To My Best Friend on Her Birthday

Biscuit 4

To the pup that makes me smile on a daily basis;

To the beast that sometimes wakes me with her dream-woofs and contented snores in the dark of night;

To my huntress extraordinaire—chaser of cats and squirrels;Biscuit 1

To the sweetheart who, for the three years before I met Bryan, snuggled with me when I got home from bad dates;

To the pup who is always foraging and acts like I don’t feed her;

To the dog who simply wants to run full throttle through grassy parks and windows of sunlight, and that would be enough;

To the pup who used to chase her tail, but stopped after she caught it, because hey, she conquered it;

To the girl who sits in the most unladylike of positions and who burps and farts whenever she pleases (we now consider these outbursts signs of affection);

To the pupper who snuggles with her Wookie sweater like it’s a real-life Wookie;

To the best judge of character I know (Biscuit never liked any of the boys I brought home until Bryan walked through the door, and she promptly climbed into his lap on the couch, literally the first night he came over);

Biscuit 2To the girl who reminds me how important it is to run and play;

To our morning alarm clock, who wakes us up by honking like a goose;

To the dog with the most expressive ears and everlasting eyeliner;

To the girl with the best and brightest smile I know;

To the best damn cuddle-bug this side of the Mississippi;

 

To the pup who’s taught me everything I know about unconditional love;

To the girl who can never get enough ear scratches;

To someone who loves peanut butter just as much as I do;

To the one in my life who always has a big kiss for me;

To the pup who is showing me how to age with gusto and grace – enjoy your food, get outside, take long naps, sunbathe, take it all in, love deeply, embrace every chance you get to play, and most importantly, pants are overrated;

Biscuit 3To the girl who always knows when I’m not feeling well and makes a point to stay glued by my side;

To the exasperating ball of fur who eats grass to spite me when I won’t let her chase anything that moves during our walks;

To the girl who’s expanded my heart in ways I couldn’t imagine;

To the pup who chose me as much as I chose her;

Who saved me as much as I saved her;

To my best friend, Biscuit, on her eighth birthday: I love you, now and always.

Unexpected Numbers

 

31 2

“31” by Flickr user “duncan c.”

When I was a kid, I thought thirty sounded like a magical age. I liked the number, because it was round and crisp and seemed very grown up. Precocious little thing that I was, I would tell people I couldn’t wait to turn thirty.

Well, last year I did. And thirty wasn’t exactly what I expected it to be.

When I was little, I thought that by the age of thirty, I’d be married, have two kids, and be on the New York Times Bestseller’s List (yes, I had stretch goals). I think the word to describe the picture that was once in my head is “settled.” Little did I know, a more apropos word would turn out to be “transition.”

A day after my thirtieth birthday, my fiancé (who was only my boyfriend at the time) and I got into a car and drove to San Diego. We were ready to build a whole new life together in California. There, we had a hip new downtown apartment, greater proximity to family, and the promise of salty sea air. Two days later, I started a new job in a new industry in which I’d need to learn new skill sets.

Quite frankly, nothing was settled. Everything was just beginning at thirty.

Okay, thirty isn’t the age I was thinking of as a kid, I thought. I was off a year, which makes sense. Let’s face it, you’re no good at math.

I knew thirty was going to be a rollercoaster, so I strapped myself in and tried not to hold my breath.

Now, a week away from my thirty-first birthday, I’m experiencing some Twilight Zone sort of déjà vu, because nothing has slowed down, and the adventure is continuing at a breakneck speed. My man and I got engaged on Christmas morning thanks to a Nancy Drew book and a Victorian ring, so wedding planning is a thing now.

A week and a half ago, we moved into a new apartment in a neighborhood that we love. Our new place has hardwood floors, ample space for my writing desk (hooray!), and is walking distance from … I believe we’ve counted nine breweries so far?

This past Monday, I began my dream job with a small, independent academic publisher. I’m creating content like a madwoman, they trust my writing and marketing expertise, and I have agency for days. This company offers intramural sports every day of the week (yoga, volleyball, bocce ball, basketball, and bootcamp) and encourage you to work hard, then play hard. I had to buy new jeans to fit their casual dress code (score!). They have a monthly book club. I’m completely in love.

Me and my fiancé, yeah, we’re anything but settled right now. Rather, we’re standing on the precipice of uncertainty again, throwing rocks, trying to gauge just how deep that big expanse of unknowing is.

But there are a few things I do know. This year, I’ll be thirty-one. I’ll be planning a wedding. I’ll be working my ass off in an industry I’m passionate about. I’m going to fail, and I’m going to win. I’ll be inviting friends over to dine al fresco on our fabulous, second-story outdoor patio. I’ll be making more effort to build friendships and find my people in this dynamic, gorgeous city. I’ll battle anxiety and depression. I’ll also enjoy unbridled happiness and buckets of excitement.

I’ll breathe—even though I’m airborne. Upside down. Taking curves at unnatural speeds. Screaming. Laughing. Crying. My belly will drop. My head will spin. I’ll beg to go again and again.

Thirty was a magical age. Thirty-one will be, too.

Let’s ride.

 

Operation: Holy Cannoli!

I was terrified–for a number of reasons.

1. The last time I tried to fry anything at home stovetop, Dan and I may or may not have experienced a small grease fire on one of my burners.

2. On the back of the Crisco packets, the warning labels were very clear to point out that the Crisco could catch fire if it got too hot. And let me be clear, this is not if the Crisco bubbles over the side of the pot and makes contact with the burner – this is IN THE POT ITSELF. You best believe I put the puppy in the backyard and the fire extinguisher a couple feet away.

3. The last time I tried to make dough was for a pie for my mom’s birthday a number of years ago. I wound up in the ER that day–albeit, it was due to the knee surgery I’d had about a week prior, not the dough-making. But, you know, association with past experiences…

4. I really wanted to surprise my boyfriend with homemade cannoli for his birthday–and I hadn’t devised a Plan B in case Operation Holy Cannoli went terribly wrong.

Now, those of you who know me personally are probably thinking, But you’re the cupcake queen, and you cook, too. I’ve always assumed you’re a whiz in the kitchen.

Okay, maybe it’s a little egotistical of me to think you think that…

The fact of the matter is batter doesn’t bite back. It may not turn out as planned, but you can toss it without incurring third degree burns or double-checking your homeowners insurance policy for coverage.

Also, I’m a cannoli-making virgin. I will never claim to be a pastry goddess (although I guess I should never say never, right?) and I have mad respect for pastry chefs. Some of the toughest stuff to make in my book.

But when all is said and done, my German pride was up for the challenge. And being twitterpated makes people do crazy things. I turned on my James Morrison Pandora station, got out a pumpkin ale, and readied myself to romance my kitchen.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that cannoli recipes call for white wine. This is why I love Italians. Flickr photo by “theuptownlife.”

The first recipe I tried for the dough was a terrible flop. I couldn’t work the dough to the right consistency. It was flaky and crumbly, despite the copious amounts of wine I added to the mixture, a little at a time per the instructions. Food.com, I was not amused.

When a quarter of the bottle wound up in my bowl and it still wasn’t working, I took a swig of chardonnay and decided to try the recipe printed on the back of my cannoli tube packages instead.

Eureka! The differences in the recipes were subtle, but the second recipe was so much easier to execute and made more sense to me in terms of the food science involved. I wound up with a nice ball of dough. So far, so good.

As I let the dough chill, I prepared for frying. I probably need to invest in a proper pot for this sort of thing, because my selection was limited. I had a deep pot, but the surface area was rather large and I was afraid I would use an entire family-sized tub of Crisco to get the melted shortening deep enough for frying. The thought of that made me gain about 10 pounds.

Option B was the kind of pot I prepare boxed mac and cheese in. I went with that one even though it wasn’t especially deep…but not before consulting a YouTube video of Mario Batali giving cannoli shell frying instructions. Mario helped to calm my nerves.

I did some more online research and determined that as long as I had two inches free above my frying liquid and I only heated the Crisco over medium heat, I should be good.

I melted the Crisco, rolled out the dough, cut it with margarita glasses, and egg-washed the spot where the dough came together around the tubes.

When I dropped the first two cannoli in, I held my breath…and then let it out as I watched the dough expand and turn a beautiful golden brown. The shortening only bubbled around the shells and didn’t threaten to bubble over the side of my pot.

Removing the guinea pig shells, I started to get excited. They looked good, nothing was smoking, and I wasn’t having any heart palpitations.

I fried 12 shells that night, each one even better looking than the one before. My fear turned into confidence as Mr. Morrison sang about love and my kitchen took on the aroma of fried dough.

The next night, I made the filling, complete with maraschino cherries and mini chocolate chips. To maintain the crispy/creamy contrast that really makes cannoli special, I didn’t fill the shells until just before I served them up to my boyfriend and some of his friends who celebrated with us.

And the looks on their faces as they dug in made all of the fear and anticipation worth it. Because that’s what matters–creating a food experience for others, creating a memory or a moment. It’s why “foodies” love food. It’s the senses going crazy, the association with who, what, why, where, how, and when, a flavor coming alive.

So, in terms of Operation Holy Cannoli–veni, vidi, vici.