Food: How to Make Perfect Stovetop Popcorn

SN858682I consider myself a popcorn connoisseur. I eat it almost every day, and I’ve been known to eat it for dinner. I like sweet popcorn, salty popcorn, cheesy popcorn, movie theater corn, and even bacon popcorn. I love popcorn! One thing I never really enjoyed though, was the filmy, oily texture of microwave popcorn. I always hate to look in the bag and see all that yellow “butter” stuck to the sides. Yuck!

When I moved to Prague I began living sans microwave. A girl needs her popcorn, so I taught myself how to make it! It took trial and error, but I finally got it mastered. Not only does my popcorn taste better than microwave popcorn, but it’s WAY cheaper too! And, it has the benefit of being healthier. I also have a air popper, but honestly, this way of doing it yields the most popped corn and the least unpopped kernels. And I never burn any.

  • SN858679You can substitute any kind of oil you like: peanut, coconut, sunflower… I don’t recommend olive oil as it is heavy.
  • Once the oil is hot, you should run through these steps quickly.
  • You’ll need a pot with lid, a big bowl, oven mit

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons Canola oil (or enough to coat bottom of pot)
  • popcorn kernels, approximately 1/2 cup
  • salt
  • butter
  • brewers yeast (optional)
  • Tony Chachere’s or Lawry’s season salts (optional)

Directions:

  1. SN858676Pour oil in pot (with lid) enough to coat bottom
  2. Turn heat to med/high (not too high), put THREE kernels into pot, place lid on pot 
  3. Relax and Listen until you hear that all three kernels have popped.
  4. Remove pot from heat, pour kernels into pot (enough to fill the bottom in a single layer. (Not enough corn will result in soggy, oily popcorn)
  5. Wearing an oven mit, place the lid on the pot, place the pot back on the heat and shake! Jiffy pop style! You are trying to coat all of the corn so it pops evenly.
  6. SN858677Once the corn begins to pop, tilt the lid so that some steam can escape. If you leave the lid tight you will get chewy popcorn.
  7. Every 10 to 20 seconds remove the pot from heat, secure lid and shake. Place pot back on heat, shift lid. Repeat.
  8. When you see that the popcorn is getting to the top of the pot, you’ll want to pour some into your serving bowl. This part can be tricky. While holding the lid down, begin to let some of the top popcorn fall into the bowl. SN858680Pour enough out so that the remaining kernels have room to pop, and the popped corn doesn’t burn.
  9. Melt the butter in the microwave. Slowly drizzle over the popcorn, while spinning the bowl. Season and Serve immediately.

The Worst Bad Movies

soul-man-originalWe all love a bad movie. There are some movies out there like Battlefield Earth or Beyond The Valley of the Dolls that are so bad, so unbelievably silly, we just can’t look away. But this list isn’t about those kind of bad movies. This list is about movies that were supposed to be good. The criteria for my list is simple: Bad writing, bad concept, bad acting, bad production or bad judgement are all fair game. I’m looking for movies that spent a ton of money and came out with crap. I’m looking for embarrassing performances from reputable actors. I’m looking for movies I walked out of. I’m looking for career enders. So, without further explanation or ado … a list of some of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.

Soul Man (1986) This movie is about a man who undergoes “racial transformation” with tanning pills to qualify for a black-only scholarship at Harvard Law School. Yep. This movie was considered to be in poor taste even back in the 80′s when poor taste was a selling point. But a line was crossed. It made people uncomfortable to watch C. Thomas Howell in blackface. And it just wasn’t funny. C. Thomas Howell took all the fame he garnered from The Outsiders and Red Dawn and basically set it on fire. And watched it burn for the next twenty years.

Sex and the City 2 (2010) sex_and_the_city_2_12I was a fan of the HBO series. Not a huge fan. Just a normal fan. I never had watching parties or got drunk with girl friends while watching it. At least not on purpose. But I liked the show well enough to have felt betrayed by the craptastic sequel to the pretty awful first film. Sex and the City was supposed to be about single gals in the big city – what they wore, who they fucked, where they ate, and occasionally what they did for a living. It was great fun. But time is a tricky devil for a franchise centered around single women. Espically when those women reach their mid to late 30′s and they are still single. So, they did what you’d expect – they married off almost all of them. They gave babies to them. They had them quit their jobs. Maybe it made people comfortable to see Carrie married off or to see Miranda finally trade her job for a family. It’s just sad that they had a real opportunity to show a different side of women. They had a chance to be original but instead they opted for ordinary. And that karaoke scene was pure torture.

The Cell (2000) the-cell_jlo_600x400This movie stars Jennifer Lopez as a world renown child psychologist. Wait, it gets better. She has developed a new experimental technology that lets her enter the minds of comatose patients. Still with me? The FBI recruits her to enter the mind of a serial killer to find out where he has hidden his latest kidnap victim. If you can accept all of that, you are a better person that me. JLo spends a great deal of the movie in elaborate costumes, and occasionally smokes weed in her underwear. The always creepy and awesome Vincent D’Onofrio stars as the comatose serial killer. Who for some reason also happens to be trapped in a glass cell which is slowly filling with water. It’s bad. Really bad. Sure the movie is pretty, and the costumes are great, but it takes more than that to make a good movie. A believable plot is a good place to start.

Southland Tales (2006) southland-talesApparently I cannot stand Richard Kelly. He is responsible for this piece of poo as well as my all time least favorite film, Donnie Darko. But unlike Darko, this movie has little to no redeeming qualities. It’s a post-apocalyptic tale about porn stars and the second coming. It stars The Rock, and Sarah Michelle Gellar… as a porn star. And as exciting as that sounds in theory, the sad fact is that the plot makes no sense. Even on repeated viewings. Or attempted repeated viewings. I couldn’t do it twice. I could barely do it once.

Wicker Man (2006) Everyone knows I love me some Nic Cage. One of the things I like best about him is that he is awful and awesome in equal measure. He can do a movie so bad it’s laughable (like this one) and then do something great like Adaptation. The man is a mystery. But his work in the remake of Wicker Man is pretty much the worst thing he has ever, ever done. 

What Dreams May Come (1998) heaven-what-dreams-may-comeWhen Robin Williams makes a stinker he really goes for it. While Bicentennial Man and Patch Adams are both worthy of this list, What Dreams May Come edges out the competition with its vast amount of pure pretension. I hated this movie. Like The Cell, this movie thinks it can forgo a plotline in lieu of really pretty scenery. Sorry. It doesn’t work that way. And like The Cell, it’s really confusing. Robin Williams has a family and they die. Mostly. Then once he and his wife are happy again, he dies. Mostly. He’s kind of alive in heaven and realizes he can control his surroundings with his mind. He then meets Cuba Gooding Jr. who serves as his mentor in heaven and teaches him how to get into other people’s dreams. Ugh. Just… ugh.

After Earth (2013) 124684 I wish Will Smith would stop producing movies for his kids to star in. They all suck, and they just make me mad at Will Smith. This movie was nothing more than a vehicle for him and his son. Did he learn nothing from The Karate Kid fiasco? Will, if you are reading this, please do us all a favor and stick to bitchen’ action movies that require you to appear shirtless for at least 10% of the running time. These movies you are making with your kids are just sad, man. What would Uncle Phil say about using fame to promote your kids? If they are talented they’ll do alright on their own. And, you kind of aren’t helping anyway.

Godfather 3 (1990) godfather-3 I like to pretend this movie doesn’t exist. Without it The Godfather franchise remains unsullied. The story is not up to par, and we don’t really get much of an explanation for why Michael Corleone has gone legit. He’s older and walks with a stoop, and I guess that’s supposed to show us that he’s human. Just what we want in a Godfather movie. Then to compound the bad ideas, Coppola cast his daughter Sophia as Michael Corleone’s daughter Mary. I’m not exaggerating when I say she ruined the entire film. She is horrible. She should stick to being behind the camera. There are numerous scenes of awkward conversation, and Diane Keaton is reduced to a bit part as a “the mother”. Kay deserved better. So, like I said. I like to pretend that this movie doesn’t even exist. It’s just better that way.

Honorable MentionGlitter, Waterworld, Gili, White Chicks, everything ever from Tyler Perry, Catwoman, The Fantastic Four, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and The Twilight Saga movies

 

Being a Woman Isn’t A Competition

Apply-Make-upThis morning I read an article over at HuffPo called “I Can’t Wait Not to Be Sexy Anymore” by Anastasia Basil. I kind of knew what I was getting into when I read the title, but I guess I just wanted to be annoyed this morning. It starts out like this:

“I’m EXHAUSTED. I’ve been tweezing, shaving, moisturizing, defrizzing, flat-ironing, bikini-waxing, hair-dyeing, gym-joining (notice I said gym-joining, not gym-going?) exfoliating and manicuring since 8th grade, all while sleeping on a silk pillowcase to reduce wrinkles. I’m ready to grow a beard and just RELAX.”

I absolutely hate this kind of thinking. All of these things are optional, right? So do them or not, but shut up about it. And I’m sorry, but none of those things are exactly exhausting. First world problems. She goes on:

“There comes a time in every woman’s life when she has to stop competing with sorority girls, simply because there aren’t enough hours in a day to wax all the hair from a perimenopausal body AND hit up three different Dollar Stores in search of matching birthday party favors.”

For reals? First off, the author gets the entire concept of being a woman wrong. If you are competing with other women, you are just adding to the problem. I am myself, and myself is pretty awesome. I don’t need to compete with other women, and I certainly don’t compete with college co-eds. They are like little lost deer in skimpy outfits. In fact, I met a sorority girl just the other night at karaoke. She thought I was “so cool” and had “amazing hair”. She was correct on both counts, and I thanked her for it. She wanted my number so we could hang out. But she was wasted and I don’t have a phone. The point is that I’m a smart, capable woman and she saw that. Younger women are not the enemy. They are just younger. It isn’t personal.

If a grown ass woman and mother feels threatened by the supposed sexiness of a sorority girl, then she has bigger problems than her time management. The problem isn’t the sexiness of other women, the problem is YOU deciding to compete in the first place. Women shouldn’t compete with other women. We should support each other. I’m not saying you have to get along with every woman you meet, but you don’t have to look at them as a threat either. What a waste of time.

“When I’m getting dressed in the morning, I think: My boobs had their day in the sun. They turned heads, they nursed babies and there was a time when they did not require a harness that would fit a dairy cow… Helloooo strappy, push-up bra with moisture-wicking foam support pads and matching cheekini tummy-tucker.”

I absolutely cannot stand the whole self-effacing Mom thing. Stop making excuses for giving up. And stop complaining about being out of shape and not doing anything about it. If someone else had compared this woman to a cow, I bet she’d be pretty pissed. But she does it and it’s supposed to be funny? It isn’t. It’s sad and super unfunny. If you feel the need to wear Lycra and spandex every time you go out of the house, don’t blame me. Or your kids. Or your husband. Or all of the other women in the world who are younger than you. You don’t have to be uncomfortable. There is no law stating that you must have perky boobs and a flat tummy in order to go on a date. And for god sake, please stop telling the world about it. No one even noticed the way you looked until you pointed it out and gave them a map of your (supposed) flaws.

Old age, I give you my face to wrinkle and my body to sag. If that’s the currency required to watch my kids grow and to continue shopping for holiday-themed shirts, then I’m truly happy to part with the time-sucking struggle for ever-lasting youth.”

Everlasting youth? Currency required? Let me fill you in on a couple of things, lady. First, you could have parted with the “time-sucking struggle” at any moment in your forty years on the planet. There was no one holding a gun to your head, forcing you to pluck your eyebrows and shave your legs. There was no villain behind the scenes pressuring you to get a gym membership then restraining you so that you could never go. It was all your own doing. All your choice.

And for me that what it all comes down to – a choice. You can choose to play the game or not. It’s up to you. There are always going to be younger women than you, no matter how old or young you are. Be their friend, not their competition. Be their mentor, not their mother. Be the example, not the side show.

Travel: Why I Move

Welcome to Washington!

Welcome to Washington!

Leaving Prague after seven years was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I worked hard to make a life over there. I had to make new friends every two years since the life span of a Prague Expat is pretty short. I also had to endure the evil machine that is the Czech Foreign Police. Living there was fun, but it wasn’t exactly easy. People often think I was over there just drinking and partying for seven years, and while that might be true, it doesn’t paint a full picture of my life in Prague. So when I get asked “Why did you leave? Prague sounds awesome!” My usual reply is, “Well, everything gets old after a while. And there is a lot of the world I ain’t seen yet.”

I still love Prague, but I have finally decided that my decision to leave was the right one. Staying in one place for too long, even a place as beautiful as Prague, makes you complacent. A realization I made while living in Austin. I met so many people in Houston and Austin that had never left their home state. Never. Just like the dozens of Czechs who had never left the CR. They didn’t want to see America, Asia, or even or travel outside of the Czech Republic because “Everything I need is here and it is the best.” Texans were the same. I had a three-year old in Austin tell me that daddy said “travel is a waste of time and money since everything you need is right here in Texas.” Ugh.

I don’t share that opinion. I think Prague is awesome, but I’m pretty sure there are other awesome places in the world. The only way to find out is to see these places with my own eyes. Movies and TV shows and books are great, but nothing replaces a first hand experience. It’s not easy living this way, but the rewards are pretty amazing. If a place doesn’t feel right, then it isn’t home. People change as they get older and so do places. I was lucky to be in Prague at the perfect time in my life. Leaving was hard, but I was tired of trying. And honestly, there are only so many times you can hear stories about how wasted someone got last night. Been there. Done that.

My new city

My new city

So, here we are in beautiful Seattle ready to give it a try. We are prepared to settle down for a while, and possibly plant some roots here. If we like it. And all signs point to likeability. I’m a big fan of cold weather, and I love hiking and camping. Portland is just a train ride away, and Seattle boasts some great food, beer and coffee. I’m ready to dive in.

We had the opportunity to visit friends we made in our time in Europe on the way here, and that was pretty awesome. It made me really happy to see how great everyone is doing, and how happy they are. I saw people I hadn’t seen since they left Prague years ago. I am happy to report that all of my “Prague Family” is still kicking ass and taking life by the balls. We might have scattered in the winds, but we are all living the life we want.

And that’s what it’s really all about. Live the life you want, and be open to what other people are doing. I move because I am an explorer and because I want to know first hand what it’s like out there in the world. I don’t judge anyone who likes where they live and wants to stay there. I get it. Stability feels good, if I remember correctly. But don’t judge folks like me because we travel, or choose to live out of a backpack. The way I live my life is not a reflection on your life. Unless you make it one. Live and let live. That’s what I say. Well, me and Cole Porter.

 

Travel: The Road to Seattle

SN858419I know I’ve been missing for a few weeks, but I have a good excuse. I’m moving to Seattle!

My sweetie and I departed from Berkeley, CA and drove straight to the Coppola Winery. It was a beautiful, sunny day, just perfect for wine tasting. We tried a flight of wine before going to Rustic, the restaurant on premises. The food was delicious, and you can’t beat dining outside overlooking the vineyards. We saw a turkey walking around while we ate. It was pretty awesome. We also had the opportunity to see a good amount of Coppola movie memorabilia, which for a movie buff like me was almost better than the wine. I saw Coppola’s five Oscars from The Godfather, the Tucker car, The Godfather desk, Apocalypse Now stuff, and even a couple of costumes from his horrible vampire movie. There is a beautiful swimming pool complete with Boardwalk style changing rooms. All in all it was a fantastic thing to do on a Monday afternoon.

SN858479After we finished pretending to be a wealthy couple, we hopped back in the Honda Civic and headed north on the 101. The 101 North is probably the most beautiful highway in America. The Redwood forest is there! We drove along The Avenue of Giants and took the car through a living tree. We drove to a campground in the Redwood National Forest only to find that they don’t have any wood and they only accept cash. Needless to say we didn’t fit the requirements. We drove to a nearby town and got a hotel room. The heater didn’t work and frogs could be heard outside of the bathroom window all night, so it was almost like camping.

And that brings us to today. We drove from The Redwood forest to Eugene, Oregon. Today. It was a long day but we saw a lot of cool shit. We had lunch in Trinidad, California and walked on the beach. We saw the Paul Bunyan statue and I think I said, “Wow! It’s so pretty!” about seventy times, if I said it once. It’s been an incredible couple of days.

SN858525Tomorrow we are meeting an old friend of mine for lunch before we set out for Portland to visit with some more friends. We are visiting with friends I met in high school, and friends I met in Prague. I’m so excited to reconnect with some cool people I haven’t seen in far too long. I’m also excited to see Portland and hopefully do some Hipster Gazing. It will be the first time I’ll be able to view the Hipster in its natural habitat and I’m jazzed, to say the least.

After that it’s on to Seattle and I’ll fill you in once we get there.

Minimalist Living: Home & Identity

jmbarclayMost people are proud of their homes. They manicure their lawn, create color schemes, and hang pictures. Whether it’s been two weeks or two years, folks tend to feel a sense of pride for their space and for their home. You’ll see framed pictures on the walls, shelves of books that may or may not have been read, and of course a few odds and ends that sit around gathering dust. We see our homes and the stuff we stuff into them as a projection of ourselves. Our home says, “Hey! This is who I am! This is where I’ve been! This is what my interests are! I hate doing dishes!” Or something to that effect. Each time you invite someone into your home you are presenting that person with an image of who you are. Or at least, who you think you are. Or, who you want people to think you are.

My home has been a suitcase since December 29, 2013. My fella and I set off on an adventure that began in Houston, Texas and has led us to Berkeley, California. We’ve slept in a tent, in an American Hostel, hotels, motels, floors and cottages. We’ve been lucky and skilled and courageous. We packed the Honda Civic with all we own in the world and decided to go where life takes us. We don’t have a home. We have nothing to decorate, no walls to hang pictures of our past experiences. Our lives are lived in the now. 

Not having a home has it’s pros and cons. Both of us are getting a little tired of being on the road and not having a place of our own. Living the life of a vagabond can give you a feeling of independence and freedom, but at the same time leave you feeling strangely disconnected from the world around you. If my identity is wrapped up in my home (and I don’t have a home) what does that say about me? Who am I?

One the one hand, I like not looking at pictures of my past every day. It’s hard to grow as a person when you are anchored to your past. Seeing pictures of Prague sometimes makes me sad. I have to remind myself that if I were to go back there today it wouldn’t be the same. I’ve changed and I am changing daily. I am not the same person I was in Prague, or even in Texas. I’ve changed and I allow myself the freedom to change every day.

In a few weeks we are moving onwards to Seattle, Washington. I am excited about the possibilities of living in a new city and excited about beginning a new chapter in my life. I’m also excited about having a place to call my own, at least for a while. I guess that’s the best part about living life as a vagabond – I don’t have to stay any place. If we like Seattle and we find jobs we like, we’ll stay. If not, who knows. There is a big world out there just waiting to be explored.

For this American Vagabond home is where you just happen to be. And that is more than alright with me. I’d rather have a lot of experiences and memories than a matching bedroom set and a mortgage.

I’m a Barbie Girl

contentWhen I was a little girl I had a variety of dolls. I played with “Baby” dolls, Cabbage Patch Kids, Barbie Dolls, Star Wars dolls and action figures, and even my grandmothers porcelain dolls. All of these dolls (including my Grandmother’s) are still in cardboard boxes somewhere in my mom’s garage. I loved dolls when I was a child and I love them today. I played with all sorts of dolls and none of them (with the exception of my Princess Leia action figure) influenced my self-confidence or self-worth. Princess Leia just made me want to fight bad guys and rid the universe of evil. I still want to do that.

Playing with Barbie dolls as a young girl in the 80′s didn’t give me an eating disorder, and it didn’t make me feel ugly. I never thought of Barbie as a “role model”. I looked at my Barbie dolls as a hanger for clothing. 90% of my time playing Barbies was used to change her clothes. And Barbie wasn’t the easiest doll to do a costume change for. My Barbies didn’t have slick legs (except for “My First Barbie”) and the pants and sleeves of the glamorous clothes always stuck to her body. I literally had to tug and pull to get her dressed. Cher makes it look so easy.  Anyway, I played with Barbie as she was intended to be played with: As a fashion doll.

I get irritated when I hear people complain about Barbie and her “impossible” proportions. Of course she’s impossible. She’s a doll. Barbie was introduced in 1959 when the only doll a girl had to play with was a “baby doll”. I don’t have anything against “baby dolls” but not every little girl wants to play mommy, or even be a mommy. Mattel tapped into a market that no one else in America was interested in: girls. She was one of the first toys to use TV advertising to her advantage, and she’s still around today. Sure, she’s changed a lot but the idea is still the same. Barbie is a fashion doll. You can change her outfits. She goes to parties and to work.

Y7496_BARBIE-FASHIONISTAS-Gown-Doll-(Pink-Mermaid-With-Ruffles)_XXXBut not all women have the same view of Barbie. Some women seem to find the doll threatening. They call her “unrealistic” and “over exaggerated”. I couldn’t agree more. She totally is. But so are Transformers and GI Joe. And My Little Pony. Barbie is no more of a threat to a young girls self-esteem than Batman is to a young boys. But some people have to find fault with everything and those people’s kids get to play with this new doll called “Lammily”. No, that’s not a typo, that is the doll’s actual name. And as if that wasn’t enough to turn off any young girl, the doll also looks like your mom.

Meet “Lammily” the lame doll with the lame name. She’s more “realistic” than Barbie and bound to be absolutely no fun to play with. The doll (designed by a man) is supposed to be the representation of a “normal” body. How fun. Lammily looks like she shops at Old Navy and drives carpool on Tuesdays. If I am a young girl who wants to see what a “normal” woman looks like, I need look no further than my own family, or perhaps to one of the dozens of female teachers in my life. I get normal. I am normal. Who wants to play normal? How does that encourage my imagination? It doesn’t. It probably makes mom feel like she’s awesome, but it leaves daughter bored. And with a doll that doesn’t fit any other doll clothes.

Leia 6Like I said, I had a wide variety of dolls in my entourage, one of which was a “Barbie-type” Princess Leia doll. She came in her white dress, hair in two buns, and her gun. She even looked a lot like Carrie Fisher. I loved her. I loved her until she had to integrate into my pre-existing Barbie society. My new doll had huge, flat feet. There was no way she was going to fit those canoes into Barbie’s dainty little slippers. She was also twice the size of Barbie which meant that she couldn’t share clothes. Princess Leia was stuck in that white, turtle neck gown. Indefinitely. She became the doll that stayed home when the others went out. She was the Cinderella of my group, but unlike the fairy tale, Ms. Leia never got to go to a ball. None of the gowns fit.

And that’s how I see these “Lammily” dolls. They are guaranteed to make your daughter the outcast. I remember being invited over to a friend’s house to play Barbies, and feeling like the biggest dork in the world when I showed up with a doll that didn’t fit in. Literally. Leia didn’t fit in the dream house. If the idea behind these so-called “Normal” dolls is to help girls with their self-esteem, then I see it backfiring big time. If you want your daughter to have good self-esteem, then talk to her about it and be her role model. Don’t leave it up to a doll.

The “Lammily” doll is still being funded (via Crowdfunding campaign) and they hope to produce 5,000 boring dolls that look like the neighbor lady getting ready to go to the gym. The tagline is “Average is Beautiful”. Seriously? I mean, sure there is nothing wrong with average. I got a couple of C’s on a report card or two, but shouldn’t we strive for more? Average isn’t beautiful. It’s average. I understand that some people are offended by Barbie and the hyper-sexualized “Bratz” dolls, but I don’t think making a doll that looks like a soccer-mom is the solution. There isn’t a lot of fun places you can pretend to go with your Lammily doll.

The real solution here is to talk to our young ladies and give them credit for being able to choose their own role models. Barbie doesn’t have to be anything more than a fun toy. If we talk to our kids (boys and girls) and help them to understand that toys are toys, and people are people, then it should be alright in the end. I never once thought I could grow up to be Barbie, the thought never crossed my mind. Leading your kids to believe “they can be anything” and that they are “perfect” the way they are is fine I guess, but I’d rather have a healthy dose of reality. No, you will never look like Barbie. 

And that’s a good thing. Because she is a plastic doll, and you, YOU are flesh and blood.