christmas vacation

My holiday celebrations began at my home in NC. My roommate got a cryptic call from her dad on a random Wednesday saying, “Are you home?” She said “… yeah… why?” and he said “I’m coming over. Don’t go anywhere.” And refused to tell her anything else. Thus proving all dads everywhere are real weirdos.

It turns out he was dropping off this adorable wee Christmas tree!

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We turned it into a holiday wonderland (ish) with an advent calendar and presents below it.

It made for a nice backdrop to a pre-Christmas party with the First Wives Club! We decorated cookies and had the following:

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  • My fondue (Trader Joe’s has a microwavable fondue. I acknowledge that this is DANGEROUS INFORMATION TO SHARE) with apple slices, carrots, baguette, and pistachio pomegranate crisps
  • More Trader Joe’s goodies from Lesli: smoked salmon and cream cheese wraps, Melba toast with tapenade, summer sausage
  • COOKIES! I used this Sally’s Baking Addiction recipe which was really good and easy to work with (even when you, like me, have no rolling pin and use a wine bottle LOL)

My sister got me the CUTEST Christmas cookie cutters last year for Christmas and it was so fun to pull them out. The little elves were DEFINITELY my favorites.

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Lola the kitty helped me set up the decorating station hahaha. Just made plain white icing, and had sprinkles and a few colors of decorating icing.

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IMO, I think we produced some REALLY adorable cookies. I made Lesli and Emily take some and then gave the rest of them to my coworkers and family.

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I wrapped up work on the night of Friday December 21st (it was the clinic’s karaoke filled Christmas party, very fun) and then zoomed up to Virginia (whilst listening to Uncover: Escaping NXIVM, a wiiiiiiiiild podcast that I highly recommend).

And what was I rushing to, you ask? Of course my family. But also…

THIS LITTLE HEARTBREAKER.

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Guys, my best friend had a baby. It’s the craziest thing ever. She’s my best friend.

It’s been very cool watching her take on this whole mom thing because she’s still the person I can have ridiculous shorthand conversations with and swap recipes with and share an ongoing love of musical theater with… and yet now… she has a real, legit, grown up Family that she’s made. She has a husband and a (CUTE CUTE CUTE) baby!

So of course, getting to spend time with her for the first time in the six months since her bb was born (!!!) I definitely sought to make up for lost time.

LOOK AT THIS SWEET FAMILY.

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They are a big fan of this baby. He’s not very good at letting them sleep, yet they forgive him. It helps that he is the most good natured, sweet, curious, giggly little man.

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Because it just wasn’t enough for me to be her best friend and the maid of honor in her wedding, I got to be Lydia’s baby’s godmother 🙂 I was so ecstatic when she asked me. The service was super sweet (I like baptisms much more than weddings… no threat of divorce looming!) and the baby was a champ… he focused mostly on chewing on the programs.

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Lydia’s family had a sweet little shindig afterwards at which time I admired this cheese Christmas tree.

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Another pre-Christmas day I went to the nearby banh mi joint (banh mi= the most deliiiiiiicious Vietnamese sandwiches. Perfect crunchy baguette filled with some kind of protein- pork is traditional but I always get the sugar cane shrimp and this place has veggie options too- then smeared with mayonnaise and fish sauce and topped with cilantro and thinly sliced cucumber and carrots and… also some magic). Got treats for my whole family. All the sandwiches are under $5 and often last two meals.

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The main things I miss about Northern Virginia are my family (obvi) and some of the foods you can get. In North Carolina you can get legit Mexican food which is wonderful because VA doesn’t really seem to have it. On the other hand, DC/Northern Virginia you can get the most extraordinary: Korean. Vietnamese. Peruvian. Ethiopian. El Salvadoran. Bolivian. etc. etc.

Before too long, it was CHRISTMAS DAY!

My cousin Kate has in recent years been gallivanting all over the world with her hus doing cool and interesting things. She currently resides in Germany. There, she purchased… truly unforgettable aprons for the whole family.

Stephen and Tom look deeply proud of their toned figures.

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And here’s me and my aunt Kathy. I enjoy that my torso is bare, yet I wore a scarf to keep my neck warm?!

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My aunt Kathy to my right was hostest with the mostest who made the most incredible Christmas brunch including a million delicious kinds of cheese, a million delicious breakfast casseroles, and the true highlight of Ina Garten’s roasted salmon tacos which are just God’s gift. I ate a lot more than this plate (and def said hello to a mimosa or two as well) but I was just too busy soaking up the merriment, yknow?!

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And last in the apron series (for now anyway haha) here’s sis, me, and mama. I love how Malindi has four hands, two on her hips and two at her sides. I’m also a bit alarmed that I’m the only woman in my nuclear family who got a dude apron…?! Also you can see in this pic I’m wearing some fetching Mrs Claus socks, a Christmas gift from my wonderful sister.

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So Christmas brunch was smashing as always.

Yet because I am a child of divorce, I never have just ONE Christmas. Rather, instead of rolling home from that wonderful brunch and throwing on sweatpants, I instead embark for an evening celebration with my dad’s family.

We started by playing Wits and Wagers (my gift to my dad last Christmas!) and eating artichoke dip. That was pretty fun.

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And then we ate yet more epic food. My sister made this ABSURD pumpkin bread stuffing that has so much butter and sauteed mushrooms and deliciousness. My aunt Jeanie made smashing scalloped potatoes and roasted brussels sprouts. I made a salad with bleu cheese, craisins, candied walnuts and homemade vinaigrette. And my dad, as he will do every Christmas until the day he dies, made lamb.

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So Christmas round two was a success, and then in the next few days I relaxed. I once again contemplated eating my best friend’s baby because he’s so freaking cute (that hat was a baptism gift from me… CAN YOU EVEN WITH HOW CUTE BABY CATS ARE?!)

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That day we went to Sweetgreen, which is another of my Northern Virginia must-visit destinations. It was helpful to eat something that actually contained fiber in the sugar-fueled days surrounding the holidays, but also this shroomami bowl is just legit delicious any time.

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I may not have any human babies but the family cat, Sheila, was very happy to spend lots of time with me. Most of my clothing I brought home for the holidays is coated with a thin layer of ginger fur. I have to say, some of my best moments at home were spent lying on the couch with kitty. Sometimes chatting with family. Sometimes listening to Christmas music. Sometimes drinking tea. Sometimes just spacing out and staring blissfully at the tree.

This photo is not particularly flattering but I love that it includes a Christmas tree/stockings/snow globe.

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Oops, yep, better see the baby again. Lydia and I reunited with Lawrence, one of our pals from high school. We did Model UN together so, uh, yeah. We’re all awesome.

We hunt out at the Korean bakery and stared at the baby, talked to the baby, made the baby laugh, etc.

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And then in the following days I did an increasingly poor job documenting my fun activities as I got towards the end of winter break, one because rudely Lydia and her family left to go to their “home” in their “town” where they “live” which is unfortunately far too far away in Illinois. Oh and also I was starting to get bummed about going back to work. Oh and also my epic travels and various life experiences have led me to do some heavy, deep ruminating on the nature of family.

So I don’t have any shots of our annual family post-Christmas house but lo there were cookies and lo they were good. Nor do I have pictures from the various outings I did with some old grad school friends who all ended up having a mini reunion in DC (Erin from Boston! Claire from Tanzania!)

But I will fondly remember my final event of Christmas vacation, which consisted of actually going *out* somewhere and *celebrating New Years Eve* for the first time in, legit, 8 years.

Aaaand all I have to prove for it is a blurry Instagram photo where my face is mostly obscured. This is probably for the best hehehehe. But there was a 90s DJ and mad dancing and I still left early enough that we got an affordable rate on an Uber and I went to bed at a reasonable hour and we are going to call all of that a WIN!

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Hope everyone’s 2019 is off to a good start! I am hard at work on South Africa posts and can’t wait to revisit my adventures there ❤

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South Africa- the arrival

Oh hello I went to South Africa! Spoiler alert: I had a fantastic time and have fantastic pictures.

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But let’s start at the beginning. This spring, when I got an astonishing email from Mike and Nick.

  1. Mike and Nick are my dad’s first cousins. Their dad, John, was brothers with my dad’s dad, Jasper.
  2. Mike and Nick are also identical twins. That is just a fun fact.
  3. I had met Mike literally once, and Nick maybe two or three times (stateside).
  4. None of the things listed above explain why on earth this happened, but… this spring, Mike and Nick sent an email to me and my sister Malindi that left us TOTALLY SHOOK. That email invited us to South Africa. That email offered to PAY FOR OUR FLIGHTS to South Africa. That email promised us a lengthy adventure seeing a new continent, getting to know a whole new part of my family tree, having all the adventures anyone could possibly want. I MEAN. Who does this happen to?!

Some things happened in the ensuing days (general gaping, emailing my aunt to make sure no one was being this bafflingly generous because they were dying– she was like, “No, they’re just like this!”) but it was a relatively short decision because… WE WERE GETTING TO GO TO SOUTH AFRICA! Who would ever say no to that?!

The passing months I discussed my plans, but discussed them as one might discuss one’s plans to meet and fall in love with the actor Chris Evans. Sounds great but in no way was something actually real or actually happening.

Until… November 13th. When I got in a Lyft and rode to the Raleigh Durham airport with a ticket in my hand that said my destination was SOUTH FREAKIN’ AFRICA!

And so it began.

At RDU, I met my sister, and together we took an hourlong flight to Atlanta. There we had a brief layover followed by… A FIFTEEN HOUR FLIGHT! Over the Atlantic Ocean! To Johannesburg, South Africa!

On the long flight, I learned that (white) South African men hold their own with the British and Germans with drunken obnoxiousness. I ordered a vegetarian meal which apparently to Delta means “meal for someone who is on a diet.” The highlight was when Malindi got a pack of milanos as her side dish and I got… a pack of water! Hah!

And then after that loooong flight it had gone from November 13th to November 14th and I was v tired and the sun was setting over… AFRICA! AFRICA! We were in Africa!

Our cousin picked us up at the airport. After a bit of getting lost (in part because many of the fancy northern suburbs have gates at the end of the streets… though once you actually go up to them it’s illegal if they don’t let you through, so it’s really more of a deterrent)  we arrived at our cousin Rudi and her husband Peet’s new house.

Initial impressions of Johannesburg: the “nice” neighborhoods (even middle class) have high fences and metal security grills outside the front door. Purple jacaranda is blooming everywhere and gorgeous (though it’s not native and overuses water so they’re not replanting when this generation of trees die out).

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We ate dinner at Rudi and Peet’s. Their place is GORGEOUS, very open air. The grill setup is very fancy- basically an outdoor kitchen with all the amenities. The meal was incredible. Our family was warm and welcoming and knew a ton about American politics in a way that makes me embarrassed about how little I know about the recent ousting of President Zuma.

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We ate three types of grilled meat (<< you will see this will be a common theme in these posts), a delicious salad with wonderful feta and carrots olives and tomatoes (November= SUMMER in South Africa!), quinoa salad with avocado, roasted sweet potatoes, and asparagus.

Plus cheesecake with ripe gorgeous berries.

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Plus wine 🙂

We were extremely exhausted when we got into bed that night. Mike and Linda’s business is running guest houses. That night we slept in one of the guest accommodations that is just on the other side of their yard. Random separate small houses are a legacy of apartheid which had the bafflingly ridiculous law– baffling ridiculous laws being a common theme in apartheid– that black and white people could not share walls. Therefore black people who worked for white people would be in these weird little separate rooms at the other end of the yard. So that’s where we slept- it’s now a cozy comfortable guest accommodation.

However despite that exhaustion we had as we collapsed into bed, both Malindi and I had a very peculiar night’s sleep- I was up from 3:30 to 5am but then slept til 1pm. Most of it was jet lag but also in Johannesburg there are loud yell-y birds called HA-di-DAs that sound like a cross between a goose and a seagull and they had a lot to say throughout the morning.

I got up and salivated at the loveliness of Mike and Linda’s porch.

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And pool, and view of the city.

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And happy succulents.

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We ended up spending the day being a bit touristy. We got a ride from Mike and Linda’s driver, Lee (Lee is an integral part of the guest house business and does all kinds of things- he will come up a lot in these posts!) to the fancy mall at Rosemont where one can pick up the hop on hop off double decker tour bus.

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(My glamorous sister)

We saw the fancy northern areas first (like Stanton, where the $$$ people live) first…

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(Cool mural- lots of interesting street art to be seen)

…then switched buses at Constitution Hill (which used to be a prison but now houses the constitutional court—like the Supreme Court—and various museums)…
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(Miners’ memorial- Johannesburg is actually a really new city, only becoming one in 1893 when gold was discovered. A lot of people whose names will never be known died mining in very hazardous conditions)

… and then the Southern part of the tour took us to downtown Joburg. The area is veeeery segregated still- less than a handful of white people to be seen in the crowded, rowdy downtown. Apparently many of the big businesses (like banks) have fled the downtown. The audio o the tour bus had some very interesting parts but also some technical challenges- though we heard the spiel about Ghandi and Ghandi Square about four times I’m not sure we actually saw it.

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(Public transportation remains meh in Johannesburg so a lot of people still rely on taxis- they were necessary for the black workers to commute to the city during apartheid when they were segregated to the townships, and they remain a pretty vital part of the transportation infrastructure. Like New York City cab drivers, they know all kinds of secret routes, and drive like absolute maniacs.)

We got back to Rosemont and had a few extra minutes of strolling around. We drank delicious chai lattes (about $2) though I bet my mom would have picked the beet and ginger latte (!) on the menu.

We peeked into a grocery store for the first time– always one of my favorite things to do when I travel– and cracked up at “American” section.

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Some of the selections were spot on but I thin it’s safe to say there aren’t a lot of Americans who regularly eat canned mushy peas (!)

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Then one of Johannesburg’s typical thunderstorms rolled in. It was fabulous and cooled everything down. We had dinner at home, occasionally interrupted by a cantankerous guest at the guesthouse causing problems that Linda troubleshot by phone. Then off to bed.

LOTS more South Africa posts to come- the morning after our bus tour, we embarked for KRUGER PARK to go on SAFARI! WOO HOO!

adventures

I am in catch up mode because I have some blog posts to write about MY AMAZING TWO WEEK TRIP TO SOUTH AFRICA FROM NOVEMBER 13TO TO 28TH HOLY COW IT IS THE COOLEST THERE THE BEST.

But I have over 1000 photos to properly sort and brilliant text to write.

So I will first recount some fun activities prior to that trip which I also do not want to forget.

I now always refer to Colton and James as “my husband and his boyfriend” and oooooh how it makes me laugh.

We went to Smith Street Diner in Greensboro, midway between me in Chapel Hill and Coltie in Winston Salem. (James was visiting for the weekend). Smith Street Diner is SO good and SO cheap. So we all opted, along with the $4.95 breakfast combo, to go for it and each get a side of a giant pancake for an additional 95 cents. IT WAS WONDERFUL.

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Speaking of friends and brunch, I hosted a ladies brunch for my lovely friend Lesli’s birthday.

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I served:

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Another weekend, some lady friends and I went to the reliably amazing Designer Consigners sale in Cary. It’s a twice yearly event where one can purchase items from J Crew etc. that are used but in perfect condition and sold at a v. considerable discount. And it is sooo well organized and things are so well labeled and like a solid 25% of my professional wardrobe is from there.

Then, because we are already in Cary, we have to go get brunch at La Farm, because it is incredz.

I was honestly aghast when I ordered french onion soup and this arrived.

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Like… the entire top of the bowl is supposed to be one large cheese and bread explosion.

That said, the broth was DE-LISH, as was the (still too small) bread and cheese involved. So.

I got some additional goodies from La Farm to go and brought them to Coltie to hang out in Winston Salem for the night. These were:

  • A pear and almond tart
  • a strawberry poppy seed meringue
  • a chocolate pretzel macaron

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That night in Winston Colton tried to make me watch Gay Best Friend which is a truly horrible fake high school movie. And then at a certain point I had to make it stop and we watched the West Wing instead.

Another weekend and even more sugar- I was invited to tailgate with Kyle and Shaylen and Kyle’s law school bros (seriously it was all men hahaha. They stood around in a cluster playing cornhole and talking about jury trials. Shaylen and I gossiped. It was a real cliche).

I cannot show up to anything empty handed so I made Smitten Kitchen’s salted chocolate chunk cookies. Magnificent. And so quick to execute!

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Another pre-Halloween weekend, I went with Emily to see Hocus Pocus (!!) which was showing at the Carolina Theater as part of their Halloween movie festival. The movie HELD UP- young Thora Birch is just delightful. And some of the people who attended dressed up, which was adorable.

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More Halloween festivities… my friends held their annual pumpkin carving party and I made this cute thing! Of course I wanted a template that involved a kitty cat.

As usual, the deer destroyed it, but at least they let me display it for a couple of days. They’re such dicks, though… they take a bit out of its face and then spit it out next to it. YOU DON’T LIKE PUMPKIN. WE BOTH NOW THAT NOW. SO STOP EATING MY PUMPKIN EACH YEAR THINKING YOU’LL CHANGE YOUR MIND.

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Oh also we had a bunch of hurricanes.

Florence was REAL hyped up and then rather abruptly at the last minute she seemed to essentially detour around the Triangle of North Carolina. We got so, so lucky when so many people did not.

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The memes were pretty strong throughout the crisis.

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Also MY OLD FRIEND FROM SUMMER CAMP WENT VIRAL. She went to pick up some shelter doggos to shelter for the weekend and took a pic and THE REST IS HISTORY.

Also it is nice to see people be good.

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The day Flo came in I took a morning walk and parked my car in the gym parking lot (so as to avoid any of my neighborhood’s numerous trees falling on it).

And then… my friend Emily just drove over in her Jeep in the middle of the storm?! And we ate pizza and salad and drank La Croix and watched scary movies?! RIDIC.

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And then the next day everything was still fine but I felt like I’d maxed out my nervous system pre-stressing about the storm so I comforted myself with comfort food. Aka had a reuben for the first time in… 10 years? It was obviously delicious.

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Also when you are anxious about bad weather and get very stressed maybe it is not the smartest thing to choose to purchase this Ted Bundy book for your hurricane reading:

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Lola understood my anxiety.

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So after all that Florence was fine and then the relatively low key Hurricane Michael which no one freaked out about that much… knocked out my neighborhood’s power for a couple of days. Go figure.

For some reason my gym had power (apparently it is just my safe space now?) so I went there and took a yoga class as I charged my phone. Then again I sought out comfort food in the form of a colossal sandwich:

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And that first power-less night I walked out into my yard and looked at more stars than I’ve seen in a really long time!

And then I heard a voice in the distance and started thinking about Ted Bundy and sprinted back inside.

Fortunately things had calmed down by midweek the following week because…

I SAW MY FAVORITE MURDER LIVE! You can listen to their hilarity for yourselves because it was the Durham show which they posted it as a podcast episode! (But if you don’t already listen to My Favorite Murder please understand that it is a comedy show yet is also about gruesome true crimes and is not for everyone haha).

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Being surrounded by other murderinos was v. exciting and in my same row there were two other fabulous ladies flying solo and we all shared our exciting hometown stories with each other.

More work things… The clinic continues to be awesome and super extra about celebrating people’s big life events. The nurse practitioner had her baby shower and they went all out on decorating.

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This sign in particular cracked me up.

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My organization also held our fall retreat. It was pretty cute. I always wish there could be a happy medium between the soul crushing reality that can be our day-to-day (fighting our crappy new software system, dealing with the drama of our patients’ very difficult lives) versus the superficial games that have nothing to do with patient care that were all we did at the retreat… but whatever. I’m not in management. (THANK GOD).

There was a very large dessert table- I opted for one of these cupcakes, one because the decorations were amazing and two because they looked homemade.

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One of the activities was making pumpkin emojis (…) and these were some of my favorites.

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But anyway, I have to brag about BY FAR my greatest professional accomplishment to date which occurred at the retreat:

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Now, to be clear, this says “Winning Team”, but the hula hoop challenge had single competitors… and I CRUSHED IT. I don’t know what it is, because I am far from an athlete… but it is like my body was made by God to hula hoop. I can easily do it for 40 minutes at a time. The balance is not difficult, the motion is not difficult, I can zone out and just hula hoop and hula hoop and hula hoop. It’s great. So I, ILEANA, rocked the hula hoop competition. There was no team effort.

Actually, the dietitians as individuals did EXCEPTIONALLY WELL. There were two of us in this retreat of more than 100 people and I won hula hoop and Chelsea was on the two person team that won cornhole. So. DIETITIANS REPRESENT.

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Shortly thereafter I hadn’t seen my mom in awhile, work was kicking my booty, and I had to pick up a suitcase at home for my South Africa trip (!!) So what that led to was me deciding at about 7pm on a Friday to go home and see my mother… and leaving like 15 minutes later and driving the 4+ hours to DC. I am rarely spontaneous but it was really really great. I got in quality time with my mom, who very sweetly stayed up til midnight on Friday to wait for me so we could visit together and gab about life.

AND, and I got in quality time with pho. I had felt a cold coming on and this nipped it in the bud. I love North Carolina but the pho here just does not measure up to Northern Virginia.

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Sheila was also very pleased to see me. In this photo I am wearing a workout top because I had good faith intentions to go to the gym. But… who is going to turn down a cuddle with this sweet little ginger cat?! Once I’d petted her for, yknow, half an hour or so and she was finally sort of satisfied, I gave up on going to the gym and just took a long walk in the park. Which was v. nice.

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Every time I have gone home in the past I’ve been all “Ugh, this is a real house with central heating and air conditioning and proper walls and proper doors and no random holes in it and a bathtub that isn’t covered in orange rust stains that are resistant to a magic eraser and it doesn’t have a washer in the bathroom and a dryer in the kitchen and I don’t have to duct tape the bathroom door so it’s always unlocked and can be pushed open, because otherwise everyone gets trapped inside the bathroom every time they shut the door” and so on. BUT. In fact, my personal home has had recent CONSIDERABLE improvement. First of all I found this fabulous chair at the Habitat for Humanity Re-store for $60. Lola has taken it as her own and loves it.

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But bigger things have also been afoot! In short:

  • We signed our lease this summer
  • Our (sketchy) landlady almost immediately sold the duplex
  • The new owners, instead of renting out the other half of our duplex, renovated the @*#& out of it. It was loud. And exciting things would happen like our heat would suddenly be going full blast in the middle of August and the only way to stop it was to figure out which switch on the circuit breaker controlled it.
  • We were informed as they began this plan that they hoped we would move in to the newly renovated side so they could renovate our side, and we were like “Yep, sounds great, as long as we keep paying the same amount!”
  • We got this @#@#)%* email out of nowhere

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  • I sent the following response to this (@#%&(@# email:

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  • We negotiated. My landlord referred to me as combative. I wanted to punch him in the nads. Fortunately my roommate stepped in and was good cop and did it beautifully and we came to a reasonable agreement with only a slight rent increase.
  • We moved into the other side and it is REAL HECKIN FANCY! Basically looks like HGTV threw up on it. For example, this is the new shower/tub:

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Having something pretty waiting for me at the end of the line was good, since moving is the worst, even when one is moving next door!

Fortunately I got some laughs in the exhausting process of cleaning out every inch of the old place… because getting behind and under the stove/refrigerator/washer/dryer resulted in my finding a certain someone’s stash of hidden hair ties:

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Okay now we are roughly caught up on my pre-Africa life. Chronicles of my THRILLING TRAVELS are soon to come!

30

Oh hello yes I am 30 now.

It is weird.

I thought I should reflect on all the years of my twenties and have all these insights about what I learned about myself and then I just… didn’t hahaha.

Myra and Alex and their bb took me to brunch! It was great! Kipos, which I’ve long loved, does brunch now!

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Fauna is super interactive and yell-y now it’s the best. Also featured in this picture is the app we split, hot delicious pita with a trio of dips- fava bean, lebneh, and melitzanasalata (eggplant dip)

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For the main event I got lemon ricotta pancakes 😍 I went through a real dumb phase where I was trying to make pancakes with protein and whole grains and stupid nonsense and guys. No. Pancakes are cakes made in a griddle. Don’t fight it. Let them be light, fluffy, crispy-edged, sweet cake.

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Myra got the french toast and I had to take a picture of it. It was essentially sandwiched with walnutty baklava filling. And then topped with several cups of whipped cream. She is a nursing mother and had no problems taking this down.

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After brunch my sister came to town and whisked me away. We went to Lucette Grace and got all the lovely pastries:

  • bourbon pecan caramels 😍
  • macarons in fig and tiramisu flavors 😍
  • Two cakeys, one chocolate and hazelnut that tasted like a Ferrero Rocher, and one that involved apples, pears, and pecan cream 😍

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We picknicked on them in a field, listening to nostalgic music and putting on temporary tattoos. Can you even think of a better outing?!

We had a little slumber party that evening and then went to brunch the next day at Acme. We split the crab and cream cheese omelet (I MEAN) and the pumpkin french toast baked in an individual tureen (CAN YOU EVEN).

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And then, since my birthday hadn’t done quite enough to fatten me up for winter, my friends cooked me dinner that night!

Kyle was slaving away over a hot stove.

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Whilst Colton kept his eyes on the cheese tray hahaha.

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Colton brought me birthday socks HAHAHAHA.

So tangent: Coltie was a Mormon missionary (!) in Germany for two years so he knows a lot of German and knows a variety of weird German traditions. Apparently when someone is still unwed on their 30th birthday (…) they are referred to as “alte Socke”, or, “old sock.” And that someone’s friends buys them socks as an amusing gift.

Kyle and Shaylen spoiled us rotten and made us a FEAST of arepas and a variety of incredibly delicious trimmings. K+S lived in New Haven while Shaylen went to grad school at Yale and grew terribly fond of a local arepas establishment and so sought out to recreate their dishes.

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So along with Spanish rice (with lots of yummy tomatoes and olives and sazon and beans and loveliness) and salad and plantains (!!) I had a big ol’ arepa topped with a gazillion toppings: black beans, sauteed vegetables, sour cream, queso blanco, guacamole, pico de gallo, etc. etc.

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Magificent.

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And thennnnn because K+S just got The Cake Bible, Kyle made me a duh-licious chocolate and almond cake. It was very glamorous and rich and delicious. And Shaylen found CANDLES WHERE THE FLAME IS THE COLOR OF THE CANDLE WONDERS NEVER CEASE TO AMAZE ME.

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It was a very festive few days and though birthdays are kind of gross when you’re weird about celebrating them as an adult, it’s also so so lovely getting warmth and kindness from your people.

workdays

I haven’t posted in awhile… and I haven’t posted about work in awhile… and it’s in part because work low key took over my life for a bit.

Something I’ve been focusing on recently is my INTENSE desire for control and OVERDEVELOPED sense of responsibility. These things show up in a variety of ways in my life (for example, on October 21st as I write this I’m already having some nice late night pre-anxiety about getting on a plane on November 13th). However they’ve been more noteworthy at work.

It doesn’t help that dietitians as a profession are not especially *got* by other health professionals. In my organization, if you are a nurse, or a behavioral health clinician (MSW, LPC, etc.) you can go far. If you’re a dietitian… no one is quite sure what to do with you hahaha.

So I could ramble a great deal about uncertainty, and about putting a great deal of mental energy into keeping my nutrition turf and making sure people who aren’t nutrition professionals aren’t going around giving sh***y nutrition advice… but that’s a boring blog post.

And I could talk about my patients and how they always get me right in the feels… but that’s a HIPAA violation.

I will tell you that morale has been… mixed at work.

A highlight was definitely this baby shower, for Stephanie, a pharmacy tech who is so capable and helpful and whom everyone loves.

Can you even with the baby foot shaped sandwiches?!

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Another event intended to be morale boosting was this chili cookoff… however…

So for brief context, my larger office is sort of this Frankenstein-ian creation where they brought together a bunch of organizations doing sort of similar care management things and then threw a bunch of presentations at us and made us jump through various hoops in electronic medical records… and, for those of us foolhardy enough to volunteer to help with program design in bringing all this stuff together, drowned us in committee meetings.

So they try to do this stuff to facilitate bonding between all these different groups of people… but then scheduled this bonding event on a day when like two dozen people had mandatory full day training and thus couldn’t attend it. It wasn’t the savviest.

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But good HEAVENS, look at this dessert table! For a bunch of people who work in health care hahahaha. I went ham on those smores bars.

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A part of my job that I neeeever complain about is my times spent at the clinic on Fridays. The clinic is where a lot of Duke medical residents do their training and in doing so they are supported by a staff of some of the funnest, most creative, most compassionate people I know.

They had a hi-larious Kentucky Derby hat competition.

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Jan the social worker was a shoo-in for best horse themed hat.

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At the clinic they also go ALL OUT on bridal showers. Note the rose petals scattered all over the breakroom floor!

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Since I’ve had an absurd amount of meetings lately and have just generally been stressed I’ve probably treated myself to lunch out in Durham more than is terribly prudent.

But. Zenfish has UH-MAZING poke bowls.

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And Monuts has this lovely plate where you get a quiche of the day (this one was potato, rosemary, cherry tomato, and goat cheese and it was so good I wanted to cry) and the most lovely fresh snappy salad with a perfect french style vinaigrette. And of course I get some stupid fancy coffee too because I love caffeine and am addicted to it.

And lo, it is good.

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The other dietitian at my office and I try to maintain a network with other dietitians who are also providing care management services to Medicaid patients in other counties.

I want to impress upon you that it is not just me… dietitians eat! We love eating! Sometimes we go out and get tasty pizza (and yes we had it with salad but the salad had blueberries and goat cheese and nuts and all the wonderful things in this world).

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And other times we do potlucks and yes there are various take out containers of veggies from Whole Foods but there is also lemon poppy seed bread and (my contribution) mini apple goat cheese tomato tarts.

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Finally, I, my organization’s other dietitian, Chelsea, and a diet tech (diet techs work with dietitians and have much of the same educational background) have formed a little group. Becka, the diet tech, was part of another organization that was part of the big pulling together that happened, and I have genuinely adored getting to know her. So this Frankenstein combining of organizations definitely hasn’t been all bad!

Chelsea, Becka and I meet monthly, call ourselves the “Nutrition Department” (lololol fully self titled and unofficial), and eat a lot of food and talk about our brilliant plans to make the world awesomer.

 

Once we did so whilst eating tasty panini- this one a classic tomato basil pesto.

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Another day we went for it and got burgers! Our one nod to nutrition was that we split just one order of fries lololol.

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And finally, Becka is actually now jumping ship for another organization, but prior to her departure we had a lovely evening celebrating various fall birthdays (including mine!) and gallivanting around Durham.

We began at 21C, an art hotel that is really cool and I plan to explore further. There along with some beverages we got this extremely architectural sweet potato chip… experience.

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And then we went to Toast and I got what I always got- soup (this one potato-leek and just lovely), and three different kinds of crostini (wild mushroom and pistachio pesto, smashed avocado and parmesan, and goat cheese and beet).

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Finally, it’s always nice to step out of my bubble and learn about cool organizations doing cool nutrition things.

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  • Interfaith Food Shuttle. It’s where the I got the VERY gourmet lunch pictured above (herby grilled chicken salad with veggies and pepitas and sesame sticks and cilantro dressing and so on). That VERY gourmet lunch was in fact compiled of recovered food that would have otherwise gone to waste and/or food grown on their own urban farm. Many of the people who cooked that food have come up/are still coming up through a jobs training program for folks who are transitioning out of substance abuse treatment and or incarceration looking for a career. IFFS does all kinds of cool stuff, and one can also tour their facility and eat an (again, EXCELLENT) lunch.
  • Farmer Foodshare. Another organization that does lots of good helping! They support local farmers by providing a reliable market for their produce. They sell that produce at inexpensive bulk rates and/or donate it to community organizations who provide food to those in need. And, they have a biweekly community food share you can read about here. Because they are awesome and have awesome supporters, they got some donated food shares and somehow I ended up getting to nominate patients to get a biweekly box of healthy fruits, vegetables, and eggs from local farms… all for free! My patients have had LIFE CHANGING experiences just from having improved access to healthy food. For the record, poor people like healthy food! And the folks I’ve connected with this program have been just ecstatic about getting things like perfectly fresh lettuce. And food is good medicine for them, dealing as they are with lifelong health conditions like diabetes, COPD, congestive heart failure, chronic kidney disease, cirrhosis… the list goes on and on.
  • Root Causes. Some extremely excellent med students started a food distribution (fresh produce+ some protein in the form of rice and beans) where patients can come and get these healthy foods AT THEIR MEDICAL PROVIDER’S OFFICE! Not only is it great so that doctors and nurses and so on can give nutrition advice and then actually have nutritious food free and available right around the corner… this also deals with the transportation barrier that so many of my patients deal with! Transportation is NO JOKE. Medicaid does have some transportation to medical appointments for some of my folks but Medicaid transport doesn’t take anyone to the grocery store. And the bus isn’t always a realistic option for my folks who are disabled. But now, again, THEY CAN GET HEALTHY FOOD WHILE THEY’RE AT THE DOCTOR’S! Ugh I just love it.
    These med students are the freaking cutest- the fact that they are so early on in their medical education and already recognize how much value there is in making healthy food affordable and accessible to low-income patients managing chronic diseases… gives me a lot of optimism about the next generation of doctors!
  • Bull City Bucks. This program is public health at its freaking finest. “It is good to eat fruits and vegetables. Here is money to buy fruits and vegetables.”
    It is an unfortunate reality in our country that sometimes your choice is between buying junk food for cheap and actually being satisfied at the end of your meals and having enough food for the month (though that food may be ramen noodles and the like)… or buying fruits and vegetables for $$ and running out of your food stamps too soon and having yourself, your kids, etc. go hungry. This program helps stop that uncomfortable calculation.
    Also, no one is getting nutrition education shoved down their throats. (I do nutrition education but I only do so with people who have agreed to getting it and show interest in my services… I don’t hold anyone’s benefits hostage to do it… there are other public health programs that unfortunately don’t work that way). Also, no one is getting food that may be culturally unfamiliar to them. Folks can buy fresh, frozen, or canned foods (as long as there’s no added salt, sugar or fat). They can buy food at their community grocery store in their own neighborhood. Ugh I just love it.

Any cool organizations doing cool work in other spheres that I should know about? This should have you all caught up on the Piedmont, North Carolina food scene hahaha.

mini vacay

My mom came to see me several months ago for a long weekend around Labor Day. She is THE BEST and we had a smashing time.

She arrived on Thursday and I took her to my faaaavorite, restaurant, Gocciolina. We ordered a ridiculous amount because we wanted to try so much. We took home leftovers, I promise!

We started with glasses of pink wine, and bread with a chickpea spread.

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Melty olivey tomatoey goodness. SO good.
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App 2: nectarines (I think?) with ricotta (I think?) and pistachios.

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App 3: fried eggplant rounds with bleu cheese and fresh tomato. Like the classiest little twist on eggplant parm.
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Then it was the all important carbs course.

My mom chose this SMASHING shrimp and green onion risotto

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And I chose the gnocchi. We shared both. And honestly didn’t get that far because we knew we had more coming hahaha. These made DELICIOUS leftovers.

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Then some kind of EXTREMELY fresh and delicious flaky dreamy white fish with dreamy briny artichokes.

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Finally we each got a decaf espresso and split this panna cotta with a grape (I think?) reduction.

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GOCCIOLINA. YOU HAVE MY HEART.

The next day, Friday, we went to Wilmington for a day trip to the beach.

It makes my heart hurt to look at these pictures… I haven’t been back yet since the double whammy of hurricanes Florence and Michael. I still have friends in town from my internship there and I’ve heard some pretty insane stories from them. Ugh. Sending this town my love today.

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We went to my favorite of the beaches, quieter and emptier Fort Fisher.

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When we’d had too much sun we ducked into the aquarium for a quick visit. These frogs were snuggling! SO CUTE!

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Jellies are always my fave

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We spent the evening with my cousin who lives in Wilmington (<< that cousin and her fam stayed safe in the storms, as did their home, thank goodness!) and then drove back.

The route to Wilmington is about 2.5 hours each day which means… this was the trip on which I taught my mom about the joy of podcasts! And we listened to Dirty John all the way through on our beach drive and on various gallivants around town. It was great!

The next day, Saturday, we continued our No Meal Left Behind tour and ordered about half the items at Mediterranean Deli (again, I got lots of leftovers. By the end of the trip I think my mom was just wanting my fridge to be stocked with several days worth of meals in leftovers. If so her mission was successful).

Going around this plate from the 3:00 that’s:

  • kibbe
  • stuffed tomato with beef (this was the BESSST)
  • artichoke dip
  • fennel, grape, and orange salad
  • baba ghanouj pita
  • spinach pie
  • lamb pita
  • along with tzaziki on the side

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Then that night, I opted to cook for my mom and Kyle and Shaylen, two of my bestest pals. I made:

  • tomato avocado salad
  • roasted tempeh (Shaylen’s a vegetarian, and also I really sort of love tempeh)
  • corn and basil cakes
  • steamed green beans with hazelnuts and lemon

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There was also a cheese plate to kick off the meal (of course) and some homemade apple crisp with vanilla ice cream to end it. Delicious!

Sunday we popped into Weaver Street Market for some midday kombucha and enjoyed the strains of their weekly Jazz Brunch

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Then we were off to my cousin Sophia’s to celebrate her and her husband’s little boy Chase’s SECOND BIRTHDAY!

So Chase is IN.TO.TRUCKS. Like, his favorite book is a cripplingly dull account of how each individual truck driving individual contributes to the construction of the road. (“Then the asphalt gets laid down… then the asphalt gets rolled on with a roller… Then so and so comes in with their truck and does something else boring…”)

One of Sophia’s neighbors has a blossoming cupcake business and designed these UH-MAZING things using fondant.

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Can you even?!

The party was just right… lots of playing outside and kids and bubbles and dogs requesting belly rubs.

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And the birthday boy rocked his festive construction hat.

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And then my mom had to leave and it was laaaame.

I have lots to blog about so hopefully I’ll get on it soon?

wedding cakey

I MADE A WEDDING CAKE! FOR REALS! PLS ADMIRE MY TRIUMPH!

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And the general wedding splendor 🙂 When one makes the wedding cake, one also gets a backstage pass to all the wedding setup festivities. Prime twinkly light prep was taking when I took the photograph below.

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Let’s rewind. I have written a NOVEL about my process. It is as much for my records as yours. But I did learn a lot in this experience and perhaps you, dear reader, will benefit.

This process began when I spent 10,000 hours researching recipes/practicing recipes.

I admit I had a real ace up my sleeve in the form of my cousin Rachel, who just happens to have worked as a PASTRY CHEF. Most of the recipes and techniques I ended up using were hers. She’s the best.

It turns out that practicing recipes, and planning recipes for the actual making of this actual huge amount of cake, involved doing an exorbitant amount of math.

To scale the recipes my cousin gave me to various pan sizes, I did the calculations based on Smitten Kitchen’s advice, at the end of this blog post, to use surface area of the pan rather than batter volume. In other words, a 9 inch pan has an area of about 64 inches. Its radius is 4.5 inches, and you use pi r squared to get the area. WHO SAID YOU DON’T USE MATH IN REAL LIFE?! Meanwhile, a 12 inch pan has an area of about 113 inches. Let’s say I wanted to convert a recipe for a cake that fits in a nine inch pan to fitting in a 12 inch pan- I’d multiply each ingredient (preferably in ounces or grams) by 113/64. For eggs, you obviously just end up rounding up or down.

What I ended up making were three separate cakes: a 6 inch, a 9 inch, and a 12 inch. I came up with those numbers using the Wilton diagrams. I will say I actually only ended up making approximately 108 servings, per the guidance of the bride and groom, and I was distraught by that because there were 160 wedding guests. And though there was also pie, the thought of someone going away hungry for dessert was devastating to me. Well, friends, this was NOT a realistic concern. Lots of people don’t eat cake. The bride and groom now have a freezer full of it.

Okay so the aforementioned 6″, 9″ and 12″ cakes could’ve been stacked on each other, but my friends weren’t interested in that aesthetic. Frankly, thank God. The thought of stacking and doweling cakes makes me a bit lightheaded.

So, I had three separate cakes. But secretly, I had nine cakes, since each cake had three layers. Furthermore, each layer was cut in half and then filled with filling. So each cake, from the bottom up, went: cake, filling, cake, icing; cake, filling, cake, icing; cake, filling, cake, icing. As seen below!

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As for the recipes themselves, please note that my fancy pastry chef cousin’s recipes are sparse on details because she’s such a friggin fantastic baker that she doesn’t need to include much in her recipes. I’ve done my best to make notes below.

The recipes I used were:

  • Chocolate genoise:
    • For one 12 inch round pan: Whisk 8 eggs and 8.4 oz sugar over double boiler until sugar dissolves/eggs are slightly warm to the touch Then move to mixer and whip until 3x volume and very pale yellow. Meanwhile, sift together 6.4 oz flour and 1.2  oz cocoa powder. Remove eggs from mixer, fold in flour mix. Use your hand to fold to lessen chance of deflating [Ileana note: I interpreted this to mean use your hand and a spatula, rather than the mixer. I didn’t literally stick my hand in batter. Though honestly that may’ve been what my cousin meant, since I know she always uses her hands to separate eggs]. Bake @350 in buttered/floured tin (I always put parchment on the bottom too) [Ileana note: OMG YES ADD THE PARCHMENT. It removes all stress from the process]. Cook until they smell good and have just separated from side of pan. [Ileana note: I was wracked with anxiety about the cooking time. While it is 100% true that baked goods really do start to smell extra good when they are done (thus my cousin’s “cook until they smell good”), my nose was also sort of broken at a certain point in the baking process. I also had multiple cakes in various stages all in my kitchen at the same time. You could bake for maybe 15 minutes and evaluate at that time and that might be a good starting point for baking time.]
    • I learned that the maximum capacity of my Kitchenaid mixer (standard size, not industrial size, which is what my pastry chef cousin has!) is 4 or 5 eggs’ worth of genoise. So, to make enough batter for one 12 inch cake layer, I had to do it in two batches.
  • Plain genoise
    • To make one 9 inch round pan, Whisk 4 eggs + 4.2 oz sugar over double boiler until sugar dissolves/eggs are slightly warm to the touch. Then move to mixer [Ileana note: I added about 1/2 teaspoon vanilla at this point] and whip until 3x volume and very pale yellow. Meanwhile, sift together just shy of 4 oz flour. Remove eggs from mixer, fold in flour. Use your hand to fold to lessen chance of deflating [Ileana note: I interpreted this to mean use your hand and a spatula, rather than the mixer. I didn’t literally stick my hand in batter. Though honestly that may’ve been what my cousin meant, since I know she always uses her hands to separate eggs]. Bake @350 in buttered/floured tin (I always put parchment on the bottom too) [Ileana note: OMG YES ADD THE PARCHMENT. It removes all stress from the process]. Cook until they smell good and have just separated from side of pan. [Ileana note: I was wracked with anxiety about the cooking time. While it is 100% true that baked goods really do start to smell extra good when they are done (thus my cousin’s “cook until they smell good”), my nose was also sort of broken at a certain point in the baking process. I also had multiple cakes in various stages all in my kitchen at the same time. You could bake for maybe 15 minutes and evaluate at that time and that might be a good starting point for baking time.]
  • Smitten Kitchen’s swiss buttercream
    • Note: a batch made with 5 sticks of butter (half her “big” recipe) maxed out the capacity of my Kitchenaid mixer.
    • To ice my three cakes- a 6 inch, a 9 inch, and a 12 inch diameter cake; each about 4-5 inches tall; each with icing between layers and icing around the diameter of the fillings; it took 1.5 “big” batches of the Smitten Kitchen swiss buttercream.
    • I have nothing to add to her instructions, which are invaluable. I had the exact same experience of flipping out that I was making frosting soup and then somehow it magically turns into icing after about 20 minutes of whipping. I also observed that the finished icing indeed has the texture of mayonnaise and indeed is wonderful to work with.
  • My fancy pastry chef cousin’s ganache “recipe”: measure equal amounts of bittersweet chocolate and cream. Heat up the cream (she uses a stove, I used the microwave). Mix them together with a whisk, leaving no lumps. Let them cool.
  • Strawberry filling which I cobbled together (initially I used a food network recipe for strawberry sauce but then that ended up being way too thin so I added a few bags of frozen strawberries and immersion blended it with that so it ended up being super concentrated strawberry bliss. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to recreate it, hahaha)

So I did all my cake math and successfully made all of those bad boys approximately 1-2 weeks in advance of the wedding, and they invaded my freezer:

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And then I thawed them in my fridge:

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And then I made my fillings and frostings.

And then,

then

it was assembly time.

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I’m not going to lie to you, this was the most intense part of the experience.

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Cutting cake layers in half is not for the faint of heart. It doesn’t help when you have crappy serrated knives (me). It doesn’t help when your cake layers are very large. It doesn’t help when you’re not particularly spatial. It is what it is. Do it, suck it up.

A key tip that I highly recommend is doing a perimeter of icing. That helps hold in the ganache (or whatever other filling) and keep it from spilling out and mucking up the outer layer of icing on the cake.

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When the assembly was done, each of the three separate cakes looked something like this:

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And then it was time for the crumb coat! My love of the crumb coat is discussed below and it is included in any cake tutorial worth its salt. Befriend the crumb coat, baker friends.

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Okay so those were the basic preliminary cake assembly steps. I think this is a good time for an interlude on essential supplies.

I made this list assuming at least a basic knowledge of baking- obviously you’ll need bowls and whisks and spatulas and all the normal baking things. But the things below are not necessarily mandatory for regular cake baking but are either extremely convenient or just absolutely essential for wedding cake baking.

  • Pasteurized egg whites, if one is using Swiss buttercream icing. Maybe the egg whites get hot enough in the double boiler, maybe they don’t. As a dietitian I know too much about food safety, and why chance it?! Plus it’s easier buying the packaged stuff than separating that many eggs.
  • Big cake pans, which I purchased at Michael’s craft store. Honestly I wish I had bought more pans because with my triple cake layers (to make tall cakes) I ended up making nine individual cakes- three six inch, three nine inch, and three twelve inch. I had two nine inch pans but only one six inch pan and only one twelve inch pan. I wish I had just sprung for extra pans.
  • Parchment paper for lining the cake pans. It removes 100% of the anxiety. In some of my test runs I didn’t do this and was also a bit impatient about taking the cake out of the pan maybe before it had cooled enough and dealt with cake breaking in half and making me really really angry. The parchment avoids this situation!
  • DIGITAL SCALE. Seriously large scale baking is impossible if you have to deal with measuring cups. Weights are the way to go. The difference is absurd. Your workflow simply consists of dumping an ingredient in a bowl til the scale says the number you want-> zero the scale-> add the next ingredient til the scale says the number you want-> zero the scale. I would’ve gone insane if I’d had to measure individual cups of flour, sugar, etc. Plus my fancy pastry chef cousin didn’t give me any recipes in cups hahaha. Real bakers use weights!
  • Stand mixer. The kind of aeration that needs to happen for the genoise and, dear God, the Swiss buttercream, would take literally hours of hand mixing. My arm would’ve fallen off- the whisking I had to do in the initial step of the Swiss buttercream was quite enough.
  • Double boiler or a metal bowl that fits over a large saucepan/large pot- that’s necessary for getting eggs to behave themselves both in the genoise and in the Swiss buttercream.
  • Offset spatula for putting on the icing. Makes it so much easier. Lots of cooking videos demonstrating this.
  • Pastry bags and icing tips. I didn’t do anything fancy but they’re great for doing the perimeter around the filling, as pictured above, and for doing touch ups once the cake is iced on the outer layer.
  • Cake boxes. This is easier said than done, actually. Apparently the larger Michael’s craft stores have cake boxes but the smaller ones, though they have literally every other item having to do with cake, do not. Weird. I ended up getting some for free at Whole Foods in the bakery section (hurray!) However, they only have them in some sizes and most were either slightly too big or slightly too small for my finished cakes. This ended up being a bit of a kerfuffle, but since as we’ll note later on, buttercream fixes everything, it’s not an insurmountable kerfuffle.
  • Cake boards
  • Big plates to display your cakes. This is not typically something one just has around the house so it’s worth thinking about. We ended up using my small cake stand for the 6″ cake, Shaylen’s pretty family antique plate for the 9″ cake, and, honestly, I know this is kind of not classy, we used my 16 inch cake pan that I’d already bought but not ended up using, flipped upside down and covered in fabric, for the 12′ cake.
  • This isn’t equipment per se, but let it be known to CLEAR OUT SPACE IN YOUR FREEZER! Because as we’ve discussed, when one is making NINE SEPARATE CAKES, it takes up space.
  • Also then CLEAR UP SPACE IN YOUR REFRIGERATOR. Or have refrigerator space somewhere else (i.e. the venue or, in my case, the wedding planner’s house which thank God is around the corner from mine) to put the assembled cake.

More tips:

  • There is an online video tutorial of virtually every step in the cake icing and assembly process. Take advantage of this. Some things look easier in the videos (DUH) but I will say that putting down a crumb coat while frosting a cake is a freaking revelation and I’m so glad I learned that technique online.
  • Get more ingredients than you need. Running out of eggs or butter is so frustrating. I bought butter at COSTCO- THREE POUNDS OF IT- and it still wasn’t enough. Get more than you think you need. Of everything.
  • Straight up, making a wedding cake is quiiiiite expensive. I used 15 sticks of butter in the frosting. I used 44 eggs in the cake layers. IT IS EXPENSIVE. Only make it for friends you really love (for the record, I do). And it 100% counts as your wedding gift.
  • The process will take 1000 years. You will be either baking or doing dishes for 1000 years. I watched all of The Staircase on Netflix whilst baking and doing dishes for 1000 years. Just expect that. Have a diverting true crime program to give you soothing background noise.
  • As said, assembling the cake is by far the most stressful part. Cutting cake layers in half is *@#%ing difficult. Fortunately…
  • Buttercream hides almost anything. GOD BLESS BUTTERCREAM. Even if a little filling leaks out from in between the layers, even if things look a little crooked, even if one side is sticking out in a wonky way, a slightly thicker layer of buttercream in a particular section can disguise any manner of ills.
  • Also, when in doubt, just display the cake from its best angle.

I.e. go from this:

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To this!

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After the crumb coat had cooled, I put on the final layer of buttercream, then packed my cake into my boxes, refrigerated them overnight, and brought them to the venue the morning of the wedding.

Our wedding planner/flower genius set aside some of the (beautiful!) sunflowers and green bits of foliage to adorn the cakes and we kept it super simple.

Then, on the smallest layer, which was the layer that Kyle and Shaylen cut, Shaylen put her HANDMADE WEDDING CAKE TOPPERS! Little lovebirds she made in her pottery class. Ugh she’s so cute.

And this is how it looked!

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Thank GOD I had absolutely nothing to do with the cake cutting process, so once Shaylen and Kyle had done their slicing and took their first bite and the cake didn’t explode or collapse or do anything awful, I heaved a sigh of relief and got to become a cake admirer/cake eater just like the rest of the wedding guests.

Here are the finished chocolate and vanilla layers! (The caterers sliced different sizes of the chocolate cake which I think was actually a great idea so people had options on portion size).

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Oh and as I briefly mentioned, IT’S NOT LIKE THERE WAS JUST CAKE, EITHER. There were also pies! Delicious key lime and peach pies! Ugh what a great evening of dessert.

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I peeked in the back where the caterer was doing their slicing and got to see these enormous slabs of cakey goodness. I mean. I made those:
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So will I ever do it again?

Well, NEVER for money. That’d be way too much pressure. I’m in no danger of becoming a professional cake baker.

Maaaaaaaybe for other friends in the same tier as Kyle and Shaylen (though that’s, uh, not many of them 😀 )

While I was ultimately exhausted at the end of this project, I’m also astonished at how much I learned (as you, uh, may have guessed from the 3000 words or so I just wrote). It’s nice to learn new things as an adult. It’s also nice to have a super physical experience when your day to day work involves being in your head a lot.

And finally, it’s nice to have your house spend about four weeks constantly smelling like cake.

That’s all I’ve got!