Monday, February 27, 2012

Laura Garff Lewis and Elaine Brewster in Concert With Temple Square Performances

When I was a little girl of four, Laura Garff asked my mom if I would play Madame Butterfly's son in her senior recital.  I had a pixie cut and I suppose I looked like a boy.  Laura played Suzuki, Madame Butterfly's maid. All I had to do was walk out on stage and let Madame Butterfly hug me while she sang her goodbyes.  When the performance was over, I was given a rose, and I was hooked into the world of music performance.  

Photo: Church News

While I could never sing, I always looked up to Laura.  I saw her perform with the Utah Opera in many roles including Hansel and Gretel, as Mercedes in Carmen, and the mother in Ahmal and the Night Visitors.  I watched on TV as she sang the closing hymn in the Salt Lake 2002 Olympics.  She recently retired from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  

What a joy it was on Friday night to see her perform with her colleagues of many years, Elaine Brewster and accompanist, Denise Farrington.  The performance took place in the historic Assembly Hall on Temple Square.


The program was filled with a variety of music styles with none of the selections being too long or heavy.  Three selections stood out for me. The first was An den Abendster, a lullaby by Robert Schumann.  This was lovely and lyrical and perfectly sung by Laura and Elaine.  Piano Preludes VIII and IX by Claude Debussy were impeccably played and emotional as well.  But by far my favorite performance of the night was Give Me Jesus, a spiritual by Moses Hogan.  Laura's mezzo soprano voice filled the hall with richness and feeling.  It was a touching performance. , 

Temple Square Performances at the Assembly Hall are always free to the public.   What a lovely way to spend the evening listening to inspiring music in a beautiful, historic building.  Needless to say, many decades later I am still a fan of Laura, her colleagues,  and her beautiful music.  5 out of 5 stars.  

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Homemade Granola

A few weeks ago I took a class on making granola and yogurt.  Last week I tried out the granola and it turned out great.  My friend, Gail, who taught the granola portion of the class, said I could share the recipe.  I haven't tried the yogurt yet, but my sample in class was delicious and I will eventually get to making the yogurt.

Here is the tasty recipe.  

Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees

4 cups of oats
1 cup slivered almonds
3/4 cup honey
1/4 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup oil
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt

Combine.  Spread out on a greased cookie sheet.  Bake 10 minutes.  Take out and stir.  Put back in the oven for 10 more minutes.  Remove.  Stir and cool.

 When Gail had us taste a sample, her granola was very soft.  I cooked mine for three 12 minute sessions stirring in between each session, and it turned out too crunchy.  A little less cooking is the sweet spot.

There are a million variations to this recipe.  For example, I added macadamias and pecans instead of almonds. I also threw in some craisins. 

This is a delicious recipe and your family will enjoy it.  But what ever you do, don't figure out the fat and calories like my friend Andy did.  He even figured the nutritional information using less oil.  Thanks for spoiling the joy, Andy!  Just know it is probably better to sprinkle just a few tablespoons on your homemade yogurt than eat a whole bowl for breakfast.  


Monday, February 20, 2012

The Fleece Crinkle Quilt Or Find a Creative Name For Your Project When a Mistake is Made

My friend Amber is having a baby.  She has three boys and is going to have a girl.  This is reason to celebrate.  So when my local Cotton Shop had a sale on quilt kits, I snapped up a cute flannel and minky kit in pink and brown.  The colors were so trendy and darling.  "This will be easy to put together," I thought.  Never assume something will be easy.  

The quilt called for ten 6-inch strips that ran the width of the fabric. These appeared cut and ready to go.  However, the strips ranged from 5.5 to 6.5 inches.  I had to trim nearly every piece.  

Once the quilt was put together, I went to the store to buy minky for the back and binding.  The minky was very expensive even on sale, but the fleece flat folds were on sale.  So I picked up the fleece.  Ahhhh, my second mistake.

I tried to stipple the quilt, but really struggled with the friction caused by the fleece.  Looping and loose upper thread tension was the result so I unpicked before I got too far along.

I decided just to do a straight stitch diamond pattern on the back.  Due to the stretchiness ofo the fleece, I got several puckers in the back of the quilt.  

But before I berate myself for this mistake, I'm just going to give it a name so it appears that the back is supposed to be this way. "The Crinkle Fleece Quilt" or the "Pucker Fleece Quilt."  I could even lay the fleece down with wrinkles on purpose and make lots of puckers.  It might look really cute.  See, I've invented an new style of quilting.  

After having spent two days longer on this quilt than planned, I simply sewed the binding on by machine.  Some of the edges came out after washing.  Ooops.

In the end, the baby quilt turned out quite pretty.  Washing and drying the quilt with dryer sheets made it extra soft and snuggly.  I won't tell the recipient all my mistakes.  It still is a warm and comfortable quilt.  I just hope she doesn't read this blog before the baby shower!

It is all good in the end.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Simone Lamsma with the Utah Symphony

Long ago in another life, I played the violin.  I played all the way through college and often imagined myself soloing with a professional orchestra.  But that would have required more practice and less socializing.  I am still absolutely in love with violin music.  So it was a wonderful treat for me last week when my husband and I saw Dutch violinist, Simone Lamsma play the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with the Utah Symphony.

The Mendelssohn Violin Concerto is one of the most beautiful concertos of the Romantic era. I loved Lamsma's performance with one exception.  She definitely conquered the piece and that is how she approached her interpretation.  It was wonderful to see and hear her technical proficiency and passion.  But it was passion with drive and not so much emotion.  This concerto is romantic emotion and this element was lacking.  I never got this far in my studies to even attempt this concerto, but I can still hear what was amazing and what was lacking.   Regardless of this one small flaw, the performance was thrilling, and it was so engaging to see her technique.  After the performance my husband said, "I guess we can now go live our uneventful, unaccomplished  lives." Yes, Lamsma was that good.  

The following photo by Dutch photographer Antoinette Borchert says it all about Lamsma's performances.  Look at that hair!

Conductor, Thierry Fischer, was also a joy to watch.  His whole body moves as he conducts the orchestra.  I love how the PR department  of the symphony makes him look slightly rugged and handsome like Harrison Ford when in reality he looks a little like Dustin Hoffman.
BYU Arts

Now I love going to the symphony.  I assume other's do as well.  After all, they bought tickets.  So why do people dress so casually to attend the symphony, theater, ballet, or opera?  Good grief.  This violinist gave up her childhood so she could become a performer.  The least the audience could do is wear something better than a University of Utah hoodie.  Yes, I actually saw this and jeans and beat up t-shirts.  Come on people! This is a special occasion.  It is more important than going to the grocery store or cleaning the toilet, so dress for it.  I also don't believe that people can't afford to dress for the symphony.  I know that hoodie was about 60 dollars.  What I couldn't do with 60 dollars and good sale or fancy second hand store.  My goal now is to refashion a suitable item for a glamorous evening out.  I've already started my search.  I will blog about the new evening wear when it is complete.

I did see a man in a tux, a top hat, wing tips, and loads of turquoise jewelry.  It was a little over the top but at least he dressed up!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Bobby Flay's Sauteed Shrimp With Sweet Potato and Smoked Chile Grits and Green Onion-Cilantro Sauce

Several years ago I purchased Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill Cookbook, and because I am a busy mom with a full time job, I never made the seemingly time-consuming recipes.  I find as much pleasure in reading a cookbook as I do in making the recipes, but I decided I'd better get some practical use out of it.  OK, truth be told, it was my husband who said, "We really ought to try that Bobby Flay cookbook." I would have just kept reading indefinitely.

Sometime in another life when I first owned this book I tagged a few of the recipes, and the first tagged recipe still looked delicious so that is the one I tried.  The title sounds very fancy.  Five-star restaurant fancy.  Listen to this: Sauteed Shrimp With Sweet Potato and Smoked Chile Grits and Green Onion-Cilantro Sauce.  

I would type out this whole recipe for you but I am sure that must break a million copyright laws, so I will just say, it is worth checking this book out at the library and give this a shot.

One suggestion, however, is to make all the sauces a day before.  There are three sauces, and this will save you a ton of time.  

The first sauce is the chipotle chile puree.  Made with dried chiles and chiles in chipotle adobo sauce.  This sauce comes in a can and hopefully you can find it in your local grocery store.  We did.

This is made by soaking the dried chiles in hot water and then pureeing them with the adobo sauce.  The picture above does not do justice to the  brick red color of the sauce.  This was the clearest picture from my camera.

Red Chile Oil is another sauce but is optional.  The recipe calls for Guajillo chiles.  We had to go to a specialty store for these and were out of luck.  Those are the kind of chiles that are best purchased in season at the farmers' market.  So we used Anaheim chiles instead.  We toasted them and ran them in the blender with a few other ingredients before straining.
A cast iron skillet is wonderful for toasting chiles.  

The sauce that my family loved the most was the Green Onion-Cilantro Sauce.  I didn't have a picture because it looks like the chile oil made with Anaheims.

The grits have the chipotle chile puree as an ingredient.  I made a ton and it only calls for two teaspoons.  But my husband just mixed a dollop of the extra-spicy puree to his serving of grits.

I have to be honest.  I really hate grits, but wow!  These grits mixed with the chipotle puree and the sweet potato were fantastic.  Talk about a delicious starch fest!

Unfortunately, my camera ran out of battery juice just as I finished serving.  So I am going to use this photo from the Year on the Grill blog.  Besides, the plating is much better than mine!

The writer of the Year on the Grill blog said that he only took thirty minutes to put this recipe together.  I am not that fast.  Perhaps if the sauces would have been prepared ahead of time I would have shortened the prep time. For me this is a weekend recipe where I have more time than on a typical weeknight.  

Here is the best part.  The whole family loved it.  Even the grits.  Now that is a winner of a recipe if it makes grits taste fabulous!
5 out of 5 stars!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Michael Vey and Other Adventurous Boy Books

Richard Paul Evans is somewhat of a celebrity in our community.  He's a true "local boy makes good" story.  I've heard him speak and find him a fantastic public motivational speaker.  And yet, even though I receive a copy of his highly popular Christmas Box as a gift every other year on average, I still can't get though the whole story. It feels forced, predictable, and formulaic.  At the request of a family member, I also read Promise Me, about a man who goes back in time and meets his mother-in-law, is instrumental in helping her get on her feet financially, and because of his help, he is able to save his future wife from suffering the life threatening effects of her disease.  I just couldn't buy it, and I found the writing to read like a dime-store romance novel.

So it was with trepidation that I began to read the book club choice for March, Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25.  

My daughter is friends with Evans' niece and was invited to a book release party.  She came home and said that Michael Vey was exactly like like Percy Jackson and she wasn't going to read it.  The only thing redeeming about the party was that the boy who modeled for the cover was sooo cute, or so she said.  

So I began reading, and to my surprise, I liked it. And to my surprise, I found the premise of a mutant electric boy more believable than the premise and characters in The Promise.  

Is it like Percy Jackson?  Yes, but not an exact copy as my indignant daughter claimed.  Keep in mind, I am a junior high teacher and I've read a zillion books like this.  The  plot is predictable.  
Here is how you could write your own story.

Once upon a time there is a boy who is bullied/is a mutant/has a disability/has super powers/is a half god/is extremely smart/is extremely brave/has had or has a deadly disease/a combination of any of the above.

His father is dead/is missing/ left/divorced his mother/is in jail.

The boy has a side kick in the form of a genius best friend/little sister or brother/mythical creature.

The boy has to overcome his inadequacies and fight the villain/bad guys/government conspiracy in order to rescue his mother/avenge his mother's death/help the family and save the world.

That's is it in a nutshell. Now you can write your own adventurous boy book.  

 I just finished reading another great book with my students that follows this formula, Flush by Carl Hiaasen.  I asked my students if they wanted to read this or Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick, by saying, "Do you want to read about drums and girls or poop?"  They said poop.  They are still in 7th grade, what do you expect?  They loved it.  

They also liked Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins.  This is also one of my favorites that was originally recommended to me by a fifth grade teacher who I was sitting by on an airplane. 
I would give all these books four stars out of five.  So Richard Paul Evans, you redeemed yourself.  I'm looking forward to the sequel.