Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Try It Tuesday: Trees & Buttons

I'm putting this under Try it Tuesday if only because there's really nothing to write a tutorial about, aside from paint a tree on canvas and decorate it with buttons as its leaves.


You can either sew the buttons or superglue them into place. I originally started out trying to sew my buttons, only to give up halfway through and superglue them. Suffice it to say that superglue is 100x faster (minus the amount of time it takes to remove superglue from your skin).


I decided to make a whole seasonal theme, starting with a fall motif that I got from a Pinterest idea.


I'm so happy with the results. The paintings currently adorn my bedroom, alongside my fake soda bottom cherry blossom painting.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Photo Friday: Corrymeela

To continue my trek down memory lane: Corrymeela is a community along the northern coast of Northern Ireland. Its main focus is peace-building and tolerance -- not just for unionists and loyalists, but for everyone of all backgrounds. We spent a weekend at their Ballycastle headquarters, learning about the various programs in place for youths who are affected by violence.


The location alone was enough to feel at peace. With the Irish coastline at our feet, it was easy to wish we could stay there forever. On a clear day (which was, thankfully, every day we were there), you could see Scotland in the distance. It was a source of pride to say we could see Scotland from our backyards -- and this was before Palin's infamous "proof" of her knowledge on foreign relations.

















Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Bacon-Seared Scallops

[Blogger Note: Last week was easily the hardest, most trying weeks in the history of Boston. I usually schedule my posts in advance so that my blog is still active even when I am busy. But last week, in the face of tragedy and mourning and a lifetime of emotions, I decided to delay all future posts indefinitely. Now that we are in a place where the healing process can truly begin, I feel it's now okay to move forward and return to our regularly scheduled blog posts.

So to all who sent their love and support to Boston: thank you. You don't realize how much even the tiniest tribute or mention can be until you are in that position. And to every police officer and emergency responder who pulled a 24-hour shift during Friday's harrowing lockdown: thank you, thank you, a thousand times thank you. It's a proud time to be in law enforcement, and it's a proud time to be a Bostonian.
]



In Part two of my "Cooking like Ramsey", I tackle the dreaded pan-seared scallops.


Scallops are right up there with risotto on Hell's Kitchen, and, like risotto, it gets sent back more often than not. Overcooked, undercooked, burned, unseasoned…it's frightening to say the least.


But it really shouldn't be.


For this, you will need:
- Large scallops (they need to be at least silver-dollar sized or larger. Small pan-seared scallops is doable, but it's frustrating and have different cooking times)
- Romaine lettuce (at least a whole head)
- Green beans
Not pictured: olive oil, salt, and pepper
And bacon grease! Lots and lots of bacon grease!


My husband and I save our bacon grease, since it's wonderful to cook in (ever fried mini potato wedges in bacon grease? I could kick a puppy to eat that all I want and never gain a pound). It seems counter-productive to my gluten-reduce, crazy-healthy lifestyle, but really -- if you are going to fry something, what is better for your body? Chemical-ridden, super-processed Crisco or the grease from uncured bacon? If you don't save your bacon grease, you can get the right amount of bacon grease after cooking up a pound or two of bacon. So, make an amazing brunch, and save the bacon grease for dinner.


First off: dry off your scallops. You don't want to steam these (plus: water + grease = eyes burnt out by splatter). Lay them out on a few paper towels and pat them dry with a second set of paper towels. Before you cook them, pat them down a second time and sprinkle them with salt.


Secondly: prep everything. Scallops will need your complete attention, so get everything ready. Set up your steamer, wash your lettuce leaves. The last thing you want to do is have your attention diverted.


Steaming vegetables is supremely easy. Place 1/2" of water and a steamer in a sauce pan. When the steamer is set, open the sides until it brushes against the sides of the saucepan. Once the water is boiling, place in the vegetables, put the lid on the sauce pan, and let the vegetables cook for about 8 minutes.


In a mixing bowl, add 2 tablespoons of oil with salt and pepper. I also added lemon pepper, which I absolutely love. I put it on my chicken, I put it on my salads. Absolutely love it.


Add the bacon grease to a large pan. Cold bacon grease looks like ass, there's no way around it. But it heats up fast and the smell is wonderful.


Wait until the bacon grease is so hot that smoke is coming out of the pan. Using tongs, place no more than 8 scallops into the pan. Now as Chris Crocker advised about Britney Spears, leave those scallops alone (thank you, 2008 internet reference). The edges need to caramelize and they won't if you move them around! Give them a solid 2 minutes before checking on them. If the edges look nice and brown, flip them over and cook them for an additional 2.


Once the scallops are cooked, remove them from the pan and add the lettuce to the grease. This time, never leave the lettuce alone. Stir vigorously for roughly 5 minutes. The lettuce will look completely wilted. When the lettuce is down, set it onto paper towels and pat off the excess grease (spoiler alert: there's a lot).


The results are delicious. While it's not as low in calorie as, say, a salad, it's absolutely delicious. Call me, Ramsey.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

My Thoughts on the Boston Marathon Bombing



It's hard to really put how I feel down into words.


It's stupid and it's trite, but it's true. It's hard to really say what it's like to be a Bostonian who is now rounding out her second year in New Hampshire, hearing the news. But the more I write things out, the less helpless I feel. So here we go.


I will never be able to properly describe how it felt hearing from fellow teachers yesterday that someone had bombed the Boston Marathon. Or the feeling that I was going to crawl out of my skin until I could confirm the hearsay. Or the numbness I felt when I darted onto a staff computer, only to learn that the carnage was real. And worse than what people were saying.


I can say that I spent the remainder of my day semi-joking about how I was "wigging out" on the inside, only to drive around for a half hour after work, drifting in and out of crying, finding myself almost laughing during my more lucid moments.


I can describe how it felt to finally go home, turn on the television, open my laptop, and find the President of the United States talking about the resiliency of my beautiful city -- as well as the legions of people I've known since forever checking in, letting everyone know that they were safe.


I can describe it if only because there is no other way to describe it: I felt like a floodgate had been opened, and I became completely and totally undone.


I spent the better part of the evening crying. I cried in a way that I hadn't felt since, oddly enough, 9/11. I cried for so many different reasons -- reasons that didn't even become apparent to me until I calmed down enough to see what was in front of me.


I cried out of sorrow. This was a given. I cried for the runners and the spectators and the families. I cried for the Sandy Hook families in the VIP tent who had survived the unthinkable only to have another happen right beside them. I cried for the 8-year-old boy who lost his life. I cried for those who lost limbs, for those not expected to survive the night. I cried for the people who were injured, who were photographed, videoed, being carried off into wheelchairs and stretchers and ambulances. I cried because I wanted nothing more than to be with my incredible city in its hour of need, and I couldn't.


I cried out of anger. I found myself saying over and over, "Who would do something like this?" What type of sick, twisted, horrid human being would decide to ruin a day meant for pride and love and overcoming obstacles. What type of horrid human being would do something purely to make innocent people feel a little less safe than they already do?


I cried for my vulnerability. I cried because it meant that, once again, we are not exceptions to the rule. We are not people in a bubble, watching as acts of violence are bestowed upon the rest of the world. We are just as likely to be attacked, hurt, terrorized, as anyone else. This is no longer about another country, or another state, or even another city. This happened here. Where you once lived. On the streets that you once walked on a daily basis. And there's nothing stopping anyone from repeating the act on the street you live on now.


I cried out of relief. Relief that those I knew and loved were safe and sound. One finished the marathon not even 30 minutes before the blast. Another was barely a 1/4-mile away from the finish line when the blast went off. Another was in the bleachers at the time of the blast, but somehow made it out unscathed. I cried for relief, and I cried out of guilt for those who weren't as lucky as me.


But I also cried for the goodness in humanity. I cried because, when the first blast went off, police officers, EMTs, fire fighters, and ordinary civilians rushed towards the explosion, thinking only of those who had been hurt and what they can do to help. I think of the people who opened their doors to runners who had no where to go. The people who flooded the Red Cross with calls about what they can do to help, how they can donate, or when they can give blood. I cried because in the midst of a select few proving how dark and brutal of a species we can be, there were people proving just how good and beautiful we are as well.


And I cried out of love. I cried because, for once, I understood the full extent of the deep and unconditional love I have for my city. This is my city, perfect in all its quirks and imperfections. And I'm so proud to say I was born here, at one of the best hospitals in the world. So proud to say that I grew up in a town just south of Boston, where I spent countless weekends, evenings, summertimes, immersed in this "little city". So proud to say that this is where I went to school, so proud that I was some small part of the reason why Boston is considered a college city. I'm proud to have lived, worked, grew up, loved in this city. I'm proud to say that I get butterflies in my stomach every time I see a picture of the Boston skyline, and a lump in my throat when I see it in person. This is my city, and I love it with all my heart and soul.



As President Obama said: "Boston is a tough and resilient town. So are its people." As my husband joked: "The last time someone attacked Boston, we toppled the greatest empire of the age." This city has and will always bounce back. This is a city that has been burned to the ground, only to rebuild bigger and stronger. Rest assure that I'm not the only one who feels a deep-seeded need to train like hell, if only to run in next year's marathon.


Next year, we'll need more than a Marathon Monday. We'll need Marathon Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, to accommodate all the people who will want to run -- running if only to prove that you cannot stop a Bostonian.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

How to Make a Necklace if You've Never Made a Necklace Before

This project is for the absolute beginner.


I remember dabbling with jewelry, way, way back in the day. I didn't know what I was doing and ended up buying split rings when I wanted jump rings. The hardest part is that most blogs and craft websites show tutorials for complex projects -- but they never teach you the basics.


And I must admit: I almost never talk about the basics during any of my jewelry posts.


So, here we go: the basics.


First things first: unless you're already skilled at what you're doing, buy jump rings for all your connecting needs. They are easy to open, easy to close and, to be frank, an essential for jewelry making. Almost everything -- from pendants, clasps, charms -- is attached to the necklace chain by jump rings.


Next thing: Buy pliers. Buy two sets of pliers. I like having one bent-nose as well as one needle-nose. Does it make a difference for projects of this level? Not really. You can buy two of the same if you want (or scrounge around for two random ones in a toolbox somewhere). I just like having some variety in case a project calls for one and not the other.


For this project, you will also need a chain, a pendant, and the above mentions pliers and one (count it: one) jump ring. Like I said: very, very simple. Go long (literally) for this project and get a 24" chain. This necklace will have no clasps, which means it needs to slip over your head easily. If you have a very long (30"+ chain), you can bring it down to size by breaking one of the links with wire cutters at the 6" mark.


The first (real) step is the simplest: slide the pendant onto the chain.


Now, we need to connect the two pieces of the chain, which we will do with our jump ring. Opening a jump ring is very easy. With a set of pliers in each hand, clamp onto opposite sides of the jump ring, with the "opening" of the ring facing up. Twist one hand clockwise and the other counter-clockwise. It'll look like someone hacked a half a spiral off.


The next step is almost as easy as the first one: loop each side of the jump ring through each of the last respective link's holes.


Closing the jump ring is just as simple as opening it: with a set of pliers in each hand, twist in the direction opposite of how you opened it. You can also cheat and just squish the jump ring with one of the pliers, but you're likely to get an uneven closing.


Now you have a beautiful, hand-made necklace. You've learned the basics, so now it's time to challenge yourself. Create a necklace with a clasp (instead of connecting the two ends of the chain with a jump ring, use smaller jump rings to connect the end of the clasps to each end of the chain). Or try a few of the creations I have made on this site (under the tag of "jewelry").

Friday, April 12, 2013

Photo Friday: Belfast

Unfortunately, there hasn't been much for me to photograph as of late. Between the constant snowfall and my busy schedule, my camera has been limited to snapping shots of crafts and little much else.


I've been thinking a lot about the Summer of '08, which I spent in Belfast, Northern Ireland, as part of a micro-study abroad. I know it's clich├ęd to talk about study abroad trips changing your life, but my life really is the way it is because of my time in Northern Ireland. Aside from the adventures, the friendships I made, and the chance to feel like I was really out on my own, away from any of the usual contexts that defines me, it was in Northern Ireland that I realized I wanted to be a teacher.


This trip wasn't study abroad in the typical "take classes at a different university". We spent our time immersed in the city, talking with local officials, going to various events, learning about the climate and the culture of present day Northern Ireland, and doing various community service. My community service was at an elementary school, working with children who were about the equivalent of Grade 1 / 2 in America (P3, as they called it). I had my heart set on the publishing world: in fact, I had a publishing internship immediately after returning to the states. But after the time I spent in Northern Ireland, I spent the majority of my publishing internship reading through the textbooks that I was supposed to be editing or sending off to the printers, imagining lesson plans in my head.


Cut to the next internship cycle. Instead of grasping for the usual English major-related internships, I hit the ground running looking for a teaching aid position. I ended up working as a teacher's aid in one of the most prestigious preschools in Boston, and the rest, as they say, is history.


Part of the reason why I've been thinking about Belfast is because of that epiphany, especially after coupled with the later realization that the education world is a lot more complex than lesson plans and hugs from your students -- but I'll get on that later. Here are some shots from my time around Belfast, taken with my little point-n-shoot (which is sadly resting in the Big Filing Cabinet in the Sky alongside my other dead electronics):












Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Picture Frame Restaurant Menu

This is one of those projects that came along as the result of a blatant failure.


This was originally an excuse to use magnetic paint, creating an organizational heaven with just a few adhesive magnets. Now, I'm going to give the paint the benefit of the doubt. Maybe I didn't shake it enough. Maybe I put it on wrong. Maybe all of my magnets are actually dudes, working only on refrigerators due to their penchant for overeating. Either way, I had a non-magnetic, magnetic picture frame.


So what do you do in a time like this? Flip the glass portion of the frame over, bust out the remaining chalkboard paint and create a restaurant menu.


The frame was found in the "As Is" section of Michael's. This $50 frame was on sale for $11 because some of the edges were a little dinged up. I had no issues with a scratch here and there. If anything, given the project, it would give the board some character.


The spray painting is fairly simple: remove the glass from the frame and prop it somewhere where you can spraypaint without messing everything up. You are best off painting lots of thin coats of spray paint. Thick coats with run, crinkle, crack -- it's just not pretty. Thin coats dry fast (meaning, if you're painting outside and there's a flash storm, you're probably in the clear). It's okay if you still see the glass after two or three coats. Simply focus on those areas with the next coats. Again -- don't pile on the paint. Especially in humid weather. You will regret it.


After everything is dry, place your glass on a hard surface and write up your dinner menu (do NOT assemble the frame first; you will break the glass!). I went with all the usual meals my husband and I eat -- simple meals that we could whip together if we were at a loss for what to make that night.


I suggest "breaking in" new pieces of chalk by rubbing the top corner against a piece of paper, soften the edges.


As a little accessory, I placed an adhesive metal hook (leftover from my necklace curtain holders) and attached a little black cauldron (which was actually a "pot of gold" as part of my cousin's wedding) to hold a few pieces of chalk.


My husband and I have come a long way from our days of "cheese quesadillas or … call up Papa Johns." At least now we have something to consult when we don't know what to have for dinner!
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