Thursday, December 31, 2009

Red Velvet Cupcakes

At Christmas time, it is customary to recognize the door men, elevator men and handy men of your apartment building with a nice card and extra monetary incentive to keep them doing such wonderful work throughout the year. I was introduced to this custom last year, my first winter in Manhattan.

But since money is generally tight, and especially so around the holidays, last year I decided to gift a big batch of baked goods to accompany our handwritten cards and the cheer Mike had so nicely included.

Last year, I sent down a lot of decorated sugar cookies. This Christmas, I didn’t decorate one sugar cookie.

Not one.

Right along with money, time has been a little tight as well.

So, this year, I decided on red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.

I was debating how to top the cupcakes, so I presented Mike with two designs. Hands down, he chose the red sprinkles.

They were beautiful. They did not take on that commercial-looking red-hue.

Instead the red was a deep, natural red.

I was beginning to wonder if the cupcakes had gone over well taste-wise.

But my fears were resolved as Fernando, the wonderful elevator operator who returns me to my safe haven each night, greeted me and thanked me many times over for the “red muffins”.

“I had many,” he said with a smile.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

After the Snow Storm

We braved the snow storm getting to and from dinner. It was bitter cold. Our clothes were soaked.

Jackets, gloves, hats, scarves and shoes were left in the entryway to dry.

Looking at our shoes side-by-side made me smile.

DBGB Dinner

Mike and I will not be spending Christmas together. We have actually never spent a Christmas together in the, almost, four years we have been dating. But this year is proving to be the hardest.

Besides the excitement of Christmas morning and the gift giving, we will also miss out on sharing dinner together. I'm not sure if you've realized this by now, but food is a big deal in my life.

So we decided to make reservations at a restaurant we have both been extremely excited to try - DBGB Bar & Restaurant. A restaurant with an extensive beer menu, comfort foods like sausage and hamburgers sounded like a perfect fit for the two of us.

The restaurant has an open kitchen and we were seated right in front of the pastry kitchen, which was an added bonus. I swear I did not tell them I work at Gramercy. We made our beer selections, our food selections, our dessert selections.

As an appetizer, Mike had the matzo ball soup and we shared one of the sausage selections. I can't remember the name of the sausage, only that one of the ingredients was pig's head (this took some convincing on Mike's part), and it was served over cream mashed potatoes. And it was delicious.

For my entree, I ordered a burger on a brioche bun, with pig belly, arugula, cheese and tomato. It was served with perfectly crisp french fries, presented in a little brioche baking pan. My meal was phenomenal - I loved that the burger was not enormous, the actual burger was 6 ounces, so I could really enjoy all the flavors.

Mike ordered two sausages as his main meal. Again, I do not remember all of the ingredients, but one was spicy and the other was a little smokier. He let me taste a bite of each - the spicy was my favorite. Mike did not want to take a photo of his food, an extra step before digging in, which is why his photo is blurry. But you get the idea.

We probably would have been just as happy to skip dessert, but I feel that it is important for me to try desserts at some of the better restaurants in the city. Research. All in the name of research.

We did, however, decide to split a dessert. We settled on a chocolate mocha ice cream sunday, with brownies, chocolate chip cookies and whipped cream. We enjoyed coffee on the side.

After a filling meal, it was time to venture back outdoors, into middle of the snowstorm.

It may not have been a traditional Christmas dinner, but it left me with the same feelings - warmth, comfort, fullness and love.


Last week in the kitchen, there was some extra brioche up for grabs. I was just about to leave, so I wrapped up a few slices to take home with me for a special treat for breakfast the following morning.

I placed two slices in the toaster, on the lowest setting so as to just warm the bread, and felt a slight twinge of guilt. I used to make a batch of bagels every weekend for Mike, which would provide a yummy, homemade breakfast throughout the week.

But life has been incredibly hectic, not unlike most of the previous year, but especially so around the holidays.

Pop! The brioche was ready. I prepared the warm slices just how I like them, with a thin smear of Nutella. I served them to Mike with his morning coffee.

And what happened? He fell in love - with the brioche and Nutella that is. He wanted to know how much brioche was left. Only two pieces. Enough to make it to the weekend.

So in between laundry, cooking, cleaning, baking, shopping and wrapping this weekend, I prepared a loaf of brioche just for Mike. A special treat for the groggy mornings ahead.

I used the recipe from school which I thought was amazing when we made it in class. I'll go ahead and ruin the ending by saying that it does not even compare to Gramercy's version.

Have you ever made brioche at home? The dough is amazingly beautiful. I do not have a dough hook, so I just used the paddle for my Kitchen Aid.

It is kind of a sticky dough when the ingredients are first combined and placed in the mixer for about twenty minutes.

Just before the dough is ready, it begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl and climb up the attachment.

When it is finished in the mixer, it is transfered to a bowl where it will begin fermentation. Just look how beautifully silky the dough is!

Now it has to double in volume, which took about two hours due to the chill in the air. It is then transferred to the refrigerator, where the fermentation is slowed and the butter becomes solid again. I let it sit in the refrigerator overnight.

The next morning I shaped the dough and placed it into a parchment-lined loaf pan. Again, it had to rise until doubled in volume. This only took about an hour since the kitchen was already warm from baking.

Once it was properly risen, I gently applied an egg wash and popped it in the oven. The baking brioche filled the apartment with the warm, comforting scents of yeast and butter.

Once the top was properly browned, it was ready to cool.

Mike ran out to pick up a few things for me at the store so I did not have to face the snow. He was rewarded with fresh-from-the-oven brioche with Nutella.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Peppermint Cake Truffles

Christmas is a season of giving and sometimes the unexpected gifts are the most fun of all.

That's why I spent last weekend preparing 75 sweet little peppermint cake truffles for the staff at my mother's elementary school. I stood in line at the post office for 45 minutes during Monday's lunch break - with the intense smell of sugar and chocolate making me hungrier with each slowly passing minute.

I took this photo just before I taped the box shut and hoped they would arrive looking just as pretty.

Flavors: Chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting, peppermint chocolate glaze and candy striping

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Gingerbread Cupcakes

These mini cupcakes were a belated 25th birthday gift for my friend Victoria.

When I first moved to New York and was having difficulty adjusting to city life, Victoria and I would go on “Cupcake Crawls”. We would select 5-6 bakeries to visit in an afternoon, where we would sample a staple flavor plus one specialty flavor. We are tough cupcake critics and we made the disappointing discovery that there are few good cupcakes in the city.

Hoping my version would fare better than some we had tested, I presented mini gingerbread cupcakes, with a dab of vanilla icing and a sprinkle of red sprinkles.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Chocolate Espresso Cookies

It is officially the Christmas season. Thanksgiving has come and gone; now is the time for hanging lights, drinking cocoa and finding the child within.

But, after three days spent serving as a juror on a tough case and delivering a thoughtful, but difficult verdict, I was left feeling a little uneasy and not buying into the Christmas bustle of the city.

So in between laundry, tidying and cleaning (Valerie was visiting for the weekend!), I decided to clear my head with a batch of chocolate espresso cookies.

There is just something so comforting and peaceful about the gentle whir of the KitchenAid; something magical about the way such simple ingredients come together to create something extraordinary.

They looked especially festive under my mini-cake stand, which displayed the cookies beautifully.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

As far back as I can remember, Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. No matter how busy life might be, there is one day in the year which demands you take a deep breath, pour a glass of wine and share delicious food with your family.

Thanks to ridiculous airline prices and living on a student loan paying- about to switch jobs/take a pay cut-living in Manhattan budget, this will be the first year I have not joined my family for Thanksgiving.

I won't be there to make the pumpkin pie, lay around in my pajamas, whisk just-plated items from the kitchen to the table, open the wine and try to stay out of the way as Mum and Dad whip up a feast too big for just four people. I won't consume scary amounts of Daddy's mashed potatoes (a gut-bomb secretly disguised by delicious, if not unhealthy, amounts of butter and cream). And I won't be there to make just enough room to fit in some pie.
On top of all that, all those things that make me love Thanksgiving, I will miss out on selecting the Christmas tree, decorating the house for Christmas and turkey pie.

Needless to say, this year will be a bit strange - a depart for the tradition that I so enjoy. Mike's father generously decided to fly us both down to South Carolina Thanksgiving morning for a long weekend. I'm excited to spend Thanksgiving with Mike because, at this point, I consider him family and holidays don't seem the same without him.

I don't know what to expect, I don't know the Thanksgiving traditions of another family. I feel like an adult, about to embark on new traditions that will become my own.

As much fun as creating new traditions can be, I don't like breaking old traditions. So to keep one of my favorite traditions going, even though I won't be sitting around the table with my family, here is what I am thankful for:

I am thankful for my family. I feel so lucky to have a family that loves each other and supports one another no matter what. The values that my parents taught me have kept me grounded and focused on what is truly important in life. I am thankful they were behind me 100% when I decided to pursue my passion of baking. I wish we didn't have to be so far apart.

I am thankful for Mike and our relationship. He's been an amazing support this year as I have tried to balance work, school, internship and life. He was always ready with an encouraging word or hug when I didn't think I could keep up the schedule anymore. The time we actually have for each other is limited, but we always make the most of it. I'm thankful I can come home to my best friend every night.

I am thankful for the opportunities I have been given and chosen to pursue. Yes, my schedule sucks right now. But, when I stop to think about it, life isn't so bad. I live in a beautiful apartment in Manhattan with a wonderful guy, I am pursing my dream career, I have a wonderful family, I have money to pay my bills and usually a little left over. The things I would like to change about my life will change soon enough and this will bring a new set of challenges.

If I shut my eyes, I can hear Daddy pouring the first glass of wine as everyone waits anxiously to dig into the feast. I am home in spirit, always.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Race to Deliver

On Sunday morning, at a chilly 9 AM, I was smiling as I crossed the finish line of my ninth race of the year. What's so special about my ninth race, you might ask? It means that I qualified for the 2010 NYC Marathon!!!

The road to qualifying was littered with three pairs for running shoes, tough long runs, boring lunch-hour treadmill runs, more than a few upset stomachs, a few picture-esqe Fall runs through Central Park and alarms waking me up for races when I would have rather been sleeping. It wove it's way through my job, school, externship and life.

The taste of victory was sweet (or maybe those were the chocolate chip pancakes?). At least until I remembered that, in this case, victory means a $150 entry fee, four months of training and a 26.2 mile race. Oh.

I approached my last race with no expectations of a finish time I wanted to achieve. Life has been a little hectic with working 14-16 hour days, leaving little time for training. Usually on the weekends, I have just enough energy to walk out to the kitchen, make a big pot of coffee climb back into bed for a few hours. Even when I have the best intentions to do a long run, these usually melt away with my first sip of coffee.

It was a four mile race, which doesn't beg for a regimented training schedule. But the distance was long enough that I was a bit nervous on race day. My "training" had included logging only about 10 miles a week (although I was doing more cross-training), not enough sleep, consuming large amounts of caffeine and not running outside in...awhile. Oh, and I ate Shake Shake the day before and had a heavy beer (Gonzo! On Cask!) before I went to sleep.

I couldn't find my watch before I left for the race and realized that it probably didn't matter too much. I didn't care about my splits. My goal was to finish. I made Mike promise that if I tripped (not unlikely) and broke my leg before I crossed the finish line, he would pull me across so I would still qualify. I think he was happy I didn't trip.

I felt calm and like I was running a good pace - not a PR pace, but definitely a comfortable pace. The hills immediately made it known that I had not visited them enough in the past weeks. The miles seemed to slip by and before I knew it, my iPod was playing "Empire State of Mind" and I could see the finish line.

So imagine my surprise when, later that morning, I opened up my computer to check my finish time and found I had, in fact, set a PR. Four miles in 29 minutes 50 seconds; average split time of 7 minutes 27 seconds.

My worst training routine yielded the fastest average split time by 16 seconds. After a year of training, racing and the surprises all that brings, I guess I shouldn't have been shocked.

It almost makes me want to take the same approach to next year's marathon training. Almost.

Mark it down: November 7, 2010. ING NYC Marathon. I'm in!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies

Mike requested I make one of his favorite cookies - peanut butter Kiss cookies, with dark chocolate Hershey Kisses.

Of all the interesting desserts I have made and brought home from school, Mike still loves the cookies I've been able to make since middle school.

The homey, sweet smell of peanut butter cookies baking in the oven weaved its way through the apartment this beautiful Saturday evening. The chocolate began melting, giving off a beautiful sheen as soon as it was submerged in the warm cookies.

And I took comfort in the fact that even the most basic recipe, a recipe that requires no fancy ingredients or the most expensive chocolate, was enough.

Enough to be requested over all the recipes I could prepare, enough to provide a moment when, with that first bite, we both let out a collective, "Mmmmmmmmm."

Friday, November 20, 2009

Lilies & Pearls Birthday Cake

While I wasn't working my day job or night job this week, I busy at work in my little kitchen, creating a custom birthday cake.

This cake was designed and created for a co-worker, and close friend, who is celebrating the birthday of her younger brother's girlfriend.

A large, but delicate bouquet of calla lilies adorned the top of the baby blue cake. A quilting effect was used on the sides, embellished with pearl dragees.

The cake was finished with large pearls enrobed around the bottom. The requested flavor of the cake was chocolate with chocolate-hazelnut buttercream.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Banana Bread

The coffee is brewing as I slice into a fresh loaf of banana bread.

The weekend is over tomorrow, which makes me sullen. I feel trapped in my job. Sometimes I don’t think I will ever see the day when I can leave it for good.

Keeping up this schedule each week is exhausting and I can see the toll it is taking in the dark circles under my eyes, visible through my fair skin.

My mind races with my never-ending “To Do” list. So many things I have to put off for another day, another week.

I want to take an hour-long bubble bath, extra bubbly, with Michael Buble serenading me. I want to revisit the lingering lunch Mike and I shared, way back in January, in a cozy restaurant with good food, good beer and snow falling outside. I want to sit on the porch in Virginia with a big glass of wine and my family around me.


I sit and take a sip of coffee, a bite of banana bread. Mike joins me. For five minutes, all of my worries are forgotten.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Slacking, Somewhat

I know I have been slacking on updating my blog, but I like to think this is with good reason.

If life was not already hectic enough, between work, my externship and still trying to have some semblance of a normal, 20-something year old life in Manhattan - I've launched my own website.

Why did I do this, you might ask? Well, as soon as I finished the classroom portion of the ICE pastry program, I was asked to design and produce several custom cakes by co-workers. I loved designing and making cakes during the program - and I was more than happy to fulfill these requests.

But I decided I wanted a place where I could start showcasing my work and direct to-be customers towards in the future.

Thus was born "Dolcetto Confections". "Dolcetto" is my favorite Italian word, which is actually a type of grape, meaning "little sweet one".

It is still very much under construction, but I wanted to introduce you:

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Prosciutto & Cheddar Biscuits

Arriving home much earlier than anticipated, due to the date mix-up at Gramercy, I faced a question I had avoided for the last half year - what's for dinner?

I was feeling pretty worn-out from my cold and a little homesick. So it was time for some serious comfort food. I picked-up the ingredients for chicken noodle soup and biscuits on my way home.

As I opened up the refrigerator, I discovered a bit of cheddar cheese and prosciutto left over from dinners the previous week. Hmmmmm.

I shredded up the remainder of the cheese and chopped the prosciutto, adding them to the biscuits just before adding the milk.

They were a yummy variation on an already solid recipe. Cheesy, salty deliciousness.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Assembling the Wedding Cake

I was very pleased with how my wedding cake turned out for the ICE Pastry graduation reception. When I began thinking about this final project, way back in July, I decided I wanted to create a cake fit for a sophisticated October (my absolute favorite month) wedding.

This time, I remembered to take photos throughout the assembly process, so you could all see how the components came together.

This was a two-tier wedding cake, one 10" tier and one 6" tier. After the cakes were filled with buttercream spackled and, I covered each tier with rolling fondant I had colored to the perfect shade of ivory. Five dowels were placed in the bottom tier, to support the weight of the top tier.

After centering the top tier, I added the a beautiful fall, brown ribbon around the bottom of each tier.

Then it was time to add the piping, which I did in an ivory royal icing.

Finally, to bring the whole piece together, I completed luster dusting my foliage and assembled two bouquets of oak leaves, acorns, mimosas, five-pedal flowers and calla lilies.

For me, the bouquets really took the cake from pretty, but plain to something really special and unique. I was pleased to have achieved the colors I desired on each of the elements.

I very much enjoyed the entire process of this cake, from the initial research and design, to shopping for the perfect elements and finally putting it all together. It really was a rewarding experience to take a vision and see it become something tangible - and tasty!

Pastry School Graduation

After six months of long nights, hard work and lack of sleep, school came to a close last Thursday night. While I still must complete my externship before I receive my diploma, ICE hosted a small reception to celebrate the end of classes.

The biggest draw of the evening was the presentation of our wedding cakes. We each created our own design and assembled our creations over the previous few evenings.

After munching on the hors d'oeuvres and sipping the champagne, we received our chef hats as well as Nick Malgieri's newest book, "The Modern Baker".

I shared the evening with Mike and we enjoyed each other's company while breathing a sigh of relief - the end of this crazy schedule was finally within reach.

The next morning we began a four-day weekend, which we spent relaxing in Virginia.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Final Countdown

The last week of pastry school is here. My calendar is crammed with things not to forget to do in between all the due dates and exams this week offers.

I am excited. Unlike graduating from high school or college, my excitement for what the future holds is not at all bittersweet.

I have been looking forward to beginning my externship at Gramercy Tavern since August. It has the promise of something new and exciting. A tangible piece of evidence that perhaps my somewhat crazy dream to turn a passion for baking into an actual career was not in vain.

I am stressed and my body is trying really hard to fight off being sick. But as I packed up my bag (a daily adventure of packing gym clothes, sneakers, school uniform, makeup bag, lunch, dinner, snacks, coffee and wallet) and looked desperately at the clock telling me I was running late, Mike held up two fingers.

I stopped and smiled. Just two more days of class.

7Express Team Cake

Mike's ultimate frisbee team, 7Express, had their end-of-season party this past Sunday. The original plan for a cookout was nixed thanks to the cold and rainy weather provided by the second Nor'Easter in three days.

Instead, the party was held indoors at one of the teammate's very fantastic apartment. The hors d'oeuvres were plentiful and the huge pots of three types of chili filled the air, and later our tummies, with a spicy, comforting scent.

Sometimes, I not-so-secretly hate the fact that the team snatches Mike away from me on our coveted weekends. Tournaments mean he leaves Friday after work to drive to some far-away place where they have things like trees and green fields. A tired, sore and sometimes cranky, depending on the outcome of the games, Mike returns late Sunday night.

Last year, Mike's season ended in an injury which made me hate frisbee even more. I thought that injury would be the end to Mike's frisbee-playing days, but much to my shock, this made him want to play even more.

But something changed, on my part, this season. I have some ideas of what brought on this radical shift in my disposition towards frsibee, but suddenly I found myself whining a lot less about being left alone on the weekends.

I realized how much Mike enjoyed frisbee; it was his outlet away from the real world, just like running was for me. So, suddenly, I turned from despising frisbee to a behind-the-scenes cheerleader, for no other reason than it was something Mike cared about.

So I wanted to offer something special to the team at this end-of-the-season party. Naturally, dessert came to mind.

I decided a cake would be appropriate and set about designing and sketching a cake inspired by the team's jersey. With Mike's help, I decided on a flavor combination of chocolate cake (think fudgy, brownie-like chocolate deliciousness) with chocolate-hazelnut buttercream.

The party was Sunday and as some elements needed to set overnight, and to preserve my sanity, I began baking the cakes on Friday night. I wanted the cake to be three layers, but the recipe made four and I decided an extra layer wasn't a problem in case disaster struck. So, one-by-one, only able to bake one layer at a time, each layer taking one hour, the beautiful chocolate layers emerged from my little countertop convection oven.

Saturday morning, I made the buttercream, filled and stacked the layers, crumbcoated the cake and let it set in the refrigerator until the evening. (I really did mean to take photos throughout the assembly, but my fingers were sticky from buttercream and cake crumbs)

Saturday evening, I colored the fondant red, rolled it thin and covered and smoothed the cake. Later (11 PM!) I colored more fondant, black this time, rolled it very long and cut-out the NYC skyline with my little XActo knife. Michael Buble kept me company as my Michael was freezing his butt off at the Yankees game. I affixed the skyline and collapsed into bed, glasses still on.

Sunday, before the party, I piped the team logo on top of the cake. Then, Mike and I set off to the party, me keeping a death-grip on the cake box as our taxi driver navigated the rainy city roads.

It was a hit. Well, that, or people were just being really nice. Photos were snapped, questions were asked and no one wanted to cut into the cake. Finally, everyone, already stuffed from the chili and snacks, made a little more room and dove in.
I was happy that Mike's teammates enjoyed the design of the cake. More than that, they actually enjoyed the taste of the cake and buttercream. Sometimes I tend to dwell on the things that I would have liked to have done differently or to have turned out better. So it's nice to have people reign you in and make you remember that the biggest thing that counts is the gesture.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Grete's Great Gallop Half-Marathon

Unlike April, when I ran my very first half-marathon, I was not nervous about this past weekend's race. I felt calmer and more relaxed for lots of reasons: I was in better shape now, I had a better idea of what to expect during those thirteen miles and I had learned that not hitting a goal time was not the end of the world.

Still, Friday, the day before the race, proved to be quite stressful. I am no-longer particularly superstisious when it comes to pre-race routines - this past year has taught me that sometimes, no matter how precisely you perform your superstitions, you will not have a good race. But I do not like to be stressed or flustered the day before a big race.

It had just been one of those days where nothing had gone right and, now matter how hard I tried not to think of it as a why-does-the-world-hate-me kind of day, it seemed like every time I turned around, something else was going wrong.

I finally calmed down after good dinner (prepared by Mike, I might add) and a quick phone conversation with my parents. I started getting ready for bed, making sure all of my gear for the morning was set-out.

That is when I noticed that the incorrect D-Tag (timing device which attaches to your shoe) had been attached to my race bib. Talk about the icing on the cake.

Since I did not want my time to be recorded as whoever this other runner was, I had to adjust my alarm to make time to go get the situation resolved before the race began at 9 AM.
I was startled out of bed at 6:45 AM by my alarm. I ate, got dressed, readjusted everything and then headed out to the race. It was not raining, as was predicted, but the 93% humidity hung in the air like a heavy curtain.

It was actually quite simple for the race volunteers to switch my race bib and D-Tag, so I my correct time would be recorded.

I lined-up in my corral and zoned-out for the last 15 minutes before the race. I assessed my body - I still felt a little defeated from the day before, I was a little warm from the humidity and my stomach was for some unkown reason upset (Daddy - I blame you. You know what comment I am talking about.) But overall I felt good. I was ready.

The air horns sounded and we were off! I reigned myself in on the first mile. I characteristically go out entirely too fast during the first two miles and then pay for it later. In races under five miles, it did not matter so much - I could recover with a minimal amount of pain. But the half-marathon in April and all of my training runs had taught me that I needed to be mindful of this on longer distances.

I felt like I was standing still among all the runners zipping past me. It was a fight to not join them. I ran the first mile in 8 minutes and 30 seconds. This was a bit slower than my goal pace of 8 minutes 16 seconds per mile, so I knew I could pick up my pace, just a bit, and stay on track.

And stay on track I did for the next nine miles, passing many of those jackrabbit runners. But by the tenth mile, my stomach had had enough and began to revolt. About this time I started searching for porta-pottys along the route and made the not-so -welcome discovery that there were none.

I could only focus on the pain, which to this point I had been able to successfully block-out. But when this happens, I get stressed and frustrated and want to give up. I had to calm myself and keep my mind from racing, "Why are you doing this?!" "How are you ever going to race a full marathon?!".

By the eleventh mile, I had to stop running and walk for about two minutes. I was disappointed that I had to walk because I was so close to the end and had felt that I would finish this race strong.

For the last two miles, I ran as hard as I could. Mind you, this wasn't incredibly fast at this point, about 8 minutes and 17 seconds per mile, but my legs refused to go any faster. I followed the winding loop at the bottom of the park that eventually led back over to the West side.

That loop seemed to last forever, but I was finally on the West side. Another ten blocks north and I would be at the finish line. I searched intently for the blue finish line in the distance.
As soon as I saw it, that is all I could focus on. I didn't think about my sore legs or what song was playing or even search in the crowd for Mike's familar face. My mind repeated, "Get there, get there, get there."

I cannot adequetly describe the feeling of crossing a finish line after a race like this. The first feeling is relief - you made it, you can stop running. After that, it's pure survival - you need Gatorade and water, now. The little voice in your head that has been nagging you with questions like "Why are you doing this?!" for the last 13.1 miles has disappeared. It is silenced by the slew of emotions that have taken it's place - because I can.

Mike was there waiting with a big smile and was nice enough to grab me two cups of Gatorade while I tried to get my bearings. He poured water into my Gatorade as we slowly made our way back across the park, because I he knew I couldn't grasp the water bottle.

Back home, I went through the same routine after my long runs: quick snack to refuel, hot shower, stretch, 10 minute ice bath. I made chocolate chip pancakes, which I enjoyed in bed with my legs propped up.

My official finish time was 1 hour 49 minutes 3 seconds, which was only about one minute longer than my goal. I had knocked more than ten minutes off my finish time in April, which I was especially proud of given my schedule, which does not lend much extra time for training.

I did what I set out to do - not only running the 13.1 miles, but more importantly, not allowing the training to take over my life. As it turns out, trying to acheive and maintan a balance between all the aspects of your life is not only a key to success and happiness, but also to setting PRs.

Official Finish Time: 1 hour 49 minutes 3 seconds
Averge Split Time: 8 minutes 19 seconds

Unofficial Split Times:
Mile 1: 8 minutes 34 seconds
Mile 2: 8 minutes 5 seconds
Mile 3: 7 minutes 52 seconds
Mile 4: 7 minutes 58 seconds
Mile 5: 8 minutes 5 seconds
Mile 6: 7 minutes 54 seconds
Mile 7: 8 minutes 8 seconds
Mile 8: 8 minutes 8 seconds
Mile 9: 8 minutes 00 seconds
Mile 10: 8 minutes 25 seconds
Mile 11: 10 minutes 20 seconds
Mile 12: 8 minutes 17 seconds
Mile 13.1: 8 minutes 17 seconds

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Week Twenty-Four: Piping Skills for Wedding Cake

We did not have class Monday night, as it was a faculty development day. Instead, Mike and I braved the rain and headed downtown to enjoy a special dinner together at Gramercy Tavern.

We sat in the tavern, cozy and safe from the falling rain visable through the large windows at the front of the restaurant. We talked over delicious food and drinks as I enjoyed watching couples swoon over the desserts from my corner of my eye.

Tuesday we were back in class, beginning the final portion of the final module: wedding cakes. This evening was focused on reviewing some basic piping techniques, learned what seems like forever ago, and then a few additional techniques.

After whipping up meringue butter cream as well as stiff buttercream, we set about our list for the evening: rosettes, large shell, star flower, reverse shell, fleur d'lis, straight line, circle, small shells, zigzag, zigzag with large shell, zigzag with small shell, basketweave and rope.

I forgot how difficult the business of piping was and my right arm quickly grew quite sore.

This continued on Wednesday when we spent another four hours learning to create swags, pearls, ruffles, rosebuds, among other techniques.

On Thursday, we piped full-blown roses, which I found incredibly fun to make - it was exciting how little blobs of icing could so quickly transform into something so realistic and beautiful.

After we learned this new technique, we wre able to put our hard work from the previous nights to good use: decorating cupcakes.

I had so much fun sitting and creating the decorations for the tops of the cupcakes.

While the previous two nights were quite tedious, our hard-work was evident.

However, it was also evident how important it would be to continue practicing these techniques - it almost seems as though you could never quite reach perfection.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Running in the Rain

My long run this past weekend was a twelve miler. The half-marathon was less than a week away.

As I expected from watching the weather report the night before, I awoke at 8:00 Sunday to a very rainy morning. It was a tough morning to be a runner - such mornings do an excellent job of enticing a person to linger in bed a bit longer, drifting in and out of sleep.

"Normal people do not go out into the pouring rain and run twelve miles," I thought to myself as I munched on a trail mix bar, fueling up for the looming run and watching the steady rain fall outside the kitchen window.

I thought for a second that I could go do my long run on a treadmill at the gym. But I knew running on the treadmill wouldn't prepare me for the course or the terrain for next weekend's half-marathon. I would be soaked by the time I got to the gym anyway. And, honestly, running twelve miles on a treadmill sounded more miserable than just doing it outside.

So, off I went, much to the disapproval of my doorman who shook his head when he saw me. I was drenched by the time I crossed the street. But that's the thing with running in the rain: as much as the first steps outisde are dreaded, when you're soaked, you're soaked. It's not going to get any better, but it can't get any worse.

When I arrived on the Central Park running loop, I was greeted by hundreds of other crazy people: runners doing the eighteen-mile tune-up for the upcoming NYC marathon. I was running in the opposite direction of the race and my part of the road was quiet and sullen in comparison.

We were all soaking wet, doing a long-run in preparation for an upcoming race. I saw faces of happiness, discouragement, pain and determination. I wondered what these runners saw on my face as we silently passed each other.

Parts of the run made me think of playing in the rain as a child. The carefree kind of playfulness that allowed us to run around without worries of ruining clothes, make-up or hair.

Other parts of the run actually made me consider religion, kind of a hefty thought while trying to finish a strong twelve miles. Religion is something that I, self-admittedly, am still a bit confused about.

But this morning, as I ran quietly along the road with the rain pouring down, searching deep within myself for strength and finding inspiration from other runners when I thought I couldn't make it up another hill - I could not imagine anything else feeling so spiritual.

I gave thanks for the things that are so easy to overlook: for my health which allowed me to run, for Mike giving me a running rain jacket he knew I would never buy for myself, for the food which was waiting to refuel my body, for the apartment which would offer a warm shower and shelter from the rain.

One hour and forty-five minutes later, I found myself again standing in my kitchen, watching the rain fall outside the window. Like every Sunday before, I felt cleansed, renewed, at peace with myself and the world.
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