Breakfast in Bed

Happy Valentine’s Day! Love is in the air and breakfast is in the bed. I wanted to do something special for Amanda, and since we’re already doing all of these dates, taking her out somewhere didn’t seem that special this year. Amanda loves pancakes and scrambled eggs, so I thought I’d start her day off with her favorite breakfast foods.

I started with dairy free pancakes using Silk Almond Milk. But since it’s Valentine’s Day, I couldn’t make just any pancakes. They had to be heart shaped. For love. We have a bunch of metal cookie cutters that Amanda has collected over the years, so I thought I’d be clever and use the cookie cutter as a mold. I am not nearly as clever as I thought I was. The batter stuck to the edges of the mold and just made a mess. As it cooked, the batter rose up, burning the bottom and then spilling over the top of the mold. Thinking that I must have just used too much batter, I cleaned off my mess and tried again, using a little bit of oil on the inside of the cookie cutter. Guess who still wasn’t as clever as he thought he was. This time actually created a happy accident though. I used about half as much batter this time, and the mold did slide off, but when I tried to remove it, all of the liquid batter just ran into the pan instead of holding its shape. I let the batter cook for a few seconds to firm up, then flipped it over, where I discovered a darker heart cooked onto the pancake. It wasn’t burned, just darker.

After that, I gave up on using it as a mold and just made some tiny pancakes that I could then cut the heart shapes out of. A couple years ago, Amanda was making pancakes pretty frequently when we were on a big breakfast kick, but we’d always get batter everywhere as we tried to pour the batter into the pan. She looked around online and found one of our favorite kitchen gadgets: a pancake batter dispenser. You pour the batter into the dispenser, then squeeze a handle and a small area opens on the bottom to let the pancake batter out. It lets you easily pour just enough batter into the pan without spilling batter everywhere. After making about 10 tiny pancakes, I was out of batter. I cut out the heart shapes and moved on to the rest of breakfast, which was way less eventful.

Heart Pancake

I quickly whipped up some scrambled eggs with fresh spinach, and sliced an apple. Once everything was cooked and ready, I placed a rose (which I stole out of the dozen I bought her. Shhh.) on a serving tray and brought it in to Amanda. She woke up to the delicious smell of breakfast and was extremely happy.

Breakfast in Bed

We spent the rest of the day together, hanging out, watching season 1 of Better Call Saul, and playing Hyrule Warriors. It was a great way to spend Valentine’s Day together.

Links:
Silk Almond Milk Pancakes
Buy a pancake batter dispenser on Amazon

Chocolate Feast

Since Valentine’s Day is the premier dating holiday, and since we are currently doing date night every night, we wanted to make the whole weekend dating themed. We’ve had a lot of fantastic dates this year so far, but we’ve not done a lot of the stereotypical “date night” dates yet. Going dancing was supposed to be our first big Valentine’s date, but since that didn’t work out, our first Valentine’s activity, was a Valentine’s Day Chocolate Lover’s Feast at The Museum of American Glass in West Virginia. This isn’t exactly a standard date, but it’s full of chocolate, a Valentine’s staple.

This year is the second year the museum has put on the Chocolate Feast, but it is our first time attending. After we walked in and got our tickets, we grabbed a plate and wandered down the rows of chocolate delights made by local bakers.

chocolate buffet

They had chocolate cookies and chocolate brownies and chocolate pastries and chocolate fudge. There were nuts dipped in chocolate, pretzels dipped in chocolate, marshmallows dipped in chocolate, and a chocolate fountain to dip anything else you wanted in chocolate. They had chocolate on fruits and, my personal favorite, chocolate on bacon. The craziest thing was a Lance toasted cheese/peanut butter cracker covered in chocolate. We did not know what to expect from that, but it was surprisingly good. To drink, there was Mexican hot chocolate and chocolate wine. We picked up an assortment of different chocolates to share, because we couldn’t have possibly eaten all of the things we wanted to try by ourselves. While we ate, we enjoyed some live keyboard music that was very soothing. Amanda was sure that she heard the theme from The Hobbit, but I’m not convinced. We did hear Endless Love, plus a lot of other classic 80s love songs.

Plate full of delicious chocolate treats

All of the chocolates were delicious. The ones with fruit were really refreshing after so much other chocolate. After we enjoyed our sweets, we took a look around the museum. They had glassware from all around America, but a lot of pieces were made here in West Virginia. There were a lot of glass factories around the state, each making unique and interesting pieces. Our two favorite collections were the perfume bottles and a set of glassware with a fire-like gradient.

Collection of glass perfume bottles

Glassware with a fire-like gradient

It was a very sweet couple hours. We saw some really interesting historical pieces, ate some delectable chocolate treats, and enjoyed some live music. Overall, it was a great date. If you happen to be near Weston, WV, the Museum of American Glass in West Virginia is worth the trip, even without the chocolate buffet.

Links:
Museum of American Glass in West Virginia

How To Train Your Dragon 2: The Video Game

Video Game Thursday on a Friday? This week just got crazy. Our original plan was to go to the Valentine’s Dance tonight (after practicing our sweet, sweet dance moves). However, Winter had other plans. Is Winter over yet? Driving home from work, the roads were already slushy because we had just the right amount of sun today to slightly warm the pavement. After the first little bit of snow had turned to water, it kept falling and made the roads a mess. We didn’t feel the roads were safe as they were, let alone after a couple more hours of snowfall and dropping temperatures. So, instead of twirling on the dance floor, we twirled through the air on dragons in How To Train Your Dragon 2: The Video Game for Wii U.

The game has a giant open world to explore, with a bunch of mini games to play in different places. There are achievements for finding specific points on the map, for activating your dragon fire on certain points, and for collecting tokens across the map. The mini games are all about flying in interesting ways. One mini game had you flying through rings of fire across the map. One game had you collecting sheep to put back into pens. One was a target practice range where you had to hit the male viking cutouts but avoid the female viking cutouts.

The mini games were fun, but exploring the world was more fun. There are large areas of the islands that are really beautifully made. We both, almost at the same time and without telling each other, decided to climb up to the top of the tallest mountain. We got to the top and saw each other on the screen, then high-fived when we realized we had both come up with the idea at the same time.

Unfortunately, the controls were a little weird. Depending on the game, you had to angle the Wii controller either horizontal or vertical, and if you didn’t have it aligned just right, it made you crash. It was hard to get a handle on exactly how to fly the dragons, and the weird spins that resulted from frequently losing control made Amanda really motion sick, so we cut the date short. It was a lot of fun while it lasted, even though it wasn’t the spinning we had originally intended to do tonight.

Links:
Buy How to Train Your Dragon 2: The Video Game from Amazon

Deadpool Premier

Tonight would normally be Video Game Thursday, but instead, we’re going out to a movie premier with friends. We love going to the movies. Our first date was a movie. We also love seeing movies as soon as we can, which used to mean midnight on release day. I don’t know exactly when it happened, but midnight premiers somehow became 10-PM-the-previous-day premiers, and 10 PM premiers have somehow become 7 PM premiers. Teenager Adam would be disappointed by not staying up most of the night to watch a movie. Adult Adam is thankful he can go to bed before work. Teenager Adam is disappointed by Adult Adam.

A lot of our friends wanted to see the movie as well, so we claimed most of a row at the theater for a 7 PM show. We grabbed popcorn at the concession stand, because what’s date night at the movies without popcorn? We had originally thought that with the R rating of the movie, we wouldn’t have to be there too early to get good seats, but when we got there about 20 minutes early, the theater was already starting to fill up.

At the theater for Deadpool

Tonight was the early premier of Deadpool. Deadpool is from the Marvel universe, but he is not what you’d call a hero, and certainly not what you’d expect if you’ve seen any of the other Marvel movies. In fact, he’ll correct you that he’s not a hero, followed by a long string of expletives impugning your character. And probably the way you look. And definitely the way you smell. He’s a sarcastic, wise-cracking, quick-witted mutated human with extreme regeneration powers. He takes a lot of damage, sometimes on purpose because he’s crazy, but he always regenerates. That also frequently makes him reckless.

A lot of movies now will release trailers that show a few random funny parts, but that ends up being almost all of the comedy in the entire movie. Deadpool was not like that. I honestly don’t remember the last time laughed so hard at a movie and heard so much laughter in a theater. Deadpool’s irreverent treatment of everything, including the movie itself, was hilarious. The entire opening scene, which would normally have credits for the actors, producers, writers, etc, just had a long list of things like “Directed by an Overpaid Tool.” The character frequently breaks the fourth wall, talking directly to the audience. Other characters call him on it, asking him who he is talking to. He just ignores them and continues talking to the audience. Deadpool will keep you laughing from start to finish.

This movie is not for the easily offended. The movie, like the character, goes out of its way to be offensive. Here is just a short list of all the people that Deadpool purposely tries to offend, in no particular order;

  • old women
  • teenagers
  • the blind
  • the bald
  • basically everyone

That list is nowhere near complete, but it’s a start. He also curses pretty much every chance he gets. So, if you’re not easily offended, go see this movie. We’re already considering pre-ordering the Blu-Ray because it was so good. At the time of writing, it has an 8.8/10 on IMDB and a 84% fresh rating with Rotten Tomatoes, both of which I feel are undervaluing this film.

As an aside, it’s incredibly hard to write about a brand new movie without spoiling anything. Deadpool, however, has no problem spoiling movies. Stay till after the credits. Spoilers.

Links:
Pre-order Deadpool on Blu-Ray on Amazon
Deadpool on IMDB
Deadpool on Rotten Tomatoes

Swing Dancing Lesson

Besides dancing in the kitchen while cooking, we have only danced together twice: once at our wedding and once in Cozumel after a few Margaritas. At friends’ weddings, we usually don’t dance and other than weddings, occasions rarely arise for us to don our dancing shoes.

Having date night every night for us means trying new things. One of the dates that we have planned for this weekend is going to a Valentine’s Day dance. Also, Amanda’s best friend is getting married soon. (Hi Katie.)
We’re eventually going to have to dance in public, but with our lack of skills, we figured that starting at home would probably be best to learn the basics.

There are plenty of tutorials on YouTube about how to dance in just about every style imaginable, and after browsing for a bit, we found one that would teach us how to swing dance, claiming that it would teach us the basics in less than 30 minutes. It didn’t require any background knowledge, which suited our experience level perfectly.

After clearing some space in our living room, we were ready to go. We started with some simple steps. After we got a decent rhythm, we moved on to combinations and turns. In between learning moves, we’d pause the video, play some Glenn Miller Orchestra (Hi Lori.), and practice the moves. Amanda’s favorite move was the “Dishrag Out,” a twirling transition from a different twirl back to a bridge step. My favorite was the windmill turn, which has both people spinning together. Both look really impressive.

It took longer than 30 minutes, but we learned a lot. We had fun, even though a lot of feet were stepped on. We’re not sure if our dancing in public will be coordinated, but at least our kitchen dancing will improve.

The 100 Marathon

Snow dayyyyy! Ok, now that that is out of my system. Because we had all day, in lieu of our typical Tabletop Tuesday festivities, we decided to do a whole day event since we haven’t had a free day in the middle of the week in a while. Since it is cold outside, the best way to spend the day is curled up together on the couch, so we got a bunch of blankets, piled them high on the couch, and had a marathon of The 100.

The 100 is a show set 97 years after a catastrophic nuclear war wipes out life on Earth. There were space stations from twelve nations in orbit at the time, which later joined together to form the Ark, the last bastion of humanity. The series starts out with 100 incarcerated teenagers being loaded into a giant drop ship and sent to Earth. Since all crimes on the Ark are capital crimes, they are being sent to Earth as guinea pigs to test conditions on the ground. They find out that the Earth is livable, but are unable to clearly communicate that back to the Ark.

The story quickly unfolds as the back stories and motivations for the characters become more clear, both on the ground and on the Ark. At first, the ground crew behaves pretty much as you’d expect a bunch of teenagers to after they’ve been locked up and set free: they throw a wild party because, well, who is going to stop them? They quickly start having problems with basic survival needs, such as shelter, food, and water, and have to figure out how to just live together outside the confines of a space ship. The main characters on the Ark are the Chancellor and Councilors leading the ship. The Chancellor and one of the council members are the parents (not with each other) of two of the kids who are sent to Earth. There is a lot of scheming and power plays at first, then as things go wrong on the ship, they have to learn to put aside their differences for the good of everyone.

The story involves a lot of questions of morality as the fate of the entire human race lies with these few survivors. There is drama as relationships, both platonic and romantic, start and dissolve. There is intrigue as the teenagers form a society and politics change on the Ark. The pacing is great, with periods of tension steadily building up to a climax, followed by a big reveal that satisfies the tension, but leaves obvious open questions. The writing is awesome, the acting is spot-on, and the set design is fantastic.

The first season is 13 episodes, and the second season has 16. The third season just premiered on January 21st, so we’re going to try to catch up and watch as it airs, which is currently Thursdays at 9 PM on the CW. We made it most of the way through the first season thanks to our good friend, Netflix. This year, we’ve been tying to avoid just sitting at home, doing nothing but watch Netflix, but some days are just made for that.

Taste of China

Happy Chinese New Year! Welcome to the Year of the Monkey. For our second Taste Of, we’re enjoying some traditional Chinese food and a classic Kung Fu movie.

Amanda prepared a great start to our evening. While I was at work, she crafted some red and gold paper lanterns and hung them around our kitchen. When I got home, she started playing the album ‘Traditional Chinese Music’ from Amazon Prime and we set out to make some Chinese food. Our menu for the evening was steamed vegetable dumplings, fried rice, and for dessert, tangerines, which are supposed to bring good luck in the new year.

Steaming Dumplings

We bought a Black and Decker rice cooker a couple years ago because we got onto a kick of having rice with dinner. It had fallen into disuse over time and was stored alongside a number of other kitchen gadgets we’ve purchased over the years. Tonight, though, was its time to shine. Not only did it cook our rice, it also has a basket that we used to steam the dumplings. I cooked my white rice first while Amanda was prepping the dumplings, then while the dumplings were steaming, I fried the rice. The rice was done just as the dumplings finished, which was great timing. After our obligatory photos, our food was still hot as we sat down for our movie.

Steamed dumplings with fried rice

Out plates full of delicious Chinese food

Our classic Chinese movie for the night was The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. This movie is amazing. It was released in 1978 at the height of the popularity of Kung Fu movies, and ended up defining a lot of the genre. The main hero struggles against some oppressive ruler or tyrannical warlord, begins losing the struggle, and then learns Kung Fu to make the comeback at the end, all while finding inner peace. The movie stars Chia-Hui Liu as San Te, a legendary Shaolin master. As a college student, he is taught by a professor who sympathizes with the rebellion against the current occupation of their homeland. He gets involved with the rebellion, but is found out by the invaders, and is forced to flee. After a daring chase, he narrowly escapes, but not before being injured. He decides that he needs to learn Kung Fu to prepare himself to fight the invaders, so he starts heading to the Shaolin temple. Once there, he convinces the Shaolin monks to let him stay and train with them. The monks have 35 chambers set up at the monastery to train in Kung Fu. Most of the movie is San Te attempting to pass the individual chambers.

The movie has spectacular fight choreography. One of the most impressive scenes was when San Te was learning to use the staff and the instructor was using a long staff to train group of students in the proper form at the same time. That led to a synchronized staff fight. All of the fight scenes were incredibly well done.

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is the first of four movies, the rest of which we will be watching ASAP. We looked up Chia-Hui Liu on IMDB and found that he has a long list of movies that we also now need to watch.

This is only our second Taste Of date, but we are extremely happy with the results so far. Even after we finish our year of date nights every night, we are planning to continue our monthly cultural experiences. We’ve learned a lot about cultures that we otherwise didn’t know much about.

Links:
Buy The 36th Chamber of Shaolin on Amazon
The 36th Chamber of Shaolin on IMDB
Buy a Black and Decker rice cooker from Amazon

Super Bowl Party

The Super Bowl. The Big Game. One of our yearly traditions is having a few friends over for the Super Bowl.

Well, really, it’s a party that happens to be at the same time as the Super Bowl. And we occasionally look up at the TV, but mostly during the commercials. Like us, most of our friends don’t really care about football. The Super Bowl is usually the only football game most of us watch every year, unless we happen to lose the remote and one comes on. I don’t want to admit how often that happens. Usually, we end up playing a party game around the table, pausing to watch the commercials.

So, with little football love, why do we have a Super Bowl party? This directly relates to the advice we give to all newly-wed couple: If you want to do a yearly event, stake out your claim on a holiday early. We were late to the game, so the only thing left was The Big Game. Memorial Day and Fourth of July? Family picnics. Halloween? We’re usually invited to 3 different parties. “Surely,” you say, “you must be free for New Years!” Alas, we are not. And don’t call me Shirley. But I digress.

I love making party food and every year we’ve tried to do something different. A couple of our previous party food centerpieces have been a big nacho bar with 10 different salsas, a baked potato bar with all of the fixings, and one year, I made hamburger sliders from scratch, including the sesame seed buns. We always make some dips and appetizers to go along with the rest. Another hallmark of our party is that we always end up with way too much food because I’m horrible at estimating how much people are going to eat. Guess it’s a good thing I’m a computer guy and not a caterer.

This year, in an attempt to get a better handle on party planning, we didn’t do a big center piece dish, but instead did a few smaller, more interesting dishes. Our group has a couple vegetarians (including Amanda), so we always try to have some good vegetarian options, but this year, we tried to do about half of the dishes vegetarian. Our overall menu for this year:

Mains:
hot wings for the meat eaters
falafels for the vegetarians

Sides:
Vegetable tray with veggie dip
Pigs in a Chipotle Blanket

Dips, served with Tostito’s Scoops, pretzels and pita chips:
Buffalo Chicken Dip (probably my favorite party snack and a yearly staple)
Butternut Squash Parsley Dip
Avocado Basil Dip
Hummus

We’ve joked around for years about making a cookbook called “Meets Meat” out of all of the crazy dishes we make that are half vegetarian and half meatatarian to satisfy both of our palates. We’ll definitely include a few of these recipes.

This year, we actually didn’t make it to playing our party game, which was going to be One Night Ultimate Werewolf. We were all fascinated by the low scoring game, and trolling our one friend who actually does like football (Sorry, Brian). The commercials this year were pretty good to boot and the half time show wasn’t bad either. A great time was had by all, which makes this a very successful party.

Chat Pack: Favorites

We had a long day. After spending the day getting ready for our yearly super bowl party that we’re hosting tomorrow, date night was a little hard to squeeze in tonight.
Amanda found some conversation starter cards online made by Chat Pack that ask about different favorite things. The rules are simple, you pick any card from the deck and ask a question. You should try to avoid one-word answers and try to make each topic a conversation. There are a total of 156 questions on the cards in this pack. Some of the question examples are:
Favorite modern convenience?
Favorite way to travel?
Favorite song from your high school years?

We had fun picking out questions and answering them. Some of these we didn’t know about each other. Part way through the deck, we switched up the game. We’d both think of our answers, then the other person would try to guess how we would answer about our favorites. Some of the guesses we got wrong, and some we were just being silly about.

Chat Pack: Favorites

We’ve been married for over 3 years, but this was still a great way to get to know more about each other. Almost every card that we answered had a story that accompanied it. We went through a few dozen questions, which was more than we thought we would get through after the long day that we had. Our final question was a fitting end to the date: What’s your favorite 30 minutes of a typical day? That’s easy: Date night every night.

Links:
Buy Chat Pack Favorites on Amazon. There are many variations of the game, but Favorites seemed like an interesting topic to start.

Map Wall Art

We’ve decided that we should do at least one home improvement project each month. Last month we painted stars for our curio. This month we decided to transform a giant 28″ x 20″ world map poster into something that would take up less space on our walls.

Map Wall Art materials

For this project, we only needed scissors, a pen, packing tape, two wooden wall hangings, and our oversize map poster.

Amanda found the wall hangings on clearance at Hobby Lobby for under $2 each. Originally, they said “Boom Baby” over stylized watercolor fireworks, but that doesn’t match any part of our decor. She bought them with the intent to cover them with something else that would match because they are incredibly solid for as cheap as they are. We’ve been trying to think of a good motif to transform them into for a while, and finally looked at that map poster that was taking up way too much of our wall. We love maps as decor, as I mentioned for our Legend of Zelda Puzzle, but this particular map is bright silver and clashes with all of the decor around it. We agreed that it would look better as the covering for those wall hangings.

Since the wall hangings are much smaller than the map, we had to trim down what we wanted to show. We decided on North America and Europe, since the space we had for the wall art would let us position them roughly where they would be on a globe. We cut the map half way down the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, each took a side to start folding around the wall hangings. This was fairly straightforward for the first two opposite sides, but since we didn’t trim down the map to the exact size of the wall hangings initially, we had to do some creative folding to get the other two sides to fold over. We trimmed off the excess parts of the map poster, leaving just enough to fold around to the back of the wall hanging. We pulled each side taut and used packing tape to hold it in place. We took our finished products and hung them in our bedroom where we already have a black and gray motif, so the silver won’t clash.

Finished map wall art

Gizmo wanted to help us hang them. He’s a good helper.

Gizmo helping to model our new wall art

While we were working, we talked about all the places we still want to travel. All of these dates centered around travel have really not helped our case of wanderlust. For now, we will just have to settle for looking at our new map wall art.