Saturday, January 25, 2014

A Little Burns Night Treat

Okay, okay, so it isn't whisky.  But, it is Irn-Bru truffles.  In my opinion, that is just as good. 

And what does an American girl know about Irn-Bru?  Admittedly, not much until last year.  But last spring, I went to see Black Watch in Seattle.  I had met most of the cast the previous fall in DC, and as a person who likes to make sweet treats and give them away, I decided the only thing to do would be to create a treat that incorporated a bit of "home" for the actors while they were away.  Cause I'm a total nerd like that.  Unfortunately, the internet seems to have a dearth of Irn-Bru recipes.  It just meant I got to experiment.  I ended up making some Irn-Bru fudge and Irn-Bru truffles.  I like these truffles and they have the benefit of being easy-peasy.

The recipe is:

1/8 cup of concentrated Irn-Bru
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) of butter, softened
2 1/8 cups of powdered sugar
Semi-sweet chocolate chips or white chocolate chips according to preference.

Told you it was going to be easy.

The first step is finding some Irn-Bru.  Depending on your location, that may be tricky.  I ended up buying some on Amazon.

Mini Macca checking out the selections on Amazon.

The next step is boiling down the Irn-Bru.  I generally do one cup boiled down to somewhere between 1/4 cup or 1/8 of a cup.  It all depends on how syrupy concentrated you want it.  Just make sure it doesn't all boil away!  I believe, looking at these pictures, I was doing a double batch (so really, just double everything and there you have it).

Getting ready to be boiled.

Boiling away!
Then I will let it sit for a bit to cool down.  This is when you can gather your other ingredients and get that butter softened.

All the ingredients you need.
In a medium sized bowl, or a stand mixer.  Put in the butter, 1/2 of the powdered sugar, and the Irn-Bru concentrate. Mix together with either a hand-held mixer or a stand mixer on medium.

Almost all of the ingredients.
Once those ingredients are fully mixed, then add in the rest of the powdered sugar.  If it becomes too heavy, add in a tiny bit of Irn-Bru straight from the bottle (if you hadn't already drunk the remaining half of the bottle) until it is thick but creamy.  This is what you should end up with:

Delicious Irn-Bru goodness.

At this point, you can either pop it just like that into the refrigerator for a few hours, or do as I do, and roll them into balls before putting them in the refrigerator.  To do that, the easiest thing I have found is to take a cookie sheet and cover it with wax paper.  Then taking my smallest cookie scoop, I scoop them into balls and put them on the cookie sheet.  That just makes it easier to roll them into neater balls when the time comes.

After they have hardened, I take them out of the fridge, roll them into their neater balls, and prepare to dunk them in chocolate.  I generally toss about half a bag of chocolate chips into a bowl with a spoonful of all-purpose shortening.  Then I put that into my microwave for 30 seconds.  Mix it up, put it in for another 30 seconds, mix again.  By that point, the chocolate chips should be all mixed and you should be ready to dip the Irn-Bru balls into the chocolate.  I like to use the two fork method.  Once all of them have received their chocolate bath, I decorate them with some form of sprinkle on top and put them back in the fridge to harden.  

The finished truffle.
Then I eat them. Yum!  My friends here in the states say they have an unidentifiable flavour, but are more than happy to eat them up.  I hope you enjoy making some of your own.

Happy Burns Night!

Monday, June 10, 2013

48HBC Finish Line

Well, that was just a bit of spectacular fail on my part.  Both reading-wise and dance-wise.  In other words, I did not get done all the reading I was hoping to this weekend.  And, to add insult to injury (hah!), Friday night I managed to do something to my big toe, either a fracture or break it, so by today I was in so much pain I had to forgo my solo dance en pointe and do it in regular ballet slippers.  So disappointing because I was all ::squee!:: I have a solo dance en pointe.  My friend Alex had to talk me down from doing it- though I told her the best bet would be to just hid my shoes.  Cause after doing my pointe class dance, I backed down, but by the end of the recital where my solo was, I was ready to try it again (as I did Saturday night- and did it quite well enough, I might add).  But, she wouldn't let me.  Still, it went rather well, all things considered.

I also cried because I fear this may be my last recital and it didn't end the way I wanted it to.  But, that sometimes happens in life.  I just had two quotes running through my head from Black Watch.  The first was "you try doing this with a broken arm", except for me it was "you try doing this with a broken toe".  The second was "this could be the last attack for the First Battalion, the Black Watch".  That was the thought that got me really crying.  Oh, emotions.  You do betray me sometimes.

But, books.  Right, we are here to talk about books!

I managed to read two and start a third today (and, well, some of it was from last night).

Highland Rebel by Sally Watson.

This was my holdout Sally Watson book.  And by that, I mean it is the only one of her original books from the 60s (she has since written a few more that are being self-published) that I hadn't read.  This one being her first published one actually.  And I've owned it for years.  Truth be told, I still have one L.M. Montgomery book I have yet to read (A Tangled Web).  I think I do it because I enjoy their books so much that it is rather dreadful to know that there will never be anything else new to read of theirs.  If that makes sense.  Especially my L.M. Montgomery one.  Cause, you know, she's dead.  Except there is the other voice in my head that tells me I could pop off at any moment and I would be leaving a book unread.  So, I guess it is good that I got to at least one of their books this read-a-thon, eh? 

I do so enjoy her books.  This one is about Lauren Keith Cameron (who is the mother of Lauchlin from The Hornet's Nest- yes her Scottish characters from various books are all related).  She prefers sword fighting to more lady-like adventures, and, of course, this gets her into trouble.  Both within her family, but also with the English.  For the book is set during the time of Bonnie Prince Charles's attempt to take the crown from King George.  And Laurie will learn through great trials and hardship just how strong a character she has.

Pages: 212

Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger.

Having read Gail Carriger's "Parasol Protectorate" series, I was quite interested in reading the first book in her new YA series.  And, it was a fun romp through a different type of boarding school in Steampunk England, especially as it is set in the same universe as her other series.  I just realized that I read two books with very hoydenish main characters who enjoy doing more boyish activities than sitting around being proper girls.  If only there had been a new Cat Royal book, I would have been set for life!

Sophronia has been selected to attend a prestigious girls' finishing school (on her part quite unwilling to go)- but what she and her parents don't realize is that this is no ordinary school.  This school is training young women in the art of espionage.  On the way to the school, their carriage is waylaid by flywaymen who are looking for the "Prototype".  Which, of course, they don't get ahold of, because where would the rest of the story be?  Along the way, our Sophronia makes new friends with a variety of characters, learns that being a girl isn't all that bad, and quite possibly saves the day.  Well, her and her trusted mechanimal, Bumbersnoot.

Pages: 307

Echoes of Love by Rosie Rushton.

This is a modern retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion that a friend of mine who is a bit obsessed with JA retellings sent me (I really think she owns the vast majority of them).  I can't quite tell you what I feel about it, because I've only gotten a few chapters in.  Actually, the author wrote retellings of all of JA's novels.  But, I've been in a Persuasion type mood lately.  Which is why I went for this one.

Pages (so far): 40

Hours reading: 16 hours, 15 minutes
Hours blogging: 1 hour
Pages read: 1385

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Update the first - or, why are their no pictures?

This is just a short entry.  Maybe?

I've read three books since starting the challenge late, late last night.

Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.
A couple months ago, I had joked that I needed some new "mix tapes" because mine all dated to the early 2000s.  And by mix tapes, I really meant cds.  However, this book actually does mean cassette tapes when talking about mix tapes.  For some reason, I found this bit of early 90s pop culture fun to remember.  Although, I never had a boyfriend to make me a mix tape- my brother did a few for me, though.  Ahhh.  So, this book is on the local school's 11th & 12th grade summer reading lists.  And now I need to watch the movie (which I also have checked out from the library).

Pages: 213

The Elite by Kiera Cass

I must admit I went into this book a bit wary, just because I read too many 1 star reviews of the book on Amazon (bad habit of mine to hit the low reviews first before going to the higher ones).  And, I do see their point about the messiness of the love affair.  I mean, can you ever really trust a man who would play around with other women?  But, can Maxon actually trust America because she is doing the exact same thing with Aspen.  I mean, people really shouldn't be calling out Maxon when America is just as guilty.  The problem with this book really is that there were quite a few unresolved plot lines at the end of the book.  The Italian issue is a big one for me.  I mean, where did she store that piece of paper.  Also, how could the rebels completely sack her room and not find the diary?  Especially when they were looking for books.  Or maybe only one group is looking for books.  Hmm.  I did like the thought that love was beautiful fear.  I get that.  Still a very quick, fun read.

Pages: 323

Linnets and Valerians by Elizabeth Goudge

I admit I blindly picked this book up at a used book store because a)I have a fondness for children books of a certain era and b) the title reminded me of Linnet by Sally Watson.  This wasn't quite the same thing as her historical books, but still quite a fun adventure in itself.  You have four near orphans (their mother is dead and their father is off with the army in India) who are living with their "mean" grandmother.  After being locked up in closets one too many times, they escape and Robert (the older brother at 10) makes the decision that they should flee.  So they do, and somehow end up at the house of their eldest uncle, a recluse bachelor/former schoolmaster/current vicar.  And soon they are in between a generation old battle between good and evil.  They are, quite fortunately, on the side of good.  It's a fun little adventure with elements of the mystical and a gem of a novel.  I'm glad I found it.

Pages: 290

Hours reading: 8
Hours blogging: 30 minutes
Pages read: 826

And, I have just started an actual Sally Watson book, Highland Rebel.  I'll see how far I can get before I need to go get ready for my dance recital.  In like 30 minutes.  Ah well!

Friday, June 7, 2013

#48HBC - Starting line.

I almost didn't do it this year.  Almost.  Once again I have my dance recital and I hate giving it less than 100 % (a.k.a. all 48 hours).  But, then I looked at my TBR stack and it is high.  Very high.  So, perhaps this will motivate me to just chillax tomorrow and read before having to go dance my little heart out. 

It's 11:30 P.M.  I just got home from my dress rehearsal.  If this isn't a good time to start, I don't know when is.  Here goes nothing....

Starting with The Perks of Being a Wallflower, because I have never read it. Shocking!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart

“I say it each time I see you Pru
But each time I see you feels new
So we are here again and I’ll say it again
Prudencia – you are, essentially, a librarian
Peddling a kind of romantic tosh.
Your time has passed Pru – bish bash bosh!”

Going into NationalTheatre of Scotland’s The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, I didn’t quite know what to expect.  Before seeing the show, I made sure to purchase one of the few remaining copies of the script at the Shakespeare Theatre gift shop (I learned my lesson when two years ago I didn’t purchase a copy of Black Watch and had to hunt it down online).  But, when I bought the script, I was told to hold off reading it until I saw the production.  I was glad I waited because there are differences in what I saw and what is written.

Actually, the first time I saw the show, Annie Grace was out (due to a family emergency) and was being replaced for that performance by Emma Callander who did a bang up job considering it was all last minute and she was using notes.  As it is a small company and they don’t travel with understudies, I wonder how many times such a thing has happened.  So one of the first things I noticed when seeing the show the second time was that Annie Grace does a lot more singing than her characters did the first time I saw it.  This is impossible to tell when reading the script because it is all one big ballad with no delineation as far as which character is saying the lines, even when coming from a specific character (say Pru, Colin, or Nick).  Had I read the script prior to my first visit, I’m sure I would have been a)spoiled and b)confused as to if it was actually a play I was seeing.

Prudencia Hart signed in at table 24.
In addition, my friend and I were offered advice as to the best location to sit if we wanted to be a part of the action.  So, we got their early and requested an interactive table.  And we got it!  Table 24 was the table that Melody Grove as Pru and Andy Clark as Colin sign in on, Aly Macrae sprawls across, and is later used as the table during the Ballad of Co Lin, which gave us a most excellent view of the action for the second act.  We requested the same table for the second time we saw it, but were placed at another table.  However, as there was room at table 24, we switched seats.  Hehe.  So, if you don’t mind being possibly poked at by the actors, try sitting in the highly interactive section.  I would definitely recommend it.  The actors do wander around before the show starts to educate the audience on the necessity of creating snow for the performance.  We ruined Andy’s instructions for us the second time around because we had already gotten started with snow creation.  Instead, I got him to sign my script.

It looks as if we are reenacting the "Ballad of Co Lin" here.
The show takes place on midwinter’s night 2010.  Prudence has just taken part in a conference on border ballads and discovers that she is stuck there overnight due to a blizzard.  She and Colin Syme (who annoys her with his modern take on ballads) were stuck at a pub with a very unenthusiastic “Folk Night” which then turned into rocking “Karaoke Nite”.  And although Pru has been warned about the Devil’s Ceilidh (where at midnight on midwinter solstice, the Devil (David McKay) is able to wander freely to attract souls to hell), she ventures forth from the pub to escape the madness within and to find a bed & breakfast.  Except, instead of finding a simple B&B, she gets to spend four millennia in Hell with the Devil, looking out at the Costco car park.  At least she has a library filled with all the books that ever were in it to entertain her.  And, like a good librarian/scholarly type she starts to catalogue the collection; which is precisely what I would have done in her shoes.   Does she escape the Devil?  I’ll give you a hint: there is something called the “Ballad of Co Lin” towards the end of the show. 

With Melody Grace (Prudencia)
Prudencia is a girl after my own heart.  I pretty much figured it out somewhere between when she was called a librarian by Colin and when she ended up in the loo as an escapee from the people who wanted her to participate in the karaoke.  Because, you know, I like to avoid public spectacles just as much as she does.  And then when she got to see Nick’s library for the first time, it was just like that moment in Beauty and the Beast when Belle is shown the Beast’s library and you thought you were in Heaven.  Only, in this case, it was a bit more like Hell.  And perhaps that is why I like this play so much, because I’m a lot like Pru before her undoing. 

Oh, and did I mention that you get whisky pre-show?  And it is delicious whisky.  Like, I want to go find a bottle of it for my own.  They served samples of Benromach Speyside Single Malt Whisky.  A special shout out to the man serving the whisky.  I don’t know his name, but he was very nice and gave us a bit of background on the whisky (and told me that he would never refuse a lass a second sample-which, sadly, I did not take him up on).

I’m not sure if the National Theatre of Scotland hires the nicest actors or what, but we had a chance to talk to the actors after the show the second time we saw it and they were just as awesome as their Black Watch counterparts whom we had met a couple months prior, both onstage and off.  It made me realize that I am a fan of the National Theatre of Scotland and want to see all of their shows, which means that I hope that Shakespeare Theatre Company in DC continues to carry on this relationship they have developed with NTS the past couple of years.  It would be  wonderful if someday they would bring over Enquirer or Glasgow Girls or…  Granted, I would be delighted if ever Prudencia Hart or Black Watch came back around.  I’m keeping my eyes on the schedule in hopes that Prudencia will make her way back to east coast of the US some time soon.

Although Prudencia Hart is no longer running at the Bier Baron Tavern in DC, she is still on tour after the new year!  Check the schedule out on NTS website and go if she’s in your area.  Of course, your “One Colin Syme” will be different than my “One Colin Syme”. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

I will blame the shoes.

Me in one of my Renn Faire creations. 
Over the past few months, I've taken up a new hobby.  Sewing.  I was inspired by my love of costumes to create one of my own.  After a couple test rounds of Renaissance Faire dresses (where, if you notice in the picture on the right, I even taught myself how to do slashing and hand-sewn eyelets-yes, I'm proud of myself), I settled on my need to make a "Cosette" dress for the opening of the new Les Miserables movie.  Yeah.  Have you seen dresses from the 1830s?  The fine sleeves? 

Well, the movie comes out in less than two months and I am not sure if I am going to make it.  Why?  Because I'm still working on the corded stay.  That's right.  You can't make the dress without the proper undergarments first.  So, I'm stuck on the stay.  Actually, I wouldn't say stuck.  It's actually moving along quite well.  I'm just finishing basting the front and lining together (after mastering a tiny blanket stitch earlier this evening) and will soon be on to the runners.  I hope.

I'm also working on the corded petticoat with rows of tiny cording.  They look cute, but are killer on my fingers since I'm doing that all by hand.  But so cute!

My dress won't be pink. It will have the sleeves, though.
So, will I get the dress done?  I don't know.

Do you know what really inspired this costuming/sewing craze?  I'm going to blame Lauren over at American Duchess.  She sells some of the best shoes for reenactment.  I confess to purchasing both the Kensington and Astoria shoes (with great plans of creating an 18th century wardrobe-I have the fabric, just need the time).  I wear my Astorias for everyday use, they are that comfortable.

"23Skidoos" - ::dies of adorableness overload::
But what I'm most looking forward to now?  The 23Skidoos Spectator pumps.  They are in the "pre-order" stage and I'm crossing my fingers that she gets the 100 orders needed so I can get them.  Aren't they adorable looking?  I know I want to make some 20s/30s clothes now to go along with them.  Add it to the list!

But, no, I must focus on the 1830s, not the 1930s.  Besides, the 1830s craze will be over by the time I get my little hands on the 23Skidoos!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Golden Thread that connects us all.

 For it's over the mountain, over the main
Through Gibraltar, tae France and tae Spain
Wi' a feather in your bonnet and a kilt aboon your knee
Sae list my bonnie laddie and come awa wi'me.
Chris Starkie (Stewarty)
Last Friday night after seeing National Theatre of Scotland's production of  Black Watch at  Shakespeare Theatre Company's Sidney Harman Hall in DC, my friend and I turned to each other and realized at the same time that we had found a new obsession.  Although no, it actually wasn't new.  This was a show that we had seen and loved when it had last been through in early 2011.  We just didn't expect that we would be able to see it again quite so soon.

Oh, there was a rumor we heard from Adam McNamara in November of 2011 when we were in London seeing Michael Sheen's Hamlet at the Young Vic.  A rumor that a new tour was being proposed for the US.  Vigorous Google searching revealed nothing.  As it was, we had to practically wait until opening night to find out who was in the cast.   
Andrew Fraser (Fraz), Robert Jack (Sergeant)

Happily, we were not disappointed.  A new tour was mounted, the cast is brilliant, and I am, once again, completely enthralled with this show.  And I don't know why.  No, really.  Why do I like this show so much?  On the surface, you wouldn't think that we had much in common.  I'm not Scottish (that I know of, at least).  I've never been in the army or to Iraq.  Heck, I've never even fired a gun.  And my mom would be washing my mouth constantly if I swore as much as these characters do.  So what is it that draws me to this piece?

The plot jumps back and forth between the "present" in a pub in Scotland where six of the Black Watch soldiers are being interviewed about their experiences in Iraq by a writer who is interested in developing a piece for the theatre based on the interviews and the past in Iraq where there are eight soldiers and two officers.  You do the math.  Some people might not make it home.  Much of what is said in the interviews relates to the following scene which takes place in Iraq.  Scene transitions generally happen through song (using traditional songs of the Black Watch) or by the Officer's emails being read aloud by the Officer.  So, say in the pub when they have a problem with the accent Rossco uses to portray native Iraqi citizens, Rossco suggests that anyone who has a problem with his accent is welcome to step outside for ten seconds to resolve the issue.  In the next Iraq scene, there is a whole segment of well-choreographed "Ten Second Fights" (started by Kenzie and Nabsy).

Scott Fletcher (Kenzie) and Cameron Barnes (Macca)
I think that what first drew me in on my initial viewing was the choreography.   That and the Bluesy scene made me cry.  That is when they receive their mail and it is a big sign language segment which is another thing that has to be seen to be fully appreciated.  And then the second time was getting acclimated to the characters and their relationships with each other.  So by the third time I saw it, I could really focus in on the character traits the actors have developed and really begin to appreciate their relationships and the jokes (and seriously, Stewarty needs a hug, and it is especially moving when you know that he is based off of a real soldier who went through that and is still suffering the PTSD).  Four of the actors-Richard Rankin as Granty, Chris Starkie as Stewarty, Cameron Barnes as Macca, and Scott Fletcher as Kenzie (plus understudy Adam McNamara) were the same from the first time I saw Black Watch.  The other five actors were new to me-Adam as Rossco, Ryan Fletcher as Cammy, Gavin Jon Wright as Nasby (and Gavin-hehe), Robert Jack as the Sergeant and Writer, Andrew Fraser as Fraz, and Stephen McCole as Officer and Lord Elgin.  It was slightly disconcerting seeing it again with half of the cast being familiar (which is odd considering I hadn't seen it in two years) and the others being new.  But, I quickly got over that and happily followed along with the new cast.

Gavin Jon Wright (Nabsy), Ryan Fletcher (Cammy), and Stephen McCole (Officer) in the "Fashion" scene.
It really is an ensemble piece.  Which could be part of the reason why I like it so much.  I was reflecting today that it is a bit like the student revolutionaries in Les Miserables.  Another favorite show of mine.  Except, you know, happily not everyone dies at the end of Black Watch.  Yay!  But, speaking as someone who has seen Les Miserables far more times than she can remember, I enjoy watching the characters in the same way that I enjoyed watching the ensemble work on the barricades.  Just, you know, different battles and time periods.  Maybe that is why I like it so much.

Scott Fletcher (center as Kenzie)
Plus, there is the knowledge that it is soon going away.  It is only a three week run at Shakespeare Theatre Company.  ::sniffsniff::  Which has perhaps led to my sudden determination to see it as many times as possible.  Hence, why I have already seen this touring cast three times and will being seeing it two more times before the show moves on to Chicago.  Touring shows, much like glory, is a fleeting thing and must be taken advantage of whenever possible.

I love the music in it.  I have a thing for bagpipes.  I know that is weird.  Or maybe not weird, just a developed taste.  I'll blame that on the fact that my college had a pipe and drum band and I could hear their practice every week.  It does grow on you, I guess.  And this show has the fabulous talent of award-winning bagpiper Cameron Barnes (who is also super nice) who plays two songs live on bagpipes.  Besides that, we also get lovely regimental songs that have been stuck in my head the past few weeks.  Actually, I had to go download not as awesome recordings of the songs because I kept singing them.  They are on my ipod now.  
My new favorite bagpiper (not that I have an old favorite)! Cameron Barnes (Macca) and myself.

It also doesn't help that the cast is so impossibly nice.  After the first tour came round, I hunted up a copy of the script with photos of that cast in it.  I brought it to the show last Friday night and waited at the stage door to try to get them to sign it (yes, I'm a dork, shut up).  But, really.  So nice!  They all were quite happy to sign it for me and even stopped to chat a bit.  So, there, I'll blame them.  Their offstage awesomeness sealed the deal to make this one of the best shows I've seen all year.

A couple of years ago, I did a mini-review of the Black Watch script by Gregory Burke for one of my 48-hour reading challenge books.  Though it was basically me stating that the actual show is so much more than the script.  So, by all means, read the script.  Even if lines are changed or ad libbed.  But also do yourself a favour and see the show if you get the chance.  Please.  It's playing Chicago next followed by South Korea and finally Seattle and San Francisco in the spring.
Just because my friend sent this to me.  There are only two uses of kilts in the show so don't get your hopes up too high on that account. ;)