Thursday, January 21, 2010

Spinach Never Tasted So Good

I'm officially addicted to the green smoothie. I know it sounds disgusting, but it is GOOD. My friend Carri introduced me to this. I think she started drinking it as a solution to not being a breakfast person. I am definitely a breakfast person. Even if I'm not hungry, I eat breakfast because that's just what I do.

Now I am not a fan of drinking your meals, but this smoothie isn't necessarily my entire meal. I like the idea of the green smoothie because I need more vegetables in my diet.

As far as vegetables go, I really like spinach, but a full spinach salad looks a little overwhelming. It's amazing how much spinach you can eat in one glass when you blend it into a drink and slurp it up with a straw.

I know what you're don't like vegetable drinks. But if you use a green vegetable with a mild taste like spinach, you don't even know what you're drinking as long as you add the right ingredients.

When I asked Carri what was involved with the green smoothie, I loved her answer: "So you take a green like spinach or chard and then you throw in some lemon, include the rind if you want and then basically you add fruit until it tastes good."

Fortunately Santa gave me a blender for Christmas. Next to my clock radio it has been the most useful gift this year. I've thrown in several different ingredients to make this taste good. And I'm telling you it tastes GOOD. And it's magically energizing which is good for me in the morning (just call me Popeye). I don't drink this every day -- maybe 4 times a week. I usually make enough for two servings so I can drink one and then refrigerate the rest for the next morning (you're not supposed to let it keep for more than 24 hours).

I haven't ventured beyond spinach yet, but I think I'll try that once my bag is gone. So for two smoothies, the basic ingredients are your greens, half a lemon (I cut off the ends, slice it in half and cut off maybe half the rind. I don't mind the seeds). Here are my favorite additional ingredients:

for liquid (I use one or the other):

Almond milk
Carrot Juice -- so far my favorite
Coconut milk (haven't tried it yet, but I'm excited to).

frozen mango

My secret ingredient: cinnamon

Seriously, the cinnamon is awesome, but I like cinnamon (it aids in digestion, it is an anti-inflammatory and it has been known to improve brain function -- I read a lot). I almost always use a banana because it gives it a good texture. I tried using just mango once and it wasn't very sweet. Pineapple is the best for sweetness. It makes me feel good to know I've taken care of half my fresh fruits and vegetables before 8 AM.

Next time you're at my house, ask me to make you one. You'll love it.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Five Things

Before I started the "Foods of Durham Past" series I talked about how that came from a conversation I had with my parents over dinner in Durham, England this past spring. We had another conversation that night where my dad talked about his list of things he called "5 Things you needed to know if you were going to date Tom" (his name is Tom).

That got me to thinking of my own list of 5 things I think people should probably know about me. This isn't THE 5 things, it's just 5. So here it is...more or less.

1. I like good, quality food. I'm not saying that you'll never see me eat McDonalds, or that I demand eating at expensive restaurants, I'm just saying I like to eat well, I like to eat healthy, and I know it costs more sometimes, but at this point in my life, it's worth it. I remember going to Rubio's with a bunch of friends and one of them looked at the prices, looked at the amount of food on people's plates at the surrounding tables and he took off. He came back not long after with a bag full of Taco Bell and basically said, "Check this out losers! Look what I got for four bucks!" OK, it was Clint. I love him to death, but he is the perfect example of what I am not when it comes to attitude toward food. The calorie to price ratio isn't what I'm interested in. I'm interested in pleasing my taste buds and having a good dining experience. I will pay more for a smaller portion of anything if it means it's going to taste better.

2. I love the theatre. This means plays, musicals, movies, whatever. But lets talk about plays and musicals. I'm interested in how others feel about this. I've sat in lousy seats at the theatre because it was too expensive otherwise...still worth it to go, but if you think about it, it's totally worth the extra money to have a good seat. You remember the experience more because you're closer to the action. The live performances are great, but the memories and images your brain captures are a big part of what make these experiences meaningful. Sometimes spending an extra $20 for a better seat isn't so much an extravagance as it sounds. More often than not you'll end up spending $20 on something stupid anyway (like a few meals at Wendy's). With movies, I don't care where we sit. I love movies. I try to see a lot of them. I never think going to a movie is a lame date. If you love movies, awesome. We'll get along. If you hate them...I don't know what we had to talk about in the first place (kidding). As far as plays and musicals go, if you're not into that kind of thing, I guess that's fine. Just understand I will go without you.

3. I need to travel. I love planning trips, I love thinking about trips, I usually have at least one trip in the works at all times. If you don't like to travel -- I will go without you.

4. The first three kind of make me sound high maintenance, but in fact I'm a homebody. It's my default. I am content just staying at home and cooking, cleaning things up, organizing things or just sitting on the couch watching TV. This doesn't mean I don't like to go out and do things. I love to go out and do things, but I typically need some nudging. This is why I don't live by myself. I like to surround myself with active people who do things and make me go with them. These people are good for me because they get me to do things I really want to do, but I'm naturally disinclined to do.

5. I love telling stories, but I haven't mastered the art of telling short versions. Most of my stories include details about who said what exactly and a lot of background. And, I'll admit some of my stories are boring and completely irrelevant. That usually doesn't stop me. You are welcome to though.

Here are some more that I didn't feel like explaining in detail:

I hate big parties packed with people I don't know.
I don't dance.
I love television and talk about it a lot.
I laugh a lot.
Sometimes I cry, but it's ok.
I have a hard time with flaky people.
I spend a lot of time with my family and I enjoy it -- Lis, this one is dedicated to Josh ;)
I like my alone time.
I'm kind of full of contradictions.
I'm ridiculously loyal. Even if you're mean to me. I kind of hate this.
A few people have told me I can be stubborn, which is funny because I always thought I was a pushover and let people take advantage of me and my willingness to concede. Maybe I've gotten more stubborn as a defense mechanism to avoid being manipulated and walked all over.

I'm also nice.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Background Pianist

Of all the lessons I didn’t take regularly growing up, piano was the most useful. Everything I know about the piano I learned from my mom, my dad and my grandpa – a little because I think I went to his house a few times to take lessons. Most of the people I talk to acknowledge it is one of the best skills they acquired and thank their mother for making them stick with it -- even though they protested.

Fortunately, I didn’t need anyone to make me stick with it because I really enjoyed it. Even when I took violin lessons, I would get frustrated, put the violin away and practice the piano instead.

However, because I didn’t really take formal lessons, most of my piano skills are instinctual. I never learned music theory, what all the symbols mean, or proper fingering. And sometimes counting sets me back, but that’s OK. I know how to read music and if I practiced enough I could probably play most things.

Everyone who plays the piano and is a member of the LDS church knows if people find out you play, your calling is pretty much made sure for the rest of your life. You are the Primary or Relief Society pianist, the ward chorister or the ward choir accompanist. I really resented this in college because I wanted to know what it was like to be a teacher or serve on a committee or something, but I was always accompanying the congregation, the class or the choir. Always. My bishop even told me "If you play the piano, that's going to be your calling. That's just how it is. I remember looking at him, and at that moment, I decided next semester I wasn't going to put piano down under “skills” on my next membership application just to see what would happen. I was called to be a Relief Society teacher. That was a good semester.

Still, I loved to play the piano, it’s just that hymns were getting old (in fact that was the semester when I chose the most obscure hymns for the congregation to sing in our meetings. It was probably one of the more selfish things I've ever done. I didn't want to play "Count Your Blessings" ever again so I made everyone suffer through songs they've never heard just so I could play something different). When I moved to Portland after college, I discovered a piano in a big bank building across the street from where I temped. I don’t remember the details of how they decided to let me play their piano, but I rounded up some sheet music one day and played background for about an hour.

I’ll never be a concert pianist, but what I’m great at is background piano. And it’s not stressful at all because you’re not expecting people to listen. I’ve missed having a piano to play ever since I left the baby grand at my parents’ house, so I’m usually looking for other reasons to play the piano.

I volunteered at the LDS conference center to be a “watcher” for their annual International Book of Mormon exhibit. Basically I sat there and read for 3 hours and made sure people didn’t go down stairs or halls they weren’t supposed to. One day, the older missionary in charge of me said someone would be coming at noon to play the piano, but no one did. I REALLY wanted to go play the piano instead of just sitting there and watching people, but I wasn’t authorized. So I ended up inquiring with the person in charge of music, participated in an audition, he said I had “a nice touch” and now I am an official background pianist for the church buildings downtown (a people watcher no more). I have two basic locations: The Joseph Smith Memorial Building and the LDS Conference Center.

The JSMB is a more coveted location because it is more comfortable and homey, and there’s more traffic, and therefore, more people are there to listen – because, even though it’s nice to not have an actual captive audience, it’s nice to have a few people that care so you feel like you’re not there for nothing. It feels really good when people pass through, stop for a minute and then decide to sit down just to listen. That doesn’t really happen at the Conference Center because there isn’t really anywhere for them to sit down.

The piano sits in the lobby and I played there one night when there was a wedding reception in an adjacent room. A lot of the people from the wedding party came out and sat in the lobby to hear me play which was really nice. I’ve enjoyed some of the comments I get from people:

A father with his 9 year-old son, “That song is from Pride and Prejudice isn’t it?” Actually it was from Sense and Sensibility. Still, he knew his wife would be proud of him. I was.

The lady sitting at the registration desk in the room behind me, “Thank you so much for coming to play, it really adds to the atmosphere.” Aww. That’s always good to hear. It’s a volunteer job and often a thankless one.

An old man who works in the building came up and handed me a Hershey’s treasure candy. “Here, I thought you should have something.” Ah, he knows.

My first time playing at the Conference Center one of the elderly missionaries stopped me on my way to the piano and said, “You know what sounds really good? Phantom of the Opera.” Shoot. I didn’t have any Broadway with me. However, I did bring Les Mis the next time I played.

It’s funny because most people like to listen to music they’re familiar with – especially people who aren’t familiar with a lot of music. They feel really smart if you play something they've heard and they'll stick around and nod in approval. Last week I was playing the GymnopĂ©dies by Erik Satie (dear Mom and Dad, I have your Satie piano book) and I noticed people begin to walk more slowly around the building and kind of sway to the back and forth rhythm. It was fun feeling like I had a little bit of control over these people, especially the kids. It was almost like they were my puppets.

One little boy, about 3 years old, just walked up to me and started to stare. Always flattering.

After that I played Gnossiennes No.1 and when I was finished a gentleman walked up to me and asked me what that piece was. “I have a recording of this on a CD at home, but I never knew what it was called,” he continued “It’s just lovely. It’s almost like, I don’t know, like it has a bunch of wrong notes in it, but somehow it works.” I understood what he meant, but I decided not to tell him that I hadn't practiced that piece very much so 20% of the notes I played were probably wrong.

I was also asked to play music outside the ticket office for people who were attending “Savior of the World”. I got there a little late and the crowds of people were kind of loud, but as soon as I opened up the hymnbook and started playing “Now the Day is Over” the crowd hushed and formed a line. Kind of like they were walking in to primary and the primary president had her forefinger up to her mouth telling them to “Shhh…” and be reverent. I felt really powerful until the noise gradually escalated to its previous level.

In conclusion, I would like to say that for me, at least, next to reading and writing, piano is one of my most useful skills, and I’m glad that I enjoy it. Even though I was resistant to tell people that I have the skill for fear that I would be pigeon holed for the rest of my life, I have no problem being the piano person.

Just last week no one was playing prelude in relief society so I just went up to the piano and started to play. The chorister asked me to stay there and play the hymns for class while I was at it. And I was happy to.