Sunday, December 27, 2009

Happy Holidays!

It's been a long while since we've posted on the blog, so it's time to blow the dust off and start afresh. Here's an electronic holiday card photo montage that we just had done by Justin Hackworth:

Happy holidays!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Moonlight Confessional

They come to the mountain to commune with the moon. At the bottom, they stand in line, their jovial outbursts of laughter subsiding into solemn uncertainty as their turn nears. The attendant beckons them toward the ski lift and onto the platform, where they wait for the floating bench to scoop them from the earth and swoop them into the sky.

The attendant is efficient. She is chewing mint-flavored gum. There are a hundred or so in line. Their lunar offerings and confessions must be processed.

Scoop and swoop.

A ten-year-old and her parents step onto the platform. She is listening to an Ipod. Her parents are not.

Scoop and swoop

Love birds (newly engaged?) prance onto the platform. He has his arm around her.

Scoop and swoop.

Kendall pulls me up to the platform. I tell him I'm afraid of heights. He knows. So is he.

Scoop and swoop.

In the cellophane darkness, we can see the returning ski lift benches gliding past us, back toward the attendant and the hot chocolate behind us. We examine each returning sojourner. And we see them turn toward us, analyzing us. But we all remain silent, as if our words might bounce off the darkness and fall to the ground. Instead, shrouded in the chiaroscuro anonymity of midsummer moonlight, the passengers whisper to each other and to the moon.

Kendall and I, suspended high over the slope on our parallel perch, hear the their secrets and confessions.

Three blanket-cloaked figures, each one just larger than the next--like Russian nesting dolls. An understated "oops," followed by a soft thud on the mountainside. A shoe? A camera? A copy of Nabakov's Lolita?


On one end of a bench, a woman turns toward a man slumped in the opposite corner: "Is it a fear of the unknown?"


A young man: "There's so much I regret."


"It's not a fungus," followed by nervous giggling.


Forgiven and absolved, they slide off the benches and back to the earth, resuming their regularly-scheduled programming. They jingle their car keys, re-apply lip gloss, and smooth their hair. Iphones and Blackberrys emerge.

"Do you have any cash for the babysitter?" I ask Kendall. The moon, swollen to capacity, casts just enough light for Kendall to count the dollar bills in his pocket.

For our ninth wedding anniversary (!) Kendall and I forked over $20 to Robert Redford's minions at the Sundance Ski Resort to take a moonlight lift ride. I was apprehensive. The last time I rode a ski lift, I badly needed to use the bathroom, I was convinced that I would fall off the lift, and it was something like negative 57 degrees outside. (It never gets that cold in Utah? Fine. Make that negative 30 degrees.) This second ride was much more interesting, as you can tell by the things we overheard. The last moonlight rides take place on October 2nd and 3d, during the next full moon.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


The investment I made in a cake-decorating class almost four years ago finally came in handy when I helped my sister make a cake for her husband's surprise birthday party. My mom thinks I need a class in modesty. But what were we supposed to do? The Mattel-made bikini top with which she arrived, as classy as it was, didn't match.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

How to Travel With a Chimpanzee

I think I know what traveling with a chimpanzee would be like after taking Alex overseas. Unfortunately, tranquilizer injections for toddlers are not as readily available as they are for chimpanzees. Here are some photos from our last-minute three-ring-circus adventure in Europe.

Ring 1: Belgium

Behold Alex dancing in the middle of Brussels' main square. In pajamas. At three thirty in the afternoon:

Q: How do you coax a stubborn two-year old back to his stroller?

A: Offer him Belgian chocolate.

Ring 2: Germany

Where we stopped at every waterway and smelled every flower.

We visited what appeared to be Hamburg's greatest pride: the world's largest model train set, featuring replicas of several U.S. and European cities. Everything seemed quite accurate, except the miniature Bryce Canyon included a highway billboard advertising Planned Parenthood.

Ring 3: The Netherlands

Kendall and I, both embarrassingly afraid of heights, tested our phobia by taking Alex to the top of an old windmill. On the tiny platform at the top, Alex, who was suffering from time-zone-schizophrenia-induced madness, dropped to his hands and knees and spontaneously combusted into fits of meowing and purring, causing Kendall and me to reach wildly to toward the floor for his hand, afraid to abandon the security of the railings we so desperately grasped. We didn't climb any other windmills.

Happy cows do not live in California. They live in Holland and Germany, where I renewed my vows to all things dairy and discovered "quark," a food that, despite its Star-Trek-ish name, tastes like melted clouds glazed with rainbows. I plan to make it in the near future.

We survived Amsterdam, where trains, buses, cars, bicycles (so many!), and cannabis-smoking free spirits line every corner of the city. I don't even want to imagine what Amsterdam would look like if everyone had four wheels instead of two.

Since Alex never really adjusted to European time, we were exhausted by the end of the trip and ready for the wrestling match that lay ahead on the twelve-hour flight from Amsterdam to Salt Lake City. Alex won several battles, many involving his propensity for sudden feline transformations, but the ultimate victory was ours when we finally laid him down to sleep in his crib. He didn't wake up until 7:00 am--his normal waking time.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Peace in the Middle East

To satisfy our pre-nuptual pact to see at least one new country every year, Kendall and I headed over to the Middle East for some rest and relaxation. We had already used one of our get-out-of-jail-free cards (Mexico) and are saving the other (Canada) for the year we are forced to retire our Corolla and spend all our life savings on a car that can accommodate more than a single toddler and his stuffed pet snow leopard named Meow Meow.

This year, we traveled with our parallel-universe counterpart couple, Chad and Amy, to Jordan. The nice thing about traveling with friends is that it emboldens you and provides a false sense of security. Once we knew we would be together, renting a car in a country where the writing on the road signs bears an uncanny resemblance to noodles thrown on a wall seemed like a great idea.

Renting a car, though, turned out to be a great way to see Jordan. Our travels took us everywhere from the northern most tip of the country through Irbid and down to Aqaba in the South.

We navigated Amman's seven rings of death (enormous multi-lane urban roundabouts governed entirely by drivers' testosterone levels) and performed numerous U-turns on the highway through Irbid as we each weighed in on what direction we thought was the right one.

We gestured our way through military checkpoints where the guards were puzzled by our insistence in driving through remote villages that never made it into any of our guidebooks. What they didn't know is that we would do anything to avoid driving through Irbid again.

We meandered on a narrow dirt road through mountainous sheep-herding land, following identical signs that nobody could read, until reaching the ruins of an ancient church. What church? We didn't know. We don't read Arabic.

Below are some of the more specific highlights from our trip:

1. Asking the women at a clothing shop in Madaba to dress us in full local attire, which turned out to be a double head covering and a floor length polyester dress (with silver glitter!). Thank goodness it was only like 180 degrees outside. In Jordan, fashion is not seasonal.

Now I know why the women in Jordan were masters of eye makeup. That's the only thing that shows. I desperately wished I had brought some eye-liner with me.

2. Eating packaged snack cakes and sipping cold fruit drinks with the Mount Nebo tourist police squad. The head of the squad had, just the week before, been the Pope's personal interpreter and guide for Mount Nebo. As he explained, he was the designated guide and interpreter for "official delegations," not mere tourists. His favorite English phrase? "I agree with you." He has clearly been learning diplomacy.

3. Braving the sweltering heat to see the Jordan River, including the likely site of Jesus' baptism, and being allowed into some ancient hermit caves (of the type that John the Baptist may have lived in during his ministry and famed culinary encounters with grasshoppers).

When we asked why these hermit caves were blocked off, the guide told us that tourists were not allowed inside, but then added, "But this is the Middle East" and allowed us inside.

4. Floating in the Dead Sea after earnestly believing that I would sink into the brine.

Look, Ma, no hands. Or feet. Just salt.

5. Wandering among the ruins of Jerash and enjoying a hands-on lesson on Roman architecture. Remember: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian are three flavors of architectural embellishment.

Columns, columns, and more columns.

We joined an audience of giddy school children to watch underpaid Jordanian actors re-enact a Roman chariot race, gladiator fights, and military formations.

6. Being followed throughout Ajlun Castle by Ali "the Fighter," who we thought was overly eager to practice his English with us. Ali was a mysterious man: we couldn't figure out why he was hanging out at a tourist/field trip hub, and he had very few answers to our questions. But because all the Jordanians we had met had been so genuinely hospitable and nice, we accepted Ali's invitation to join him for lunch. However, we refused his request that one of us ride with him in his car. Alas, no lunch took place because Ali the Fighter was detained by Jordanian police as we walked out to the parking lot in front of the castle. We considered waiting for Ali to be released, but quickly decided that it was best to do lunch on our own.

The suspect is on the left.

Ajlun Castle was a Muslim fortress dating to 1184 AD. Think Lawrence of Arabia, Kingdom of Heaven, or any other of your favorite crusade movies.

7. Desperately ordering everything on the menu at the "Rest Room" (restaurant) at the ruins of Umm Qais to appease "Hungry Chad," who was turning colors and foaming at the mouth from lack of food.

8. Discussing the concept of marital fidelity, embraced by both Mormonism and Islam, with our guide in Petra, who believed that the requirement applied mostly to women.

Yes, I hummed the Indiana Jones theme song as we entered the city. Look at the facade in the upper right corner of the collage. Those dots in the doorway are people. The scale is unimaginable.

9. Scuba diving in the Red Sea and splurging on a nice hotel in Aqaba.

We don't have an underwater camera.

10. Crossing the border into Israel, where rifles and handguns are fashion staples.

A cigarette, a surf bag, Dolce & Gabana sunglasses, and a military-issue weapon.
What more could one want? Maybe a bottle of Evian.

Our two days in Israel included a third-of-a-mile-long jaunt through Hezekiah's Tunnel, an almost three-thousand-year-old aqueduct. While I'm sure it's usually very pleasant, I had the distinct sensation that we were mere mosquitoes flitting between two giant, merciless stone hands. Perhaps it was the fact that we were stuck behind a herd of slow-moving, song-singing, identically-dressed teenagers. Or maybe it was because the teenager directly in front of Kendall had a rifle strapped to his back that bounced on his hip with every step he took. Or it could have been the rather chatty Japanese tour group pressing up against our backs. But it was probably just the fact that I could barely get my thighs past the slimy wet walls.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Greenish Thumb

I probably could learn a lot about faith, hope, and optimism from our first attempt at planting a vegetable garden. This is, after all, the stuff of parables and children's stories: plant a seed, nourish it, believe in it, and watch it grow and even bear fruit. Amazing!

I, for one, don't buy it. You're telling me that Kendall and I toss some little specks of genetic material into some dirt, add water, and in three months we'll be able to walk out to the garden, pour some honey mustard dressing on it, and have a salad? Naaah. So many things can go wrong--deer can come eat the leaves off the eggplants (check), a toddler could pull up the peppers (check), a caretaker could forget to water (inevitable), the seeds could have been accidentally exposed to excessive amounts of radiation if the farmer happened to have those seeds with him during his cat scan.

I prefer to remain skeptical. That way, if there's a single tomato on those sickly vines, the garden will have exceeded my expectations. My (surviving) houseplants are skeptical too. I thought I could hear them yelling from their perch at the kitchen window as Kendall and I watered our newly-planted seeds: "Don't germinate! Stay in your little shells! They're monsters. They'll kill you!"

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

BYU, We Love You

For those of you have not been lucky enough to spend substantial time on BYU campus and for those of you who have forgotten what it's like, let me refresh your memory.

Highlights from a recent BYU Police Beat report:

I believe the children are our future.
"May 31: A 13-year-old male living in Wymount Terrace called police from his cell phone to report that his mother was being abusive. The male was in the bathroom for a 30 minute time-out session and told police that he felt that punishment was too harsh."

Provo: Where no one need feel uncomfortable
May 31: A phone call came in reporting a male alum and a female student had been kissing in the grass near a Wymount Terrace complex, making the caller and his family feel uncomfortable. The officer arrived and asked them to leave.

Drive-by shooting, BYU style
May 30: Occupants in a white truck were squirting people with water squirt guns in the Cannon Commons area around 11 p.m. The students were located by police and apologized.

And you thought that moose (mooses? moosi?) only roamed free in the opening credits of Northern Exposure.
June 4: A moose was loose on campus so police called the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. Officials came and tranquilized the moose. However, before going down the moose damaged two vehicles in the parking lot across from the SAS Building.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

The commencement of freedom

I still feel like I'm walking on air after finally graduating from my MBA program on May 9th. No more weekends away from home and family, no more 10pm weeknight conference calls to work on group homework assignments, no more expensive flights back-and-forth between Utah and San Francisco, no more stressing over brutal exams, and no more feeling completely overwhelmed by the balance (or lack thereof) between work, school and family life. Yahoo!!

What can I say? This was a huge achievement for me - I managed to hold it all together for 2 years - to stay employed, stay married and still make it through school! I couldn't have done it without Carolina's patience and support.

And as for keeping up with Carolina - Okay, I didn't earn a juris doctorate or anything, but I did earn a graduate degree, so I'd say that about keeps me on par with Carolina's educational achievements (well, other than the fact that she graduated top of her class, which I certainly did not!). But I can always hold it over her head that I went to an Ivy League school, which will drive her totally nuts.

So what's next? Carolina thinks it's her turn . . . for medical school!?!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Do Not Begin Until the Proctor Instructs You To Do So

Having just finished writing law school final exams, please let me present you with the following hypothetical:

Suppose you are at an Italian restaurant and your group of six adults and one toddler are seated at a table next to an enormous window that puts out enough radiant heat to power a small potato chip factory. Then suppose that your waiter introduces himself to you. His name is Ion. Not Ian. Ion. Pronounced Ay-ahn. You hope he is not missing an electron or two, as his name suggests.

When asked whether the gnocchi or the tortellini is better, Ion assures you that the tortellini is. So you order the cheese tortellini. After Ion has finished taking orders, your group realizes that Ion forgot to take an order for your father, who is visiting from a South American country known for petroleum production, and who will be paying for the meal. After much signaling (everyone at the table waves his/her hands in the air), Ion returns. He takes your father's order. Based on Ion's recommendation, your father orders spinach tortellini.

Ion brings out the food. He triumphantly places a plate of tortellini in front of your father and various pasta dishes in front of everyone else, except you. It turns out he gave your cheese tortellini to your father, and the spinach tortellini is not ready yet. Fine. You'll eat the spinach tortellini. When the spinach tortellini arrives, you conclude that it is only 40% as good as the gnocchi, which your husband had the good sense to order despite the electron-deficient waiter's recommendation.

On to dessert. Your father orders chocolate tiramisu. (This restaurant does not have real tiramisu because real tiramisu has coffee in it, and this restaurant is located in a predominantly Mormon community.) Ion brings your dad a piece of cake with strawberries on it.

Because Ion is slow to bring the check, you go to the cash register and ask for your check. On the credenza by the register there are two small plastic figurines (likely from a McDonald's happy meal circa 1993) of Belle and The Beast from Disney's full-length animated film.


Hint: the Beauty and the Beast figurine bit is a red herring. So is the part about the country known for petroleum production. Those facts are true, hypothetically speaking, but they're only meant to confuse you and make you wonder why I put them there.

Disclaimer: This is merely a hypothetical. However, if Ion were real, and especially if he were reading this blog post or if you were to run into him at a restaurant in Provo, you should know that it was only Ion's fourth day on the job and that Ion was very pleasant and had a really great tattoo. You should also know that we gave him a 20% tip even though the check already had a gratuity included. Of course we didn't realize that the gratuity was included, but it shows that we were willing to tip him well and liked him overall. And the gnocchi really is the best dish at this hypothetical restaurant.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Something Old, Something New

I don't know if I'm having a midlife crisis or if the economy has me convinced that I cannot yearn for anything available in a big box store, but I am suddenly drawn to other people's old junk. I'm developing nostalgia for a time period I don't remember, or, for that matter, never lived. Sadly, though, I'm finding that I'm not well suited to a bygone era.

Take my newly-acquired Royal HH typewriter (pictured above). This piece of dusty machinery was love at first sight. (Thanks to Craigslist.) I logged on, I saw, I bought. This--this--would surely turn me into poet or at least serve as a conduit for evening chats with Ernest Hemingway. Things haven't turned out to be quite as romantic as I'd hoped. First, Ernest seems to be incomunicato. Second, I've spent a great deal of time clacking my name, wishing I had something more substantial to say. Talk about writer's block. Try spilling your soul onto a blank piece of paper, using a machine that (1) betrays the hesitancy in your strokes by leaving mere ghosts of letters on the page and (2) knows no forgiveness. "Delete" is for cowards. "Tab release"? Now that's serious.

Which is why I return to the quiet tip tap of my computer keyboard. I can say anything I want. And then I can delete it. My self-esteem thrives on such artificial power.

In any event, my recent journey into antique shops, online vintage listings, and other antiquities has resulted in a plethora of tales to tell. In the coming days, please stay tuned for the adventures of Zobie Self, whose name was stamped on the inside of a vintage copy of Crime and Punishment that I bought and whom I have cyber-stalked. In the meantime, something old and something new:

Alex has taken an interest in building towers with wooden blocks, which, in my current nostalgic crisis, makes me extremely happy because there is something inherently retro about wooden blocks. Sadly, Alex spends more time with neon-colored platic toys.

Our darling Alex has found a way to make an old-fashioned oatmeal breakfast more efficient. I still use a spoon, which is apparently outdated.

This old picture of my father demystifies the origins of Alex's pot belly and squishycheeks (yes, all one word).

Ah, sisters. So much shared blood. So much rivalry. I'm on the right.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Public Service Announcement

Surprise--I am Hispanic!

Maybe you gathered as much from the name Núñez, as it's not exactly Danish.  It's a Spanish surname that means son of Nuno. Of course, I'm not really the son of Nuno, but somebody was, way back when. And whatever DNA I've inherited from Nuno may be to blame for my dark skin, curly hair, freakishly long feet, and incomprehensible attraction to the coffee aisle at the supermarket (even if only for the smell, since I don't drink the stuff).

Well, I'm glad that's all cleared up. Phew.

The three experiences detailed below had me worried that maybe nobody knew.

1.  Once, during a casual conversation, someone explained to me that he refused to to sub-let his apartment to Hispanics, specifically Mexicans, because "you know how they are."  (Little voice inside my head:  Well, I suppose I do, since half my family is composed of them.)

2.  An acquaintance told me he wouldn't trust a Hispanic person to babysit his children.  (Little voice inside my head:  Do you trust me?)

3.  More recently, seeming well-wishers have cautioned me that speaking Spanish to Alex at home might make people identify him as Hispanic.  (Little voice inside my head: But he is part Hispanic.)

In every situation, I've been too stunned to respond or even acknowledge the comment.  The immediate sting of the comments is obvious, but the more significant damage comes later, when I ask why someone would feel comfortable saying these types of things to meDo I seem like the type of person that harbors racist sentiments?  Worse, do I seem like the type of Latina who thinks of herself as better than other Latina/os?   

Maybe a little late, and maybe to the wrong audience, but here's my response to those coments:  I don't think it should matter if you are a daughter or son of Gonzalo or a son or daughter of John, Peter, or Hans. We can thank them for blue eyes, curly hair, short stature, cankles, and freckles, and even our last names, but not for our characters.  I don't know if Nuno was trustworthy or not, or if he was a hard worker, or if he was a Casanova.  But I refuse to believe that his character, noble or otherwise, passed to me by virtue of our shared ethnicity.  Hispanics come in as many shades of virtue, honor, integrity, and kindness as Asians and Caucasians do.  Please do not prejudge me or anyone else based on skin color, native language, surname, stereotype, or any other quality outside of our control.

That's all I have to say about that (although I'd love to hear what you have to say).


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

My Funny Valentine

It was my turn to take Alex to his much-dreaded (by everyone involved) "well-child" checkup. On the menu for Alex's ordeal: poking and prodding (in even the most private of body parts) with latex-covered gloves, a lighted magnifying glass in the ear, and a stethoscope (apparently straight from the fridge) on a naked chest. For dessert, a purported vaccination.

Anyone who's forced an 18-month old child to submit to the will of a strange doctor wearing squeaky gloves and ill-fitting spectacles knows that it takes coercion. Unfortunately, 18-month-olds do not respond to bribes, or I would have offered Alex the moon, if that's what it took. Alex responds to two things: physical force/restraint and affectionate words and gestures. Both of these coercion methods combined and collided to produce an inexplicable and unanticipated Valentine's surprise during the examination.

You see, Alex had taken the oft-quoted Mormon adage "My body is a temple, not a visitor's center" to heart. As far as he was concerned, his ear canal, which the doctor needed to check, was not open for inspection. Time for coercion. I tried affection. The doctor tried physical restraint. As the doctor raised his hand to hold Alex's head in place, I puckered my lips to offer Alex a kiss of comfort. We both aimed for the same spot on Alex's forehead without realizing the impending collision.

You can imagine the rest. I kissed the doctor's hand--quite tenderly. (Happy Valentine's Day?) No one said a word about the Incident, but the doctor and I did have a very pleasant conversation about Spanish accents after the examination. I think we might be better friends because of the Incident.

Then Nurse Ratchett brought in a loaded syringe and, without the slightest look of sympathy, emptied its contents into my then innocent, precious child's milky white thigh. Vaccination, schmaccination. In the few days since that vaccine, Alex has developed very unpleasant symptoms: repeated use of the word "no," refusal to go to bed, and high-pitched screams. Where has my innocent baby gone? I believe Nurse Ratchett injected a strain of Terrible Toddlerhood into Alex and called it a Hepatitis A vaccination. I'm looking for possible antidotes.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

New Year's Nuisance

"It's a nuisance!" - At least that's what Carolina thinks of our end-of-year newsletter, The New Year's Times, which we put together for friends and family. She may not love the time and effort it takes, but I think we both treasure the photos and stories that document our lives together.

Anyway, I hope you'll enjoy the latest edition!

P.S. - Carolina, you've achieved your first new year's resolution. Congrats.

Friday, January 23, 2009

New Year's Revolution

I obviously missed the new year's resolution season: The Christmas tree undertaker already collected the limp Christmas tree corpses lining suburbia's streets (rest in peace); even the most resolute weight-loss hopefuls are trying to figure out how to sell the gym memberships that they only used once since purchasing them on January 1st; the Utah winter air tastes like exhaust pipes and cigarette butts; and taxes loom large.

But I saw a little flicker of belated new year enthusiasm during the presidential inauguration, and I couldn't resist setting some goals for 2009. Besides, Chinese New Year is tomorrow, so in a cosmopolitan, geo-political, multi-cultural sort of way, I'm right on schedule. And since publicizing your goals supposedly increases your chances of meeting them, please join me in welcoming the Year of the Ox:

1. I will* do my part to finish our blasted holiday newsletter ("The New Year's Times"), which we usually send out and post on this blog during the first week of January, but which I'll be grateful to dispatch any time before the end of January. And, for Kendall's sake, I will not complain (any more than I already have) about helping finishing it.

2. I will learn to cook fish. But this goal is limited to fish that live in the ocean; fresh water fish taste like mud. This goal also excludes crustaceans, because I don't like working with exoskeletons. I propose (to whom, I don't know) that I attempt a fish dish once a month, and that I report on my efforts here. If you have any fish preparation suggestions or recipes, please send them my way.

3. I will read 5 novels. I don't know what happened to me. I used to read a novel every couple of weeks, but now I mostly read Where the Wild Things Are (a special thanks to Alex) and the Immigration and Nationality Act (a special thanks to my immigration law class). Suggestions?

4. I will write a chapter for a novel. If that should prove too daunting, then I will write a short story and submit it to a magazine (I know. Wannabe writers are plentiful and delusional. But I just want to do it anyway, okay?)

5. I will floss my teeth more than ever before. Once or twice a week should do it.

6. I will eat five fruits and/or vegetables a day, and do my best to ensure that Alex does, too. Kendall, you're on your own. How does that saying go? You can bring water to a horse, but you can't make him drink it. Or something like that.

Happy Chinese New Year!!!

* While I liberally use "I will," these are merely aspirational statements, as all resolutions should be, and I will not be held responsible to anyone for any ill effects of my inevitable failure in one or more of these.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

As Good as Duncan Hines

Way back when, before Alex crowned himself Supreme Ruler of My Life, I relished taking smugly made-from-scratch desserts to Sunday dinner at my mom's house. I welcomed spending six hours making torta tres leches. I laughed in the face of deflated pate au choux--I'd just make it again! After all, what else was I supposed to do with my Sundays in a town where scripture-reading and hymn-singing were the only commendable, if not the only legal, forms of Sabbath entertainment? "Aren't these delicious?" I would prompt. "Don't you like the filling?" Cue adoring family fan club: "Yes, Carolina, these are the best cream puffs we have ever had."

My, how things have changed. Since the incredible edible Coconut Cake of March, 2008, I have shrunk from time-consuming kitchen projects. Cooking is simply not as enjoyable with a 24-pound boa constrictor (that looks surprisingly like a toddler) swaddling my leg.

Last Sunday, I desperately searched the pantry for a boxed brownie mix. It was 10:00 am, and dinner at my mom's house was at 4:30 pm. If I found a mix quickly enough and worked diligently on adding the eggs, oil, and water in between Alex's requests for help, I might be able to get the brownies in the oven by 2:00 pm, which would give them just enough time to cook and cool before dinner.

Alas, no brownie mix. So I resorted to a brownie recipe from Alton Brown, Alex's and my Food Network hero (and the culinary equivalent of Bill Nye, the Science Guy). (I watched Alton Brown's Good Eats faithfully while I nursed Alex, and Alex has bonded with Alton. Good Eats in the only TV he cares to watch. When we let him watch it, he mmmmms and ooooohs at the food Alton whips up.)

The recipe was a success: the brownies had a crispy, glossy exterior and a moist and chewy interior. When my mom tasted them, she exclaimed, "They're as good as Duncan Hines!" These days, I take that as a compliment.

For your culinary enjoyment, I reproduce the recipe below, altered to match the exact instructions Alton Brown uttered during the relevant episode of Good Eats. (Yes, I found and watched the particular episode on YouTube before beginning.)

Cocoa Powder Brownies
(No Last-Minute Run to the Grocery Store for Unsweetened Chocolate!)
  • Soft butter, for greasing the pan
  • Flour, for dusting the buttered pan
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar, sifted
  • 1 cup brown sugar, sifted
  • 8 ounces melted butter
  • 1 1/4 cups natural, not Dutch-processed cocoa, sifted
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup flour, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Butter and flour an 8-inch square pan.

Sift together sugars, cocoa powder, flour, and salt. In a mixer fitted with a whisk paddle attachment, beat the eggs at medium-high speed until fluffy and light yellow. Add both sugars. Add remaining ingredients, and mix to combine.

Reduce the mixer's speed to its lowest setting and add the sifted dry ingredients, Once they are fully incorporated, add the vanilla and melted butter very slowly until just combined. Overmixing will turn this into cake batter.

Pour the batter into a greased and floured 8-inch square pan and bake for 45 45-60 minutes. Check for doneness with the tried-and-true toothpick method: a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan should come out clean. When it's done, remove to a rack to cool. Resist the temptation to cut into it until it's mostly cool.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Seven Summits

For some reason I'm having a hard time sleeping, and I keep thinking about what the next mountain is that I should climb. I'm pretty set on trying to get up Rainier before long. Mount Rainier, at 14,410 feet, is the most extensively glaciated volcanic peak in the lower 48 States (and the 5th tallest mountain in the lower 48), so it is a great way to learn basic roped climbing and ice climbing techniques. These skills will serve me well if/when I take on Mount Elbrus and/or Aconcagua (2 of the "Seven Summits" - tallest mountains on each continent).

Carolina and I climbed Kilimanjaro, generally considered the easiest of the seven (at least technically - it is widely regarded as being pretty physically demanding). You can read about our Kilimanjaro adventure in more detail, with photos, if you're interested. We also hiked King's Peak, Utah's tallest mountain not too long ago (about that saga).

Since I want to learn ice axe skills, crampon skills, etc., Rainier seems like a logical next step. Anyone want to go with me?

Climbing mountains always excites me, but it's really, really cold. That's the worst part for me by far. I have pretty poor circulation in my toes, it seems, so they're nearly always freezing. It's also really hard to sleep at altitude in the cold. Other than that, I really love hiking trips - the physical challenge and the views inspire me.

Friday, January 09, 2009

A Special Thanks to Late Night Googlers

I'm apparently very late in writing up the obligatory "best of 2008" post (in which I pat myself on the back for my own favorite posts of the year), but, frankly, I can't really remember much of 2008, mostly because of all the codeine-laced cough syrup I imbibed during the last four weeks of the year. Kendall staged an intervention and convinced me to give up the happy cough syrup--a New Year's resolution, of sorts--so I've taken up antibiotics for 2009. I promise, if this latest round doesn't exorcise the demon building fire and brimstone castles in my tonsils, I'll quit taking them and submit to an early death to ensure the continued effectiveness of antibiotics for years to come.

In any event, I decided to take a look at the Google Analytics report for this blog to review and remember 2008's 10 best Google searches that led you to this blog. (But first I took a moment to mourn our plummeting readership. I blame my inability to write a coherent blog post while under the influence of the happy cough syrup.) Here they are (along with my comments--I couldn't help myself):

10. Gnome bath tissue butler. I think I know what you were looking for:

9. World's End + Carolina. I, too, often worry that I will play a major role in the destruction of this world. If extraterrestrials can smell fear, then we're in trouble, because my fear of aliens has likely traveled many millions of light years into the nostrils (or other olfactory orifices) of hungry little aliens just dying to suck out my spinal fluid.

8. Okay, this one isn't a search string. It's a comment recently left on a very old post about our trip to Italy:

Hey guys,

I can't believe you folks believe your lives are so important that others must be made to accidently stumble upon them while doing a legitimate web search for necessary information. The arogance, the narcisism...


Well, there you have it. We're totally self-centered.

And Carl is a bad speller.

7. Costco Haircut. It looks like Kendall isn't the only one wishing Costco offered haircuts. Many people have stumbled upon this blog looking for the elusive Kirkland brand coif.

6. Provo Police Hate. Hmmm. Hate is such a strong word. We never said we hated the Provo Police. The police here in Utah County have a tough job.

5. Oshibaba. Clearly, I am not the only one confused by the Spanish Fork High School tradition of yelling the word "Oshibaba" or "Ashibaba" repeatedly until a pre-ordained scrawny Senior rips off his shirt to reveal a Toby Maguire (pre-Spiderman) torso and an oh-so-intentionally exposed two-inch section of his boxers. So much about high school still escapes me.

4. Intimate haircut image. I can't even imagine . . . .

3. Mushy Berry. See? I told you. I think people all over the U.S. are wondering about those soggy berries in Malt-O-Meal's verseion of Cap'n Crunch.

2. Kendall Saves Christmas. Ooooh, is this a movie? I offer a plot summary: When Kendall, an ordinary guy leading an ordinary life, stumbles upon a file folder labeled "Top Secret" while walking the family dog, he hesitates to open it. Inside, he finds secret government files revealing that Santa Claus has been captured and detained at Guantanamo Bay for entering the U.S. without a visa, visiting Cuba without government sanction, and delivering suspected weapons--BB guns--to suspected Afghani child soldiers (they'll shoot their eyes out!). With only 24 hours until Christmas, Kendall, with the help of Jack Bauer, embarks on a whirlwind quest to liberate Santa Claus and restore the U.S. government's faith in him (most likely through statistical analysis of December retail spending).

1. Alex Nunez Law Firm. Alex doesn't have time to practice law right now. He's quite busy:

Happy new year!