Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Halloween Bash

This past weekend we attended a Halloween party thrown by my aunt and uncle. Lots of fabulous costumes and delicious food. :)

Fashion Designer


Lumberjack

Fairy Godmother

Fairy Godfather

The 13th Knight

Doctors Wagner

A Hiker covered in Poison Ivy

The Devil and his Dark Angel

Mermaid!
Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

On the 3D Movie Experience

It's quite simple. I don't like it. At all. I've never liked it. And while it has improved over the years, I still think it's pretty awful.

And here's something I don't understand. Movie theater tickets already cost a lot. But add on top of that an additional 50% of the cost or so to see the 3D version? I reaaaally don't get it.

Red Velvet Cheese Ball

For the Halloween party that my cousin threw this past weekend I made the Chai Pumpkin Spice Thumbprints from a few weeks ago again, and the Red Velvet Cheese Ball that I've made a few times.

I got a picture of the Red Velvet this time. :) Not the most pristine shot, but you get the idea.


I've been thinking about people who say that Christmas music can be played all year round. I'm not one of the people who thinks that is a good idea. Don't get me wrong - I love Christmas music and everything Christmas related, but it has such a strong presence in popular culture that I don't mind that it be concentrated around one time of the year. Some of the ideas that are connected to it - giving, sharing, being thankful, those ideas can continue all year round.

Anyhow, I was thinking that rather than people cheering for Christmas all year round, they should be cheering for pumpkin-everything all year round. Why isn't that a thing? I mean, you've got an absurdly delicious flavor that can stretch all across the savory and sweet spectrum, and we're only eating/celebrating it for one to two months a year? Something really needs to be done about this.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Incredible Green Beans

So, the other night...last week...we had the most delicious dinner. And what did we have for dinner? Green beans and bread. Yep. That's about it. There may have been some dessert bread thrown in there at the end for good measure, but I didn't have much because I didn't have any more room in me to spare, I was so full.

And why was I so full on green beans and bread? Because these were the green beans we had:


Amazing.

The recipe comes from here originally (at least as far back as we go), but here it is:

Oriental Green Beans

Fresh green beans with a taste of soy sauce and garlic.

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp sesame oil (or olive oil)
  • 1 1/2 lbs green beans, fresh, trimmed
  • 6 cloves garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tbsps soy sauce
  • 1 serving 1 packet sugar substitute (splenda) (we used a little bit of regular sugar instead)

Directions

  1. In a large pot of rapidly boiling water, cook green beans until just tender, 4-5 minutes.
  2. While beans are cooking, in a small bowl, combine soy sauce, oil and sugar substitute and set aside.
  3. Drain beans and set aside.
  4. Spray wok or 10" skillet with nonstick cooking spray; place over medium-high heat. add garlic; cook, stirring constantly, until softened, 20-30 seconds. Add green beans; cook, stirring and turning constantly, until well coated, about 2 minutes.
  5. Add soy sauce mixture; continue to stir and turn until most of the liquid is absorbed, 1-2 minutes.

And as a side note having nothing to do with green beans, Thor has been slowly exploring the outdoors without a leash! The other morning we left the front door slightly agar and he came and went (not very far) several times. :)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Egil Hovland's "Saul"

Let me just say that I had one of the most fabulous middle and high school choir directors out there. Mrs. Cathy Zwink. My earliest recognition of her existence was in intermediate school when I sat behind her on a bus to some choir event and distinctly thought I heard someone calling her "Mrs. Wink!" And when I later finally had her as my choir director, I understood why I'd been confused with her name. 

From my perspective as her student, I felt like she dumped her heart and soul into the choral program. And looking back at it now, I'm fairly certain that she did. She managed and directed the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade choirs at the middle school as well as the Concert Choir and Show Choir (Batesville Singers) at the high school. She played the piano and directed. Somehow she did those two simultaneously except when we had students playing the piano or when we sang a capella pieces. These included all of the concerts that we had year round as well as the dinner show at the middle school and the many many concerts, competitions, regional and state contests, and a show choir trip every year to some far flung destination. And I'm barely scraping the tip of what she did. She's amazing. She was an amazing director.

I use the past tense only in reference to her working in our old lovely town of Batesville. The year I graduated from high school was her last there and she moved on to do other things and shake things up a bit. A very deserved and needed change.

Anyway, for whatever reason I was reminded today of a song that we sang in choir entitled "Saul" by Egil Hovland. This is a very bizarre musical number and I remember not really being a fan when we first started to learn it because it was so weird. But somehow, through the incredible direction of Mrs. Zwink, we managed to pull it off well.

So here it is, not our performance, but the best YouTube recording I could find, and not a bad one at that.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Really Alabama? You too?

I know there are good and bad drivers in most places, but I've been unpleasantly surprised by the significant number of bad drivers down here in Huntsville.



Living in Utah, I thought I was experiencing some of the worst of worst bad American drivers, possibly a result of the large diversity of home states of the inhabitants of Provo and the surrounding areas. But now, having been in Huntsville a month and change, I'm not so sure. At the very minimum, what is up with the complete lack of turn signal usage? I mean, come on! Is everyone's turn signal broken? Is everyone's left hand broken and they're simply unable to use their turn signals? It's such a simple simple tool for drivers to use but it is SO important!

I mean, just consider, you're hurtling down the road in a large and dangerous vehicle and you have two options (probably more than two, but let's look at these two): First, you can turn your turn signal on as you prepare to make a turn or change lanes, communicating with all of the other rapidly moving dangerous vehicles surrounding you so as to prevent them from hurtling directly in to you! Or, second, you can whilly-nilly drive wherever you want, refusing to signal and communicate your intentions in your accelerating wheeled box of death, and hope that no other vehicle happens to navigate to the same location at the same time as you, possibly resulting in a flaming ball of destruction and quite likely, your death. Your choice. Maybe you like being consumed by flaming fire balls of destruction. Me, not so much.

So, please, drivers, wherever you are, have some common courtesy and keep me informed, using those happy little blinking turn signals, of where you might be thinking about going with your expensive, outfitted, wheeled box of speedy death.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Miike Snow - Musical Exploration

I was recently introduced (Brandon!) to the musical artist Miike Snow. Specifically to the song Buriel, which is wonderful, if also sad on some level.



(Miike Snow - Buriel)

One of the potentially wonderful things about being introduced to an artist from one angle or one song is that it opens up their entire discography like Pandora's box. I have the opportunity to stumble open beautiful things at a higher rate.

And that's exactly what happened this morning. I'd dropped the entire album into my favorites iTunes playlist and the first song to come on was this one, Cult Logic. It makes me so happy for some reason. I love songs that have the capacity to do that.





(Cult Logic - Miike Snow)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Cream of Wheat Vs. Cat

Thor is a baby. He's small and pathetic, even though in cat years, he's also an adult.

He still likes to maintain a constant presence in our room, on the bed, night or day.  With this comes the possibility that I may consume some delicious food item while sitting next to him on the bed in front of my computer. And depending on whether said food item smells as delicious to him as it does to me, he often decides to investigate and judge for himself. I'm am not frequently helpful in assisting him in this endeavors. Often he ends up perched in my lap while I hold whatever I'm eating at far reach away from both of us. Not ideal.


This morning the delicious food item was a steaming bowl of cream of wheat with a little brown sugar and salted butter. Whether the additions or the milk base of the hot cereal, Thor appeared semi-interested. But as he came sniffing towards my bowl, rather than moving the bowl away, I brought my face down to him, facing him off in his charge to the delicious smells. And what was his response? Rather than typically pushing past me, he seemed to understand that this particular bowl of deliciousness was not for him. And he disinterestedly settled beside me, as if he'd never had another thought but to sit there obediently.

Whether this is his attempt to gain favor in my eyes, make me feel guilty and acquiesce his sniffing request the next go around, or he simply wasn't all that interested, I shall never know. But he certainly made me feel in control.

Like a boss.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The National Lutheran Choir - Down In The River To Pray

I was bouncing around Spotify the other day, attempting to devise a plan for building a station I might like to listen to that exposes me to new music. Pandora may be a better route for me to return to.

In the process, however, I came across what I'd consider to be my favorite version of "Down in the River to Pray," performed by The National Lutheran Choir.

I've been looking for a video to put on here, but I'm having trouble finding anything. To hear the song, I'd recommend going to Spotify (if you've downloaded (it's free)) or simply listening to one of the soundbites for the song on Amazon or iTunes. It's beautiful.

However, I was able to find one of their songs, entitled "Ye Shall Have A Song," which is also incredibly beautiful.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Pumpkin French Toast

Earlier in the week I made plans to make some Pumpkin French Toast and finally got around to it. Twice actually. A regular typical loaf of wheat bread had been purchased along with the other necessary ingredients. Pumpkin. We already had eggs and eggs. I used my chai spice leftovers from the cookies a few weeks ago in place of the pumpkin spice.


The website I originally got the recipe is here, but I have to admit that I'm not overly impressed with it. I've made french toast before and this pumpkin french toast was good, but not anything spectacular or above and beyond. Pretty normal, but with an additional pumpkin flavor. Once you put syrup on a lot of things, the flavor mostly resembles the syrup. Perhaps I'll add twice as much spice the next time...

Also, it should be noted that the batter ended up being pretty solid...more milk might have helped. The solid consistency resulted in a lot of batter on the first several pieces of bread and next to nothing on the last few. I never made the expected amount of 14. There simply wasn't enough. Had there been more milk, it might have been enough.

And, as a last note, it could definitely have used some better bread. Bigger, thicker, hardier bread. Which means I'll probably need even more batter....

Once again, in my worry that these recipes may someday vanish from their websites as they sometimes do, here it is.

Pumpkin Pie French Toast

Ingredients:
  • 14 slices whole wheat sandwich bread (use something better!)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk (probably need more)
  • 3/4 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1 tsp homemade pumpkin pie spice (1.5 tbsp cinnamon, 1 tsp ground clove, 1 tsp allspice, 1 tsp nutmeg)
  • Butter and syrup for serving
Directions:
  • Set out the bread for dipping.
  • In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, pumpkin and pie spice until smooth.
  • Dip each side of the bread and cook on a hot, greased griddle or skillet. Flip after 1 – 2 minutes. (Mine needed a lot more time.)
  • Once all are cooked, serve with butter and maple. And a side of fresh fruit.
  • If freezing, let cool completely to reduce freezer burn.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Adventures in Monte Sano

We live very close to a large park here in Huntsville, just up on the hill, Monte Sano. Once upon a time, fifteen years ago, we spent some time living up there in our RV, but I honestly don't remember much of that.

A few weeks ago we turned out for a return to the park to take a nice little hike. Beautiful!


Turtle!

Awesome rocks.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

"Most Delicious" Chocolate Chip Cookies

This morning my mom brought me some recipe tips (number 5 on that link) on making chocolate chip cookies from an Oprah magazine. We then looked up the recipe that was supposed to go along with them, but they did a terrible job including the tips in the recipe, so here's something resembling a compilation of the two. None of this is originally mine, but it is an original combination of them to better facilitate actually using the tips in the process.



How To Make The Most Delicious Chocolate Chip Cookies

From Alton Brown, host of The Next Iron Chef

-Include dark, milk, and semisweet chocolate. Otherwise you'll hit the same flavor notes with every bite, and your palate will get bored.
-For a chewier cookie, try baking with bread flour instead of all-purpose flour.
-Use room-temperature eggs. Cold eggs are hard to work into batter.
-Never bake the dough immediately. Instead scoop it onto cookie sheets and refrigerate.
-Before you bake, toss the dough in sugar, which will caramelize into a sweet smelling crispy crust. Yum!

Makes about two dozen cookies. 

Ingredients 
16 Tbsp. (2 sticks) unsalted butter
12 oz. (2 1/2 cups) bread flour
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 oz. (4 1/2 Tbsp.) granulated sugar
8 oz. (1 cup) light brown sugar
1 large egg (room temperature)
1 large egg yolk (room temperature)
1 oz. (2 Tbsp.) whole milk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
12 oz. chocolate chips (mix of milk, dark, and semisweet chocolate)

Directions

Active time: 20 minutes
Total time: 2 hour 50 minutes

In a small saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Set aside to cool slightly. Sift together flour, salt, and baking soda in a separate small bowl. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar on medium speed for 2 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together whole egg, egg yolk, milk, and vanilla extract in a measuring cup. Reduce mixer speed and slowly add egg mixture. Beat until thoroughly combined, about thirty seconds. Gradually pour in flour mixture, stopping two times to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Once flour is worked in, add chocolate chips. Chill dough for one hour. Using chilled dough, scoop dough into 1.5 oz portions (about 2 Tbsp.) and chill for an additional hour. Line two half sheet pans with parchment paper, flatten portions and roll in sugar, place onto prepared pans, 9 cookies per sheet.

Preheat oven to 375° and place racks in the top third and bottom third of the oven. Bake two sheets at a time for 13 minutes, rotating pans halfway through. Remove from oven, slide parchment with the cookies onto a cooling rack, and wait at least 5 minutes before devouring.

Ok. Here's the update. I skipped the paper plate (which I'll now delete from the recipe above - you can find it in the original link if you're overly curious). I don't have a stand mixer, which would be nice, but it was pretty easy to mix things without it. I put my dough in the fridge just as it was over night and then formed it into balls and refrigerated it for a few more hours before finally baking it. This was a good idea as it made the dough much easier to work with.

I initially rolled the little round portions in sugar and put them right in the oven but then, when they came out somewhat squat, I flattened them before rolling them in sugar, resulting in a more flat cookie.

My take away from this recipe is that the five original tips are very good, but you can use them with any recipe. The cookies are delicious with a chewy inside and a crisp crust.

A Scandal in Beavercreek

My mother, a professional photographer, had a bunch of photobooth and costume equipment in her car from a shoot that she had just finished prior to my cousin getting married. So, it seemed fitting to use it!

We had a good time. :)

Kyle, me, Dad, Morgan!

My parents. :)

Kyle, me and Morgan. :D

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Wedding in September

The first of my cousins who are younger than me got married this last month! Crazy!

The wedding was up in Columbus and the reception was back in Dayton where my cousin and his family currently live.

It was a beautiful day and they seemed very happy. I was excited to be there. :)


Melissa, Briona, Anthony, and me!


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Saint George and Vegas Again

Our last few days together this last visit were spent down in Saint George and Las Vegas. I wish we'd had more time! Two weeks positively flew by and I was left wanting more. Which, I suppose, is a good thing, but it still hurts to leave someone you want to spend more time with. 

We went on a little hike behind Brandon's parent's house (beautiful red rock!) and discovered a raging little creek that had only been a trickle the week before. Between the setting sun, blue sky, the red rock, and the green vegetation, it really was beautiful. 

Off to the Saint George LDS Temple just after dark. It's a beautiful building with so much history. We were somewhat puzzled by the weather vane on top, as that is somewhat unusual for LDS temples, but weren't able to conclude whether that was normal or simply due to the renovations that are going on inside. 

After spending some time with Shauna, Duane, and Angie we drove down to Vegas to help Jaime (Brandon's oldest sister) with a wedding and reception that was happening that evening. It was quite fun. Granted, we were only stepping in at the last moment when much of the planning and preparations had already taken place, but it sparked a small desire to manage many of the little details that go into these kinds of events. 

Just as the events were actually starting, we skipped over to the Strip to see some of the sights and eat dinner at Max Brunner. Max Brunner is an interesting place where just about everything is served with chocolate. The air is full of the smell as pipes full of liquid chocolate navigate through the room. We both ordered hot chocolate and then split a baked mac and cheese and lava cake. All delicious, but even with us splitting, we both felt sick (as in, I know I'd feel better if I threw up right now) after and agreed that we should never have ordered the hot chocolate...or felt compelled (challenged!) to finish it.

We walked our sick feelings off around the casinos. They really are incredible buildings and entertainment centers. In many respects, it's like going to Disneyland, but for adults. As I am not interested in gambling, I simply wished that all of the colorful and fun sounding slot machines were instead video games, which I am far more interested in.

Outline of Brandon.


So dashing.

Hot chocolate!

Bellagio.

Clouds over Detroit.


Sadly, this all came to an end at midnight, like Cinderella at the ball, when Brandon took me to the airport and I caught a red-eye to Detroit (after the red-eye to Atlanta was full!). Detroit to Cincinnati and the sky was finally lit up enough that I could catch the above picture.

It was such an incredible time for being out in the West with Brandon. I look forward with anticipation to being out there again.


As a side note, when I first went out to Utah for school, I was not at all excited about being in Utah. I was excited to go to BYU, excited to study dance (ballroom and then folk), but not excited about being in the Mormon "bubble", not excited about the dry air, and not excited about the general lack of vegetation. Several years into my undergrad I was still excited to be at BYU, perhaps even more so, but still not enthused about those other details. Finally I burned out on BYU and just as I was about to graduate, an appreciation for what Utah was started to dawn on me. An athletes dream come true. Year round access to some of the amazing terrain to be had. If I wanted to climb mountains, done. If I wanted to run a flat course, done. If I wanted water sports, done. If I wanted snow sports, done. Sky diving, hang gliding, dancing, you name it. I left somewhat sad for the late realization of the opportunities that I'd perhaps missed, but not sad to leave BYU and Provo.

A year later I moved back, under completely different circumstances, to Salt Lake City. It's amazing to me how much of my frustration with the cultural bubble in Utah was really just a frustration with the culture and city layout of Provo, UT. Salt Lake was wonderful. But, I needed to leave again.

Now, having spent some quality time enjoying several more of the incredible things in the area, I find myself wanting to be back in Utah. It's still not my favorite state, and for all it's natural beauty, I prefer the beauty of the Pacific Northwest or the plethora of green found in the Midwest or East, but I am far more fond of the state than I ever have been. I look forward to climbing more of its mountains.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Midnight Hike and a Morning Sunrise

We had plans to be back in the Provo/Orem area by the middle of the week for a meeting Brandon had. Our original plans with Mount Timpanogos was to climb in with Zach on Friday morning early, say leaving at 5:00 a.m. That go bumped to Saturday morning and Zach came down on Friday to spend the night before we headed out the next morning. We went to the grocery store and got supplies (drinks and snacks) to assist us on the long hike. As we were hanging around in the kitchen around 10:00 p.m. we were bothering Grant about how he needed to come with us. He reasoned that he hadn't been hiking in forever and wasn't in the proper shape for the hike, but his main reason for not wanting to go was mostly that he hated getting up in the morning. If we just left at midnight, he postulated, he might be interested. As we were all there, Brandon, me, and Zach shared a look and one of said, "We can do that." And thus we roped Grant into coming along with us.

A few of us took an hour's nap about then to try and get some rest before going out. It wasn't terribly restful. I think we were all ready for bed rather than ready to hike, but around midnight we got up, gathered our stuff, and jumped into Zach's car to head up the mountain to Aspen Grove.

Once there we got out and I took off the sweatpants I was wearing over my leggings, since we all assumed we were going to be hot climbing. And to some extent, at first, we were. Zach, Brandon, and Grant all took their jackets off at some point as we climbed.

For the record, I absolutely recommend starting this hike at midnight on a clear night when the moon is shining. The stars were beautiful! And, because it was a Friday night, there were dozens of hikers in front of us and we could see their little lights all the way up the mountain. We played leap frog with some other groups of hikers as we rested and then they rested. In the dark the climb was long and we couldn't really appreciate the splendor around us aside form the gorgeous view of the sky.

At some point in the hike, it started to get cold. It had worn long enough into the night that the residual heat from the day was wearing off and on top of that we were swiftly gaining altitude. Jackets were back on and we were still freezing. I longed for the sweatpants that I'd left in the car. We still rested regularly, but never for very long because the only thing really keeping us warm was our movement onward. We also quit using our flashlights because at some point we realized that the moon was bright enough that it provided more than enough light once our eyes adjusted.

I think it took about six and a half hours for us to reach the saddleback just below Mount Timp. That last hour the light had began to appear, though the sun was still well below the horizon. We reached that point and were all more than happy to enjoy the sunrise from there, too cold and tired to be even remotely interested in climbing all the way to the top of the mountain.

The sunrise was worth it. Beautiful light in the sky over the mountains and then the beautiful warmth of the heat of the sun once it was past the mountains. We'd all been shivering up to that point, but the sun started to heat our bodies and ease the shivers out.

When we finally headed back down I was practically giddy. Not only was I no longer freezing, but I could see where we were going! And the view of the landscape was incredible! Hopping across the shale was way more fun than stumbling through it in the dark.

I think it took us about...six (?) hours to reach the bottom of the mountain...We finally got a bit more use out of our water and the warmth finally persuaded me to take my hoodie off. Finally down we crashed in out seats in the car and then in our beds once we were back to the house, completely exhausted. But, at least in my case, with a slowly creeping enthusiasm to do it again.

First light of dawn...

The sun!

Together on top of the world.

Friends and hikers!


Prepping to plank.

The group! (plus some)

Me and Brandon. :)




Beautiful.
It was an incredible hike. I look forward to doing it again. But, if I do the midnight hike, which I'd like to do (cool was better than hot), I'll have to remember to get more sleep the day of, bring a little less water (you don't need as much during the night), leave a little earlier (midnight is about right) to reach the top, and wear/bring a heck of a lot more clothing. :)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Disneyland in September!

Out in California we also made a day trip to Disneyland! It has been a few years since I've been there and I was less impressed with some things and way impressed with other things. I've spent more time at Disneyworld and I was shocked at how little the castle in Disneyland is. But some of the rides were awesome!









Monday, October 15, 2012

Beach at Sunset

While in California visiting Brandon's sister Lisa, we made a run for the beach one evening. We left just a little bit late and reached the beach just after sunset, but it was still beautiful. :)

We decided to walk down the pier and grab a bite to eat, but after we'd ordered some hot chocolate to warm or chilled bones, they informed us that the breakfast menu (which had tempted us into the place in the first place) wasn't offered that evening. We ordered some sort of little sandwiches and then made a break for home, stopping at a Denny's on the way for some proper late night breakfast. And a second helping of hot chocolate....




 

 

 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Out West: Salt Lake City to St. George

I happily spent just over two weeks out West visiting Brandon. It was amazing. Really wonderful.

The sky coming in on the first night was incredible.
Got to see Jeanene and Justin! :)
Us. :)
Us again.
St. George!
St. George!