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Excuse Me, It’s Baking Time

11 Aug

Apple & Oat Muffins

In the US, we get new seasons of “The Great British Bake Off” a long time after they air in Britain, which means a couple things:

  1. I spend weeks ignoring the “GBBO Bakers: Where are they now?” articles my British friend Angcha sends me because she’s already seen them.
  2. I have bursts of binge baking, which during summer is not the best idea.

The binge baking is good for my friends though–a few years ago for Christmas, I started giving friends empty mason jars. The deal is that I fill them with a recipe I’ve been wanting to try. They eat it and give it back. I refill them throughout the year–usually this is randomly, and sometimes I go for months without doing anything, but then Bake Off is on, and out come the baking tins and GBBO-related cookbooks. It’s a decent system though–the jar method of sharing certainly makes it easier on my waistline, and it’s fun to share the bakes.

Over the last few weeks I’ve made my first tart, done my first blind-bake of a pastry crust and made English muffins. Last night I did my first hot water crust and put together my first meat pie (we’ll find out tonight if it’s any good). Today I’m attempting meringue for the first time as well.

Some friends have asked if I’d ever want to be on a Bake-Off show, but honestly, I’d be petrified. I’ve been a “tried and true recipe” kind of baker. When I make cookies, it’s pretty much just chocolate chip. For bread, I stick to pretzel. For cake, I use the Boy’s vegan chocolate cake recipe, which is plenty tasty and gets around a lot of allergies. It’s not that I don’t mind trying new things–I ventured out into whoopie pies, for instance, but even then, I haven’t ventured into the pages of the whoopie pie cookbook I got as a gift. Yet.

While it’s easier to stay with the tried and true, sometimes they become tired and true (which, incidentally, is how I typed it at first). Sure, I know how to do them well, but it really is exciting to attempt a new recipe–which, even if it fails, is fun because then the challenge is figuring out where it went wrong and correcting those mistakes.

So, maybe I would do Bake-Off someday, given the chance. Just not today–I have a lot more to learn before I’d consider myself an all-around Star Baker. And that starts right now with Italian meringue.

The Phrase that Pays

4 Aug

Poison Ivy display at the Harvard Museum of Natural History

This week, the Boy and I went to the Harvard Museum of Natural History, and while the animal galleries were fantastic and the glass flowers were pretty unbelievable (really, the flowers don’t look like glass at all), what really caught my eye was a little interactive quiz about poison ivy.

The purpose of the quiz was to show you how poison ivy is a pretty wily plant, but I was more fascinated by the sheer number of rhymes to help you remember what to look for:

Red leaflets in spring, it’s a dangerous thing.”

“Longer middle stem, stay away from them.”

“Side leaflets like mittens will itch like the dickens.”

“Berries white, run in fright!”

“Hairy vine, no friend of mine!”

I said as much to the Boy, who responded, “Well, have you ever had poison ivy? It’s really bad!”

That evening, I was reading some of David Sedaris’ Theft by Finding, and I came across a similar rhyming  warning:

“Beer on wine, you’re fine. Wine on beer, stand clear.”

To which I thought, Huh. I haven’t heard that one. Because I know:

“Wine before beer, you’re in the clear. Beer before wine is not so fine.”

“Hard before beer, you’re in the clear. Beer before hard, you’re in the yard.”

“Wine before liquor, never sicker. Liquor before wine, you’re doing fine.”

I guess sometimes you need all those rhymes to help you remember not to do something stupid. The effects of the latter though are maybe not as itchy.

Postcard from Vermont

21 Jul

Green Mountain Adventure Challenge #vermonttime

Can you uncover a hidden treasure in the woods of Vermont? The Boy and I thought we could, so a couple of weekends ago we hightailed it up to Dover to participate in the Green Mountain Adventure Challenge.

The challenge runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day and is meant to be something you and another person (or group of people) do in a weekend, but if you don’t get it done in the weekend, you can keep coming back until you finish (or just simply quit).

We got one of the challenge’s travel packages, which included a couple of nights at a local inn–we highly recommend the Cooper Hill Inn–lovely proprietors, comfortable rooms, stunning view, and we were off. Checked in on Friday afternoon and then started the hunt.

The challenge is tough–let’s just get that out there. It’s mentally challenging (I might still be working on it today if it wasn’t for the Boy, since my brain didn’t really think a certain way for the last part of the puzzle). It’s physically challenging.

But it’s worth it.

Friday was a scramble in trying to figure out what we were looking for. We figured out the clue that would set us on the right path, but then we were stumped. Wandered around a field and found nothing. Made a short hike much longer. Went back to the field and paired up with a group that helped us realize just what we were supposed to find, which meant we had to redo that short hike–and the sun was going down.

We drove like crazy and ran through the woods. The Boy lost his glasses at one point, and luckily I found them before it got any darker–or he stepped on them. Found our clue, hightailed out of there. Drove to another part of the area and found some more in-town clues until we realized we’d better stop for dinner before all the restaurants closed.

Saturday was hiking day–we knew we’d have at least one “moderate” hike. Hiking levels always make me laugh–this was hilly, so it wasn’t moderate to me. It was also rainy, so all of the roots and rocks covering the path were pretty slippery. Still, the walk was fun, and the view at the top was foggy, but beautiful of what we could see.

Coming down, we were walking through clouds, which was cool until they opened up, and it started pouring. Tree cover kept us from being completely soaked, but we were definitely pretty wet.

We got to dry off when the weather moved out and we discovered that we had to do another, much steeper hike to reach another clue. Tough, but rewarding, both in the view (this post’s cover photo) and in the physical accomplishment.

Still, by the end of Saturday, we didn’t really know where we stood on actually completing the challenge, and it felt like we weren’t going to finish before we had to leave. Then we saw this on the way to dinner:

Double Rainbow during #vermontime

And knew that we would.

It took a couple more hours on Sunday–and we ended up collaborating with others who were in our same boat–but we finished. We solved it!

I believe that means we get a share in the final jackpot, but honestly, getting through it was reward enough. Plus, we got the reward of a weekend in a beautiful part of the country.

You should try it.

 

 

This Kitchen Accessory Tugs on Your Heartstrings

14 Jul

Last weekend, the Boy and I went up to Vermont (report to come), and on the way we stopped at Saxtons River Distillery in Brattleboro–well, more like, we read about it at the Vermont Welcome Center on I-91, and when we happened to be driving past, we took a hard right into the parking lot.

While the Boy was talking with the owner, I wandered around the shop and saw these cutting boards on a little display with a series of notes telling the story of why a distillery was selling unbranded cutting boards.

The boards happen to the be the work of the owner’s kids, who started selling them because they wanted to get a beta fish and a hamster. “Also save some to pay for our colleges.”

In the first update, they’d ended up buying gerbils (and thank you for the help, customers); however, gerbils need ongoing care, so they’re still selling the boards to pay for their upkeep. Then in the second update, disaster! While they’re still trying to earn money for college, they need to replace one of their gerbils because their cat killed it. “So we need to buy a new one. Also buy a new lid for the cage.”

How can you not want to help?

The owner told us the backstory–The kids want extra pets, but the household rule is that they’re going to have to pay for them. He actually cuts the boards because the kids are too young to work the saw, but they attach feet and put on the finish. The gerbils are fun, but they like to chew on things and are masters of getting out of their cages, so that’s how one of them met an unfortunate end with the cat.

The cutting board itself is quite nice (cherry wood) and is a decent size–and when I use it, I think of these kids and their quest for pets (and college). Makes me smile thinking that I’ve helped a little bit–and I’ve helped a parent teach his children a good lesson about work and money, which will definitely help them in the future.

 

I, Influencer (or, How Did I Get on this List?)

2 Dec

Yesterday started out with a round a questioning from the Boy:

“Where are you going again tonight?”

“I’m going to CambridgeSide to an Influencers’ holiday party.”

“How are you an ‘Influencer’ again?”

How am I an Influencer?! What kind of question is that? Is this not the face of an Influencer?

International woman of awesomeness!

This person makes you want certain stuff and things.

 

 

 

 

No? Well, how about this?

Yeah! This girl is on. Point!

Want to be me, or else!

 

 

 

 

 

Still no? One more try:

No, seriously, I'm looking at something so amazing. You should want that something.

There are no words for this level of influence.

 

Needless to say, the folks at CambridgeSide thought I was an Influencer, bless them, and put me on the list for this holiday shindig. Since there’s a party involved, I’m going, and I’m going to roll with the ambiguity of why I’m actually invited or who even found me. This time, I’m going to do it right. Admittedly, last time I didn’t do it completely wrong, but I certainly knew that I could’ve worked it a lot better.

See, the last time I found myself invited to a place I know I didn’t belong, was several years ago when I lived in Chicago and Chicago was bidding to host the 2016 Olympics. One of the big Chicago business councils–the kind where all of the bigwigs get together and promote business within the city–held a luncheon with Mayor Daley and then-International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge. A bunch of former Olympic stars came out to support the event, and it was a big deal, particularly since a lot of companies had a big interest in helping the Olympics come to Chicago.

A bunch of higher ups in my office decided to go, and since I love the Olympics, I jumped at the chance. The Boy also decided to come along and check out the scene. We left work kind of late so that we’d hit the end of the mingling portion and be there for the lunch part. But that turned out to be a mistake.

When we checked in at the registration table, they found the Boy’s name, they found my co-workers’ names, but they couldn’t find mine. We slid down a few people to a different registration list, where the check-in lady found my name and said, “You’re supposed to be down in the VIP room.”

Wait, what?! VIP list? How did I…?

But there was no time for questions because another person was whisking me away to a downstairs room where some of the city’s heavy hitters were hanging out and waiting to say a little private hello to Jacques. And then there was me.

Thankfully I had ironed my cheap chinos and button-down shirt that morning. And maybe my makeup hadn’t worn off. The sad thing is that I knew I didn’t fit in, and I let that thought take center stage in my brain. I latched onto some wine and talked to a couple of people–one of whom was one of the more influential priests in the city and took pity on me enough to sit next to me at lunch, as VIPs also got prominent seating in the middle of the room.

I learned a few things that day:

  • Being a VIP means you’re likely turning down dessert in order to maintain your VIP figure.
  • If the mayor repeatedly mispronounces the guest of honor’s name, it might not bode well on your future chances of winning the Olympics.
  • If you find yourself in a place where you have no idea how you got put on “the list,” say yes to it and fake belonging as best you can, because maybe you actually do belong there and you owe yourself the courtesy of actually believing in yourself for a change.

But back to my being an Influencer. Yes, that’s right. Me. Jill. Influencer. With a party to attend.

I got to the mall way before the party started, so I walked around every level to kill time…and kill a little more of my Christmas shopping list. I played the “one for you, one for me” game, buying a gift for someone and then a glittery polka dot sweater for me, since I realized I have to go to a fun party this weekend and had nothing appropriate to wear. TJMaxx to the rescue–I found it, tried it on and was out the door in 10 minutes or less!

The party itself was a nice way to start December–we got to see holiday fashions, test MAC lipstick if we wanted, have snacks courtesy of some of the mall’s restaurants, get a swag bag and participate in a Yankee swap grab bag. And we got to take pictures with this guy:

I *have* been good this year, Santa!

Big Influencer hero, Mr. S. Claus.

Which isn’t really even a fancy Influencer-type perk, since the mall’s giving away pictures with Santa this year.

So did I belong there? Sure!

I think.

I was a first-timer, so I had that insecurity that you have whenever you’re someplace for the first time and don’t know people like everyone else seems to know people. I don’t vlog, so I wasn’t one of those who were instantly Snapchatting or whatever it was that they were doing with video.

But I didn’t feel like I didn’t belong, so that’s something. And that’s at least influential to me.

A Little Buble Goes a Long Way

1 Apr

Over the last couple of weeks my laptop’s power cord has been on the fritz. Getting the connection between the wall socket and the computer to flip on took a lot of bending, finessing and cajoling the wires inside to please do their thing. They were compliant for a little while, but yesterday, it had had enough. No matter where I plugged in, no matter how I bent the cord, it wasn’t going to charge my laptop. And then like any person who has to get some work done right away, I drained the battery.

This meant I had to go to the Apple store to get a new cord. I live outside of Boston, just on the edge of convenient public transportation, so getting to an Apple store, my options of which were Cambridge or downtown Boston–and more importantly, home again–involves planning around train and bus schedules.

So I took the train downtown and got my errand done in all of a half hour. Since I had time to kill before my train home and I rarely have a weekday afternoon where I can hang around the city, I thought it was as good a time as any to play hooky and do something fun. Like see the ladies short program at the World Figure Skating Championships.

One balcony ticket later and I was sitting pretty, catching the last couple of skaters in Group 2. The afternoon session consisted of seven groups of five to six skaters each. Each skater has up to 2:50 to complete her short program, and it has to contain certain technical elements. Go over that time limit, and you get a deduction for up to every five seconds you’re over. Figure skating don’t play–it’s got a schedule to keep!

In Group 3, Aleksandra Golovkina from Lithuania kicked things off with a short program set to Michael Buble’s version of “Feeling Good.” Aleksandra didn’t have a great outing–she ended up in 33rd place, which put her well out of qualifying for the long program (the top 24 skaters get to skate in the finals, which, for the rest of the group, makes it an awfully long journey for two minutes and 50 seconds of competition).

Three skaters later, Germany’s Nathalie Weinzierl took the ice. The music started, and I heard an oddly familiar “Sun in the skyyyyy.” I’d been focused on keeping track of score (like you do) and was starting to track season best times as well, so I was kind of engrossed in my paperwork. Still, I thought, Didn’t I just hear this?

Then I heard someone groan behind me, “This is the third time we’ve heard this song.”

I instantly thought, Man, am I glad I missed the first group. Turns out that not only did France’s Mae Berenice Meite use it, but Great Britain’s Kristen Spours kicked off the competition with a different singer’s version of the same song. [Note: None of these skaters qualified for the long program. Guess the judges weren’t feeling good about their performances–Ba dump bump – ching!]

Luckily for us and the judges (as a fellow sports official, I generally have some sympathy for what officials in any sport have to go through, and repeatedly listening to the skating hit of the moment has to be one of the tougher aspects of judging ice skating), no one else Bubled it up the rest of the afternoon. I kept track of that too.

The rest of the afternoon was hits and misses when it came to music. When you’re watching about three dozen skaters, music becomes an important element–at least for the skater to differentiate and endear herself to the crowd. All the classical music I heard was lovely, but I don’t necessarily remember it. In looking at skaters who qualified, there were many who I thought did very well at the time, but I don’t remember them. Zijun Li from China smashed her season best score by five points and is sitting in 11th place, but I can’t place her and perhaps that’s because her music, while fitting, was some classical music that sounded a lot like some of the other classical music that other skaters used.

Who stood out to me? Those who used something different, preferably upbeat, that wasn’t the same style that we heard all afternoon long. Hearing Michael Buble-esque stuff gets old. I also don’t mean making you remember it because you’ve tied it in to who you are. How many Anastasias get conned into skating to music from the cartoon “Anastasia” (much like poor Anastasia Galustyan)?

No. The skaters I got jazzed about had interesting, generally uptempo music–or partway through, their music changed and picked up (I kind of love good music shifts in ice skating music. When you’re around fans who really know a skater’s routine and start to cheer when they get to a particular music, it’s exciting). Amy Lin‘s “Slumdog Millionaire” routine was one of my favorites because it picked up tempo at the right spot. Elizabet Tursynbaeva’s “I Got Rhythm” routine used a fun version of the song, and she interpreted it fantastically (I’d say watch for these two to get even better in the coming years–they killed it yesterday).

The most memorable performance for me though wasn’t Gracie Gold’s winning short program. Maybe my endurance was flagging by the time she came on. She was great, yes, but I don’t really remember how well she did. Instead, I’m stuck on Ashley Wagner’s performance, set to “Hip Hip Chin Chin.” Not only did she nail it, topping her season best by nearly three points, she had such great choreography and had so much fun skating and interpreting that music, and that was completely infectious–even up in the balcony. It’s a song that I currently have on repeat–and for the introduction to that song and group, I’m feeling good right now.

It’s certainly better than feeling Bubled.

 

Weird Spontaneity

3 Jun

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Yesterday I was supposed to go to roller derby scrimmage. That’s my practice time–and I’d intended to use that time to get used to the new plates I had put on my roller skates.

Except that I needed a ride, and when I was asking around, one of the skaters said they weren’t going to scrimmage because they were going to see Weird Al at the Wilbur Theater. I mentioned this to the Boy, who said, “Weird Al’s in town? Oh, man!”

Quick, to the Interwebs! Al’s 7:00 show was sold out, but tickets were still available for the 10:00 show. I also had a Ticketmaster gift card burning a hole in my wallet, so after a little deliberation, I decided to skip practice, the Boy would hightail it home after a late conference call, we’d eat dinner quickly and head downtown. For a late concert. On a Tuesday.

We haven’t done something that spontaneous in a while, so it was a pretty awesome feeling, not to mention an awesome show. We’ve both seen Al a few times, and he really knows how to perform. Lots of new songs and parodies, several medleys, his latest polka, and a bunch of old parodies reworked (“Eat It” to the acoustic version of “Layla,” for example). Lots of costume changes, but that left room for a great video reel, including a trailer for “Weird,” the Al biopic that really needs to be produced (it was doubly funny to us because we just finished watching “Breaking Bad” and had been talking about how good Aaron Paul was as Jesse Pinkman. He also does a great Al).

After the show, I waited in line for merch, which isn’t something I normally do. I have a million t-shirts, so I don’t need another one, and the non-clothing items aren’t usually interesting to me. Except Al’s latest album “Mandatory Fun” was on vinyl, and even though I don’t currently own a record player, the second I saw it, I knew I had to buy it. Why? I had to see if he continued the tradition of putting a little message on the vinyl between the grooves and the label.

I discovered this back in junior high, when I was hanging out at my friend Tracee’s house and we were looking at an Al album. While flipping the vinyl around, Tracee noticed that it said, “Eat your broccoli!” in that little space. What?! On the other side it said, “An accordion is a terrible thing to waste.” We quickly looked at our other Al albums, and they all had a little message in that space. It was the best Easter egg discovery.

I couldn’t even wait until we got to the car before I slit the plastic wrapping and wrangled the album and liner notes out (oh, man, I forgot about liner notes! And it’s incredibly weird to see only 5-7 songs per side–it’s not one big playlist?), all with the Boy warning me to be careful and not break the record. Sadly, no such messages with this album. It’s kind of a bummer–though not a complete waste. I’ll find a way to listen to the vinyl and it came with a digital download. It’s honestly a nice souvenir too–I’d forgotten the fun of vinyl records, and I’m looking forward to listening to the scratch of the needle as it settles into the groove.

It was weird to take away a normal Tuesday and replace it with something fun, but I’m awfully glad we did it. Even though it made for a rough morning, it was a good kick in the pants to keep an eye out for those little opportunities to enjoy life a little more.

Internet: I Need Your 80s Knowledge

17 Apr

My British friend is getting married in a few weeks and for the dancing portion of the celebration, she wants to play Kylie Minogue’s version of “Locomotion” and have me lead everyone in doing the dance.

What dance? There’s a dance specifically for this song?

We fly to YouTube. “It’s not from her video. I just remember doing it,” she said.

We couldn’t find any videos of Brits from 1988 who are doing this particular dance–not in the clubs, not in random gatherings, not on the streets. There are lots of different “Locomotion” dances on the Tube, but not the one she’s thinking of. I thought maybe it was particular to her area of England, but she said she was 10 at the time and didn’t really travel much.

I’ve asked around a little bit and have heard that maybe this dance could simply be a conga line, with everyone moving their arms in a steam train motion. My friend thought there was a little more to it, like the macarena (click on that link at your own risk).

Internet, I’m asking you: If you were around during the late 80s and were in Britain, do you remember this dance and can explain it to us? Help a bride and groom out!

Art Restoration Project

14 Apr

One evening a couple of weeks ago, the Boy and I heard a crash in my office. Concerned, we dashed to the room and discovered that the art my Grandma Jaracz had left me (or maybe it was one of the things from her house I’d claimed after she died) had fallen off the wall.

You haven’t heard about the Jaraczs grand art collection? OK, so it’s not along the lines of the Wildenstein Collection or Steve Wynn’s collection, Grandma Jaracz did have one piece that I’ve never seen anywhere else:

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It’s a 3D Lentograph of “The Last Supper,” Plate No. 103 by Anita’s Imports in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. That’s right, 3-D, with patented technology. It’s been popped into a wooden frame that’s been stapled together (with no glass front or protective backing), and the kicker is that the hanger on the frame is this:

wpid-img_20150413_182126980.jpg

This, my friends, is a pull-tab can opener. Knowing my family, it’s likely from a beer can, but it’s a relic nonetheless. In fact, when anyone comments about the picture, I quickly pull it off the wall and say something like, “Yeah, the 3-D is cool, but it’s hung up with a pull-tab!”

We have no idea why it fell off the wall. This was just before Easter–I’m not saying that the remembrance of Holy Week events had anything to do with the incident, but if you’re easily spooked or are heavy into religious symbolism (there is no image of the Virgin Mary in the pull-tab, contrary to popular belief), then maybe you can read something into that.

Yet now I’m going to have to restore this piece to its original glory. That means making sure the art is wiped down with a “soft cotton or cheese cloth,” per the directions on the print, it’s carefully tucked behind all of the metal tabs on the frame and then the pull-tab is carefully polished and reaffixed. Only then it may be rehung in all its glory to once more grace my office with its presence.

Postcard from Toronto

24 Mar

I’m kind of at a loss as to how to explain the roller derby tournament experience and how much fun it is–especially since I have a writing assignment due today–because I didn’t really see much of Toronto. That’s often the case when you travel somewhere for a purpose other than tourism. You spend a weekend hanging around in a warehouse/convention center/arena/former airplane hangar and do your thing. In this case we officiate games, we watch games. Sometimes we step outside for a few minutes and are reminded that there’s fresh air and (hopefully) sunshine. But mostly we’re consuming a lot of roller derby in one way or another, spending time with our old officiating friends and making new ones. We get the opportunity to officiate quite a bit in one weekend, which can really up our game and hopefully help improve the sport as a whole.

Someday I’ll go into what it’s like to be on an officiating crew, but for today I wanted to drop you a line about the tiny bit of Toronto I saw, which pretty much was:

  • hotel room
  • hotel breakfast room
  • random Middle Eastern restaurant (open late, serves a decent falafel)
  • Shopper’s Drug
  • Tim Horton’s
  • FreshCo
  • Downsview Park (Toronto Roller Derby’s little portion of it is know as The Hangar)
  • Fox & Fiddle (for two dinners–this can be standard procedure. They’re open and serve food late? They have vegetarian options? They were decent the first time? Let’s go back!)

My hotel was in the Jane and Finch/Black Creek neighborhood of North York, and as we pulled in, everything looked vaguely familiar, as I’d spent a weekend in the same hotel in 2012. And as is par for the course on a derby weekend, you need to find a grocery store, a drug store, and a decent place where you can get a late night meal. Someone in the car also needs to get coffee). The Jane Finch Mall at the intersection of Jane and Finch delivered. Groceries? New FreshCo! Drugstore? Shopper’s Drug! Coffee? Tim Horton’s (motto: Spit, and you should hit a Tim Horton’s. Come in for some coffee, eh?)! Late night food? Middle Eastern falafel takeout? OK!

That’s really all I wanted to see of the area though, as Jane and Finch is a really rough section of the city. Just beyond the Jane Finch mall, the area pretty much says, “Don’t come here!” But our hotel was next to a cop shop, the mall was OK for the in-and-out stops we made, and the busy roads got us to The Hangar just fine. As a tourist destination though, I wouldn’t really recommend it.

However, maybe change is finally coming to Jane and Finch. FreshCo opened just last month, and I’m sure it’s a much-needed and welcome addition to the neighborhood. It’s shiny and new and clean, and hopefully that will translate further. Change was also coming to the hotel, as a lot of it was in the process of being remodeled. You saw it right away as you entered the temporary entrance and were immediately greeted by a wall displaying all the new fabrics and finishes that are in the works. What I loved though was the project’s motto, and I think it’s one that I’ll claim for myself for this year:

stayimpressed

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