Archive for January, 2015

Football, Commercials, and Food…Oh My

FootballI’m not gonna lie; I’m not really excited to watch football on Sunday.  I know it’s the big game, but there’s not a team that I typically go out of my way to cheer for, so I’m not that into it.  But, like millions of others, I’ll still be glued to my TV.  Why?  Well for the commercials, of course.

Truth be told the commercials and the food are my favorite part of Super Bowl Sunday.  I mean, honestly, how many other sporting events do you watch where people run to the restroom during the game so they can make it back to watch the commercials?    One of my favorites is from a couple of years ago about the cowboys who herd cats.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve watched and forwarded that commercial; it reminds me of raising children.

Budweiser has to be the master of Super Bowl commercials.  Many of them are touching, and have caused even the toughest in the room to sit in silence after it’s done.  Especially the one that aired after 9/11 when all the horses paused and put their heads down in view of the Statue of Liberty; that was powerful stuff.  But one of the funniest they had was the donkey who wanted to pull the wagon.  I still laugh every time I see it.

And of course there’s the food.  Ah, the food.  It’s kind of like a holiday from sensible eating.  One of my favorites (definitely on the spicy side) is jalapeño cheese dip served with a toasted baguette. Oh, my.  I got the original recipe from my niece and tweaked it a bit over the years.  It’s always a hit and people often want the recipe.  It’s cheesy, spicy, and served on bread, how can you go wrong?

I guess I’ll cheer for Seattle, but I’m really there for the commercials and food.  Don’t let me down, Budweiser.  Let the grazing begin!

Jalapeño Cheese Dip

2-8 oz packages of cream cheese (softened)

½ C mayo

½ C sour cream

2 C shredded colby-jack cheese

2-4 oz chopped jalapeños

Shake of onion powder

Shake of garlic powder

Shake of red pepper flakes

Cayenne pepper to taste (about ¼-½ tsp)

With an electric mixer beat the cream cheese until all the lumps are out.  Add the remaining ingredients except the co-jack and beat well.  Stir in the cheese until it’s completely mixed and scoop into a greased pie dish.  Bake at 350° for about 40 minutes or until the top is just starting to brown.

While it’s baking, slice a baguette diagonally as thin as you can without tearing the bread.  Spray a baking sheet with no-stick spray (or mist with olive oil) and place bread in a single layer on the sheet.  Drizzle/mist with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.  Bake at 350° until it’s toasted.

 

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Those Other Three Words

Sliders(Previously posted)

So the Hub and I got invited to a Super Bowl party this year and I’m so excited.  Now, it’s not like we’re trolls who never get invited to parties, but this invitation came with three of my favorite words, “Pot Luck Supper.”  Oh…my…gosh, POT LUCK!

Before you nominate me for geek hall of fame, let me just tell you a few things.  First, I was raised on a farm; daughter of a couple of farm kids.  We came from up north where pot lucks and hot dish were as common as snow in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  And I’m Lutheran.  Seriously, it’s like pot lucks were woven into my DNA before birth.  I never stood a chance.

The Hub doesn’t share in my enthusiasm.  He does enjoy cooking, but if it were up to him we’d just stop at the convenience store and grab some chips and salsa on the way there and call it a day.  Not me.  As soon as the invitation is received I’m consulting cook books, checking my computer’s recipe folder, and perusing my old-timey recipe box for just the right dish.  It’s not just willy nilly.  There has to be some thought to my dish.  Who’s the crowd?  What else do I think will be there?  Main dish, dessert, or appetizer?  See, it’s a lot to deal with.

I finally settled on a dish that’s one of my favorites.  It’s kind of an amalgamation of a couple recipes I like, cocktail meatballs crossed with sliders and sloppy joes.  I call it Sweet and Sour Sliders.  I’ve made it a few times with great success.  I’ll pass along the recipe, just in case you need to add a secret weapon to your collection.  Then when you get to hear those three little words, “Pot Luck Supper,” or “Dish to Share,” or even “App to Pass” you’ll be ready.  Eat lots and talk loud, my fearless football friends!

Sweet and Sour Sliders

3 pounds ground beef

1 egg, beaten

½ C fine bread crumbs

1 T garlic powder

1 T onion powder

Salt and pepper to taste

 

In a large bowl mix the ingredients, adding salt and pepper to taste, until combined.  Divide meat into 24 balls.  Put the meatballs on a half sheet pan and flatten gently.  Bake at 350° for about 25 minutes or until they’re as done as you prefer.

 

While burgers are cooking, mix:

1 C ketchup

2 T sugar

1 T vinegar

1 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

1 T mustard

1 onion sliced very thin

1 green pepper sliced very thin (optional)

Remove burgers from the oven and place in a large Crockpot.  Pour the sauce and onions (green pepper if you’re using) over the top and cover.  Heat on low for several hours before serving on Hawaiian dinner rolls.

When A Writing Gig Falls Through

Train WheelSometimes things just don’t go the way we want them to.  I know, not a shocking revelation.  After participating and succeeding in National Novel Writing Month in November, I started to get a little cocky about having my novel’s rough draft down.  Well, heck, it is a pretty big accomplishment; I think I deserved a little time to bask in the moment.

And then an interviewee pulled out of a huge assignment I was writing about him.  Ouch.  That one hit me right in the wallet.  I had been poking around in the research and talking to the guy for a couple of weeks.  I was already imagining where the paycheck was going.  And with one brief phone call it was gone.  Poof.

With that extra time on my hands I began to flounder.  I absolutely work better under pressure, and now there was no deadline looming.  There weren’t even any real assignments.  Uh oh.  I tried to do some research on a few ideas, but then the usual distractions of the internet would lure me away.  Damn you, Pinterest.  Facebook, why can’t you just let me work?  Ugh.

Suddenly, during a routine distraction of blog reading, serendipity struck.  The writer was talking about using scene cards to put down and organize your thoughts to aid in writing a book.  I’ve had a nonfiction book about my friend that I have been trying to write for a couple of years.  I know I’ll need to use some serious kid-gloves to deal with the subject matter, so I just keep pushing it down further into the “someday” pile.  This blogger’s technique could finally be the way to make this work.  I felt re-focused.

I began to delve into the next steps of my book, determined to make something out of November’s “shitty first draft”.  And that’s when it happened; the phone rang.  Yep, just like that I had another big assignment to replace the one that got away.  And the research I started on the original gig?  I’m recycling it for at least a small piece or two that I can sell.

I guess life is funny that way.  When you think your ship has sailed, and try to move on, a new train of opportunity pulls into the station.  The lesson I learned?  Sometimes you just have to do a little down-time and start making a new plan.  Surely something will come along to derail it.

Write Good Characters

CharacterEver been stuck trying to come up with a good character?  I’ve recently discovered that I write the best stories when I have a very clear idea of my characters.  For me it had to come down to more than whether they are good or bad, I need to feel like I know them.  Know what I mean?  I’ve also found that it has greatly reduced incidents of writer’s block, and that’s always a bonus.

When I sat down to start writing my last book for National Novel Writing Month, I had a pretty good mental outline of what was going to happen…mostly.  So I started thinking about the “who” of the story, and made some notes on my main characters.  Since I knew (roughly) what was going to happen and which people I wanted readers to cheer for, I assigned them names (more on name selection in a previous post) and began writing their history.

Now, when I say I write my characters’ history, I’m talking pretty detailed stuff.  I come up with their physical description, age, hobbies, maybe a nickname, their vehicle, what kind of dwelling they live in, and so on.  All of that information may not make it into the story, but it helps me to write them when I have such a vivid mental picture.

Still struggling to come up with a character?  Think about family members or people you work or associate with.  Just make sure if you base someone on a person you know, you change the character enough so as not to tick off the real person!  Most of us know someone who could be the start of a bad guy, a good guy, a trollop, etc.  If you can’t think of anyone you know, go out to a mall and people watch.  You could come up with all kinds of things about people from pure observation.  Just unleash your writer’s imagination!

Years ago I joined a manuscript club in northern Minnesota.  One of the members (an 80+ year-old woman whom I still consider a dear friend) surprised me when she told me her secret about writing characters.  She told me she took great joy in writing evil characters based on people who somehow wronged her in real life, and then extracted her revenge by killing them in her story.  Now that is advice worth passing on.

3 Tips for Reaching Goals

Use Your BrainWell here it is, a new year.  Kind of exciting, don’t you think?  It’s like a clean slate, just waiting to be written all over and packed full of great ideas.  What?  You don’t see that?  I never saw that before, either, but I’m seeing it this year.  Vividly.

Having finished the shitty first draft of a book, I’m now energized to get a second draft and editing done.  I had four readers along on my crazy thirty-day journey writing the book, and all of them said the same thing at the end, “Didn’t see that ending coming!” and “There’ll be a sequel, right?”  Sequel…huh, hadn’t thought about that.  But now I am.  In fact, two of them.  Except, how will I get that done on top of working, freelance writing gigs, and family obligations?  By having very detailed goals.

I’ve mentioned in past posts that it drives me crazy when people say they don’t have time to do things that they really want to do.  Well, if they really want to do it, they’ll find a way to do it.  If it’s not that important, they’ll find an excuse not to.  Yes, most of the time it is that simple.  Which brings me to my first tip on achieving goals:  find the time.

Everyone has the same 168 hours in the week.  On a 24-hour calendar, start by blocking out the time you spend sleeping, commuting, and working.  Next block out the time you spend on family obligations that are necessary.  And when I say necessary, that is your interpretation.  If that is sports events/practices, family meals, whatever, it’s up to you to decide and block them out.  Now block out time for yourself—exercise, meals, even personal quiet time, whatever you need to keep you balanced and focused.  Then, take a highlighter and block out all the remaining time on your calendar.  What have you been doing– television?  Internet?  On the phone?  These are the hours you have to accomplish your goals.

The next tip is to write out specific goals you have for the next year.  Don’t just say you want to lose weight or make more money.  How much weight?  How much more money?  Write down these goals as headers of a column and assign a date to each one.  Next write out the smaller steps necessary underneath each big goal, giving you a series of smaller (and more palatable!) goals to accomplish.  Give each of them a date as well.  For example, if you want to sew a quilt in the next year, your list might look like this:

Research patterns and make selection  1/15/15

Select/purchase fabrics                            1/17/15

Cut out pieces                                             1/31/15

Sew two blocks/month                             7/31/15

Assemble the quilt top                             8/31/15

Sew all pieces together and tie               9/30/15

Now, we know all things don’t work as we planned.  So make sure to leave yourself time to assess your progress along the way and make adjustments as needed.  Better to extend a date and reach your end goal than to scrap it all together.  (Scrap it, sorry, couldn’t resist a quilting pun!)  By having your calendar, you’ll be able to see where you can block out that time to work on your goals.

And my final tip is to keep the list where you’ll see them and share them with others.  Whether you’re looking for encouragement or need someone to hold your feet to the fire, people can’t help you if they don’t know what you’re doing.  Keep the list visible so you see it multiple times a day.  And if you fall off that horse for a day, week, month, whatever, just climb back on.  Better late than never!