I’ve mentioned on this blog that I have done cooking lessons for my sister and her friends. I love entertaining, cooking and teaching others. It is fun to just cook together with others. My sister is gone to Japan but Taylor and I have kept in touch via facebook. She asked if I could give her a lesson minus Anna and I said why not! (I told Anna that she is more than welcome to hang out with any of my friends and she laughed 🙂 ).
So we decided to make shrimp tacos with a cole slaw made with a light vinaigrette. The shrimp was fresh from Harmons and rubbed with chili powder, cumin, cayenne, black pepper and paprika. Then they were cooked in a cast iron skillet with a little bit of lime juice to deglaze. The cole slaw was made with purple cabbage, cilantro, red bell pepper, radishes, with a vinaigrette of champagne vinegar, agave, lime juice, olive oil.
The taco was made with corn tortillas, and then topped with cole slaw and cotija cheese (new to me, yum!) and avocado. The shrimp was spicy so you didn’t need a lot of other flavors in the toppings. It was very fresh, light and flavorful.
If anyone wants to do other cooking lessons let me know. I love exploring different cultures (our last cooking lesson was Chinese food. Yum!). As any teacher will attest you learn more from the preparation and teaching than your students ever do. My kitchen is really small but we make it work.
I had an interesting experience today. There is a family in my ward who I had greeted but didn’t know very well (that’s true for most of the family’s in my ward!). Especially without a ward activity I don’t feel like I’ve had a chance to really get to know people. Last week being Easter a number of people asked me to their home for dinner because they wanted to make sure I had some place to go for the holiday. I had a lovely evening with one of those families but another one I said ‘please invite me over another time. I’d love it.’.
So this week I saw the Mom of the family and said ‘would you like to come to dinner tonight? We’d love to have you. It’s totally up to you’.
My immediate reaction was ‘I don’t want to be a bother. I have food at home. I don’t need to bother them.’ but then I reasoned ‘She is inviting me, so why not?’
With a shrug I said ‘sure. That’s so nice. Thank you.’
I offered to bring something, we chatted and then I joined them later for dinner. We had a wonderful meal with her in-laws and the whole family. It’s fun to go to someone’s house because I can have just a little bit of food I don’t normally indulge in because I can’t make a whole batch for myself. For example, she had rolls that were big and fluffy. I could never make a batch of rolls because I would eat too many on multiple days!
In the course of our conversation she said ‘I was pleasantly surprised when you said yes. I think that shows great determination to accept an invitation from a stranger who you don’t know very well’.
What I didn’t tell her is that I’d almost said no but living alone has taught me to take advantage of the social opportunities presented before me and gather with others when you have the chance. Its interesting to me that I would have held off from having a pleasant experience where I wasn’t a bit of a bother out of a fear of breaching some kind of social protocol. Do we fear that the offer is not really sincere? Kind of like when someone asks you how are you doing and you just expect a ‘fine’ in response even if their world is falling apart?
Do we worry that we really will be a bother even if they don’t think we are at the moment of the request? Or are we just too prideful to accept an offer when it is presented?
Why do we hold ourselves aloft from positive experiences because of a mysterious social fear? Have you noticed yourself doing this? Someone offers you help or says ‘I’d like to do _____ sometime’ but you never pursue their request out of an embarrassment or you outright refuse knowing it would be a good experience?
It’s a funny part of human nature that’s for sure. Why do we hold ourselves off from good experiences? Strange. I’m going to try and not do that any more. Take advantage of every good thing that comes my way. I’m not saying you have to accept every invitation offered to you but to not except out of some type of social protocol is ridiculous.
Anyway, just so you know I love getting invited to others homes and hopefully I’m helpful and can return the favor sometime. So all you friends out there invite away. I won’t be offended! 🙂 .
(Big Bang Theory on non-optional social conventions)
Had such a wonderful morning! With my family being in town I decided to host a little brunch before the Saturday morning session of my church’s General Conference. This is an event put on by the leadership where we hear talks, beautiful music and inspiring words from the prophet and apostles. I look forward to it every 6 months, but with all the challenges lately I was particularly anxious for the guidance of my leaders.
The first session was wonderful with an emphasis on families and on enduring trials. President Eyring’s talk especially moved me. He said “Trials aren’t always for punishment, but rather for polishing”. I’ve felt polished lately! He also said “If the foundation of faith is not embedded in our hearts the power to endure will crumble”. This a sobering reminder that without studious watch-care my faith could erode. I will not let that happen. I will do whatever it takes.
So, back to the brunch. I love to entertain and make things beautiful and appetizing. It was a pitch-in (or potluck) but I made 4 quiches and an Easter Cake.I also got some daffodils and have a few other Easter decor pieces. All and all I think it turned out pretty well.
I’m getting my freezer in a few hours so it will be a great to store my leftover quiches in it right away! Hurray for appliance purchases.
So I had originally put this post with my Valentines Swimfest post but it was getting too long so I separated the 2. They kind of go together.
Anyone who knows me, knows I love party-planning, entertaining and being with my friends. Ever since I was little I have loved gathering people together and coming up with fun activities. I love meeting new people, hearing their story and making friends (maybe because I’ve never really had a boyfriend friends are more important than ever in my life).
What’s the key to making friends? I’ve recently figured out a key piece in the puzzle. It is being willing to share your heart with another person. People sense a a guarded heart. You just have to unabashedly share yourself with others and they will be drawn to that honesty.
Any real friendship requires great risk but even a fun friendship requires some sharing and vulnerability to be a success. That’s what I believe at least. I am SO grateful to all of my friends. Thank you! I hope I give half as much to you, as you give to me.
Friendship is hard work but remember when we were little and worked so hard to get into the right group or make a new friend? Why do we expect it to be any easier as adults? (Well, hopefully it is a little bit easier but sometimes I wonder!). Friendship takes work. It ALWAYS risks REJECTION but it is worth it if the friend is worth having! If someone is critical or resists your friendship you may want to ask the question- why do you want to be their friend in the first place?
It always helps to go to places where people have similar interests or backgrounds. While I have a diverse group of friends, there is usually some common bond that unites us.
Most importantly I work hard at my friendships. I always have. I learned from being bullied as a child to cling on to the people who love me. I have lots of flaws but I think I can confidently say, I am a good friend. I am loyal. I am kind. I want my friends to be happy and if you are my friend you know me- the good, bad, and everything in between. A few years ago I tried to think of a single thing that my friend Camille didn’t know about me. I couldn’t think of one. That’s just the way I love. (I can also be petty and vindictive but I’m working on that. Not close to perfect yet!)
Planning a party is an entirely different proposition. If this is something you want to do, here’s some ideas.
In party planning, go to as much effort as you want to go to. Unless you are a senators wife or on a reality show most of us don’t NEED to throw parties. It should be FUN! If you get joy out of putting together a goodie bag, go for it (hunt around, you can find deals!). If you enjoy making a tablescape look pretty, do it. If you value a perfectly made meal, make it. If you like making handmade invitations, make them.
Don’t expect others to enjoy things as much as you do, and don’t do it expecting certain results. This ALWAYS leaves a person feeling disappointed. People’s praise is never effusive, nor their gratitude gracious enough. Entertaining is usually the most fun when it is looked at as a service you are doing to provide joy to others.
While I have certainly shed a tear at a burnt cake or craft that went wrong, it is also important to have a sense of humor. As Ina Garten says ‘you can always order Chinese takeout and serve it on your best china’! It’s supposed to be fun. My first swimfest I sent out conflicting restaurant addresses so half the group went to different places. While embarrassed it was an honest mistake and everyone laughed it off. Most of the time I find people are just grateful that you are trying. There is nothing more annoying than going to a party where the hostess is critical of herself all the time or constantly complaining. A little venting may be appropriate but isn’t the idea of a party an escape from reality?
Also, recognize your own limitations and then figure out solutions. If you have kids, build your parties around them. If you don’t have room for 15 people, plan the party somewhere else or invite 5. If you don’t like big groups, don’t plan a party with big groups. There is nothing saying everyone has to be a socialite. Companionship is what matters. Human contact is what matters. Also, always give your guests as much time and as many reminders as possible. Its just a fact that people are busy and will forget (and so many don’t RSVP!). It’s so easy to remind people these days that why not?
Human beings respond very well to traditions. Whether it is book club every month or a super bowl potluck, people build relationships based on traditions and memories of love. It gives security in a world that often feels chaotic and out of our control. (Maybe that’s why I like planning things. It gives me a sense of control in this insane world I live in). My sister and I used to do a potluck the Saturday before Thanksgiving. It was a tradition for 3 or 4 years while we were in college and it was fabulous. We learned how to cook a turkey, our friends experimented with family recipes, and we all watched a fun BYU football game. It didn’t last forever as people moved but it was a great tradition.
Having a strong theme usually helps (holidays make this easy). The Swimfests have been a success so far because I have planned them at a time where most people can come and most of my friends are swimming anyway (Saturday morning). If you are a Mom, plan a brunch when kids are napping or a playdate and everyone can bring a pie or a cookie exchange. Whatever, make it as easy as possible for people to attend and have a theme.
Recognize that your guests are your guests. They aren’t a burden you have to deal with. They are a blessing in your life. If you have to make a cookie gluten free or get raspberries instead of strawberries because someone is allergic, that is OK. We learn a lot in life from making other people happy and thinking of their needs above our own. It is the time’s when I am always happiest, even if it is something as simple as picking out a swim cap or selecting a book my friends might like.
As I said in my Swimfest post, you will have your share of failures. Even Ina Garten has had her entertaining failures. You will have parties where nobody comes, where nothing turns out right. You will wonder what’s the use? Again, I had a party once where nobody came! Don’t give up! Keep trying. It is worth it. At least it is worth it to me. (Remind me that when my next party tanks. I’m on a high right now!)
I’ve learned to expect that with book club 2-4 people almost always come, and I look forward to seeing those girls. It is not a failure because my expectations are appropriate. I enjoy spending time with 2 or even 1 of my friends just as much as I do a group of 15 swimmers. I love bonding with people, the human connection.
Finally, just for the record- I HATE surprises, surprise parties, whatever, and I’m not just saying that to be coy. Please don’t ever plan me one. Half of the fun of it for me is looking forward to the event and helping make it special. That may sound crazy but its the way I have always been. No surprises!
In Utah we are so lucky to have a great group of US Masters Swimmers. I know it sounds corny but they really are a family, that has never been anything but supportive, kind and most importantly FUN!
I’ve got great friends including my swim friends. In December I wanted to do something to thank my swim friends for all their support, so I came up with the idea of a Christmas Swimfest. This was just a fun get-together where we could swim, play games, get to know one another and have fun. It was a great success. So much so that I decided to do it again:
A Valentines Swimfest!
It was without a doubt the best valentines I’ve ever had! We had a good turn out and all the trimmings of a great Swimfest (yes, I’ve invented a whole new term- one life goal checked off my list!) including matching swim caps (King and Queen of Hearts caps got for .99 each- thank you swimoutlet.com), workout planned by Josh and then fun relays!
I have always loved playing games and even more- orchestrating games. Naturally I love relays! We did 4 different relays. Each relay had 2 teams.
First, we did a t-shirt relay (red shirt for the holiday, of course!). In this relay you have 2 over-sized t-shirts and after 25m’s you must give the t-shirt to the next swimmer. It was harder than you’d think. You have to tread water and take the shirt off and put the shirt on. One group got out of the water. That was a smart!
Second, was a kickboard relay where each swimmer kicks 50 meters and passes his or her board to the next person and they must add it to their own, so with 4 on each team, the final swimmer has 4 kickboards.
Third, we did a saltine relay. For this relay each person swims a 50 meters, gets out of the pool, eats a saltine cracker and then whistles. Once they’ve done this the next swimmer can go. It was really hard! The chlorine makes your mouth dry and then the saltine cracker makes it worse. It was fun! I had to basically hoot my whistle.
Fourth, was a ‘race car’ relay. The idea is you have to dive under water and run a matchbox car along the line at the bottom of the pool. Once you are out of air you go to the top and the next member of your team (who has been following you) must take a turn until you complete a lap. First team done wins.
After the relays we cleaned up and went to a diner that was close, Left Fork Grill. It was a great find! A terrific bargain and good food. A place I would never have gone to without my friend Josh’s suggestion (he had never been there but saw that it was close). How fun to have a greasy spoon type place close by. Delicious! I broke a few rules and had buttermilk pancakes, eggs and sausage…yum!
I had such a good time! It was exactly what I needed- just fun with friends. Plus, we had 2 new swimmers come which is always great. Welcoming others into our little swimming family is my way of paying it forward because I felt so welcome back in August at my first clinic. I really feel the Swimfests is an inspired notion because it is an easy way to introduce people to swimming without the intensity of a meet or open water swim. Not everyone is as gutsy as me (Can I say that without sounding cocky?) and coming to a party is low pressure. One girl, Esther, came this time who has only had 3 lessons and she was awesome!
You know the saying ‘no man is an island’? Well, if he is I will swim out to him! I need friends. I need support. I don’t want you to think I have great success with all my parties. I have had get-togethers where no one, zero people, came. As discouraging as that can be (and I shed a tear or two!) you just have to push through it and keep trying.
Companionship is worth the price. Having a little fun is worth the price of a few failures. Believe me, this week, it was so worth the price. Don’t give up! If you don’t click with one group, try another, keep going. Like anything in life, it takes effort and sacrifice to make friends (and no, the ‘ah ha’, ‘meant to be’ friend has only happened to me once- thanks Emily!) but if you are open and honest and work at it, somewhere you will find kindred spirits- even if it just one great friend. I promise!
I am now looking forward to the next Swimfest- they have St. Patrick’s Day caps after all! (It makes sucky holidays so much more fun!). We had a great idea to do an Easter Egg hunt in April! You’d have to think of a way to weigh down the eggs but how fun! I love a project!
I had a great time making goodie bags for the swim. Something fun to focus on after a hard couple of weeks. I even made my own valentine, which was designed by my super talented friend Joan. Go to her website!
It was just a great time and I have a big smile on my face today! Thanks friends for the great swim!
My friends know I love to entertain. Whether it is a large boisterous party or a simple group of friends I find it immensely satisfying to gather folks together and bond over good food, games and great conversation. I don’t know if there is anything I enjoy more. I love planning menus, designing the perfect decor and making my small dining room into a beautiful spread. Often people will come to my parties and say something like “wow, this must have been a lot of work.” What they don’t understand is the work is what makes it fun.
I will never forget one evening when I was living in a small basement apartment in American Fork with a bar sized kitchen, no counter space, no outlets and no dishwasher. At the time I was unhappy in my work and depressed about my listless life. These feelings were amplified by the end of the year stresses that January brought to our office. It was also bitterly cold and had reached the point in winter where the snow turns gray and sad. It seemed each week I was putting in more hours and becoming more unhappy.
Thankfully my Heavenly Father had foreseen my difficulties and provided me with a rewarding experience the month before- working with the Sub for Santa program in my ward. I have often led Sub for Santa (even in high school I was in charge of running it for my choir). As part of the project, we set up a service auction to raise money to buy gifts. A service auction is like other auctions, but instead of products, bids are made on services such as hair cuts, music lessons, car washes etc. To do my part, I submitted a coupon for ‘three meals of your choice,’ and as I recall it did pretty good- making $50 or $60.
The lucky winner of my meals was a nice, but very indecisive, and kind of boring guy (a tip to guys out there- don’t be like that!). This person was difficult to talk to because he had no opinions on anything and never brought up a topic for discussion. (Thankfully Camille came along for the ride or there wouldn’t have been much conversation at the dinner table!) Of course, I knew getting him to decide on three meals would be next to impossible- so my solution was “I’m going to make whatever I like!” and that’s exactly what I did. I believe I made a soup, and then a chicken dish, for the first two of the meals, but its the third meal which stands out.
As almost an affront to the difficulty of my life I decided to make my favorite food- spaghetti with homemade meatballs and sauce. The recipe is from Ina Garten (my favorite) with some of my own tweaks (I like my sauce a little bit sweet-I know, true Italians are shuttering!). Just purchasing the food for this recipe was difficult, but I was excited and eagerly anticipating the delicious meal. Eventually the long awaited day came, and big surprise I worked late- not arriving home until 6:30 with the guest coming at 7! Nevertheless, I plowed through and made those meatballs, sauce and spaghetti. I don’t think we ate until nearly 9 but it was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. Everything tasted so flavorful, rich and delicious! I remember asking my friends what they thought and being surprised that they didn’t LOVE it like I did. I was relishing that pasta. As I was eating the thought occurred to me “Why isn’t the rest of my life this good? Why isn’t the rest of my life this happy?”
It might sound crazy but it was a big moment. It was a first step in realizing that my happiness matters. While I still had a long journey in 2007, including one major melt-down, I eventually learned to value myself in a new way. I’d always been confident and auspiciously happy, but for some reason felt I could settle for the mundane- not after 2007. Nothing was worth feeling the way I felt. No amount of money, no career, no perks, NOTHING. Thankfully once I was brave enough to quit, God opened one door after another for me. It was incredibly difficult, but a life experience I will always hold sacred, and it all started with a boring dinner party in January…
I guess it is no wonder I love to entertain after such a moment. (Truthfully, I’ve always loved it. Even in college I threw parties and cooked my stresses away!). Today I had another one of my parties and it was a great success. This one was a small dinner party with just a few friends who happened to be free during this busy holiday time. After the decadence of Thanksgiving, I decided to come up with a healthy holiday meal and serve it to my friends. We had herb roasted turkey breast, pomegranate cranberry sauce, Parmesan herb polenta, mushroom gravy (didn’t turn out very well but you’ve got to try new recipes!), cracked wheat rolls with homemade apple butter, and a simple salad. For desert we had pumpkin puddings with vanilla frozen yogurt and homemade granola (provided to me by my sister!). It was delicious! I am so happy to have found a way to make my favorite holiday flavors healthier. It is a vital piece of the healthy lifestyle I am developing for myself. In addition, finding a way to entertain in a calorie-conscious way is a huge victory. I honestly didn’t miss the heavy sauces, crusts, creams or stuffing. Who’d of guessed? Now my next challenge is an Italian food makeover!
Anyway, it was a fun party with wonderful friends, good food, decor (I must say my ‘memory tree’ is pretty this year) and games (boggle- a Wagner tradition!). My only regret is forgetting to take photos. With all the photographers in my family I often forget to take pictures at events. Oh well! Take my word for it, it was fun. Thanks to everyone for your love and support. Wow! This turned in to a long entry. Enjoy.
Tonight was such a fun night. It was book club night and we read My Life in France by Julia Child. I had read this book once before and I LOVE IT! Rereading it was a joy in every regard. Naturally I had heard of Julia Child before this book but I had no idea how remarkable she really was.
At the ripe old age of 34 she married her husband Paul who was an artist and foreign diplomat. Paul had spent years abroad before their marriage and already had a love for different cultures and food. As luck would have it their first assignment was the embassy in Paris, France. Growing up in Pasadena, CA Julia had never experienced anything beyond the bland food of the 1950’s-mostly prepared quickly by hired cooks. However, everything changed on her first day in France when Paul took Julia to a restaurant in Rouen where she ate an unforgettable meal of oysters, sole meuniere, coffee and wine. She had never tasted such rich and complex flavors and immediately fell in love with french food. Bucking the trend of other women (even the french women) that surrounded her, she dived into the markets and recipes of France.
Eventually with the encouragement of her husband Julia enrolled and graduated at the famous cooking school, Le Cordon Bleu. While gaining her culinary education she also met life-long friends and collaborators Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck with whom she started a cooking school called Ecole Des Trois Gourmandes. Realizing her knack for teaching and explaining french recipes to American housewives Julia and her friends spent nearly a decade writing her masterpiece aptly titled Mastering the Art of French Cooking. This is a book that inspired scores of women to embrace cooking and plan bold, exotic meals. After the books publication Julia started one of the first televised cooking shows called The French Chef, which became an immediate hit and ran for over 10 years. Now Julia’s entire Cambridge, Mass kitchen can be seen at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Her books are still best sellers and My Life in France was adapted in the movie Julie and Julia (the Julia part is so much better than the Julie. Meryl Streep totally gets Julia! Btw- I hate the book Julie and Julia).
While I appreciate Julia’s contribution to cooking, I am more impressed with her indomitable will. I am awed that in her late 30’s she dared to start a whole new life. She found her passion and had the courage to embrace it. I relate because I have also had a moment where I needed to change my life and like her the change was hard but so worth it! Now I am undergoing another change with my fitness challenge. It’s nice to know I can look to Julia for inspiration!
My Life in France is also a beautiful depiction of a marriage between Julia and Paul. They are an amazing couple-passionate, adventurous, and unfailingly devoted to one another. Julia was not only introduced to french cooking (and taught to enjoy food) by Paul but encouraged in every other aspect of her new career. As a talented artist and photographer Paul sacrificed much to allow Julia to pursue her dream. As Emily mentioned in book club Julia’s dream became Paul’s dream. I may not know much about marriage but isn’t that the idea?
It is a great book! Read it!
On a related note we had a great book club today. I love entertaining and making things look beautiful for my friends. I love planning menus, arranging table settings and gathering interesting people. To me a perfect evening is 5-6 friends, a good meal and a leisurely conversation. People always thank me for all the hard work but it truly is a joy. I just love it. For tonight I did a little French spread in honor of Julia. It was a simple but delicious with 2 kinds of pate (my first time with pate- yummy!), goat cheese, brie, various crackers, strawberries and french cookies. Then several people brought “food memory” desserts including a delicious arroz con leche and tiramisu (thanks girls). It was a wonderful night of sharing, chatting and delicious food. Perfect.
I also made pins with the badge Julia’s cooking school. This was a badge she wore throughout her cooking show and other public appearances. I told the girls wearing this pin would “bring out your inner-Julia in the kitchen!” They were very easy to make so if any of you want one let me know! Thanks to everyone who came and made it a great night!