Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cooking hasn't been all that exciting lately, but tonight I made a fabulously easy, tasty and comforting creamy cauliflower soup that was posted recently on Mark Bittman's blog by Annemarie Conte. In my excessive laziness I didn't even dice the potatoes evenly, and the cauliflower florets were cut more appropriately for a hors d'oeuvres dipping situation than a soup, but it still turned out great. I even used frozen dill for the garnish, but if you don't tell anyone they won't know. Fresh herbs in November are the biggest racket going at the grocery store.

Last weekend I finally attempted the caraway dumpling soup that Cathy's mom was craving right after we learned of her diagnosis. It took two jars of caraway seeds and about three hours to make, and unfortunately wasn't all that tasty. Maybe it was being subjected to the odor of caraway for such a long time before the soup was done, or maybe it was that I didn't grow up with my mom making it when I felt under the weather, but it didn't really live up to expectations. Of course the recipe made a full gallon of soup so now I have the added joy of dumping out a lot of food.

About a week ago I got a notice from the property management that due to The Possibility of Leaks, they'd be replacing my water heater on the 18th. Not only did I need to lock up/control my pets, but I also needed to clean out my storage closet in case the repairman needed to access pipes behind the wall. My storage closet is really, really full. In a flash of paranoia I actually wondered if they were kidding about my (very new looking) water heater because they in fact wanted me to clean out my storage closet. So Tuesday night I dragged out all the boxes and Rubbermaid bins and potting soil, and on Wednesday I worked from home in case they needed me to also move the huge wire shelving unit or take the cat door insert out of the patio door.

None of the above was necessary when it came right down to it. In my case they only needed to swap out some pipes. The whole ordeal was over in about 35 minutes, during which the repairman was a) fascinated by the drop cloth I'd put down, and b) thrilled that I was watching General Hospital, and c) sorry I'd had to evacuate my storage closet for absolutely no good reason. All in all, it wasn't a bad thing I had to pull all the crap out because I ended up consolidating and throwing away about three boxes worth of stuff, and I found my purple yoga blocks. However, since the new pipes were put in my water smells weird.


Sunday, November 08, 2009

I made a steak this weekend--all by myself--and it was good. Wasn't sure for a few minutes there if I'd actually get to enjoy it while it was still hot. I don't have an outdoor grill (nor have I ever been all that great at grilling, too worried about whether the meat is done), so I pan-seared the steak in a cast iron skillet for 90 seconds on each side and then stuck it in the oven. Well, guess what happens when you toss a slab of meat into a hot cast iron pan?


Lots of smoke.

Even with the stove fan on high and all the doors and windows open, it got pretty bad. I fully expected my smoke alarm to go off and summon the fire department who would all laugh themselves silly over my dinner (while it got cold).

But no, it was great. The smoke alarm did not go off. I rested the meat, threw it on a plate with some salt & vinegar potatoes, poured a glass of 1992 Heitz cab (ask Ben someday how I came to be in possession of that great bottle of wine), and had an excellent dinner.

I also succeeded in baking a nice loaf of the no-knead bread this weekend. The first attempt failed last weekend when I forgot to add the salt, but this one turned out quite nicely. I agree with Uncle Bob that the crust is awfully crusty, but the bread is nice and chewy.

In random bird news, a huge hawk swooped down right in front of my car this morning as I was leaving for church, startling the heck out of me and a runner on the sidewalk. It alighted in a tree in the center divide of my street and proceeded to eat its breakfast (a rodent, not the runner). I couldn't see it well enough in my side mirror to figure out what kind it was, and the light turned green before I could turn around and get a good look. There haven't been all that many hawks around lately, mostly crows. A wild turkey stopped traffic briefly on Crow Canyon the other morning, but even those haven't been around as much as usual.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Forest Hill Farms in San Ramon was leading the race for most sincere pumpkin patch in the area this year, until this appeared:

Hard to see in this photo (click to enlarge), but it's an inflatable slide. Of the Titanic. What lunatic decided to make a children's amusement out of a tragedy in which over 1,500 people died? In which you get reenact how many of them actually died... for fun! Whee!

I've seen the Titanic slide before, several years ago at the Tracy mall. Birgit and I were appalled then, too, but my phone did not take photos then.

(I also found out that Forest Hill Farms' pumpkin patch has dumb little rides that they charge extra for, which makes it as insincere a pumpkin patch as you can get in a neighborhood where people don't actually grow pumpkins on a large scale.)

Monday, October 26, 2009

The cats went to see the vet last week for their annual shots and exam, and also because Isis has been barfing a lot, usually around 5am. The vet said she seems to be fine, it may just be a hairball that got down into her stomach. She's only barfed once since then, so hopefully it's not chronic kidney failure.

I found out today that someone I worked with for several years died yesterday at age 33 of a rare form of cancer, a tumor in her pituitary gland. I first met Rannie at E3 when our PR agency had just hired her, a completely green kid who had been putting together comic book cons. After helping me stuff many, many folders with press releases and fact sheets (the days before electronic press kits and ftp sites), we had a nice dinner on 3DO's tab. She was such a sweet person, always ready with a big hug and a smile, even if we hadn't seen each other in ages, and she always said she never forgot that dinner at E3. No one deserves to die of cancer, but this one seems especially unfair.

This evening I made a vegetable soup completely from scratch (no, I didn't grow the vegetables). Using guidelines from Alice Waters, I threw together some chopped onions, carrots, turnip, leek and some of the veggie broth I made last weekend and it magically turned into soup! A good soup, even! It's finally cooling off again after another few warmish days, so that coupled with a not-great day, made a hot, comforting meal pretty essential tonight.

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Sunday, October 04, 2009

I experienced a pretty drastic example of saving money by shopping at Windmill Farms vs. grocery stores yesterday when I went to pick up a bunch of ingredients for a huge pot of Black Bean and Wheat Berry Chili (very good--highly recommended, but probably too spicy for Mom and Bob). At Windmill Farms I spent $4.92 on my produce (I also bought a couple of other items, including some organic spices that were being sold by the producer as a special thing). The same basket of produce at Safeway would have cost me $9.73, even with the Club Card discount. The only item the cost more at Windmill Farms than Safeway was the avocado.

Whole Foods is the only store around here that carries wheat berries and millet, but in the bulk bins so I was able to get out of there for a grand total of $1.86.

The weather today could actually be described as chilly. I had to turn off the ceiling fan this afternoon for the first time in about six months.


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Lemon Drop Dead special edition Jones Halloween soda is pretty tasty. Kind of like a Fanta Lemon Ice, which is sadly not available in the US.

It's actually chilly today! I had to put on socks last night!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Rachel Zoe has vertigo! She is also extremely passive aggressive, but that's a separate issue. Unlike vertigo episodes, her nausea seems to hit even without full-on spinning dizziness which has to be pretty difficult to deal with--is days of constant nausea worse than hours of constant vomiting? I'm not sure of the answer to that. They haven't determined yet what is causing the vertigo, but told her to cut back on the stress and rest.

I spent a lot of time driving this weekend, especially on Sunday when I headed out to Oakdale to pick up my dad's .44 pistol and back to American Canyon to deliver it to Abman/John in time for his deer hunting trip out to someplace where there have been a lot of mountain lion and black bear sightings recently. Good thing gas is really cheap right now.

The Kitchn blog is holding a contest for easy weeknight dinners, and I was very impressed with this recipe for spaghetti squash with avocado and parmesan. Tonight I made another "spaghetti" dish (but with actual pasta this time) from a Marion Cunningham recipe featured on the Less is Enough blog, which continues even though her experiment of eating healthy on a dollar a day is over. Good, but next time I'd use about half the bread crumbs.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

The pond renovation is almost complete and they turned the fountain back on yesterday. Last night I had my first good night's sleep in weeks.

It occurred to me while watching this week's episode of Top Chef that this is possibly the most lackluster, dour group of cheftestants yet. Nobody is hilariously arrogant or charmingly goofy. The frontrunners, with the exception of Kevin, are kind of expressionless and robotic, especially the Voltaggio brothers, whom I can barely tell apart. The rest of them just come off as cranky.


Friday, September 11, 2009

I caught the tail end of today's All My Children tonight, and after only about five minutes I was reminded of why I got fed up and stopped watching even though I've followed this soap more or less since I was 12.

SCENE: Chandler Mansion, Living Room, where beloved Stuart was recently shot and killed and probably bled a lot.

(JR and Marissa are eating cheap frozen cheese pizza, even though Adam is a billionaire and could probably get Wolfgang Puck to come over and whip up some pizza for them.)

JR sighs and runs his hand though his already greasy hair.

Marissa: Am I wrong or did it suddenly get very uncomfortable there?

JR: Sigh mutter mutter sigh. I am mixing pizza grease with hair product.

Marissa: Was it something I said?

JR: No, it was the way you said it--completely without any inflection at all, like a cardboard cutout like you buy at a party store, except you are not a cool Star Wars character. You see, I was already pretend-married to one bad actress who I am supposed to pretend looks just like you, except you look nothing like her at all and it makes my forehead all wrinkly.

Marissa: Gasp. Um, whimper.

JR: I am just going to stare off into the distance now because I can't stand to hear you read lines off the teleprompter anymore.

SCENE: The Very Brightly Lit Bar

Fat Tad: Even though you look like Reba McEntyre, you are supposed to be Liza so I will pretend I know all about your schemes.

Reba McEntyre: Zack is hot in his purple suit. Have some brightly lit wheat grass!

SCENE: The Cheap Secret Room Set

Q-Tip: I am hiding in this stupid high school play set so I can be even more skeletal than I was before! I will defeat Reba McEntyre and keep Zack for myself so he no longer wears purple suits and blue shirts!

Roll credits.

ETA: My mom tells me they were at the fishing cabin, not at the mansion. Still.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Things are busy at work and pretty tense. I was in Las Vegas last week for a tradeshow and nobody was very upbeat. The Mandalay Bay casino was deserted; only Excalibur which had rooms going for as low as $30 a night had much activity. I lost $7 at video poker, freaked out and quit. I hate gambling.

Tonight I'm planning to roast another game hen. My first attempt was about 2 weeks ago and it didn't get cooked thoroughly even though the thermometer read 170°. Since it was supposed to be a cold meal, I'd wrapped the hen tightly in foil and popped her into the fridge right after taking her out of the oven so I didn't realize it wasn't cooked until I unwrapped the foil the next day and it was full of pink juice.

The quinoa salad I'd made to go with the hen was awesome, however. Very easy and filling, and you could probably use couscous just as easily as quinoa.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Disneyland roses are abloom.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

One giant leek for mankind.

I try to buy most of my produce at Windmill Farms; the prices are significantly lower than at grocery stores, the quality is generally better, and the selection is far superior. Yesterday I needed a couple of leeks for the cold cucumber and leek soup I planned to make today, and they had some of the largest specimens I've ever seen. This one is 16".

I caught some of Ten Dollar Meals, the new show from this season's winner of TNFNS, and it's pretty good. Much better than Sandra Lee's silly bargain meals show that comes on right before. Today she made spaghetti and meatballs. Spaghetti is a cheap family dinner? Really, Sandra? And I can freeze my bread to keep it longer? Imagine that! At least Melissa's food was creative and interesting and she didn't insult my intelligence.

Two books that used bookshops probably couldn't have given away six months ago have suddenly become the hottest reads of the summer. I've been watching Merlin on NBC and was inspired to go back and pick up Mary Stewart's The Crystal Cave, which I was never able to get into despite really enjoying her contemporary thrillers. Apparently I'm not the only one, as the book is sold out everywhere--used bookstores, thrift shops and Borders, as well as checked out from all the local libraries. Same with Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I'm waiting to see if the grocery stores start running low on butter and cream soon.

They're doing maintenance on the pond in front of my apartment (the man made pond that gives my street "Shoreline" it's ridiculous name) and in preparation they turned off the fountain about a week ago. I had no idea how much noise that running water screened, especially at night. Supposedly it will be off for about another week. I can't wait for them to be done, and neither can the poor ducks who are standing on piles of dry gravel and staring mournfully at the inch or two of murky water that's left.


Friday, July 31, 2009

Rebekah brought a cake into work for my birthday today!

If you are not yet familiar with the Cake Wrecks phenomenon, please click here.

Thanks, Rebekah!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Question that popped into my head as I watched the FINA World Championships in Rome this week: solo synchronized swimming?

Image copyright Getty Images.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Two baby doves, five days old. Mom is off taking a break somewhere, probably tired of trying to sit on top of a pair of baby birds who are maybe one-third her size already. I keep forgetting to bring a real camera, so this is taken with my stupid Moto Q work phone, whose only redeeming quality is that the camera is slightly better than my LG Rumor personal phone.

I completely forgot to mention the other day in my praise of great actors the amazing performance by Stephen Root as the pathetic gay vampire on True Blood in a role completely unlike his usual great comedic work, but awe-inspiring nonetheless. (I hear he's in No Country for Old Men as well, but I haven't had a chance to watch that yet since I only recently found the USB drive where that's stored).

A lot of big expenses hit all at once this month, so I'm keeping to a very tight budget until the next paycheck and challenging myself to eat out of the pantry again. So far it's working pretty well, though I learned last night that if you make a baked penne dish to extend two servings of dry pasta and some leftover sauce into maybe three or four servings, you have to add something besides cheese and breadcrumbs to bulk it up. Otherwise it's just the same two servings of cooked pasta, only with stickier, cheesier sauce.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The baby doves hatched on Monday morning. We were starting to get worried about her because the gestation period for dove eggs is about 18 days and it was getting pretty close. This is a photo of mom sitting on the nest on Friday afternoon taken from the top of the stairs. Now we're worried about the babies falling off that beam.

Still no barn swallow nest on my patio. My neighbor's raucous party the other night shook loose most of the mud that was there. Maybe they gave it up as a bad location.

Today I awoke to temperatures that could almost be considered chilly. Supposedly it will stay reasonable for a couple more days before the flames of hell crank up again. I made nimbu pani, an Indian version of limeade this weekend. They drank it by the gallon in Midnight's Children, so I had to go look it up. The main difference comes from adding a pinch of salt that smooths out the sugar and tartness. Isis really likes it. I used about half as many limes as the recipe calls for to get 1 1/2 C, and the concentrate makes about 8 glasses.

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

So tired of eating cold dinners. If I'd wanted to live with day-in, day-out temps hovering around 100°, I'd have moved to Phoenix. Tonight I made a chilled cucumber soup from USA Weekend magazine that tasted good though the consistency was weird and I was starving about an hour afterward.

Went to see the new Harry Potter movie today. Though I liked the Cuarón vision over Chris Columbus' by far, it was nice to see all the cool little magical touches again that make the wizarding world so enchanting. I don't remember as many of these in Order of the Phoenix, but I only saw the movie once. David Yates, writer Steve Kloves and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel (Amélie) make a good team.

I'm watching the latest episode of The Next Food Network Star as I write this, and this one convinces me that Susie, Bob and Bobby are really the sadistic bullies I've always suspected they were. If the host of some podunk morning show randomly decided to slop hot sauce all over something Bobby Flay made he would have murdered the guy right there on the spot with a paring knife. And there is no way in hell they would have walked onto Paula Deen's set in the middle of a shoot and swapped out her butter for tofu, or suddenly stopped Boobs De Laurentiis mid pasta and told her she had to make something Cuban. They had the nerve to chastise Jamika for showing she was mad??? Because Bobby's never, ever been visibly enraged on camera. Nor Alton Brown. What pisses me off about this show is that they consistently subject these people to standards that not a single one of the current stars had to deal with, and what has it gotten them? In five seasons, they found one legitimate breakout in Guy Fieri. Maybe it's time to rethink the show?


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Count fennel in amongst the thing you don't want to revisit in the middle of the night at the toilet bowl--you know, that list of things like tomato sauce and hot peppers that make an extremely unpleasant experience even more awful. Fennel is very, very bitter.

It has been ungodly hot here again this week so the other night I made a raw lemon and fennel soup from Veggie Times (the recipe is not online yet and don't bother anyway). The soup itself was extremely bland but didn't taste especially off or anything. Nonetheless, I felt green around the gills right after eating it and then woke up in the middle of the night already halfway down the hall to the bathroom. Not sure if one of the ingredients was bad or whether I was predestined to get sick. Next day I was mostly fine, just tired and not particularly hungry. There's a weird stomach bug going around that makes you queasy/barfy and headachy/feverish for a couple of days, so it may have just been that. I made broiled tofu with mango sauce and mustard greens last night (also Veggie Times), and was for the most part just fine. The recipe itself was ok, basically tofu cooked in your favorite chutney and served over bitter greens that seemed like an afterthought.

That's the second time I've cooked fennel and the second time I was less than impressed, so it's off the list.

I've jumped on the True Blood bandwagon this season and am so impressed by some of the cast who tend to make the rounds of good shows. As I mentioned in a post about Lost recently, the same names seem to pop up again and again. William Sanderson plays the Sheriff, and Chris Bauer, who played the tragic union boss on the second season of The Wire, is the doomed Detective Bellefleur. Michelle Forbes, who has Bellefleur wrapped around her talon, was recently on Battlestar Galactica (a show that every geek on the planet but me watched), and was also Ensign Ro on Star Trek TNG way back when.

In other news: Cathy's mom passed away nine weeks after her initial diagnosis and the memorial was last weekend. I did one of the readings (2 Cor 4:14-5:1) without falling on my face on my way to or from the lectern and without either giggling or sobbing uncontrollably in the middle. It helped that the baptismal font blocked my view of Cathy and Tim in the front pew. The service was beautiful, and all of those who bitched and moaned about having to put on a dress and sit in church for an hour can just go stuff it because that's what Shirley wanted and if you're not the one who died then you don't get a say. Tomorrow Cathy flies to Pittsburgh to do the whole thing all over again and bury her mom's ashes in the family plot. I'm tired of people dying.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Today it's supposed to cool down to a chilly 92. I considered wearing a sweater this morning. (Since it is currently 67° in my office, a sweater would not have been a bad idea.) All alone in the office today with one person out sick, one on a sort of slowdown, and two on vacation. I actually have a lot to do, so maybe sheer boredom will motivate me to get it all done with a minimum of procrastination. Since I am at this moment writing a blog entry, that doesn't seem too likely.

The stupid doves are trying the whole nesting thing again, in the exact same spot. This time however, their pile of twigs looks sturdier, like maybe they consulted a contractor or something, and the mom bird is plumped down right on top like she's been glued there. Hope springs eternal.

No nests have materialized yet on my patio. There was quite a flurry of activity over the weekend and a few more splats of mud showed up on the ceiling beam, but it didn't look like any progress had been made yesterday.

I had more of the BLT avocado salad last night, and no it didn't really improve much. Meh.

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Monday, June 29, 2009

It is still hot here though not as hot as it was this time yesterday. I left the AC on all night because when I got up to check the temp at about 2am it was still 81.

My goal this weekend was all cold food: Saturday I made a chilled cucumber and tomato soup, and last night was a BLT salad with avocado dressing from the newspaper. The soup is good (I added croutons), but the yogurt base makes it pretty rich. It'd be good next to some cold roast chicken. The avocado dressing was surprisingly bland, but it might be better today after sitting in the fridge overnight.

Image copyright New Line Cinema