Monday, January 25, 2010

Help me! What I wouldn't do for some . . .

I recently saw a couple episodes of "The Best Thing I Ever Ate" on the Food Network. This show highlights various Food Network stars' favorite foods, whether it's something salty, sweet, cheesy, BBQ, etc.

Well, this last episode I saw was showcasing salty foods. One star was talking about a bakery called Baked, in Brooklyn, and how they had this divine brownie topped with homemade caramel and fleur de sel. Imagine a deep, dark chocolate brownie, caramel, and salt - the sweet/salty combination, especially the salty caramel combination . . . it absolutely made my mouth water! It really made me want to get on a plane and head to NYC, just to get one of these brownies.

I went online just to find out about this bakery, and guess what?! I found that this bakery ships these brownies!!!! Here it is: Baked NYC, and their sweet and salty brownies. Maybe somebody (Andrew, hint hint) will order some for me for Valentine's Day.

And then on another episode, Iron Chef Michael Symon was talking about this toasted marshmallow premium gelato shake from Stand, again in New York. How good does a toasted marshmallow shake sound, with gooey, sticky toasted marshmallows, gelato . . . mmmmm. Here's Stand Burger, NYC if you want to check it out.

Okay, there's my rambling about some food cravings, I'm almost desperate for . . .

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The "Dancing" Horses

Here's a video of The Spanish Riding School, of Vienna, Austria that I wanted to share.

They are definitely beautiful creatures.

7-Day Forecast for Latitude 42.02°N and Longitude 91.6°W (Elev. 856 ft)

7-Day Forecast for Latitude 42.02°N and Longitude 91.6°W (Elev. 856 ft)

Today's forecast . . . have just a little while longer to enjoy ice free driving.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Blast From the Past!

Tonight, as Andrew, Olivia, and I were heading back from Mass, dinner, and a quick errand in the rain, I turned on the radio. We have XM in our cars. I put mine on "Watercolors" which is the c-jazz (contemporary jazz) station. When we were almost home, a song came on that seemed somewhat familiar to me. About 30 seconds into it, I checked the artist and song title, wondering why it sounded so familiar, and brought a smile to my face. It was Chuck Mangione and "Bellavia."

Okay, so I've heard of Chuck Mangione. But I still didn't remember where I'd heard this particular song before. Andrew interjected, "Oh, this is Chuck Mangione? He must be playing his 'flugelhorn' in this piece." Okay, I'll take his word for it; he's the musician in the family, a trumpet player.

It was about 30 seconds later, when I checked the artist and song title again that the light-bulb came on over my head, though it was neither the title or artist that I recognized; it was a portion of the song, with the brass instruments in crescendo that took me "back, back to Culver days."

Back when I was a student at Culver (Culver Girls Academy, Culver, IN), I was part of the Equestriennes Honor Organization. The Equestriennes are a mounted drill team, performing to live music (the Lancer Band, CMA's band honor organization). An Equestrienne must maintain a minimum GPA, meet horsemanship standards, and maintain a certain Citizenship grade. And when I was on the Equestriennes team, the Lancer Band played Chuck Mangione's "Bellavia" (among other songs) for one (or maybe more), of our performances!

I told Livie that Mommy rode her "dancing horsey" to this song at her school! Livie knows "all about" Mommy's "dancing horsies at Mommy's school," because we took her to my 20th Anniversary Alumni Weekend in May 2009, as well as the Horsemanship Reunion Weekend in October 2009. She's seen the Equestriennes perform, and knows that I did that when I was in school. And now, of course, she wants to do it, too. So now she got to hear a bit of the music I rode to, so long ago!

It was nice reminiscing about the good ol' days!

Some photos of my riding with my fellow Equestriennes back in the day (1986-1989):

Here is the Equestriennes' entrance. We usually did this V formation immediately after entering in a column of twos, typically to part of the "Dynasty" nighttime soap music as the music to our opening moves. I'm the third from the right, in the foreground. It looks like I'm riding Black Tux!

We have just saluted, and are waiting for the band to start up so we can go to the next movement. I'm on the very right, atop Black Tux.

Here we are, saluting at the end of the performance.

We are exiting after we've saluted.

Friday, January 22, 2010

And another recipe . . .

Speaking of recipes, here's a popular recipe in my house. It's floated around a running forum I frequent, which is where I came across it.

Tasty Lentil Tacos
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced (I use 1/2 tsp. ready-minced)
1 teaspoon canola oil
1 cup dry lentils, rinsed
1 Tbs. chili powder
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano
2-1/2 cups chicken broth (or beef broth)
1 cup salsa (I use El Paso Chile Company’s Snakebite Salsa)
12 hard taco shells (sometimes I just use regular corn tortillas)

In a large non-stick skillet, sauté the onion and garlic in oil until tender. Add the lentils, chili powder, cumin and oregano; cook and stir for 1 minute.

Add broth; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 25-30 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Uncover; cook for 6-8 minutes or until mixture is thickened. Stir in salsa.

(Heat up your taco shells while doing the last part of the above)

Spoon about 1/4 cup into each taco shell and top with your favorite taco fixings.

"Mmmm . . . Thank You" Kahlua Cake

This recipe comes from an acquaintance's recipe repertoire. I've made it a couple times and it is SOOOO good! Seriously, this is one delicious chocolate cake.

I had to hunt around for the recipe; I thought I had it in my recipe file, but it wasn't there. I'm posting it here while I'm thinking about it, so I know where it is in the event that I want to make it sometime in the future.

Now, about the name of this cake:
It's known as the "Mmmmm . . . thank you" cake because she'd made this cake (actually it was the mini loaves version) to give as gifts at Christmas time. Anyway, while the mini loaves were sitting on the counter her young son was sneaky and took a taste. Although she was frustrated at the time, it is funny looking back on it because all he said after chomping on a cake was, "Mmmmm . . . thank you."

One additional note: She sometimes uses an icing drizzle to top it off.

"Mmmmm . . . Thank You" Kahlua Cake, the recipe:

1 Chocolate Cake Mix (I use Target's Archer Farms decadent chocolate cake mix. Betty Crocker is fine, though.)
1 (3 ½ oz.) small box of Instant Chocolate Pudding
1 - 6 oz. Bag of Chocolate Chips (You could omit these if they'll be too hard.)
2 c. Sour Cream (I use Daisy light.)
4 Eggs
¾ c. Cooking Oil
½ c. Kahlua

Mix all ingredients together. Fold in chocolate chips last. Bake at 350o for 50 minutes. Makes one Bundt pan cake or 6 small (mini) loaf pans.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

. . . and ice is NOT fun!

We're in the middle of an ice storm warning today. Livie has not gone to school because the weather will not be any better this afternoon, and may in fact be worse. I didn't want to risk going out there with dumb, reckless drivers being stupid on the roads

Lots of area businesses are closed or closing early today, including the city's offices (like City Hall and the Public Library). While it's been reported that the main roads are okay, and somewhat passable, I am pretty sure the side roads are not. And I've heard that parking lots are now ice skating rinks, with all the ice building up through the day, with the freezing drizzle, rain, sleet, and now the full-fledged "ice storm."

Anyway, here are a couple photos of our ice-encrusted, eastward-facing kitchen windows:



Friday, January 15, 2010

Snow is fun!

Livie is happy to be outside!

The crunchy top layer of snow makes a good bench for Livie!

Oops! She went boom on her bottom!

A chunk of snow! She is so happy about it! She later threw it at me!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

That time of day . . .

This post has been hard for me to write. I started it in the autumn of 2009 and have just finished it (though I may come back and proofread it for minor changes in the coming days).

There's something about late afternoon with the changing light leaving long shadows across the earth as the sun is starting to set. It reminds me of so many things. In this transitional period before we're left in darkness, I both dread and enjoy the memories and accompanying feelings sunset usually evokes.

When I was still a student at Culver (that would be Culver Girls Academy, in Culver, IN during the following years: 1985-1989), my mom would come out to visit every few months, whether it was just for a regular weekend or an official Parents' Weekend. She'd come out for a weekend and take me out "on leave" 'til Sunday evening.

I specifically remember one late afternoon, early evening, when it was still sorta warm out and mellifluous light was washing over us. We were in her car (a rental car, I think?) one late afternoon. Maybe we were heading to the hotel in South Bend or Ft. Wayne or to dinner after she picked me up on campus. I can't seem to recall any exact details other than the facts that we were in the car and the light was golden and starting to fade. I remember her telling me that she loved this time of day. I think I asked her why, but I didn't really get why.

This time of day during my four years at Culver always made me feel . . . well, "depressed" isn't actually the right word. Maybe "blue" or homesick or wishing the day weren't over yet. When I think back to that afternoon, I think that I felt like that because I knew her visit would be wrapping up soon. It would be over after dinner, and that night's sleep. Or possibly I was feeling the beginning of homesickness or missing her, because, perhaps because it was already Sunday evening, and she was taking me back to campus, and things would be back to normal, off to the races the next day.

To this day, I can still recall how vividly I felt like I already missed her; I'd just wanted to rewind time so that I'd have an extra day or a few more hours with her before it was time to head back to campus.

My missing her during late afternoon's dwindling light kinda morphed into something else as time went on. For instance, I experienced a completely different feeling while I was at OTS (the US Air Force's Officer Training School) at Maxwell Air Force Base, in Montgomery, AL.

I'd gotten to Montgomery in mid-August, just about a month before autumn started, when the hot, sticky humid days of summer began getting shorter and held the distant hope of cooler temperatures. My recruiter out of West Des Moines, IA had told me not to get there and report in too early in the day (she'd said exactly: "Don't get there first thing in the morning, or too early in the day. From what I hear, they may be 'mean' to you."), so I timed it per the recruiter's instructions and got there just after lunch. That particular day ended up being overcast and kinda drizzly all day, with a harder falling rain happening every often. The gray, wet day, the nervous tension of not knowing what to expect for the next 12.5 weeks, and the rushing around doing various in-processing tasks prevented late afternoon from having any sort of "homesickness" to it . . . though I'd eventually "grown out" of being homesick by this point in my life.

However, once my fellow squadron-mates and I were settled into a daily routine, I started noticing that when the sun began its journey towards the horizon, and the light had that certain familiar Midas quality about it, I felt  . . . like I should expect something. Like I would be given just a moment to breathe a sigh of relief. There would be a magic moment when all the 50-million tasks we had to complete, all the stress, the "I need to give 110% every moment of the day" necessities would pause for just that moment.

After eating our evening meal, as we were marching back to our dorm, I always felt like, "we're almost there." Like I would be okay . . .  as soon as we got back to our dorm, there was the promise of a moment's respite. Sure, there'd be one thing or another (polishing boots, ironing uniforms, an upperclassman yelling at one or all of us). But I knew that there'd be just a little while when I'd get a "time out" and have 2 or 3 hours of peace . . . of sleep . . . before the cycle started again.

However, what really makes me love sunset is the saudade I feel when I think about the long shadows Midas' sun creates in the evening as the sun paints the Southwest a coppery-brown, turning the mountains a liquid gold.

I spent a lot of time in Tucson, AZ, El Paso, TX, and Alamogordo, NM while I was on Active Duty in the Air Force. It was in these places, Tucson and Alamogordo, especially, that I began to really appreciate the way the setting sun painted the earth with a golden glow.

It was like I was home, and there was nothing to worry about, even though there was plenty to worry about, if I really put my mind to it. Let me see if I can explain . . .

I had, for a time, an Appendix Quarter Horse named Wild Stride, but who we called Cotton. He came to me for a few brief months, arriving in Tucson on Cinco de Mayo, 2001, a Saturday. He was my friend Brenda's horse; she sent him to me as "therapy" for me for something that happened earlier that year. This is a story for another time, however. I'm not getting into it now.

Anyway, he and I had a wonderful time together during his brief stay with me, his reason for leaving was 9/11; Brenda came to get him in October, because I was on 12-hour shifts at work, and it cut into my time with him, and I felt bad, feeling like I was neglecting him; it hurt me when he had to leave, but I wanted to do what was best for him.

He gave me something great, though. One of my favorite memories is our last trail ride together. It was a day after work, when I was able to leave a little early. I headed to the barn for a ride. I groomed him, put a bridle on him, got up on him bareback, and we headed out on a trail. It was magic. The sun was starting to set, and everything was aglow, the mountains, the wash, the ground, Cotton, everything, was dressed by Midas, golden. Cotton was very mellow, and it was like he was there solely so we could enjoy each other's company. Ahhh. All was right with the world on that trail ride.

Then, I remember a time when I'd first met Andrew on a TDY (Temporary Duty) the week after 9/11/01 in Montgomery, Alabama - yes, the same place I went to OTS, Maxwell Air Force Base. We were there for two weeks for a logistics class. When I got back home to Tucson, I had a feeling of saudade: I was home, but I felt a longing for something else, something I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to have. See, I didn't know if or when I'd see Andrew again, and I missed him; I missed his company. I remember that a song called "7 Days" by Craig David was big, and I heard it all the time after getting back. It sorta reminded me of how we met. It made me feel saudade for him. I'd hear this song on a Saturday when I was at the car wash, and I'd think of him. I'd hear it on the way to the stables to visit Cotton before he left, and I'd think of Andrew. You get the idea . . .

Well, of course Andrew ended up coming out to Tucson to visit once - to be my "date" for the Air Force Birthday Ball originally scheduled for September, but postponed 'til November due to the 9/11 attacks on the US. Of course, this was also at the same time I was promoted to 1st Lieutenant, and was also the week after my birthday.

I remember showing him around Tucson since he'd never been there. I remember taking him to a Mexican restaurant the day he flew in; the restaurant was La Parilla Suiza. He got there at this time of day - the time that the sun, the ground, the atmosphere in general, gets a golden glow about it. I remember his giving me a birthday present, a necklace with a pendant - a topaz pendant - my birthstone which just so happens to be the same color as Tucson's setting sun, the color of the shadows and light that used to make me melancholy, but that I started loving during my time in the Southwest.

I also remember taking him to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, hiking to 7 Falls . . . lots of places there in the arid landscape that I really love, miss, and yes, feel saudade for, this desert beauty. I remember hearing Jewel's "Standing Still," "Fallin'" by Alicia Keys, or Shakira's "Whenever, Wherever" and, well, you know how you sometimes hear a song at a point in your life, and hearing it later will automatically take you back to that time? These songs do it for me, taking me back to Tucson, and bringing saudade with them.

Fast forward to mid-2006 - Andrew was deployed, and Olivia and I had to move by ourselves to Alamogordo, NM for a new assignment. As Charles Dickens wrote, "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times," and this certainly applied to me. I was leaving an assignment I would never want to repeat, going back to my beloved Southwest. The story of Holloman Air Force Base is best left for another time. But the fact that I was in New Mexico, well, it seemed to make things okay.

They call New Mexico "The Land of Enchantment," and I think it really enchanted me, and Andrew, too, for that matter. We loved New Mexico, and being so close to El Paso. We loved going to Mesilla, near Las Cruces, Santa Fe, up north (I promise to tell you about our short few hours in Santa Fe), and being surrounded by the high desert's arid beauty.

All of this beauty, returning to New Mexico, to El Paso, seems unlikely as I sit in my dining room here in east-central Iowa, with snow on the ground, the afternoon sun pale in comparison to its golden splendor it displays in the Southwest. Maybe it's just saudade enveloping me, making me want to cry, and run to my grandparents' house in old El Paso, to the smells of tacos and beans cooking in my grandmother's kitchen . . . the chorizo, eggs, and tortillas in the morning, to my grandfather's spearmint gum, to the warmth of their home; I want to go back. But it seems like that will never happen now, and the longing, and inability to go back to what once was . . . that is just what saudade is - the best of times AND the worst, the bittersweet heaviness of my heart, remembering certain wonderful memories, and trying to reach back to them, and they're just out of my grasp.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Keep your brain healthy - try ballroom dancing!

We all know that regular exercise is good for your body. Ballroom dancing (or Dancesport), for instance, is a good workout - just try getting through a 40 minute cha-cha lesson without breaking into a sweat. But ballroom dancing is also good for your brain!

Dancesport can actually help reduce the effects of dementia-related issues later in life. It has something to do with one's involvement in both the physical activity and mental thought processes at the same time, somehow continuously creating new neural paths in the brain. Not only do you have to physically do the steps, you have to think about lots of things at the same time, including but not limited to: what step comes next, which foot you're on now and how do you get your feet where they need to go next, posture, where your hands are, what your partner is doing, remembering to always keep the proper tension in your frame, and having to keep to the beat of the dance (such as quick-quick-slow for Rumba, or slow-slow-quick-quick for foxtrot).

Check out these articles: Dancing Makes You Smarter

. . . and Dancing Your Way to Better Health.

By the way, here is a photo of Carlos Gutierrez and Christina Iannelli, (you may have to scroll down a little), our dance instructors, from when Andrew and I took ballroom dancing in MA (2003-2006). They taught out of Carlos' dance studio in West Newton, MA. 

Friday, January 8, 2010

I *will* see you again, but not yet . . . not yet

I had the weirdest sensation a little earlier this afternoon. I was upstairs in the kitchen. It was . . . oh . . . maybe around 2:15 PM. Hadn't eaten lunch and was just noticing the grumbling stomach, and the sensation that I was actually kinda hungry. Imagine that, huh? But just to clarify: the hunger wasn't the "weirdest sensation." ;)

As I was poking and prodding whatever was in the fridge and rummaging through the stuff in the pantry to see what looked tasty, it occurred to me. Not only did I realize I needed to go grocery shopping, I felt I needed to stop what I was currently doing for something much more important.

See, I'd suddenly felt like making an important phone call, and I had to do it right at that very moment. Without even thinking about it, I turned toward the counter where a cordless phone is keeping its post in the kitchen. As I walked to the phone, I was thinking about how nice it would be to talk to Sir Rafa today, as it's been way too long since I last heard his voice. The thought of having a conversation with him brought a smile to my face on my way to the phone. I walked, wondering what kind of funny thing he'd say today - what Sir Rafa-ism would come out of his mouth to grace my ears. This instinct I had, this impulse to call - it was my missing the sound of his voice, his humor; this urge to call him was incredibly strong - I had to call him now.

Then reality hit me in the gut. Sir Rafa passed away on 9 Oct 2008. If I were to have called, I would've been calling an empty house. I stood there on the verge of tears at remembering the loss - it was as though it'd happened last week - yet at the same time, I had a smile on my face, nearly laughing at the idea that I'd been moments away from actually trying to call him, even though he'd left our physical world over a year ago.

Can you believe that?! I could almost hear his voice as I went for the phone. It was kinda like going to the airport and waiting in the baggage claim area for a friend or loved one - someone you haven't seen for a while, and you are just so excited, you can barely wait to see that person, whether it's been weeks or months, or even years. And at any moment, you'll see that familiar face, hear that familiar voice, and you know it'll be just like old times. You're just waiting for that "ahhhh" moment.

I was going to say it was like going to your favorite restaurant and ordering some dish that you love - and as you see the server carrying your plate to your table, your mouth is salivating at the thought that you're going to bite into something tasty in just one moment . . . this analogy came to mind because I'm actually still hungry. Toasted corn tortillas didn't quite hit the spot like I'd hoped they would. Nor did the analogy quite hit the literary spot like I expected it would.

Anyway, there it is. The feeling came, and then it went.

And I can't overlook the fact that today is Oma's birthday, and feeling sure of the fact that there is no such thing as coincidence.

As I sit here at the computer, looking at an old photo of Sir Rafa, I'd like close by paraphrasing that line from the Russell Crowe "Gladiator" movie: I will see you again, but not yet . . . not yet.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

HGTV Dream Home » HGTV Dream Home Cocktail

HGTV Dream Home » HGTV Dream Home Cocktail

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This "Norteño Margarita" looked very tasty when I saw it on the HGTV Dream Home episode located in New Mexico. One of these days, I'm hoping to try it. When I do, I'll be sure to report back on how it turns out!

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