Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Can I Haz Spit?

I established a few rules when I started doing genealogy research:

1. No creating relationships with distant ninth cousins twenty-five times removed
2. No use of Ancestry or Ancestry-like sites
3. No scammy DNA tests promising genomics history

I didn’t want to meet more family, but uncover the past of the family I already knew. Then I met my super great, new-to-me cousin Elaine who knew more about my grandma than I thought possible.

And Ancestry? A little birdie told me they often make false connections with randoms whose name or location of origin is kinda sorta like yours, but actually not. No thanks.

The DNA tests? That was a no. I refused to mail a tube of my spit to some random lab just to hear I’m a hodgepodge of European decent. Stupid. Absolutely not.


About a month ago I got suckered into reading reviews of a genetic kit/site (23andme) and 20 minutes later ordered a kit. The site explained the X & Y chromosomes in men allow for tracking of both material and paternal sides. So, I texted my brother—“I have a strange question… can I borrow some spit?”

I mean, bless that boy’s heart, he really does go with the flow of everything. While the lab was processing his hocked loogie, I dreamt of ordering kits for my dad, grandpa, uncle and any man I’ve ever met to trace back even more details.

Six-ish weeks later, the results come back—I’m European. CAN YOU BELIEVE?

I was expecting, hoping, for a more detailed breakdown. Something like: mostly Polish, a little Austrian, a pinch of Russian, with a hint of Neanderthal. The closest they came to a country breakdown was allowing you to speculate yours based on other users who knew their own country origins. K, thanks.

In full, it was a flop. I wouldn’t recommend mailing your spit across the country, no matter how fun the process sounds. Even a crazy grandparent who says “I once heard we had native Antarctican in our bloodline!” would be more detailed than this site.

Sigh, at least I tried. And at least my brother got to enjoy filling up a vile of saliva in the process.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Craftz: Stupid Lotion Bars

Nothing says “thanks for hosting my wedding shower” like a homemade lotion bar, right? I saw a blog post with the DIY “recipe” a few weeks ago and quickly ordered supplies. The ingredient list is short, the directions are simple, the pictures are flawless. Whatever could go wrong? Plenty, like:

1. Smelly beeswax
The directions call to melt coconut oil, Shea butter and beeswax together and then pour into molds. I love myself some coconut oil and Shea butter, but the beeswax I bought was off. Forget the idea of lovely, deep-honey smelling beeswax, the stuff I ordered on Amazon smells like a thick forest of semi-dead flowers.

2. A tilt-y soap mold
What could go wrong with a soap mold—this is what it’s made for! Mine came with two different shapes on one tray; lovely for variety yet awful considering the mold couldn’t balance on its own.

3. Stupid, stupid, dumb, fragile flowers
I pressed flowers a week ahead of time thinking I’d simply push them to the bottom of the mold (or top of the lotion bar) while crafting. Man, good luck with fragile-as-a-butterfly’s-eyelash pressed flowers. I had to move every flower into the mold with surgeon like precision or else every perfectly pressed petal would crumble like dust. And! If I did get them into the mold, half the time they’d rise up in the cooling process and settle hidden somewhere in the middle of bar. Le sigh.

4. Mold removal
If the uber fragrant beeswax, tilt-y soap mold and dust flowers didn’t sink my craft ship, removing the lotion bars did. I got four out successfully, the other I-refuse-to-count-failures crumbled into pieces as I gently tried to coax them out of the mold.

It’s fine… I’ll just remelt them and try again. And try again, and try agai… no, actually. I think I’m done now. Anyone need an extra pound of beeswax?

Monday, December 1, 2014

The 6 Mile Mistake

This year, like every other year, my family and I ran the Detroit Turkey Trot.

Due to various injuries among all of us, my parents and I settled on the 5K while my brother ran the 10. Well, the 5K was the goal. We started an hour early with the 10K group with my brother figuring we’d duck out at the 5K course split. But, you know, when you’re an hour ahead of any other 5K’er, there’s no need to mark the course for the 5K split.

So, even with the various injuries among us, my parents and I trotted an accidental 10K.

This year, I’m thankful for nice weather that made walk breaks bearable and the entire race enjoyable; I’m thankful various injuries are all we’ve got as medical woes; and I’m ever thankful for an active family who makes late November running a fun tradition.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Experience of Crispy Black Bean Tacos

Ask me what I do and I’ll probably say “marketing”. It’s a nice catch all—but it doesn’t really catch all of what I do. Lately, I’ve been doing much more UI/UX (user interface, user experience) stuff.

This means I take problems mostly from our product and customer service teams and figure out the best way to solve them for our on-site shoppers. Problems like opting for the larger size conference table means the package won’t fit through a standard doorway when it’s delivered—how do we explain that before someone buys?

Then there’s testing. Does this link really get the attention we think it does? Are users moving in a clear path from browsing to checkout? Does anyone know what “merle” means? To be honest, it’s more fun than marketing; it’s like solving a new puzzle every day, in a web geek sense.

The crispy black bean tacos I made last night reminded me of the good user experience I strive for at work. First, the ingredients of this recipe are simple and straight forward. The spices may be the most unusual (though hardly), but they go a long way in taste factor. Second, it’s apparent mid-cooking how delicious it’s going to be—the cheese goes melty, the tortilla shell turns golden and hard, the black bean mixture becomes fragrant in a way that’s cool for beans to be fragrant (if you’re picking up what I’m putting down).

Then there was the glowing review from Ben—affirmation that these suckers are delicious, fast and should become a regular staple in the dinner rotation. Essentially, he liked the experience so much he wanted more. That’s music to UI/UX person’s ears.

Crispy Black Bean Tacos
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon cumin
¼ cup salsa
Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
Corn tortillas
¼ cup oil (canola or coconut)

1. Combine beans, spices and salsa. Coarsely mash to combine.
2. Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a pan.
3. Spread black bean mixture across tortilla and sprinkle on some cheese. Fold it in half and place it in the pan. Fry on each side for 2-3 minutes until crispy and golden brown.

My tortillas were about six inches in diameter. If yours are bigger, I’d suggest cutting them in half and making these as crispy triangle quesadillas. It’s a lot easier to fold and flip them if they’re smaller. Also the original recipe called for corn, not flour tortillas. It’s minor but I think it does make a big difference on taste.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Lentil Coconut Curry Soup

I have a strong feeling we’re in the thick of winter already, friends. It’s cool though—I’m bringing my A game and battening down the hatches early.

I bought a new winter jacket that’s essentially an arctic parka.
I busted out my trudge-through-the-snow winter boots.
We put up Ben’s bike on the trainer for some indoor cycling.
Also, I’ve altered my grocery shopping game.

'Tis the season for hearty, long lasting ingredients that will stay well past a week. It’s extra awful to go on a mid-blizzard grocery run. Have you ever pushed a shopping cart through 4 inches of parking lot slush? I’d rather ride the bike trainer in my snow boots and arctic parka.

This soup recipe has a lot of ingredients, but most of them are items I regularly have on hand. The directions are simple, too. But to be honest, it had me at lentils. Lentils are my jam, yo. I’m also partial to curry and coconut flavors. They’re tropically soul warming in a way that I won’t be experiencing for a while. A long while.

The first night I made this I poured a small serving into a smaller sauce pan and thickened it slightly with a coconut milk/cornstarch slurry. I poured the stew-like result over a bowl of cold rice and nommed down on it hard.

Now my freezer is full of single serving lentil coconut soup jars, my stomach is full and my heart is happy. As long as I’ve got this meal on hand—let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Lentil Coconut Curry Soup

1/2 a medium onion finely chopped
1 red bell pepper finely chopped
1 jalapeño finely chopped
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tablespoon curry paste (or curry powder)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup tomato paste
7 cups water
1 can lite coconut milk
1 1/2 cups dried green lentils
1 15-oz can of chickpeas—drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon lime juice
cilantro to garnish if you want

1. Cook the onion, bell pepper and jalapeño in a big stock pot with 1-2 tablespoons of oil (I used coconut) for 5-8 minutes until they’re soft.
2. Add the ginger, garlic, curry paste or powder, cinnamon, salt and tomato paste. Cook for an additional 2-3 minutes.
3. Add the water, coconut milk, lentils and chickpeas. Simmer for 20-25 minutes. Add the lime juice and serve.

This makes a lot of soup. I got something like 10 servings out of it. You could half it, but why would you want to?