a whole new demographic by forcing a bunch of chefs to try to make something edible out of oatmeal and meat? You can see the contempt on all of the contestants' faces every time Padma announces the latest corporate sponsor. 

But anyway, onto more recent events. I was devastated to lose Jamie last week. I was really pulling for her to win the whole thing. Yes, she could be a bitch, but she could also cook, which is more than I can say for Miss "I just kinda gave up" Leah, who is only still there because the producers are hoping she'll hop in bed with someone...anyone.

I like Hosea, but he keeps screwing up. Ditto for Carla, plus I can't tell if she's the right amount of wacko or too much. I can't stand Stefan. I'm sure he cooks good food, but his pomposity is grating. 

Which leaves me rooting for Fabio tonight. I've found him (and his complete frustration with the competition: "Thatsa not cooking, thatsa rushing.") endearing for weeks, but I'm not sure if he's strong enough to win it. Still, I'm hoping he'll surprise me...or, at the very least, not get eliminated tonight. Go Fabio!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Working it Out

My sweet little Aidan stuck this note to my computer today. 

List of Jobs:
T.G.I. Friday's

I'm guessing that, in his mind, the only thing better than me working at Friday's would be if he could work there. 

As my dismal job search leads me to applying for positions that I was probably more qualified for at age 18, this note is a nice reminder that a job is a job and it makes no difference to any of the important people in my life. Granted, some pay a hell of lot better than others, but I've probably spent far too long identifying too much of myself through my career (a career that I haven't even liked much for years). 

So yes, while I would prefer to be offered a well-paying position in which I could use my journalism degree in some capacity, I'm getting over this idea that it really matters what I do. It doesn't have to be forever, it just has to get us through for now. It might even be fun to have a zero responsibility job again. For a little while. Just until I write that best-selling novel... 

Monday, February 9, 2009

The New Leaf I Am Peeking Under

I have returned from Las Vegas. It was an interesting trip. I watched one of my BFFs jump out of a plane from 3 miles in the air. I went to a gun range and shot a glock (and was unexpectedly shaken up by the experience). I saw first-hand that Liberace was a megalomaniac. And I learned that going to Las Vegas with people who don't want to spend a lot of time eating, drinking or gambling is kind of dumb...on everyone's part. 

So here I am, home again, with an intensified focus on the lose weight/spend less challenge. Obviously my trip to Las Vegas ran counter to both of those goals (although I won $346 on a Monopoly machine!!!), but I am ready to get back on the horse. I am proud to report that today I both exceeded my grocery bill goal (as in, I was under $75) and I launched a weeklong calorie counting experiment. 

It's pretty much what it sounds like: I'll be counting the calories I eat and trying to stay under a certain number. (I know you're thinking that this is something most normal people do but, like exercise, it's new to me.)  I suppose that makes it a diet, but since I don't really do diets, I prefer to think of it as an experiment. We'll see if I can make my goal for 7 days straight and then I'll think about whether I want to continue it. 

As day one draws to a close, I can report that I successfully met my goal and that I already don't like it. However, I'm accepting the unfortunate fact that it is highly unlikely that I will ever follow an exercise routine intense enough to let me eat whatever I want without continuing to gain weight, so I have to reign in the calories. Bummer. 

In anticipation of starting this experiment, I had my first anxiety dream about it last night. I was at a movie theater, holding the popcorn in my hands, ready to put the butter on it, and I thought, "But wait! I'm watching my calories!" And then I slathered the butter on and ate it anyway. 

Sign of things to come? Stay tuned. 

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Happy Trails

Waking up before it's light outside so I can finish packing a suitcase and head for the airport makes me feel like a grown up. More accurately, it brings back memories of sitting on my mom's bed on many a dark morning as she prepared to go on another business trip. 

But it's a good memory...even though I didn't go with her on those trips, there was something special about those mornings. Maybe it was just the break in the routine, or the fact that I often got to go stay with one of my friends while she was gone, but there is something so cozy and comforting about that memory. 

Which is all to say that I don't mind early flights. It feels right to get up early and get on the plane before I'm fully awake. If I could be transported from my bed to the plane while I was sleeping, so I would simply awake when the captain announced our descent...well, I'd pay extra for that. 

And so I am off to the ding-ding-ding of slot machines that no longer spit out actual money, so they have to recreate that sound electronically. (I suppose it would be creepy if the casino wasn't filled with constant noise.) I am off to get a little sunshine and have a lot of fun. See you next week!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Insight and Understanding

There have been times on this autism journey with Owen that I have wondered if we might not all have been better off had he never been diagnosed. He is generally so high functioning that his autistic traits usually appear more as quirks than anything and sometimes I wonder if this label that's he's been saddled with will do more harm than good. 

But then I read John Elder Robison's* blog today about the value of neuro-psychological testing and it reminded me that I am grateful to have a better understanding of my son -- and that he will grow up with a better understanding of himself -- and that it's not the label I hate, it's just the lack of understanding and support that goes with it. 

Obviously, that's changing and I hope that it will continue to change as Owen gets older. And I hope he can find inspiration in people like Mr. Robison so he can go forward knowing that being different can be amazing. 

*If you haven't yet read his book, "Look Me In the Eye: My Life with Asperger's," run out and buy it now. It not only provides insight into Asperger's, but it's just a really good story on its own. The guy toured with KISS!

Monday, February 2, 2009

One More Round

I mentioned in a previous post that I'm going on a weekend getaway with two of my BFFs, one of whom is moving to India. I'm leaving in 3 days and while I'm sure I'd be excited no matter where we were going, I am especially excited because we're headed to my own personal happiest place on earth...

Yes, dear readers, I'm going back to Las Vegas!

Now, I have to admit that I was reticent to announce this trip because, well, I've been to Las Vegas three times already in the last year, which I think is a little excessive (fun, but excessive). However, I decided that if I started trying to sneak off to Vegas in secret, that would really make me an addict, so I'm coming clean. 

Plus, it wasn't actually my decision to go to Vegas this time, so I feel somewhat absolved. Is it my fault that Vegas is responding to our economic crisis by offering ridiculously cheap deals? No, it's simply the universe telling me to go to there. And far be it from me to argue with the universe. 

Will the universe also deliver a jackpot on the Monopoly and/or The Price is Right slot machines? Well, I certainly hope so. Either way, I get to play. 

You'd think I might be less excited about this trip given that I was just there 10 weeks ago. You'd be wrong. If possible, I might be even more excited, as I really didn't think I'd get back to Vegas this year. (Vegas works in mysterious ways.) 

I am hoping that my excitement will distract me from the heartbrokenness I feel about my friend moving so very far away. I think it will at least allow me to delay the feeling for another few days...yes, Vegas should be pretty good for that. 

Sunday, February 1, 2009

What a Rat Can Teach You

We let our boys choose one souvenir each while in Disney. Lucky for us, they weren't that into the gift shops, but when we did finally enter one in search of goodies, this is what Aidan picked:

It's so perfectly him (and so practical!). I'm sure we could get a copy at our local bookstore, but now every time we cook something from this book, he'll be reminded of our trip. 

Aside from being adorable, the book actually has some nice recipes that you won't mind making with your kids. (And c'mon, Thomas Keller wrote the introduction.) We had Remy's Macaroni and Cheese on Thursday night and it was easy and pretty good. (I recommend using half American and half cheddar cheese). Then yesterday we attempted Colette's Crepes. 

The recipe was straightforward. I measured everything and then let the kids dump it all in the blender. All was well until I went to lift the blender pitcher off its base, at which point the bottom stayed attached to the blade, leaving me holding nothing more than a glass tube as crepe batter tidal waved across my countertop, floor and me. (I assume the blender comes apart this way for easier cleaning, but after several similar incidents, usually involving margaritas, I have decided it's time for a new blender.)

So after quickly remaking the batter, it was time to make crepes. And they worked! We filled the first batch with strawberry preserves and cream cheese, as suggested by the cookbook. Then the next batch was chocolate chips and bananas. I made myself a peanut butter, banana and chocolate chip crepe. Delicious. 

So crepes are officially the new favorite in our house. Easy and yummy. Plus, they make you feel a little fancy when you eat them.