Sunday, May 31, 2009

Backyard Entertaining

There's a small fact about backyard entertaining that I forgot about yesterday... namely, that it all takes place in the backyard. As in, outdoors. As in, allergy central. My allergies were already giving me grief last week at Kevin and Sindy's Memorial Day bash but that attack of the drippy eye was no match for today. Appetizing huh?

Kevin and Sindy made us this last week...

Mmmm, banana nut waffles...

So, today was our turn to provide food. I made Baked Dijon Chicken with a spinach salad (spinach, goat cheese, cranberries, walnuts, and sugar snap peas. Dressed with a mix of olive oil, lemon juice, Herbes De Provence, and honey. No snot. Just food- in case you were wondering.) There's no picture because we inhaled it. Also, I was eating as fast as possible to get back inside. Curse you allergens!

Don't worry, though. We had plenty of indoor entertainment. One of our favorite things to do is make our friends play Wii Fit. Sure, the exercising part may suck but watching your friends try the tree pose and hula hoop challenge on the Wii board is pure comedy. See, exercising can be fun!

Hermy laughs in the face of exercise...

You know what all that exercise is good for? Dessert. Behold, the rhubarb tart the way it was supposed to look ( not like this version but you can get the recipe there!) And, come on? Can rhubarb get any better than paired with strawberries, too? Rhubarb!! You're amazing!

Well, it's off to the couch for me with a hot washcloth compress for added coolness. I've got to get better for our vacation to Denver in 3 days! ( travel posts to soon invade your computer... )

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Let the Backyard Entertaining Begin!

Is it just me or do others have rooms in their houses they never go in? I had two; One was a ghastly pink that's now a lovely tan and the other was this sunroom. I just spent the last four and a half hours of my life scrubbing the siding in it:

Every year since we've lived here we've said we'll get patio furniture on sale at the end of the season in preparation for the next summer of fun. We've been through three end of the season sales and no furniture.... Sadness. But that't not the end of my story here.
When my lovely parents decided to abandon me to return to our native land of Southern California, they left me a parting gift in the form of all the stuff they weren't taking with them. Look at the punks... Do they really think they can fill the void of family in my life with all of their old stuff? Why, yes they can. I scored a rug, some closet organizers and this!

I'm not really a white wicker furniture kind of gal, but I am a free furniture kinda gal. See, Mom! I'm taking care of your stuff! I even put out a cute plant and it's still alive! If you were an ant, it would look like this...

Well, if I can't have you, I can at least party with your stuff. Let the backyard entertaining begin!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Swiss Engagement: E-Day Pt. 2

Did you miss E-Day Pt. 1? Check it out here...

The romance saga now continues:

So, we arrived in Gimmelwald, Switzerland at The Mountain Hostel, an amazingly affordable and perfectly situated dormitory style hostel in the middle of the Swiss Alps. I know people get freaked by the word "hostel" especially thanks to that very pg movie by the same name. Nevertheless, I implore everyone to give them a shot! This particular hostel is ran by the lovely couple, Petra and Walter Brunner and was one of the most fun and hospitable places we've stayed in Europe (and for just 25 franks a night.)

When we arrived we unloaded our bags and groceries ( there are no places to buy food in Gimmelwald. You eat what you bring up with you.) I then took a nap because I wasn't feeling well thanks to the journey to the top of this scene:

Then, I got up and...

Well, why re-write it when you can experience it as my folks did back home when I sent them the news via email:

Hi Mom Dad and Beau, the weather here is perfect and clear.

We are in Gimmelwald and guesswhat? AUBREY ASKED ME TO MARRY HIM!!! I said yes, of course! He asked at a little bench rest on a path in Gimmelwald here in Switzerland. After a brisk hike which included about five straight minutes of me making farting noises (with my mouth and commenting like " didnt that sound like a big juicy one?") we stopped to rest.[ I am a pillar of grace...] I said "isn't this beautiful?" Aubrey had no answer -Then as I thought this would be the perfect spot, I asked him if he liked the ring I was wearing and suggested he practice. [I'm a little pushy, huh? They don't call me Demanda for nothing.] He took the ring I was wearing and I told him to practice by presenting me with a granola bar. He got on his knee and pulled out the ring ( the real one) and asked. I thought he found a fake one to play a prank on me but once he promised it was real I cried laughed snorted and agreed all at the same time.... EVERYONE KNEW BUT ME and I have been pretty sneaky.. not good enough I guess. It was perfect, farts and all-

See wasn't that romantic? I actually hope you weren't expecting a Harlequin here... I just can't help but ruin potential movie perfect moments. Petra gave us champagne and the hostel hot tub all to ourselves after I made us a gourmet meal of instant noodles- they're cheap. Even in Europe. We then got to experience the not so great side of hostels in the form of the loudest snorer in history about 5 feet away from us in our was so bad that half the people in our dorm left to sleep in the dining room. Ahh, well...we'll never forget that night...the snores, the meal, the granola bar...swoon!

I wish I was there now. Minus Mr. Bear Snore next door. If you're looking for a great place to travel, this is HIGH on my recommendation list. Just make sure you pack good shoes.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Rhubarb Bread Pudding

With Memorial Day Weekend upon us, I thought I might share this new lovely recipe I happened upon while deepening my love affair with rhubarb. Behold, Rhubarb Bread Pudding:

Whether you're charged with bringing a dessert for the Saturday picnic or if you're taking it easy and finally have time to make a nice breakfast for the fam, this recipe is the way to go. I like standard bread pudding but sometimes it's too sweet for me. This with the kick of tart rhubarb???...oh my. Now that I'm thinking about it, I should mention that it's totally fair to have desserts for breakfast and breakfast for dessert. That's just how I roll.

Rhubarb Bread Pudding - Serves 6 ( or, two for 3 days)
Adapted from This Recipe at (a great source for all sorts of recipes.)
The original recipe calls for regular sandwich bread with crusts removed and a lot more egg than I like in my bread pudding... I'm a fan of dense bread pudding- more creamy and doughy than eggy so I altered it to suit my needs. If you like your bread pudding more on the "pudding" side of life, you might check out the original.

6 slices French Bread with crust on- toasted and cubed ( like, literally toasted in the toaster.)
4 eggs
3/4 cup milk
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 tsp. cinnamon ( plus more for dusting)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8-1/4 cup walnuts
Raw sugar for sprinkling


That's all...
Oh, and 1 cup of diced rhubarb. Don't worry baby...I didn't forget you.

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Farenheit.
2. Arrange cubed pieces of bread in a buttered baking/casserole dish (about 2 qt.)
3. Combine milk and butter in a sauce pan and bring to the point just at the boiling if allowed to stay one more second it will boil. Remove from heat and pour over bread. Allow to set for 15 minutes or until it is all absorbed. Your kitchen will smell really good right about now...
4. Combine eggs, rhubarb, sugar, salt, and cinnamon in a bowl. Pour over bread and top with walnuts. Mix lightly.
5. Sprinkle with raw sugar to taste and more cinnamon if you love it like I do...
6. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until browned. Notice I didn't destroy it this time?

Round Two of Rhubarb baking goes to Amanda ( Oven smackdown!)

At this point you can go solo like I did, or serve it with a basic cream sauce:

1/4 cup sugar
1/2 stick butter
1/4 cup cream
(optional- 1/8 cup Jack Daniels? P-dub's idea, not mine... though, I might steal it.)

Heat all ingredients in sauce pan on low heat until boiling. The end.

Mmmmm....I wish I had more of this. I'm fresh out of Rhubarb now! Good thing I'll be in Tulsa this weekend...

A Swiss Engagement- E-DAY Pt.1

Did you know Aubrey and I got engaged in Switzerland? Seriously, we did exacty 4 years and 1 day ago. It would have been in Paris if I hadn't been noncompliant with making a nighttime trip up the Eiffel Tower (by the way, I'm glad I was stubborn. It turned out great!)

E-Day started out like any other day. I got up, brushed my teeth, hopped in the shower... Oh, wait... I was in flippin Interlaken, Switzerland! This was the view from our window:
(By the way, this is pure straight out of the camera color...oh. my. gosh....beautiful.)

Think that's some high priced luxury suite window? Think again. This view was at the righteous price of 13.50 Euros per person courtesy of the Backpackers Hostel-Interlaken. You can't really ask for more than a roof and clean sheets... oh, and perhaps a bed you don't have to climb. Bonus! The staff was awesome and there's an attached bar. Double bonus!

Note: That is not a fanny pack. That is a travel belt wallet and our travel belt wallet can beat up your travel belt wallet any day of the week.

We made our way to the train station and made the journey up to Gimmelwald, which could quite possibly be my favorite European destination save Paris. This journey consists of a regular train ride, a switch to a local line and, *gasp* this:

I'm okay...

Holy Crap....
Oh, look, a waterfall...

It's just the nerves talkin... gondolas will do that to you.

But, oh, was it worth it...

Breath deep....

Go ahead, I won't stop you...

Now, that's some fresh mountain air!

This was actually my last chance to take it all in before Aubrey took my breath away...
(but not before I got to yell, "RIIIIIIIICOLAAAAAAAA!!!!!" Don't act like you weren't thinkin' it.)

Stay tuned for E-day PART 2...

Monday, May 18, 2009

Happy Anniversary, Us!

Today marks the 3rd anniversary of me officially gaining a last name that everyone can spell and Aubrey gaining a personal chef and toilet cleaner!

We have grand plans to go to Six Flags over St. Louis to celebrate! Roller-coasters are the perfect way to celebrate a happy marriage, don't you think? So, here's my awkward tribute- Husby, life with you is like slowly climbing the "big drop"........
I can hardly stand the anticipation for adventures lying ahead and I'm always willing to stand in line to do it all over again. I love you!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Photographing People- Tips on Approaching Strangers

"Hey, that's bread, not people!" Well, unless you have lots of practice hiding in trees with binoculars, photographing people is sort of a new and scary venture....I'm easing my way into it, here!

Remember my last post about adding people to your travel photos? Well, as a beginner, I can tell you that it's scary enough when someone is willingly posing for you... I mean, what if the exposure isn't right? Can you ask them to stay still a little longer? People are much more intimidating subjects than say, a loaf of bread. Perhaps this is why I like photographing food... no backtalk.

Lucky for me, I didn't have to take my first crack at photgraphing people I don't even know all by myself. The Tulsa Digital Photography Group had their latest meetup at Blue Dome Arts Festival in Tulsa on Saturday and it was a blast. Our challenge was to get photos of strangers and practice technique in requesting their permission. Marty Coleman, Napkin Dad artist and co-organizer of the Meetup group shared some tips before we started out and here's my take on them...

1. Have a reason for requesting the photo. Just telling someone they're pretty won't get you far ( especially if you're a mid-age white male...just sayin'.) Find something specific you want to focus on. You can come up with your reason on the fly or even be working on a project ( say, you're really into unique earring photos, or something.) I happened to love this woman's focus on her work. She was making art right there on the spot and her necklaces were awesome so, I told her so...

2. Legitimize yourself. If you're part of a group (like we were) say so. Have cards so people know where they can go to see these photos ( psst, you can see all the group photos here.) Of course, this might not always be practical when traveling, especially when you are barely speaking the same language. Just do your best to give yourself credibility, actually BE credible, and if they aren't down with it, leave them alone. (Chances are, people are more than willing to be your subject.

3. Get permission for photographing minors. No exceptions. The kid may be more than willing to ham it up for your camera, but unless there's a parent there, you're getting yourself in a potential world of hurt. This amazing red head was too cute to pass up and his parents were happy to oblige. I even sent them the out takes and other crops. It's awfully encouraging when people actually like the photos you take!

4. Don't always ask for permission. There's no better way to ruin a great candid shot than telling people you're taking their picture. I know, I know I just gave the no exceptions rule on asking for permission. However, from afar, there is a boundary and you need to be aware of it. Riding that boundary carefully can get you some great opportunities. This is probably how you'll shoot most travel photos of people. Just remember rules 1-3 if you get into their personal space.

5. Don't forget about composition. Once you've scored the subject, don't forget about good composition, non-distracting backgrounds, etc. Sometimes, the shot just won't work. But, othertimes, you have a chance to reposition people, ask them to move into the light, or even move hair out of their face. After getting this guy to move to the side, I tried moving that dread lock over but he liked it there...and that's okay, too!

Marty had a lot of great ideas for composition and themes. He does photo collages and attempts to portray personality without faces. I really like this take and have a couple more tips of my own to add that I found helpful to get the shot...

6. Make your subject comfortable through conversation. You know how you go to the dentist and they start asking you all these questions and you can't really answer because you're jaw is pryed open? Well, same technique but better 'em up to make them comfortable! I'm not much for small talk but I found it very helpful to talk while framing up a shot. It really helps eliminate the auto-smile or the blank stare.

Plus, you can focus on whatever you want and they need not know.

7. Appreciate the unexpected. So, you've framed up a great shot of some guy's hair and then his buddy comes and grabs his nipple. Go with it! You can get frustrated or you can capture the experience happening in front of you. (They proceeded to bite each other, too.)

I hope this has inspired you to add people in more of your photos on trips...even if you don't know them! Don't forget that you're a person, too. Jump in front of the camera once in a while... Even though you may dread it (like I do) it's nice to remember that you're a part of your travel experience, too.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Travel Photo Tip - Sharing the Experience versus the Cliche

Travel photos are a weird thing. Everyone asks to see them but few really want to see all 824 them (ah, the joy of digital photography.) You ever get the sense that your family is counting the minutes they'll never get back and your friends are secretly plotting your death after they see that fountain that looks just like that other fountain for the 10th time?

A way to avoid post-trip assasination attempts is to come back with something new to share and and something authentic to talk about. The fact is, when you're in Vegas, you're getting a pic of that welcome sign. Disneyland? Mickey's gonna be in there somewhere. And this is all well and good as they will represent to YOU the memories you cherish. Unfortunately, they don't do much to communicate your experience, which is usually the story you want to tell.

So, ask yourself...what is it that you love about being in a new place and what do you want to be able to share about your trip? Chances are, it's not the world famous landmarks that flip your skirt up and it's probably not what gets you excited for sharing. For me, it's all about immersion in a new culture and being around new people ( and new food, of course!)

See that pic above? How cool would it have been to get a photo of all the tourists with their hands up in the air? I love seeing my handy husband saving that poor leaning tower but what does it say about what it was like to be there? Not much. I found myself showing this picture and explaining what it was really like to be there more often than I desired. Ahh, to be able to communicate the experience!
Likewise, we all know what the Mona Lisa looks like ( and, I'm sure everyone's seen a better pic than mine.) So, why not try going for a bit of human interest? Why not make the crowd surrounding the Mona Lisa your subject? You could even develop a portfolio on tourists in action! You don't have to go to The Louvre to find tourists...they're everywhere complete with fanny packs and baseball caps.

People are the missing denominator in most travel photos but they're really what makes a trip memorable. This is actually a tip I need to take my own advice on more often... I would do this photo above much differently today, but you get the idea... Now, that's what the experience was really like (and we promptly left in search of a more authentic French experience a la crepe stand man.)

It's not always easy getting great photos of people, especially when they're strangers. Good thing the Tulsa Digital Photography Group had another meetup yesterday all on approaching strangers for photos. We'll cased the Blue Dome Arts Festival in Tulsa! More to come on that!

As you can tell from the pics above, photography skill itself is a journey, but so is understanding what you truly want to capture in your travel photos. Fortunately, there's nothing like a missed photo op to make me want to hop back on a plane! In the meantime, I can get inspiration ( and you can, too) from this travel photographer I happened upon- note how the people make the shot.

Tarts- A Love Story with Rhubarb Tart Recipe

Aubrey and I discovered the joy that is a tart while on our first voyage across the Atlantic in May of 2005. It all started for us in Frankfurt, Germany when we discovered that,
a. It costs money to use a public toilet in Europe;
b. German police actually patrol with German Shepherds, and;
c. We would never be the same again after eating this:

Thus began our love affair with tarts and tart-like things...

But, it was really all about the tarts...

I patiently waited a year and we returned in May of 2006 to Paris for our honeymoon... and, guess what? So, you see my problem...we love tarts, we live in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma, and I can't bake. I can't remedy any of these conditions but I like to go down fighting against my oven. Yes, yes, friends. I tried baking......................again. Enter, rhubarb tart.

Have you ever had rhubarb? This was actually my first time and I can't believe I lived without it for so long...

For an amazingly simple recipe, I managed to screw up the puff pastry ( premade pastry dough, people! How can I mess that up?) and burn the edges. So, both of these faults should make my next statement really hit home.... this was the best sweet I've had since our trip last November. I'm telling you the honest truth. It brought tears to my eyes.
Sure, my puff pastry didn't puff ( note: don't thaw puff pastry in the microwave. Oh, and you roll it out in a sheet, not from the melted ball you formed in the microwave. I learned that here, too late.) But, despite all the obstacles, this was amazing. Whoever first combined tart and tangy rhubarb with the sweetness of a sugar orange glaze will go down in history as a genius in my book. Without further ado...

Rustic Rhubarb Tart with Orange Glaze( adapted from Gourmet April 2009. It's "rustic" because I can't roll out a rectangle... hehe. Recipe found here.)

1 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 pound rhubarb stalks, thinly sliced diagonally ( about 1/8 inch)
1 sheet frozen puff pastry (from a 17 1/4-ounces package), thawed
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest ( I skipped this part and it was just fine.)

1. Preheat oven to 400 with rack in the middle.

2. Mix orange juice, lime juice, and sugar in a bowl. Add rhubarb and soak for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Meanwhile, cut the sheet of puff pastry in half and roll out into two rectangles approximately 11" x 7." I literally brought out my ruler but didn't need it since the blob from the microwave wasn't going anywhere near a rectangle.

4. Place both rectangles on an ungreased baking sheet.

5. Strain rhubarb (retaining the liquid) and arrange on both of the pastry sheets.

6. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

7. While the tarts are baking, boil down the remaining liquid to reduce to a thickend glaze.

8. When tarts are finished, remove from oven and brush with the glaze.

9. Try not to burn yourself when you immediately attempt to eat the thing. Ahhh, what one does for true love.