Flying High

This weekend I went indoor skydiving at Paraclete XP in Raeford, NC.  It was my second time doing this, the first being at a family reunion in Pigeon Forge, TN, many many years earlier.  I really didn’t remember my first experience that much, so I was excited to try it again with some friends.

The verdict?

SO FUN. 

I’m a little sore still in my shoulders and lower back (so don’t do it if you have any major problems in those areas), but it was so worth it!  Just imagine…you’re in a wind tunnel with your arms and legs extended, and you just float.  It’s quite peaceful.  Of course there are 105+ mile per hour winds engulfing you, but it’s still relaxing. 

And that’s actually the trick to doing this well.  As my instructor said about 20 times during the training session, “Just chill out.  Relax.  And breath.”  Sounds like a yoga class in the air.

If you do “chill out,” you tend to catch on faster.  I did really well according to the instructor and learned how to spin and fly up higher and lower on my own, all within 3 minutes of total flight time. 

The best part?  At the end of my last minute of flying, the instructor asked (or really gestured and mouthed the question to me since I was flying about 15ft. above him and couldn’t hear anything) if I wanted him to take me up to the very top of the tunnel.  Obviously, I mouthed back a “Yes.”

**Side note:  This is probably making my mom really nervous as I have a penchant for jumping (and now flying) down from great heights.  I will never be forgiven for cliff jumping off of 60ft. cliffs in college.  And though I don’t have plans for jumping off ledges anymore, I may have a new love for flying in 56ft. tall wind tunnels.  Sorry, Mom.

Anyway, I said yes to the question, and before I knew it, I was catapulted to the top of this tunnel by 105+ miles per hour winds.

And then dropped.

And then catapulted, again!

And then dropped.

And then catapulted, again!

And then dropped.

My instructor was with me the entire time in the air, and the speed at which this took place was incredible.  Such a rush.

If you want to see what the pros are capable of, here’s a fun video.

I didn’t do any flips or walking on walls like the instructor does here, but who knows…maybe I will one day.  I just won’t tell my mom.

(Kidding.)

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Fiesta Friday

For the past week or so, I’ve been trying to think of some cheap, easy-to-make “fiesta” decor to decorate buffet tables for a themed dinner I have tonight.  Thanks to those that helped (L.Bo), but unfortunately I ran out of time to use any of my arts and crafts skills.  Instead, I made a stop at Party City today and immediately became transfixed on this…..

Oh yes.  I will make one of the groups I have group tonight for dinner break open an ice cream cone pinata.  Ice cream cones are not very “fiesta-ish” but I’m just going to roll with it.  The candy is sure to be a hit.  I can see the group in my mind already fighting over candy as soon as it pops open.

I almost bought this one…

But then I realized that other people probably don’t find unicorns as hysterical as I do.  This one honestly just looks like it’s in pain.

Hope you’re having a fun little fiesta Friday!  Enjoy the weekend!

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Celebration Scampi

This past weekend, I watched many friends celebrate their graduation from business school.  It was really nice to be a part of their happiness because I’ve seen them progress throughout their program for the past 18 months, and I know how excited they are to move on from school. 

While managing the various celebration receptions, I recalled a meal that I threw together a few years back when I concluded of a certain facet of undergraduate business school:  financial accounting.  I had two good study buddies in this class, and I still remember our late-night meet-ups to go over practice problems and concepts before any exams.  When we all passed the final and the class, we decided to celebrate with a delicious home-cooked meal.  And by that, I mean that I cooked and my friends (two guys who did not have the best kitchen skills back then) provided the home for it.

Celebration Scampi
Serves 4

8 to 10 oz. whole wheat pasta (linguine and penne both work well)
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter*
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup dry white wine, such as pinot grigio
1 Lb. medium, uncooked shrimp (veins removed)
Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
Parsley and freshly grated parmesan cheese, garnish

*For a more traditional scampi, use 2 Tbsp. butter instead of 1 Tbsp. butter and 1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil.

Cook pasta according to package directions.

While pasta cooks, heat olive oil and butter in a large pan over medium heat.  When melted, add garlic and saute for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring constantly so as not to burn the garlic.

Add wine to pan and stir to combine.  Let cook for 1 to 2 minutes so that the wine begins to reduce.  Then add the shrimp and cook for 3 to 4 minutes until shrimp are bright pink.  In the last minute of cooking, add in salt, pepper, and lemon juice, all to taste.

Pour pasta onto a large serving platter and top with the scampi sauce.  Garnish with parsley and/or freshley grated parmesan.

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A “Happy-Medium” Cookie

Do you ever turn into Cookie Monster?  I know I do.  There are some days when chefs in the kitchen at work recognize a certain intense (or desperate) look on my face and silently point to the freshly baked tray of double chocolate chip goodness cooling on sheet pans.  I think they half-expect me to break into pleading wails of, “ME WANT COOKIES!!,” but I’ve contained myself so far.

Anyway, everybody loves a good cookie now and again.  The chewy texture of the dough and crunch of the chocolate chips is exactly what the soul and body calls for at times.  If you’re like me, though, you may want a healthier cookie option that tastes great and gives you a couple added health benefits that Tollhouse break-and-bake lacks.

Enter my favorite “happy-medium” cookie.  These are absolutely delicious, and don’t have an overt “healthy” flavor to them.  There’s a nuttiness from the whole wheat flavor and oatmeal, but thanks to the essential cookie ingredients (butter, sugar, eggs, chocolate!) they retain their homemade chocolate chip cookie taste.

How do I know that these are really delicious and healthy cookies?  Because friends that I’ve made these for continuously ask me to make them again.  Sometimes a little too frequently.  And they’re foolproof, so I don’t end up with any bricks

I think Cookie Monster would approve.

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Happy-Medium Cookies (Oatmeal Chocolate Chip)
Adapted from A Dash of Sass

Makes 2 dozen cookies

½ cup brown sugar

½ cup granulated sugar

½ cup butter or margarine, softened to room temperature

1 egg

1 tsp. vanilla

1 Tbsp. milk

1 cup white whole wheat flour (or regular 100% whole wheat flour)

½ tsp.baking soda

½ tsp.baking powder

½ tsp.salt

½ tsp.cinnamon

1 cup uncooked old fashioned oats

¾ to 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cream the sugars and butter together in a medium bowl.  Add the egg, vanilla, and milk, and cream for another 30 seconds until combined.

In a separate large bowl, combine the next 5 ingredients (whole wheat flour through cinnamon).  Add the wet ingredients to the bowl and mix until just combined.  

By hand, stir in the oats and chocolate until well distributed.  (The recipe at A Dash of Sassincludes walnuts — feel free to add if you wish!).

On a cookie sheet that’s been sprayed with cooking spray or lined with parchment, drop teaspoons of dough about 2 inches apart.  Bake for 11 to 14 minutes. Cooking time may vary, but I like them right between 11 and 12 minutes, because I like softer and chewier cookies.

Remove from oven and let cool.  Then enjoy on their own or with a glass of milk.

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Joie Revisited

I have been absent on this blog for a very, very long time.  I’ve been busy, to say the least, but need to get back to regular posting.  I find it only fitting that I do so after a trip to the location of where I first spotted the painting that now serves as the “Joie de Vivre” header on this blog.

I spent the past 24 hours in Washington D.C. and stayed in the Georgetown section of the city.  After checking in at my hotel, I set out on what turned into a very long jaunt and walked from Georgetown to the White House to the Mall to the Smithsonian and back.  While walking down M Street (the main thoroughfare in Georgetown) on my way back to the hotel, I stumbled upon the Joie de Vivre painting.  I was really happy to find it again, because honestly, I couldn’t have told you the exact location of where I originally took the photo.  I knew it was in Georgetown, but that was it.

Now I know that the painting is at the corner of M and 30th street on the side of a Parisian style café and bakery called La Madelein.

Sometimes re-discovering something is even better than finding it the first time.  There are times when you learn a piece of information, or you find a great photo opportunity, but all the details don’t necessarily stay with you because you’re not ready for them.  Perhaps it’s because you’re too encased with other details to worry about.  Perhaps it’s because the details are too big to comprehend.  But then, you reach a point where the thing you discovered re-presents itself to you, and it clicks.  You notice the artist’s signature.  You notice the jagged crack cutting through the yellow at the top of the painting.  Ultimately, you just pay more attention.  Such was the case with me re-finding this painting on Sunday.

So, going back to the blog.  I hope that I don’t have another extended break like the one I’ve had the past three weeks.  Who knows what life will bring, but hopefully I can keep some semblance of recipes/travel/photos/life experiences coming to those of you who read.  To start you off, here are some photos from my walk. 

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On Top of the World

In case you haven’t heard, it’s Earth Week!  This week (really April 17th – 22nd) is a chance to not just learn more about environmental impacts that you incur on the environment every day, but also to make some changes to make your life better, and hopefully the planet a little better.

I’ve loved this holiday week since elementary school.  Yes, it may be weird, but Earth Day was always one of my favorites!  The highlight of Earth Day came in P.E. class each year.  My school had these huge inflatable Earth balls (and oddly are available for sale on Ebay!).  I would run, jump, and roll onto the top, trying not to fall off as my teachers kept the ball rolling.  As corny as it sounds, I really was on top of the world then, and it was a great feeling. 

Well, I do not get a free Earth Week to just play outside with huge balloons anymore, but I still find ways to celebrate the planet each April.  If you’re looking for a way to make a difference this Earth Week, just make a pledge or attend a local event.  You’ll help raise awareness and probably learn some new things, too.

Another option — just take a walk and marvel at what Mother Nature has to offer.  I went for a walk this evening in the Sarah P. Duke Gardens on campus.  These gardens are one of my very favorite places to visit at Duke, and are absolutely gorgeous this time of year.  Spring is definitely their time to shine. 

Enjoy the pictures!  I was amazed by many of the plants and flowers I saw, and just being able to see, smell, and take photos of them made me feel like I was on top of the world again.

We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children. 

– Native American Proverb

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Behind a Caterer’s Closed Doors…

Have you ever been to a nice dinner party?  In case you haven’t, just imagine…

You walk into a dimly lit room and see dozens of tables all set in a very precise manner.  There are beautifully folded napkins, water glasses already waiting for you, and wine ready to be served.  

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There is a menu card so you can read over the night’s offerings, and many different types of silverware at each seat.  This may cause you to have a Pretty Woman moment in your head and count the number of tongs to determine which fork to use first.  (Really, 95% of the time, just start from the outside, work your way in, and you’ll be fine). 

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Dinner progresses.  You eat your salad, it’s removed by a server, and then replaced with your main course.  You eat that, the plate’s removed, and then out comes dessert.  Coffee is served around the table.  You enjoy the atmosphere, the company, the food, and then leave at the end of the night. 

Have you ever wondered what happens next? 

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What happens to all the beautiful place settings, the centerpieces, the menu cards, and the leftover desserts?

Madness is what happens. 

This was the scene in the break-down area from about 7:30pm until 10pm last night as a plated dinner for 400 guests went on and eventually came to an end:

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The event went very smoothly.  Clean up did not.

Trying to communicate to a staff of 20+ which of the four types of different (yet very similar looking) water glasses should be placed into the solid red glass rack versus the gray and red striped rack versus the solid gray rack is extremely difficult.

And that’s just the water glasses.  I also had two styles of wine glasses and five styles of plates to deal with.  I tried pictures.  I tried labeling the various racks.  Eventually I gave in and said to just put the glasses wherever because they’ll all end up at the rental company’s warehouse anyway.  C’est la vie.

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This dinner was for 400 people.  I determined that each place setting was made up of 13 items (the different silverware, plates, and glasses).  That’s a total of 5200 items to get returned.  Add that to the hundreds of extra glasses  and plates that were ordered as backups, and I think I had close to 8000 pieces of rental inventory.  Oh, and then with the all linen and plate covers — make it almost 11,000 pieces.  Oy.

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If you know of any magic cleaning fairies, let me know.  I’ll hire them.  Until then, I’ll just hope that the rental company doesn’t call to complain.

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