Friday, September 30, 2011

Desolation Row

Before I got married, I lived in a wonderful townhouse in Reston, VA with my great roommates Annie, Deanne, and Taryn.  After Deanne moved out, I converted the dank, cave-like basement room into my hangout/music room and, with the help of another pal, named it Desolation Row.  It was the bizz.  I miss it a lot; mostly because it was ugly and ghetto and rad.  Now that I have my own house, its not as acceptable to make it ugly on purpose.  Shame.

But that's entirely beside the point, the point is that Desolation Row by Bob Dylan is one of my favorite songs, so I made this video yesterday.  I was really surprised to see that there were hardly any covers of this on youtube, besides the ridiculous My Chemical Romance cover and some sleepy live performances by the Grateful Dead.  Anyway, I hope I did it justice.  Enjoy!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Mel the Burninator: Sculpy FAIL, Key Lime Pie WIN

Here's a little walk down memory lane:

I attempted to make some little things out of Scuply.  I've done this before. Its easy enough.  So, this morning, as I computerized, I baked some stuff I sculpted last night.  Here they are.  Aren't they cute?

Well, they were cute.  I did everything right.  Until I started baking bread this afternoon.  I left the sculpy stuff in the oven to cool, but forgot about them and preheated for my bread.  Then I went to work out while my bread was rising, only to return to a chemical-smelling smoke filled kitchen.  Crap.  Turn on the fan, and throw open the door.

This experience reminded me of other times I've burninated the coutryside. And the peasants.  Here are just three that I have photo proof of, there are many more.

 Cookies my junior year of college.  Anyone remember this?  And yes, that furniture is wicker.  And no, I don't know why we have a gallon of blood on the porch.
This is my beautiful spouse.  I didn't burninate his face, he did that; however, I did cause the corn tortillas in the toaster oven to burst into flames.  It was his own fault he flung the door open and blew as hard as he could, only to get a fire ball in the face.  His eye lashes didn't grow back for 3 months. Check out the singed beard.  Still smilin' though, that's ma man.

Despite my sculpy fail, I managed a Key Lime Pie and my bread turned out pretty good.  This is the easiest pie recipe I've ever made, and have made probably 8 in the last 3 months.  I might be wearing it out, but its so wicked good and sooooooo easy.  I'll post the bread sometime, as it is one of my favorite and most-often-used recipes.


 Whip Creaminated!
And here's the bread.  I wrapped it before I remembered to take the picture, so forgive the plastic wrap. 

I wonder if other people burn things as much as I do.  Do you have any pictures of stuff you've burnt?  Leave it in a comment!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday's Are For DINNER! (and church and sleeping): Enchiladas and Coconut Cream Pie

Sundays.  It took me a long time to really relish Sundays, but sometime during college when I actually committed to keeping the Sabbath Day holy, I started to truly feel the peace and revitalization that is promised by making Sunday different from every other day.  This takes a concerted effort, planning, determination, and sacrifice.  But the blessings from reverencing the Sabbath Day are so wonderful, and I have experienced increased energy during the week, a renewal of peace that comes from a quieted mind, and a repose that I look forward to all week by committing to honor this sacred day.

Also, on Sundays, I like to make more of an effort to eat a nice meal.  Since Kyle and I don't eat that  much, and I don't know how to make a fancy meal for less than 4 people, I love having people over on Sundays.  Today, since my house wasn't clean enough for anyone other than family, we invited Ma and Pa Wheeler and had Enchiladas and Coconut Cream Pie.

Enchilada a la Mel
I don't know where I got this recipe. I think Mikaela and I made it up. Not sure. But its wicked good.

 Prep time: 30 min, cook time 45 min
3 decent size Chicken Breasts, mostly thawed and cut into cubes (I say mostly thawed because chicken is really easy to cut when it is still a tiny bit frozen)
1 Can (8 oz) Black Olives, sliced (or as much or as little as you want, we love olives!)
2 or 3 garden tomatoes, cubed (same as olives)
1 cup sour cream
1 small can Green Chilies (4 oz)
Lotsa Mexican style cheese
1.5 or 2 (14 oz) cans Enchilada sauce

Cooking Chicken:
Olive oil, 1 tbl spoon garlic, and some diced onions in a pan.  Cook until the onions are limp and getting brown on the ends.  Add chicken.  Sometimes I splash in some lemon juice.  I almost always add: sprinkle well with Italian seasoning, and add dashes of any/all of the following: onion powder, lemon pepper, chicken seasoning, greek seasoning, or that yummy Montreal seasoning for chicken.  Don't over do it, but don't be afraid of a little flava.

Get it good and sizzlin'.
Its good to have your olives and tomatoes sliced before the chicken is done cooking. I had help. :)

Put the olives, tomatoes, cooked chicken with all the pan drippings, sour cream, and a handful (or 2) of Mexican cheese in a large mixing bowl, and mix until creamy.

Spoon this deliciousness into the tortillas, wrap them, and put them in a 9x13" baking pan.

 Here's a quick lesson on how to properly wrap a tortilla:

Add the cheese.  I just dump cheese on by the handful, and probably put about 3.5 cups on this batch.  Then pour on the Enchilada Sauce.  I added two 14 oz cans, but you don't need that much.  The important thing is to cover every visible part of the tortillas, otherwise the areas that aren't covered with sauce will get hard and crusty (which is bad in this instance) during baking.

Add a little more cheese to the top.  Bake at 375-400 degrees for 45 min.  Today, I cooked it at 375 for 30 min and it wasn't enough.  They were still good, but the cheese wasn't as melted as it should have been.  When you take it out of the oven, let it cool for at least 10-15 minutes, as the sauce is like boiling lava.

It was delicious!  And very filling; Kyle can eat at least twice as much as me at a normal meal, and we both stopped at 1 1/2.  I was a hungry hippo, apparently.
Then desert!

Coconut Cream Pie (Betty Crocker)
The Shiraki's gave me a stellar Betty Crocker cook book for our wedding, which I use all the time.  The honey wheat bread recipe is a favorite that I make at least 2-3 times a month.  I tried this Cream Pie recipe for the first time last week, and made it with bananas.  Here's a picture of the recipe book:

I am not a pie maker, but I aspire to it (thanks to Marie Shiraki).  So this is all experimental.  This video is meant to show the consistency of the filling as it cooks, which I was most unsure about the first time I made this.

 ***Note: In the video, when the vanilla, butter, and coconut are added, the burner is off.

The key in this process is stirring.  DON'T STOP STIRRING.  Like ever.  Especially when the mixture starts to thicken and then boil; it will burn in 2 seconds.  In the video above, toward the end, you can see little dark flecks in the yellow filling--these are little burninated bits from the bottom of the pan that I didn't stir thoroughly enough.  They don't taste gross at all, in fact you can't taste them, but I would rather have a uniform, smooth color without the flecks.

After it has cooled for about 2 hours, top with a generous layer of whipped cream and sprinkle with coconut.

Finished pie, the perfect sweet, but light, after dinner desert.  Mmmmmmm.....

And next Sunday is General Conference--what should I make?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Window Chalkboard Project

I bought an old crumbly, dirty window from a girl.  She had bought a load of 50 (!!) of them from some Amish people in Pennsylvania, and only needed 2, so she sold the rest off.  I bought two from her, not really knowing what to do with them, but thinking they could be very cool.

So I decided to make one into a chalk board to hang in my kitchen--something to write lists on, or notes, or reminders, or draw pictures.  So here's what I did...

Here's the window (this is actually the other window, but I didn't photo the chalkboard window before I began painting)

I bought some chalk board paint from the craft store. $7, but you can probably find it cheaper (the red, green, brown, and other colors were $3.50).
On the label, it says, "Create a chalkboard on wood, paper mache, terra cotta, canvas, most porous surfaces. Waterbase. Non-toxic. For best results, at least 2 coats recommended. Single coat coverage approximately 10.75 sq. ft."  Great.  Well, all except for the "porous surfaces" part, because I was planning to paint it straight on the glass in the windows.  Meh, I did it anyway.  Here's the first coat:

 First coat: pretty shabby.  Maybe this won't work.... Second coat:
Okay, not so bad, but still not good.  Proceed with coat 3 and 4.  I was impatient and helped the drying time with a hair dryer, which worked pretty well.  By the 4th coat, I felt like everything was pretty evenly covered and I couldn't see any transparent areas.  Sweet!

Next, put on the "D rings".
I hang paintings for a living (if you can call it that), so I am quite familiar with the ins and outs of hanging paintings/stuff on walls.  These principles apply to most anything you hang on your wall.  Buy "D rings" from the craft/hardware store.  For something heavy, like this window, (probably 10-15 lbs), I like something relatively heavy duty--meaning you want the screws to be substantial.  You don't want screws to rip out of the wood because they're too wimpy to hold your heavy thing.  Better too much than too little, in this case.
The 2 most important things when applying D Rings: #1 Make sure the screws are good and tight and screwed in. #2 The top of the D Rings on both sides of your painting/window need to be exactly the same distance from the top of the window to ensure that the window hangs straight on the wall.  I measured down 4 inches from the top of the window, and made sure to screw in carefully to ensure the ring stayed exactly 4 inches down. (Below: the screw driver is pointing to the line 4 inches down, where I marked the spot to screw in the screws.)
I then hung the window on "nickle plated hooks".  The advantage of hanging straight on the D Ring is that once everything is level (Rings in the same place, hooks level on the wall), your painting/window will never be crooked.  Also, it is MUCH more secure way to hang than with a wire on the back.  It would not work to hang this window on a wire--writing, drawing, and pressing on the chalkboard would cause movement and make it hang crooked.  Obnoxious.  Don't do it.  D Rings and plated hooks.  Yes.
So here it is on the wall:
I use soft pastel "chalk", which is not really chalk like you usually think of it, but the colors are very vibrant and really fun to draw with.  Its probably not so great for kids--its quite a bit messier than normal street/school chalk.  You have to wash it off with a wet paper towel, but its not dusty like normal chalk either.  I like it much better, but I don't have to worry about children.

That's it!  I love my new chalkboard!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9-11

I'm sitting here in my basement, after just being a little snarky to my husband, "working on" my hair for the first time in 2 weeks, perusing facebook, and waiting for midnight so I can watch a "non-Sunday" movie.  I just watched a few too many hours of "Remembering 9-11" programs on TV.  A friend who lives in Brooklyn posted this picture on facebook, I hope he doesn't mind that I'm using it.  I think its really beautiful.

We all remember where we were, but unless you were in lower Manhattan, I don't think its really relevant.  I really love the interactive map on the New York Times website, where anyone can post a dot and give a blurb about where they were that day.  The hundreds of dots that cluster around the Trade Towers on that map are quite overwhelming to read.  I get lost in them and have to snap myself out.  I feel this way at the Holocaust Museum in DC; I want to sink into the reality of the tragedy and loss, out of respect for those who have actually suffered.  If I skim over it, or turn my face, or change the channel because its too hard to comprehend, I feel like I'm...I don't know, disrespecting them in some way.  I know that's not really true, and nothing can be accomplished for them by my indulgence in intense emotions.  I can feel compassion for them, and strengthen my resolve to be a better person and a better American.  I can pray to my Father for the Savior's merciful atonement to heal and comfort those who suffer.  I can love better, and make sure those I love know that I love them.

And now, after seeing all the harrowing images again (some for the first time), listening to all the stories of loss and hope, and thinking of my place in this swirling universe, I feel a pull to revisit New York.  New York and the people who inhabit it, are truly unique, and I can't help but be a little jealous of the identity and pride that binds them together.  Millions of strangers with at least one thing in common--they're New Yorkers--gritty, tough, hard working people who love and own their city.   I'll take in a Broadway show, jam in Washington Square, eat bagels and pizza from street cafes, walk until my feet are blistered, and gawk at the parade of humanity that is totally unique to NYC.  If I want to be a complete tourist, I might buy an "I heart NY" t-shirt.

I'll visit the WTC 9-11 Memorial.  How could we forget?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Hiking Squaw Peek, Provo, Utah

Labor Day, 2011.  9am.  Rock Canyon Trail Head, just up the road from the Provo LDS Temple, at the mouth of a jagged canyon. Kyle, Keely, Chris Shaw, Dave Wheeler, me, and a gaggle of Dave's pals.  

I wanted to go hiking.  I wanted a relatively strenuous, but shortish jaunt to get my blood pumping in the morning, but allow enough time to get everything done that I needed to before the BBQ at my folks house that afternoon at 4pm.  That's what I wanted.  I got something else.
So, you head up the Rock Canyon trail.  UP.  Its a pretty good incline, and parts of the trail are really gravelly--like really thick/deep gravel that moves and shifts under your feet, threatening to break your ankles with every step.  We passed the part of the trail where rock climbers harness themselves to ropes, climb and repel down the gorgeous rock-climbers-playground.  We passed them by with a nod and a little jealousy.  Take the first left off the main trail, over a wooden bridge.  Keely had decided to take the hike at a slower pace, and we didn't want her to miss the turn, so we had to make a sign for her.
The sticks make the Japanese Kanji for "Shiraki".

We walked up this left fork for about 10 minutes (ish) and came to another fork to the left--when you look down the fork a bit, you see a sign that says "Squaw Peek".  Onward and upward.

And I do mean UP.  Way up.  For a friggin long time.  Sometimes the incline 45 degrees, or more, or something crazy, cause the mountain is right in your face.  Forget the treadmill.  Forget the stair climber.  Just keep walking.

There were beautiful meadows full of thigh-high wildflowers.  The woods were thick, lush, and very western (I don't know the last time I saw an Aspen).  The elevation just kept climbing and climbing, and so did we.  And that part about "forget the treadmill", yeah, I did, a long time ago, so the higher we got the more I hurt.  This is NOT a hike for someone as weak and out of shape as me.  HOLY CRAP. 
It was gorgeous, though.

The trail arches up and over a ridge, which makes it seem like you are almost there.  You are, but for me, the last 20 minutes were the worst.  I'm chalking it up to the altitude (7,800 feet, compared to where I live, 282 ft) and not eating breakfast, because when we were about 10 minutes from the top, I had to stop because I was so light headed I felt like I would pass out.  Pass out, I did not.  Thankfully.  But I scarfed those pop-tarts like you wouldn't believe.  When we got to the top, the ascent was worth it. (Until the hike down, that is.)
This panorama is about 270 degrees, so the valley is quite squooshed.  Just imagine that the view of the valley, from one mountain's edge to the other, which appears to be about 90 degrees in the photo, is actually 180.  It was a phenomenal view.  Probably the best I've ever seen of Utah Valley, including the view from the top of Timpanogas.  Timp's view is incredible because you can see the other side of the mountain, and the hundreds of mountain tops from central Utah to Colorado, but the valley is pretty obscured by fog and distance.  Not the case on Squaw Peek.

 Kyle and I.  Lookin' rough, but feelin' good.
 The back of the Provo Temple with the zoom lens.
Lake Shore, Utah (with the zoom lens)

The hike back down took much longer than expected; mostly because my body wasn't cooperating as well as I would have wanted.  I love my Chacos, you know I do, but I got some nasty blisters.  And my knee was killing me.  And you can't move very fast when you whine as much as Keely and I were, so that must also be taken into account.  However, I feel better about it now that I know that the 2.3 mile (4.6 round-trip) hike that we thought we had taken, was actually 8.4 miles round trip.  That explains why, 5 days later, my calves still hurt.

It was gorgeous, and I'd recommend it to any in-shape hiker.  I'll do it again, but not before I'm in better shape.  Till then, I'll stick with my smaller-but-in-no-way-less-incredible Blue Ridge Mountains when I need a good jaunt into the wilderness.