Wednesday, November 30, 2011

0085: Persistence

So I'll admit, yesterday's blog was pretty weak - I just got desperate to say I was somewhat on track with this 30-day challenge (bike, blog and draw daily). BUT today is different... I'm re-focused... Today is Day 6 and I have gone on a 7-mile bike ride... here are a couple of pictures from this morning's ride:

My beach, Ft Lauderdale - a perfect bike route!!
It is a gorgeous day today!!
This was a shot from a bridge I had to bike over... I was definitely feeling the burn!!
So one down - and I am blogging now so all I have to really do is draw which I know I can do later... so close! This would be my second day (of 6) that I do all three!!

Although I haven't been doing so well on my challenge I don't give up easily (in case you hadn't noticed, I don't focus easily either :-). And having to report out that I haven't done these easy tasks is a bit embarrassing so that will hopefully get me motivated. We shall see...

0084: 30 Day Challenge - an update

Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

And so this quote helps me maintain hope that I will pick up on my daily challenges: blog, bike and draw...

Yesterday I drew but didn't blog or bike. Today I drew, am blogging but no biking... Tomorrow I hope to do all 3. I need to shift priorities a bit. Wish me luck!!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

0083: Artistic Collaborations

My niece and I have recently begun "collaborating" as "artists at heart". We literally draw something, and challenge the other to draw the next step and before you know it we have a piece of "art" :-) Right now we are primarily using an iPad app called Art Set, it's perfect for us novice artists... so I thought I'd share the couple of pieces we have done so far...

I simply love this one because it was our first and it has so many things we have shared together: piglet (from our love of all things Pooh related), sweaters (we live in S. Florida and live for cool weather days), we love stripes, we love cupcakes (any sweets really...), Willy Wonka (yep, those are Johnny Depp's sunglasses), Picasso's dog (appreciating the simplicity that art can represent), a French beret (we are in love with Paris)... To have no idea what the theme or outcome will be is also cool, to give up control of what will be the result is good practice as it keeps us open minded and to both be satisfied with what we've created together is, as they say, "PRICELESS!!!
Today's sketch - our starting point was the eye, our last step was giving the girl a painting
to hang on her wall - yes, our first painting :-) that was my niece's idea - brilliant!!! 

30 Day Challenge Update - DAY 3 - I just blogged, I drew but no bike ride today... but yesterday, DAY 2, I blogged, did 7 miles on my bike and drew (barely but did play around with colors). So, I may not be there yet but I certainly am feeling optimistic :-)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

0082: Holiday Shopping Etiquette

NY Macy's on Black Friday
Picture: Reuters/Eric Thayer
So, I didn't participate in Black Friday and as I read and watched the news this morning I'm shocked at how some people lost all civility. It's probably more sad than shocking if we were to understand what drove some of these people to do what they did - not that it makes their behavior right... For all my non-American friends, I'd like to point out that this is a very small group of people considering about 130 million people shop on Black Friday. For millions of people it was fun, exciting and non-violent... the news just likes to highlight the bad... And on another really good note, I didn't leave Black Friday behind empty-handed - one of my brothers went and scored me a Play Station 3 :-) like I always say, my brothers are simply THE BEST! 

So, with all the madness of yesterday I thought it might be good to research and post a holiday shopping etiquette list. Almost a reminder of how to deal with the madness if it comes into your world (or avoid it if you feel that madness bubbling up inside :-) And to my delight a very good list has already been published so why mess with it. It was posted by Emily Post (an amazing site for all things etiquette related). Without further adieu:

10 Ways to keep those holiday shopping spirits bright:

  1. Smile – You can’t do it enough. Your face (and your soul) will thank you for it.
  2. Lose the ‘Bah Humbug!’ attitude. Yes, it will be crowded and there will be lines and it will take time to find a parking spot. Don’t let that dampen the season’s joie de vivre.
  3. “Please, Thank You and You’re Welcome.” Make this your mantra and you will smooth the way for better service and create a kinder, gentler atmosphere wherever you go.
  4. Be gracious. You have circled the lot for the fifth time when you spy a space, only to see that someone else is already waiting for it. Be gracious - let them have the space.
  5. A little patience, please. Checkout counter or airline counter, the rules are the same: first come, first served, one at a time. (This is a great place to practice your smiling.) When it is your turn, be ready with documents or payment to speed things along.
  6. Friendliness. Say ‘hello’ to the harried clerk behind the counter (and smile).
  7. Complain to the proper person. Yelling at a salesclerk because a store is out of an advertised item only makes you look foolish and rude. If you have a problem, ask to speak to the manager. Frame your complaint clearly and simply. (No venting, please.)
  8. Cell phones: They’re useful when trying to find out your Aunt Mary’s glove size, but turn them off when you are working with a sales clerk or checking out at a register.
  9. Shopping with children: Sensory overload is the word of the day: the music, the crowds, the lights, the toys, the Santas! It’s best to arrange to leave your children home. If they must accompany you, or when it is their turn to shop, make sure they are well-rested and fed – kinder to them and to those around them
  10. Don’t forget the lights—traffic lights that is! Please stop at the red ones and use your turn signals to alert other harried, distracted shoppers to your directional intentions.
    Side note - as I woke up this morning I thought to myself, "today is day 2 of my 30-day challenge" in which I have 3 things to do every day (bike, blog and draw). Day 1 (yesterday) I only blogged and didn't bike or draw - I know, how weak is my focus??? But my rose colored glasses are still on so Day 2 (today) WILL be better. I am already blogging and I have arranged for a bike ride later and will draw something at some point. Wish me luck :-)

Friday, November 25, 2011

0081: A 30-Day Challenge

So I am thinking of taking on a 30-day challenge. It is an interesting concept I heard about on (Matt Cutts: Try Something new for 30 days). Its only 30 days, how bad can it be? My challenge - to myself - (today through December 24th) will include 1. Biking around town, 2. Daily blogging, and 3. Drawing. Seems achievable right? The intent is that I will do these things everyday for 30 days. 

I've always wanted to bike more; I even got a bike satchel while I was in Belgium - because in my heart I was determined to bike more. I've only been biking twice since November 14... I know, not enough but these next 30 days will hopefully help me form new, positive habits :-)

Blogging - I've just been so absent with my vacations but this should get me back on track. The funny thing is that I love to do it but it's so easy to get distracted...

Drawing - I've always had an interest and have recently begun sketching and drawing - on paper and on my iPad. But I never seem to do enough of it so I hope I can stick to this one.

My bike sketch...
We will see, no expectations, just fun for 30 days... wish me luck and let me know if you will be doing a challenge - I can always use a partner in crime...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

0080: Be Thankful Thanksgiving Poem

Wishing you and yours a happy and safe holiday!!
So, I've been crazy hectic since I returned from Belgium and it seems like I blinked and Thanksgiving is tomorrow. I'm not complaining but time flies so fast!!! And what a wonderful holiday - to make our country come pretty much to a standstill to allow us to breathe again and give thanks for all we have - I love it, and as a foodie, I really love it!! My mom's turkey is the best I have ever had (moist and seasoned all the way through) and one of my brothers is making roast pork ("lechon" style which is AMAZING) with those as some of our anchors everything else is truly gravy!!! (BTW, I am making my pecan pie and the Morton's chopped salad, just to keep up appearances that I am progressing in my culinary education :-) But really I've only continued to progress in my culinary consumption!! ok ok so I digress... Here is a lovely poem to get us inspired and maybe even to read at the table? Enjoy...

Be thankful that you don't already have everything you desire.
If you did, what would there be to look forward to?

Be thankful when you don't know something,
for it gives you the opportunity to learn.

Be thankful for the difficult times.
During those times you grow.

Be thankful for your limitations,
because they give you opportunities for improvement.

Be thankful for each new challenge,
because it will build your strength and character.

Be thankful for your mistakes.
They will teach you valuable lessons.

Be thankful when you're tired and weary,
because it means you've made a difference.

It's easy to be thankful for the good things.
A life of rich fulfilment comes to those who
are also thankful for the setbacks.

Gratitude can turn a negative into a positive.
Find a way to be thankful for your troubles,

and they can become your blessings.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

0079: Brussels, Belgium

I am not sure if I've mentioned it before but I am one lucky chick!!! I'm headed to one of my life must-dos: a premier Chocolate Festival....

This adventure starts Monday, November 7th and will take place in Belgium. I am flying into Brussels, then going to check out Ghent then onto Bruges for the Choco-Late Festival (November 11 - 13). I figured I needed to do a bit of homework on each city so why not share it with you? So I start with Brussels whose origin lies on an island in the river Senne around 580...

10 Things I Probably Want to Know About Brussels Before I Get There

1. How far north is it exactly? And yes, it will be chilly... so I get to wear my wonderful winter gear that barely gets used here in South Florida!

2. What's the primary language? French 80% and Dutch (Flemish) 20%. But English is widely spoken because of the many international institutions based there such as NATO, European Commission and the European Parliament. Some consider Brussels something of a capital for the European Union - of course I just consider it the capital of the chocolate world... 

3. Is there a Metro? Yes, duh!!

4. What is a must-see landmark? The Menneken Pis (literally Little Pee Man) dating back to about 1618. A few interesting facts about this little guy... he is dressed in costume several times a week. On occasion he is hooked up to a keg and people can fill their cups with beer as they pass by. He has been repeatedly stolen; the current statue is a copy from 1965. The original is at the Grand Place. This tells me that this country has one heck of a sense of humor!!

5. What's the beverage of choice? BEER - ummm, I don't really like beer. BUT when in Rome... and Belgium's brewing methods date back to the Middle Ages!!!! I can start with the Trappist beer (it was originally made exclusively for monks and Westmalle is dark and sweet)... and they do have over 800 kinds of beer so I have to like at least one or two of them.
The seven Trappist beers (2009, Wikipedia)
6. What must I eat? Before we get to the chocolate.... Belgium food is described as French quality with German quantities - I'm thinking creamy and hearty so I am going to have to seriously run hard because there is no way I am not going to try these foods!!! Aside from some interesting local dishes - that I can't pronounce - I'm glad to see that waffles, speculaas (cookies from Dandoy's) and french fries (from Fritland's or Haute Frituur) are also very popular throughout... OMG, I'm already gaining weight and haven't even gotten to the chocolate!!!

7. Which are the must-try chocolates? Hard to say... "they" say that the best pralines and truffles are hand-made in small rural villages. I will have to try to find hand-made places and try several - of course so I can report back to you all :-) But when in doubt, Belgium is the home of Godiva, Neuhaus, Leonides and Guylian so I will never be at a loss for great chocolate...

8. A must-do for chocolate addicts - the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate and a stop at Pierre Marcolini - tres tres bon!! 

I'm hearing a choir of angels!!!!
Pierre Marcolini
9. Grand Place/Grote Markt - a UNESCO site - is the central square of Brussels - was voted the most beautiful square in Europe in 2010.

10. St Gudule and St Michael's Cathedral - Dates back to 1047 - The patron saints of the church, archangel St Michael and the martyr St Gudula, are also the patron saints of the city of Brussels. 

Definitely looks like a close relative of Notre Dame in Paris...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

0078: "Open Letter to My Niece" - For Rachel

This was the "first" step in our culinary journey.
It brings a smile to my face every time I think of her distrusting face,
but then slowly stuffing a giant marshmallow in her tiny mouth
and then the unbelievably huge smile that followed. 
About a month ago I read this letter and immediately felt connected to Tracy Sestili (the author). My niece Rachel is 13 years old and I must say has a great pallet for her age. Granted she insisted that I let her taste truffled scrambled eggs when she was 5 years old - which she loved! Ever since then we have been on a fun, or at least interesting, culinary ride. Her taste buds are still developing and she still doesn't like some mainstream items such as tomatoes and shrimp. But she tends to be open-minded and tries things more than once knowing that her taste buds are changing and that not all cooks are equal. So, here is the fabulous letter - I hope you enjoy it too...

"For my niece ... Because the internet will be around forever and I will not.
I worry and wonder if you’ll discover the flavors of the world given you are such a picky eater now. Because your parents are not world travelers, I wonder if it’ll take you as long as it took me to discover that fruit can be delicious year round and that the heirloom tomato is far superior to Jersey tomatoes. I wonder if you will continue to despise everything green as you get older and worry you’ll miss out on green delicacies like California avocados and Japanese edamame.
When I was your age, I did not spend a lot of time in the kitchen. As I got older and started living on my own, I wished I had paid more attention to how my mother made her meatballs or how my grandmother made apple pie and a crust from scratch. I do still have both of their recipe boxes filled with recipes where some are handwritten, some typed, and somewhere it’s just the ingredients and I’m left blindly to figure it out on my own. Oh, if only the internet had been around fifty years ago.
They say a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach and I did learn a few staples over the years from my mother that have paved my way to many of men’s hearts. I know how to make spaghetti sauce from scratch, but even if I measured everything exact, it still never quite tasted like my mother’s “gravy.” I’d give you the recipe but I recently learned that you don’t even like pasta! My ears almost fell off of my head when I heard. How can you be 50 percent Italian and not like pasta? I started to think that there was a switch at the hospital but then I recalled that the other 50 percent of you is Irish, from your mother, who ironically happens to also not like pasta with red sauce. Mamma mia!
You’re a beautiful mixture of Irish and Italian, yet your taste buds are 100 percent American and were bred on chicken nuggets and French fries. So, it’s no wonder that I fret that you will not discover how delicious fresh beets can actually taste if made in a salad with a lemon-olive oil dressing where the beets are not pickled. I worry that you won’t discover that as gross as Brussels sprouts tasted when our parents made them, that they can actually be deliciously sweet and a great addition to pork if sautéed with caramelized shallots. 

I wonder that if your mother and I are not around and you have a cooking question, who you will call? Will you consult the internet? Will you know that you need to take the gizzards out of the turkey or else you’ll kill your guests? Will you know that you need to shell the fava beans then blanch and remove the second skin otherwise your bowels will not be happy? Will you know that your meat needs to rest after you cook it to seal in the juices? I actually didn’t learn that about meat until I was forty as I had given up meat because of your grandmother’s leather-like pork chops. 
I am sure that you’ll probably know how to bake because you have a sweet tooth much like your Aunt. I hope that you will find a friend to bake holiday cookies with, a tradition my best friend and I had when we lived close by one another. Although you never met your great grandmother Laquintano, I know you will not give out her family pizzelle recipe and will learn to choose wisely as to who to make pizzelles for since they are so time consuming and a true labor of love.
I can only hope that you will try things more than once when tasting food. As I’ve learned that much like subjects in school that depend on the teacher, food depends on the chef. I did not care for pork for years and I only knew of pork chops on the bone until someone showed me how delicious pork tenderloin could be, especially one with a maple glaze. I’ve also learned that food can take many forms and taste different depending on the preparation. Know that your taste buds change every seven years and those things you didn’t like before, you may learn to love as you get older and it’s totally okay.
I also pray and hope that corporate America has not rid us of the farmers when you get older and that you support your local farmer’s market when possible. It’s a magical place. One where you’ll discover vegetables and fruits you had never tried or even seen before and also where you’ll find that there are a dozen different types of peaches and apples. It’s the place where when you go home and cook up what you just bought, you’ll discover how delicious fresh food tastes over processed packaged food at the supermarket and secretly wish the Farmer’s market was open every day.
I hope that you learn that food is both your friend and your enemy. You never feel good when you overindulge and everything in moderation is a reward in and of itself, including chocolate. I hope you know that it is not okay to eat a gallon of ice cream—ever, even if a guy breaks your heart. My broken heart led me to San Francisco where I not only met your Uncle but also discovered a culinary experience far beyond my wildest dreams. I discovered the earthiness of fresh truffles, the decadence of pate and caviar, the sensuality of sushi, the creamy taste of avocados, the sweetness of figs and that dates really are nature’s candy, and the bursting mouth-watering flavor of Heirloom tomatoes. I discovered that there really is bad wine and there are some fantastic wines. I learned that some wine is not for sipping but for imbibing with a meal and they will complement each other like a necklace to a dress.
I hope that you understand that if you are lucky enough to be cooked for, that you should be grateful. Since every meal, when home cooked, is always a labor of love and even if it doesn’t taste great, you should always remember to say thank you to the chef.
I hope you get the opportunity as I have to eat your way through Italy, Spain and France. These are the things I hope you don’t miss out on and that you discover for yourself and the sake of your palate.
With love.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

0077: Girls That Read & Aren't Afraid Of Being Smart

Rosemarie Urquico originally composed “Date a Girl Who Reads” as a writing exercise—to pass the time—and as a tribute to her friends. She tagged a few pals for their consumption, and never did she expect that everybody would merely keep on reposting and sharing, until eventually someone placed it on Tumblr and the rest is history… Although it's been circulating like mad, I just came across it and absolutely loved it, I hope you enjoy it - whether for the first time or as a re-read!!

“Date a girl who reads. Date a girl who spends her money on books instead of clothes. She has problems with closet space because she has too many books. Date a girl who has a list of books she wants to read, who has had a library card since she was twelve.

Find a girl who reads. You’ll know that she does because she will always have an unread book in her bag. She’s the one lovingly looking over the shelves in the bookstore, the one who quietly cries out when she finds the book she wants. You see the weird chick sniffing the pages of an old book in a second hand book shop? That’s the reader. They can never resist smelling the pages, especially when they are yellow.

She’s the girl reading while waiting in that coffee shop down the street. If you take a peek at her mug, the non-dairy creamer is floating on top because she’s kind of engrossed already. Lost in a world of the author’s making. Sit down. She might give you a glare, as most girls who read do not like to be interrupted. Ask her if she likes the book.

Buy her another cup of coffee.

Let her know what you really think of Murakami. See if she got through the first chapter of Fellowship. Understand that if she says she understood James Joyce’s Ulysses she’s just saying that to sound intelligent. Ask her if she loves Alice or she would like to be Alice.

It’s easy to date a girl who reads. Give her books for her birthday, for Christmas and for anniversaries. Give her the gift of words, in poetry, in song. Give her Neruda, Pound, Sexton, Cummings. Let her know that you understand that words are love. Understand that she knows the difference between books and reality but by God, she’s going to try to make her life a little like her favorite book. It will never be your fault if she does. 

She has to give it a shot somehow.

Lie to her. If she understands syntax, she will understand your need to lie. Behind words are other things: motivation, value, nuance, dialogue. It will not be the end of the world.

Fail her. Because a girl who reads knows that failure always leads up to the climax. Because girls who understand that all things will come to end. That you can always write a sequel. That you can begin again and again and still be the hero. That life is meant to have a villain or two.

Why be frightened of everything that you are not? Girls who read understand that people, like characters, develop. Except in the Twilight series.

If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.

You will propose on a hot air balloon. Or during a rock concert. Or very casually next time she’s sick. Over Skype.

You will smile so hard you will wonder why your heart hasn’t burst and bled out all over your chest yet. You will write the story of your lives, have kids with strange names and even stranger tastes. She will introduce your children to the Cat in the Hat and Aslan, maybe in the same day. You will walk the winters of your old age together and she will recite Keats under her breath while you shake the snow off your boots.

Date a girl who reads because you deserve it. You deserve a girl who can give you the most colorful life imaginable. If you can only give her monotony, and stale hours and half-baked proposals, then you’re better off alone. If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, date a girl who reads.

Or better yet, date a girl who writes.”