Pheonix Cookies

A couple weeks ago, I had a cookie failure. Someone gave me a cookie mix, which I used (because I didn't want it to go to waste) but the resultant cookies were too sugary and too hard. I didn't like 'em and didn't give them to anyone except to my two wedding houseguests, with my apologies. They didn't much like them either. One of them, Jen A to be precise, suggested I put them in the food processor and make them into cookie crumbs and reuse them for something else.

Jen, you're brilliant.

I reduced them to cookie crumbs and put them in the freezer to wait for the next opportunity. Yesterday, I used them instead of graham cracker crumbs as the base for "magic bars" (aka Seven Layer Cookies). I used the recipe on the back of the Bordens Sweetened Condensed Milk (substituted in some milk chocolate chips I had hanging around and coconut flakes instead of shredded coconut) and...
Ta Da! Yummy Cookies!

Now these, I'm reluctant to share because I want to eat them all myself, but I think I will anyway. ;)


Food Tweet

This afternoon, I "tweeted" (that is, said something on Twitter) the following:
What does one eat when one really doesn't feel like eating?

I wanted to reply to the answers I got, but not in the 140 character space. So, I'll do it here. Welcome to my head!


For whatever reason, I wasn't feeling very hungry and a friend had suggested we go out and have a drink at a place that has free (crappy) tacos during happy hour. I would rather part with a little of my precious cash than eat crap, so I generally buy something inexpensive and only have one drink. I was trying to imagine what on earth I would want to eat, even if I could choose from anywhere anything to eat. Hence, the question.

MWT replied: soup?
Actually, this is a great answer, as I generally love soup. I am, however, also a bit picky about my soup and it's hard to think of many places that have soup I enjoy as much as my own (too much time and effort for that night). Those two places are Olive Garden (I LOVE their Zuppa Toscana) and Jim Wright's house (where I've never been, but his description of making clam chowder (my favorite) sounds divine).

Oomphasis replied: Ice cream
Another good answer, but only if you specify Real Italian (or Argentine) gelato, not standard ice cream. Having grown up eating gelato when we visited family in South America, I developed a bit of a ice cream snobbery. [shrug] Oh well. More ice cream for you!

Anaedream said (and I don't even think this was directed at me): Pawk chawps and applesawce, beyotch!!!
Yum! Now I'm hungry for pork chops and applesauce.

And before you ask, I got an a la carte chicken burrito. It was Ok. No pork chops and applesauce, but Ok.

Edited to Add: Just found that the same question on Facebook (my tweets do double duty as FB status updates) yielded the following responses:
- nachos, or pudding
- nachos AND pudding

(Close, I scooped up some of my chicken burrito filling with especially good tortilla chips, plus I had a vanilla yogurt for dessert.)
- mac and cheese
(Mmmm... good, but I didn't have any on hand. Steamed veg with mozzarella melted on top is good too.)
- scrambled eggs and toast, or oatmeal
(Actually, I had this for breakfast, with some mushrooms and peas mixed in with the eggs.)
- air (thanks Gabe)
- fruit

(Good answer. Will keep this one in mind next time I'm at a loss.)
- chips and wine
(Again, close. I had some yummy tortilla chips and a glass of wine later. Generally, I keep a tasty cracker on hand and have it with butter.)

What do you do when you know you should eat but don't feel like it? Do you force yourself? I'm finding that the older I get, the more I'm aware of my sugar levels affecting my mood. Do you notice that?

Online Comics

I have mentioned before on this blog an online comic strip that I read, PvP (short for Player vs. Player). The artist is funny, geeky, and occasionally deals with deep themes. All these are key elements to a good comic strip.
A couple weeks ago, his beloved beagle died. So, his comic artist friends volunteered to do guest strips for him to give him a bit of grieving space. During that time, one of his guest artists caught my eye. I spent most of yesterday morning procrastinating while catching up on her strip, and I'm definitely adding her to the reading list. Her strip is called Girls with Slingshots, and the protagonists are, you guessed it, independently-minded girls. The subject matter can be risque (these are modern girls with modern attitudes towards sex and drinking) and the characters are well drawn (literally and figuratively). They are well rounded and funny - what most sitcom characters wish they could be. I recommend it, especially if you are, or appreciate a, modern woman.

ETA: The artist, Danielle, is from the area where I grew up (she now lives in Shepherdstown, West Virgina) and since she supports herself with (comic) stripping, she has some great ways for her readers to support her endeavors, including an art supply wishlist. Isn't that cool?


Final Mural Pics

I just realized that although my nephew's mural has been done for a couple weeks (previous post here) I have not posted about the final product. Partly because my sister did a great job doing that on her own members-only blog, but partly because I've been a bit lazy this weekend. So, here goes:
We did two vignettes and a select number of "escaped" animals. The vignettes were intended to show the animals in their native habitat. So, In the "jungle" vignette, we had a tiger and monkeys...

The second vignette is the savanna, where we have an elephant, rhinoceros, lion, and giraffe...

And there were a few animals that escaped their context:
A snake

A mouse (note the mousehole with door to escape the snake)

A zebra

and a couple of birds

There was even some fanciful doodling

I did not do this all by myself. Not by a long shot. It was definitely a team effort. My sister-in-law, Jenn, labored long hours over this with me and has my highest respect and congratulations. However, we couldn't have done it without my sister's or mum's help. Their support and the support of my brother and brother-in-law are really what helped us bring it to completion.
Yay, team!


Snow. Snow. Snow. Snow. Snow. Snow. Snow. Snow! [/singing by Rosemary Clooney, Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Vera Ellen]

or, to mix my singing references...

It snowed last night, the sky bears had a pillow fight...

Will someone give Mother Nature a ring and let her know that it's the end of April and she can stop now? (Granted, the precipatation is nice. We did have a dry winter.)


Geek Love

I was getting caught up on my TiVo today and ran across something so utterly sweet and enjoyable, I'm saving it to rewatch.
The CSI (the original, Vegas, one, not the shudder inducing dreck of CSI:Miami) episode of April 16, titled "A Space Oddity" is a one of those comedy relief episodes that you generally get about once per season. The basic story is that Hodges and Wendy run into each other at a science fiction convention and discover that they are both fans of AstroQuest, a clear riff on Star Trek, the original series. They quickly become enmeshed in the murder of the week, that of a TV producer who has just unveiled his new project, a "redux" or re-imagining of AstroQuest, replacing its antiseptic and heroic qualities with a gritty space drama with antiheroes. You can watch the full episode online, if you missed it (look for the one titled CSI: A Space Oddity). Keep an eye out for cameos from actors from Battlestar Galactica, and hilariously (as a fan yelling "you suck!") Ron Moore, creator and producer of the re-imagined BSG (that is spoofed with the Redux AstroQuest).
The funny and sweet budding romance of Hodges and Wendy is so cute. (You guys know me - I don't often get so sentimental!) I adore stories of geek love. I think it's a combination of finding someone who really gets you, even if you're not mainstream, and geeks. I would not say I'm a true geek, since I'm too much of a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none, but I love geeks and some of my favorite people are geeks. I dabble in the trademark activities like D&D, computer games, Star Trek, and Transformers, so I have many of the reference points to enjoy the humor like that found in the CSI episode. The spoofing was funny and the romance was well handled - not too sugary, not too certain - I loved it. (And this from the gal who usually avoids romantic comedies like the plague.)
Highly recommended!

What are your thoughts on geek love?

PS - Funny coincidence... I just saw Laurence Fishburne on M.A.S.H.!


The Wedding: A Photo Digest

There are many many photos of my brother's recent wedding, but these catch the spirit of it.
First things first, the happy couple - Max & Jenn (Photo Credit: Jen A)

I love this one of my dad and my cousin, Leandro, preparing the video recorder and microphone before the wedding. Leandro was one of my super-fun houseguests. (Photo Credit: Jen A, my other super-fun houseguest)

I love love love this photo of my sister and BIL with their new baby. I'm thinking about getting it framed. (Photo Credit: Jen A, again!)

Me with my brother's good friend, now MY good friend, and a fabulous photographer and houseguest, Jen A. (Photo Credit: Max?)

And lastly, me with Gregg, my excellent brother and my partner down the aisle (the non-posed shots of our walk up and down the aisle, he was more serious - this one shows the great family smile) (Photo Credit: the lovely Amy, Gregg's wife)



Leandro and I sunning ourselves on the Alluvial Fan in Rocky Mountain National Park.

*Photo Credit: JR Ronczy, sneaky bugger


Cake Success

(For those of you who missed a few episodes, here's the setup for this story. My brother got married last weekend and as a wedding gift, my mum and I volunteered to make their wedding cake.)
My mum and dad arrived last Tuesday around midday and after a yummy meal of fresh pasta, we compiled our shopping list and went to work gathering the remaining ingredients/devices we'd need for the task.
On Wednesday, we made the cakes (all 2 layer, round cakes): a 12" white cake, a 10" red velvet cake, and an 8" chocolate cake. It went surprisingly smoothly, as we had done our calculations well. Challenges like 15 cups of cake batter not fitting in the Kitchen Aide mixer bowl were vanquished by smart contingency planning (having a giant spare bowl to mix in the remaining flour and milk by hand). The cakes rose well (there was some concern about the variables of baking at altitude) and seemed to turn out fine.
On Thursday, we made fillings for the cakes: chocolate ganache for the chocolate cake, raspberry-strawberry for the white cake (that used a base of raspberry jam), and we used one bought icing, cream cheese icing for the red velvet filling. Then, we made a double batch of buttercream frosting and my mum iced the cakes while I made 3 more batches. I then put on the "cornelli" squiggle texture on the sides. (Ouch, my hand was killing me when I would pause for a break!) As I finished those up, my mum put on a star edging around the base and the top of the side.
Saturday, my mum and dad took the cakes up to the wedding. The florist had brought three beautiful cake toppers, and the cakes were arranged as you see below. I was SO pleased with the final effect. Everything came together beautifully well.
The chocolate and red velvet cakes were the biggest favorites, but the white cake was fine too (a wee bit dry, but OK with the addition of the frosting).
We got lots of compliments and most importantly the couple (Max & Jenn) loved it (see comments, attached). Yay cake success!

Photo Credit: The Fabulous Jen A



Halleujah, one of my IT knights is helping me with my computer. Everyone (including me) is super busy this week, but my BIL's busyness is localized to mainly around home (he has a little downtime when the new baby has downtime). So, he's agreed to help me and the mountain has gone to Mohammed (the CPU is now at his house). I am SO appreciative of this. It sucks to have things stuck inside the backup space that I want/need. Yay for my harem of geeks!

I'll be very busy for the next few days (in fact today was one of them):

My mum and I are making the wedding cake for my brother's wedding, plus I have houseguests. Friday is all the rehearsal stuff and Saturday is the big day itself. Sunday, I'm not sure what is up. I'll still have houseguests and quite a few of the extended family members will still be around.

So, make yourself at home, entertain yourselves, and don't worry about getting chocolate stains on the couch, it's already chocolate brown.


Not Going As Well As I'd Hoped

My computer (now approaching 5 years old) had been getting slower and slower and less and less reliable. On Monday, I even got a minor blue screen of death (a blue screen of a flesh wound?). So, brilliant tactician that I am, I decided to backup all my info and reformat my hard drive, in the middle of a very busy week.
The problem that has emerged, however, is that the 5 year old disk of Windows XP (version 1) that I have is so old, it can't automatically find my cable internet connection (which is, essentially all the help desk tells you to do). I thought I'd solved the problem when I found the disk that came with my recently purchased netbook. That disk claims to be Windows XP Home, service pack 3 (for Ultra Low Cost PCs). Well, at least it was more up to date than the other. Somehow it's still not managing to find the modem or the wireless network. I even put in the setup disk for the wireless network device and it still doesn't "see" the network connection.
I think I want Service Pack 2 (which, I belive is the appropriate version for my desktop).
What I *really* want is for the internet and my desktop to get to know each other so I can run the updates.
We'll see. I have several techie friends - it's just a matter of finding the time to bribe one of them to visit my computer. In the meantime, I'll continue to fiddle with it.

Also in the meantime, I can get by with the netbook. Once again, thank goodness for the netbook. One of the better impulse buys I've ever gotten.


A Good Day

Easter brunch at my cousins':
4 kinds of deviled eggs
mousse pâté with a mustard relish on bread or little toasts
duck confit
pan fried duck breast
roasted carrots and parsnips
green herbed salad
strawberry and custard tart
homemade vanilla ice cream

Thank you so much, Susan and Mike!

(My cousin, Susan, and her dad, Mike, are hobbyist gourmet cooks. I missed their Thanksgiving feast last year, so I was way overdue for some of their fine cooking.

It was wonderful to see my extended family. I haven't seen some of them in a long time! We had an egg hunt, I got to help take care my new nephew, and I had some great conversations getting caught up and hearing some great advice. Afterwards, I was tired, but feeling quite tranquil. Good food and company can do that for you.)


Easter Cats

In honor of Easter, Spring, and cute fuzzy things who feel they are owed a spot on your lap (even if it's already taken):

The "Pay Attention to ME" pose


Kickin' It Old Style

How many of y'all played D&D back in the day? OK, not many.
Well, I think you'd still enjoy the podcast of the gentlemen of PvP and Penny Arcade (three online comic strip artists, two comic strips) playing the new version of D&D with a dungeon master from Wizards of the Coast (current developers of D&D). It is, essentially, listening in on a bunch of silly geeky guys play a role playing game. Once in a while they get kind of vulgar, and only once was it a little dull (I don't know why, I think they just got too serious about the fight and stopped the play acting and silliness. It may have something to do with the DM, who switched midway through the series). One of the guys from Penny Arcade is a geek, but had never played D&D before, so his reactions are interesting (plus, it means there is a lot of explaining how things work in the early episodes). Since they are cartoonists, each episode is documented with a drawing or two depicting something that happens during the episode. It's fun to have going on in the background while you're doing something else.
Series 1: Episode1, Episode2, Episode3, Episode4, Episode5, Episode6, Episode7, Episode8

The second series adds Wil Wheaton (of ST:TNG and general sci fi blog geek fame). The silliness continues with the better DM and a better balanced game. Wil makes a great addition, as he's obviously experienced in gaming and role playing and also less likely to be distracted by drawing cartoons during the game. There's some great teamwork too. I love the way they discuss things before taking action. There are two bursts of highly vulgar talk, followed by lots and lots of giggling. Rudy the Undead Hound (ep 7) nearly brought me to tears and a series of very unfortunate rolls of the dice in episode 8 made me giggle so hard my face and diaphragm hurt. There is lots of geeky gaming humor and they're obviously having lots of fun. I downloaded it for my entertainment files and really hope they come out with another series. Hilarious!
Series 2: Episode1, Episode2, Episode3, Episode4, Episode5, Episode6, Episode7, Episode8

Edited to Add: I'm listening to these a second time and the second series is definitely funnier than the first, but the first has some good info that helps you to follow the action.

Helping Out

I'm getting the opportunity to learn lots about myself lately. [s]Whee! Fun![/sarcasm]
Seriously though, while not fun, it is absolutely necessary.

One of the more palatable (to me) things I'm learning is that I get a lot of comfort out of helping other people. Whether it validates my existence or something else (insert therapy psychobabble here), I don't know. I just know that it makes me feel good to help. And I really could care less if they know it was me. Anonymous helping or not, I enjoy it.
One of the ways I figured this out (there have been many "hello? Are you observing yourself right now?" moments lately, this is just one) is that I started volunteering more with an organization called Women in Design. At first it was in self-interest, to widen my network of contacts in my field, but I found that taking on tasks to help those who are volunteering in addition to working full time really made me feel good and useful and worth Something to Someone. Working towards a goal with a group feels different from working towards personal goals.

And I obviously miss working.


Stress Eating

I have discovered, via trial and error, that I am not a stress eater. For proof, I submit the tin of brownies that sat around the house for nearly a week. Ok, I can't submit it, since I eventually took it to my sister's to be demolished. But I swear, it's true.

However, I am a stress cook/baker, provided, of course, that I can get up the energy to do it. AND I will, particularly under emotional stress, eat increased quantities of dark chocolate (maybe 2 or 3 oz, not whole bars).

How about you? What do you eat when you're stressed?


Workaday (Of a Sort)

I'm not being very entertaining today because I'm working on my portfolio. I had started on it (and in fact HAD finished a sound-bite version to accompany my brochure style resume), but I was working on it in a very off-hand way (see, I really didn't think I was going to get any interviews anytime soon), so it wasn't done for my interview on Monday. I thought it would be an informal chat, but it really wasn't. I'm very glad I had the sound-bite version, but I really needed a fuller one to point to when I was describing something. I learned my lesson, and am cranking out one now to have for tomorrow's interview (settle down, people, none of these have imminent jobs attached to them). It's actually kind of fun, now that I have better pictures of some of my projects.
I also had a nice networking breakfast, where I met a very positive and outgoing woman who really helped me feel more on track with what I'm doing. Our next networking breakfast is at the end of the month, so that really gives me a deadline by which to finish my professional website. (One of the things that came up several times during the breakfast was the importance of websites.) It's good to get bumped out of the rut!


Food For Thought

From an advice column I read regularly:

Giving is a risk. Loving is a risk. Kindness is a risk. All demand that we drop our defenses; all allow the recipients of these gifts the opportunity to hurt us.

ETA: Coming back after a long walk, I can see how someone might misinterpret this post. Here's the part I left off...

All these things have risks, but it doesn't mean it's not worth it! You would never get anywhere if you didn't accept the risks.

And a favorite quote of mine (I don't know where it's from):

To be is to be vulnerable.

I kind of read this as the inverse. If you allow yourself to be vulnerable, you are allowing yourself to truly BE.


Not So Bon Mots

- When your vacuum cleaner is crappy, does it suck or not suck?

- Cat hair will one day consume the world, like some kind of fluffy kudzu.

- True friends are like sunshine.

- Someone needs to help me eat these brownies.


The Downside of Living in the Moment...

is that when you're in a negative moment, you are absolutely sure it's going to last forever. Granted, there's always that detached analytical part on the sidelines that is laughing at the notion, but that only makes it more annoying.

LATER: Feeling better. Will be going to bed early, so that'll help too.
"See," says intellectual side, "I told you it would get better!"
Emotional side sticks out tongue and gives a resounding raspberry.


Stock Results

On Friday, I took the chicken stock I'd made in this post, along with the chopped up chicken, up to my Aunt Ruth's house. We made rice, a mixture of wild and brown rice, separately with some stock while I chopped up (very fine) carrots, celery, garlic, and green onions. These, once chopped, were sautéed in olive oil.

Then, once those were soft, I poured in the chicken stock and brought it to a simmer. Then I added the chicken and the rice (which had finished cooking and was set to the side). There was so much, we had to transfer some of it to a second pot! Once everything had been seasoned properly with parsley, basil, oregano, and salt and pepper, we ladled some out for dinner.

It was DEE-licious! I would have liked to have put mushrooms in, but was unsure about Ruth's dietary restrictions, so I kept it as simple as possible, without being bland. Ruth enjoyed it very much as well, so "Mission Accomplished!"
We packaged up the rest of them in glass jars, so that she'll have lots of yummy meals in the weeks to come.


Chicken Stock from (Chicken) Scratch

The last time I went up to make soup for Ruth, she requested that I make a chicken soup next time. I roasted a chicken, then carved off and reserved the meat before putting the carcass in a pot with water to make stock.
I use the recipe found on Michael Ruhlman's blog. It's very simple, though I still managed to forget to add the herbs, peppercorns, and tomato paste. Next time, I suppose.
I so much prefer homemade stock over canned stock. (The new fangled boxed ones are a bit better.) The canned stock seems too salty and too chickeny (if you know what I mean).
I simmered some of the bones a second time in a smaller amount of water to flavor the water I will use to make the rice. My auntie is glucose intolerant, so it'll be chicken soup with rice, rather than chicken noodle soup. (And me with a new pasta maker! Oh, the humanity!)


Ode to the Kitchen Aide Mixer

I grew up making chocolate chip cookies on my mom's Kitchen Aide mixer. I didn't realize what a staple it is until I didn't have one anymore.
Fortunately, a little over 3 years ago, my parents gave me a mixer of my own. The first thing I made was chocolate chip cookies, natch.

Today, I was putting away the recently cleaned bowl and realized how many food items I currently have in the house that were made with aid of the mixer:
- chocolate chip cookies
- pasta
- homemade marshmallows (yes, I'm working on writing out the process for that! I have a recipe, but as usual, I have changes and annotations.)

I also make sugar cookies and royal icing with it, along with other lovely things that I can't think of at the moment. (Maybe I'll come back and update after future cooking/baking fun.)

So, thank you, Kitchen Aide mixer, for doing your job so well.


Birthday Week

One of the best things about birthdays is all the free food you get...

Kidding, of course!

I did get treated to several nice meals this week though:
- Stacey made me a peanut butter and apricot jelly sandwich and took me to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. They're having a very cool exhibit on natural disasters (hurricanes, volcanoes, etc.). We had a great time geeking out to the neat science. :)
- Janiece treated me to lunch at the heavenly Junz. (Observant readers will note that this was the same restaurant we went to the night I met UrbanDK for the first time.) I had miso soup, yummy yummy risotto, and three types of sushi, Negihama (yellowtail and green onion rolls), Maguro (tuna nigiri), and Unagi (freshwater eel). YUM! And, of course, I had Janiece's delightful company. Always a pleasure. We also had the delicious rice pastry wrapped mango ice cream and the restaurant gave it to us on the house, because Janiece mentioned it was my birthday. Very nice of them.
- I also got treated to dinner at New Saigon, where I got the combination noodle bowl, which they've improved with a slightly spicier marinade. My friend, FS, did not remember it was my birthday, but happily picked up the tab when our conversation revealed that it had recently occurred. (I have to admit, in my fiscal situation, I have become even more aware and alert to situations where things sound (to my ear) like a hint for people to pay for me or buy something for me. I didn't *want* to say it was my birthday, as I suspected my friend hadn't remembered, but it kinda featured largely in the events of the previous weekend. [sigh] I guess it's sometimes unavoidable.)

So, here it is, midweek and I also got a just-because postcard from Kate!

You can see it's a just-because card because it shows the lovely fall foliage of New England. How much more non-sequitur can you get than that? ;)
Thank you, Kate!