Virgin's Guide to Burning Man

A Virgin's Guide to Burning Man can be found here.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cinnamon-Nutella and Coconut-Raisin Cookies

I really wanted to make some cookies as a gift for friends, but we're on a bit of a tight budget lately, so I tried to scrounge around the kitchen for something I could make with just the ingredients I happened to have on hand. What did I come up with?
Coconut, raisins, and nutella. What the heck was I gonna make with that?

I figured coconut and raisins would go well together and nutella could probably stand on its own. So I went to a recipe for cinnamon cookies, which I thought would make a good baseline recipe for my little treat experiments.

I should probably take a minute to explain my style in the kitchen a bit. My mom owns a Thai restaurant and was trained by the chefs for the King of Thailand. So let me just say she knows her stuff. I grew up helping her in the kitchen and she doesn't go by such silly things as "measurements". Pshaw. She was taught to know something is right by how it smells. I'm no where near her league, but being her daughter, I learned to cook by sight and smell. So discussing recipes for cooking in terms of precise measurements is a bit difficult for me. My measurement system consists more of scientific terms like: “some”, “a few splashes”, and “until it smells right”.

But when it comes to baking, I've always followed recipes religiously because baking does seem to require more precision. Which, funnily enough, is why my mom can't bake. Her pineapple upside-down cake is only upside-down 'cuz that's the only way she can get it out of the pan. With the help of a hammer. And a lot of sweating and a rapid stream of Thai expletives. So the family - in a fit of self-preservation - calls on me at Christmas time to deliver the baked goods. And for that reason, I follow baking recipes down to every last 1/16th of a teaspoon. The fact that I'm experimenting with baking recipes is actually me going out on a serious limb here.

Anyway, back to cooking.

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup sweet butter, room temperature
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ brown sugar

Add ins:
about ¼ - ½ cup nutella
½ cup raisins
¼ cup shredded coconut

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Sift flour, salt and cinnamon into a bowl.

3. In a separate bowl, cream butter until soft. Add white sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Beat eggs and vanilla together, then stir into the butter-sugar mixture. Mix well, then stir in the dry ingredients. Add brown sugar and mix thoroughly.

[Interesting side note: The baseline recipe I used to launch my experiment called for only 2 cups of flour, but this produced a mixture so wet it reminded me of the time I worked at a B&B and was making chocolate chip cookies for a busy weekend. I got distracted by the phone and ended up with only half the flour I was supposed to have, leading to a chocolate-buttery splooge instead of proper cookies. Being busy and not a little panicked, I scooped it up into little bites and sprinkled powdered sugar over it, and smiled nonchalantly as the guests gobbled it up. Goes to show: add enough sugar and butter and you can't go too far wrong with what people will eat. However, for this recipe, there was no way the sticky mess would roll into a decent log, so I doubled the flour and added a little brown sugar and salt for good luck.]

4. Spread out a generous handful of flour on a rolling mat or cutting board. In the bowl, knead the dough into a ball and cut roughly in half. Take one half and roll out into a ¼”-thick rectangle (I think mine was about 9 x 12” in size.) - orienting it with one of the longer sides facing you is probably easiest.

[Another note: a superb rolling pin is a MUST in any baker's kitchen. Anything less is like showing up to the Preakness with a mule.]

Using a butter knife, carefully spread a thin layer of nutella across the dough, trying to get as close up to the edges as possible. Then very carefully, take one of the longer ends and begin to roll the whole piece into a log. The first bit takes a little bit of coaxing, but it goes fairly smoothly if you're delicate with it. Wrap the log and stick it in the freezer to chill until hard to the touch (about 45 mins – 1 hour).

5.Take the bowl with the other half of the dough and knead in the raisins and coconut.

6.Grease two cookie sheets really well. Scoop spoonfuls of the dough and roll each like a ball between your palms until smooth and round.
Place them at least an inch apart on the cookie sheets and bake about 15 minutes or until the edges just start to turn brown. This will leave them crispy on the outside but still soft on the inside. Let cool for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

7.When the nutella log is ready, pull it out of the freezer. Unwrap the foil, and with a sharp knife, cut the log into ½”-inch pieces. Like so:
Place them about an inch apart on lightly greased cookie sheets (I just reused the ones from the coconut raisin cookies, without washing them in between because I was lazy to get the perfect amount of grease.).
Bake for about 12-15 minutes, or until the edges start to brown. Let cool for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Yields about 18-20 coconut raisin cookies...
and 32 cinnamon nutella cookies.

Survey said:
YUM! These make really cute, decorative cookies, and being a little less malleable than regular chocolate chip-style cookies, they're easier to stack, organize and present. The flavor combinations are really wonderful too, with the coconut raisin cookies more on the spicy side and the nutella cookies on the nuttier side. I'm not usually a fan of the harder, crispier, crunchier cookies, usually erring more on the side of soft and gooshy, but these are super flavorful. In fact, they're downright deceptive: so easy to pop in your mouth, you don't even notice you've become a glutton until you've eaten half the plate. (cough) 'Cept I would never do a thing like that. Nope. Not me. (cough) All in all, these would be great additions for any party! ♥♥♥

Rating System:
♥♥♥♥♥ Omigod this is awesome, I could eat it every night!
♥♥♥♥ Wow this is amazing for a special meal!
♥♥♥ Great choice for a dinner party!
♥♥ Hey, that was pretty good. We should have it again sometime.
♥ Eh. S'all right....
♠ Ugh, no! That was so bad I just had to share.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

You Capture - Friends


After months of lurking around Beth at I Should Be Folding Laundry's website and checking out the various contributions to her You Capture challenge, I finally decided I would up and take that challenge. When I saw this week's You Capture was Friends, I thought to myself, “Sweet!” We had a slew of friends visiting this weekend, and even better, a bunch were coming up to collaborate on a project: the birth of the Spearmint Dino art car for Burning Man. What better opportunity to capture true friendship than a bunch of friends putting their heads together to create a communal art project?

Goes to show, what works in your head doesn't always turn out on film. So we're just gonna have to make do with “happy accidents”, m'kay?

I wouldn't say these are the most gorgeous pictures I've taken aesthetically, but oh, I do love them for their irony.
You can see here, the guys are contemplating the art car because they have effed up have been presented with a challenge. Having built the majority of the art car, they (yes, apparently just now) realize they need to get it from the shop to the house where it will be stored and they hadn't quite planned that far out in their schemations. Trouble is: with the dino coming off about a foot on either side of the golf cart, it no longer fits in the bed of a truck. Being a golf cart which zooms along at a stunning 25 mph, it can't exactly be driven down the 101 – lest even slow-ass old grandpas be reduced to gesticulating rudely in our general direction. Built for the playa, it's meant to be outpaced by passing butterflies. And the guys, as proud little papas of their new baby, are loathe to dismantle it for transportation.

So what do they do? They call AAA.
This picture makes them look like a Christian rock band. 'Cept they're burners. Which is pretty much the antithesis of a Christian rock band.

AAA is entertaining the idea and asks for the addresses of pick-up and drop-off. My husband is negotiating with AAA, but doesn't know the address of the guy's house where it will be stored. Jeremy, the guy who does know the address has gone to the loo. So our friend, Jaime, is calling the guy in the loo for the address on one phone and relaying the information to Toby, who is on the other phone to Triple-A.
They're talking to each other while on their cell phones – just not on the phone with each other.

So while this week's You Capture was supposed to capture friends, and I was going for collaboration, what you see in the pictures is anomie. And a whole lot of technology.
Oh, the irony. (But hot dang, my man – the one in the black top – has a hot bod. Mm. Sorry. Easily distracted, I am.)

And as it turns out, AAA has no problem towing a recreational white and pink dino. What they do have a problem with is the fact that it is unregistered. No unregistered white-pink dinos for Triple A. Their dinos must come with papers. So after all that, the boys had to rent a U-Haul to tow it. Then the U-Haul turned out to be about 4 inches too short and they had to dismantle the dino anyway.

Because this happened:
Dino upload FAIL.

But it'll all be worth it once that dino hits the playa.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Virgin’s Guide to Burning Man

I believe everybody deserves the opportunity to go to Burning Man. Whether or not you decide to take that opportunity is a decision only you can make. Never let someone else tell you whether you should or shouldn’t go. Only you can determine just how willing you are to deal with adverse climates and how open you are to letting go of all societal inhibitions. But there’s nothing worse than being left behind because you’re told you probably can’t deal with it (especially if, in your heart, you disagree). I have a pretty rigid layer of societal inhibition, but it is also pretty thin. When I made the decision to go to Burning Man for the first time, I also made a decision to let that layer go. Turns out, when I opened my eyes on the playa that first morning, I took to that dry lake bed like a duck to water.
That said, Burning Man is not something to take lightly. It’s not camping in Yosemite with the grandparents and it’s not a spectator sport. It’s a mindf*ck, and it’s everything and more you could ever want it to be. But it helps to be prepared. And not just with your camping gear, but with your entire being, mind, heart and soul. To really go to Burning Man, you really have to BE there. To do that, you have to come mentally prepared.
So here is a list of suggestions to help you prepare for your virgin trip to Black Rock City:

1. Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely, you MUST read the Event Survival Guide. In order to be mentally prepared for Burning Man, you must first be physically prepared for it. Make sure you have good shelter, proper equipment to protect yourself and your camp, enough food and water, and other creature comforts to ensure your basic survival. People think Burning Man is all about dropping acid and having sex in the desert, and while for some people that is true, you can’t do either of those things if you’re suffering from dehydration or you’ve effed yourself on some wayward rebar in a duststorm. While people are more than willing to help, there is no guarantee they can and it’s not fair to assume you can leech off the good will of others. It IS radical self-reliance.

2. Bring the craziest, awesomest costumes you can think of. Nobody expects you to act or dress in any particular way – and that is the beauty of Burning Man: you can be WHOEVER the f*ck you want to be. You can go as Superman; you can go in your prom dress, you can go as your total free self; you can even go completely naked the entire seven days you’re there. If you could step into an alternate universe and your outfit could really reflect your inner mushu dingbat fliftybuck, what would it look like? Whatever that is, wear that. You can look however you want to, but do think about it and prepare for it, because otherwise when you get out there and see everyone else floating around with their mojo shining, you’re gonna wish you did that too. My absolute favorite outfit from my first time was a bright hot pink miniskirt with matching cowboy hat and Hello Kitty pasties. And I was hot. Not because I was topless save for two little stickers, but because when I wore that outfit I just exuded confidence and my own little spirit and other people responded to it. It’s not uncommon to walk around the playa and have random strangers tell you how beautiful you are. Because not only are you less inhibited to be yourself, you’re also less inhibited to recognize the beauty of others and tell them you appreciate their existence.

By far, the biggest concern I hear most often from Burning Man virgins is that they fear they don't have the self-confidence to put themselves out there like other burners. My first response is: Don't worry about it. Absolutely nobody cares what you wear or don't wear. So if you don't feel comfortable dressing up, just go in your comfy camping/vacation clothes. Wear whatever you feel comfortable in. There are absolutely NO expectations regarding dress codes. My second response is to remind you that you have an entire week to get acclimated. So bring what you would wear if you had the cajones, and decide once you're there whether you want to wear it or not. Most likely, once you see all the cool stuff people are wearing, you're gonna want to do it too, and you'll have started to get used to the whole no-judgment atmosphere. The only thing that would suck is to wish you had an outfit to wear, but to be stuck having brought nothing. It's better to at least have the option.

If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, take a gander at Patrick Roddie and Scott London’s photos of what people have worn in past years.

3. Set your intentions and release your expectations. It helps to go to Burning Man with a goal in mind, but you cannot have any expectations for what will happen, how people (including yourself) will be, or what it will be like. Burning Man will screw with you if you expect something out of it. But if you have a little wish, it’ll deal it back to you in ways you could never dream. My first time, I wanted to recover from a very difficult and traumatic experience. My only aim was to go write something on the Temple and hope that it helped. When I arrived, when I discovered the Temple that year was the Temple of Forgiveness, I cried. It was exactly what I needed to hear; it was exactly what I had come for. I made my gift for the Temple and when I sat in the silence with tens of thousands of others watching it burn, I felt the most incredible cleansing and release. I found forgiveness, and I found it in abundance. So come with a wish. It can be as little as to just have a good time, or as big as a soul-changing experience. Just don’t have any preconceptions for how it’ll play out.
Photo by Toby Keller

4. Bring a gift. You’ll hear this a thousand times: Burning Man is not a spectator sport. It is full participation. One of the best ways to participate is to bring something you can offer the community. This year, my camp is bringing a full bar stocked with $1,500 worth of good booze. We will unload ALL of it by the end of the week. And remember, it’s a GIFT economy; you give, you don’t barter, and you sure as heck don’t sell. In fact, it’s very odd and disconcerting to make your first cash transaction after leaving the playa and re-entering the default world; it seems a gift economy is the way things should be. But the number one reason why giving is great participation is because you put yourself out there and meet so many wonderful people. My first time, I baked 200 cookies and walked around with a little spray bottle filled with water and lavender essential oils, asking everybody I saw whether they wanted a cookie or a misting. I met so many wonderful people and got to see so much cool stuff, it was pure joy to do it - it just feels good to give. And within two days, people would recognize me and call out, “Hey it’s the Cookie & Mister girl!” (Don’t be surprised if you develop a playa name.)

5. Lastly, I would recommend bringing one or two items that would just make your trip the tits. The one or two creature comforts that transport you from doing just okay, to saying, “Life is aaaalll rriiiiight...” For me, that is baby wipes and the lavender water. I take little “baths” with the baby wipes every morning to freshen up, and the spray bottle helps cool me down in the heat and the lavender oil is relaxing and refreshing. Perfect for my soul. But find your thing, whether it’s your kick-ass homemade bloody mary mix, your favorite tunes, or your must-have comfort food (dry ice does wonders for keeping things cold), and be sure to bring that along.

Burning Man is a million things indescribable, but the first words you’ll hear when you step foot on the playa are “Welcome Home.”

Come find our bar at Spearmint Dino (Adapt & 7:30) and we’ll pour you a drink!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Ballad of Jack & Rose

Watching this movie, for me, was something like watching an exquisitely produced and gorgeously rendered slow-motion series of train wrecks. It was so beautiful, and yet so traumatic to watch. The acting, direction, and cinematography were all absolutely superb, and the characters had such great - or at least understandable - intentions and desires, but they went about them all the wrong way. And you, the audience, know the travesty is coming and are powerless to stop it.

My husband and I got two very different readings of the movie. Or perhaps, more accurately, we came away from it with two very different messages. Honestly, what he got from it was probably much closer to the filmmaker's intent. It's as the film wanted to say "See? This is how it's supposed to be! Happiness is freedom from the corruption of others."

I wanted to shout "No! You've got it all wrong!" Because if that is indeed what the movie intended, then I disagree with it's basic view of human nature and the purpose and effects of human society, and I can draw evidence from it's own characters and plot to show why I disagree.

I realize at this point I'm not doing a very good job of selling this movie. But if you like independent films, films with multiple possible interpretations, or movies that make you think about where you stand in this world, then this is the movie for you. (Highly recommended for burners, artists, philosophers, and political and literary theorists. Burners especially will relate to the difficulty of moving between an ideal world and the 'default world'.) I don't want to spoil any of the movie for anyone, so I won't say exactly what happens in it. Beyond its premise, I'll only say what it made me think about.

Daniel Day-Lewis does an outstanding job of portraying an environmentally-conscious father, Jack, who raises his daughter, Rose, on a remote island where they are almost entirely self-sufficient. They live in near total peace and happy harmony until he becomes terminally ill and realizes he must work out some other arrangement to care for his daughter when he passes away. So he tries to introduce other people to their little happy commune and trouble ensues from there. Catherine Keener, Paul Dano, Jason Lee, and Beau Bridges also star in this film.

It's rather difficult to discuss without getting into specifics, but what I thought when I saw the movie was that it shows just how powerful socialization is in shaping us. Our parents and all the people around us have a very important role to play in shaping our beliefs, in how we interact with the world, and what we know to be right and wrong. And what I really thought when I saw it was that what is really important is to have a variety of people around us, to teach us right from wrong as well as how to interact well with others. Perhaps it's the Buddhist in me speaking, but what I saw was a need for balance: that going too far for one ideal means sacrificing others (and in this movie, it puts you in the awkward position of facing the question: is incest wrong because society says it's wrong, or is there something inherently wrong with incestuous relationships?). Growing up with only her father, Rose acquired all his ideals, but she also suffered tremendously because of his failings. Because he didn't know how to communicate, she didn't either - and her attempts at communication devolved into increasingly hurtful and dangerous actions designed to protect her self interest. I'm not saying she is wrong; only that she didn't know better. She had only ever been allowed to be with her father, could only know what it was to love him, which led to a sexual mess when it came to any positive feelings towards men.

We may not always like what people different from us do and say, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are indecent people. As different as people may be, we do share commonalities, and more importantly, there is often something we can learn from others. Ideology is important, having a set of values is what defines us as a people and as individuals, but sometimes ideological coherence is not itself ideal. Ideals taken to the extreme can lead to suffering, and ultimately undermine their own purpose.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sandwiches on the Grill

I {heart} summer, and most especially for the plethora of divine fruits and vegetables sprouting cascades of color and earthly delight. For the past week or two, I've been enjoying the abundance of zucchini and summer squash by grilling up sandwiches. These are so yummy and filling, I just had to share.

To make them, I slice up about a third to a half of a zucchini, and the same of summer squash. I cut thin slices of a third of a red bell pepper. Then I slice one portobello mushroom and grill them up with a couple of sprays of olive oil. I use a panini press (and every day thank the glorious person who got us this wedding gift) to grill the veggies and then press the whole sandwich, but not everyone has one. So if you don't have a panini press, go out and buy one now you can just pan-fry the veggies together. Toast two slices of wheat bread (with a spritz of olive oil on each side) and add a little mayo, garlic powder (or a garlic clove, chopped, if you're feeling feisty), oregano, and salt and pepper. Layer the hot veggies on the bread and add a slice of provolone to melt. Et voila!

And I can definitely give this five hearts: ♥♥♥♥♥ because I have been eating this every day for lunch. (If you have a toaster oven at work, you can make these babies ahead of time and just heat them up in the toaster oven.) It's mouth-watering tasty, and plus it's just so pretty with that riot of color! But as difficult as it might be to hold off, you might want to let this one sit for a few minutes before eating "to let the cheese melt"...a.k.a. the veggies will be nuclear and we don't want to sear the skin off our delicate little mouths. Says the {sad} voice of experience.

Rating System:
♥♥♥♥♥ Omigod this is awesome, I could eat it every night!
♥♥♥♥ Wow this is amazing for a special meal!
♥♥♥ Great choice for a dinner party!
♥♥ Hey, that was pretty good. We should have it again sometime.
♥ Eh. S'all right....
♠ Ugh, no! That was so bad I just had to share.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Nesting Pains Continued

In the unending saga of desire to make a nest and call it home to fill with approximately two munchkins, I've decided that if I can't have a real nest at least maybe I can have a half nest and fill it with pretty things to help me pretend I have a real nest.

I recently visited a friend who lives with her husband in an apartment in San Francisco. It's a two-bedroom, but they've decorated with nice furniture. Furnishing we call adult furniture. Not college furniture. Not the fossilized hand-me-downs from parents. Not the Back-To-School sale items from Linens N' Things, and definitely not the lumpy old couch filled with beer stains, old farts, and that one sticky spot that nobody can quite identify ('Cuz really, does anyone even remember what happened that one night?).

I bought a townhouse when the market was good and I had a well-paying job, and I remember being overwhelmed with how much it would cost to furnish the townhouse with nice things. It seemed practically empty. But when I made the decision to go to grad school (what was I thinking?), I had to rent that one out, turn it in for a shoebox room in a (crazy) house, shared with other (crazy) people. Enter boyfriend-now-husband, I've upgraded to shoebox apartment. And now I'm stuck in a tiny space, with furniture crammed in without an inch to spare.

But the nesting pains are hitting hard, with no end in sight for the foreseeable future. And when it does come time to buy a house, I don't want to be quite so overwhelmed with all the stuff we'd have to get to fill it properly.

So I figure, in the meantime, it would be worthwhile to at least UPGRADE the stuff we do have. We can exchange the college things we have just because we have to have something to sit on/eat at/cook with, and turn them in for nice things in an aesthetic we actually enjoy (the wedding went a long way towards helping with this). We have nice dishes, stemware, and bedding we adore. We have a big ass flat screen TV (and pretty much everything Apple has come out with). I can't control the fact that we live in a shoebox, but I can control what a lot of our stuff looks like. With a few low-cost touches, I think we can make our place much nicer, much more OUR OWN, spread out the financial pain of getting stuff to fill a real home, and also try out different aesthetics to get a feel for what we like and what we'll tire of before committing whole-hog.

Step 1:
Upgrade the bathroom. Now, some of you might remember the fiasco that was our shower tile remodeling. For those who don't, you really ought to read this post: Construction Madness.

There's still not much I can do about the navy blue tile, but at least I can hide it behind a shower curtain. And not this one:

This curtain was a gift from Toby's stepmom (and I'm pretty sure she purchased it with an inordinate amount of glee from Ikea). The little dancing stick animal figures are not entirely my aesthetic, but it was a gift, kind of cute, and it has served us well for several years now. That rug has definitely served its time, having come from my old college roommate, Katie, back in oh-naught. Somehow, move after move, it has ended up in my possession, and I am very ready to retire it.

I saw a gorgeous satin teal and brown shower curtain (honestly, the picture doesn't do it justice) and had to snap it up immediately.

I got towels and mat to match, and am very pleased with the results. For a full two days afterward, I kept walking by the bathroom just to bask in the glow of excitement for pretty, new decor. (Yes, I am this domestic. Bite me.) I plan to add a couple more accents, but that is for a later post.

Step 2:
Renovate coffee table. We don't have a dining room; all we have is this coffee table that serves simultaneously as a work station, TV viewing spot, and dining table. It is a hand-me-down from my parents. I'm pretty sure it's approximately 20 years old, and given perhaps another 10 years, it might actually come back in style. But it is still a perfectly good table, and I think combined with our current living room furniture, would serve really well in a future office, den or game room. It's worth holding on to, but after 20 years, it definitely collected some dust, grime, and gunk.

So last night I spent a couple of hours scrubbing and sanding it down. I really wish I had the forethought to take a Before picture. But even just cleaning it was a marked improvement. It looked quite pretty.

But this morning, we hauled it out onto the front lawn and I whipped out my trusty little brushes and stained it.

And now it's all pretty. And shiny! Who knew it could shine? Not me. It just needs to dry a couple more hours, I'll slip the glass back on and ba-da-bing! Brand new old table. I'll cover it with this table runner, and our living room will have a much needed face lift.

Steps 3 & 4 will involve painting our living room walls and kitchen cabinets. True, our landlord would have a hissy fit if he found out, but we plan to paint it back when we move out. And I have officially decided I Say No to swiss coffee. I am so tired of that stupid wall paint. From henceforth, my walls shall have color! We have visitors coming this weekend, so next weekend I will continue the decorating extravaganza. So stay tuned! Same bat time. Same bat channel.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Because Maybe Accountability Works

I have been much less productive than I have wanted to be lately - and certainly less productive than I need to be, and I am seeing the result in my waistline and to-do lists. Why, oh why, can't conspicuous consumption and consummate laziness equal health and prosperity?

Truth be told, I haven't been lazy exactly. I've just been too lax about my priorities. A little too much socializing, too little work, too much eating, too little exercise, and so the story goes. It's so much easier to forget to do something, or to bullshit away the time than to commit to a project and see it through. I do have discipline and can be disciplined, but the past couple of weeks haven't really proven it.

So today begins a new day. I got up at a decent hour, showered, exercised, and created my list of things to accomplish today (because nothing is more satisfying than crossing of items from a to-do list - even if the item you crossed off is "create a to-do list"). The fridge is stocked with fruits and vegetables, and I'm re-committing to my healthy diet. I'm also restricting my socializing, at least for now, something I haven't had to do since the first few years of grad school. But socializing is cutting too much in to my time to get work done. Moreover being out with others also inevitably introduces food and alcohol that I shouldn't be consuming. And the more alcohol there is, the more food I am guaranteed to shovel into my mouth. Oh margaritas, how you mock my resolve.

But not today. Today, I've got my running shoes on, and I'm raring to go.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Asian Orzo Salad Served Up With Fresh Lemon-Lime-Mint-ade

We've been eating out a LOT lately, with heavy and large meals on the menu several days in a row. While it's great to be social and get out on the town a bit, it does do a number on our digestive systems. So this week, I really just wanted to do something light, healthy and super fresh. My bloodstream was clamoring for a detox, so I delivered.

A friend of mine had once made an Asian Orzo salad, and I remembered how light and crisp it was - perfect for summer eating. So I decided I would try that too. I perused a bunch of recipes online, and they all seemed to be roughly the same (but rather heavy on the oil). I wanted a lighter version, so with the online recipes as a vague guidepost, I came up with this variation to serve two:

Asian Orzo Salad

1 chicken breast, cooked & shredded
4 oz. dry orzo (or 2 cups cooked)
1 carrot, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
3 green onions, chopped
3/4 cup sugar snap peas, steamed
3/4 cup cherry or grape tomatoes
1/2 cup canned sliced water chestnuts
1/4 cup diced cucumber
4 tsp. oil
3 tsp. rice vinegar (rice wine vinegar also works)
2 tsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. hoisin sauce
salt and pepper

1. I first grilled the chicken on a panini press to cook it, but pan frying it would work just as well. While the chicken was grilling, I boiled the orzo until cooked (about 8 minutes), drained the water and set it aside in a large bowl. Then I shredded the cooked chicken and added it to the orzo bowl.

2. Next I steamed the sugar snap peas, and chopped up all the veggies and chestnuts, and added them to the orzo and chicken.

3. Then I mixed the oil, vinegar, soy sauce and hoisin sauce until blended. Then I added it to the salad and tossed until mixed. I added a little salt and pepper to taste for the finish.

4. Chill for at least half an hour before serving.

My thoughts:
The Asian Orzo salad was perfect for what our mood was: it was light, crisp, cool and a great summer eat. I loved that it was heavy on the veggies, with chicken for protein (and of course the chicken can be substituted with tofu for vegetarians, or delete it completely and just use more orzo for balance with the veggies). The orzo was filling, but I didn't put a lot, so it was decently light on carbs. My husband thought it was great, so I'm happy when he's a happy camper. For me, as a recipe itself, I would probably give it two hearts: ♥♥. It was pretty good and I would be happy to have it again, but I'm not sure it'll quite make it into our usual repertoire. I might also experiment a bit more with the sauce. Hoisin sauce is not one I use regularly. I might try substituting it with oyster sauce instead and adding a little sugar or Splenda if it needs extra sweetening.

EDIT: A week later I tried the same dish and added a dash of white pepper and a few splashes of fish sauce and it was perfect! Just the thing the sauce needed for a little kick: a little savory to counter the sweet of the soy and hoisin. I'm pretty sure that officially bumped it up to three hearts ♥♥♥, and I served it to dinner guests with fresh cherries and lychees for dessert and it was a hit. Light but filling. Yup, fish sauce fixes everything.

However, I did serve it up with fresh, home-made lemonade, which I absolutely LOVED. I have a feeling I'll be making this all summer long.

The Best Lemonade Ever

What makes this the best lemonade is that it is not just lemons. It is lemons plus limes and mint. YUM. I make it with Splenda because I try to avoid too much sugar, but of course it can be made with sugar.

4 lemons
4 limes
8 sprigs of fresh mint
18 packets of Splenda (or 3/4-1 cup sugar, depending on taste)
1 cup of water to boil
2 cups of cool water to add

1. Add Splenda to 1 cup of water and bring to a boil. Stir occasionally to dissolve Splenda in the water.

2. Squeeze the lemons and limes (makes about 3/4 cups of lemon-lime juice).

3. Add the Splenda-water to the lemon-lime juice, and add 2 cups cool water. Taste to see if you prefer more lemon-lime juice or more water, but this amount is my personal preference.

4. Muddle and mush the mint sprigs in the bottom of a glass with a spoon (this helps release the menthol). Add to lemonade. Chill for at least an hour before serving.

My thoughts:
I LOVE LOVE LOVE this lemonade. I first stumbled upon it by accident when I only had one lemon available, but a bunch of limes and REALLY wanted lemonade. The limes add just a hint of complexity to the lemons, and the menthol adds a real fun kick. This would also make a great mixer with some good tequila (not Jose Cuervo, but something more along the lines of a Corzo Reposado). I give it: ♥♥♥♥♥ because it is simply amazing.

Rating System:
♥♥♥♥♥ Omigod this is awesome, I could eat it every night!
♥♥♥♥ Wow this is amazing for a special meal!
♥♥♥ Great choice for a dinner party!
♥♥ Hey, that was pretty good. We should have it again sometime.
♥ Eh. S'all right....
♠ Ugh, no! That was so bad I just had to share.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Nuala & Garren Get Hitched!

Yesterday, yesterday
In a land that time forgot
Nuala Mansard and Garren Fisher
Lately did tie the knot.

In a sacramental service
Oh so beautiful, intimate, and sweet
At the Santa Barbara Mission Rose Garden
Two beloved hearts did meet.

Some pretty pictures
Toby that day took
So all that maybe wish to
Can later have a look.
And under threat of Michele's fury
Hellfire, damnation, and rot
Toby processed them and published them
Where all can be quickly seen and got.

They look so happy!
They glow with such bliss!
Nuala smiles lightly, lovely and often
As she gazes at her man.
And well you can see love shines bright
When Garren gazes at his lamb.

And a muppet in his pocket
Apparently 'tis what I am.

We are so honored to have been a part of this glorious, wonderful and special day.
Congratulations, newlyweds!
(Apologies for the crappy poem. This is why I am not a poet.)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Happy for No Reason

Yesterday, while running errands, I tuned into a segment on NPR where Marci Shimoff, author of Happy for No Reason, was giving an interview based on her research into happiness. I only caught a brief snippet of the interview, but what stood out to me was that she said everybody has a happiness quotient. This is the baseline ratio or number of how happy a person is, regardless of circumstance. You could win the lottery and within a year, you'd return to this baseline number.

This happiness quotient is about 50% genetic, but the rest of it is largely up to individual choice: how one chooses to view the world and respond to it. True happiness has nothing to do with what happens to you, what things you have in your life or what things you don't have. That happiness is superficial and fleeting. True happiness comes from what you give out. So for example, one of the things she said is that being loved is not a cause for true happiness. But giving out love, in gratitude, forgiveness, doing for others, caring for others...that's what brings true happiness. She quoted a Chinese proverb:

"If there is light in the soul, there will be beauty in the person. If there is beauty in the person, there will be harmony in the house. If there is harmony in the house, there will be order in the nation. If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world."

It seemed from what I caught in the interview that much of what she said was based on scientific research, though when I went to her website, it seemed very commercialized, with very little mention of data or credentials. So that makes me a little skeptical. But what she says has a lot of face validity to me - it sounds logical and true on it's face. It certainly reflects my own particular perspective and experience in the world.

What really struck me was the notion that people have a baseline happiness quotient regardless of circumstance-and that that happiness level has an affect on the people around you. I have known people whose mere presence in a room can either brighten it, or suck all the energy out of it.

There is a very remarkable difference between happy people who fall on hard times, and truly sad or angry people. Even if the hard times are lasting for happy people, and they turn to others for support, it is never an encumbrance to help them and be there for them. But people who are naturally more negative can be intensely draining to be around, even when they are in a decent mood. With them, there is always a problem, always a drama, and in my experience, they always find passive aggressive ways to let you know they're upset. And while I have been known to be passive aggressive when I was younger, once I got old enough to really see what I was doing, I worked hard to recognize and change that about myself because I can't stand passive aggressiveness. It's weak and ultimately harmful because: 1) it makes solving the problem infinitely more difficult because you're never dealing with the real issue, only smoke and mirrors and symptoms of the issue, 2) the passive-aggressor is only punishing everybody else for the unhappiness they feel, instead of ponying up to their own responsibility, and 3) the passive-aggressor gets to pretend they're the victim, they're misunderstood or unappreciated. They're so good at pretending this, they can't see past their own bullshit. They martyr themselves for others and resent it all the while.

But I digress. You can see this is a pet peeve of mine.

I don't know if Shimoff's argument is appealing because it contains both an ability to blame unhappiness on something over which we have no control, and an element where we can tell ourselves we can change how we feel-that we do have choice and control. We can tell ourselves, "I'm not to blame, but I have the freedom to change if I want." It's the epitome of American dogma, isn't it? I have long believed that happiness comes from how you choose to respond to the hand life deals you, but maybe we are predisposed-whether through nature or nurture-to be more optimistic or pessimistic. But I do know, of the unhappy people I've known, some could benefit from a healthy dose of gratitude for what others do for them and the others could do with a little bit of forgiveness.

But then, perhaps, they don't want to be happy. This is something else I have observed: some people are actually genuinely and perfectly content to wallow in a cocoon of self-pity.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Vacation or Staycation, Try the Wine Country

For our first wedding anniversary, my husband and I decided to go wine tasting up in the Santa Ynez region, recently made famous by the movie Sideways, and conveniently enough, located in our backyard.

We enjoy wine tasting up in this scenic area, but this time we decided to splurge and hire a driver to take us around. A quick Google search online introduced us to Cloud Climbers Jeep Tours, who do group wine tours, including 4 wineries, more wine than you can taste, tasting glasses, a fabulous lunch, door-to-door service and a driver who will tell you all about the area and its wineries. Best of all, you get to ride around in a jeep - and not haggle over who gets to be the designated driver. How cool is that?

We were joined by a couple up for a mini vacation from LA, and having such a small group, our wine tour talk quickly devolved from the usual local history tidbits, to which everyone politely nods with bemused interest, to the latest news about the pot farm just beyond the ridge and how much tax money we're wasting on suicide barriers on the nearby bridge. Not your mother's wine tour, I must say - but infinitely more entertaining. We also more readily herdable, being a smaller group, which meant we got the added bonus of hitting up a fifth winery since we had time.

The thing I loved most was that the tour did not have preset winery destinations. Our driver asked us what kind of wines we liked, what we were in the mood for, then took us to his recommended spots. We hit up Brander, Lincourt, Gainey, Saarloos, and Artiste. My husband and I had planned to buy one bottle of wine. We took home three.

Of the five, Artiste was the only one we had been to before, and it was the last one on our list. I would like to tell you their wines were amazing, fabulous, and not-to-be-missed. But as it was the fifth winery that day, my wine palate had disintegrated from detecting floral, citrus, or spice and earth tones, to only being able to distinguish between whites and reds. Though, the sweetness of the final port did shine through enough for me to smack my lips on it, find a scrap book and draw a picture of a turtle. My husband added to the drawing: his turtle humped my turtle. You can see what a state we were in.

We ended up buying one bottle from Brander and two from Lincourt - all of them were whites of some kind or another. I think the heat of the day ruined my taste for reds this trip around. But the winery I truly enjoyed visiting was Saarloos & Sons.
Family owned and operated, this winery has quirky-yet-cool staff members who love to talk to you and tell stories. It also has the most AMAZING cupcakes...I might have to say they even beat Crushcakes. They were oh so moist, and flavored with wine. But the part I loved best was the aesthetic: vintage Victorian with a hint of modern, and a twist of grunge.

The day ended with dinner at Via Maestra 42, the top-notch, authentic Italian restaurant who catered our wedding. All in all it was a fabulous day and a magical way to spend an anniversary. For all you Californians out there, or others near a winery, this is a great vacation idea for these tight times when you want to keep it close to home.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Year Ago

A year ago today, I was in my kitchen with my mom and my matron of honor preparing food for the wedding rehearsal dinner. I was worried and anxious that the party would go well and that the food would turn out nicely. I was thrilled to have my loved ones all around me. I was trying to think if there was anything I'd forgotten, and mostly surprised by how smoothly things were going. But most of all, I was impatient and excited for one of the most important events of my life: my wedding day.

On July 11, 2008, I married Toby Matthew Keller, and tomorrow we shall celebrate our one-year anniversary. So much has happened in one year, I still cannot believe it has already been a year. Somehow it feels as though the three months right after the wedding just never existed. It's like our honeymoon was another world to where we time warped, only to boomerang back sometime in October, when reality really sank back in.

I didn't think it was possible to love him more than I did on our wedding day. But marriage has changed us, and deepened our relationship in ways I could never imagine. There is a sense of security and comfort, where we are each other's foundations, our rocks on which to lean and find the courage and will to pursue our dreams. Even when we argue or disagree, there is no fear, because we know, underneath the disagreement, we are solid and secure with each other. Yes, marriage is a lot of work. To constantly be aware of another's needs and desires, to want them to succeed and always be happy, to find ways to get past the problems life hands you, it is work. It takes energy, commitment and will-power. But it is so worth it, because the good times are so very, very good.

Inevitably, there will be times when it is so very, very hard. But I write this so that my future self will always remember the good times, and to help us get through the bad. I don't wish to sugar-coat marriage, because I think over-sentimentalizing it and over-romanticizing it leaves one in danger of being unprepared for the reality of it.

But I also believe that people who say marriage doesn't matter, that it's just a piece of paper, are full of sh*t (no offense), and are probably masking a fear of commitment. There is something indescribably important about standing up, with your loved one, in front of all your family and friends, and pledging your entire life, heart and soul to each other. And to know that all your family and friends have witnessed that moment, support you, honor that commitment, and pledge to help you sustain that commitment. A marriage is not just a pact between two people; it is a pact between two families (to whatever degree those families are present in your lives) - and I come from a large, in-your-business, love-you-until-rocks-bleed Asian family. And once there is a marriage, we don't believe in distinctions between blood relatives and in-laws. Every one is family. Every one has a place and belongs, where there is no judgment, only love and support. Whether (you think) you want them to be there or not.

So tomorrow, we will celebrate the passing of a year. We will go wine-tasting, we will flirt with each other, we'll dine on fine foods and wedded bliss. And we'll celebrate the day when two became one.

*Wedding photos taken by Kelly Segre Photography.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Grad School Killed the Lit'rary Star

I have lost my ability to read, and I blame grad school entirely. I no longer read. Ever. I skim. It actually takes a concerted effort to really read, and even then, halfway through I forget and skip a few lines.

I've always loved great literature and language that transports and inspires. But grad school quickly knocked that notion out of me. My first quarter I had to get through 600 pages a week, on top of 3 3-hour seminars, papers, presentations, a readership, and a 25-hour a week job - a perhaps an emotional breakdown or two. And those are 600 academic pages, mind you. Not Harry Potter. Six hundred pages of fiction I can get through in a matter of hours. I challenge any non-academic to try reading Moravcsik with any kind of efficiency and get his argument on the first read. Or Skowronek. Brilliant scholar he may be, but Lord, he cannot write.

The only way to survive graduate school is to learn to skim, and skim so well you can get through an article in minutes, and a book in less than an hour and have the main argument. I don't think any scholar (in my field at least) ever reads an entire book.

But while this is a handy skill in grad school, it means the rest of my reading suffers. I just finished getting through two very similar books: Possession, by A.S. Byatt, and The Rossetti Letter, by Christi Phillips. Both books are about scholars stumbling across some historical artifact that changes our understanding of history and follows two simultaneous storylines: that of the scholars, and that of the lovers in history. And by far, I enjoyed The Rossetti Letter, not because it was a better book, but because I was more entertained. The plot-literary moment balance was skewed more in favor of the plot, and so I stuck with the book more. Possession had great swaths of text that contained no plot, and I jumped over whole passages, waiting to get to the interesting part. And my reading of the book suffered for it, I'm sure. I should probably go back and re-read it and pay it the attention that it is due.

But honestly, I don't have time. If I'm going to stick with a book these days, it has to compel me. Which is sad, because I miss savoring books. Instead, I devour them. And leave crumbs all over the table.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Pumpkin Pie Muffins with Cream Cheese Filling

Omigod. YUM. Just that name alone makes me drool. Last week, we went to The Palace Grill, which always has these amazing mini muffins (like apricot, or molasses, or jalapeno cheddar...) and I felt inspired to make some yummy muffins for my husband's birthday, which was yesterday. I was thinking of some of his favorite flavors, maybe something along the lines of maple and pecan, and then it struck me! Pumpkin pie! My husband LOVES pumpkin pie. So I started googling recipes for pumpkin pie muffins.

I found a few that were interesting, but seemed lacking in one sense or the other, and began to think I'd need to patch together several recipes, all the while thinking that a cream cheese filling would be the perfect touch. That's when I came across this recipe: Bakergirl Creations' recipe for Pumpkin Pie Muffins with Cream Cheese Filling. OOoooh yeeeaahhh...

So I tried to make the muffins and document the process as I went. I wanted to take a photo of the part where you have to make a well in the muffin, using two spoons, and plop in a teaspoon of the cream cheese filling. But it turns out it takes two hands to make a well with the two spoons, and a third hand to hold the camera. Of which I am lacking. So all I got was a stupid photo:

And a splooged muffin:

But thankfully, when they came out of the oven, they looked like this:

And they were pure sin in a pocket. Filled with pretty much everything decadent you could imagine to put in a muffin, these little babies were so moist and flavorful, you could eat them all day. The cream cheese was a perfect counterpoint to all the myriad spices. They taste rich and sweet, but not sickeningly so. The spices balance the decadence nicely.

My rating
♥♥♥ I would give it 5 hearts because I definitely could eat them all day long, every day. But if I did, I would quickly look like a cream cheese muffin. I think these are perfect additions to a dinner party, where you can spread the love around (as much as you might want to hoard them all to yourself).

Rating System:
♥♥♥♥♥ Omigod this is awesome, I could eat it every night!
♥♥♥♥ Wow this is amazing for a special meal!
♥♥♥ Great choice for a dinner party!
♥♥ Hey, that was pretty good. We should have it again sometime.
♥ Eh. S'all right....
♠ Ugh, no! That was so bad I just had to share.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Language of Love and Grief

Several years ago, I heard a theory that people give love in different ways and it is important to learn to speak each other's language of love so that your loved ones perceive and appreciate your tokens of affection and so that you can see when others are giving love in return. It is when we misinterpret or don't even see each other's efforts that feelings of hurt and under-appreciation arise.

According to this theory, there are five languages of love: quality time, words of appreciation, expensive gifts, acts of service, and physical intimacy. We all engage in all or most of these actions to greater or lesser extent, but we usually tend towards one or two predominant ones. We give love and expect love back in those terms (or at least recognize it most easily). Quality time people relish most the time spent in their loved one's company. The act of being together, even if not really doing anything, often is more meaningful than the finest diamonds in the world. Words of appreciation people love to lavish praise and verbal affection, and it is warm words that mean the most to them. Meanwhile, for others, words are not as important as other gifts. For some, love is measured in extravagance. These people love to spoil and pamper, and the cost of the gift is proportional to the act of love. For others, love is measured in gifts of devotion. Cooking special dinners, helping with various and sundry tasks, and otherwise doing for others becomes a demonstration of love and affection. And finally, physical intimacy and the need and desire to embrace, hold hands, or just be in touch with someone (literally) becomes a manner of expressing love and affection.

I would say my language of love is primarily acts of service, with quality time and physical intimacy as secondary traits. I do engage in the other two, but to a much lesser extent. My husband, however, I would say is primarily and "expensive gifts" person, with quality time and physical intimacy as secondary traits. I used to expect more acts of service from him, and felt slighted and undervalued when I didn't always receive them. It wasn't until I began to see all the little and big tokens of affection - anywhere from buying groceries, to taking me to dinner, to the fabulous, expensive coats - as all the ways he shows me he loves me that I could truly see and appreciate his devotion on the level it deserved recognition. But with quality time and physical intimacy as both our secondary traits, we speak easily in those domains.

However, I think what might be true of love, might also be true of stress and grief. I've been listening to various family dramas lately and it occurs to me that people deal with grief differently too, and if we don't understand and respect each other's way of dealing with grief, increased conflict and hurt feelings could result.

From what I have seen in my limited experience, I think there might be four languages of grief: sympathizers, bottlers, imploders and exploders. Sympathizers (of whom I would be one) reach out to others for empathy in their grief. They love to console and be consoled, and this constitutes a major part of the grieving process for them, as well as a way to bond with others. They see empathy in times of need as another way to deepen a relationship. Bottlers, on the other hand, shut people out. They may even act passive-aggressively in dealing with their grief, but they keep it close to their chest and much prefer to deal with grief and anger on their own terms. Imploders are similar to bottlers in their sense that they are better left to themselves when upset. They grumble in anger, they may even be spectacularly violent in their fury and perhaps destroy a few inanimate objects, but if left to their own devices, their pain is usually short-lived. Finally, exploders are those who deal with anger and grief outwardly. In more positive ways, they may insist upon dealing with problems and hashing out concerns with the targets of their frustration, working at a problem until it is resolved. In more negative manifestations, they may engage in accusations, argumentation and blame.

I think these categories may even fall along two dimensions: intimacy and time to deal, where intimacy refers to how inwardly or outwardly grief manifests itself in relation to other people. Time to deal refers to how long it takes to manage and resolve the grief.

While I'm a sympathizer, I would say my husband is an imploder. But I quickly learned to give him space and he learned that a warm embrace and a few sweet words go a long way towards me finding me inner peace again. Thankfully in doing so, both of us help each other deal with grief more efficiently so the bad times don't last any longer than they have to.

But this is just a theory based on my own personal observations. I would be very interested to know if this theory holds true in other lives. Also, being a sympathizer and married to an imploder, I feel I might understand these perspectives a little more clearly - and may have given short shrift to the other two personality types. If anyone feels they can elucidate those two perspectives better, I would be most willing to amend my little theory here. It's a work in progress. Please pardon my dust.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Fidgety-Fidgets

I started off the week feeling blue, shifted quickly to anxious, relieved, happy and productive, and now I'm on to fidgety. I am so female. I suppose the fidgety-ness comes from the fact that it is FRIDAY(!) before a glorious holiday weekend that will be spent in San Francisco with fabulous friends. Some of whom are moving to Morocco (booo!...except that I might get to visit, maybe even as soon as next spring as my husband and I are talking about doing a trip to Syria and Morocco...YAY!).

I'm very much looking forward to festivities and good times with the friends. But a large part of me is very sad that I cannot be in Australia right now. Well, okay, I almost always wish I could be in Australia, but I do have a very particular reason today. My cousin, with whom I'm very close, like almost-sister close, is getting married. It's a quick and small wedding due to extraneous time and budget constraints. But all of her family is either in Thailand or California, and because of the timing, none of us can be there with her. I feel...displaced somehow, not being able to witness this moment in her life and stand by her side through it. I want to see her glow; I want to see her radiantly happy. And pictures, no matter how well-captured, are but pale imitations of the real thing. I feel a loss, not being able to be there, and I only hope she does not feel alone on that day. I will be thinking of her, as will all of our family.

But I can't succumb to the fidgety-fidgets for very long. I have much to do today! My manuscript is, I think, about 99.5% done. I have just one last read-through to do, mostly for cosmetic changes, and this makes me excited, nervous, and proud all at once. Even if it gets rejected, I feel proud that it is complete. (Well, I'm sure it will get rejected. Probably multiple times. But all it takes is that one yes, right?)

In the meantime, I also have laundry to do, survey data to enter, weekend items to pack, and a multitude of other various and sundry tasks to complete. So, as the French would say, "On y va!"

Happy Fourth everyone!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Bacon Wrapped Dates and Spanish Meatballs with an Almond Sauce

Sorry vegetarians, this week's taste test constituted a veritable meat orgy. With the July 4th weekend and the requisite BBQ parties fast approaching, I thought I would try a couple of dishes that would make great party platters. And what better way to do party appetizers than Spanish tapas? I suppose Spanish food might not be considered quite appropos on a day celebrating American Independence to those who believe the BBQ should be all-American...but well...hey, at least it's not British.

These two appetizers are so yummy and flavorful, I guarantee they will be a hit with the guests—at least your carnivorous ones. The first one, the bacon-wrapped dates, are less of an experiment for me this time because I have made them before. However, I did discover them in a restaurant and just had to kind of wing the recipe. And they were so good I served them at our wedding rehearsal dinner and they disappeared before I even finished putting out the rest of the platters.

Bacon-Wrapped Dates with Honey

1 package bacon (I prefer the maple smoked variety)
1 package dates
Toothpicks (the thick, flat ones are sturdiest)

Cut the bacon slices in half (not lengthwise), so you have double the number of short pieces. Roll each date up in a bacon slice and spear them with the toothpick. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until the edges are crispy. Serve on a platter and drizzle honey over each piece.

My thoughts:
These appetizers are so easy to make and they really are party favorites. The combination of salt and sweet is so perfectly balanced, and it hits everyone's tastebuds just right.
I give this one: ♥♥♥♥. I think it is “Omigosh so amazing” I could eat it every night, but seeing as how it is bacon, I probably shouldn't.

Spanish Meatballs in an Almond Sauce

(These proportions served 4 people as part of a larger meal and made about 25 meatballs.)

For the meatballs:
1 slice wheat bread with the crust removed
2 tbsp water
2 c. ground pork (ground beef, lamb, or veal would also be good)
¾ small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 tbsp fresh flatleaf parsley
1 egg, beaten
a few sprinkles nutmeg
a few sprinkles cinnamon
dried, crushed red chilies to taste
salt and pepper
all-purpose flour, for coating
2 tbsp olive oil
juice of 1 lemon

For the sauce:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 slice white bread, crust removed
½ cup blanched, slivered almonds
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/3 c. dry white wine
dried, crushed red chilies
salt and pepper
1 c. mushroom broth


For the meatballs, put the bread in a bowl, add the water and let soak in a bowl for about 5 minutes. Take the bread out and squeeze out the water and place bread back in the bowl. Add the pork, onion, garlic, parsley, egg, and seasonings & spices. Knead the ingredients together well.

Spread some four on a plate. With floured hands, roll the mixture into bite-size meatballs and roll each in the flour until coated.

Using a large, deep skillet for frying, heat the olive oil and fry meatballs in batches for a few minutes per batch. Turn the meatballs to sear each side. Do not cook through, only brown the outsides. Remove the meatballs from the pan.

Heat the olive oil for the sauce in the same skillet. Break the bread into pieces and add the almonds. Stir-fry until golden brown, then add the garlic and the wine. Allow to boil for a couple of minutes and add the seasonings.

Pour the sauce into a blender with the mushroom broth and blend until smooth. Return to the skillet, add the meatballs and simmer for 25 minutes. Season sauce with more salt and pepper, to taste.

Serve the meatballs on a platter. Add the lemon juice to the sauce and mix until blended in. Pour the sauce on top of the meatballs. Garnish the platter with parsley and serve dish with sliced french or sourdough bread to mop up the sauce.

My thoughts:
These meatballs were super yummy. The sauce was not a combination of flavors I'm really used to, but it was surprisingly good and complimented the meat so well.
We served the two tapas with a feta and balsamic vinegar salad and artichoke-heart couscous and everything went really well together. I will definitely be making the meatballs again. My one caveat is that I personally am not a huge fan of parsley; I much prefer cilantro. So the next time I make this, I will use cilantro instead of the parsley. It took a little over an hour to make (though I do move slowly in the kitchen), but was much easier than I thought it would be. I give this one also: ♥♥♥♥. I could definitely eat it every night; but it does take some time to make, so I think it'll have to stay in the special meal category.

Happy Eating!

Rating System:
♥♥♥♥♥ Omigod this is awesome, I could eat it every night!
♥♥♥♥ Wow this is amazing for a special meal!
♥♥♥ Great choice for a dinner party!
♥♥ Hey, that was pretty good. We should have it again sometime.
♥ Eh. S'all right....
♠ Ugh, no! That was so bad I just had to share.