Thursday, March 31, 2011

Weekend project!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Oatmeal cookies with dried cranberries and white chocolate chips

There has to be a better name for these cookies, but I don't know what it is.  I saw the recipe on the blog of a friend of a friend, and thought they sounded good, but the first time I made them I burnt them.  So tonight I wanted to redeem myself.  I'm not really good at cookies, plus I ruined them once already, so it was a crapshoot.

I couldn't find the same recipe I used before, so I used one from Ocean Spray's website.  Here are the ingredients:
  • 2/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 6-ounce package Ocean Spray® Craisins® Original Dried Cranberries
  • 2/3 cup white chocolate chunks or chips
And the directions:
  • Preheat oven to 375ºF. 
  • Using an electric mixer, beat butter or margarine and sugar together in a medium mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs, mixing well. Combine oats, flour, baking soda and salt in a separate mixing bowl. Add to butter mixture in several additions, mixing well after each addition. Stir in dried cranberries and white chocolate chunks. 
  • Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. 
  • Cool on wire rack. 
  • Makes approximately 2 1/2 dozen cookies.
Didn't burn them this time!  They are so good!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Awesomely good cover songs...

Warning:  Nerd Alert.

I love a good cover song...but not the ones that are carbon copies of the original.  I like it when the covering artist makes an effort to take a great song and make it their own.

Here are some examples of cover songs that just make me want to listen to the original:
  • Shinedown's version of "Simple Man" - it's good, but not so different than the original that I see it as a separate piece of music
  • Kid Rock's "Feel like making love" - why even bother...and don't get me started on that horrible "Werewolves of London" rip-off, "All summer long"
  • Britney Spears' "I love Rock 'n Roll" - OMG.  I have to admit I recently watched the movie "Crossroads."    I'm not sure why I spent 2 hours of my life on it, nor am I sure why I was surprised that it really was as bad as the rest of the world said it was.
  • Any cover by a tribute band - they're more into mimicry than musicality.  Just my opinion.
Now let's talk about my favorite awesomely good covers.  They're not in any particular order...

  • Jem's "Yellow" - just her and a piano, no fancy riffs or flashy guitar solos...
  • Nickel Creek's "Toxic" - I freaking love Nickel Creek!  They can do no wrong, so far, and this is a great example...the mandolin and violin make you forget all about the fact that you're listening to a Britney Spears song.  Turns out the song's not so bad when it's not covered up by synthesized music...
  • Lissie's "Bad Romance" - Lady Gaga is playing the game to become famous - I can appreciate it and I'm a fan. The most outrageous outfit and character often win the most awards and accolades, so she's playing the part and it's working.  When you strip away the meat dresses and wigs, she's a really good singer named Stefani Germanotta, but she won't let the world see that for now.  
  • Johnny Cash's "Hurt" - When Trent Reznor heard this version, he had this to say:  “...Immediately my throat had a lump in it, and at that point, it really struck home. It was heartbreaking. I had goosebumps, which I have right now even thinking about it. It became really inspiring to me.… It works. And it probably works better than my version.… I haven’t listened to my version since then.”  (Green Oasis)  This version is so raw and emotional - the dramatic crescendos make my heart race. 
  • David Cook's "Billie Jean" - I know, I know...he's from American Idol, so he must not be good.  That is incorrect.   He showed during the competition that he didn't want to just come out and sing a song that went with the theme for the week, like Motown or 80's - he is an artist, and he came up with his own arrangements for some of the songs he performed.  "Billie Jean" was my favorite of his - it is as dramatic as the story played out in the song, and it is love:
  • Young at Heart Chorus' version of "Fix You" - If you haven't seen the documentary that tells the story of a Massachusetts chorus for senior citizens, you must watch it!  The director, Bob Cilman, has so much patience with these singers - he always ends up making beautiful music, even if the journey to that final show made him go a little more gray every day.  The documentary follows some highs and lows, and deals with the inevitable loss that goes with managing a group of senior citizens.  The group performs a heart-wrenching version of "Fix You" that comes after a few very emotional scenes, and I couldn't help but be moved by it.  Out of context it may seem odd, but you can watch it here (the hissing sound is the singer's oxygen tank)
  • Last, but not least:  Adele's "Lovesong" - I just downloaded Adele's album and I love it!  She has such a soulful voice.  I love her stripped-down version of the Cure's "Lovesong."  It has a slow, Latin vibe to me and is beautiful:

Honorable mentions are 311's version of "Lovesong" and David Cook's "Eleanor Rigby."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Scrappin' the days away

Scott, my coworker, asked me to help him make a scrapbook that he was using to propose to his girlfriend...isn't that sweet!?!  He wanted to make a book that chronicled their courtship up to this point, and the last page would hold the ring.  So cute.

He bought his album, paper, and printed all the pictures from their childhoods, first date, a concert and basketball game they went to, etc.  I just helped him bring all the pieces together by providing some stickers that went with some of the pages, and did a couple pages to get him started.  We left journaling space on each page for him to describe where they were, how he felt, and all that other mushy love stuff.

We worked on this during lunch every day last week, and he continued to work on it at night from home.  He worked so hard on it and it was obvious that he wanted to make it perfect, since it would be a part of such a special day/event for them.

Here he is, in action:

Here's the money page - his lewd title, not mine:

He did such a good job - so good that she said yes!

Congratulations Scott and Trudy! <3

Monday, March 21, 2011

How have I never blogged about monkey bread?

I made monkey bread this morning to take to work as a treat for my hard-working IT team.  I never bothered looking for a recipe last night because I assumed I'd blogged about it before and I could just find it in my archives.  But when I did my search this morning, I found no such blog about monkey bread.  How is that possible?  Monkey bread is a Christmas weekend radition here...weird.   guess I was busy celebrating Christmas, which leads to lazy blogging. :) 

So, this is my chance.

Since I hadn't written down how I made it last time, I relied on my sometimes-unreliable memory for the sauce.  Luckily I got it right - though there was a minute or two when I thought I'd added too much brown sugar...false alarm.

Here's how I make it:
  • Pour about a cup of sugar and 3 or 4 tablespoons of cinnamon in a Ziploc bag (gallon) and shake it to mix them together
  • I get the value pack of refrigerated Pillsbury biscuits - it has 40 mini biscuits that I cut in quarters.  The regular biscuits work fine too, but you'll need to make 6 or 8 pieces out of each to make the dough small enough for bite-sized pieces.
  • Once all the biscuits are cut up I drop them in the Ziploc bag, 8 or 10 at a time, and shake the bag to coat them in the cinnasugar mix.  Once they're evenly coated, drop them into a greased bundt or tube pan, spreading them evenly along the bottom.  Repeat this process until all your biscuit pieces are in the pan.  Put that aside for now.
  • In a saucepan, mix 1 packed cup of brown sugar and 1 stick of butter (I think that's 1/2 cup...and I use unsalted).  Stir to combine them as they're heating up and then let the mixture boil for just a minute.  The sauce will be thick, almost like a glaze, and you should still be able to see the texture of the brown sugar a little bit.  Once the sauce is combined and you're satisfied that it's pourable, pour it evenly over the biscuit pieces in the pan.  
Bake at 350 for 35 minutes, let the bread cool for about 10 minutes in the pan, and then invert it onto a plate or platter.  Some of the sauce will run down the sides...mmmmmmmmmmmm.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Reminiscing...Days 6 and 7

Next on our cruise was a stop in Freeport, on Grand Bahama Island.

It was the shortest port of call, especially for those of us who didn't wake up at 7am when the ship docked.  There was a band playing in a gazebo at the port right when we got off the boat...

...that set the tone for a nice, beachy, relaxing day...

This wasn't like Nassau where the locals were ready to pounce when we got off the boat...we had to go to them.  There were a few little shops at the port, but nothing too exciting.  We took a taxi about 10 miles to the shopping village, Port Lucaya Marketplace, a more low-key straw market with plenty of stores and cool restaurants.

We picked up some more souvenirs, had BLT's at a corner cafe, and headed back to the port to visit the little shops there.

You'll notice no pictures of Dave from this trip because he stayed on the boat to catch some sun up on the deck with a fruity drink in his hand...

Friday night was pretty lazy for us.  We had another formal night and headed to bed...

Saturday was even lazier.  All my picture archive says we did was play a TV theme song trivia game, where Dave won a "24-karat gold plastic ship on a stick."  We waited all week to win one of those things, and finally one of us did!  They gave these out as prizes for just about every trivia challenge, audience participation event, and even to kids when they did cute stuff.

Then we went to a debarkation briefing, where they went over everything we needed to do on Sunday to get off the boat.  They have this process nailed down to the minute.  It was smooth and easy getting off the ship in the morning, and we were on our way home...sad :(  But it was a great trip!
Heading back into Baltimore Harbor

Thanks for Captain Vito and crew for getting us there and back safely!

Thanks to Jaime Deitsch for entertaining us along the way!

Lastly, thanks to the Millers for the idea to celebrate our anniversaries in this manner!

A parting shot...

Friday, March 18, 2011

Reminiscing...Day 5 favorite cruise day.  Nassau.

Bonnie and I went to a seminar on the ship to know what we were in for on the islands.  Mostly the seminar was about where to find the awesome duty-free jewelry, which I'll talk more about later, but some people asked cultural questions that were more important and informative.  They handed us a map at the beginning with labels showing where all the reputable stores were, so that's all I really needed as far as shopping.  I was more interested in what to look out for, what not to do, etc.

A few tips they gave us:
  • Do not buy Cuban cigars from guys on the street, because they would more than likely ask you if you wanted to put something 'special' in it, and they would more than likely be cops.  
  • Do not let the taxi drivers waiting to accost you at the port sell you some tour package to one of the excursions the boat offers directly.  You might be late for the boat if the taxi driver leaves you there and you have to get another taxi back; in most cases, if you're late getting back to the ship at a port, Carnival doesn't wait for you.  
    • Also, you might not ever get where they said they'd take you in the first place.
  • Do not shop at any store that isn't labeled as reputable on your map.
There might have been more, but these are the most important ones.

As soon as we got off the boat and got through security, there were about 23 taxi drivers waiting on the other side of the fence for us.  They banged on the fence, shouted 'hey, pretty lady, wanna take a tour?', and generally were creepy hard sellers.  We did our best to look straight ahead and politely decline their offers, but they got in our faces and then got irritated when we kept walking after saying "No, thank you."  Annoying.

There were taxis waiting in a different area with signs for excursions people signed up for on the boat.  Those taxi drivers didn't act the same way at all.

Once we got past the taxi melee (Dave almost got punched by one driver who thought we were rude), we were on our way to Bay Street, where all the action (read:  shopping) is.  Our first stop shattered all my dreams.  During the seminar, the guides kept telling us how cheap the jewelry is because it's duty- and tax-free.  I was thinking "WOW I CAN GET A DIAMOND RING FOR SO CHEAP!" in my when we got to the jewelry store to exchange our coupon for a free starfish pendant (I'm assuming a sales ploy to get us in the door of the shop?) I asked about the rings.

The salesperson was happy to show me some in the style I liked and I asked the price.  Something like $3800, but she can sell it for $2100 to me.  Um, ok, that's not cheap like I thought.  I'm not sure what I was thinking, but a ring for $300 might have crossed my mind...can you say delusional?  Haha.  I told her that was way out of my price range so she calls her manager over - he can sell it to me for $1600.  I laughed and just said "I think I'm a little out of my league in here, sorry I wasted your time."  Yay that they went down from $3800 to $1600 in a matter of 3 minutes, but boo for not wanting to pay $1600 EVER for something that is worn on my finger.  Pay bills for a month or buy a ring?  Obvious choice.  We left empty-handed...I was so embarrassed. 

But my embarrassment went away in a few minutes...when we saw conch burger on the menu at a cafe.  Yes please.

I didn't get the conch burger, though Nate and Dave both did.  I tried to order a cheeseburger, and the waitress made me feel bad.  She confirmed that I was, in fact, on vacation.  When I replied yes, she asked me why I would get a cheeseburger that I could get anywhere anytime I wanted.  Touche.  I ordered fried chicken instead, and she was okay with that.  :)

When we finished lunch we headed back down the street, on a mission for Cuban cigars.  From the moment we booked the cruise, all Dave and Nate could talk about was smokin' Cubans!


They got me to take a drag, and it was the nastiest thing I've ever smelled/tasted!  BLECH!

On the way to the straw market, we met this nice fellow...

...who asked us to make his day before we walked off.  We gave him $5 for the photo.

On to the straw market - it's like the Bizarre Bazaar, only way cheaper.  Fake Coach bags, Bahamas picture frames and tons of handmade pieces.  Each lady had her own little booth and as we walked by they'd brush our arms and say "Hey pretty girl, see something you like?"  I felt a little dirty.  They all pretty much had the same stuff, so I held out for the best deal I could get.  The amount of people walking through, along with the salespeople roaming around their booth made me feel like I was on the floor of the stock exchange.  CROWDED.

Nate buying his fake Rolex...

Nate standing in front of the Rolex store with his fake Rolex...

We walked from one end of the shopping district to the other - dragging the guys into jewelry store after jewelry store.  Bonnie and I saw a piece of Alexandrite on the ship during the seminar, and we WANTED one!

So we searched and searched and searched...and all the pieces we found were way too expensive.  The boys were so bored:

After we took a little break on the steps of the Parliament building, we took a taxi over to Atlantis.  I'm not posting any pics of Atlantis because they will forever remind me that I'll never be able to afford to stay there! :(  But "Hey kids!  Look, it's Big Ben...Parliament!"

Here are my purchases for the day:

And a cute picture :)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Reminiscing...Day 4

Today we're revisiting our stop in Cocoa Beach, FL.  It was the first of three ports on our trip, and was the least interesting slash shortest stop.  Mostly because we'd all either been there recently and/or thought it was dirty.  The ship was in port from 7am-7pm, and I think we may have been off the boat for 3 hours?  Something like that. We hopped on a shuttle from port (Port Canaveral) to Cocoa Beach, which was about a 10 minute ride.

The shuttle let us out at Ron Jon Surf Shop so we shopped for a bit, trying to take it easy with the spending since we'd be shopping in the Bahamas the next day.  I, of course, bought a souvenir t-shirt (it's a weakness of mine), some fake starfish, and both this awesome coin purse and this awesomer zipper pouch.

After consulting a map to make sure we weren't all mistaken that this place wasn't hiding some gem of an outing...

..we headed over towards the ocean to get our toes into the sand, just to say we touched the beach there.

Then we walked around trying to find some grub.  We stopped here, where we weren't waited on for 20 minutes, and here, where there were no seats other than 99 cent plastic deck chairs in the smokey room with the pool tables.  Don't ask how or why I remember such minute details of a lunch break a year ago, yet I can't recall what people tell me they want in the drive-thru when they're in the car with me.  A few blocks away we found a lovely place - Old Fish House Restaurant, where we dined on gator tail and crab cake sammiches...except Bonnie, who probably had some sort of chicken.  She's not a seafood girl.

That's the end of our Cocoa Beach excursion.  We hopped back on the shuttle back to the ship just as it was starting to drizzle.  The rain didn't last long, so once we were back on the boat we went up to the top deck to read.  We're such nerds.  We're in a beach town during spring break and we choose to stay on the boat to read a book.  I'm okay with it.

This might be my 2nd favorite picture of Nate ever.  He was so obsessed with this book the whole week, and we (including him) were surprised by it.  Nate's not a reader.  He's a music guy, a technology guy, a Family Guy, er, guy...not a book guy.  It was a pleasant surprise, and the snippets of the book he read and relayed to us helped me understand his was a true and intriguing story.

BTW, this is my all-time, unwavering favorite picture of him:

I have no pictures to help me remember the rest of the Cocoa Beach day, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say we ate dinner, went to the Taj Mahal lounge to see a show, and then ate second dinner around midnight...then went to bed.

Since that's what we did on every other night, I think it's safe to assume my guess is right.

Let's take a look at our cabin, shall we?

We took these after Cocoa Beach but it looks like we just got there.  I was way OCD about keeping things inside cabinets and the safe because it was so small and I felt claustrophobic.  All the clothes, suitcases, and shoes were in the wardrobes and stayed that way all week.

This picture's making me sleeeeepy.....

Tomorrow we head to Nassau, Bahamas!