Zorbing

Recently I got to take advantage of a business trip to Knoxville to spend some time catching up with my friend Amy. The last time I got to see her (or Knoxville for that matter) was back in October when we went on a camel safari. Since then, Amy got engaged to a wonderful guy named Adam, who, because of my work schedule over the past few months, I had not been able to meet yet. So, to rectify these transgressions I suggested we have a little adventure together, and fortunately Adam was able to join us.

The three of us drove down to Pigeon Forge to go zorbing at Outdoor Gravity Park. Zorbing involves getting in a giant inflatable double-layered orbs that are rolled down hills or across water.  Or as my sister appropriately phrased it, “rolling down a hill in a giant hamster ball.” The riders can either be strapped in a harness or slide around freely, and the rides can be either wet or dry.

You start with a Superman-like dive into ball, splashing into the mini pool of water inside. Once we were situated, and given a handy little GoPro, we were pushed down the 1,000-foot-long straight hill. The ride was just as much fun as it looks, and definitely exceeded my expectations. It felt like a giant waterslide.

For the second ride, I decided to go solo so I could experience the zigzag hill. When I sent my friend Jill a video of the zorb rolling down the hill (above), she exclaimed, “I thought you were at a water park, not at Stonehenge where you come out of nowhere like you’re in battle or something!” I’m not sure what Jill thinks happened at Stonehenge, but apparently there was a super fun battle with vastly superior military armament.

The second ride was bumpier and more exciting than the first, but I think they were equally fun. I loved that you could share the experience with friends as well as have a solo ride.

Zorbing Track

This was definitely an experience I’d like to repeat, in fact, I wish we could have stayed there all day. Moreover, it was the perfect opportunity to get to know Adam, who I hope will join Amy and me on our many adventures in years to come.

Zorbing

 

A Trip to the Driving Range

After years of saying that I wanted to learn how to play golf, I thought I’d finally take the first step towards doing something about it. On Saturday I made a trip to my first driving range. It was, like every other July day in Tennessee, approximately 100 degrees. However, it was only 50% humidity, which, believe it or not, made the heat pretty bearable compared to the rest of the summer.

A friend took me to the McCabe Golf Course in Nashville to hit a few buckets of balls. It was my first time swinging a club, so the morning started out a little slow. I would take a swing and, if I came into contact with the ball at all, it would only skip a few feet. However, I tried to pay attention to what the golfers were doing successfully and then adjust my swing accordingly. The first improvement came when I aimed my club slightly below the ball rather than directly at the center of it. On my first attempt with my new technique, I actually got the ball in the air and to move a decent distance. The instant improvement was extremely gratifying.

Driving Range 1

There were a few occurrences throughout the day that gave me good perspective that, (1) everyone was once a beginner, and (2) even experienced golfers have occasional issues. First, about halfway through the morning I sliced my ball toward a woman two hitting stations over. I gave her a “I’m sorry” look, to which she responded, “The first time I ever played I chipped the ball and it popped up and hit the guy next to me in the butt.” Her husband chimed in, “we call that a butt shot.” Second, a gentleman at the other end of the tee somehow managed to not only to send his ball down the range, but threw his club along with it. He called out “fore” as he trotted out 50 yards to retrieve his driver. I’m not sure if that was the result of a really good hit or a really bad one. Individual stories aside, there were just as many balls within 20 feet of the tee as there were further down the range, a good lesson that nobody has a perfect day.

Driving Range 2

My other big improvement came when I loosened up my grip a bit after trying to replicate another nearby golfer. Looking at images online of the proper golf stance afterward, I am nearly certain that I was pretty far off of what I was supposed to be doing, but it had a very positive affect on the length of my drive. Suddenly, I was consistently hitting the ball 100-120 yards down the range. I was thrilled. I couldn’t jump up and down and scream like the first time I hit a baseball, so we silently celebrated instead. (See photographic evidence below of me actually hitting a ball.)

Driving Range Close Up

We spent an hour at the driving range going through buckets of balls. I had such a good time that later that evening we went to a sporting goods store to check out Sara-sized sets of golf clubs and I already have plans to head back to the driving range this weekend. Hopefully I’ll stay interested and can learn the proper techniques to really improve my swing. While I definitely want to take lessons and work up to playing a round of golf, I loved that the only person I was competing with on the driving range was myself. When that is the case, I can never lose.

Making Tiramisu

This week I attempted to make another dish that looks more complicated than it is (see pies 1 and 2). Tiramisu seems deliciously complicated, but it is really made with 6 simple ingredients: mascarpone, eggs, sugar, coffee/espresso, cocoa powder, and lady fingers. (Some recipes also call for rum or marsala, but skipped it this time.)

Tiramisu Ingredients

Tiramisu, which means “pick me up,” was supposedly invented in Italy in 1969. If you haven’t had it, well, then you just haven’t been living. It is a scrumptious creamy dessert, and one of my favorites.

Tiramisu Egg Yolks

This recipe contains a lot of room temperature raw eggs. This, of course, did not stop me from licking my fingers throughout the process. We’ll just call it quality control. First, I mixed 6 egg yolks with 1/4 cup of sugar. This took several minutes to get it thick enough. A consistent complaint I saw while searching for a recipie was that the custard came out too runny. Apparently, the eggs are the culprit. Once it seemed thick enough I added in the mascarpone (basically an Italian cream cheese).

Tiramisu Egg Whites

Some recipes skip egg whites. However, this helps give the custard its thickness. The recipe said to beat 4 egg whites and 1/4 cup sugar until stiff, glossy peaks formed. I had never beaten eggs for a dessert before so I was surprised just how fluffy they got. This took a while to accomplish. Although my recipe didn’t explain this, the egg whites should be at room temperature and the sugar should be added in gradually. I probably should have beaten them longer, but I was concerned about over-beating them and having to start over.

Lady Fingers

Once the eggs, mascarpone, and sugar were combined, it was time to prepare the pastry portion of the dessert. The recipe called for 36-48 lady fingers, but it took 60 for me to do two full layers in my dish.

Tiramisu Lady Fingers

The lady fingers (make sure you get the hard rather than spongy ones) are dipped (very quickly) in coffee or espresso, just long enough to cover them. If you let them soak they will get too soggy.

Tiramisu Lady Finger Layer

Then it was just a matter of building the layers. Two of the coffee-soaked lady fingers and two of the custard.

Tiramisu Layers

I’m really glad I got an extra box of the lady fingers “just in case,” though I was hoping to have extras to snack on. No such luck.

Tiramisu Finished

Finally, it was time to put tiramisu in the refrigerator for 8 hours and try to pretend it wasn’t there.

Tiramisu Unsweatned Chocolate

When it was ready, I added a healthy layer of unsweetened chocolate to  finish it off. I may have gotten a little overzealous with it, but you can’t blame a girl, can you? While I definitely do not have a career ahead of me as a dessert photographer, it was rich, creamy, and delightful.

Homemade Tiramisu

If you want to try this at home, you can find the recipe I used here.

Kickboxing

To kick off my return to blogging I wanted my first post to be about something active. I have been pretty sedentary the past few months and it has made me antsy. To counteract my restlessness, I signed up for my first kickboxing class with Title Boxing Club.

Title Boxing

My friend Lilas (who joined me on my juice cleanse and taught me how to make pumpkin pie) accompanied me so I would not have to go alone. When we got there we were greeted by an adorable white pug named Maui. I firmly believe every business should have a resident dog mascot.

Before we got started, the manager, Kathryn, helped me get ready for class. She wrapped my hands with 15 foot long fabric wraps. The bands hook on your thumbs and go around your hands and between your fingers until the knuckles, hands, and wrists are completely protected. They were surprisingly comfortable, despite looking otherwise. The class started with a 20-minute warm-up, which in itself was a workout. I knew I was going to be sore before I ever hit anything.

Gym

We were taught the basic hits: jab, cross, hook, uppercut, and of course some kicking. Finally being able to unleash on the bag was invigorating. All of the tension I had been feeling slowly lifted with each punch. I was exactly the release I both wanted and needed. The class consisted of 8 “rounds” alternating between hitting and active rests. During the rests all I could think about was that I just wanted to get back to hitting, and with each round I hit harder and became more focused.

I am pretty sure Lilas, who is in a lot better shape than I am, did not break a sweat the entire time. I, however, looked like I’d just run a marathon. I could already feel the muscle soreness kick in on the way home. My legs, shoulders, and core ache (but in a good way) and I am sure the rest of the body will join in shortly.

Boxing Lesson

The class left me with an absolute endorphin high; it was utterly blissful. Despite the pain, I can’t wait to go back for my next lesson. But I suppose I wouldn’t be a litigator if I didn’t like sparring.

Return from Hiatus

It has been a while since my last update. For the past few months I have been preparing for my first trial. It required my full attention and left little time for anything else. Unfortunately, on the list of life priorities, the blog fell below all of the other things I had to do such as occasionally eating and sleeping. (Although, now that I think of it, the trial was possibly the mother of all New Things). Work has slowed down for the time being, so I hope to cram in as many activities as possible before things pick up again. (And yes, we won.)

The absence of New Things in my life made me realize how much I love my adventures and how energizing they are. I realized that not having a hobby is indeed my hobby, and I have missed it quite a bit.

Over the past few months several friends have asked me about my list and have said they have been inspired to make their own for 2015. While looking at other lists can be helpful, examining your own goals is the best place to begin. Your list should of course have fun bucket list items you have always wanted to try, but the most rewarding things are the ones you think you are too afraid to try or think you will not be able to accomplish.

Speaking from my own experience, I can say that taking a flying lesson has been one of the most fulfilling undertakings yet. Saying that I was a nervous flyer is an understatement. While I never had a full mid-air breakdown, I was convinced (despite knowing I was perfectly safe) that the tiniest bit of turbulence was going to send us spiraling towards the Earth. I spent most of my flights holding the armrests for dear life as if I could will the plane to stay in the air. However, the flying lesson, which was terrifying in itself, had a sort of time-release effect on me. I learned a lot about how planes work and could feel how getting close to the clouds affected the movement of the wings. Now, I fly for work fairly regularly and when turbulence hits I just look up from my laptop, look out the window, think “ah, clouds,” and go back to my typing (ok watching TV). I don’t think I would have that peace of mind had I not forced myself to take a lesson.

I hope you all will keep reading despite my hiatus, and stay with me on this journey. Somehow, along the way, the blog has received visits from people in 158 countries. That is astonishing. If anyone out there has been inspired to make his or her own list, please share it with me. I’d love to see it.

Blog World Map 2015

PS: If any of you know one of the 57,000 people who live in Greenland, send them my blog. They take up a lot of space on the map.

Baking a Pumpkin Pie from Scratch

This week’s New Thing is actually an old New Thing that I didn’t have an opportunity to post about before. However, given that we are well into autumn, and Thanksgiving is fast approaching, I thought now would be a good time to share it.

Pumpkin pie is my favorite holiday treat. I can’t get enough of it. (Though oddly enough, I may be the only girl who does not go crazy over all things pumpkin spice.) I casually mentioned to my friend Lilas (who joined me for my juice cleanse a few months ago) that I was curious about how hard it was to make a pumpkin pie from scratch. Lilas, who seems to know all there is to know about everything, responded that it was not hard at all and she had a recipe I could use.

Pumpkin Pie Ingredients

It turns out, other than a pumpkin and condensed milk, I had most of the ingredients in my pantry. The recipe called for sugar, cinnamon, ground cloves, allspice, ginger, vanilla extract, some salt, eggs, evaporated milk, and of course one pie pumpkin (which, it turns out, you can find in most groceries this time of year).

Pumpkin Carving

Cutting open the pumpkin was not easy. It took quite a bit of sawing and hacking before I was able to split it open. I was convinced I was going to lose a thumb in the process. In fact, I managed to nick my finger. Don’t try this at home, kids. You should use a serrated knife rather than a smooth knife because, ironically, a smooth knife might slip and cut you.

Inside Pumpkin

After a fair bit of work I was finally able to split the pumpkin open. I used an ice cream scoop to remove the seeds to get it ready for steaming. Unfortunately, I forgot to save the seeds, which is a pity because they are delicious when roasted.

Steam Pumpkin

Once the pumpkin was sliced and cleaned, it was time to soften it up. You can do this in the oven, on the stove, or in the microwave. We chose the microwave because it was the fastest method. Even with the quick option, it took 15-30 minutes for it to fully soften.

Pumpkin Pie Crust Ingredients

While the microwave was doing its magic, we started on the pie crusts. You can’t make a homemade pie using store-bought crust.

Making Pumpkin Pie Crust

Instead of making the crust completely from scratch, we cheated a bit and used gingerbread cookies. (This also made for a yummy mid-baking snack.) We threw a box of the cookies in the food processor and crushed them until all that was left was crumbs. This took longer than expected, apparently food processors are not made to crumble cookies.

Gingerbread Crust

All it took was cookie crumbs, a lot of butter, and some eggs.  We formed our crusts and put them in the freezer to harden and help prevent them from burning while baking.

Cooked Pumpkin

Finally, the pumpkin was softened and we were able to scoop the cooked pumpkin from the skin. Lilas said that the pumpkin skin was tasty, so I decided to give it a try. She was right, it was delicious. The great things about making pumpkin pie is that the entire pumpkin is scrumptious.

Pumpkin Puree

We threw the cooked pumpkin into the food processor and pureed it until it was nice and smooth. This is what is affectionately known as “pumpkin glop.”

Pumpkin Pie Filling

We combined the pumpkin glop with the sugar, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, ginger, vanilla, eggs, and evaporated milk. I expected it to be a thick consistency, since it had to harden up to be a pie, but it was practically liquid. This concerned me, but Lilas said it was normal.

Pumpkin Pies

That one small pumpkin was enough to make 3 pies! I was shocked!

Pumpkin Pies in Oven

The pies took about an hour to bake and made the house smell like heaven. They probably would have cooked faster but I kept obsessively checking on them. The entire process took a while and, like the last time I baked a pie, they had to cool before we could enjoy them.

Homemade Pumpkin Pie

The pies turned out even better than I expected. They tasted absolutely perfect! And the great thing about having 3 pies means you can give them away to friends.

In conclusion, if you want a delicious homemade pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving but you don’t want to risk slicing off your own digits, just send an invite my way.

A Camel Safari & A Drive-Through Petting Zoo

After another long hiatus from the blog, a few weekends ago I crossed something off of my list I have wanted to do for a while: going to a drive-through petting zoo and riding a camel. My friend Amy (from belly dancingrock climbing, the aerial fitness class, and several other posts) joined me for the day. The 100-acre Circle G Ranch is just north of Knoxville and is home to 500 animals (30+ different species).

Long Horn Cattle

When we got there they were still saddling up the camels so we took a drive through the park while we waited. We bought a few buckets of food for the animals so we could have an up-close-and-personal experience.

Cow Attack
When we started the trip around the park we leisurely passed some zebras, llamas, and alpacas (yes, like the sweater). I thought it was going to be a pretty uneventful drive. However, upon rounding a corner we came across a herd of longhorns, water buffalo, and highland cows. They were really excited to see us.

Highland Cow

The quadrupeds had little concern for personal space. All they cared about were the pellets of food we had to give out. The highland cow even took one right out of my hand. He had a rather dirty mouth. (You should have heard the things he said!)

Emu Attack

It turns out the highland cow was the least of my concerns. I soon discovered the waking nightmare that is the emu. They are terrifying. They are like small feathered velociraptors with long necks and soulless red eyes.

Emu Attack 2

You couldn’t look away, even for a second, because as soon as you did they would multiply in number. At one point three of them had their heads in the car. One even stole some food right out of Amy’s lap. There may or may not have been a lot of screaming involved.

Ostrich

After the run-in with the emus I was quite glad to see the ostrich behind a fence. It made Big Bird look small in stature. They can grow up to 9 feet tall.

Barbary Sheep

Not all of the animals were terrifying. The barbary sheep were absolutely beautiful, though there were so many of them in the herd they created a bit of a road block. We had to distract them with food to get them out of the way of the car.

Fallow Deer

We also saw several fallow dear. They had gorgeous white cream colored coats with spots on their back; a bit different than the ones you see in your backyard.

Pot Belly Pig

There were of course also some very curious farm animals. This little piggy just had to come say hello. There were dozens of adorable piglets running around too.

White Camel

Is it just me, or does this camel look like Don Knotts?

Camel

After our drive, we saddled up for a ride around the park. This one, above, kept trying to make a meal out of my arm. Apparently I looked tasty.

We took the same path as we did in the car and the entire trip took about an hour. It was a cool fall day, but fortunately we were still bundled up from a football game earlier that morning. Our guide told us all about the animals in the park, where they are from, what they eat, and how they care for them. A few of the animals are even endangered.

Riding a Camel

It was a really relaxing ride. I should note that despite referring to several of the animals as “terrifying” we actually had a great time. They weren’t really that scary … just “curious,” or so I am told.

End of Ride

Apropos of nothing, while it doesn’t really qualify as something new, I wanted to share another image from my safari weekend. 102,455 Tennessee football fans (minus a few Florida fans) got together and made the coolest showing of school pride in the history of sports. We managed to turn Neyland Stadium into a giant checkerboard.

Neyland Checkerboard

We didn’t win the game, but getting to see this in person was still very special and something I will never forget. We should try to do this again sometime, eh?