Monday Night Fun Run
If this blog had a theme, you could say it would be something along the lines of “Veronica tries new things and conquers fears.” (That is, if it weren’t, “Veronica likes to bake a lot.”) For the most part, that’s gone pretty well. I’ve surprised myself by what I can do and pushed myself to not care what others think of my performance, but to do things for myself and to measure myself against no one but me. I think I’ve done that valiantly.
Until Monday night.
In the interest of pushing myself to run faster (which is scary because I always doubt my strength) and meeting new people (which is scary for a whole other host of reasons), I decided to partake in Fleet Feet’s Monday Night Fun Run. The website boasts that they welcome people of all abilities and pace levels. While I know I’m not by any means the fastest runner – and am not typically intimidated by faster runners because I can only run as fast as I can run – I also know I’m not by any means the slowest runner. My hope is that by running with people who are a little faster than me, I’ll push myself to keep up and realize that I can run much faster than I thought.
So, on Monday night after work I sat in the park for a little bit reading my copy of the free Spanish daily periódico until such time that I could walk to Fleet Feet without being super early for the run. Upon entering the back of the store, I was faced with what seemed to be a sea of ridiculously large calf muscles on ridiculously large men. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, nay, ‘twould be a boon, but at that moment I was fighting every urge I had to turn around and walk out of the store. Although I’m fairly, shall we say, limited in stature, it’s rare that this makes me feel at all inadequate or insignificant or less-than in any way. Yet, I was feeling all of those things as I was hyperaware of how tiny I was and how large they were. It was not a good feeling.
I do have to say, however, that the girl leading the run (there ended up being a few other females there, but they were still all larger than me!) did her best to welcome me when I said I was new. She said that people just did their own thing, running as far as they wanted, at the pace they wanted, and not to worry about trying to keep up with the front of the pack. Well, that wasn’t a problem at all because there was no way I could keep up with them as they shot away from the front of the store and quickly became dots several blocks ahead of me.
True, I wasn’t the slowest person there. There was a small group behind me, but running much slower and engrossed their own conversation that it seemed rude to intrude on. So, I ran by myself somewhere in between the super fast and the kind of slow. The worst part of it is that, according to my running app, I didn’t run any faster than I normally would. In fact, I ran a little slower than my usual 3-milers, but you wouldn’t know it from the amount of exertion I was feeling. So, to sum up, I talked to no one, ran a hard, but slow 3 miles, then had to get on a bus to get home where I was, unfortunately, not the smelliest person on board. I still had to shower, eat dinner, and take care of some other business before bed. I was so tired this morning that I fell asleep on the bus on the way to work. (Only for a minute, but still…I never fall asleep on the bus.) I guess I can pat myself on the back for trying something new, but it’s hard not to feel like it was a waste of a Monday night.
On the upside, I now know where all the super muscular men have been hiding. Alas, it seems that I will have to literally chase them down.
Vanilla Bourbon Cream Pie
On to more successful things. For this month’s Bakers Anonymous meetup, we focused on the most complex, yet often overlooked of all the flavors: vanilla. Vanilla has become synonymous with plain and I think we have those giant tubs of golden hued, faux-vanilla flavored ice creams from our childhood to blame. That’s not real vanilla. Real vanilla is distinct and strong. It can stand out on its own or pair exceedingly well with other flavors. It is not to be ignored.
Two of my favorite bourbons – Maker’s 46 and Bulleit – offer a strong, creamy vanilla finish, so there was no doubt in my mind that the combination would be excellent. The recipe for this pie was adapted from Joy of Cooking. I’m not much for the texture of cream pies, but I’ve found that when I make them myself, the interior is far less gelatinous and blobby and much more like a thick custard, which I can get behind. The only things I really changed were to use Maker’s 46 instead of vanilla extract and to add a vanilla bean into the mix. The material for the crust was an easy choice of crushed ‘Nilla wafers mixed with butter and pressed into a pie tin. To top it off, I piped a decorative ring of bourbon whipped cream around the edge. It was an incredibly simple pie to make and surprisingly delicious one to eat. When I first tasted the cooked and still warm filling, I was disappointed to find that I couldn’t detect any bourbon flavor. But somehow, once it cooled that flavor came straight to the forefront and good, vanilla bourbon-ness rose to the top. I would definitely make this again.
For the crust:
1 ½ cups finely crushed ‘Nilla wafers
6 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Mix the crushed ‘Nilla wafers and melted butter. Press evenly into pie tin.
Now, the recipe says to bake the crust before filling it, which you can do by putting it in a 350º oven for 10-20 minutes and letting it cool. I did not and the pie came out just fine. A baked crust will probably be a little crunchier and a little stronger in flavor. If you don’t want to bake the crust, just make sure to freeze it for at least 20 minutes first so the filling doesn’t get everything all soggy. A soggy crust is an unhappy crust.
For the filling:
2/3 cup sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
2 ½ cups whole milk
5 large egg yolks
2-3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon bourbon
seeds from 1 vanilla bean
Whisk the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a saucepan until well blended. Gradually whisk in the milk, then vigorously whisk in the egg yolks until no yellow streaks remain. Stirring constantly with a heatproof rubber spatula, bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from the heat, scrape the corners of the saucepan, and whisk until smooth. Return to the heat and, whisking constantly, bring to a simmer and cook for 1 minute. Off the heat, whisk in the butter, bourbon, and vanilla bean seeds.
Spoon the filling into the prepared crust and press a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours to firm the filling. Shortly before serving, top the pie with Bourbon Whipped Cream.
Never made your own whipped cream? Give a try. Trust me on this one, you’ll never buy the stuff in a can or a tub ever again.
For the whipped cream:
1 cup cold heavy cream
2 teaspoons sugar (up to 2 tablespoons if you like a sweeter whipped cream)
2 teaspoons bourbon (use vanilla extract instead, if desired)
Beat the cream in a chilled bowl with chilled beaters at high speed until thickened. Add the sugar and bourbon and beat to the desired consistency. Watch it though, because it will go from “it could use a little more,” to “oh no, I’ve over-beaten the whipped cream!” in the space of a second. Once it gets thick and, well, whipped-cream-like, stop. Trust me on this one too.