Monday, November 28, 2011

Moving bodies

Hey. Sudden change of plans. We're moving!

Moving Bodies

Moving Bodies

After a drawn out and arduous struggle against/with the idea of going to Law School, Ryan and I decided that it wasn't in the cards for us after all, and that decision couldn't have come at a better time.

Okay, that's a lie. This decision could have ideally come about a year ago and saved us some time and hassle. But, I guess we'll chalk up an extra 365 days of experience and maturity -call it the cost of indecision and growing up.

What are we going to do with our lives instead?? Why, go to Air Traffic Control school, of course.

I know, I know. Where is this coming from? What about the plan?? Who are you people?!?

Well, let's see if I can walk you through the train of thought that blindsided us, lifted us off the tracks with its cow-scooper, and just as quickly dropped us off at the unexpected decision of an ATC career for Ryan.

It started (though we didn't know it) back in May, shortly after Ryan's graduation. As we had planned, he signed up for an LSAT prep course (I'm still trying not to think about how much we spent to prepare him for a test that he would end up never taking-- again, the cost of growing up). The test was scheduled for the beginning of June, and try as he might, Ryan could not get motivated to begin studying. He went to a few prep courses, but as the date approached, he realized that he needed more time, so we rescheduled (at the cost of another $150, a drop in the bucket at this point) for the October test.

Yet, the summer came and went. We worked, played, visited family, and all the while continued to tell our "law school" plan to anyone who asked, but both of us had our seeds of doubt. Knowing Ryan to be hard-working, with a bent towards perfectionism, I was unnerved to see him dragging his feet when it came to studying for such an important test.

With the October test just weeks away, we finally had to have it out --  discover the hold up and destroy it -- unclog whatever pipe was stopping the works.  It came to light that neither of us was thrilled with the law school track, as much as we tried to be. It wasn't that we hated the idea, it was that neither of us were excited about it. He wasn't passionate about it; it was just his default plan.

A few more weeks passed. We now knew Law school was not it, but we had no idea what was "it."  For a couple of months there we were just existing, distracting ourselves, and trying not to think too much about the future.

Somewhere around Halloween, we knew it was time for a new plan. We tossed around Economics grad school, programming, (both of which he studied at BYU), but still, nothing sparked. They all sounded like cop-outs that could potentially make us a stable living, but were not inspiring to Ryan.

Then, I asked Ryan a crucial question: "What is your dream? When you were a kid, what did you tell people you wanted to be when you grew up?"  Without thinking, he answered: "Aeronautical engineer, pilot, airplane mechanic, something -- anything to do with aviation."

So, that was surprise. In nearly four years of marriage, I can only recall him once expressing an interest in aviation -- but he expressed interest in so many things, I could never have guessed this was his real dream.

But, we ran with it. Without  much idea how to proceed, we began to blindly Google such vague things as "aviation careers" and "commercial pilot training requirements". Within a few hours we had considered basically everything from Flight Attendant to Air Force ROTC, but when Ryan spoke the words,  "Hey.  .  .what about Air Traffic Control?" the decision had already made it self.

I can't describe it any other way but to say that it clicked. If you've heard anything about ATC, you've probably heard that it is considered one of the most stressful jobs a person can have. It's very challenging and requires constant focus and detailed attention. To some people that would be   hell, but for Ryan, it sounded like a perfect fit.

Something in his personality causes him to bear stress remarkably well. And by that I do not mean that he remains cheerful and light-hearted in the face of stress, but that he retains the ability to think clearly, act decisively, and make good decisions under pressure.  Even when he's relaxed and cheerful, he never seems to entirely forget the weight of his responsibilities.

So, once we looked into it, we found a school with classes starting in January. No need to waste any more time -- we are moving to Pennsylvania on December 17th.  Total time between "Hey -- what about Air Traffic Control?" and "Moving Day"  =  6 weeks.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

I think It's time.

Over the last few years I've been tracking my goal setting on a pretty cool website called

Some of my goals I've accomplished quickly, some of taken a long time, and some are decidedly a few years away from completion, but I fully intend to do everything I listed.

Today I stumbled on this video and was reminded of my life goal #2 : backflip off a ski jump.  I've always considered it a far-off goal, a someday, maybe, possibly.  But after seeing this video, it suddenly feels like something I could actually accomplish. Maybe even before the end of the year.

I know I can:
-ski competently and confidently (basic grinds and small jumps)
-land a ski jump with a few feet of air
-backflip off a trampoline/diving board
and now I just need to put those skills together.

Maybe I’m underestimating the skill and finesse it really takes, but it doesn’t seem that hard when I see videos like this:

Notice how:
-he doesn’t go down the slope extremely fast
-he doesn’t have to tuck very tightly
-he picks a nice powdery slope for the trick, which minimizes risk of injury
-his poles are flopping all over the place. This, along with the goofy and congratulatory cheers by the videographer, make me think that we’re witnessing one of his early backflip attempts. He’s not a seasoned pro, but a good skier whose skill level may be within my reach.

Although I'm always sad to see summer end, this video is giving me reason to look forward to winter!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Li'l Brudder and Rebellious Everyone

Having my little brother, Michael, come spend 10 days with us a few weeks ago was an excellent excuse to rewatch this HomeStar Runner Classic and make fun of my long-suffering sibling.
Fortunately, Michale doesn't have much in common with this pathetic one-legged pup other than being generally adorable, and having the delightfully unlikely goal of becoming a star quarterback.

(Okay okay. Michael has a much better chance of being a star quarterback than L'il Brudder, but he was probably wise to ditch the football team when he did and go out for lacrosse. He's having a lot more success and playtime in lacrosse than he did as the 5 foot 8 inch, 130 lb QB. Because as good as he was on the field, no amount of skill and speed will mitigate the force of a tackle from a 250 lb defensive lineman.)

Michael (right), wipes away tears of frustration after another pass went right over his head

And whatever his similarities to Li'l Brudder, one thing is undeniable: he's got the "heart of a champion," and I loved having him come visit. We had tons of fun hiking, shopping, playing, cooking and mostly just talking and joking about silly stuff while he was here. This was really the first time since I moved out in 2006 that I've been able to hangout with him for an extended visit. It was cool to see how much he's grown up in the past five years, and how much, in some ways, he's stayed the same.

I was amazed by how adult my 17-year-old brother had become, and how his maturity really shined in the absence of my parents. I easily imagined him renting his own apartment, studying for his college exams, gong to job interviews, etc. My L'il Brudder! Doing grown up things!

He even said something to effect of, "You know, it's weird. I love mom and dad so much, but just something about being away from them makes the world seem easier."

Haha! How right he is. As much as we love and need our parents (even in our adult years), the idea of trying to become a grown-up while constantly being influenced by their guidance is daunting. How could we expect to learn to ride a bike if the training wheels were permanently bolted on?

This got me thinking about the difference between "rebellious" teenagers, and "independent" adults.

When kids have conflicts with their parents - they're just stubborn or misbehaved. When adults have conflicts with their parents - they're just exercising their independence. But teenagers are seen as "rebellious" whether they're arguing about dating, curfews, school, work, life, or any valid conflict that a young person might want to bring up with their parents.

The I-Know-Everything Fallacy Case in Point: Michael created this image of himself  when he was about 15 

Of course there's truth to the stereotype. Teenagers have the added ingredients of hormones, inexperience, the I-Know-Everything-Fallacy, and lack of financial independence all stewing in the potential conflict cauldron. They're capable of (and likely to make) some poor decisions that get them labeled "rebellious."  But, I wonder if the stereotype of rebellious teen isn't largely an externality of our cultural norm that children move out as their teenage years are ending.

Allow me to explain. Kids begin seeking their independence more and more as they enter their teen years, and when they finally gain that independence and move out around age 18, they cease bickering with their parents and we assume that they've quit being "rebellious".

But, imagine that people lived with their parents for their entire lives. Suddenly, we wouldn't think teenagers were rebellious, we would think everyone over the age of 12 was rebellious. We'd be rebelling against our parents until they day they died if we had to live with them forever. Whether you're 15 or 45, living with your parents is kind of hard when you're trying to build your own life. Everyone is rebellious - it's just a question of parental proximity.

Maybe I'll feel differently when I'm the parent of teenagers, but for now this is my theory: Rebellion is just independence under someone else's roof.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Improv, At Provo

Maestro Show, March 2011

"Whose Line Is it Anyway?" is going down as one of the top three most influential TV shows of my childhood. At ten years old,  I remember tuning in religiously to watch the transformation of these seemingly ordinary men into gods of comedy using only their imaginations and guts.

It struck me as such a strange and beautiful thing to do: to *willingly* go on stage without any preconceived idea of what you would be doing but only the vague goal of being funny. The thought would make mere mortals quiver.

No question I wanted to be just like them, but during my more insecure years, I wouldn't have admitted it.  It seemed to me like the only thing scarier than going on stage and being expected to make people laugh would be declaring my desire to do exactly that.  "Hi. My name's Ruthy and I think I am funny enough to deserve your attention." Just about stained my pants thinking of it.

Prop Show, April 2011. Photo by Jason Hansen

For that reason, I have to give thanks to my big brother David for pioneering the way for me and making it seem possible. By joining BYU's Improv comedy club, Laugh Out Loud,  while he was going to BYU, he awakened a glimmer of hope in me. "Hey--we're cut from the same cloth," I began to think "If he can do improv comedy well, maybe I can do it passably."

So, last November I finally mustered the moxy to start participating in the club, and I was surprised with two things: first off, that it was even more fun than it looked on TV. It made me feel all of the exhilaration and long-awaited fulfillment of an ADD six year old on Christmas morning.

Prop show, April 2011. Photo by Jason Hansen

I can only speak for myself, but to me, improv comedy was the thing I had unknowingly been missing for so long. I'm not being melodramatic when I say that it was very much like falling in love - right down to the sweaty palms, racing heart, and the sense of being impassioned, emboldened, and alive.

The other thing that surprised me about this whole improv comedy business was how quickly I began to receive positive feedback from the club leadership and  actually be cast in shows. Like. To perform. For real people. Who paid to be there.

The members of the club have given me much-needed criticism as well. With their help, I hope that I'm continuing to get better. For the past few moths, I've loved practicing with my new friends every Thursday evening. And that's arguably the best part of the whole deal: just getting to know and play with some truly  hilarious people. I feel like a more interesting person just for spending time in the same room as these talents.

Anyway, last night was a particularly good night for me. I was cast in our annual Audience Appreciation Show, and lucky enough to have some good friends attend the show to support me. To be honest, it wasn't the best performance of my life. Overall the show was good--not great, and I know I'm largely to blame.

The thing that made the evening wonderful, was that after the show, the club leadership somehow saw fit to invite me to join Laugh Out Loud as an official, permanent cast member (or "Player" as they call it).

If there's one thing I can't get enough of it's validation. So thanks, Laugh Out Loud, for making me feel great and teaching me so much. I hope to prove worthy of it.

And now for a few photos by the hilarious Jason Hansen: 

(By the way, the other two most influential shows of my childhood were The Simpsons and Ren and Stimpy. Honorable mentions: Scooby Doo and Animaniacs.)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Armless Baby is so, so futile.

Some days I feel like an armless baby on a dirty carpeted floor. I'm not sad because my rattle is missing or because my bottle is empty -- I'm sad because everything I want is complete and beautiful and immediately in front of me and entirely out of reach.

My warm bottle is there, but I have no hope of getting it anywhere near my mouth. My teddy bear cries for love but I am unable to comfort him. I can't even swat flies away from my stupid baby face or suck my thumb.

I have no thumb. And my dirty diaper is quickly forming a rash on my delicate, white, stinky bottom.

Anyway, today is not one of those days. Today, I feel like I have all the baby arms in the world, but I still thought I would finish and post this illustration that I started yesterday when I was feeling a little less armful.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

French-Food-and-Film-Opinionated. We're so effin' sophisticated.

This might've been a decent photo if I'd have taken three steps to the left. Drat.

On a recent rainy weekend, we took a day trip to Park City, Utah to catch the tail end of the Park City Film and Music Festival.

Attending the very end of the festival worked out nicely for us for a few reasons.  Firstly,  all of the films had already been shown once, and the winners had been selected. So, we only had to choose among the winning films in each category. This mitigated the risk of getting stuck in a 3-hour artistic docu-drama exposing the seedy underbelly of the ball-point pen industry, or what have you.*

Secondly, the hardcore filmsters had already come and gone at the first round of screenings, so the venues were quiet and the crowds sparse. And, lastly - the underwhelming crowd left the concession stand with tons of extra popcorn, which was handed out for free. Score.

*Not that those films don't have their place. It's just that their place doesn't often coincide with my ideal weekend.

So, we let the real film appreciators sift through the chaff for us and they came up with this enjoyable film as the winner of the Fiction/Drama category:

It's written, directed, and starring, Kevin Foster, an accomplished stuntman who's made his first venture into writing, directing and acting (and pretty successfully for a debut). 

Who knows if this film will ever make it to a screen or internet database near you, but if it does, I'd recommend checking it out.  It's much more lighthearted and original than the IMDB synopsis makes it out to be.

While walking down historic Main Street afterward, we passed what I recognized as one of the few restaurants in Utah with escargot on the menu. As part of our ongoing quest to try exotic foods at every opportunity, we had to  stop in.  It happened to be 4:58pm when we were seated, so we were just in time for the half-off happy hour. Our escargot was a reasonable $9 instead of $18. Serendipity!

Historic Main Street, Park City, Utah

Escargot Tart, Bistro 412

Lamb/Feta Pizza, Bistro 412

Ryan reacts to his first ever taste of buttery garlicy snaily delight:  

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Gift-giving for the discerning wellfare recipient.

Just thought I'd share a few ideas for gift-giving on a budget (because I love giving gifts and hate spending money). Forgive me if any of this seems atrociously obvious.

If even one person discovers one thing that hadn't thought of before, I'll say my job was done.

Greeting Cards:

If you're like me, you have a shoebox of birthday/wedding/graduation/thank you cards from years past. Someone less pack-rattish than me might have discarded them by now, but no. I've always held onto them for no real purpose.

I'm not that sentimental and I had no intention of ever re-reading their oft-groan-worthy messages. But it seemed rude to simply through them away.

Until I discovered this solution:

Turn your old greeting cards into a frankenstein of holiday sentiments.

Whenever I find myself in need of a card for a gift, I look through my shoebox of options, pick one out and before I do anything to it, I read it again and remember the person who gave it to me. Aw. How nice.

Then, I snap a digital image of the front and inside (there's a folder on my hard drive marked "greeting card archive") and after that, I don't feel guilty repurposing the card. The message is saved forever if I should ever want to read the note again, and now this card can live again.

I often cut the cards in half, and reuse just the front of the card. Somtimes the design of the card is such that the front can be reattached to a new back of card-stock seamlessly, or you can attach it with ribbon or rivets for extra awesomeness.

Also, I sometimes repurpose embellishments like ribbons and beads into new cards as well. Who knows. A glue stick and scissors are all it takes and it's much quicker than making your own greeting cards from scratch.


Resourceful gift-wrapping can be more than just saving and reusing bows and paper. I dream up ways to reuse all kinds of materials.

I've been known to use jars, baskets, canvas totes, tinfoil, pillow cases, cardboard tubes, and scraps of cloth as gift-packaging when I was out of boxes and wrapping paper. People think you're being crafty or something, but really, you just wrapped their gift in whatever you could find laying around. Double score.

Stretch the limits of acceptable stuffing and covering.  I've  had great sucess with: newspaper, butcher paper, sack-cloth, easter-grass, and tulle.

Here's a present I wrapped with a recycled gift bag, a gift-tag made from what was previously a thank-you card, and for tissue paper I used the plastic mesh that some onions came in:

Showers (Bridal/Baby):

I get invited to a LOT of baby and bridal showers. Like, a whole ton.

Maybe it's because I live in Provo and almost everyone I know is married/engaged, young, and of child-bearing age. Maybe it's because the world is conspiring to make me fat on pink and blue cupcakes, but whatever the reason, I find myself constantly attending showers. And buying $30 gifts for every one can add up quick. Here are my go-to gifts for the semi-aquainted-friendly-person-who-I-don't-want-to-snub-but-don't-exactly-want-to-spend-a-fortune-on:

#1) Used books. Not exactly on the top of every lady's registery, I know, but I've had great success and been genuinely thanked (and re-thanked later on) for giving books by respected authors on pregnancy, parenting and marriage-prep (for the bride-to-be). Most ladies say they don't have as much literature on parenting as they want (especially with a first child) and a handy reference book can be just the thing.

Used book stores or (if you're the planning-ahead type) usually have a whole pile of like-new books for cheap cheap cheap.

#2) Handmade gifts:

- Pacifer Clip (these have gone over great at recent baby showers). Here's an easy tutorial for a no-sew version.
- Diaper Cake (super easy, super cheap)  
- This Wash-cloth doll requires minimal sewing.
-  Frilly Apron (for brides) - look up a tutorial online. It's pretty simple sewing.


I'm not sure why people don't more often give food as a gift. At least to me. I can never get enough edible presents. It's tough to get more bang for your gift buck than with food.

Here are a couple of my favorite recipes that are good for boxing, jarring, shipping and gifting:

Vanilla Melting Moments. Photo credit:

Vanilla Melting Moments  (By Rachel Allen: Favorite Foods at home)

Biscuits:175g self raising flour
125g cornstarch
50g powdered sugar
225g butter, cut into pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Vanilla Butter Cream:50g butter, softened
125g powdered sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 160 C/ (325 F) Gas mark 3. Place the flour, cornflour and icing sugar in a food processor and whizz briefly to mix. Add the butter and vanilla and whizz until it comes together (a minute or two, I do it slowly). Roll into 40 small balls the size of a large marble. Place trays on (no need to grease or line) and flatten down a bit with a fork. Bake for 10-15 minutes until still very pale in colour but, slightly firm. Remove carefully and cool on a wire rack.

Keep the same bowl in the processor and whizz the ingredients for the butter cream until they come together. Sandwich the biscuits with the butter cream. Makes 20.

Sweet Onion Jam (great for appetizers, sandwhiches, crackers, cheese, etc)

Adapted from Rachel Allen's Bake. 

30g butter
3 lbs onions, peeled and sliced
275 golden caster sugar (or brown sugar)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground back pepper
200 ml. balsamic vinegar
500 ml. red wine.

Melt the butter in a large pan and add onions, sugar, salt and pepper. Stir and cook for 40 minutes over a gentle heat. (If you are concerned about getting all of the alcohol out of the wine, you may add it after the first  15 minutes of the onions cooking). Otherwise, add the wine and balsamic vinegar after 40 minutes and stirr occasionally until the mixture is slightly thick.

You're looking for a syrupy consistency. The jam will thicken as it cools. Place in sterilized jars, seal and label.

lastly: Infused Olive Oil:


  • 6 leaves fresh basil
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 2 sprigs fresh oregano
  • 1 1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil
Put them in a pretty bottle and let them steep for day or two before sending. Done!

More food gift ideas from 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Graduation! Easter!

What a busy, fun weekend!

Ryan's parents and younger brother came down from Olympia to be here for Ryan's graduation. We got to spend some time with grandparents, dye some easter eggs, do a little shopping, and of course, make hot cross buns for Easter (a Ryan and Ruthy Stapleton tradition three years strong). 

He graduated Cum Laude from BYU which means that he was in the top 10% of his graduating class. No small feat! 

Dying Easter Eggs with friends (Note: Angry Bird and Scottish Plaid)
Office Easter egg hunt. 

One thing I'll especially remember about this weekend is the generosity of Ryan's parents to buy him the graduation gift of two new suits, which I'm sure will come in handy for law school and beyond. 

He looked great in both of them before they were even tailored, so I can't wait to go pick them up and make him parade around the house for me.  (His current set of suits are all pre-mission and have at least one stain or tear each, so these were a well-timed gift). 

When driving to be fitted for his new suits, Ryan and I had a little disagreement as to the location of the Men's Wearhouse. He wanted to make it a bet, and turns out I was right, so he got to buy me two new pairs of shoes: 

Hot Cross Buns

 Saying "So Long!" to ward friends since the ward boundaries have been redrawn.

Shaun got Ryan some pocket squares for his new suits. What a sweetie.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

From the Archives: University Orchestra Performances

A week or two after my first date with Ryan, before we had really become an item, he invited me to his BYU University Orchestra concert. I considered skipping it to play hard-to-get, but I'm so glad I finally decided to attend.

He was the second-chair french horn that year, and he played this iconic solo beautifully (2:21 through 3:01 in this video):

I've been to four of these orchestra concerts of his now, and none has been as great as the first.  It was well-rehearsed, dynamic-- I would even say it was moving. And, it showed me a side of Ryan I hadn't seen yet, and which I happened to love!

Based on the kids I knew in high school,  I always thought horn players were weird (and to be fair, they really were). No doubt, Ryan was one of those weird kids too. Good thing everyone grows up, myself included. My view of brass players has matured somewhat, but I do still get a giggle out of watching someone contort their face around a horn's mouthpiece and blow like mad (C'mon! It's just so silly!)

From attending these performances and watching (or listening to) Ryan prepare for each one, I've learned just how freaking cool the french horn is.  It's such a different animal; it's like some amphibian evolutionary cousin to the brass instruments. I mean, it definitely shares DNA but it's distinct enough to be disqualified from brass bands. That mellow tone! That fancy twisty tubing! They're so awesome I just want to eat ice cream out of a french horn like it were a waffle cone.

Someone please make that happen for me.

Anyway, after the performance, I came to the lobby to  congratulate him and eat some stale cookies. I was impressed by the sight of him in a tuxedo and briefly thought, "Not bad. I guess that's what he'll look like on his wedding day."

I had planned on walking home, but he was excited that I had decided to come and eager to give me a ride home. His car smelled lingeringly of Domino's pizza (ah, the jobs we do in college), which kind of made the moment less serene, but more memorable.

Here are a couple of clips from the 2009 and 2010 concerts. (Parents and grandparents reading this blog are the only ones expected to watch these videos. Everyone else is off the hook.)

Spring 2009, Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain: See if you can hear his buried horn solo at 2:22.

For the record, Ryan's performances have been consistently stellar, and only improving over his music minor career. But between the the introduction of graduate student directors, and the orchestra becoming a "walk-on" ensemble in 2008, there's been a gradual decline in overall quality every year since 2007.

By 2010, even a rookie like me could detect a few mistakes in the strings and woodwinds (the horns of course, can do no wrong). If nothing else, the 2010 rendition of The Sorcerer's Apprentice this took me back to my Fantasia-watching days:  

Now that Ryan is graduating, I'm going to miss his annual orchestra performances. Oh well. Onwards and upwards!

Friday, March 4, 2011

"The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play." -Arnold Toynbee

"I need a new job." By Exploding Dog.

With a tear in my eye and a pep in my step I'm saying goodbye to my current employment as an Executive/Marketing Assistant (read: Office Nanny).

It's been real, guys. But honestly:

You underpaid and overworked me. Getting to work with some really cool people mostly made up for that shortcoming (the free pizza and candy helped too).

But, constantly praising me and handing out warm fuzzies only gets you so far; I need to shake that money maker.

If I'd gotten that raise you promised me six months ago, I wouldn't have even considered leaving, but then of course, I might not have tried this new, shinier doorknob (which opened into a new, shinier job).

So, no hard feelings. All things considered, you're one of the best employers I've had, but I've met a younger, prettier hen. One who has both eyes and clean feathers. And none of that crusty mucus on her beak (you should really get that checked out). This rooster's moving on.

I've accepted a full-time Graphic Design position with benefits and a salary, and the opportunity to actually do something that interests me. So, if that doesn't make me a grown up, I don't know what will.

Hasta la pasta, Babies.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Omnivores Limited

When I discovered this list of "100 foods every good omnivore should try at least once in their life", I thought it would be fun to share with the kin-folk in an group email. As I should have anticipated, it quickly turned into a competition, as things among siblings often do.

My brother, David created a shared Google Docs spreadsheet to track how many of the 100 foods each family member had tried, compared to each other. The battle lines had been drawn, and the contest to see who would reign supreme in the kingdom of omnivores had begun.

From the get go my mom was the far and away leader, having already tried over 60 of the 100 items. David and my Dad were vying for second place, and the rest of us were pretty far behind. But, visiting family in the Seattle area over the holidays gave us the time and opportunity to make some progress on the list, especially since international foods are more available there than where we live in Utah.

Ryan's brother, Shaun, just happened to have purchased some scotch bonnet peppers a few days before we arrived, which was one item on the list I hadn't planned on facing so soon. But, seeing them in the fridge, I knew the time had come:

The face of true fear.
The raw scotch bonnet pepper (Ryan and I ate one whole pepper each) was just about as hot as I had imagined it might be. At first it tasted like green bell pepper, but it quickly turned into the kind of spicy that registers not as flavor but as searing chemical pain. Scotch Bonnet peppers typically score between 100,000 and 350,000 units on the Scoville scale. For comparison, Jalepenos are between 2,500 and 8,000, but it seems like the numbers are irrelevant at that scale. It might as well have been 100 million Scoville units; I can't imagine the feeling of burning being any less bearable. And of course, just one pepper made me visibly sweat.

I really wish I would've taken a video of Ryan sticking his entire head in the kitchen sink under running water, but I obviously did not have the presence of mind to pull out my camera, as I was doubled over in spicy agony as well. Four glasses of chocolate milk and 20 minutes later, my lips were still numb, but I wasn't in pain. Victory.

Here are some other items that one or both of us tried for the first time over Christmas: 


Eggs Benedict.
(Ryan declared that he would eat this for breakfast
every day if he could, as would I)
Steamed Pork Buns. Delicious
Hum Bao (pork buns) at Capitol Market in Olympia.

Stining Nettle Tea (doesn't sting, just tastes kind of like
hay smells. Not bad with a little honey)
 Carob chip cookies - which tasted about as good
as this picture looks (which is to say, not very. )
Things were going well, we thought. We were having fun trying new foods, some delicious and others not as good. Even the pepper was within my expectations. Everything changed when we met this spiky, malodorous, horrible fruit. Durian:

The spikes should have been a warning.
I could try to describe the horrible, acrid, stench and flavor of this fruit, but I doubt I'd have the words. It brought to mind onion, gym socks, mango, and gasoline, but none of those is quite the right descriptor. Needless to say, we were barely able to force ourselves to fight through the gagging and eat a few bites of this fruit.

If that weren't bad enough, the stench lingered in the entire house and the flavor stayed with me for the rest of the night. It also made Ryan burp noxious durian fumes for hours afterward. I walked away from this challenge not so much with a feeling of victory, but one of complete regret.

It took nearly six weeks for us to recover from the durian and be willing to try another unknown mystery food on the list.  But, we knew the worst of it had to be behind us, and next up on the list was Indian food, which didn't sound so bad, so we forged forward.

I had to call around several places to find a restaurant that served Aloo Gobi. When I found one, I was hoping they might also serve two other items we wanted to try: Salt Lassi and Phaal. They did not. I inquired with the waiter anyway, and he brought the owner to our table. I asked if they could please make us Phaal and Salt Lassi even though it wasn't on the menu. He blinked and asked "Are you sure? Phaal is very very hot, and the lassi is not sweet." We insisted, he shrugged, and in his great Punjabi accent:   "Okay. Why not. But no sending back."
Salt Lassi at India Palace in Provo. 

Ryan's review: "It tastes like a milky ocean."
 The Aloo Gobi was just tasty veggies in curry sauce. Nothing to be scared of.  The Phaal on the other hand was a little intimidating.  When the owner brought it out, even the smell was enough to burn the nostrils a little. But, we figured nothing could be worse than raw scotch bonnet pepper, and it turns out we were right.

It was hot, don't get me wrong, and the requirement to eat an entire dish of it was pretty daunting (at least the scotch bonnet pepper was over after a couple bites). But with enough naan and water, we finished the entire plate of lamb phaal. Left us sweating, but not crying.
Ryan stares down his nemesis: Phaal.
(on the left, extra chili sauce, which we slathered
on to make sure it was as hot as it could be.)

A couple weeks later, coming home from a trip to Salt Lake City, we noticed a sign for "ALL U CAN EAT SUSHI & BUFFET $6" at the Lotus Garden. The price probably should have been a red flag, but after learning that they did in fact serve eel meat, we forged on, bound by our need to mark it off the list.

In hindsight, I completely agree with the single person who has reviewed this restaurant on cleanliness at this establishment did not seem to be a top priority. From floaties in the water, to grimy-looking buffet dishes, we were not enticed to ever revisit Lotus Garden. But, I have eaten worse-tasting Asian food and Ryan got to try some eel nigiri for the first time.

His review: "Mnmm. Tastes like tuna. Are you going to eat that crab wonton?"

Just last weekend we had another chance to knock a few things off the list, at Siegfried's Delicatessen in Salt Lake, which we discovered at the suggestion of a helpful Starbucks barista.

There, we were able to find not only blood sausage, but head cheese, goulash, spaetzle, and currywurst. Five items off the list in one go! We were pretty excited.

Head cheese. Yum!
Blood sausage (left), head cheese (right)

The blood sausage tasted like salami with a heavy dose of iron. It was tolerable as long as you tried really hard not to think about what you were eating. The head cheese on the other hand was quite delicious. Just chunks of pork in some kind of pork jelly.

I'd like to apologize for everything about this video. It's lame. See for yourself.

Goulash with Spaeztle
Currywurst Mix with Knackwurst Sausage
Curry wurst.
Tom Yum Soup at Spicy Thai in Provo. Note the sweet 6' tall carved elephant.
Bottoms up!

 Out of respect for the origin and history of these foods, I knew it would be unfair to simply look up a recipe online for something I had never tried and expect it to come out tasting like the real thing. So when it came to baba ganoush, I faithfully followed the recipe, shopping, and serving instructions of my Egyptian Arabic teacher, Salima (in part: "Begin with a bathenjan [egg plant] that's firmer than sharihat al hum moutboha [well-done steak]").

Baba Ganoush with olive-oil toasted challah.

It turned out even tastier than sharihat al hum moutboha! Thank you, Salima, wherever you are . I would totally give you a Mubarak-stepped-down high five right now.

Shaun came all the way from WA to eat baba ganoush with us in Provo (I assume).
On Saturday, the owner of Amano Artisan Chocolate in Orem was nice enough to let us sample a variety of chocolates made from cocao beans which he personally sourced from villages all over South America. It was very educational. But even more tasty.

Each box of chocolates comes with individual tasting guides, explaining how to get the most out of that particular bean, with suggested pairings and flavor notes to hunt for. (Is this one a plumb/blueberry/coffee or more of an almond/apple/yeast flavor?) Who knew chocolate could have all the pretension of perfume and fine wine?
Tasting Guide step 1: smell the chocolate.
We went home with some chocolate made from Chuao beans, which are apparently among the most coveted on earth. This cocao harvesting village of Chuao is so remote it can only be accessed by boat, and only during certain times of the year, when the water levels are just so. Who knew? Good chocolate though.

It's been an adventure, and we still have a long ways to go, but as of this posting, Ryan is now in second place in our family. He's tried over 62% of the items, so he's just behind my mom. I'm pulling up third place. Go us!

The list (stricken are the items I personally wouldn't try because of religious preference):

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float

36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo 40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut 50. Sea urchin

51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu or shaojiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail

79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
 92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake