Feeling Strangely Insular

Here are some belated photos from the big snowstorm last week.
Sorry this blog has been quiet. I've had the time, I've had the subjects (like the pictures below). I guess I just haven't had the inclination. For that, I apologize.
Seeing as tomorrow is November, a month devoted to writing, I will pledge to do better in the days to come. I do have a plan for writing some fiction for NaNoWriMo, which I will unveil tomorrow (Nov. 1).

Until then, marvel at the quantity of snow on my deck!

As you can see, Matti braved the 1/2" of snow that had collected in a corner. Couldn't get much further though.


Carving Fun

Some of the fabulous jack o' lanterns made at the pumpkin carving party this afternoon. (Some had been taken home already at this point...)
I think my cousins had a good first experience with American Halloween traditions. I had roasted pumpkin seeds, pumpkin pie, artichoke dip, hummus, carrot sticks, caramel apples, and mulled cider. Cheryl brought apple crisp. So, it was a lot of the traditional fall treats.
The process of the pumpkin carving was explained and the kids set to the task as if they'd been doing it all their lives. Even Angeles ended up making one after her husband drew the guidelines of a lovely cat profile.
A good time was had by all (and I figured out that 14 is the maximum number of guests I may have at my house when the outside is not a good overflow option.)

Thanks for blessing my house with your presence, all!


Mixed Weekend Before It Even Starts

Keep me away from your expensive mechanical stuff, people. Right now, I'm deadly.

On my way up to see Auntie Ruthie, my engine died. Yup, DIED. Fortunately, it's death scene was a little longer than 5 minutes so I could get off I-25. Here's the transcript:
Big D: [Hiccup]
Me: Uh Oh
Big D: "Check Engine. Check Engine."
Me: [puts on hazards, since I'm going so slow, then drives on I-25 shoulder to the nearest exit]
Me: Come on, just keep going a little longer...
[Right turn, right turn to convenient parking lot. Just reach a clear spot out of the way and...]
Big D: [gasp! DIE.]

I called Ruthie, let her know what was going on, then called the dealership (of the two places I've taken the car, they seemed like the more reliable, if possibly more expensive, choice). For the auto-savvy among you, when I stopped and opened the hood, the area under the radiator (towards the back of the engine stuff) was smoking lightly. There were no strange noises, only a change in the power available.

Fortunately, I had a book with me since I did a lot of waiting. Waited for the tow truck and waited at the service center while they diagnosed the car. Turns out its something going on inside the engine and they needed to wait until Monday to get in there and take it apart. I'm thinking this bill will measure in the thousands and is the raison d'être for savings accounts. :(

I got a rental and ended up going up to Ruthie's anyway. It was only half past two at that point and I certainly wasn't going to let it ruin my day. I'm really glad I did, since Ruthie and I had a good time making soup for her and chatting. :)

Now I'm tired and going to take a hot bath and read more of my book. :D

Neighborhood Watch

Martin, keeping an eye on stuff going on in the alley.


Dubious Customer Service

Now that I have a job again, I'm needing to take things to the dry cleaners. It's not that troublesome, as there is a place a couple miles away that is also very near the grocery store.
[An aside: I take my slacks and cocktail dresses to a "ecologically friendly" cleaner that uses less harmful chemicals like CO2 to clean. Traditional dry cleaning chemicals are so hazardous as to have a higher hazard rating in the building code.]
Something I never saw before (same service, but different shop than before) was all kinds of tags and notes on my receipt about the state of the clothes. Yes, I realize I don't have brand new clothes and should really think about replacing some of the older ones, but really? MUST you point out the flaws on every piece of clothing? I'm not sure if it's "customer service" or fear of liability, but it's quite annoying. I have a tendency to wear clothes until the last gasp, though not so much with the office clothes, but I'm not going to retire a blouse because of a stain I can hardly see, nor pants because the fabric has started to pill on the thighs.
They are making me very self-conscious about the state of my clothes. And I am not a good judge. :/
Might be time to call in the troops.


Writer's Humor

UCFer and fellow NaNoWriter Jeri, Twittered a link to a delightfully funny writer oriented cartoon. Check it out.

Thank you, Jeri!

NaNo Story

Wandering around the NaNoWriMo site today, a story caught my eye. A Marine serving active duty in Iraq managed to "win" with the help of her fellow Marines. Very cool story...
Read it here.

The Culprit

The old regulator and the new regulator.
I have a friend who describes fixing the bike as "find the part that looks like the new part and switch 'em." Turned out it was really that simple. Luckily for me, I have the maintenance manual, so I knew where to look.
The bike seems to be fixed. I have to wait for the next warm day to really test it out, but preliminary tests say yes, it's all good again.


Roasting Weather

I have been meaning to roast more chicken, ever since I found out how easy it is. I'm not so much a fan of chicken on the bone... or really of chicken as an entree at all. There's nothing really wrong with it, but it's not really all that appetizing to me.
What IS appetizing (and the real reason I roasted a chicken last night) is chicken soup! I wanted those bones to make stock and the chicken meat to put in as a tasty counterpoint to carrots, celery, and thick egg noodles.
So, what you see above is the quick and easy roasted chicken with vegetables. In a few days (since I'm making the stock today) you'll see photos of yummy chicken soup.

[Next time though, I might buy one of those rotisserie chickens in the grocery store. They taste pretty good and eliminate a few steps. Only downside is that I don't know where the chickens came from, like I do with a raw chicken.
The other alternative is to check the flavor of the homemade stock against some of that boxed stock that claims to be organic, etc. etc. If it tastes pretty decent, I might shortcut even further to there and just make the soup itself.]

Hallowe'en Farm

I had stopped playing Farmtown some time ago, when it became like a second job that I would need to take care of when I got home from my paying job. I even tried a routine that would only require me to visit the farm twice a week, but the fact that there was the word "require" in there makes it pretty clear why I dropped it. The main draw of Farmtown was the community, and I didn't have time for any of that.

Well, the fine developers behind Farmtown managed to lure me back for a little more play by including Hallowe'en decorations for the farm. It's pretty well done (thought about the tree of skeletons that you can see at Nathan's, but it seemed a bit gruesome for my taste), as you can see above.

Thanks, Farmtown, for bringing me back, even if it's just for a little while.


Morning Routine

Every morning, when I emerge from the bathroom after my shower, Matti or Martin (usually Matti) is waiting for me to emerge. As I walk to the bedroom, he trots happily ahead. See, my job is to pet them after I shower. Not positive why, but it's definitely an expectation. After we do some of that, I turn to the closet to select clothes for the day and lay them out on the bed as I do this. Almost invariably, this happens:



I was already planning to have a quiet weekend, but the passing of my furry nephew, Strider, made me want to hang out with my own furry boys more than ever. I've been working late and when I wasn't doing that, I've been hanging out with friends and family. They have each other to keep company, but I'm sure they miss me when I'm gone. So, this has been a nesting weekend.

Above is a picture of what I've been doing all day... making pasta. Yesterday evening, I made a couple batches of plain egg pasta. Some fat and short noodles for addition to chicken soup and some thinner linguine to boil up and have with some tomato sauce or butter and Parmesan.
Today, I had a brilliant idea... one of the pasta recipes I've tried recently had olive oil in it, and the final product tasted of olive oil. (Mmmmmm!) What if I added rosemary? I made some and cooked it up and I was right, it was delicious. (The ratio for that one is 300 g flour, 3 eggs, 30 g olive oil, salt to taste, and 1 T. dried rosemary, ground with a pestle to break down the size a bit.) I made up a batch to freeze for my sister:

Then, because I wanted it to be a proper gift and because I'd been thinking of trying it, I made fresh saffron pasta. I found the recipe here, but I think I used half as much saffron as they have. That makes the recipe: 1 t. saffron threads (I ground them a little, in order to have bits of saffron spread throughout), 1 T. hot water, steeped for 10 min., 2 c. flour, 2 eggs. I also added a bit more water in the long run, probably because I live in such a dry climate. It turned out beautifully.

(Yes, that is a chair I'm drying the pasta on.)

And the lovely photo at the top is the completed saffron pasta.

The other thing I tried out was mixing the dough on the table, instead of a bowl. It was really neat! It worked better than the bowl and was more fun. :D

Goodbye Strider

I take great enjoyment out of being a doggy auntie, and my first real experience being one was with my nephew, Strider. He was a wonderful dog and I will miss him terribly. He was put to sleep yesterday after they discovered aggressive cancer throughout his digestive system. The picture above is one of my favorites of him (in the black collar) playing in the leaves with his brother, Jag.

Goodbye, sweet boy.


Big Sigh of Relief

Minutes ago, the last of my three projects walked out the door on the way to the client. One of the other projects keeps calling me and tell me it needs me, but it's pretty minor.

This means the end of late nights at the office and the beginning of using up the comp time I've piled up for the last three month. This is a GOOD thing, since I need some time to recover.

I am still dragging a bit from the marathon workday that was Monday, but I promise you can expect more content here in the weeks to come. :)

(Edited to add: I do have another project starting up in a couple weeks, so no fear on that front!)


Do Not Follow the Links While Hungry

I haven't had much time to read a lot of my usual blogs. Despite this fact, I've somehow managed to still "waste" time on the internet. I've been toying with going on an internet diet, I did kind of pull back from being online too much this past week and it was actually quite nice. Sunday, however, instead of doing work as I was planning to, I binged and caught up on some of my Google Reader feed.

One post from the blog of a favorite cooking writer begged to be passed on to you for your mouth-watering entertainment:

Back in June (when I was unemployed and reading and writing daily), I read about a fun challenge on Michael Ruhlman's blog. He's a big proponent of people being more aware of what is going into their food and he loves to support those who are enthusiastic about cooking and cooking photography (his wife is a photographer and does fantastic photos of food on his site). On June 6, he posted a challenge: make a BLT from scratch. Really from scratch. Grow your own lettuce and tomatoes. Cure your own bacon. Bake your own bread. Make your own mayonnaise. Make a BLT. Photograph it. Submit it for consideration.
This was essentially a summer project and the due date was the end of the summer.

Sunday, I ran across the results of that fabulous challenge and boy o boy did I wish I had a BLT to eat while reading that post. (As y'all may remember, I'm a big fan of that particular sandwich.) So visit Ruhlman's blog. Read about the results and look at the delicious photos. I'd recommend wearing a bib.


Madonna and Child

Mummy Grabill and Son


Creative Tastes

I love those moments when I put together some wonderful flavors.
Four months ago, I blogged about making homemade butter. At least one of those ramekins (the lemon basil butter) I put in the freezer. Because the "seal" was ice and the ice was starting sublimate, last week, I took it out to use. It was sitting in the fridge for a couple of days until one day, after getting home late from work, I thought, "I really need to use that. What will I eat it with?"

I decided on bread and took a ciabatta out of the freezer and put it in the toaster oven to defrost and warm. I then sliced it up and toasted it. As I was putting the lemon basil butter on to soften and melt, I thought, "What else should I have with this?"

Some tomatoes sitting on the counter (I rarely refrigerate tomatoes) caught my eye. I sliced them, put them on the lemon basil buttered toast, sprinkled on some kosher salt and took a bite. MMmmmmm! Heavenly!

This photo was actually taken this weekend, when I made it again for Susan. This time around, I managed to not wolf it down and savored what exactly about the flavors worked so well. I think it was the fact that it had so many of the basic flavors. The tomatoes were sweet, the salt was salty, the bread was nutty, and the lemon butter was both fatty and tart. It was perfect harmony.


No Bounce

One of the challenging things when you live alone is that you lack easy access to a sounding board. I've managed to make do with friends and family, but there are times that you don't even realize you haven't thought about something.

For example, when my mum was visiting a while back, she was watching me make the cats' food. She asked a few questions and because of that, I've changed my routine and cut 10-15 minutes off the time it takes me to make the food. A similar thing happened when my mum and dad asked me some similar questions about how I package it up for freezing. These are not things I would have thought to ask someone to critique.

(And before y'all offer to be a sounding board for me, fear not. You already are. I'm just talking about these little routine things that sometimes just need to be observed from the outside or another perspective.
No, you cannot come live with me for a week for the sole purpose of critiquing my every action.)

So today, thank your spouse or significant other for asking the silly questions. It really does help.


Four Horsewomen, But No Apocalypse

Having a good time on horseback...

The scenery...

A large herd of elk -- these are the bachelor bucks on the fringes hoping to sneak in when the leader, a big seven point buck, wasn't looking.


I Miss Cooking

I've been so busy lately, I haven't had the opportunity and the energy to spend on my cooking the way I'd like. Susan's visit this weekend was cooking "lite" but it still afforded me the focus that I had lacked to bend my energy and time to cooking something tasty. I wanted Susan to see how I made marshmallows, so we started a batch of the yummolicious chocolate marshmallows.

A secret: I almost decided to quit making marshmallows. My sweet tooth, never very large, has been getting smaller and smaller as the years march on. Marshmallows are not difficult to make, and certainly not difficult to give away, but I had been getting a bit tired of the sugar. However, I decided to give it one more go, since I hadn't yet made chocolate marshmallows. They were so different and so challenging in different ways, I have felt a renaissance of interest. The chocolate marshmallows (recipe here, same fabulous website) have been turning out more moist than the previous flavors. That has made them less marshmallow-like and more like solid chocolate mousse. NOT a problem per se, but when you aim at something and you get something else, you'd like to know why.

After we made those, Susan and I made pasta. Another fun activity. I've had a craving for soup lately and had some defrosted chicken I needed to use. What should we make? How about chicken soup? MMMmmm! Here's what we made with: chicken stock, leftover mushrooms and cabbage, celery, carrots, and thick egg noodles.

I really would like to do this more often. I plan to find a way.


A Rejuvenating Visit

This weekend, my dear friend, Susan, came to visit. We happen to be cousins, but I love to be with her. She is creative and intelligent and beautiful and loving. She is wonderfully self aware. So, even though she only lives an hour away, I treasure her visits. Other visits have been well documented here.

As that last link describes, during the last visit we planned to do to much at once. So, this weekend, she and I planned very little and simply went to have dinner at the divine Junz, in Parker, with Janiece and her SmartMan. We had a great time eating delicious sushi, heavenly risotto, and splitting two excellent desserts, chocolate crème brûlée and rice pastry wrapped mango ice cream. The conversation was, as usual, first rate.

We got home late-ish and proceeded to stay up late talking. I have to admit, I would have been disappointed if we DIDN'T do this.

Our cooking entertainment I'll leave until tomorrow's post, but I'm glad to say we already have at least one visit planned for November. :D


It's Official

I had my three month "review" at work yesterday. Big surprise - they like me! :)

AND I got my new business cards.

I'm officially requesting that someone get me a nice business card case for Christmas. (Now I'll get fourteen card cases. Life time supply!)


Getting a Foothold

There was a while there that I felt like I was at the bottom of a pit and not sure how I was going to get out. The last week or so (bike issues notwithstanding), I've managed to make a little progress towards getting things under control. I'm still staying up WAY too late (affecting when I get up in the morning and therefore when I get into work in the morning), but I'm accomplishing some major housekeeping tasks (last night it was financial housekeeping for the month) and that feels good.

I'm also starting to find my place at work, which feels good too.

This weekend, I have plans to see some of my wonderful friends and hopefully get some more housekeeping (this time, clearing out the basement - again - for work on the bathroom-in-the-basement project to begin).

Slowly but surely...