Category Archives: Random

Our Thanksgiving Plan

It’s been a while since I(Deena)’ve posted something, hasn’t it?  Getting my dissertation written plus being on the job market unfortunately doesn’t leave me with a lot of creative energy, but today I have something I’m super excited to share with y’all.

To say that I am obsessed with the winter holidays might be the understatement of the year.  Thanksgiving is my favorite, because food, duh, and it is a perfect opportunity to relax for a day.

This year, we’re staying home and spending Thanksgiving with our neighbors.  It is going to be a wonderful, stress-free day full of good food, the wine I only buy for the holidays, and catching up with some of our favorite people.  We’re very lucky to live on a cul de sac in a nice-but-not-snooty suburban neighborhood, and we have better neighbors than I ever could have dreamed of.

Without further ado, here’s our plan for hosting this year!


Appetizers: I don’t want to take focus off the Thanksgiving meal, but I do want to provide some snacks for our guests to enjoy while we watch football.
-A big cheese board with 2 types of cheese (TDB, but I do love the Toscano from Trader Joe’s), crackers, salami, spice roasted pecans, grapes, and pickles.
-Cranberry baked brie with crackers (Not really using a recipe for this, but I am going to top a wheel of brie with cranberry sauce and wrap it in frozen puff pastry, then bake until it looks good)
-Spanakopita (Frozen from TJs)

Drinks: Thanksgiving is time to bust out the good wine!  This year we’re also serving a signature cocktail.  Beer is a must, and don’t forget the nonalcoholic drinks for kids or people who prefer not to drink.
-A double batch of these cranberry margaritas will serve as our signature cocktail.
-We’re also keeping a bottle of good (Bulleit) bourbon on hand, because it’s the south, y’all.
-A perfect but not too expensive red wine is Mollydooker: The Boxer (shiraz).  My uncle was kind enough to purchase this wine for our wedding, and it has since become our go-to special occasion wine.
-I’m not a huge white wine fan, at least not when it is cold, but turkey.  We’re serving the Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, which is a nice crisp, dry wine.
-A mix of microbrews and light beer.  We’re planning on serving Shiner Holiday Cheer, Aviator Frost Nipped, and Yuengling Light.
-Sparkling cranberry and apple juices (from Trader Joe’s) as a delicious nonalcoholic option.

The main meal: Here I’m going for classics with a twist.  Excited!
-Hickory smoked turkey.  I’m using one of the pre-brined turkeys from Trader Joe’s to save myself a little headache.  Also not really using a recipe but planning a bbq rub and loading the liquid reservoir of my smoker with either beer or cider.
-Gravy, courtesy of Whole Foods.  Since we’re smoking the turkey, I’m not sure what the dripping situation will be and I am leaving the gravy to the pros.  I already preordered and paid for it, and will pick it up after work on Tuesday.  How convenient is that?
-Mashed potatoes.  Y’all, I just bought a potato ricer and it is one of the best purchases I have ever made.  I’ll boil and rice the potatoes, then add salt, milk, and butter.
Sweet potato and swiss chard gratin.  I know people usually go for sugary sweet potato dishes, but I’ve made this before and it is just to die for.
-Cranberry sauce.  Again, no recipe except boiling cranberries, water, and sugar.  I am making about 5 bags’ worth as this is Nick’s favorite.
-My best friend Caroline’s macaroni and cheese.  She has a killer recipe, and kids just love it.
-Pepperidge Farm stuffing.  I tried a homemade cornbread dressing recipe a few weeks ago, but I used jiffy mix for the cornbread and the end result just had a bizarre texture.  I decided to keep it simple (stupid) and use the Pepperidge Farm mix my husband and I both like.  There’s no shame in some shortcuts when you have this much food to cook.
-My dad’s carrots.  Again, no recipe, but we caramelize them in a mixture of french onion soup mix, lemon, sugar, and water.
-My neighbor is bringing more veggies as well.  Need some green to cut through the carbs!
Pumpkin dinner rolls with cinnamon honey butter.  Tried these out a few weeks ago, and omg.  I am making a double batch and suspect that the kids will love them.

Dessert: I am serving the classic pumpkin pie alongside two desserts that are a little more fun.
-Decaf coffee.  Do people drink coffee with dessert, or is that just my family?  Regardless, I picked up some decaf beans.
Classic pumpkin pie.  I’ve never made a pumpkin pie before because my grandmother is the queen of pies, but this year I will give it a shot.  I’m not making the praline sauce (team whipped cream over here!), and I’m using frozen pie crust.  If you hate making pie crust like I do, I highly recommend the frozen pie crusts from Trader Joe’s.
-Homemade whipped cream.  Kitchen Aid to the rescue!
Nantucket cranberry pie.  This is so, so good.
Pumpkin whoopie pies with cinnamon cream cheese frosting.  I follow her cookie recipe exactly, but I am not a big maple syrup fan.  I instead make a cream cheese icing and spike it with cinnamon and nutmeg.  I made these as one of the desserts for Nick’s 29th birthday party, and the kids would have eaten the entire plate if their parents had let them.

Shopping/prep tips/misc: I want to do a more detailed post on this, and it will probably help y’all if I have hindsight after the day is over.  Here’s what I’m thinking now:
-I’m doing my grocery shopping in two rounds.  After work yesterday, I went and grabbed all the nonperishables.  Next Monday, I am planning on grabbing the turkey and all the vegetables after work.  There is no way I could have done it all in one trip by myself, but I think it is certainly possible to make one trip if you bring another person.  I wanted to save my slave driving for making my husband clean the house.
– I was surprised by how much serveware I was missing!  I ordered most missing things from amazon, and bought foil pans and cocktail napkins from Target.  I am serving my apps, dinner, and dessert on these plates, because I know I am going to trash my kitchen in the cooking process.  My spread may not look like something from Southern Living, but it will be delicious!
-I am planning to set up a self-serve bar/apps table and then put the dinner food on a buffet table.  I’m not really sure how I will decorate the dinner table, but I figure that tea lights and flowers are usually a win.  I bought these cheap but festive napkins in orange.  Decorating is not my forte.
-We have 2 children coming so I wanted to get them something special.  I’m sure it isn’t fun to hang out with adults all the time!  I bought things to make them treat bags, and I got them each a small toy (Target dollar spot).  I also bought a gingerbread house making kit and plan on having board games on hand to fight off restlessness.
-Last month’s Real Simple had a really good article on pet etiquette surrounding the holidays.  My plan is to brush the cats and dog on Wednesday, then clean the hell out of my house.  I won’t be vacuuming on Thursday as that can stir up dander and aggravate guests’ allergies.  The dog will be in his crate and the cats will be upstairs during our gathering.

That’s all I have for now.  What are your Thanksgiving plans?  Is Thanksgiving your favorite holiday, too?

Relax, You Won’t Get Ebola

I kind of chuckle at all the Ebola hysteria out there. so let’s put some numbers to this outbreak to show why

  • if you live in the USA
  • Don’t travel to West Africa
  • And don’t work in the health care system…

…you won’t get Ebola (300 million Americans fit this profile). I’ll even calculate worst case scenarios to show that even in the worst case, you have nothing to worry about.

WARNING: This isn’t going to be some fancy journalistic writing…it’s my back of the napkin calculations that I did over two slices of pizza, and one hour my wife was at the grocery store.

WARNING 2: Because these are back of the napkin calculations, I use some unfounded assumptions. But each unfounded assumption is likely worse-than-worst case scenario.

First lets start with something called the basic reproduction number of an infectious disease, which we designate, R0. To keep it simple, this number represents the average number of uninfected people infected by someone else who has a certain disease. In any given population:

  • if R0 is greater than 1 then a disease will continue to spread throughout said population
  • If R0 is less than 1 then the disease will eventually die out in that population

For Ebola, the value of R0 in the West African Ebola outbreak is between about 1.7 and 2. This means, if things don’t improve, the disease will continue to spread within that population.


That’s within the West African population (and even then mainly confined to Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia). Think about that. These people have poor medical care, often Ebola patients still intermingle with other people (usually family members), and often do not safely bury the deceased. Even with all that, one person only infects 1.7-2 people on average!

Since most of you reading this are in developed countries this R0 number doesn’t apply to your population.

Let’s think about this. So far we’ve had eight cases of Ebola in the United States. This includes five people who were evacuated to the United States AFTER being diagnosed. So far, four cases have concluded. Three people were discharged after Ebola ran its course, and one person died. That’s a fatality rate of 25%. Four other cases are still being treated.

If we just take the cases that originated in the United States, then we have three cases.

  • One person contracted Ebola in Liberia, flew to the United States, then developed symptoms, was diagnosed, treated, and died.
  • Two health care workers who attended to the first patient have since contracted Ebola, and both are currently receiving treatment.

A few observations about this:

  • Nobody who was on the plane with the original (also called index) case got Ebola
  • The only people who contracted Ebola were health care workers who treated the original patient
  • So far, we have one completed case of Ebola from these three people, and two others infected from the index case, so R0 is 2
  • IF neither of these other two people infect another person, then R0 would drop to 0.67, and the disease will have died out within the United States (for this index case)
  • IF we include the completed cases of those brought to the United States after having contracted Ebola, then the current R0 within the United States is 0.5 (two people within the United States have been infected from four completed cases)
  • IF all current cases treated or diagnosed within the United States complete with no transmissions, then R0 will be 0.25 (two transmitted cases within the United States out of eight total cases)

I understand those last three bullets are hypothetical, but they do show that with good tracking, good procedures, good sanitation, and good medical care, we can get R0 below the critical threshold of 1. I feel pretty confident about that, given that in West Africa there is poor tracking, procedures, sanitation, and medical care, yet R0 is only between 1.7 and 2.

Let’s dive even deeper. As we know, one of these two remaining cases did in fact travel by airplane around the time of first symptoms (there are reports it was the day before, and newer reports saying there may have been signs earlier). Let’s assume worst case scenario that this person did fly while contagious. Then at worst, out of an abundance of caution, around 800 people that flew on one of the two planes in the time after the subject flew but before the planes were removed from service are being contacted or tracked.

This means at worst:

  • 8 patients
  • An unknown amount of health care workers
  • And 800 people associated with the flights of the traveling patient…

…are the sum total of possible exposures. If we round this up to 1000 to account for the unknown amount of health care workers, that means about 0.0003% of the total United States population has maybe been exposed to Ebola.

Of those 1000 people, the way for them to contract Ebola would be for them to have come in contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person. I don’t know about you, but I typically don’t come into contact with someone else’s bodily fluids on an airplane. Let’s assume that of these 800 people that flew with or after the third Ebola patient flew, that 25% of them sat in the vicinity of the patient and/or used the bathroom after the patient did. Now we’re talking 200 people, plus the additional 200 health care workers we estimated from rounding. Now we’re talking 0.00125% of the population possibly being exposed.

Even then, we know not all of these people would come into contact with the patient’s bodily fluid and contract Ebola. So far, out of our assumed 200 health care workers, 100 have been from completed cases, and we have 2 transmissions for a rate of 1 in 50 (2%). Let’s assume 2% of our 400 people get Ebola, then we have a total of 8 more cases.

That would bring us to a grand total of 16 cases out of 320,000,000 people, or 0.000005% of the population, or 1 in 20 million.

Of those, let’s take the worst case estimate of the case fatality rate for the current outbreak of 70%. Then out of all those exposed to Ebola so far, approximately 12 people would die from the current Ebola outbreak within the United States, or 1 in 26.7 million.

Given the original 6 cases of Ebola, there would have been 10 more cases for an R0 of 1.67. That’s for a worst case scenario! Our worst case scenario is less than the best case scenario for West Africa!!!

But think about this…these eight cases so far have all been from people who were in West Africa, or a health care worker who treated someone who was in West Africa. Of the other assumed cases, we assumed it would be split half and half between health care workers and general population (those on the plane). So only four, yes, FOUR out of 300 million non-health care workers, non-West Africa visitors, would in the worst case contract Ebola in the month since it was first diagnosed within the United States. That’s 1 in 75 million people. And of those, only three would likely die, meaning worst case 1 in 100 million Americans in the general population might die as the third generation of transmission of Ebola within the United States. Any further deaths would either be from a new index patient, or from the third generation of this current case passing it on to a fourth generation.

So, for the three cases of Ebola where the people were out in the general public (the original case diagnosed in the United States, plus the two people he transmitted it to), only FOUR people in the general population as a worst case scenario will contact Ebola. That puts the R0 at 1.33. And if we did even 1 person better than that, suddenly the R0 is at the magic number of 1 (meaning it wouldn’t die out, but at any given time the average number of people with Ebola would be the same).

And again…I’m almost assuredly severely over-estimating these chances, so that I can present the worst case scenario. So therefore, I’m almost assuredly saying we’ll be at the R0 value of 1 or less in the general population, and this current episode will get snuffed out within the general population, until the point we can get it snuffed out from the health care/West African traveling population (which will only happen when the current outbreak in West Africa ends).

So, there may be a few handfuls of times Ebola crops up in the United States until the current West African outbreak is fully eradicated. But in each case, if you’re in the general population, you have a minuscule chance of catching Ebola. Something like 1 in tens of millions. And your chances of dying from it are even less.

So we’ve had 4 completed potential index cases in the United States in a 3 month span, with 2 more index cases receiving treatment. That’s two per month. However, that rate will almost surely pick up simply because the rate is still increasing in West Africa. But even if we assume worst case an average of 10 new index cases per month, that’s 120 per year. So if we’re at the R0 value of 1 or less, as we can safely assume, then we may see 360 cases in the next year in the general American population, and 250 deaths. That’s greater than a one in one million chance of you dying from Ebola within the next year. Again, that’s using worst case death rates, a worst-case projection of the number of new cases in the next 12 months, and a near worst case projection of transmission of these cases to the general public.

To put it simpler, even in the worst case scenario, if you’re in the general population then you have about twice the chance of getting struck by lightning in a given year than dying from Ebola…and you don’t worry about getting struck by lightning, do you?

I’m not losing any sleep over it, or giving it a single worry. I suggest you do the same. You’ll enjoy life more by not worrying!


PS: This

A Weekend in Food

Hi everyone! We had a fantastic weekend full of food (okay, and cleaning). Here’s what we ate!

On Friday night we celebrated our friends’ recent engagement with dinner at the Stanbury.  Everything we had was delicious, but my favorite was the scallop crudo.  We’re super excited for our friends as they start a new chapter in their lives, and this was a great place to celebrate!

On Saturday, we spent most of the day cleaning and decided to relax and eat dinner at home.  I made bbq red snapper tacos, inspired by the bbq mahi tacos at one of my favorite restaurants.  Easy, healthy, and delicious.

Fish tacos!

On Sunday, we started the day with a bowl of this quick but delicious granola, yogurt, and sliced peaches.  And lots of coffee.  We’ve learned that buying a big house with two full time jobs sometimes means we need to just take a weekend and hit the reset button–especially when it comes to our bedroom, which we probably had not cleaned in a somewhat embarrassing amount of time.

Nick worked so hard this weekend! I thought he deserved a special reward, so  I made him a perfect summer cocktail on Sunday night.  I peeled and muddled one peach (one beautiful peach from my favorite lady at the farmers’ market) and a couple of basil leaves.  I then added bourbon and ice, and there you have it.  It was too strong for me, but Nick just loved it.

Nick’s new favorite cocktail

Ever since my parents bought us a smoker, our Sunday dinners have changed for the better.  We started a rack of beef back ribs around lunchtime on Sunday, and by 6 pm they were perfect.   I also sliced up some of our garden tomatoes and drizzled them with olive oil and salt, and steamed some white corn.   It was a delicious seasonal dinner, and I am looking forward to many more adventures with our new toy.

Smoked beef ribs

What did you eat this weekend?


Fun Stuff: May (and some June) Edition

Okay people, I know it is almost July.  Work has been absolutely nuts and we’ve both been traveling like its going out of style.  Here’s what we’ve been up to for the last month (and some)!

Nick went to Denmark for work, and I was lucky enough to be able to go along.  We had a great time wandering around Copenhagen and enjoying the local culture.  We capped the trip off with a visit to my aunt and uncle’s house in Geneva.  The picture below is from a day trip we took to Yvoire, France.  Wonderful views and excellent gelato!

We're in France!
We’re in France!

We enjoyed a quiet Memorial Day at home, including getting our house back together(ish), having our crazy race day, and visiting our neighborhood pool.

We also added more to our veggie garden, bringing our tomato plants up to a grand total of seven!  We already have some big tomatoes, and we are impatiently waiting for them to ripen.  I have never successfully gotten jalapenos to grow before, but this year all three plants are growing like crazy.  We also have about 12 small crookneck squash and 6 small cucumbers.  I am so excited and preparing for our summer vegetable explosion.

Last week we traveled in parallel.  Nick went to Indy for a Fuel Ethanol conference, and I went to Stuttgart, Germany for a water resources conference.  I was able to take an afternoon and visit the Klinsmann Bakery (owned by the family of US Soccer Coach Jurgen Klinsmann–he also worked there!) in Boatneng which was just beyond neat.  The bakery was incredibly pastoral and made no mention of soccer or Klinsmann’s fame, save for some cookies shaped like soccer players.  While in Germany, I also got to spend time with some friends from UNC and visit family friends in Heidelberg.

Klinsmann Bakery
Klinsmann Bakery

Speaking of US Soccer, World Cup fever is in full force over here at the Giffen residence.  To say we have been going crazy is a bit of an understatement.

This weekend, we’re taking a quick trip up to Richmond for a wedding, then running home on Sunday to host some friends for the USA game.  We hope you had a great month, and GO USA!


Fun Stuff: April Edition

Hi everyone!  Today I’m sharing some of our favorites from our lives this month.

I made a huge easter dinner even though it was just the two of us.  Ham, sweet potato and chard gratin, deviled eggs, green beans with candied pecans, and a beet, citrus, and mint salad.  For dessert we had lemon mascarpone and mango sorbet parfaits.  And a Bellini bar.  It was a beautiful day, so we had dinner outside and enjoyed the nice weather.

We had so much fun at the Tar Heel 10 Miler!  It was a tough race, including a 1 mile climb up Laurel Hill at the end of the race.  They gave us separate splits for Laurel Hill, and Nick finished third in his age group!  Afterwards we explored Chapel Hill and Carrboro.  We looked at plants at the North Carolina Botanical Garden (they have carnivorous plants!), then sampled some beers at the Steel String Craft Brewery, and had a lovely dinner at Kipos.  We are definitely going to sign up for this race again next year!

Coming off of the race, Nick has decided he wants to run a mile PR (his PR was 6:14 back in high school) and will be using this plan.  We’ll keep you updated!

I cannot wait to make this pad thai salad.  I LOVE pad thai, and this looks perfect for the hot summer months.

In girly news, I finally bought this Garnier BB cream.  I’m now wondering why I waited so long to try BB cream.  This stuff is amazing–the moisturizer is light enough so that I don’t break out, and the tint covers small blemishes.  I’m obsessed.

I’ve been looking for closed toe shoes that look good with shorts.  I run a lot, and a weekly pedi just isn’t a thing for me.  I ended up with a pair of sperrys and a pair of toms.

This year was the one year that I got my veggie garden in the ground on time, but we got frost April 15 and 16!  I covered the plants with plastic bags each night, and everything survived.  I planted Greek basil, Thai basil, mint (in a planter!), rosemary, crookneck squash, grape tomatoes, yellow tomatoes, cucumbers, and jalapeños.  I am wishing I had more bed space so I could plant more stuff!

We hope you had a wonderful month!