Saturday, October 30, 2010

On Fire...

I have come to realize- just recently, surprisingly enough- that I do NOT like reheated chicken. Leftover chicken is fine, if it can be eaten cold (read: Mom's BBQ Chicken Wings- holy cow, YUM!). But, despite having eaten reheated chicken on many occasions, I have realized that I do not like it, that the very thought really is unappetizing. Before, I'd eat it thus simply because I don't like to waste food or there really wasn't another option. No more. If I can't find a way to eat leftover chicken cold, I'll just toss it.

Now, I move from this completely unrelated topic onto the main topic of this post: The Hunger Games trilogy.

WARNING: Juli, you may not want to read this post as it may contain my opinion of the books that may, in turn, be interpreted by you as a "spoiler." You have been warned.

Wow! In a week, I have read all three books in this mind-blowing trilogy. I originally wanted to try to cram all three into my fall break weekend, but alas, that did not happen. Still, I was able to complete each book in about 2-3 days apiece. Holy cow! Just when you think the stakes can't go higher, they do.

For those unfamiliar with the books, they are written in the dystopian style- it presents a pretty bleak picture of the future to try and save us from allowing ourselves to become that way. What I love, though, is that even the bleakness is tinged with hope, with determination, with a will to make things right.

Even though I don't entirely agree with the paths the journey took (there are elements I would have like to have seen that I don't feel would have corrupted the integrity of the message), I feel satisfied with where we ended up. More importantly, I feel she stayed true to the journey behind the message, which is basically that, whatever the good intentions of war, and however necessary it sometimes is- even when it's for our own survival- it will always have high costs which will forever change, for better and for worse, the people involved, directly or indirectly. Like it or not, war will take us to places we never wanted to go and will impact our relationships with everyone around us, including ourselves.

Suzanne Collins does an amazing job taking us on what I feel to be a very realistic journey through those disturbing places and we are left with characters who feel real because of where they end up. Her storytelling skills are superbly compelling and truly, we are left with nothing wanting, except the rather unrealistic desire that we never have to deal with war.

These books are the kind of books that change us as readers. These books are the kind of books that stay with us. Despite the grim tone throughout (because characters are constantly battling for survival), these books have already become my friends.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Delightful Day!

Perfect weather. Perfect company. Perfect food. The only mishap was stupid construction on State Highway 38 which delayed Juli by quite a bit.

This is how I would describe my day yesterday. Since I'm still on my Cracker Barrel hiatus and Juli didn't have to work at the temple, we decided to get together for some fall fun!

Thanks to the aforementioned stupid construction, we didn't get to do quite as much as we had originally planned, but we had fun at the two places we did go. We spent the afternoon at the Russell Farms Pumpkin Patch, just north of Noblesville, IN (for those of you who are not up to snuff on your IN geography, Noblesville is about 25 miles north of downtown Indianapolis- look it up on a map if you're still confused!).

It's just a simple family farm that, over the last several years, has established several family-friendly activities to entertain folks of all ages. Juli and I enjoyed not one, but TWO corn mazes (one of which was considerably smaller for the benefit of littler kids, and if you found all three seed buckets hidden within the maze and picked a seed from each, you could get a prize! I got a Chinese finger trap :).

We also enjoyed a hayride to the pumpkin patch where we "picked" our own pumpkins for purchase. While, for the most part, the pumpkins looked as though they had been placed there just for this purpose (there was little evidence of the vines on which they had grown- most of the vines had died and were decomposing into the dirt), it was still fun to try to find the perfect pumpkin amidst the scattered spheres of orange.

After buying a pumpkin roll (like a jelly roll, but with pumpkin bread and filled with cream cheese), Juli and I headed to downtown Carmel, IN where we had dinner at this most charming French-style cafe/patisserie called La Mie Emilie.

The food was absolutely delicious, and we got such personal service! Seriously, our server was only too happy to offer us a sample of anything we thought we might want to try and was so friendly and helpful, it helped make our dining experience truly delightful!

It is days like these that help buffer me against the frustrations I frequently encounter during the week, so thank you, Juli, for such a wonderful afternoon!

(I just wish I had remembered to bring my own camera to provide more personalized photos of the day- alas!)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Perfect Scrambled Eggs

As a Cracker Barrel server on the side, I often get complaints that our scrambled eggs are often flat and/or just folded. These (annoying) complainers do not seem to understand that, by definition, scrambled eggs are simply eggs in which the whites and yolks have been beaten together before the cooking process. Thus, even if folded and/or flat, those eggs are still scrambled eggs, contrary to their negative opinions.

Now, yes, as a sit-down restaurant, we are supposed to cook food to order as much as we are able to. What they don't seem to realize is that, as business, we also have to keep all our guests happy, which means getting them their food in a timely manner, which means not everyone should have to wait for their food while our grill cooks take the time to pamper a set of scrambled eggs for one guest. It simply is not realistic, people! If you want the fluffy, soft, scrambled eggs you think you ordered, you're just gonna have to make them yourself at home!

That being said, here are a few tips I have learned over the years that, in my opinion, help make the perfect scrambled eggs:

1. Beat the eggs a LOT, as in beat them until they look a little (or a lot) frothy. A whisk will greatly aid you in this, but you can also get the job done with a fork.

2. Add a little milk. I do not know of any restaurants that do this, most likely for possible allergy reasons (and it probably makes the grill messier, which means they'd have to stop everything and clean it...) However, this is one of the key things to make the eggs fluffy, if fluffy is your desire (and for me, it is!) It is harder (though possible) to get fluffy eggs without it.

3. Do NOT add the eggs to an already hot pan. If they are cooking right away, especially if the pan is on a higher temperature, they will cook fast and, usually, hard. Keep the temperature a little below medium, and either add the eggs before turning the stove on or just as the pan is getting WARM. This slow-cooking method really does work better!

4. Add the salt WHILE the eggs are cooking. Most people know to add the cheese and whatever other ingredients to the eggs while they're cooking (after all, how else will all those things get into the eggs?), but they taste so much better when the salt also has a chance to cook through, instead of being sprinkled on top at the end. (Just the salt, though- if you add the pepper at this stage, the pepper flavor might become too intense due to the heat.)

Once the eggs are done cooking, put them on a plate, garnish/season as desired (I like a little freshly cracked peppercorn, especially the mixed-color variety!), and enjoy!

So, with these tips (and a little patience, another thing restaurant grill cooks don't usually have time for), you can also cook yourself the perfect scrambled eggs!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Slowing down

My life has been frantic since school started. I found out a week before the first day that I had an official assignment, that I would be back in my own classroom with all the good and ill that it implies... (If only I had known that there would be more ill than good...)

I have been stressed. It has not been a very good start to the school year. I'm doing middle school this year, teaching 8th grade reading. While we are technically a step above the alternative schools (schools to where we send students who are too problematic to function properly in the traditional school setting), they might as well just call us an alternative school for all the discipline issues we have to deal with daily. Classroom management has always been one of my weakest areas, and I definitely feel like I am floundering. So much so that in order to try and keep up with my professional obligations, I have been neglecting my personal needs. (No, that doesn't include hygiene- I still shower and brush my teeth and put on deodorant and wash my clothes and such... but my apartment is a chaotic mess, even more than usual.)

I realized I can't keep doing this and survive the year.

I need to slow down before I get an ulcer or an aneurism or a stroke or any other major medical condition.

I loved getting to hear all four sessions of General Conference. Through the words of those who spoke, I felt the inspired wisdom of the Lord reminding me of what is essential. I felt re-anchored in fundamental, eternal truths that had been fading away into background noise as the noise of my classes made demands on my time and effort.

Yes, I still have those professional obligations that cannot be ignored. But I cannot let them take over my spirituality. And I had been doing just that. No more.

So. As my favorite season comes in full swing, I will remember that my time is just that- MY time. To enjoy walks where I crunch my way through fallen leaves, to enjoy the brightness of an autumn blue sky, to curl up with a mug of sugar-free hot chocolate and a book for half an hour without feeling guilty, to get back to writing, to find serenity in the things that give my soul joy.

I will catch up on all the grading I need to do. I will catch up on all the planning I need to do. I will catch up on all the organizing I need to do. But I will do it at MY pace. I will not let the frustrations of the year get the better of me. I hope that as I find peace, I can better handle all the curveballs and wild pitches the students are throwing at me. But even if I do not find tranquility in the classroom, I will renew my efforts to find it in my soul.