Yesterday, as a co-worker and I were waiting to pick up the food we ordered from a restaurant on campus, two students hauling a bucket of red carnations walked up, presented a flower to each restaurant worker and said simply, "We appreciate what you do." The impact this simple gesture had on the restaurant workers was beautiful. Faces lit up, smiles appeared, and the workers went about their jobs with a little more pep in their steps. I watched as one girl smelled her flower and then told her co-worker, "They appreciate what I do!" Considering that they are in the business of serving meals to hungry college students, this is probably a sentiment they don't hear a lot.
I think we underestimate how powerful simple acts of kindness can be. As evidenced by what I witnessed yesterday, you don't need to make a grand gesture or spend a lot of money (or any money at all, really) to make a positive impact on someone. A heart-felt, "thank you," or, "I appreciate what you do," or, "good job" can mean just as much, or even more, than an expensive gift. Seeing those two students with their carnations and kind words challenged me. Lent is right around the corner, so I think this year, in lieu of giving something up, I'm going to give simple acts of kindness and words of appreciation.
Back when I still had a Facebook account, I started posting pictures of the food I'd cook, along with the recipes. To be honest, I started doing it to prove to loved ones that I can indeed cook, and am no longer the girl who burns food in the crock pot (true story). Since I no longer have my account, I thought I'd resume the food blogging here. For my first post, I bring you Hot Chocolate Cookies.
This recipe comes from Best Holiday Cookies, a book I received for Christmas from a co-worker. The Hot Chocolate Cookies immediately caught my eye because they looked delicious, and the recipe was simple (taken directly from the book):
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk chocolate chips, melted, divided
1 cup all-purpose flour
mini marshmallows, cut into small pieces
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.
2. Beat butter, sugar and salt in large bowl with electric mixer at medium speed until well blended. Add 1/4 cup melted chocolate; beat until well blended. Gradually add flour, beating after each addition.
3. Shape dough by level tablespoonfuls into balls. (If dough is too soft, refrigerate 1 hour or until firm enough to handle.) Place 2 inches apart on prepared cookie sheets; flatten to 1/2-inch thickness. Bake 15 to 17 minutes or until set. Cool on cookie sheets 5 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.
4. Spread about 1 teaspoon remaining melted chocolate onto each cookie. Sprinkle with marshmallow pieces; press gently into chocolate. Refrigerate at least 1 hour or until set.
Tip (not from book, but what I learned by watching Take Home Chef): Chocolate can be easy to burn. In order to avoid this, heat a pot of water on the oven. Place the chocolate chips in a bowl and place the bowl over the hot water. The heat from the water will melt the chocolate without burning it. Thanks, Curtis Stone!
Here's how mine turned out:
Mine were considerably bigger and flatter than the ones in the picture, so I think my tablespoons were too big. I also didn't melt enough chocolate, as I only eyeballed it and melted it as I went along.
The verdict: They didn't blow me away. It seemed like all I could taste was the butter, sugar and salt. The melted chocolate on top and the marshmallows did help somewhat, but not enough to warrant making these cookies again.
I've adored Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic series ever since a friend of mine introduced me to it. They're fun, easy-to-read books, and I thought Rebecca Bloomwood was charming and easy to relate to. Until now.
Sadly, I think Mini Shopaholic is proof that the adventures of Becky Bloomwood & co. need to end. In this installment, we find Becky, her husband, Luke, and their daughter, Minnie, living with Becky's parents. Every time they find a house to buy, the deal somehow falls through, and to make matters worse, the Bank of London has gone bust, causing a state of panic and forcing people to cut back on expenses. Of course, Becky is incapable of cutting back and decides instead to throw a vulgarly expensive surprise party for Luke (one that she can't afford), and hi-jinx ensue.
Becky's irresponsibility and impulsive nature could very easily be excused earlier on in the series: she's young and reckless, but she's also twenty-five, and very few of us have it totally together at that age. But when you're twenty-nine and married with a toddler, shouldn't you grow up just the teeniest bit? Isn't it time you carefully planned your finances and didn't make such expensive, impulsive buys? That's the big problem I had with this installment: Becky is no different now than she was in Confessions of a Shopaholic. She's still hopelessly addicted to shopping (as evidenced in the opening scene when her brat of a daughter wants an expensive toy pony and she relents), and when she finds herself in tricky situations, she lies and schemes instead of just coming clean and telling the truth. She's even diagnosed with a shopping addiction and agrees to therapy, but when the book ends, surprise, surprise! Her husband's PR company magically lands a movie-star client who wants him to work with her out in Los Angeles for a few months, so the whole lot of them decides to go, effectively excusing Becky from getting the therapy she needs. And when a rich benefactor decides to step in and pay for Luke's surprise party, Becky doesn't learn any sort of lesson regarding budgeting or fiscal responsibility.
Reading this book was maddening, which is a shame since I love this series, and adore Kinsella. Hopefully this will be the last of the Shopaholic books--I just can't stomach reading about a forty year-old Becky Bloomwood gallivanting around, buying over-priced clothes and trying to make some ridiculous fantasy come to life. I just can't.
On my lunch break today, I ventured once more into downtown, this time to grab some lunch at Eddie and Sam's. I've heard rave reviews, both via the blogosphere and word of mouth, and since pizza is a food I could eat everyday until the day I die, I had to try it out.
Eddie and Sam's specializes in New York-style pizza, and New York is a prominent theme in the restaurant's decor: the long wall on the right-hand side has pictures of the city, the Brooklyn Bridge, and other landmarks. The restaurant itself is long and narrow, but cozy--and also extremely crowded during the lunchtime rush.
My co-workers and I got the lunch special, two slices of cheese pizza and a soda for $5.99, a deal well worth the money. The pizza slices are HUGE, and I was stuffed by the time I finished eating. Eddie and Sam's also offers other types of pizza, such as white pizza and margherita pizza, as well as bread sticks and some delicious-looking buttery garlic knots (priced at 50 cents!).
I thought the pizza was delicious, if a little greasy (I had to dab some of it off before I ate it), and the prices were pretty reasonable. I can definitely see why Eddie and Sam's is popular, and am planning on going back to try a slice of one of the specialty pizzas as well as one of those garlic knots. Mmmmmm.
Ah, Dexter. My favorite vigilante serial killer. I fell in love with both the television series and the books a couple years ago, and Dexter is now cemented as one of my favorite fictional characters of all time. Lucky for me, my sister knows this, and surprised me with Dexter by Designfor Christmas. (Okay, so she didn't surprise me, per se. I told her I wanted it. But still.) After reading it, I gotta say, I was a little underwhelmed.
Dexter by Design picks up at the tail end of Dexter and Rita's honeymoon in Paris, where they catch a bizarre art exhibit entitled Jennifer's Leg. The exhibit is comprised of several videos showcasing Jennifer in several stages of amputating her own leg, and represents the new trend in art: making the artist part of the piece itself instead of passively creating it. Hmmm, can we say foreshadowing, anyone?
When Dexter gets back to Miami, he discovers an artist of a kind-of-a-different-but-not-really sort, one that loves to leave dead bodies artfully displayed around the city. After a botched investigation that leaves his adopted sister, Deborah, hospitalized, the "artist" is now after Dexter, and is dangerously close to outing him to all of Miami.
While this story is loads better than the last installment, Dexter in the Dark, it didn't blow me away like the first two books did (Darkly Dreaming Dexter and Dearly Devoted Dexter for those of you who are living under a rock). Dexter, who always manages to talk himself or cleverly extract himself out of very tricky situations, showed uncharacteristic stupidity at certain points in the story, and there were some parts where I figured out what was going to happen before the character did. I also found some of the sub-plots a little slow-moving. For example, we found out like, two books ago that Rita's children, Cody and Astor, had serial killer tendencies, and that Dexter promised to show them the Harry Way, but there really hasn't been a whole lot of progress on that end since. Just little bits and pieces, as if Lindsay is saying, "Wait! This is still part of the story too! Don't forget about it!" And I'm still trying to figure out what part Doakes will play (besides comedic relief) since he's still alive, and can very much communicate, but is still rendered helpless in some aspects. Will he be the threat he once was? It doesn't look like it, although Lindsay has made a point to include him in every book since his close call. Maybe this is Lindsay's tactic: make us think that Doakes is now reduced to making us laugh and then catch us off-guard by having him play a pivotal role in a future story. Who knows.
I give Dexter by Design two and a half, maybe three stars. It was still an enjoyable read, but is far from the solid storytelling and character development that was present in the first two books.
All throughout my academic career, math plagued me. God, how I hated it. I'd sit in class and stare at those cold, hard numbers, taunting me. At the word problems that appeared to ask me to figure out what time the train would arrive at the station if it was going X miles an hour and it was Y time, but what really said, "HAHAHAHAHA YOU'RE FUCKED, VAN BLARICUM! YOU'LL NEVER FIGURE ME OUT!" Ask me to identify the themes and motifs in a piece of literature and explain their significance to the story, I could do that easily. Ask me to solve one of those train word problems, and my only answer would be, "Unless I'm on the train taking me out of this damn math class, I don't care!"
If you were to ask me if I considered myself good or bad at math, I'd answer most assuredly that I was bad. After all, when confronted with a more complex algebraic equation than 2x + 2x = ? My eyes would glass over and my brain would turn to mush, or to daydreaming about all the other stuff I'd rather be doing. In reality, I would probably have been very good at math had I applied myself a little harder and quit talking to my friends and passing notes during math class. It didn't come to me as easily as English did, but had I worked a little harder, put in a little extra study time, I probably could have made it easier on myself. But math was a complete bore, and so I would mentally check out pretty much every time I went to class.
When I was in second grade, my academic laziness regarding math translated to me having to go to a remedial math class, called Chapter 1. (To this day, I have no idea why it was called Chapter 1--perhaps it indicated that this was the first chapter in the story of my journey to not be a retard when it came to math?) I don't remember having to take a test to qualify for Chapter 1; all I remember is that one day during the math portion of class, another teacher came to fetch me and a few other students, and we would go to a different classroom and do all sorts of math crap. I didn't learn a damn thing in Chapter 1. All I remember from that class was that there was a little boy, John, who had a major ear wax problem, and that the teacher lent me this LeapFrog-type computer toy for me to play math games on. (Incidentally, I loved that toy, but I think it was because my parents refused to buy any sort of game console for me and my sister growing up, so any sort of video or computer game, even math-themed ones, was awesome.)
I think my Chapter 1 teacher must have suggested to my parents that practicing with flash cards at home would be beneficial for me as well, because every day after school, Pops would go over them with me. He had good intentions--after all, what parent wants to admit that their kid is the dumb one in a certain subject?--but he was like a drill sergeant. I looked forward to Flash Card Time with about as much enthusiasm as a root canal. For about half an hour, I was bombarded with card after card of simple addition and subtraction problems while my dad's patience steadily chipped away. He would start off by trying really hard to give me little tricks to solve the problems, but eventually he became a bundle of raw nerves and said things like, "YOU SHOULD JUST KNOW THINGS LIKE 9+8. THERE SHOULD BE NO REASON FOR YOU TO COUNT ON YOUR FINGERS!" and, "DO YOU WANT TO BE THE ONLY KID WHO STILL COUNTS ON HER FINGERS? EVERYBODY ELSE DOESN'T COUNT ON THEIR FINGERS!" Eventually I wised up and started counting on my fingers in my head, a tactic that made my dad think I was improving while managing to get one over on him simultaneously. After that, and even up until college, I refused to use flash cards as a studying device.
Math started to click around seventh grade, but I still encountered my fair share of obstacles, which really meant that I would half-ass problems that I thought were stupid, like word problems, proving geometric theorems, and imaginary numbers. These three things could be separate blog posts unto themselves, so I will only say this: I didn't see the point in spending a lot of time on them, since I didn't see the point in learning them to begin with. (I mean, seriously imaginarynumbers? WTF? What purpose to do they serve, and why bother studying them? That's like trying to take out pet health insurance on a unicorn.) However, I was measurably better than I was in elementary school, which resulted in me being asked to be part of the Mathletes program in eighth grade, an invitation I found both flattering and ironic. I think the Mathletes went to competitions and did math problems; I don't know for sure, since I went to one meeting, said to myself, "Yah right!" and peaced out.
I'm glad I'm finally at a place in my life where I don't use any math function more complicated than simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. I'm glad the days are over in which I had to account for pi. I'm glad I no longer have to figure out what time the train will get at the station unless I have an actual train ticket in my hand. I've made it out of the Math Forest and now I'm in the sunny clearing of Real Life, where algebraic equations, geometric proofs and the Pythagorean Theorem are nothing but distant memories. Hallelujah. Can I get a witness?
Earlier today, some co-workers and I walked downtown to Moxies for lunch. First of all, let me just say: I love downtown.
Every time I go downtown, I feel giddy, like a small child on Christmas Day. It's pretty quiet on the weekends, but on the weekdays, the sidewalks are filled with the hustle and bustle of Very Important People, walking to and from their Very Important Meetings, carrying their Very Important Briefcases. Even though I've not once been downtown for anything business-related in the last three years, I still like to pretend that I'm a Very Important Person doing Very Important Things (sans Very Important Briefcase) whenever I'm there.
As we were walking downtown today, I was pleased to see that new restaurants had popped up. If you couldn't tell from the above paragraphs, I always thought downtown was cool, but was disappointed that it didn't have more to offer in the way of eateries and cafes. From what I saw on today's excursion, that looks like it's changing, and it makes my heart happy.
Moxies, as usual, was jam-packed during the lunch hour, but the staff was excellent in taking orders and delivering food in a timely manner. I ordered what I always order whenever I go somewhere that offers Reuben Sandwiches: a Reuben Sandwich. I love a good Reuben, and I can't decide which restaurant makes a better one: Moxies or Datz. I thought Datz's Reuben reigned supreme, but when I re-visited Moxies today, I had to admit, theirs wasn't half-bad, either. Datz's sandwich comes with a side of their sweet and salty chips and bleu cheese dipping sauce; I ordered the pasta salad with my sandwich at Moxies, and that was delicious as well (sun-dried tomato--yum!). So now I'm internally conflicted.
I am happy to say that I did have leftovers, so I'll also be able to enjoy some more Reuben and pasta salad for din din tonight. That is, if I don't cave in and eat them before I get home...
Update (because I know you're just dying to know if I ate the rest before I got home or not): I was able to resist the pull of the leftovers. After wrapping up this blog post, I plan on eating them while catching up on Jerseylicious. Yes, I watch Jerseylicious. Don't judge me.
This post is just going to be a hodgepodge of randomness, since what I want to write about isn't meaty enough to justify an entire blog post. Just a forewarning.
1. Sometimes I think about random, off-the-wall crap. Case in point: while I was brushing my teeth earlier, I was thinking about when I catch Ava doing something she's not supposed to do, or barking at what appears to be nothing. When I catch her doing these things, I think about how easy it would be to communicate with her if dogs understood English. Then I thought, what if there was a way we could communicate verbally with dogs, but it involved us learning how to bark? Like, if barking were an actual language and we had to learn it in order to communicate with our dogs? If humans could actually learn how to bark, would you do it in order to communicate more easily with your pet? I wouldn't. Actually, the more accurate response is, Hell no I wouldn't. I just couldn't risk looking like a moron by barking at my dog in public, or even in the privacy of my apartment. I have my dignity.
2. Sometime between 8p.m. and midnight on New Year's Eve, I found myself fist-pumping with a bunch of strangers at a bar downtown. You read that right. Fist-pumping. Jersey Shore-style.I was at a New Year's Eve party hosted by Events and Adventures, a singles activity club I recently joined. When I arrived at the party that night, all I was expecting to do was to have a few drinks, eat a few appetizers and meet some new people. Starting an impromptu dance party in the middle of the bar with a group of people I was talking with did not cross my mind, but I'm so glad it happened. I love it when random things like that happen. It's magical. I joined Events and Adventures to get out of my comfort zone and try new things and meet new people, and I don't think I could have started off 2011 any better. I'm not one of those people who look for signs about the future in every little thing in life, but I do like to think that my busting a move with strangers and connecting with them in such a fun way is a good omen to how this new year will unfold. I like to think that it will mean that this upcoming year will be filled with many more such memorable experiences and new friends.
Okay, that's it. I'm going to bed now. Told you this was random.