+ 1 to Bellydance Performance Level!

A month or so ago, the head of my employer’s Learning & Development department posted this link to all the participants in the career development program. You could have knocked me over with a feather, because while coming from a work-related resource, it also hit home to my bellydancing.

You see, at the time he shared that link, I was preparing for an upcoming dance recital. A glorious group piece, with vintage costumes that came to the studio with a rich and applauded history dancing on celebrated stages. For the first time, we would not only be dancing, we would also accompany ourselves, on doumbeks, tambourines, and zills! So many wonderful hours spent rehearsing, navigating costumes, learning how to take ownership of our stage and how to walk and chew gum simultaneously! (It can be difficult to remember choreography AND play an instrument so it sounds good-ask anyone you know who’s been in marching band!) 

I was also encouraged to do a solo. I jumped at the chance, since I take it as a compliment that someone assumes or trusts that I can pull something worth watching together. I even had music ready-a medley of video-game music that I’m still choreographing for a convention. But I wasn’t sure I was prepared for this! Could I have something performance-ready in so short a time frame? Would it live up to the standards I set for myself? 

To her credit, my instructor embraces a warm, supportive, and encouraging recital atmosphere. No one is made to feel that they must be militantly perfect, and students of various skill levels are encouraged to try their wings under the watchful and friendly eyes of their classmates. After class one evening shortly before the recital, I asked my instructor to give me any constructive criticism she had after watching me run through it, stipulating that most of it would be improvised, as I was having trouble choreographing it. Several classmates stayed behind to watch and comment.

After I’d finished with a thumbs-up and a cheesy grin to the last fanfare, everyone applauded and Melina told me that I should definitely improv, and gave me one or two pieces of criticism which I was glad to hear. But soon after that night, nerves began to eat at me. I’d never improvised much of anything: until now, all my dancing had been choreographed. It was controlled, it was comfortable. It was safe. 

The recital performance went so quickly! Before I knew it, I had bowed and left the stage, only to be  given applause, hugs, smiles, and warm congratulations from fellow dancers. There were others, however, whose feedback meant a great deal to me. Melina herself commented on my stage presence & facial expression-a relief since at one point I thought I’d been scowling at the audience! Melina’s husband Sacha, a master of the tight wire and seasoned performer, took a moment to praise my creativity, my facial expressions and audience engagement. No small praise, from someone who has performed longer than I’ve been alive, and continues to defy gravity. Another well-known dancer in the area also sought me out to tell me how much she enjoyed my performance, which touched me. It’s one thing for my husband and family members to offer compliments: appreciated, always, but to an extent also anticipated. For these other veterans in their fields to encourage me to do more was uplifting, a confirmation that I continue to grow as a dancer, as a performer, and that some of the risks I take are paying off!

Much like the link I posted earlier, the exhortation to let go of the control and learn to live within the moment was timely and frightening. I may never be truly comfortable with improvisation, but I look forward to expanding my repertoire and broadening my experiences so I can embrace these moments of uncertainty with poise and aplomb. And with really good facial expressions!

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Crispy chicken wings: possible and Paleo!

We were at a gathering a few weeks ago, and wound up walking home with some of the (delectable) leftovers. Which included some phenomenal chicken wings. I know that for many people, wings are a pretty common staple, be it at a sports bar, at home watching the game, or hanging out with good friends. But I was never a big fan of wings, for reasons I cannot fathom. It might have been the messiness of the sauce (after hitting puberty, I tended to avoid food that wound up smeared across one’s face despite one’s best efforts to eat neatly) and the fact that there were still bones and bits of fat.  So I could count on one hand the number of times I have eaten wings until, and including, today. But that’s all about to change.




The leftovers were so tasty, and when I reheated them in an oven they were crispy, flavorful, and nothing like the wings I could ever remember eating. So of course, I asked the husband if he’d mind my experimenting with wings. I didn’t have to twist his arm very hard!

I started off with the chicken preparations from EatLivePaleo, and was amazed at how crispy the final product was! After trimming the wings (saving the wingtips in the freezer to make stock later) I tossed them into a pot of boiling, salted water for about 8 minutes. Then they were drained, and I patted them dry with paper towels before I arranged them on a wire rack in a cookie sheet. I started with about 3 1/2 pounds of wings, so I had more than what could fit on wire tray, and I just popped the rest onto tinfoil on another cookie sheet. For the record, I didn’t notice that the tinfoil wings were any less crispy than the wire ones, but the rack does allow more fat to drain out of the wings. 

I baked them for half an hour at 450, then flipped them all over and baked them another ten minutes. After that, it was time to toss them in some BBQ sauce. We went for a non-paleo cheat and used an old favorite, Dino Bones, which sadly does include sugar. But there are a ton of other bbq sauce recipes out in the wild reaches of the internet. This one from PaleoCupboard looks tasty & easy, so I’m looking forward to trying it!



ImageThis is Brady, who generally keeps me company when I’m on the computer. He also is very conscientious about making sure I take screen breaks to pay him some attention. He was a little tired today after having gone, with his brother, to the vet for their annual checkups. They’re real troopers: a little growly in the waiting room due to large dogs in close proximity, and a little growly before the exams began. But while the vet was examining them, they were quiet and cooperative-Brady kept giving me headbutts and nuzzles, much to the delight of the staff. What sweet, handsome boys we have!

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(Misleading but delicious) Chicken Pot Pie

Someone expressed interest in my chicken pot pie recipe after I’d stated that my mother claims I have made my childhood favorite my own. I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of my kitchen exploits. And this was less than two hours after I had a frenzied mishap and learned firsthand why one doesn’t use tapioca flour to make a sauce. Ick.

But I digress.

My family calls this chicken pot pie, but I guess it’s better labeled “chicken & biscuits” as we never make it a pie, we always made biscuits to serve it on. I can’t claim the biscuit recipe, I found it at Paleobunker.

Misleading Chicken Pot Pie:

1/3 cup fat (quality butter, ghee, olive oil, etc. I generally use ghee, but I bet this would be great with good lard or bacon fat)

1/3 cup almond flour/meal

1/2 yellow onion, chopped. (Or a whole one, if it’s small or medium-sizeish. Or a large one, if you are like me and LOVE onion)

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

1 3/4 cups chicken or turkey broth (The quality of the broth makes ALL the difference here. I promise.)

2/3 cup coconut milk (will NOT taste coconutty, but might smell a little tropical while you’re cooking. That’s normal.)

2 cups cooked & chopped chicken or turkey

10-16 oz veggies (Frozen veggie medleys can be hard to find that are totally Paleo. Carrots, turnips, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, and celery work well in this, though! Happy chopping!

In a saucepan (or stockpot if making a double batch) on medium-low, heat fat until melted or heated. Add onions, and cook til soft and bubbly. Blend in almond flour, salt, & pepper, stirring continuously, and increase heat to medium. Stir in broth & coconut milk, heat to boiling while stirring constantly. Stir in chicken & vegetables, reduce heat to low. If it seems to juicy, continue to simmer on low to reduce liquid.


Never underestimate your broth. I think that’s what made my version distinctive from what my mother used to make. Both versions are good, but starting with a really good broth elevates everything. I prefer to use my own homemade chicken stock, and I’ve also successfully made this with diluted beef stock. I almost never make a single batch of this, I always make a double. And I probably always throw in extra chicken but hey, we need good protein, right? Right.

Now I’m hungry!

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Summertime’s almost over, huh?

I really am bad about updating, aren’t I? 

Well, to be fair, there’s a LOT going on.

I’m about 3 weeks in to another Whole30 test, which has gotten me thinking about food, in general, and how deep-seated reactions are to differences. I was out at brunch with some coworkers, thoroughly enjoying my mushroom, jalapeño, and guacamole omelette. (In that context, the guacamole worked surprisingly well!) I’d also gotten a fruit cup and some bacon. My coworkers exclaimed over how healthy my selection was! And it was odd-I’d scarfed down every last bite, while they’d left bits of pancake, toast, and potatoes behind. Generally, when people find out I’m doing a Whole30, they seem aghast, like I’m trying to starve myself. “What can you eat?!” 

Well, how about this?


Paleo Tacos: Ground turkey with taco seasoning, sliced red onions, sliced avocado, and a drizzle of chipotle tabasco sauce, on romaine leaves. I mean, look at this plate full of food! Does it look like I’m depriving myself? Honestly, I feel like when I’m eating clean, I am stuffing more food in my face than when I’m eating less healthy foods. And I don’t even feel guilty about it because I’m eating good, nutrient-rich, and flavorful real food.

(here’s another of my favorites, from Mark Sisson & Jennifer Meier’s Primal Blueprint: Quick & Easy Meals cookbook)  ImageThis delicious & colorful (and in this instance, happy) salad uses arugula, blueberries, walnuts, and avocado, topped with an easy-to-make raspberry vinaigrette.  Seriously, it’s pretty amazing.

So what else has kept me from updating? Long story. To begin with, I have to tell you that my employer has a career-development program which is only in it’s second year, but which is rapidly developing. I signed up, and have already learned a lot about myself, how I think, why I react to things the way I do, and what I thrive on in terms of stimuli, feedback, and satisfaction from my work. It’s also put me on a list for special projects, and I’m working on one now which will keep me fairly occupied in my non-work hours for the next few months. I have difficulty expressing how excited I am to be sinking my mental teeth into a new challenge, and how much it helps me deal with the mundane day-to-day that’s been really draining me in my current position.  But at least, even if I feel like I’m stagnating where I am, I have some tasty lunches to pack for my break!

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+1 to Kitchen Charisma

I had a series of flattering events take place recently, regarding my culinary prowess.

The first:

We were at a July 4th gathering with friends, and like all groups of friends, there was food. Lots of it. Our hosts had listed out what they had, what would still be needed, and we’d all claimed an item or category to fulfill: for us it was a veggie tray with dip. And raspberry-lemon bars. Because I love making them, and they’re summery.



I had at least 5 people (one of which has been trained as a pastry chef, no less) compliment the bars. I got several “I don’t even like lemon, but these are really good!” which gives me warm fuzzies. I mean, I don’t like plain ol’ tomatoes but I can appreciate them in sauces, or salsa, or a really good tomato soup. So that was Flattering Event 1.

We are also involved in a group of less-than-40-year-olds at our church, who meet every so often for fellowship, socializing, and a chance to let our hair down outside the church itself. We’ve found it’s a good way to get to know other young people at the church, in an environment which is a little more casual and a little more conducive to conversation and with fewer time constraints than a Sunday morning when everyone’s trying to corral  children, prepare for Sunday School, or what have you.

So our hosts for this particular gathering are sending out emails with the details of the gathering, and providing parameters for each couple’s contribution to our potluck-style meal. On previous gatherings, I’ve made guacamole, and I’m always astonished at how well it’s received. It may sound odd, and a bit arrogant, but I’m seriously always puzzled by how a few avocados and a handful of other ingredients never fails to garner praise. I’m not kidding: there are several people who will tell you that, hey, you really should try this guacamole, because it’s pretty damn tasty.

Anyway. The guacamole was requested, and of course I am happy to make it, but then, ANOTHER compliment! One of our July 4th bash had sent an additional email, endorsing the lemon bars. Seriously, I must have stumbled onto pure gold, when I found this recipe online. And the endorsee was one of the “Not a Fan of Lemons” camp, so I was incredibly flattered and pleased that she was willing to throw that out there.

I’m also pleased, because now I don’t have to wonder what to take along: It’s already been decided!

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Hit the road!

I ran 10.3 miles this morning. 

That’s a fair distance farther than the last time I posted about running. There’s a bit of a backlog, and a backstory, so this will be another long post. Apologies!

Continue reading

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Dancing debut: what a hoot!

So. Looks like the last time I mentioned bellydance, I’d only just started dancing. I’ve made a little bit of progress since then, so get comfy. This will take a while to tell.
This past weekend, I had the honor, privilege, and opportunity to perform at the restaurant where my teacher performs on weekends. I’d performed my first solo at a studio recital at the end of May, and my teacher had invited me to perform it. She’d also asked a lovely trio to perform their debut group piece, which was mesmerizing and fabulous. But I digress.
It wound up being a lot more dancing than I had anticipated: We were worked into Melina’s show, but were “on stage” the whole time. All five of us paraded in, Melina in the lead, zilling (playing finger cymbals) and wrapped in flowing, sheer veils that only hinted at the beautiful costumes beneath.  After that the four students lined up at the back of the dance floor, against an elevated platform where a live band occasionally plays, and continued with our finger cymbals as Melina set the tone with an energetic, whirling number. After that, the lovely Gratiae stunned the restaurant audience with their skills. Then I was up.
Hoo boy.
I had chosen Rosemary Clooney’s “Sway” as the music for my very first dance solo, ever. I don’t know why: I was clicking through Youtube videos and somehow got onto a Rosemary Clooney kick, and when I heard that song it just kind of stuck in my head. I kept thinking, “Oh man. That’s so sassy!
That was, I believe, six months or longer before I actually choreographed it.
(I’m about to go off on a tangent here, so if you like you can just skip down to the link for the video, and I promise not to be offended.)
See, I have this little secret which has driven my husband crazy for years, and which I am slowly working on.
I’m shy.
No, really. I am. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but during the first year we were married I made my husband come grocery shopping with me, so I wouldn’t have to do it alone. I don’t like to go and do things by myself, and it can be really difficult for me to work up the courage to go and do something on my own.
It’s actually a fluke how I got into the bellydancing in the first place. I’d known where the studio was for a while, which is the funny part. But due to my own insecurities, I wouldn’t go on my own. It took until two coworkers thought it might be fun and agree to come with me that I said, Okay, I’ll try this.
Then they bailed out on me.
Uncharacteristically, I went anyway.
And now I have danced in a restaurant.
I love this song because with my marching band background, I’m prone to constant movement, rigid direction changes, and a memorized list of movements. In  this piece, with Melina’s guidance, I added some fluidity, some pauses, even unscripted space for improvisation. This turned out to be a good thing, as the restaurant dance floor is much smaller than the studio, so I had to reconfigure on the fly: what a test of mental muscles! I was almost finished before I realized several things:
I’d forgotten the choreography for a couple segments, and done something else.
I’d managed to keep dancing throughout, and just somehow adjusted for the smaller space
The gentleman who was announcing us was singing along, and there were finger cymbals zilling.
I was having the time of my life.
I won’t say I was perfect, because there is so much I have yet to learn. I will say that I have never been so moved and so overjoyed by physical movement and expression. I can’t wait for the next opportunity!
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