Heard · Learning · Monday Matters

Don’t Be Positive, Idiot!

I was on my way to work a couple weeks ago listening to the Jillian Michael’s podcast, and though I usually find it interesting at the very least, on that day the episode really hit me the wrong way. The episode I was listening to is called “Bad Stuff Happens,” and in it Jillian goes on for about 10 minutes positing that people who are positive are basically unrealistic idiots. She rants about how bad stuff is going to happen, and about how people who deny that are just going to end up more disappointed than if they accepted that not everything always works out in the first place. She also talked about how what matters is how we deal with the bad stuff–the lessons we learn from things that don’t happen the way we’d like.

Now, for the most part, I agree. However, what really bothered me is that Jillian was equating positivity with a lack of realism. She said she “hates positive people,” but to me, people who do the very things she suggests (like finding the good in the bad and learning from hardships) are positive people. I always try to have a positive outlook on things, and that certainly doesn’t mean that I’m denying things might not work out the way I want. For example, we put in an offer on a beautiful house that we both love. And it seemed like everything would probably be fine–almost to the point of it being too good to be true. However, neither of us were like, “We are going to get the house.” We said, “There is a good chance that since our offer was accepted, we will get the house. A lot depends on the inspection, but we’re hoping for the best.” After the inspection, we’ve found there are some things that need to be dealt with, and so now our positive outlook has morphed into “Well, we’ll see how much the sellers are willing to work with us on the things that need to be fixed. There is a good chance they won’t want to, but maybe they will! If they don’t, the house wasn’t meant to be ours and we’ll find something else.” We are being realistic, but we are also being optimistic.

I also feel that every challenge is a lesson, no matter how hard it is to get through at first, and no matter how hard it is for me to initially understand exactly what the lesson may be. I tend to push myself toward gratitude in these cases, which admittedly can be difficult at times. For example, I had a really tough time when leading a training session at a former job in which some trainees just didn’t seem to like me. Their bad attitudes disrupted the entire training session, and ruined all of my excitement about the training. I was in shock, and couldn’t understand what had gone wrong. At first, I had to really focus on everything that went right, despite the things that went wrong. I was grateful to have my husband and friends, who supported me and reassured me. And with that change in focus, over time I was able to remain positive and find the lesson: I grew so much, learned a lot about myself and about others, and came to realize that it doesn’t matter if people don’t always like me. In this case, positivity and gratitude went hand in hand. Oh, and I never ever denied how much learning that lesson sucked.

I feel like I could give countless examples of how you can be a positive person without ignoring or denying reality and that bad things happen. Being positive is about choosing to focus on the bright side and about learning from hardships instead of dwelling on them or letting them consume you. I think Jillian Michaels actually encourages positive behavior all the time, and that in her podcast she mislabeled positivity as being synonymous with naiveté and denial. Ultimately, I understand my concern comes down to semantics, but Jillian’s blunt declaration really rubbed me the wrong way. Rather than telling people, “Don’t be positive” or that positive people are idiots, I’d like to say, “Find the positive in every negative, and work your way through it.” That’s what we’re doing with the house, that’s what I did with that training session, and that’s what I continue to do through the tough parts of my day, every day.

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What do you think about positivity and optimism? Do you agree that it’s possible to have a bright, hopeful attitude while being realistic and understanding things don’t always work out?

Food & Cooking · Tried

Homemade Snickers Ice Cream Cake

Last week for my brother-in-law’s birthday, he requested a Snickers Ice Cream Cake. My mother-in-law set right to making one, and it turned out great! So yummy, in fact, that I thought I’d share her creation with you here.

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Snickers Ice Cream Cake

Round cake pan
Parchment paper
Peanuts
Caramel
Fudge sauce
1 Snickers bar
Ice cream

1. Line your cake pan with parchment paper.

2. Mix enough peanuts and caramel together to coat the edges of the pan. Fill the middle with ice cream, stopping halfway through to add more caramel or to add some fudge sauce before adding more ice cream, if desired.

3. Top final layer of ice cream with more caramel and peanut mixture; freeze the cake overnight.

4. Remove the cake from the freezer, carefully remove parchment paper from the edges of the cake, and cut a snickers bar into thin slices to decorate the top of the cake.

5. Cut out a piece of the cake, add a dollop of fudge sauce, and enjoy!

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*Note: I didn’t put any exact measurements in the recipe because it really depends on your preferences and the size of the pan you decide to use. Also, my mother-in-law had a fudge sauce recipe, but you could also experiment with store-bought fudge or even Nutella or the hard-coat ice cream fudge. You could also probably swap nuts & candy for other popular candy bars. Have fun trying out different combinations!

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I loved this ice cream cake, but on my birthday I usually choose chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. What’s your favorite birthday cake?

Projects

Delightful DIY Gift for a Newborn

Before moving to Japan, I loved the craft of wood burning. So, you can imagine how happy I was to come home and find my box of wood burning related tools waiting for me to use them again! One of my favorite projects for wood burning is making personalized boxes as gifts, and I recently made one for my friend’s newborn son named Junpei. I was really happy with the results, and thought I would share the process of making the box with you here!

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1. First, you’re going to want to choose your design and draw it (or print it from your computer) onto white paper. Then, using carbon tracing paper, trace your design onto your box–transferring the image. It might come out rather light, so you can pencil directly onto the box to make your lines more visible for when you burn them if you like. (If you’re comfortable, you can just draw your entire design onto the box–I did that with Junpei’s name, but practiced my other images on paper to transfer first as they were more difficult for me to draw).

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2. Then, begin burning your design into the wood. I often let my wood burner heat up while I’m transferring the design onto my box, and I practice a few lines on scrap wood first to make sure the tip is hot enough. I also tend to be careful as I go, not getting too confident with my lines and shading as–especially with boxes from a craft store–the density of the wood can change from spot to spot and change how quickly the wood burns (thus making your lines unintentionally thicker or darker than you want). It’s okay to make mistakes–remember that they can often be turned into something creative, or, if you are really unhappy with the way you’ve marked the wood, you can usually get away with a bit of sanding to clean up your lines. I always keep a piece of sandpaper on hand for that very reason!

20130821-072545.jpg3. Once you’re happy with your design, you can add a bit of water color to make some of the images pop. I usually make my colors pretty light so that they don’t overwhelm the pretty work I’ve done with wood burning, and remember that I can always add more color later (whereas it’s harder to take color away). I try to make the color visible, but subtle. If you accidentally drown out some of the design that you’ve burned with watercolors, you can blot the paint with a paper towel, and even go over the lines again with your wood burner after it’s dried.

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4. Lastly, put a light stain on your box to tie everything together. I often just use a glossy varnish, which I think gives the boxes a professional look. If you like, you can also burn a personal message on the box–I think I put something on the bottom just saying “to” and “from.”

20130821-072631.jpgOn the front of the box, I put Junpei’s name, date of birth, weight & height.

20130821-072652.jpgOnce your box has dried, you can put a small gift inside. Chad and I decided to put a little Burt’s Bees swaddling towel inside–we thought the bees on the towel matched the bees on the box 🙂

And that’s it! Pretty simple, yet lovely and personal, don’t you think?

Food & Cooking · Learning · Seen

Lunch in Paris

paris

Paris, March 2012

So this post isn’t actually about a time I had lunch in Paris (like we were about to in the picture above!), but about the book Lunch in Paris, by Elizabeth Bard. I mentioned my sister-in-law Ariel and I have started our own book club, and for our first book we chose this “love story with recipes.”

20130818-100402.jpgWith Lunch in Paris open on the countertop, I gave one of Bard’s recipes a try!

Ariel and I decided to try out some of the recipes in the book to eat way too much of nibble on while we discussed the reading questions, so I chose to make the yogurt cake (recipe after post). I stuck with the recipe’s directions and used apricots, but Bard also suggests using other seasonal fruit, like raspberries or blueberries mixed with a little brown sugar (and to possibly add a streusel topping!).

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I thought the cake turned out quite well–it was sweet without being overwhelmingly so. I mentioned to Ariel that the cake’s flavor reminded me of Japanese sweets. American sweets tend to have intense bursts of flavor all at once, while Japanese sweets have a subtle sweetness that makes you feel as if there is a secret you want to take bites of to discover more. Ariel and I talked a lot about similarities between France and Japan, and how meals in Japan & France contrast with those in America–specifically how Americans tend to favor convenience, speed and overindulgence over the preparation and enjoyment of each meal (meals which in France and Japan–also contrary to the typical American meals–tend to last over an hour or more).

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Ariel made delicious Coconut Macaroons

Ariel and I both feel like we generally try to combat that stereotypical “speed and convenience” attitude when it comes to food–that we try to recognize that when we make a meal, we are working to produce something that is shared together in an intimate, familiar place. Sitting together at the table allows us to focus on each other while connecting over good food and possibly sharing symbols of our family “culture” or our culture at large.

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This wasn’t a competition, but I would say the macaroons won! 😉

One passage that really struck a chord with me in Lunch in Paris was toward the end of the book, where Bard wishes there were an “in-between” place in which she could experience the things she loves about each of her cultures, leaving the not-so-good stuff behind. I could completely relate to that feeling: I want ramen and tonkatsu, but I also love a good roast or having turkey on Thanksgiving. I love all of the kawaii stuff everywhere in Japan, but I also love the convenient, cheap toiletries, makeup, lotion, art supplies, etc. here! I love crazy Japanese fashion, but I also enjoy the practical styles (that I can fit into!) in America. I want the Japanese transportation system, but sometimes nothing is better than going for a car ride with the windows rolled down. I love the focus on presentation and tradition in Japan, but sometimes it’s better to break rules if they don’t make sense and to live a little out of bounds. I’m forever homesick for one place or the other.

We had a lot of fun with our first book, and have decided that we’d like to try recipes out with future books, too! You can look forward to more recipes in the future, but for now, see the recipes we tried below. You can also find the reading guide we used here.

YOGURT CAKE

Gâteau au Yaourt

1 cup plain yogurt

1 cup sugar

A large pinch of sea salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup vegetable oil

2 large eggs

1 2/3 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

Zest of 1 lemon

One 16-ounce can apricots, drained and quartered

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil a 10-inch round cake pan and line it with parchment paper.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the yogurt, sugar, salt, and vanilla, whisking until smooth. Add the oil in a steady stream, whisking to combine. Add the eggs one by one, whisking to incorporate after each addition.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and baking soda; add to the yogurt mixture; whisk lightly to combine. Stir in the lemon zest.

Transfer the batter to your cake pan; top with the chopped apricots. Bake on the center rack of the oven for 45 minutes, until golden brown and slightly risen. A toothpick in the center should come out clean.

Lift the cake by the parchment paper onto a wire rack to cool. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. This cake actually gets moister with age, so it tastes great the next day. Simply cover the fully cooled cake with aluminum foil; an airtight container or plastic bag will make it soggy.

Yield: Makes on 10-inch cake

*I adapted the recipe slightly by flipping the cake over after it cooled to make a little dome shape, and by dusting powdered sugar on top. I think the presentation would be even prettier with a couple of fresh apricot slices placed in the middle!

*Recipe originally posted here.

AUNT JOYCE’S COCONUT MACAROONS

2 2/3 cups grated coconut (the fluffier the better!)

14 ounces sweetened condensed milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Extra grated coconut to finish

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

In a medium mixing bowl, gently combine 2 2/3 cups of the coconut, the condensed milk and the extracts. Using 2 teaspoons (or even better, a melon baller), form into 1 1/2 inch balls. Work gently, as you would making meatballs; you don’t want your macaroons to be too dense.

Bake in a slow oven for 15 minutes. Depending on the absorbancy of your coconut, the macaroons may ooze a bit; pat them gently back into shape and roll them in additional grated coconut.

Cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container. These are more like candy than cookies, so serve them sparingly, with good strong coffee.

Yield: Makes 20 macaroons

*Ariel said her macaroons oozed a bit as the recipe predicted they might, but they turned out fabulous. We sampled our desserts with peppermint tea.

*Recipe from Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard (pg 314 of our edition).

Have you read any good books lately that you’d like to suggest? What recipes have you tried lately?

Projects · Tried

Thrifty Finds!

Today Chad and I went to a huge garage sale at a big church in Grand Haven near our house. We got really lucky and found this awesome set of sturdy, quality knives!

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The knives were only $12.00, still incredibly sharp and in fantastic shape–a great find. (They’re also a Japanese brand!)

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    I love that the knives are labeled, too!

We also bought a hutch that we are planning to change into a little bar–a fun future DIY project I’ll be sure to share!

What are some cool thrifty bargains you’ve found recently?

Projects

Simple, Elegant DIY Wedding Gift

Last weekend a couple of my friends got married, and for part of their wedding gift I made them a simple, elegant shadow box featuring their invitation. (Apologies in advance for the grainy pictures, but I hope you can get the idea!)

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I got really lucky because when I made the trip to get supplies for the project, I forgot to bring along the invitation to match the colors and still managed to find nice paper and flowers that coordinated well with the invite. If you’d like to create a similar, memorable project for a wedding gift (or even a baby welcome gift! The possibilities are endless…!), you could try the following steps:

1. Take your invitation with you to a craft store, and buy a few sheets of acid-free scrapbook paper that compliment either the colors in the invitation, or that match the couple’s wedding colors. Do the same with some pretty artificial flowers, keeping size in mind. I also usually buy a special accessory to place in one of the corners. For the shadow box pictured in this post, I chose a brass bird (the bird’s original purpose was to go on a necklace, so I took off the two little hoops with jewelry pliers). In the past I’ve used little wedding bells that just got hot glued to the bottom of the box, and I’ve also considered painting a wooden cutout of the word “love,” in the wedding colors or doing a little square wood burning. You can see how the possibilities are endless!

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2. Take all of your supplies and sit down with scissors or a paper cutter, and a good glue stick and hot glue gun. Start out by layering your scrapbook paper in a way you think looks nice. I liked the way the colors I chose echoed those in the invitation, but didn’t overwhelm the invite.

3. Once you’ve gotten your invite and paper glued down, start playing around with how you want our flowers and other accessories to look. Begin gluing them onto the invite and scrapbook paper base, checking to ensure you are not making things overcrowded. I sometimes cut the flowers off of the stems so I can arrange them more freely, even to the point where I snip leaves off for better arranging purposes, too.

4. After you’re satisfied with your layout, check how it looks in the frame under the glass. You might find that you want to make a few more changes–perhaps the layout you’ve created doesn’t quite have the symmetry you’d like and you’ll have to add a few more final touches. If you don’t have any other additions to make, ensure the glass is clean before putting your pretty project in the shadow box for good.

5. You could consider putting a sticker or label on the back of the frame that says “To” and “From,” but otherwise, at this point all you have to do is ensure everything is securely glued down and prepare the gift for wrapping!

I really love this project because it’s easy, it’s beautiful, and the couple you’re giving it to will have something heartfelt and homemade that reminds them of their wedding day. I hope you enjoy it, too!

Around Town · Food & Cooking · Monday Matters · Tried

Crane’s in the City

On Friday, Chad and I went out for lunch and for a nice long ride in the sunshine. We decided to try a restaurant that was new to us: Crane’s in the City in Holland.

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The cute little restaurant is right downtown in Holland, and happened have outdoor seating available that day because there was a huge sidewalk sale going on over the weekend. We walked inside to order, and then sat outside to enjoy our meal.20130812-172651.jpgCrane’s in the City has a lot to offer its hungry customers, with apples playing a role in everything from desserts and drinks, to salads and sandwiches. It didn’t take us long to order despite all the appealing choices; we decided to split a Peach Fuzz drink and an Apple Cider donut, and then to each try a City Cristo sandwich set.

20130812-172707.jpgWe got our Peach Fuzz (a mix of peach juice, chai and apple cider) and donut straight away to nibble on while we waited for our sandwiches. I loved the wire chairs with heart-shaped backs, the wooden tables, and the mason jar-esk mug for our beverage.

20130812-172723.jpgThe restaurant had quite a few patrons coming in and out, but in only minutes we were brought our delicious meal. I had never heard of a Cristo sandwich before, but cannot tell you how glad I am to know what one is now! As the menu on their website describes it, a City Cristo at Crane’s in the City consists of “Turkey, provolone cheese, apple slices, and honey mustard dressing, grilled on Crane’s famous apple butter bread, sprinkled with powdered sugar.” I thought we’d be taking a little bit of a chance Crane’s in the City, especially with a sandwich featuring apples as much as the Cristo, but the gamble was well worth it. The apple slices were tender without being soggy, and the honey mustard dressing was sweet without being overwhelming. Each ingredient on the sandwich plays off of the others, creating a lovely balance of flavors. I was so impressed!

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Crane’s in the City also has a display full of all jams and apple butters to choose from, along with frozen baked goods available to purchase and bring home! Crane’s in the City is located on E 8th St  Holland, MI 49423. I highly recommend checking it out!