December 31, 2008

Yes, You Can! The Ultimate Guide to Motivation

I can't think of anything better for New Year's Eve than two articles that will get you ready to accomplish great things in 2009. Both essays appear on Zen Habits.

First, for "How to Turn Your Goals into Habits," click here.

Second, for "The Ultimate Guide to Motivation - How to Achieve Any Goal," click here.

Happy New Year!

December 26, 2008

National Geographic Adventure: 100 Best Adventure Books

This isn't a new list, in fact National Geographic Adventure posted their list of Extreme Classics: The 100 Greatest Adventure Books of All Time in 2004. However, it was new to me and if you're looking for a house-bound adventure for the cold winter months, this list is just the place to start.

December 24, 2008

Pick One Thing That Scares You...

Since this week has a bit of a book theme, I have a book-based challenge for you. I just finished reading a terrific book, The Friday Night Knitting Club. Author Kate Jacobs has woven many themes through her novel but one of my favorites has to do with facing a fear (not too surprising). There is a point in the story where a character addresses the women of the club and declares, "Let's all make a pledge to do something that scares us. Something that will challenge us." I think this is a great idea!

Here's your challenge for the next seven days, think of one thing that makes you uncomfortable (maybe it's holiday related, maybe it's just a personal fear) and tackle it. Be adventurous and try Mabel's turnip casserole, tell your family how much they mean to you, read Philip's manuscript, stop smoking right now, give the holiday toast, register for that class, sing out loud....

You could put this off by turning it into a resolution for 2009... but can you think of a better way to end the current year? What challenge am I going to give myself? After my rant of last week, I think I'll bake a pie.

December 19, 2008

Are You Afraid to Make a Pie?

Earlier this week I wrote about the American Pie Council's national competition, but I've come to realize that MANY people are not only not ready for competition, they have never attempted a pie from scratch. I am embarrassed to admit that I fall half-way into that category.

Oh, I can make a filling with the best of them, it's the crust that scares me. Mine never roll out in a circle, they crumble at the edges, they disintegrate before getting to the pie plate, they're hard to cut with a knife let alone a fork. I have become a firm believer in purchasing the pre-rolled, refrigerated versions -- something that baffles my mother. My mom, who has been to the Pillsbury Bake-Off so many times that she (and her children) are ineligible for all future Bake-Offs; whose favorite childhood memories involve snowy days and mincemeat pie, has raised a daughter who runs an adventure group, writes an adventure blog and is afraid of pie crust.

Well, my mother will be happy to know that the Pie Council wants to help all of us (OK, me) to develop a new skill. From now through December 23, there will be pie pros manning the Crisco Pie Hotline who are ready to answer questions, supply tips and cheer us on. These happy helpers can be found at 1-877-FOR-PIE-TIPS (1-877-367-7438).

If you are a visual learner and you want (need) more help, you can go to "Pie Central" at where there are videos with step-by-step instructions on crust making and more pie tips. How can we go wrong?

December 17, 2008

36 Best Travel Ideas for 2009

The TimesOnline has prepared a list of 36 adventures to make sure that 2009 is anything but dull. Grab a pen and get out your datebook because the Times was nice enough to put their list in chronological order.

Beginning in January, you can pair free space on your calendar with a Mudbath in Essex (January 4), the Picasso-Cezanne exhibit in Aix-en-Provence, France (opens May 25), the oldest street fair in Ireland (August 10), or the Mevlana Dervish Festival in Turkey (Dec. 10). Click here to read the entire list.

What's that? You still have 6.5 days of vacation and 13 sick days? Well it's the TimesOnline to the rescue again. Here's their much abbreviated version of Lonely Planet's top travel spots for 2009.

December 15, 2008

The American Pie Council Wants YOU!

I have to admit that I only recently discovered that there is an organization called the American Pie Council. Just saying the name makes me happy. Even better, the American Pie Council is calling ALL pie bakers (amateurs, kids and pros alike) to compete in the 15th Annual National Pie Championships, April 24-26 in Orlando.

There are 15 separate categories for amateurs ranging from Apple, Citrus and Cream to Pumpkin, Splenda and Open. The top three winners in each division take home $100, $150 or $200. The pie baker earning "Best in Show" also gets a Sears Kenmore range and the top cash prize of $5,000.

If you aren't quite ready for competition but you think it's high time you had credentials to back up your baking, you can become a card-carrying member of the American Pie Council here. (I hear they're nice but a little flaky....)

December 10, 2008

Meteor shower: Geminids

The annual Geminid meteor shower began on December 7 and will peak this week during the evening of December 13. Sadly, a very bright moon is expected to obscure all but the brightest meteors. For the best viewing, grab a heavy blanket and a lawn chair then look up between 10pm and dawn. If you're patient and in a location without a lot of light pollution, you can expect to see a meteor (shooting star) streak overhead every couple of minutes.

If you'd like more information about the Geminids, where the meteors come from and why this particular meteor shower is a little unusual, check out this nice article by Mark at Meteorblog.

December 8, 2008

Make a REAL Figgy Pudding!

"Oh, bring us a figgy pudding, oh, bring us a figgy pudding, oh, bring us a figgy pudding and bring it right now!"

Sure, you've heard of figgy pudding but I'm willing to bet that even though it's been around for more that 600 years, you've never tasted one let alone prepared one. Well, girls, this is the year to change all that.

First, let's get rid of the confusion about the word "pudding." Figgy pudding isn't something you mix with milk and top with Cool Whip. This kind of pudding is really a dense, moist cake that is steamed instead of baked. It is very easy to make, it's yummy (a lot like carrot or spice cake), and it's sure to be a hit at the holiday dinner table.

According to Better Homes & Gardens, "The original figgy pudding, thought to have been created sometime in the 1400s, was a dish of dried figs, dates, raisins, and spices boiled in almond milk." Speaking of Better Homes & Gardens, I've been using the magazine's recipe since December '02 when it first appeared and I've made a lot of puddings since then. This year, I invite you to be an adventurous woman and give it a try. If you're feeling really adventurous, try the flaming presentation described at the end of the recipe. Oh, don't forget the Hard Sauce!

Tastes a lot like a warm, moist spice cake. Yum.
Stand: overnight
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 1 hour
Cool: 10 minutes
Serves: 8

½ cup snipped dried figs *
¼ cup orange liquor (triple sec, grand Marnier, Cointreau or curacao) or orange juice
½ cup butter, softened
½ cup packed brown sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground allspice
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
½ cup fine dry bread crumbs
2 eggs, slightly beaten
½ cup milk
¼ cup chopped dates
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup coarsely chopped almonds
¼ cup walnut pieces
¼ cup brandy (for impressive presentation option)
1 recipe Hard Sauce (follows)

1. Soak figs in orange liquor (or orange juice) overnight. In a bowl beat together butter and brown sugar with a mixer on medium speed until combined. Add flour, baking soda, salt, allspice, and pepper; beat on medium speed until combined. Stir in undrained figs, bread crumbs, eggs, milk, dates, raisins, almonds, and walnuts until combined.
2. Butter (or coat with nonstick cooking spray) a 1-quart heatproof pudding mold, bowl or casserole. Spoon batter into the pudding mold and cover the top with a double layer of aluminum foil. Press foil firmly around edges of mold to seal. Place pudding mold on a rack in a deep pot. (Rack can be a small cookie rack, or several tuna-sized cans with the tops and bottoms cut out.) Add boiling water to a depth of about 1 inch. Put lid on pot. Bring to a gentle boil and steam for 60-75 minutes or until a long wooden pick or skewer inserted in center comes out clean. Add more boiling water to the pot as necessary. (AWB: check every so often to make sure the pot does not boil dry.)
3. Remove mold from pot. Cool pudding for 10 minutes; remove pudding from mold. Serve slices with Hard Sauce.
4. Impressive presentation option: If desired, just before serving, heat brandy in a small saucepan until it almost simmers. Carefully ignite brandy with a long match. Pour over pudding. Serve immediately with Hard Sauce.

Hard Sauce: In a small mixing bowl beat together 1 cup sifted powdered sugar, ¼ cup softened butter, and 2 tablespoons brandy (or ½ teaspoons vanilla) with an electric mixer on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes or until very light and fluffy. Cover and chill to harden, about 30 minutes. Makes ½ cup.

*Snipping figs is easier if you lightly coat your scissors with vegetable oil. Dried figs can get quite hard. If your figs aren’t snippable, microwave them along with a teaspoon of water for about a minute or until they soften.

Plagiarized from Better Homes and Gardens; December 2002

December 5, 2008

Learning vs. Achieving

Take 20 seconds to consider this: When you are faced with a task, is your goal to learn from it or to be as successful as possible? The approach you take can affect how you deal with your day and the difficulties you may encounter. Here's a quick article to help you deal with successes and setbacks.