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Chihuly

No, I didn’t sneeze. Dale Chihuly is a world-renowned glass artist and there’s an installation of his works at the Dallas Arboretum. (Just extended through 12/31, I hear, so there’s still time to see it.) I moseyed down there one evening with Samantha and Laura.
That red fan is a church choir thing. Alto 1's (aka Hot Wings) present!
We had a grand time roaming the grounds admiring the glass. We arrived just before dusk, in time to get a good look at things like this:
Doesn't it look like a ginormous Christmas present bow?In one of the sunken gardens...but it would look lovely in my backyard.

There’s just something magical about a boat filled with glass bubbles…

Then as darkness fell, some pieces really came into their own:

It's called the Texas Star.A close up view of all that beautiful glass.In the fern dell with the mist rising.
It was a fabulous evening of fabulous art in a fabulous setting. I highly recommend it! You’ll need a reservation for a night-time ramble, but it’s worth planning ahead a little. They’re open select evenings from 6-9 and it takes every minute of that to see everything. Well, it does if you putter and stop to take photos every few feet.
Here’s a link to the arboretum’s site: http://www.dallasarboretum.org/

P.S. As we are an area known for wind and hailstorms (though thankfully nothing as violent as the recent devastation of Sandy), one might wonder as to the practicality of leaving a bunch of glass outside. Apparently pieces do occasionally break and when they do, one of Chihuly’s talented minions comes in to fix it. Just thought you’d like to know!

Technical Difficulties

Sorry to have left you hanging, but I’m currently experiencing some technical difficulties. Hopefully we’ll be back up and running soon. Til then, keep having adventures–and please, if you’re registered, go out and vote!

Below is Kerri’s report on her great oatmeal adventure earlier this year. It’s spurtlicious!

Kerri with Bob. Yes, THAT Bob.


You may remember me from reading about the fun and exciting time Susan and I had preparing for the Spar for the Spurtle Contest we both entered back in July. If not for Susan’s keen eye and wonderful way of bringing her friends along into cool new ventures, I would not have known or cared about the Spar for the Spurtle.

We prepared like mad women to be sure we had just the right recipe and flavors to win, even holding taste-tests at our office. Finally, we made videos for our entries at Susan’s house and our precious friend Richard filmed and edited them to greatness. (He’s brilliant, by the way). Here’s Susan’s:

And mine:

Although I felt I had no chance against Susan’s amazing video and recipe, I was thrilled to receive a call from Matt at Bob’s Red Mill, the host of the contest who told me that I had been selected as one of 3 winners to go to all expenses paid to Portland for the national live cook-off at Bob’s. I nearly fainted. But off I went, recipe and all cooking gear in tow. The morning of the contest came early and started with a 2 hour tour of the Bob’s Red Mill plant.

It was amazing. You could eat off the floors in that place. They go to great lengths to preserve the integrity of the Gluten-Free grains and to only sell the best of the best from local farmers. Very impressive. Bob himself led our tour and we felt like royalty as we had our pictures taken and had lunch in the beautiful courtyard of the Bob’s Store where the cook-off was held.

Spurtle contestants

Ready, set, spar


When it came time to start the contest, we were first led in great pomp and circumstance through every aisle of the store marching behind a darling girl bagpiper, then the head of the Oregon Scottish Consulate addressed us to discuss his experience with what they call “porridge”, we call “oatmeal”. The judges were introduced and before we knew it, we were underway! 40 minutes to prepare, plate, and serve our recipes.

I delivered my plates first with my recipe “Raspberry Oatmeal Dumplings”—boy, was I nervous. Then the terrific gal to my right (she’s on my left, your right in the photo above), who had made “Apricot Oatmeal Pot stickers”. Both of our dishes were sweet, but the last gal to go had made a savory dish, “Italian Pinhead Torta”. The judges tasted, then stepped out of the room to decide who should win.

Drumroll please…….it wasn’t me. I was sad. I really thought I had it, but the judges had been given a specific task to choose the recipe which was the most likely to win the International Porridge Making contest in Scotland. They chose the Torta recipe as it put the oats (called pinheads) at the forefront and as the starring ingredient.

Italian Pinhead Torta


Surely they chose rightly, judging by the results of the International competition. Yep— on Saturday, Oct. 6th, Laurie won the specialty division with her Torta recipe in Scotland, and brought the trophy back to the US for Bob’s Red Mill.

I was happy for her (really!) and for all the good folks at Bob’s. They are a wonderful bunch of people, with terrific hearts and completely engaged in their mission. I highly recommend red Mill products to everyone as they are simply the best! I have seen it firsthand, and am a true believer. They are worth every penny. If you want to learn more or see this crazy Scottish contest for yourself, click here: http://www.goldenspurtle.com/

Now…to get started on next year’s winning recipe….

Chocolate Conference

Don’t those words just make you smile? A whole conference dedicated to chocolate. I know. It was awesome.

Held in the mildly fabulous Addison Conference Center (that would be in Addison, Texas) it was a chocoholic’s dream. Table after table of truffles, toffee, molded chocolates, “enrobed” chocolates (that would be chocolates that have gone through a chocolate shower, not chocolates wearing bathrobes and bunny slippers), even cocoa beans and cocoa butter.

I tried to take photos but only had my phone, and with my hands full of chocolate and all, they didn’t turn out. Let your imagination run wild.

I tried chocolates with blue cheese in them and chocolates infused with chicory and molasses (from Dude, Sweet Chocolate). There were chocolates with bacon and chocolates with lime centers (Chocolate Secrets). I had what just may have been the best brownies of my entire life (Oh Brownie), amazing homemade marshmallows dipped in dark chocolate from Elegantly Chocolate, a delicious taste from Toffee Treats, and the rest all kind of merged together in a chocolate-induced haze.

I also met some fascinating people who turned their passion for chocolate into a business. I’ll introduce some of them in the coming days. (They’re fun, you’re going to like them.) I was amazed at the number of locals who offer chocolate delicacies, many of them with day jobs who do this on the side. As Sandra Boynton’s classic work tells us, chocolate really is a consuming passion.

Chocolate: The Consuming Passion

A much-thumbed volume in my personal library

Until next time, have a lovely piece of chocolate. Unless, of course, you’re one of those odd people who doesn’t like chocolate. In which case, I’m so sorry. Perhaps some day they’ll come up with a medication for that. The rest of you, make note: the Chocolate Conference & Festival is an annual affair. See you there next year?

Random Musings

When you see the muscular men (they’re usually men) in dark suits and sunglasses surrounding the President talking into their sleeves, it’s not much of a secret that they’re Secret Service, is it? Sometimes they actually identify themselves as “Secret Service”. So what’s the big secret?

Maybe I’ve been watching too much Warehouse 13; they tell everyone they’re Secret Service but that could be to avoid telling their other secrets.

Hey, Dallas-area peeps: check this out!

Seriously, a chocolate festival? I’ll be the one with a glazed look in my eyes, licking my fingers as I roam the aisles.

Bob’s Red Mill Cinnamon Raisin Granola tastes like oatmeal raisin cookies. I may never bake cookies again. (Wait, who am I kidding?)

Did you ever stop to think and forget to start again? Yeah. It’s Friday. And multi-tasking is of the devil. (Which might help explain this post.) But at least I didn’t set my workplace on fire today, unlike my friend Carol. On the other hand, I didn’t get to chit-chat with cute firemen, either. Oh well!

Have a great weekend!

Stacking Altos

The choir loft in my church has sections on each side we call the “wings”. Since the first altos sit in one of those wings, we’ve dubbed ourselves the “Hot Wings.” This may either be taken as a symbol of our general, um, hotness, or the fact that many of us suffer from hot flashes. We like to leave that open for interpretation. (The first sopranos sit in the other wing; I have no idea what code name is.)

Anyway, being of a sociable nature, the Hot Wings like to get together. Last Sunday, we had a little after-church luncheon for something called a “Japanese Stack.” We signed up to bring various ingredients and were all wildly curious as to how they would go together.
Ingredients
Once we arrived at Laura’s house all was revealed. You arrange all the ingredients in individual bowls, then send people through the line buffet-style. (That’s pronounced “boo-fay” if you’re Hyacinth Bucket.) Start with rice, then add chicken, then stack whatever you like on top.
stack in progress
End by pouring gravy over everything.
gravy

pouring gravy

The all-important pour


Everyone’s plate comes out a little different, but all delicious. We ended with a variety of desserts,
desserts

We like variety in our desserts.


including Japanese green tea chocolates brought back from Japan by one of our own Hot Wings.
green tea chocolates

Tasty in an odd sort of way.

And a good time was had by all!
Table full of altos

Not all, just all at my table.


In case you’d like to do some stacking of your own, here’s the recipe!

Japanese Stack
Ingredients
• Cooked Chicken Breasts, shredded—about 1 breast per person (then add a couple extra)*
• Cooked Rice (white or brown) about a cup per person
• Unsweetened Coconut, shredded 1 C
• Toasted sliced Almonds, about 1 1/2 C
• 1 cup diced tomatoes
• 2 bunches chopped green onions
• 1 cup chopped green pepper
• 1 1/2 cups chopped celery
• 1 large can crushed pineapple (about 14 oz)
• Can/pkg of chinese noodles. (Ramen noodles, soba noodles, you choose)
• Shredded cheddar cheese, 8 oz.
• 32 oz chicken broth
• 2 cans condensed cream of chicken soup

MAKE GRAVY: Pour ¼ cup chicken broth in a container; add the rest to a pan with both cans of condensed cream of chicken soup. Heat to boiling. Dissolve 3 heaping tablespoons of cornstarch in the reserved chicken broth and stir, then add to boiling broth/soup mixture. Stir until thickened.

SERVE: Place all ingredients into individual bowls with rice at one end and gravy at the other. Guests “stack” their own plate starting with rice and chicken, then adding the additional ingredients of their choice, ending with gravy.

Everything except the gravy can be done ahead of time and then it is easy to set out for your guests.

This amount served 16 altos with plenty for several second helpings.

*Our chicken was cooked in a crock pot with some Italian dressing; it was really moist.

Toaster Tops

No, not toppings for your toast. Tops for your toaster. And therein lies a story . . .

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One day Julie Condy saw her husband spraying down the kitchen counter with cleaner. He must have gotten a little carried away with the spraying part because the toaster was sitting on the counter and some of the spray went down inside the toaster slots. “Right after that,” Julie says, “I was getting ready to make some toast and thought that’s really gross.” (And, when you think about it, it is.)

 So Julie started looking for some kind of topper for her toaster. She didn’t want one of those granny fabric cozies; she was hoping for something a little more modern. But there didn’t seem to be anything out there . . . so Julie decided to make her own. She applied for a patent, found a manufacturer, and started making Toaster Tops.

Don’t you love that kind of attitude? How often have you had a great idea but let it die on the vine? I spoke to Julie the other day about her Toaster Top adventure and asked about her biggest challenge getting her concept off the ground. “The hardest thing at first was to find the right manufacturer for the plates,” she told me. “Because it was a new idea and obviously I wasn’t going to buy a lot to start with it was hard to get anybody to even return the phone call.” But she persevered and “now I have one I’m really happy with; they’re actually here in Garland.” Garland, Texas, that is, home to the Toaster Tops empire, which is currently taking over Julie’s house. “The whole dining room has been converted. We have a sign that says ‘Toaster Top Studio’ because it has tables all around with shelves and the garage and now the office…”

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Not only are Toaster Tops functional, they’re adorable. Here’s the fun thing: the top itself is a metal plate that comes in various sizes so you can find one that fits your toaster. That part isn’t so adorable, but the knobs…they’re cute as all get out. They’re interchangeable, too, so you buy one plate then you can change out the knobs according to season, occasion, or mood. You get kitchen décor that doesn’t take up any extra space on your counter. Christmas shopping, anyone?

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Now, I think the product is great but even more than that, I love hearing stories about people who saw a need and decided to fill it. Especially when they’re practically neighbors.

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“It’s sort of a family affair,” Julie said. “My husband and I have a 10-year-old and a 12-year-old; they have been living and breathing this the whole time with us. Now my daughter is coming up with a whole line of clothing and starting her own business. It’s been great to see them getting so involved and learning so much from it.”  The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in Texas!

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 Quick Q&A w/Julie

How many toasters do you own? Nine.

Do you eat a lot of toast? I just went gluten-free so I’m trying to find gluten-free toast.

What’s next? We’re planning to open up a retail store then also sell toasters and wine stoppers—fun gift ideas.

Any plans to branch out into other appliances? We have so much we can do with the toasters right now.  We’re going to keep trying to make that work really well, then we’ll look at different areas. Maybe more decorative knobs, maybe get into wine stoppers. There are so many exciting things!

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You can see the whole line and order a Toaster Top or two at http://www.shop.toastertops.com/main.sc

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Keeping it legal: this is not a sponsored post, but after we spoke, Julie did send me a sample Toaster Top. The little cat knob looks just like my Henry, right down to the slightly worried expression. Love. Guess I’ll have to break down and replace my dead toaster now.