Friday Five: Trends in my 30s

Every Friday I’ll indulge my order-crazed brain in a list of randomness. Welcome to my Friday Fives.

Birthdays in my 20s seemed to bother me, but now that I’m in my 30s with two feet I find myself embracing this new-ish decade. I no longer fear the thought of moving forward or growing older.

Maybe time moving on was a little too clear earlier this week when I was on bed rest. After telling my sister of my injury, she said in a very matter-of-fact tone (as only an older sister can have): “You know what happened, right?…You’re getting old.” Thanks, Booh.

But she’s right; things change and you have to adjust. Here are some of the ways—for better or for worse—that my 30s feel different than my 20s:

5. Migraines + Insomnia

Migraines are all over both sides of my family and I thought I had escaped their genetic grip, but alas, I’ve now had a handful. Not a fan, but thankfully they are few and far between. I also never had a problem sleeping, but frequently find myself wide awake for hours for no reason.

4. Gray Hair + Wrinks

Definitely one of my least favorite repercussions of growing up, but there are worst things.

3. Taste buds

I’ve heard of women whose taste buds change after pregnancies, but can they alter or develop just by being older? I think so. I find myself loving everything spicier and spicier, enjoying coconut (what the what?!) and even craving sweets. All are new to me in this decade.

2. Responsibility

I’ve called myself the “Responsible Daughter” since high school, but your 30s allow you to take it to a whole new level. I’m now a self-imposed drill master when it comes to mundane things like flossing and wearing sunscreen. If I wrote a letter to my 20-year-old self, it would just say “Sunscreen.” Maybe with a few hearts or music note doodles around it.

1. Connecting

With social media’s constant barrage of updates, tweets and check-ins, it’s easy for people in my generation to be overwhelmed by every person they’ve ever met, aka: their friend list. I’m kinda over it and find myself so much happier by connecting to the people and relationships that mean the most and forgetting about what Sally and Tommy had for dinner. Ironic, yes, as I blast this to the interwebs. That’s another great part of your 30s…sarcasm and irony know no bounds.

# dexter

Disclaimer: There will be no spoilers in this post.

Now that we’re clear: Let’s talk Dexter.

It was 2007. Joe and I had moved back to the States from China, ready to consume every bit of Americana and pop culture possible. And then the TV Writers Strike happened. Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.

CBS, in a stroke of genius, took a newbie Showtime show, cut out all the violence, profanity and nudity (which, I realize now, was about 99% of the show) and gave the peoples a new show when every other channel was pouring through reruns. That show was Dexter. And despite being watered down, Joe and I ate. it. up. And we’ve been watching it ever since.

For those that aren’t familiar with this show, it’s about a serial killer (Michael C. Hall) who kills serial killers. It turned the whole good guy-bad guy scenario on its head and suddenly you found yourself cheering for a killer, feeling giddy as he set up his kill room. Yeah…it’s heavy…the anticipation of murder, when it’s truly for a bad guy. It’s the Dexter Justification. And just think of all the shows now that allow you to fall in line with a vigilante or someone with a broken moral compass? Breaking Bad? Mad Men? Revenge? It’s everywhere now. “Thanks, Dex.”

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What amazed me most about this show for 8 seasons is watching Michael C. Hall tackle an incredible role while tackling an equally dramatic personal life. When the show started he was recently divorced and started dating Jennifer Carpenter, who plays his sister Deb on the show. He married her after the first season and was quickly diagnosed with cancer, fought it into remission and then divorced Jennifer a year later. They still had 3 seasons left to go. And you wouldn’t know a thing by watching them play out this story. Just incredible. There are so many scenes where Dexter and Deb have very emotional, tense moments that make you wonder how much of it was acting and what might have been a teeny bit real.

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To celebrate the ending of one of our favorite shows, I decided to whip up a half-batch of Barefoot Contessa’s Red Velvet Cupcakes. It just seemed appropriate. Enjoy the recipe and go watch some Dexter. Embrace the bad. I promise it’s never felt so good.

Dexter’s Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

From: Barefoot Contessa’s How Easy Is That?

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, such as Pernigotti
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1 tablespoon liquid red food coloring
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin tins with paper liners.

In a small bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a large measuring cup, combine the buttermilk, food coloring, vinegar and vanilla.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed for 1 minute, until light. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until combined. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients alternately in 3 parts, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, and mix until combined. Stir with a rubber spatula to be sure the batter is mixed.

Scoop the batter into the muffin cups with a 2 1/4-inch ice cream scoop or large spoon. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean. Cool completely in the pans and frost the cupcakes with Red Velvet Frosting.

Frosting:

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar (3/4 pound)

Place the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and mix on medium speed just until combined. Don’t whip! Add the sugar and mix until smooth.

Dexter Cupcakes

(Yes, I made the plate look like Dexter’s kill room. “How tacky is that?!” says Ina.)

# birthday & bed rest

It’s been a long couple of days around here. It started about a week ago when my lower back felt very tight and stiff. This isn’t a rare feeling for me, as sitting at a computer or even playing horn can wreak havoc on your lumbar area. I did what I normally do and nursed it with Aleve and heat. Then on Wednesday night, after resting on the couch, I sat up and felt a shock of pain from my lower back to my left ankle. And it wouldn’t stop. From then until Thursday night, the area from my hips to my feet was radiating pain and there was no amount of ice or over-the-counter meds to make it stop.

Friday morning Joe took me to urgent care where they gave me a steroid shot in my hip and took a series of xrays. Let me tell you, climbing up on a tall, cold, metal table and being told to lay perfectly still was not in the cards. I was shaking from the pain so they had to tuck these little foam wedges all around my back and legs to stabilize me. And then, of course, you have to get down. Basically it was my lowest moment of the week, maybe of the year.

I left there with an order for 72 hours bed rest and a handful of prescriptions for steroids, pain pills and muscle relaxers. The only thing I didn’t leave with was an answer.

Most would think having 72 hours to do nothing but lay on a couch would be wonderful. Me too, in most cases. But, I’m here to tell you it’s not a walk in the park. Because of the meds’ side effects (dizziness, drowsiness, etc.) reading and/or coherent thinking were pretty much out of the question, but here’s what I managed to do with the 72 hours:

1. Watch the entire second season of Homeland (no coherence needed, I guess)
2. Take 37 pills
3. Turn 32

Not bad, huh? (#sarcasm).

This isn’t my first foray with muscle relaxers. Circa 1998, on a trip to Chicago with my family, my very-concerned aunt passed me one when my cramps threatened to ruin our shopping day. (Priorities, people!) All I really remember is my sister leaving me passed-out in a heap of oversized stuffed animals in FAO Schwarz to find my mom and aunt (in another store on the Magnificent Mile), who quickly put me in a cab back to the hotel. I’m a total lightweight.

Back to 2013. Having your birthday fall in the middle of something like this was a major bummer. Joe and I had already decided to delay any celebrating, but I was pretty down all day and didn’t even feel like really talking to anyone, which isn’t like me.

Joe did bring me Starbucks for breakfast and an old-school birthday dinner from Olive Garden that we enjoyed while watching the series finale of Dexter. So, it definitely had its good moments.

As of right now, I’ve managed to take a shower, leave the house twice with Joe for brief errands and have gone an entire 15 hours without a pain pill. Let’s hear it for small victories. I’m not yet ready to release my grip on the steroids or muscle relaxers.

The xrays came back inconclusive, so while I’m thrilled that nothing’s broken, no disc has slipped, or worse, I’d love some answers as to why I couldn’t move for four days. Right now I’ll just consider myself lucky and continue to take it easy.

Major props to Joe (and Bella) for keeping me sane during Couch Camp 2013. I meant every one of those drowsy smiles and slurred “iloveyou”s.

Friday Five: TV Series We Love

Every Friday I’ll indulge my order-crazed brain in a list of randomness. Welcome to my Friday Fives.

It’s still Friday in Utah! Despite a crazy day, I’m determined to stay on track. This weekend is big, people. Sunday will mark a very special occasion: Dexter has its final episode. Did you think I was going to say my birthday?! No, this is much bigger.

We don’t typically subscribe to Showtime—normally watching Dexter once it comes out on DVD—but I didn’t want to risk finding out how it ends from my entertainment magazine or the pop culture websites I scroll daily out of habit. Joe got me a subscription for my upcoming birthday and we’ve been not only catching up on this entire season of Dexter, but we’re also catching up on Homeland—which works out well, these marathons, because I am currently on 72 hours bed rest. More on that soon, I promise, but while I’m between rounds of medication, I’m going to list the top five TV shows Joe and I love.

TV is like a hobby for us. We love submerging ourselves in the shows and characters we love. I think it stems from living overseas and the feeling of connection it provided. Connection to the U.S., connection to each other, connection to the English language. We just loved it, and still do. We’re not big on going out and some of our other hobbies tend not to line up so well—sports (him), reading (me), etc. Not even all of our shows line up. I like Downton Abbey and Modern Family. He loves watching Walking Dead and Revolution. And then there are the cooking shows…that could be another post on its own. (As well as all the shows we have yet to watch, but want to.)

Here are the shows we’ve loved together over the years:

5. Game of Thrones

There is something very special about falling in love with a book series and finding its screen version does it justice. It’s some kind of pride and satisfaction that it wasn’t butchered. I felt that way about Lord of the Rings, Julie and Julia, Harry Potter (for the most part) and the first movie of Hunger Games, but I really have loved seeing the George R. R. Martin’s Westeros world come to life in HBO’s Game of Thrones. The books are no joke. 1200+-page tomes of awesomeness and HBO has managed to make it work. Sure, there are changes, but to me they seem small for now and I love the casting. I’m glad I read the books first, but I think non-readers would love it as much. It’s just that good. There are two more books on the horizon, but luckily the show creators know the ending straight from George himself. Thank god.

4. Tosh.0

I never laugh so hard as when I do when I watch Comedy Central’s Tosh.0. Not familiar with it? It’s like “The Soup” for YouTube. Daniel Tosh—a hilarious comedian on his own—scours the internet for the funniest, nastiest, most dangerous videos and then offers his spot-on, sarcastic commentary. We love this show and even got to see him live in Miami a few years ago. If you like sarcasm and enjoy being amazed at the human race – this is a show for you.

3. Dexter

It’s hard to figure out the order of the top 3. But, since I plan to dedicate an entire post to this show over the weekend (bed rest permitting), I’ll put this at #3 for now. More soon on why this show is so beloved between both Joe and myself. Here’s a hint: Michael C. Hall. That’s no spoiler, though. He’s worth every hour throughout the last 8 seasons.

 2. Lost

Do you remember when Lost started? It was water-cooler mayhem. Everyone and their dog were talking about it…except us. I think it was Joe’s brother, Lee, that told us to try it. So we did. I believe we checked out the first season at the library and somehow managed to catch up over multiple seasons so we could start watching it live. It was the closest thing to a drug addiction I’ve ever had. (You’re welcome, Mom & Dad.) I was fascinated by the story telling and the characters. So much so, I’ll let that finale pass without mention.

1. 24

This show began our love of TV marathons. When we were in Mexico, we had a limited number of shows available to us, but this was on and Joe got hooked. I remember him skyping to tell me about it and soon enough, when we were there together, it was part of our relationship. I can remember us taking the DVDs with us to Italy and watching it late at night with our window open. A guy we knew who was also playing in the festival told us it was freaking him out to wake up to gun shots in the middle of the night. Ha! Jack Bauer will always be worth it. Funny story: Both 24 and Lost ended their series while we were on our honeymoon. You better believe we weren’t going to miss it, even for that. So we would eat our dinner in a frenzy trying to make it back to our room in time to…watch TV. I know the strangers we shared a table with thought we were sex-crazed. (Sorry, Mom & Dad) But, we were crazed about these shows that we had bonded over for years.

Honorable Mentions – Other favorites:

Archer, Face Off, The Tudors, The Bridge (our Summer 2013 crush), Homeland, Revenge and True Blood

It’s time for more meds, which means the loss of all things coherent. What are your favorite shows? I have a lot of time to fill over the weekend. For now, I’m going dark. (Thanks, Jack Bauer.)

# homecoming weekend

What a weekend we’ve just had! It was the first home game of the season. It was homecoming. My mom and Mike were in town. LOTS of excitement and action…and here are all the photos to prove it! Warning: There’s a lot!

On Saturday morning, my mom, Mike and I headed to Main Street for the big USU Homecoming Parade.

Homecoming Parade 1

Joe’s band was one of the first groups. It was really overcast, but luckily it didn’t end up raining at all during the parade. (More on that later.)

Homecoming Parade 2

Homecoming Parade 3

Homecoming Parade 4

The USU mascot never fails to entertain. I wish I had better pictures of him jumping around and doing the splits. Quite impressive.

Homecoming Parade 5

Here are our local politicians working together…literally. I thought this was so clever.

Homecoming Parade 6

Homecoming Parade 8

Most kids caught candy from the passing floats and groups, but not me. I caught a tub of ice cream! It’s from USU’s famous Aggie Ice Cream and also happened to be my favorite flavor: Aggie Blue Mint. We were in heaven. Ice Cream at 10am? YES!

Homecoming Parade 9

Out of all the groups, these gymnastics floats worried me the most. They had kids (and adults) doing back flips and trampoline jumping madness on moving trucks! They were one bad jump or flip away from concrete. Super scary.

Homecoming Parade 10

Homecoming Parade 11

This parade wasn’t all fun and games to a few. Check out these happy campers:

Homecoming Parade 7

Homecoming Parade 12

This poor guy was absolutely mortified to be in the parade. It was pretty pathetic and hilarious all at once.

Homecoming Parade 13

On to the game that night! (Click on the photo below to really see the panoramic view from my seat at Romney Stadium. Pretty incredible.)

USU Romney Stadium Panorama

It was all clear skies as we waiting for the game to start. Too bad it didn’t stay this nice for the entire game.

Homecoming Game 1

Here’s my secret service agent getting ready for pre-game. The kids told him he looked like Smith from The Matrix. haha

Homecoming Game 2

Homecoming Game 3

Go Band!

Homecoming Game 4

It really amazes me to watch Joe in action. He’s so cool and confident, despite being in front of all these eyes.

Homecoming Game 6

Performing for the student section — to the loudest cheers I’ve ever heard.

Homecoming Game 7

See those clouds? That would very soon be a problem. All hell broke loose (weather-wise) right before halftime! 😦

Homecoming Game 9

The band performing “Starships” and music from Les Miserables at halftime. Too bad a lot of the crowd was emptying out due to the pouring rain. The band was fabulous and the Aggies went on to win 70 to 6 against Weber State.

Homecoming Game 11

The next day we took Mom and Mike to explore USU’s campus. Here’s “Old Main” — the big tower on campus that you can see all across Logan.

USU Campus 3

This “A” statue has been on campus since 1916, I believe, and tradition states you’re supposed to meet your true love there at midnight during a full moon for a kiss that will seal your “True Aggie” status.

Mom and Mike at USU

The campus is gorgeous right now. Flowers everywhere, which I always love.

USU Campus 1

USU Campus 4

Things not pictured from their visit include all of the great food we had, including beef tongue tacos at La Tormenta (#notme), brunch at Herm’s (my favorite), lunch at Great Harvest and dinner at Elements. Since these are our favorite places, we will surely be back with our next visitors: my dad and Joe’s mom!  A big thank you to my mom and Mike for spending Homecoming Weekend with us! We had a great time and hope you did too!

Friday Five: Fall Favorites (and a recipe!)

Every Friday I’ll indulge my order-crazed brain in a list of randomness. Welcome to my Friday Fives.

Fall is coming to Utah. The temperatures are crisper, the leaves are letting their true colors start to peek through and tomorrow is the first USU home game (and homecoming!) of the season. All signs point to F-A-double hockey sticks. Before those still dealing with 90+-degree temps get angry, please keep in mind I get a mere two weeks of Fall before Winter hits. In fact, our first snowfall is scheduled to arrive by mid-October and last until May. So, yeah. I’ll be the one crying then.

In honor of my favorite season, here’s what I look forward to most about Fall:

5. Starbucks

This is really the only time of year I’ll ever step foot in a ‘Bucks. This non-coffee drinker loves their seasonal “dessert drinks” — Pumpkin Spice Latte, Creme Brulee Latte, Peppermint Mocha, Salted Caramel Mocha, Gingerbread Latte??? See ya later, Diet Coke, or at least until January.

4. Football********

Notice the asterisks — the biggest disclaimer I can declare: I’m not a huge fan of football. The only reason it makes the cut is that it means I get to see Joe and his bands in action, and that makes me very happy. Maybe now we’re Div. I I’ll become more interested in college football, but don’t hold your breath for me following any pro teams. Except the Panthers, right Bobster? #rawr

3. Clothes

Ahhh! scarves! sweaters! coats! boots! This is my favorite season for fashion…or comfort. I can’t get enough of it.

2. Leaves

After not having a Fall while living in Florida, moving to Virginia was like sensory overload. The leaves were absolutely incredible. I’m hoping for the same surge of awesomeness here in the mountains. I’m looking forward to exploring the canyons with my Dad in a few weeks when the leaves will be at their peak.

1. Food

Rachael Ray once said Fall was her favorite time of year because it’s APB Season: Apples, Pumpkin, Beer. I hear ya, Rachael. Scones and macaroni-and-cheese and soups, oh my! This is where it’s at. I have a lot of recipes that have become my regulars for this time of year, but I’ve decided to break out of my comfort zone and try some new ones this season. I have an entire Pinterest board dedicated to Pumpkin (mmm!) that I need to work through, after all.

Here is one of my favorite, no-fail pumpkin recipes that I usually make once (or several times) every Fall. Joe and I can devour these like the bosses we are, but the true fans are those I worked with at NWS who still email me about these muffins every year.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

2/3 c. flour
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
1 c. canned pumpkin
1/2 c. melted butter
1 c. mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350-degrees and lightly grease muffin tins.

Whisk together the flour, sugar, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, pumpkin and butter together.

Pour wet ingredients over dry and mix until just moistened. Fold in chocolate chips. Spoon into muffin tins about 3/4 to almost full of batter. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until done. Let cool slightly. Enjoy this perfect Fall recipe!

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

# banana bread

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Yesterday I walked around the corner and came face to face with three pitiful looking bananas. Joe doesn’t like his bananas to have a speck of ripe on them, so I knew what had to be done. It was time to take one for the team…and make banana bread.

Banana Bread 2

I think I’m over my fear of high-altitude baking. (Disclaimer: We’ll check back on this confidence when I make my first batch of cookies.) It seems like just upping the oven temperature 15-degrees and cutting the cooking time by 10-15 minutes does the trick. Which works out well, because I’m a very impatient baker. “It says bake for 75 minutes, but I’m sure an hour is enough.” “I think it’s cool enough to eat, we don’t need it to set any more than it already is.” All famous lines quoted in my kitchen many times before baking disasters struck.

Banana Bread 4

I’ve never met a banana bread I didn’t like. Sometimes I go to my tried and true Flour Cookbook for her Famous Banana Bread – light and airy perfection. Other times I hit up Baked Element’s Crunchy Peanut Butter Banana Bread – dense, flavorful and filling. I also like my mother-in-law’s recipe, which uses shortening. Can’t go wrong there, either. But, there’s one recipe that stands above the rest for its simplicity, taste and the story that goes with it.

Banana Bread 3

Almost eleven months ago I was in Tampa visiting a very pregnant Bobbie, 41.5 weeks pregnant to be exact. There was nothing else to do but have the baby, so in full nesting mode Bobbie whipped up two batches of this banana bread. It was heavenly. We nibbled our way through one loaf before she went into labor. I’ll never forget that day and all of the emotions that coursed through my veins as the hours passed. When it was all over, I remember driving back to their house from the hospital that night, alone with my thoughts, and slicing off a pretty large piece (#confession)—eating out of joy and relief…and because it’s so comforting and delicious. I’ll never be able to think of anything else when it comes to this bread, so I’m going to start calling it “Abby Bread.” I know if she were to share a bite with her Aunt Marci today, she’d be donning her crazy excited face in happiness.

Abby excited about Banana Bread

This recipe has everything I want: a perfect consistency that’ll stick to your ribs without weighing you down, it’s very m-word due to a bit of sour cream/yogurt, and the chocolate chips just send it over the top in decadence. And yet, it’s so simple to make. I encourage you to put a few (okay, 3) bananas out of sight, out of mind for a few days just for the excuse to try it. You’ll be falling in love and making your own memories with this recipe after one bite. I promise.

Banana Bread 5

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread (“Abby Bread”) 

From: How To Boil Water
Yields: 1 loaf

½ c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
1 ½ c. all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
½ c. sugar
¾ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
3 very ripe bananas
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/3 c. plain yogurt, whole, greek or low-fat (may substitute sour cream)
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 c. mini chocolate chips (or use full size or use butterscotch or peanut butter…mmmm!)
¼ c. walnuts (optional)

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a loaf pan.

Melt the butter is a small saucepan over medium heat or covered in a microwave-safe bowl in the microwave. Cool slightly.

Whisk the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and cinnamon together in a large bowl

Mash the bananas with a fork in a medium bowl. Beat the egg in a small bowl with a fork or a whisk, then mix into the bananas. Mix in the yogurt, vanilla and butter. Stir in the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips and walnuts (if using) just as the batter comes together. Do not over mix. Batter should be wet, sticky and a little lumpy. Scoop batter into the prepared pan.

Bake until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 65 – 70 minutes. The bread should rise in the middle to a crown, feel springy when touched and pull away from the sides of the pan.

Cool in the pan on a rack for at least 20 minutes before running a knife around the sides and slicing.

In other news, this happened today:

Bella before haircut Bella after haircut

We all feel much better about it.