Learning each and every day

My quest to edify myself a bit every day

Archive for the month “May, 2012”

Day 154 – May 24

Wow, I”m on a roll . . . .FOUR days in a row! And today, I learned TWO things! lol

I found a recipe for a cucumber mint drink, and though I’d give it a try. The recipe comes from simplyrecipes.com and you can also find it on my drinks and desserts board on pinterest. I’ll be honest, mine did not look nice and green like that. It was more like a milky green color . . .not sure why! I have to say that this was pretty much a failure. I only sort of liked it and the babes just sipped it. If they would’ve like it, they would’ve chugged away. DH’s reaction was pretty hilarious. Apparently he’s mowed alot of yards in his life that have mint plants in them. So when he picked it up to take a drink, all he could think of was mowing. ROTFL! Oh well! I’m going to add some more sugar and maybe some coconut extract to see if that improves the flavor. Or maybe I’ll forgo the sugar and extract and just mix it with some Fresca . . we’ll see.

My other lesson was a music lesson. I’m the biggest choir nerd everywhere. I’ve been singing in choirs since I was maybe 8, when I joined the church choir. Since then, I think the only time I wasn’t in a choir was the 3 years we lived in Maryland. I’ve had lots of different directors with equally as many different conducting styles. Most of the time, warm-ups were very basic, not very involved. The exception to that was my college choral director, Bruce Rasmussen. Although he did have many basic warm-ups, we also did plenty of more interesting things. We’d spend time singing bizarre chords to try and get intonation correct (or at least I’m assuming that was the purpose). Or he would take some really tricky chords from a piece we were learning and incorporate that into the warm-ups. I always appreciated his creativity in the warm-up realm.

Robert Shaw was really an amazing choral director. Well, I guess I’m just making that assumption, (having never actually seen him conduct), based on the wonderful results he’d get from his singers in all of his recordings. To this day, I have yet to hear a Robert Shaw Chorale recording that I didn’t like. I never really thought too much about what caused such excellent performances. I figured it was amazing singers who actually listened to their director. A former colleauge of mine, John Stafford, posted this article on facebook today, and I found it fascinating. I must’ve spent the better part of 30 minutes listening to all of the examples. In all of my years of choral singing, I’m not sure that we’ve done any of these exercises, at least not with intent of accomplishing the same goal laid out by Robert Shaw. I need to sit and process the information a bit more, but I can see how these exercises could easily take a choir to the next level. Actually, I think some of these exercises would be very good for solo singers as well. Sometimes I think that singers don’t spend much time trying to stay in tune on their own accord, relying only on the piano or other accompanying instrument to lead them along. I think doing some of these exercises would really challenge many solo singers to actually listen to themselves and be more responsible for their intonation.

Anyway, if music is your thing, or if you’re a choir nerd, or even just somewhat interested in music, you might want to check out this article.

Day 153 – May 23

For today’s new recipe, I tried out tofu tacos. I found the recipe at apronstringsblog.com and the basic idea is that you take tofu, freeze it, doctor it up, bake it, and then use it in a taco like you’d use ground beef. I pinned the months ago, but didn’t think I had tried it before. After making it today and realizing how salty the tofu turned out, it seemed to me that I remembered thinking “Wow, this is salty!” at some point in not-so-distant past. But since neither DH nor I had a clear recollection of whether or not we’d eaten it before, I decided to assume it was new to me today.

In any case, aside from being waaaayyy too salty, the tofu turned out pretty good, definitely something I’ll be trying again. I think I’ll add some different seasonings and I’ll definitely use less soy sauce. I also discovered that for a family of 5 (even if 3 of those people are under the age of 6), you really need two packages of tofu in order to have enough for a meal.

Some of the comments after the recipe claimed that this would give beef a run for it’s money. I can’t say that it tasted anything at all like beef. The texture wasn’t beef-like, the flavor wasn’t beef-like, and there definitely wasn’t a beef-like amount of grease. But, given that it started out as a block of tofu, the results looked somewhat beef-like. Although, I’m not sure that really matters in the grand scheme of things. I’ve been a pseudo vegetarian all of my life, and I’ve never understood the need to call things fake chicken/beef/etc. Why not just call it soy protein and be done with it? But, I digress. Bottom line, a good recipe. A bit labor intensive, but good, none-the-less.

Day 152 – May 22

As I was making my grocery list today, I saw and pinned this recipe on Pinterest. Even though I’m not at all a fan of bananas, I thought I’d give it a try (keeping in line with my “let’s try totally new foods this week” thing.)

We don’t usually do pancakes for supper, but I didn’t feel inspired to make anything else, so pancakes it was. The batter is somewhat runny. I prefer batter that stays in a nice shape when you pour it into the pan. I don’t like having to use a spatula to keep the pancakes from running together. These weren’t terribly runny, but still too runny for my tastes. The flavor of the pancakes, on the other hand, was really pretty good. I was expecting to be completely grossed out by the banana, but it wasn’t actually overbearing. Of course, that could have been because I didn’t use overripe bananas.

The babes seemed to really like the pancakes, they kept asking for more and more, so that’s good, right? I don’t think they were quite as excited about the syrup, which was just as well. That meant there was more for DH and I to enjoy! I don’t think I’ll be making these pancakes often, but I think the syrup will be appearing alongside other pancakes in the future!

Day 151 – May 21

This week, I’ve decided to try out all new recipes, and I wanted to try things that were different from what I normally make. Today, I made veggie spring rolls. I love these, but it’s often hard to find spring rolls without meat. I was pretty happy to pin this recipe that looked relatively easy. I couldn’t figure out a quick way to slice the carrots so that they’d look like the picture, so I just used the peeler and peeled the carrots. It worked pretty well.

The recipe really came together pretty easily. It took a bit of time to fry everything in three batches, but it wasn’t too bad. The result? They were decent. Next time, I’ll put quite a bit more seasoning in the veggies. Probably some fresh ginger, more salt and pepper and maybe a few other things. I’ll also use more sauce when I’m rolling the spring rolls. The one thing I didn’t like was the wrappers that I used. They had a funny flavor, which was disappointing. I’m not ready to give up on the recipe yet, though. (Even though it was a total flop with the babes, DH and I liked them well enough.) Maybe next time I’ll go to the Asian market to get better wrappers!

Day 146 – May 16

Today was chock full of new things! I suppose that’s a nice change from the past few weeks.

First, I was looking at a new recipe, and it said to “chiffonade the basil.” Uh, what? I’ve been cooking for a long time, and I’d never heard that term before. Enter trusty wikipedia and I learned that it’s a way of preparing herbs. Basically, you gather the leaves, roll them up, and then slice. What you end up with are long, skinny pieces of the herb.

The second and third lessons are related, at least I learned them at roughly the same time. I had made a halter top, but the weather was a bit too chilly for just a halter top. So, I decided to make a cropped cardigan, or something similar. The problem was that I couldn’t find a quick and easy tute. I was looking for something that I could whip up in about half an hour. I happened upon the idea of a shrug. Happily, I have a shrug made by my late maternal grandmother, so I used that as a pattern. I chopped up an old t-shirt, and voila, shrug. It took me 10 minutes! I plan on doing a quick mini-tute on my other blog, because seriously, it’s soooo easy!

Anyway, I couldn’t just leave it plain, so I got the idea to add a bit of lace. I remembered I had this attachment called an edge stitcher and decided to try and learn how to use it. It took me a few false starts, but once I got going, wow was it easy to add lace to the bottom edge of the shrug! A Sewing Shoppe has lots of vintage attachments for sale and she has a good description of the edge stitcher and how to use it.

So you see, this was a day full of new knowledge!

Day 145 – May 15

If you don’t want to read about women’s underwear, you may want to go on ahead and skip this post.

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Still here?

Okay, bra talk, coming right up.

Two years ago I made my own nursing bras because I couldn’t find a style that I liked. Part of that process involved sewing in bra cup (AKA – 3D piece) to a flat piece of fabric. I wouldn’t say it was a smashing success. It worked, okay, but it wasn’t great. I’d been wracking my brain trying to find a way to do this, but I kept coming up empty. Even my searches online came up with nothing. That is, until today. I found this tutorial on daughterfish.com. How to sew a built-in bra with cups. It was exactly what I had been looking for! And I found it at the perfect time. I’d been working on the halter top version of this McCalls pattern. The one hang up was how to insert a bra into the actual top. I bumped into the tute the day I was ready to start cutting fabric for the top. Sweet!

So I followed the directions, slightly modified since I was working with a halter top instead of a tank top. It worked! I was very pleased with how it turned out. I wouldn’t say my bra-buying days are over, but I have ALOT more options available to me now! Yeah!

Day 143 – May 13

Happy Mother’s Day! I learned a lovely lesson today . . . . Steak n’ Shake serves breakfast! I knew they were open 24-7, but figured it was just their normal fare of burgers, fries, milkshakes, chili, etc. I’ll back up. We decided to go out for breakfast for Mother’s Day. Us, and 100 of our closest friends. It seemed like most places were pretty busy. The original pancake house was busy. Bob Evans was so full that their parking lot was full and people were parking in the lot next door. (I actually wasn’t too sad about that, Bob Evans doesn’t really have very good food. They DO have cheap kids meals that the babes were hoping for pancakes.) We thought about Panera, but they are expensive, and no pancakes. So, we decided to slowly make our way home. We passed Steak n’ Shake and DH suggested we go there. When he told me they served breakfast, pancakes, oatmeal, etc., I said, “Sold!”

They had great pancakes for the kids, and their kiddie set up was fantastic. They had little cardboard cars that the kids could put together and decorate with stickers. The kids menu had all sorts of fun activities on the back and the crayons they gave out were very small. So very smart! No need to have giant crayons that will likely never get used again! Each kid got a chef’s hat and they even had a bib! Seriously, the most kid-friendly restaurant I’ve been to in a long time!

For some reason, the restaurant wasn’t full of people, so we had a nice, quiet brunch. Things started to get busy just as we were leaving .. . perfect timing.

So, from now on, I think out Mother’s Day breakfast spot is going to be Steak n’ Shake.

Changes!

As you may have noticed, I haven’t been posting daily for several weeks now. I started this journey with the intention of trying to learn something new each day, and I was going to do this in a passive manner. Five months in, I”m realizing that isn’t really practical given the way my days normally go. Unless I’m actively doing something out of the ordinary, I’m not likely to learn something each day. So, I”m going to change my plan. I think I’m going to try and learn something new each week. If I happen to learn more than that, well that’s just a bonus. But realistically, I just don’t see me a)bumping into new info each day, and b)finding the time to blog about it each day.

Day 137 – May 7

As a result of my last post about counter tenors, I learned about male sopranos, thanks to a good friend from grad school. I hadn’t really heard of male sopranos before today. My voice teacher in college was a tenor, who also happened to be able to sing most of the notes in my soprano music. He was often able to demonstrate how to produce a note, even though he was a male. I suppose it was a bit strange, but very useful at times, too. So, in retrospect, I suspect he may also have been a male soprano?

Anyway, the person I listed to on youtube was Michael Maniaci. To be honest, I wasn’t all that impressed upon the first hearing. I listed to his version of Mozart’s “Alleluia”, which apparently was originally written for male soprano . . . who knew? The sound was different from the countertenor sound and it bothered me, but I’m not really sure why. Maybe I’m just used to hearing the counter tenor sound. No, that can’t be it. As I said before, my voice teacher in college would often sing phrases from my music, and I never thought “Ick”. I’m thinking maybe it was less the male soprano sound that bothered me and more his execution of the music. The notes lacked a nice round, warmth, the vibrato was too crazy for my likings, he attacked some of the phrases in a less-than-musical way, and the way he moved his mouth was just weird with lots of unnecessary movement. (Although, that last thing really isn’t a problem specific to male sopranos, per se.) Oh, and let’s talk for a moment about his melismas. I seriously wanted to poke him with a cattle prod and say, “dude, don’t get so bogged down and keep up with the beat!”

But, not wanting to write him off after only one experience, I listened to another recording, this one an aria by Handel. I wasn’t really bothered by this performance. Maybe his voice was better suited to Handel than Mozart? Maybe he was having a better performance day? Who knows, but I didn’t mind this much. His vibrato still bothered me, but there are really great female sopranos that have bothersome vibrato, but who still give a great performance. (Maria Callas comes to mind.) I’m interested enough now that I’ll be hunting down other recordings to see what else he has to offer.

I also listened to a bit of an interview between Maniaci and a counter tenor in which the discussed the differences between the two voices. The main difference is that male sopranos aren’t singing in their falsetto, which means that they are able to actually add color and nuance to their sound and also have dynamic variety. How did I not know that counter tenors (or men who sing in their falsetto) have no dynamic variation?

So that’s TWO things I learned today! Thanks, Deb!

Day 135 – May 5

Farinelli is one of the more famous castrati. Maybe it was his powerful voice or the fact that he came from an affluent rather than a poor family. In any case he was famous. As far as I know, there are no modern day castrati, but there are counter tenors . . .. the main difference, of course, being the castration part.

Counter tenors, or male altos, are often used in early music, especially that of the Baroque era. I can always tell when I hear a choral work that has a counter tenor singing the solos as opposed to a mezzo soprano. Their sound is just very different from that of an alto or a mezzo-soprano. There’s something about the timbre of counter tenors that cuts through more and is less round and warm, if you will. Whenever I hear a counter tenor sing, I wonder how their sound differs from that of the castrati, and wonder if it’s possible for counter tenors to have the power that some castrati, like Farinelli, were known for.

I don’t know the answer to that, but today I DID discover that yes, counter tenors actually do have a more powerful sound than mezzos. I was at choir rehearsal, and we were working on a Purcell piece. As the altos and tenors were singing through their part together I thought, “Hmmm . . .there’s ALOT more sound coming from the alto section, and it’s a different quality than I’m used to. There must be a countertenor over there.” Sure enough, a male alto had joined the section. I was really surprised at what a big difference it made to have him singing. Just one person was able to produce almost more sound than the whole alto section. To be fair, he’s a trained singer, whereas many of the female altos are not. So it’s not exactly an even comparison. But, I’m pretty confident in saying that were the mezzos all trained singers, I still would have picked out the male alto. I was thinking about this all day. (Yes, yes I AM a music nerd!) I decided that it had to do with the fact that the male alto is singing in the upper part of his voice while the female altos are singing in the lower part of their voices. I won’t bore you with a complete discussion of how vocal sounds are produced, but suffice it to say that the male altos sound is going to carry farther than that of his female counterpart due to where the notes sit in their range.

Now, this isn’t to say that I think counter tenors should be filling all of the seats in alto sections across the country. As I said before, the male altos lack a sense of warmth and roundness that is more likely to be present in the alto or mezzo sound. Really, I’m just saying that the performance of Baroque music is definitely enhanced by having male altos supplement the alto section.

Okay, now that your eyes have glazed over, I’ll stop=)

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