Monday, December 22, 2008

the true spirit of Christmas

Years back Diedra and I started what became a Spencer family tradition: giving gag gifts for Christmas. Except that the recipient didn't know they were gag gifts, which made it even better. Let me explain:

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

leather books

I learned how to bind books in college and instantly fell in love. I remember spending a lot of my Saturday mornings hanging out in the empty classroom taking advantage of the amazing paper cutter. I made a lot of books that semester, many of which I still use.

When my best friend Jocelyn and I realized that we both took that class and knew how to book bind, it was a match made in heaven. We started to collect supplies; Jocelyn supplied the pretty paper and I found the perfect source for leather: my father.

I might have to tell you a little about my father at this point. He can do anything (and often does). Sometimes he thinks of something and then makes it (gee, I wonder where I get that from?). He learned how to make fly rods a few years back and has since taught the entire family. He taught himself how to fix cars and has spent a lot of time in our garage trying to keep our Ford Tauruses going. He picked up woodworking and has made our kitchen table, bookcases, bed frames, cribs, and jewelry boxes.

A few Christmases ago for the Spencer family Christmas craft, I taught the family how to make books using leather as the cover, and my dad instantly fell in love. He is actually really good at this and loves to make them in his spare time. My dad had part of a cowhide, which we used, but we knew we had to find more leather. Then came my dad's brilliant plan. As part of his job he drives around the state and often passes a local show factory. One day he stops in and just asks them if they ever sell leftover leather. Nope, they give it away for free. So he walks into an entire ROOM of leather scraps and fills up an entire bag full. Every once in awhile my dad will send me a huge box of leather, all different colors and textures. This is what supports my book making.

So with a box or two of leather and some paper, Jocelyn and I set about to get back into book binding. After making a few books, we came upon this ingenious way to make really small journals in only about 30 minutes (as opposed to 2-5 hours for each journal). We haven't made books together in awhile, but I still pull out my supplies and make books every few weeks. Below are some examples of the journals I have made.

Monday, December 15, 2008

joys of Christmas baking

I love all things Christmas. Ben was nice enough to let me decorate early this year (before Thanksgiving) because I was so excited about putting up the ornaments that I made last year with my sister and mom. In lieu of a tree, I decided to hang them on our baking rack, which is doing an excellent job at being festive. We also put up some white Christmas lights in the kitchen.

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.

Enjoying the fruits of our labors.

Pumpernickel Bread
½ c + 2 T warm water
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.

French Bread
2 ½ c warm water
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.


The snorkeling was the best I have ever had (and I've been three times). We usually spent a few hours in the morning and then a few hours after lunch trying out different spots to see what we could find. Our two favorite locations were Salt Pond Bay and Waterlemon Bay. Both required about a 15 minute walk, but I thought it was well worth it. Above is Waterlemon Bay, where Ben and I saw the HUGE barracuda (which kind of freaked me out).

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.

Waterlemon Bay beach. The beach isn't very big, but it is beautiful and worth the incredibly snorkeling.

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.

2. Squid. This was the first time that I have ever seen squid. We first spotted one in Waterlemon Bay, and stopped to watch it. Then we realized that there were three others near him, but just extremely well camouflaged. They are incredible to watch, since they are constantly changing colors and patterns. Once we knew what to look for, we saw eight more in another bay and a really big one later on in Waterlemon bay.
3. Porcupine fish. The first time Ben and I saw one of these, we had NO idea what it was. Besides that it looks kind of crazy, the way it swims is very strange. The small fins on the top and bottom of its tag wag back and forth, kind of making the whole wag as it swims. They are very wary of people, so we didn't get to watch him for long, but it was about 3 feet long. This is actually a puffer fish, but we saw it un-puffed.

4. Nurse sharks. I have never seen a shark before. We had heard that people have seen them in some of the bays, so one day Ben and I went out in Salt Pond to see if we could spot one at the edge of the sand and coral. And we did, but not just a shark, two six-foot long sharks. One was sitting on the bottom and one was swimming, which we followed for awhile. They were actually very beautiful and not nearly as terrifying as I thought they would be. I was much, much more terrified of the enormous barracuda.

5. Moray Eels. I thought I would be utterly scared of seeing an eel, but actually they are beautiful. I spotted one swimming along the bottom in Waterlemon Bay, and Ben and I stopped to watch it for awhile. It was beautiful to watch and it's face wasn't that scary after all.

6. Swimming around Waterlemon Cay. Waterlemon has a small island that you can swim around and see the most amazing coral. If you swim counter clockwise, the current actually pushes you all the way around, so it is a really fun ride. After an amazing swim around the island, we swam up to the sandy part and relaxed on our own private island.

Overall I was amazed at the clarity of the water and the amount of fish that we saw each day. Ben is incredibly lucky at finding sea life, and my reading about Caribbean fish really came in handy when we kept wondering what everything was.
Proof that Ben and I went snorkeling. Check out of our awesome mask lines.

Ben taking in the view at Waterlemon Bay.

the beaches

The beaches on St John are amazing. Since most of the island is still a forest, the beaches come right up the foliage, which is so pretty. When we weren't spending our time in the water searching for sharks, we were often on the beaches.

One of my favorite beaches on the island is Cinnamon Bay. It is a long bay, so the beach is wide and long. We went there one night around sunset to enjoy having the beach to ourselves. Since Ben isn't one to sit still for long, he found some volcanic rocks, which he proceeded to climb. We had a wonderful time enjoying a peaceful evening and still warmed by our sun-kissed skin.

Ben and I at Cinnamon Bay.

Ben climbing.

Ben jumping off some rocks.
I even took my turn at climbing, although I didn't get as high with a dress on.

The sunset at Cinnamon Bay.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Virgin Islands

Welcome to Thanksgiving, Virgin Islands style. For the past few years I have made it a tradition to head down to St John for a week of being very thankful for beautiful islands and snorkeling. Last year I went down with some of my dearest friends (and sister) for a truly lovely week. Ben and I wanted to take advantage of (a) living on the East Coast, (b) having flexible schedules, and (c) not having kids yet, so we decided to skip the turkey and instead bask in the sun.

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.

After a few bumps in the road (having to get another rental car since our first one couldn't go to St John and driving across St John in the dark), we eventually found Concordia. As a remnant of the Colonial past, you drive on the left side of the road in the Virgin Islands, which makes for some pretty fun/crazy driving. Ben did a terrific job at navigating the windy roads and also keeping us from bottoming out.

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

all those tales about roadkill are true

Anyone who knows anything about my crazy (fun) family knows that we ate roadkill growing up. Not squirrels or raccoons, but deer. Only the top of the line roadkill. My father would usually find one while driving (deer are a plenty in Minnesota) or put his name on the DNR roadkill list and get called when they found a warm deer. (I'm not making any of this up). He would then proceed to skin and butcher it in our garage and nicely wrap it in butchers wrap and label RK for roadkill. At least my dad is funny. These butchering sessions would also include anatomy sessions for any kids who got close enough. My dad would often grab pliers, pick a tendon and then pull to show us how it make the legs move. Kind of gross but pretty awesome when you are ten.

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.

favorite brother

In true Spencer family fashion, a few years back Garrett made everyone in the family something with his face on it. The girls all got aprons with his face that either said "favorite brother" or "favorite son." The nephew got a t-shirt that had his face with "favorite uncle." It was pretty rad.

The best part is the likeness to Garrett's face. Yes he made the stencil himself. Yes he painted them on aprons and teeshirts.

Below is the latest creation by Garrett. I think my mom mailed his stencil to him in Russia so that he could make more items with his face on 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

German Curried Chicken

In honor of my German grandmother Brigitta, I'm going to share one of my favorite dinner recipes, German Curried Chicken. You are probably asking yourself how can curried chicken be German, but I assure you, this is not like any curry you have had before.

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

things i've learned since being married

It is kind of entertaining at how many things I've notice about myself since being married. Maybe it is the fact that I have Ben (the perfect man) next to me most of the day to realize just how many silly habits I am still holding on to. Ben is hands-down the most patient, kind, charitable person I have ever met. How could I not notice these small characteristics when living with the best person I know?

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

that pink blazer had to come in handy eventually...

Ben probably thought I was crazy for suggesting trying on a bright pink blazer that we found at my favorite thrift store (the Community Clothesline) in Minnesota. I knew it would come in handy, I just wasn't sure for what. And last week we found out what for:It really made the perfect Used Cars Salesman costume for Halloween. And are those the polyester pants and tie that I also found at the Clothesline, you betcha! And although you can't tell from the pictures, yes that is a goatee that Ben is sporting.

You would think that with such great costume genius I would come up with something awesome. My costume had potential, but one fatal flaw: if I stopped moving I just looked like a blue monster, a very boring blue monster.
Me dressed as a car wash. At least the costume looked great in motion.

christmas crafts

I have a quandary. Usually I blog about my most recent crafting, but since these are all for Christmas gifts (either for friends or family), I can't post it on the blog or all Christmas surprises would be ruined. This kind of kills my blogging spirit, especially since so many of these things are awesome! If I was to blog about the crafts, here is what the editing version would look like:
A few months ago I came across the idea of making ******* as Christmas presents
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.
This will all make more sense come Dec 25.

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

in praise of slowness

I started reading a new book today, called "In Praise of Slowness." I'm only 25 pages in, but I'm intrigued by the idea that sometimes slower is better. The author is in favor of balance, knowing when to slow down to make life better.

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


Lately Ben and I have been dining at one of our favorite restaurants, a small pizzeria just a few blocks away. Their pizza is incredible; really fantastic crisp crust, fresh mozzarella, and lots of fun toppings. My favorite is the white pizza (ricotta, smoked mozzarella, basil). Ben likes it with pepperoni on top.

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).

Pizza Dough
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
Ricotta cheese
Spaghetti sauce
Vodka spaghetti sauce
Parmesan cheese
Flavored sausage

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

how to make a wedding cake

Step 1: Have your best friend get married to another close friend for the perfect weekend wedding. Have said best friend bake the cake a few days earlier and put it in the freezer (which makes it easier to cut and frost).

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

license to cut

I'm a self taught stylist. I remember giving highlighting a try when I was sixteen on my friend Katie. It wasn't bad, but it sure wasn't even. So the second try I decided to give foiling a try since it seems basic enough: you take small strips, weave, put down some foil, apply bleach, and then fold the foil around the hair. And ta-da, we had just discovered how to give ourselves amazing highlights for about $4.

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.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Wedding

I couldn't have asked for a better wedding or a more memorable day! It was so wonderful to have our families there to be part of this very special day. And thanks to everyone who made this possible (my mom who catered the reception, my sister Diedra who made the amazing wedding cake, my brother-in-law Matt who took our pictures, and Jocelyn and Arianne who stole food for me!). An upclose shot of the wedding dress that I made. I think the sash and the blue train are my favorite parts. Ben showing off the cufflinks that I made for him.
Outside on the Plummer House grounds.

Ben and I at the front door of the Plummer House.

Ben and I. My sisters Diedra, Rixa and Jocelyn, me, Brandi (Ben's sister) and my two best friends from DC, Jocelyn and Arianne.
The sisters striking a pose! I made all the skirts out of saris from India.
Ben and his four brothers, all looking pretty handsome. I don't think you can tell from this photo, but they all have that "Dawson" look. Ben will even show you on demand.
Ben's family.
Diedra and Peter during the brunch. I must admit, Jocelyn has very well behaved children.
Ben and I as we take off for the temple. Note, I am driving because since this is my turf it made the most sense to have me drive in Minnesota. Plus, the car was brand new (7 miles) so it wasn't like I was complaining.
Everyone in front of the St. Paul Minneapolis Temple. Please note that Peter is running around on the walls in the background (cough, what was that comment about well behaved children?).
Ben and I at the St Paul Temple after we were sealed. The weather was absolutly gorgeous! I couldn't asked for a more perfect day.