Tuesday, April 29, 2008

don't know much about history...

when i first moved here, i lived in a neighborhood called the avenues, which i like to call the san francisco of salt lake. it is a charming part of the city, close to downtown, filled with hills and trees and cafes and art galleries and old chapels and historic houses. the house i lived in was, in fact, built by my great-grandparents and is currently owned by my uncle bob. he LOVES giving tours of the house, pointing out original lighting and other historically significant features. (not in the category of historically significant, but certainly in the category of interesting, every single room in that house has a door to the outside. my great-grandmother didn't want anyone tracking mud through the house and thought entering a door directly into whatever room was your ultimate destination would solve the problem. i never heard any compelling evidence that it worked, but having that many doors certainly added to the problem of my living in constant fear of a break-in.)

i often wondered what kinds of stories lived inside the other houses i passed every day in the aves and, thanks to my totally awesome and in-the-know cousin, keri, i got to find out. keri is an architect and preservationist and, for the second year in row, took me along on the utah heritage foundation's historic homes tour a few weekends ago. this year's tour was of houses in... you guessed it... the avenues! some of them were stunning, and some of them you couldn't have paid me a million dollars to live in, but it was really fun to poke around inside and imagine what life is like there now, and what life was like there then. some things we (and i really mean i) learned:

1. the best way to kill your wife is to build her a new house. several of the houses on the tour had been built by husbands for wives who died before the homes were completed. suspicious.
2. sleeping porches were all the rage in the early 1900s. (is that the 20th century? i always get confused.) it was a commonly held belief that sleeping in the outside air would prevent and/or cure tuberculosis. these days, former sleeping porches make lovely, sunny, windowed family rooms.
3. old school bathtubs (made out of either steel or iron. again, my memory fails...) are too heavy to haul out of old houses, so most of the places we toured still had the originals. no explanation of how they got in the house to begin with.
4. little benches in the corners around a fireplace are called ingelbrooks.
5. some of the houses in the avenues have underground tunnels, some leading out to the middle of the yard, some leading to as yet undiscovered destinations. our guess as to their purpose? an escape route and/or hiding place for polygamist wives.

once we were done with the houses on the tour, keri, her mom, kathryn, and i drove past some historic houses in the avenues owned by our own extended family at one point or another. we drove past aunt elizabeth's old house on D street, where both kathryn and my mom had their wedding receptions, and past the old B street house, where my enterprising great-grandfather built four garages, used one and rented out the other three. (why did i not inherit this kind of genius?)

and, in perhaps the most stunning historical preservation of the day, we saw a fellow tour-goer wearing turquoise overalls. let me repeat that. turquoise overalls. when was the last time you saw those? i thought so.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

words are my life!

there is nothing i find more endearing than funny english-is-not-my-first-language sentence constructions. and i feel like i can say this without being patronizing or judgmental, as i have spent a fair share of my life living in places where the language spoken by everyone else was not spoken by me. or at least not spoken well. i could go on for ages about my own linguistic foibles (trying to teach an english class in japan while accidentally speaking spanish is top of the list), but i would prefer to go on about other people's adorable mis-speaks instead. the parties involved in this exchange will remain anonymous, but here is one of my recent favorites. (pay particularly close attention to the punctuation. this is an exact reproduction):

"How are you doing? I hope you are doing well!. Although you move to other place. I would like to keeping in touch with you and might go out and take an ice cream or dinner together or go to see a movie at the move theater or spend time doing what you feel like to do for fun. How this sound to you?. I wonder and ponder the possibility to do so..."

i know. for cute.

some others i love...

one of my english students from my time as a missionary in japan gave me a letter on the last day of class that said, "i thank you from the heart of my bottom. i very much enjoy at jesus christ english school." (i choose not to see this as a reflection of my skills as an english teacher.)

one time the man at the framing shop in our neighborhood in spain asked my mom if she wanted him to put a recently framed picture in her car. she declined because she had walked. but really she said, "i am a foot." literally.

one time my dad was in a meeting in south america and said, in spanish, "i just need to get my coat." the verb he used means "to get" in spain spanish, but means something really different in south american spanish. let's just say, you can't do that to a coat.

one time someone i knew on the mission (it might have been the branch president) asked me about dating. i told him that, before the mission, i had enjoyed living with lots of different boys. i don't know what i was trying to say, but it wasn't that.

my most recent language-related slip-up didn't involve speaking, but a movie i had rented from the red box (my one true love) called "paris j'taime." as the title suggests, the movie is french. but for some reason i was just sure the characters were going to start speaking english at any moment. i watched 45 minutes of unintelligible action before i finally started over with english subtitles.

anyone else have a good one to share?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

i see london, i see france...

i am the fourth generation of frances on my mom's side of the family, i having been named after my great-grandmother on whose birthday i was born. (that was some fancy grammar, eh?) as a kid i was sort of self-conscious about my name; it was unusual and old ladies had it and most everyone spelled it wrong. as an adult, however, i have come to really, truly love my name, and i eschew all variations of it. the only person i have ever let call me "fran" was josh caldecourt, and that was just because i had a massive crush on him all through high school. (as a sidenote, josh moved to colorado, where my parents live, after we had graduated from high school and we met up and dated for a while, which is one of the great victories of my life.)

but, i digress. the point i am trying to make here is that i never really had a nickname growing up. the last couple years, though, my name has met with some intriguing modifications and it seems the one that stuck most firmly is "francey-pants." and, oddly enough, i'm cool with that. (i'm even cool with the fact that now jen just calls me straight up "pant." i had to draw the line, though, when chris started calling me "panty." that's just uncomfortable for everyone.)

being that it was my first real nickname, i felt a lot of ownership for francey-pants. so i am sure you can imagine my surprise when i discovered there were other francey-pantses running around, namely my friends mykel and rob, last name france. and when you make a discovery like that, there is only one thing to do. have a party!

that's right, a francey-pants party. what is that? you might ask. well, it is a party celebrating all things pant-related. so, basically it's just an excuse to wear hilarious underwear over your pants, and nametags that say things like, "captain underpants!" and "sir pantsalot." we also ate hot pockets. (get it? that was mykel's idea, and i thought it was brilliant.) behold...

mykel sewed some lace on these little numbers, so we could have fancy-francey-pants.

we scattered the rest of the underwear all over the living room, tucked into couch cushions and lying on the floor, so people could come in and choose their own. tim decided on these. natch.

suvi came in from new york just for the party! not really. it was because her sister had a baby, but good timing, eh?

we encouraged people to pick pant-related nicknames that fit their personalities. mission accomplished, wouldn't you say?

there is something about wearing underwear over your pants that seems to encourage this kind of posture.

there were also plenty of pant-related games to keep us occupied. my pant-shaped cookies came out of the oven looking more like what pants cover,

but that opened the door for some creative decorating.

we also played a rousing game of "pin the pocket on the pants."

rob got really close, aided no doubt by his pants,

and miaken was ready for a smack-down,

but sarah jones was the winner.

people could also decorate their own pants, which sallee did for me.

truer words have never been written on a pant.

to cap off the evening, we all headed over to a 45-minute dance party (a completely genius idea). dancing francey-pantses. what could be better?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

friends, lovers, chocolate (well, two out of three isn't bad, right?)

when i lived in london i had an editor named neil who was obsessed with food. he wrote practically lyrical restaurant reviews and appreciated a good meal probably more than anyone i have ever met. his gustatory judgement was meted out particularly often, and harshly, when it came to chocolate. i distinctly remember a less than flattering comparison of the "american abomination" that is hershey's and its far superior british counterpart, cadbury's.

i, myself, am not too picky about food. i don't like to eat things that are gross, of course (and i put tomatoes very squarely in this category), but i am, by no means, a food snob. i'll eat and enjoy a fancy meal (especially if my dad is paying), but i am usually just as happy with a hot dog on a stick, or maybe something from the dollar menu at wendy's (and i see nothing wrong with hershey's). i have to eat food to stay alive, and that's about as far as my thinking goes.

but, as i am always up for something new, i found myself in a chocolate tasting class last night, organized by dallas and taught by matt caputo, owner of a really delicious deli downtown. let me just say, up front, that chocolate tasting class is not about sitting around and gorging yourself on delicious treats (oh, how i wish!). at least this class wasn't. this was serious business. matt caputo actually used the phrase, "i just got back from a chocolate pilgrimage." we learned all about the types of beans, the scientific chocolate-making process (which includes a step called "conking." i can't remember what it means, but the word makes me giggle), and long-standing european feuds over chocolate dominance. we took notes, people.

three important things i learned:

1. not all chocolate is created equal, and not all fancy chocolate is delicious.
there are three types of beans used mainly in chocolate production. the chocolate we eat the most, what matt calls "grocery store," uses, unsurprisingly, the lowest quality beans. they are bitter and sort of nasty-tasting, so the chocolate we eat is filled with all sorts of other things-- sugar, cocoa butter, and an acid with the same taste as vomit (so says matt)-- to mask the low quality of the bean. we think this chocolate tastes good because our palettes don't know any better. we've been duped by slick packaging and aggressive advertising and a lack of exposure. i have to say though, some of the "fine" chocolate we tried was downright gross. here are some phrases i do not want to hear when i am about to put a piece of chocolate in my mouth: "other things you should notice in this are smoke and leather." or, "this chocolate is known for its distinctive flavor, including traces of blue cheese and petrol." yes, petrol. and it was true. yuck. about half-way through the class, matt sent around a plate of "grocery store" chocolate, so we could taste our own enlightenment. well, frankly, i thought it tasted pretty good, and i wasn't the only one. (rob: "i like it!" tracy: "it tastes like christmas.") maybe our palettes just need some more work, but i didn't leave convinced that fine chocolate = better chocolate every time. if i wanted to taste petrol i would drink gas. you know?

2. genetics are everything, even in chocolate.
the winner for the most unexpected phrase uttered in a chocolate tasting class is: "this chocolate brings a dramatic level of genetic diversity to flavor." hmmm. as it turns out, the genetic make-up of a cocoa bean-- where it came from, where it was grown, who its parents are-- is just as important as it is for people in dating relationships. a company called domori actually mapped the genome of an ideal heirloom specimen of a bean that was nearing extinction, and grafted the resulting bean into a new tree, creating the "first resurrected type" in the world of chocolate. (the consciousness of cylons being downloaded and reborn in new bodies doesn't sound so crazy now, does it?) according to matt, this particular company has "a few others in their line that they've genetically resurrected." yes, you could be eating genetically resurrected chocolate. think on that for a minute. it all seemed pretty "mad scientist" to me, but my patent attorney friend heather tells me plant patents of this type are fairly common. who knew?

3. the french are going down.
allow me to share the story of the amedei brothers, amenable italians who were in, if memory serves me, the candy-making business. (or something like that.) through a series of events i don't remember, they approached a french chocolate company that, at the time, controlled the world's supply of the best cocoa bean in the universe, the chuao bean, which is only grown in the chuao valley in venezuela. natch. the amedei brothers were interested in breaking into the chocolate market, and asked this french company if they might use some of the company's fancy beans. the response? "italians are not evolved enough as a race to appreciate it." ouch. so, like any rational aspiring chocolatier would, the amedei brothers secretly liquidated all their family's assets, and approached the cooperative of farmers growing these coveted beans. they offered three times more than the french were paying for the product, and promised to pay off the cooperative's debt and build an agronomy university where every cooperative farmer who wanted to could study for free. as i think you can imagine, it was too good an offer for the farmers to turn down, and 2003 marked the debut of amedei chuao, currently accepted as the finest chocolate in all the land. sorry, france. the company can only make 20,000 bars a year, as the beans are tempermental and slowly regenerating, so retailers are carefully screened. caputo's is the only place in utah where the chocolate is sold, and matt said he had to apply five times, and had to send pictures of his deli and store more than once. we don't screen child-care professionals so closely. i'm just saying...

all in all, a delightful way to spend an evening, though i don't think it made a chocolate snob out of me. maybe my palette needs more work. or maybe i am just not meant to be a foodie. perhaps sensing my unrepentant and continuing love of bad chocolate matt ended the class with, "it's not the end of the world if you don't appreciate it, but..." i am pretty sure he kept going, but i was too busy wondering if we had any leftover easter chocolate to notice...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

frances cake, take two

my second frances cake outing was with angie.

angie and i had already confessed our mutual friend crushes and hung out before, but it had been a while, and frances cake seemed like the perfect reunion activity. we settled on cherry almond coffee cake. yum!

cooking with angie was great, because she does it a lot like me. for example, sometimes when a recipe calls for oil, she just pools a bunch of cooking spray into a measuring spoon. genius. she was also cool with doing a lot of work while i ate a bowl of pasta for dinner.

and, we agreed that cakes with sour cream as an ingredient are both fancy-seeming and delicious.

also fancy and delicious? cakes that involve fruit. and everything goes better if you laugh charmingly while doing it, as you can clearly see here.

one thing i have learned about frances cake is that cutting the recipe in half is always a good move, since there just aren't that many people around to eat the final product. it hasn't been a problem in the past but this time, the smaller pan i chose for the smaller recipe was much deeper than the pan the recipe called for, so we ended up having the bake the cake for almost an hour (or maybe a little more) to bake it all the way through.

the good news, though, was that was an hour of good times with angie. we talked about new york (where i had just been and where she was about to go), and things we want to accomplish before we turn 35 (fly a kite in central park and meet barack obama are two of hers; i want to visit all seven wonders of the world), and read a bunch of funny blogs.

and then, we ate delicious, delicious cake.

it survived pretty well for having been baked for so long. only the bottom was a little, um, burned. and even ck, who is allergic to wheat, sugar and pretty much everything else in the cake, could pick out the cherries and enjoy them. another frances cake success.

Monday, April 7, 2008

onions and good concerts make me cry

my first concert was michael jackson. my parents got me tickets for my birthday; i think i was nine. i might have been 10. the three of us went and it was pretty much awesome. it was the tour for whichever album it is where, on the cover, michael's face is a big mask that's also a gate... anyone? maybe it was "black or white." i'm not sure. but he sang "beat it," so i feel like other details don't really matter.

it was a great first concert experience, to be sure, but it didn't really turn me into a concert lover. i feel like i can, and do, appreciate good music, but i've just never been the type of person to spend time and money catching every live performance i can. i have managed a few really great shows in the recent past, including bonnie raitt and the indigo girls and erasure, but i usually only hear about good concerts after they're over. and i'm usually not too bummed.

this weekend might have changed all that, though. thanks to hip and concert-loving em and chelsea, i heard about the hotel cafe tour 2008 and, since tickets were only $15, i decided to check it out. and thank goodness for that. because it was so. good. so. so. good. soul-soothing good. tear-jerking good. dance in front of strangers good. don't mind standing for hours good. can't sleep that night good. never want it to end good. so. so. so. good.

the headliner was ingrid michaelson who i had heard good things about but never really listened to before. now i love her with a love that is true. there is something i appreciate about a busty woman who still wear glasses, and tell stories on stage about chewing her hands when they fall asleep (the hands, that is). she was darling. and i just know we would be friends. my favorite song of hers was one she had just written two weeks before (so new it doesn't even have a name!) about being on tour. i had never before witnessed a newborn song. it was sort of like holding a newborn baby really, comforting and somehow familiar.

and the other performers were oh-so-good as well. meiko was so cute and shy and cruddy on stage and she sang my new favorite song, "you and onions make me cry." it's sort of about hot dogs, and i had a hot dog for lunch that day, so i sort of felt like it was fate.

and jim bianco was kind of like that guy who you love even though you know you shouldn't, the one who can get away with doing and saying all kinds of dirty things because somehow he makes it seem charming, the one who sweet-talks all the ladies, but always makes you feel like it's just you. you know the one? that's jim bianco. (i feel like this could become part of our vernacular. like, "oh, that guy is such a jim bianco!" or "don't pull a jim bianco on me, mister!" i am going to work on this.)

carey brothers sang my favorite song of his, "blue eyes," and told funny stories about having a song on "grey's anatomy" during a montage of a character born with both sets of reproductive organs (yes, you read that right) trying to decide which ones to keep, and about getting dumped and being single and all that good stuff. (i couldn't help but think that if he cut his hair and washed it every once in a while, things might turn out differently for him. but that could just be me.)

carey brothers is also, apparently, the man behind the whole tour concept. and, let me take a moment to say that it is a concept of which i whole-heartedly approve. each of the artists played rotating 15 minute sets, so you got to hear everyone more than once but not all at once, so you never got sick of it. this was especially handy when dan wilson came on stage.

his gyrating hips are nothing to be scoffed at (in fact, i spent most of the night imitating them), but he was a sort of awkward old man with bad jokes and white sneakers and we couldn't figure out what he was doing there. until, in the largest revelation of the night, he told a story about writing a song with his old band about the birth of his son, and then launched into "closing time." holy...!!!! remember that song? semisonic was not joking around. ponder on some of the lyrics and it will all become clear. "this room won't be open 'til your brothers or your sisters come"...? it was right there in front of us, the whole time.

the highlight of the evening, though was when jim bianco announced that all the artists were now going to "penetrate the crowd" (me: "i love being penetrated." em: "blog that!") and the next thing we knew, everyone was down in the crowd, inches away from us, singing a little song. chelsea touched ingrid michaelson, em said "hi" to meiko, and i sang right in the ear of the drummer. i think heaven is probably something like this.

the only non-heavenly part of the evening? the most foul smell any of us had ever endured, coming from one of the people standing in front of us. i don't know what the problem was, but i seriously think it might require medical intervention. em's eyes tell the whole story.

but even that could not ruin a night of magical goodness. and now, all i want is more.

(and thanks to chelsea for all these pictures. credit where credit is due, right?)

Friday, April 4, 2008

so say we all

this blog has been pretty light on the soul-baring confessional, but i am about to make a big share, so everyone get ready. it's time for me to just get it out there. i am addicted to "battlestar galactica."

there. i said it. i am addicted to the spaceships-and-robots, possible-end-of-humanity, purveyor-of-mystical-religious-dogma, sci-fi wonder that is "battlestar galactica." and, believe me, i am just as shocked as you. baffled, really. still completely mystified that i am drawn to my television like a junkie to crack, watching hours of episodes on end. i even went to the video store on a sunday-- a sunday!-- to rent the first disc of season two, because i couldn't stand to have the season one finale cliffhanger unsolved a moment longer. i know, i know. i probably need an intervention. but since i have brought my roommates down with me, i don't think there's much hope for any of us.

the catalyst for this downward spiral into science fiction obsession was chris, who told me for ages how awesome the show was. and i, as you might expect, dismissed it out of hand as something ridiculous that i would never like. but, it only took watching the pilot episode before i was depriving myself of sleep, night after night, to watch just one more episode, thinking of the galactica crew as my friends and family (especially dream-yacht lee adama), and worrying about possible cylon double-agents in my midst (those would be robots programmed to perfectly approximate human behavior until they are activated to carry out some deadly mission against humanity. don't judge me. please). i knew i was in deep when someone pointed out the constellation orion to me one night and i blurted out, with no thought at all, "orion points the way to earth!" brother. my subsequent rattling on about the arrow of apollo and the tomb of athena (like that's supposed to make me seem less insane) most definitely did not help my case.

ashamed and confused, i have held this a little-known fact for a long time. but, as today marks the premiere of the last season of BSG (yes, i am obsessed enough to abbreviate it), i felt like i should come clean. i have actually learned to embrace this newfound part of myself. i now see "battlestar galactica" as a tool for learning and awareness. the show intelligently addresses lots of present-day issues, including terrorism and torture and military occupation and abortion. not to mention spiritual "big issues," like The One True God and forgiveness and resurrection and redemption. it's almost like going to church. almost. and, have i mentioned lee adama is totally hot?

i thought so. join me, won't you?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

frances cake, take one

there is a phenomenon in my life that i call the "friend crush." friend crushes work, basically, just like romantic crushes. i'll meet someone, maybe through a friend, maybe at a party. maybe i see them at church or i stalk them on facebook for a while. however it happens, i just *know* that i want to be friends. friend sparks fly, you might say.

from there it's also remarkably like a real crush. i get all cruddy and i trip over my words and i don't know what to say. i blush a lot. i get all nervous to ask for a phone number, and then i worry about calling too much, being too clingy. the trickiest part of a friend crush is also the same, too: the first friend date.

first dates are rife with all kinds of danger and awkwardness, and first friend dates are no exception. how do you extend the invitation? what will you do? what will you talk about? and so was born the idea of frances cake (i wish i could say i came up with it all on my own, but dallas was the one who thought of it first). the premise is simple. i pick a friend crush. i invite him or her over to my house to make a cake. frances cake to be exact. we make the cake, we bake the cake and we eat the cake, all while basking in our newfound love and friendship. brilliant, right?

my first frances cake outing was with amy.

amy and i have been in the same ward for a couple years now, but we never really hung out until recently. and i am glad we didn't wait any longer! we settled on chocolate cinnamon cake, with a chocolate-y walnut glaze. delicious, and the recipe was super simple.

while the cake was baking, i had time to practice my sweet break-dancing moves.

and a chance to get to know amy better. i learned that she used to name her pets after food (including two cats with oreo-related monikers), and that her dad sounds just like ross perot. she's from south carolina. she used to have long hair, but now it's sort and sassy, just like her (the sassy part, at least. she's actually pretty tall).

the cake baked up nicely,

but the frosting/glaze presented something of a challenge. the recipe said to put it on while the cake was still hot, but it didn't really drizzle. it needed to be spread. but spreading it tore the top of the cake because it was still warm. amy is pretty meticulous, and she was very carefully dabbing the frosting on, one spoonful at a time,

but we finally just dumped it all and spread it as fast and as best as we could.

the final result? success!

even susan, who was taking a "break" from sugar, made an exception and had a piece with us.

and the frances cake fun had just begun.