Lessons learned over one hot stove and several cooking classes

lessons learned over one hot stove - www.alliepottswrites.com #valentines #datenight #cookingclassFood.

Food is a magical thing.

Though everyone who sits at a table will have a unique experience, we still refer to a meal as being shared. You can disagree about a particular taste and the other people at the table with an opposing view will actually support your preference so that nothing goes to waste. Love pickles? Here, have my share. Hate chocolate? Please, by all means, pass that my way.

Food brings us together in a way that nothing else can.

My husband and I decided several years ago that we would rather exchange memories than things and so unless there is a specific pressing need, our gifts to each other are typically printed out confirmations of bookings or tickets to an upcoming event. This year was no exception. I’d booked us a couple’s night out at a local cooking class.

Now, not all cooking classes are created the same and so it is always important to read a class description as well as reviews before signing up.

Words to look for:

Home Chef – unless you are trying to learn to be a professional in the kitchen, classes that cater (pun intended) to the home chef typically feature more commonly found ingredients and utilize the types of equipment and/or appliances found in the average kitchen. Meaning there is a remote chance you might be able to recreate a recipe at home on your own. The downside though is you will learn a recipe you can recreate at home – meaning don’t expect a once in a lifetime experience.

Hands-on – If you are looking for dinner and a show, a class that is not advertised as “hands-on,” is the one for you. A hands-off class is like being part of the live studio audience on a cooking show. You get to sit at a bar drinking wine while the chef talks you through what he or she is doing and then you eat the results. At a hands-on class, you should expect to work for your meal. Hmm, now that I’ve put it like that, I am beginning to question my preference.

Class size – The best classes are smaller classes with a high teacher to student ratio – ideally you don’t want to share your instruction with more than nine other students.

Instructor – It should go almost without saying that you want to be lead in your cooking class by someone who actually has formal training in the subject matter, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they know how to teach. This is one of those times you may want to pay attention to a person’s resume.

Location, Location, Location

This wasn’t our first cooking class together. We’d gone to one offered by chefs at one of the high-end restaurants in town. We’d learned about wine pairings, how to properly trim (and store) a steak. Though the class hadn’t been quite as hands-on as we would have liked, we still left with more food than we could eat.

We also left with significantly less money in our wallets. That class hadn’t been cheap, nor had the schedule been flexible as this class sells out months in advance with no refunds offered.

The second class we took together was easier on the budget (as well as the calendar) but was located within a cooking supply store rather than a restaurant. As a result, in addition to our meal, we also had to listen to product pitches for the latest and greatest kitchen do-dads. Still, the food we made all by ourselves (four words – black truffle mashed potatoes) was worth the occasional commercial interruption.

This year I tried to find a happy median between the two. I found a small, hands-on class offered by a chef whose primary business model was the cooking school. The advertised meal (Chicken Saltimbocca) looked delicious, the price was right and the schedule, convenient. But the class itself was not entirely what I expected.

Instead of each couple preparing our own meal from end to end, we each were given a specific course along with a recipe card while the chef instructor hovered between stations. If I ruined the chicken, I’d ruin it for everyone. Right – no pressure at all! I decided it was in the best interest of the group to pass that duty over to my hubby while I peeled potatoes instead.

I will admit that I was disappointed not to be at the dessert station as baking is where my talents lie, but that would have meant spending the evening apart from my other half, who is never so happy as when he is cooking, hence the reason for the night out in the first place.

Then it was time to eat.

The eight of us took our plates to an adjacent room and sat down and this is where the real magic happened. I might not have learned how to make a raspberry almond torte, but instead, I learned of one couple’s adult twin daughters now making their parents so proud. I learned of a documentary on wine tasting, I need to check out, and of one woman’s semester abroad.

Food has a way feeding conversation as well as people.

But I also learned that my hubby still makes me proud (and continues to make me laugh) as he entertained the group with our stories both at the table and over the stove preparing a meal we enjoyed together. And that’s a lesson always worth learning more than once.

 

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Batman’s greatest challenge yet – a tru-ish story

Batman's greatest challenge yet

background image courtesy of http://www.pixabay.com

Gotham city lay quiet. It had been weeks since the Joker had shown his bright green hair or pale white face. The flu virus going around must have taken him out too.

Alfred pulled the curtains open.

“Good day Master Bruce.”

I grimaced as my eyes adjusted to the daylight cutting through my room. The ornate clock on the mantle said it was already past noon.

“Feeling any better today?” he asked bringing over a tray consisting of hot tea and a package of saltine crackers.

My stomach growled at the sight – a distinct difference from twenty-four hours before. It had been some time since I’d last kept down solid food. I scratched at days of growth now covering my chin. “Much,” I replied. The sound of my voice was strange to my ears. My recent illness must have damaged my vocal cords. I wouldn’t be able to maintain the deep, cold distinct tone I used to render fear into the hearts of my enemies for another day or two.

He pulled out a small scanner and held it up to my forehead. “Indeed. You no longer appear to be contagious. Shall I go over your schedule then?”

“That’s alright, Alfred.” I had only one appointment to keep that afternoon.

“Very good sir.” Leaving the tray behind, Alfred exited the room.

I stepped over to the mantle and pulled on a lever next to the clock. The fireplace spun revealing the entrance to my secret command center. I pulled on my suit. It was looser around the waist and chest than I’d remembered. I wondered how much weight I’d lost over the last few days. I made a mental note to double my efforts in the gym for the next few weeks. I reached for my belt, only to notice it was missing from its usual resting place.

“Computer. Where is my utility belt?”

A woman’s voice programmed to sound like my mother answered. “In the field. Shall I activate the retrieval protocol?”

It began to come back to me. My trusty companion had borrowed the belt along with my spare suit when it became clear that I was in no shape to be out fighting crime so that criminals wouldn’t think the city lay unprotected. He must not have returned home yet. “That’s okay computer. I won’t need it for this mission.”

I pulled on my mask and cowl. The rubber tore open in the back. “Computer – damage assessment.”

“There is a large split in the back. The material must have taken too many hits and exceeded its tensile strength during your last battle with Bane.”

Bane! I cursed to myself. “Is a replacement available?”

“Negative, sir. Your spare is out with the other suit. I will instruct the 3D printer to begin work on another, but it will take several hours for the material to cure.”

I frowned. I didn’t have six hours. I didn’t even have three. I tucked the open rubber ends under my cape. It would have to do.

I looked into the cave’s parking bays. “I assume the Batmobile is in the field too.”

“Affirmative,” replied my ever helpful computer.

I couldn’t drive one of Bruce’s cars. They were too recognizable around town. That left only one option. “Computer, inform Alfred I’ve borrowed his car.”

“One moment.”

I verified the address of my destination. Without the Batmobile’s speed, I had even less time to spare.

“Alfred has acknowledged.”

“Thank you computer.”

I turned the key in the ignition, shaking my head at what Alfred considered music as I drove out of the cave and into the city. Beads of sweat formed under my mask and down my back. I realized I must not be as recovered as I thought, but it was too late to turn back now. This appointment was too important to miss.

I pulled up to my destination and walked through the door marked with a single yellow balloon.

batman birthday - www.alliepottswrites.comA small boy sat inside. Seeing me, his face immediately broke into a smile. My biggest fan.

“Happy Birthday, LT,” I said coming to his side.

The smile slipped from his face. His eyes narrowed. “You’re not the real Batman. That’s just a costume.” He nodded to himself. “I can tell.”

I’d thought my greatest opponents were safely behind bars at Arkham Asylum, but it would turn out even the clown prince of crime had nothing on the keen eyes or unfiltered opinions of this particular six-year-old birthday boy.


For the record, LT didn’t buy any part of this story for a second, but to his credit, the Bat-hero attending his party never once gave up trying.

That being said, some tips for other caped crusaders considering taking on the extremely risky children’s party circuit.

  • Drink lots of fluids – that suit gets hot
  • Don’t forget your utility belt – you never know when you’ll wish you had a smoke bomb or a grappling hook to get away
  • Practice your angry voice – it comes in handy answering questions as well as directing activities
  • Don’t forget to shave – the mask will fit much better
  • Have fun – Even if you forget all the rest, you’ve still made one kid’s day

And for that last one, we average citizens, thank you.

What poisonous zombie tsunami sharks can teach us about achieving realistic goals

What poisonous zombie tsunami sharks can teach us about achieving realistic goals - www.alliepottswrites.com

“What would happen if a Tsunami came here?” my youngest son asked as he brought over his latest creation. It was a drawing featuring a tiny mound of brown in the lower left-hand corner. A large blue backward C shape filled the rest of the page. I looked at the picture. I looked at my son. Clearly, the island was toast.

“Maybe it would be okay. They might have had advanced warning,” I suggested. “Or maybe there are boats that could help them float away?”

It was a slim excuse at best (I’ve seen what a Tsunami can do to a small boat), but I was going to go with it. My youngest is only five (for another week). Who wants to talk about a disaster from which there is no hope of escape with someone that age?

LT’s eyes narrowed as he glanced at his artwork. “I’ll be back.” He ran off to the other room.

He returned with another drawing of a giant wave. This one even larger than the one before. “How about now?”

Note the use of bold strokes, repeated forms, and the inclusion of a single cloud on an otherwise clear day. Here the artist is expressing the futility of man when confronted by nature’s might.

I looked at the poor island in the picture. Then another feature caught my eye. Dark triangles poking out of the second wave’s curl. “Wait. Are those sharks?”

LT grinned. Both of my children are well aware of my, let’s say, lack of fondness, for Selachimorpha in all its variations and take an inordinate amount of joy in watching my reaction.

“You drew a Tsunami with sharks.”

LT’s eyes twinkled as he nodded. “What would happen, now?” he asked. “Would we die?”

I’m not sweating. “Maybe not. You could punch the sharks in the nose or use the Bat-shark repellent.” LT wants to be Batman, correction – The Batman Weatherman, when he grows up, so it should almost go without saying he’ll have a ready case of Bat-shark repellent on hand for just such an emergency.

“What if they were poison sharks?”

“Poison?! Umm… er… there might be an antidote-”

“What if they were zombies too?”

I blinked. I looked at my husband, was he hearing what I was? His grin matched that of our son’s. Yep. He shook his head at me as if to say, what are you gonna do? I turned back to our little creator of the next made-for-TV, cheesy creature feature. “Poisonous Zombie Sharks? In a Tsunami?”

Poisonous Zombie Sharks - www.alliepottswrites.com

I’m confident sales will smash all box office expectations. (In case you are wondering, yes, this is the sort of thing I do in my spare time).

Okay, I have to admit it’s a genius idea, but every now and then I have to wonder if there is something about that boy that just isn’t right.

LT was almost cackling with manic glee at this point. Delighted with his cleverness, but unable to speak, he could only nod again.

Seeing no alternative – no stick figure on the island representing a scientist who had up until this point been the laughing stock of his profession, but was now humanity’s last hope against the coming killer tide – I had to give up. “Well, I guess, then yeah, we would all probably die.”

Apparently, this was the answer LT was going for the whole time. Satisfied, he ran off to create additional masterpieces.

I’ve mentioned before, my youngest knows how to achieve his goals and close a deal. The first step to doing either is to go in knowing what you want going out.

The same can be said about storytelling. It’s far easier to tell a joke if you know the punchline just as it is far easier to write a book if you know the ending.

But while having a goal in mind can keep you focused, it is also important to allow yourself the flexibility to deviate from the plan. I’m pretty sure that the inclusion of poison and zombies was a spur of the moment decision (though with LT one really never knows). All he wanted was for me to confirm that his island was a complete loss, but he allowed our conversation to detour, evolve, and refine until the end result was even better than the one he originally imagined.

Many of us made resolutions at the beginning of the year and many of us have already broken them once or twice. You don’t need my permission, but I want you to know that’s okay. Life happens. Zombie sharks may appear in waves.

The important thing is remembering the reason for the resolution in the first place. Ask yourself what is the underlying need and keep asking until you know the answer by heart and adjust your plan accordingly.

Who knows? When you finally reach your goal and look back, the path you wound up taking might prove even better than the one you first imagined.

 

 

What happens when your New Years Resolution calls your bluff (hint – the universe laughs)

What happens when your New Years Resolution calls your bluff - www.alliepottswrites.comThe term bomb cyclone began to trend as the mercury began to fall. My phone rang. The number flashing on the screen could mean only one thing. I let it go to voicemail as if by not answering, I might somehow change the message. My phone rang again as it received an incoming text from the same number. My other phone rang. An alert flashed across my computer screen. The truth was no longer something I could avoid. My hand was dealt.

It was … a snowday.

Only there wasn’t any snow.

It was cold outside to be sure, but the skies were clear and the roads dry. Nonetheless, the schools would be releasing students early due to hint of winter weather (fairly typical response where I am from), which, while an inconvenience,  wouldn’t have been a major issue except for one little thing. I was scheduled to give a live presentation on my experience with publishing and what happens after you type the words, ‘The End.’

I’d agreed to this talk in a moment of holiday merriment. One my husband’s friends had just survived a major heart attack and there was an undercurrent in the room of what might have been as well as a call to seize the moment while we can. So when I heard that there was a need for a speaker as well as interest in something I enjoy talking about, I accepted the offer without thinking.

But that was before the holidays. I’d had plenty of time to think since then. Plenty of time to think of all the ways, despite my planning, in which my talk could go terribly, terribly wrong.

My public speaking coach is an author too. (image is an affiliate link)

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy talking, especially about books, but even so doubts began to gnaw at me. I found my confidence as uncertain as the weather. What if no one showed up? What if they did?

I’ve met so many people who have considered writing a book one day. Did I really think I had anything new to offer? What if I was boring? What if I overwhelmed? What if I stumbled (figuratively or literally), rambled, or stuttered?

Maybe postponing my speech wasn’t the worst thing that could happen, I told myself. I could blame the snow, get the kids, and revisit my speech later. I’d feel more prepared by then, I rationalized, as I turned back to my computer to revisit my now-oh-so-seemingly-inadequate preparation work. I considered folding.

A blog post caught my eye.

It was my own.

(I’m pretty sure I heard the universe laugh out loud).

Words about change and the need to do something even if you don’t know the outcome stared back at me in black and white. My words. My resolution. My most annoyingly positive self, urging me to shut the heck up and get out of my own way.

Man, I dislike me sometimes.

But I had to admit I had a point.

I looked at the clock. I did the math in my head, calculating my kid’s revised estimated arrival time. I realized not only could the show could still go on, it must go on.

I stuck my tongue out at my screen, but I gathered my things and went anyway determined to do my best no matter how things played out. I arrived at the venue equipped with a handful of books, bullet points burnt in my brain, and a magnetic card reader (affiliate link) for my phone (just in case).

I was both dismayed and delighted to see a full room.

I felt my doubts rising as the guests greeted me individually to say how much they look forward to my talk. It had been pitched to the group as “the best presentation they’d heard all year.” No pressure (even if it was the first meeting of the year).

Then my name was called and the time for doubts was over.

My New Years Resolution had called my bluff, but I wasn’t about to lose the hand.

So I rose from my chair, I walked to the podium, and I looked out at the sea of faces. I saw more than one smile in the crowd.

Yes, I stuttered and rambled once or twice (or maybe more), but I left with fewer books than I brought and less uncertainty of what I could do too. Not only had I conquered my nerves, I even found myself hoping I might be asked back to do it all again someday.

Then all there was left to do was pick up the kids and plan how best to entertain them for the rest of the afternoon as I still had work to do.

It turned out, as my floors, cupboard, and even the dog will attest, giving a talk to a group of adults proved the least of my fears that (lack of) snowday.

What happens when your New Years Resolution calls your bluff?

You put your cards on the table and continue playing because though it might start as a bluff, you might just still end up winning.

You Should Experience Change At Least Once In Your Lifetime And Here’s Why

I don’t know how you choose to celebrate the new year, but at my house, we watch the Rose Parade. It is an event which takes place in Pasadena, California each year. Similar to Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in terms of network coverage and national tradition, the parade features marching bands and the occasional musical act, but unlike its northeastern relation, this parade relies on drivable “floats” decorated using only botanicals rather than on the same reusable balloons.

As I watch the parade coverage, I am constantly amazed by the amount of detailing that goes into each of these floats. Groups spend a year or more designing these displays, planning the look to the last petal. There might be a dragon that can bat its eye or a giant bicyclist who can tip his hat. You never know what you are going to see until it makes its way down the boulevard. Which is why I’ve gotten frustrated over the years with the trend in network coverage to skip floats in order to have more time to promote their Spring line-up or break for the millionth commercial.

So this year, I decided to do something different. I decided to watch the Funny or Die / Amazon Prime’s coverage (affiliate link) of the event hosted by Will Ferrell and Molly Shannon under the guise of their fake personalities, Cord Hosenbeck and Tish Cattigan.

The coverage was a satire, though the joke was on hosts like themselves rather than parade participants and what made me chuckle the most was a bit they did on New Years Resolutions.

At the beginning of the parade, they talked about the resolutions they’d set for themselves for 2017. Tish’s, for example, was to “put herself out there and let the universe be her guide.” They talked about their relative success. Tish’s felt she’d really taken that risk and grown as a person by attending a wine class. Then at the end, they announced their resolutions for 2018.

They were EXACTLY the same, delivered in a blissfully unaware deadpan voice.

Were Amazon to bring these characters back next year, you can imagine only too well they would be discussing the same resolutions as well as the same results year after year. We can imagine it because when it comes to New Year’s resolutions, that’s the sort of thing so many of us in real life do too.

We resolve to lose the same 15 pounds or eat less of the same junk. We resolve to spend more time on our personal interests or travel more as if by the stroke of midnight on Jan 1st, we can suddenly invent more hours in the day or money in the bank. We tell ourselves it didn’t work last year, but it would this time because this year was different – we were different.

It’s not entirely a lie either. We ARE different. However, the difference usually comes down to one thing – we are older. The rest is pretty much the same. Thus ensuring that the next time the end of the year comes around we will find ourselves in the exact same place we are at its beginning.

Which brings me to my point. In order to truly be anything other than simply an older version of ourselves, we have to be willing to make a significant change at least once in our lifetimes.

I’m not talking about a change in hairstyle or taking a new route to the job. Something significant. Something that challenges what you’ve done before and what you think you know. Something that involves a risk and is guaranteed to make an impact.

Whether that impact will prove to be good or bad, only time will tell, but one thing is certain – you will not just be older after trying, you’ll be wiser too.

To that end, I’m making a few changes of my own this year.

For example, this year, I am inviting other to occasionally add their stories to this site and have added a page under my About menu detailing my instructions for those interested in participating as guest writers. It is my way of saying thanks to those who have similarly helped me by way of paying it forward.

If you have a story in you about a risk taken, a new venture, or an event that set you on the path you find yourself on today, I would encourage you to reach out in the coming weeks.

Because big changes aren’t as scary when we resolve to make them together.

So here’s to trying new things as well as a happy new year.