A wannabe writer looking for something meaningful to say

But Don’t Call Them Resolutions

I intended to post this right after my birthday in June. If you look at the date of the last post on this blog, you can see how well that went.

Anyway, last year (and by last year, I mean 2014—Happy New Year!), I turned 36. When it happened, I started to think about what I wanted to do for my 40th birthday. I’ve never been one for big celebrations on my birthday. In fact, there are only a handful that I remember especially vividly:

  • 15, when my stepmom insisted on throwing me a quiceañera
  • 16, when I made tie-dyed shirts and camped out in my back yard with a bunch of my friends from school
  • 21, when I went out with my mom and I ordered a cosmopolitan for my first legal drink; the bartender realized it was my birthday and offered to give me my next drink free and then said I was crazy for ordering a white Russian.
  • 27, when I threw myself a party and hung out with hubby for the first time

Still, 40 is one of those numbers that looms especially large on the calendar for everybody and, therefore, necessitates special acknowledgement. Truth be told, I’m really looking forward to my 40s. No, really. I am for all sorts of reasons, but mainly because after I turned 30 I realized that all the things I didn’t do in my 20s, I could still do, with the added benefits of experience, wisdom, greater financial stability and a husband and kids with whom to enjoy them. So the thoughts of what I’d do to mark my 40s turned into thoughts about what I wanted to do once I turned 40, which, in turn, became thoughts about what I could do now.

The result was this list—40 things I want to do before I turn 40.

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Recipe Review: Softbatch Cream Cheese Chocolate Chip Cookies

I wish I could remember the first time I ate a homemade chocolate chip cookie because I feel like my life since that moment has been an endless, fruitless (though chocolate-filled and therefore often delicious) effort to bake the perfect one. Yes, I realize that I ate my first chocolate chip cookie as a child, and for me at a young age, “effort to bake the perfect one” usually just meant baking variations of the recipe on the back of the Nestle Tollhouse Morsels bag.

Variations, you ask?

Oh, you know.

Semi-sweet vs. milk.

Softened butter vs. melted butter.

Light brown sugar vs. dark brown sugar.

Nuts vs. no nuts.

And my favorite . . . adding oatmeal.

As a grown-up person, I’ve gotten better and more adventurous with my baking. I still follow other people’s recipes. When it comes to stuff that I and my loved ones and I are going to eat, I’m not one for the road less traveled, not when it’s made by me, anyway. Being a follower is not a terrible thing some of the time. I’m getting away from my point. Anyway. As I was saying, I like recipes, though I use them more as a general guide rather than a strict set of rules.

Still, all that said, I’d never varied too much beyond what’s listed above, when it came to chocolate chip cookies. The standard recipe is easy, and there’s chocolate so even when they’re bad, they’re good. But realizing that I’ve passed on my chocolate chip cookie addiction on to my daughter, it occurred to me that if she is going to love the chocolate chip cookie as much as I do, I’d like for her to believe that the cookies we make at home are better than anyone else’s. I mean, whenever she wants to have a really awesome cookie, I want her to say, “Mommy, let’s bake!” instead of, “Mommy, let’s go to the store and buy cookies!”

So with that in mind, I’ve looked at recipes here and there that were a step above the old standard, but not so complicated that my 2-year-old couldn’t help me (or that I couldn’t keep an eye on her while in the thick of it because she got bored and decided to go color on the table in the dining room—it happens). Ideally, the ingredients would all be stuff I keep at home on a regular basis, and they’d bake soft.

Here’s a recipe, from the blog AverieCooks.com, that I landed on in that search, and while I won’t claim it’s the perfect cookie. It’s pretty damn good.

(Fair warning if you follow the link to the recipe: There are so many pictures of delicious gooey cookies before you get to the actual recipe that you will be convinced you have to make them right then when you finally do.)

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One of the things that makes the cookies soft is that the recipe replaces some of the butter (softened) with cream cheese (also softened). You can’t actually taste the cream cheese, but the resulting batter is much thicker and stickier than for cookies I’ve made in the past. Instead of chocolate chips and chunks, as suggested, I only used chips.

The recipe also calls for refrigerating the dough for two hours (or up to five days!) before baking. I never do this when I follow cookie recipes. I’ve been told that cookies baked at just the right temperature are all the tastier for it, but who has the time or patience for that? Not me. In this case, I put the dough in the fridge while my daughter sat on the potty for 20 minutes before scooping onto the baking mat. Don’t know if it made a difference. The resulting cookies were delicious either way. Very soft and very tasty. I took some to a friend’s house who had us over for dinner and her kindergardener confirmed that they were very good indeed. I highly recommend this one.

Running shoes, an elegy

When I showed up to my first cross-country practice a couple of weeks before the start of my sophomore year of high school, I was wearing these old high-top basketball shoes because the new Asics running shoes I’d ordered for the season hadn’t arrived yet. My coach noticed, of course, and told me I was going to want something else on my feet. I assured him the right shoes were on their way, and sure enough, when I got home that afternoon, there they were, all yellow and pink and shining with possibility.

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Mini Book Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the RainThe Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I hadn’t heard much about this book beyond the dog-as-narrator trope before I read it, though I was familiar with how popular it was, including among most of the friends of mine who had read it. So when I didn’t love it, I thought for a long time as to why. Certainly, there is much about it to enjoy. It’s easy, uncomplicated writing, and the narrator, though not usually a reliable one, spins a good yarn in convincing us that his people are good and flawed in all the best ways humans can be. Enzo, himself, is every pet owner’s dream—which I think is why most people like him, not because we love the book, but because we love our pets and we project that love onto this wise old soul of a retriever, a rather generic choice as far as dogs are concerned. The moments that really grabbed me emotionally where those Enzo shared, not with Denny, but with Eve and Zoe, for whom there was less hero-worship and instead a relationship and feelings based on shared experiences. If this book had been just about Eve, in fact, I’m fairly certain I would have loved it.

Read on, but beware spoilers!

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Five years

One of my favorite memories of working at the Rocky Mountain News came just weeks into my first tenure there. (I worked at the Rocky between September 2004 and July 2005, and again between August 2008 and February 2009, when it was shut down.)

I was a general assignment reporter tasked with riding on a campaign bus with then Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar. It was the fall of 2004 and he was running for the U.S. Senate against Pete Coors. The bus took off from somewhere in downtown Denver in the late afternoon and did a small tour of the city that included a stop at his daughter’s volleyball game at North High School and, for reasons that I don’t remember, a stop at a bowling alley. My job was to take notes and pass them on to political reporter Lynn Bartels to add color to a piece she was writing about the Senate race.

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Five things in no particular order, e-book edition

First, let me set the scene . . .

When I finished Divergent earlier this month, I was a bit underwhelmed by it, but not so underwhelmed that I wasn’t interested in starting the second book in the Veronica Roth series, Insurgent, immediately after, which put me into something of a conundrum.

1) I wanted to start reading it soon, a factor that eliminated trying to find time to get to a book store.

2) I  didn’t want to pay a lot for it, as is no more than $8 or $9 (which also eliminated a book store purchase).

3) My usual avenue for getting free books (paperbackswap.com) didn’t have this book available.

4) On Amazon, used copies, with tax and shipping, would still come out to more than $10.

Basically, I wanted the book now and cheap.

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Before the Early Bird Special

I remember seeing Before Sunrise when I was in high school and not being quite able to buy into the movie as a romance. I enjoyed watching two people meeting randomly and having one long, engaging conversation—and the dialogue itself was great—but the concept of sleeping with a veritable stranger in a random city in Europe was very, very far away from the teenage life that I led so it felt unrealistic and overly idealized to me. I like hotels and clean laundry too much to have ever romanticized the idea of backpacking through Europe and sleeping with whatever random person I met along the way.

Fast-forward almost ten years, and Jesse and Celine had grown and so had I.

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Recipe review: Triple berry muffins

The hubby, always a great gift-giver, got me a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer for Christmas. It’s a thing of beauty. Also, the hand mixer I’d been using was one he bought while in college to make queso. I hate replacing things before they’ve broken beyond repair, but I think 20 years is good enough for one small kitchen appliance, don’t you?

Anyway, this weekend, while clearing out the fridge, he came across a bag of frozen berries from Costco that may or may not have been there since 2012. So for the mixer’s maiden voyage, I went to the net in search for a good muffin recipe. I’m trying to stay away from the Food Network and AllRecipies.com as much as possible, so I went with this one from the blog abeautifulmess.com.

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I won’t copy the recipe here, but I’ll note that I made a few adjustments—isn’t that part of the fun? I don’t like Greek yogurt, so I substituted Noosa, which is what we usually have in the house. And, obviously, my berries were frozen not fresh. The nice thing about that, though, was that when they thawed, they were extra juicy, which made the batter and the muffins themselves nice and colorful.

The mixer preformed beautifully (was there ever any doubt?) and having my hands free cut the prep and clean-up time in half. The muffins themselves were pretty good. A bit on the dry side, but I left the first batch in the over a couple of minutes too long so that was likely my fault.

The kid’s reaction: She ate three over the course of the day. By “ate” I mean ate the tops off, but she genuinely seemed to enjoy them and this is a child that usually has to be talked into breakfast.

My verdict: B, not going to rush to make them again, but tasty way to get rid of the frozen berries.

Mini Book Review: Divergent

Divergent (Divergent, #1)Divergent by Veronica Roth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I can’t decide if I would have liked this book better if I hadn’t read The Hunger Games first. Suzanne Collins, I think, has a much better sense of pacing, and her more sparse prose makes for better reading. Still, she had the benefit of getting to me first. Tris isn’t cut out of exactly the same cloth as Katniss, but there are only so many ways you can write a surly teenage girl who must confront political corruption at the hands of morally bankrupt grownups in a distant dystopian future. Also, I wish it hadn’t taken 350 or so pages for it to start getting interesting, and (as with many YA books that are written with the intention of becoming a series), I wish it had ended rather than just stopped.

Still, all that said, I did enjoy reading this for the most part. It was quick and fun. I’m intrigued by the premise and consider this dystopian future slightly more believable and likely than Panem. I look forward to the rest of the series and hope they only get better from here.

This is book one of my 2014 25 book challenge!

View all my reviews on Goodreads