Thursday, March 28, 2013

Butter Mints for Easter

This recipe is so easy, it doesn't really merit a blog post- except to point out that it's easy to make them in a palette of lovely spring colors for Easter. I'm taking a batch of these to Greg's extended family this weekend.

 This is a great opportunity to try out Food Network's Frost by NumbersThis convenient list tells you how many drops of each color (from a standard box of red, yellow, green, and blue food coloring) to add to create the desired hue.  I used grasshopper pie (5 drops of green, 5 drops of blue).

Happy Easter!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Talking with the Bristols about Brewing at Home

Our dear friends Clark and Jessie are very knowledgeable about beer. They have been brewing at home for over a year now. Here they share some tips for getting started and also suggest a few of their favorite craft beers for your next get-together!

We got started home brewing when we got married. A few of my coworkers gave us all of the necessary equipment as a wedding gift. Specifically, they gave us the 'deluxe' kit from Northern Brewer, a great home brew supply store and website. 

The first few batches of beer that we made were based on kits (recipe+ingredients) that we ordered from Northern Brewer. Recipes are definitely the way to go at the beginning because the results are guaranteed to be good (assuming you pick a kit that is highly reviewed) and the kits are always cheaper than buying the ingredients separately. After making a couple of recipes you develop a pretty good sense of the typical ratio of ingredients, the flavor contributions of different types of yeast, and how variations in the ingredients will affect the result.

We have come up with a few recipes of our own, some good, others "interesting." I have a tendency to go overboard with certain ingredients when making up my own recipes.

The three best beers that we have made have all been from Northern Brewer kits: Caribou Slobber, Rye Stout, and Farmhouse Bierre de Table. Caribou Slobber is intended to be a clone of a beer called moose drool, which I have never had. It is a caramelly brown ale with a little extra hops. Rye Stout is exactly what it sounds like, and quite delicious if you don't mind a dark beer. The Bierre de Table is a French-style pale ale that has a great peppery flavor to it resulting from the yeast.

The main challenges of home brewing in a small apartment are related to temperature. One challenge is chilling the wort after brewing and before fermenting. The goal is to cool 2.5 gallons of sugary liquid down from boiling to 90 or 100 degrees as quickly as possible. The only method that we currently have for doing this is to put the pot in an ice water bath in our sink, which can take as long as an hour depending upon how much ice we have. The other temperature-related issue is fermentation. Our apartment is small and old, with hot water heat, so we have to ferment all of our beers at 70-75 degrees. If we had a basement or a dedicated refrigerator we could use different varieties of yeast that work better at lower temperatures.  

The best part of brewery tours for me is learning about nontraditional techniques that a brewery may use in the beer-making process. For example, we recently went on a tour of the Jackalope brewery in Nashville and learned that they add maple syrup to one of their beers post-fermentation. This circumvents the problem with using things like syrup and honey in beer, which is that these ingredients are almost entirely fermentable and will normally be consumed by the yeast during fermentation and converted to alcohol, losing their unique flavors.

Buy an equipment starter kit and try it out! I have seen some small-scale starter kits (to make 1 gallon of beer) available online. One problem with these kits is that they only allow for making a dozen 12-oz bottles of beer at a time.  They are a great way to test the waters to see if you enjoy brewing, but probably not an efficient way to replace store-bought beer in your life, unless you plan on brewing relatively frequently or drinking your home brew relatively infrequently.

 1. Abbaye De Saint Bon-Chien (from BFM Brasserie Des Franches-Montagnes). This might be the best sour beer that I have ever had. Unfortunately, it might be hard to find. I recently discovered it and have seen it available only twice, once at Meridian Pint, the other at Churchkey in Washington, D.C.

2. Rogue Dead Guy Ale- An ale in the style of a German Maibock (traditionally a lager, not an ale).

3. Hop Slam- This is a winter seasonal from Bell's.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

To Do In April: Organic Tulip Festival

When I lived in Virginia, this was my favorite thing about spring. Pick-your-own tulips for a dollar a stem! This is the perfect daytrip from Washington, D.C., Richmond, or anywhere else close to Charlottesville. 

You can get directions to the farm and all other details here

50,000 organic tulips have been planted on the farm this year! The field is open for picking from  March 30-April 14, but you won't want to miss the Tulip Festival on March 30 and April 6&7. There will be local wine and food, gardening talks, hayrides, and local artisans. 

Your tulips will need some water on the ride home. 

Looking for other things to do to make a day or weekend trip out of it? I love Charlottesville! Here are a few of my favorite things:

Explore the pedestrian mall downtown. It's nice to stroll around the cobblestone streets browsing local shops. You won't want to miss Oh Suzannah's or Rock Paper Scissors. Eat lunch at Revolutionary Soup. The Sengalese peanut tofu soup is to. die. for.

The grounds of the University of Virginia are glorious in Spring, when the iconic Lawn is resplendently green. If you enjoy history (or architecture) you will want to visit Thomas Jefferson's Monticello.

There are lots of wineries around Charlottesville. One of my favorites is Veritas, which boasts spectacular views from its tasting room. Charlottesville is situated in the middle of wine and horse country, and you will enjoy driving past the beautiful farms and vineyards.

For a nice dinner in town, I recommend either The Local or Mas Tapas. The Local accepts reservations, and it really showcases the local food movement that is so prominent in Charlottesville. Mas Tapas does not, so it's best when you don't mind waiting. We usually go to Mas Tapas with the idea that this is our plan for the night, so we don't feel impatient or rushed. However, it's still my favorite restaurant (after living in D.C. and Nashville), so it might be worth the wait. Especially if you're spending the night in Charlottesville.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

I Love/I Hate Perfume

What is your favorite scent? It's hard to narrow it down, but I think if I had to choose one favorite, it would be the scent of birthday candles right after they are blown out! It's a mixture of sugar and smoke, vanilla and melted wax.

31 Candles!

Do you suppose that could be captured in a perfume?

If anyone could do it, I think it would be CB I Hate Perfume. This Broolyn-based company makes creative and unusual perfumes.

Many of the perfumes are available in travel size (2 ml), which would be a great way to try a few scents before settling on your fragrance. Each fragrance is a beautiful idea, from "A Room With  A View" (a la E.M. Forster!) to "Winter 1972."

I would like to indulge in a little bit of Wild Hunt, which is described as a blend of "torn leaves, crushed twigs, flowing sap, fallen branches, old leaves, green moss, fir, pine, and tiny mushrooms."

I'm longing to go to their Williamsburg gallery and smell their collections. We're hoping to take a trip to Brooklyn soon!

What's your favorite scent in your memory? What would be your favorite scent to wear as perfume?

Photo by Papieren Geluk via Flickr

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

10 Outstanding Children's Books Outside of the Top 100

After consulting the NEA Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children and also Scholastic's Top 100 Greatest Books for Kids, I've decided to list my personal top 10 favorites that are outside of the top 100 on either list.

The first would be the book that inspired the title of this blog, The Doorbell Rang. Written and illustrated by Pat Hutchins, this was one of my early childhood favorites.

Here is the rest of my list:

2. The Ox Cart Man by Donald Hall/Illustrated by Barbara Cooney

This book reads like a poem. The story is tender. The illustrations are beautiful.

3. Carl Goes Shopping by Alexandra Day

Of all the "Good Dog, Carl" books, this is my favorite. Wordless picture books are a great tool for kids because they can tell the story and it can become more elaborate as their language develops.

4. Daddy Makes the Best Spaghetti by Anna Grossnickle Hines

I loved this book because the father and child go grocery shopping together, which was a special Saturday ritual for me and my dad when I was little. My dad and I made pancakes, not spaghetti, but it conjured up the same feelings of love.

5. On Beyond Zebra by Dr. Seuss

This is Greg's favorite children's book. We both like the theme of pushing your imagination and not thinking inside of the box.

6. The Great Fuzz Frenzy by Susan Stevens Crummel and Janet Stevens

Besides being able to add prairie dogs to your child's favorite animals, this book is entertaining for adults as well as kids. A tennis ball falls down a prairie dog hole, and comedy and drama ensue!

7.  The Missing Piece Meets the Big O by Shel Silverstein

Teaching children to "roll all by themselves."

8. Eloise by Kay Thompson

Because every child's library needs more books written about spunky girls.

9. Just Being Audrey by Margaret Cardillo /Illustrated by Julia Denos

The more I've learned about Audrey Hepburn, the more I think she's a superb role model for young girls. Also, if you're not familiar with the artwork of Julia Denos, this book will be a real treat!

10. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Since the Scholastic list included books for older children as well, I felt I needed to add this to my list. I cannot fathom how many afternoons I played in my backyard inspired by the Little House series. I also remember that I would follow along while my parents read these books to me, and as I got older, I would take turns reading the chapters aloud with them. I know that I learned to recognize many words by reading along silently in these books. 

What are some of your favorite children's books that don't often make the top 100? Or, if you're a parent/educator, what's a current favorite that you predict will make the next edition of these lists?

Monday, March 11, 2013


Here's a little Monday morning music for you!

This weekend our friends Mike, Mike, and Steve came to visit. Greg and I wanted to show them a true "Nashville" experience, so we decided to go to a live show. We paid a whopping $5 to see 3 bands perform at The Basement. We had not listened to the opening acts before we went, so you can only imagine our sheer delight in hearing this band, Whitehorse.

It's a Canadian duo of Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland. They had really great stage presence, tight harmony, and a pleasant variety within their own music style. They sang and played guitar, but they had no other back-up players, so they "looped" the percussion at the beginning of each song. It was the first time I'd watched a group do that, and it was fascinating. Another really quirky and wonderful effect they used was that they sometimes sang into telephones! It looked as though they were singing into the side of their mics, so at first we thought that they were singing into a special microphone. It was about halfway through their set when we realized they were singing into regular old telephones with the cords plugged directly into the microphone.

This is one of my favorite songs, "Wisconsin." And for all of my Washington, D.C. area, they're going to be playing at the 9:30 Club on Friday, March 29. They're the opening act, but the ticket price is well worth it just to see this duo perform.

Enjoy this song, and go buy the album!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Recommended Reading: The Yellow Wallpaper

Do you like to have multiple books going at once? I typically do not. I like to read one book at a time, to allow myself to be completely engrossed in one other world. But as of lately, I aim to read more short stories and essays in addition to whatever longer book I'm reading. I'm considering asking for a subscription to the New Yorker for my birthday next month, because it would expand my reading. I'm currently reading essays by M.F.K Fisher from her compiled works The Art of Eating. And yesterday, I had some free time at work, so I decided to read a short story.

I knew exactly which short story I wanted to read. I reread "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

Originally published in 1899, "The Yellow Wallpaper" is a feminist short story offering a haunting critique of the contemporary attitudes toward women's physical and mental health. The 6,000 word story is presented in the form of journal entries written by a woman whose physician husband orders her to strict bed rest, citing a "nervous condition."

While they have rented a summer house, the main character is forbidden from doing any work around the house, entertaining company, traveling, or even writing. Confined to an upstairs room with horrid wallpaper, she writes her journal in secret. Through her journal entries, we see her mind deteriorate. Her husband is convinced that she must avoid all stimulation because he believes she is fragile. His diagnosis and "treatment" only serve to weaken her. She spends many sleepless hours studying the wallpaper, and eventually begins to hallucinate about a woman behind the pattern.

I do not want to spoil the story for you, so I will refrain from sharing any more details. Instead, I will conclude with Charlotte Perkins Gilman's own words about her story from an interview in 1913:

"It was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked."

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Five Things to Tuck Inside of a Letter

I'm making a point of improving my correspondence this year. I am going to send more birthday cards, more sympathy, and more letters just-because.

Here are 5 things that you could tuck inside of a letter to brighten someone's day:

Use your own clues to make a crossword puzzle that the recipient will enjoy. You could include clues like "My favorite book" or "Restaurant where we had our first date" or you could try to stump them with trivia they would like to know. (If I were to make Greg a crossword, I'd include a few animal facts for him to discover!)There are many free crossword generators on the internet, like this one available from Discovery Education. Just be sure when you choose a site that you will be able to print the puzzle without signing up for something you don't want.

photos courtesy of

Have you heard of Tattly? Each set of two temporary tattoos is $5, which includes shipping in the U.S. They have designs ranging from typography and animals to nautical scenes and bikes. And because they come in sets of two, you can send one and keep one, or send one to to two different friends! How great would the friendship bracelet pictured above be tucked inside of a birthday card?

I'm thinking of your adorable nieces and nephews. Who among them wouldn't love to receive a balloon "just because?"

My mom sometimes sticks comic strips inside of cards and it always makes my day. Who wouldn't like to receive a little wisdom from Calvin&Hobbes?      


You could send a penny just for good luck, or you could include a special memory in the letter from the year the penny was minted. Maybe you could find a penny from the year you met, the year they were born, or the year they celebrated a big accomplishment.

What else could I tuck inside of a letter this year?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Talking With Laura About Yoga

I started practicing yoga when I was a senior in high school. I was under a lot of stress from schoolwork and family drama and those emotions began to represent themselves physically - I had trouble concentrating during the day and I slept fitfully with recurring nightmares almost every night. Someone recommended that I try yoga because it's a form of moving meditation so I went to a class at my local gym. It took time for me to make yoga a habit but even from that very first class, I realized how beneficial yoga was for my mind and my body.

Yoga is really about connecting with the body you have right now - not the body you wish you had or the body you used to have - so yoga is very healing. What I love most about my job is that I get to help other people feel comfortable in their bodies. Yoga can fix your aching lower back or help strengthen weak muscles but the real yoga is when a student accepts themselves completely and learns to respect the body they inhabit. That's where real transformation happens.

A beginning yoga student should look for any yoga class with the following words in the description:
Hatha, beginner (obviously), basic, gentle, restorative, or Iyengar. There are any number of websites that explain the differences between yoga styles and more yoga styles than even I probably know. For a very basic introduction:

Hatha - tradition of yoga most commonly practiced in the U.S. This type of class is usually slower paced, with long holds for each pose.

Vinyasa - means flowing with the breath. These classes can be moderate to difficult in intensity and some are a real cardiovascular workout (Power Vinyasa).

Iyengar - tradition of yoga that focuses on precise alignment. People with injuries or those seeking an extremely knowledgeable instructor look for this type of class.

Restorative - these classes focus on deep relaxation and meditation, appropriate for every body type and athletic ability.

Practicing yoga outside is great fun! It takes a week or two before you stop worrying about other people watching you and then you get to really enjoy it. It's very therapeutic to feel the sun on your back and the wind in your hair during your practice. At the end of class, when you're in final relaxation (savasana) on your back, you feel so connected to the earth and to life.

Right now I have no intention to own a yoga studio - it's too much work! But my ideal space would have wood floors, a lot of natural light and well-insulated, quiet walls. The beauty of yoga is that you don't need a lot to enjoy your practice. The main requirements of yoga are enough space (to lie flat and extend your arms out to the sides) and quiet. Even a yoga mat isn't necessary.

Private lessons are so much more rewarding than group classes for me because I get to be a guide and a witness to my student's experience and transformation. Working one on one with a client allows me to identify their strengths and weaknesses and to define goals for their practice - whether physical (I want to do a handstand) or mental (I want to experience more peace). I highly recommend every yoga student to take at least one private lesson, just to refine their practice and enjoy the individual attention.

Many thanks to my dear friend Laura McCorry for thoughtfully answering my questions. If you are interested in yoga in the San Diego area, please visit her Facebook page: