Tag Archives: celebration

Welcome to Hogwarts

For all my kvetching about small town living, one of the best things to come out of our being here so long is that we’ve become good friends with some people who went to my high school. I was friendly with Karen (a class behind me) and while I knew who he was, her now-husband Andriy was an exchange student from Ukraine and I don’t know that I ever had a conversation with him back then. We randomly saw Karen and her sister and nephew in a mall in the Denver suburbs a few years ago, and since then we’d connected on Facebook, but it wasn’t until we moved to Cloverdale that I really had a chance to get to know either of them as adults.

Luckily, not long after we moved here I suggested that we hang out one evening, and the four of us hit it off. As it turns out, we’re all nerds and we all like playing games and we have quite a bit else in common, and in the months since we’ve been here we’ve spent quite a few nights playing games (the four of us), playing D&D (Dan and Andriy), and being game widows (Karen and me). Early this summer, Karen mentioned she planned to have a Harry Potter-themed party, either for the movie premiere or for her birthday. Their annual Ukraine trip in June pushed the timing back to Karen’s birthday in August, but that just gave everyone more time to prepare for the big event.

Dan made this for Karen's party

Karen spent MONTHS researching, re-reading the books, playing around on the Harry Potter Wiki, re-watching the movies. She spent many weeks planning food, activities, games, props, and decor. She went ALL OUT for this party, and I was tickled when the owl arrived in our mailbox, inviting us to be students at Hogwarts for an evening (appropriate dress required!) We’d had plenty of advance notice, and so I was finally able to plan and put together the costume I’d wanted to do both last fall and this most recent July for the midnight screenings of HP7.1 and HP7.2, but didn’t have the time.

Nagini, locket, ring, diadem, diary, cup

Internet, you should know by now that I can’t resist a good costume party theme. I went to Karen’s Harry Potter party dressed as all seven Horcruxes.

Can you spot all 7?

I won’t spoil anything for people who haven’t read the series or seen the movies and still plan to do so, but these seven things are a big part of the plots of the final two books, so read the next few paragraphs and view the photos at your own risk.

One of the most challenging things about this costume concept was that I knew we couldn’t afford to spend any money. So I had to be creative and use materials we had to put together something I thought would live up to my own standards. When we saw HP7.2 in July, for example, my sister and her friend dressed as the ring and the locket, and both costumes used this shiny gold paper stuff. So last weekend when we went down to the Bay Area to attend a garden party at Leah and Simon’s house, we stopped at my sister’s on the way so I could borrow a piece of their shiny gold paper, which I used for three of my Horcruxes: the cup, locket, and the eyes for Nagini. I cut up an old t-shirt, pulled stuffing out of an old pillow, used legs from a decade-old pair of green tights and a nearly-that-old pair of green fishnets. I dug a goblet out of one of our boxes in the garage, used old fimo leftover from making our cake toppers for the basilisk fang, and cut a piece of linen from a pair of pants that developed holes before I moved to Colorado. Sometimes I wonder why I keep so much junk, and then an occasion like this happens and I’m able to put together a neat costume without spending a dime. Sometimes it pays to be a packrat.

Sparkly!

Rowena Ravenclaw’s diadem was made possible by a birthday gift of a tiara from Leah and Simon for my 31st birthday. I had a loose blue stone with a small ring on the end from some ancient family costume jewelry, and at first I thought of hot gluing it to the tiara, but then I had the genius idea of using a blue post earring, and put the post through the ring, thereby adding TWO blue shiny bits to the tiara to make it more Ravenclaw-ish.

Sneaky!

Snake-y!

Nagini was the aforementioned tights and fishnets, gold paper with pupil slits, stuffed with a piece of baling wire and some old pillow stuffing. I sewed it all up and she hung down my back and under my belt, peeking over my shoulder.

Shiny!

Salazar Slytherin’s locket is actually an evil eye charm my sister brought back from Greece several years ago. Dan used it for his Mad-Eye Moody costume last fall, and here I was able to repurpose it by covering it with the gold foil and drawing an S using a green sharpie. I added a bit of gold wire to the top and strung it on a chain.

Silvery!

Helga Hufflepuff’s cup was an old goblet I have from I can’t even remember why or where, and I used the gold paper to add a letter H. At the party, I tried drinking out of the cup, and water tasted OK, but the whiskey and coke I had in it tasted weird so I stopped.

I'm all out of S-adjectives.

Marvolo Gaunt’s ring set with the Resurrection Stone was gold wire I bought last fall to make my Cleopatra costume and a flat glass marble. The original marble was a seafoam green, so I used blue nail polish to paint the back, making it a murky color, and used silver nail polish to paint the Deathly Hallows symbol on the front, and hot glued the marble to the ring base.

Shabby. But still kind of cool.

My biggest triumph, I think, was Tom Riddle’s diary. I made the basilisk fang out of polymer clay leftover from when Dan made our wedding cake toppers, and the book was some cardboard, some scrap paper, a piece of linen cut from old pants colored with a sharpie, and a couple of snips off a piece of gold rickrack from the Cleopatra costume. It was hot glued together and then I stabbed the fang through the diary and hot glued the whole contraption to one of Dan’s old t-shirts on which I’d already cut the neck and sleeves.

Stabby!

So! Costumes assembled and donned, we headed over to Karen and Andriy’s house. When we got there, we were welcomed to Hogwarts and given free reign of the house and grounds to explore. Karen did a fantastic job of coming up with activity ideas that appealed to both kids and adults, including entrance exams for people less-than-familiar with the wizarding world, OWLs and NEWTs for more hardcore HP fans, and each room or area a different classroom or theme from the books. There was a treasure hunt for hidden horcruxes and other items important to the story, and a “sniff the potion ingredient” guessing game. There was a potion-mixing station for kids (I am told it was mostly colored sugars and different sodas), a potion-mixing station for adults (tasty adult beverages), and a Quidditch pitch. Dan and I collaborated on our OWLs and NEWTs and I spent a fair amount of time both inside and out, searching for the horcruxes.

We contributed a few of these bottles to the cause

There are days I could use a good wit sharpening.

One of the horcruxes in the graveyard

One of the ingredients smelled like dirty feet, but I'm betting that's not what was in the bottle

Not pictured: NEWTs

The best part of the party, however, was seeing the gleeful grins on Karen’s face as her friends and family had fun participating in all of the events and socializing with one another. Everyone was amazed at the sheer volume of work that had gone into transforming every room in their house and a fair amount of their yard into Hogwarts, and every person who came seemed to have a great time. The kids played Quidditch, the adults mixed potions, and I was thrilled to be amongst friendly people who were all at least a little nerdy (even if they weren’t actually Harry Potter nerds). Prizes were awarded to top scorers in the various games and contests, and Karen opened presents, and we all ate cake and sat around a bonfire.

...yum?

Weasley twins and a Hogwarts student play Quidditch

Professor Gilderoy Lockhart and a Weasley throw the water balloon bludgers

At Karen’s party, I got to reconnect with an old high school friend (we took driver’s training together, and I was delighted to discover that she had the exact same sense of humor). I got to see a couple of people who were younger siblings of people I knew, hadn’t seen since they were teenagers, and learned they had turned into awesome people. And I met a couple of new people who I feel could become really good friends. Karen and Andriy know a lot of good folks, and I felt so touched to be included with such a fantastic group, everyone geeking out a little, one guy with four-foot-long dreads and one girl in skinny jeans and one woman who’d named her daughter the same thing we’d name a hypothetical daughter, and one guy who didn’t come in costume but he sure did have a great time with the OWLs and NEWTs even though nobody knew he was a Harry Potter fan. I can’t imagine a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon and evening.

Pity, party

I think I’ve documented before on this site how this time of the year always gets me down. It’s still winter and kinda gross outside; I am going to have yet another birthday soon.

It’s been a rough winter. We lost Petra, and have lived through a gloomy and depressing January and February. We’d intended to go on a trip someplace warm but all that money got eaten up by Petra’s vet bills. We’re not where we want to be and both of us are having a hard time with that. And I’m getting old.

A few weeks ago I decided I wanted to have a birthday party here in Denver, something I haven’t attempted since 2003. We have a decent-sized group of friends for the first time in forever, and so I thought, hey, why not invite everyone over for a party? I sent out an invite, and within the first few days got a ton of “No”s and no “Yes”es other than Dan and myself.

Well, after I waited a few more days and my closest friends in Denver told me (in other words, but I understood the underlying meaning) that they’d rather go skiing YET AGAIN than come to a party to celebrate my birthday, even though I do lots of nice things for them on their birthdays (like make cakes from scratch), I decided to cancel the party.

It was a rough week for a variety of reasons. Finally, on Wednesday, I decided to do something about my terrible mood and self-pity. I looked at plane tickets to California and decided to cash in the $200 voucher* I got from being booted off a Frontier flight last year. I thought we could perhaps go out the last weekend of March, in honor of our 2-year anniversary, and as a belated birthday present to myself, and maybe we’d figure out how to have some sort of a party.

That very evening, my friend Brian offered the use of his house and yard for StrykerFest 2010 without any provocation, and my day was made. I may not be having a birthday party this year, but I am going to get to see friends and family, spend time in my favorite place, and not even think about people who would rather go skiing for the umpteenth weekend in a row than celebrate something fun.

We’ll be in the Bay Area March 25-30 and I couldn’t be more excited. Even if only 5 people show up to the shindig, we still plan to have a good time.

*story forthcoming

Food on Friday: Party edition

The recipes for the party food I made for last Saturday’s festivities have mostly been previously included on my blog: guacamole, hummus. The onion dip consisted of mixing a packet of onion soup mix with 16 oz of sour cream and letting it sit in the fridge for an hour. I made pita chips by cutting up each pita bread into 8 slices, brushing with olive oil, sprinkling with salt and garlic powder, and toasting them in the toaster oven.

The lemon cake was modified from this Smitten Kitchen recipe. In order to modify the original recipe (scaled to fit bundt pans), I decreased the ingredient ratio by 1/3. Here is my version:

MLE’s tasty lemon cake (makes 1 9×13 sheet cake or 2 8 inch rounds)

1 1/3 sticks butter
2/3 cup sugar
3 eggs
zest of 4 lemons
2 cups flour
1/3 tsp baking soda
1/3 tsp baking powder
2/3 tsp salt
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla

1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup lemon juice

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and zest. Sift dry ingredients in separate bowl. Combine lemon juice, buttermilk, and vanilla in a 3rd bowl. Add flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to butter and sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour. Pour into cake pan that has been generously greased/floured (or better yet, use parchment paper, which we were out of). Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes or until tester comes out clean. Meanwhile, combine 1/3 cup sugar and 1/3 cup lemon juice in a pan over low heat until sugar is melted. Let cake cool for 10 minutes. Invert onto a plate (or, if you’re like me and you can’t get the cake out of the pan, leave it in) and poke a lot of holes with a toothpick. Spoon sugar/juice mixture slowly over the cake to allow it to soak in.

I frosted the cake using a basic vanilla buttercream, but you can use anything that sounds good!

For Sunday’s brunch, I made a variety of things. The recipes for the Broccoli Slaw and Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble also came from Smitten Kitchen and were not modified (or if so, very slightly). The quiche, however, was my own creation.

MLE’s Asparagus, Mushroom, and Turkey Sausage Quiche with cheeses

1 single pie crust (I used a premade frozen one since that seems to work better for quiche)
1/2 pound slim asparagus spears, trimmed and chopped into 1-inch pieces
1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
4 button mushrooms, sliced
5 turkey breakfast sausage links
5 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/3 grated cheeses of your choice. I used smoked gouda and Irish Dubliner, which both have a lot of flavor

Preheat oven to 425 F. Sautee asparagus, onion, and mushrooms in a skillet with some olive oil, garlic powder, and a splash of balsamic or red wine vinegar, plus a generous pinch of salt and pepper until veggies are tender. Cook frozen sausages in a small saucepan until cooked through and browned, turning regularly. When done, let them cool and then chop into small pieces. Poke a few holes in the pie shell with a fork and stick it in the 425 oven for a few minutes, then remove it and turn the oven down to 350F. Whisk eggs with milk until thoroughly scrambled, add cheese. Pour veggies, sausage, and egg/cheese mixture into pie shell and bake for 30-40 minutes or until egg is set and cheese is melted. (It helps to put a baking sheet under the pie pan to catch any overflow.) Serves 8 as a component of a large brunch or 4 as a main dish.

The only other thing I did that could reasonably be considered “cooking” was to chop up some red grapes, strawberries, and kiwi and mix it with blackberries for a fruit salad.

Two parties and a graduation, part 2: Nobody in the world has a mortarboard like this one

When we last left our heroes, one of them was up at 2 AM after his graduation party, expelling all of the contents of his digestive system.

This continued throughout the night. I got up at 7:30 AM in order to prepare for the morning’s event, which was a belated Mother’s Day brunch we’d invited my family and Dan’s parents to (because how often are our moms in the same state at the same time? Not very often!). They were scheduled to arrive at 10 AM in order to have enough time for brunch and also to get to Dan’s graduation early enough to get good seats. I baked Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble, and while that was in the oven I prepared everything for a quiche with asparagus, mushrooms, onions, turkey sausage, and smoked gouda/Irish Dubliner cheese. I removed the crumble and put in the quiche, and prepared the broccoli slaw. In between everything, Dan was getting up from the bed to go spend time in the bathroom. He looked like death. I’ve actually only seen him that sick once before – when he had food poisoning several years ago.

I was in the middle of the fruit salad, after having enlisted Dan’s help in moving the furniture around yet again (he also made coffee because I don’t know how), getting down and setting out the silver and dishes, and putting the linens on the table, when everyone showed up. They were all dressed up for the graduation. I hated to break the news that unfortunately, the graduation was not going to happen. Dan could hardly even stand, let alone was he up for sitting for several hours waiting to cross a stage. Everyone was really sad, but I took bagel orders and set out toasted bagels. My sisters helped me find glasses for everyone, set out ice water in a pitcher, and the families entertained each other again while I set out the food and finished the fruit salad (strawberries, blackberries, kiwi and halved red grapes).

We all sat down to eat. Everything turned out well, and the conversation seemed to flow, while avoiding to the extent possible the elephant in the room – that the main event everyone had come for was not going to happen. When we finished eating, I excused myself to take a shower and change (having not had the opportunity to do so yet) while people relaxed. When I got out, my sisters were washing the dishes (!) and I served the strawberry rhubarb crumble, which was absolutely fantastic. Dan’s parents left with their folding chairs and my family amused themselves by making Dan a mortarboard out of cardboard from the recycling bin, some yarn left over from his sweater, and a black sharpie.

Laurel got tired in the middle of coloring the top of the cap black, so she wrote Black. Then she wrote Negro (black in Spanish). Then she looked up how to write black in other languages and wrote them around the hat part of the mortarboard. My mom finished the tassel and attached it with tape, and we all went into our bedroom, placing the mortarboard on Dan’s head and humming Pomp and Circumstance. I think he was a little bewildered, but eventually got the joke and took it in stride. I present to you all, a unique mortarboard made with love.

We pretty much all agreed that the only thing Dan had eaten that other people hadn’t in the days preceeding was his meal at Sam’s #3 (he had corned beef hash and biscuits/gravy). I called the restaurant to let them know he had eaten there the day before and what he ate, to allow them a chance to pull anything that had gone bad. The guy was pretty much a complete jerk on the phone and told me that it was probably the flu. Um, no. 14 hours after his meal, he was violently ill for hours, after feeling perfectly fine. And then that evening he was significantly better. Not the flu. We’ll never eat there again.

My family decided to go back to the hotel and change in order to go on a light hike around the Red Rocks area. We hiked up about 1/4 mile of the trail, just to give them a taste of the mountains (foothills, really) and then went up to the Red Rocks Ampitheatre. Here are a few of the photos I took during the hike.



They drove me home and Curtis and Lissa drove my mom and Laurel to the airport. That evening, they came back over and we went out to eat at an Irish pub nearby. Dan even managed a few bites of soup. We hung out for a while afterward, but everyone was exhausted so they left around 10:30.

I took Monday off. I was completely out of steam and needed a day to recover from my weekend and the extremely stressful previous week. Lissa and Curtis came by to have a light breakfast and say goodbye. Dan felt a lot better, but still wasn’t up for eating much. We spent the day being lazy, doing girly errands (he took me to the yarn store and the shoe store! We also stocked up on spices at Penzey’s), and I ended up taking a much-needed hour-long nap. It was finally all over. I’m so glad my family finally came to visit after so many years, bummed Dan didn’t get to walk in his graduation (and nobody got to see him do it), and so glad that it’s behind me.

So that’s the story of two parties and a (non) graduation. The unexpected happened, the parties went over well, and on Friday I’ll write about all the food I made.

Two parties and a graduation, part the first.

It was Thursday night. I was unable to sleep, because I knew Dan would be pulling an all-nighter after an entire week of little sleep (for him, because of his final projects; for me because of my terrible cold) and I just couldn’t get my brain to turn off. Had I remembered everything I needed to do? Could I get everything done on Friday? Would Dan make himself sick by staying up all night? (It’s a good recipe for a migraine, for him.) I think I finally passed out sometime after 1 AM and woke up again at 6:30 when Dan’s alarm went off; he’d actually gotten to bed sometime around 4 AM.

* * * * * * *

I started my preparations on Friday first thing after eating a bowl of cereal. I’d taken the day off work in order to do all the cleaning and cooking and shopping and other things that needed to be done for the party on Saturday and for my family’s visit, and while the house was relatively clean it was not Relative clean. If you know what I mean. I spent two hours on the living room and moved on to finishing other rooms, wondering all the while how Dan was holding up during the presentation of his final project. By the time he got home, I realized I hadn’t eaten anything else and hadn’t had any water. I sat down and made a list of what all still needed to be done, what was needed from the various stores (Target, grocery store, liquor store), and our menus for Saturday night and Sunday morning for easy reference. Dan made me lunch.

After lunch, we headed out for Target and Queen Soopers and managed to cross everything off the list despite both of our exhausted states. We went back and forth across the store a few times rather than picking up our items efficiently as we normally do, but considering how overly tired we both were, I’m just glad we didn’t forget anything. Rather than having to cook, we unanimously decided a $5 rotisserie chicken, some spinach salad, and a heated-up demi batard of multigrain bread would work just fine for dinner. Upon our return home, everything was put away and Dan continued with the cleaning while I spent an hour finishing up a project about which I will not talk on this blog. It had a deadline of 4 PM, and I managed to get it in by 3:30, so I was proud of myself for that.

We cleaned more. We organized more. Eventually we ate our dinner and then I went back in the kitchen to start on the cooking projects: hummus, pita chips, mango salsa, and lemon cake from a slightly modified Smitten Kitchen recipe. (I asked him what kind of cake he wanted for his graduation party. “Lemon,” he told me, “because I always pick chocolate and I want something different this time.”) The hummus-making revealed a broken piece on our food processor, so it was made in the blender instead (a far more annoying process, because it makes more mess and takes longer). The mango salsa-making revealed that the mangoes I’d bought were somehow rotten on the inside despite feeling slightly under-ripe on the outside. So no mango salsa. I managed to toast 6 pita breads into 48 pita chips in between steps of cake-making and when the cake was finally out of the oven I washed up all of the cooking dishes. The house was mostly in order, with only two rooms still needing significant work. It was after 11 PM and I’d received a text from my sister saying their plane was going to be late. After doing some mental calculation, I realized my family wouldn’t get to their hotel until around 2 AM. I tried to fall asleep, but I was so overly tired that sleep wouldn’t come for quite a while. I kept expecting my phone to ring.

* * * * * *

The phone never rang, but I didn’t sleep well, knowing my family was in the state but nobody had called me. I texted my sister to tell her to call me when they were up so we could make plans for the day, and we got to work on the final cleaning projects, scrubbing the kitchen floor and final touches on the rest of the house. I never ate any breakfast and scarfed down a thing of yogurt at 11:45 when we were about to leave to go meet everyone for lunch while on the computer ordering the catering order for the evening’s party (Papa John’s had some sort of special deal – 5 specialty pizzas, 30 wings, 3 sides, 4 2-liters of soda to feed 20 people for $110).

We drove down to meet my family and ate at Sam’s #3, near the Convention Center. Dan and I ordered breakfast food and everyone else ordered lunch, and as we ate we discussed what everyone wanted to do for the rest of the day. Ultimately, it was decided that my mom and Curtis and Dan would go see Star Trek (Dan’s second viewing, as we saw it last weekend) and my sisters and I would go shopping. Then I’d go home to do more party prep and everyone else would show up early to help with last-minute setup.

Turns out, the next Star Trek wasn’t until 2:30 PM. Dan still went. The party was supposed to start at 5 (and knowing his relatives, we’d have company at 5 PM on the dot). My sisters and I found dresses and shoes at Cross Dress for Less and Payless, tried to get pedicures (but were told they had no more appointments available), and then Lissa went to nap for a while at the hotel while Laurel accompanied me on the walk home while I told her about the buildings downtown, took her to the mile-high marker on the Capitol steps, and stopped at the liquor store for round one of purchases. Having reached our house, Laurel vegetated while I made buttercream and frosted Dan’s cake, cut up veggies for crudite, made onion dip, made simple syrup for mojitos. I went to 7-11 and hauled back 30 pounds of ice. I went back to the liquor store to get the rest of what we needed. I iced down the beer, started moving furniture, and there was a knock at the door – Dan’s parents had arrived with folding chairs and another cooler filled with ice. I quarantined the cats into the small bedroom and moved the chairs to the backyard, along with our big coffee table.

Two minutes later, some friends of Dan’s family showed up. I wasn’t ready, hadn’t had a chance to change, and Dan wasn’t even there yet. Dan’s mom and Rita helped me finish setting things up, putting the appetizers out on our dining table along with paper plates, napkins, plastic forks. More people showed up. Dan finally arrived having gone to the store to get firewood only to find that his sole option was those fire log things (he’d intended to set up the copper fire bowl we got as a Christmas present, but after pulling out all the parts he realized the directions were missing. No fire bowl.) He entertained people while I finished getting things ready, and my family arrived, and suddenly our house was absolutely full of people!

(Then, I remembered suddenly that I had forgotten to make the guacamole. So I made that, along with making mojitos for those who wanted them. I did not sit down at all.)

* * * * *

The pizzas arrived at 6:30, and I put them out along with salad greens and dressing in the backyard. Our apartment is really not set up to have many people in it, and we don’t have any rooms that can hold more than about 10 people, max. Somehow everyone managed to figure out where to sit and people seemed to have a good time, and people were going in and out, some spending time outside with others mostly staying indoors. It was a perfect evening, temperature-wise, and while we had quite a few no-shows, everyone who did come seemed to have a good time. Dan was feted by his family and mine, and everyone ate, drank, and made merry. Dan got presents and cards and was thoroughly happy to be surrounded by loved ones.

Eventually, I poured champagne for everyone and we had a toast. Along with champagne, there was the lemon cake I made. It looked like this:

Luckily, Dan thought it was funny as Laurel and I had. The cake was delicious, family stories were swapped, and finally around 10 PM everyone was gone. Luckily, due to planning well, there wasn’t a ton of mess to clean up. I vegetated on the couch with a mojito and a terrible movie. By 11:30, I was about to fall over, so we went to bed.

* * * * *

The vomiting did not start until 2 AM.

Goings-on

Life suddenly got busy.

I am playing on a work softball team. We had two practices and our first game was yesterday evening, wherein the mercy rule was invoked after the 4th inning (this is when one team is up by more than 20 runs) and after that we just played for practice, but I got an RBI in the 5th! And another hit after that!

I am voluteering with an organization that my cousin is involved with. The main purpose of the organization is a focus on women’s rights in countries where that is not always easy, and my responsibilities are primarily to help facilitate ESL-type communication via chat room between women in Afghanistan and native English speakers in other countries (most of whom have ESL or EFL teaching experience).

Dan is finishing up final projects for school and will be graduating on the 17th of May. Because of this, I’m planning a graduation party for him for Saturday the 16th and because my family will be in town for his graduation I’m planning a belated Mother’s Day brunch the morning of the 17th in honor of my mom and his mom. That’s two parties and a graduation in one weekend. Hold me.

My Iron Chef battle #2 is underway. This time there isn’t a theme ingredient but a theme theme, and the theme is PICNIC. There are a lot of restrictions on what we can do (no cooking at the picnic site, have to assume a significant amount of time between food preparation and consumption, etc.) so I am finding it to be challenging. Interesting, of course, but challenging, especially since so many typical picnic-type foods don’t involve a lot of cooking or recipes. I myself am fond of simple things on picnics: breads, cheeses, fruit, and wine. But I have some ideas and will post them like I did last time when they are finished. My deadline is tomorrow (Saturday) at midnight my time, so if anyone out there has suggestions for picnic foods that are interesting or unusual or just even want to tell me your favorite things to have on a picnic, I’m all ears. Or eyes, since this is primarily a written form of communication.

I’m in the middle of judging the scholarship applications for the 6th year in a row. It’s going more slowly than in previous years; perhaps I’m jaded or maybe I’m just too far out of high school to be impressed by some of the accomplishments listed by the kids.

Also, there is some work stuff. I won’t get into it. Maybe later.

This weekend, I will be:
Preparing my Iron Chef submission
Cleaning/organizing/purging the house
Party prep/planning for the graduation party and brunch
Sleeping (I hope)

Dan and I are heading out pretty soon to go see Star Trek. If you haven’t been reading his blog this week, he’s been posting some Star Trek- themed Top 5 lists. Go check them out!

Third Decade

On Friday evening I flew into LAX and Monkey picked me up and took me to have some delicious Thai food (mmmm, tom yum soup. Mmmm, spicy noodles.) I hadn’t seen her since shortly after our wedding last year, so we were up late catching up and my cold was still coldy and I was still getting dizzy spells and I was all gross and coughing all over her place. No wonder Julius (her cat) was afraid of me!

In the night, Julius put on a concert for me, which I found lovely but would have preferred hearing during daylight hours. I have a natural affinity for orange kitties and find him delightful but it wasn’t the best for my beauty sleep. snerk.

Saturday I woke up at 7 AM and couldn’t fall back asleep, so I read until Monkey woke up, and we had some breakfast, ran a few errands, and went to see Watchmen. Usually, Dan and I see comic book movies together but I knew he didn’t want to wait until I came home to see it, and I knew Monkey wanted to see it, so we went. Afterword we did some girly shopping at H&M and had sushi and I got to try pinkberry for the first time. I felt enormous and uncomfortable around so many skinny people walking around old town Pasadena, but chalked it up to being in LA, where nearly everybody has body issues.

The original plan was for Monkey to drive me to House of Oldest Friend, wherein a small group of her closest friends would go to dinner before the Big Party. 30 minutes before we headed over there, OF called me and told me the plan had changed and that we should go to the house where the party would be instead (also known as the Heat House because it was featured in the movie Heat) and meet everyone there. So we climbed all the way up a big hill to an amazing house and meet two giant doggies. OF wasn’t there yet (and neither was anyone else but the house’s occupants), and Monkey left me there to help set up for the party (she came back later). I helped Dave and Jayme move furniture and rugs, change out bulbs in the cool lamp fixture, and took photos of stuff. And I waited.



After that, I waited some more. I called Dan to chat for a bit and the cake arrived. I called OF to see what was up, and she said she was about 20 minutes away, so I went to do my hair and makeup while the house was still empty and quiet.

Arrivals by OF’s friend Sarah, OF and her parents, and a few other folks brought me out of my hair-curling reverie and I went out to present her with her surprise birthday blanket. (She liked it, hooray!) I returned to finish primping and pulled out the four wraps, four pairs of gloves, three sets of jewelry and two pairs of shoes I’d brought as possible accessories for the dress OF had brought for me to wear (a dress last seen nearly a year ago that I’d made for her to wear in our wedding). After a few minutes of consultation and discussion, the accessory decisions were made and I spent a few minutes getting dressed.

I went with the green pearl necklace Julie had made me for our wedding, the longer white kid gloves (made in France! probably 60 years old!), the thin light green wrap, and the new silver shoes I found at DSW on clearance ($12!). My hair was curled. My makeup was done. I felt hott. I wish Dan had been there to see me, because he would have given me That Look and it would have made me feel even hotter.


A few last-minute projects were completed, and then everything was ready. I snapped another photo of the skyline as the beef sizzled on the taco truck and my mouth watered, hoping they would soon cook the chicken so I could eat dinner. And when it was ready, boy was it tasty! The taco truck guy and I chatted about Mexican food and Rick Bayless and love for cooking while he prepared my chicken tacos. “I make all the sauces,” he told me, “and the one in the middle there, the spicy one? That’s my own recipe.” I wish I had gotten a photo of the taco truck, because it was awesome.

The evening went on, and drinks were consumed, and more people arrived. I was the fanciest one there until a couple wearing masks, tux and sparkly red dress showed up, and then a girl in a flapper dress with peacock feathers, and suddenly all those party poopers who came to a Birthday Ball in jeans must have felt a little out of place. There was mingling and there was singing happy birthday and there was red velvet cake, and a toast and speech by the birthday girl, and then the dancing began.


Somehow I managed to stand, walk, and dance in spike heels for several hours (a first!) but eventually they came off. After there’d been dancing for quite some time, OF announced the winners of the prizes: best duo, most valuable partier, best male, and then….I won best female! Me! I couldn’t have done it without the fancy dress and the shoes and most especially Julie’s grandma’s gloves (thanks, Julie’s dead grandma!)

Everybody danced for hours, and drank for hours, and it was 1 AM and I was about to keel over (having had little sleep, been up since 7 AM, and still sick) so Monkey and I bid adieu to those who were left and I gave OF an extra hug and we headed back to Monkey’s place. It was the best birthday ball I ever attended, and I even got a Major Award.

Sunday, I was groggy from the NyQuil Monkey made me take (it was probably necessary; my cough was terrible) but managed to wake myself up and help Monkey make brunch for me and a few other people she knew. I fried the homemade paneer for the saag paneer; I hand-blended the spinach and wiped out the idli molds after the first batch came out. Mostly, I watched Monkey cook (while she intermittently called her parents to ask about ingredient ratios) and enjoyed the spicy smells. We had a great brunch (nothing better than a brunch with samosas AND mimosas) and hung out until it was time to take me to the airport.

I flew home, completely wiped out, and reflected on my whirlwind LA weekend, on turning 30 with my oldest friend, and remembered the last time I was in LA for OF’s birthday: the day of the LA marathon, when it was 95 degrees and I only made it halfway. Luckily, the weather was mild and beautiful and the view was amazing and OF had a great party. Complete with Major Awards.

Food on Friday, plus, it’s time to celebrate!

Today was my last training of the year. Hooray! I don’t have to travel any more for work. It’s time to celebrate.

And what better way to celebrate than with pie? Or, to be more precise, with a browned butter pear tart? I made this last weekend and it turned out amazingly good. It was delicious warm; it was delicious cold. It may have been even better along with some gewurztraminer or other spicy white wine, or even some champagne. But we just ate it as it was, and Dan said it was one of the best baked goods I’d ever made. And that’s saying something.

MLE’s browned butter pear tart

Filling: 2 large ripe pears, peeled, cored, and sliced thinly (Comice worked VERY well)
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp white sugar

Crust:
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp powdered sugar
1/4 cup (half a stick) butter
enough ice water to make dough stick together

1/2 cup finely chopped or sliced almonds for topping

Oven: 375F

Prepare pears, gently toss with ginger/sugar and set aside. Melt butter in saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly. When butter has started to brown, continue to stir until butter is the color of brown sugar. Remove from heat and refrigerate until butter is solid again. Meanwhile, combine dry ingredients using pastry blender. Once butter is completely solid, cut into flour etc. until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. It will smell hella good. (Can you tell I’m from N. California?) Add ice water a few drizzles at a time and toss with a fork until the dough holds together OK. Transfer dough to a floured surface and gently press it out into a flattened circle with your hand, then roll it out enough to make approximately 10 inch circle. If you roll it out on waxed paper (like I do), you can lift it up and turn it over onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Pile pears in the center of the crust, then fold edges over so they overlap the pears an inch or so. Top with almonds. Bake for 30 minutes or until filling is soft and bubbly. Let it sit for a little while before you cut into it.

SO YUMMY.

All torn up

So, we had a fantastic weekend – a flight to Oakland (somewhat delayed due to the fact that they held the plane for about 40 minutes for ONE GUY), a late evening shooting the breeze with Simon, a yummy breakfast and a day of exploring the Maker Faire. I hobbled my gimpy best around the San Mateo Fairgrounds looking at art installations and people riding around in mutant vehicles and overpriced food and a room full of people selling handmade treasures (I wanted to buy one of everything) and a giant mousetrap (as in, a giant version of the game Mousetrap) complete with women dressed as sexy mice, dancing sensually with cheese, a plethora of steampunkers (who were by far the most impressive dressed-up-in-costume group), and everyone in a seemingly good mood.

My mood was mostly good, since I was spending a day with three very lovely people who were kind enough not to make too much fun of me for my weird ambulation. The not good part was that my leg hurt like a motherbitch all day, and it got worse as the day went on. I’m a very active person and it’s both difficult and humbling to be forced to THINK about how I can walk in order to minimize pain and discomfort. The few times I forgot, I paid dearly for it. The Maker Faire was decidedly lacking in places to sit, which I found to be rather unfortunate.

Eventually, we were finished making the rounds, having seen just about everything we’d wanted to see and being unwilling to wait around for evening performances, so we left the Faire and drove into the city for a bite to eat and a bit of relaxation. We ended up in a cafe in West Portal where everyone got something they felt like eating and we felt no pressure to leave, though they did have the dirtiest bathroom I’d seen in a while (dirtier than some of the porta potties at the Faire, actually). We were waiting around without much to do because Simon had an errand that needed to be run at a particular time – or so Leah thought – and it made more sense for us to just stay in the city until that point in time. After our late afternoon repast, we went over to Dolores Park and enjoyed the small amount of sun that was left, braving the wind and the crowds of hipsters and the women selling magic brownies. Dan entertained us with a story after I told Leah and Simon that he’ll sometimes make up stories for me if I give him a few elements to work with – Simon requested a story about a coconut, hair clippings, and the Eiffel Tower. It wasn’t one of his best efforts, but it was certainly fun to hear him work those things into a plausible story.

We drove around some more, ending up in the Marina (I think) and waiting 15 minutes in the car for Simon to run his “errand”, holding in my excitement for the upcoming festivities. We headed back to the East Bay, to Leah and Simon’s house, and she didn’t figure out anything was amiss until we actually got there and she saw a bunch of cars on the street and the blinds shut. But the surprise worked anyway and I think she had a good time. I know I did, despite my aching leg. I got to see Sara and Ron and I got to meet Holly Burns of Nothing But Bonfires, one of my longtime blog crushes, and her boyfriend Sean. The party was an international theme costume party, and the best thing I could come up with on such short notice was my Canada t-shirt. (It was also much easier to pack than a more elaborate costume would have been). The food was delicious, the company was excellent, and a great time was had by all. By about midnight I was thoroughly exhausted and my leg was considerably swollen so I went to bed.

Sunday was a relaxing day. We got up and showered and headed over to Alameda (“nuclear wessels!”) to eat breakfast at this huge coffeeshop warehouse thing, where we still had to wait a good long while to get a table. The food was good, the company was better, and we went back to Chez Agirlandaboy and relaxed a while more. Eventually we made it over to my sister’s place (thanks again for the ride, guys!) and spent an afternoon hanging out with my sister and her fiance and my mom. Our trip to and through the airport was fine, the flight was fine, but the bag that we’d checked (brand new, a wedding gift) came out the other side looking like it had been stomped and gnawed on by a t-rex. One of the handles was almost completely torn off and you could see my bathing suit inside through some of the outer fabric, it was that worn through. The person at the Southwest luggage area just pulled out a new bag and gave it to us. It wasn’t nearly as nice as our bag (and obviously doesn’t match) but at that point I was too tired and hurty to care that much. I think Dan felt a little more strongly than I did about it.

So the birthday surprise was a success, which made me really happy. I was so glad we were able to come out and spend time with Leah and Simon and help bring the party to fruition; we provided a good excuse for many of the logisitcal details that needed to be worked out. I hope someday Leah forgives us for our role in the surprise. I got a little nervous when she said “Simon knows how much I hate surprises” while we were waiting for him.

I spent yesterday on the couch all day bored out of my skull. I kept the first 3 Star Wars movies (eps 1-3) on for background noise, attempted to get the internet to work (and only succeeded for about five minutes), finished a book, started another, and went outside in the sun for a little while with my leg up on a chair. I have to say that at this point, I’m pretty well tired of taking advil (as is my digestive system). This morning, I had a doctor’s appointment, which entailed me essentially spending $30 to hear “Yep, you have a torn calf muscle. Here’s a referral to a physical therapist.” I called right away – their earliest appointment is for the 14th of May. A week from tomorrow. Guess I’ll spend another week doing what I’ve been doing and hoping I’m doing things right. From what I’ve read in googling around the internets, this puppy is going to take a few months to heal. I’d rather have it heal right and be able to exercise again sooner rather than do something wrong and be miserable for even longer.

Also, if anyone out there in blogland is considering tearing a calf muscle, I’m going to have to recommend against it. Right now the back of my leg looks like someone took a baseball bat to it. Gross.

Wednesday wedding day: Reason, Season, or Life

Two things.

First, there’s no way the day (and the events leading up to the day) would have been nearly as awesome if it weren’t for the generosity and assistance of lots of our friends and family. Oldest Friend played her role very well, both listening to me kvetch about wedding stuff for a year and planning a rockin’ bachelorette party (along with the assistance of everyone who attended, I am told). She and QIR helped us a lot the day before the wedding, assisting in our errands and arranging for everything to be finished that needed it. Other friends provided similar moral support throughout the year, and many people showed up to help the day before and morning of the wedding. EEK was a great officiant, writing the bits of the ceremony we hadn’t written ourselves and doing it much better than we could have, and also being a good sport about being in pictures and such. Monkey and QIR helped with breakdown, Scarlett, Jason, Holla and Katherine did a large amount of cleaning in the rental house, as well as doing readings for us (the ladies) and being willing to wear a skirt (Holla) (I am told Holla and Simon also planned the bachelor party, though I wasn’t involved in that, obviously). Our biggest angels were Leah and Simon, who were instrumental in our day: they listened to our plans leading up to the event, helped us pick a photographer, pinch-hitted as groomsman, and helped us with things like acquiring a PA system, emceeing better than anyone else could have done, and taking fabulous photographs, in addition to helping us decorate, take things down, set up the afterparty, and helping us clean the next day as well. I’m sure there are more people who did more things that I am not thinking of just now, but everyone will get a thank-you note, because we really appreciated everything that everyone did for us.

As I mentioned before, Dan and I stood up to the mic during lunch to thank everyone for coming and when it was my turn to talk all I could think about was how much people had done for us, mostly unasked, and how much poorer our day would have been without everyone’s love, support, and help. I almost started to cry, and surely would have if I’d started thanking individuals by name as I’d intended to do, so I didn’t. In the weeks since the wedding, I’ve had a lot more time to process and reflect on what a huge difference it made for us to have so many people there who wanted to help, wanted be a part of ensuring our day was as good as it could possibly be. I don’t know what I can do to thank everyone. I’m still trying to figure that out.

Some of you may be wondering about the “pinch-hitting groomsman” comment. There is a story I have been wanting to tell on this blog, but have held off for months out of respect for the parties involved, or perhaps because I thought the situation might change. But I think it’s time for the tale to unfold. Remember this wedding? The vegan medieval-renaissance themed wedding, that had no rain plan, that Dan and I spent months assisting with (and a significant amount of time and money the weekend of)? These people were Dan’s best friends, people he knew before he’d even met me. They got engaged just before we did and planned their wedding in about nine months. Over the course of that time, they turned into those people you hear about, you know, the ones who become completely crazy and ‘zilla when planning their weddings? Yeah, those people. They couldn’t understand why they had so many fallings-out with friends or family members, but it became clear to me at their wedding when I saw how their friends and loved ones were treated – taken for granted, made to pay for things they shouldn’t have had to pay for, and never once thanked. They spent months moaning about how much their wedding would cost, yet spent $800 on his and hers ipods (“a wedding expense!”) They wrote a missive on their wedsite begging people to contribute to their honeymoon registry because, as they wrote, they deserved a 3-week European vacation, yet complained the day after the wedding about how few gifts they had to open. They convinced everyone they knew who had talents or time to do things for them (a huge vegan cake in the shape of a dragon, with handmade vegan fondant, which should have cost them hundreds was provided for free as a gift from a friend, for example), yet as far as I know nobody was ever thanked either in person or in note form for their assistance or gifts. Dan and I made their reception playlist, I did the bride’s hair, her sister’s hair, my hair, and all the flowers (with minimal assistance), and Dan spent the day running errands back and forth between the cabin where we were told we’d stay (and later had to pay for the privledge) and the lodge, where the wedding was. We cleaned up afterward. We worked our butts off, and never once got a word of thanks. And then they told us to pay them back for our lodging, which we were never told was part of the deal when they asked us to stay with them in their cabin.

We figured that after the wedding, and after their honeymoon, things would go back to normal. But they didn’t. We went on a cabin trip with them in October, and it was clear that the changes were permanent. Dan had asked them just after we got engaged last year if they would stand up with him – the guy would wear the tux he already owned and Dan would provide a tie, and the girl could wear anything black and a scarf in the tartan (again, provided by Dan). They agreed to stand up with him. We spent months walking them through their wedding planning. After the cabin trip, we didn’t hear from them again, other than through the grapevine – the girl got in a car accident (her fault) and they had to beg her parents for more money (they paid for half the wedding) in order to keep their heads afloat.

Okay, everyone has financial setbacks. But the girl had quit her part-time job before their wedding because she didn’t “feel like” working anymore, and since the guy was working full time she decided she’d go back to school to prepare for a master’s degree. In January. The wedding was in September. And then she wrecked their only car.

We went to Italy in January, and when we came back the guy called Dan to say that he didn’t think they’d be able to make it to the wedding. Not that they couldn’t stand up with him – that they wouldn’t be there at all. Now, we had rented a house in the area, and could have arranged transportation for them, so they’d only be on the hook for plane tickets. We told them how to find cheap plane tickets. He asked how long before the wedding we would need to know if they were coming. We were pretty sure this meant they weren’t coming.

We never heard from them again.

Now, I don’t know about you all, but if my really good friends, people who had just stood up for me in MY wedding, asked me to stand up with them and were getting married in another state? I’d figure out any way I could to be there. Especially if I knew about it a year ahead of time. Especially if they did hours of work for us and saved us potentially thousands of dollars. Especially if they provided transportation and lodging and all I needed to buy was a plane ticket. But if it were me, I would have thanked them for all their help, and would have been just as excited about their wedding as my own, asking them what I could do to help, because that’s WHAT YOU DO. And if there was some insurmountable obstacle that meant I couldn’t be there? You’d better believe I would have been doing whatever I could to help from where I was, and I would have called afterward to find out how things went. You know, because they were my friends.

They were our friends for years, and Dan’s friends before he even met me. But being involved in their wedding, and in planning ours, we realized that weddings can bring out the best in people, and they can bring out the worst. You find out who your friends really are in stressful times, I am told, whether those times be happy or sad. This was a happy time, a time for joy and celebration, at least from our perspective. So many people who loved us and cared about us were there, helping us celebrate finally getting hitched after all these years. We had no idea that these people wouldn’t be a part of that until about two months before the big day.

So Dan called up Simon, and asked how he felt about kilts. And Simon was happy to stand up with Dan. And so it was, and I am so glad things worked out the way they did. I have heard it said that friends come into your life for a reason, a season, or life. It’s hard to imagine after so many years of friendship that the natural lifespan of that with original groomspeople has ended. It’s not hard to imagine that Leah and Simon will be our friends for life. Or at least long enough for us to do everything we can to help out with their big life events. Because that’s what you do for your friends.