January 21st – Comfort

One Minute Writer Prompt:
What is the best way someone can comfort you when you are grieving?

This could be one of two ways, and it varies as I go through the different stages of grief. Sometimes, I want to simply be left alone to think and deal with my feelings. Other times, I need to be with close family and friends, as I need that closeness right there. For me, this floats between both needs during my grieving process. It is just a matter of which one I need at that particular time. But, it is always one or the other. I have found with death in the family, being around family is one of the best comforts.

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Christmas Eve Baking Adventure

Christmas Eve this year marked my first adventure into vegan baking. For a few weeks prior, I had gone through multiple cookbooks and online recipes in search of ideas of what I might bake for the family. After several possibilities, I decided upon a Cinnamon Coffee Cake and Fudge Brownies.

Once I got home from work on Christmas Eve, I began to get my ingredients and cooking tools and such in order and ready to go. The cinnamon coffee cake would be made first, as this was the most important baked good of the two. You see, my family has a tradition of having a birthday cake for baby Jesus every Christmas. In the past, my mom had always baked something, or in busier years, picked up a cake from the local bakery for the occasion. 2009 not only marked my first year vegan baking, but my first year actually baking the cake solo. I was excited about doing it, and rearing to go.

In all honesty, I’m not a very experienced cook or baker. I am slowly but surely working on improving this, but still very new to it all. Now that I am a vegan, cooking is starting to become more of a regular part of my life, as it is much easier (and more affordable, not to mention healthier) to make your own meals. That all said, I knew it would take me longer than most to get things put together and into the oven to bake. So, I took this into account when I embarked upon the baking task.

Once I got everything out and ready to prepare, I think I surprised myself at how easy it all started to come together. The cinnamon coffee cake I was making was a recipe from Compassionate Cook’s Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s The Joy of Vegan Baking cookbook. I have really enjoyed her podcast and had been anxious to make something out of her baking book for awhile. The Cinnamon Coffee Cake won me over, as I am a huge fan of anything cinnamon as is the rest of the family (not so sure they love it as much as I do, but they do love cinnamon). In no time, I had the batter made and was whisking it together. The recipe has two parts, the batter itself for the cake and the crumbly cinnamon topping. The topping I admit took me longer than the cake batter did. I ended up making up two batches of it, as it didn’t seem to cover the cake like it should. Not sure if that was my fault or if it had to do with that I had to use a larger pan… either way, once I got enough topping made, I put it atop the cake batter and into the oven. Admittedly, I feared what the pre-baked cake looked like. Made me wonder if I really messed up and did something more wrong than simply the topping.

Trying not to worry too much about the coffee cake, I let it bake and moved on to the brownies. These proved to be much easier to make. I got the batter for these together and mixed in no time. This brownie recipe was one that utilized a banana, semi-sweet chocolate chips (which are very bad to have around, as munching upon them tends to occur while baking and then even later on… 🙂 ) and cocoa powder. Once I had everything mixed up, I poured the mixture into a pan and put it in the oven as I removed the coffee cake. To my great surprise, the finished coffee cake looked good! I was pleased that it didn’t appear to be the disaster I feared it was when I had put it into the oven to bake. Of course, the true test would be Christmas morning, but in the meanwhile, I felt better about my baking of it seeing the finished product.

Once the brownies were finished baking about twenty minutes later, my evening of “slaving” over a hot oven was over. I did the remainder of the dishes and clean up of the kitchen and went to bed looking forward to the taste test of the foods the next day.

Christmas morning came and I gathered with the family with my cinnamon coffee cake and we sang Happy Birthday to Jesus. A few minutes later, everyone took a piece of cake and I awaited the verdict of the tasters. I was happy to hear everyone eating away and offering up compliments on the cake. They loved it. This was the best thing I could have hoped for. I was relieved and grateful for the kind words. Later, after Christmas dinner had been eaten, the brownies were presented. They too were enjoyed by everyone.

My Christmas baking adventure ending up being a great success and I already look forward to baking for upcoming birthdays in 2010. And, I know my baking will only get better and easier in the future the more I do it.

2009 Blog Challenge: Catch up

Today is time for a little “catch-up” on the blog challenge. Since I started on December 13th, I have twelve days to make up for. That said, here we go, below you will find December 1st through 6th….

Trip. What was your best trip in 2009?

This is an easy one, my vacation up to New York this past September. I had such a great time in the city for the two days I spent in there (was on Long Island with family most of the week). I really enjoyed being in one of my favorite places in the USA. For the first time in my life, I spent a night in NYC. An awesome friend invited me to stay with her for a night and it was a great experience. One I will definitely remember for a very long time. Past trips to New York, I only was able to spend the day in the city, so being able to spend a night was definitely a highlight for me.

NYC

Restaurant moment. Share the best restaurant experience you had this year. Who was there? What made it amazing? What taste stands out in your mind?

I don’t know if I had one experience that stands out above all others on this front. For the most part this year, I have eaten out solo, on my own. I did have a few times eating out with family and/or friends that enter my mind though. One would be lunch with my Aunt Kyle and cousin Kim when I was up in New York. We ate at this great Chinese restaurant in Hampton Bays which was nice. Good food and good conversation and time with family I don’t see often. Another time would be eating at Pizza Fusion here in Orlando with my mom for the first time. Neither one of us had ever been there, so it was nice to experience somewhere for the first time with my mom. Another good food and good time moment that stands out in my mind. The final restaurant experience that was great in my mind is my first time eating out as a vegetarian at Dandelion Communitea Cafe. I went to the cafe after work one Saturday afternoon solo and was recommended a special wrap the restuarant makes. I fell in love with the Dandelion and their food during that lunch. The wrap was so full of flavor and goodness and the atmosphere there is like no other.

Article. What’s an article that you read that blew you away? That you shared with all your friends. That you Delicious’d and reference throughout the year.

On this one, I can’t say it was just one article. I was blown away by articles I read during my researching about veganism and how the animals were really treated. The facts surrounding the treatment and conditions that these animals lived with and under stunned me. I couldn’t believe some of the things I was reading. Further, my thinking that so-called “free-range” was good, became a mute point once I educated myself on the subject. Once I read these facts through the articles, I wanted to not only share my newfound knowledge with friends and family, but with the world. There is nothing like the truth hitting you smack dab in the face to make you change your life.

Book. What book – fiction or non – touched you? Where were you when you read it? Have you bought and given away multiple copies?

Jillian Michaels’ Master Your Metabolism. As soon as I heard about Jillian’s new book, I immediately pre-ordered it online. I knew that it was going to be a great read. And, as soon as I had it in my hands and was reading it’s contents, I knew I was right. Jillian is not only an amazing trainer on the TV reality series, “The Biggest Loser,” but she is an inspiration to me and millions of other people. I listened to her weekly radio talk show until it ended this year with eager ears and a yearning to learn from someone I respected in the health and fitness arena. I read the book cover to cover within a little over a week and once I was done, I told anyone who would listen that they needed to also pick up the book. To this day, I still tell anyone looking for a good book on the topic of health to get her book.

Jillian Michaels

Night out. Did you have a night out with friends or a loved one that rocked your world? Who was there? What was the highlight of the night?

The only nights out that I have had in the recent past are those I spent with my friends back in Asheville. Of course, those nights were in 2008. I had a blast going to the movies at the Asheville Pizza & Brewery Company with the Asheville crew when I lived up in Western North Carolina last year. Nothing I have experienced in 2009 has topped that in my mind. Fourth of July 2008 is also a fond memory for me, great BBQ and walking to see the fireworks with great friends. There is nothing better in the world than spending a day with close friends. Ok, so maybe spending a day with family, so spending time with family and/or close friends makes the best times. 🙂

Workshop or conference. Was there a conference or workshop you attended that was especially beneficial? Where was it? What did you learn?

During 2009, I did not attend any workshops or conferences. I did however attend a couple of comic book conventions as a creator. Both Megacon and the FX Show were comic book conventions I appeared at during the year. The one show that stands out for me is Megacon. Not only was it my first comic book convention back in Florida since moving, but I got to see good friends. Two of my friends, Derrick and Suji and myself took pictures with a Delorean replica from the movie trilogy Back to the Future. It was an experience that lasted less than ten minutes, but one I enjoyed and that will live with me for a long time to come.

2009 Vacation: Day One

I had hoped to start posting my vacation journal stuff before now, but obviously, that didn’t happen. Anyway, here we go! 🙂

Tuesday, August 25, 2009. My most anticipated vacation week began with my alarm clock buzzing loudly to arouse me just before 9am. I got up, ate breakfast, showered and dressed. After ensuring I had everything, I gathered up my bags and loaded them into my dad’s Grand Prix. We were then off for the Orlando International Airport for my 9am flight.

The check-in was quick and easy, which is just how I always hope it will be. The security checkpoint wasn’t too bad despite a couple of folks in front of me who always seem to not know how to put all their stuff on the x-ray belt and remove their shoes. Sometimes, it’s the things that most of us see as simplistic and not requiring much brain activity that boggles the minds of a select few… reminds me of the people who think ordering a sub at Subway is a rocket science. I have to force myself to chuckle at these sorts of things and people, or I might go insane.

My airline of choice to Long Island, New York is Southwest Airlines, as they not only tend to have reasonable fares, but their staff always treats me right. In the past, I’ve flown with a few others like Delta (I recall the short-lived Delta Song!) and JetBlue, and while they were okay, honestly, they didn’t impress me in the least. I don’t expect a lot when I fly, but some airlines just know how to treat their customers better it seems.

The flight into Islip was pretty smooth, not a lot of turbulence. I had a local Long Island mom to my right who was returning home after helping her sophomore college son settle into his dorm. In the window seat was a middle-school aged kid who was also returning back home to Long Island, after visiting his dad in Florida for the summer. Both nice people to chat with during the two plus hour flight from Orlando.

Upon arriving in the Big Apple, my mom’s sister, Linda picked me up in her new Civic. In tow, my Aunt had my cousin Jimmy’s two kids, Brianna and Cameron. Having never met my second generation cousins, it was nice to finally get the opportunity to do so. Brianna is fourteen and starting high school this year, Cameron is six. The kids wanted to go to Chuck E. Cheese to play some games, so that was first up. Now, I haven’t been to a Chuck E. Cheese since I was probably like ten years-old. So, my feeling that the experience was going to be unlike it is through the eyes of a kid was spot on. To say the place is loud and overwhelming is probably and almost certainly and understatement. Kids of all rugrat sizes and ages were running all over the indoor playground. Between the sounds of kids squeeling for joy, the musical sounds of the games themselves and the blaring loudspeakers singing the praises of Chuck E. Cheese world, a few minutes of this place is enough for any adult to go bananas. How parents can manage to survive this sort of thing with their children, I do not know. It didn’t take me long to imagine how my own parents must have felt when I longed to play there as a youngster. For those years, I’m so sorry mom and dad.

Once my Aunt and I were able to prod the kids along in spending all of their game tokens, the experience wasn’t over, oh no. There were tickets won by playing said games that now needed to be redeemed on toys, ie: junk that is of course worth nothing…well, nothing unless you’re a kid that is. Watching my little cousins decide on prizes, my mind again went back to my childhood. I vividly remember an arcade place where you won tickets that you could exchange for similar junk toys or candy. My dad used to take my brother and I there pretty regularly when we were in elementary/middle school. So, I had to smile when I saw the indecision that my cousins went through in choosing their prizes.

Laffy taffy and plastic rubbery toys in hand, we finally left Chuckie’s land and made an immediate beeline for a a place I had been waiting for since booking my plane ticket the month prior. It was time for some real New York pizza goodness! And, it’s no lie that the best slices are found at “holes in the wall.” Totally true, at least in the state of New York it is. No atmosphere, but hands down the best pizza I had my entire trip. Oh, and the garlic knots are great as well. I had a good chuckle when my six-year-old cousin proclaimed out loud that Virginia (his home state) had better pizza that the slice he was slowly munching on. Ah, kids say the funniest things, don’t they?

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful. We went back to my Aunt and Uncle’s place, where my Uncle Bill and I got to admire each others weight loss from the past year. He had lost more than 90lbs whereas I’ve lost 70lbs, and he looked great. He took me out to his local health good store, Wild By Nature. It is a nice store, I was impressed. It is down the road from their house, where a King Kullen grocery had previous been. I picked up a few items as did he before heading back to the house. We then changed into our workout clothes and headed out to the Nature Preserve for a walk. The Preserve has great trails for walking and I enjoyed taking in the fresh air as we went along the paths.

The day came to a close with a viewing of the Iron Man movie that I brought up with me. My Uncle and Aunt had never seen it, nor had the kids, so it was cool watching it again with people who hadn’t seen this awesome film before. Especially neat seeing the excitement in the eyes of a kid for it. All in all, it was a nice first day of my vacation. I was happy to finally be back up in New York.