Monday, December 31st, 2012
11:03 am - Trufflemania 2012  
I made twelve kinds of truffles this year, and I decided to update my recipes and notes for easy reference.

Read more...Collapse )
Thursday, December 20th, 2012
1:37 pm - Insert Truffle Pun Here...  
It's truffle time again at Casa Machina! I've put up 16 dozen or so truffle centers so far, and should finish off the last four batches of centers (about 9 dozen) today. Then it's time to dip.

There was a short snag when I went to look up my truffle recipes. I store them here on Livejournal so that I won't lose them, but LJ was down, and past experience has shown that they could be MIA for days. Now I have the basic mix committed to memory, so I tried to soldier through and make a batch of mocha truffles from memory. Turns out my memory of the details was faulty, as I discovered a couple of hours later when LJ came back. Fortunately, no harm was done. I used incorrect settings whilst melting the chocolate in the microwave, but my habit of checking the progress a lot caught the mistake before I scorched the chocolate. And mixing up tsps of coffee powder with tbsps yielded deep chocolate rather than mocha truffles, which were on the list anyway.

I saved a copy of the recipes to a text file so that I won't have this issue again. The irony here is that normally I am totally against storing info in the cloud, yet I have this huge blind spot when it comes to my recipes, all of which are here in LJ and occasional scraps of hard to find paper.

Some observations of the universe...Collapse )

I baked bread today, or rather, I took a bread recipe and made hard rolls with it, just to see how they'd work out. Just came out of the oven, so we shall see shortly.

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012
10:55 pm - Unitasker Meme  
Snagged from mme_hardy:

Bold the ones you have and use at least once a year, italicize the ones you have and don't use, strike through the ones you have had but got rid of.

I wonder how many pasta machines, breadmakers, juicers, blenders, stick blenders, deep fat fryers, egg boilers, melon ballers, sandwich makers, pastry brushes, cheese knives, electric woks, miniature salad spinners, griddle pans, jam funnels, meat thermometers, filleting knives, egg poachers, cake stands, garlic crushers, martini glasses, tea strainers, bamboo steamers, pizza stones, coffee grinders, milk frothers, piping bags, banana stands, fluted pastry wheels, tagine dishes, conical strainers, rice cookers, steam cookers, pressure cookers, slow cookers, spaetzle makers, cookie presses, gravy strainers, double boilers (bains marie), sukiyaki stoves, ice cream makers, canners, mandolines, electric grills, and fondue sets languish dustily at the back of the nation's cupboards.

[mme_hardy's note: I added a few. Feel free to do the same.]
[DX's note: As did I.]

Some other notes: I used to use the breadmaker all the time before I got my stand mixer. Now I just use that. I used to use my bamboo steamer a lot during sweet corn season, but then I noticed the vegetable settings on my microwave. Corn season is already humid enough without adding steam. The rice cooker is a microwave version, not a stand alone. I did once have a blender, but then I traded it to my ex-wife for her stereo. Now I get by with the stick blender and the food processor.
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Monday, September 3rd, 2012
10:17 pm - Garden Final Report, Probably...  
Labor Day is the end of summer, or so my garden apparently thinks as it seems to have packed it in for the year. Mind, I had only planted tomatoes, pickling cukes, and spaghetti squash, all warm weather plants, but we've also had weather that wouldn't be out of place in August in Louisiana, so it's not likely death from frostbite.

The spaghetti squash I can understand. I'm sure growing something that big takes a lot out of the plant, which is probably why the vines are basically dead. I harvested the squash today, 21 lbs. worth, and all appear thoroughly ripe. The pickling cuke vines are still hanging in for the most part, although there are few new blossoms or cukes, which is just as well because I am up to my ears in pickles, with a dozen pints and three quarts of various recipes of bread and butters and dills (see below). I threw away quite a few enormous overripe cukes, too, as they grow from gherkin to mini-watermelon sized monsters in what has to be just days, hidden deep in all the foliage. It was hard to keep up.

The tomatoes were a good news-bad new situation. The good news was that apart from a few early nibbles, my precautionary measures against the local field mouse colony seem to have been effective. The bad news is that none of the four varieties of tomatoes I planted were particularly satisfactory, and now, as I said above, all the tomato plants seem to have packed it in for the season way ahead of time. My neighbor's plants are all dying, too.

I had planted one fairly mature* beefsteak variety that gave me two fruits early on, but nothing later apart from one fruit that rotted on the vine. There was one Ultra Boy variety, which produced a number of perfect, superball-sized** fruits that seem to give me digestive problems. Then there were a couple plants each of two heirloom varieties. One yielded large, neat-looking yellow fruits streaked with red that went from underripe to rotten in the blink of an eye. I think I was able to salvage one by picking it while still mostly green on top and letting it ripen a little more on the counter before cutting away the entire still green top half of the fruit.

* By which I mean there were already flowers on the plant when I bought it.

** That do not, alas, bounce like superballs when dropped.

The other heirloom, a pink variety, gave me most of my usable tomatoes. It's problem was that I wound up having to cut away the tops AND the bottoms of most of them because the blossom ends were badly deformed and scabbed over. Fortunately, most of them were fairly large fruits, so there was still plenty of tomato left. And once it started producing, I was able to pick sufficient tomatoes to meet my needs, at least until this weekend. Even so, only one of the two examples of that variety I planted actually produced any fruit. The other just sat there, growing tomato foliage and little else.

Next year I'll try some different varieties. I should also water them more often, even if they don't need it, just to keep them from bursting at the seams every time we get a good strong thundershower. The other thing for next year, if I do cukes again, is to install a trellis for the cukes to climb. I found that the best looking cukes were the ones hanging from vines that had started climbing the tomato stakes. A lot of the cukes growing on the ground were deformed, stumpy looking things. Also, a trellis should make them easier to spot instead of having to root around through all the ground covering foliage.

I sampled some of the first batches of pickles, which were also not very satisfactory. The first batch of B&Bs tasted fine, but were very rubbery. I probably over processed them. The first batch of dills were made from an old Betty Crocker recipe from a long time ago, and are way, way, too salty. And that's after I substituted kosher salt for the table salt in the recipe without converting the quantity, which means they should've been even saltier. I cut the amount by half for the second batch I made, and tasted the brine before adding it. That batch should be better.
Saturday, July 28th, 2012
9:56 pm - Harvest Moon  
1 four-pack cucumber seedlings - $2.75
1 onion - $ 0.66
spices, salt, sugar, vinegar - $2.00
1 dozen Mason jars (pints) - $12.83
1 canner and utensils - $27.76

3 pint jars of bread and butter pickles - priceless $15.33 a frelling jar for pickles?!?

So, the garden has begun to bear fruit, mostly pickling cucumbers of which there have been multitudes. Except that once you take that big bowl of cukes and slice 'em up and pack 'em in jars they don't amount to all that much. Today, two days after I did the B&Bs, I had another bowl of cukes ready to go. These I cut into spears and made dills. Yield was 4 pts of those. Apparently spears don't pack as well as slices.

I've never canned anything before. The ex did occasionally when we were together, and I always likes the results. I figured I wasn't going to have all that many jars to do, so I tried to use my stock pot, but it just wasn't deep enough, even for pints. Also, it would only fit three jars, and at the time I thought I'd have more than that, so I just went and got the canner. It works great, but man that's a lot of water to boil to can three lousy jars. Now I have enough pickles for quite awhile considering I'm the only one here. Meanwhile I now have to figure out where to store the humongous unitasker.

Finding decent recipes has been a challenge. None of my modern books have much apart from the occasional refrigerator pickle recipe. Tried that last year, but I'm not a fan. My go to Cook's Illustrated cook book doesn't even mention pickles. Even my ancient 20 volume Better Homes and Gardens Encyclopedia of Cooking failed me. I finally got the B&B recipe out of a James Beard cookbook snagged from my mother, and the dills from my old Betty Crocker.

I've harvested two tomatoes. The first was nibbled by field mice, but I cut off the nibbled parts and it was still pretty tasty. The other was tiny but good. I'd hoped I'd seen the last of the field mice, but I guess not.

The spaghetti squash are abundant and doing splendidly.
Wednesday, July 11th, 2012
10:36 pm - Shrub Removal  
So, this morning I pruned juniper #2 with extreme prejudice, then lopped the carcass into manageable portions and fed it to the evil thicket. The arbor vitae will live till next year, at least, but I still need to trim them back some. Soon.

After a much needed shower, I spent the afternoon and evening making truffles for the Tiptree bake sale at Readercon. Tomorrow I'll make some triple chocolate cookies, as well.
Sunday, January 15th, 2012
2:28 pm - Domestic Life  
So, I roasted an oven stuffer last weekend, and buoyed by my stock making effort for Christmas dinner, yesterday I took the stripped carcass of the roast, threw it into a pot, added veggies, herbs, and water, and set it to simmering. After about four or five hours, I strained out all the bones and stuff, and simmered it some more to reduce it down to about a quart of liquid. Then I set it on the counter to cool off some before sticking it in the refrigerator, and forgot all about it until this morning. Nothing like some good ol' salmonella soup. Rats!

What I should've done was just stick it in the back of the truck last night, because it was the coldest night of the winter so far. It was 11° when I woke up. It's only 21° as I write this mid-afternoon. The cold is putting a crimp in my current project. I need to paint it, but it's too damn cold down in the basement for the paint to apply, much less cure, properly. I tried using an electric heater down there yesterday, but not much joy. I was able to get it warm enough to apply primer with a roller, so that's something, but the spray cans I have for the main coats have to be used at 65° or above. It's 50° down there today.
Sunday, January 8th, 2012
8:06 pm - House Money...  
Eight days into the new year and I've already broken my all-time best mileage total for January. Mind, the previous best was only 49 miles and the current total is only 58. It's not from any extraordinary effort on my part, either*. The weather has been surprisingly moderate for January in New England. Yesterday it even touched 60°. Today was the coldest weather I've ridden in recently. It was 45° or so. And sunny. The only weather related complaint I have is that it's been windy.

* Well, apart from the fact that I haven't ridden this much since mid-November, which meant my legs and back were and still are complaining vociferously.

I'm living on the weather equivalent of house money. I'm know it can't last, but I intend to take advantage when I can.

I cooked for a crowd this weekend, the crowd being me for the next couple of weeks. Yesterday it was an oven stuffer (on sale). Today I put a big ol' pot roast and a pile of pintos in their respective pots and shoved both in the oven for three hours. All came out splendidly.

Ooh, this week's Sherlock is ready to watch. Gotta go...
Thursday, December 29th, 2011
10:40 pm - Creamed Vidalia Onions Au Gratin  
I started with a couple of recipes I found on the Food Network site*, and added some cheese. Turned out great.

3 large Vidalia onions, peeled and quartered
4 strips bacon, diced
cayenne pepper
black pepper
3 tbsp white wine
1¼ cups half-and-half
3 tbsp flour
2 oz swiss cheese, shredded
2 oz parmesan cheese, shredded or grated
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup panko
2 tbsp chives, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350°. Render the bacon over medium-high heat in a high sided pan until crispy. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Reserve for later. Add the quartered Vidalia onions** to the pan and saute in the bacon drippings until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add a pinch each of nutmeg, cayenne, salt, and black pepper, then add the white wine and simmer for a couple of minutes. Whisk together the half-and-half and the flour, then stir it into the onions. Add the reserved bacon pieces along with 1 oz each of swiss and parmesan cheese, and stir over medium heat until the cheeses melt and the mixture thickens. Pour the mixture into a casserole or gratin dish.

Melt the butter in a bowl, then stir in the panko, chopped chives, and the remaining shredded swiss and parmesan cheese. Sprinkle evenly over the onion mixture. Cover and bake for 30 minutes, then remove the cover for 5 more minutes.

* Source recipes below. Mostly it was the first recipe combined with the bacon from Emeril's. The cheese was my contribution:

Creamed Vidalia Onions

Creamed Onions with Crispy Bacon

** The onions I used weren't actually Vidalias, but were the local equivalent from Schartner's farm stand.

Thursday, December 29th, 2011
9:50 am - Christmas Dinner Deconstruction...  
The best moment of the day came when baby!sis walked into the kitchen and said, Can I help?Collapse )

Eldest niece has volunteered to do next Christmas. Let's hear it for the next generation!
Friday, December 23rd, 2011
10:23 pm - To Sleep, Because I'm Pooped...  
So, spent the day baking cookies (two kinds) and making beef stock for demi-glace from scratch. Plus I made two batches of kolacki* dough, as well as the no-sugar added apricot jam for the kolacki filling. Did not have time to make the third kind of cookie, but the kolackis will be better anyway. Finished dipping truffles Wednesday night, so at least those are done. Now it's just a matter of assembling packages. Also did last minute shopping and went to the company Christmas luncheon. Am very tired.

* A small Czech pastry, that is sort of a cross between a tart and a Danish. I will post the recipe. They apparently all the rage in Texas. It's pronounced ko-latch-key. It seems like every "c_", be it "cz" or "ck", in Czech is pronounced as a soft "ch", except for "ch" which is pronounced "ck".

Have I mentioned I'm cooking Christmas dinner? Not here, but at my sister's house. I did this once before, and it was fine. I'm overthinking and overdoing, of course. Menu to be rib roast with both brown gravy and Tchoupitoulas sauce (thus the need for the demi-glace), roasted potatoes, peas, carrots of some sort, creamed onions, Yorkshire puddings, and rolls. Rie is getting the beef and potatoes, and I think I have everything else I'll need. Now I just need to remember to put it in the back of the truck tomorrow. Plus the potato slices that are marinating in the frig for the potato salad for tomorrow night's traditional cold cut dinner. (The Italians do fish on Christmas Eve, my family does cold cuts. It's a thing.)

Still need to roll out, fill, and bake the kolackis, and finish making the potato salad.

The weather has been insanely moderate for this time of year. I might have ridden my bike today had I not been running about like a madman. Now I'm worried about keeping stuff cold for the trip.
Sunday, September 25th, 2011
9:06 pm - Are You Going to Scarborough Beach...  
So, that NASA satellite that nobody can find? Didn't land on my house, so that's good.

Long time, no post. There really hasn't been much to report. The weather has been lousy most of the month. I took the week of Labor Day off, planning to do some long rides on the week days, but the remnants of Lee decided to show up and wash out the week. It rained most of this week, too. This past weekend has been abominably humid in the aftermath of all the rain, the kind of humidity that saps all one's energy.

One longish ride I did take was to try out the new section of the South County bike path over Labor Day weekend. It's nice, if short. It's also hard to find. The original path ends behind a strip mall, then you have to cross Rt. 108, and ride aways down a side street before the new part of the path picks up again. Would it have killed them to put some signage the point out the way?

The new section ends behind Narragansett Elementary School, and when I got there it occurred to me that it's only about a mile to the sea wall. I hadn't been down there in years, and local TV (and even the Weather Channel) had been doing live reports from it during the hurricane, so I decided to keep on going for a quick visit. The next thing I knew I was all the way down Ocean Road to Scarborough Beach, watching the sunbathers. Left to myself, I might have kept on going to Pt. Judith and/or Galilee, but it was lunch time, I was hungry, and my wallet was back in the truck at Kingston Station.

The ride was about 24 miles, round trip. I was surprised that it wasn't longer. It's about 15 miles round trip from my house to Kingston Station, so I might actually plan a nice 40 mile ride from here to Scarborough and back. Maybe if this humidity ever lets up...

I discovered a big old puddle of water down in the basement on Friday. I thought at first that it was from all the rain, but it turned out that the dehumidifier was overflowing. It seems that the little sensor that shuts it off when the tank gets full had stopped working for some reason. Bother.

I spent a good chunk of yesterday making a burrito. Actually, I started making it Friday night when I put some pinto beans into a big ol' container of water to soak.* Plus there was the pot roast that got shredded for the meat. It was a pretty good burrito, but it probably would've been easier to head over to Trini's or Caliente. OTOH, I have plenty of fixin's left.

* Be sure to pick though your beans before soaking, the way they tell you to on the package. They really mean it about the bean-sized rocks.
Saturday, July 16th, 2011
9:52 pm - Summer Vacation  
So, I am in scenic Burlington, MA, enjoying my annual summer vacation weekend, aka, Readercon. Been fun so far. I'll talk about panels attended next time.

The weather has been about as good as one could expect given the time of year. Friday was warm and a little humid, but there were some largish clouds for shade and a breeze, so it was really quite pleasant outside. Today was quite hot, but not especially humid, which made things bearable. Slept in this morning*, then headed over to Bedford to ride the Minuteman bike path, aka, Rt. 128 for bicycles. Actually, that's probably a slur against Rt.128. I ride the path every year when I'm up here for Readercon, but I don't recall it being quite so bumpy as it was this morning. The problem is roots that have been frost-heaved up through the pavement, creating multitudes of sudden and, because you occasionally have to look away from the constantly shifting pavement to see if there are pedestrians plodding along ahead so you avoid mowing them down**, often unexpected speed bumps.

* By which I mean I got up at 6 AM instead of my usual 5:10. We're doing summer hours at work this year, which means that I work 6:30 to 5 Monday through Thursday, and have Fridays off. Very handy, except that I seem to be spending a good part of Friday napping to catch up.

** In Rhody, pedestrians on bike paths are told to walk on the left, facing oncoming traffic, just as if they were walking along a road. In Massachusetts, pedestrians are told to walk on the right with their backs to the oncoming traffic. This seems inherently unsafe to me.

I usually turn around at Arlington Center because there is a not very well thought out gap in the path before it resumes towards Alewife on the other side of the green. The gap requires riding along Mass Avenue for a block in the space between traffic and parked cars, always a thrilling experience. Worse, the return trip requires that you either ride on a sidewalk (not recommended or legal), or on the wrong side of the street, i.e., facing oncoming traffic (spectacularly unsafe and also illegal), to get from one piece of the path to the other. There has to be a better way. Still, I have negotiated it before, and there was way less traffic early on a Saturday morning than the last time I did it (noonish on a weekday), so I took the plunge. It's really not worth the terror. It's only another mile or so to Alewife, and although you do go by Spy Pond, the rest of the mile ain't all that scenic. In future I think that if I want to extend my ride by a couple of miles, I'll explore some of the other trails at the Bedford end of the path***.

*** Three bike path/trails start within spitting distance of each other and the Bedford bicycle shop. It's almost like a wormhole junction. The Minuteman you know about. Last year I explored part of the Narrow Gauge trail, one that starts out paved then transitions to gravel. There is also the Reformatory Branch trail, which apparently runs through a heavily wooded conservation area towards Concord. I drove by the entrance this morning, and it looked very narrow, and very overgrown. I may need to bring the Univega with it's fatter tires next year**** to better negotiate that trail.

**** Which is what I said last year...

I made truffles for the Tiptree bake sale. It's the first time I've tried making them when it wasn't the dead of winter. Dipping chocolate when it's 80° with 80% humidity turns out to be a very different experience from doing it when it's 68 and the humidity is more like 20%. I had a hard time getting the chocolate to stick to the centers. Next time I need to let the centers equilibrate to room temperature and then blot off any condensation before dipping. Or maybe do them in a dessicated glove box.

I also made some of Cook's Illustrated "best" chocolate chip cookies, which were quite good. I love Cook's Illustrated, but they often make some very optimistic assumptions about the equipment inventories of their readers' kitchen. The recipe calls for a #24 cookie scoop. This is apparently a largish one, which they say holds about 3 tbsps of dough. The cookie scoop I bought for one of their other recipes only holds about 1 tbsp. Bother. I did have an unmarked ice cream scoop, and when I spooned 3 tbsps of water into it they all fit, so I used that. It made for some humongous cookies. I wound up with 13 cookies. The recipe quotes the yield as 16, so the ice cream scoop wasn't all that far off. Anyhow, now I know what to get the next time Bed, Bath & Beyond sends me a coupon. Come to think of it, that's what I did for the last time I bought a cookie scoop.
Sunday, December 19th, 2010
4:27 pm - Eureka! The Trouble with Truffles - the Next Decade  
I made a couple of important* discoveries this weekend in my research into truffle making which show the value of both the scientific method and serendipity in the pursuit of knowledge.

* To me, anyway....

Science and Serendipity...Collapse )
Saturday, December 11th, 2010
9:45 am - Baby, It's Cold Outside...  
I'm sitting here with my coffee while waiting for the feeling to return to my toes. I rode my bike this morning, even though it was below freezing outside. It wasn't really my choice. I had to drop my truck off at the shop for some work (the heater stopped working this week, natch, among other things), and rather than hang around the waiting room for hours and hours, I figured I could tough out the ride back and forth.

It wasn't awful. I dressed properly, and apart from my toes (and around my eyes, early on) it was warm enough. Being early Saturday morning, there wasn't much traffic, and had it been warmer it would've been a pleasant ride.

The bike was less happy about things. It stays in the back of the truck when not in use, so it was very cold when I hauled it out. The biggest issue was that the rear derailleur wasn't moving at all, so I couldn't do any shifting with it, at least at first. The front derailleur worked, so I was able to use that to do very rough changes, and fortunately the first part of the ride was mostly flat. After a mile or so, the rear hub warmed up some, and the derailleur started working again. Sort of. There were still a few unannounced gear changes along the way. Anyway, I made it home (5½ mi), and the ride back should be a little warmer as it's supposed to get up into the forties today. As long as it's before sunset.

This morning's ride was the first time I'd been on the bike in almost a month. It's been too cold for comfort. I haven't been on the stationary bike much, either, which I need to change going forward.

Yikes! Just got a call from the shop. Repairs are going to be close to a grand (new radiator, new wheel bearing, new differential cover). Merry frelling Christmas!

Speaking of Christmas, I started in on my annual trufflemania. I had yesterday off, so since Thursday night I've managed to make 7 types of centers already, and I should be able to finish off the rest today, barring another unfortunate drop-the-cream-cheese-on-the-floor incident*. I may even start coating tomorrow. That's way ahead of where I usually am this time of year. On the other hand, I haven't even thought of a design for a Christmas card yet, much less begun production of same, so there's that.

* For family members who may happen to read this, no, I did not attempt to wipe it off and use it anyway. Even if it would've been fine, which it was when I had some of it on my toast this morning.

Also, with regards to truffles, I added one more flavor last year, but apparently never bothered to write it down, so here it is (the base recipe is here, and some additional flavors are here):

vanilla centers -

chips: white chocolate chips**
flavoring: 1½ tsp of French vanilla extract***

coating: milk chocolate

** A careful reading of the ingredient list for Nestle's Premier White Morsels (note the missing word) informs me that they do not, in fact, contain any chocolate or cocoa butter whatsoever.

*** For the record, French vanilla should not be a flavor. It's a style of vanilla ice cream made in the French manner, i.e., from an egg custard. That's why it's richer and yellower than normal vanilla ice cream, not from anything having to do with the vanilla itself. It really ought to apply only to ice cream. <Takes an ironic sip from his cup of French vanilla flavored coffee...>

Other stuff. I caught a bad cold the day before Thanksgiving, so I missed the family dinner for the first time in my life. That sucked. Took about ten days to finally shake the cold, too.

Toes have warmed up. Time to make some more truffles.
Monday, August 9th, 2010
10:01 pm - Weekend  
Had not the best weekend. I rode both days, but had zero energy. This was especially so on Sunday while riding Blackstone, when my legs ran out of gas all the way up in frelling Woonsocket, a good five miles from where I parked the truck. I managed to plod back, but I didn't enjoy myself much. It wasn't even all that hot, although the humidity cranked up to eleven later in the day.


I had similar luck with an attempt at smoking ribs on my super-duper grill. I'd actually done this a few weeks ago using a slab of spare ribs that I picked up for $1.99/lb, and they turned out great. I used a Cooks Country recipe which is very specific about times and temperatures. They did recommend St Louis cut ribs, but the regular spare ribs were fine, if a bit hard to get at some of the meat. So this time I splurged on some St Louis ribs for $3.99 a pound. It was about half the weight as last time, so the cost was about the same.

Anyway, the way they recommend involved heating the grill, with the pan of wood chips or chunks as the smoke source off to one side, and then putting the meat on the other side while turning off all the burners except for the one under the wood. All this whilst maintaining a temp of 257° for four hours. Well, I'd figured out last time that I couldn't turn off all the other burners (there are four, all told), but that I could do it with burner #1 (under the wood) on high, and burner #2 on low. I just had to shove the meat as far over the unlit burners as possible. This had worked.

For whatever reason, I didn't do that this time. I turned off all but #1, and then when I went out the turn the ribs an hour later, the temperature in the grill was only 200° or so. So I flipped on all three burners to low. (I was already very hungry from the smell of it all.) An hour later, when I went back out to turn them again, I had a nice smelling slab of charcoal. Bother. I wound up throwing a frozen burger on the grill for dinner.

The garden is doing okay, I guess. My three spaghetti squash vines have produced two fruits amongst them, and don't seem to have any intent to produce more. I've been picking tomatoes now for a couple of weeks, but they have all been smaller than a clementine. The heirloom variety I planted has sme bigger fruit, but they are staunchly refusing to completely ripen so far.
Saturday, January 30th, 2010
6:20 pm - Where's the Beef?  
Back in the mid-sixties, my father flew for Aer Lingus on the New York to Shannon route. Shannon was the first duty-free airport, and my father took advantage of this by bringing us home various Irish and British foodstuffs, like Cadbury's chocolate (long before it became available here) and this weird rose hip syrup that was supposedly high in vitamin C*.

* I hated the stuff, myself. Every time one of us had a cold, a big spoonful got shoved in our mouth, and I always had to suppress a gag reflex. It was like when one of the Little Rascals was given a spoonful of castor oil. Somehow the subject came up during Christmas dinner, and I discovered that everyone else in my family loved the stuff, even to the point of occasionally sneaking a spoonful. Crazy, all of them.

One of the other things he used to bring home were these big ol' jars of Bovril, which was a thick, dark beef extract that looked and flowed a lot like molasses. It was basically concentrated cow. My mother used it for gravies and soups and anything else that needed beefiness, and we loved the stuff. Of course, when my father stopped flying to Ireland, the supply became restricted to tiny, ridiculously priced jars at gourmet shops, so that ended that.

I do a lot of my shopping at Dave's Market, a small local chain that has a somewhat higher ratio of esoteric products than, say, Stop and Shop, and the other day I noticed one of those tiny jars of Bovril. So I bought one. Tonight I decided to make beef stew, so it was the perfect time to crack it open.

I put a good dollop of the stuff into the Dutch oven with the rest of the ingredients, and then tried to puzzle out whether it now had to be refrigerated or not. Now I don't think we did back in the day, but I wanted to make sure. Lots of things have a "refrigerate after opening" warning on them now that didn't used to (ketchup, for example). The first problem is that being a tiny jar, the type face is, like, 3 pt. Even with my reading glasses I could barely make out the type. I actually had to get a magnifying glass. Ah, store in a cool dark place. Perfect. Then I looked at the front of the jar.

Suitable for vegetarians

Say what? How can concentrated cow possibly be suitable for vegetarians? I pulled out my trusty magnifying glass again to peruse the list of ingredients. There are lots of them, but none of them contain the word beef in them. Or cow. Or any other kind of dead animal. Huh.

Wikipedia clued me in
. During the dark days of the mad cow scare, the manufacturer replaced the beef extract with yeast extract to "allow vegetarians to enjoy the rich taste" which is apparently code for "the European Union won't let us sell it otherwise." People complained (think New Coke), so once the ban on beef exports was lifted, they apparently reintroduced classic Bovril as "Beef Bovril." Dave's, unfortunately, carries plain old (New) Bovril. $3.49 for 125 grams of yeasty goodness. Sigh.

It smells about the same as I remember it did. I will see how it tastes in about an hour or so.
Saturday, December 12th, 2009
8:44 pm - Candy Planned  
So, it's time to start making some Christmas truffles. When I was out and about at various stores this morning I was thinking about laying in some raw materials, but I also remembered that I still had some of the materials left over from last year. I also wasn't exactly sure how many batches I would need to make. Still, I knew that I had none of one essential ingredient, cream cheese, in the house, and by happy coincidence Stop and Shop is running a buy one get one free special on Philly. That works out to a buck a package, so I picked up four. I also got a bag of shredded coconut and couple of bags of white chocolate chips at Wal-Mart. Now to figure out how much I actually need.

Planny Stuff...Collapse )

Of course the other thing that must needs be done before anything else is cleaning the kitchen. Sigh...
Sunday, December 28th, 2008
9:13 pm - The Trouble with Truffles 3 - The Softening  
Previously on The Trouble with Truffles, things went swimmingly. Thus enabled, I decided to try some more experiments this time out. I mean, what could possibly go wrong? *

* I say this after reading an article about amateur scientists who are experimenting with genetic manipulation in their basement laboratories. At least the worst I ever did with my chemistry set was clear the house out with hydrogen sulfide (rotten egg gas). I wasn't trying to make no frankenbugs. **

** By coincidence, Bloom County is rerunning the set of strips wherein Oliver's dad gives him a chemistry set and hilarity ensues.

Anyway, back to the truffles. I tried three new flavors, maple, butterscotch, and caramel, using my usual recipe.

Lab notebook...Collapse )

Sunday, December 14th, 2008
6:56 pm - No, Not That Kind of Truffle, Pigby...  
It's truffle time at Casa Machina. I picked up most of my supplies Friday night. It's apparently my lucky week for making them, as Walmart had Hershey chips for $1.50 a bag, AC Moore has candy melts for a $1.69 a bag, and Dave's has Philly cream cheese buy one (@ $2.49) get one free! For the bean counters amongst you, that's basically $3 per 1 lb batch, plus flavorings. I get off cheap there, too, because I still have plenty of extracts leftover from last year. I only had to spring for a bag of shredded coconut ($1.50) and a bottle of mapleine ($2.49), this year's experimental flavor.

I'm going to make a couple of batches of cookies, as well, Marnie's chocolate chips and ATK's triple chocolates.

AC Moore also has some 50% off coupons up on their site, one of which I may use to buy an air brush.

For the past thirty years or so, my dad has been my easiest gift. He loves cheese and beef stick and candy, so every year I've given him a food basket based on those items, heavy on the cheeses. This was good, because otherwise he would probably be the hardest person to buy for. However, at Thanksgiving he mentioned to me that now that he's had that double bypass, perhaps it would be better if I stuck to low fat cheeses. I have since discovered that this turns out to be harder than it sounds. I always include some Jarlsberg, and that's available in a lower fat version, but after that there don't seem to be a lot of choices unless I decide to wander over to the Cracker Barrel aisle. Dave's had some no fat cheese from Vermont, but I'm leery.

Of course, a risk assessment might say that if it took him 83 years of eating regular cheese to develop the original blockage, chances are good that a nice wedge of cheddar is unlikely to keep him from reaching 166. Right?

It was lightly warmer today, 40 instead of 32, but windier, so it felt about the same as I rode. Broke 1700 miles for the year. Not too shabby. Afterward I made beef stew in the pressure cooker. Today I also cleaned the bathroom and most of the kitchen, and did laundry. Next I'm going to make some truffle centers. I feel very accomplished.
Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008
8:15 pm - Cheesecake!  
I made the world's easiest cheesecake last night. I took a tub of Philly cheesecake philling, dumped it into a pre-made graham cracker crust, and then shoved it into the refrigerator for a couple of hours to chill. Took me three minutes to make, tops, cost way less than what an equivalently sized store-bought cheesecake would've run me, and tasted great.

It tastes quite a bit like I remember my ex-wife's cheesecake tasting. If you've got a springform pan eight hours or so to spare, you can try that one. The top-secret recipe is here.

What had me hankering for cheesecake in the first place was close encounters of the pumpkin cheesecakey kind over the weekend. First there was stephl's discussion of her vegan pumpkin cheesecake recipe in her lj. Then my niece brought a sugar-free version to Thanksgiving dinner, but I was busy with the apple pie. I finally succumbed to a sugary, non-vegan variation at my friends' house Friday night which was yummy. Such a versatile dessert! I've been craving plain cheesecake ever since.

When I was a kid, my father would occasionally bring home a pineapple cheesecake. I'm not sure where he got it. It might have been a local bakery, or it may have been some outfit similar to Entenmann's. It was about the same size as a loaf of sandwich bread, and came in a box. I remember it being really good.

Hmmm... Next time I'm gonna get a can of crushed pineapple, too.
Sunday, November 23rd, 2008
8:15 pm - Honey, Where's My Super Suit?  
Never did get much above freezing, but it was sunny, so I decided to give it a try. I added a new base layer to the ensemble, a spandex compression shirt and pants set, which is basically a super suit. No capes! After squeezing myself into them, I looked sort of like Mr. Incredible just before his first trip to the island. Not pretty.

Fortunately, nobody was going to see them, as they were, apart from my athletic briefs, the bottom-most layer. Over them I had a moisture-wicking shirt, a t-shirt, a thermal shirt, a fleece lined nylon pullover, and lined wind-proof athletic pants, plus two pair of warm socks. I also wore a winter headband around my neck, an ear clamp, and my usual baseball cap on my head, and my full-fingered cycling gloves on my hands. The headband thing is a trick I learned from my brother. It makes for a great scarf without any cape-like dangley bits that can get caught in tree branches or jet engines or the like. Eventually I pulled it up over my chin, and that worked even better.

It was still cold. My legs and head were fine, but my arms and hands were chilly. After the first lap I pulled a pair of fingerless gloves on over the full gloves, which helped some. Next time I'll try either wearing regular winter gloves over the cycling gloves, or else try to find some kind of liner for them. I'll also wear another long sleeved shirt instead of the T-shirt, maybe even another thermal.

The other issue was my toes. I need a better solution. As I was riding I wondered if there were such a thing as battery-powered electric socks. I wasn't sure how much heat a battery could produce. Turns out they do exist, but apparently they don't work very well. As I suspected, even D batteries don't have enough juice to be effective. And who wants to ride around with D cells strapped to their legs. Another option are disposable heat pads, which apparently work great. I'm not crazy about the whole use once thing, though. I suppose I could also try warmer shoes instead of sneakers.

After the initial feelings of blimpitude, the compression suit was fine, especially the pants. I used to wear compression shorts under my softball pants back in the day, both for support and as sliding pants. I like having the extra leg support, especially for my knees. I was happy to get out of them when I got home, though.

All in all, it was a decent proof of concept ride. A couple of tweaks, and I should be good to go for rides down to the mid-thirties. Fortunately, tomorrow is promising to be up in the high forties. That'll feel downright tropical.

I used up the rest of the leftover chicken by making a big pot of soup, just the thing on a cold autumn night.
Sunday, November 23rd, 2008
12:55 pm - I Do Like Gravy  
So I took some of the leftover roast chicken from last Sunday's dinner, and made a chicken pot pie last night. Mmmm, pie. I used Pillsbury crusts, which were on sale, and used a cast-iron pan as a pie plate, because the other pie plates I had were too small. The pan worked perfectly, and did an excellent job of browning the bottom crust as well as the top. It was very good, and I'm having some leftover pie for lunch as I write this.

I got the pan last year, and it is the first piece of cast-iron ware I've ever used. My mother never had any, and I don't ever recall seeing her mother use cast-iron. The ex bought a set of cast-iron when we moved into our house, but I never used any of it, and now that I think of it, I don't think she did much, either.

It is very cold today, but it's sunny, and I'm going to try to ride. I was thinking about it yesterday, but it never did get above freezing here, and it was windy to boot. I have the week off, so if today's attempt is successful, then I might be able to get in a couple more before I head to Jersey Thursday.
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Saturday, November 1st, 2008
9:56 pm - Discoveries...  
Another lovely day, sunny and in the sixties. Hardly seems like November at all. Of course it will tomorrow because the time changes from daylight to standard tonight, and the sun stars going down before 5 pm. Feh.

I replaced the tube in the rear tire that set off last weekend's Blackstone death march. Took me awhile to find the leak in the old tube. For one thing, it was teensy. For another, it turns out the leak wasn't the result of a puncture, but rather was a defect in one of the tube's seams that finally decided to part, albeit only slightly. So it had nothing to do with riding on the path under construction. Good to know. It does mean that I can't really patch the old tube to keep as a backup, because it would be difficult to get the patch to seal properly if it's sitting on top of the seam. Shrug. Tubes are cheap.

I also started carrying the nifty hand pump I bought in the spring. The nifty part is that you can use it just like a normal pump, or if you're really tired or in a hurry, you can screw in a CO2 cartridge for immediate inflation gratification. Less nifty is that a piece of the cheesey plastic holder for attaching it to the bike frame snapped off the first time I tried to clip the pump to it. Fortunately, the pump is short enough to fit in the bike's handlebar bag. Now I just meed to gin up some sort of little roll up kit in which to carry a few tools (allen wrenchs, tire levers, and, of course, a CO2 cartridge).

Meanwhile, I created a culinary masterpiece today when it occurred to me that Taylor Ham slices (the pre-sliced kind that comes in the little boxes) are almost exactly the same diameter as frozen waffles. This flash of insight led to today's lunch of two slices of Taylor Ham sandwiched between two toasted whole wheat waffles. Oh man, was that good. Am genius.
Sunday, February 24th, 2008
6:12 pm - Food!  
Damn, the house smells good. The first floor does, anyway. I've been slow cooking ATK beef burgundy all day, and around three I threw a mix for Hawaiian sweet bread in the bread machine, and it's baking right now. I've been running up and down from the basement all day, and about halfway up the stairs the aroma is just marvelous. It's making me very hungry, but I won't really be able to sample any of this for and hour or so yet.

Haven't done much in the way of house projects for a couple of weeks. I did finish cleaning up the workshop today.

Ooh! The bread machine just beeped that it's done...
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Sunday, December 23rd, 2007
7:30 pm - The Trouble with Truffles, Redux...  
Done! The truffles are dipped and packed into eight tins, each containing about a pound of truffles. Yikes!

Dipping is still annoying. I am getting better at it. One thing that helped was adding a little shortening to the dipping mixture to thin it a little. To counteract that, the entire set of cheap plastic dipping tools that I bought last year broke. I wasn't exactly stressing them, either, which is what really made it annoying. I will especially miss the two-tined dipping fork that I'd finally managed to do some good work with before it broke. I also finally got the hang of drizzling accent coatings on the truffles (so's you can tell one type from another) on the last batch dipped. Sigh.

Details, details...Collapse )

I made one other candy concoction. When I was done with the milk chocolate dip, I dumped the remainder onto a piece of wax paper on a cookie sheet, and spread it out with a silicone spatula. Then I poured some roughly crushed malted milk pieces (available at A.C. Moore) on top of it, lightly pressed it into the chocolate, and put it in the fridge to set. Then I cut it into pieces, and bagged 'em to add to the food baskets. Instant malted milk bark!

Now my kitchen looks like someone set off a bomb at the Wonka factory...

Sunday, December 23rd, 2007
9:21 am - Sunday Morning...  
Managed to sleep in this morning, i.e., 7 o'clock. Go me with the luxurating. Went to Dunkies again for breakfast, and then across the street to the supermarket to pick up a few things.

Truffle centers are all done, and I got the mint centers dipped last night. Dipping is the worst. I've got the double boiler firing up now to do the milk chocolate dips (milk chocolate, coconut, and orange centers). I also made a teensy batch of sugar-free chocolate centers for my mom. They seemed to come out pretty well. Those I rolled in cocoa powder.

I need to go into work later to use one of the color lasers to print out some photos. If I'd been on the ball I could've done it during the week. Of course, if I'd really been on the ball, I would have my Canon printer all set up and ready to go, but I haven't used that in a couple three years, and god knows what the ink situation is.

Gotta go check on the melting chocolate.
Sunday, December 16th, 2007
5:46 pm - Snowfall  
So, we had our second snowstorm in four days, and thus I've been able to play with my midjit snowblower. It was quite a lot of fun Friday morning, when the snow was all fluffy, but less so this evening with about three inches of slushy mix on the ground. Still, it worked adequately even on that. It can't throw it very far to either side, but dead ahead works like a charm. It's all a matter of picking your angles.

I feel like I haven't accomplished much this weekend, but I've made four batches of truffle centers (raspberry, orange, mint, and coconut). Three more batches to go (dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and mocha), and maybe even some sugar-free for my mother if I can find sugar-free chocolate chips. Then I have to dip them all, but that's next weekend.

I also replaced the lamp cover in the range hood over the stove. There's never been one there as long as I've lived here, so the metal screen that's supposed to trap any grease in the smoke rising from the stove never did, since all the airflow just went through the opening where the cover should be. I assume it got broken one time, and the previous owner never bothered replacing it. It's the kind of thing that's easy to drop to the bottom of the priority list. It's out of sight and out of mind. I have occasionally looked for a replacement part at the Depot, but while they have replacement screens, they don't seem to carry the covers. It's just a piece of flat glass, so I picked up a piece of acrylic sheet, and cut it to fit the opening. Easy peasy. Seems to work fine. Should of thought of it years ago.

I still have some presents to put together, framed photos for various family members. I even had several candidate photos to convert into a Christmas card, but never got up the will to fiddle with that. I did put my wreath up, and brought down the electric candles for the windows, although they're still in their boxes. Still not feeling all that Christmassy.

Now I'm doing laundry, watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy on TV (very timely because I started rereading The Hobbit last weekend), working on some notes for a murder mystery, and thinking about making dinner.
Sunday, December 9th, 2007
9:11 am - Gray Day  
Friday night's snow only accumulated to about a half inch, and by noon yesterday the sun had removed most of the offending stuff from the streets. I figured that meant the bike path would be mostly clear as well, and since it was sunny and above forty, I layered up for a ride. In fact, the snow had melted except for a couple of spots, but all the water was still there, making for a wet and gritty ride. Other than that the ride was uneventful except for the guy riding along on a very large unicycle. To each his own, I guess.

I would've liked to have hosed off the grit from the bike when I got home, but I shut down the exterior faucets for the winter a week or so ago. I figured it would keep until after I rode today, and then I could wash the bike down with a bucket of water. Except now it's cold and snow is threatening, so it doesn't look like a promising day for either riding or washing a bike. Bother.

I did a bit of long overdue home repair yesterday. The medicine cabinet in the bathroom has a three section mirror, each section backed with metal and hinged to act as a door, and each section has one of those pop-out magnetic catches to hold it in place when closed. When I first moved in, one of the catches was broken, and a second failed not long after. I tried getting replacements at the Depot, but the ones they had were only suitable for stereo cabinets and the like, ones that mount from the top or bottom, rather than from the front as they do on my cabinet. I did find some online for about a buck apiece, but the company had a minimum order of $25, and I didn't see anything else on their site worth ordering. So for the last seven years I've made do, either leaving the uncaught doors slightly ajar so I can open them with my fingertips or using the bottom end of a toothbrush to pry them open. (The problem has never been keeping the doors closed. The problem is getting them open again. The magnetic catch pops the doors forward so you can get a grip.)

Anyway, last weekend I decided to look online again, and this time I found them at a place with no minimum order. They're up to $1.50 each now, and shipping was $5, but that's still way better than $25. Ordered them last weekend, and they were waiting at my door when I got home Friday. Now the doors all work as they're supposed to. Of course now I have to get used to them working properly. I still find myself grabbing for the toothbrush.

Took some of the leftover roast chicken and made a pie out of it. ("I don't want to be a pie. I don't like gravy.") Discovered that the difference between Pillsbury pie crusts and Stop & Shop brand pie crusts is that Stop & Shop's crack when you unroll them. Pillsbury's cost more, but don't crack. Sigh. Also discovered (by, you know, actually reading the directions carefully) the the C.I. "Best Recipe" for chicken pot pie is actually designed to fill a 13" x 9" pan rather than a standard 9" pie plate, which sort of explains why I has so much filling left over last time I made one. I'm starting to have a problem with the whole "Best Recipe" conceit, too. Oh, it's okay, mind, but they don't even use a bottom crust. I mean, even cheap Banquet pies have bottom crusts. Plus they use thyme as their herb of choice in the filling, and if you don't especially like thyme, then the pie tastes a little off.

Today the rest of the chicken gets made into soup.
Sunday, November 18th, 2007
7:35 am - The Cuisine of Northern New Jersey...  
Have been spending the weekend getting back to my culinary roots. I have the upcoming week off, so yesterday at the market I picked up a bunch of cold cuts for lunchs. The first thing I did with them when I got home was make a Sloppy Joe. Now, if you're from anywhere other than northern New Jersey, a Sloppy Joe is ground beef in barbeque sauce on a bun. And until I started working at the Wicker Basket deli after college, that's what I thought it was, too. But there's another kind of Sloppy Joe, and it's terrific.

Sloppy Joes...Collapse )

For breakfast this morning I had another staple of Jersey cuisine, a Taylor ham and cheese sandwich. In my family we usually make these on English muffins, but I had all this deli rye lying around, so I used that. Nummy.
Sunday, October 28th, 2007
9:47 pm - Weekend, with Pie...  
Night Passage — Robert B. Parker

The first novel in Parker's Jesse Stone series. I read a couple of the Spenser books back when Brooks was calling Urich "Spensah!", but they didn't really grab me. Stone caught my attention when I watched Tom Selleck's portrayal in the TV version of Sea Change. Apart from the heavy alcohol usage, I found myself identifying way too much with the character, so I figured I'd check out the books. It's a procedural rather than a mystery, and a very quick read. The main plot is preposterous, about man who launders money for the mob to fund a white supremacist militia headquartered in a small coastal town on the North Shore, but the stuff surrounding it is pretty good. After I finished I downloaded the TV version, and whoever did the adaptation had the good sense to drop the militia while keeping the good stuff.

The weather was miserable yesterday, so I didn't ride. It was sunny today, but it was windy as heck and the temperature never did get past 55° or so. I wore my new chilly weather gear, and it did a pretty good job of keeping me toasty while I rode. The only snag was the ear band, which was dragging the bill of my baseball cap down over my eyes as I pedaled along. No big deal today because my ears were warm enough without, but I'll have to figure something out. Somewhere around here I have a pair of earmuffs, but I haven't seen them in ages. I did 21 miles. The wind was wicked. When it was behind me I was pedaling up hills at two gears higher than usual. That's a lot of help. Coming back, on the other hand...

I've been trying to keep up with the stationary bike during the week, but it's been spotty. Part of the problem is that the seat is miserable, and even with a pad I have trouble going more than twenty-five minutes or so. I need to figure out how to adapt one of my spare saddles to the seat post. The other problem is that half the time I just forget to get on the thing when I get home at night. Usually I don't remember until midway through dinner. It's just a matter of getting used to a new routine, but it's hard given my lack of enthusiasm for it.

I'm exacerbating the upset in the exercise routine by doing some more elaborate than usual cooking. Last weekend I made an oven stuffer, so I had a ton of leftover chicken to use up. Last night I made a terrific chicken pot pie for dinner out of some of it. I followed the CI recipe for the most part, although I bought the pie crusts from Pillsbury. I had some more for lunch today, and there's still half a pie left. There's also still more chicken, so I'll make a big pot of soup tomorrow night. Tonight I made sweet and sour pork, and there's plenty of that left over, too. And Halloween is Wednesday, so there's several bags of candy in the house. Bother.
Saturday, September 1st, 2007
9:58 pm - Getting Reacquainted  
Twenty-four miles tonight, bringing me to 101 miles for the week. I'm at 799.7 miles on the year. Had I realized, a couple of laps around the parking lot would've done the trick to 800.

I rode the Univega for the first time since June. I was curious as to how different it would feel now I've gotten used to another bike. First, it's easier on my wrists and hands, probably due to the different shapes and lengths of the bars. OTOH, my hands tend to get a bit numb on it after riding awhile, which doesn't happen on the Absolute. The shifters don't work quite as snappily, and require slightly larger finger motions to trigger them, but then they are fourteen years old and well used. It still climbs hills like a pig, even with a tailwind. Still, I found myself usually in one gear higher than I was using back in June, which says something about my leg strength I suppose. The rear derailleur is sticking a bit, so I should bring it to the bike shop at some point for a tune up. Also, the saddle needs to be looked at or my prostate will never be the same. (I actually knew this about the saddle, because it's the one I originally tried on the Absolute. When I discovered how uncomfortable it was, I swapped it with the older Schwinn saddle that had been on the Univega.)

One other thing that's changed is that the bike computer on the new bike has an auto-start timer. It only runs while the wheel is actually moving. Very handy. The timer on my old bike's computer has to be started and stopped manually. Naturally, I forgot all about pushing the button, and didn't remember until I hit the eighteen mile mark. I turned it on for the last six miles and extrapolated a rough estimate of the total time from there.

Saw a squirrel try to throw itself in front of another rider, but none came close to me. I also saw three deer, but they all had the good grace to duck back into the woods when they saw me approaching.

For dinner I made CI's pasta Caprese with a fresh tomato from the farmstand (after a lackluster start, they've really been terrific lately), some fresh mozzarella, and three kinds of pasta, with a little diced leftover steak added. Very tasty.

Tomorrow Blackstone Valley, I think.
Saturday, December 30th, 2006
9:23 am - Commentary for the Trouble with Truffles...  
The truffles were a hit once again, so this is just to record some notes on the ones I made in case I ever decide to make them again.

Just call me Willy Wonka...Collapse )
Wednesday, January 18th, 2006
4:27 pm - Weather Report  
Man, we've been having some wild and wacky weather for the last week or so. It started off pretty nice last week when we got a three-day mini-March. Then Mama Nature decided March was over, and gave us an entire month's worth of warmish April showers on Saturday. Sunday we got a snow squall, and then Monday the temperature dropped down to sub-arctic levels, flash freezing all that moisture that was laying about. I had a helluva time opening the door on my truck Monday morning. Yesterday was very nice, cold but sunny, a typical January day, and I noticed that the sky still had a little light left in it when I left work. Today we have a reverse nor'easter going on, windy as all get out (but from the southwest), with heavy, horizontal rain. Can't wait to see what we get next.

In honor of the bad weather, I've been hunkering down and cooking large pots of comfort food. Saturday it was beef stew. Sunday, I'd got some ground beef on sale, put half aside for meat sauce, and made taco meat out of the rest for taco salad. Last night I poached a package of boneless chicken breasts in broth and wine. Now I have enough food leftover for a good long time.

Over Christmas, I bought the DVD of Murder My Sweet, the original movie version of Chandler's Farewell My Lovely, and since I'd never read the novel, I decided to do that first before watching the DVD. Farewell My Lovely...Collapse )

Now the sun's out. Huh. Still windy, though.
Thursday, December 22nd, 2005
10:47 am - Infanity...  
The reaction to the Johnny Damon signing has been hella amusing. I listened to WFAN, the NY sportstalk station, on my drive home last night, and for awhile I wondered if I'd tuned to the wrong station. The usual drive time hosts were on vacation, and the show was instead being hosted by the two beat reporters for the Yankees and Mets, so most of the conversation was about baseball, which was fine by me. The odd thing was how much it sounded like the station had up and moved to Boston. When I tuned in, they were in the middle of an interview with Terry Francona, the Sox manager, who is, of course, sad to see Damon go. I can't help but feel for Francona, an amiable guy whose incumbent centerfielder is now the redoubtable Adam Stern, who got on base at a robust .188 clip in 15 at bats last season. On the plus side, Francona just had his knee replaced, so he expects to be a bit spryer on his walks from the dugout to the pitching mound next season.

After Francona hung up the calls started to sound like Red Sox Suicide Hotline. There was Marv from Boston on the line to lament the loss of Damon. Why would a Sox fan from Boston feel the need to dial in to a New York talk show to discuss the matter? No doubt the lines to WEEI were swamped, but still. After Marv, there was another Sox fan, and then another. The really funny thing was that when they finally got to a call from a Yankee fan, that guy was totally irate about the signing.

Which is another aspect of the Damon infanity. A lot of (really ignorant) Yankee fans are really unhappy about the trade. They'd rather see the rapidly declining Bernie Williams (who re-signed with the Yanks yesterday) or even Bubba "I got it, Sheff!" Crosby play center than a guy who played for the Sox, especially a guy who was the face of the Sox during the worst debacle in recent Yankee history. There's a great post at Mike's Baseball Rants about the phenomenon. Mike likens the situation unto the scene in Citizen Kane when the entire staff of the Chronicle are hired to work for the Enquirer. He also points out the the Yanks and Sox have a long history of players moving back and forth between the two clubs. Good stuff, as usual.

Last night I started making chocolate truffles for presents. What an incredible mess I made, and I still have to coat the things in milk chocolate. I had the George C. Scott version of A Christmas Carol on in the background. God bless us, everyone!

ETA: It's now being reported that Flanders has picked up a stocking stuffer for the Dodgers, signing Brett Tomko to a two year deal. Not a great pitcher, but he is an innings eater and a better option than handing DJ Houlton the ball every fifth day. Unfortunately, he's more likely to be used as a replacement for handing the ball to Jeff Weaver every fifth day. We still need a real pitcher.
Current Mood: amused
Tuesday, October 18th, 2005
10:32 pm - Dem Bones...  
No new major disasters today, other than that I forgot to grab my book this morning. Actually, that's not quite true. I went into the back room, grabbed the book off the nightstand, put it on the kitchen counter while I picked up my satchel and lunch bag, and then walked out the door without it. Which meant I got to spend lunch time in my truck listening to people talk football on WFAN while reading capsule reviews of restaurants in and around Boston because all I had was a free paper to look at. At least I remembered my lunch.

No baseball tonight, so Fox is showing reruns. I flipped back and forth between NCIS (new) and Bones (rerun). The Bones episode was the one with the stupidest terrorist in the world, the one who thought dioxin would make a nifty weapon of mass destruction, even after all the news stories about how undeadly it was when the President of the Ukraine was poisoned with the second highest dose of dioxin ever recorded (he did become severely ill, but survived). Also, it turns out that dioxin is a liquid that's easy to produce in liter quantities using chlorine and melted plastic. No, it's not. Trust me. It's actually a crystalline solid, which Bones should know if she's so smart. It's a shame. I like Boreanez, Deschanel, and most of the other actors, but the writing is just execrable.

NCIS was better. I'm starting to like the Mossad agent who is replacing Kate. Oddly enough, she reminds me a bit of Nilly, especially her quip tonight that she's good at jigsaw puzzles.

In news for the easily confused, I picked up this month's issues of Cook's Illustrated and Consumer Reports when I was at the market the other night. In an odd coincidence, both magazines rated stand mixers this month. What's even odder is that their results, at least with regards to KitchenAid mixers, came out exactly opposite. CR had the KA Classic rated number one, while CI had it next to last, and gave it a "not recommended." Makes you wonder if either bunch knows what they're doing. I was thinking of dropping them both a note, but I'd already sent an e-mail to CI about their totally incorrect illustration of a Vise-Grip, so I figured I'll let someone else raise the question.
Current Mood: dazed and confused
Sunday, October 9th, 2005
10:56 pm - The Meek Shall Hit the Walk-Off Homer...  
The Astros knocked the Braves out of the playoffs when light-hitting rookie Chris Burke hit a home run with one out in the bottom of the eighteenth inning. It was the longest game, both innings-wise and time-wise, in baseball playoff history. Houston used all but two players on their roster. Roger Clemens, in his second relief appearance ever, pitched three excellent innings to get the win. He tried to win it literally, as well as statistically, when he took a home run cut as the first batter in the bottom of the eighteenth. It would've been a great moment, but he struck out instead. Fortunately, young Mr. Burke came to the plate next.

More baseball behind the cut...Collapse )

I finally got off my butt somewhat once the weekend started and I was no longer on vacation. Cleaned the bathroom yesterday, and did some shopping. The best score was a copy of the New Best Recipe, 1000 oversize pages of Cooks Illustrated recipes and notes that I picked up at Sam's Club for a mere $20. I also got a heavy duty stainless steel wire adjustable six-shelf unit there, 4' x 18" x 6' high, for $79. And it's even on casters so I can move it around if I need to. Today I assembled it, and started cleaning out and organizing the corner of my basement that is not the workshop or the laundry, which means it's where I pile every other piece of crap I own. The shelves will let me get stuff like the air conditioner up off the floor. Sadly, I've discovered that snapping my fingers and having the stuff organize itself, a la Mary Poppins, doesn't actually work, and I still have plenty of manual organizing to do. And there's also a ton of crap that has to go to either the dumpster or the Salvation Army. Anyone need a rowing machine? It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Current Mood: neutral
Current Music: Yankees fans chanting "Bernie Williams"
Sunday, August 28th, 2005
9:40 pm - End O'Summer  
The BBQ was fun, and it was good to see everyone again and catch up. The weather was hot, hazy, and humid, mitigated somewhat by the fact that there was usually a nice breeze coming off the ocean a few blocks away. The experimental potato salad wound up being edible, but not exactly for the faint of heart. The main problem was that made enough marinade concentrate for ten pounds of potatoes, then diluted it only enough to submerge three pounds of spuds. The flavor, though good, was a tad overwhelming. Will have to experiment some more.

Yesterday morning, I finally decided to write the Dodgers off as a lost cause this season. They lost two of three to the Rockies during the week, then DLowe lost to the Astros, 2-1, Friday night, with Oswalt and Clemens to follow. Milton Bradley went on the DL, and is done for the season. It didn't matter anymore that the Padres are right at .500, and we aren't that far back. I got the proverbial fork ready. Except the Dodgers beat up on Oswalt, and today Jeff Weaver beat Roger Clemens, 1-0. Sigh.
Current Mood: burnt
Saturday, August 27th, 2005
10:47 pm - Bother  
It was another pleasant, sunny day, another day without rain. My front lawn is terribly burnt.

This morning I rode the bike path from end to end and back, about thirteen miles total. It's fortunate that the last three were mostly downhill or level, because I was totally whipped by the time I finished climbing the long grade up from Peace Dale. It showed me how bad my stamina really is. Usually the limiting factor is my legs, but today they were fine. I remembered to take ibuprofen and put a brace on my knee before the ride. The problem was my lung capacity. I never fully caught my breath for the rest of the ride after the climb. I've never had that problem before. I went way too long without doing anyrhing aerobic.

I rarely ride the path through Peace Dale and Wakefield. Apart from the pleasant half-mile stretch between the two villages, it's just not worth it. There are too many busy streets to cross, too many backs of stores to look at, and then there's the fish ladder. Still the dumbest thing I've ever seen.

After the ride I started making a batch of potato salad for a BBQ with my volleyball friends tomorrow. Three pounds of potato slices are currently marinating away in the fridge. I didn't really remember the recipe, so I was going to do an experimental batch earlier in the week, but I never got around to it. Worst comes to worst, there's a supermarket on the way to the party.

Then, after what had been a pretty good day, I grilled a steak for dinner, and ate it with a large red & yellow striped tomato from my garden. And felt miserable almost immediately thereafter. This is like the third time this week I've gotten sick after dinner. The only food the meals had in common that I can think of are the tomatoes I've been picking, but I can't imagine why they'd affect me like this. I doubt it was the steak. If anything, I overcooked it. I'm feeling a bit better now. Very odd.
Current Mood: tired
Thursday, August 25th, 2005
11:51 am - Sunny Days  
It's another lovely day in Rhody, practically perfect weather. Yesterday was nice, as well, featuring some amazing looking cloud formations. If it stays nice, I will ride tonight.

I have a pot luck BBQ to attend on Sunday with the vball crew. I haven't seen most of them since around Christmas or before, so it should be nice. I'm planning on bringing potato salad, for which I sort of have the recipe we used in the deli I worked in between college and grad school. Great stuff. I say sort of because I mislaid the actual written recipe many years ago. I do remember the ingredients, and the procedure is simple enough. Boil and thinly slice the potatoes, dump them in a marinade for a day or two, then drain, and add some mayonnaisse and garnishes. It's the proportions that are the tricky part. I do vaguely recall them, but what I remember was also for a twenty or thirty pound batch. Experimentation will happen tonight. (I have made satisfactory batches of the stuff on occasion since I lost the original recipe. You'd think I'd have written a new one down at least once.)

In news from home, eldest nephew (the one who's going to college next year) wrecked his car the other night. He's shaken up, but otherwise okay. It seems he tried to take a turn too fast, and hit a tree instead. All I can think of is that I'm glad that I don't have to have that kind of conversation with my father anymore. (My first accident was a much more mundane thing. I backed my VW Bus into an MG Midget that I couldn't see out of my rear window. No damage to my car, $58 damage to MG, emotional damage to me after talks with my father (not too bad), and my grandfather (hoo boy)).

DJ Houlton threw the best game of his young career last night against the Rockies, seven shut-out innings and only three hits. Unfortunately, Byung-Hyun Kim (of all people) decided to throw his best game of the season, too, so the game was tied when both pitchers exited after seven. Schmoll and Yhency gave up two in relief, while the Rocks' bullpen only gave up one, and LA loses. Bother.

More bother, the patella tendon that Milton Bradley pulled the other night, forcing him out of the line up, turns out to be an 80% tear that will require surgery. He may be gone for the year, which would suck mightily. The one bright spot is that it may at least get the Kent-Bradley affair off the front burner. Bradley made another long ramble to the press the other day, so DePo and McCourt got involved, and there are rumors that some players are starting to side with Kent. Now it appears that perhaps Bradley's knee has been bothering him since he came off the DL. It's pretty clear he wasn't running as fast, although Bradley running at 80 or 90% of full speed is still faster than a lot of guys on the team. (Note to Jeff Kent: if Milton's knee hurt, he wasn't malingering, even if it would've been best that he told somebody that his knee hurt.) Some are saying Bradley has played his last game as a Dodger. I hope not. He's a good ballplayer, and despite what Kent says, he seems to throw his all into every game.
Current Mood: hungry