The tale of Innovate-y McShea

In 2008 I first attempted to make caramel.  It was part of a caramel swirl ice cream I was hoping to make.  The caramel sauce attempt was sheer disaster.  I’m sure it’s documented somewhere here.  I spent hours trying to turn sugar and water into amber deliciousness and every attempt turned out the same: evaporated water and recrystallized sugar.  Caramel has been my Everest.  I’ve tried a few times since then, always with similar results.  It’s become enough of a thing that I added it to my List of Things to do before I’m Dead.

Several weeks ago I made this mudslide cake:


Mudslide cake had a caramel like drizzle, as you can see in the photo.  It wasn’t exactly a caramel sauce, but it was caramel sauce adjacent.

For some reason, as I was frying bacon yesterday morning, that caramel adjacent sauce came back to me.  Had a whole list of things to do yesterday, but I decided to do some tweaking and see if I could make caramel.

Spoiler Alert: I totally did.

Here’s what was finally different – completely different ingredients.  Yes.  I’ve always tried with water and sugar (like every recipe starts with).  This time it was butter and brown sugar and a bit of cream.  I let the brown sugar and butter bubble away for a while, pulled it off the heat and added a splash of cream, and then stirred vigorously. I also threw a pinch of salt in it.

And now I have made caramel!

And now I have made caramel!

As I eat breakfast I think about what i’m going to do with the caramel.  (Keep in mind I have maybe half a cup with which to work here).  My initial thought is brownies with a salted caramel swirl.  That would require me leave the house to get either eggs or a brownie mix.  Leaving the house was not an option.  What can I do with what I have on hand?  Tart shell!  The plan is coming together.  I have a bush full of raspberries outside, I have caramel, I can make a tart shell.

I halve the recipe for my go to pie crust recipe.  I decide this effort doesn’t require me getting out the full rolling pin.  I use a mug.


Then I have to think about what kind of pan to make these in.

I had a few options...

I had a few options…

My actual first thought was that I was surprised I don’t have individual tart pans.  All the kitchen stuff I have and no mini tart pans?  So I start rummaging.  I could make tiny tarts in the mini muffin pan.  I could use ramekins.  I had some mini loaf pans left over from the zucchini bread adventure of last summer.  In the end I decided to try a few tiny tarts in the mini muffin pan and a rectangle tart shell in the mini loaf pan.

Next thing to solve for was pie weights.  In my last apartment in STL I had a stash of dried beans I used for pie weights.  I did not pack and move them to Ohio.  And I have no dried beans in the house.  I did have almonds!  Figured that would work AND I would have some toasted almonds when it was all said and done!  Genius.

While tart shells are baking I run outside, in what is basically a scene out of Noah, to pick more raspberries.


I baked up all the tart shells and at that point realized that using almond flour in the tart crust would have been amazing.  Next time.

3 of 4 tiny tarts made it

3 of 4 tiny tarts made it

Finally – assembly!

The little rectangle one turned out so cute!

The little rectangle one turned out so cute!


The little ones did not last long...

The little ones did not last long…



I’m funny in that when I decide I want to make a pastry, I find a way.  Where is that persistence when I decide I need to organize the basement?

Anyway – time to cross making caramel off the list!

Gotta make change to get change

I have this story, that I may or may not have told on this blog but I’m too lazy to go back and check, about the week I gave up sugar changing my life.  It was August 2011 and I was stagnant.  Relationship I knew I needed to end, boss that made me crazy, job that wasn’t going anywhere and just generally stuck.  I needed something to be different at the end of that week.  So, I gave up sugar.  I would have a tangible thing I could say I did differently that week.  Well, at the end of that week I got fired, which led to applying to grad school, which led to the amazing grad school experience, which led to the job here…  Yes, I attribute it all to making one little change.

I’ve been in that place lately.  I demanded of my therapist a couple weeks ago that we had to do something different because I feel like I’m the same.  I tend to be very aware of time passing and of me not getting anywhere – regardless of if that’s true or not.  Therapist and I came up with some ideas.

One is that I tried acupuncture.  It’s been on my list to try regardless of feeling stuck, and this seemed like the right time to do it.  I’ve been three times now.  The first two times I had a really positive reaction to it.  It might be psychosomatic or a placebo effect, but whatever makes me feel awesome.  This past Saturday I felt more agitated the whole time.  So either my aura is dealing with something or I just didn’t respond as well to the different acupuncture person.  Other new thing was joining a Columbus running club.  I was at the kick off session last Saturday with 600 other people!  I wasn’t expecting such a huge group.  By the time the pace groups break out it’s more manageable.  In keeping with the theme last Friday night I also went to two new to me places.  I had what might be my favorite local beer at Lineage Brewing.  They have a cream ale, that is the beer equivalent of cream soda.  It was light and smooth.  So good.  Then we walked down the block to Harvest Pizzeria which has been recommended to me for a long time.  It was de-lic-ious.  Rex and I split each of our meals and every bite I put in my mouth was amazing.

I’m still not quite feeling the momentum I’m longing for.  Perhaps I didn’t feel it back in August of 2011 either, yet when I look back I see how it all fit together.  Maybe it’s time to give up sugar again.

You’ve got a friend in me.

Guys.  My cup runneth over lately.

I mentioned to my pal Meg that I thought about going to Richmond to see her over Memorial Day weekend.  She responded that she would rather come here and see me and my new town and my house.  THEN she talked our friend Ang from St. Louis to come out too.  Wooo!!!  Together again!

Love, love, love these two!

Love, love, love these two!

These ladies were part of Sarah’s Supper Club back in St. Louis, so I planned our first night to just hang out and catch up with each other while we made dinner and drinks.  Old times!  Also, Meg always appreciates learning something new.

Started with little cucumber canapes.  So easy, greek yogurt with some dill and lemon juice mixed in.  Smoked salmon and chives.

Started with little cucumber canapes. So easy, greek yogurt with some dill and lemon juice mixed in. Smoked salmon and chives.

The girls laughed at me for arranging an appetizer.  It took less than 5 minutes to put together.  It’s more of assembly than cooking.  We sat out on the patio drinking delicious cocktails and eating these and telling stories about being a newlywed (Meg), a mom (Ang), and, well, a me.

Grapefruit rosemary cocktails - so good. And rosemary from the herb garden!

Grapefruit rosemary cocktails – so good. And rosemary from the herb garden!

Dinner - my favorite burger!  Lamb burgers with goat cheese, arugula and peach preserves.  Served with a greek salad and sweet potato fries.

Dinner – my favorite burger! Lamb burgers with goat cheese, arugula and peach preserves. Served with a greek salad and sweet potato fries.

We had dinner on the patio with a bottle of wine and it was so lovely to be with these two again.  The next day we had an easy morning, we made lemon ricotta pancakes with a blueberry compote and bacon on the side.  We took a short walk through the Short North and then met my friends for lunch.  I was so happy to introduce four of my favorite Columbus friends to these two. There was a moment where I looked around the table at my Columbus friends and just knew I had found my people. So happy.  We had a great lunch over tacos and margaritas and then 5 of us headed to see Pitch Perfect 2.

The rest of the weekend flew by and when the girls were both gone I only missed them for a minute when I got an invite out to a movie and dinner with friends.

This past weekend was just as amazing with all different friends.  Our friend Peter has been planning a birthday bash to put all others to shame for months now.  It did not disappoint.  Karaoke, photo booth, ice cream sundae bar, dancing, drinks and getting a little dressed up.

With the man of the hour.

With the man of the hour.

We were rocking the accessories table.

We were rocking the accessories table.

Glow in the dark everything.

Glow in the dark everything.

I climbed into bed at 3am.  It was a great night.

I paid for super fun Friday night by what can only be called an all day hangover on Saturday.  I crawled out of bed at 10:05am only because I needed a McGriddle as hangover breakfast and they stop serving them at 10:30am.  I came home to go straight back to the couch for a few more hours.  I did catch up on Orphan Black – which is awesome.

I got an amazing surprise when my friend Amy said they were driving through Columbus for a last minute trip back to St. Louis and would I like to get dinner?!  Only, hell yes.  Amy is who I refer to as my “original favorite”.  She was this incredibly bright and dedicated woman we hired into my corporate training job a decade ago.  I loved her from the minute I met her.  She married a wonderful man who is in the Air Force and she eventually moved to Germany, then Hawaii, then back to Rhode Island and now DC.  We’ve always stayed in touch and she has inspired me so much along the way.  She and her husband recently had a baby and it was a long road for them to get there, so seeing them with their baby boy made me so happy.  I have never been so excited to meet a baby.  He is just so lucky – he has the greatest parents.


Sunday I had odd plans to drive to Indianapolis to see a movie and eat tacos with Ex Hubs.  He’s about to take a long term assignment in a land far, far away.  I wasn’t going to be able to get back to STL before he left and we both have a deep appreciation for natural disaster movies… so we devised a plan to meet in the middle, watch San Andreas, eat tacos and then return to our respective cities.  San Andreas was great fun.  It’s not quite as amazing as Day After Tomorrow, but it was lots of fun and had enough junk science and general destruction to be worth it.

The hits will keep coming this Friday when I meet my friend Alex in Cincinnati for the afternoon.  Alex lives in Boston, but in Cincy for a music conference.  I’m dragging him to the Sign Museum (yes, it’s a thing) and we’ll get dinner.  I haven’t seen him in almost 3 years so this is awesome that he’ll be so close.

I haven’t seen this many different friends in such a short period of time since all of these people lived in St. Louis.

My people.

Two Years!

It snuck up on me. Two years ago today was my first day on the job in Columbus.  I drove up on a Saturday and moved into a friend’s basement until I figured out where to live.  Started work Monday.  Man, it all happened so fast.

Two years later…

Today: I started the day by working on a really big project at work. I had two of my favorite co-workers instant message me with funny pictures and to catch up. I had lunch with this very fun group of ladies that formed a book club that mostly reads young adult books (like Fault in our Stars or Sisters Red) but sometimes reads grown up books like this month’s Girl on a Train (which I loved!  The main character is so flawed. And let’s face it, I am one bad day away from day drinking, lying about my job, making up stories about strangers and stalking my ex.  I just got her.).  I had to leave work at 3:15 to get uptown where the local ACMP chapter steering committee was meeting to begin drafting our bylaws.  This is the group I assembled to create our local chapter.  We worked for over 90 minutes on what we want this Central Ohio change community group to be.  It dawned on me as I was walking back to my car that I was just steps away from the apartment I lived in when I first moved here.  And then it dawned on me that it was 2 years ago.

I smiled as I climbed into my car.  This is my town now.  I live here.  I drove to my favorite grocery store which is on that side of town.  I came home to my house and to my cats and to my garden where I had three radishes ready for harvest.  Two years.

Most days I think I am wasting time, that I’m not doing enough, being enough, moving fast enough.  I’m so aware of time passing.  Today, thinking about how much has happened in the last two years – I feel that while I could have done more (always could do more) I have done some stuff.  Enough to have fulfilling work, lots of friends who read the books I love, and enough contacts to stand up a local chapter of a global organization.

Not so shabby.

Happy Anniversary to me.

365 Single Days

It’s been said you should live alone for at least a year so you figure out who you are, what you like, etc.  I’ve done that.  In fact, I’ve probably now spent more years living on my own than I spent living with Ex Hubs.  Living alone is not the same as 365 single days.  While living alone I was still dating, or entertaining a gentleman caller, or something like that, during that time.  I just had my own place.  You do learn a lot by having your own place and I would join those who recommend it.

365 Single Days.  No dating.  No flings.  No walks of shame.  No kicking someone out of bed. No relationship drama.  No sex.

I learned a whole different set of things about myself in this kind of alone year.

This isn’t about woe is me, I’m single.  What I learned about 2/3 of the way through the year is that I had decided to be single.  I had friends who assured me that if I wanted a date, or to bring some guy home, I could make that happen.  Once I believed that, my perspective on the 365 days started to shift.  I don’t think I needed to use this time to “get to know me,” but it was helpful to have this time to get to know it’s okay to be alone.


I don’t know about you, but this is the longest stretch of single-ness since I turned 18.  There’s always been a guy, and all the drama, reflection, attention, collaboration, compromise, etc.. that they come with.

So, I can do it.  I can be alone.  Turns out I still shave my legs regularly, cook elaborate meals for just me, can figure out how to use a tile saw, and be just fine.

That doesn’t mean I prefer it.

I have super friends and family and they’re around for sharing news, hanging out, trying a new experience, seeing a movie, etc.  I can call and text and FaceTime them with all the weird and random things that happen throughout the day.  But there’s no one to help carry in the groceries.  Or help me put a bracelet on in the morning.  Or celebrate with me when I finally nailed the best 3 point turn path to get into my garage.  seuss quote 2

When I have done the 30 day stints with no sugar, dairy, etc you learn just how much you depend or count on foods that have little value to you.  It’s habit, or emotionally motivated, or sabotage.  365 single days leads to similar outcomes.  I tracked when I had my phone in my hand to dial old numbers out of habit, emotional states, or sabotage.  I learned new coping mechanisms.

There might be something about valuing myself more.  After eating “clean” for a long time, people are less inclined to start putting junk food back in their body.  After 365 single days, I’m less inclined to put junk people in my life.  Someone once told me they were ready to settle down, but not at all ready to settle.  That’s how I feel.  I spent all this time man detoxing, the next thing I put in better be good (take that how you want it – I didn’t intend it to be dirty – but I haven’t had sex in a year, so….)

Just for funsies, a friend and I went to “Wine and Psychic” night at a local wine bar two nights ago.  It was my first experience with a palm reader.  It was all in good fun, and yes, I understand that most people (especially single girls at wine and psychic night) want to hear that they’ll have success, happiness and love.  All she has to do is validate those are on their way and she’d make 90% of the people happy.  I know.  Regardless, she said some things that worked for me.  The one related to me and all the single days is that she told me I am a completely competent single person.  I got this.  I don’t need anyone to take care of me.  I don’t need your help.  I don’t want your money.  She said the next guy is on his way (she was pretty sure in the next 6 months the BIG ONE is going to be on my doorstep) and when he gets here I’m going to have to back off those tendencies.  I can do it, I can be alone and thrive.  To have successful relationship, I’m going to have to take care of me a little.  I know that I’m not so good at that.  I go out of the way to make sure people know I’m not taking advantage of them, or using them, or want something from them that I don’t think I deserve.  Maybe it’s not always my decision about what people want to give to me.

Not that this little unintentional experiment is over, time to make room in my life for whatever is next.

Things I did and things I almost did…

I did…register for a crap ton of runs coming up.  June 6th starts running club and I have the Shawshank 4 miler, the OSU 4 miler, the Dublin Quarter marathon and I swear there’s another one… Oh, I’m considering the Queen Bee half marathon in Cincy in October.  The jury is still out on this one.

One reason we're still just *thinking* about it.  Hello elevation.

One reason we’re still just *thinking* about it. Hello elevation.

I almost… got tattoo #3 this past weekend.  I know!  Three!  That’s crazy!  Three cats is the limit where one becomes a crazy cat lady, so is three tattoos the point in which one becomes a crazy tattoo lady?  I decided I wanted one that I could see (the other two are on my back) and I have the perfect idea for the next one.  My rule is that I have to want them for about 6 months before I get them, and I’m only going on about a month of this great idea.  But, it’s also summer and the ideal time for it to heal since I want it on my foot.

I did… See the new Avenger’s movie last weekend!  So great.  Just good summer blockbuster fun, made even more fun because I love the Studio 35 theatre. Planning on Pitch Perfect 2 this weekend when some girlfriends are in town.  AND since I love a summer disaster flick (my most favorite movie category) I’m also counting down the days until San Andreas comes out.  It will be hard to beat The Day After Tomorrow (reigning disaster flick champ), but this one seems like it has a lot of the same elements (giant boat in the city, fake science) PLUS it has The Rock.



I almost… speaking of movies, I almost saw Far Away From the Maddening crowd this past weekend also, alas, I did not.  Wasn’t that a good story?  Summer movies!!  I’ll need to create a set night where I get to the movies or I’ll be behind in no time.

I did…Start booking Spain last night!  I found apartments in Barcelona and Madrid that will be excellent home bases for each leg of the trip.  My traveling buddy keeps thanking me for doing all the planning.  Umm, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  This is the fun part!  Chrystal (travel buddy) and I haven’t traveled together in a long time, and never anywhere nearly as significant as internationally, but I already know we’re going to be just fine.  Chrystal is a casino friend I met way back in 2004 and she was someone that once I got to know, always knew would be a life long friend, no matter how long we go without major catch up sessions.  I’m thrilled this is working out this way!

I almost… finished the scheduled yard work Sunday.  In my defense, it rained!  This was going to be flowers and tree trimming weekend.  Last weekend was vegetables, weed killing/pulling, digging up dead shrub weekend.  So.. still no flowers, but maybe tonight.  I’d like to have them in by this weekend since…

I did… set some plans up for this weekend when Meg and Angela come to town!  I think I have a nice mix of girl time/meeting my Cbus friends/seeing the city/etc.  And I left enough time in the weekend for whatever we might spur of the moment add.  I love having visitors, and am so happy to show these two where I live, my house, introduce my friends, etc.

I almost… made some kind of canoli dessert this weekend.  I started Pinterest-ing some cannoli dessert ideas to go with an upcoming spring Italian dinner themed dinner party (prosciutto shrimp risotto, antipasti, bellinis) and now all I want to do is make canoli cheesecakes and cakes.  I did not make this last weekend because dinner party is this weekend and I would eat entire cake in the meantime.  Not the goal.

The day the music lived

I would say I’m a person who likes music.  I know what I like (motown, girly pop music, American Standards).  I know what I don’t (Red Hot Chili Peppers).  I know what I want on repeat (right now, Pinks “How Come You’re Not Here”.  I know what makes me dance around the house and sing at the top of my lungs (Grace Potter’s “Stars”, Cowboy Mouth, showtunes).

I would also say I’m a person who is not very educated about music.  I rarely know an indie band.  I still listen to the radio.  True story, most of the recent bands I like came from the Grey’s Anatomy or How I Met Your Mother Spotify playlists.  Don’t knock it, the shows have some amazing music on them.

And while I listen to music, quite often, I don’t know that I hear the music.  I don’t always pay attention to the lyrics, which is ironic since I sing along all the time.

It was college when I started to develop any musical taste of my own, and it was the era of Napster and ethernet music sharing.  It was the beginning of downloading the one song you wanted.  I rarely bought and listened to an entire album, in fact, the only cds I listened to entirely through were either soundtracks or Cowboy Mouth albums.

Most of the music I was really moved by was theatre/movie related.  I was moved by Jason Robert Brown music from The Last Five Years and Songs from a New World.  Watching the movie Once was incredible.  I associate music to the scenes I saw them with.

In the past few years there would be a song that would strike me as relevant, one that the lyrics gave me pause, made me think (“Let your heart hold fast” by Fort Atlantic, “Just give me a reason” by Pink). But mostly they were just kind of break up or longing songs.

Then yesterday happened.  I have a new colleague at work.  We’ll call him Chris (because that’s his name).  Chris is proving to be fun and smart and the small group of peeps I hang out with decides we should loop Chris into our gang.  While we were all in Vegas a couple weeks ago Chris mentions how much music is a part of his life, loves concerts, music festivals, etc.  Ok.  Not knowing about any of that, I listen, and then dismiss it.  Until yesterday.  Chris instant messages me (from about 50 feet away) and asks if I’ve heard of a band called the Avett Brothers.  I tell him he should always assume the answer to that kind of question is no.  I’ve never heard of any band.  He very quickly sends me a playlist to listen to, some must be listened to in a specific order.  Since I’m trying to forge the new inner circle friendship with this kid, I cue up the playlist and start to listen.  And because I’m a good friend I want to be able to tell him what I think of these songs, so I also open up a Word doc to jot down some thoughts while I’m listening.  Notes like, “ooh – a cello in this song!”, and “this one has more twang.  I don’t love twang.”  (I promise I’m doing actual work in between the listening and the note taking.  For a while anyway.)  By taking notes I’m listening more intently than perhaps I would if I were listening to music I already know.  I want to honestly tell my new pal what I think of the songs he’s taken the time to recommend to me.  And I’m listening to lyrics. And they make me feel things.

The Avett Brothers music really tells a story.   I was told to listen to the song “If it’s the Beaches” and follow it with “I would be sad.”  I did as I was told.  And it’s sad.  And I feel sad.  I feel lots of stuff.  This music is kind of overwhelming me.

Today Chris follows up his Avett Bros recommendation with a song called “If I Loved You” by band Delta Rae.  I listen.  Then I immediately get a Delta Rae station on Spotify.  It’s amazing.  And I’m listening.

I tell Chris he seems like a happy dude, and this music is all fairly sad and melancholy.  He acknowledged the music is all a little sad and said that’s how he deals with stuff.  “Hey, this guy singing this song feels the same way I do.  I’m not alone. Moving on!”  I said he may have a system I need to employ.

What else am I hearing and not really listening to?  I want music to distract me from my thoughts, not bring them to the forefront.  I won’t be able to avoid it with the emotional sandbag that got dropped on me.

Music.  Who knew?  It’s not just for dancing around in your underwear any more.

Listen to some stuff: