Thursday, August 26, 2010

On blog upkeep and life updates

What can I say? I've been busy. While I haven't gotten much accomplished in the past few months, I've still felt as though my life is full of everything I'm doing and everything I need to get done. In any case, I've been neglecting my blog specifically and my writing in general. My editor asked me if I would write a column for the paper and I froze. Imagine that! Me, the writer, refused to write. And I felt I was justified since I didn't really have anything to say. And yet, that is blasphemy of the highest order to a self-proclaimed writer. As F. Scott Fitzgerald said "You don't write because you want to say something; you write because you've got something to say." And it's been eating at me ever since that day and I wish I could say that I have offered to write a column to make up for my earlier refusal. Unfortunately, I cannot say that since I haven't actually done it.
So if I haven't been writing, since I obviously haven't, what have I been doing?
Well, if you're reading this post I am relatively confident you've seen the new redesign of my blog. I love the new look of my blog. Sometimes I'll just scroll up and down the page to see how my posts look on the new backdrop. Apparently along with having lost my ability to want to write, I've also lost my ability to have a life.
I've also been cooking. If you are reading this post I am also reasonably confident that you've seen my many posts detailing recipes I've been trying out. You'll have to deal with seeing many more of those since I just received 3 awesome cookbooks for my bridal shower. I've also been spending quite a bit of time with Miyagi, though mostly we just cuddle on the couch together as I watch this or that t.v. show online. And I've been working and planning a wedding (Less than a month to go!).

The books I've read in the last month (I'm almost done with Crescent).

But most of all, I've been reading - a lot. And that, at least, is good penance for my recent blasphemy. As my good friend Leighton has often said on her highly entertaining blog, "Read a lot, write a lot – that's the golden rule for all writers to follow." I'm just bulking up on the first part before I get on with the second. And let me say this: There is nothing better than reading a book because you want to read it and then enjoying almost every single moment you've been reading. I get to the point when I near the end of a book where I'll struggle with wanting to get to the end because I want the fulfillment and wanting to put the book down so I can prolong my enjoyment. Such is the curse of finding so many good books to read. Honestly, I have no idea why I still don't have a library card. I would read those books so hard if my bank account didn't take such a hit with every book I buy.
But it's not just books. Every month I read the new National Geographic Magazine, every week I check out the Sunday Magazine from the New York Times and almost every day I scan a huge assortment of blogs, ranging from anecdotal blogs written by friends, to food-, design-, book- and wedding-based blogs written by people whose names I don't even know, nor care to. But I do know the title of their blog and have often enjoyed the stories, photos, inspiration and advice they've shared.
When I was a child, books were my friends, sometimes my only friends, if you don't count the cats or dogs I've confided in over the years. From the age of three (thank you, Hooked on Phonics), I've devoured any scrap of the written word that I could find. Even now, I remember the mistakes of characters in what I've read and I use those mistakes to shape my own path. Many of the Sunday Magazine articles, which are often first-person ruminations on a writer's marriage or another's life in therapy, have helped me recognize aspects of myself. In fact, you could say that my love of reading has increased my circle of friends exponentially. Though, I guess not knowing most of these sources keeps them from truly being my friends. I say all this to counter my mother's old admonishments that I was wasting my life with my nose stuck in a book.
And yet, I must acknowledge that I've been using reading as an escape from what I should be doing, be that writing, taking classes in multimedia journalism and nonprofit communication or even planning a wedding. While reading has been beneficial, and still is, it's time I recognize when I've had too much of a good thing (people who know me know that's never been my strong suit).
I find trying to make myself productive harder and harder when I'm not letting anyone down by not accomplishing a task (I always worried about letting professors down. Letting myself down has been a non-issue since I tend to just revise my expectations of myself as I fail to meet previous ones).
And now I will be getting to the point: I'm going to try to write more, without getting caught up in what I think people want to read. This is about what I have to say, which, it turns out, is a lot if this post is any measure. But here's the caveat: Just because what I'll be writing is what I "have to say," doesn't mean it's of any interest to you, dear reader. The point is to get those juices flowing again, regardless of the menial subjects I will likely be writing about. But please yell at me if I seem to stop writing for a long period of time. I would like to be held accountable for not living up to my proclamations about who I am. So, let's see if I can prove, even to just myself, that am a writer.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Wedding Decor: On folds, fans and fun

Less than a month and I'm just now considering decorations. What am I considering? Well I'm falling love with these:

And these:

And these:

And, yes, especially these arbor decorations (cause I'm really not feeling the plain white arbor):

They can't be hard, can they? In fact, I could easily start right now and do a few during every show I watch and I'd be done in a week or two. Now I just have to buy tissue paper and maybe some origami like paper.
Can I just say how much I love the Internet and it's plethora of tutorials?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Wedding notes: On hair

It's one of the least important aspects of my wedding (to me) and yet it seems to be one of the first things women tend to ask me, right after what color my dress is (ivory) or what shoes I'll be wearing (yellow Converse). Who knew that hair was so important among us females. I certainly didn't. In any case, my hair will most likely be simple, just like every aspect of my wedding. For a few ideas, see the following wedding porn (as Ariel of Offbeat Bride fame calls it):

I like the simplicity of pulling back some of the hair, but leaving the rest loose. Plus you can't beat fresh flowers.

Long and loose, with a curling iron to add a bit of flair.

And then there is the low bun with a floral accent, which I'm leaning towards if it is hot and I don't want to get overheated.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wedding Notes: Dancing with my dad

One of the first things I thought about upon getting engaged was my dad. I was excited that he would walk me down the aisle and that we would have a father/daughter dance. I remember a father-daughter dance we had in Illinois which was sponsored by the girl scout troop my mom was a leader in. It's a pretty foggy memory for me because I was only five or six, and yet it's stayed with me for most of my life. It's this memory I want to honor at the wedding, but I also want to honor all of the great times we've had together. We really are great friends. When I make huge decisions in my life, he's always the first person I call. In fact, I called him first when Travis proposed. I even called him before adopting Miyagi because I didn't know if it was the best decision.
In that vein I've been putting a lot of thought into what our song will be and I'm torn between songs that convey love and what our relationship is and songs that remind me of him, but don't necessarily speak to our relationship.

For the former I've come up with two songs:
Nickel Creek -"When you come back down"
Beatles - "In My Life"

When I think of my top three favorite bands, Genesis(and Phil Collins) always makes the list, and that is all thanks to my dad. The first song I remember learning the words to was "I Can't Dance." (The music video is hilarious; you must click on the link and watch it).
While the song always invokes memories of driving in my car with Dad, that song isn't exactly appropriate for the occasion. I have come up with a Genesis and two Phil Collins song I could see dancing to:
Genesis - "Follow You, Follow Me" (This actually makes me think of having nightmares as a kid and knowing it would be alright because Dad was there.)
Phil Collins - "You'll Be in My Heart"
Phil Collins - "Can't Stop Loving You"

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A taste of childhood: Zucchini cupcakes

Until I was in middle school, my favorite thing that my mother ever made was banana bread. I remember marveling as she measured the flour, sugar, eggs and butter from memory. She used to let me mash the bananas and fold them in to the mix. She always made two loaves and I remember always being angry that she would give one away. Even the "heel" of these golden brown loaves were delicious and I knew nothing would ever make me feel better than to eat a slice, warmed and spread with butter.
Of course even our childhood favorites must someday make way for evolving opinions. While I still love banana bread and often request a loaf from my mom, my heart has pined for a bread that puts the banana variety to shame. I'm still not sure what possessed my mom to sneak a vegetable like zucchini into bread, but I am forever thankful that she happened upon that idea. My mouth still waters at the thought of the dense yet moist loaf, striated with slivers of green. Mom used to grow zucchini the size of a loaf of bread in the summer. She always grew far too many and often froze some for use in the winter. It never occurred to me to attempt the recipe for one trivial reason: I didn't have a food processor. The idea of shredding zucchini (or cabbage or carrots or apples) had always (irrationally, I admit) seemed dependent on owning the contraption. And then I purchased a value pack of 5 large zucchini at Farm Fresh and I knew it was time to brave the uncertainty and shred the squash with the handheld cheese grater that had never occurred to me to utilize.
And so, dear readers, I am finally able to say that I have made my own zucchini-based dessert. Not the perfect bread that I grew up with and dreamt about, but some things should be left to a mother to make for her daughter as she aims to use up a bounteous harvest. I instead chose to go with a more portable package - and something a little more sweet.

Zucchini-Walnut Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
Loosely Adapted from Eggs on Sunday's Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Someday I will make that chocolate zucchini cake, but this seemed a little rich for Travis, and I wanted to introduce him to the wonders of zucchini desserts without covering up the zucchini. Most of my tweaks involved using the ingredients I had on hand as well as following my gut feeling on a few measurements/ingredients. Feel free to try the original recipe, but I always encourage you to trust yourself when it comes to your cooking.

2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce (a substitute for oil that I always use)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup butter(soy)milk (See a recipe for making your own buttermilk
here, under the heading "replacing buttermilk")
1 tbsp. plain soymilk
2 cups grated unpeeled zucchini (about 2 1/2 medium)
1 cup crushed walnuts
12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup powder sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Place cupcake wrappers into a cupcake pan, or butter and flour it if you aren't into wrappers.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, spices and salt.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the sugar, butter and applesauce until they’re well blended. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla extract.
  4. Add the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk in 3 additions each.
  5. Mix in the grated zucchini, then the walnuts.
  6. Bake for about 30 minutes, until a tester inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool completely.
  7. While the cupcakes are cooling, mix the the cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla extract on low speed until the sugar is incorporated.
  8. Beat the mixture on medium to medium-high until frosting is light and whipped, about 3 - 4 minutes. Frost the cupcakes once they are cooled.

I shredded the zucchini as soon as I bought it since it was the value pack from Farm Fresh, which really is the "we-have-to-sell-this-today-or-it-will-rot" pack. Of course, 5 fairly large pieces of zucchini for just over $2 is an amazing deal and it's a neat money-saving trick I've been using lately.

I then stuck it in a bag in the freezer until I would have time to make this recipe.

If you choose to do this, just dethaw the zucchini and wring most of the liquid out in a paper towel or cheesecloth. Freezing adds a lot of water and baking requires that you be very specific with the liquid to dry ratio.

There were no spices in the original recipe, which struck me as odd because the dish just screamed for a bit of cinnamon. It's no sweat if you don't have the rest, I just happen to have them on hand. At the very least add some cinnamon. Maybe 2 tsp. if you are dropping the cloves, nutmeg and ginger?

As I strive to be more ecoconscious in my choices, I must acknowledge that cupcake wrappers are wasteful and really unnecessary. A mixture of equal parts shortening, oil and flour has always kept my baked goods from sticking to the pan and I would have gone that route if I hadn't found another product that I will share more details about in a future post.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Minty dog biscuits

Dog breath is infamous for a reason. Let's just say that it tends to stink, a lot. Hey, so would yours if you never brushed your teeth!
Growing up with dogs have taught me many things, including what not to do when I got my own. I promised myself when I got Miyagi I would at least attempt to maintain good dental hygiene for him, especially after seeing my now-senior dog having trouble eating because her teeth are in such bad condition. Not only do cleaning your dog's teeth help their breath, it helps them down the road with basic health issues. Beyond brushing, an easy way to maintain your dog's teeth is to feed him crunchy treats that help break up plaque. Conversely, soft treats contribute to plaque and bad breath, so keep that in mind. My solution for Miyagi's bad breath is to make him crunchy treats that have mint and parsley, both natural breath fresheners, in the mix.

Tess' Tasty Treats
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/3 cup chopped fresh or 1 tablespoon dried mint
1/2 cup chopped parsley
3/4 cup water
6 tablespoons safflower oil (I used olive oil)

1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Combine flour, cornmeal, mint and parsley in a large bowl. Add oil and water and mix thoroughly. Roll out to 1/4" on floured surface and cut with cookie cutters.
3. Bake for 40 minutes, or until lightly browned. Turn heat off and let biscuits dry out in oven for several hours (I ended up leaving mine in the turned-off oven for about 8 hours). Store in refrigerator in airtight container.

The hardest part of this recipe for me was rolling the dough out, mainly cause I don't have a rolling pin or a pastry board. I made do with a cup and a cutting board wrapped in parchment paper. Other than that, this recipe is extremely easy.

Yes, this is a cookie cutter shaped like Scooby Doo. I am that geeky.

Miyagi loved these a lot. He was kind of obsessed with them, and he's sort of a treat snob. You will not be disappointed with this recipe.