The Power of the Tutorial

By: Elizabeth Webber Akre

Years ago, my sister presented me with a sushi making kit. At the time, sushi wasn’t mainstream like it is today. I’d never eaten it and really couldn’t envision myself ever eating it. Back then, all anyone (around here) knew about sushi was that it was raw fish. Of course, now we all know that raw fish is just one element of the sushi scene. But back in the day when sushi was still a mysterious unknown, my sister just bought me the kit because it contained cute little dishes.
The dishes are truly adorable and I’ve used them tons of times when serving Asian meals, but it wasn’t until recently when I was up on a step ladder, straightening up my cabinet, that I saw the rest of the set. I had totally forgotten about the fact that the dishes belonged to a sushi kit until I saw those two sushi mats, still in their packaging. I just stared at them for a few minutes, trying to understand how I could have possibly looked right past them all this time and not even realized they were there. As I snapped out of my confused reverie, I jumped on my computer to begin seeking out recipes and instruction. I became determined to learn and master rolling my own sushi.

After doing some research, watching videos and reading, I assembled the ingredients I wanted. I made the sushi rice, sliced avocados, slightly steamed and sliced carrots, julienned cucumbers and then I practiced. My first roll was a disaster…way too much rice. My next two attempts were not only much better looking and more tightly rolled, but tasty too. I felt I had reached a successful enough level to present my efforts to my family. I picked up my 8-year-old from day camp and told her about my practice runs. Instantly, she exclaimed, “Oh Mommy, I want to roll one too! I watched a tutorial!” I nodded my head and mumbled something like “Sure, you can help” as I reflected on the process and what I thought she could really do.

Big mistake. I believe the proper description of what I’d just done was to grossly underestimate my child and the power of the tutorial. Turns out, with the right teacher and the right student, a video tutorial can be quite effective. I insisted that she stand by as my assistant so I could show her how it’s done. After all, I’d been practicing all morning while she was at camp. Surely there was much she could learn from me! All the while, she kept repeating that she’d watched a tutorial. “Let me do one Mom. Let me do it myself.” So, I gave off one of my signature exasperated sighs as I stepped back, my palms up and my “Fine, you’ll see!” attitude, and let her take the reigns.

Even adding a swipe of wasabi

Even adding a swipe of wasabi

Arranging her ingredients

Arranging her ingredients

This baby-o-mine stepped up to the counter, spread the rice on top of the nori, arranged her cucumbers, carrots and avocado and began to roll. SHE ROLLED A PERFECT CALIFORNIA ROLL. I mean, it was perfect. It was tight, the ingredients were grouped together well, the rice stayed put. It was beautiful. It was way better than mine. I realized that my 8-year-old just spanked me after watching one tutorial. I was impressed.

Vivian’s California Roll

Vivian’s California Roll

My crab roll

My crab roll

The fruits of our labor

The fruits of our labor

The moral of this story is clear. I need to quit assuming that only I can teach her. I now know that she doesn’t necessarily need to watch and hear my instructions over and over and over again. And those video tutorials are certainly more valuable than I ever really gave them credit. I had watched several of them myself, but my daughter only needed one. And, she obviously has the knack for sushi rolling!

Elizabeth writes “Gastronomy (by a Wanna-be Chef)” which details her family’s adventures in eating, drinking and being merry. Follow on Facebook and on Twitter.


The Simple Life

By: Lydia Scott

I remember my daddy as if we’d just finished grits and eggs at the kitchen table this morning. If we could find a clear spot on the table, that is. My daddy was his own boss who ran a successful insurance, estate, and financial planning business here in Columbia for decades. Most of that time he worked from home, and the kitchen table was his favorite spot to bury himself in his paperwork and phone calls, much to the chagrin of my slightly neat-obsessed mama.Me and Daddy

The kitchen table was positioned in front of a large sliding glass door that led out to the six-foot-high cement patio, and overlooked our tree-riddled backyard and our 2.5 acre squarish pond. He had our pond built when I was 8 years old, and it’s now one of several on Rimer Pond Road in Blythewood. Before the pond, that space was a mucky swamp, home to many rattlesnakes. But Daddy transformed it into a beautiful watery oasis, stocked with bass, bream, catfish, and carp. Nature made sure to move in turtles, herons, bullfrogs, dragonflies, and countless woodland creatures who came to drink and socialize. Daddy loved that pond, and being able to look out at it every day gave him a lot of happiness amongst his disheveled stacks of papers and waiting problems.

My father was an overall-wearing, corny joke-telling, poetry-writing, Bible-teaching, problem-solving, engine-diagnosing, sales genius; a 6-foot, 2-inch, 270-pound, booming baritone-voiced, oak tree of a man. And by oak tree, I mean that he embraced people, sheltered people, stood his ground on his beliefs, and influenced people far and wide. A devoted Jehovah’s Witness minister for his entire adult life, he ran against the grain by studying all he could about all other religions, and refusing to shun his family when they didn’t do what the religion said was right. He taught me that I have to get on other people’s levels if I want to reach their hearts, and that meant I had to understand their thinking.

When my teenage stupidity took hold and led me to do something rude or senseless, he got mad, yes. But he would also calmly ask me, “What were you thinking that led to your decision to do that?” And not in the “you’re an idiot” kind of way (most of the time). He genuinely tried to understand the process that had occurred in my head just before I decided to do something dumb. And it would make me CRAZY!!! Because usually there wasn’t really a thought process, which was why I did something dumb. (Duh, Daddy!) But it made me stop and think, and helped me stay on a better path.

me and daddyMy daddy should have been a psychologist. He was a master at reading people and getting them to do things differently, and he was constantly fascinated with why people do the things they do. Which is why he was so good at sales. His downfall was that his expansive imagination meant you could sell him sand in a desert. He was always looking for the next big breakthrough and saw potential in just about everything.

Constantly brimming over with ideas and solutions, his mind was only quiet amongst the artistry of nature. He woke up before dawn every morning so he could bask in the quiet, therapeutic beauty of the little paradise he’d built at our edge-of-suburbia home. Nature often inspired him to write, as it did not long before he died on August 30, 2003:

The Simple Life

What is life?

Surely not just strife.

Can you see the smile

That will make everything worthwhile?

A child at play, having fun

A cat or dog, scampering in the sun

The cells of our brain may die

Our experiments in life may make us cry

We will not despair

About complex things, don’t care

Give me the Simple Things

My heart goes ka bump ka bump

Over a rich clammy soil clump

Soil that will make beautiful flowers grow

Among which fireflies will glow

A big bass jumps in the pond

To bait my hook I am so fond

To sit in the shade on the dam all day

To fish for fun, not something to eat, I pray

To laugh, to sing

And watch what a shower will bring

There goes a waterbug, a frog

But I’d rather sit than jog

Give me the Simple Things

I have everything I desire right here

For riches, for wealth, I won’t cheer

Give me the Simple Things

To love and care for others is best

To invite others to be our guest

Will give us renewed zest in our life

And chase away the blues and strife

Give me the Simple Life!

He used to joke that he’d be happiest going off out west and living in a cave on a mountain. I think he was only half-joking. He loved family and loved people, which meant they held power over his heart, and caused him a lot of pain. Always coming to him to fix their screw-ups, and he never turned any of them away. We often didn’t see much of Daddy because he was off helping someone right a wrong, fix an error, overcome an obstacle. He wasn’t a perfect man…sometimes his patience failed him and his words were especially harsh to an overly-sensitive, chubby little girl. Sometimes he wasn’t as approachable as he could have been, so we wrote him notes and left them on his bed pillow when we wanted something. He had a white belt nicknamed White Lightnin’ that he used on your behind if you were really out of line. I think I felt its sting only twice, being a people-pleasing below-the-radar type of kid. He had a weakness for sweets, and to this day, I get teary-eyed when I see a box of Hostess Raspberry Zingers and a six pack of Blenheim Ginger Ale.

Daddy was a simple man with a complicated life who was loved deeply by a ridiculous number of people. He died the way he had expressed would be worst for him: trapped inside a body unable to express anything in his mind or move anything on his own, even his eyelids. Life’s cruelest irony for him. Not one to be beaten down by anything, my sister, who was dozing in his room early on his last morning, says she heard him humming one of his many nameless tunes in the wee hours before dawn, his favorite time. Doctors said it had to have been a reflex, since he could not have done it willfully. But we all knew better. Just like I knew, a few days before when I told him the doctors’ prognosis that he could live in that state for years. I told him we knew he was the one in control and he could decide to stay or go, and the tears rolled down his cheeks. It was not a reflex. He was in control, like always.

And that last morning, he hummed an unknown tune in the dark before dawn, and took his last breath…his choice, his time…just the way he’d lived.

The Power of a Blender

By: Leah Prescott

BlenderMy favorite kitchen item by far is my Vitamix blender. If you know me at all, you know that I am thrifty (sometimes to a fault). So spending over $300 on a blender was a huge investment, but one that I don’t regret for a second. The Vitamix is a strong machine (blends ice with ease), quick to clean (water, a couple drops of soap and turn it on), and should last for years to come (it’s held up to nearly daily use for over two years without any issues for us). There are tons of reviews of the Vitamix online so instead of describing the quality and features of the machine, I want to detail how my family uses the Vitamix to make our kitchen routine healthier, easier and faster! It’s truly revolutionized my kid-friendly daily menu and has taken a lot of the stress out of meal planning for me, which is why it’s a family must-have in my book.*


Of course, smoothies are our main use for the blender, although it has many more functions. We have smoothies nearly every day during the warm weather.

If there is any left over, I pour them into reusable popsicle molds and we have treats at theready for tomorrow. Fortunately, my kids are not picky eaters, but smoothies are still a quick, delicious and healthy way of packing in fruits, veggies, and even protein. Besides being a classic picky eater solution, smoothies are a great way to use up leftovers or over-ripe fruit, make an easy breakfast on the go, or provide a way to boost the health quotient of a meal. As an example, on a day I am trying to throw together a quick dinner, I often serve something easy like ham and eggs or omelettes. Adding a smoothie makes it fun for the kids and I feel better that the meal is more rounded. On a day that dinner will be running a bit late, I can hand them a smoothie to tide them over while I am doing last minute prep. If we are having leftovers or a meal that is not a favorite, I will add a smoothie and, as if by magic, the meal is greeted with sudden enthusiasm! Seriously, the kids never get tired of them! A few times we have had children over with dietary restrictions or texture issues and having smoothies in my arsenal has been a life-saver.


We also use our blender to make hummus, soup, pesto, apple sauce, mixed adult drinks, and iced coffees. I have a list of additional recipes I would love to try but just haven’t gotten around to it. Once the colder weather creeps in again, I will experiment more with soups.

So for our family, yes, a Vitamix has been money well-spent! Here are a couple of our favorite recipes, tweaked to make them dairy-fee for our family.


Chocolate Peanut Butter Smoothie

  • 2-3 bananas
  • 1-1.5 cups Chocolate Almond Milk
  • ¼ cup Peanut Butter
  • Squirt of honey, or sprinkle of raw sugar (optional)
  • Ice as needed

Add ingredients in order listed, using enough ice to nearly fill the canister. Blend until smooth, using the tamper to push ingredients into blades.

Tropical Delight

  • 2-3 bananas
  • 1 can pineapple with juice
  • ½ cup water
  • Handful of frozen mixed fruit
  • Squirt of honey or raw sugar (optional)
  • Handful of fresh spinach (optional)
  • Ice as needed

Add ingredients in order listed, using enough ice to nearly fill the canister. Blend until smooth, using the tamper to push ingredients into blades.

* When researching blenders, I was also very impressed with the Blendtec blender. I think it is comparable to the Vitamix. For a budget-friendly blender, I would consider the Ninja if a Vitamix or Blendtec is completely out of the question.

My Favorite Word

By: Lara Winburn

I don’t know about you but there are a lot of words that are off limits in my world these days. No, not those kinds of words that get bleeped out on a reality show. Some words I have eliminated are fairly harmless, but to keep my sanity I have tapered the use of them. Words like C-A-N-D-Y. One mention of that sugary goodness and it is all I will hear about for the next 47 minutes. I also have had to eliminate words that may not be that bad but you don’t really want to hear parroted back at you from that precious three-year-old mouth. You know, words that your mom may not want to hear you say, even though you are allegedly grown. Phrases like, like “this sucks” or “well, that’s stupid” are perfectly legitimate and not “really” profane, but are less than lovely all the same.

So I have come to embrace words that I can freely use in my house – words that serve many purposes but will not cause embarrassment when used by my child at daycare. There are many words I like to use. Obviously, if you read what I write, you have discovered I can be quite wordy. But I wanted to share with you my favorite word in all of its versatile glory and good news. It only has three clean letters. Ladies and gentlemen, (okay, gentleman as my husband is probably my one male reader) my favorite word is: W-O-W.


Wow! Wow. Wow. (Which sometimes may be pronounced more like wow-a.)

Now at first you might think that there is only one use of this word.

Wow: An exclamation of surprise, wonder, pleasure, or the like. Example: Giant hot air balloon sails over your house. “Wow! Did you see the size of that balloon?” Yes, that is your run of the mill everyday use of this little word but you are missing out if you have not considered other ways this word may serve you with a little tone adaptation.

Wow: A realization of what your life has become. Example: You look down and realize that is not chocolate smeared on your hand after a big diaper change. “Oh wow, how long has that been there?” Now it is pronounced with a little more desperation and defeat – wow.

Wow: Exasperation. In other words, you have got to be kidding me. When used in this form and tone, it can pack a mighty punch. Example: Someone in front of you at the grocery store has 7,310 items in the 10 items or less lane. “Wow, you have quite a few groceries.” They may misinterpret you at first but with proper delivery they will definitely get your meaning. This is also a good use of the word when the words in your head are not daycare approved.

Wow: Expresses true disbelief. Example: A good friend gets a really drastic haircut or you are walking the beach and you realize just about anybody can wear a bikini. ”Wow.” No more words needed. Just wow. As mentioned before, in Off the Hook, this can be a good wow or a bad wow. Sometimes it just needs clarifying.

I hope this little word can serve you as well as it has served me. (And if you hear me say it in your presence, I am sure it is just an exclamation of surprise…. unless you have had a drastic hair cut.)

What words do you use in this tiny-ears-hear-and-repeat–every-word world some of us live in?

A Heartwarming Serenade on Aisle 7

By: Shannon Shull 

SerenadeI’ve discovered that I have a tendency to attract older men. And when I say older men, I’m talking Grandpa “older.” I’ve had random marriage proposals, excessive hand kissing, and yes, even serenades.

Now let me clarify – I’m no model. Like most women, I require a lot of extra effort to look what I would call “presentable,” or even anywhere near the “hot” category. As I always say…”to each his own.” What one person would consider incredibly attractive, another person could have zero interest in. That’s one of the joys of human nature!

But I’m wondering if maybe that whole pheromones thing isn’t true. And if it is, then apparently I put off pheromones when I’m certainly not trying, when I’m around older fellas, and when I (quite honestly) look my worst! Frankly, I don’t get it!

Most recently when I was surprised by the flirtations of a couple of older gents, I literally had on NO make-up, had done zero hair maintenance, and was wearing a t-shirt, leggings and sneakers. No lie.

I’m wondering if it’s not a case of the universe and God bringing me a smile when I most need it… some sincere compliments from a trusting, older, more mature soul that will leave me with a warm heart instead of making me feel like an object.

My Aunt tells me that older men are not too shy to do sweet things for what they consider truly beautiful women inside and out. Well, whatever it is, whether there’s a real explanation for it or not, I will take it! Some friends may say it’s creepy, nothing but dirty old men. But I choose to differ – at least when it comes to my encounters thus far. I personally like to think better of people. Yes, I tend to be naïve – I have all my life. But daggomit, I’d rather think the best of someone instead of jumping to the worst.

So….yes, I was literally serenaded on aisle 7 in Walmart the other day. With my hair in a wind-blown, messy pony tail, sneakers, and an outfit that looked like I’d just finished a sweaty aerobics class (sadly I had not!). I was there to dash in, take advantage of the deals, do my grocery shopping, and dash out. And did I mention, I had ZERO make-up on!?! In fact, I was also totally munching on a Chick-fil-A sandwich as I was grocery shopping too! I was not what I would call sight worthy of being serenaded. But to my surprise, this old, precious fella – I’m guessing in his 70-80s or even older – was suddenly right at my cart, holding on to steady himself, and softly speaking words of stunning sweetness. At first, I honestly thought that maybe he had some form of dementia and wasn’t sure where he was, who he was and/or who he was talking to. But he continued with his sweet words and then low and behold, he literally started singing to me. Softly, but loud enough that when other folks walked by, they just smiled. (I’d love to know what they wondered was going on!) And he had a lovely voice – singing classics by Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. I was very proud that I actually knew most of the songs he was singing, which of course, prompted him to sing more.

Was it awkward? Well, sure. But was there a total loveliness about the sweet moment? Heck yes. He continued to sing as he adjusted the hearing aids in both his ears. He sang on, in close proximity, a little too close for comfort, but I instilled a level of forgiveness for that. There was a moment when I thought, “oh my, how am I going to continue my shopping and get this endearing old dude away from me?”

I was saved by a phone call from his cell phone. It was his wife asking where he was. Naturally he talked very loudly into the phone and she reciprocated the loudness because I could hear their entire conversation. She questioned his whereabouts and declared she was at the check out and he better come on. He replied, telling her that he was busy serenading a beautiful woman on the aisle with the hot sauces. Her response was, “well, invite her home and tell her we’ve got an extra bed!” I thought I would croak! I just stood there giggling like an idiot. As he continued jabbering with her on the phone, I realized this was my moment of escape, so I patted his shoulder, said “Bless you,” and thanked him for making my day.

The very next day, I was in the gas station grabbing an early morning cup of coffee, looking pretty much the same as I did the day before, just with a different t-shirt and this time with my hair clipped into a sloppy low bun. I got in line to pay for my coffee behind an older gentleman who looked like he was about to embark on a long, hard day of work and the fella told the clerk that he insisted on paying for the lady’s coffee too. I was shocked and quickly reciprocated with a “Bless you! Thank you so much!” His response was “I like to make it a habit to pay for a beautiful lady’s coffee.” …..O….K…. well, I’ll take that. Not sure what he meant by that but hey, I still took it as a compliment. Why not, right? I again said thank you and that he had made my day. It totally made my day.

Between that experience and the serenade experience the day before, it was, quite honestly, just nice to be noticed and complimented. And I like to believe that an older man can have a better appreciation for a good woman. Not true in every case, of course! But, as a lady having a really hard time with the fact that she will be turning 40 all too soon, I’m sorry, but I’m not gonna turn down compliments or moments like these with older gents who bring a smile to my face and warm my heart.

Now if they start getting frisky, don’t worry, I’ll jack-slap them and be the tough Southern woman that won’t take no garbage! But as long as the old gents keep putting on sincere air of genuine kindness, I will gladly welcome and take the sweet moments that boost my self-confidence. 🙂

Plum Crisp

By: Brady Evans

I did a weird thing the other day.  I was given a bunch of plums and instead of immediately stalking my favorite blogs for recipes, I whipped out a cookbook.  Plum CrispSpecifically, I started browsing Betty Crocker’s “New Cookbook” which is far from new and up to date.  It had not one recipe for plums or crisps, but I adapted a recipe written for peach cobbler to make this delicious dessert.

Not only did I change the fruits and types of fats out (peaches and plums are similar enough, right?) but I also added oats in place of extra flour in the topping. Brief research indicates that this difference makes the pivotal change that causes the dessert to be a crisp and not a cobbler.

The result, regardless of the name, was mighty delicious.  The deep purple plums made for quite a striking dessert to look at as well.

Plum Crisp (inspired by Betty Crocker’s Fresh Peach Cobbler)


  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 T cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 4 cups sliced plums
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 3 T butter
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup old fashioned oats
  • 1 T sugar
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup milk


  1. Heat over to 400 degrees F.
  2. Mix 1/2 cup sugar, cornstarch, and cinnamon in a 2 quart saucepan and stir in plums and lemon juice.
  3. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Once boiling, cook and stir 1 minute.
  4. Pour plum mixture into an ungreased 2 quart oven safe dish.
  5. Combine flour, oats, salt, sugar, and baking powder in a medium bowl.
  6. Cut butter into flour mixture using a pastry blender or two knives until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.
  7. Stir in milk.
  8. Drop by spoonfuls onto hot plum mixture.
  9. Bake 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.

Learning Lovely Letters at First Thursday on Main!

By: Sydney Yarbrough

When I heard about the opportunity to take a calligraphy class with Stefanie Stroman, I was ecstatic. I remember back in elementary school when my friends and I would compete to see who could write their name the prettiest. Flash forward to today and calligraphy is everywhere from envelopes to business logos! I’ve always wanted to learn the art of calligraphy, so I was excited that there is now a chance to learn here in Columbia.

Learning calligraphy

The class took place at First Citizen’s Café during their monthly First Thursday event. Our class was small, which was great because it allowed us to all chat and help each other. It also allowed our instructor, Stefanie, to walk around and give each of us individual instruction. She was extremely helpful in teaching us technique and answering all of our questions.

Learning calligraphy

I have to talk about her decorations, because the details were fabulous! There was lots of gold and glitter, which was consistent throughout the entire class. We also had some patriotic themed cupcakes for an early 4th of July celebration!

Learning calligraphy

She equipped us with everything we needed to get started- a practice notepad, as well as calligraphy writing supplies (pen staff, nibs, and ink). I loved that even though we were learning modern calligraphy, we were still using the traditional technique of dipping the pens into the ink. She also gave us an easy to follow instruction booklet that took us through the entire alphabet!

Learning calligraphyThe class was two hours long and was so relaxing. I was amazed to find how meditative the art of calligraphy actually is! And, to my surprise, I wasn’t terrible at it! Stefanie also supplied us with some recommended reading and resources to further research advanced calligraphy. I can’t wait to learn more about it!

Learning calligraphy


I highly recommend taking this class. It would be a great activity for a Girls’ Night Out or even if you’re just looking to try something new!

Learning calligraphy

Interested in taking Calligraphy 101? The next class is August 7th at First Citizens Café! You can visit the Stroman Studios Etsy Shop for more information and to sign up for your class! 

Credit: All of the amazing photos in this blog courtesy of Sarah Christmus Photography! (Thanks, Sarah!)