Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Potter Pooped

Oh boy.

I was right -- didn't get any sleep last night.

Finished the book at 7:00 this morning -- and crashed and burned shortly thereafter. Can't remember for sure (I wasn't paying real close attention) but I think I staggered out of bed somewhere around 1:00 this afternoon. It's sure a good thing I didn't have anything urgent or important scheduled for today because I can guarantee I'd have blown it. See that picture of Garfield? That's pretty much the way I've looked -- and felt -- all day.

Not that I regret the endurance read. Some books simply demand that of you and I'm willing, every time. How can I not be grateful that there are books that will draw you in like that? More of them, I say. More!

Since there are still a lot of folks who haven't had a chance to read The Deathly Hallows yet, I won't comment on it -- except to say I was not disappointed. Not at all. I do have a mild criticism in regard to treatment, and I believe the book would have been better had Rowling done this particular thing. On the other hand, she has consistently held the attention and loyalty of a huge number of readers through a nearly ten-year span and that takes real skill and talent. It ain't the luck of the draw. Somehow, I don't feel she would be interested in my suggestions. (Insert smile.)

And now, Coffee Mates, I'm going to tuck myself into bed. I do not recover from all-nighters the way I used to. Can't imagine why.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Pita and Potter

Let me steer you to what I think is the very best site to learn how to make pita bread. Not only that, I think you'll like the whole tone of the place and want to bookmark it for future reference. I did.

It's called Farm Girl Fare and is the brain-and-heart child of a woman named Susan. By the time I'd perused the text and pictures of her pita project, I was well and truly hooked. I'm not even going to put the recipe here because she does the job so well at her place.

Yes, I whupped up a batch of pita bread according to her instructions just this afternoon. Mind you, that was even after I had picked up my copy of Harry Potter from the post office. In the past, once the new Potter book arrived, I had always been adamantly incommunicado until I'd read every word. The world could have crashed around my ears -- I wouldn't have noticed.

This time, however, I'm teasing myself, drawing out the pleasure and savoring each delicious chapter. So I got the book home and slid it out of its box. I stroked the cover. I sniffed the pages, which we are assured are made of 30% recycled fiber and over 65% certified as coming from "forests that are managed to insure the protection of the people and wildlife dependent on them." Whatever that means. They do not say what constitutes the remaining more-or-less 5%, which leaves room for speculation. For all we know, that could be recycled panty hose or dehydrated Jelly Bellies.

Anyway, I set Harry Potter and a mug of coffee at one end of the table and laid out my pita tools and ingredients at the other end. (I should mention that I varied Susan's recipe just a tiny bit by using 2 cups all purpose flour and 1/2 cup whole wheat flour. I also put in 1/2 a cup of dry milk.) It took practically no time at all to mix up the dough, knead it and divide it into eight portions, then form those portions into tidy little balls. Then I draped a damp paper towel over them, set the timer for 30 minutes and sat down with Harry Potter.

I read the dedication page. Then I realized I hadn't put the oven on preheat. Took care of that. Sat back down and read the Table of Contents and the Aeschylus and William Penn quotations. Remembered I was going to try Susan's suggestion to bake the pita on foil placed directly on the oven rack. Got up and spread a couple sheets of foil over the rack, closed the oven door and sat back down with Harry.

The timing was uncanny. Just as I read the last sentence of the first chapter, the buzzer went off and it was time to roll out the pita rounds. I can't say J.K. Rowling planned it that way but you can't completely disregard the possibility.

The dough rolled out easy-peasy and went in the oven, four pitas at a time. And they puffed up fine. And I figured out the best way to get out of making a proper meal was to take Susan's suggestion and turn a couple of the finished, butter-brushed pitas into a pan of pita chips. And it was unbelievably easy to do. Half the chips were sprinkled with kosher salt and a bit of cayenne, the other half were sprinkled with salt and shredded cheddar and a bit of cayenne. In the oven for 5 minutes at 400 degrees fairyheight and SHAZZAM! I had me a nifty platter of semi-crispy chips to munch while I curled up with Harry and settled in for a proper read.

I'm taking this break to get the post up before I get completely distracted. Aren't you proud of my self-discipline? As soon as I send out the notify, I'll check my email one last time and then make another pot of coffee. One should always have a good pot of coffee when one is facing an all-night session of anything. Well -- anything but sleep, that is. I sincerely doubt there will be any sleep tonight.

Bliss. Oh bliss.

Monday, July 23, 2007


Okay. Naan. A middle-eastern flat bread whose popularity has spread all over the place. The shape tends to vary from the long oval you see here to triangular or round. It's good with any desired spread or to dip and scoop. It seems to me it's somewhere in between a flour tortilla and pita bread.

I'm still trying to figure some sense out of all the varying naan recipes and tips I find on the Internet. I guess you could call it "naansense." (Insert smug smile.)

That's why I'm not including a recipe this time around, although the one I used was similar to the one provided in the YouTube video included at the end of this post. That is, my recipe used yogurt (some naan recipes don't) but a lot more than what Manjula uses.

Some of the naan I made were rolled out round. The last few I made were like in the photo but I didn't roll them out. I just flattened them with my fingers. What I learned was, the finger-flattened ones did very little puffing and, as you can see by the one cut in half, they did almost no separating inside.

The ones I rolled out garned two different results. If I got them too thin, they were more like crispy crackers. When I got them just right, they puffed up like fat pillows (see the video) and separated into big pockets suitable for stuffing. I liked that! In fact, it didn't take me very long to whip up a batch of diced potatoes, onions, chicken and shredded cheese and pack it into a couple of naan halves. Good grub, Maynard!

I don't have a baking stone but my big cookie sheet seemed to work just fine. Apparently some folks have success cooking the naan on a griddle or in a hot skillet on top of the stove, just like doing flour tortillas.

What I'm going to do now is to check out a couple more types of flat bread, specifically chapati and pita. I figure they're worth getting to know. After all, they've been around for thousands of years and you don't maintain that kind of approval rating unless you're GOOD.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Real Live Haggis

Oh, duh, indeed. That's what I was saying to myself earlier this evening.

See, I had a lovely visit earlier in the evening from a long-time friend I just met in person for the first time. (That is not a strange statement for folks who have online journals or blogs.) She stopped in on her way from Portland to San Diego. There wasn't a whole lot of time -- in fact, she detoured out of her way to drop by as it was. Since the weather cooperated by being warm and pleasant in spite of patchy cloud cover, I decided coffee and goodies in the shady patch beside the car port would be just the ticket.

I was very careful to make sure I had everything so there would only need to be one trip downstairs (thereby cutting out any unnecessary trips back UP the stairs). First I started a batch of brownies with raspberries. While they were cooking, I loaded the picnic basket with a thermos of coffee (and containers of cream and sugar in case Kate used such things), a spoon for stirring same into coffee, two small disposable plates for the brownies, two forks (which we didn't use), a fistful of paper napkins, a couple of coffee mugs ... check, check, check. Very last thing, a lidded container full of brownies fresh out of the oven.

Got all that downstairs and then set up a chair and stool for seating and another stool for a "table." Ralph supervised and all was good to go when Kate pulled into the parking area.

Well! I'm here to tell you, it was a great visit. Fortunately, Kate is a cat person because Ralph fell in love with her immediately and didn't lose too much time leaping into her lap to tell her so. I hope, when she gets home, her own cat -- a lady by the name of Charlie -- doesn't smell Ralph and accuse Kate of infidelity.

I should have asked more questions about it but I was distracted by the food part, rather than the general setup -- anyway, Kate is the West Coast distributer for an outfit that sells Scottish foods. She goes to events and sets up a booth and all that good stuff. "Really?" I said. "Do you even sell haggis?" I was just funning because, gee, people don't really sell haggis, do they?

Uhmm, actually -- yes, they do, much to my astonishment. And, by golly, I'm going to get some from her. After all, I'm half Scots and have never sampled that uniquely Scottish dish. Surely that is an omission that should be corrected at some point before I shuffle off this mortal coil. It's practically a matter of genealogical honor or something. I'm not even worried about the flavor. Heck, I can always jazz it up with a little Tabasco or something.

All too soon, Kate had to hit the road. It was as she turned her van around to point it at Highway 101 that I caught sight of her license plate -- which inspired the caption for tonight's photo. I hadn't even thought to bring my camera downstairs and the plate read "HAGGGIS" -- she explained it had three Gs because another fellow already had one with two Gs. I made her promise to take a picture of it when she got home and send it to me via email.

Yes, I know I was supposed to tell you about the naan project tonight but that will have to wait until tomorrow. Okay? Think of it this way -- it's something to look forward to.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Postponing Potter

I may be one of the few Harry Potter fans in the whole world who is not curled up with the last book of the series today. I did that on purpose. The thing is, the ride has been so much fun, I just don't want it to end. On the other hand, as we get -- uhmm -- more mature, we begin to wonder if we will actually live to see the end of any given series of anything.

Be that as it may, until my book arrives (I refused to pay the extra postage just to receive it on the officially designated Magic Day.) I will do my best to avoid accidentally stumbling across any spoilers and then, once it's in my hot little hands, I will happily shut this world out and immerse myself in Harry's world.

I suspect at least one definition of the concept of parallel universes has got to be that total immersion in the world contained between the covers of a good book. If the story is told well enough, that made-up place has its own sure reality and the reader is privileged to be a traveler therein.

There is plenty to keep me occupied in the meantime. In between loads of laundry today, I've managed to scout out several recipes for naan and, as we speak, a batch of dough is rising. I don't even need a Hogwart's spell to manage that, by golly. It will be an adventure because I've never tasted naan. I've read so many voices singing its praises, however, it turns out to be something I simply have to try. If it works out okay, I'll even share the recipe I finally chose -- tomorrow.

So all y'all go right ahead and enjoy your book. Just don't tell me how it comes out or I'll have to hurt you. Okay?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Tortilla Sunset

It's pretty much a given that homemade goodies almost always taste better than store bought. That's assuming, of course, the person doing the cooking has at least a basic grasp of the principles and a willingness to bravely leap any chasms of ignorance.

It was a long, LONG time ago that I made my one and only attempt at homemade tortillas. Lord knows, I had an excellent teacher in one of my sisters-in-law. Tommye made wonderful tortillas and patiently did her best to educate me. That was back before everyone got all panicky about using lard so the basic recipe, if I recall it correctly, was flour, salt, lard and water.

That wasn't the problem. No. The problem was, I was learning (hah!) to use the smaller, handleless roller customarily used for tortillas when I was used to using a rolling pin with by-gawd-handles. To say the results were less than excellent would be an understatement. The very first tortilla I rolled out resembled a severely distorted elephant. In spite of my best efforts, it all went downhill from there. I will admit, Tommye didn't snort and laugh out loud -- but she was smiling an awful lot.

Okay, for whatever reason, tortilla-making was never high on my list of Things I Really Want To Learn. Besides, in recent years, I could buy pretty good tortillas -- both corn and flour -- at the grocery store so why worry, right? Right! That's what I thought.

Then, today, a revolutionary thought dropped into my alleged mind. I wonder, I said to myself, if you can make flour tortillas with oil instead of lard or shortening?

Well, almost faster than you can say "Google!" three times, I was prowling through a kajillion tortilla recipes and, blow me down, there IS a recipe that uses oil! It's a bit non-traditional in that it includes baking powder and calls for milk instead of water but it looked good and, what the hey? So I gave it a shot.


Mix together 2 cups all purpose flour and 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder. Measure 3/4 cup lukewarm milk and mix in 1 teaspoon salt and 2 teaspoons oil. (I used olive oil.) Add the liquid to the flour and mix well, until dough cleans bowl.

Turn out onto lightly floured board and knead for a couple of minutes. Form into ball, replace in bowl and cover with a damp paper towel. Let rest for 15 minutes.

Divide dough into 8 portions, form into balls and set on a plate with space between each dough ball. Cover with damp paper towel and let rest 20 minutes. Take each ball and flatten with fingers, then roll out thin. You can really lean into the rolling -- the dough can take it. And yes, I used a regular rolling pin with by-gawd-handles.

Set a skillet or griddle (preferably cast iron) over medium heat and lay a tortilla in the pan. Do NOT use grease. The tortilla will begin to bubble and blister. Give it 30 seconds or so, then catch an edge with your fingers and flip it over. Wait another 30 seconds, then remove to another pan and cover with foil. Keep in oven on lowest heat. (Or tuck the finished tortillas into a Styrofoam tortilla warmer, if you have one.)

Tortillas freeze well. To use after freezing, let thaw to room temperature, wrap in foil and heat in oven. I dunno -- maybe 350 degrees fairyheight for 10 minutes? I'm guessing.

This recipe makes 8 tortillas -- all of them light and fluffy and tender-chewy and so delicious there is probably a Puritan group out there somewhere, busily attempting to formulate laws that would make these gems illegal.

The very first thing I did was sprinkle a hot tortilla with grated cheddar, then I sprinkled the cheese with Morton's Hot Salt, folded the tortilla over and cut it into sections. Instant quesadillas! As we speak, I have a chicken breast thawing. I will cut it up tiny and stir fry it with Mexican seasonings and make some more quesadillas later. Yes. 'Tis pleasant to contemplate. Tequila Sunrise may be more famous but my money is on the Tortilla Sunset. As long as I don't lose my shaker of hot salt.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Tilted Windmills

I just finished reading Nature Girl, written by one of my favorite authors, Carl Hiaasen. In this particular story, Hiaasen took a swing at a major pet peeve -- the telemarketing industry. It wasn't until the last page was turned that I realized, oh hell! I don't get telemarketing calls since I put myself on the National Do Not Call registry.

You would think, wouldn't you, the dearth of annoying, invasive calls is a Good Thang? And it is. It really is. It's just that Hiaasen's heroine had so much FUN sockin' to the slime-bucket phone solicitor, I found myself actually missing the opportunity to play with telemarketing heads.

Not that I did much playing before the Do Not Call signup. Because the calls almost always came at inconvenient times, I was in the habit of simply saying, "Please take me off your list," and hanging up so I could get back to whatever was being so rudely interrupted. Although there was one memorable call that came in during a football game. "Are you out of your mind?" I screeched. "You're interrupting Monday Night Football!"

Barbarians at the gates, that's what.

I can't help feeling a bit wistful about the missed opportunities. In between calls, I imagined all sorts of wicked things to say to unsuspecting solicitors. Sometimes I was convinced I could singlehandedly -- or single-mouthed -- bring the telemarketing industry to its knees. Trouble is, every time one of those durned calls came in, I was too distracted to remember my evil intentions and I let them slip away.

Ah well. I'm sure somewhere out there, more worthy windmills are waiting to be tilted. All I have to do is identify them and then plot the attack. Right after I sharpen my trusty lance.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Gone Fishing

Sometimes it's all too easy to lose the worm on the hook when you're out fishing. The problem is, you don't always know when it happens.

Like the other day. I got an unexpected -- but most welcome -- call from a longtime friend. (Thanks again, ogofish!) It was during the course of the conversation that I realized, for the first time, I had neglected to share some rather significant information with you Coffee Mates.

I wasn't trying to keep any secrets, you understand. On thinking it over, I believe the problem was that the event didn't happen all at once but, rather, as an ongoing process. Which meant that I spoke about it with different folks at different times and after a while, I guess I just thought everybody knew.

The fact is, I have closed my book shop. The Crime Scene is no more. It was time. I knew up front it was not going to be my road to untold wealth (insert large grin) but when it got to the point where it was costing me money instead of making it, I knew the ride was over.

And that's okay. I loved every minute of it and will be forever grateful to have had the chance to fulfill that particular dream. The neat thing about it is the way things at both ends of The Crime Scene's existence seemed to fall so naturally into place.

I got started when the lady who owned a used book store before me decided to retire. My beginning stock came from her. And when I decided I was ready to hang it up, a perfectly lovely couple came into the area and opened up their used book store -- and bought my stock. They're going to do just fine, partly because they have a much better location than I did, just outside of Bandon and at a decent space rental. Mainly, though, they'll do well because they love books as much as I do and the enthusiasm shows.

Phil, the nice man who bought my stock, was terribly concerned I would be feeling blue about the closure. I'm not. To everything a season, as has been said. I feel content about it all. I'm more interested, now, in figuring out what the next adventure is going to be. Toward that goal, I am comfortably situated on the bank, fishing for the answer.

[The fishing photo is another selection from the camera of Ian Britton, downloaded from FreeFoto. Thanks, Ian!]

Monday, July 9, 2007

Arrest That Tree!

You think I'm joking. You think that tree is just an innocent bystander. Well, maybe that one is but one can't be too sure.

I don't want you to misunderstand. I happen to love trees. All trees. Really. But I just learned that trees can be kidnapped and forced to participate in a sordid life of crime. That's just unconscionable. If you can't trust a tree, what can you trust?

It happened Saturday in Manchester, New Hampshire, when (I'm not making this up!) a fellow disguised as a tree robbed a (ahem) branch bank of an undisclosed amount of cash and escaped. As it happens, the bank possesses surveillance cameras of high quality. If you go to this page, you can read the brief article and click on the video link. It shows a frame from the surveillance tape, with a culprit who seems to believe he cannot be recognized because he has a few leafy branches duct-taped to his head. Perhaps he left that much clearance so he could see to drive the getaway car. In any case, it didn't take long for someone to recognize him and he was arrested the next day.

It was not mentioned in the article exactly what kind of tree the impostor was pretending to be. Looks a bit like maple. Or oak? I don't suppose it really matters unless they need to have a lineup. It's doubtful anybody would want to be in that lineup. Can you imagine how much hair is going to be painfully ripped out when the duct tape is removed?

You will note I am restraining myself from making all the obvious puns. Besides, police Sgt. Ernie Goodno got the best one when he said the robber, "...really went out on a limb." I will only point out the bank is located on North Elm Street.

[The lovely tree photo was taken by Ian Britton and came from]