Pazookie….this foe is beyond any of you.

Well….that might be debatable.

Before I begin, let me introduce to you a conqueror of meals, a destroyer of dinner, and a demand-er of deliciousness. Ladies and Gentlemen, Cecilia E.

As I’m sure you can tell, this lovely example of foodie-ness at its best is a pro. At eating. Delicious things.

I blame Cecilia for what you are about to experience. Viewer discretion is advised.

“In this corner we have Cecilia, Stephanie, Amanda, and Lauren! And in this corner, a foe so terrible, so delicious, so artery clogging that it’s name should only be uttered in a whisper for fear of throwing the earth itself off her axis….pazookie.

Take 1 chocolate chip cookie with the consistency of cake, multiply it by the dimensions of a large pizza, pile high with vanilla ice cream, and enjoy.

Real chocolate cardiac arrest. But here’s a disclaimer. You will not enjoy the entire consumption process. Sure it’s all fun and games. That is until you hit…the wall.

The wall: A dark place deep inside of each of us when we start to doubt our ability to keep going. This wall is the same, whether you’re a marathon runner or a pazookie eater. Yes I just made that comparison. Try to eat one, I dare you!

Pre-pazookie we were all giggles and smiles, congratulating ourselves on the exceptional idea of eating a giant cookie covered in ice cream at a sports-themed restaurant (BJs to be specific). Our waiter, a balding British man, was only slightly judgmental when the four of us opted to share a party pazookie instead of sissy miniature sized everyday pazookies. (The table next to us – a family of 8- were all sharing one such sissy pazookie…amateurs, why did they even bother showing up?)

Continuing on, the excitement built as the waiter approached…and then the judgement rained down upon us. Hardcore. Everyone in the vicinity stared. Jealous much? That was what I wanted to shout back at them. Haters gonna hate.

Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war!! The eating began. And continued. And continued.

“DON’T STOP EATING!” Cecilia practically yelled it at us. “You guys better not disappoint me.”

With such encouragement, I had to keep going. It had become my quest, my purpose, this was no longer a fun night out with the girls. It was a desperate attempt to stay alive, to not disappoint my friend, and to disregard any respect I ever had for abdominal capacity.

Stephanie (the smallest) was the first to fall. She was soon followed by Amanda.

With almost a half a pazookie left, Cecilia looked at me. It was the same intensity Sam had when he was holding on to Frodo and pleaded, “Don’t you let go!” I could see it in her eyes, but could feel my own weakness.

I took my leave minutes later, but like the champion she is, Cecilia would not be defeated. The waiter came to us during a period of rest and tried to rescue what was left of the pazookie. “Oh no,” I murmured, “she’s not done.” Never in my life have I witnessed so much judgement.

“Alright guys,” Cecilia said, “everyone has to take one more bite.”

One more bite. The idea both fascinated and repulsed me.

We made a pazookie toast (something to the tune of “Only the good die young”), and took the final bite. We walked the plank of the dessert world. I would not have the strength to repeat this culinary quest. Mentally and physically exhausted, we paid for our victory in more than just cash. We sold our souls to the sugar satan, eventually recovering, but forever changed.

Thus ends the tale of the party pazookie.

The Wolfgang and I

The Wolfgang and I

This, my friends, is a story about bread.

I’m sure you can imagine my fascination with this culinary staple. It can be the simplest of concoctions encompassing only flour and water, or it can be something much much more. An addiction so strong that no matter how determined you are to avoid excessive weight gain you cannot resist the siren call of glucose-induced ecstasy that is bread.

“I can avoid eating carbs if I wish, but to give up bread entirely, that is a rare gift.”

Well put Aragorn, well put. Now onward! Today’s recipe, my official initiation into the breadmaking world, is a hearty, nutty, texture rich vessel for carrying peanut butter, regular butter, jelly, jam, hummus, cream cheese, nutella. Dare I utter the sinful word again? Nutella….

And seriously, the combinations for bread are endless! Banana bread, blueberry muffins, corn bread, challah bread, bread bread bread bread ahhhhhhhhhh!

Wolfgang Puck, renowned celebrity chef and the winner of the “who wants to name their first child after me” gameshow that I just imagined (seriously, step aside Simon Cowell) created this particular loaf of bread. Here’s the treasure map, destination: deliciousness.

1 1/3packages (1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon) active dry yeast
3cups lukewarm water
1 tablespoon honey
5 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups rye flour
4.5 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary or thyme leaves, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
7 tablespoons (3 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1.5 cups chopped walnuts
1.5 cups chopped pecans

Instructions for Pecan and Walnut Bread Recipe

Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup of lukewarm water.
Place the remaining water, the honey, both flours, the salt, rosemary or thyme, and butter in a mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix for about 5 minutes. Add the dissolved yeast and continue to knead in the mixer for about 10 minutes. Add the walnuts and pecans and continue to knead until the nuts are thoroughly combined. The dough should come together neatly in a ball.
Cover the mixing bowl with a damp towel and let the dough rise in a warm place for about 45 minutes at room temperature, or until it approximately doubles in volume.
Knead the dough briefly by hand to remove an air pockets.
Butter and flour three 9 by 5-inch loaf pans. Divide the dough in three parts, shape each into a 9-inch cylinder and place them in prepared pans. Let the loaves rise in the pans for about an hour, or until they at least double in volume.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F
Bake the loaves for about 20 minutes, or until they are nicely browned, then reduce the heat to 325 degrees F and continue baking for another 25 minutes. Remove from pans and let cool.

Note: Makes three 9-inch loaves

I didn’t have any pecans, so doubled up on the walnuts. I also added dried blueberries, TASTY LIFE!

I couldn’t contain my gasp and look of astonishment when I saw how much the bread had risen.

We only have two bread pans, so I braided one loaf and fashioned it into a little ring, adorable, though a bit more difficult to slice. It was that or fashion it into a dinosaur! Perhaps I made the wrong choice? These loaves came out GORGEOUS! I was seriously in love when the nutty aroma began to waft from the oven to where I sat. I think I could really get into baking bread in the morning, there’s not much else to do at 6:30am! And it was so easy! Can’t wait to try more of Mr. Puck’s recipes!

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Down the rabbit hole: 24 hours in Amsterdam

From 12 May 2013:

“When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.”

I suppose I’m laughing with the sky as I write this 10,000 feet somewhere above the Atlantic Ocean. Comfortably sedated on a cocktail of champagne, French wine, and coffee with Bailey’s, I pull my down comforter up around my shoulders and lean my chair back exhausting this Business class experience to the fullest. Reflecting back on these past 24 hours is a storm of contradicting emotions. Excitement at the current stroke of good luck (buddy pass traveling + open seats in business = a very happy Lauren and Clarissa!), something like depression contemplating the end of a wonderful week, panic at the prospect of going back, and unblemished joy as images of Paris and Amsterdam flash across my mind like electrocardioverted shocks!

Clear! Taxi cab driver hits a local pedestrian. Clear! Omelette du fromage. Clear! It’s 9pm and the Tour Eiffel ignites, demanding the attention of the city. Clear! Painted and defeated-looking, women leer down from every window as we walk, eyes cast down through the red light district. Clear! Pancakes and Heineken for dinner? Clear! Clarissa? Lauren? Welcome to business class, glass of Champagne?

Arriving from Paris via train, we scurried as quickly as possible to our hotel, threw our bags in our room and took off for downtown Amsterdam. I’m going to be honest, I was quite impressed with our navigational competency in this city. The Dutch language is baffling (gorgeous, but far from simple). It looks like their method of language development was the product of extensive games of “10 letter grab bag,” and “letter roulette.” The running joke became, “Welcome to Amsterdam, a hinga dinga dernga.”

The city was all manner of loveliness. Cobblestone bridge-banded canals with little boats floating happily along break up the iconic rows of 4 story houses. Cafes, stores, and galleries house smiling faces, faces that soften even more as we amuse them in our attempts to communicate. But we have perfected that universal language of smiling and nodding our heads.

We took the tram to the Van Gogh museum, and much to my dismay entry was more than a two hour wait! With only 6 or 7 hours left to explore, that was precious time that could not be spent idly. Instead we opted for a nice “stroll” around the city. The goal was to eventually find the flower market and just stop anywhere along the way that caught our fancy.

The flower market was everything I hoped it would be. Our eyes fell upon tulips, among numerous other flowers, packed into brightly colored stalls with beaming farmers and townsfolk peaking out at you and offering a happy “guten Morgen!” I laughed heartily at the irony of the flower market abiding in the sedated heart of the marijuana district. It is important to understand the different meanings of “coffee house” when wandering ignorantly around a new city. Everything is so different and strange I have to remind myself that this is still planet earth, and I’m not dreaming.

And after a slight detour into Amsterdam’s red light district we managed to experience every strangely fascinating and stereotypical Amsterdam attraction (but hey, what else are you supposed to do when you have 6-7 hours to explore a major city?). We settled into a seemingly forgotten cafe for a “traditional” meal of Dutch apple pancakes and a pint of Heineken.

And now, sitting on this lovely ten hour flight back to Portland, I simply cannot remove the smile from my face. I’m in the business of making my dreams a reality, and step by step each is accomplished (high five to self!). I don’t even have to be sad about approaching reality, for a fabulous reality it is and always will be! It’s time to start planning the next trip, but first I think I’ll recline a bit more, perhaps tuck into another class of Bordeaux, and toast to making the most of my one week of vacation this summer.

To hope and madness, Lauren.

Unlike Alice: Paris Day 4

Apparently it’s ok to eat dessert for breakfast in Paris, in fact I think it’s rather common.

It has been over a month and a half since my dream trip, but the experience is still ripe in my mind. How can you forget a place so unfathomably wonderful. Paris really was Wonderland, but I, unlike Alice, know that it was real no matter how tempted my mind is to think of it as some incredible dream.

Anyway, in Wonderland you begin your day with a gorgeous Chocolate Brioche. “Bon jour madame! May I offer you something divine?” I would actually rank this particular brioche amongst the other travel breakfast giants such as Triple Chocolate Coconut pancakes on my Hawaii trip last October, and the Creme Brulee Berry Oatmeal at Le Petit Provence in Portland. We took our treasures to go and were off to walk the entire planet for the 4th day in a row! Walking is really the best way to learn the city, and by day 4 we were all experts.

The result of our team huddle that morning was a plan to breeze through the Catacombs first and then jet out to Versailles in the afternoon. Having made the journey to the catacombs earlier that week, we wasted no time wandering ignorantly around in circles. We arrived an hour before they opened and were already behind a line of at least 30 people! By the time the gates opened there were more than 100 people lined up behind us!

“Gosh, all this for a bunch of dead people?” I thought to myself insensitively. Little did I know that I was about to be blown away by the oddity of the entire catacomb concept.

Now before I continue, it is imperative to take a little tangent off into the tiny realm of why I could probably never live in Paris. One reason only: the largest cup of coffee you can find (even at le McDonald’s cafe) is less than 8fl oz. It’s absurd! I need at the very least 16oz to evolve past cyborg status in the morning. Other than this tiny flaw (made right by Starbucks as I would later find out), portion sizes are perfect.

Clarissa and I left the Catacomb line in search of coffee and wandered into Le French Mickie D’s. The paradox of a French McDonald’s blew my mind. They were selling darling little croissants and macaroons next to beefy quarterpounders with cheese. It was fantastic! Anyway, we bought our “large” coffees and wandered back to the line.

“Due to recent ‘infiltrations,’ the ground may be slippery. We re-command you walk carefully.” I chuckled at the strangeness of the Catacomb welcome sign. 180 steps into the underworld, through countless dark and dripping passageways, we finally got our first sight of the skulls. We had talked and joked the entire way down, turning our flashlights to strobe and making ghastly noises, but the moment our eyes met with the endless black gaze of 12 million uprooted and empty eye sockets we were cast into silent wonder. Whether it was out of respect for the dead, or an irrational fear of breathing in ground up human remains, I kept my mouth shut and let my mind wander.

Each of these skulls once housed a human brain….what if the zombie apocalypse happens now and I’m surrounded by 6 million un-dead Parisians….this is incredible…..this is disgusting!….am I going to wind up in a place like this one day?….man, we still have to climb up 180 steps…..gurgle gurgle…shhhhh stomach! You might wake someone up….

We emerged from the Catacombs and hit up its FANTASTIC gift shop (Bone Jenga anyone?), and sped our way back to the Metro to catch the RER out to Versailles. We bought proper sized Starbucks coffees and sandwiches and strolled up to the Chateau. It was the most beautiful and impressive house I have ever seen! The line for entry into the house was disgustingly long (I hate waiting in lines, so all are slightly disgusting to me), so we opted to tour the gardens, promenade along the canal, tres chic! I felt quite fancy as I imagined all the people away and thought of myself looking out onto my gardens and wearing a wig that would make Marge Simpson proud. “Pierre, bring me another glass of champagne. I know it’s only 9 in the morning, but I feel like celebrating my fabulousness…again!”

We ate our sandwiches on the steps of Versailles and I couldn’t help but wonder if Louis XIV had sat where I now sat. What did he think as he looked out over his sprawling grounds, or as he ran his fingers across the surface of the fountain, sending a ripple through the water. “Did they eat sandwiches in the late 17th century France?” I asked, equal parts to myself, the Webers, and my sandwich.

Apart from one or two VERY strange tree/sculpture hybrid things, the palace was perfect in its grandeur.

Returning to Paris, we bought chocolates and went to dinner unaware that the best was yet to come!

The highlight of my entire trip came that evening. This was the moment I fell in love, the reason that will always bring me back I think: the sight of the Eiffel Tower sparkling in the night. I’m the kind of person that can get rather emotional in response to the beauty of this world, and this sight, the iconic image of glamor, romance, and the human capacity to dream brought an unshakeable calm to my soul, an inextinguishable smile to my face, and something of a tear to my eye. I fell down the rabbit hole and am NEVER coming back.

To hope and madness, Lauren.

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Life in the long, slow lane

Marathon training is so much more than I thought it would be.

I suppose in my running naivety and pre-training obnoxious enthusiasm I assumed it would all come down to simply running for miles and miles, day in and day out. Much to my surprise, training has become precious to me, like “bent over in a corner “gollum….gollum” precious.” It has consumed most aspects of my life.

“Sorry, can’t go out tonight….long run tomorrow morning.”

“Protein, protein, must.have.more. protein!”

“I hate hills, I love hills, I hate hills, I LOVE hills!”

It is all madness, but the best kind of madness.

Shuffling along on my 12 miler this weekend (in the California heat wave…triple digits means 5am wake up for Lauren), I’m trapped in my mind. “Lauren, why are you doing this, it’s disgustingly hot, you could be sleeping right now, grumble grumble grumble.” All of a sudden I cross paths with a fellow early morning masochistic runner. Flashing me a big, understanding smile and a thumbs up I am officially renewed! Alright, this is why runners are some of the best people. They understand! I can do this, this is great!

Fast forward an hour and I’m home, celebrating with a post-run protein shake. “Golly I love running,” I think to myself euphorically! It’s all up and down. Dread and excitement battle each other in my body as I think of my 13 miler this coming weekend.

To hope and madness, Lauren.