Friday, November 30, 2007

A Toast!

OhMAN! Will you just look at that? Finally. Finally I made the winner's circle and got one of these coveted little back-patters. I can't stop grinning.

And you ought to see the incredibly impressive certificate they award you. I've got it downloaded but haven't printed it off yet. But I'm gonna. Oh yes indeedy. I sweated blood for that puppy and I'm sure gonna show it off.

Final official validated word count: 52,481 words. Most of which are sheer crap, of course. But that's what first drafts are for. It's the next draft -- and the one or two or three after that where you start sorting out the mess and trying to make something faintly respectable out of it.

Not right now, though. I have to give my fingers time to grow out again because I've worn them off down to the first knuckle joints.

Actually, I'm thinking it might be fun to begin the sorting phase. There are some interesting components to mess with. Parallel worlds and magicians and high-tech inventors and a castle that behaves like a space ship and Bigfoot and chocolate -- oh yes. I got chocolate in there. It's rather the star of the show. Even Ralph turned up as a character. He was a hero, I'm glad to say.

Ah, but that's for later. Let it simmer for awhile. The stew is always better after a good simmer. As for me, I'm going to finish my beer and go to bed, that's what I'm going to do.

Beer? Well, yes. I should have grabbed a bottle of champagne when I dashed up to the market this afternoon but a school bus full of kids had packed the place and people were wall-to-wall, so to speak, around the counter and down the aisles so, frankly, I didn't even think about it. However, once I got the manuscript uploaded to the validation counter, I popped the tab on a can of Miller. It says right on the front "The Champagne of Beer." Works for me.

Cheers! And good night, for I am toast.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Dell Rocks!

Today was the scheduled time for my darlin' computer angel to arrive and fix my darlin' Dell laptop. Would you believe he looked like this?


Darn. I sure can't pull the sheep over your eyes. Besides, Dell wouldn't dare hire technicians who looked like that. We'd be throwing our computers under trucks and out of windows at least once a week so we could enjoy more service calls.

Just kidding, honest. My idea of authentic computer angels would be Penny and Michael of Crescent Computer Services. Mind you, they're located in Grants Pass, way to heck and gone over on I-5, more than 150 miles and 3-plus hours from here. Penny handles the phone calls and appointment stuff and Michael heads out with replacement parts and tools, secure in the knowledge that she's deciphered location directions correctly.

I really do appreciate technicians who let you watch them work and have the patience to answer idiot questions without clenching their teeth. Michael was cool with my pestering. Didn't even show any nervous tics or random twitches. Nerves of stainless steel, that man.

He can also fieldstrip the lid of a laptop in a most impressive manner. I should have counted the screws. There are a kajillion teeny-tiny screws, some in places you don't even realize are places. I believe it's safe to say the Dell laptops are unlikely to fall apart for any but the most dire of reasons. Like being tossed from the top of the Space Needle in Seattle.

I wish you could see my new screen. It's so bright and sharp and clear and clean and gorgeous -- and I'll tell you what -- I'm mighty grateful for that warranty. When Michael gave me a ballpark figure on what I would have had to pay without it, I nearly fainted. And that wasn't even figuring in his service call. Suffice it to say, the warranty has paid for itself and then some.

So let me go on record here -- I love my Dell Inspiron. I love Dell. I think their customer service is superb. And when they have people like Penny and Michael representing them, they won't go wrong. Thanks, Dell. Thanks, Michael and Penny.

Ohhhhh, look ... I found a white feather stuck to the laptop.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Art of Stalling

Before we go a single step further, please let me assure you -- wishing seasonal pleasures and perks to Coffee Mates is never -- NEVER -- any trouble. Heck, that's half the fun of the holidays. Still, the above cartoon can't help but strike a responsive chord when we find ourselves doing that insane high wire act that takes us over the chasms of the most holiday-intensive time of the year. So thanks, Shirley, for sending it. I might not put it on my -- oh!

Will you look at that? It should be spelled "fridge." F-R-I-G would be pronounced with the hard "g" as in friggin'. Now that would work. When you're feeling really hassled, look for this cartoon on the friggin' fridge. Yeah.

I might be just a bit distracted tonight. I keep listening to the whistle and whine of the wind (it's moaning in gentle decibels rather than at a more belligerent volume) and musing about the curious wording of the AccuWeather forecast for tonight. They informed me: "Mainly cloudy and breezy with periods of rain ending, then a leftover shower."

Leftover shower? I have this mental picture of a lonely little rain cloud looking on sadly as the customers depart, arms laden with carefully wrapped packages full of showers. Don't despair, little rain cloud. Shower shoppers will be out again to score leftover showers at a bargain price during the January wet sales.

I also keep checking in at the ESPN web site to see how the Monday Night Football game is going. Don't have the radio feed going because I can't listen to common 'taters and write at the same time. And that's what I'm mainly doing tonight -- writing that NaNoWriMo stuff. I keep trying to take the late journalist Gene Fowler's advice: "Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead."

One of my favorite writing quotes is from Moliere, who said, "Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, and then for a few close friends, and then for money." And Mark Twain suggested, "Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very;' your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be."

Heh! See what I'm doing? Practically the easiest way to distract me from writing is to turn me loose to read quotes about writing. Which is what I've been doing. It's difficult to see it on the monitor but there was a loooong gap between the Moliere quote and the Twain quote, spent browsing web sites full of more of same.

I just checked in on the football game. Good grief, Gertie! I think the Dolphins and the Steelers are doing the same thing I've been doing -- stalling. They're almost through the fourth quarter and there's still no score! None. Not a single point. 1943 was the last time there was a zero-zero tie in the NFL. What have they been doing down there on the field? Oh dear. We've just come back from the final two-minute warning and the Steelers are in the red zone.

OhMAN ... at last. The Steelers put up a three-point field goal with only 17 seconds left in the game. As the man in the booth said, "It was ugly but it was a win." I'm sure there is a minor profundity in that statement.

Me? I no longer have any excuses for stalling. Game's over. Coffee's hot. Gotta get to work. Type, type, type like a busy little monkey. Yes. Well, I'll have a cup of coffee first and then ...

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Shake and Flake

Okay, that photo isn't nearly as sharp as it should be and I do apologize. It's just that the croissant was as good as it should be and I was probably quivering in anticipation of ravishing it's flaky magic before too much more time passed me by. That's because this is a homemade croissant -- something I have never before even wanted to attempt -- and although it doesn't achieve the Fast in my F.E.D. requirements, it certainly manages Easy and Delicious quite handily.

This all began yesterday when I was contemplating what to do with the T-Day leftovers. I don't know about y'all but I've found it to be true that the leftovers are often tastier than the original dish. I have been known to make the original just so I could do the leftover part. And I was thinking a hot chicken sandwich with dressing and cheddar cheese sauce on a croissant would be really fine and wonderful. There are two problems with that. One: Lee doesn't carry croissants at the market and, two: croissants are terribly messy to eat.

Yes they are. Think about it. You have this wonderfully, incredibly flaky bit of bread nirvana to consume. And you do. And when you look around, you see at least 37% of it has flaked off in your plate, on the table and in your lap. Croissants, along with phyllo dough, are the dandruff factories of the bread world. They shed themselves everywhere. And you certainly don't want to waste a single rich and delicious flake so you lick your finger and dab at all those loose little tender-crispies and you lick them off your finger and dab some more. At some point in the process, you look up and everyone in the cafe is staring at you.

Maybe it was the frantic moaning as you were lickin' and dabbin'?

Anyway, just for winks and giggles, I cruised around checking different croissant recipes. All of them seemed to require a great deal of effort and a huge amount of butter. Recipes using the muscle of a stand mixer showed some promise that made me pay closer attention. Then I found a croissant recipe geared specifically to the mighty bread machine. That got my attention. The fact that it only required a stick and a half of butter made me really check it out. "By golly," I said to myself, "I think this is doable."

I wish, now, I'd taken pictures as I went along. In case y'all have never done this, either, pictures are helpful. I'll try to verbally visualize everything for you, okay?

In the bread machine, put 1 1/4 cups lukewarm water, 1 1/2 teaspoons shortening, 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, 3 cups flour and 1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) yeast. Put it on the dough setting for French bread, which will knead it for 25 minutes (awesome!) and let it rise for 75 minutes. At least, that's the drill on my Regal Kitchen Pro. I'm sure your bread machine is quite similar.

When the dough cycle is done, you'll want to dump it out onto a lightly floured surface. I have a small sifter I use for this sort of thing -- a little bit on the work surface and a little bit over the dough, just so we don't stick to each other. Pat out the dough in a rectangle shape and place it in a greased 9x13" (or similar) pan, cover it with plastic wrap and leave it in the freezer for one hour.

After the freezer treatment, I used a wide spatula to remove the dough from the pan, then flopped it onto the lightly floured surface and rolled it out in a rectangle that was maybe 1/2 an inch thick. The dough was surprisingly easy to roll, even after it had been in the freezer. But the rest periods throughout this process "relax" the dough so it's easier to work with.

Now you take your cold butter -- 1 1/2 sticks -- slice it into thin patties and lay the patties out in the center third of the rectangle. Leave a bit of a margin at the edges because you don't want butter squirting out when you're rolling the dough. Fold one side of the rectangle over the butter in the middle. Then fold the other side over that, like you're folding a letter to stuff in an envelope. Press and pat a bit with your hands, then take the rolling pin and gently roll out the rectangle shape again. Repeat the fold and roll-out process until you've done it three times.

Now you can put the folded loaf of dough into a covered container or a plastic bag and place in the refrigerator for one hour. Be sure to leave room for expansion because the dough will rise a bit, even in the cold. The idea, of course, is to keep dough and butter chilled and to allow the dough to relax for easier handling.

When the hour is up, once again do the roll and fold routine for the three sets. Take your time. No need to hurry, nor is there any requirement for muscle. Just a gentle, persistent rolling pin attack. Then back into the plastic bag and the refrigerator for 2 hours this time. (I don't know why two instead of one. That's what the recipe says.)

When you bring the dough out this last time, you're supposed to roll out a rectangle that ends up only 1/8" thick. That's a thick that's mighty thin. I suppose I could have done it but there was an impressive sheet of dough when it was still -- I dunno -- at least 1/4" thick and I decided that was close enough for government work.

Okay. I could have gone two ways on cutting out the long triangles to make the croissants. I could have run a horizontal cut the length of the rectangle, dividing it in half, and then do the vertical and diagonal cuts. That would have given me 16 smaller croissants. I chose to go for the bigger dudes because, remember, I had a hot chicken sandwich in mind somewhere at the end of this adventure. So I pulled out my trusty pizza cutter -- which is the most efficient way I can think of to cut raw dough -- and I cut my rectangle (which had the length running from side-to-side) in half on the vertical. Then I cut each half in half, also on the vertical. That gave me four rectangles that have the long sides going bottom-to-top instead of side-to-side. Now I take the pizza cutter and run it diagonally from the lower right-hand corner of each rectangle to the upper left-hand corner. (Lefties will probably do it in the opposite direction.)

Cool. Now I have 8 long triangles. I also have some mozzarella cheese. It isn't called for in the recipe but I couldn't resist cutting 8 little bars of cheese that would fit comfortably at the base of each triangle, tucked into the beginning of the roll up to the tip. Hey! You know it is impossible for me to comfortably do a recipe exactly as given. I would go into some kind of trauma. Anyway, that's the explanation for what's oozing out of the croissant above. They didn't all ooze but some did. No problem.

Because I was so engrossed in rolling up the little mozza sticks in the dough, I completely forgot I was supposed to whisk up one egg and brush the dough with it before I even cut it into triangles. Oops. You can do that if you want. It's supposed to give the croissants that nice shiny brown glaze. If I remember next time, I'll probably give it a shot.

When you place the rolls on a greased cookie sheet, be sure to have the point of the triangle on the bottom or you will cook up some wildly phallic specimens. You're supposed to curve them into a horn shape at this point but I didn't cut the triangles wide enough so mine are more like crescent rolls. Not a problem. We're thinking sandwich, not horny. Cover the rolls with wax paper or a cloth and let rise in a warm place until double in size. Gently brush with the beaten egg mixture (which I didn't do) and bake at 375 degrees fairy height until golden brown. There was no time given in this recipe so I took a wild guess. Twenty minutes seemed to work fine.

The croissants? Oh my. They're not like what you'd get in the store and I'm sure they're not what you'd get at a sidewalk cafe in gay Paree. This version comes out like a cross between the ultra-flaky incarnation and the lightest dinner roll you can imagine. There were still lick and dab flakes to clean up but not nearly as many as with a full-bore croissant. I think I ended up with the best of both worlds -- light and fluffy and fragrant and flaky -- but not too much of any of it. As Goldilocks said, "Mmmm-mmmm. This is just right!"

Here's a close-up, so you can see it really is beautifully flaky. I still haven't done the sandwich, though. Got too full, doing my quality control testing. Not to worry. Sometime this afternoon or evening, it will be sandwich time. Oh yes indeedy!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Let Me Count The Ways

This image amuses me. (Thanks, Kate!) Had a wonderful afternoon with friends Nanley and Jack. (Thanks, good buddies!) The chicken turned out wonderfully. (Thanks, Internet recipe search and the apple juice/molasses baste!) And the stuffing was exceptional, due to a shared recipe from a friend. (Thanks, Theta!) I am comfortably full and there's plenty left over for continued snack attacks. (Thanks, Food Gods!) My football picks for the first two games turned out to be correct. (Thanks, Inner Football Fool!) The third game is still in progress, as we speak, and on this one, I may have made the wrong choice but, hey, it's still only the first quarter so there's still time to make a clean sweep of the day. (I'll thank the Colts if they manage to get their act together.)

All things considered -- the sunny weather, the pleasant company, the good food and great conversation, and some tasty enhanced coffee to top things off -- I just have to say it's been a great day and I can't see any possible way to complain. For which I feel thankful.

I hope all of you have enjoyed a similar day, whether you live in Turkey Day Territory or not -- because it doesn't have to be official to have a thankful day.

And now I think I'll settle back and listen to the game and maybe slip into the kitchen for some nibblies at halftime. The Colts are in the red zone and looking for a score. I've got to pay attention.

Good night, Coffee Mates. Thanks for stopping by.

P.S. Whew! The Colts just made a touchdown. Actually, they just made two touchdowns but they lost the first one, due to a stupid foul. (sigh) It ain't easy, being a Football Fool.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Talking Turkey and Teachers

Isn't he just flippin' gorgeous? This is a wild turkey, photo courtesy of the Public Photo Gallery of the Pennsylvania Game Commission. He is puffed up in all his glory to impress the adoring females and I think he succeeds. I'm certainly impressed -- with what a major job it would be to pluck all those feathers. You'd have to start sometime around last August to be done by Thanksgiving.

Actually, I was looking for one of those pictures that were available not too long ago of a turkey bearing a sign that said something like, "Save a turkey. Eat ham." I did find one but it involved (gasp!) payment. Not that the photo wasn't worth the price, you understand. It was quite similar to the one above, only the bird was wearing an "Eat Ham!" sign. I decided I'd rather spend the money on the real thang if I was gonna do it.

There are, of course, lots of photos floating around the Internet of Bush doing the traditional Thankgiving gig where he officially pardons a big white turkey. These are often accompanied by pointed, pungent captions and, while tempted, I decided to restrain my mean streak, telling myself, "Why bother? Bush is too easy a target. There's no sport in it."

For myself, I am saving a turkey this year. There is a chicken thawing in the refrigerator as we speak. I'm going to brine it and then roast it with an apple juice-molasses baste. I haven't figured out all the accompanying elements yet but I'm about to go on a hunt for some kind of slightly different pumpkin pie recipe and then I'll proceed to make it with the winter squash I have in the freezer. Sort of a faux pumpkin. Well, not really faux. Pumpkin is a type of squash, isn't it? I could do the same thing with sweet potatoes but I only have one of those and I have other plans for it.

Another thing I'm going to make is my favorite dinner roll recipe. It fits my F.E.D. standard (Fast.Easy.Delicious) perfectly. It comes from my favorite eighth grade teacher, Mary Capps, who is still going strong after all this time.

That year was notable for the number of teachers we went through. I can't remember all the names but there was one handsome male teacher who had a wonderful Heathcliff aura about him. All the girls had a crush and we were devastated when he was let go due to a little drinking problem.

Then there was "Polly," another male teacher, so named for the parrot association because he was such a puffy, pompous little fellow. He once went through all the desks during recess and confiscated comic books, which he tucked into the inside pocket of his suit jacket. He played innocent when outraged children discovered the loss and we were all mystified as to who the culprit might be. Until later that afternoon, when he informed one of the boys that if that unfortunate didn't shape up, "this is going to come off!" and he pulled wide the lapels of his jacket for emphasis. At which point, the pilfered comic books fell out on the floor and the whole room collapsed in laughter. Polly didn't last long after that.

The final teacher that year was a stumpy little woman who used to tell us stories about her adventures at the state insane asylum (as it was called then) when her husband worked there. Once she was chased across the lawn by an inmate. Terrified, sure she was going to be murdered, she stopped to catch her breath. The inmate ran up, tapped her on the shoulder and said, "Tag! You're it!" She also chased me up and down a couple of aisles one day, swinging a yard stick. She missed me and accidentally hit one of my girlfriends, who was innocently sitting at her desk, watching the show.

I tell you all this to give you an idea of the framework in which Mrs. Capps did her magnificent stuff. In between each teacher, she was called in as a temporary until a new candidate could be hired. She was so cool. No nonsense. We didn't get away with anything -- and I swear we learned more during her multiple brief sojourns than at any other time. We respected her -- and we all loved her. I still love Mary Capps.

She donated this recipe for a local cookbook project, in honor of another woman she admired, so it's got some respectable mileage on it. If you decide to try it, you'll understand why it's been passed along.

ONE HOUR YEAST ROLLS (no kidding) In a mixing bowl, put 1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) yeast, 3/4 cup lukewarm water, 3 tablespoons fat (solid or oil), 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 teaspoon salt. Let yeast dissolve. Add 2 cups flour and knead until smooth. Let rise in warm place for 30 minutes. Shape into rolls, place in greased pan and let rise 15 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees fairy height for 15 minutes.

Fast. Easy. Delicious. I'm telling you.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Accent On Helpful

Okay, I'll bet you've seen this picture at one time or another. I'm not saying this is what happened but my laptop has undergone some kind of inner trauma that has made it behave as though it's -- well -- pissed off -- or on, as the case may be.

It started out with a few very, very thin vertical lines that came in assorted colors. Some flickered and came and went. Some were solid and hung around. Gradually, more and more verticals appeared and then the day came when, upon firing up the computer, a 2 1/2 inch wide white vertical would appear for a minute or less, then flutter out of existence, leaving me with just the thin verticals.

I should probably have called Dell right away but even though I have a warranty that allows me to expect a tech to come to me and do the work, I was really worried that would somehow not apply because I'm in such an isolated, backward area, technologically speaking. So I kept stalling and the vertical lines kept proliferating and then a second wide vertical appeared. This one also lasted less than a minute when the computer was first turned on so I kept ignoring the problem. Especially this month. I really didn't want to be without my computer with NaNoWriMo going on. Next month, I promised myself. I'll tend to this next month.

It was getting to the point where the vertical lines were becoming very annoying. It was like trying to look at my screen through a curtain of multi-colored fine threads. Then, this morning, the situation jumped from annoying to nearly impossible. The wide verticals I was used to seeing on firing up the old hoss, instead of fluttering away after a minute, began to shimmer and wiggle and act like a berserk symphony of pixels who had just found the religion of break dancing. And then the whole damned right-hand side of the screen went black. With a bunch of multi-colored threads, to be sure, but the black was totally opaque. No more peeking through the curtain.

Ohshitohdear. Do you realize how much you count on the right-hand side of your screen? It isn't just the stuff on your task bar. There are also those thingies in the upper right corners of your windows that allow you to resize or minimize or exit. I couldn't even shut off the computer from the screen because the button I needed was behind the black wall.

I guess you know, I poured a sustaining mug of coffee, grabbed the phone and called the toll free number for Dell-help-me-before-I-do-something-desperate.

You may have heard Dell leaves something to be desired in the way of customer service. I've heard all kinds of complaints about them but I couldn't speak to that myself because, with both a Dell desktop and a Dell laptop, I've only had to call them once. That was an easily handled problem and the tech was pleasant to deal with. Frankly, as far as I'm concerned, Dell puts out a quality product so service calls seem to be pretty much unnecessary.

There is one irritant; like seemingly everyone else, they have outsourced tech help to India (I think) so you have to pray the person you talk to does not have too heavy an accent. I lucked out today. My tech, named Amol, took pains to talk slowly and distinctly and I didn't have to feel mean for making him repeat himself too often.

I'm not sure exactly but all the tests Amol had me run through took somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half. By the time we finished up, my poor walk-around phone was angrily beeping the low battery signal. I can't even remember all the things we tried, each procedure designed to narrow down which component was causing the problem. I even learned how to pry up the panel that covers the hinges for the lid without breaking any fingernails (a fingernail file works perfectly).

When we had done everything we could do with the computer as it was, he had me haul out the monitor for my desktop, which has been stored in the closet for the last couple of years. Thank God it's a lightweight, small footprint flatscreen or I'd have had a serious problem. And thank God I even had an external monitor because it's going to be an excellent work-around until the new screen arrives.

Yep. I'm getting a brand new lid for my laptop. Don't know when but the order has been placed. As I understand it, the new screen will be sent to whatever designated tech happens to be in the general vicinity here and they will call me to arrange an appointment so they can come and install it. I have no idea when that will be, nor am I worried about it. Surely it won't be until after Thanksgiving. This is not a good time of year to be distracted. Between cooking and writing -- and thinking about cooking and writing -- the hours are jammed.

But I'm here to tell you, Dell's customer service is kewl beans and I'm mighty grateful for them. Even with the accents.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Dream Interpretation

Here's one of my favorite Sam Toft prints, which I found at I'm using this particular one of E.H. Mustard and his portly pooch Doris because it's been raining off and on today so it seems quite appropriate. "She Who Must Be Kept Dry" is the title. I think Ralph would wonder why so much trouble is being taken to coddle a mere dog but then he's never met Doris.

But you can. Meet Doris, I mean. Along with the Mustards and assorted animal and human friends and even the elusive Ms Toft herself. Yes, Sam is a she and a rather unassuming she at that. I couldn't find any photos of her at all until I happened on her web page. Which made me rather late with this post because I was having so much fun reading about her and her dog Moses and what she has to say about her creations. You must meet the Mustards when you explore the web site. You'll love the whimsy of Sam's mind in both her writing and her art. There's even a video, showing you how to draw Mr. Mustard and if you go from there to YouTube, you'll find another video that gives you a tour of her studio.

Speaking of videos, Mr. Bill, I thank you for the link to the Santa cake video but I do believe I'll leave that sort of thing to someone else, thank you very much. I would have to kill anyone who tried to eat that cake after spending the time necessary to decorate it and I don't suppose they'd serve me any Santa cake in prison to make up for it.

Ava, you asked about whether the monster savory bread pudding from the other day would freeze well. I'm happy to report it not only does, it's even more delicious when heated up than it was the first day. I cut it up into slabs and put a couple of them in each of three or four quart-sized freezer bags. When I take one out, I just dump the pudding, frozen solid, into a lidded Corning Ware casserole dish, add a couple tablespoons of water, put the lid on and nuke it for 10 minutes. Perfect! It was my lunch today and a very satisfactory one it was. In fact, I liked it so well, I'm afraid I'm going to have to pick a dozy afternoon and do another one. It turns out to be the best "leftover" freezer meal I've had yet.

I'm still muddling along with the NaNoWriMo thang. It's surprising me, the way things are developing -- in a good way, thank heaven. In fact, my subconscious is trying to be helpful, too. I took a nap this afternoon and durned if I didn't wake up with an idea a dream had given me. Couldn't wait to stumble to the computer and get it written down.

I think I'm pretty well burned out for the day, though. I've earned my rest for the evening and, by golly, I'm gonna take it. Besides, I might have another helpful dream tonight. That would be cool.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Bundt Pan From Hell

I like this picture. It has such depth and texture and warmth. It makes me realize I really wish I had a glass of the grape to drown my sorrows.

Yes, I am sorrowful tonight and it is the fault of my diabolical bundt pan. I hate that pan. It has broken my heart over and over and I don't even know why I keep it. No matter how carefully I grease it and flour it and coo sweet nothings in its ear, it persists in wickedly clinging to any cake I try to bake in it, rendering what should be a pristine shape into a pathetic lump of gouged-out abomination.

I tried it again this evening. Filled it with a sublime batter of pound cake made with apple juice and bits of pineapple and craisins. Cooked the cake to the perfect moment of doneness. Turned the pan over and waited for it to drop onto the plate.

And waited.

And waited some more.

Finally I began carefully prying the cake away from the sides, noting it seemed to be free on the outside but was still clinging stubbornly to the center tube and bottom. Finally it came loose. And I wanted to cry. Shabby looking thing, with great honkin' gobs of itself still clinging to the cursed pan.

I am going to kill that pan. Don't try to stop me. There isn't a jury in this world who would send me away. Justifiable panicide, they'll say. And they would be right. My only problem is figuring out what method of murder to use. I could set it out in the parking lot and run over it with the car. Knowing the evil nature of the pan, however, I'm pretty sure it would manage to flatten at least two of my tires.

I could send it off to Good Will or one of those places but my conscience would hurt me. That seems a terribly cruel thing to do to some unsuspecting homemaker who only wants to bake something lovely for her family. I can see her now, sobbing as she serves pitiful portions of deformed cake to her dismayed clan. No. I can't do that.

I could sneak out in the middle of the night and leave the pan in the southbound lane of Highway 101, hoping a long haul trucker will flatten it. They have plenty of tires. BIG tires. But the poor trucker might try to dodge what he thinks is somebody's beloved pet and jackknife the truck right into the ditch. Guess that's out.

I thought of hunting up a priest to do an exorcism but I'm afraid the pan will start spinning around and upchucking voluminous globs of split pea soup. Have you ever tried cleaning up split pea soup from the walls and appliances? It ain't pretty.

I know. I'll give it to Ralph for a water dish. There isn't a bundt pan in this world that can get the best of ol' Ralph.

There. I feel better already. Now, if I only had some wine.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Chopsticks Not Required

I just love old maps, don't you? This one seemed apropos tonight because I wanted to tell you about a wonderful web site that was created by a friend of a friend (thanks, Jules!) and it's not only for a genuinely good cause, fighting World Hunger, it's a way of actually improving yourself while having fun and helping others -- for free. Translation: how to waste time without feeling guilty -- or wasteful.

You may notice, in the top spot on the sidebar, a new link and picture for a site called Free Rice. It's a vocabulary game and, I'll warn you, terribly addictive. When you get there, be sure to read the FAQ page, which will explain how everything works, from how your vocabulary level is determined (and fluctuates as you learn) to how the rice is actually purchased and delivered where it's needed.

I've been keeping track of the words I miss. The helpful thing is, they give you the correct definition immediately, so I write down the word and the definition. That helps me remember because that word is going to get thrown at me again, somewhere down the line. I sure wish, though, when they show the definition, they would show the word in the context of a sentence. Some of those words seem pretty awkward and leave me wondering just how the hell I can possibly use them.

Take "prehension." That means: "1: The act of taking hold, seizing or grasping." In the rice game, they simply said, "prehension = seizing" and I sat there scritching my head, wondering how to use it. Somehow "Prehension the day!" doesn't quite have the proper zing, does it? Can you imagine reading a police report that says, "The perpetrators were caught prehensioning the jewels."? Or a newspaper story that says, "The mugger prehensioned the purse and ran down the alley." See? It would be really helpful to see the word used in Real Life.

Maybe it's one of those words that isn't ever used in Real Life. Maybe it's only for learned articles in obscure but prestigious magazines. I've been browsing online dictionaries and have yet to see it used in a sentence. Instead, they keep using synonyms like grasp and clutch. Although I did discover that, as a verb, it should be "prehend." The mugger prehended the purse... To use the secondary meaning of prehension, "2 a: understanding, comprehension b: apprehension by the senses," I don't seem to be comprehending this clearly.

But, by golly, I sure know which definition to pick the next time they pop the word up. And now you do, too. That's ten grains of rice to throw in the sack, folks. You've gotta prehend every grain you can clutch in your hot little hands. Chopsticks are not required.

UPDATE: Hats off to Wendy, who tipped me to a little treatise called "Whitehead's Ontology" by John W. Lango. If you go here, and scroll down three paragraphs and a diagram, you'll see prehension used in all its glory, both noun and verb form. And after reading a few of the pertinent paragraphs, my brain hurts. It feels like it's been prehended by the claws of a very large, hungry bird of prey. I need more coffee.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Merciless Bitch In Charge

Taken through a rain-blotched window, this is a view of what is left of that earlier magnificent fall display of "sunshine on a stick." Occasional mild winds have relentlessly harvested most of the leaves but the storm that is currently roaring and pounding about us seems determined to sweep away what's left. It's hard to tell in a still photo, of course, but the horizontal aspect of the leaves above is due entirely to wind gusts.

It's been like this since the wee hours, with the wind growing strong enough to wake me about 6 am. It's been rompin' and stompin' out there with increasing vigor all morning, averaging a fairly steady blow in the 20-some mph range, with gusts in the 30s and an occasional whoosher coming in at around 50 mph. With rain. (insert smile)

Perfect day to be snuggled in with a pot of coffee and a steady rhythm of thousand-word patches on the computer. That NaNoWriMo thing. I got a little behind over the last 3 days, partly because of floundering with content and direction, partly because I got sidetracked by making the mistake of starting a Christopher Moore book and being absolutely unable to put it down until it was finished.

Have you discovered Christopher Moore yet? What a delicious imagination the man has. Not to mention the kind of over-the-top humor I adore. He's in the same exalted ballpark as the likes of Douglas Adams or Carl Hiaasen or Dave Barry or Mel Brooks or -- you get the idea -- but he's not like any of them. He is definitely his own unique self and I say, "Hooray!"

One reviewer commented Moore ought to get a National Book Award on his titles alone. Looking at a list of his books, I can grin and agree. Practical Demonkeeping. The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove. Island of the Sequined Love Nun. Fluke: or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings.

Those are just some of the titles. I've read the first one and the last one -- and the one that helped derail my NaNoWriMo writing schedule -- Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal. In both Fluke and Lamb Moore adds a section at the end of the stories to explain a bit about "the making of" and gives you a pretty good idea about where facts leave off and his fertile imagination moves in. This is a Good Thang because some of the facts are fairly hard to believe. I had to do some serious Googling before I'd accept certain aspects of Blue Whale anatomy. Did you know a Blue Whale's tongue is a big as a flippin' ellyphunt? My stars and garters!

I would urge you to run -- don't mess around with walking -- to your nearest library and demand to see their Christopher Moore copies and checking out all you can carry away. I can tell you that each of those I've already read are inherently different from each other and you get a different reaction from each. All reactions have in common -- at least in my case -- a sense of supreme satisfaction.

Right now I have Lust Lizard on the deck, waiting for my undivided attention. I am firmly insisting on extreme self-discipline here. That book is my carrot. I am not allowed to read it until I have caught up with my NaNoWriMo word count and that's final. There will be no negotiation on this point. I am allowed to slip in a See's chocolate at the end of each thousand-word stint but no more Christopher Moore until I'm back on schedule. Signed, Merciless Bitch In Charge.

Dayum! I can't believe I'm that mean to myself.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Blast From the Past

Sorting through old VHS tapes last night, deciding which ones to donate to the library, I found a treasure I'd forgotten had been taped. There for awhile, I would often record movies and specials on VHS tape, averaging 3 movies to a tape on Extended Play. There must have been some kind of Elvis Tribute Weekend on one of the Portland television stations because the tape held two 90-minute specials and Priscilla's 1-hour guided tour of Graceland. (For the record, it also included a lot of outdated commercials and the tail end segments of two previously taped movies, Sinatra's Von Ryan's Express apparently having been copied over Newman's Coolhand Luke.)

The first was the Elvis 1968 Comeback Special, the one where he and some of his band were on a small raised stage, surrounded by the audience, and he was dressed in that high-collared black leather jumpsuit that must have felt like wearing jalapeño long johns under those camera lights.

The second was the 1973 Aloha From Hawaii special, the first live world-wide concert. That was when he still looked sexy-hot in that outrageous flare-legged, gold-dripping jumpsuit. It was when he was pretty much past the wild wiggling that began his career and he could make fun of the whole thing with an occasional "tease wiggle," raising a few audience squeals. Then he would flash that mischievous half-grin that said, "It's a joke, folks. Relax and enjoy."

Yeah. The happier moments -- before the end times when the fancy jumpsuits only emphasized how fat and tired-looking he had become, making your heart hurt for him, for the loss of so much promise.

Dead thirty years now, his particular magic still keeps enriching our lives -- and his estate, as far as that goes. The Forbes seventh annual list of Top-Earning Dead Celebrities has Elvis in the Number One position (out of thirteen), ahead of icons like John Lennon and Peanuts creator Charles Schulz. (Believe it or not, Albert Einstein and Dr. Seuss are on that list, too.)

It seems like there ought to be some profound metaphysical message in all this. Like "Beware celebrity," or "Die young and bankable," or "Wear sunscreen." I think I'll simply settle for being grateful we have technology that allows us to revisit people and moments that entertained and lifted us out of the everyday for a little while. You have to admit, it's hard to beat the lift you get from memorable lyrics like "Hunka hunka burnin' love."

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Remembering Katie

This is a picture of a treasure. Not just because of the publication date -- that being the 1919 edition of a book first published in 1887. It is a fat collection about "cooking, toilet and household recipes, menus, dinner-giving, table etiquette, care of the sick, health suggestions, facts worth knowing, etc." by Hugo Ziemann, Steward of the White House and Mrs. F.L. Gillette. The dedication reads: "To the wives of our presidents, those noble women who have graced the White House, and whose names and memories are dear to all Americans, this volume is affectionately dedicated by the author." It contains, throughout the pages, pictures of each of the First Ladies, from Martha Washington through Frances Folsom Cleveland. And I would like to mention Mrs. James Monroe was a hottie.

This particular book was in Mom's collection but even that is not what makes it a treasure. The neat thing about it is that it originally belonged to Katie Adolphsen, who was "sorta kinda" an aunt by marriage once removed -- or something like that. It doesn't really matter. She and her brother Fred were considered family and that is that.

Spinster and bachelor, they lived in an old house a few miles down the road. Fred was tall and gangly, an Ichabod Crane kind of figure. I don't remember ever seeing him in anything but his black pea coat and black canvas pants, with high top clodhopper shoes and always -- always -- there was a camera dangling from his neck. Fred was a photo hound, first class. He must have taken thousands of pictures over the years and many families owe him for the photographic memories he preserved of this area and the people who live here. When I graduated from the eighth grade, Fred gave me my very first camera, a little Kodak Brownie Reflex with a flip top. You looked down into a little 2 x 2 window to take the picture -- and that's the size that came out when the film was developed.

Katie was a great one for jigsaw puzzles. There was one room in their house where she stored great stacks of jigsaw puzzle boxes. Each time we went to visit, I was allowed to select a few and borrow them. She was my jigsaw lending library.

If Fred reminded me of Ichabod Crane, Katie very much resembled the woman in that famous painting by Grant Wood titled "American Gothic." Except Katie had less chin and a far more serene expression. I can't say I knew her well. She was a "grown up" and I was a mere child. We treated each other with friendly courtesy but there wasn't really any bond.

Still, I think about them and wonder about their lives. Fred got out and about a lot but I think Katie stayed pretty much at the house -- by her own choice, I'm fairly sure. She was not so much shy as self-contained. At least that's how I see her over the gulf of years gone by. Unfortunately, I don't have Mom around any more to ply with questions. But I think about those stacks of jigsaw puzzle boxes, some of them taller than my ten-year old self, and I have to wonder if she was often terribly lonely. But maybe not. She always seemed to me like one of those quietly strong people who enjoy the company of others but don't really need it.

Going through that cook book today, I smiled to remember those long ago visits. I read the recipes she had carefully penciled onto blank pages in the back of the book -- something called Fairy Pudding and a simple fruit cake and a boiled salad dressing -- and I could picture her moving efficiently and quietly about her spotless kitchen, preparing, cooking, serving.

And I think she, too, was one of those noble ladies who graced a white house in the woods and though I wasn't able to know her well, I remember her fondly. And I'll bet she's a whiz at the jigsaw puzzle selection in heaven.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Thanks, Mimi!

I don't know if it was Mimi I talked to or not. All I know is, when I called the toll-free number that was on my package of brown rice, a very nice woman answered and was most helpful about the problem. The problem? As I told her, "Ma'am, I haven't even had a chance to open this package yet and there are little bitty moth-looking bugs walking around inside like they owned the place."

She took it in stride, especially after I explained to her that while I'd had all kinds of rice over the years, for some reason, brown rice was a new experience for me. Most certainly having active flying insects messing around in it was, shall we say, uncommon in my sheltered upbringing.

After explaining a bit about how "bugs happen" in spite of precautions and stressing that brown rice needs to be stored in the refrigerator or the freezer, she promised to send me a coupon to replace the moth-invaded package, along with related information. In today's mail I found a lovely big envelope containing a Thank You letter from Mimi -- who may or may not be the woman I talked to -- and a packet of assorted goodies. There was a coupon for a free bag of rice plus a couple of dollar-off coupons. There was a nutritional pamphlet and -- oh joy -- a recipe booklet crammed with what look to be really great brown rice recipes.

Chinese Brown Rice Chicken Salad. Cranberry Brown Rice Dressing. Brown Rice and Black Bean Burrito. Brown Rice Apple Crisp. Those are just a few that caught my eye while skimming. I will definitely be trying them out.

I just love it when big companies treat their customers like they care. This company? Riviana, out of Houston, Texas. They do brands like River, Mahatma, Water Maid, Carolina and S&W, the latter being the one I see around here.

Two thumbs up, Riviana. You have class, not to mention a classy lady named Mimi helping to put your best foot forward.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Excuses. Excuses.

It started with the Yorkshire puddings. I was having so much fun with them, I'd completely forgotten there was half a loaf of very good jalapeño-cheese bread sitting quietly on the counter -- going stale. Well, to paraphrase a bumper sticker: When Life hands you stale bread -- make bread pudding!

That was my project yesterday. Not just any bread pudding, you understand. I wasn't in the mood for dessert-style noshing. A hearty savory bread pudding was what tongue and tummy were calibrated for and that's what we were gonna have. What I found didn't quite fit my F.E.D. (fast.easy.delicious) criteria in that the whole operation was far from fast. It did qualify on the "easy" and "delicious" points, however, so I let it pass.

I'm not going to give you the recipe here. Better you go to Chuck Taggart's place and print off your copy. It'll take two pages but it's not so overwhelming if you break it all down into small segments. I took my time doing each little bit, stopping for a cuppa now and then or to read a chapter in a library book. No hurries, no worries. At that rate, it took me the better part of the afternoon and it was 7:30 p.m. before I had a portion loaded on my plate. None too soon, either. I was a regular starvin' marvin by then. Sometimes I forget to eat, you see, even when I'm fixing food, and then, when I realize what I've done, the meal is so close to being ready that I don't want to spoil my appetite.

I'll tell you something -- Mr. Taggert suggests using a 9 x 13" baking pan for this. His 9 x 13 must be a fair sight bigger than mine because there was no way in half of hell this much good stuff was going to be squeezed into that much space. And that was after I used smaller amounts of some of the ingredients! (I only used 3 cups of milk and 7 eggs.) I ended up hauling out my small roasting pan -- and that was just barely big enough to do the job. This would be a great main dish to serve if you're having company for dinner.

Full and content after partaking of the result of toiling in the culinary fields, I curled up with the library book, planning on doing this post when I finished it. There wasn't that much more to read. I guess there also wasn't that much gas left in the tank. I closed the book on the final paragraph and promptly went to sleep.

That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Thinking Outside the Box

Oy vay! So much stuff, so little time. I think this post needs to be a general ketch 'em up, get it all in the basket sort of thing.

Like the project pictured above. Yes, yet another project. I keep stumbling into them. I really need to be more careful about where I step. But I'll gleefully share these happy accidents with you, just in case one of them should come in handy in your neck of the woods.

With the holiday season barreling down on us, I thought having a supply of cute little gift boxes might be a Handy Thang. If you go to, you'll find all kinds of free, downloadable templates for these clever little boxes. The green one, for instance, has a lace design that doesn't show up in the picture and it comes in several different colors. I just happened to have some card stock in assorted colors so I ran a couple of templates off. There are also pages with different designs you can use as seals on the boxes. I chose the butterfly but you can see a page of the grape design underneath.

These are really easy to make, even for a klutz like me. It's a matter of cutting, scoring and folding. The daisy box doesn't require any glue and the other box only needs glue on one flap. The thing is, doing any serious number of them would be tedious in the extreme. Not difficult -- just tedious. I have all the templates stored on my computer so I can print off what I want, when I want it -- and only IF I'm in the mood to fiddle with it. You can go thou and do likewise, should you happen to wish.

Let's see ... the Yorkie puds. Mage, it's the photography, not the temperature. The pudding isn't as brown (burnt) as it looks, honest. If I adjust the color to show you the browned part accurately, I wash out the lighter stuff and lose that lovely gold. And a lower temp just doesn't work. I tried it today, just to test it out. Without that extra heat, the pudding simply doesn't rise. I ended up with a nicely baked pudding that still tasted good but looked like it squatted to rise -- and cooked on the squat. I had to ladle the food over it instead of into it. And that nice crispy risen wall was missed.

Ava, I'm not sure from your comment if you're saying you weigh your ingredients rather than measure them. I don't weigh so I hope I'm not giving you the wrong information. In a measuring cup, TWO ounces is 1/4 of a cup. And yes, you can nuke them in the microwave. I wouldn't bother after one day though. They really are best fresh. With the recipe I gave yesterday, using 1 egg, 1/4 cup flour and 1/4 cup of liquid, that's just right for one of the Corning Ware bowls. So why not just double it and only make enough for two of them? That way, you and hubby can enjoy them fresh.

I keep meaning to say something about the Notify List, over in the sidebar. I've added a little notation because I think some folks sign up and don't realize they're supposed to get a verification email within about 24 hours or less. They have to click on the link in the email or, after a week, their name is automatically deleted from the pending list. I think sometimes that verification email gets popped into the spam folder and folks don't know it's there. So -- if anyone signs up and wonders why they never get a notify email, please look in your spam folder for the verify note!

Another new appearance in the sidebar is that wide-eyed kitten at the top of the page. Yes, it's National Novel Writing Month again. That crazy time of year when some of us try to lock our Inner Editors in a dark closet and turn our Inner Mad Wordsmith loose at the keyboard. So far I'm keeping up with my quota. Big deal. It's only Day Two.

No, I won't tell you what I'm writing about. One: it's still forming in my alleged mind and, two: talking about it takes all the steam out and it deflates before I can get it off the ground. Suffice it to say I have a plentiful supply of coffee and there's chocolate for rewarding myself when I meet the daily quota. I can do this because I checked the fine print and there is no sanity clause in my contract. That is a wonderfully freeing loophole. Heavy on the loopy.

Besides, if it gets too stressful, I can always sit on the floor and cut out all those clever little boxes to keep me from running into the street, screaming and frothing at the mouth. That might not be thinking outside the box but it's in the same neighborhood.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Another Addiction

You remember how I was whining the other day because I didn't have any baking pans or dishes small enough for individual Yorkie puds? Remember how I mentioned ordering some 6-inch cast iron skillets just for that purpose? And I'm glad I did. Got a great deal on some refurbished Lodge Logic pre-seasoned puppies (and free shipping) so there's no way I'll complain. Still, there was a moment of epiphany this morning when I had to just stand there and thunk my forehead with the heel of my hand and say, "Fool! Back to the scullery with you, wench!"

See, I have four -- count 'em, folks, FOUR -- Corning Ware individual (5 1/2 inch) baking dishes that I've been using as soup bowls. Corning Ware goes in the oven. Corning Ware works just perfectly fine for individual servings of whatever. Sheesh!

Just to prove it to myself, I whupped up a batter in small proportions while the Corning Ware was heating in the oven, laced with a teaspoon each of olive oil and butter. One egg came to 2 ounces so I added 2 ounces of flour and 2 ounces of milk, a bit of salt and a teaspoon of rice vinegar. (I like to fiddle with different vinegars.) The batter was ready by the time the butter/oil mixture was beginning to pop and sizzle so I poured it in and popped the whole thang back in the 400 degree oven. By the way, just in case, I had the Corning Ware dish sitting in the middle of my beat up old pizza pan. I wasn't sure if the batter amount would be contained or if any of the oil would spill over. It was and it didn't so all turned out okay.

There wasn't as much rise with this Yorkie as the monster the other day and I'm wondering if the difference is not letting the batter sit for a few hours. So many of the recipes recommend this and that's what I did with the big one. Nevertheless, my little pudding came out so beautifully I almost couldn't bring myself to eat it.

If you believe that, I have a bridge I want to sell you.

While the Yorkie was ballooning away for its 15-minute baking period, I mini-diced a small potato and fried it nice and golden-crispy in some olive oil. Added seasoning and a spoonful of flour and tossed everything around until the potato bits were well-dredged. Added about a cup of milk, half a cup at a time, and kept stirring until everything was nice and thick. Threw in a handful of precooked shrimp, then stirred in about half a cup of shredded cheddar, removed the pan from the heat and put a lid on it until the Yorkie came out of the oven.

Well, good golly, Gertie. Ladled about half of my tater/shrimp mixture into the Yorkie -- which I had slid from the Corning Ware onto a dinner plate -- and sat down with a fork and sufficient gusto to obliterate the whole thing without even raising a sweat.

Excuse me. Ladies don't sweat. We glisten. But I didn't even have to do that. My only regret is that I didn't make enough batter to do a second one later, for the rest of the tater/shrimp stuff. That's okay. I've got some homemade jalapeño bread and a toasted slice of that will do quite well as a base. But that's for later. I'm still full and content from lunch. I'll tell you what -- it would not surprise me to find I've acquired a new addiction. That doesn't alarm me. One could do much worse than getting hooked on Yorkshire puddings.