Even the Blackbird Knows It's Spring

Safe Haven

We'll just get through these next two days (snow expected tonight, ugh) and continue with Spring, please.

The photo reminds me of a great song, Blackbird, from the Beatles

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free.

Blackbird fly Blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night.

Blackbird fly Blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.

Performed here by Paul McCartney

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Spring Projects

We're taking advantage of the wonderful, spring-like weather and working around the house. Scott is here for several days and I've taken time off from work. We've been busy -

  • The cars have been washed and vacuumed.
  • Scott changed the oil in all three cars, using synthetic oil. This is an important detail, as the local "quick change oil place" uses regular oil which results in lower fuel efficiency. You can get synthetic oil at the "quick change oil place", but that oil change will run you $80.
  • The window blinds I ordered two weeks ago arrived Monday. I installed them Wednesday and Thursday. These new blinds have a top down option, which is great. Better yet, they actually function properly (the old ones did not).
  • The old grill has been completely dismantled and disposed of.
  • The new grill was moved from the garage to its warm weather spot on the back patio.
  • Scott instructed Brian on how to use the hack saw to break down the dried out Christmas tree. Normally, the Christmas tree gets picked up by city recycling, but each time they were scheduled to pick up, the tree was buried under a huge mound of snow and ice. Now it will go via the Spring refuse pick up.
Today's project - installing a double drapery rod for our 4-wide bank of windows in the family room. I've always put this off because the expanse is so wide. When we first moved into the house, I could only find rods up to 120" in length - not long enough. Now they are available up to 144" long and available at the local Lowes. I figured the job would take an hour - the instructions stated an estimate of 20 minutes. I'm pretty handy with the power drill, so the mounting hardware went up without any issues. Then I went to assemble the rods which commenced what seemed like the longest, most frustrating 90 minutes of my life.
I won't go into any details, but here are my Facebook statuses that accompanied the experience:
I may have a degree in chemical engineering from MIT, but installing this dang drapery rod is kicking my butt! The instructions suck.
Apparently, I should have studied mechanical engineering at MIT instead.
It took two chemical engineers to figure out the drapery rod installation. We ended up disassembling the rods, finials to get it to work. And we didn't get into a fight while trying to figure it all out!
Now I need a beer or glass of wine!
But I can't have a beer or glass of wine because I have to pick up my son from school. Instead, I'm drinking a green kale smoothie. I feel totally lame....
I had some prosecco after picking up the boy from school and feel much better.

Well, it's done now, so the next step is picking out drapes. Wish me luck!

Photos:
This week's tool of choice - the power drill.
Tool Of Choice #drill #homeimprovement
What is it about the high pitched rev of the power drill that makes you feel, well, powerful?

My reward after struggling with something as simple as a drapery rod - a little bit of bubbly Prosecco
Circuitous

Wishing you a nice weekend! It will be warm here and I wish the same for you!

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Chinese Fried Dumpling Recipe

Friend Shelly requested the recipe for dumplings I posted about in my last post. I "more or less" use the Fried Dumpling "Guo-Tie" from Pei Mei's Chinese Cookbook Volume 1, a classic, must-have cook book in any Chinese household. There are three volumes, but I only own one - my mother had all three and based on the condition of the physical books, volume one was the most used.

090125DSC_7322_3x4

I noted my changes in Italics below

Ingredients:
3/4 lb ground pork (I use 1 pound)
4 oz shelled shrimp, diced (I don't use shrimp, hence the increased amount of pork.)
3 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked, minced
10 oz Napa cabbage (I have substituted a pound package of frozen chopped spinach)
1 scallion, minced (I tend to use more)
1 ts ginger, minced (I tend to use more)
2 Tb soy sauce
1/2 ts salt
2 Tb sesame oil
~50 store bought potsticker wrappers (NEVER!) OR
ingredients for homemade wrappers (Always):
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup boiling water
1/4 cup cold water, as needed

Method:
1. to make wrappers, add boiling water to flour and mix with chopsticks. slowly add cold water a little at a time, kneading with hands until dough is formed. cover with cloth and let stand 15 mins.
2. mix pork, shrimp, mushrooms, scallion, ginger, soy sauce, salt, sesame oil until thickened.
3. blanch cabbage in boiling water ~ 2 mins, plunge into cold water and squeeze dry. chop finely, squeeze dry again, add to pork mix. OR finely chop raw cabbage, add 1 ts salt, mix to combine, let stand 20 mins, squeeze dry and add to pork mixture. (I always blanch the cabbage. If using spinach, thaw it and squeeze dry. The spinach is great if you can't find Napa or if you want to save some time)
4. if making wrappers, remove dough to floured board and knead until smooth. divide into 40 pieces. flatten each piece by hand and roll into 2 1/2″ round thin pancake.
5. fold potstickers: put 1 Tb filling in center, fold over to make a half circle, and pinch edges together. carefully stretch a little longer.
6. heat pan very hot. add 2 Tb oil. when oil is hot enough, add enough dumplings to cover bottom of pan (in pretty pattern). cook until bottoms are golden brown, about 1 min. add 2/3 to 1 cup water, cover, steam until water is gone. fry another 1/2 min.
7. place serving plate over frying pan. invert quickly. prepare remaining portions, serve.

My General Notes:

  • Dumplings are not something one simply "whips up" for dinner. The process is labor intensive and time consuming, but totally worth the time and effort.
  • You must prepare the wrappers from scratch. Purchased "Pot Sticker Wrappers" from the store are totally different in consistency. They are really Won Ton Wrappers and just wrong for authentic Guo-Tie. Heck, if you are going to use purchased wrappers, just order take out.
  • Home made dumplings are more fun to make with friends and family. Whenever I get together with my sisters or parents, we take a day out to make dumplings. I've had my book club friends help me on two occasions - the time just flies, the process doesn't feel like "work" and everyone feasts on delicious food they helped create.
My Preparation Notes:
  • I always double the recipe. Even before my kids turned into voracious, all consuming teenagers, they could eat at least 20 dumplings apiece. I can eat at least 20, probably more like 30 in one sitting (yeah, we're pigs)
  • I prepare the meat filling the night before.
  • For the wrappers (that you MUST make from scratch), divide the ball of dough in half, then into quarters. Work with one section of dough, creating a long rope, about an inch in circumference. Then divide the rope into 10-12 sections and roll each piece out into the round pancake wrapper.
  • Once you have some wrappers made, your helpers can start wrapping the dumplings.
  • I generally make 40-50 dumplings, then cook them.
  • Rinse and repeat, eat and be merry!
Back in 2009, I posted my family's dumpling making Sunday - you can read about that here --> New Year's Dumplings

They say food brings people together. There is nothing more memorable than creating, cooking and enjoying good food with great friends and family.

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Stuff with Pictures Thrown In

This is going to be one of those disjointed, free wheeling posts with photos thrown in. Just so you're duly warned up front....

I've started to document the food I prepare for dinner, as in creating recipes of my family's favorite dishes. I typically don't measure anything and create meals based on photographs, recipes I've read but not printed out - I "wing" a lot of it. Recipes I've started to document include Lemon Shrimp with Pasta, Secret Ingredient Meatballs / Hamburgers, Veggie Burgers, Teriyaki chicken, and Black Bean Salsa.

Because I'm talking about food right now, here are some photos I took in February when I made Chinese dumplings for Book Club.
Step One

Its a Wrap
A college friend posted the recipe for Chinese Egg Tarts (Dan Ta) on Facebook. I need to make them - maybe this weekend.

Outside, plentiful rain is falling, mixed with thunder, lightning and wind. It’s a dark cloud day that makes you want to crawl in bed. It's warmer than last week when I took this photo during a morning run:
Still Waiting for Spring #seenonmyrun #morning #aroundtown
I ran two 6 mile loops that morning, with the first loop around sunrise. The rising sun transformed the cold, frosty, slightly misty landscape into a golden, glittery scene right before my eyes. It was pretty, albeit still cold. For the first time, I had to run with music in the background (I used my iPhone speakers). I normally eschew such stimuli, but I was SO bored running by myself. This has me thinking about my race strategy - I think I may need music to get me through the last 6 miles. Or I'll have to find a stranger to talk to.

My daughter competed in her first horse show last weekend. She entered the Dressage and Jumping events in the Starter Novice division. I learned a couple things that day - one, to rely upon the scheduled event times instead of waiting for my daughter to text me her event was coming up. I caught her Dressage ride, but missed her two jumping runs. Two, stick around for the show results - yes, I know, that's a no brainer, and I should have known better. She took home a first place ribbon for the jumping event and I missed it. Cue bad mom music, if there is such a thing.

Blue Ribbon Coming

During our visit to the Art Institute, we happened upon the staging of a future exhibit. I found it utterly fascinating - the workers had design drawings they were working from, several tripod set up with level cross hairs beamed on to the walls to guide them in the set up.

Behind the Scenes

I finally used the Panoramic functionality on my iPhone. It was perfect for this rendering of the Chicago Skyline in the Bean
Virtual skyline #chicago #bean

Finally, a cat photo, because you can't have a rambling blog post without something cat related.
Where He Shouldnt Be

Hope you have a great Friday! I've already gone to yoga class, will go to work and after work I get to pick up a case of wine, buy some art coloring pencils, pick up a library book before making dinner and sending myself to bed early in preparation for a 20+ mile run Saturday morning. I'm tired just thinking about it....


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Day Trip - The Art Institute of Chicago

How did I not know about the Art Institute of Chicago? When I mentioned taking a day during Spring Break to visit Chicago, my friend Jill suggested going to the Art Institute. Silly me, it never dawned on me that Chicago would be home to the second largest art museum in the US (behind the Met). I enjoy love art, but the act of visiting an art museum has always been reserved for trips overseas (why IS that?). Now that paradigm has been shifted for me – the collection at the Art Institute is truly impressive, and we only scratched the surface of its offerings in the five hours we spent there. Jill and I took our boys and they managed to stay positive during the visit, although if you ask them, they would say it was “boring”. Jill and I agreed – they would look back later and realize they got more out of the visit than they originally thought. [In fact, the very next day, all four boys spent time creating art – we are convinced they were inspired by Friday’s visit].

We started in the new Modern Art Wing, which opened in 2009. I love visiting Modern art galleries due to its enveloping experience. One can’t just slap a modern piece on the wall (which is how traditional art is displayed) and call it done. For modern art, the gallery space, the architecture of the room, the lighting, the placement of pieces must be designed to maximize its impact. Everything works together to elicit a response from the viewer. I feel like I am part of the exhibit, and I admit to watching other visitors in the gallery as they interact with the space.
Observer

In the Modern Art Wing, I saw lines everywhere – vertical, horizontal, all working to cut through the space, to provide interesting vantage points, to provide a dissection of the scene behind or in front.
City Lines

Black and Blue

I was particularly drawn to photo journalist Dayanita Singh's exhibit, Museum of Chance, which features new photographs of her subjects, in a unique rotational manner. The following poem was included in the collection and as I attempted to take a photo of it, I was informed that photography was not allowed in this particular exhibition.

Mistaken
I smiled at you because I thought that you
Were someone else; you smiled back; and there grew
Between two strangers in a library
Something that seems like love; but you loved me
(If that's the word) because you thought that I
Was other than I was. And by and by
We found we'd been mistaken all the while
From that first glance, that first mistaken smile.

-Vikram Seth

Outside the Modern Wing, we enjoyed extensive Impressionism and Post-Impressionism Collection, which includes famous works by Renoir, van Gogh, Monet and Seurat. Moving from room to room, we took in the progression from new to old, watching the evolution of technique, style and subject matter within the art world.

Finally, we quickly walked through the Thorn Miniature Rooms - miniaturized yet exquisitely detailed models of American and European rooms through the decades. There were two Asian room models that I saw - one which I photographed:
Mini Zen
All contained in area no bigger than a shoebox.

We left the Art Institute and walked the short distance to Cloud Gate, aka "The Bean". After all, a trip to Chicago isn't complete until you've taken a Selfie there:
#bean #selfie #chicago
Yeah, our boys are hanging around in the background, those goofs!

The boys will pose for Jill but not for me:
Thrilled #bean

Infinite perspectives abound in the medium of art.
Collision



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April 2014 Desktop Calendar - Free Download - Scenes from London

I've had the great fortune to visit London several times - it helps that my sister and her family live there and they've always been such gracious hosts. I always experience something unique during each visit.

So this month's free desktop calendar features two options - from my travels in the UK.

Option one - taken in June, 2010, after my sister's first baby was born [Of course, I had to visit to meet my new nephew]. The photo was taken along the River Thames, in West London, just past the Hammersmith Bridge. I found the garden houseboat to be so unusual.


To download the River Thames Calendar above, click on this link at box.com: Free Download - April 2014 Desktop Calendar - River Thames

This second photo was taken last year, also in June, and although it may not look like the UK, the subject matter is The Grand Pagoda, one of the main attractions of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. I experienced Kew for the first time last year and wish I had visited on a previous trip - it is officially one of my favorites.


To download the Kew Gardens Calendar above, click on this link at box.com: Free Download - April 2014 Desktop Calendar - Kew Gardens Pagoda



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End of March Randomness - Like a Lion

The winds are howling tonight as we enter the last days of March. I think it came in like a Lion and will leave that way, too, hopefully ushering in warmer days. It's been a long winter and a cold start to Spring. I know I sound like a broken record when I say I am tired of the cold and the snow.

Here's the Random Start of my weekend:
1. It's Friday and I'm taking a day off from work to head to Chicago with friends. We plan to visit the Art Institute, maybe experience the glass ledge at the Skydeck, and of course do a little shopping.

2. I'm presently reading two books. I've been making my way slowly through the epic "Shantaram" by Gregory David Roberts. It is so complex and lush, I find I can only read it in spurts, so I added in some lighter reading as a counterbalance. The lighter book is "Mile Markers: The 26.2 Most Important Reasons Why Women Run" by Kristen Armstrong. Both books are thoroughly enjoyable in completely different ways.

3. My son and I caught the movie, "Divergent" in the theatre last weekend. I thought it was better than the book (which I found so predictable, I merely skimmed the 2nd half).

4. I finally ordered replacement blinds for two of our bedrooms. The guest bedroom's blinds have never worked properly - when guests visit (usually my mother in law), I hang a bed sheet over the window. Yeah, we're classy.... I imagine she won't know what to say the next time she visits!

5. Sugar free cake mix is nasty. We bought it by mistake. Next time I'll read the label more carefully.

This week's random photo - Since my friend was so happy to see his photo from Costa Rica in my Spring Break post, I'm featuring another one he took
The River bed

Have a great weekend!



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