Friday, December 30, 2011

Week 4 Update

The holidays suck for weight loss. Period.
Week 4
Total weight loss: 0 pounds
Number of workouts: 1
Number of days at or under 1600 calories: 1 (1 better than last week, but not good enough)
I don't have as many outings scheduled for the next week and I made a point of planning my meals really careful, so (hopefully) next week will be better.

I'm getting to sound like a broken record.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

It Tastes Like It's Snowing in My Mouth

A while back a good friend of mine requested "the perfect winter ice cream." Not long after that I found out I had moderately high cholesterol at the ripe old age of 31 and laid off the ice cream making. And then that same friend had a birthday, and I thought that maybe a batch of winter-inspired ice cream might be the perfect gift for her.

I was right.

Enter Peppermint Ice Cream. It's another David Lebovitz recipe via Use Real Butter, and it is delicious. I added a touch more peppermint extract to my version, which appears below.

Peppermint Ice Cream
Yield: approx. 1 1/2 quarts
2 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
8 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
3 tsp peppermint extract
1/2 cup peppermint candy, crushed (don't crush too fine, or you'll get dust that dissolves and turns the ice cream pink - you want small pieces of candy here)

Heat the milk, sugar, and salt in a saucepan until sugar and salt are dissolved (stir slowly and don’t let the mixture boil). Set the cream in a bowl nested in an ice bath. Place a sieve on top of the bowl with the cream. In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm milk mixture into the eggs while whisking constantly (take care not to cook the eggs – this is why you temper them with the warm milk slowly). Pour the contents back into your saucepan. Heat the mixture over medium-low flame and stir constantly with a spoon or spatula (scrape the bottom and corners of the pan so you don’t get uneven cooking). Do this for about 5-7 minutes until you get nappe consistency (coats the back of the spoon). Pour the custard through the sieve into the cream. Stir to cool over the ice bath and then chill thoroughly in the refrigerator. Once mixture is chilled, add peppermint extract to your desired taste. Freeze in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. After the ice cream is done in the machine, stir in your candy and then store in an airtight vessel and freeze.

And, voila!

Fresh, cool, minty ice cream. The smooth peppermint flavor goes down quite well, while the occasional bites of peppermint candy are a nice little pop. Perfect for winter - especially Christmas.

I'm thinking this might go into my holiday candy/cookie gift rotation for next year. A small container for everyone sends a special holiday wish, I think.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Week 3 Update

Another rough diet week. And then my mother sent me toffee. Today is good, but that counts for Week 4. 
Week 3
Total weight loss: 0 pounds (sigh)
Number of workouts: 1
Number of days at or under 1600 calories: 0
I'll be better next week, I promise.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Fear's End

The end of the year is approaching, and like most people, this prompts me to reflect on everything the past 12 months have brought. It makes me think about where I was a year ago, how far I've traveled, and where I've ended up. It reminds me of all that I've learned. More than anything, it shows me that I am no longer afraid.

A year and a half ago, when my divorce was finalized, I was terrified. I was afraid of being alone for the rest of my life, and I questioned whether something was better than nothing. I worried that I rejected the only person who would ever love me. I feared that others would reject me in the same way. I clung to what was safe and familiar and I made some choices that I don't care to repeat. 

I took a break, I regrouped, and I rebooted my life. I took chances. I traveled abroad alone for the first time. I dated - a lot. I learned how to be alone. I found new friends. I kept the old ones. I stood up for what I believed in. I failed. I succeeded. And I woke up one morning last week and I realized that I'm not afraid anymore.

I'm not afraid to hurt. I've been through a failed marriage. I know now that I can make a commitment and think that it will last forever and that it might not. I know now that this can bring loss and sadness that hurt more than I ever imagined. And I know now that I am not afraid of that loss and sadness and pain. I want love. I want a human connection. And I am willing to risk hurting and losing on the off chance that I might have love one day. I'm not afraid to hurt. I want to love.

I'm not afraid to take a risk. I know that I can do new things - hard things - on my own. I know that I won't just get through them, but that I will be better for having done them, and sometimes even enjoy them. I know that I want to experience what the world has to offer. I know that I will never be 31 years old and single and childless again. I'm not afraid to take a risk. I want to live.

My life isn't going to live itself. And I'm not waiting for someone else to jump start it anymore. 

I'm signing up for a roller derby rec league next month. I haven't worn roller skates in 20 years, and I will probably be horrible and embarrass myself terribly and I don't care, because I want to experience it and know that I've done it. And if I hate it then I can quit. But at least I'll have done it.

I'm traveling to Paris for two weeks this spring. I'm going to book a flight and rent an apartment and wander the streets of one of the world's most picturesque cities all alone, on my terms, because I can. I'm not afraid of getting lost or accidentally ordering escargots when I meant to order a latte or even being scared and confused in a foreign country and having to fly home early. I would rather have any one of those things happen - or all of them - than feel like I'm not living.

I'm going to keep opening myself up to love. As much as it hurts sometimes - the anticipation and the hope followed by the disappointment and the sadness - I'm going to keep doing it. Because in the process I'm learning about myself and becoming more myself, and those are good things. I hope that there will be something great at the end of it. That something may or may not last, but I'll have gained the knowledge and the tools along the way to give it the best chance possible. And even if it doesn't last, at least I will have known joy and truly loved.

I'm not afraid to try any of these things. 

I'm not afraid to fail at all of them.

I'm not afraid.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Week 2 Update

This week was worse than the first, by far. I ate and drank with friends, went to a holiday party and took a candy-making class, so you can just imagine what my diet was like. What's worse, I didn't make enough time for exercise. I'm irritated with my lack of discipline.

Week 2
Total weight loss: 0 pounds (what a difference crappy eating and laziness make!)
Number of workouts: 1
Number of days at or under 1600 calories: 0

With three social gatherings already on my calendar, next week won't be any easier, either. To balance all the eating out, I need to be more diligent about getting to the gym three times a week - at least.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

It's All Just Fine

I haven't been able to relax for the last few weeks. I thought maybe it was because I'd overbooked myself, with happy hours and dates and cooking classes and travel for work, and I was looking forward to a few evenings to myself. But now that I've had a few quiet days to catch my breath, I'm noticing that the tension isn't subsiding. I can't blame it on the busy holiday season because I'm not traveling and I have a grand total of only two gifts to buy this year, one of which is already taken care of. It's not carryover stress from work or conflicts in my personal life, either. I just feel a restlessness, like there's something I need to be doing and I can't catch my breath until it's done. 

The truth is, everything is more or less fine. And that's a pretty unfamiliar state of affairs for me. I can't remember the last time I said that.

I'm relatively content at work. Most of my personal relationships are in a good place, and those that aren't are probably better off that way. I have a pretty healthy social life with a great circle of friends. I recently met an interesting guy and I'm looking forward to seeing where things go with him, but if they don't work out, I'm certain I'll be fine. Juliette is healthy. I'm working on getting healthier. I have enough money to pay my bills and save for a vacation next year.

Things are good.

And yet I can't shake this feeling that I need to be working on something, doing something, fixing something. I don't know how to just sit with this state of affairs and be content. It feels awkward, as if even though everything is okay, I should be working on making it better. As if "okay" isn't really okay somehow.

I've never been very good at the concept of "good enough." I'm told Type A overachiever perfectionists usually aren't. There's always something more I could do, or that could be done better. The strange truth, though, is that the endless striving makes me profoundly unhappy, but I also don't know how to just accept "good enough" or "fine" either. It's a lovely little Catch-22 I've created for myself here.

I think what I need to do is actually practice accepting things as being good enough. I have to force myself not to take all this pent up energy and put it into making things better or doing more, and instead just let it dissipate. 

I have to put effort into not putting effort into things.

I live in a very bizarre world.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Week 1 Update

The first week of getting healthier was a mixed bag. On one hand, I made it to the gym three times, which is three more times than I'd normally go. On the other hand, traveling for work (and happy hour) means I only ate the way I should have two days out of seven - I definitely need to work on that. But for the best news, see below:

Week 1
Weight loss: 1 pound (I know, it's all water, but still, indulge me!)
Number of workouts: 3
Number of days at or under 1600 calories: 2 

Next week will be a tough one, too, with office holiday parties and get-togethers with friends. But I really need to stick it out. I feel better about myself when I'm making an effort, even if I'm not seeing results yet. I just need to remind myself of that when I pass the dessert buffet at the Christmas party next week.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Aural Espresso

This is one of those mornings when I can't wake up. I start working on something and about two minutes later I'm staring off into space thinking about how warm my bed would be right now (it doesn't help that, for whatever reason, my office is still running the air conditioning when it's 36 degrees outside). If my new office didn't have a cement floor, I'd be napping under my desk right now.

Music has the ability to shift my mood almost instantaneously. Enter The Black Keys. This song (yes, on repeat, I admit) is slowly but surely getting my ass in gear this morning. And when I leave on a short trip for work this afternoon, the entire album will probably be my soundtrack.

It doesn't hurt that the dancing in this video is quite possibly the best* I've ever seen.

*And by "best," I mean "most hysterical."

Update: There's some full-blown chair dancing going on in my office. You known you're jealous. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Fat Ass No More

I have good news and I have bad news. 

First, the good news: Project Ass-pansion 2011 was a success!

Now, the bad news: Project Ass-pansion 2011 was a success.

I went to my doctor for my annual physical shortly before Thanksgiving and weighed in at my highest weight ever. No, I won't share the number with you. Suffice to say that when my doctor jotted down my ideal weight, I discovered that I've got 50+ pounds to lose. Yes, that's right. More than 50 pounds.

This isn't exactly a shock. I've been overweight for most of my adult life, but I've never been this overweight. And never with resulting health complications, like the near constant pain in my lower back over the last 6 months and my brand spankin' new cholesterol level of 219 (a full 40 points over where it was a couple years ago).

The best/worst part of it all is that I know I can lose this weight. Before I got married I lost 30 pounds by limiting my calorie intake and exercising 2-3 times a week. It was an entirely sustainable lifestyle, and then I got lazy, and then I got divorced. Turns out that lazy + divorced = fat ass. Who knew?

So to counter this laziness, I need to do two things: set some goals for myself, and make myself accountable. To you. Every Friday I'll post my progress and how well I adhered to my goals, and you'll be the enthusiastic and supportive readers I know you can be. And in exchange for holding me accountable and cheering me on, you get the voyeuristic experience of watching me succeed, or fail, at getting healthier. Lucky you.

My exercise goal is 3 workouts per week. This should be quite do-able since I signed up for twice weekly circuit training classes at the gym at work, leaving me just one workout to do on my own. I'm going to limit myself to 1600 calories a day to start, which is completely reasonable, and aim to meet that goal 5 out of 7 days of the week. Because I need a little splurge now and then.

So, without further ado....

Week 0:
Weight loss: 0 pounds
Number of workouts: 1 (32 minutes resistance training, 10 minutes exceptionally light cardio)
Number of days at or under 1600 calories: Didn't keep track. 

I'll post this on Friday mornings, and it will reflect the previous 7 days. This coming week won't be easy: I'll be traveling for work and eating out a lot, which always makes it more difficult. But I'm going to try, which is the only way I know to do this, and hopefully make a little progress - or at least not let the situation get any worse.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Cultivating Happiness

I've written before that I'm a planner by nature. This means I spend a great deal of time focusing on the future and how to get to it, and not a whole lot of energy consciously experiencing the present. It has made for a somewhat angsty existence. So, in my effort to spend less of my life frustrated and unhappy and to get to a happier place, I've decided that I'm going to have to cultivate that happiness, however awkward that may be.

Part of me hates the idea that I have to work at happiness. Society tells us that it should not only come naturally, but that it should be our default position. In reality, I don't think that ever actually happens. The most we can expect is general contentedness, with moments of happiness. And really, that's not such a bad deal.

So, I'm cultivating happy moments. When they happen - and yes, they do happen - I am making a point of pausing and noticing them, mentally recording them, and appreciating them for how they add to my days. The moments are varied. There was the laughter-filled afternoon I spent in Fort Worth last week, drinking beers with a good friend and laughing hysterically over inside jokes about river dolphins and cute waiters who are now officially too young for me. It was followed by the next morning's car trip home, during which I blared Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" as loud as I wanted and sang even louder, dancing and driving and appreciating that I have a job that's flexible enough to allow me a few days off pretty much any time I want. This past weekend brought a home-cooked lunch with my best friend, after which we laid on the couch and moaned about how full we were and I thought, "Something as simple as melted cheese for lunch with my best friend is pretty great."

It's not that the substance of my life is changing. These are all things I've done before. I just didn't pause to appreciate them and then file them away in my mental catalog of happy moments. I'm striving to consciously notice one of these moments per day - just one - and I'm already finding that it's changing the way I feel about my life. Instead of constantly looking to the future and plotting a path to that mythical, big-H Happiness, I'm finding happiness in the little things. And for now, that seems to be enough.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Still Fresh

As much as I'd like to think that I don't repeat my mistakes, the truth is that I sometimes often do. And on the rare occasions that I'm able to see one of these repeats coming, recalling an old blog post can help me remember the pain of past mistakes and motivate me to avoid them.

Last year I wrote about a guy an asshole who repeatedly took advantage of my time. He'd make plans and break them, or worse, say, "We'll do something later this week," and then never follow through (in the meantime, I'd foolishly keep my schedule open and... wait...). He had excuses, and always told me that he really did want to spend time with me, but had work/family/fill-in-the-blank-with-an-important-sounding-thing obligations that kept him from being able to. He even chose watching a 15-year-old movie that rated a paltry 36% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes over spending time with me, leading me to question exactly how fresh I would rate in comparison. I put up with this for months until I finally realized that he actually was doing exactly what he wanted to do, but that just didn't include making time for me. The lesson I took away from it was that in situations like this, it's better to believe what people do than what they say.

So when I went on what seemed like a promising first date a couple weeks ago, I was really excited at the end of the date when the guy asked if I'd like to get together the following week to see a movie. I told him, yes, I'd love to. A three-day weekend followed, and I knew he had plans and didn't expect a call right away. When a few days passed and I didn't hear from him, I texted him to say I had a good time and hoped we could do it again. He apologized for being out of touch, and saying that yes, he'd like to go out again, we'd see a movie later that week, let's play the day/time by ear. 

This triggered red flags for me. Ever since the guy asshole last year, I've been hyper-sensitive to men leaving me dangling, expecting me to keep my schedule open and be on call for them. But I didn't want to be That Girl, the crazy one who gets pissy out of nowhere and clearly has some serious baggage, setting off red flags of his own. And besides, he hadn't brushed me off - yet. So instead, I replied with, "Sounds good. But keep in mind, my dance card fills quickly." I followed it with a little winking emoticon to let him know I wasn't trying to be difficult or rude, just wanting to plan something ahead of time. He responded saying we'd be sure to plan something in advance then, complete with a winking emoticon of his own.

Except he didn't. He didn't call, or text, or email to make plans. He did absolutely nothing. I sat around, wringing my hands and wondering if I should follow up again. Maybe he thought that when I said my dance card fills quickly I was giving him the brush off? But no, that didn't make sense, since I had followed up with him, so clearly I wanted to see him again, right...? I rehashed it over and over and over again. And then, finally, I remembered the lesson I learned last year: ultimately, he's going to do exactly what he wants to do. I signaled - twice! - that I'd like to see him again. I even gave him an opening to schedule something. I couldn't have been clearer about my interest. If he wanted to see me again, he would call. Simple as that.

That doesn't make it sting any less, and it really doesn't leave me any less confused - I still don't get why he'd go to the trouble of asking to see me again, reiterate that he wanted to do so, and then just disappear. But the irritation I feel does reinforce one thing for me: I really want the person I'm dating to be someone who is honest and up-front and does what he says he's going to do. I'm direct and usually follow through on my commitments, and I have little patience for people who can't give me the same courtesies. 

Of course, I also want someone smart enough to recognize just how fresh I am. And this guy imbecile clearly wasn't him.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today was my birthday. I celebrated it over several days with some of my favorite people. There was a party with a Mexican luchador pinata we named Jorge (#RIPJorge), appetizers and the most amazing cupcakes baked by my friend Amy, and more cookies and beer and wine and presents and even more cupcakes than any girl has the right to expect. Then on Monday I went to Fort Worth for a meeting and spent the afternoon and evening with some of my fabulous friends who live there. And if that wasn't enough, I took today off work and got my hair all done up and a massage and ate horribly unhealthy things like leftover bean dip and cupcakes and didn't feel guilty about it at all because that's what 31 year olds do, right?

(Humor me.)

Truth be told, I wasn't really looking forward to this birthday quite the way I did the last one. I've had a series of disappointments over the last couple months and I didn't really want to make a big deal of my birthday, but I was convinced to celebrate and I'm glad for that.

That wasn't the way I planned for this post to begin. In fact, I've been stewing on an entirely different birthday blog post for a week or so, but I just couldn't get it to come together the way I wanted. The gist of it was this: again and again over the last year, life (or, more accurately, people) has shown me that I can't really rely on anyone except myself. People let me down in ways that are seemingly small but that deeply fractured my trust in them, perhaps irreparably. Other people let me get my hopes up only to prove that they never really meant to fulfill them. And still others made promises I should have known better than to expect them to keep. Over and over again, I felt let down by the people around me. It seemed like the lesson of year was that the only person I could rely on was me, and my birthday present to myself was going to be to avoid disappointments by only relying on myself from now on.

There's just one problem with that: it's utter bullshit. Yes, all those disappointments happened. But every time I've been let down by one person, another one has been there. I had a friend offer ("threaten" might actually be a more appropriate word) to fly me halfway across the country to spend the holidays with his family because he didn't want me to be alone. Countless other friends in Austin offered to let me spend the Christmas holiday with them. These people invited me into their homes and their families at a time of year that's supposed to be reserved for those closest to them. They did the opposite of let me down; without being asked and without hesitation, they propped me up when I needed it most. Other times, when I was frustrated or disappointed or depressed, they were there. Some listened, some brought me food, some made me laugh, some forgave me, and some prompted me to throw a birthday party when I really wasn't feeling up to it, but they were all there in the ways I needed them to be. Not once did my real friends let me down this year, and that's the lesson I need to take away from it all.

The people who really mattered were there when it counted, and they probably will continue to be.

So here's my revised birthday present to myself: the knowledge that I am surrounded by a community of supportive, funny, loving friends near and far who are there when I need them. It's just a bonus that they will also watch me drunkenly beat the hell out of a Mexican luchador pinata affectionately nicknamed Jorge and filled with pixy stix, condoms, and single servings of booze, knowing full well that I will leave Jorge's head swinging from the tree in my front yard for at least a week after the festivities are over.

That, right there, is the face of friendship.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Since It Has Pumpkin in It, This Counts as Health Food, Right?

I'm a pumpkin-loving gal. In middle school and high school, I often requested pumpkin pie in lieu of birthday cake (if you have any idea how much I love chocolate cake, you know how noteworthy this really is). My favorite part of Thanksgiving is the pumpkin pie and pumpkin cheesecake. So when a good friend of mine repeatedly requested "the perfect fall ice cream," the choice seemed obvious to me: pumpkin cheesecake ice cream.

I went with pumpkin cheesecake ice cream and not pumpkin pie ice cream because cheesecake already has a lot of dairy in it, making it easier to convert to an ice cream. I googled around and found a couple pumpkin cheesecake ice cream recipes, and went with the one I though sounded the best. I taste-tested the base before chilling and decided it wasn't pumpkin-y enough for my taste, so I more than doubled the amount of pumpkin in the recipe. But I still wasn't happy with the final results: the ice cream was too tangy. So the second time around I cut the amount of sour cream and upped the amount of cinnamon. And since I've discovered I like ice cream with texture, I folded in chunks of graham cracker crust. The second batch was perfect.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Ice Cream

Makes about 2 quarts

14 oz. cream cheese
1 (15.3 oz.) can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix!)
zest of 2 lemons
1 c. sour cream
2 c. half-and-half
1 1/3 c. sugar
6 t. cinnamon
1 t. ground ginger
2 t. grated nutmeg
1/2 t. ground allspice
1/2 t. ground cloves
1 graham cracker crust (I recommend store-bought because it breaks into chunks instead of crumbling - homemade tends to get crumbly)

Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Alternatively, put in a large bowl and blend with an immersion blender until smooth. Taste and adjust the spices if necessary.

Break the graham cracker crust into bite-sized pieces and refrigerate until ready to use.

Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator. Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions.

Fold in pieces of graham cracker crust, and transfer to container to finish freezing. For best results, let sit overnight or for a day or two for flavors to balance and meld.

If you don't want to go to the trouble of folding in a graham cracker crust, you can do what I did with my Raspberry Cheesecake Ice Cream: make an ice cream sandwich out of graham crackers. Similar effect, and perhaps a little less effort (and more fun to eat).

I'm especially proud of this little creation because it's the first time I've tweaked an existing recipe so much that it really is my own now. I don't often go off-script, but I'm really happy with the results this time. Perhaps I'll dare to go astray again in the future?

I doubt this batch will last until Thanksgiving - I just like it too much - so I'll probably be making more soon. I can't imagine it supplanting pumpkin pie and pumpkin cheesecake entirely, but it might be a good companion at the end of the meal.

Monday, November 7, 2011


I walked out of my therapist's office the other day $60 poorer and having lost another 50 minutes of my life to discussing what's become a recurring theme lately: my disappointments at work. The lack of upward mobility and the feeling that my work isn't valued, to be more specific. I've been struggling to find a way to make the situation work, but it doesn't seem to be happening and it's left me feeling angry and frustrated.

On my way out of the office, I spotted something on the ground. It looked like a word, so I leaned closer and discovered I was more or less right; it was a single piece of magnetic poetry.

Sometimes life forces you to face the questions you're not asking yourself. I know the superficial reasons why I'm unhappy at work - I listed them above - but that doesn't explain why the situation makes me so unhappy. So I asked myself the bigger "why?" - why does this really bother me so much? - and the answer became clear immediately. I feel trapped.

I've been in the same job for 5 1/2 years. I've progressed to the point that I make a good salary for someone my age. Good enough, in fact, that leaving my job will probably mean a pay cut - something I can't really afford. I work in a field that's very narrow, and there aren't a lot of opportunities where I live, which means I'll also probably have to move if I want a better job - something I don't want to do right now. And with no opportunities to move up, or even laterally, there isn't room for growth of any kind in my current situation. In short, I'm stuck. I'm only 30 years old (for another week, at least) and I already feel like my career has stalled out. That's the real reason I'm so bothered by the whole thing: I feel stagnant and powerless to do anything about it.

The thing about powerlessness - for me, anyway - is that it's usually false. There are very few situations in which I'm truly powerless; it's just that it's often easier to feel powerless than to do something about it. Lately, I think my default position has been "powerless," waiting for some amazing opportunity to land in my lap. Not only hasn't that happened, but it's probably not going to happen, and waiting around for it is only making me even more unhappy. So I've decided to do something about it.

I just don't know what. Yet.

But I'm going to figure that out. I need to think about my options more broadly. I can volunteer. I can try freelance writing. I can do more nonprofit work. I can blog more. Whatever it is, I need to find a way to feel more fulfilled, and if work isn't going to do it, then I need to figure out what will.

And more importantly, make it happen for myself.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Not-So-Random Act of Tremendous Generosity

I was out with some friends the other night and the subject of my homemade ice cream project came up. More specifically, that the endeavor met a premature demise thanks to yet another busted ice cream maker. I'd pretty much settled on throwing in the towel on the ice cream project when one of my friends objected that he'd never even gotten to sample anything I'd made. And then, out of nowhere, he offered to buy me a new one. In exchange, for the first batch I had to make his flavor of choice. I was a little reluctant - I never accept expensive gifts very well - but he really seemed to want to buy it for me, so I let him. It arrived late last week, complete with a spare bowl so that I can make consecutive batches of ice cream without having to wash and refreeze the bowl.

To be honest, this gift came at a great time. Work had me pretty bummed out last week, and I was in need of a pick-me-up. I got to work on my friend's requested flavor, peanut butter ice cream, right away. Surprisingly, there's no shortage of recipes for peanut butter-flavored ice cream on the internet. They were all no cook (eggless) recipes, so the base isn't a true custard, but the flavor is great, so who cares? Below is the recipe I used, slightly adapted.

Peanut Butter Ice Cream (adapted from Annie's Eats)
Yield: approx. 1 quart

3/4 c. creamy peanut butter (I used Simply Jif, which has less sugar than other varieties)
3/4 c. plus 2 T. sugar
2 2/3 c. half-and-half
Pinch of coarse salt (I used kosher)
Dash of vanilla extract (I used about 1/2 t.)

Combine all of the ingredients in a blender* and puree until completely smooth. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator. When the mixture is chilled through, remove it from the refrigerator and stir with a whisk to recombine all the ingredients (mine separated slightly while still in the fridge). Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions, then transfer to a container and continue to freeze to desired firmness.

*The original recipe called for either a blender or a food processor. I don't have a blender, so I went with my trusty 7-cup food processor. This was a mistake. The ingredients fill the food processor bowl more than halfway, and when you blend it and turn everything to liquid, it leaks out through the hole in the center of the bowl and all over the counter, down the cabinets, onto the floor, etc. So, um, yeah... stick with a blender. Trust me.

Let the ice cream sit in the freezer overnight to really develop the flavor, and you get this:


Since it's not a true custard, it's not quite as smooth as other ice creams. One option would be to swap out the half-and-half and substitute 2 parts cream to 1 part whole milk - this might make for a smoother base. But the taste is spot on. It reminds me of a peanut butter mousse - light, creamy and not overpoweringly peanut buttery. If you're a fan of peanut butter - and if you're not, what's wrong with you? - then this is definitely a recipe you need to try. I'll be making it again (perhaps for a good friend's upcoming birthday?), but I'll be borrowing a blender when I do.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

And So Ends Project Ass-pansion 2011

Ice cream season is officially over for me. I attempted one last flavor, Apple Pie Ice Cream, which came out so mediocre I forgot to even photograph it. But it wasn't that mini-failure that ended it for me; it was the death of another ice cream maker.

After its final use I washed and rinsed the ice cream maker, then inverted it on a dish towel on the counter to dry - something I've done plenty of times before. I came back a few hours later to put it away, and the coolant was leaking out all over the place. This is my second KitchenAid ice cream maker to suffer death by leakage, and the third one that's passed through my hands in four months (the second one arrived damaged and unusable thanks to shoddy packaging and shipping by the manufacturer). Based on what I've read on the web, these coolant leaks aren't exactly uncommon, and it seems fairly ridiculous to me for it to happen repeatedly after only half a dozen uses each time. So I'm throwing in the towel on ice cream making. For now, anyway (if anyone wants to gift me a stand-alone Cuisanart ice cream maker, on the other hand... well, I wouldn't turn it down).

This is especially sad for me because I was really excited for my next flavor: Pumpkin Cheesecake Ice Cream. A friend had been nagging me to come up with "a really good fall flavor" (Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Ice Cream wasn't good enough for you?), and I thought that might be it. Alas, the world will never know.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


It always surprises me how the faintest smell or sound can immediately take me back to some place. This song is no exception. Just hearing the first few notes remind of this Josh Ritter show in Dallas. He's one of my favorite artists to see live, and he's hilarious, passionate and energetic in-person. Listen closely to the lyrics and you'll get a special taste of his sense of humor.

Monday, October 10, 2011

When a Cookie Just Isn't Enough

I went on an oatmeal raisin cookie kick earlier this summer, so it's no surprise that one of the ice cream flavors I've been most excited to try my hand at is Oatmeal Raisin Cookie. I finally got the chance last weekend, and I have to admit - it tastes almost exactly like the real thing! Brown sugar-cinnamon ice cream base with oatmeal praline and rum-soaked raisins mixed in. I followed the recipe exactly and was completely happy with the results. The only real advice I have is to watch your caramel carefully when you're making the pralines - overcooking it gives the praline a strong flavor that overwhelms the other elements of the ice cream. The rest of my notes for the recipe are in italics, below.

Oatmeal Raisin Ice Cream
Recipe by David Lebovitz, via Dinner and Dessert.


¼ cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
½ cup raisins
2 teaspoons whiskey (I used rum)

Ice Cream:
1 cup whole milk
½ cup granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 large egg yolks
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Oatmeal Praline:
¾ cup rolled oats (not instant)
½ cup sugar
Pinch of coarse salt (I used kosher)

To prepare the raisins, heat the water and sugar in a small saucepan.  Add the raisins and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until all but about 2 tablespoons of the syrup has been absorbed, about 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat and add the whiskey (or rum). Set aside until ready to mix into ice cream. (Most of the rest of the liquid will be absorbed. I let mine sit for 4 hours or so, then strained off what wasn't absorbed before adding the raisins to the ice cream.)

To prepare the praline, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil, spread the oats evenly on the sheet, and bake for 10 minutes, stirring once or twice while baking, until the oats are fragrant and nicely toasted.  Remove from the oven. 

Spread the sugar in a medium, heavy-bottomed skillet and cook over medium heat, watching it carefully.  When it begins to liquify and darken at the edges, use a heatproof spatula to stir it very gently, encouraging the heat of the liquefied sugar around the edges to moisten and melt the sugar crystals in the center. Tilt the pan and stir gently until all the sugar is melted and the caramel begins to smoke. (Watch this carefully. Overcooking it makes the praline flavor overwhelming to the other flavors in the ice cream.) Once the mixture is deep golden, remove it from the heat and immediately add the oats to the skillet (lift the foil to guide them in quickly).  Return the foil to the baking sheet.

Stir the oats gently but quickly, coating them with the caramel.  Scrape the oats onto the foil-lined baking sheet and spread them as well as possible (and quickly, as they set up fast).  Sprinkle with the salt and let cool completely.  Once firm, break the praline oats into small pieces by pulsing them in a food processor or placing the pieces in a heavy-duty plastic bag and smacking them with a mallet or rolling pin. Set aside until ready to mix into ice cream.

To make the ice cream, warm the milk, granulated sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan.  Whisk the cream, brown sugar, and cinnamon together into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top.

In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks.  Slowly pour the warm milk mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula.  Be careful not to cook over too high heat, or the eggs will scramble and ruin the custard. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream.  Mix in the vanilla and stir until cool over an ice bath.
Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  During the last few minutes of churning, add the raisins and oatmeal praline.

For best flavor, let sit overnight for all the flavors to mellow and meld.

And, voila! 

It really does taste like an oatmeal raisin cookie, with all the brown sugar and cinnamon and plump raisins and toasted oats. I devoured this batch in a week, and no, I don't care what you think of that.

We're finally getting some cooler, fall-like weather here, and this flavor's spices and toasty flavor made a nice bridge between the seasons. But now I'm looking for something a little more traditionally "fall," in the hopes that it will finally encourage the season to arrive and stick around for a while. I think I've hit on the right flavor, so stay tuned....

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Jeepers Creepers

There is a turkey vulture in my backyard. Juliette and I are appropriately nervous, and wondering if he knows something we don't...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Heaven, I'm in Heaven...

I'm not making any more homemade ice cream.* It's not that I don't love it. I do. I really, really do. It's just that I can't possibly make a better one than the Lemon-Ginger Cookie Ice Cream I made a few weeks ago. 

Here is the best possible way I can describe this ice cream: a light, slightly tangy lemon custard base with chunks of spicy, chewy gingerbread cookie mixed in. It's like eating summer. It's amazing.

I originally came up with the idea for this flavor combination when I read the menu of the local gourmet ice cream sandwich purveyor Coolhaus, which offers a signature combo of a scoop of meyer lemon peel ice cream between two ginger cookies. Like any normal human being, I knew I absolutely had to eat this. I decided I'd find a recipe for lemon ice cream somewhere, then bake some ginger cookies and mix them in. But in my googling, I discovered that I'm not the first genius to come up with this idea. In fact, ice cream guru David Lebovitz has a recipe for Lemon-Speculoos Ice Cream in his book The Perfect Scoop (speculoos being some kind of Belgian gingerbread cookie, I learned). I found an adapted version of the recipe (and much prettier pictures than mine) over here. I followed it more or less exactly, though I did make a couple small changes. My version is below.


For the lemon ice cream:

  • 3 large lemons
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • pinch of salt
  • 5 egg yolks


  1. Zest the lemons directly into a food processor or blender. Add the sugar and blend until the lemon zest is very fine.
  2. Warm the milk with the lemon-scented sugar, 1/2 cup of the cream, and salt in a medium saucepan. Cover, remove from heat, and let infuse for 1 hour.
  3. Rewarm the lemon-infused mixture and pour the remaining 1 1/2 cups cream into a large bowl set over an ice bath and set a strainer on top.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour some of the warm lemon-infused mixture into the eggs, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.
  5. Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula until the mixture thickens enough to coat the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream until cool.
  6. Chill thoroughly, then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Fold in the crumbled speculoos.

For the speculoos:

  • 2 Tbsp butter, at room temperature
  • 3 Tbsp packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp molasses
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground allspice
  • pinch of salt


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Beat together the butter and brown sugar in a medium bowl until smooth. Stir in the molasses and egg yolk.
  3. In a separate small bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, and spices. Stir the dry ingredients into the butter mixture and mix until smooth. Using your hands, pat the batter onto the baking sheet in a circle about 5 inches in diameter and bake for 18 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. Once cool, break into bite-sized chunks.
And, voila...

My first taste of the ice cream, straight out of the mixer, was delicious. A few hours later I had a small bowl and was disappointed - the flavors seemed to have flattened out. The lemon wasn't "popping" as much. But then, the next day, all was right again - the flavors were balanced again. Maybe my palette was off the night before, or maybe the ice cream needed a day for the flavors to meld and come together. Either way, it was absolutely delicious. I will absolutely be making this recipe again (and again, and again...). And maybe next time I'll share.

*I'm lying. I'm totally still making homemade ice cream. It's just that none of it will ever compare to this.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I'm Back

and I'm feeling better. Thanks to everyone who did their part to support me - especially those of you who refrained from starting a panic.

A pretty little scene I spotted driving home the other day.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Creme de la Creme

I love creme brulee, but I don't have many occasions to make it. So imagine my delight when I found this recipe for Creme Brulee Ice Cream with Caramelized Sugar Brittle. It is absolutely, positively delicious (and super rich - 10 egg yolks! 2 cups of cream!). I can't recommend it highly enough. If you like creme brulee, but also want something to cool you down on a hot summer day (and we need it here in Texas these days), this is it - hands down. Here's the recipe, with my notes in italics.

Creme Brulee Ice Cream with Caramelized Sugar Brittle
An original recipe developed by Lindsey Johnson

(Makes approximately 1 1/2 quarts)

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
1 vanilla bean (or 1 tsp. vanilla bean paste)
10 egg yolks
3/4 cups sugar
pinch salt

Caramelized Sugar Brittle (optional, recipe follows) (not optional - this is what makes it creme brulee ice cream, instead of French vanilla bean)

Heat cream, milk, and vanilla bean in a saucepan over medium heat until bubbles form around the edges of the pan. (Don't let it come to a boil.) Set aside.

Prepare an ice water bath. (**See below for some tips on this.)

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, and salt until light yellow and thick. Remove the vanilla bean. Slowly add the hot milk to the eggs. (Be careful to do it slowly enough so the eggs don't cook. (Very slowly.) Use a paring knife to slice the vanilla bean in half. Use the other side of the knife to scrape out inside of the vanilla bean and add to the hot milk and egg mixture.

Return the mixture to the pan and cook over medium heat until the custard thickens and reaches a temperature of 160 degrees. (Don't let boil or mixture will curdle. Mine reached 160 degrees quite quickly, so pay attention.) Quickly pour the custard through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl and place in the ice water bath to cool the custard. Stir occasionally. When custard is cold, place in the fridge to chill for several hours (I went with this option - fewer ice crystals this way). Or, you can freeze it in your ice cream maker, but it may take more time to freeze and won't freeze as solid.

While the ice cream is in the ice cream maker, make the brittle (see below.)

During the last few minutes of freezing, add the desired amount of brittle shards into the ice cream. (I mixed a few shards of brittle in, but I found it more effective - and easier - to layer the pieces into the container as I poured the finished ice cream in.) Place the finished ice cream in an airtight container and place in the freezer for a few hours to harden.

Serve the ice cream with the remaining pieces of brittle on top.

**You can prepare an ice water bath buy using two nesting bowls. Just make sure that the bowl holding the ice water is large enough to accommodate the bowl with the custard. You want most of the custard bowl to be submerged in ice water so the custard can cool sufficiently. Or you could also fill your kitchen sink with ice and water.

I like to use a large glass bowl to hold the ice and water, and my stainless steel Kitchenaid mixer bowl to hold the custard. The metal gets much colder, much faster than glass.

The colder you let the custard get, the faster it will freeze and the smoother it will be.


1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. water
1 Tbsp. corn syrup

Oil a jellyroll pan or a pan with sides. Set aside. (Make sure you use a flat pan. Mine was warped and the brittle came out thicker in some spots than others. You want an even, thin layer of brittle.)

Place the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Heat over medium high heat and stir to dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar is dissolved, turn up the heat until the mixture is boiling over the entire surface. Stop stirring. Use a pastry brush and water to wash down the sides of the pan where any sugar crystals have formed.

Continue cooking until the syrup has turned a deep golden amber color. (If you use dark corn syrup, it will be harder to see when the mixture has darkened to that amber color. I tested it by dipping a spoon in it and holding it up to the light.) This can take up to 20 minutes or more. Make sure you don't overcook the syrup or it will be too bitter and burnt.

When it has reached the desired color, quickly pour the syrup on the prepared pan. Tilt the pan to spread the syrup into a very thin layer. Be careful not to burn yourself!

Let cool slightly, then transfer to the freezer for a few minutes to continue hardening. Break the brittle into shards. (I lift one edge and break off a piece. Then I smack it on the side of the pan to break it into even smaller pieces.) Use smaller ones to mix into the ice cream and use the larger ones as a garnish. 


The finished product? Delicious. Creamy vanilla-flavored custard with crunchy bits of caramelized sugar. It really captures the essence of creme brulee, and it was everything I hoped it would be - absolutely yummy.

What's next? Lemon ice cream with ginger cookie mix-in, I think. I'll have to do a bit more experimenting with that one, but hope to get it right soon. Fingers crossed!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Little Ray of Sunshine

In what is one of the few bright spots to my week, my (second) replacement ice cream maker arrived yesterday. I inspected it thoroughly and this one doesn't look to have been damaged in transit or be leaking, so I may actually have some homemade ice cream before the end of summer after all.

The hands-down winner of the Ice Cream Poll was the Creme Brulee Ice Cream, so that's what I'll make this weekend. 

Personally, I'd been hoping you guys would be a little more enthusiastic about the Lemon Gingersnap, but I'm sure I'll get to that eventually. It doesn't usually cool down in Austin until October, but if this heat wave keeps up I could be eating ice cream well into the fall.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Dark and Lonely Place

Depression is a tricky thing. It's not like a cold or the flu, where you wake up one morning and it's pretty obvious that you're ill. In those cases there's a clear distinction from the day before: your throat is sore, your nose is runny, your bones ache. Depression is more subtle than that. It creeps in from the margins, infiltrating every aspect of your life. It happens so slowly that often you don't realize it's there for weeks or even months.

I've been around that particular block enough times to know what depression looks like for me. Generally speaking, I know when I'm depressed because I feel like a teenager again: almost always on the verge of tears, suffocated by the people around me, irritated by nearly everyone and everything, and uninterested in doing much of anything except sleeping for long stretches of a time. It goes on for weeks, and even though I hate the entire world, I can't put my finger on any one thing that's actually wrong. Instead, everything feels wrong.

It's an incredibly frustrating place to be. Sometimes I want to scream at the top of my lungs, other times I want to curl up in a ball and cry, and most of the time I want everyone to leave me alone. More often than not, I want all three things at once. Every day feels like I'm walking around carrying 100-pound weights. Life feels heavy, and every movement is labored. Even my brain moves slower, and simple decisions can be paralyzing. Coffee or tea? I don't know, I don't know, please, stop asking me questions, leave me alone.

I lash out at people when I'm depressed. I heard someone say once, "depression is anger turned inward," but it turns outward too. My temper gets shorter and my empathy evaporates. I have no patience for whining or people's need to talk about their feelings (my feelings are an entirely different story, of course). A silent, low-level anger simmers constantly below the surface.

I never said it was pretty.

And then there is the immense pressure not to be depressed. Nobody wants to be around a Debbie Downer, so instead I stuff it down and push it aside, pretending it isn't there. I've more or less perfected the art of putting on a happy face for a short period of time. If the mask cracks and someone asks if everything is okay, the answer is always, yes, yes, fine, just fine. Until someone asks at just the wrong moment, and I dissolve into tears. Most people mean well, and they try to say comforting things. They reassure me that everything will be okay. They tell me that really, it can't be that bad. They remind me that I have a job and my health and lots of friends. But I don't want them to placate me with platitudes, and I don't want to be talked out of my feelings, and I don't want to be chastised for pitying myself when children in Somalia are starving. I also don't want them to pull me aside and offer to talk about it, and I don't want them to ask me whether I'm okay. All I really want from them is the space to be depressed.

All this is my way of saying that I haven't been feeling so hot for the last month or so. Maybe longer. I don't know, I've lost track. Some people have noticed, others haven't. It ebbs and flows, depending on the day and the circumstances and the quality of the beer available to me (two of those things are true, but I'm not telling which ones). So far I've managed to avoid watching day-long marathons of "Toddlers & Tiaras" while eating Nutella by the jarful, but only barely.

I'm not sure how to work my way out of it this time around. I have this way of explaining depression to people who have never really been depressed: depression isn't rational. You can't argue with it or talk your way out of it. It's more like an amorphous blob that you can't ever really grab hold of or pin down. In the past, it's always just been a matter of time. But when the days feel long and lonely and the sleepless nights feel longer and lonelier, time is the last thing I want. Right now I'm going through the motions, showing up at work and going to social events with friends and even stumbling through the occasional date. I don't know what else to do, so I do that, and I hope that it works.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

I Give Up

Apparently, I'm not meant to have homemade ice cream. First my original ice cream maker died. KitchenAid replaced it under warranty, but then the replacement arrived damaged. I called and they said they'd send out another new one, but it was on backorder and might be longer than the regular 7-10 days. That was on July 20. I called today for an update. An apathetic-sounding woman named Kimberly informed me that 1) they never actually put the order through on July 20, but that doesn't matter because 2) it's on "indefinite backorder" now. Up to 60 days.

There goes my homemade ice cream experiment. I'm considering taking up a vodka drinking experiment instead.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

More Questions Than Answers

Last week I drove (well, rode, actually) 3 1/2 hours north to attend a conference in Dallas. The Metroplex isn't usually my favorite destination, but it was great to catch up with colleagues and friends, some of whom I hadn't seen in over a year. I also love this particular conference because it usually gives me a chance to embrace my inner nerd and learn something new.

This year's keynote speaker was Ed Linenthal, a historian and professor at Indiana University. That's probably meaningless to most of you, but I was totally geeking out because his work was situated squarely in my area of interest when I was in grad school. He gave a really interesting talk about history and revisionism (I know, you're yawning, I'll stop soon), and at one point he read a quote from another historian, Patricia Limerick (also a name that makes my inner nerd all giddy), that grabbed my attention:

"Every normal human being is forever recalculating, reorienting, reorganizing information and reaching for new understanding."

I might have been in an especially reflective mood because the last time I attended this conference, in March 2010, I was in a really different place. My soon-to-be ex-husband and I had just separated six weeks earlier, and I didn't know it then, but I was well on my way to a divorce. I felt lost, unmoored, and more than a little bit confused. I was in a liminal space, not quite here but not quite there, and it was deeply unnerving.

Lately I've been struggling with that same unnerved feeling because I feel at sea again - definitely not where I was last year, but not where I want to be either. I'm not sure where I'm going, or how I'll get there. It all feels transitory and unstable, and I don't know how to make peace with it. Limerick's words made me consider that perhaps this state - this place where things are constantly in flux, where I am finding a new path, where I am profoundly uncomfortable - is actually normal. My new normal.

The idea that constant change might be inevitable is something I can't quite wrap my head around yet. I realize that growth is important, but at the same time I long for the comfortable stability I imagine being the end product of that growth. Even the subtitle of this blog, "My Life, Under (Re-)Construction," implies a final destination that will come from all this turmoil. What if that end never comes? What if the process is endless? Where am I going then? And where am I now?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Momma's Girl

If there was ever any question whether she takes after me, this should settle it.

The feline equivalent of this kid. Makes a cat lady proud.

Monday, August 1, 2011

I've Lost That Lovin' Feeling

A perfectly nice, reasonably attractive (realistically, too attractive for me) guy asked me out on Saturday. I turned him down, saying I was busy. It probably wouldn't have gone anywhere anyway.

I've lost my interest - and hope - in dating.

A couple weeks ago a pretty good prospect asked me out via OkCupid, suggesting a drink and a movie at a cool new theater downtown. He's mid-30s, professional, attractive, fit, and we have some shared interests. I lied and told him I had plans for that evening. As I explained to a friend, "I don't feel like being rejected on Monday." I meant it.

That prospect left the country a few days later, and said he'd be in touch with me when he gets back in early August. I hope he forgets. I don't feel like being rejected in August, either.

A new friend invited me to go to a singles event with her last Friday night. It seemed like it would be a cool evening at a hip new bar on the east side, but I couldn't muster the energy to go. To shower, to do my hair, to put on makeup, to be funny and witty and interesting for a couple hours, and then to have it end the way it always does: without any interest from anyone, again. 

I didn't feel like being rejected on Friday night.

I'm tired. 

And lonely. 

And angry. 

I'm angry that I got divorced because I wanted something more for myself and now that something more isn't here.

I'm angry that the men I've seen the greatest potential with are always unavailable to me - emotionally, geographically, whatever. 

I'm angry that I question my decisions now. I wonder if I made a mistake getting a divorce. If maybe my hopes for something more fulfilling were misguided. If maybe something more fulfilling doesn't exist for me.

I'm angry that some people insist on telling me to just wait, I'll see, it will all come together at some point and then I'll understand that the wait was worth it.

I'm angry that I really am starting to believe that maybe it all wasn't worth it, and that when I express that I will inevitably be met with trite, condescending, pseudo-comforting responses.

I'm angry that I'm angry, and that I will push away those who try to comfort me along with the few potential dates that come along.

I'm angry that I'm here, in this place, in this state, again.

I'm just angry.