What shall I do?

I know I want to run a 5k and half marathon. Okay, so I want to run, but I will end up power walking instead. Maybe try out some new ethnic cuisines. Travel to some new spots. Try some new classes. Support a new charity. Some may be exciting adventures, some may be boring. I welcome your suggestions for something new to try.

Monday, February 27, 2012

#29 - My Hats Off to You!

Some of you know I am a miniaturist.  I have a line of miniatures I make or repurpose for Wee Forest Folk displays called Of Mice & Minis.  I belong to a miniature club and attend miniature shows and events.  I have been very fortunate living in an area with some active miniaturists who are either rock stars or good friends of rock stars in the miniature world.  If you don't believe me, just ask my fellow mouser and miniaturist Lee who often drools at opportunities that fall into my lap.

Saturday an artist who is teaching a workshop in Portland in a few months offered the workshop to us locals as a practice run. This miniature artist makes miniature tatted doilies, hats and other adorable items.  This happened to be a hat class where we made four 1/4" scale hats.  For those that don't know, a typical dollhouse is 1" scale, meaning 1" = 12".  Quarter scale is 1/4 that size, 1" = 48", so we are talking tiny.  Good light and reading glasses are essential to this kind of work.
I normally just buy something like this if I am decorating a shop or room we have made at one of our events.  But it seemed like a good idea to learn how to make these as I could adapt them to 1/2" scale to work in my mice displays. In the photo, the hat stands are a straight pin glued to a bead.  A fimo clay head with embroidery floss hair is added to make the platform for the hats.  Believe it or not, I found one of the hardest things to be gluing the pins to their bases.  They just did not want to stick together, despite using super glue.  They ended up a bit more crooked than I would have liked and I lagged behind the other students.  I finally got them together though and could advance onto the actual making of the chapeaus.

The hats themselves are just a scrap of fabric with a bit of glue brushed on them to give them some flexible rigidity.  The workshop she will be teaching is for the four seasons so she did a winter, spring, summer and fall hat.  After molding the fabric to the heads, you shape the hats and then add bits of feather, greenery, beads and other trim.  All in all the class took about 4 hours, including a lunch break.  I went a little flamboyant on my hats, but I think it makes them look fun. They will look fantastic in the dress shop we are making for our next State Day project.

I am actually excited to give this a try in some hats that are more mouse sized and making a dress shop or dressing room display for Zelda or Flapper Franny or any of the other abundance of female mice in the Wee Forest Folk line (male mice are horribly underrepresented). They will have to wait though as the Nursery Rhyme theme of Mouse Expo 2012 will take over my studio hours.  Until then, my hats are off to you...

Sunday, February 12, 2012

#28 You say Ris"O"tto, I say Ris"ah"tto...

I love Gordon Ramsay.  Maybe not some of his dishes (look over the menu at Maze in London sometime), but the man knows food and how to pair it with success.  On Hell's Kitchen a menu staple is risotto.  Now you and I would normally order it as risOHtto, but in his charming British accent he calls it risAHtto.  It never ceases to amaze me when budding chefs on Hell's Kitchen struggle with making this dish.  If you've ever watched even one season you pretty much know you shouldn't even be applying unless you have mastered it or Chef Ramsay will be throwing your risahtto across the kitchen.

While I have tasted risotto, I have never ordered it or made it.  Seriously, I just can't seeing paying $9 for a bowl of rice.  It might taste heavenly and yes it is a bit of a pain to cook, but it's still a $9 grain.  I just can't bring myself to do it.  So to salve my rare burst of frugality, I decided I should try making risotto and see what all the fuss is about.

Risotto can be made from several varieties of short grained, high starch Italian rice.  I used Arborio because after diligent research into the best variety, it was the only type carried at my grocers. Being short grained, it absorbs the liquid and releases starch making it a creamy, almost pasta like dish. Don't expect any fluffy rice from these varieties.

Your typical rice is low maintenance.  Boil water, throw in the rice, cover and simmer for 20 minutes while leaving it alone.  But a risotto rice takes a bit more pampering.  Stock imparts greater flavor into the dish than water.  It should be cooked over a low heat with stock slowly added as it gets absorbed into the rice.  It needs to be stirred, but not so much that you break up the rice grains. After 25 minutes of babysitting your dish, you hopefully have a nice flavorful bowl of creamy, slightly al dente, risotto.

I have to say with just broth, mushrooms, parmesan cheese and a few seasonings I ended up with a fairly nice dish.  It was creamy and had a slight bite to it.  I don't consider it a first course or main dish though.  It's strictly a side dish and nothing I would ever pay $9 for in a restaurant.  It isn't something I'll fix often because frankly I'd rather use those calories on something I enjoy a whole lot more than rice.  Still, I do see the occasional risotto in my future...

Monday, January 30, 2012

#27 - The Meetup and the Piano Man...

Make that Piano Men.  In the fall Tim and I had a serious talk about how we needed to improve our social life.  Working from home cuts down on the number of people you interact with and you start to accept the isolation.  Previously our groups of friends tended to come from our children's activities, but they have now flown the nest and those friendships have drifted away.  Family is too far away for any kind of social activity as are our closest friends from softball and mousing around.  So in order to become more social and expand our circle locally we have started dating of sorts.

Last year with the kids at school and Tim working away in Connecticut I discovered meetup.com. It's a lovely website where people can start groups based on a common interest and others can join in.  I became a member of several groups just to get me out of the house, though I rarely went to any of the meet ups they had.  There is a wide variety of people looking to get together and I joined a photography, poker, game night, dining, over 40 and movie groups.  We've met some nice people at these meet ups.  Although I confess I was a little uncomfortable at the movies during a humorous adult scene that made me howl with laughter while a pastor in the group was seated next to me.

We met a couple at one of our groups and decided to meet outside the group to get to know each other better.  Going "out" presents a challenge for people our age.  We think we are young and hip and cool, but are constantly reminded by our children that we are the most uncool beings on earth. So we needed to think outside our normal box of dinner, ice cream and then home to bed.  Tim had heard about a dueling piano bar uptown.  In fact Salt Lake has TWO dueling piano bars.  Who would have thought that?  So we chose the Tavernacle and headed there after dinner with our meet up friends.

This being my first dueling piano bar, I wasn't sure what to expect.  The format worked this way. There were request slips on the tables.  You could suggest they play any song for free, but your suggestion was bumped to a request if a tip was included.  The bigger the tip the quicker it was played.  But there was a twist...if you hated a song being played you could get them to stop if you paid $1 more than the original tip.  If they stopped a song (and they paid to stop several) you could add another dollar to the total and get it restarted.  Either no one loved their song enough to get it started again for double the price or they were too embarrassed to admit they were the ones who requested it in the first place.

From 9-11 the songs were PG-13.  C Lo Green's song would have been Forget You if it had been played at that time.  Instead it was played after 11 and most of the patrons sang along to the more bawdy chorus.  There were quite a few groups there celebrating birthdays and one bachelorette party. The piano men bantered, told jokes, and had audience members up on the stage to perform various antics.  The only duel though seemed to be which piano player collected the most tips.

Life is like a piano, what you get out of it depends on how you play it and these guys played it well. Overall we had a great time.  It was entertaining and we got to let our hair down without buying any of those $8 drinks at the bar.  My only complaint was one of my songs, with a $5 tip attached, never got played.  I'm not sure if those who were drinking were tipping higher as their common sense faded or if I just got lost in the shuffle.  But even with the awol request it was a pleasure to see the ivories tickled along with our funny bones.  While it wasn't classical, to quote Arnold..."I'll be Bach"...

Sunday, January 8, 2012

#26...You can have your cake and eat it too...if they are cupcakes!

I am a cupcake aficionado.  However, this enthusiasm has been formerly contained to the act of eating cupcakes.  I am the target cupcake customer and I have frequented many a shop in my lifetime.  Hell, I frequented two just in the past week!  But I have yet to find the ultimate cupcake, that perfect combination of cake and toppings that fills your mouth with an orgasm in every bite.  Oh I have come close, but if the cake is too die for, the frosting is too sweet.  Or if the icing is perfection, the cake is too dry.  There always seems to be one element missing from my ideal and so the quest continues.

Now making my own cupcakes is another matter.  I love a bake shop cake, but the box mixes leave me flat.  However, the ease of a box mix can't be beat.  You see, as much as I love to experiment in the kitchen to recreate meals I have seen or eaten or just to come up with something on my own, I HATE TO BAKE!  Did I say I hate to bake?  I can not stress enough how much I hate baking!  Oh, I can do cookies and brownies fine enough.  Even my pies are not too bad.  But cakes take precise ingredients to come out as they should.  I don't do precise.  I don't follow recipes.  I add a little of this and a pinch of that.  That works out fine with a cookie or pie, but it can spell disaster for a cake. Thus I have avoided baking one from scratch since home ec.  And I have never tried cupcakes from scratch.

The research took longer than the actual baking. I looked at dozens of recipes and couldn't make a decision.  I'm a bit picky about how my cupcakes should taste.  I like it dense, flavorful and super moist.  None of these dry fluffy cakes for me.  But you can't tell that from a recipe...at least I can't. Then I was hit with inspiration.  My favorite cake is a coffee cake so why not make coffee cake cupcakes.  I settled on the second recipe I found.

I must confess I still could not stick to the recipe.  It seems I have a problem with authority, especially in the kitchen. No one is going to tell me what to do, even if it is a recipe.  I had two over-ripe bananas that were just begging me to be added to the batter, so I threw them in the mixer.  And if you look at the photos, the ones with frosting and the streusel on top are how they are supposed to look.  But on one batch I just threw the streusel on top of the batter and let it cook in, more like a traditional coffee cake.  The original recipe with the frosting tasted better as the streusel was more of the star of the cupcake.  I'm pleased to say my cupcakes were deliciously moist with a nice bit of banana flavor.  I did pretty good for my first ever cupcakes from scratch.

One of my dreams has always been to own a cupcake truck that goes to various locales to sell the delicious treats.  But the reality is I would enjoy testing and selling them, but would still hate baking them.  So a more realistic dream would be for me to have a pie truck.  I can taste test, sell and bake little pies and hopefully gain more dollars than weight doing so.  Of course, my star pie would be made from imported olallieberries from the central coast.  Nothing beats an olallieberry pie.  And the name of the truck?  Occu-pie Salt Lake City...

Thursday, January 5, 2012

#25...The Ironman and me...

In November I completed an Ironman competition.  Yes, it is true.  I have the t-shirt to prove it.  For those who do not know what an Ironman is, you must bike 112 miles, swim 2.4 miles and run a marathon.  Now normally these are all done in the same day.  Thank God the South Jordan Fitness Center saw the wisdom in letting their members have TWO WEEKS to complete theirs.

I had a nice little chart telling me how many segments I should complete each day on average to finish the challenge.  The marathon was the easy part.  We usually walk & jog at least 3 miles a day at the gym, so I didn't even have to go in on weekends for that one.  Two weeks to go 26.2 miles was a breeze.

Swimming 2.4 miles (170 laps) was also no problem over two weeks.  We only have two lanes for laps at our pool so they also allowed you to walk the lazy river around our pool and count it as 2 laps. It was easy to knock out 40 laps in less than an hour.  This was also the most enjoyable of the challenges, as the seniors have morning water aerobics and they keep the pool delightfully warm until 10am.

Biking was the hard part.  And it would have been even harder had I been totally honest.  I admit I cheated a bit.  Well maybe more than a bit.  But while the pool had an easy advantage with the lazy river option, the biking was completely unfair in a gym setting.  You did have the option of riding your own bike and not just the stationary bikes at the gym.  After day one, riding just 6 miles on the bike, I was getting upset.  A gym bike does not allow for coasting.  You are pedaling constantly.  How unfair is that?  Those real ironman competitors get to pedal, then coast while the momentum of the bike continues as they rest their weary legs.  Add a downhill section and they can practically take a nap too.  Not so with the gym bikes. So I fudged a bit.  I doubled the miles I would ride daily to account for coasting.  Some would probably say that was immoral.  I tend to justify it though because a normal triathlon bike ride takes about 5-6 hours.  I put in 11 hours on the stationary bike at the gym and at home, double what a true competitor would have had to accomplish.

Now I am normally a very honest person.  If I am undercharged at a store, I point it out to the clerk. I don't like to lie, even when it is one of those little white lies you say to keep from hurting someone's feelings.  And no matter what Tim says, I do not cheat at board games.  I would much rather win fair and square.  But I also think things should be reasonable and the stationary bike was totally unfair. It appears I can cheat easily when I feel sufficient outrage at an unjust situation.  I'm not sure if my morals are slipping or if they are just aging and getting to that stage where you just don't give a damn anymore, kind of like going out without make-up on.  Either way I'm not going to beat myself up over it.  Just getting to the gym and my age is accomplishment enough...

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

#23 & #24...Mum's the word...

Some new things are best left unsaid.  #23 was something my closest friends know about, but not something I want in print because my kids find it embarrassing.  They don't seem to understand that it is a parents job TO embarrass their kids.  But I am caving in to the pressure as they will be choosing my rest home soon enough.  I'll just say it involved a surgical procedure that was not nearly as embarrassing as the one I had a few months before I turned 50 IMO.  That one involved not being able to sit down comfortably for a few days.

#24?  I'm not even going to venture into trying to explain this one, but it was something very different from my usual routine.  It's not embarrassing at all, just the kind of thing that is personal and if shared is TMI.

I think I could probably add another 5 or 6 things to the list I have done in the past year that are of a more private nature, but I'll try and keep doing things you can read about, instead of wonder about...

Sunday, November 13, 2011

#22 - The Bag Lady & B. Makowsky...

My name is Brenda and I have a problem. (Hello Brenda).  It's been 3 months since my last purse...

Yes, it is true.  I am a purse-a-holic!  I have an entire cupboard over my telephone desk dedicated to my addiction. And it's not just any purse.  No, I am addicted to designer handbags.  I blame it all on Coco Chanel.  Those cute little black and white C's on a quilted background were what hooked me.  I coveted that purse for many years.  Oh sure, Dooney & Burke and Coach helped sate my cravings along the way, but I eventually purchased that Chanel bag.  And then another, and then another.  Oh and Kate Spade seemed to worm her way into my cupboard space as well.  Her winter line always draws me in.

Now all you men reading this are just hearing blah, blah, blah at this point.  But many of you women out there understand.  A handbag reveals the person you are.  I love my Mom to death, but her purse speaks volumes about her.  They are cheap and functional, true to her more practical nature.  I didn't get that gene.  I want a purse that says "sure she's wearing a sweatshirt and jeans, but she has style and class, she appreciates the finer things in life...just look at her handbag!"

A few years back I decided to turn my addiction into a mission.  The goal, to eventually own a purse by each deisgner.  As a woman of limited means, I am a long way from achieving my goal. However, it is a journey that will bring me great pleasure for years to come.  I'm not interested in just having another notch on the post though.  There are plenty of ugly designer bags out there that could have had shelf space in my purse cupboard.  But they would have said "she had money, but no taste".   So my quest for purse perfection includes three major rules...1. A bag brand I do not already own, 2. It must be adorably eye-catching and distinctive, and 3. It must be at least 50% off (70-80% is even better).  My best score so far was a Marc Jacobs bag in a supple cobalt blue leather, retail $2,350...I snagged it for $219 at a Nordstroms in L.A.  Talk about a natural high!

Now getting to my 50-50 challenge.  This summer I was shopping with Ariel at Nordstroms Rack.  I can't remember what we were looking for, but the handbag section seemed to be calling me.  While Nordstroms is a favorite place to purchase my handbags, the Rack usually has the ugly bags mentioned above.  But this day was different.  Amongst those hideous Juicy Coutures and Michael Kors bags was a charming B. Makowsky bag in a sunny yellow with tassels, zippers and pyramid studs.  Oh, and leopard print lining, how fashionable is that?  OK, so I like my handbags to be a little more youthful, there's nothing wrong with that.  I'm not over the hill yet and I can always go to one of my Chanel bags when I want to do classic.  And this bag was yellow!  YELLOW!  I had been looking for a yellow bag for ages!  This bag was delightful, a virgin brand to my cupboard, and was 60% off. It met all of my criteria.  Out came the Nordstroms card and into my life came this extravagance that left me feeling giddy with guilty pleasure.

I have used my sweet little yellow bag all summer and well into fall.  Now that the snow has been falling it is probably time to find it a spot in the purse cupboard and bring out one of my darling Kate Spade felt bags.  I always feel a bit guilty sticking that new purse into the cupboard for the first time.  I blame that on Toy Story, giving inanimate objects feelings.  Damn you Pixar!  I hate hurting my purses feelings.  We are a family and I know they sense that I have favorites.  I know they feel rejection when they are not getting the attention they crave. Apparently for my next challenge, I need to seek out a handbag therapist...