Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Thinking About Graduate School?

Note: Sorry if this sounds preachy... it's not meant to be!

About five years ago at this time, I was applying for graduate school.  As an undergraduate, I had not considered subjecting myself to any more schooling, but somehow, I changed my mind.  Luckily, the whole process was fairly straight-forward, and in March 2007, I was admitted into one of the strangest races ever.

Are you thinking about going to graduate school?

Here's my advice: don't.

Okay, let me qualify that -- by "don't," I really mean, "Don't do it unless you really, truly believe it's the right decision."

"The Ukrainian" and I have this conversation once in a while.  As you may have gathered from my (recently updated!) About page, the both of us have logged in many, many hours of school for our ages.  You know my story, and "The Ukrainian" is up for his second master's degree (on top of his engineering license and project management certification).  We both have our reasons for collecting degrees like baseball cards, but in the end, we agree that the whole thing is generally unnecessary.

If you are considering graduate school, really, really ask yourself why.  There might be a few, superficial, "why"s, such as:

- I want to stand out from all the bachelor degree recipients
  Version A: I don't have a job and need to increase my chances of hire
  Version B: I want to advance in my job
- I want people to respect me

Fair enough, but what are your other reasons?  You know, stuff like:

- I'm not comfortable having an identity outside of being a student
- All my friends are doing it, so in order to "keep up with the Jonses," I must also
- I'll make more money so I can continue to "keep up with the Joneses"... iPhone 4S, here we come!
- I genuinely wish to pursue a deep understanding of a certain topic
- I want to see if I can

So my main reason for attending grad school falls into the last of the second category.  Through the many chances I had to quit, I reminded myself, "Well, I haven't failed yet, so let's continue."  Famous last words.

My negativity toward graduate school journey came up a few times on this blog.  In short, my pursuit of "because I can" led to lost money, experiences, and relationships with my friends and family.  Not to say that I was left completely barren in these areas, but they did suffer, and it's nothing to take lightly.  I think these struggles are part of the deal, and whether you left better or worse for it is something you need to consider before taking the plunge.

Instead of subjecting yourself to the classroom, consider other options.  I did some of these things but probably not enough (hence, the schooling):

- If you're working, consider on-the-job training.  Yes, you'll have to show some initiative to get it in some form, but that's a part of personal growth. 
- If you can, find a mentor in the field you wish to enter.  I've had some that I met from networking events.  Check online for those; there are professional groups in practically every field that meet for this purpose.
- Do NOT ever come into something (training, networking, mentoring) with the "this will get me a job" attitude.  When people see this, it's extremely offputting.  Ask questions and all, but don't make your urge for employment/advancement obvious beyond just showing your interest in future possible opportunities and self-development.
- Read, take online courses, look into certification (a goal of mine), or maybe take extension courses.  Learn without the commitment of grad school.
- Volunteer.  This is kind of like job experience, and you could meet a lot of fun and resourceful people.

Thankfully, graduate school is not permanent (hopefully!), and theoretically, you can back out if needed.  MANY of my classmates did this.  It's not for everyone, but know that "giving it a shot" is an option.  You never know what you're going to gain.

Just some food for thought.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Why Do I Run? (part 2)

This entry will probably sound like a stream of thoughts rather than a coherent post, but here goes...

Years ago, I posted this poem by Ed Cunningham because I thought it was funny.

A taste:


I also posted this entry about how running improves life.  And I know it has.  I've bonded with people over it, overcome my mental roadblocks with it, and I've been able to travel because of it.  I even started wearing contact lenses because of it.

Over the years, my feelings toward this sport of choice have been extremely variable.  I've beaten myself up, mentally of course, for not doing as well as I'd like during races.  And then there were moments when I'd be up late at night, looking for a race that would fit into my schedule.  Even during graduate school, I knew that I could not give up training and racing.  It has been a permanent fixture in my life since the day my sister convinced me to sign up for my first half-marathon after I vowed to run a marathon within a year.

That was nearly six years, 10 marathons, and 21 half-marathons ago.  Not like I care about those numbers because they show dedication over anyone else, but they do strike me because I always felt that if I did this number of races, I'd be skilled at it.

But what does "skilled" mean?  Okay, so I haven't broken 1:50 in the half-marathon or 4:15 in the full.  And if I did, would I turn the dial to 1:45 and 4:00... 3:45... BQ?  Can I even do that, because I'm pretty stocky even at my best weights and have a bunion that's getting so bad that it's screwing with the alignment of my leg?  Even if I trained and got a cramp mid-race?  Is there a certain level I need to reach to legitimize myself in this hobby of mine?


For all intensive purposes, running has been a hobby.  Hobbies are supplemental to normal activities; they do not dominate normal activities.  You don't need to be "good at" a hobby in order to enjoy it.  And you are NOT defined by your hobbies.  I have other hobbies... does anyone know what they are???

Lately, this hobby of mine is becoming less and less desirable.  I've done the break-taking thing a few times, and it hasn't been enough.  Races spike my desire temporarily, but if we could just race and be inactive in between them, I think we'd be in trouble.  Unfortunately, being the deal-monger I am, I sign up for races farrrrrr in advance and hope that I'll be "into it" and trained by the time the race date arrives.  I still go on short runs during the week because: 1) I feel that I need to maintain some sort of base mileage before my legs fall apart during races, 2) I need some kind of cardiovascular activity, and the gym is out of the picture for now, and 3) it's become a habit.

Running as a habit is not a bad thing, as it makes keeping a healthy lifestyle very easy when you otherwise want to just lay on the couch all day.  However, it does remove the passion from it.  And wouldn't I be putting more effort into my training if I had more passion?

Why do I run?  Why don't I do other things to keep me fit and not torture myself and my wallet, signing up for these races?  Well, I guess running is accessible....  though seems like everyone and their moms (literally) took up these sorts of races, and bandwagons are such a turn-off.  Not to sound like a jerk, but I don't like the fact that people feel like they have to run because everyone else is.  There are other (and better!) ways of staying in shape!!!

I don't know what the future holds for me.  I am signed up for LA Marathon (will be my fifth) but am not sure if I will sign up for another marathon this year or next... or perhaps training for/doing three per year was too many.  Yet I know when "The Ukrainian" signs up for his 11th marathon, I will consider it because I don't want him to surpass my total (he's one behind) and because I'm com-petty-tive.

In the meantime, I have a ton of half-marathons on the calendar for the year.  Maybe they will give me a kick in the pants; I don't know.  For now, even though the half-marathon training schedules are fairly tame compared to marathon ones, I can't seem to yank the six-mile training runs out of my behind before/after work or wake up and actually put effort into a 10-miler on the weekend.  Nope, I'd rather sleep or go bathe my parents' unruly dog.  So it seems I like these races yet don't want to train more than a few miles??  Something's not right.

In spite of this, I don't think I will ever quit running.  Until I can't, anyway.

And in spite of my lack of credentials to help other runners since I'm so half-@$$ed about my training, I hope that people will still read this blog and be able to relate to my struggle to race without being immortal and without needing to be better than someone else, even if that someone is your past self.

Carlsbad Half-Marathon, 2008

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Review: Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred

I've seen a lot of online reviews for this DVD, particularly on Amazon and blogs everywhere who swore by the "Shredding."  Last Christmas (yes, that long ago!), I received this DVD from my younger sister because it was on my wish-list.

However, being the gym rat that I had been, I didn't get much of a chance to do this video until mid-2011.  I did this once or twice using my laptop instead of a TV, tucked away in my cramped bedroom.

But as I've mentioned, I've pretty much converted to working out at home and running outside.  I'm pretty lucky that this has worked out so far, and I've actually seen positive changes in my physique. 

I was mostly doing Jillian Michaels' No More Trouble Zones once in a blue moon.  The 45-min workout is pretty strenuous and made me feel pretty good afterward, but I never stuck with it.  Now, I do one of Jillian's videos once a week, on a day that I don't run. 

This 30 Day Shred video is comprised of three 20-minute workouts that get progressively more difficult.  Conventionally, you're supposed to do each level for 10 days, thus working up to 30 days.  I obviously did not adhere (lest I'd be shredded???).  I've only done Level 1 once, since I want to maximally challenge myself.  Don't get me wrong, Level 1 will make you feel like you've worked out, but I'm a masochist and usually do Level 2 and Level 3 together, to create an approximately 45-minute workout (with the warm-up).

In all the levels, you do three minutes of strength training, two minutes of cardio, and one minute of ab work, three times.  If you do the math, that's 18 minutes.  In Level 1, your strength training is pretty static, while in Levels 2 and 3, you'll have to hold a squat or otherwise combine strength with cardio or something that makes just lifting a 3-lb dumbell way more tough.  Prepare to do a lot of plank-based moves and even things like jumping lunges and squats (!!) in Level 3.  Those jumping moves make me a little sad because they remind me of the FitMoves classes I used to take at my old company's gym, a class in which "The Ukrainian" and I got to know each other before we started dating.

I've also just done one Level and supplemented with other exercises.  This would probably be the best strategy for most people.  I aim to work out for at least 45 minutes a day, so 20 minutes, no matter how intense, is not quite enough to fill my obsessive mental quota.

As for results, I am pretty much always sore the next day after doing these, so I know I got in a good workout.  These DVDs are interesting enough for me to stick with them, which I feel is key to the effectiveness of any fitness DVD.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Vegetarian Vietnamese Spring Rolls (and Fish Sauce) - Giveaway

UPDATE: 1/31/12 -- The winner of the prize pack is #4, RunningLaur!  Please e-mail me your address, and I will arrange to have your coupons sent to you!


To clarify, the giveaway is NOT for spring rolls or fish sauce.  Read on for more details.  Sorry if you are already disappointed!! =P

Lunar New Year/Tet is among us (started yesterday and basically lasts 7 or 13 days, however much you want to party in your neck of the woods ;P), so I thought I'd celebrate the Year of the Dragon by doing a little giveaway and sharing a recipe for vegetarian spring rolls, Vietnamese style.

The idea spawned from these Nasoya egg roll wraps that I was given the opportunity to try.  I liked that they contained no MSG.  Although I'm not sensitive to that stuff (I pretty much ate it by the barrel-ful as a kid and still came out OK, ha ha), a lot of people are.

You will need:

- 9 egg roll wrappers (may vary based on how much filling you place in each)
- 4 or so Chinese mushrooms**, diced into small pieces
- 1/2 c. grated carrot
- 1/2 c. grated onion, or just chop it finely
- 1 egg
- 1 c. bean thread (clear) vermacelli noodles, cooked (a small handful if you're measuring by diameter of the bunch of noodles -- I know, I'm SO precise...)
- 1/2 tsp sesame oil
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper

**Woodear mushrooms are typically used for these, but I made a substitution because I didn't want to go beyond my pantry. 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

1) Soak mushrooms for at least 4 hours before chopping.  Use hot water and leave them out in a bowl.  Then, chop into small pieces.

2) Prep carrot and onion.  Don't be like me and try to grate baby carrots... not easy or fun at all.

3) You can cook bean thread noodles (which I had lying around from THIS time) by either soaking them for an hour in hot water or just putting them in boiling water for a few minutes, until they limp up and are soft (take a bite to check).  You don't want to overdo it, or they will get mushy.

4) Mix veggies, mushroom, noodles, and egg.  Then add the salt, pepper, and sesame oil.

5) Time to wrap (not rap)!  Take the egg roll and put it into a diamond shape (in other words, don't square it off in front of you).  Add filling and fold wrapper over the filling, tucking the part just below the corner under the filling (wish I had gotten a better picture of that!).  Then, fold the sides over like an envelope, roll, and dip your fingers into some warm water to seal the top corner.  Got that?  Here's a link to a video to help.

6) I got 9 rolls out of my filling, but your mileage (hah!) may vary.  Put on a sprayed baking pan.  Spray the top of the rolls as well, or brush with olive oil.  I forgot to do something with the top, so I had to improvise (see below).  Bake for 10-12 minutes.

Not as pretty as my mom's, but we all start somewhere, right?

I made some fish sauce for dipping, but this is entirely optional and may not be suitable for all palates or the smell of your kitchen.

- 1/4 c. sugar
- 1/4 c. vinegar
- 1/4 c. boiling water (I used a kettle... the water just needs to be hot enough to melt sugar)
- 1/4 c. fish sauce

- 2 gloves garlic, chopped into small pieces
- lemon juice to taste (ghetto substitution of bottled lime juice was used here, not recommended but better than nothing)
- crushed red chili (didn't have but would be good)

So since my baking failed due to me forgetting to put oil on top, I (or "The Ukrainian") had to pan-fry them until crisp and brown.  Still better than using a deep-fryer or oil-filled wok, though I think it'd be an easier option.  I'm just too scared to play with hot oil like that.

I was surprised at how authentic these tasted, in spite of the substitutions.  Not bad for a n00b attempt.  "The Ukrainian" kept burning his tongue because he couldn't wait to eat them. The fish sauce did help cool them a bit...

Giveaway time! (U.S. residents only)

Nasoya is offering 5 coupons for FREE Nasoya products of your choice (they make tofu and other soy foods that, in moderation, are part of a protein-packed veggie diet).  And a T-shirt!

One entry for each.  Please leave a comment for each item... I will be using those to randomly choose a winner on 1/31/12 at noon.

1) Take the Nasoya Tofu-U pledge (you'll get access to tofu recipes and recommendations).

2) Follow this blog.

3) Follow me on Twitter (@nobel4lit).

4) Tweet or blog this giveaway (if you Tweet, please include @nobel4lit at the end so I can find it).

5) Tell me about your favorite Asian food.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Year of the Dragon

Happy Year of the Dragon!

I took the above photo at the Tournament of Roses Parade that happened on January 2.  It was quite an experience to be seeing the bands, floats, and horses go by you in person!

The Year of the Dragon is supposedly a good year to start businesses, have children, and get married

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Carlsbad Half-Marathon 2012

EVENT: Carlsbad Half-Marathon
DATE: Sunday, January 22, 2012
LOCATION: Carlsbad, CA
RACE BEGAN: 7:30 am
FINISH TIME: 01:56:53

I signed up for this race last April (click here for my commentary on that), vowing that I would train hard over the holidays to bolster my performance.

Err, fat chance.

I feel like the crappiest, laziest, runner on the planet.  As I mentioned in my race report two weeks ago, the longest run I've attempted since November is 6 miles, and things haven't changed since then.  Weekly mileage looks more like 15, consisting of 3- and 4-milers, and that's at the top of the range.  I'm a little ashamed to admit it, but I'm honest, so there.

As we were sitting in the mall parking lot on race morning, I was filled with a sense of dread.  Dread because I had been run down on sleep for a few days, dread because I still have fresh memories of struggling through the 50 mph winds at Camarillo two weeks ago, and dread because I didn't feel like running at all.  But I chewed on my Honey Stinger chews (just like two weeks ago... I really will review these soon!) and hoped for the best.

Thank goodness there were ample port-a-potties at the start, since I had to use them, and it seemed like regardless of the huge quantity, there were enough people to use and wait in line for them.  A couple things about this race that I should mention that are not related to the run itself is its good organization (more on this later) and the sheer number of really, really fit people in the field.

I started in Wave 2, and I felt like I didn't belong there.  No, I didn't lie about my projected finish time, but it seemed like those around me was gunning for around 1:45.

Mile 1 - 8:32
Mile 2 - 8:12

I had my Garmin covered during the first few miles, so although I was holding back and allowing all the fit people in my wave pass me, these went quickly.  There were a few climbs throughout these first miles.  I guess since I last ran this race in 2008, I didn't remember these climbs (sorry for the mis-info, Cindy!).

Mile 3 - 8:38
Mile 4 - 8:43
Mile 5 - 8:52

In these miles, there was a long incline, which started more steep and then became less steep but still up and up.  My stomach was bloating up (TMI and too much Souplantaion the night before), but I held it together.

Mile 6 - 8:45
Mile 7 - 9:06

After a particularly annoying hill, I needed some energy drink and walked through the water station at the top to make sure I got enough, since I seemed to be missing it at the other stations.

Mile 8 - 8:42
Mile 9 - 9:01

Around this point, my right calf was tightening.  I never used to have this happen before during half-marathons, but in the past few (even when I was more trained), it has plagued me, as if my weird cramping condition that killed my last marathon was saying, "You can't avoid me just because you're doing a half!"

So, I held back my pace a bit, though the small hills continued.  I was breathing deeply to get oxygen to my legs and tried to shift my efforts to my upper body.

Mile 10 - 9:07
Mile 11 - 9:24

It seems like the hills didn't stop, and there weren't too many huge downhills to compensate.  I heard someone say, "I think this is the last hill" three times.  Hah!  I knew I was on pace to finish sub-2 but not fast enough to hit my PR   Although I had not quite been giving 100% due to feeling "over" the whole racing thing, I pushed at the end because I just wanted it to be over, even though my untrained legs were tired.

Mile 12 - 9:13
Mile 13 - 8:57
.22 Mile - 7:52

I sprinted at the last turn to make it in before 1:57 and felt like puking. =P

I was really happy that the finish chute was mostly clear this time, as in 2008, this area had been a nightmare.  Glad to see that they worked it out.

Note that I have not done a sub-2 half since 2010, probably because I only ran trail half-marathons in 2011, but still.  Also notable is the fact that the last time I did this race, my finish time was 2:12.  Not bad, since not training and walking through water stations certainly don't lead to a PR, but this lack of discipline seems to be working.  Unfortunately.  Please don't follow suit.  It just seems to be working for me because I am less likely to get burnt out or injured?????????  Also, I still think that The Bar Method DVDs I've been doing have been helping somehow.

Bottom line, I am satisfied with my mediocrity.  Okay, I don't really mean that, but even when I was training, I wasn't exactly running times like these; this is one of my top finish times (3rd or 4th best of my 21 half-marathons).  Although there could be better times for me, I'm not sure how to get there without the burnout or injury.  So as much as I can do OK doing what I'm doing, I'll accept that perhaps I'm just a weird case and benefit from "less is more."

I have another half in two weeks (yes, again).  I didn't plan it this way, but hopefully I can clear my mind and be more enthusiastic about it.

Race pictures (from Brightroom):

Thursday, January 19, 2012

ThinkThin Bars

I finally tried these ThinkThin bars after scoffing at them whenever I saw them in the supermarkets.  (Plus, they went on sale.)

With a gimmicky name that uses the word "thin," I was skeptical.  Also, since the bar wasn't vegan, I was doubly dubious.

On the upside, this bar contains 20 grams of protein and no sugar, so it's actually not a bad meal-on-the-go (part of that meal, anyway, if your appetite is like mine).

The downside is that I didn't like the taste of this bar.  Eating it reminded me why I stopped eating whey protein (which contains little lactose and is generally OK for my intolerant self).  It is not nearly as delicious as Clif Builder bars, so I think it's unlikely that I will bother with them again. 

Bottom line, if you are not vegan and don't mind the whey taste, I'd say it's not a bad energy bar.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Harmony Valley Vegetarian Hamburger Mix


I noticed this bag of Vegetarian Hamburger mix in an aisle at Whole Foods one day and thought that it seemed like a cool concept.  I'm always totally jealous when I see convenience foods like this that are not meat- or dairy-free.  While it's not the healthiest thing, I want to have those sort of options, too!

Some time later, I was contacted to try this mix, which makes about six "burgers," or equates to about a pound of "beef."

First, you combine the contents of the bag with water and let it sit for a bit.

I followed a recipe that they sent me for Southwestern burgers, so the following ingredients were added...

The patties.  I have to confess here that "The Ukrainian" did most of the work at this point.


Here's the finished product (doused in BBQ sauce) with a salad.  "The Ukrainian," a "meat guy," said he liked the texture of this faux burger, as it was a little chewy and meaty.  I found it to be a touch salty, but that could be due to the canned ingredients added from above.

Quite honestly, I've made veggie burgers before and find that an easy process in itself.  However, even shortcuts sometimes require shortcuts, so if you're in this category, this stuff would work well, probably in a vegetarian chili recipe.

FTC Disclaimer: I was provided a sample of this product to try but was not compensated to provide any particular opinion.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Review: Bob Harper's Ultimate Cardio Body

It's supposed to be a government holiday today, but I am no government worker, so it's another day of workout videos (and maybe running after work) for me.

Now, some people might look down on workout videos that aren't Insanity or P90X(2!), or assume that people who do workout videos aren't still "runners."  So far, I don't feel that either of those reactions are always true.

I've barely stepped foot in a gym for two months, yet I feel trimmer and just as fit with my running as I did when I was running more miles per week.  My weight has been coming down, and I get to work out from the comfort of my own home -- which gives me little excuse not to do it.

I'm not sure what it is -- new challenges? not phoning it in on a boring cardio machine? but I now have to restrain myself from buying too many of these DVDs too soon.  One of my more recent purchases is this Bob Harper Ultimate Cardio Body one.

This video is different from Jillian's videos.  In this one, he uses normal people as his "back-up exercisers."  In fact, this one guy in the back keeps getting called out for giving up, which is kind of funny and makes me feel better about myself. ;)

What I liked about this video is that the workout is 60 minutes, which is about 15 minutes longer than most of the other DVDs I do.  This can also be a con.  Usually, I don't have that long to work out before work, unless I wake up earlier (not willing at this time!).  However, it does wipe me out to work out that long, and that is satisfying.

I also liked that there was a progress bar at the bottom of the screen, kind of like P-90X.  And I don't think you really need any equipment to do it.  Bob is not too annoying, though it was hard for me to warm up to him.  Though to be fair, it generally takes me a while to "like" any workout video instructor... like once I can zone out when I know the moves!!

The bad part is that there is a lot of repetitive stuff... lunges, some pylo, etc., that my knees don't tolerate well.  If you can get beyond that, this workout did have me cursing toward the end (in a good way, I guess).  I feel I have pretty strong legs from running and squats/lunges that I do, but pylo is something I (and my legs) really, really, really don't like.

People on Amazon were positive about this video, but I'm pretty sure I won't be using this more than once in a while.  I guess I'm just too chicken.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Post about Sauerkraut

A while back, I was watching a Rachel Ray cooking show with my older sister and newborn niece, and when she made a reuben sandwich with sauerkraut, I nearly died.

The next day, I wanted sauerkraut so badly that I hit up a local hot dog place that served veggie hot dogs with sauerkraut on top.  More than the rest of the hot dog, I enjoyed the pickle-y goodness and had to replicate it at home.

Cue Tofurkey.  I have previously eaten these fake sausages before and knew they'd be good in a dish with my beloved sauerkraut.  "The Ukrainian" pan-fried them with onions and enoki mushrooms (weird, but good!) and doused them in Lee Roy's BBQ sauce that we got from Foodbuzz Festival.

"The Ukrainian" put his in a roll.

As a side note, I also made a side of stir-fried broccoli.  I don't know how I could have only taken one, blurry picture, but here it is.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Here is a post that has been sitting in my Drafts folder for a while.  I wanted to wait until the whole "peanut flour" craze died down a bit.

I got onto this bandwagon after I randomly spotted it at Trader Joe's and was hoping to use it as a vegan protein powder.  Made out of unsalted, ground-up peanuts only, it is high in protein and healthy fats.  When I realized the whole protein shake thing wasn't happening, I started putting it in my oatmeal instead of peanut butter.  This saved me from destroying jars of peanut butter in a short time yet still have the peanutty tastes in my oats.

Then, the peanut flour could no longer be found.  I had to order three bags online.  While I haven't used it for baking yet, I did use it for microwave "cakes."

Okay, so these don't taste like cake, but it does turn oats and a few other things into something bread-like.  My normal concoction was:

1/3 c. oats (instant or old-fashioned work fine)
1/4 c. egg whites (leftover from THIS incident)
1/4 c. peanut flour
1/2 Tbsp flax seeds (I know ground flax is better, but this is what I have at the moment)
1/2 tsp cinnamon, or pumpkin pie spice
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp carob powder (if desired)
1/2 scoop of Amazing Meal (if desired... just trying to use it up)
1/4 c. non-dairy milk

Combine the dry ingredients with the milk.  The oats should be wet but not runny.  The runnier the "batter" gets, the more fluffy and moist the end-product will be.  Adjust to your tastes.

Microwave on high for about 2 minutes.

Here's the end result.  I am bad and sometimes eat this with a bit of butter, cream cheese, or peanut butter.

I even made a variation with pumpkin  If you add pumpkin, decrease the egg white and milk a little bit.

So, if you're tiring of oatmeal and want another way to get those cholesterol-wipers into your system, this could be a viable option...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Fondue Will Do

...but Sartre is smarter??? (reference joke here)

First of all, a huge thank you to those who provided such thoughtful comments on my last post about wedding woes.  All of your stories were so fun to read.  We think we've  made a decision, but that can wait for another time. ;)


A few weeks ago, my friends came over to help use christen the lonely fondue kit (and three-tier tray).

Tier 1: carrots/celery
Tier 2: (banh mi) baguette bread
Tier 3: mini pretzels and more bread... plus some salami hidden in the back

Some Private Selection BBQ chicken thin crust pizza served as an appetizer while the fondue was being prepared.  These pizzas are kind of small, although it's not a "single-serve" pizza.  One of my guests pretty much annihilated the pizza within a few minutes.

So I used a generic fondue recipe that contained garlic, gruyere and swiss cheeses, cornstarch, and cooking wine.  Since I was being cheap, I used a gruyere+cheddar blend, which worked well, except I think it made the whole thing a touch on the salty side.  Why don't I ever learn when not to skimp??

Other items on the table included this caramel goat cheese from the farmer's market in San Francisco:

And this white balsalmic jelly from the House of Balsamic.  If you love balsamic in your sandwiches but not the feel of soggy bread, this is the perfect solution.  My friends enjoyed sampling it on baguettes.

We also dipped bread in orange balsamic... also from the House of Balsamic.  I can't wait to try it in a salad!  The flavor was lightly cirtus-y and not too sour like some balsamics can be.

After the "main course" (which was mostly bread, as you can tell by the pictures), we moved on to the dessert phase.

Most chocolate fondue recipes require milk, butter, or heavy cream, but we forewent all of that and just dumped 50% dark chocolate chips and 50% milk chocolate chips into the boiler and went for it.

I cleaned and refilled the trays.

Tier 1: apples and strawberries
Tier 2: shortbread cookies (homemade--see below), bacon (!)
Tier 3: more strawberries, cubed pumpkin bread and pannetone

The strawberries, were the most classic and best-tasting.

I got a bit crafty and baked some shortbread cookies.  I combined the dough (pretty much just sugar,butter, flour, and vanilla extract) the night before and rolled it into a log, which I cut the next day and baked for 15 minutes (probably too long in retrospect). 

I topped some with lavender sugar from Ticings, which had blown me away at Foodbuzz Festival.  Unforunately, the flavor didn't come through once baked, so I really should have just used it for the strawberries.  I topped the other cookies with some green+white sprinkles, also from Ticings, but they seemed to change color in the oven.

My friends liked the cookies and told me that when topped with chocolate, it tasted like one of those expensive cookies at natural grocers.  I took it as a compliment!

We enjoyed all of this with beer and wine.  This wine glass is special because I earned it from a race, and I gave it to "The Ukrainian" the day he asked me to be his girlfriend.

This was actually not a very expensive or labor-intensive way to treat my friends to a nice dinner.  They left half-dazed and in a nice food coma, so I think I did my job correctly.

FTC Disclaimer: I was sent samples from the House of Balsamic and Ticings to try but was not otherwise compensated to provide any particular opinion.  I was also sent a sample of Private Selection products from BzzAgent to provide a review but not compensated.