Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. The food is delicious and feels special because it’s really the only time of year that you eat it. There’s no pressure for figuring out gifts like there is at Christmas. Instead it’s a time to give thanks for all the things we already have.

One of the things I’m very thankful for is my friends. And one of the other great things about Thanksgiving is that it does lend itself to large gatherings of friends over a delicious Thanksgiving meal. I’ve participated in these Friendsgivings in various forms. Sometimes it’s like this year getting together with friends I don’t always get to see that often anymore over a delicious meal prior to the holiday. Sometimes it’s gathering together a group of Thanksgiving orphans who aren’t spending the holiday with their families on the actual holiday to share a Thanksgiving dinner, or gathering together with friends and having a potluck dinner with everyone’s Thanksgiving leftovers.

It’s always fun to see all the variations on the standard Thanksgiving food recipes that people have. Also there are always the random things people have that for some reason whether cultural or family tradition always show up on their Thanksgiving table. I’m still not ever eating that sauerkraut weirdo Marylanders think is Thanksgiving food though.

This year I had the pleasure of attending three different Friendsgiving meals over the last few weeks leading up to the holiday. They were all wonderful gatherings with friends, some of whom I definitely don’t get to see nearly enough anymore. I loved getting the chance to catch up on each other’s lives, share food, great conversation and laughter, and remember that these are all the things I’m thankful for. It’s been hard to focus on the good things this year, so it was nice to have some great reminders that there are still lots of simple good things in this world.

A Good Sheet Cake

Sometimes there’s nothing like a good sheet cake. You know the ones that come covered in the sickeningly sweet buttercream icing. The key is to have a really good sheet cake though. There are plenty of garbage sheet cakes out in the world getting your hopes up and then dashing them when you take a bite and realize they’re covered in that oil slick of whipped icing instead of buttercream (that stuff should be outlawed) or the cake is super dry.

There’s a local grocery store in Baltimore called Eddie’s and they make a fantastic sheet cake. We always get one at work for our student worker appreciation lunch. This year’s lunch was this afternoon and I enjoyed the heck out of my piece of cake. I even managed to snag a corner piece, which means more icing for me. I know some people hate it, but I love it.

I know theoretically there are better desserts out there made from less industrial ingredients, but sometimes all I want is a piece of good old buttercream sheet cake. My wedding cake came from a Publix grocery store and was essentially a glorified sheet cake, and I loved it. I’ve been to plenty of weddings with fancy cakes from bakeries that I have found to be far less tasty than my grocery store cake.

I don’t have cause to have good sheet cakes in my life very often, but I always look forward to this at least one day per year when I get to indulge in this horribly delicious treat.

DC Day

Awhile back my husband, knowing that I like the band The Head and the Heart, pointed out to me that they were going to be playing at D.A.R. Constitution Hall in DC. I had already seen, but decided not to go because I didn’t feel like going all the way to DC and was hoping they would swing back through Baltimore later in their tour as they had in their previous tours. He pointed out to me that he was going to be in DC for a conference that day, so if I decided to get tickets I could come down and meet him and we could go. So I went ahead and bought tickets. Of course two weeks after I bought tickets, they announced a show in Baltimore in December. Looks like I’ll just have to see them twice. Poor me.

Anyway, shortly after buying tickets to the concert my former boss passed away and I saw that the memorial service was going to be in Olney, Maryland the same day as the concert. After looking up where the heck Olney was and realizing it was in DC suburbs, I decided it didn’t make sense to go back home in between. Instead it made more sense for me to drive into DC and spend the afternoon there. So I made plans to do just that.

The memorial service was lovely. They had ten people speak and share stories and remembrances. It was a very fitting tribute to man who was loved by many, and tried to live life to the fullest despite his long battle with MS. He will be missed.

After the memorial service I headed to my friends Alison and Dave’s house. They just bought a house in DC and happily they were free so we could hang out yesterday afternoon. I got to check out their new digs, and spend some time with them. Now that Alison sadly no longer lives in Baltimore I obviously don’t get to see her as often. They still come up this way a lot, but I know once they settle into their DC life more and more I know that drive will seem even less appealing. Alison and I thought about going to a museum briefly, but I had no slept well and was really tired so we decided just to hang out their house until dinner.

One of the problems with D.A.R. is that there is nothing else immediately around it in terms of commercial things like stores and restaurants. Within a mile or so there’s a handful of places, but you still don’t have a very big selection if you want to grab drinks or dinner before a show. I made us reservations at Founding Farmers, which I had heard good things about and is insanely popular based on the number of people waiting to get in there. Perhaps at one point it was amazing and is now just resting on it’s popularity, or maybe it’s just one of those places that has a reputation for whatever reason that it doesn’t really live up to. After waiting almost an hour after our reservation time for our table (normally that would have made me leave a place, but in this case there wasn’t really anywhere else to go), the food was just middling. I’m not sure why everyone was fighting to get in there. At least everything came out fast since we were pressed for time by the time we got to sit. The carrot cake was tasty too.

Because dinner took so long we did miss the first bit of the opening band, Declan McKenna. I didn’t know them going in, and after seeing what I saw of their set I wasn’t really sad that I missed part of it. They weren’t completely terrible like whoever the opening act was the first time I saw The Head and the Heart in concert, but their music didn’t do a whole lot for me.

Last night was the fourth time I’ve seen The Head and the Heart in concert. Once at the Newport Folk Festival and then once on each of the tours they’ve done for their three albums. They always put on an excellent show. Last night was no exception. They obviously played a good chunk of music from their new album, which I really like. They still tend to play a lot from their first album as well, which the crowd eats up. At this point especially for those songs but for some of their more recent material as well, it was really just one big sing-a-long with the crowd. That doesn’t work with every band, but it totally does with them and I was happy to be able to sit there and sing with everyone. I’m already looking forward to seeing them again in December.

Apple Cider Donuts

There are many things I love about fall, but one of them is apple cider donuts. I don’t know if they’re a new phenomenon (probably not), if they just weren’t a thing in the places I previously lived, or if I just somehow was unaware of them, but I don’t ever recall hearing about apple cider donuts until I started my current job 12+ years ago and one of my co-workers brought them in. Now I very much love them and look forward to their appearance in the fall.

At least near me they’re not that easy to get though. There is one farm I know of that sells them, but it’s a 30 minute drive for me to get there so it’s not like I’m driving up there frequently to buy donuts. It kind of surprises me that none of the orchards that go to the farmers’ market we go to every weekend sell them, but it’s probably for the best. I really shouldn’t have easy access to them for my own good.

I met some friends at the Perry Hall Apple Festival at Chapel Hill Farm yesterday. They too sell apple cider donuts in their little store, so after enjoying our time at the festival I stopped in on the way out and bought a couple of containers. There’s a chance someone will bring some into work once, but it’s also quite possible these will be the only apple cider donuts I get this season, so I’m going to savor them.

Enjoying the Good Times

Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the minutia and stresses of life and not really take time to stop and smell the roses as it were, but this weekend offered some great times for me to think about the blessings in my life and be thankful for them.

As anyone around these parts knows we have been stuck in some awful weather pattern where it has been cold and rainy for weeks on end. Friday we finally had a nice sunny, spring day and it just made everything so much better. I got to get outside for a walk in the park. We got to dine outside at a restaurant in our neighborhood, and then I got to come home and bake a cake while listening to some James Taylor which really fit my weather mood. It was a simple, lovely evening and I very much savored it as it was happening.

Saturday we held our annual Preakness party. Despite the return of the gross rain it was a fun day with friends. We got to enjoy tiny babies, and bigger babies, toddlers, and pre-schoolers running around our house. I am still endlessly amused by the fact that even more exciting than the fun animal cups and toys we had for them was the bowl of potatoes they found and played with. Next year we’ll just give them a bunch of produce to play with. I also finally managed to draw the winning horse in our pool, so I had a little extra money in my pocket at the end of the night too.

Sunday I got to head out to horse country for a baby shower for a friend (still in the rain, it never ends I tell you). I could never live out there myself, but it’s nice to escape the city every once in awhile and get out into the wilds of Maryland. That’s one nice thing about Baltimore is it doesn’t take very long to get out into some still very rural seeming places. We had a wonderful afternoon celebrating the impending arrival of what will be a very loved baby boy.

The weekend was a good reminder that my life is pretty good sometimes and filled with lots of wonderful friends and beautiful moments that I should pay more attention to and cherish.

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Part of our Preakness cocktail set-up. This year with fun cups for the kids.
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Part of our Preakness cocktail set-up. This year with fun cups for the kids.
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Part of our Preakness cocktail set-up. This year with fun cups for the kids.
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Part of our Preakness cocktail set-up. This year with fun cups for the kids.
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Part of our Preakness cocktail set-up. This year with fun cups for the kids.

Dr. Gourmet

Last year I started having issues with high blood pressure. I’m guessing it’s mostly related to work stress, but since I’m not quitting my job I had to look into other ways to try and bring it down. I’m already a healthy weight, I don’t smoke, I already can’t drink for other medical reasons, and I exercise everyday. That pretty much leaves reducing my sodium intake as the only thing to try.

If you would have asked me before I started paying attention I would have assumed my sodium intake wasn’t all that bad. I eat fairly healthy meals most of the time and we do cook at home a decent amount. Turns out that there is a lot of hidden sodium in things I never would have thought about. Cereal, bread, even milk (this was the most surprising to me) all have more sodium than you might think. Plus the things we add to our from scratch meals (essentially sauces and marinades) are all full of sodium if you don’t pay very careful attention to buying the few low sodium products on the market.

In order to adjust what we were eating to fit within my new sodium intake plan I needed to find new recipes. My husband is a vegetarian, which added an additional wrinkle. We had to find low-sodium, vegetarian recipes to cook. In trying to Google recipes I stumbled across the Dr. Gourmet website. There’s a whole section of recipes for low-sodium, vegetarian diets. There’s a lot of other recipes there too, but I can only speak to the ones from this section of the site.

We’ve cooked a lot of the recipes from the site over the past few months, and they’ve been great. There’s only been one that I haven’t liked and that I suspect is moreso because I thought it was a good idea to make spinach alfredo even though I don’t generally like alfredo sauce. The recipes are generally easy. They don’t require any ridiculous ingredients, and many of them take about 30 minutes which is about how much time I want to spend cooking dinner after I get home from work. I’ve tried a couple that take longer than that on weekends when I have more time. This website has been a real lifesaver. I would definitely recommend it if you’re looking for some tasty, healthy recipes.

Easter Candy

Candy isn’t my first choice in sweets. Generally I like go for things like cake or cookies if I have a choice, but there’s something special about Easter candy. A lot of it of course is the fact that you can only get it once a year. Even the things that have counterparts throughout the rest of the year are better at Easter.

I have my go-to Easter candy that I like to treat myself to every year. Number one on the list of course is Reese’s eggs. They are the best Easter candy and by far the most superior of all the Reese’s peanut butter cup products. They have the perfect ratio of peanut butter and chocolate. At least as far as I know the Reese’s eggs were their original holiday shape. They were the first ones I can ever remember seeing anyway. Reese’s has since branched out into making holiday shapes for many other holidays, but each one has a slightly different ratio of peanut butter and chocolate. The eggs are perfect and definitely the best.

If of course also enjoy Cadbury’s creme eggs. I still remember the first time I ever saw one. I was a kid and there was an Easter egg hunt in our neighborhood in the wooded area by our neighborhood pool. My first memory of one is not even me eating one. My sister found one and I remember being super jealous watching her eat this cool candy that looked like it had an actual egg yolk in the center. I don’t actually remember the first time I ever ate one myself, but I do know I still love the delicious egg treats.

They branched out their eggs a number of years ago with different flavor filllings. I’m a big fan of caramel so I really like the caramel eggs as well filled with a ton of gooey, silky smooth caramel. Don’t tell anyone but I might even like them better than the original creme eggs.

Finally a recent addition to my Easter candy collection is Twix eggs. Twix is my favorite candy bar, so when they started making eggs a few years ago I quickly jumped on that bandwagon. The layer of caramel is gooier and less chewy than in the normal Twix, which I like. You also have a lot more cookie surface area. It all fits together rather nicely. Like with the Reese’s eggs I think I like the Twix eggs even more than their non-holiday counterparts.

I’ll ration out this Easter candy over the next few months and then wait for it to return to me again in another year.2016-03-20 16.10.53