A fashion turnabout…what men really think of those boots

In between books I’m taking a completely unnecessary and full-on break of slovenly proportions to write this piece on boots. Well, it started with boots but quickly digressed into a full-on relevatory experience about thighs, ankles and what makes a woman attractive.

As the caveat, I will say I was so disturbed by this conversation which I had with my husband, I had to validate it with other men. Acquaintances, friends, you name it–short of the man at the grocery store. Well, actually I did that too, but it was Home Depot. Does that count?

It started like this. Over the summer, I start planting the seeds about buying new boots (you see, I must do this so I can later justify that I’d brought up the notion that I “need” new boots. When one has a closet full of boots, one must start early). I invariably point out that the boots are too pointy, too straight, too high, low, old, hurt my feet, out of style. Whatever. What really happened is that in July I saw the fashions in Europe where styles always precede the US by about 6 months. Thus, I’m all about fringe boots at the ankle height but also love the over-the-knee look.

Skip forward to September. The boots are out in full force (I didn’t buy any in Europe. That’s another story about a fight we had on the streets of St. Moritz, which I’ll save for the right time) and so I am on the scout. I start dropping hints that get less and less subtle, hoping he’ll pick me up a pair. You see, when he goes shopping, he always does a better job than me. He’s very metro that way.

Days, weeks go by, and he’s avoiding the task. Always some excuse. Subtle goes out the window. I show him pictures. I use my index finger to point out items in the window. Nothing works. October comes and goes and now we are at the tail end of November. The leaves have fallen, the temperature has dropped along with the first snowflakes and I’m irritated I am still lacking some new boots and worried I’ll miss out. Finally, I call him out.

“What is up with you and no boots?” He shakes his head, grimaces like he recognizes the sound of an inevitable fight and says this:

“The ones you want are so ugly!” I start to dispute this of course, because I like my taste. Then he pours a vat a salt in my wound by adding: “Knee high boots and over the knee boots make a woman look fat–even skinny women.” My mouth falls open, because in 18 years, I swear I have never heard this from him before. He continues to rapid-fire all the reasons why women of any size, shape or sense of style should avoid boots over the calf like the plague.

“It cuts a woman’s legs in two,” he explains. “It doesn’t matter if it’s in a skirt, which you want to see the leg by definition, or in jeans, which is worse because women tuck their pants in and then bulges come out.” I protest that a thin leg or even a woman with a pear-shaped curve can wear boots well.” Rog simply shakes his head. “No. It’s not good. Ever. Ask any guy that’s straight.”

Ok, I tell myself. I will, so I do. I ask church-going men, those in grocery stores when we are stuck in line, my dad. Sure enough, the comments start.

“I prefer low cut,” says one. “I can see the calve that way.”

A gym rat says: “Mid calf is as high as I like. Most calves bulge out and are gross.”

A professional in a suit offers: “Heels are the best. No boots at all.”

Lurking from under a cowboy had, a man at the local grange intones: “Unless it’s under jeans or in the mud, I don’t like boots on a girl. Too manly.”

And so it went on. What about over the knee? Isn’t that sexy?

“Not to me,” said a mid-twenties wearing skinny jeans and a leather jacket, the type I imagined at a dance club on a Saturday night. “A short skirt and low ankled boots. The kind with fringe, you know what I’m talking about?”

Uh, yeah, I do.

I decide it’s too early to tell Rog he’s right. I don’t want that vibe as I’m eating my turkey dinner. I’ll save that piece of information and pull it out just before I’m ready to go shopping for much needed calve-baring, ankle concealing, form-fitting leather shoes with a slight heal. I suggest you do that same. We’ll have a legion of women on black Friday descending on the stores with a singular mission, since now of course, we know what men really think of our boots!

Grandpa Ken & Making a dramatic life change

It’s been a year since we moved to Idaho and the question of “Why did you move there?” has gotten old. Decrepit, like zombie stretching it’s moldy hand from the Earth old.

I’m all for curiosity, but when I start to answer the question, I lose the person shortly after The. Rog and I have discussed how we are perplexed, then pissy and now inwardly roll our eyes at the question because no one really wants to know. What they are saying, without saying, is “You two have gone crazy. You’ve given up convenience, good food, a great house and traded it all in for land, lakes and skiing?”

Shake your head with me. Who are the crazy ones?

But let’s back up and let me give you the backstory. It started with a wisened old grape-of a man I’ll call Ken. He married young, graduated college and proceeded to have a family of seven kids, typical of a couple now in their late sixties/early seventies. He went military while she stayed home. They both served in their church as he started and grew two profitable businesses. Over time, they were able to build an understated six bedroom home on three acres next to a creek.

We met Ken and his wife while their youngest daughter, Janaye, was fourteen and in high school. She became our first and only babysitter, during which time we had hours to observe her actions, attitudes and behaviors. Certain circumstances allowed us to get to know her parents better and years later, our eldest daughter was a flower girl in Janaye’s wedding.

Grandpa Ken, as he’d come to be known, adopted us as his children. Grandma Shari was my mom away from home, so this was awesome for us as a couple and our kids. Grandpa Ken, although not of my husband’s background, faith or profession, always held the easy, relaxed and non-intrusive countenance of a man who had nothing to prove to anyone but God. He retired early, set about puttering in the garage, fixing up an old car for about six months before he got bored. He went back to work, this time, not starting a new company, but at a mortuary.

A mortuary.

Think about that for a minute, because Rog and I sure did. In fact, we did more than think. We pondered. We wondered. We worried. Was he crazy? He sure didn’t seem crazy. In fact, they were the most sane people we knew. Yet Shari said it best.

“Ken wasn’t made to sit on this Earth and do nothing.” Helping others during their time of pain and crisis as a funeral director kept him busy, employed his organizational skills and ability to interact with people of all backgrounds, religions and cultures. In his spare time, he continued to invent new products, in his garage and on the weekends.

As witnesses to Ken’s decisions, we admired his work ethic and humility. We also applauded Shari’s attitude towards her husband’s career. She didn’t care a thing for title or position or the size of his office (which was good, because a funeral director has no real office). She simply wanted him to be happy and busy. How many men can boast a woman who, after having the trappings of a CEO husband, would so easily accept a change in status?

The move

It’s about this part in the story that we’ve seriously lost our listeners, which is a shame, because this is the most important part. As Ken told Roger one day, he and Shari had a plan, one they created when in their early twenties. Get a job, have a family, build a house, send kids to college, sell house, downsize. The end. When Janaye was in college, they got serious about selling their custom, seven bedroom home on three acres. We watched as they put their home up for sale, sold it within a month and moved into a two bedroom, one-bath home that is maybe 1,000 square feet. Gone were the double Subzero refridgerators and four ovens, marble countertops and dual bathrooms. Enter a four-burner stove and as Shari say’s “Grandma drapes.”

“We are following the plan,” Ken told Roger. It wasn’t about ego or square footage, just as it hadn’t been about title or office size. “It’s about freedom of mind and worries. The ability to travel and live without the overhead.”

This had a transformative effect on Rog and me. In our thirties and early forties, it was all about growing, building buying. When Ken talked about overhead, we knew exactly what he was referring to. The maintenance, management, worry and general costs associated with what we had. Rog and I looked at one another and asked a very simple question:

Do we want to wait another 20 years to have the kind of freedom Ken was talking about? The answer was no. That week, Rog started looking around at places to buy in parts of the country where we could dramatically downside while still having a nice standard of living. (Oh, and was close to civilization). After looking at many states and locations, he found Northern Idaho (which is radically different from Southern Idaho- think Boise or Twin Falls). We found a house on Monday, made the offer Wednesday and closed Friday. The following week, we started moving the few things over we were taking (we were like Moses. We left everything behind).

So here we are, a year later. Much smaller home but a lovely view of the lake. Far fewer restaurant choices but no traffic. Great academics, but no lacrosse. A Costco, but no Nordstrom (forget Saks or anything of the sort). At first, this bothered me, but then I realized, ‘It’s Northern Idaho. What does it matter anyway?”

Wisdom doesn’t help if you don’t act on it

Rog can’t have a conversation about moving without invoking Grandpa Ken’s name and philosophy, his gratitude oozing out of comments. He now has what we lacked when in our previous home with all the “luxuries of modern living,” all around us. We have peace of mind that comes with a safer area. We are also free of the major annoyances that we’d gotten used to because we couldn’t affect change: traffic, taxes, crazy rules that governed everything from Christmas lights to  trees and driveway rocks. Gone. All, long gone.

Was it hard, “giving it up?” Sure. For a while, I stopped cooking and gained weight (that’s what happens when you load up on hot chocolate and don’t exercise), but it was temporary. We’ve found ourselves more centered and yes, probably a bit more boring or sedate, but then, when most restaurants close about the time we were used to starting our evenings, it does put a damper on the social life.

The final questions is always this: Would you do it again? And our answer is an immediate, unwavering yes. I’d rather have a smaller home and live a less sexy part of the world for joy and contentment I feel every day, waking up to a lake, pine trees and no stress. I’m eternally thankful to Grandpa Ken for being the example to us, although he didn’t mean to be. I will also admit that the dramatic change, while temporary, had its brutal moments. But then again, what kind of great transformation didn’t cause a little bit of pain?

 

 

Save the drama. Back up your data

It’s not sexy. It’s safe. I’m talking storage, not condoms.

Three days ago, my main computer goes blue screen. Even non-techies know that this is the sign of immediate death. 13 hours later (that means Rog was working through the night, giving up at 6 am), the blue screen was still blue, but the data was transferring off onto a back-up drive. That process had taken hours (for he had to tap into who-knows-what). Only a former Microsoft guy with mad, Jedi-skills could even make this happen.

Still, the computer was dead, the culprit a bug in the Microsoft OS software. As Rog mutters to himself, red-eyed and hair sticking up like a slee-stack from Planet of the Apes, I divine the computer is going back to the manufacturer (thank you extended warranty). Me, on the other hand…I silently slip out of the room, retrieve my external hard drive and create a new folder backing up everything on my computer. I recall the time 2 yrs back when my entire system went blue, and unlike my desktop, was unable to EVER get the files back. In a panic, I contacted every editor, friend etc. for the files I might have sent.

New Year’s Resolution for sanity…

First of all, use the cloud for documents if you feel comfortable doing so. I use Dropbox–or rather, my clients and companies I work with use dropbox and I access the information. Personally, I’m ultra paranoid about hacking and never put a thing in the cloud that I’m going to regret, from pictures to documents. If others want to do that, fine. Just not me. (Think Sony, Facebook and just about every other system that’s been penetrated).

If you don’t know what a cloud  is, fuggetaboutit. Go for an external drive, either in small or large form. I have both- a USB for my word documents that are tiny files by comparison to pics. I use my drive for a complete transfer of my desktop folder. It’s solid state (no moving parts), safe and sits in my safe that is fire proof. It’s not real expensive either, but obviously more than a $10 USB stick.

I used to do make a full back up once a month, but now do USB backups once a week and only have a full backup if I’ve had major file changes.

For my sanity, it’s worth the time and effort. In my latest case, it was worth at least 12 hours of my husband’s life.

My new method of being:

  1. backup drive. once a week. for primary files, after every major upgrade or version
  2. in the cloud. for non-sensitive documents that if hacked, or not going to bring me down in a critical way
  3. outlook. I will send my other computer (desktop) a final file and archive it. because I’m now terribly paranoid, I send major files to my husband’s computer as well, stick it in my file folder and archive it.
  4. a USB. just to be ultra safe, I have a wonderfully happy Minion USB that I have my word files on. It’s tiny and portable, which is ideal only for my most critical documents, but I have it nonetheless.

Is this all redundant? Absolutely. And that’s the point. I will never, ever, be caught without my information again.

As a side note, an associate I work with on a frequent basis (he’s an attorney at a land development firm and is always calling me for language and ideas on creative land, manufacturing and investment partnership strategies), recently suffered from a complete technology breakdown. Apparently, the company was hacked, the IT critically compromised. All. Data. Gone. Was the info supposed to be in the cloud? Yes. Was it compromised (e.g. wiped out). Yes. All bad.

So, when it comes to having a backup, it truly is the same principle as sexual safety. One can never be too safe.

Halloween Treats- Gross Earwax Marshmellows (gluten free)

This is a great, gross, gluten-free idea that I found on Pinterest but decided to modify. In that version, a marshmallow was cut in a triangle and put on the end of a toothpick. I thought

img_8666

Bags of plastic bones

that was OK, but why not upgrade it? I went to the Halloween store (Spirit Halloween) and purchased two packages of small bones for $3.00 each. I then used my Ghiradelli chocolate used for melting and once I affixed the small marshmallows to either end of the bones, dipped them in chocolate.

Walla!

img_8669

bones with the marshmallows attached. You can see I basically pushed the marshmallows on the ends, which were helpfully curled. you have to be fast about this, because they start to harden, and you want the chocolate on before they turn crusty!

See the pictures. BTW- this also doubles as a game. The bones have two holes. String some fishing line in between and suddenly you h

img_8670

after dipping in chocolate.

ave a game that kids, or raucous adults can play–as in, eat the marshmallow off the line first without it falling to the ground. (I’d recommend you confiscating iphones before you do this however. It gets pretty silly).

 

Storage
Refrigerate (on parchment paper) because the chocolate will stick to a regular pan. Even then, be careful when you lift it off, because the chocolate/marshmallow may slide right off the bone. This happened probably 10% of the time so it wasn’t big deal.

Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Beyond that they taste stale.

 

Halloween Treats- Gruesome Ripped Ears

img_8697

after using the heart-shaped cookie cutter, take your edged knife (this is a pastry/fruit knife) and make a curl that will make the form for the inner ear. carry it all the way down

img_8691

The finished product

This is my other divinely gruesome treat. Ripped ears. It is made from the same dough that is in my recipe for Witchy Fingers. Since I’m sure you’d hate popping back and forth, I’m putting it below. This is far easier to create and form the ears–so once again, don’t be intimated. Let your inner spooky-self flow as you create these.

Requirements
Food coloring and a small paintbrush
If you have it, a heart-shaped cookie cut-out will make your life a LOT easier. If not, you can use a round one and modify it. OR, you can free form with a sharp, non-serrated edge knife.

Ingredients- Dough
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (bourbon or Madagascar are my preferred choices)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted/sweet butter (not unsalted. The taste is SO much better this way)- room temperature

img_8698

this is what it will look like after. make sure to take eat the center circle:)

1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar)
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
Pinch of salt (I tend to use Himalayan pink salt as it gives the recipe a pop), and when it says “pinch” I use my grinder, and that means 3 turns of the grinder
1 2/3 cups of all-purpose flour

 

Directions
Separate 1 egg. set aside the white in a bowl.

In a small bowl, which together the yolk, remaining egg and vanilla. Set aside.

img_8699

mold and shape the ear using your thumb and forefinger. Before this, I will typically pick it up and work it in my fingers for the basic shape, then put in on the Siplat cooky sheet and get it a little better.

In a large bowl (like a KitchenAid), use the padded attachment and combine the butter, powered sugar, granulated sugar and salt. Beat on medium speed until well combined. Add the egg mixture and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the flour, mixing on low speed until just incorporated (over mixing makes the end result hard).

Wrap the dough first in parchment paper if you have it, the plastic. If you have neither, an airtight Ziploc bag will work. Chill until firm, 20-30 minutes.

Making the ears

Divide the dough into two halves. Put one half back in the fridge to keep it cold.

Roll out to be @1 cm thick. If you are going to err, make them a bit thicker. If the dough is too thin, it will tear and you have to start all over (e.g. chill, roll out then form).

img_8700

using the end of the paintbrush (or a toothpick) create a hole to represent an earhole (so you can make it black or colored later)

Use the heart-shaped cookie cutter. Using a knife, make a basic ear (see the pictures). Lift one side out, then start to form the ear. The key technique here is to use the thumb and forefinger to create the ridges of the outter and inner ears. The bottom lob can be modified, but again, don’t make it too thin or it will rip and not hold its shape.

Tip: as with the witchy fingers, if you are going to ERR, do so on the side of overexaggeration. It’s better to have an ear that is thick and has form than one that’s too thin and doesn’t hold a shape.

Once this is done and the ear if formed, take the edge of a knife (I use a pastry end that has a ridge for texture) and make some ‘cut-lines’ in the inner ear–which is actually the ripped part.

Painting the ears is really the easy part. First, color the holes. This does nothing more than make it look ‘ear-like’ and gorey. The next painting is on the inner ear, the part that’s ripped. Play around with this. Brighter red makes the blood look fresh while darker blood (red mixed with some blue or green) gives it an older, burnt look.

The both taste great!

img_8701

food coloring in a little pie dish (I use these micro pie dishes that are only about 2 inches across) for convenience

Tip: wait for a few minutes before you brush on the egg white, and AVOID the painted parts, trying to get along the edges and in the depressed area.

Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes. You should underbake these little because you’d rather have them moist than dry. They hold for 3 days in an airtight container. After that, they simply don’t taste that great.

img_8704

painting the inner (ripped) ear

img_8705

sometimes, after baking, the ear will raise, and you will want to counter this by using the edge of a spook or whatever is handy an press down along the inner ridge. This will give the ear the best shape possible. It holds, so you only have to do this once.

 

 

 

Halloween treats- Witchy Fingers

One of my two, personal favorite bite-size treats. The other is the gruesome ripped ears. Both of these are divinely gross and absolutely delicious. They are also made from the same dough. The only difference is the witchy fingers are cooked longer while the ripped ears are slightly undercooked. I might also add that these take a bit of time (about an hour and a half) but are great to do with kids. They are also big attention getters, which I also like!

Promise- people get intimidated by the nails (the almonds) and creating the actual fingers. This is super easy. My motto is: if I can do it, so can you. I’ll give you step by step pictures on this. You can do it!

img_8673

Took a picture to show what “just incorporated means.”

Requirements
Food coloring. A box will give green, yellow, red and blue. You will use all but the yellow.
A knife, rolling pin, and small paintbrush (to color on the blood and moldy ear slice).
Parchment paper

Ingredients (first, the nails)
Food coloring – you will use this last
30 blanched almonds

Directions
In boiling pot of water, dump the almonds. You may want to do more than 30, just in case a few split.
After 1 minute (exactly) remove and strain. Immediately run cold water (from the tap) is fine. Only need to do this about one minute.
Dump on a paper towel. As you start to rub the almonds, the peels will come off. Not all though–perhaps not even half. Don’t worry. With your fingertips (thumb and forefinger) you can easily rub once or twice and the shell slips off.
Place the blanched almonds on the cookie sheet (this is where you will paint them once fully dry)
At this point, stop and make the cookie dough. The reason is you will need to refrigerate the cookie dough. As this happens (about 30-40 minutes or longer) you will paint return and paint the fingers.

Ingredients- Finger Dough
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (bourbon or Madagascar are my preferred choices)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted/sweet butter (not unsalted. The taste is SO much better this way)- room temperature
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar)
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
Pinch of salt (I tend to use Himalayan pink salt as it gives the recipe a pop), and when it says “pinch” I use my grinder, and that means 3 turns of the grinder
1 2/3 cups of all-purpose flour

Directions
Separate 1 egg. set aside the white in a bowl.

In a small bowl, which together the yolk, remaining egg and vanilla. Set aside.

In a large bowl (like a KitchenAid), use the padded attachment and combine the butter, powered sugar, granulated sugar and salt. Beat on medium speed until well combined. Add the egg mixture and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the flour, mixing on low speed until just incorporated (over mixing makes the end result hard).

Wrap the dough first in parchment paper if you have it, the plastic. If you have neither, an airtight Ziploc bag will work. Chill until firm, 20-30 minutes.

Tip: For rolling out, divide in half. The reason is simple. It takes time to roll, parse (or separate) the individual dough pieces for fingers. then you must roll, detail and place the finger. The remaining dough will get too soft, and become gooey. So take out only as much as you can reasonably use before it gets warm, which is about half.

At this point, place the dough in the fridge and paint the fingers.

Painting the fingers
place red, green and or blue food coloring in separate bowls. holding the almond between fingers, paint both sides. Tip: I use a rubber glove so I don’t stain my fingers. It takes several days to come off and I hate that. Then again, it is Halloween so who cares? Let stand until you are ready to roll out the dough and make the fingers.

img_8677

this is the dough, already rolled out, then cut and formed into a 2-2.5 inch piece

Making the fingers
This fun. Don’t be worried. Just put on some good chill music and go for it.

Take half the dough and place the other half back in the fridge. Roll it out to @1 cm thick. Using a cutting utensil (I use a pastry spatula), cut the pieces into a manageable size (e.g. about the length of half a real finger. It will elongate as you roll it out.

Roll the dough out into @a 3-inch piece. Then using your forefinger and third finger, depress a little, which will raise the middle (to create the middle knuckle). Adjust the end tip, to resemble the end of the finger. Adjust as necessary– e.g. raise the center, depress the in-between parts (as they will raise slightly during baking).

img_8683

depress the center. this makes the knuckles. 3 simple lines will do it

Take one of the almonds and wedge it within the end. Don’t place on top, as this will ensure it falls off after baking (I’ve done this before and ruined the whole batch). Make sure you have a bit of dough above, below and on all sides.

Take a knife or other untensil and create the ridges for the knuckle. Walla! you have created your finger.

Tip: Create the entire batch of the fingers and then brush lightly with the egg white. If you do this too soon, you will depress the ridges on the knuckles and it won’t look that realistic.

img_8684

now you are ready place the almond as the fingertip

Tip: Err on the side of exaggeration. In other words, if the ridges and length of the fingers aren’t pronounced enough, the finger will come out basically smooth. So if you are worried, its better to have a finger that’s super bony rather than one that looks flat and normal. You don’t want normal!

For cooking
Heat the over to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats (French non stick baking mats are my preference).

Using a non-stick brush, brush lightly with egg white.

img_8674

this is what it looks like before its cooked. you can add as much dough around the edge as you want. for fun, I sometimes go back and make them scraggly, but it tends to gross people out then they won’t eat them!

img_8675

This is a row PRE- covered with egg whites. I forgot to take a picture of that, but they slightly glisten when covered with the egg white

img_8690

this is a pic of just the green-tipped ones. This year I made red, green and then black.

For the presentation, my favorite way to display for eating is sticking out from within a cauldron. That way they are reaching out to you, saying EAT ME!

 

 

 

Halloween Treats- Mummy Milanos

Easy. Fast & delicious.

Requirements
Milano cookies (every grocery store has them). Tip: get the dark chocolate. Every stinking time I get the milk chocolate, the inside is crumbly and the milk chocolate tastes old. Clearly, people prefer the dark chocolate. It holds up better and is fresh. And yes, this is a IRK.
Milk chocolate especially made for melting. I use Ghiradelli. It is fresh, melts well and delicious.
A spoon or knife (to drizzle the chocolate)
Either chocolate icing (with a tip) that can be had for @$2.50 at most stores

Ingredients
1 package Milano cookies
1 package Ghiradelli white melting chocolate
1 container chocolate icing (or little chocolate speckles for the eyes)

Tip: do NOT use the gel icing sold in the stores. I used this and it doesn’t dry, even after four hours in the fridge. They smudged when I tried to layer them. Next time I went for the fast-dry icing.

Directions
Arrange the Milano cookies on a cookie sheet.

Melt the chocolate according to the directions. Short version is place the white chocolate in a microwave-proof bowl. Heat for 30 seconds. Every 30 seconds, stir. It will melt. By minute 2, it will be completely melted.

Immediately dip the end of your spoon or knife in the end and drizzle according to your desire. Before the chocolate dries, add the sprinkles. If you are using the icing, wait until the chocolate dries before applying.

 

Best Caramel Apple Dip

After many attempts to perfect this recipe, I’ve yet again mutated it into a dip that gets completely devoured at parties. The reason is it’s not “too caramelly,” which is a way of saying the caramel is overpower. Personally, I hate things that are overdone, which is what the original recipes is. This isn’t. It’s perfectly balanced between the caramel, cream cheese and marshmellow. For those people (e.g. men) who claim to hate cream cheese, they can’t even tell. As in, my husband Roger, hates the divine, bovine created product. Even he loves it. This recipe is a winner.

Requirements
A beater with a three-pronged paddle. The creamcheese need to be room temperature (softened, but not warmed in a microwave. I’ve done this and it curdles the product, ruining it).

Ingredients
1 package (8 oz) cream cheese. tip: on this, don’t go light. go full cream cheese. the consistency is much better and creamier
1/2 cup packed brown sugar (dark has richer flavor, but I prefer the light brown)
1/2 cup caramel- I hate the liquid, ice cream topping this calls for. Most versions have a horrid aftertaste. Go for the kind in a container. it’s very thick and can be found an most all grocery stores.
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup marshmallow crème
3 medium tart apples
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons water

Directions
In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese, brown sugar, caramel topping and vanilla until smooth. Fold in the marshmallow crème. Cut apples into vertical thin slices–I actually use my fun, holiday cookie cutters just to be different.

In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice and water. Toss the apples in the lemon juice mixture. Drain. (it prevents the apples from turning brown).

Tip for serving: you have a lot of fun options for making a simple dip look impressive. You can:

a) drizzle some caramel on the top
b) add nuts of any type to the top
c) put paprika on the top (don’t use Hungarian Paprika though. it’s too strong and will give a weird aftertaste whereas regular paprika won’t).

Lastly, on the color and flavor. If you want a darker look, simply add more caramel. This will enhance the flavor. Adjust to taste.

The billionaire’s secret weapon

Once, when I was giving a writers presentation to a group of high school students, I was asked by a teacher what process I follow for writing my books. “Is there one thing, or set of things you do prior to starting to write?”

“Yes, there is,” I responded. “I pray.” That was it, pure and simple. I didn’t even elaborate on what I pray for (which, btw, is clarity, the ability to write what’s in my head etc. and have it be congruent with my ideals and thoughts etc). You should have seen the look on this woman’s face. You would have thought I was advocating a new drug inhalation process for the illegal, not legal type. The irony of it all, was this was a parochial school, the place I where I actually felt safe giving this answer.

Over the years, the irony of the prayer-before-the-big-event thing has intrigued me. I’ve grown up with images of Madonna and her backup-dancers holding hands in a group prayer before a concert. Big football players kneel or bow their heads prior to kick-off, asking for health, strong hands and probably a win. Why then, I ask, is the big deal with saying a prayer (albeit silently) before a big meeting or when starting a sculpture or writing a book?

quote

slightly obvious. I actually prefer Roger’s quote, which he used for years with consultants (who wouldn’t shut up). “You can’t learn anything while you are talking.” I would have used that but I didn’t have the time to create a pretty picture with quotes.

I have long prayed when considering what clients to take on and which ones to pass.  I’ve said prayers before presentations in front of groups large and small, interviews with the press, before I’ve gone on television shows, prior to pitching the venture capitalists in Silicon Valley. In fact, pretty much any event of significance I’ve invoked my right to call above to the Almighty (or as Roger says: “whatever is out there in the Universe that’s listening”).

Ironically, I’ve been much more lax about praying on the personal front, but that too, is another story. It seems that when it comes to career, my red-phone bat line has been in constant use. It turns out, I’m not alone in this. Over the last two years, I’ve been interviewing 3 dozen hundred millionaires and billionaires that haven’t spoken to the press about their rise from poverty (nearly all) to a financially secure point in life. One of the common threads is faith (in self or God). Another thread is prayer. Even the few who claim atheism state they still say a prayer (to the universal energy that exists).

This call-to-arms as I’ve come to think of it, is a plea for all the thoughts, energy and desire built within to come to the forefront when it’s needed in exactly the right way, be it for that winning touchdown or the closing of the million dollar home sale.

Prayer circles aren’t as weird as they sound

Going back to the football scenario, where a bunch of men are on the field, eyes closed and heads bent—it’s a normal scene is it not? They are in a circle…a literal prayer circle. If this came up in casual conversation, can you even imagine the derision the topic would instill, not to mention the analogies to other sects, cults and who-knows-what off-shoots of beheading chickens and dancing around a bonfire.

Yet for athletes and Madonna, it’s done and accepted, business as usual. (I would, just once, love to have seen Ballmer hold out his hand at the executive round table, bow his head and say whatever prayer that man would have said –although I imagine it would have involved a strong desire for the stock price to go above 100 for a picosecond. Just once).

Going back to me and the writing process, or business for that matter, yes, I pray, but it is not done lightly or by rote. I won’t pray if I don’t feel worthy of an answer. Ergo, if I have a lesson to teach and I’ve not adequately prepared, I feel it’s morally wrong to ask some higher power to bail me out. Conversely, if I’ve done my part, studied, prepared my outline, readied the lesson and I still feel uncomfortable, then I know this means I’m missing something. A piece of the puzzle isn’t quite right in the grooves. It is then that I pray fervently to understand what direction I must go, what I must change and how I must communicate the message—assuming that my message is right in the first place. I can’t tell you how many times this very thing has happened, and when I’m on stage, I’ve had words, phrases or examples come to mind that I’d previously not thought of or considered, and it made all the difference in the world.

One billionaire, a seventy-ish man now retired and living in Colorado, used to be the president of one of the largest commercial real estate companies in the country. In his “retirement,” he still owns three different entities in different industries. When I asked him how he makes many of his decisions, he was unapologetic when he said he prays.

“Yes, I listen to my advisors and I read the numbers, but most of the time, hiring people and making big business decisions doesn’t rely on numbers or resumes,” he said. “Those can be manipulated and represented in ways that won’t tell you what will truly happen six months, a year or five years out.” For that, he relies on a higher power.

And this blog? Do I pray before writing a blog? No, not usually, and honestly, my level of seriousness regarding my blog writing (and Instagram and Facebook accounts) ebb and flow with my mood. Sometimes I simply like a picture that’s interesting, fun or humorous. I’ve noticed that when it comes to thoughts of making a person’s day brighter, uplifting myself (or others) in some way, then yes, I actually do say a prayer to understand what I should write or post. The reward is often immediate and strong, producing positive feedback or responses.

Even those who don’t believe in a universal God or super being, the notion of universal “Karma” is alive and well. In other words, what comes around goes around, so it’s better to be on the safe side than send out evil vibes. If this holds true, then one could argue that prayers can only help, and never hurt, so “What’s there to lose?” (As my husband often asks). “It’s not hurting anyone and can only help.”

Keep that in mind the next time you could use a little clarity, support, wisdom or overall confidence. It’s free, there’s nothing to lose, and it can only help. Those are three mantras I can live by.

Halloween Treats – Meringue Bones

A light weight, gluten-free party favorite for all ages is bones. I’m talking meringue bones. It’s simple, fast and impressive. Most important, it doesn’t require a fancy icing tip. As a backdrop, I’ve tried a number of recipes from major sites, and I hated all of them save one, and even that, I modified. The following has a basis in the recipe from fishieking on allrecipes. My first round, I didn’t totally like the consistency of the bones (too mushy both in the better and final outcome). I increased the amount of cream of tartar just a hair and it was perfect.

Tip: make sure the Cream of Tartar (its a spice, just in case you haven’t heard of it), is within the expiration date. The first batch was ruined, and I looked at the culprit, which turned out to be 6 months overdue on the expiration. The next batch made with a brand new bottle turned out normally.

Requirements
Egg beater, big Ziploc plastic bag, parchment paper to line the cookie sheet.

Ingredients
6 egg whites (room temperature)
3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 pinch salt
1 1/3 cups white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (I used bourbon or Madagascar vanilla. it makes a huge difference)

Directions
Preheat oven to 225 degrees F (110 degrees C). Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper (I prefer this to the tinfoil in the original recipe. it’s less sticky)

Beat the egg whites with cream of tartar and salt with an electronic mixer until egg whites are foamy. Gradually beat in sugar, a few tablespoons at a time, beating until the sugar dissolves in the meringue before adding more. Continue beating until the meringue is glossy and forms sharp peaks. Add the vanilla. At this point, the batter should be very gloppy (a technical term of course).

Spoon the batter into a Ziploc or pastry bag.

Tip: when I read this direction, I thought great. Reality is that I use a large KitchenAid mixer and couldn’t hold the bowl, and the Ziploc and spoon the stuff. I enlisted my husband, who held the bowl as I used a spatula to slide the batter into the bag.

Cut the end of the tip with a scissors.

Tip for formation of the bones.

Start at the upper left hand corner, draw down to the bottom of the V. Then go up to the right of the V. Quickly take the tip straight down for the long center. Then draw down for the lower left, then up to the base V then down to the lower right. Lift up the tip.

I made a few testers, which necessitated me changing the grip of my bag. It’s easy enough to push out, but half-way through, the bag will deflate and air bubbles will collect. To prevent this, stop, open the bag, squeeze out the air then resume.

img_8652

Meringue bones – gluten free party favorite

Key directions for cooking

Place the cookie sheets and bake for 1 hour. Do NOT open the oven door, not even to peek. I ignored this part of the directions (thinking it wouldn’t make a difference. It did. They flopped). So, lesson learned. Leave it shut for an additional hour. (seriously. do not skip this).

When removing the bones, slide off the parchment paper onto a rack. Wait until cooled, then place in an air tight container.

Tip for storage

The original recipe didn’t give any commentary on storage, but I read that they could be sealed, room temperature for several days. I made one batch on Tuesday, thinking they would be fine for Saturday. Well, I checked on Thursday, and they’d become really brittle. By Friday, they were falling apart at the touch, with the exception of a few of the thicker ones. That meant I ended up creating a new batch, which I served the following day.

Pictures show the formation and the outcome.

By the way- I had these on a “gluten free” table, but all the guests had them- adults and kids (about 50 total). They were the first to go!

Page 2 of 6012345...102030...Last »