Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Modern Day Glady-ator

The only racewalking I do is between here and the bathroom.

Okay, now I'm really in trouble and it's all the fault of a sweet liddle ol' lady clear over in Hawaii. Maybe you've heard about her. Gladys Burrill, also known as the Glady-ator, just turned 90 this past Sunday. So I'm clapping and cheering and thinking how grand that was and then, oh Lordy, she laid the smack on me.

She isn't satisfied with reaching such a great age with her health intact and her brain still nimble. No. She has to make the rest of us -- at any age -- look like a bunch of namby-pamby wimps, that's what. This woman is about to enter her FIFTH racewalking marathon in as many years!

Channel 9 KGMB has the video interview with transcript here. Go ahead. Check it out. I'll still be here when you come back. I'll have some coffee ready for you. It helps with shock, you know. Yes, I'll even add a splash of golden nectar if you want.

You're back. Good. Isn't she something else? Wow. Okay, I see you've stopped shaking so I guess you're ready for this next bit. See, I know zilch about marathons so I clicked over to the web site for the Honolulu Marathon just to see if I could figure out exactly what our Gladys would be doing. I mean, she's saying she'll break the record for her age group if she finishes in 8 1/2 hours. And I'm thinking, whoa! Walking for 8 1/2 hours? Paint me yellow and call me a cab!

If I understand this correctly, the walking marathon, as opposed to the running marathon, is a distance of 10K -- about 6.2 miles. Doesn't sound so bad, right off the top, eh? I remember way back in the day, I could do the 1 mile between my house and the supermarket in 15 minutes without fainting. Heh. According to some quick Googling, average speed might be more like 20 to 30 minutes per mile. I really don't think Gladys will be going for that particular speed, however. If she's aiming at 8 1/2 hours, she's going to be pacing herself at more like an hour per mile, with rest stops. Lots of rest stops.

Well, gee. I think she's absolutely fantastic and come December 14th I'll be cheering her on, for sure. She is just utterly inspiring. And I'll tell you this -- it is only my extreme admiration for her that keeps me from smacking her silly.

Why? Well, just think about it. Any time we find ourselves with a perfectly legitimate need to do a little therapeutic whining, there will be the Glady-ator, smiling and NOT whining and making the rest of us feel guilty for wimping out. Good grief, I'll probably have to eat twice as much chocolate to overcome the angst. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to racewalk to the bathroom again. All that coffee, you know.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Harwich Who Dunnit

Imagine you are strolling along a wooded path in a nature preserve. Birds are flitting and chittering among the winter denuded branches of the trees and anonymous little critters scurry about their business, hidden in the brush and drifts of leaves. Everything is peaceful and, above all, normal.

Until you come to the end of the trail. Suddenly things are not so normal at all. There before you stands a lovely, obviously well-maintained upright piano and its accompanying bench, cover lifted, keys shining in the winter sunlight, ready for someone to sit down and begin to play.

The piano isn't making a sound but you could swear you hear the theme music from Twilight Zone. You anxiously look all around you. Are you really alone? Did the phantom pianist just step behind a nearby tree to retrieve some sheet music? Who is this phantom pianist, anyway? And if he -- or she -- is resorting to concerts in the woods, is there something terribly wrong with him -- or her? Or maybe it's just that the poor pianist can't practice at home because the neighbors keep calling the cops?

Okay, I'm indulging in blatant speculation here, I admit it, but I'm far from the only one. Since its discovery Saturday, the Baldwin in the above photo has become probably the most famous piano in the country. As of this writing, nobody knows where it came from or how it got to its spot in the woods near Harwich, Massachusetts. All they know is it took several cops to load it into a truck to bring it in to the police station so it must have taken several folks to get it out there in the boonies in the first place.

Given all the publicity and general hoorah, why hasn't anyone come forward to claim it? Perhaps the owner is away on a trip and has no idea the piano has gone walkabout. I'm thinking the cops could backtrack by way of the serial number, from manufacturer, to storefront, to buyer. Oops, wait a minute. I just thought of something. Maybe the owner was behind in payments and the piano was about to be repossessed and maybe he figured he'd make 'em work for it. Nah. Scratch that idea. That's just mean. I prefer a more whimsical explanation for the mystery.

Or maybe even no explanation at all -- because, like magician's tricks, some mysteries are a lot more fun if you don't know how it's done.

By the way, has anyone heard from the Phantom of the Opera lately?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

It's a Ponderful Life

That's what I've been doing this past week -- pondering. What a strange word that is. Ponder. Pondering. Pondered. It's sort of -- uhmmm -- ponderous. But I digress ...

There's been plenty of ponder-time because my dial-up hamsters have been unusually flaky and erratic. Sometimes they seem to be practicing slow motion. Other times, they fling me off my connection in a manner very much like the hamster flung himself off the wheel in the video for the last post. It was really hard to maintain my appreciative attitude today when that kind of behavior made it cruelly difficult to listen to the radio feed for the Raiders-Broncos game, I'll tell you that. I think my particular hamsters have a mean streak because they kept cutting out the feed just as something exciting was about to happen. I missed a lot of the good stuff.

I forgave them, though, when the final score came out Raiders 31 -- Broncos 10. Oh frabjous joy! Hope lives again in my heart.

On another front entirely, much of my time this past few days has been spent researching and experimenting with a particular kind of recipe. You may recall that we did that choccy cake in a coffee mug gig a while back. One of the things I discovered is that there are two distinct trends in the cake-in-a-mug experience. One: most of the recipes you find are for chocolate cake. Two: for variety in flavor, you have to go with mixing up boxed cake mix and boxed instant pudding mix.

Okay, I ixnayed the boxed mixes right up front. What I'm looking for is something easily and quickly made with basic ingredients most likely to be on hand in any kitchen. More important, since this is a microwave project, I'm trying to produce a cake that does not come across as a microwave cake. You know -- tough and rubbery and dry and just icky. Also -- and this may shock you -- I'm looking for something in flavors other than chocolate.

Listen, you can't do chocolate ALL the time. That's just excessive and probably dangerous. Besides, I would consider myself inadequate if I were only equipped with a single obsession. If one cultivates a variety of obsessions, one will be much more flexible and capable of satisfying raging urges. Choose one from Column A and two from Column B. Or something like that.

Yet another ponder point under consideration is a recipe without eggs. I just feel uncomfortable using a whole egg for one little bitty coffee mug-sized cake. That seems ostentatious. And uneccessary. There are perfectly fine ways to do an end run around the egg. Powdered whole egg or powdered egg white is one way to do it but, dayum, that stuff is expensive. Using bananas or applesauce is, I think, the better way to go.

I managed a really close nearly successful mug cake today using fresh minced apple. It was delicious but just a teensy tad too moist. Too much apple. I will give it another shot tomorrow, adjusting the proportions. If it works out, I'll share the recipe with you. If it doesn't, I'll just have to do some more experimenting.

I know. It's a grueling job but I'm willing to make the sacrifices necessary to bring a pleasing result to your table. Don't thank me. Just send chocolate.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Hampster Powered

Timmy had Lassie the dog. Roy Rogers had Trigger the horse. James Qwilleran had Koko and Yum Yum the cats. On Green Acres, Fred and Doris Ziffel had Arnold the pig. And let's not forget that modern day heroine, Stephanie Plum, who has Rex ... the hamster.

Hamster? What kind of a hero companion is a hamster? Ah, see, that's the reaction of folks who don't understand hamster power. But hamsters are used to being underestimated. They go through their lives quietly enhancing our lives -- and never getting any credit for it.

What? Exactly how is your life hamster enhanced? Here. Let me give you a clue. Play this short video and see if you begin to get a glimmer. Go ahead. I'll wait.

Poor little guys. I hope they didn't throw up when they staggered away.

But the point I'm making here is that the hamsters had a wheel. Hamsters always have wheels and they are compelled by their DNA to make the wheels turn. And turn. And turn. And we all know turning wheels produce energy. And energy runs other stuff.

One of the major "other stuff" that operates off the energy generated by hard-working hamsters is your dial-up connection. Those of you who have graduated to high speed connections probably don't care -- why should you? But those of us who have to wait 5 minutes for 30 seconds of video to download, we know about hamster power, by golly.

I, for one, have learned to be more patient now that I realize my enjoyment of the Internet rests on the revolutions produced by thousands of tiny, furry little critters. When a download slows to a frozen molasses drip, I say to myself, "Hey, just go get a cup of coffee and let the little guys take five."

I hope this information is as enlightening for you as it has been for me. I'm sure I'm a better person for finally appreciating the unsung efforts of some of our little furry friends.

I can't help but wonder, though -- what creature is powering the high speed connection?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Kudos & Tin Can Bread

Wow! You Coffee Mates just blow me away! Look at all those comments for the last post. Now -- look at the big grin on the front of my face. Yeah. Y'all did that -- and I wish I could hug every one of you. I'm going to print off the whole comment section and save it, by golly. And, by the way, Bill (Old Guy), if I haven't mentioned it before, you are a punster par excellence. And I do love puns.

And I guess everyone loves show biz. Bonnie said she wanted a picture of the show. You meant the Wives Club show, right? Well, I think I still have a couple of snapshots laying around but I'll be darned if I know where.

Jo, you asked what part I played. Actually, several of us played more than one skit -- or act, or whatever -- because we had a limited talent pool. In one skit, I was a liddle ol' lady getting tipsy at the bar, in another, I was one of the goofy Newfie paperhangers, where we did a sort of Three Stooges routine with ladders and buckets of flour and water paste. Wherein I managed to splash some of the paste on the Wing Commander's wife's lovely blue dress because she was sitting dangerously close to the stage. Fortunately, she was totally gracious about it. (sigh) My favorite skit, though, was my stand-up comedy bit. With the help of a spare "body" of foam rubber and duct tape, I became Fat Aunt Fanny -- sort of a Phyllis Diller with heft. Wore an orange flowered mumu, high top tennis shoes and wore the most godawful wig you ever saw. It was total fun.

Now -- as a thank you for all the great comments, I'm going to share my neat new sandwich with you. Although God took pity on me yesterday and broke our run of rotten weather by letting the sun shine on my birthday (thank you, God), today we were back to rain squalls and wind flurries -- in short, business as usual. It didn't take much gazing out the window to have me yearning for a nice hot toasted cheese sandwich, that's what. Only problem was, I had so much fun with family yesterday, I forgot to make any bread. But that's okay -- as it turns out, I found a flavor suggestion that sounded good and this is how it went ...


In your bread machine:
1 cup warm water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 egg, slightly beaten
salt to taste
1/4 cup finely minced sun-dried tomato
1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups all purpose flour
1 package (or 1 tablespoon) yeast

Put the machine on the dough cycle and let it do its thing. In the meantime, dig out those two tall tomato juice cans you saved. (Okay, you may want to save a couple of juice cans for future use. I just happened to have these two on hand -- for exactly this kind of project.) Give the cans a good spritz with your nonstick spray and when the dough is ready, divide it into two equal parts and plop them into the cans. Spritz the tops of the dough, cover the cans, let rise for about an hour. (If you want to make the bread in a regular bread pan, this recipe makes one standard loaf.)

I didn't want to put the cans on the lowest rack because I was afraid the bottoms of the bread would burn. On the other hand, being the cans were tall, I was afraid the tops might scorch as the loaves baked. So what I did was, I put the bread in a cold oven, set it at 400 degrees and turned it on. After 15 minutes, I turned the heat down to 350 degrees and baked the bread for another 15 minutes. They came out perfectly! Whew.

If you happen to get the juice cans that are banded with ridges, you will notice that gives the baked bread handy built-in cutting guides. Shooweet! What I like about doing the tin can bread is that you get a great size for snacking sandwiches -- as opposed to full-meal sandwiches. The can slice is only slightly smaller than regular sandwich bread.

Now, here's the kicker ... at a site called The CookMobile, a suggested variation on the classic grilled cheese sandwich called for a layer of blackberry preserves, a layer of chopped onion, some chopped nuts and a slice of cheese. One is encouraged to try other jam flavors, too. And I just happen to have some orange marmalade that was jumping up and down and yelling, "Me! Use me!"

So I sliced me a couple of slices of the bread and buttered one side of each slice. Spread a light layer of marmalade on the unbuttered side of one slice, stacked on some of the shredded cheese left over from my cheese puffs the other day -- and cooked the sandwich to a lovely golden brown. And went "Nom, nom, nom!" with every delicious bite. Yes, it was great.

But now I'm really slapping myself. Did you notice what I forgot? Yeah. No onions. No nuts. Dayum! Ah well. I have plenty of bread left. I can do the other goodies with the next sandwich.

Friday, November 7, 2008

For My Next Decade ...

The secret of my longevity? Always being part-way through a murder mystery -- you can't possibly leave before discovering who done it.

Seventy. Seven-oh. Seven decades. I keep rolling variations of that number set around in my mind, trying to get used to it. See, I've had ten years to adjust to giving my age as sixty-whatever. I was comfortable with that. So used to it, I didn't even notice.

But this morning, at approximately 5:30 a.m. Pacific time, my chronological clock turned over to seventy. Oh my, that's a whole new sound. A whole new flippin' decade. More than that -- it's a whole new image.

See, I've always thought of folks in their seventies as being way more mature and dignified and, damn it, wise, than I'll ever be. Being seventy is like wearing someone else's clothes and discovering they don't fit. Being seventy is like going to a fancy dress ball in blue jeans and moccasins. Being seventy is like entering college before you've graduated from high school.

You would think that, at seventy, I could look back over the last seven decades and recite a long list of all the wondrous events that have occurred -- and I can, yes indeedy. Like a long list of assorted presidents, men on the moon and Elvis on Ed Sullivan from the waist up. Several wars, civil unrest, Bob Hope and permanent press fabrics. But that's a fairly universal list, common to all of us. It's more fun thinking of personal landmarks over the last seventy years.

Like how a big old Look candy bar was only a nickel when I was seven. By interesting coinkydink, my weekly allowance was exactly five cents. I'll tell you, they don't make Look candy bars like that any more. Of course, nickels don't buy as much any more, either.

I remember hatching out an abandoned wild duck egg once by keeping it tucked in my bra, day and night, for several days. It hatched out on my pillow early one morning. Poor little thing. I tried to keep it alive but corn meal gruel didn't seem to do the job. My siblings and I gave it a good funeral, though.

Oh, yeah! There's the time I ran away from home. Although I had, in general, a very happy childhood, there were certainly moments of (cough, cough) teenage angst. During one of those disaffected periods, I decided to take the fifty dollars I'd won on entries at the county fair and buy a bus ticket on the Greyhound, headed for the race track at Santa Anita. In those days, horses were the great passion in my life. I packed a little overnight bag with spare jeans and shirts, some junk jewelry and a swimming suit. (What WAS I thinking?) Caught the bus at the grocery store here in town and headed out for my big adventure.

When Mom stopped at the store on her way home from teaching school, the ratfink grocer squealed on me. She called ahead and a teacher friend scooped me up at the restaurant where the bus was making its dinner stop. My great escape got me all of 45 minutes down the road from home. Minus what I had to pay for bus fare.

I guess that's about how my life has gone all these years -- one adventure after another. Some are just little adventures, like being part of the NCO Wives Club nightclub show at the Air Force base in Goose Bay, Labrador. After a week of performances on base, the whole crew was flown to Saglak, a radar outpost on the DEW Line where we put on the show for 112 very lonely men. When we got back to the base, I told my husband, "You'd better treat me good, mister, because I've got options!"

Then there are the big adventures, like the month Mom and I spent in Thailand when my brother was working there. I loved the country and the people and the food. And I got to ride an elephant, pet a leopard and was hugged and mugged by a chimpanzee.

Of course the best adventures are the ones you have with family and friends. The wonderful world of the Internet has managed to expand that kind of experience for all of us. Just think of how many terrific folks we all meet and get to know through blogs and mailing lists. Like you Coffee Mates. Yeah, YOU. As long as I can keep enjoying that kind of adventure, I guess I won't worry too much about this strange new Seventy image. I'll either grow into it -- or tailor it to fit.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Cheese For Your Inner Mouse

Oh, Coffee Mates. Have I got something fantastic for you! No, those are not Snickerdoodles in the above photo. The resemblance is only superficial, I assure you. For one thing, these little guys are only about an inch across. That's a Very Good Thang because, I guarandurnedtee you, there is posilutely, absotively no way on God's green earth that you can only eat one. The physical dimension might be dainty but the flavor dimension is huge.

They're called Cheese Puffs but, unlike most recipes of that name, they are not the cream puff-style puff. These are more like a shortbread cookie, all buttery and tender-crunchy and overflowing with the most marvelous cheese flavor you can imagine. Mind you, this batch was made with regular cheddar cheese. Had I used sharp cheddar, the flavor excellence would have probably put me into a state of blissful shock.

The extra added attraction of the recipe is that it calls for minimum ingredients, minimum time involved and minimum effort. Here am how it goes ...


1 cup shredded cheese
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon dry mustard

Set your oven at 400 degrees fairyheight. Grate your cheese. In a medium bowl, mix flour, mustard and butter, working the butter in until you have pea-sized lumps. Add the cheese and continue working the mixture until the dough comes together and starts cleaning the sides of the bowl.

Using a teaspoon, scoop out dabs of dough, roll into balls somewhere between hazel nut and walnut size, then place on cookie sheet about 1 inch apart. You should get 2-dozen of the little rascals. Slip the pan in the oven with the rack in the middle position. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.

That's really all there is to it but let me add a couple of points.

I have a grater that gives me three different sizes of grate: macho, medium and mini. I can't say for sure that it makes any real difference but using the mini, or fine, grate -- and with the cheese at room temperature -- the mixing seemed to go much easier than it might have otherwise.

This is one of those basic recipes that lends itself to lots of variations. For this batch, I added a sprinkle of cayenne pepper, which gave just enough heat to leave a comfortably warm sensation in my mouth after I swallowed the last bite. I could have added any number of other seasonings, like onion powder or garlic powder or any of the Mrs. Dash salt-free mixtures. (Notice there is no salt in the recipe, other than what's in the butter and cheese.) For that matter, very finely minced chili pepper or onion or garlic would have probably gone well.

Just for laughs and giggles, the next batch I make I think I'll flatten with a fork and maybe bake only 10 or 12 minutes. No particular reason except perhaps that form would lend itself more efficiently to the task of scooping up some nummy dip.

Like my Inner Mouse really needs more snacking calories.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

It Really IS a Wonderful World

I didn't expect it quite that soon. At 8:00 p.m. Pacific time, it was announced. That beautiful strip of West Coast states, Washington, Oregon and California, turned a brilliant blue on the electoral map (They don't call us the Left Coast for nothin'!) and it was a done deal. Well, except for the fact that I took the time to snitch the above picture from the Daily Kos site. I don't think they'll object because they had several laying around.

When the word came down, I just sat here with a huge Satchmo grin on my face. Remember Louie Armstrong? I can't recall ever watching him perform without finding myself grinning back when he smiled his huge smile. It was an automatic reaction I wouldn't have stopped even if I could.

Well, I'm happy, of course. And grateful. And more than a little bit in awe at the tremendous response of people everywhere, rolling out in unprecedented numbers to cast their votes. I really believe the heavy political activity on the Internet made all the difference. And if the newly elected folks in the White House and Congress are impressed by that, just wait until they see how we netroots folks use the same tools to hold their feet to the fire and insist they do the job they've just been hired to do. Hah!

Because this election is only the first step. It's going to take a lot of work and involvement from all of us to start cleaning up the wretched mess of the past eight years. I don't expect it will be even close to magic wand-waving time. We'll be butting heads as well as working together, winning a few here, losing a few there -- but, dayum! Dare we hope we actually have folks in place who will help us restore our constitution and our self-respect?

If so, it isn't just "Obama Wins!" We ALL win, in this country and abroad.

It seems fitting to add this YouTube video clip of Satchmo doing a special version of "What A Wonderful World." Listen to his prescient lead-in words and you'll see what I mean.