Monday, May 30, 2011

Bunches of chard

I'm happy to announce that Swiss chard grows really well on our little farm. In fact, we have so much of it, it's coming out of our ears!!!

Washing the chard . . . a very important task, unless you want extra protein.
The only thing I don't enjoy so much about the chard is washing it. You really have to wash it several times . . . as many as six times . . . to get all the dirt and other possible items. Of course, you should do this with all of your greens. ESPECIALLY those greens you get in bags at the store. Don't be fooled by statements on the packaging saying that the stuff is pre-washed. Even if it says "washed three times" . . . you'll want to wash it again. And again.

But I digress. This entry is supposed to be about Swiss chard. My favorite Swiss chard recipe is a Swiss chard frittata, but I like it simply sauteed in olive oil with a little sea salt, too.

Try it. You might like it!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Give her a push!

Me . . . . BEFORE.
What do you give a person who has everything for their birthday? An experience, or better yet, an adventure! For Sandy's recent birthday, I took a day off work and we went to the US National Whitewater Center. This amazing facility is where our US athletes train for events like whitewater rafting and kayaking, but it's open to the public and you can do a lot more than that.

For example . . .
  • Adventure ropes courses
  • Ziplining
  • Mountain biking
  • Flatwater kayaking
  • Massive consumption of Fat Tire (if you're into that kind of thing)
I was psyched to go. After all, I love adventure! We started with a ropes course, which was something like 30 feet off the ground (maybe more). They attach a harness to you and tell you not to touch anything metal, then you have to slide across a high wire. Sometimes you've got stable stuff to hold onto like ropes or PVC pipes, and sometimes things are not so stable! I tackled this pretty easily . . . until about midway across the first wire, when I started wobbling and the fear hit me that I was going to fall. Of course, if I'd fallen, the harness would have caught me and the only damage done would have been to my ego (perhaps with some bruises across the tops of my thighs). But I kept going, motivated in part by a thirty-something woman behind me who took two steps out and then completely freaked. (As in: "WAH! I CAN'T DO THIS!) For some reason, her whining and inability to continue motivated me. So across the wires I went. Slowly, but surely. When I was done, my arm muscles were killing me, but there was no time to rest. We immediately got in line for the ziplining.

Me: DURING. "OMG! WTF was I thinking?!!!"
OK, I should say that the ziplining here is the zipline equivalent of a bunny slope. Flying across the rainforest in El Salvador or Costa Rica it is not. But you have to climb a very long rope ladder. I started out pretty fast, but the beginning part is easy. About a third of the way through, the slope became very steep, and soon I was literally climbing one foot at a time, about four inches at a time. Suddenly it seemed like an endless rope ladder. And it was very wobbly. When I got to the top of the rope ladder, I had to hoist myself up onto a platform.

Not so sure I wanna do this anymore. Want my Mommy.
The dude working the platform hooked us up and began explaining what was about to happen. I felt myself reversing in age very quickly, all the way back to age four or so. When finally he asked: "Are you ready?" I replied (or, more accurately, four-year old me replied): "No." I even shook my head like a four-year old.

And I told him to unhook me.

I'm not sure why I couldn't do it. Obviously, I don't have a fear of heights, or I would'nt've been up there in the first place. Maybe it was the sensation of falling. Or just a fear of the unknown. But I couldn't. Sandy (also known as Wonder Woman and G.I. Jane) went on down without me, then yelled at me from the ground. She was trying to videotape me, but I was just sitting up there, as if my butt was glued to the platform. In one of the videos, you can clearly hear Sandy yell "Give her a push!" Now how about that? Tell us what you really think, Sandy!!!

I asked the dude to hook me back up. 

By this time, there's a line of folks coming up behind me, and he's starting to lose his patience. "Ma'am, you're gonna have to decide soon," he told me. "Or you're gonna have to climb back down the ladder."

Climb back down the ladder? What? You've got to be kidding me.

I didn't want to go anywhere near that ladder again. So I took a deep breath, grabbed hold of the strap, said something under my breath that rhymed with "Duck Fat" and jumped.


It wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it might be. In fact, there's only just one little itty-bitty nanosecond when you feel like you're falling. The hydraulic wire system holds you right into place, and you just glide down the wire. It's kind of fun! I even landed on my feet! Unlike my former friend Sandy, who (I'm saying this to try to save my own face even though I know I shouldn't because it was her birthday) fell flat on her bee-hind. I know, because I saw it from up on the platform.

Despite my um, success, I was in shock for about an hour after this experience. I couldn't talk. I couldn't process. It was all I could do to walk away.

Later in the afternoon, we went whitewater rafting. Now THAT was fun (really). Of course, in 90 degree heat, anything involving water is fun, even if you get sloshed around and beaten up. And even if you wake up the next morning with screaming quadriceps muscles, and you can barely walk. Which is exactly what happened to both of us today!

Next year, Sandy's getting an L.L. Bean gift card. Or something like that. :-)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Stop and smell the roses

I once saw a bumper sticker on the back of a car that read: DOG IS GOD SPELLED BACKWARDS. If you've ever been lucky enough to have a dog as a friend, then you'll be able to appreciate this slogan. Many of you know that Cody is my special little friend. He's about to turn eight next Thursday -- that's 56 in human years. Anyway, I recently caught this photo of him sniffing flowers, and it's just one example of why I love him. He could have been doing a hundred other things, but he chose to stop and smell the roses. If you ask me, we could all learn from that. :-)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Baked goods

I went to a "Chef's Choice" cooking class at Johnson & Wales University a few weekends ago. The topic was Viennoiserie, or Vienna style baked goods. Here are some of the things I made in the class:

Croissants and brioche rolls

Croissant, up close and personal. Our croissants had 81 layers.

A "coffee roll" made from spiced brioche dough, blueberry and streusel topping.
A bear claw stuffed with creme cheese and pineapple confit filling.
Apple streusel danish.

Apricot creme cheese danish.
Blueberry cream cheese danish.
Cherry creme cheese danish.
I'm fairly confident that I can reproduce the doughs we made in the class (croissant and brioche doughs), but the process is both time-consuming and labor intensive. So I'm not sure how often I'll be baking. Still, it was a fun way to spend a Saturday . . . and I hope I can go to another class someday soon! :-)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Late to the party

Several years ago at one of those lunch pitch-in things at the office, a group of coworkers got into a discussion about what was then the latest craze on television: American Idol. The passions ran deep, and it seemed that everyone had their favorite performer. At the time, I'd never seen American Idol, and for some reason now unknown to me, I wasn't interested. The years went by, and I never watched a single episode of this TV show that apparently all other Americans except me watched on a regular basis.

Flash forward to early 2011: American Idol is about to start its tenth season, and suddenly I see Facebook chatter that a girl from my hometown named Victoria Huggins had passed the first round of auditions. Someone attached a video to their Facebook page, and I took a look. I'm not sure if it was Victoria's spunk or Steven Tyler's response to it, but something about that clip got me interested in American Idol for the first time ever, and I kept watching.

I kept watching through the crazy audition phase. There was good talent, excellent talent, and, um, a few instances of no talent. There were tear-jerking stories that I'll never forget. There were people who seemed so ordinary at first, yet blew the judges away when they began to sing; and people who walked in like they were stars already, only to bomb. There were moments of great joy, and moments of deep disappointment, tears, and even shock -- as seen on the face of my hometown girl when she found out she didn't make the cut.

Then came the actual competitions. As the weeks passed, you could literally see the individual growth taking place as the contestants (whom I'll now call competitors) rehearsed, were coached by the likes of Jimmy Iovine,, Sheryl Crow and Lady Gaga, and were sometimes reamed by the judges. I don't know about past seasons, but this season the competitors all seemed to like each other and they seemed supportive of each other -- particularly the Top Six or Seven. As the field narrowed, the performances got even better, and it was like I was witnessing the formation of stars.

Now we're down to three: Scotty McCreery, the country singer from Garner, North Carolina; Georgia peach Lauren Alaina, who can sing anything and is as cute as a button; and Chicago-based Haley Reinhart, whose raspy-bluesy voice is matched by an impressive attitude. I like them all, and regardless of who becomes the next American Idol, they all have fantastic careers ahead of them.

And what about the judges? I may have missed out on the Simon Cowell/Paula Abdul days, but if you ask me, the current judges are the right blend of critic, support, and street cred. Steven Tyler may have a potty mouth at times, but he's the real deal. He seems to know just when someone needs to hear a compliment, and he can find the good in any performance. Jennifer Lopez comes across as engaging and playful, as exemplified in the "kiss scene" with Casey. Veteran judge Randy Jackson calls it like he sees it - the mark of a true professional.

So I now watch American Idol. I may have arrived late the to the party, but the party's just getting started. For me, at least. In fact, just this morning I bought tickets to the upcoming Idols Summer Tour: The Top 11 are coming to my town in July. I look forward to seeing these awesome young performers up on the stage in front of me. As far as I'm concerned, they're all winners!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Computer blues

I've heard that computers typically have a lifespan of about three years. My MacBook is four years old now. It's been with me all around the world, been in my backpack, my carry-on bag, and on my lap across oceans and time zones more times than I can recall. I lost count a long time ago how many countries it's been in. I've written a book, five or six blogs, a couple of thousand emails, 1,800 tweets, and countless Facebook messages on it. It houses my photos from five continents and 30+ countries. It holds my family tree, and at least one branch goes back to the sixteenth century, documented.

It's a part of me. Like an appendage. Or a really close friend. Actually, it is a close friend. :-)

Unfortunately, it's reached the point where the battery only lasts about an hour . . . and the hard drive is full. It's been full before, but I've always deleted stuff and made more room. Recently, I've even deleted some programs. But I can't do that anymore. I've reached the point where I don't want to delete anything else. I can't even post any photos on my blog right now, because . . . it won't let me. 

The Apple Store has done everything it can.

My conclusion: It's time to get a new computer. I don't know when I'm going to do it, but I need to do it soon. Deep breath now.

. . . To be continued!