Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 Reflections

As 2012 comes to an end, I want to take some time to look back on the year.

January:
My cousin Dana and her family came to visit in San Francisco.  We had a fantastic day in the city and we got to walk around Pier 39.  Luke pet a pigeon.  It was awesome.

Dad, Luke, cousin Tim, and Max
February:
I celebrated Mardi Gras in not-New Orleans for the 3rd year in a row.  I got the flu, but tried to throw a party anyway.  I felt awful the whole time- but my jambalaya was a hit!

March:
I went to a Counting Crows concert with Nena- so fun!

April:
I took the Professional Engineer (PE) licensing exam which I spent 6 months studying for!  It was so exciting to get it over with (even if they did screw up the printing of the test so that we had to take one part of it again in June).


I also finally got to see one of the project sites that I had been working on for two years!


Mandy drove me to the kickoff meeting for the project, and on the way there, we got two flat tires!  My mom always insists on changing out of her pjs even if we're just making a short trip and it's super early, but now Mandy and I understand, after Mandy had to go get the tires changed in boxers and no bra.



May:
Kat came to visit and we went to Napa for an awesome day of wine tasting. We took a shuttle up and got to take the ferry back.  It was my first time on the ferry!
At work, we won a big project that I had been working on and I volunteered to move to Southern California because I thought it would be a good opportunity.  I made three trips down, found a place to live, and moved by the end of the month!

My friends helped me pack up the Uhaul and we ate pizza in the empty apartment.  So sad to leave that place.


I also coached my last group of swimmers (at least for the time being).


June:
A week after moving, I went back to Boston for my 5 year college reunion!  It was so fun to see old friends and the campus. Standing at 77 Mass Ave brought back so many memories.


And so did seeing all these wonderful people (plus more)!
 
Clockwise from top left: Professor Madsen and some of his current students, my roommates from Senior year, Andy and Linda- my good, good lifeguard friends, Dre and Tim the beaver, and of course, Kate!



 When I got back, my new roommate moved in...

Amazing how small she was then! 

July:
In July, we lost my grandpa.  He had been sick for a while, but it was still such a surprise to me and really hard.  It made me really homesick.  I went home and we had a nice service for him and it was good to be with family during that time.  But I still miss him a lot.


While I was home, I got to go hang out with some of my friends from high school down in Carmel.  They sent me this awesome picture as enticement to come down.


I also found out that week that I had passed the PE!  I'm a Professional Engineer!

August:
I spent some good quality time with my Southern California family when we made jam.


September:
I flew up north once again to go to a birthday party for one of my northern cousins.  It was a great weekend in the woods surrounded by family.


At work, I spent a lot of time in my boots.  It was nice to be out of the office and in the field, getting muddy and muddier.
 
October:
The craziest month all year.  Work was nuts, and more nuts. It was pretty much all I did.

November:
In November, I did the Color Run with my new coworker friends.

 
And then I went to Phoenix to visit Kat and Mary! Such a nice reunion!


Mandy turned 22 this year and to celebrate her friends and I surprised her and took her to Medieval Times.  We had a blast!


On Thanksgiving, I ran the Turkey Trot- my first 10k.  And then I ate a lot.  And got in some good family time.


December:
There has been a lot of cooking this month.  And a lot of eating.  Sadly, the pictures are all still on my camera, and my camera cord is not where I am at the moment.  But those will come later.

I had a lovely Christmas- got a Cuisinart food processor AND a handy-me-down Kitchen Aid mixer.  I am SO excited.  But I also got to give my family a really special gift- we're going to go to Ireland next year!  It's something we've all wanted to do for a long time, and now it's finally going to happen!   

I wish you all a happy and healthy New Year!  And may your 2012 reflections be as full of happy memories as mine.

















Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Great Caramel Saga

Oh my gosh- it's been so long! Sorry about that.  I had a weird week last week that I will probably share with you later.  For now, I want to tell you the Great Caramel Saga. AND wish you a very Merry Christmas or Happy Belated Hanukkah or just a happy day. :)

For three years now, I've been trying to make caramels.  In 2010, I ended up with drops of runny butter/sugar and I tossed them out.  In 2011, I created slightly gooier (is that spelled right?) runny caramels.  But 2012?  I finally did it and made delicious, melt in your mouth, tiny pieces of heaven.

Maybe it's that I finally asked Pammy for her recipe, or that I finally invested (they're only like $5) in a candy thermometer, but whatever it was, these were great.

Go buy a candy thermometer.  Don't try this recipe without one!
These caramels have a back-story: Pammy is an old family friend who for years hosted a Christmas Eve party and sent my family a basket of delicious treats every holiday season (the inspiration for my holiday baskets (although Pammy's are way out of my league)).  I would spend Christmas Eve sneaking as many of the caramels as I could before my parents would notice and there were a few years that I ate the entire bag of caramels that she had sent in the basket ("What are you talking about, mom?  Pammy didn't send us any caramels this year!!")  But then, sadly, Pammy moved to San Diego, and my dreams of re-creating her caramels began.  It's been a long road, but I feel good about this year's batch.

Pammy's Caramels

Makes 5 lbs of caramels! (Feel free to cut it down as needed... or don't)

2 cups butter
2 lbs brown sugar
2 cups light corn syrup
2 14 oz cans of sweetened condensed milk
2 tsp of vanilla

Butter up a 9 x 13 pan.  In a BIG pot, melt the butter and then add the sugar with a dash of salt.



And yes, it's this much sugar!  But you're making it for friends and family, right?  So it's not like you're going to eat all of this by yourself...


Stir in the corn syrup, and then slowly add the condensed milk.  Cook over medium high heat, stirring constantly, until the temperature reaches 245 degrees.  This takes 15 to 20 minutes. Things may start getting a little crazy after 10 minutes- so much hot bubbling (really close to the edge of my pot!), temperature measuring, stirring chaos.  I freaked out a little bit, I'll admit it.


Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.  Pour into your buttered pan and let it set.  I threw mine in the fridge to cool.


And remember, this should make 5 lbs of caramels!  Feel free to cut the recipe in half or smaller for whatever you need.  I just knew I wanted caramels at my party and for gifts.  And I wanted to experiment with chocolate dipped caramels!  More on those soon!






Friday, December 14, 2012

Secret Toffee

When I was in middle school, I discovered this toffee at a friend's house and promptly ate all of it.  I have no self-control with these kind of things.  My friend's mom gave me the recipe, because I clearly needed it.  I've been making it since then and love it just as much.  (In fact, I have a batch in the fridge right now and it's taking every ounce of my will-power to not devour it!)

Secret Toffee

1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
About 40 unsalted saltine crackers (that's the secret!)
1 bag of semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup finely chopped walnuts or toasted almonds (if you so desire- I leave these out)

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Line your pan (I use 11 x 17, but if you cut the recipe in half, it should work for 9 x 13 pans as well) with foil- make sure it goes up on the sides too.



Melt butter in a saucepan and then add the brown sugar and mix until the sugar melts.  It should be syrupy.  Pour into your foil-lined pan and make sure it spreads out evenly.  Layer the saltines on top.


Next, pop it into the oven for 10 minutes.  When you take it out, pour the chocolate chips on top evenly and put it back into the oven for another minute.  When you remove it, the chocolate should be soft- spread it across the crackers so that everything is covered.



Put it in the refrigerator for at least an hour (probably longer).  When you take it out, you can just lift the foil and break the toffee into chucks.




Refrigerate for storage.  Not that it'll be around for that long...







 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Winter Garden

And the holiday give-away winner is...

Alex K!

Woohoo!  Congrats.  Thanks to everyone who entered!!  Alex- send me your address sometime this week, otherwise I'll have to pick a new winner. (You can email it to me at lrsheehan@gmail.com)


Anyways, about my garden...  After the hot, hot summer we had (and the lack of a downstairs hose), my garden was looking pretty sad by September.  But now, with the (slightly) cooler weather and some new additions, the garden is looking a bit brighter. 

What am I growing these days?  Well I've still got some herbs, although they all look a little sad.  My basil is especially spindly- anyone know what's up with that?  I've been pulling off the flowers so that it keeps growing, but the leaves seem so small!


The jalapeno plant looks great, but the jalapenos are itty bitty!


The artichoke plant is the comeback kid- I was ready to throw it out in September because I thought it was officially dead, but it started going wild about a month ago.


And for the winter, I got lettuce!  How fun will it be (hopefully) to have a homegrown salad in a month or so?


I picked up some Rainbow Chard,


and Red Romaine,


regular Romaine,


and some Butterleaf Lettuce!



At least that's what I think they all are...

The bougainvillea has looked pretty dead for the last few months, but like the artichoke, it's starting to come back!

                                               June                                                                                 December

Anyone know if this is normal or if I really did kill it back this summer?

I got a blueberry plant too.  I should be getting berries in the spring!


While I love gardening, I don't know a whole lot, so any tips are welcome! Comment away!








Sunday, December 9, 2012

Running Ups and Downs

As you may know, in September I signed up to do a half-marathon in February with some of my coworkers and a 10k for Thanksgiving. I've never been much of a runner, but I figured this would get me going.  I'm pretty stubborn and competitive, so I figured setting a big goal like this would motivate me.  And so far it has!  My goal is to run the races with no walking.

But my running has definitely been very up and down so far.  As background, you should know that as of the beginning of October, I couldn't run a mile without stopping.  This has been a huge source of embarrassment for me, because I grew up being very athletic and I still think of myself as a fit person in my head.  But here's how it has been going since:

Up:
It took me about 3 weeks of walk/running, but I finally ran a mile straight in late October!  And soon after I was building to 2 miles!

Down:
For some reason, I couldn't seem to make it to 2 miles.  My legs hurt like I've never felt.  It was shin splints and it sucked.  I did a 5k with my coworkers (the Color Run) and it was pretty rough- I had to walk.  I really felt like I had failed.

Up:
I got new shoes and insoles and running became enjoyable again!  I ran 2 miles straight, then 3, then 4!



I was a little nervous going into the 10k Turkey Trot, but I felt great during the race and made it the whole way!  I felt so accomplished and proud of myself.



Down:
After Thanksgiving, I caught a cold and took the next week and a half off from running.  My first time back was the first long training run for the half-marathon with my coworkers.  It was 5 miles and it was painful.  I made it about 3.3 miles before I told the coworker who I was running with to go ahead- I had to walk.  The rest of the group was great and kept making efforts for me to catch up (waiting at street corners, or whenever we were turning in the course), but it was a bit embarrassing and I was beating myself up about it which made it even harder to run.  I walked/ran the rest of it and made it the 5 miles, but it was definitely not a great start to my training. I had to keep reminding myself that I was sick and that it would get easier when I was healthy again.  I think the group is, sadly, a little fast for me as well.  I need to slow down from the beginning to make these longer runs.

Up:
I ran 3 miles, 2 miles, and then 3 miles this week.  I wanted to do 3, 3, 3, but I'm trying to listen to my body, and on Wednesday my body said no thank you to 3 miles.  So I stuck with 2 and felt pretty good about it.  And yesterday I ran 6 miles!  It was our second long run, and I made it without walking.  I kept a consistent 11:15 mile pace and I think that was the difference (slow and steady wins finishes the race, right?)

Here's what December has in store:


I'm a little worried about the holidays, but I figure I can move a couple of runs around if I need to.  And for cross training, I'd like to try and start swimming again, but I don't belong to a pool and don't want to pay a lot of money.  I'm thinking about incorporating some weight training as well, but I don't know if that will be too much.  We shall see!


PS.  You have until the end of the tonight to enter the contest! Do it! Do it!



Thursday, December 6, 2012

Holiday Planning

It's getting to be that time.  The days are shorter, the holiday lights are up, and the snow is falling...  Just kidding- it's been 70 degrees here this week.  Doesn't feel much like the holiday season to be honest.  I've been wearing sweaters to try to feel warm and cozy, but also flip flops, so it's kind of silly (and I end up rolling up my sleeves for most of the day).

Anyway, this is my baking season.  In the past few years, I've thrown some mean holiday parties.  And I've started giving friends and family holiday baskets of delicious baked goods.  So I spend a good amount of time in the kitchen during this part of the year.

Last year's spread in San Francisco...

Fresh baked bread, chocolate ginger cookies, cupcakes...
And gingerbread men!

I was actually super disappointed by the inappropriate use of frosting last year, but I think this year's group will be more up for the cookie decorating challenge.  :)

Here's what I'm planning to make (with recipes coming to you soon!):

Martha Stewarts' Chewy Chocolate-Gingerbread cookies
Gingerbread men to decorate (Can you tell I love ginger?)
Candy cane cookies
Caramels
Chai Pumpkin Spice Thumbprints
Seasonal bread of some sort
Perhaps some jam-filled cookies, with the jam I made this summer...
Likely these Cranberry Crumble Bars which I made this week.  So good.
And anything else I discover before then!



And with that in mind, let's get to the first Hungry Hydrologist giveaway! To win a Lindsey Original Holiday Basket, comment below about the worst holiday present you've ever received.  You have until Sunday night to comment and then I will choose a winner randomly (unless there is an obvious worst-present-ever winner).  Good luck!









Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Best Dinner Rolls EVER

As promised, here is a recipe for the Best Dinner Rolls EVER.  My mom has been making these for years, and they are definitely a staple of our Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas tables.


Best Dinner Rolls EVER
from www.ourbestbites.com

2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup + 1 tbsp sugar
1/3 cup butter
2 tsp salt
2 packages active dry yeast
2/3 cup warm water
8-9 cups flour
3 eggs

In a pot, combine the milk, 1/2 cup sugar, butter, and salt.  Heat over medium until melty and delicious.


Next it's super important to cool this mixture down to avoid killing the yeast.  You'll have flats instead of rolls if you kill all your yeast. :) I used a bowl of water with ice, but you could just throw the pot in the fridge too.


While that's cooling, combine the yeast, sugar, and warm water together.  Nerd Alert: What you're doing here is feeding the yeast.  The yeast takes the sugar and breaks it down into ethanol and carbon dioxide.  So if you've got happy yeast (which is the goal), you'll see bubbling (the CO2) and smell the ethanol (kind of smells like beer-same process).  The warm water keeps the yeast comfortable.  This should all be happening within 10 minutes.


Get out a big bowl and combine the milk mixture (which you should probably test with your finger for temperature and then lick off because it's delicious) with 3 cups of flour. 


Beat and then add in the yeast and beat some more.  I use a hand mixer because I don't have a stand mixer.  (Can you tell what my favorite kitchen color is?)

 
Beat the eggs in a separate bowl.


And then add them to the flour/milk bowl and beat some more.

Next you're going to slowly add flour until you get a sticky dough that holds together. I kept using the hand mixer until about cup 5 of the flour when this happened:


The dough snuck up the mixers and was threatening to get into the body of the tool when I turned it off.  I moved on to a wooden spoon for cups 6-7, but then it got too thick and I just went at it with my hands.  Best way to mix!

Once you feel good about the consistency, cover the bowl with a dish towel and stick it someplace warm (and away from pets).  Let it rise for an hour.  Why does it rise, you ask? Well, if the yeast is doing its job, it should be turning the flour into carbon dioxide.  So your dough expands as the gas fills up the little pockets everywhere.

After an hour, it should look like this:


Punch down the dough- get out that stress!  Divide the dough in half...


And then roll out each half and divide into 12 pieces. 


If things are getting sticky, flour your hands, your work surface, and/or the dough.

Roll up your pieces into nice balls and spread them evenly in a greased 9 x 13 pan.


Cover them again, and allow them to rise for 30 more minutes.  I only have one 9 x 13 pan, so I stuck the second half of the dough back in the fridge.  I did the same thing (roll the dough into balls, allowed them to rise) after the pan had cooled off some.

Next it's time to bake!  Pop them in the oven (375 degrees) for 15-18 minutes.  My oven tends to take longer, so I cooked them for 20 minutes.  They turn a nice golden color, so look for that to judge when they're done.


Lastly, take out a stick of cold butter, and rub over the tops of the rolls while they're hot.  Then eat one.  Or three.

I took these to my Friends-Giving celebration and they were a hit.  The best part?  While I circled looking for parking (for like 30 min!), my car smelled soooo delicious.  I didn't even mind the lack of parking. :)

Anyway, make these soon- you will not regret it.  They are great for big holiday gatherings, but I also love them as left-overs in the morning after 20 sec in the microwave.  Super tasty.  


P.S. Are you getting excited for the give away yet?  It's coming...