Cinco De Mayo Recetas Parte Tres: Mexican-Spiced Chocolate Truffles

Mexican-Spiced Chocolate Truffles
Mexican-Spiced Chocolate Truffles

I have made friends with truffles.  That is, I have made friends by sharing truffles, not friends who had truffles, nor am I friends with truffles themselves. Though I suppose an argument could be made for the latter two.

They’re just so luxurious, no? And when you share them with someone, it really feels like something special.  The best part, I think, is that they’re actually very simple to make – just heat cream and whisk in chocolate and you’re halfway there. The words “double boiler” might intimidate some of you, but I’ll happily tell you it’s just a heat-proof bowl resting over a pot of simmering water. Keep the water level low, though; you don’t want it to be touching the bowl above it.

In keeping with our Cinco de Mayo theme, these guys come with the lightest touch of cinnamon and heat.  I find the amount is perfect for eating several of these in one sitting. Consider that a recommendation and a warning.

And this recipe is merely a template.  If you have ideas of other flavors you’d like, use the ratios of chocolate and cream and have at it, I say. The number one rule of truffle-making, of course, is to keep water far away from the chocolate.  If you want to add an extract of some kind, your best bet is to mix it with the cream prior to heating.

And keep that rule in mind when the time comes to scoop and shape the truffles, because your hands will be a chocolatey nightmare and you’ll want to wash them. That’s fine and all, but just make sure you dry them thoroughly before you get back to the truffle-making.

 

Ben’s Book Club – The Night Circus

Ben gave us a couple of options this month for his book club.  We immediately struck down one book because it involved kid cancer.  For real Ben?!  I won’t even watch Disney’s Chimpanzee because I know that the baby monkey is separated from his mother. Do you really think I’m going to read a book about kid cancer?  Do you want  our children to sleep in our bed every night because I’ll be terrified of something happening to them?  Obviously, I’m not emotionally capable of handling a book like that.   When I asked him why he would even present the option that he chuckled and replied, “Because I thought it would be funny to hear you sobbing in bed while reading it.”  Not cool Ben.  Not cool.

The Night CircusWe went with his other suggestion The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  The plan is to discuss the book on May 31st.  I don’t have all of the details yet, but we are hoping to include some of our readers.  Obviously if you live in Austin that means hanging out with Ben, Sarah and I.  If you are not blessed to live in Texas, then we may try to set up an online meeting.  Maybe a Google Hangout.  We will let you know.  Be sure to speak up if you want to be involved in the discussion.

I’ve read about a third of the book and so far I’m really enjoying it.  The style is different and the story is compelling.  In fact, as soon as I finish this post, I’m going to sit down and read.  So in an effort to get back to the book, here is the official summary via Goodreads:

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.

Cinco De Mayo Recetas, parte dos: Cremas Verde Enchiladas con Pollo

enchiladas-web-wmThere is a grocery chain in Texas called HEB.  It is what grocery stores will be like in heaven.  The prices are good, their store brand is generally fantastic, and they are always demoing fantastic recipes.  When people come to visit us, we always take them to HEB as well as their fancy little brother Central Market. Really, both are part of our “Welcome to Texas Tour”.

About six months after we moved here, Ben stumbled upon this recipe at their demo kitchen.  He immediately brought me a sample.  It has everything I love in enchilada form: tomatillo salsa, cream cheese (super authentic huh?), cheese and chicken.  Needless to say, it became a staple at our house.  One day I randomly mentioned it on our family blog and my cousin Amber messaged me soon after asking for the recipe.  It made the rounds through the family and then a couple of days later her sister, my cousin Amy, asked if she could post about it on her cute food blog The Sister’s Dish.  From what I can gather on Pinterest and Google, others have really enjoyed the recipe.

When we came up with the idea of a series of Cinco De Mayo recipes, I knew that these enchiladas must be included.  After photographing it, Sarah and I sat down to devour the single plate with two forks.  We didn’t even share with the kids. We made them eat Costco Mickey Nuggets instead.  Hopefully you are nicer than us and you actually share with your family.  Or not.  Whatever.  No judgement here.

Also, we randomly discovered that if you dip a tortilla chip in creamy jalapeno dip (coming later this week) and eat it on top of the enchilada you will momentarily black out from bliss.  I can tell you that my husband is shaking his head as he reads this.  But really.  Try it.  You can thank us later.

Enchiladas-top-web-wm

Cinco De Mayo Recetas, parte uno: Horchata Milkshakes

Top viewOne of the best things about the month of May is Cinco De Mayo.

Cinco De Mayo = Mexican Food.

And I love me some Mexican Food. I ate it at least three times a week when I was pregnant with my oldest.  When the hubs told me he got a job in Texas, I nearly wept with happiness. I knew that I was moving to a place that would fulfill my culinary needs.

So, in honor of my favorite holiday — that I don’t really celebrate — we will be sharing Mexican-esque recipes. As always, we are completely unqualified. However, Sarah and I call Texas home and Erika claims Arizona.  That, and the fact that we frequent Mexican restaurants, well, frequently, should count for something.  Maybe.

One might think we would start with a recipe for an appetizer. We don’t really roll that way.  We are going to start with dessert—more specifically, a milkshake inspired by one of our favorite Latin American beverages: horchata.

Mmmmmmmm.

Horchata varies from country to country but for our purposes, we are going to use the rice version. It is a beverage that is made from blending rice and water.  After blending, it sits for a couple of hours. Then you strain it and add your flavoring, usually cinnamon and vanilla.  I’m not going to lie: I’ve never actually made horchata, mostly because I can buy it at my local grocery store. Since some (if not most) of our readers may not have this luxury, here is a recipe. Go crazy.

Milkshake kids
This is the part where I insert a gratuitous photo of our children. My son loves Sarah’s daughter. They are the cutest milkshake sharing couple ever.

But can you think of a better way to use horchata other than combining it with ice cream?

I didn’t think so.

Neither could our children. They were practically hovering over our milkshake as I was prepping it for photos. It didn’t take long for them to dive in once I was done. Little miss kept saying, “Treecee (Tracey), I have ice cream?  Treecee, I have ice cream?”  Obviously I’m not going to turn down those adorable little faces, so I took took the photos as fast as I could.

Then we had to plop in an extra straw so we could get this sweet little shot.  I’m totally saving this photo forever. Every time my son brings home a girl I don’t like I’m going to “dust” this frame in while she’s around.  When these two finally get married, I will proudly display a 20×30 canvas of this photo at their reception.  It will be perfect.

But I digress. Here’s the recipe for the milkshake orchata. Be sure to join us over the next couple of days for our other Cinco De Mayo recipes. Hopefully you will enjoy them as much as we do.

Milkshake

 

 

 

 

Ben’s Book Club – Gone Girl

Gone Girl

Welcome to Ben’s Book Club!  Ben is Tracey’s husband, and from time to time he finds us things to read and talk about.  Today, Tracey, Ben, and Sarah sat down to discuss Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.  What follows is a transcript of that conversation, edited for brevity and such.  Next we hope to do a Google Hangout to include Erika (and you, if you’re interested).  We’ll keep you posted.

Gone Girl is a thriller/mystery set in Carthage, Missouri. It features a husband and wife who have moved there after losing their jobs in New York.  On their fifth wedding anniversary, the wife – Amy – goes missing.  With a non-linear structure told from different perspectives, the plot is one that keeps you guessing.

Now, be forewarned that there are SPOILERS a plenty below. (It should also be noted that Ben has placed a curse on anyone who skips ahead or read spoilers. He says they will be turned into an old Gypsy.) Finally, this is a book that has strong, explicit language, so be aware of that should you choose to pick up a copy.

Why did you recommend this book to us, Ben?

Ben: Well, I  really like the twists in the book, and how it keeps you guessing. You want to talk about it because of that. Also, with the character of Amy I’m impressed that she was able to accomplish what she did

Sarah: Right. You definitely acknowledge that she’s a genius.I found myself not being able to keep the stories straight – much like the characters in the book – I couldn’t quite remember what part was Amy lying and what was “real”.

Tracey: I felt sufficiently manipulated.

Ben: Well I first, I found myself thinking, “Maybe you’re going a bit too far, but you’re getting even with your husband for cheating on you, so it kind of makes sense.”  Then you here about what she did to her friend in high school and to the other guy, and you start to realize she’s insane

Sarah: Oh, I thought she was insane as soon as we found out she was alive. I thought, “Nuts.  She is straight up nuts.”

Tracey: Well, and we found out pretty quickly that she was willing to kill herself for this.

Sarah: Was she, though?  I didn’t quite believe it.  I think she told herself she would do it, to feel like she had that much control, but ultimately she doesn’t really want to die.

Tracey: I think she really does have that much control, though.

Ben: Yeah, she is able to plan enough to break her own toilet to fake a pregnancy.

Sarah: Saving the vomit. That one impressed me.

Ben: Do you think she actually poisoned herself or just added some antifreeze to her vomit?

Tracey: Oh, poisoned herself.

Sarah: Yeah, definitely.

Tracey: I mean, the woman spent a year writing seven years worth of diary entries with different colored pens.

Do You Find Either of Them Sympathetic At First?

Ben: I didn’t find him sympathetic through the whole thing.

Tracey: I never liked him.

Sarah: I found myself being very neutral about everything until the affair was revealed, and then I was 100% against him.

Tracey: Okay, what about her?

Ben: I kinda like the diary version of her.

Tracey: I think I almost liked her better at the end, because I felt I had an understanding and sympathy for her.  She was crazy, and it was because her parents constantly holding her to this impossible standard, the “Amazing Amy”.  Not that she should have a child, though.

Sarah: Scariest part of the book. Easily. And the fact that everything was left so open-ended.

Ben: But are her parents really like that? Because the only information we get on them behaving that way, really-

Tracey: -came from her! That’s true.

Sarah: But Nick seems to blame the parents in the end, too.

Tracey: Well, and with the pregnancy: who really did not want the pregnancy? Did she not want it? Did he?

Ben: I think in the end, she didn’t want it, but she want the trump card.

Tracey: She wanted control.

At what point do your sympathies begin to change if they do?

Ben: For him, I kind of felt bad that he was going through this frame up…

Tracey: But you never liked him.  And I found it interesting that he hired this smarmy lawyer.

Sarah: Yeah, the jerk lawyer.

Tracey: And that was the only point where I thought, “Maybe he did kill her.”

Nick insists he has nothing to do with his wife’s disappearance.  Do you believe him, or at what point did you start to suspect he was guilty?

Ben: I never really thought he did it, but I wasn’t sure who had done it.

Sarah: Well, and we knew something was up, because they kept dropping lines like, “That was my fifth lie of the day,” and he had this secret phone he wasn’t answering…

Tracey: But it was almost, like, too easy like you said.  But I will say, I was surprised by the affair.  I was like, “What?!”

Sarah: And at that point, you hated him. You just thought, “Ugh, you sad little loser.”

What did you think of Nick and Amy’s relationship? Was a it a good relationship? Where do the stress lines fall in the marriage?

Tracey: Sarah and I were talking about this earlier.

Sarah: Yeah, and I think that by the end, on paper at least, they have a good marriage, right? They are two people that are willing to do what is necessary for them to stay together. And they are sacrificing aspects of themselves so that that can happen.

Tracey: And they fully understand and accept the other.

Sarah: Yes, they know everything about each other.

Ben: But he’s terrified of her.  It’s not so much that he accepts her as much as he’s scared of her.

Tracey: But Ben, aren’t you a little scared of me, wouldn’t you say?

Ben: No.

Tracey: (Laughs.) Ben has said that if he came home and told me he was doing another four years of grad school that I would smother him in his sleep.  And I told him, “Yeah, I probably would.”

Sarah: Ha!

Tracey: But back to their marriage.  I think that in today’s society, people live with each other for so long before they get married so that they presumably can get to know each other.  And for Amy, she felt like her husband didn’t know her and that’s why she felt like she was done.  She was ready to walk away from it and put her husband in jail for forever.  And while most relationships don’t end in such a dramatic fashion, how many people end a relationship because they feel like, “He doesn’t know me?” Is this just an extreme example of what really happens?

Ben: And when you date, you aren’t really presenting “you”, you are presenting a certain version of yourself.

Sarah: So really this is just a really high stakes version of a normal relationship?

Tracey: As far as where the stress lines fall in their relationship, I think it stems from each of them trying to be something they’re not.

Sarah: That’s true, and in the end, they acknowledge who they really are.

Ben: But then what do you make of Nick saying towards the end that he finds himself believing the lie they’ve made of their marriage?

Sarah: But isn’t that what marriage is, though? Like, it’s hard to give up aspects of yourself and to choose to be different and to be better, but if you fully invest yourself in being the best thing for that person, you become that person after awhile.

Tracey: I would say in most marriages, you work to bring out the best in each other, whereas in this marriage they are fighting off the worst in each other.  Preventing the worst in each other.

Sarah: Ooh, I like that. But they still shouldn’t have a child.

Tracey: No. There should be no child brought into this world.

Does the novel make you think about your own relationship? Can you ever truly know the other person?

Tracey: I think that’s a valid question. I feel like for Ben and I, that’s never really been an issue. But our relationship started out with friendship, and so we knew each other pretty well already before our relationship progressed. I feel like we did know each other before we got married, plus we were both a little older when we got married, and I think that was to our advantage.

Ben: It’s true.

Sarah: I don’t understand why “truly knowing” someone is the goal. Like why is that so important?  I think that there are things you should know about the person you are with, and certain aspects of who they are that you can always rely on, so it that sense you need to know them, but other than that, why is it so important to know everything about a person?

Tracey: And is it really ever possible for someone not to have their own little secrets, even if they’re just omissions? Maybe we all have that internal need to keep our own little secrets, though probably not to the extent that these people do. For example, sometimes Ben buys himself a doughnut and the way home but doesn’t bring me one.  Even though I love doughnuts.  It is just his little secret.  I’m sure we all have little secrets.

Sarah: Well, there was that one time…you know…

Ben: That you framed that guy for murder?

Sarah: Yeah.

Tracey: This is the best book club ever.

Who should play these characters in a film version of this book?

Our final choices: Amy played by Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper playing Nick, and Ray Wise as Nick’s lawyer.

 

 

 

Things You Need to Stop Doing on the Internet Part I: Plagiarizing Instead of Being Inspired

Today’s post is part one in a series we’re doing about things we all do.  On the internet.  That need to stop.  Today’s topic?  Knowing when not to copy another’s work. Got an idea for this series you’d like us to write about? That “Leave a reply” button is all yours, babe.

car-web
Try stealing THIS photo, dude.

A little anecdote for you.

I learned the word “plagiarize” when I was in second grade.  I learned it because it was something I had done, and my mother felt the need for me to understand that plagiarism is a big deal – illegal, actually.  And to be clear, I had very intentionally stolen something that I in no way had written myself, and not because I wasn’t capable of writing, or because I hadn’t done the assignment and needed something to submit. No, I stole because I really, really liked it.

It was a poem my older brother was working on memorizing as a fourth grade class assignment.  He would walk around the house reciting it, and it wasn’t long before I knew it by heart, too.  So, when my own assignment came to write an original story, I knew that the poem would be such a good fit. I eagerly wrote it down, and made a few additions of my own.

My teacher, of course, loved it. She was very impressed, so much so that she asked me point-blank, “Did you write this?”.  I told her I had, because 1.) It was in my handwriting, so I had written it, and 2.) I had made the additions, see, so it was my work. She told me it was very, very good, and even had me take it down to the first graders to read it during their story time.  She called my mother to tell her I could be published.  My mom knew me a little better, and knew to be a little more skeptical.  It wasn’t long before the truth came out, and it was embarrassing all around.  I will never forget the apology letter I wrote to my teacher (on Babysitters’ Little Sister stationary, FYI), and how nervous and ashamed I was handing it to her across her desk.

So yes, for me, plagiarism has very strong emotional associations of, “No! Bad! Don’t do it!”.  Still, plagiarism hits another nerve for me as someone who tries very hard to be original.  The internet today – with its Google Images and Pinterest and Etsy – can easily take every good idea you’ve ever had and make it widely accessible to anyone.

And don’t get me wrong, that’s often a good thing.  It’s quite possible that someone who has never met me is reading this (holla at me in the comments, don’t be shy!), and that’s thrilling.  That’s the 21st century.

Pinterest and its friends do wonderful things, and being inspired to make something is not bad.  I’m not saying you should never copy something you see on the internet; tutorials are, well, tutorials, after all.  My days as a theatre student were littered with the phrase, “You’re only as good as who you steal from,” and there’s a lot of truth to that.  We probably have never encountered a truly “original” idea, and a site dedicated to the sharing of ideas can be an incredible resource for creativity.

But what happens when we come across something that we just love so much, and we want it for a photo collage we’re making, and we just can’t believe someone would charge $30 for a print of it and dangit, all we have to do is crop out that watermark and it’s perfect?  Just there for the taking.

You walk away is what.  Every good idea you see came from someone who is probably very proud of that idea.  And they are likely using that creativity to help support their family, or themselves, or even just support their own self-esteem.

Aight, this post is getting all kinds of preachy, and I think you get the point I’m trying to make here, but let me leave with one last (super soapbox-y) point before I offer some solutions: I firmly believe that what I create helps define who I am.  Were I to choose to present or use another person’s work as my own, I fail to do that.  I would know less and less what I believe and stand for, and eventually I would lose the foundations of who I am.

The antidote:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5VgLOs0LwQ

Do.  Do things of your own thinking. Create for yourself.  The more you do it, the more you will realize you’ve got a lot of great ideas, too. And the more you will realize how much work goes into creating something original. So then, on those occasions when something really is so wonderful to you, you will be all the more willing to back up that love with appropriate support to its originator.  Sometimes that will mean money, sure, but more often than not it’s just citing things properly.  Reach out to that artist/writer/crafter/photographer and let them know how much you like what they’re doing, and tell them about what you would like to do with their work.  Cooperate. Collaborate. But don’t steal.

#hashtagwhat?: Thoughts on Hashtags for Those Who Don’t Understand Them

 

#hashtags Love em'? Hate em? Confused by them?
#hashtags Love em’? Hate em? Confused by them?

Quick! Tell me in one sentence the purpose and function of hashtags in social media!  You have 10 seconds! Go!

…Did you?  If so, congratulations! You’ve just determined that this post isn’t for you.  Head on over to Tracey’s great cupcake rant and make yourself some Cinnamon Toast Cupcakes, stat.

The rest of you, make yourselves comfortable.

When this blog was still just a twinkle in our eyes, Tracey, Erika, and I were floating ideas of what to write about.  I’m sure you can guess what came up again and again: “#”.

That tiny tic-tac-toe board that raises so many questions. What are they?  How are they used? Who gets these things? What follows is a (completely unqualified, see blog title) crash course on the evolution of the hashtag.

First things first.  Near as I can gather, hashtags were originally designed as a way of joining an ongoing conversation, and that usage is certainly the easiest to understand.  Everyone watching the 11:00 am rerun of What Not to Wear could suddenly find each other and talk about how Carmindy hasn’t aged a day in ten years; all it takes is “#WNTW”.  Similarly, hashtags can be a useful way to “file” tweets and instagrams and such. All the photos you posted and tagged with “#sarahsdreamtriptoitaly2015” are now easily grouped together.

Soon, certain “labels” began popping up frequently, for example the extremely common “#nofilter” . (To the uninitiated, this is an instagram hashtag that indicates the photo was uploaded without giving it a signature instagram filter.) I personally believe that this is about when the hashtag really started getting cah-razy.  See, these labels were more than the hashtags that came before them.  They were not a means to join a conversation as much as the hashtag itself was a conversation point of its own.  In other words, you weren’t trying to connect with other people who wanted to talk about not using filters, or who had shared the “no filter” experience with you.  You weren’t labeling that photo so you could keep track of which photos had been taken without a filter.  You were using the hashtag to make a point, and to make that point in the most abbreviated way possible.Some other examples: “#500followers”, “#commentplease”, “#latergram”.

So by this point, hashtags are not just a supplement to our communication outlets, they are a communication medium unto themselves, which is, in turn, talking about its parent medium. It is all so very meta.  I think when most people express their frustration with hashtags, they are mentally citing times when hashtags have been used with no apparent purpose.  You know what I’m talking about: oddly specific or excessively long hashtags, communicating entirely in hashtags, and – the cardinal sin! – hashtags on Facebook. For my purposes, we will categorize these as “hated hashtags”.

So what’s the missing link from the fairly tame “#latergram” to the #healwaysdoesthiswhenwearerunninglate? Here’s my theory, and you’re going to just have to hang with me through this, but please, please do: I think it’s Baudrillard.  As in, simulacra and simulation.
“What the wha?!” is what you just said in your brain, probably, and that’s okay.  I wouldn’t be talking about this if I didn’t think it fit, like, perfectly, though.

Jean Baudrillard was (among other things) a cultural theorist of the postmodern persuasion.  He introduced the notion of simulacra, or “copies that depict things that had no reality to begin with, or that no longer have an original.” (Taken from Wikipedia, btw.) The example that I first learned for this was artificial cherry flavoring.  If we stop and think about cherry-flavored anything, we realize it has little to do with the “reality” that bears its same name. Furthermore, artificial cherry flavoring is so much more prevalent that real cherries that it is entirely conceivable that someone should taste a real cherry and determine it tastes nothing like cherries.

Hated hashtags are simulacra.  They communicate something that either never existed, or their origin is so convoluted it might as well not have existed.  But why do we keep using them? If they are entirely nonsensical, why not dismiss them entirely?

Culturally we are masters of nostalgia.  We LOVE nostalgia. We generate lists of things that prove we were children in the 90s. We watched every VH1 special on every decade we could and then happily tuned in to get nostalgic over the week we had just lived on “Best Week Ever”. We got so moony over a tv show that we generated $5.7 million of our own hard-earned money just to have the thing back.

And with hated hashtags, we can manufacture our own nostalgia.  We create the illusion that what we are talking about is somehow hearkening back to something that existed before, and we are using the hashtag to create that link. Complicit to this illusion is the fact that hashtags were once and still are used for that purpose, but these hated hashtags only serve as a simulacra of that activity.  And what is more powerful than an emotional connection to what we create?

Ultimately, though, we (and I mean the mid-20 and older set) just aren’t really meant to “get” hashtags.  They are learned language for us, while the young crowd speaks it intuitively. Here is a really fascinating article that warns how little we understand the extent of what hashtags and the programs that use them mean to this upcoming generation.

TL/DR version? Hashtags are the symbol of a generation’s communication, and there’s no easy way to explain what they are.  At least not for me.  You can still hate hashtags if you want, but perhaps now it is a more informed hatred.  And maybe you feel better equipped to use them.  Either way, thanks for #reading.