Saturday, August 25, 2007

And we're outta here!

Just thought I would drop a quick farewell post during our last few
minutes on US soil. Hopefully this posting by email will work so I can
send travel notes via my blackberry.
Nothing too exciting to report yet except we already had to use the
spare duct tape to repair our cheap duffel bag. Lesson learned: $15
sounds like a great deal but you get what you pay for. Hopefully it
comes off the plane fully intact.

--
Alyssa

Thursday, August 23, 2007

going to have to face it I'm addicted to. . .

iTunes! I realize this is not a shock to those who know me but I am coming to the realization that I am an addict or have some sort of obsessive playlist compulsion. Over the last several weeks I have been toying with the idea of creating a couple of playlists for my trip (yes, this is another Iceland-prep post!). Emily jump-started the first list with the suggestion that I check out Sigur Ros, an Icelandic band - who I now love. While in Iceland we are renting a small four-wheel drive-ish vehicle (I say "ish" because it appears to be on the toy side of the SUV range) so we will be road tripping and camping from Tuesday to Saturday (in case you want to think of where I am and what I am doing next week). And what is a road trip without music . . . am I right?

Last night I spent several hours at my computer creating not one but two playlists. For the magestic scenery we are sure to encounter while circumnavigating the 840 mile Ring Road around the island, I have put together the oh so cleverly named Ring Road list which starts with a few Icelandic bands then moves into my existing collection which was somehow dominated by Moby last night.

Track 4 Sigur Ros
Saeglopur Sigur Ros
Glosoli Sigur Ros
Aldrei Orio Didda & Magga Stir . . .
[sorry, the rest of the name doesn't show up on my ipod]
Enginn Didda & Her Lego . . .
Fjarskanistan Amina
Green Grass of Tunnel Mum
Universal Traveller Air
You Turn Me Round Aqualung
Back to the Earth Rusted Root
Round the Bend Beck
Volcano Damien Rice
Beautiful Moby
Karmacoma Massive Attack
New Round Beck
Guiter Flute and String Moby
Sunset Road Bela Fleck & The Flecktones
By and Bye Brooklyn Funk Essentials
Like Spinning Plates Radiohead
Mad World Michael Andrews
Hotel Intro Moby
Down by the Seaside Robert Plant & Tori Amos
You're Beautiful Mojave 3
Wish You Were Here Pink Floyd
Morning Bell Radiohead
Porcelain Moby
Corner of the Earth Jamiroquai
The Tourist Radiohead

This list fell together easily, both with the mood of the music and the lyrics which are mostly mellow and feel conducive to witnessing and experiencing spectacular scenery.

The second list is much longer and took quite a bit more work and is still in the tweaking mode. I generally like to listen through a playlist a few times to feel how it flows. As I put the list together and order the songs I will listen to the start of a song and then the end to hear the transition to make sure nothing is jarring or out of place. A year or so ago I had a Night Driving playlist that I lost when my computer crashed and I upgraded to a newer ipod. It was large, unweildy and not very cohesive. I am hoping this Road Trip playlist (again, I am so clever with the names) does a better job:

Dice Finley Quaye
Leaving so Soon Keane
Send Me on My Way Rusted Root
Drive In Drive Out Dave Matthews Band
Farewell Ride Beck
Travelling Without Moving Jamiroquai
Eye of the Tiger Survivor
Always on the Run Lenny Kravitz
Ruby Blue Roisin Murphy
Go It Alone Beck
Long Train Runnin' The Doobie Brothers
Symbol in my Driveway Jack Johnson
Wildflowers Tom Petty
The Road Home Heart
The Golden Road Grateful Dead
Queen of the Highway The Doors
Ruby Tuesday The Rolling Stones
Wild World Cat Stevens
Drive Incubus
Closer to You The Wallflowers
Title and Registration Death Cab for Cutie
Just a Ride Jem
Where the Streets Have No Name U2
Rental Car Beck
What Goes Around Comes Around Lenny Kravitz
Time Chantal Kreviazuk
Breakdown Jack Johnson
Ventura Highway America
Golden Slumbers Ben Folds
Round Here Counting Crows
Grey Street Dave Matthews Band
One Road for Freedom Ben Harper
Southside Moby
River, Sea, Ocean Badly Drawn Boy
Transatlanticism Death Cab for Cutie
Rockin' Down the Highway The Doobie Brothers
Truckin' Grateful Dead
Riders on the Storm The Doors
Over the Hills and Far Away Led Zeppelin
Town to Town G Love & Special Sauce
Southland in the Springtime Indigo Girls
Taking it to the Streets The Doobie Brothers
Don't Cross the River America
Side of the Road Beck
Wait Get Set Go
It Don't Matter Donavon Frankenreiter
Roadhouse Blues The Doors
Diamond Road Sheryl Crow
Where Are You Going Dave Matthews Band
Take You There G. Love & Special Sauce
Satellite Guster
Put It Behind You Keane
Leaving Las Vegas Sheryl Crow
Run On Moby
Long May You Run Neil Young
Gone Pearl Jam
Back to Avalon Heart
How Many Miles Must We March Ben Harper
I'm Goin' Home Hootie & the Blowfish
Crash Into Me Dave Matthews Band
Can't Find My Way Home Eric Clapton
The Long Way Home Norah Jones
Last Stop: This Town Eels
Yes, it is long - I believe over four hours - but can you really consider it a road trip unless you are in your car for more than two or three hours? And with 840 miles (not including side trips) to cover in a week, we will need a lot of tunes.
Most of the songs are about driving or cars or roads or leaving or arriving but there are a few that are just fun and feel like driving music. I was tempted to make an exclusively singing or nostalgic road trip list but I think a lot of those songs are in other playlists (I have a great Red Rocks list that takes me back to college or Sunshine which is full of happy mostly sing out loud type songs) and I try to avoid duplicating songs in multiple lists.
Any thoughts? What would you put in your road trip list?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

today's prep for Iceland: food

I made a couple of stops on my way home from work this evening picking up odds and ends for my trip. First I stopped at Duane Read for some m&ms, popcorn (a staple for me), paper towels and other odds and ends. Then I went to Borders and forced myself to only purchase what I went in to buy: a new moleskine notebook to record my travel thoughts. It was hard to walk past all the books and not buy anything.

After Sephora I made my last trip: Whole Foods, where I browsed the aisles for easy snacks and trail mix ingredients. I debated on various items from the mundane - peanuts - to the exotic - dried, yogurt or chocolate covered Himalayan goji berries (which I would have purchased had they been available in a smaller bag at a more reasonable price) - but ultimately settled on the following:

almonds, dried cranberries, dried apples, dried raspberries, sesame sticks, dark chocolate m&ms and peanut butter m&ms.
I love raw almonds so this is usually my trail mix base so I started with plenty of them. Next came the chocolate because, well that is essential. Plus I have discovered chocolate has less of a tendency to melt in m&m form mixed in a trail mix. Then I added the sesame sticks.

In creating this concoction I have to think of not just my tastes but those of my sister. Luckily we are united in our dislike of raisins. I, however am a fan of dried cranberries but she is not. I added them anyway, I love the tartness! Sorry Erin, but I didn't add too many.

I also added my experimental find of dried raspberries which are delicious! I can't believe how much they taste like fresh raspberries . . . they melt in your mouth. Magic! So in they went.
Then the fun dried apple sticks which are also very tasty.
I mixed it all up and poured it into a zip lock baggie but knew something was missing. . . After searching my cupboards I found some cashews and tasted a sample few and determined they are still good and emptied the jar into the mix.
After returning the mix to my zip lock I threw it in with my growing stock of food.

Why so much food? From everything I have read food is pricey in Iceland. After living in New York for so many years, I don't get sticker shock too often (other than in Tokyo) but I'm prepping myself for a shock this trip. And since my guidebook doesn't have a lot of positive things to say about the food, and even goes so far as to state "Iceland's food is unlikely to be the highlight of your trip", I figure we can skip a good portion of the cuisine. Especially considering their traditional foods include such delicacies as sild (pickled herring - tried it in Holland blech!), hakarl (a rotted shark that is first buried for up to six months in sand which is said to "make your eyes water"), svio (boiled and singed sheep's heads), slatur (haggis-like variety of sheep head), blood pudding and surmatur (scraps of meat pressed into cakes and pickled in whey). Oh and don't forget the pickled rams' testicles. Yeah, I don't think I will be hunting down these local dishes although the fresh fish, specifically the salmon, sounds wonderful. In the positive category, the book notes that they have notable home-produced cheese and dairy products which is reinforced by the fact that I have seen Icelandic butter at Whole Foods (although I have never bothered to purchase it). I have also run across a few positive accounts of a yogurt-like product called skyr which is eaten with a particular native berry that I can't recall the name of but is at its ripest the last week of August - perfect timing! Erin also reminded me that Iceland has their own version of pancakes known as flatbrauo which are similar to Swedish or German crepe-like pancakes which we are looking forward to sampling. Although my guidebook claims these are traditionally eaten at Christmas I am hoping we can find them. I have also been told to sample the rye bread which is baked in underground ovens near Myvatn in northeastern Iceland. So I have a few things to look forward to.

It is a good thing my sister and I do not drink because alcohol is extremely expensive so we will save there. Ultimately, the guidebook recommends self-catering and bringing some supplies from home. Hence the above snacks. My sister is in charge of picking up some Costco dried mangos for me and other snacks she wants. With what I have come up with so far I don't think we will go hungry.

Only three more days of work . . .

*sigh*

With the sky darkened to a dreary gray, sagging temperatures and speckles of stray rain drops splayed across my window it feels like summer is over. This mourning of missed beach outings (didn't make it out once this summer), roof-top parties (again, didn't host a one) and summer loves (nary an opportunity) has imposed an especially contemplative mood upon me. Before I left for San Diego I mentioned that I avoid discussing the lonlieness of single life. However, that feeling of something lacking has been resting pretty solidly in the pit of my stomach for days, perhaps weeks, leaving me no choice but to purge it through writing. Forgive the self-pity and jumbled emotions which are sure to follow once I indulge myself in unplugging this tiny hole that is most assuredly damming a reservoir of pent-up, not for public viewing feelings.

Today, with the weather, I am mourning not just my singleness but the vast perpetuity of it that is stretched out ahead of me. For, I don't regret the experience I have gained in my solitary past, I just long for a more crowded future. The rain and cooler temperature is a hint that soon it will be winter. The long, cold winter. But at least I know that eventually spring will come and blossoms appear and soon I am sweating again in the hazey humidity of a New York summer. For the better part (and I mean that literally) of my adult life I have been single with one minor detour that feels like it may have happened to another person. Before I press on I feel compelled to defensively spill out all the things I love about being single and how little I regret and all of the incredible opportunities I have had to travel, work and live that would not have been available had I remained married at a young age or even, perhaps re-married when the opportunity presented itself (and it did, a couple of times). But that isn't what this is about.

This post is devoted to that pit in my stomach. The one that whispers in my ear that I am single because I am too outspoken, too head-strong, not as thin as I used to be, don't wear the right clothes, don't have the right friends, not churchy enough, etc., etc., etc. I believe we all have that voice that whispers nonsense in our ear that echoes throughout our head until it is defeating and deflating. On occasion I manage to banish the pit and beat out the voices and relish in my own high opinion of myself or I am buoyed up by the compliments of others. Compliments from others being a key reassuring factor. But then I am standing in front of my closet half-dressed searching for the magic outfit to appear, something that manages to be both comfortable and flattering, current and stylish, sexy and understated and the clothes pile up on my bed because nothing is quite right - nothing I wear is going to catch me a boyfriend or husband. I wander off to this party or that dinner out of obligation or in response to that voice in my head that repeats "you'll never meet anyone at home on the couch", already self-conscious and knowing I won't meet anyone in this manner either but unsure of what action on my part will set me off on the right track.

I know a spouse does not give you self-confidence or love for yourself and in my experience, a spouse can actually steal these things from you with a simple look or a handful of words. But I can only scrape up the idea that I am attractive off the floor so many times without extrnal confirmation before I give up and allow it to trickle out until I am empty looking at the mirror agreeing that without losing 5 to 10 pounds and a new haircut, I am banished to live out my days solo. But then I am reminded that 5, 10, 15 even 20 pounds ago I didn't meet anyone either so there must be something more fundamentally lacking. Although there were a lot more external attempts to help me end my singleness in those days - boyfriends weren't as far and few between. But I know that it isn't about weight, I just don't know what it is about.

So I delve deeper and question more. It isn't simply a lack of dates (I don't even like dating) or a boyfriend (I do like those), it is the absence of connection and understanding. I don't have someone to be silly with, to take risks with, to be "out there" with. Meaning, I no longer have single friends - male or female. At the risk of insulting any stray reader out there who may be single and consider herself my friend . . . I lack connection and investment. I like many of the people I associate with but it seems mutual that there is a limit, a natural divide neither of us wishes to bridge. Perhaps it is my fault, I may have stopped searching for a "best friend" in whom I can confide because I have so many of them. I am very lucky to have a long list of very dear friends (most of whom are my readers, thank you!). But each of them, each of you, my friends, are married. Most with children. I could not be happier for you. But I miss the ease of spending time with a long-time friend where background to a story or an explanation of my idiosyncrasies is no longer required. You long ago accepted me. Even my friends in New York who I considered my "new" friends (over 6 years long now) have moved on into marriage (or long-time co-habitation). Our lifestyles are separated, our interests divergent.

On Saturday I sat in the temple sealing room as people filed into their chairs and we awaited the arrival of the bride and groom. Suddenly I felt out of place, a misfit. I felt awkward and had a sudden compulsion to flee. Showing up as an odd number creates challenges in even-numbered seating created for pairs. My happily married brother was on my left with his wife expecting their first child. The room was full of other smiling couples anxious to accept this beautiful couple into their ranks. Now, I realize there were others there who were also single - the bride's brother, a bridesmaid, the groom's brothers and possibly others. I also realize everything isn't always as it seems and all smiling couples are not always happy couples. But I felt utterly alone in my singleness. Standing in the atrium after the ceremony my sister-in-law commented on how beautiful the ceremony was and I felt selfish and detached because everything I heard felt exclusionary and hurt.

My sweet brother and his wife have been living in separate cities this summer, only spending weekends with the occasional week together. This was one of their precious weekends together. By Saturday I felt conspicuously like a self-imposed third-wheel sharing a hotel, rental car and itinerary with them when they just needed time alone. I can't blame them for wanting to be alone but I felt unwanted and allowed myself to pick a fight with my brother when I could sense him trying to restrain his frustration with me. At the reception that night I could not fight back my insecurities when questions of whether I should have come at all pelted me throughout the evening. When the dj invited all married couples onto the dance floor my heart broke a little and I steeled myself against tears. I felt singled out, conspicuously alone at my table with a couple of teen-age girls. I tried dancing when the music sped up but I often felt out of place when the only person I really knew on the dance floor was the groom (with whom I did manage to have a treasured brief conversation that reassured me of why I had come). I couldn't get into it, I couldn't shake a feeling of conspicuousness. Then came the call for the bouquet toss. Never have I dreaded this tradition as much as I did that night. After some prompting I stood to make my way to the clearing on the dance floor and I felt Cinco's hand patting me on the back urging me to "get up there." One bridesmaid, the three young girls from our dinner table, a couple of little girls and another woman possibly my age but looking more mid- to late-twenties stood in a couple of lines facing the brides back, I was definitely the oldest until an older (close to 60) woman stormed the reluctant crew. I did not catch the bouquet. I stood in the back of the group until it was over and I could retreat to my table. Throughout the night and the weekend I caught myself thinking or even vocalising thoughts and feelings about how I would like my own wedding to proceed all the while doubting it would ever happen.

At the zoo and at Sea World I watched parents herding their children along and listened to comments and observations by kids (my favorite was at the polar bear display: "mommy, why is this glass here?") and wondered if that would ever be me. For years I have had this overwhelming feeling that it will not be. I cannot banish that feeling, I have tried. For the most part I live with it, forget about it and come up with ways to challenge myself and create adventures. Right now I am lucky to have my sister to share my travel adventures with but she is engaged and although it seems like her engagement is some sort of never ending limbo state (sorry Erin, but it does), I realize at some point she will get married and our joint travels won't be the same.

Ultimately, I feel we are meant to be in pairs. Or at least, I feel I am meant to be part of a pair and without my match I am a bit misfit for many things, like attending weddings.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Just prepping

Since I took the red-eye back, I used my lack of sleep to take an extra day off. I arrived home at 8 am and to my surprise I slept until 3 pm!! So much for all of the errands I was planning on running today. It was a rainy and dreary day anyway so decided to do some pre-packing for Iceland.

I started by pulling out various clothes I thought might want as I unpacked my suitcase from San Diego. But then I decided I might as well go all out. So I made a trip to my storage unit to pull out my camping gear.
I haven't used my tent in over a year so I decided to set it up to make sure I have everything I need. I had planned on setting it up on my roof but with the threat of rain, I moved the set-up to my living room.

It was a tight fit but I managed to set the whole thing up. Well, almost the whole thing. I didn't put the rain fly on.
I bought a self-inflating mattress which barely fits inside. Good thing we have a rental car because there won't be much extra space in the tent.
Pulling everything out has brought this long-awaited vacation into reality.
One thing I forgot I had - Dawn wash & toss. I've had them for a while so I tested one out by cleaning my camp dishes. Still work - you just get them wet and scrub away, then toss! Why don't I camp more? Oh, right. I live in New York City and I don't own a car and I don't have friends who camp. . . minor challenges.

Only four days of work, then Erin arrives and then WE LEAVE FOR ICELAND! WOOHOO!!!

San Diego

Just a few highlights of my pre-vacation vacation in San Diego. Surprisingly (and happily), both my flight there and back were uneventful. The purpose of the trip was to attend the wedding of my friend Cinco. But lucky for me, my brother and his wife were there as well and we were able to see some of the sights of San Diego.

Friday morning we went to the San Diego Zoo (photos and narration in the slideshow below).



Friday night was the rehearsal dinner in La Jolla. The beach and sunset were beautiful. And we had Mexican food. Oh how I miss Mexican food in New York. Luckily that was all Jason and Nadia wanted to eat too so we ate it every day.



It was so great to see Cinco again - and meet his adorable now-wife Ashley. He definitely looked a bit older but very good, that made me worry how I have changed over the years! After all, I hadn't seen him in over three years! It is amazing how fast time goes by.

Saturday was taken up by the wedding and reception which were both beautiful. The San Diego temple lives up to its reputation, very beautiful.


Just a bit of history. Cinco and I lived in the same building (a la Friends) in New York years ago. I coached him through his dating ups and downs and he bought me Ben & Jerry's when I was crushed by a certain boy (on more than one occasion). He was a regular at my Sunday dinners and never failed to do the dishes. We had a standing date on Wednesday nights to watch Law & Order at 10 pm. It was like having a boy roommate I didn't have to live with. We talked dating, sports, church, friendships, his crazy roommate . . . a little of everything. Shortly after I moved back to Utah, he moved to Houston and we kept in touch.


About three years ago, he was looking through photos of a girl he was just starting to date and discovered a familiar face - my brother. As it turns out, Ashley was my sister-in-law's college roommate and she attended my brother's wedding. Cinco recognized Jason in the wedding photo. Wow, it is a small world. For the last three years Nadia and I have been hoping this match would work out since we both think so highly of each of them individually. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to attend the wedding together.


I didn't take many photos at the reception but here is the lovely couple getting ready to cut the cake. I wish I had taken a few more photos so you could see all of Cinco's attractive brothers - too bad they are all so young! One was sweet and danced with me the last song.


We sent them off with bubbles. . . And Sunday, before getting on our separate red-eye flights, we went to Sea World.



Although I normally prefer to take a direct flight, I made a slight detour through Salt Lake and managed to spend a couple of hours with my parents and sister. Erin fed me brownies and a delicious grilled cheese sandwich.

Yes, I am a bit sun burned from San Diego - lesson learned: ALWAYS re-apply the sun screen!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

just checking in

what a week.

First off, congrats to Michele on the beautiful (I'm sure, although we have not yet met) Eva Luna who was born August 10th. I can't wait to see photos and to meet her. Michele if you are up to going to the SLC airport on Sunday night at 9, I'll be there for three hours . . . right, just a suggestion.

Second, happy happy birthday to Lizzie!!!! I celebrated her day with a trip to Delaware and some really long over air-conditioned meetings without food. Unfortunately I had to abruptly end the birthday phone call when I realized the next train to New York was arriving in 3 short minutes and I had to change my ticket so I didn't have to spend another hour waiting in the Wilmington train station. There was one person ahead of me in line at the ticket window and when the window was cleared I rushed up. I promise I was really nice but the man told me to WAIT until he called me to the window. I tried to explain I needed to catch the train arriving in literally 2 minutes but he slowly shuffled papers around on the other side of the plexi glass before allowing me to slide my ticket through the metal tray to his side of the window. When I heard the rumblings of the train arriving overhead I tried to hurry him along and he got s l o w e r ! When he finally returned my ticket he was grumbling about New Yorkers never having patience and always being in such a hurry. Only because my train is already on the tracks upstairs! Okay so I am impatient but I was not rude about it. I had to run up the stairs to the train and luckily I made it just before the doors shut. Phew!

Have you ever had those moments where your mind has been untethered and allowed to roam free for a bit and you surprise yourself with thoughts you didn't know were lurking back there? When I first boarded the train, I went straight to the snack car and bought some pretzels, m&ms and a bottle of water (I avoided any sandwiches and salads having learned from past experience they are not worth eating). When I settled into my seat, I traded my red heels for flip flops, removed my pin stripe suit jacket and pulled out my Iceland rough guide and scrolled through my ipod for something soothing. I leaned my chair back as I allowed the haunting music of Sigur Ros wash over me as Wilmington faded into the background. As I sat there enjoying the alternating flavors of salt and chocolate, I glanced out the window at the rush of trees, signs, telephone wires and roads as they flew by. When I least expected it, I thought "I am tired of the east coast."

There it was, a stray thought I didn't realize was even back there. I pondered this briefly and realized it wasn't so much that I am tired of it - there isn't anywhere else I am ready to go right now - but tired of not changing. Without dwelling on it too long, I returned to my book to read more about the history and culture of this small island near the arctic cirlce I get to visit in 9 days!

One final note. It hasn't rained all week. Today heavy thundershowers are in the forecast beginning in the late afternoon which means the airport will be a disaster just in time for my flight at 545. But don't worry, I am not parting with my luggage this time.

oh and, as usual, I am already regretting half of what I packed. I packed two alternative dresses for the wedding and I am already wishing I had packed a different one. Grrrr. I am the worst packer. I wonder if this couple actually still has single friends. Most of the weddings I have attended lately I am nearly the only single friend in attendance. I don't like to talk (or write) about this but it really is hard always being the last one standing. Last of my high school friends, last of my law school friends, last of my New York friends . . . last. Losing friends one by one as they move on to what is hopefully a greater joy is bittersweet. I do not begrudge their joy and I truly relish in their happiness but, selfishly, I look around and realize if I don't put some effort into replenishing my friendships, I won't have any single friends left.

Monday, August 13, 2007

breakfast burritos

okay I should go to bed but I have to post my breakfast burrito concoction (the final product is pictured above) because I enjoyed it so much. Oh and tell me if my cooking adventures are boring you. . .

I started with some olive oil, chopped onions, garlic, red peppers, a jalepeno pepper (didn't want to go overboard), chopped cilantro and a couple of serrano peppers in a frying pan and cooked them up until the onions were clear.

Then I added frozen hashbrowns - a delicacy I could never seem to find in local grocery stores. Seriously. Luckily, Freshdirect, my online grocery store carries them now which saves me a lot of time in baking and shredding potatoes (the alternative). Anyway, brown these up with the onion and pepper mix and add a bunch of salt and pepper. I wanted to add some chili pepper but refrained since I wasn't sure how powerful the peppers were and how mild people's taste buds might be.
Once browned, I spread the concoction in a casserole dish (although I really am reluctant to call this a casserole).
I whisked together about a dozen eggs and added a little El Pato sauce for a bit more kick - perhaps a couple of tablespoons worth? And poured this over the potatoes and peppers. The final addition was cheese - I covered the pan with a mix of shredded cheeses, then covered the pan with foil and put it in the fridge for an hour or so before baking at 375 for about 30-45 minutes, removing the foil during the last 10 minutes of baking.
Unfortunately, I neglected to photograph the final baked product (guests had already arrived) but once it was baked, I just cut it in rectangle shapes conducive for layering down the center of a tortilla and let guests add whatever condiments they chose from the array of peppers, cilantro, guacamole, sour cream, salsa and Mexican salad (which consists of a variety of beans, olives, tomatoes, cheese and avocado) with chips. Here's a glimpse at the buffet.
The final addition was some meat. I am not exactly a carnivore - more of a carbivore - but the great thing about online ordering with Freshdirect is they email you these great coupons for free things to get you hooked. It is the equivalent of a sample lady coming to your house with whole dinner's worth of samples. Fun, right? With this order I received free marinated skirt steak from Rosa Mexicano, a fantastic Mexican-esque local restaurant (I say "esque" because it is a bit too high end to be truly Mexican, i.e., stuffing their chili relleno with goat cheese!). I grilled this up easily in my griddler and sliced it into small strips that could be added to the salad and/or burritos.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

the bridal shower

Yesterday, Emily and I co-hosted a shower for Wendy (in the middle). It turned out better than I could have planned. Despite all the conflicts of August traveling and the call of the beach, a good number of women turned up. All the food worked out (even with a couple of experiments) and people lingered . . . the best compliment to a successful party. Some of the photos are below.I should have taken this photo later when all of the gifts were piled up around the sunflowers. . . but I forgot until the table was empty again and littered with emptied plates and cups.
Upon arrival, I greeted Wendy with a special mocktail concoction of limeade, ginger ale and a splash of pear and pineapple juices in a sugar rimmed glass garnished with a lime.
A few of the guests happily eating the Mexican feast of breakfast burritos, salad, fruit and lots of guacamole - Wendy's favorite!
We played one bridal shower game - the only one I actually like. I sent a list of questions to the groom in advance and we made Wendy guess his answers. For each answer she answered correctly, she was awarded a coupon written by the question reader. If her answer was wrong, the coupon went into Bryan's jar.
About half-way through the game, Bryan arrived early in a fluke of well-timed public transportation transfers. We pondered whether he should stay or go to the roof but ultimately let him join in and get a little embarrassed when he realized his well-thought out answers were being revealed to the whole room. But I think he actually enjoyed it. . . even the gift opening. I've been friends with him as long as I have been with Wendy - goes back to our days on the family home evening committee.
I had to give the bride-to-be something slinky. . . despite the averted gaze in the photo, I don't think Bryan was as uncomfortable as he looks in the photo. He thanked me later for my choice in gifts.
The happy couple with their first piece of china. . .
and fighting over the last cupcake. . . okay so not actually fighting. Bryan stole the last one just before leaving.

Oh and as for the cd, it was a big hit. Unfortunately, I couldn't import the actual cd cover (which looked great!) because it is some strange file type not recognized by bloggger but here is the final list of songs in their order on the cd. Thanks everyone for your input - I definitely could not have made it without your suggestions, let me know if you want a copy!

  • Easy Silence Dixie Chicks
  • Forever Ben Harper
  • The Luckiest Ben Folds
  • I Will Follow You Into The Dark Death Cab for Cutie
  • By Your Side Sade
  • Every Breath You Take The Police
  • Somebody Depeche Mode
  • Faithfully Journey
  • Think I'm In Love Beck
  • Better Together Jack Johnson
  • You Are The Sunshine Of My Life Stevie Wonder
  • You've Made Me So Very Happy Blood Sweat & Tears
  • A Love Song Loggins & Messina
  • Endless Love Diana Ross & Lionel Richie
  • The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face Roberta Flack
  • Your Song Elton John
  • Turn Me On Norah Jones
  • Gimme Some Luvin G. Love & Special Sauce
  • Let's Get It On Marvin Gaye
  • Do That to Me One More Time Captain & Tennille

more cupcakes. . .

I hosted a bridal shower this weekend and used it as an excuse to experiment with more cupcakes. This time I started with a basic white cake recipe that next time I make it I will substitute buttermilk and possibly some vinegar for the milk to make it more moist. I'm sure leaving them in the fridge overnight without their papers on was the main dryness culprit but no one complained and in fact most people raved. . . but I'm my worst critic.

Anyway, what inspired me was a ziplock bag full of berries in my freezer. I hadn't used them for smoothies and so I decided to try a berry coulis. It is actually quite simple, berries in a sauce pan, add water, orange zest and sugar and simmer.


After it turned syrupy, I poured it into the Cuisinart and smoothed out the berries. I did some sampling along the way and decided this concoction went really well with vanilla yogurt. It was like having homemade fruit on the bottom!


The next step was a bit trickier. I poured the coulis into a pastry bag with a tip I thought would be big enough to strain it out without any mess. . . first I peeled the papers away from the cupcake, then I made a small hole in the bottom and hollowed out a bit of the cupcake.
Then I filled the hole with the pastry bag which worked really well until a bit of fruit that survived the cuisinart jammed in the tip a few cupcakes into the process and no matter how many toothpicks I swirled around in there, I couldn't unclog it so I had to use a spoon for the rest (a bit messier but still worked).
I then plugged up the hole with the piece I removed. After last week's successful ganache experiment, I decided to use it again and this time the texture worked out much smoother - I think a lower cacao content was key but who knows.
Then, I whipped up some whipping cream until it was good and stiff and added some of the berry coulis which turned a beautiful lavender color - perfect for a bridal shower!I scooped the berry whipped cream onto the ganache topped cupcakes, added some fresh berries and shaved some chocolate on top. And voila!

Whipped Berry Ganache Coulis-Filled Cupcakes!
I need to work on the names of my creations. . .

Thursday, August 09, 2007

shoe shopping

I have been wanting a good pair of hiking shoes (not boots) for several years. Yes, years. But for various reasons I put it off or never found a pair I was willing to commit to so I made do with regular sneakers or (preferably) chacos. In fact, last summer when I went to Guatemala I never once used the old pair of sneakers I lugged around tied to my back pack that I ultimately ditched in a hotel in slimy Livingston - the same hotel where one member of our group was robbed in his room and where we found not one but TWO used needles on the beach and later discovered (after swimming) the water is used as a sewage dump. Yeah, not a fan of that town.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand. With the average temperature range being somewhere between 50 and 70 degrees in Iceland in August, I realized I am going to have to pack something more than flip flops and chacos for this excursion. Rather than go to the time and effort of going to an actual store, I decided to order my shoes online. I spent a ridiculous amount of time reviewing the hundreds of size 7 hiking shoes on zappos plus all the reviews of the ones I liked, plus I looked on other websites to see what they had to say and compare the price. Ultimately I ordered three pairs to try in the comfort of my own home thinking in the event I need a tie-breaker, I could try them out for a short walk on the treadmill in the gym upstairs. As it turns out, I didn't need a tie-breaker. Here are the results of my trial:

Pair #1: Columbia Caprock
Online I think I liked the look of these shoes the best in light grey/coral. As you will see, I seem to gravitate toward gray shoes with a dab of color in the accents. First of all, my feet were not exactly happy about being shoved into a pair of wool socks and shoes in the middle of August so I worried that would skew my testing. I put these on and decided I should wear them for about thirty minutes while I did various tasks around the apartment. Before I reached my time limit, my feet were tingling and begging to be released. Clearly, these were not the shoe for me.

Pair #2: Keen Southern Traverse
I really wanted to like pair number two. The deep lichen/black plum color scheme is what I have used in half my decorating. Plus, everyone raves about how Keens are the greatest shoe to ever meet your foot.
Unfortunately, my initial meeting didn't go quite well. My left foot got a cramp in it as soon as I tried to shove my foot in. Thinking this might be leftover from the last pair's tingling, I persisted with no improvement. I walked around, did a bit of cooking and once again couldn't stand keeping them on my feet the entire 30 minutes. It wasn't that they hurt or rubbed wrong, I just didn't like how they felt. I was beginning to worry that maybe my feet have just grown so used to flip flops and sandals that they no refuse to be confined to shoes! On to pair number three.

Pair #3: Salomon Elios
Again, chose this pair based on great reviews as well as the pleasing dark cloud/cerulean/light grey color scheme.

I loved them immediately. There was no struggle to squeeze my foot in, they fit well and they made me want to go run up a mountain, or a volcano or glacier. . . These shoes were the clear winner. They felt significantly lighter on my feet and were reviewed as best hiker in an outdoor magazine. My only disappointment is that the tag shows an illustration of how to use some sort of memory tie system (which is what I have on the sock liner of my Solomon snowboarding boots) but these are just plain old laces. With my Solomon snowboard, bindings, boots and now these shoes, I am turning into a total Solomon junky!

Having made my choice, I packed the other two shoes back into their boxes and they are being whisked back to zappos for someone else to try them out. If you have not ordered shoes from zappos, I highly, highly recommend them. They have free shipping and I received this order (and almost every order I place) in less than 24 hours and returns are great, you print a return label from their website and they pay for return shipping! PLUS, and this is my favorite part, if you find the shoes for cheaper somewhere else (as I did for each of these shoes), you simply call and tell them where you found them for cheaper and they will pay you 110% of the difference. I love online shopping.

But what I ultimately learned (or more accurately, confirmed) in my little test is that I am really better suited to going barefoot or as close to barefoot as possible.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

suggestions please

I am making a cd of love (glad I just re-read my post, initially I wrote long here! it seems I have some issues with this particular L word) songs for a shower I'm throwing Saturday. In no particular order, this is what I have so far. Any strong feelings one way or the other about any of these? Anything you think I should add? Comments welcome, encouraged and yes, I'm begging, I need opinions here.
  • Easy Silence Dixie Chicks (this is the couple's song according to the groom so it has to stay and I had to buy it and I doubt I will ever listen to it again)
  • I Believe Stevie Wonder
  • Forever Ben Harper
  • I Will Follow You Into the Dark Death Cab for Cutie
  • By Your Side Sade
  • Pride (In the Name of Love) U2
  • Somebody Depeche Mode
  • Faithfully Journey (because what could be more romantic?)
  • When I Fall In Love Celine Dion (only because of a comment from the groom)
  • Think I'm in Love Beck
  • Friday I'm in Love The Cure
  • This Love Maroon 5
  • Love, Reign O'er Me Pearl Jam
  • Be Here to Love Me Norah Jones
  • You Sexy Thing Hot Chocolate
  • Let's Get It On Marvin Gaye

Sooooooooo, what do you think? I'm going to play with it for the next couple of days but definitely need your additions/deletions/order comments? Come on cheezy romantics, I need your input, it has been a long time for me . . .

on my mind

  • I just realized I have somehow managed to skip shaving the left side of my right knee for at least a week. There is a whole forest of hair of considerable length there.
  • I need Liz's new address. Someone please send it to me (LIZ! or anyone else who has it). I suspect she could use some real mail.
  • I should probably buy some new sneakers for hiking in Iceland because it will probably be too cold for my chacos but I don't think I have the time to break them in
  • why did BYU send me this addictive salt water taffy? my garbage is littered with 7 or 8 BYU-logoed wrappers from the last hour
  • I need to try and focus on work for more than 15 minute spurts
  • how is it over 95 degrees outside and I have to wear a sweater in my office
  • why hasn't anyone been posting lately? I think I waste more time looking for distractions than I would if my google reader box had something new to offer
  • anyone have a suggestion for a good extra large duffle that could fit a tent, air mattress and other odds and ends?
  • 9 days until San Diego
  • 18 days until Iceland
  • what kind of cupcakes should I make for a bridal shower? probably yellow or white cake with fruit. . . but with chocolate too.
  • 230 is probably too early to ditch my heels and wear flip flops in the office. . . but my feet were getting irritated being crammed in closed toe shoes for so long

Monday, August 06, 2007

ready to pack my bags

I am burned out. I keep staring down my desktop calendar in a futile attempt to wish away the days stretching out until I reach the start of my vacation time. Ten days until a long weekend in San Diego. Nineteen days until a week in Iceland. I then glance at the slow moving clock in the bottom right-hand corner of my computer screen and check it against the paralyzed face on my wrist. Still a couple of hours before I can leave work. Another wasted day. Earlier today I calculated how many hours I have billed this year and how many I have left and realized I can afford one lazy, unmotivated month. This is burn out at its worst.

Last night I watched a Danish movie called After the Wedding. It has been sitting on my tv for over two weeks waiting for me to watch it but with my weekend travels and visitors and the subtitles (thus, not an afterwork no brainer movie), I have not been getting my money's worth out of my Netflix membership. So I caught up last night first with the first disk of season 4 of the OC and then After the Wedding (definately a good idea to get the frivolous OC out of the way first). The movie starts in India with a Danish man working in an orphanage. During those opening scenes, a familiar thought came to me - I want to do that. For years I have dreamt of living in an impoverished country, helping people. Fully immersed and secluded. Admittedly, I have romanticized it in my imagination. In college I toyed with the idea of joining the Peace Corps but knew I didn't have the money to do it. Then years ago I heard a lesson in homemaking (that's how long ago it was, we still had homemaking) given by a woman who had volunteered in an orphanage in Romania. I was riveted and longed for her experience - no matter the difficulty. Last year's trip to Guatemala further reinforced this supressed desire to go somewhere and make a difference in a tangible and signifcant way.

I initially struggled to read the subtitles in the movie as I kept envisioning myself there in the sweltering heat scooping out piles of rice onto tin plates to clammering children from a truck and my overly-analytic mind kept running through the logistics. How would I do it. Could I just walk away from my career. Would I want to go for a finite period of time or indefinately. How would I fund it. Would it be realistic for me to drop out of my job like that? How would I feel being that far removed from my family, my friends, my indoor plumbing on a permanent basis? If I work longer would a 6 or 12 month sabatical be realistic?

The movie moved away from the third-world and into the oppulent world of a particular Danish corporate donor. Soon what appeared to be the core plot of a small NGO seeking corporate funding moved to the back seat as the characters expanded and relationships were revealed. I couldn't help but recall a conversation I had on Thursday with one of our departing summer associates. He spent some time in the Peace Corps working in Africa and is spending the rest of his summer interning for a non-profit legal aid organization and feels conflicted about the oppulence and excessive salaries of large New York law firms. He doesn't want to become motivated by money and forget what is important. I talked to him about the guilt I have sometimes struggled with as my salary grew (grows) and the luxuries I have slowly grown accustomed to. But I also talked to him about the opportunities to serve people that are available and often prioritized in the form of community service and pro bono legal work. But is that really enough?

The conversation made me want to do more, give more. Then this movie which ultimately was not about saving orphans in India but broke my heart when I contrasted my own lifestyle with theirs as the main character in the movie complained of the overly extravagent apartment and luxuries that were being thrown at him and what that money could do for the orphanage.

I am anxious to get to my vacation in three weeks and I am looking forward to exploring the fjords, glaciers and geysers of Iceland. But, at the same time, I am disappointed that I am not able to volunteer my time and see the results of my donations and efforts in a concrete way like I did last year in Guatemala. Erin and I are hoping to go to Kenya next year to build a school house. Hopefully that will work out and will prove to be as rewarding as Guatemala.

As for the movie. I highly recommend it. It is an evocative film on many levels and the acting is superb. And me quitting my job to work in outer Mongolia. . . probably a way off at this point but not entirely ruled out as an option.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Tour Guide Weekend

I had a few visitors in town this weekend - Tiffany's husband and son with a couple of their friends. We met up late Saturday afternoon at my place. I was a bit reluctant to show them around at first, but then Ryan agreed to clean my apartment.

so I gave Christian a cupcakeand I showed them my roof. I also asked them to each wear striped shirts so we could find each other easily.
Then I took them to the water where we waited in a long line to not go on a boat, but Christian had fun at the water playground and managed to stay dry.
After a long subway ride to Brooklyn with a slight detour due to track work, we skipped the extremely long line outside Grimaldi's pizza and tried the Italian place next door instead. It wasn't the best Italian in New York, but I LOVED the look on Christian's face after I told him that the calamari he liked is squid! He literally jumped back in his chair like I had just scared him.

We walked back to Manhattan across the Brooklyn Bridge and took in the phenomenal views (and yes, I realize these photos are blurry but the flash photos don't do it justice).

One last stop for the night at Carnegie Deli
where Christian could not get enough of the pickles. . .
I met them again this morning and we did a quick tour of the Museum of Natural History (after yet another subway construction caused delay).

Then we waited in another long ticket line, stood on the hot black top in yet another line, and finally boarded The Beast, a speed boat tour to the Statue of Liberty. I did this years ago and now I am wondering why I waited so long to go on it again (other than the long line).
It speeds down the Hudson River to the Statue of Liberty where the boat pauses for photos with amazing views of lower Manhattan. Ryan and Mr. Smith decided they should quit their jobs, buy a boat and create a Beast ride of their own.
The Beast got in a water fight with The Shark boat.
And Christian got a bit wet on the way back.
We had a great time together, thanks Tiff for lending me your boys for a couple of days. Christian is one of the funniest, most well behaved kids I have ever been around. He tells great stories and did not complain once! Very impressive.
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