Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentines Resolutions

So it's Valentine's Day and everyone is all about love and chocolate. I am personally dressed like a chocolate dipped strawberry, with a bubble gum pink shirt and a pair of chocolate brown slacks in honor of said holiday. Now chocolate is all well and good. In fact, I am all for chocolate, especially if it is dark and expensive and foreign. But this year, chocolate was almost my downfall.

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My new years resolution this year was to change my eating habits forever. I only eat the portions defined by the old USDA food pyramid. Unfortunately there is no chocolate on the pyramid. Now this has never been a problem in the past, because if I wasn't eating chocolate for dieting purposes, I would just drink more Diet Coke and call it good. Sadly, Diet Coke is also not on the food pyramid. Hmm.

This was fine the first month. All of January, I was all excited and motivated and sure the weight would fall right off. I would rival the Biggest Losers in fabulous physical changes wrought by hard work and excessive exercise and self control by the end of the year.

And then it was my birthday. In Punxsutawny. And there were these huge sandwiches filled with all kinds of things that the food pyramid was made to convince you never to eat, like fries and fried eggs and pastrami and sauerkraut all on one sandwich. And pie! We played "Pass the Pie" with six different flavors. How can you pass that up?

So by the time, I came home, it was hard again. And this time it wasn't new or exciting. Fortunately, reading the excellent book Body Intelligence by Edward Abramson reminded me that I am an emotional eater. I suspected this was the case, but was blown away by the score I got when I took the emotional eating quiz in the book. The only emotion that I didn't bust the record for was anger. Apparently I don't want to eat when I'm angry, only when I am nervous, sad, tired, bored, frustrated, happy, or experiencing any emotion besides anger. Surprisingly, my highest score (and this is a bad thing), was eating when I am happy. Happy? Well, yes. Food just adds to the general air of festivity at any occasion, don't you think? I am all about adding to the air of festivity. You might as well have even more stimulation, right?

What's a girl to do? I kept feeling limited when I would not eat when I was happy, and that made me less happy. How can this be a good thing? And I couldn't just pour Diet Coke on it to make things better. This was a first for me. So I thought about it. What could I replace all the treats with that would still keep me feeling festive and not denied? Shopping! Of course. But then I remembered that I already spent all my barn sale money and won't have any more until May. Boo. Back to the old mental drawing board.

I thought about this for almost a week and then realized that I had to think of something positive to replace the eating with, that didn't cost any thing, didn't involve food, and inspired daily exercise. A tall order, to be sure. And then, on the elliptical trainer, it hit me! Opportunity! I love new opportunities. I can't resist them. So I decided that every time I wanted to eat when I was happy, I would simply remind myself that I was trying to "give myself the opportunity to be a dancer and an athlete" and pass on the food in the name of trying something new. It was perfect!

Fast forward to yesterday, the day before Valentine's Day. So things had been working out great. I had a plan to surprise my kids with homemade treats as their Valentines. This is shocking as I only bake or make treats if I am in the mood for them. Most of their obligatory holiday treats come in bags from Target. So I pulled up Karianne of Thistlewood Farms' delicious looking recipe for "Red Hot Popcorn" and started cooking, with one minor change to the recipe. I swapped the red hots for Swedish Fish. There were two reasons for this: 1) I couldn't find red hots at the grocery store, and I went to two different ones. Maybe everyone just had the same idea I had and they bought them all for their sweeties. 2) My kids don't like hot-spicy. They have proven this to be true repeatedly by spitting things out that have any kind of heat to them and fanning there mouths furiously, begging for milk. So no red hots.

But Swedish Fish are red. And not hot. Done! Brilliant! Best idea ever.

Um, not so much. The recipe said the red hots would melt in 5 minutes. At 15, there were still largish chunks of Swedish Fish in the pan. At 20 minutes, still, chunks. Around the 25 minute mark, I just gave up and glumped it on the popcorn, as the chunks had gotten marginally smaller.  So much for homemade treats.

Then I saw my salvation!

I should have know that it would come out of a bag from Target.

I had bought two bags of Hershey's Raspberry Hugs for one of my kids to attach to their valentines.  I counted kisses just to be sure there were enough for both of us. And there were! So I slipped those little kisses out of their silver cladding and right into the microwave for 30 secs. Bam! Very drizzle-able white raspberry chocolate concoction. Saved. Totally. By a bag from Target.

After being flushed with my last minute success, I decided to continue with the rest of my "Home Made treats that I stole the idea from Karianne" plans. Next up were Strawberry Cheesecake Bites. I was more confident here. I do make stuff with strawberries regularly, and have been known to make a mean cheesecake or two from time to time.

My kids were home by now. And just to show you what a mean mommy I am, my oldest walked in, saw the recently salvaged popcorn and asked "Who is that for?" never for once thinking it might be for her personal consumption.

While we were waiting for the other two girls to get home, I washed and hollowed the strawberries as directed. Things went well until we pulled out the chocolate chips.  In honor of it being Valentine's Day, I pulled out the good stuff, the Ghiradelli 60% dark chocolate chips. Now remember, chocolate is not on the food pyramid and the only way I can have any is to give up a serving of milk. I was on my last milk serving and knew I would rather have ice cream later that night, so eating it was out. By this point, the 13 year old is shoving handfuls of chocolate into her mouth. nom, nom. Chips in hand,  I thought to myself, "Self, you want to give yourself the opportunity to be an athlete and a dancer." And it worked! I put down the chips! Well, I put them in a bowl to melt and then shoved them in the microwave.

I was fine until the smell of chocolate started wafting in the air. And then I started to weaken. It smelled so chocolaty...and tomorrow was Valentine's Day and I was having so much fun making these with my kids and ...and.. and. Suddenly the mental voice appeared,"Self! Get it together Self! Give yourself the opportunity to be an athlete and a dancer!" Oh! I almost slipped. I dropped the chocolate chips that had mysteriously appeared in my hand and put the bag up in the cupboard.

It was a blast watching my kids dip the strawberries and cover themselves with the drippy chocolate and graham cracker crumbs. I managed to only lick my fingers twice the whole time. And while the kids were madly eating up the rest of the excess chocolate with strawberries and graham cracker bits, I stoically ate my measured 1 cup of plain strawberries in the corner.

Next we started making the filling. This is a very sticky process as the filling is made of cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla. I added a bit of Cool Whip as life is too short to not eat Cool Whip whenever possible. The cream cheese got all gunked around the beaters, so I had to wipe it off with my fingers. Without even thinking, I licked them clean. Mistake. It was so delicious! I stuck my finger back in again and then had my kids all taste it. I was about to get a spoon and start chowing down when The Voice showed up, "Give yourself the opportunity to be an athlete and a dancer." The spoon went back in the drawer and and I got a rubber scraper to deal with the stickiness.

Once the filling was done, I put it in the zip lock bag and cut the tip off. I filled one strawberry to show the kids how it was done and then let them do 4 each. I highly recommend the zip lock bag method of frosting or piping with kids. It was so easy and virtually mess less. And I had one on hand.

Wanna see how they turned out?

Not quite as pretty as Karianne's, but not bad for a pack of girls and their chocolate deprived mother.

And the best thing is, I made it! I didn't eat any of them until today! And I had already planned for that, so I'm good. They were delicious, but now I think I'll go outside and go for a walk. I want to be sure to give myself the opportunity to be an athlete and a dancer, you know.

Happy Valentine's day Y'all!

PS. If you want to read the funniest New Year's Resolutions struggle post I have ever seen, 
check out Bliss Ranch here.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Long Live the Groundhog!

How do you have the best birthday ever? You find a city that throws a huge party every year on your birthday and go there. In my case the day would be February 2 and the city, Punxutawny, PA. That's right folks, I was the first of all of you to know that spring is on it's way!

But Punxutawny is not exactly close to DC. It's 5 hr drive, actually. So this trip was a true journey, and like all good journeys, it had many twists and turns.

The first one started with food. A "samich" to be exact.

This was the bribe to get DK onboard with the trip. A "samich" happens to be guy food, a whole meal on a bun. This one has cole slaw, french fries, corned beef, chicken breast, and a fried egg on it. See how happy he is? I was surprised how much I liked the flavor of fries, coleslaw and fried egg together. Who knew?

A man holding a sandwich so big he can barely get his mouth around it is a happy man. 

Our "Samiches" came from Steel City Samiches in Indiana, PA, about a 1/2 hr south of Punxutawny.You should go there if you are in the neighborhood, happen to be a man, or are just really, really hungry.

We made it to our hotel in decent time and went to bed early, knowing that 4:30am was going to come sooner than we wanted it to.

Fast forward to 5:15 am Feb 2, MY BIRTHDAY!!!

It was 8 degrees. Totally not kidding. 

And when it's 8 degrees, you wear more layers than you knew were possible. And you always wear a hat. I do so love my hat. I have a thing for cow print, plus I didn't bring my curling iron.

Courtesy of reading an excellent write up I found here (It really is a very entertaining description of adventures in Punxy on Groundhog's Day), I knew that there would be fireworks. Well who doesn't want to see fireworks on their birthday? So we hurried to the school buses shuttles that took you up to Gobbler's Knob, bought our $5 tickets and hopped aboard.

Alynne modeling our Not So Golden Ticket.

It was a jolly ride up to the top. As we were about 3/4 of the way there, the fireworks started. This was my introduction to Gobbler's Knob:

I was really here! Gobbler's Knob, home of Punxutawny Phil.

We found a place to wait with the 20,000 other lookers-on.

 You thought I was exaggerating there, about the 20,000 people.
There is something about crowds and silly celebrations that just makes people bust out the silly hats. This party was no exception.

 Even I couldn't help it. When the local woman in front of me heard it was my birthday, 
she offered me a shot with her official Phil hat and paws. Love!

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity to my kids, and what was actually about 15-20 minutes, the guys in the top hats showed up.

Obviously DK took this photo. I couldn't even see the tops of the hats due to my lack of stature. But if I stood on the tips of my toes, I could see the sign.

Phil whispered to the Inner Circle that we would be having an early spring this year.

Most of the crowd bailed instantly. It was 8 degrees. I stuck around hoping to get a picture with Phil for my scrapbook, I mean blog.

 That's as close as I got. DK faired a bit better.

So there you go. Proof that a weather-telling rodent actually exists.

But there was still much fun to be had.

Cards to Phil from strangers down from New York to sign.

"I was here" photos to be taken.

And the whole Groundhog city to explore.

We started by shopping the local vendors.

Someone spent a whole bunch of time carving these beauties with a chain saw. 
If only I had an extra $55 and a cabin in the Poconos. JK, I'm good.

This is the view from the top of the bleachers overlooking the craft show where DK wisely took Emerson to eat her cupcake. We bought a bunch of stuff here, including  Groundhog activity books, bottle cap magnets of Phil, a t-shirt celebrating a man and his kilt, some hand wrapped jewelry, and a crazy wooden groundhog.

 Even DK decided he needed to take the "Road Kill Phil" hat home. 

In the same building we found Phil's birthday party, set up especially to celebrate people lucky enough to be born on Groundhog's day.

You actually had to produce your driver's license and  prove it was your birthday. 
Then they gave you a present and a cupcake with juice.

Next we set off in search of something for the kids to do. County Market, a local grocery store came to the rescue. They had Oreo stacking for the 12 and under crowd.

And in the bakery dept, for a $1, you could decorate your own Groundhog cookie

Even the 13 yr old liked this one.

While wandering around, we found Phil's lair, in the corner of the public library.

 He was all pooped after an early morning with his many fans.

Nearby was a life size bronze statue. 

Finally! A picture with Phil.

The the bells started to toll, because it was noon.

There really are groundhogs everywhere in Punxutawny.

 At McDonald's...

 And the library....

 At the bank...

And the hotels...

There are even groundhogs at the strip malls. 

And a really great one with a giant tooth carved out of wood that I never got the right chance to take a picture of. I wonder if the chain saw guy made him?

 With our last bit of energy, we pushed on. 

My sister and I found matching shirts. Everyone needs to match with their sister. Especially if you live on opposite sides of the country from each other.

And completely by accident, we found the best shop of them all.

Would you believe that Punxutawny has it's own barn sale? This inobtrusive little shop right on the corner of Findley St. and Mahoning St, is called "Chicks From the Sticks." 
Trust me. You want to go there. Here's why:

Need I say more?

Plus they have the coolest logo ever.

A vintage lady riding a groundhog. Love!

I spent about 20 minutes trying to talk the owner, Rebecca and her right hand lady Stacy into doing the Luckett's Fair this spring, so you all could sample their wares and enjoy their great pricing. 
We'll have to see what they decide. I'll keep you posted. 

Me, (looking tired and sort of crazed), Stacy, and Rebecca
 In the meantime, you could "like" them on Facebook, if you want.

Our last stop of the day was for lunch. Remember, we did have DK with us. 

Daddy's was in downtown Clarion, not too far from where our hotel was. 
It had been calling to Al ever since he read a review about their burgers. 

The Bilbo Baggins comes with loaded potato skins on the burger. What man could resist that?

These men surely couldn't. They are the guys responsible. 

And my sweet husband couldn't have been happier. You should take your man there too, if you are ever in the area. It's totally worth the trip.

It was with full stomachs and bags full of loot, that we made it back to our hotel 
and on to our regularly scheduled lives. 

But I have to say, I will always hold a special place in my heart 
for Punxutawny PA, where I was queen for a day.