Monday, April 20, 2015

First fitness post + HIIT interval timer app

Let's be real, I'm sitting here drinking coffee and eating homemade butterscotch sauce off a spoon. I'm not the beacon of health and fitness that I (sometimes) envision myself to be. Although the butterscotch really is helping my mental health on this cloudy day, so there is that.

But I have been known to workout a time or two. Actually it's been one of my goals throughout medical school -- stay on point with the working out thing. It started first year when I saw my friend Lauri's dedication to making it to the gym no matter what. She was great about it and helped me realize that an extra hour - hour and a half of studying was not going to add much to my knowledge base, and would probably make me go crazy in the end. So I started going to our local gym.

At first, I hated it. I wasn't really good at it, I tended to get out of breath pretty quick, and the sweat...oh jeez. I inherited my dad's sweat glands, and I was like a faucet. No cute glistening sweat here, just rivers of smelly person-juice. I went ~3x per week, and by week 3 I started noticing a difference. I could run a little more without feeling like my insides were going to curdle, I could hold a plank for longer, and my arms weren't killing me every time I lifted up whatever weight I was going to use. I was becoming stronger. YAY!

But I also noticed I was happier. I had something that would break up my day of studying, time that was just me, my music, and whatever I was doing. I honestly feel like I started to remember more -- it was like I took time out of my day away from studying, but then actually felt like I could process more. Maybe it was a placebo effect, maybe I'm just making it up, who knows? But I felt good, and I liked it.

So 2.5 years later, I still workout consistently. I'm not a part of a gym anymore, because it was a (freezing) pain to walk to the gym 10 minutes there and back during the winter months, so I started investing in home workout stuff. By that time I knew I was dedicated enough to actually keep up with doing it at home, so I bought a mat, some weights, and started using high intensity interval training (HIIT) videos to work out. That was 1.5 years ago, and I've been doing them ever since...during second year while studying for my first Board certification exam and during my clerkship rotations third year. When I was on a clerkship that had me out the door at 4AM and back home at 7PM, I modified the workout to be 20 minutes of intense stuff, but I still did it. It's why I prefer working out at home, if I had had to go to a gym...well, it just wouldn't have happened. Working out doesn't have to be about losing weight, or fitting into socially constructed image of gendered bodies, it can just be about being fit and all the benefits associated with that. It can be about being able to lift some stuff up and not getting tired; being able to run and not feel like your lungs are going to explode; being able to be like heck yeah I'm strong. Do whatever fits with your schedule, you got 10 minutes? Make a plan, and do 50 seconds on and 10 second off for 10 minutes.

Today's post, aside from being about my workout story (that sounds odd...), is about this new timer app that I've been using that I love. So the HIIT training, you do x number of seconds 'on' and then x number of seconds as a rest. For me it's usually 30,40,or 50 seconds on and a 10 second rest. There are special (expensive) timers that you can buy that are specific interval timers that you can use at home or at the gym...buuuut why when you can use an app on your phone? If you have an android (I think it also works with iPhones), download this now. You can put in how much prep time you want, how many second you want as your 'on' period where you workout, how many seconds of rest you want, and how many rounds. It works in the background of your phone while music is playing, doesn't drain your battery like a lot of other apps, and hasn't crashed in the middle of a workout. It's GREAT for jogging if you're not a huge fan of running (like me) and you prefer to run for 40 seconds with a 10 second rest for a specific amount of time. So far, I'm loving it, and I suggest y'all download it.


Saturday, April 4, 2015

Mint and Pea Crostini with Pickled Radishes and Burrata

Spring has finally laid its gentle hand on the winter-weary backs of Bostonians. That's my fancy way of saying -- it's SPRING! I classify that temperatures above 32F. The icebergs have melted (mostly), the sun is out (sometimes), and I don't have to wear multiple layers to brave the wintry winds (usually).

Celebration wouldn't be celebration without spring-type foods. Food with the colors, and the pretty, and the pop of spring. With herbs, green, and tart, and SPRING.

Can you tell I'm happy about spring? Sunshine for all!

Anyways, make this one night. It's simple, beautiful, and delicious. It may seem tricky to pickle something, but honestly, it's really not. The most complicated part of the process is slicing the radishes -- which is super easy if you have a food processor. The pickling process takes 10 minutes, and you can store the radishes in your fridge for about 1-2 weeks.

Mint and Pea Crostini with Pickled Radishes and Burrata
Slightly modified from Salt and Wind

Bread
Thinly slice a baguette and toast it at 375 with a little olive oil drizzled on top.

Pickled Radishes
This I learned from Cookie and Kate

Thinly slice 1 bunch radishes
3/4 cup vinegar (white wine or apple cider)
3/4 cup water
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons salt
Red Pepper Flakes (optional)
Mustard Seeds (optional)
Fennel (optional)

Slice the radishes thinly using a knife, mandolin, or food processor. Stuff them into a jar (I used a mason jar). Top with red pepper flakes and mustard seeds, or whatever other accoutrements (garlic cloves, fennel, etc.) Bring the vinegar, water, maple syrup, and salt to a boil. Turn it off, let it cool for about 30 seconds and then gingerly pour it over the radishes, close the container loosely, and let it sit for 10 minutes, and it should be good to go! Keep it stored in the fridge, closed, for 1-2 weeks.

Smashed Mint Peas
2 cups frozen peas
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons mint
1 tablespoon cilantro
1 lemon, juiced and zested
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Siracha to taste
Red pepper flakes to taste

Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to boil, and cook the peas until tender, which should take 3-4 minutes. Make sure not to overcook them. Drain the water out of the saucepan, and add to the still warm peas the butter, garlic, and lemon juice. Smash the peas together. When you're almost done smashing them, add in the mint, cilantro, siracha, salt, and pepper, and then finish smashing. Adjust seasoning to your preferences.

Assembly

Burrata or Mozarella, sliced


Lay the slices of bread out on a tray. Top generously with the smashed pea mixture, then on one half side of the bread lay out some of the burrata, and on the other half side of the bread lay out the radishes. Drizzle with olive oil and pepper and serve.


 




Friday, March 20, 2015

Bing-Lex-Burg 2015!

We went on a road trip, and now we're back! It's spring break 2015. As an "adult," I found it a little troubling to use the term "spring break" but then I though -- why not? Even adults need something to break up the monotony that exists between winter holidays and inevitable summer vacations/staycations. It clears the mind, it resets, and it makes you pine for sunshine in your snow-covered state. 


1943 miles. That's a lot of McDonald's pee breaks, music playlists, random books on my phone, and miles on Savannah (the car). It was great though -- we got to see Kate, Liz, Sam, and visit the best Chinese bakery in NYC, the Golden Steamer to get $.85 pumpkin buns. Worth it. It was nice having the time in the car with just Tyler, music, random thoughts, and a book. It's sitting down and seeing each other, and being like "hi, no dogs, no TV, no nothing. Let's see if we can entertain each other still." And we can. 8 years later, and we can. 
8 years, eh?
Tower of Beer + UK basketball
I wish I could say that I had the foresight to write down and take pictures of all the awesome things we did in those places, but I didn't. And it wasn't about that -- it was about seeing some awesome women, how they've built their lives, and how we still fit into each others lives 5 years after we met. So much as changed, and we live in different parts of the country now, at different points in our lives, but it was so wonderful to see that when we are in bing-lex-burgh together, it's still hugs, kisses, beer (oh the kentucky beer),conversations, and easiness. That's it -- I love that it's still easy. 

Thank you Kate for a great time in your awesome apartment. I can't wait to visit in the summer and see Binghamton in it's full glory. Thanks for showing me that 2 years later, it still feels like we knew each other in college. And that I can love cats. 

Binghamton fog

Thank you Sam for a wonderful time in your beautiful home, and showing me that 5 years later and 2000 miles away, it's still as easy as the day I walked into your room in college and started eating your goldfish crackers.

Smiles and friends
Thank you Liz for a fun time and your adorable new dog! Thanks for showing me that 5 years later I can still chat with you about the weirdest things, and the most important things. It's definitely still as easy as the day we sat in the hallways looking at our belly button hair. 
Shartlesville, PA
Sweet, delicate goodness
And finally, thank you Golden Steamer's pumpkin bun. You have no idea how long I'd been waiting for your sweet, sweet pumpkin goodness. I walked into your store, and your people just stared at me while I trembled with anticipation and held on to you like Gollum. I laughed maniacally when they rang me up, and ran from the store, and I'm not ashamed to say that I consumed your warm goodness next to a vat of drying and pickled fish, and a puddle of what I can only assume to be dog urine. Thank you for showing me that for less than a dollar I can experience seeing the gates of heaven. I only hope your frozen brethren in my home will be just as good as you. Thank you, sweet, sweet friend. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Strange Fruit in the Friendly Toast

I finished my OB/GYN exam. Now it's 6 down, 2 to go and I have a weekend off. A weekend I have thus far spent going to my medical school formal, lying in bed reading this book all day, making butternut squash gnocci in a brown butter sage sauce adapted from this recipe with blistered shisito peppers and a butternut squash ginger bisque, talking to my mom, doing my nails in a lovely black color, and wrapping my mind around an event that happened at the Friendly Toast in Cambridge on Friday.

The Friendly Toast is a wonderful beacon of off-beat hipsterness in Kendall Square that serves delicious breakfast/brunch food with amazing waffles, interesting breakfast plates, and unconventional drinks. So unconventional that one of their drinks is called "Strange Fruit."

I don't remember exactly what went into the drink, because I couldn't entirely believe what I was seeing. Strange Fruit, a poem written by Abel Meerpol and immortalized into a song by Billie Holiday and later Nina Simone. Strange Fruit, a song of protest and grief so deep and palpable that I can't quite wrap my mind around it.

Southern Trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood on the root
Black bodies swingin' in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hangin' from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulgin' eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burnin' flesh

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

A song that should never, ever, ever be the name of a fruity drink, especially in a restaurant that purports to be a liberal hipster beacon in the heart of one of the most academic cities in the country and near a city that has an enormously problematic racial history.

But I am aware that not everyone knows of the song, and after looking at the menu for a few moments and repeating, "wow, that's offensive. wow, that is offensive. wow, that is offensive" I decided to bring it to my waiter's attention. Perhaps they didn't know? Perhaps, in their self-righteous, racially-privileged positions they just didn't know what the song was about and didn't hear about the Strange Fruit PR firm debacle of 2014. Maybe. 

We ordered our food and I brought it up to our waiter saying, the drink name is offensive as the song is about black bodies swinging from trees (the strange fruit) and naming a drink after it is repackaging domestic terrorism into a pretty picture. The (white) man looked genuinely taken back, and for a moment there was a glimmer of hope. Maybe they didn't know. Maybe they thought, huh, fun name, we are strange, and we like fruit -- boom. Maybe...not. 

The short of the story -- after bringing it up and asking him to take it to his manager or whomever the drink menu maker is, he repeatedly returned to our table to "discuss" the issue. It started out as him saying he had never heard the song and what a horrible tragedy it is that people continue to face racism, and then eventually morphed into telling me, 'you know, we just have have to see the positive light of things, the drink was supposed pay respect to a great singer, and well, there's a positive light. Try looking at it from a positive' Oh yes, I should just see things in a positive light. How could I forget? 

Some highlights, 'we can't take down everything that offends anyone in the restaurant. What about that picture [a picture of a man holding two animals on a leash], is it animal cruelty? Should we take it down if someone is offended by it?' Yep, hanging black bodies and animal cruelty are quite similar in that black people were treated as sub-human. And some extra verses of 'I'm sorry you're offended, I'm sorry you're offended, look, I'm sorry it offends you,' telling us it was inappropriate to bring it up with a waiter and we should e-mail our "concerns," and then ignoring us when we said we didn't want to have this conversation anymore. Multiple times. 

The bar manager came over, apologized for the waiter, and reiterated that the drink was meant to be
an homage to Billie Holiday and not meant to be offensive. 

Then why not name the drink, "Summertime" or "Fine and Mellow" or "Crazy He Calls Me" or any number of other songs she sang. Why that song in particular? Why select a song that was sung with anger, sorrow, and fearful fearlessness the depth of which many of us cannot possibly understand today? Because you're trying to be edgy? Controversial? Because it's a cute name and who would notice a 1939 song on a drink menu given that the majority of your clientele is well-to-do white folk? 

I truly don't believe that anyone at The Friendly Toast made a conscious decision to name a beverage after lynching. I think they just didn't think about it, and that's the problem. They didn't think about what it would be like for a black person to read that on the drink menu, the bile-rising horror of reading and re-reading the name that evokes hanging black bodies and radically appropriating it into a blend of liquor. They didn't think about it because they didn't have to. A few generations back, most of their ancestors were not owned, sold, and brutalized. They may look at Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and get upset, support the protests, and say 'man that's horrible, when is it going to end?' but stop before they try to truly empathize enough to understand what it could feel like for someone who is black to hear, "I'll have a strange fruit" or "the strange fruit is a great." 

I am tired of people telling me to see the "positive light" in microaggressions (unintended discrimination) as though somehow the lack of malicious intent makes it all better. I get it, no one likes being told something they did is offensive, but demanding that people of color stop being offended and just "try to see the positive" is dismissive, demeaning, and halts progress. It infantilizes and diminishes the value of how a group of people feel, which is racist. Always remember that racism can exist without racial animosity. 

It is critical that people open themselves up to the uncomfortable sensations of discussing race and microaggressions, particularly in "liberal beacons" like Cambridge where most people (who are not people of color) don't expect racism and don't see microaggressions. So please, if you are white and a person of color tells you something is offensive -- fight down the urge to defend because you didn't mean it and just listen and digest. Ruminate on it and grow yourself because "standing your ground" isn't going to get us very far. 

I will not be going back to The Friendly Toast as long as that drink is on the menu, and I ask that if you live in Cambridge or Portsmouth, please consider finding somewhere else to enjoy a delicious breakfast. Though the owners may feel that "inclusive" is the word that best describes their restaurant, their drink menu and staff say otherwise. 


UPDATE 2/10/2015: According to Friendly Toast's facebook page, they will be removing the drink from their menu. I'm not sure when, but thank you to everyone who tweeted and retweeted and shared this blogpost, and who joined in on the desire for change -- we may have made a small but real difference! Thank you Friendly Toast -- issuing a formal recognition and apology would be better, as in a separate post on your facebook page rather than a response to a comment but I'll take changing the name. I'll update again if they actually do remove the drink!

UPDATE PART 2, 2/10/2015: A post from Cambridge Day about removing the drink name.

UPDATE PART 3, 2/10/2015: Friendly Toast issued an apology and is removing the drink name from the menu. I appreciate that they listened to the multitude of voices calling for action and I look forward to eating their in the future. Thank you again.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

NSVD: normal spontaneous vaginal delivery: that time when I almost passed out.

Yesterday was my post-call day. What that means is that I was "on call" or in-hospital for 24 hours prior, and I got to go home after watching 4 babies delivered in a foggy haze with judgment similar to after having 2-3 drinks, and pass on out.

I'm currently on my OB/GYN rotation with 24 hour calls. I grumbled about this initially, but the underlying reason makes sense: it's easy to think "YAY BABIES! WOMEN'S HEALTH! SURGERY! MEDICINE! ALL IN ONE PACKAGE!" but not think about what life could be like if you're up for 24+ hours straight, looking down the barrel of a vagina at some unholy hour with a mom that's been in labor for a ridiculous amount of time, who is now too tired to push.

That's why OB/GYNs are awesome. Really, who else can get a living parasite (beautiful, wonderful gift of a parasite) out of your body in <1 minute. OB/GYNs, that's who.

I've been through half of this rotation so far, and have done my GYN portion. I saw some serious surgeries: myomectomies with 5L of blood loss, periurethral abscess drainage with a 200 mL fountain of frank pus, D and C, ruptured ectopic pregnancy, etc. I have counselled women about birth control methods (IUDs galore!), talked about menses, done pap smears, and asked some seriously personal questions. It has been awesome. But nothing has been as nuts as seeing a person pop out of another person. 

I landed on labor and deliver at noon, after going through post-partum rounds in the morning with an great nurse midwife who, after asking if I had been on L&D before (labor and deliver...I hadn't) told me "things move fast...maybe you should eat something before you go to the floor." Me being, well...me said no, I'll just go the floor -- after all, I've been on surgery, that's tough and I still got to eat.

One key point I missed there, surgeries, though not always, are frequently scheduled. Babies are not. I introduced myself to the team, and put my things away, and sat down to nutritious and delicious lunch of tofurkey and cheese when the intern pops his head into the break room and says, "three babies, NOW" and leaves the room. I freeze, tofurkey goodness having just touched my tongue, and staring at the spot where he just stood then at the nurse eating her salad sitting across from me until 10 seconds later she says, "Well...GO!"

I got my butt into gear, pushing my lunch back into it's bag, shoving a handful of chocolate almonds in my mouth, biting my tongue in the process, and dashing out of the room into the patient room.

Oh my. She was giving birth. Now, mind you, I have never felt like I was going to pass out during any of the other rotations I've been on. Guy throwing up straight up blood? I'm cool. Connecting the rectum back up to the sigmoid colon by shoving a big metal rod up the anus? No sweat. Cut open an aorta, get sprayed with bright red blood, stick a vacuum suction in it to stop it? My jam. Seeing a woman, legs spread as wide as can be, no epidural, supported by partner and mom, bearing down, sweating, and actively pooping, with clear amniotic fluid coming from her vagina...I think I'm going to pass out.

The midwife is there. The resident is there. They're supporting her, encouraging her, helping her with different positions, applying pressure to her perineum so it doesn't rip (yes, RIP) when a pot roast tries to come out a hole the size of your nostril. That's hyperbole, but you get the point. Meanwhile, I'm standing back, gloves on, prepared to be the most helpful med student I can be and watch, occasionally translating things to Spanish. It's amazing in how times of fear/adrenaline/whatever you want to call it, things you didn't think you'd remember from high school come back to you. Mind you, it was still quite poor given the context that I took spanish for 7 years.

Anyways, I'm standing back, staring at her vagina/poop/fluid amalgam, and I start to see spots and I think oh no, not here. NOT HERE. Baby >>>>> you passing out. So I squeeze my calf muscles, tighten my abs, squat ever so slightly, and valsalva (push down like you're going to poop) and try everything I can to increase blood return back to my heart and up to my freaking brain which is still seeing spots with my vision starting to narrow in on the sides so ALL I CAN SEE IS THE VAGINA/POOP MIX. Excellent job brain, wise decision.

Luckily, it works. Either that or it was the midwife saying, "grab some sterile gloves, you're delivering the placenta." Probably that -- I work well when given direction. Brain clears up, I grab some gloves, and watch for another 30 minutes while this amazing, incredible woman pushes and pushes and contracts and contracts her baby's precious little head out. And yep, it ripped when her baby's head popped out, and I cringed but she didn't care at all. Or maybe she did, but was too excited and overwhelmed by her new baby girl that she didn't care. I don't know, I haven't done it yet.

The rest is the resident walking me through delivering the placenta...the cord gets longer, there's a gush of blood, and out comes something that looks very much like it's a prop from Alien vs. Predator. Then there's stitching up her vagina and cleaning up the hot mess of blood/poop/fluid down there so we can lay her down properly. But she doesn't care. Why should she? She did it, she's got her mom and partner next to her, and she's getting ready to go to sleep (pass out?) with this new baby girl she brought into this world resting on her chest. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Belated candy gifts

Whoops, I meant to post this before the winter holidays were coming to a close. Whoopswhoopswhoops. But life got in the way. The making of the gifts, the sending of the gifts (after the traditional gift giving day because who can keep track of pesky USPS holiday hours?), the traveling, and all that relaxing.

But I took the pictures, and I made them, and so why not? Then it's all about figuring out what to say. Something clever? Something profound? Or just the recipe because who really reads this part anyways.

Let's face it, you're here for the food pictures, and the recipes. This part is mostly for me. It's like a diary but you can skip ahead to the good bits. I get to put my profound, life-changing thoughts out there and feel comfortable knowing that most people will scroll right by them. I'm not joking, that fact is actually relatively comforting and part of what makes blogging cathartic.

That and it's a way I can look back on medical school and say look! You can be creative! You can make things! You can write things, and have opinions all while creating tasty tasty treats! Fight injustice with your words, and make pistachio apricot bars while doing it! No, this post is not about pistachio apricot bars sadly, it's about candy.

The type of candy that doesn't need thermometers, or confectioners sugar, or melon ballers. There's nothing wrong with that, but that's just not what it's about right now. It's about making it happen when you're tired. It's about bringing it when you're don't have time to go to the shop, and bringing it damn well. It's about delicious candy. So feast your foodie eyes on my candy creations, and feel the comfort in knowing you can make beautiful, tasty things with little sleep and no thermometers, but with a lot of sass and love.


Pretzel Toffee With Pecans

1 cup salted butter
1 cup light or dark brown sugar (depending on how molasses-y you like things)
1 bag pretzel thins or saltines or ritz crackers, really any salted, crunchy cracker will do. The pretzel thins can be found in Trader Joes
8oz semi-sweet chocolate
Chopped Pecans
Salt

Line a 9x13 inch pan with aluminum foil, and spray that with cooking spray. Lay down a layer of your crackers/pretzels, etc. It's okay if they overlap a little, but you want a nice layer of it down. Turn your oven on to 350.

Mix the butter and sugar together in a medium saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil for 2-3 minutes. Really watch the color here, if it seems like it's getting too dark for your liking, turn it off. If you don't know what too dark looks like, keep it going for 2.5 minutes, and then turn it off. It's really an eye-ball it kind of recipe. If you don't use salted butter by the way, add 0.5 tsp salt to the butter-sugar boiling mixture.

Pour the mixture carefully over your pretzel layer, covering it completely. Don't worry if there's a little bit uncovered, it'll spread. Put that in your oven for 10 minutes.

Pull it out, and let it sit for 1-2 minutes to harden slightly. Then pour the bag of chocolate on top, the heat from the toffee will melt it, and spread it evenly over the toffee. Sprinkle with the chopped pecans, and some salt.

Put it in the freezer for 20 minutes, pull it out, and use whatever tool you want (hand, dull kitchen knife, etc.) to break it into pieces, and enjoy!


Trail Mix Bark

8-16 oz bag of semi-sweet chocolate
Dried apricots, chopped
Dried cranberries
Pistachios
Other toppings you want (white chocolate, pretzels, other nuts, other fruit)
Salt

Take your 9x13 pan, line it with aluminum foil, and spray it with cooking spray.
Put the chocolate in a microwave safe bowl, and put it in the microwave on medium high for 30 seconds, pull it out, mix the chocolate together to distribute the heat. Do this for 30 seconds until the chocolate is melted and viola! This is how you melt chocolate evenly in the microwave.

Spread that over your 9x13 pan. Sprinkle the dried fruit on it, and push it down so it sticks in the chocolate. Then add the pistachios and push down. Then sprinkle the salt on top. Put it in the freezer for 20 minutes, and break it up, and you have bark!


Trail Mix Bites

Same ingredients as above
Heavy duty plastic bag
Put your dried fruit and nuts out so you can grab them quickly, because the bites dry quickly.

Lay out a large piece of baking sheet paper. Melt your chocolate. Use a spatula to put it inside a plastic bag. This is a messy, messy process. That's okay -- don't wear your nicest whites is my only advice. Cut the tip of the bag off, and squeeze out dollops of chocolate onto the baking sheet. As soon as you're done, place one dried fruit and nut in the center. Do this quickly, the chocolate dries fast. Then salt it. And you're done. Let it dry and enjoy.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Shah (now Shah-Hoppenfeld) Tex-Med Holiday Extravaganza! AKA Thanksgiving 2014 in Review

My whole family is vegetarian. Well, my immediate family. For generations, we have been vegetarian. When my parents first moved to this country, that was a bit of a novelty. There weren't vegetarian restaurants galore, and whole foods selling all varieties of "fake meat." There was peas, cabbage, beans, and the occasional magic of tofu. Obviously this is hyperbole (sort of), but it's how they felt when they described it to me.

So obviously we never had the ginormous turkey for thanksgiving, and whatever it is people eat for the winter holidays. But my mom, always the light and life of our family, had a brilliant idea when I was a little girl of tex-mex holidays. After all, we love (no hyperbole) Taco Bell for it's vegetarian-friendly-at-no-extra-cost menu, so why not? Thus was born, the Shah (now Shah-Hoppenfeld) Tex-Mex Holiday Extravaganza!! No matter where I am, or who I'm celebrating Thanksgiving or the Winter Holidays with, I need Tex-Mex.

It reminds me of home, of tinsel wrapped around my banister, our big obnoxious plastic tree that was awkwardly bent at all angles but no one cared enough to fix it, my brother playing Golden-Eye, my dad looking at coupons for all the upcoming sales and separating out the worthwhile from the worthless, and my mom dancing in the kitchen taunting our dog with food singing "dancy-dancy, dancy-dancy, dancy-dancy-re!"  It might not make sense to you, but it makes perfect sense to me.

Now our family is bigger, with a lot more distance between all of us, but whatever. Nothing can stop the Shah (now Shah-Hoppenfeld) Tex-Mex Holiday Extravaganza. Full name, copyright pending.

So this year, we added in some new "traditionals" to the mix of our traditional. So along with tacos with all the fixings, we had cranberry sauce, brussel sprout salad, mascarpone mashed potatoes, and mushroom gravy.

So here's to what I'm most thankful for: a great family who will always add our own pzazz to tradition.

Cranberry Sauce Modified from Laurie's Little Kitchen. Made it 2 days ahead of time to let the flavors meld. I made it in a slow cooker, and just dumped all the ingredients in -- instead of water, I used red wine, and for the spices I used 1 stick of cinnamon and 1 anise. I took the anise out half way so it wasn't overwhelming, and took out the orange when it was done cooking but left the cinnamon stick in. Loved it, will make it again. 

Brussel Sprout Salad - From my head. Sauteed up 2 bags of TJ shaved brussel sprouts with some olive oil, soy sauce, and a little bit of balsamic just until the shavings were wilted. Then mixed in cut up dried apricots, slivered almonds, and pistachios. Definitely one of the evenings favorites and will most certainly make it again. 


Butternut squash and apple soup - Modified from a food network site. Instead of carrots, I used 2 apples and used vegetable broth instead of chicken broth, and butter instead of peanut oil. I also added in garlic and onion. Overall, a phenomenal and easy soup to make. Especially if you get pre-cut butternut squash from TJs. Can you tell I use Trader Joes a lot? Served with sour cream, creme fraiche, or mascarpone with scallions.  
My brother sniffing the soup
Mascarpone Mashed Potatoes and Mushroom Gravy - Definitely the winners of the evening. The mashed potatoes are from What's Gaby Cooking and the gravy is from Oh My Veggies. I basically followed both recipes exactly, except I used some Thyme in the mashed potatoes, and didn't peel them. For the gravy, I didn't use shallots, but instead used a red onion since I really enjoy the flavor more, and didn't use mushroom stock but used regular vegetable stock from Better than Bouillon (which I love).  
The evening's winner. Barely any left by the end of the night.

Our Traditionals -- Spanish rice, guacamole, salsa, sour cream, tortillas (corn + flour), hardshell tacos, chips, lettuce, beans, etc. It was wonderful, although I did learn that making spanish rice in the slow cooker does not turn out as well as stove top. Everything else was great though. 


Then of course the extras:
Krinkle in his bed.  
Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner with Tyler!
The Shah (now Shah-Hoppenfeld) Tex-Mex Holiday Extravaganza!