Easy Dessert Pasta and the Football Widow Goes to the Beach

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I’m prepping for a beach trip with a few other ladies and I thought I’d share this beautiful little pasta salad.  It’s a dessert salad but there is no mayo or marshmallows or weird stuff like in Midwestern dessert salads.  I mean, I like those salads, but this one seems healthier.  And because of the no mayo thing it is safe to take to the beach or on a picnic.

The recipe comes from me after piecing together what goes into a similar salad at the pasta salad stand at Roots Country Market in Manheim, PA.  The proprietor lists the ingredients but obviously not the measurements so I improvised. What I like about this salad is its versatility; the basic ingredients are just categories and you can customize the salad to your taste.

The main ingredients are:

  • 1 regular container of non-dairy dessert topping
  • 1/3 box of very small pasta (Pastina or Acini di Pepe)
  • Fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts, mini chocolate chips, etc. to taste

That’s it!  Thaw the dessert topping if it is frozen.  Cook the pasta and drain using a mesh strainer (you could use cheesecloth, too).  Rinse with cold water until the pasta is cool.

11715050_10153971189248098_236019134_o Tiny star pasta!

In a bowl, mix pasta, dessert topping, and fruit.  I used a package of sweetened dried blueberries, ½ c. fresh pitted and quartered cherries, and 1/2 c. cocoa almonds as well as a healthy sprinkle of chia seeds.

mmmm cocoa almonds  I know they have added sugar but these dried blueberries are so good!

I used this Pinterest trick to pit the cherries using a straw.  Not bad for a small batch, though it I was doing a lot of cherries I’d want to use a real pitter.

That’s it!  Refrigerate and serve cold.    Now, cross your fingers that I don’t get eaten by sharks out there!

Yum!

Yum!

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You’re doing WHAT?

One of the reasons I started my blog is that I have this fantasy about being an author.  I love to read so why not write?  Well, writing is not for everyone, but I read that blogging is a good way to hone one’s writing skills so here I am.

I’m not the most devoted writer.  I get distracted by work, family, Netflix, shopping, severe bouts of depression, and life in general.  All of those things are probably happening right now as you read this.  I’m an unstoppable whirlwind of sad, lazy American-with-no-PTO.

I’ve been stocking up ideas for years and I started worldbuilding this fall.  I bought some nonfiction, visited some museums, and raked through old CDs and sketchbooks.  One image I have for my main character is one I started drawing when I was about eleven.

Here is the problem of why I might be a very good author but I might be a terrible one:  I have a dialogue inside by head for EVERYTHING.  And I’ve always been that way.  Sometimes it lies to me and tells me I’m unsuccessful and not living up to my potential and then I get depressed.  But SOMETIMES it is like reading a book and loose stories and characters unfold as I do other things like drawing or driving or baking cookies.  I constantly have ideas.  It’s hard to organize, but it is sort of like an old card catalog at the library – if you are interested in STARS you should check out the cards on HOLLYWOOD and ASTRONOMY.  It just goes on and on and on, one topic melting into another until I need to focus on something for real.

This is me getting real.  I entered NaNoWriMo and have a goal of having a rough draft by December.  A whole rough draft.  I just switched to a job with a lighter schedule because I really doubt I’ll ever get somewhere without more education and I start school again in January.  So with a little time on my hands this is a perfect opportunity to really do something different.  Like I need another hobby.  Ugh.

I admit to not having an outline for my novel (though I do have an outline for my prologue that I wrote several years ago) and I don’t even remotely know how my main character is getting to the end of her story.  I do, however, have some research and some inspiration.

I love fantasy and maps but get very tired of European-inspired maps and cultures in every. single. book. I. read. So sometimes I break off and read dystopian fiction, which is barely a scootch away from my preferred genre, epic high fantasy.  I’m not sure if it’s white guilt or  boredom or something else, but no matter how much I love these books and settings I can’t be the only one thinking “this is the same damn thing.”

Don’t get me wrong – the monomyth is fantastic and continuity is what makes it work.  We know that Frodo, Jesus, and Luke Skywalker are going to win and we still watch or read to the end.  Knowing the ending and getting there are two different things.  Plus there is something very peaceful in the hero winning and the bad guy getting what he deserves.  It’s psychologically soothing (if a little delusional) to see the little guy get the gold or the girl or wheatever.  But the MAPS….  Let me show you what I mean.

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This is Gwynnedd, home of Saint Camber, created by author Katherine Kurtz.

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This is a man’s stuttering fantasy about polyamory.

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This is Middle Earth, thank you Tolkien.

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This is the Seven Kingdoms, where everyone is dead, damn you George R. R. Martin.

Yes, I wrote on the pictures of the books.  I own the books.  I took the pictures.  And before you start suing me, Estate of Robert Jordan, know that it took me seven damn books for me to realize I really hate your protagonist and you wasted my time by reiterating the whole story thus far in each book. Also know that I learned a word in my Honors Art class from my crazy art teacher.  It’s something called APPROPRIATION and it’s when you plagiarize something and remake it into your own art. Since it’s art it’s not illegal. That’s all I’m doing.  AND SO ARE YOU.

Each map is Europe.  I’m so tired of it.  The protagonist is always English.  Maybe Ned Stark is from Manchester.  I don’t know.  I still love it but I’m never surprised anymore.

So I collected a group of books that inspired me to think outside the box (or circular journey) of the monomyth:

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Now look at this map!  It’s actually technically science fiction but it has monomyth qualities as well.  It’s a whole planet.  Without England.

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This is the planet Pern, where there are dragons and weird burny mold spores that fall from the sky.

In fact Nickelodeon’s “Avatar: The Last Airbender” also has a map like this.  A whole planet, no England.  That’s a TV show and I don’t have a map but if you never watched it, It’s on Netflix.

Okay to wrap this all together, I will tell you that I am working on a novel.  I want to have a rough draft done by the end of December.  I can’t wait for the next Song of Fire and Ice book to come out, but I also think that since I’ve never been to England I probably shouldn’t pretend I know much about it or write about it.  I love maps and geography and I’m appropriating “New World” geography into my story.  I really drew a picture of my protagonist when I was a kid.  I have collected books and visited museums and made photocopies and I watched the Voyage of the Mimi 2 and I dreamed and ruminated and it is time to spit it out.  There is so much more I can say but it will just have to wait for another post.

There is a quote attributed to John Steinbeck that goes

“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”

Damn.  I’m doomed.

Custom Pottery Bridal Shower

One of my issues with weddings is that they are expensive for everyone involved.  The last time I was a bridesmaid it cost me well over a thousand dollars.  Once you do the bridal shower, a gift for said shower, the bachelorette party, dress, shoes, hair and makeup, gift for the wedding, and possibly take a day off of work thanks to trendy wedding dates, you probably don’t want to look at the statistics on the success rate of marriages in the US.  You have a 50% chance that this was just a wasted effort and cost.  And you’re lucky to get a thank you note and possibly a crappy piece of jewelry to commemorate the whole fiasco.

Knowing I am in the “elope now or never get a sympathetic ear from me ever ever EVER about what stupid flowers/colors/shoes/food your future mother in law wants you to get” camp when it comes to weddings makes most people tread lightly around me when mentioning nuptials.  Look, you can invite me to your wedding but I won’t be happy about it, okay?

Still, it seems to fall on me to take care of things for my middle little sister as she prepares for her small wedding next month.  So I threw her a shower.

2014 Emmi's Wedding Baked goods1

I guess because I have to be different, or because it is such a small wedding that there aren’t even any attendants, or maybe because Emmi dislikes being the center of attention, we didn’t do the traditional shower with gifts.

Have you ever been to one of these paint-your-own pottery places?  The greenware (pottery that is already fired once) is layered on shelves and you pick a plate or figurine or whatever and paint it with special ceramics paint. (A quick lesson in ceramics: the paint is not paint but a glaze – liquid containing tiny bits of colorant and minerals that will actually melt into a smooth glass coating once the item is toasted in a kiln for several hours. ) There is more technique than skill involved in painting, but it is a fun and creative way to spend an afternoon.  I may or may not have a slight addiction to painting pottery.

My baby little sister Lea and I made invitations with a cute poem and invited the 20-odd guests to just come and make something for Emmi instead of bringing a gift along.  This solved my ethical hangup with showers: I’m already getting something for this greedy bride for the wedding so I have to get her a second gift for the shower, too?

We went to our favorite outfit, a great independent store called Star Glazers.  Hey had tables ready for us, balloons, and extra staff.  You can always bring your own food and drink.

So there is always a risk that people are terrible at following directions/using a paintbrush.  I made a Pinterest board to collect ideas and bounce them off of the bride.  CLICKY!

Was I successful in orchestrating a pottery class/party in which 20 women made coordinating ceramic dishes for a mutual friend?

You be the judge!

 

 

Best Play Kitchen EVER (if I do say so myself!)

 

Okay so I’m not always known for my modesty.  There are some things I am really good at, like standardized test taking and pretending to be sweet as pie so my customers love me and baking most things (but not macarons because those are my nemesis).  But even with that in mind, I have to say that I am REALLY good at making a play kitchen for my niece.

I had the Fisher Price sink and stove and such as a kid.

I played in the housekeeping station in kindergarten.

I received a china tea set one year for Christmas.

My dolls were well fed.

It took a long time for me to give up tea parties and playing house.  It felt like the right kind of play.

In college I learned that my instincts were correct – this kind of play, which was always my favorite, is an important part of how young children develop an understanding of the world around them.  They learn to socialize and to work out problems by mimicking the actions and words of adults they observe.  It’s not just adorable when a tiny tot offers you an invisible cup of hot cocoa; it’s an important social transaction and practice making appropriate interactions with others.

I love being an auntie and I love to make stuff, so this project was a no-brainer.  I took my niece on a trip downtown and in the consignment store she fell in love with the plastic toy kitchen the store owner keeps out to accommodate the kiddies while their  spending-savvy mommies shop.  My niece refused to leave the store.  She threw a tantrum because she wanted so badly to microwave another pretend french fry.  Obviously I had to figure out how to get a play kitchen for her!

The plastic kitchens can be fairly affordable, but they don’t have efficient storage and they are garish.  I looked and priced, but I also scoured DIY websites and Pinterest.  As I usually do, I came to the conclusion that “I can make this.”

With Chuck’s help, of course.

My first stop was the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store.  This place is a gold mine for DIY-ers!  Any leftover and still functioning building materials are accepted as donations and then sold at low cost to raise money for Habitat.  In the past I have purchase shingles for our new shed, paint, tiles, and even unused tools.

The cabinet section was slightly bare but as luck would have it, they had exactly what I needed in stock.  Two cheap, plain wall cabinets for $10 and $15 each.  SCORE.  Some quick measurements and I was ready to go

You can clearly see the fridge, oven, and sink, right?

You can clearly see the fridge, oven, and sink, right?

I picked up some MDF meant to be shelving  at Lowes and Chuck found some unused paneling in his workshop.  While he sanded the cabinets and jigged out a hole for the dog dish –turned –sink, I painted a mural for the backsplash using my acrylics and sealed the image with clear spray paint.

 

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sink made from a dog dish.

I think she has a nicer backsplash than I do!

I think she has a nicer backsplash than I do!

Once the whole piece was together, Chuck painted the kitchen while I painted the “fridge” with homemade chalkboard paint and I freehanded the “microwave.”  I found baskets at a thrift shop and spray painted them in various shades of green.

The fridge is painted with chalkboard paint!

The fridge is painted with chalkboard paint!

 

Ha ha I am hilarious, I know.

Ha ha I am hilarious, I know.

The finishing touch was telling everyone what we made so they could help fill it out.  Auntie Alice and Uncle “Ded” bought some adorable Melissa and Doug play food, Auntie Emmi found perfect miniature baking supplies, while Mommy bought a princess tea set, providing props for play time.

A friend recently posted this article on the importance of play in a child’s life.  It sort of boggles my mind that someone would question the healthiness of a child’s imagination, but the article sort of take a tone of defense, doesn’t it?  I always assumed that most adults are just too busy/lazy to encourage imaginative play, but I guess some people discourage it, too.  So sad!

The niece-let is happy to play with her kitchen and it has been encouraged to bring her toys to the real kitchen to “bake” with flour, dried beans, play dough, etc.  She also uses her tiny whisks to stir eggs whenever we crack them into a bowl.  Baby dolls under her care are sated and I’m pretty sure those pretend cookies have calories because I think I’ve gained weight.

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