Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Cool Jewels in Justine

Check out Cool Jewels in the Feb./March issue of Justine!

I loved being in their prom issue. It has interviews with young fashion designers, recipes for an Oscar-night party, and advice on how to land an internship (as well as stuff like clothes and makeup, as you can see by their cover lines).

If you want to learn more about the concept of Justine, check out this interview with publisher Jana Pettey. She runs a great thinking-girl's magazine!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A piece of cake (or 16)

Last week I ate 16 pieces of cake. I didn't set out to do this. Rather, I did it by eating a couple of pieces a day. (Imagine if I used my small-actions-lead-to-big-accomplishments approach to achieve goals I set consciously.)

It started with the circumstances of my fridge: there were only two eggs left. My favorite brownies call for three. Going to the store was not an option. So, instead of googling brownie recipes, I sorted through my old-school plastic box and found a recipe from a package of unsweetened chocolate bars. I rarely bake chocolate cakes and had never tried this recipe, but I wanted something chocolate that called for only two eggs. This was no time to be picky.

My willingness to try something new paid off. I really liked this cake (in case that wasn't clear from the title of this post). It isn't fancy, but it's easy and satisfying. I couldn't find the recipe on the Hershey website, so I thought I'd post it here. Maybe it will cheer you up on a cold winter day. We've had a lot of those, so the past months have been heavy on baked goods.

Some notes:
1. I've never had much patience for chopping chocolate; this recipe goes faster if you soften the chocolate in the microwave first.
2. I didn't have sour cream, so I substituted plain yogurt and it worked fine.
3. You can make two-thirds the amount of frosting and still have enough (unless you prefer a thick layer).
4. This 13 x 9-inch cake cuts nicely into 20 pieces. My approach: eat a piece for breakfast, one after work, and one with milk or tea for a bedtime snack. Repeat daily until the cake is gone. By the way, I did give a piece to my dad and three to my neighbors for de-icing the walkway by my garage.

Quick and easy chocolate cake
4 bars (4 ounces) Hershey's Unsweetened Baking Chocolate, broken into pieces
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter or margarine
1 2/3 cups boiling water
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar (I used 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup sour cream
2 eggs
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan.

In a large bowl, place the chocolate, butter, and boiling water. Stir with a spoon until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Add flour, sugar, sour cream, eggs, baking soda, salt, and vanilla. Beat on low speed with a mixer until smooth. Pour the batter into the pan.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Frost as desired. 12 to 15 servings.

Creamy quick chocolate frosting
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
3 bars (3 ounces) Hershey's Unsweetened Baking Chocolate, broken into pieces
3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt

In a small saucepan, over very low heat, melt the butter; add the chocolate pieces. Cook, stirring constantly, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Pour into a large bowl.

Add the powdered sugar, milk, vanilla, and salt. Beat on medium speed with a mixer until well blended. If necessary, refrigerate 10 minutes or until the frosting is of spreading consistency. About 2 cups.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Too much vision?

I just finished putting together a second vision board. I intended to do it over New Year's but spent too much time collecting images. I had started to examine magazines solely for their potential vision-board contributions: Glamour (cool fonts), Domino (pretty flowers and colors), Los Angeles (retro-ish fonts), New York (had a recent cover with an overhead shot of people ice skating outdoors — I loved that), Cosmo (for something spicy), O (inspirational headlines), Martha Stewart Living (photos of flowers and gatherings). I was afraid I'd miss something, so I kept perusing new issues as they arrived. It's hard not to resent magazines when they remind you of what you should be/have/accomplish on a weekly or monthly basis. So that was my sign to stop collecting and start arranging.

Surprisingly, assembling my new board didn't take much time. I threw away some of the extra images but kept stuff that I can use for the next one. Most of the images are about a quarter-page, so the board came together in less than an hour. Does this mean that I have clarity about what I want?

Another question: what do you do with "old" (as in, previous) vision boards? A lot of stuff from my first board has started to come into my life, so I don't want to jinx myself by retiring it. At some point, though, does holding on to it get a little weird? Don't sociopaths make a lot of meticulously arranged collages?

And yet it seems irresponsible or even negligent to throw it away — like giving up on my dreams. So maybe that board will stay a little while longer.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Dogs and gemstones

The brilliance of machine-faceted crystals has its appeal, but it can't compare to the natural beauty of gemstones. Things in nature aren't always perfect. That's why I like gemstones. Green or pink amethyst, kyanite, chrysoprase, tanzanite, pink tourmaline, turquoise — I love them all. And while they may be dyed, heat treated, or enhanced in some way to improve their appearance, the illusion of natural beauty is still powerful.

That could also be why puppies are so compelling, with their promise of newness and perfection, enthusiasm and boundless joy. They even smell fresh. And though they're untrained, their preciousness is always unquestioned. Why does it cost more to adopt a puppy than an adult dog? Does an animal's value decrease as it ages?

I have inexplicably developed a love of old dogs. (Explicably, I do spend a lot of time away from home and don't have a ton of energy to invest in training.) Tonight I visited Simon at the Wisconsin Humane Society. I spotted him online, and his expressive eye conveyed a friendly and loving spirit. Yup, he has only one good eye. The other one is closed and slightly indented. I don't know what happened to it, but he doesn't have any trouble with balance or orientation, so he must've lived with it for a while.

The adoption counselor ran down a list of behavioral traits: he loves affection, isn't especially motivated by toys, gets whiny when he's nervous. I spent about half an hour with him, and at first he was distracted and seemed more comfortable with the counselor. Within a few minutes, though, he was playing fetch with his squeaky toys, trotting back to me and awaiting praise, then sitting on my feet. (Not at my feet.) This 68-pound charmer takes treats gently instead of nosing at my closed hand. Awww.

What should I do? I thought that I was done considering a second dog after Ginger didn't get along with Jake. But I'm still contemplating: would this snuggly good-natured dog fit into my household? Regardless of where he goes, I'm sure he'll appreciate in value.

Friday, February 8, 2008

A latte like life

I've been lucky that Manny humors me by still getting together when I'm in town; it's been ten years since I took his Conversation Analysis class. I didn't stay in the field, but one of the great things about true mentors is that their influence goes beyond their realm of expertise. Setting high expectations, finding ways to disagree respectfully, commitment to work, having integrity — as an adult, I learned these things from Manny and a few other demanding professors. By the way, I was not his prized pupil. I found his class difficult. But Manny always respected students who took the work seriously, challenging us to reason things out. Amazing how that's a good life skill, too — learning how to get through a struggle and make reasoned decisions.

So yesterday, we chatted over late-afternoon coffee. Ever a creature of habit, he ordered his medium whole-milk latte with the conviction of someone who always gets the same thing. He regards this not as always getting the same thing, but as getting one thing until he finds something better. I appreciate the precision — it matters when you're a writer or a professor or a surgeon.

We talked about the usual: work, achievement, and professional satisfaction. Though it's been ten years and I'm no longer a student, it's nice to still have a "usual." Things change and they don't. Manny is older and considering retirement but otherwise the same.

Speaking of things changing (and not), the UCLA campus looked mostly the same, but I had never noticed how beautiful it was: old buildings and picturesque courtyards on a gorgeous sunny day. During my grad school days trudging to Haines Hall, I rarely noticed any of that.

As I inched through traffic on Wilshire, I had a chance to reflect on my day. Though we often strive to be better, faster, stronger, whatever — it's comforting to go back to a person or a place and enjoy the sameness. In lattes or in life, I hope we continue to appreciate things exactly as they are.

Bead shopping in Santa Monica

Traveling gives me an opportunity to visit new bead stores: this trip, I went shopping at Beadniks in Santa Monica. Even though the owner, Shannon, was busy — she just got back with tons of stuff from Tucson — she took time to chat with Yukie and me.

Yukie bought a shell bracelet (she prefers finished jewelry to the hobby) and I put together a project for Under $25: a strand of wood beads, to be accented with a couple of metallicized ceramic beads. Add the clasp and a silver piece for each earring, and we're still under $25.

The store is beautiful: Asian themed with hardwood floors and lots of gold mirrors and fixtures. It's also inviting: you can rent tools and sit at one of the big tables to work on a project. And, it's walking distance from the Santa Monica Pier and Third Street Promenade, which has a farmer's market and all the shopping you could ever dream of.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Lots of laughs in Los Angeles

After reading an article in Los Angeles magazine, Yukie and I decided to visit The Comedy Union. On Monday nights, the club hosts a clean (no cursing) show. We were the first people to arrive and wisely decided not to sit right in front of the stage. The whole science of seating, by the way, is interesting in itself. Most of us wanted the safety of at least one row between us and the stage, despite pleas from the guy who seated us. A group of five women celebrating their friend's birthday bravely took the front row.

Barry B., the host, was really welcoming. And Todd, Justin, Vanessa, Sydney, and Ron G. kept us laughing. Our fear of being close to the stage was unwarranted. The worst we got was a good-natured ribbing: they made fun of "the Asian ladies" as well as the lovey-dovey couple and the not-so-lovey-dovey couple. Though Barry couldn't spin too much out of Japanese funeral arrangements, Shirley the birthday girl turned around to share in the laughs. Turns out that there is plenty funny about life even without the swearing: relationships, breakups, dirty carpets, resumes, Red Rover and hide and seek. To try to convey the specifics wouldn't do justice to how hilarious everyone was.

Ron G. continued to mock us outside the club. Perhaps he felt an affinity with Yukie; they both drive little Hondas. Anyway, you should check out the Comedy Union if you're in L.A. It's a great way to spend five bucks and two drinks.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Drinks with GLAAM

My first vacation event: going to a Gen. X happy hour at Crown City Brewery in Pasadena, hosted by the L.A. Mensa chapter. The mostly thirtysomething group was welcoming — we laughed a lot with Bryan, who appreciates his rough-and-tumble job in corporate finance (his words, not mine), and Sam, an ER doc with a penchant for puns. One of the guys brought his home-brewed cider (made with apple cider, raisins, and brown sugar). Even though it was a little intimidating to go to drinks with people we didn't know, we had a good time and now Yukie's thinking about going to the regional gathering (the "RG," in Mensa-speak). I'm hoping to get some Milwaukee friends to join. Yup, I really want to do a game night. And create a signature drink. I think 2008 will be a year of trying new things, so this is a fine start.