chal-lenge: noun a calling to account or into question

Follow along as I challenge the tricks, tips, clever craft and decorating ideas and "simple" recipes that we clip, bookmark, and "pin" for trial at a later date.

Are they really worth the effort? Time (and I) will tell!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Coffee: To brew or not to brew?

My parents made coffee every morning for breakfast but I was never interested. That is until I got a new job in my early 20’s. It seems the newest person hired was responsible for washing out the coffee pot at the end of the day regardless of whether or not they drank any of it. Although I vehemently argued the point, I was not relieved of this duty. The last person hired before me had been washing the pot for several years at that point and was more than eager to give up the responsibility. I decided that if I couldn’t beat ‘em, I’d join ‘em! I started drinking coffee and never looked back.

Over the years drinking coffee has become a ritual for me. It has been a nice way to take a break with friends and co-workers and just chill out for a few minutes. The communal coffee pot at work has replaced the water cooler as a spot for conversations. No one is denied time away from their station to indulge in a little brew.

A few years ago a coffee shop opened up just around the corner from my office. I remember the comments before they opened: What will they sell besides coffee? How can they sell enough coffee to be successful? I felt compelled to offer them my support. Every weekday morning for the past two years I have walked to the Coffee House to buy my daily brew. It’s fun to walk in and have everyone know your name!

Unfortunately, buying coffee every day in a specialized coffee shop can get a little pricey. I had been looking at the Keurig coffee brewing system and calculating my savings for the past year but was hesitant to make the switch. After all, this coffee maker wasn’t going to give me a friendly greeting when I walked up to it. The decision was taken out of my hands when I received a Keurig coffee maker and a variety pack of coffee pods for Christmas.

This coffee maker really is convenient. I don’t have to measure out the coffee or deal with messy filters and burned coffee on the warming pad. There are a variety of brews that are really quite tasty. They have organic and free trade coffees which is important to some people. More importantly, I don’t have to wash the coffee pot! I would definitely recommend this coffee maker to anyone who just needs a single cup of coffee on the way out the door. Compared to coffee shop coffee, I am saving $1.50 per cup. Doesn’t sound like much but at the end of the month I will have saved $30.

Although I am saving money and I like my new coffee, I do miss my friends at the Coffee House. I’ll have to stop by tomorrow and say hello. I think I hear a marble mocha mocchiato (with skim milk!) calling my name.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


I love hand-knitted sweaters, scarves and mittens. There’s just something so warm and comforting about bulky yarn. Maybe this feeling comes from the mittens my mother used to make for us when we were kids. Mom taught me how to knit mittens when I was young. I was never very good at it but it was very rewarding to take a skein of yarn and turn it into something that could be worn.

This brings me to my next challenge. From time to time (usually in January), I get the urge to knit. I seek out a pattern that seems fairly simple as my skills have not progressed much since I was a kid. My most recent efforts have been in the afghan direction. The picture above shows my latest afghan projects. The red yarn is chenille and it really did end up as an afghan. A very ugly one at that! As soon as it was finished, I tore it apart to destroy the evidence. I recently decided to use this yarn to make a scarf (pictured). It wasn’t too bad until I lost track of my pattern and created several holes across one row. This one will have to go as well!

I have six skeins of the brown yarn which is nicely variegated and bulky. I started afghan #1 with this yarn on straight knitting needles and it was way too cumbersome with 108 stitches across. I tore it apart. I restarted the pattern on some circular needles but they were too weird. I tore it apart. I started to think that there must be more to my problem than the materials and the pattern. I looked deep within my soul and decided that an afghan using six skeins of yarn and 108 stitches in one row is way too much of a commitment for me. Enter the scarf. A scarf is the perfect project for someone with commitment issues.

I found a basic scarf pattern from Martha Stewart and it was really quite manageable. I worked every evening this past week and voila: a scarf is born! I will call this project an afghan for my neck. As for the rest of the yarn, I saw an ad in the paper requesting donations of yarn for senior citizens. I think I’ll give them a call.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Maple-Nut Granola

Challenge: Can I make a granola that is tasty and healthy?

I have always been a fan of granola. It’s a healthy mix of oats, nuts and fruits and I love to sprinkle it on my yogurt and pretend that I’m a healthy eater. I have been buying different varieties of granola at the local farmer’s market but with the market closed for the season, I thought I’d try my hand at creating my own.

The January issue of Everyday Food Magazine included a recipe for maple-nut granola that looked pretty simple. The recipe includes old-fashioned rolled oats, chopped pecans, chopped almonds, vegetable oil, maple syrup and vanilla. I received some “real” maple syrup for Christmas and thought I would put it to good use.

The process was really pretty simple; I mixed all the ingredients and spread them out onto the baking sheet. It only took about 10 minutes to assemble and mix. The trickiest part for me was trying to figure out when it was done baking. Consider this: when all the ingredients were mixed, the oats were a golden brown. The instructions say to bake until the oats are golden brown. Hmm, a puzzle. In the end, I may have overcooked it a little but it was very tasty and crunchy. I think that next time I make this recipe I will add some dried fruit like cranberries or raisins.

This was definitely a success and I would recommend this recipe to anyone who likes granola. Or, why take a chance? I noticed that Well Dressed Foods ( also has a maple walnut granola. I wonder if it’s as good as mine.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

GPS: Friend or Foe?

I have to admit that I have always been “directionally” challenged. I’m one of those people who can turn around in a room and be totally lost. Not that this handicap has stopped me from driving wherever I wanted to go but it usually takes me a bit longer to get there. Surprisingly enough, I always led the caravan on Girl Scout trips. We always turned around at least once. What a leader!

You can imagine my excitement when the personal GPS units came on the market. Finally, directions to wherever I wanted to go. No more planning for that extra hour or so for “lost” time. Of course I have heard the funny references to the unit directing people into lakes, etc. Hmm, I’m not so sure. This brings me to my recent adventure.

Hilary and I set out from her apartment in Fairport to visit the Rochester Museum and Science Center. The directions were easily found listed under the museum section in the GPS information center. We were off, feeling pretty confident. We found our exit and first few turns without a problem. As we got closer to reaching our destination, the unit appeared to be directing us to turn down a dead end street. I couldn’t believe this was correct and tried to get the unit to recalculate several times. This meant several turns around the block on snow-covered streets with cars parked on the street. It was pretty tight.

After two or three times around the block, I decided that maybe the dead-end street ended in the parking lot of the museum. Stranger things have happened. When we got to the end of the street, there was a chain link fence. And lo and behold, the museum was just on the other side! Now technically, the GPS did get us to our destination we just weren’t willing to take the extra step and scale the fence.

We did end up finding the parking lot for the museum but the exhibit was sold out and we were turned away. I wonder if I had told my harrowing tale if they would have let us in. After all, the street did look pretty scary.

Friday, January 8, 2010

New Year's Resolutions (Challenges)

January is a fresh start to the New Year. I always think of January as a time to review the past year and figure out what was good and what was not so good. I like to challenge myself to be more creative, better informed and of course more physically fit. Pushing myself to step outside my comfort zone is always on the list!

This past year, a friend and I decided that we needed a little more culture in our lives. Our goal was to attend an “artsy” event each month throughout the year. We went to concerts, art shows and lectures that we would not ordinarily have attended and had a great time, even though some of the outings ended up being a little weird. I learned how much fun it could be to step outside “life as usual”. What a great experience. I will certainly continue this challenge for 2010.

I also challenged myself to expand my reading to include classics, biographies and other nonfiction. I got tired of hearing references to classic novels and authors that I had never taken the time to read. In 2009 I experience Charles Dickens, Nathanial Hawthorne, Edgar Allen Poe and Jane Austin, to name a few. I have to admit that I cheated a little on this one and went the audio book route. Close enough, the words are the same after all.

I was not successful on all my challenges for 2009 including being better informed (bad news will always find you according to my mother!), 30 minutes of exercise each day and eating at least 5 fruits and vegetables each day. I did improve in these areas but I will continue to work on these goals in 2010.

My new challenge for 2010 is to stop procrastinating and actually work on some of the great ideas I have come across over the years. This includes clever craft projects, simple recipes and ideas that are reported to make life more organized and efficient. I have created this blog as a tool to hold myself accountable to actually following through on this challenge.

I invite you to follow along and keep me on task. If you have any projects you would like me to test, please let me know.

Happy New Year to you all, I hope you have a challenging and successful year!