Monday, December 22, 2008
Years back when my little brother Garrett was only 11 or 12, Diedra and I decided it would be funny to tease him about giving him a really terrible Christmas gift, like an education computer game. Since he is one to (a) always tag along and ease drop, (b) act like he is not trying tag along, and (c) get really upset when we tease him, it was the perfect plan. All we had to do was talk in slightly louder than normal voices about his "present" and he was hooked. We had created an education math game called Mr. Math, which was also on clearance (which only made him more upset). It was hilarious. We didn't even have to try that hard, he fell right for the bait.
Once our trick was stuck, we then thought it would be even more hilarious to keep him thinking he got the crappiest Christmas gift ever, so instead of wrapping up a gift, we made him go on a treasure hunt around the house. By the time he got through all the clues, he was so bummed about actually finding an education math game, that he didn't even want to open his gift (which turned out to be a toad). Garrett was thrilled about the awesome pet and pretty upset that he fell for the joke. And the Christmas gag gift was born.
So the next year our family decided to pick names among the siblings. When I got my name and started brainstorming options, immediately I thought "what is the worst possible present?" After mulling over some pretty bad gifts, I realized that the worst possible present is having someone donate yours to charity on your behalf. Enter gag gift #2.
So instead of my sister Rixa and her husband Eric opening a gift on Christmas, then got a very fancy envelope. Inside was a letter from the president of an fake organization I made up thanking them for their generous donation. It also included pictures, a certificate of the donation in their name, and a company seal. The whole family was tricked. My mom even commented on how thoughtful the gift was. Eric was a little miffed about the gift, but of course couldn't say anything. I giggled to my self for several hours until I finally broke the news that the entire gift certificate was fake and I had a real present for them.
After that, gag gifts were a must. I couldn't believe that I had fooled the entire family with a little fancy word document and card stock. Diedra also got in on the gag gifts for the next couple of years. Below is a list of the various gifts we have given:
1. Chaste and Be Chased. A Mormon book on dating and being chaste. I gave this to my little brother Garrett one Christmas. It was a real book, but I made a fake dust jacket. My mother actually loved it (she is a big fan of giving chastity talks), and Garrett had this horrified look when he opened it. The best part was the accompanying CD of chaste songs sung by the MoTab.
2. Fake IDs. I gave Diedra the idea to make people in our family fake IDs with a little color printing and laminating. My dad got one for being a President Bush look-a-like and Garrett got one that listed his age as 21 and also included facial hair, issued by the State of Insanity.
3. Certificates of servitude. You know the "coupons" you give your parents when you are little for things like hugs and helping with the dishes? Well we made long, detailed, and extravagant certificates to each member of the family on behalf of Garrett and forged his signature. The best part was having each family member read theirs all while Garrett is in the background protesting that he did not write it or sign it and it is not valid. We promised away most of Garrett's savings, free time, and allowance. It was priceless.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Monday, December 15, 2008
I also love all the cooking and baking that comes with the holidays, because it means that I get to spend time making delicious food I only make once a year and often with friends. My dear friend Jocelyn wanted to learn the art of bread making, so we convened in her darling green kitchen one Saturday morning with Kim to see what we could create. (Notice how I match the kitchen?)
We made two batches of pumpernickel (one of my favorites) and the Spencer family famous French Bread (that is to die for, trust me). After some helpful tips like (the water should be warm like a baby's bath, don't over kneed the dough, and rise the dough in a slightly warm oven for 20 minutes) we ended up with really amazing bread.
1 ½ T dark molasses
1 ½ c flour
⅓ c medium rye flour
⅓ c whole wheat flour
1 T unsweetened cocoa
1 t salt
2 T butter (or oil)
1 ½ t yeast
Dissolve yeast in warm water and let sit 10 minutes. Stir in molasses and butter. Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl and add half at a time. Dough should be soft, but not sticky. Knead until smooth. Let dough rise until double (about 45 minutes). Punch down and shape into a rounded ball. Let rise for 30-40 minutes. Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes.
2 T yeast
3 T sugar
¼ c oil
1 egg yolk
6 c flour
1 t salt
1 egg white
Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water, letting it grow for 5-10 mins. Add oil, yolk, salt, and 2 c flour. Stir until smooth. Add remaining flour until dough is soft but not sticky. Set in greased bowl to rise until double. Punch down and form into 2 loaves. Let rise until double and brush with egg white. Bake at 400 for 15-20 minutes.
I also got to spend a few hours this last Saturday with Kim making the most delicious sugar cookies. I am a sugar cookie purest; I don't eat any one's cookies but my own. The secret: add 1 tsp almond extract to the dough and a little to the glaze. It makes the flavor much better. I also dip my cookies in a glaze, which is easier than frosting (since the glaze smooths itself out, requiring so spreading) and hardens so that you can stack them in a container.
Now I am looking forward to some more baking with Ben's family and maybe trying out some new dishes.
As proof here is a picture of Ben snorkeling in Waterlemon Bay. We found a few sea turtles and were following them around the shall, grassy area as they ate. They are incredible to watch and really fun to swim with.
Highlights of our snorkeling:
1. We saw lots of sting rays, which Ben and I both love. I've seen them before, but they somehow never seem to lose they draw. They are really fun to swim above and watch, although Ben and I came across one in Maho Bay that did not seem happy to have us so close, so we backed off.
The sunset at Cinnamon Bay.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Above is the view from Concordia, which is an eco-friendly vacationing spot on the southern tip of St John. It is a small complex of condos, with a restaurant, pool, and convenience store. I've been to this side of the island before, but not stayed there, so it was a nice change. The view was incredible. And since we had a kitchen, I brought an entire backpack of food, which might sound crazy to some people to fly with a bunch of food. But when we were eating brie with fresh french bread and pears for dinner while watching the sunset, I bet you were jealous. Most of our meals we ate in the condo, which made it that much easier to upgrade to a nicer room after our first one needed some repairs.
Driving on the left side of the road. Notice how the vegetation kind of takes over.
Our favorite switch back. This picture doesn't do justice to just how crazy this turn was. The best strategy of not dying: honk and then proceed with caution.
Each morning we would wake up to complete silence (after falling asleep to the surprisingly loud noise of tree frogs, the silence of them stopping actually wakes you up). It as wonderful to wake up to the bright sun and get to relax for a few more hours before hitting the beach. Most morning we would read on our wrap around porch while enjoying the sun. We would then head out to the beach around 10 for a few hours of snorkeling and then head back for lunch before round two of snorkeling. We had amazing weather and visibility all week.
Our condo was a two-story loft that had a porch that wrapped around, so we could see 180 degrees ocean view.
The main floor.
The vaulted, wooded ceiling. On the left side you can see the loft where our bedroom was.
The view from our porch. I spent most mornings and evenings out here just enjoying the view.
Some other fun aspects of the condo were:
1. Two sides of the shower were slats that you could open up and see the jungle. Really great for the exhibitionist in me, but also rather alarming to hear people outside walking around.
2. The condo was the highest up on the hill, so we had the best view.
3. The bedroom was upstairs, but the stairs were on the exterior. Not a big deal if you are heading up to grab something, but kind of strange to hop out of the shower and streak up the stairs so no one sees you.
4. We were about a 15 minute walk from our condo to Salt Pond Bay, which is were we did a lot of our snorkeling. It was fun to go a small hike and emerge from the jungle at the beach.
5. Humming birds were everywhere. Every few minutes one would fly by me as I sat outside.
Monday, December 08, 2008
To show that this is still alive in America, here is a snippet from his last letter:
The Frandsen family (from the 3rd Ward) hit a deer with their car on the way to
the Christmas activity on Friday. Brother Frandsen thought that he should
keep since it had done damage to his vehicle. He called the Sheriff and
waited. Finally after nearly an hour the Sheriff finally arrived.
While the Sheriff was filling out the possession tag, the deer raised it’s head
then sprang up and ran away! It is a good thing that he didn’t just throw
the deer in the back of his vehicle and drive off.
Lest you think that we only talk about people who pick up dead animals off the side of the road, earlier this year my dad came across a dead wolf (timberwolf) and put it in his trunk to take home. Only after skinning it did he realize that it is probably illegal to do so with endangered animals, so he called the police who quickly confiscated it. I'm not sure what my dad would do exactly with the wolf hide, but something tells me he would find a good use for it.
Maybe someday if you are cool enough you might get your own Garrett t-shirt with his face on it. I suggest sending him packages now to start buttering him up.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Please note that I never measure anything when I cook, so all the directions below are estimates. Adjust as you see fit.
German Curried Chicken
1 medium onion, diced
1 T olive oil
1-2 t curry powder (any generic kind will do)
2 chicken breasts, thawed, cut into bite size pieces
2 large spoonfuls of flour
1-2 c milk
1-2 spoonfuls of sugar
1/2 c lemon juice
salt to taste
Saute the onions in the olive oil for 5-7 minutes until they are tender. Add the curry part way through. If you aren't sure how much curry you like, add just a little bit at a time (you can always add more once you make the sauce to taste it). Add the chicken and continue to saute until the chicken is cooked through. Add the flour and quickly stir until the oil has combined with the flour (this is crucial, because otherwise you will get a lumpy sauce). Add the milk and stir on medium heat until it thickens. You need to stir constantly so that the bottom doesn't burn. At this point add some salt and additional curry to taste. The sauce should be a warm yellow color. I Once the sauce thickens, add the sugar and the lemon juice. This will give it the German kick (they love anything sour). I usually add more lemon juice until it really has a kick.
Serve over rice and top with any of the following toppings: coconut, pineapple, diced tomatoes, sunflower seeds, or raisins.
If your sauce is not thickening, then you either didn't add enough flour or too much milk. I would suggest blending some flour in a little bit of milk until the lumps are all gone (this is important) and then adding that mixture to the curried chicken and cook until it thickens. If you've made any sauces before, then this should be easy.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Now, I am not at all complaining about being married to the perfect man. I love that Ben is always an example to me, and I'm sure there are things that he has noticed I am perfect at (like being willing to fold the laundry...all the time and always wanting to eat more vegetables). But here are a few things I noticed last week about myself:
1. I have a temper. It is rare, but it still happens. Like when I step outside my house and notice that someone has BACKED INTO THE SIDE DOOR OF MY PARKED CAR and just drove away. I know that Fritney isn't the picture of beauty, but a huge dent in the side of my car isn't going to help the resale value. And I can see how sometimes you can touch a bumper and not notice, but doing a three-point turn directly into a parked car is definitely noticeable. See? I sometimes get mad. After knowing Ben for three plus years and being married for 6 months, I have yet to see Ben even remotely mad.
2. Eating on a regular basis keeps me happy. Now I pride myself on being able to go all day without having to stop for meals while on vacation. I love that I can just keep going. But on a normal day, I will quickly admit that I need meals otherwise I get grumpy. Luckily I am the first to notice the need for food, so the grumpiness is at a minimum when it happens, but it still happens. Good thing Ben is patient and knows when to recommend we grab dinner.
3. I love to sleep. I also prided myself in college on being able to not get 7-8 hours a night and still feel great. Refreshed even. Well not anymore. In fact, I could count the times I've used the snooze alarm on my two hands....that is until I got married. Now I love to snooze. Probably because I love to sleep and it doesn't hurt that I have a personal heater next to me.
4. I'm always cold. Always. I also didn't realize this until Ben is always fine and I am always freezing. And it isn't in my head. My feet are literally ice cold at times.
5. I get bored insanely fast. I kind of new this was strange when Kim would always laugh at me when I would be home for no more than 20 minutes and declare I was bored. But without five roommates to distract me, I notice that I get bored so fast. I need to be constantly doing something productive. Although this ties into number 6....
6. I am insanely fast. At practically everything. This may seem like bragging, but I have yet to meet someone who is generally faster than me. I could list so many examples, so I think I will. 1) I was the fastest dishwasher at the London study abroad program (we usually finished dishes 30-60 minutes ahead of other groups), 2) I can make most dinners from scratch in 20-30 minutes, 3) I usually walk faster than those I am with, 4) crocheting projects only last me a few hours, 5) I am currently doing two people's job at work, and 6) last Christmas when we were making ornaments, I made 50-60 while my sisters/mother only made 20. I figured out the reason I get bored is because I am so efficient and fast. I can make dinner, do the laundry, and clean the house in about 45 minutes. So it is no wonder that by 8:00 pm I am bored. Which leads to number 7.
7. I always have at least four projects going on. Here is a list of projects I currently am working on: Christmas presents for the nieces and nephews which are top secret and cannot be discussed on the blog, a baby blanket for a friend, leather bound books for presents, packing food for a week for my Thanksgiving vacation, etc. I love being productive and seeing the end product of my work. Which reminds me, I need to start tying flies for my brother-in-law for Christmas. See, the projects never end! Most people I know can't and don't want to juggle this many projects at once. I thrive on it.
Thursday, November 06, 2008
A few months ago I came across the idea of making ******* as Christmas presentsThis will all make more sense come Dec 25.
for my *****. I think I actually giggled to myself because the gift was perfect.
I headed to the ***** store and found the perfect ***** of ****** to make them
with. The ****** looks fantastic, and I can't wait for ***** to open it.
What I can tell you about the crafting is that Ben has gotten into it this year. You never know, come Christmas 2009 he might even join the Spencer Christmas Craft.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
This has made me reflect on how some things in life are just better slow. Here is a list off the top of my head:
1. Cooking. Yes, I love that you can defrost chicken in the microwave in 2.5 minutes, but other than that, I prefer to do things the slow, old fashioned way. I bake my own bread (letting it rise while at church on Sundays), make all my soups from scratch, and love when I can really call the meal my own. Cooking is really an art, a kind of folklore that is passed down from generation in the kitchen. I love that half of the things I cook I learned from my mother, who learned from her mother. I also love that I have the time to experiment with new recipes. I wouldn't trade cooking dinner each night for anything (although I do love it when Ben and I cook together).
2. Gardening. Okay, I currently don't have a garden, and this will come to a great shock to my parents who witnessed my disapproval of helping out in the garden growing up, but I do love gardening. Well not always, but I guess I love the product. I love the mass amount of tomatoes, squash, potatoes, and beans that come at the end of the summer.
3. Eating Dinner. Maybe this is the reason why I like to have a set table, place mats, and the food in dishes. I just like enjoying the moment, appreciating the food we are eating. I will admit that I often hurry through a bowl of grape nuts at breakfast (or worse, at my desk), but dinner is something that I prefer taking time for.
4. Talking with friends. I think one of the greatest blessings of being single was actually getting to spend time with friends, lots of time. I loved that I lived with so many wonderful roommates and that we got to spend time relaxing after a long day and just talking to each other. And now I get to spend that same kind of time with the best man in the world (at least for me) each night. I love how when I am truly relaxed and happy with a friend, conversations just flow and time stands still. We can easily talk for 1-2 hours without even noticing the time. I am eternally grateful to those few precious friends who keep me sane through our conversations, since nothing is quite as cathartic as talking to a close friend.
5. Walking. I am a fast walker in terms of speed, but walks (the kind you take with friends or out enjoying nature) are always best when not rushed. I love just taking in the outdoors. Maybe this is why I love my commute so much. Yes I have to talk to the metro in the rain and snow sometimes, but I love that I have 15 minutes to clear my head and stretch my legs after a long day at work. Walking does wonders for me.
6. Fishing. The great thing about fishing is that is cannot be rushed. You have to wait, have patience, and just enjoy the moment. As I always remind Ben when I am catching no fish, fishing isn't about the fish, it is about the water. There is something cleansing about just being in nature. I love just standing in a middle of a stream with the cool touch of the water around my legs and listening to the ripples. Fly fishing allows to you appreciate this more than anything I have ever found. In fact, the last time we went fishing I completely missed a few strikes because I was so taken with watching wildlife (a beaver swim around me).
7. Babies. One reason I love Christmas is that each year I get to spend quality time with my sister's kids, which usually involves a baby. I love that they can't be rushed. Some of my favorite memories are of holding Zari in a sling for hours on end while she slept cuddled again my chest. Besides that she was my personal heat source, I love that taking time to appreciate the moment is what it is all about.
Monday, November 03, 2008
In honor of our love of pizza, Ben and I decided to try making calzones on Sunday. With a hearty appetite after a Fast Sunday, we threw together a bunch of random ingredients in our fridge to make really great creations. I have been working on perfecting my pizza crust. I typically like deep dish, but these never turn out well at home, so lately I have converted over to thin crust. I would highly recommend investing in a $15 baking stone to make the best crusts (and always preheat the stone).
I actually made normal french bread and let it rise in the fridge while we were at church.
2 1/2 c warm water
2 Tbs yeast
3 Tbs sugar
1/4 c oil
1 tps salt
1 egg yolk
6 c flour
Combine water, yeast, and sugar and let it grow for 5-8 minutes. Add oil, salt, egg yolk, and half of the flour. Stir until the lumps are gone and then add remaining flour until a soft dough forms. Place in greased bowl and let rise until double.
Punch down and cut off a small portion. Roll out into a circle as thin as possible. Put any combination of the following ingredients onto half of the dough, leaving the edge empty:
Sharp cheddar cheese
Vodka spaghetti sauce
Fold the dough over and press the edges together to seal (I like to roll the bottom edge on top of the other edge and then press together. Transfer to a preheated, corn meal dusted baking stone and bake at 450 for 15-20 minutes (until golden brown). Brush with olive oil and lightly salt. Eat hot.
Friday, October 31, 2008
Step 2: Arrive on the scene a day early, which is apparently enough time to make a wedding cake. For a 10-inch and 6-inch two tier cake, make two large batches of frosting. You want to have extra frosting, which makes it easier to frost and make the frosting smooth.
Step 3: After you are sufficiently covered in powdered sugar, pull out the two 10-inch layers. Cut the tops off so they are completely flat. Frost the top of one layer, add a little bit of raspberry filling (aka raspberry jam) and then put the second layer on top. Push down so the layers stick together. Now cover this in a TON of frosting; adding a lot of frosting helps you avoid crumbs (which happen when the frosting is too thin and you pull at the cake) and makes it easier to smooth because you can just take off extra frosting. To get really smooth frosting, wipe frosting tool completely clean after each stroke. A damp frosting tool will help the frosting become completely smooth.
Step 4: Repeat with 6-inch cake. You will want to cut a small circle of cardboard (covered in tin foil) to put the smaller cake on while you frost and decorate.
Step 5: Get a friend. Preferably someone who is quick on their feet. Roll out fondant big enough for larger layer and as quickly as possible pick up the fondant (this is where the friend comes in handy). With four hands you can easily pick it up without make any holes in it, center over the cake, and then proceed to work with the fondant to make it perfect. This also involves working incredible fast (fondant gets hard after 10 or more minutes) to make the fondant fit the cake and be completely smooth. You can rub the fondant with the palm of your hand to make it shine. Repeat with remaining fondant to cover smaller cake.
Step 6: Once the fondant is fitting cake and smooth, carefully cut the excess fondant off (whatever is longer than the stand) and let the cakes sit, undisturbed until the wedding. I suggest doing this the night before, because the fondant will harden a little, which makes it easier to transport. If the fondant is really soft, then any kind of tiny touch will leave a mark. If the fondant is a little harder, then you won't end up with little marks in the cake.
Step 7: Transport to the reception location. Cut straws (the normal drinking kind, I got mine at the nearest McDonald's) the exact height of the bottom layer. Stick into the cake below where the smaller layer will be to hold up the cake. If you don't use a support, then the cake will smoosh the bottom layer (I'm not kidding about this). Putting in just 8 straws will easily support a quite heavy 6-inch cake, plus no one can see them! Carefully (again with the help of a friend), place the smaller layer on top of the bottom layer, making sure that it is centered. Decorate with ribbon and flowers, for a perfect cake.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Once I got to college I realized that I needed to train someone to highlight my hair, so I found a friend (usually a roommate) who also wanted highlights, and I we would exchange services. I would usually do a quick demo to show her the basics and then let her highlight my hair. Over the years I have probably taught at least 8 people how to highlight hair. You would be amazed at how easy it is to learn. I mean, there are some tricks (like doing very crisp folds and working with another person to cut the time in half), but so far I really haven't had any mishaps. Even the "kinky streak" turned out to be one of my favorite hair memories.
I gave my first haircut my junior year in college when my roommate Kim and I were bored one night and both complained we needed a hair cut. And ta-da, we both learned how to cut hair. And I might add, we did an incredible job (Kim in fact remarked that it was the best haircut she had in awhile). After that we started giving friends haircuts. I still cut hair (my husband is my newest client).
When I was cutting my friend Jill's hair a few nights ago (again, we were swapping haircuts), she remarked how frightened stylists are when they hear that she often cuts and highlights hair without any formal training. And Jill is by far the best highlightess I have ever found. Her highlights were so even and subtle that I went six months before I even needed more.
The hilarious part about my self-taught stylist ability is that people stop me all the time on the street/metro/mall to ask who does my hair. And usually I saw, um a friend. They then ask for that person's contact information so they can get their hair done by them, and I have to break the news to them that they are not a trained stylist and usually taught by me. In fact yesterday while going home on the metro a girl behind me tapped my shoulder and asked me where I got my hair done. She is a stylist and wanted to know who did my hair so she could go learn from them. She almost died when I told her that my husband cuts my hair and I taught him how to.
The moral of the story: I believe anyone can learn how to cut hair. As my sister Diedra often says "if you can decorate a cake, you can cut hair." Apparently you just need a little creative urge.