Monday, November 29, 2010

Make My Day Monday: A Toy Makes A Difference

Just before Thanksgiving, I received an e-mail from one of my co-workers, requesting help collecting toys for sick children.  Lots of organizations do this every holiday, including my beloved Los Angeles Kings, but this request touched my heart when I learned the story behind it.  In the interest of privacy, I'm leaving out names and other details and paraphrasing the story, but I feel compelled to share it.

My co-worker and her daughter collected toys to donate to Children's Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) one Christmas, and the little girl had so much fun she asked her mother if they could do it every year.  But one Christmas was all she would have.  She became seriously ill the month after Christmas and ended up in the hospital.   During her stay, she received a visit from hospital services with a gift -- one of the very toys she had collected herself.  Her sisters received gifts as well, but her mother got the biggest gift of all --  a priceless smile from her daughter and a chance for her to forget about being sick for just a little while.  And she remembers her daughter's smile every holiday, because memories are what she has left.  Sadly, the little girl passed away, but her mother continues her legacy by collecting toys every Christmas to donate to CHLA and UCLA.

She was kind enough to include a recommended list of toys in her e-mail, so I happily printed it and headed out to Target after work.    It was the most fulfilling shopping I've done in a long time.

I can't WAIT for these to get delivered!

So when you see folks in your community collecting toys for the holidays, remember there are real children out there in need of a smile at Christmas, and you can help give it to them.  A toy CAN make a difference.  Sometimes, it makes all the difference.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Smells Like True Friendship

I am blessed to have many people in my life I consider friends.  They've come into my life in all sorts of ways -- through school, work, hockey, or even other friends.   Depending on how we're acquainted, we have different levels of interaction.  Some things we share, some things we don't.  Some friendships instantly feel like they've existed forever, and some take time to establish.

Sometimes you find friends that are practically an extension of you -- as essential as one of your own limbs.   They almost know you better than you know yourself.  They're the kind of friends that can finish your sentences, know from the tone of your voice that something is wrong, or feel something in the air one day that makes them pick up the phone from 3,000 miles away and call just when you need it.

That friend is Michelle.

We met in college, and our connection was instant.  The finishing each others sentences thing has always been there, and it makes us look at each other and laugh in recognition when it happens.   Our mutual friends from school have difficulty talking about one of us without mentioning the other.  "Where are Meg and Michelle?"  "What are Meg and Michelle doing tonight?" 

She knows more about me than any person on the planet, and she remembers EVERYTHING.  So I shouldn't have been surprised when a got a call from her this summer in the middle of the day.

"Hey, sorry to bug you at work, but what's the name of that perfume you loved so much but can't find anymore?"

"Huh?  What perfume?"

"You know.  It's gold...something...maybe the box is gold?  Did the name have gold in it?"

"You mean Valentino Gold?"


"NO WAY!!!!!!"

"Yup! I found it.  They have 3 boxes.  How many do you want...I'll send them to you."

"You just found the last 3 boxes of my favorite perfume ON EARTH?  I'll take them all!!!"

"Perfect!  Gotta go....LOVE YOU!"

Bear in mind, I can't even remember when we ever had a conversation about my perfume.  It might have been late at night over a bottle of wine, enjoying each others company so much we couldn't stand the idea of sleep.  We might have been shopping once.   I had long since forgotten I even missed the stuff, yet she remembered it meant something to me once AND scoured every nook and cranny of New York City looking for it.

So after a failed attempt to mail me my bottled magic (wait, you can't mail perfume because it's flammable? DOH!), she made extra space in her suitcase and delivered it to me in when we met up back at JMU for our annual Alumni Band Weekend.

Now every morning, I look at the graceful gold bottle on the vanity tray in my bathroom and am reminded what a true and undying friendship I'm blessed to have.  The fact that I smell nice is just a bonus.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Kitchen Adventures: The Thanksgiving Recipes!

I've written blogs on many subjects I personally find interesting.  Some of them resonate with the people I share them with, and some don't.  But the one subject that seems to unite everyone I connect with is FOOD.

Now THAT'S a Thanksgiving Feast!

I think we try to make the world so complicated sometimes that we forget what makes people tick is really pretty simple.  We need companionship and we like to feel good.  Shared meals bring those things together perfectly, which is one reason I enjoy Thanksgiving so much, no matter who I spend it with. 

Food also helps us learn more about each other.  We all have stories attached to particular meals or recipes that make them memorable.  We can share elements of our culture and heritage through flavors.  Most importantly, the process of cooking involves service to the people we care about, showing our love by nourishing each other.

This plate made me feel VERY taken care of on Thursday!

So in service to you, the friends who read and comment on my blog and keep me mentally nourished, I'm happy to share my recipes from Thursday.   I hope you pass them along and use them to create wonderful memories with people you love.


Grandma Hiller's Spinach Balls
2 boxes frozen spinach, thawed and drained
2 cups crushed herb stuffing mix
1 stick of butter, melted
3 eggs
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3-4 chopped scallions

Mix together all ingredients.  Roll into 1 inch balls and bake on a greased baking sheet at 350 degrees for 12 minutes.  Serve with mustard sauce or other condiment of choice.

Key West Lime Mustard Sauce
4 cups mayonnaise
1 cup Dijon mustard
3/4 cup Key Lime juice
1 tablespoon Pickapeppa Sauce (you can substitute Worcestershire if needed)
1 tablespoon A1 Sauce

Using a whisk or food processor, blend the mayo with the mustard.  Slowly pour in the Key Lime juice.  Add the Pickapeppa and A1 and blend until light golden brown. 

NOTE: This recipes makes about 5 cups, which is at least 4 cups more than you need for the spinach ball recipe.  The amount of ingredients can be cut in half and the sauce will taste just as good.  Or you can make twice as many spinach balls!

Sweet and Spicy Nuts
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon season salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 egg white
3 cups mixed nuts (1 cup each cashews, pecans and almonds)

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.  Combine sugar and all spices in a medium bowl and set aside.  Beat egg white until foamy.  Add nuts to egg white and toss to coat.  Add spice mixture to nuts and toss to coat evenly.  Spread nuts onto a greased baking sheet in a single layer.  Bake for 1 hour, stirring once.  Remove from oven and cool slightly, then break apart.   Cool completely and store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Kitchen Adventures: Thanksgiving Style!

Living 3,000 miles away from my family makes it tough to get home for every holiday.  Christmas trumps Thanksgiving in my holiday rankings,  so my Turkey Day is normally spent with friends.  With a few exceptions of cancellation due to illness, I've always been very fortunate to have some kind soul adopt me and do the heavy lifting in the turkey cooking department.   But I'm a courteous house guest and always happy to help out in the kitchen, so in addition to the perfunctory bottle of wine, I try to pull out a fun recipe or two to support the party and guarantee a return invite.

This year I'm in charge of bringing some appetizers, and I was kind of bored with the stuff I always do, so I went digging through the recipe box.  In the process, I found a quick and easy new one, plus a forgotten gem from a prior Thanksgiving more than a dozen years ago.

Let's start with the new kid on the block - Sweet and Spicy Nuts!

I love nuts, and I've seen different versions of this same kind of concept at other gatherings before.   These are coated with a mixture of sugar, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, season salt and ground black pepper.  The binder is a beaten egg white.    Bake for 1 hour at 250 degrees, low and slow.  YUMMY!

One important thing I learned?  Don't let these suckers cool off too much, or you have a little challenge prying them off the baking pan (even though it's greased).   But the pay off is durability -- store these guys in an airtight container and you've got leftovers to snack on for up to 2 weeks AFTER the holiday!

My second choice came to me in a flash of inspiration thinking about a Thanksgiving gone by - Grandma Hiller's Spinach Balls!

First, a point of clarification about Grandma Hiller.  She isn't MY grandmother.  She belongs to an old boyfriend.  Sadly, he had to go, but she was a kind and generous woman and shared two things with me during a holiday visit to Oklahoma City back when the boyfriend was still a boyfriend.  The first was this spinach ball recipe, which she decided I MUST like after eating half the spinach balls she made us.  She also shared her famous from-scratch hot mustard recipe, which is the dipping sauce that accompanies the spinach balls.

Well, I found the spinach ball instructions, but I couldn't find the hot mustard recipe!  I know it's here, but my recipe box is stuffed and I was short on time and patience to find it.  Luckily I found another one for Key West Lime Mustard Sauce, so I made that instead.  Taste testing confirmed it's a pretty good substitute.

But back to the spinach balls.  All it takes is a couple of boxes of frozen spinach, some crushed stuffing mix, grated Parmesan cheese, butter, eggs and a few chopped scallions.  Combined together and rolled into balls, you bake them for 12 minutes (15 if you're using my oven) and you have a tasty veggie that isn't carrot sticks!

So now that my party contributions are ready, it's time to get gorgeous and go be social, which is my favorite part of the holiday!  I hope you enjoy your Thanksgiving as much as I'm going to enjoy mine!  Gobble-gobble!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


I worry / I weigh three times my body
I worry / I throw my fear around
But this morning / there's a calm I can't explain
The rock candy's melted / only diamonds now remain
- "Clarity" by John Mayer

A girl who likes to sleep sits at a computer at 2 AM, awake.   For weeks, her head has been full of big ideas, random thoughts, musings on life.  They come at odd times, sometimes slowly and only in brief flashes.  Sometimes they flood in faster than she can handle.  She wants to get them down, figure out what they mean, and ultimately share them, but the words don't come without effort.  Not the right words anyway.  And that stops her from writing them down, from making sense of them.  It stops her from sharing anything.

Sometimes she lays awake at night trying to figure out why.  When did the roadblock happen?  What got in the way and brought everything to a grinding halt?  Then she realizes she knows what happened, what shook her confidence, dealt a blow to her faith in herself. 

She knows what happened doesn't matter now.  What matters is that she lost her vision for her life.  Everything got out of focus for a while.  Like flying through clouds, it was hard to see too far in front of her until she soared just a little higher and got over the obstacles.  Now things have become clear once again, and she knows where she is going.  So it's time to hit the reset button, put the past in the rear view mirror -- and move forward.  And start writing....

That girl is me.  What happens now?  Stick around and we'll see....