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I baked some pretty awesome blackberry muffins last week, except I forgot to put in baking powder. Pretty tasty, anyway, and as experimental textures go...well, it was experimental. In the sense of, um, oops.

We took Mom back to her place this weekend. She's doing well enough to take care of herself. Huge relief! And a bonus weekend with the family. After that grueling slog through medical emergency, everybody was kinda down for the count, and I wanted out anyway, so I volunteered to walk the dog all over town (got to revisit some old haunts I don't usually get out to) and then spent a day puttering around in my uncle's garden. Came home with a whole produce aisle's worth of harvest, along with two venison steaks (score!). I made amends to the parrots, who were cranky about having had no one to play with for three weeks (my aunt feeds them, but let's just say they don't see eye-to-eye on the definition of "quality time").

In possibly related news, I've developed a weird sensation in my throat since my visit. It feels like I'm trying not to cry, only all the time. Now, I'm aware that this could be a harbinger of some serious medical conditions, but betting it was instead a harbinger of autumn allergies, I gave it a week of benadryl. No dice so far, so I'll get it checked by a doctor next week. Next suspect on my list is mild asthma. I wouldn't be the first person in my family to develop it.

Then again, now that the emergency is all over, I suppose it's possible that I just want to pitch a good fit. I prefer to put off the histrionics in the midst of crisis because you never know when you'll need a clear head, but...well, I've never been in the position of approving medical procedures on other people before. Hearing the doctor rattle off a list of long-shot but potentially devastating consequences of inserting a chest tube and then being asked for permission was a bucket of not-fun. Maybe I should rent the most depressing movie I can get my hands on and have an embarrassing crying jag some night this weekend.

But I'll visit the doc anyway; no sense taking stupid chances. And hey, while I'm there, maybe I can see about getting that EKG pushed forward. I don't really feel like waiting till November.

Finally (I know I'm repeating myself) OMG SUPERNATURAL TONIGHT! Last year I had three shows I took the trouble of catching when they first aired on TV. Now I'm down to one, because Fox moved Fringe to share Supernatural's slot like a bunch of jerks and Siffy-Yiffy bailed out on all that is good and moved Eureka to Fridays. Those're two separate things, by the way. They bailed out on all that is good AND they moved Eureka to Fridays. Not that I'm surprised. Anything they do right at this point is a happy accident and probably evidence that God does exist and works miracles.

PS: Yes, you may feel free to also call it Siffy-Yiffy. In fact, let's try to make it a meme. It's slightly less stupid than the real name, anyway.
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I have a new car. It's awesome. I have sticker shock. That, not so much. I've never spent so much money on an actual object before. O.o

This weekend, I drank really really good coffee. Great coffee. Coffee so good that you want to drink it black to keep from disguising the taste. Coffee so good it tastes the way it smells. Coffee so good that I don't hate coffee anymore. Now I just hate most coffee, and I weep for the crimes committed daily against the bean.

I have too much homework on a week when I just want to curl up and hide. This weekend shall be nothing. Rest and whatever homework I don't get to during the week. And maybe finish another drawing that I realized yesterday was that character I dreamed about, whom apparently I was trying to draw a few weeks before I dreamed of him. Oh, subconscious, you are a crazy mofo.

And maybe obsessing over FFVII--my first conscious fandom, which lately has reawakened (I can't believe it's been over 10 years!).

God, that game was such a scattered mess. But the things that worked, worked so well that I've never been able to let go of trying to make sense of it all. Mainly because of Nibelheim. The moment you arrive at that town, you know you've found the heart of evil. Every step you take, every door you open, increases the smothering weight of it till you stand in that little lab beneath the town and you know that from this spot the ripples of horror spread till they threatened to devour the world. And with a dizzying sense of falling into an abyss without a bottom, you understand that you, the main character, were there when it happened, and that even you didn't really make it out alive.

They failed at everything else till 10 years later, but they pulled off Nibelheim, and that was enough. It's kind of sad that it took a single line from the later movie to make most of it resolve into perfect sense (though admittedly the other games helped too)...but y'know, after all this time I can't help but love it for the crazy nonsense too.

This is why so many FFVII fans and not-quite-fans are desperate for a remake. But in a way, I'm not looking forward to it, because I think if it ever gets the treatment the story deserved, it'll be the end of it.

Won't stop me from playing if it ever hits the market, though. :)
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Between trying to save a bit of extra money for some shinies I want, and the realization that I've gotten tubby over the winter, two weeks ago I changed my diet, paring things down to the minimum that I know I'll still enjoy. It's cheap to eat cereal for breakfast, make my own sandwiches for lunch, and take fresh fruit, nuts, or vegetable sticks to work for snacks. I'm not cutting off my tea consumption or changing what I eat for dinner (we like to cook inventively at my house), and with the variety of cereals and sandwich options, it's a simple menu that won't quickly get boring.

Interestingly, my calorie count hasn't changed. I tend to hover around 1700 per day, regardless of what I'm eating. I've thrown in a bit of light exercise, but that's pretty much the equivalent of walking once around the block. And yet, in the past two weeks I have noticed a perceptible amount of weight loss (not that it takes much; at 5 feet tall, 5 lb. is enough to prompt a wardrobe change), my body feels lighter and more efficient, and my skin suddenly looks great. I've always had a pretty well-behaved complexion, but up till I looked at myself in the mirror this morning, I always thought the stuff in the ads about "luminous skin" just a salesman's melodramatics.

Now here's the thing: it's not as though I was over-indulging in junk food before. I had pop tarts or hot pockets for breakfast and maybe canned soup or granola bars for lunch. So if the composition of my diet is the only thing I've significantly changed to achieve these sudden dramatic (for me) results, then I am forced to ask myself, just what is really in that processed crap? I knew it wasn't the best choice out there, but there's a whole world of difference between "could be better" and "will secretly give you a heart attack before you're 60."

I'm not about to suddenly swear off meat and run away into Tofu-land, but I'm going to be eying food that comes in a box a lot more suspiciously from now on, I can tell you.
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Well, it's not really new, I've been using this for the past year or so. Some of you may remember my bread recipe from a few years back. I laid out the whole bread-making process, actually, for those f-listers who were interested in baking, but had no idea where to start (bread can be a weird critter; one of those deals where it's the first thing you try and the last thing you master). I'm not going to repeat the extended instructions for kneading and rising and all that, but I've since refined the recipe to a better, simpler creature, so I'll give you that one, too.

One note: through trial and error, I have learned that unbleached flour is the way to go. Not only is it a bit better for you (more nutrients, less, um, bleach), but it's more glutinous. Glutin is the substance that makes wheat flour a sticky, clumpy goop when you get it wet. It's what makes the dough sticky and stretchy while you're kneading it, and what allows the bread to rise. The more glutin, the stretchier it'll be and the better the rise (and eventual texture) you'll get in the bread. Unbleached flour. Doesn't have to say "bread flour" on the bag (though King Arthur Bread Flour is an old and time-tested tradition that grandmothers swear by).

This still makes two loaves of plain white bread. People keep complimenting me that it's some of the best bread they've ever had.

6-7 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 packet/cake/tablespoon yeast (depending on what package you get it in)
3 tablespoons fat (I've been using olive oil; gives the bread a really nice taste and texture)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 cups warm water (pleasantly warm but not hot to the touch; water that's too hot kills the yeast)

Easiest way to mix:
I stir the yeast and sugar into the water. The yeast will begin to eat the sugar, so this encourages it. The sign of yeast-life: little bubbles should start showing up. This is gas released by the yeast digesting the sugar, and is a sign the yeast is working. The more bubbles, the more lively the yeast (I have always had good results with Fleischmann's yeast, but other brands I have tried have been hit-and-miss). After the yeast has demonstrated activity, pour the olive oil in.

Meanwhile, I reserve a cup or two of the flour, since I'll be wanting to mix that in during the kneading so the bread won't stick to everything in creation. I toss the salt into most of the flour (salt should never be added directly to the yeast, since it'll kill it in such a concentrated dose), and then mix the wet and dry ingredients.

Then the kneading, etc. If you need instructions, you can find those in the post I linked to.
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I've mentioned No Reservations to some of you as a show you should watch. It's one of those travel shows (on the Travel Channel, 10 pm Mondays and also sometime during the late afternoon most weekdays in reruns), where he spins across the planet, looking for interesting things to eat and interesting people to eat them with. So it's, like, educational. It's also one of the best things on television.

The thing is, it's not a show about the cheapest places to stay or the best restaurants or how gorgeous this place is that you'll never be able to visit on your budget. It's a show about what people are like all over the world, and what happens in one man's head when he goes someplace and it teaches him something. When Bourdain isn't being thought-provoking, he's being hilarious, perhaps kvetching about the rigors of smoking a cigarette at 10,000 feet or laughing at his cameraman for accepting every shot of ouzo their Greek hosts have handed him in the past eight hours. (It does have an "adult material" warning because Bourdain doesn't always watch his mouth, and...well, let's say dress codes aren't always the same in other countries.)

If you can't make the show, then check out Anthony Bourdain's Blog, where you can be entertained and educated by turns (often at once!).

Also, look for the "Anthony Bourdain in Beirut" episode. He and his crew arrived in Beirut just a few days before the Israeli/Lebanon conflict in 2006, and they remained there throughout the week, filming, because there wasn't anything else they could do. It wasn't like their normal episodes. They cut it from the material they had, of the attacks and the hiding and the evacuation, and they aired it because, well, it's one of those things. It's not full of blood or death or violence. There's no commentary on "us" or "them." It's just a show about people, and what happens sometimes, and the things we usually look away from.

Comments and reviews on the episode.
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Okonomiyaki is a kind of veggie-loaded pancake that's also known as "Japanese pizza" for the enormous variety of stuff you can put on top (namely, pretty much anything). It's based in a fairly average griddlecake batter with cabbage stirred in, along with your other chosen toppings.

I had this for the first time in Columbus the other week, and now I'm jonesing for another fix. Luckily, it's really damn easy to make! Not much more elaborate than scrambled eggs.

Dashi is a powdered Japanese soup stock, that's not strictly necessary for the recipe. You can just use water if you don't feel like digging through the nearest Asian grocery.
Okonomiyaki sauce is wonderful and I'm going to see if I can find it at the Chinese grocer. I'm told that if you don't have access to it, you can use worchestershire sauce.

Ingredients:

1 cup flour
3/4 cup dashi (or water, see below)*
1 egg
1/8-1/4 of a cabbage
Whatever other toppings you feel like. Common ones are chicken, shrimp, onion, peppers, pork, mushrooms. It's called "Japanese pizza" because the toppings can vary so widely. They're pretty much up to you. The one I had had chicken, scallions, and I think bean sprouts.

Directions:

Chop the cabbage finely, removing the white stem.
Chop all your toppings well.

Heat a skillet/griddle/grill (you might want to wipe it lightly with oil if it's not nonstick)

Break the egg in a large bowl, pour in the water/dashi and the flour. Beat with a whisk or fork till smooth.

Add some of the cabbage to the batter and mix it in.

Next, toss your additional toppings onto the frying surface along with some oil. If you're adding meat, you want to make sure it's cooked before adding anything else.

Pour the batter over the toppings.
Turn the heat to medium. Cook the pancake for about 5 minutes. Then flip it and cook another 5-10 minutes. You may snag small amounts of pancake/cabbage to test for doneness during cooking, if you're not sure it's ready.

When it's done, top it with okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise.
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When I catch myself thinking, "Is this a U2 song?" and then realize no, it can't be because it's not quite good enough.

I found beef short ribs at the grocery store earlier this week and snatched them up because I love them and I can never find them. Last night I braised them in a wine sauce and failed to make risotto, but what I ended up with instead was a wonderful creamy cheesy herb rice that was just as good.

It was serious win.

I've got some people on my f-list who desperately wish they knew how to cook, and though this came out seeming really fancy, it's actually very simple.

The recipe, such as it is )
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On the way to Columbus, we got stuck in traffic twice, for a grand total of two extra hours added on to our trip (which was five and a half hours to begin with). Both jams were caused by accidents, and they were about ten miles apart. The second accident was kind of awful, and I hope everybody got out okay, but I remain puzzled by the first one: when we went past, the police were just cleaning up the remains, and inexplicably, a random fat guy on a rascal was winding up the yellow caution tape.

I didn't actually attend many events at the convention. This year, I was more interested in roaming around the city. I went to the Franklin Conservatory and botanical gardens, which was awesome, and which had PARROTS! I chatted with the macaws in the rain forest section, and I made friends with the lorikeets in the butterfly garden. Lorikeets are very colorful medium-sized parrots who eat nectar. I learned how to mimic their calls (I'm good at mimicking parrot calls) and lured them over to me and played with them. I also took a friend to the Catholic museum a couple of miles away, which contains some beautiful art, relics, and historical objects from Catholic churches around the eastern US. Neat place, and our tour guide knew a lot of stories about the displays.

I ate a lot. The first night we went to the Fish Market, which...yes. Do that if you like seafood at all. Stupendous. The food was spectacular, and the service was incredible. They made us feel like like they'd be sad to see us go. Note: they will not warn you about the Desserts of Doom. If you get dessert, it will be the size of your head. Prepare accordingly.

I ate twice at the Zencha tea salon, which doesn't have a website. They have a four-page tea menu--I got the sampler, which lets you choose three kinds--and a small lunch/brunch menu. On Saturdays, they have a special brunch menu that mainly features different sorts of waffles and griddle cakes. If you ever go there, get the okonomikayi--chinese cabbage, scallions, bean sprouts, chicken in an egg-based pancake. It's seriously kick-ass. Also I highly recommend the cherry blossom green tea. It was my favorite of all the kinds I tried, with a flowery fragrance and a hint of cherry-like sweetness around the edges.

I got Jeni's ice cream a few times. My favorite was the goat cheese ice cream with cherry compote, which tasted like a terrific cherry cheesecake.

And my sister and I went to Mitchell's steakhouse for lunch. Their dinner menu is expensive, but lunch is much more reasonable. The place is located in an old renovated bank, with gorgeous arching ceilings with frescoes, and the whole place is extremely stylish and sophisticated. The staff were extremely welcoming, and though it looks like the sort of place you'd expect to have a dress code, they were quite relaxed. Spectacular food.

And we ate at BD's Mongolian grill, which is a choose-your-own-stirfry sort of place that's fairly well-known to the gamer set at Origins. They had a special room set up for people from the convention, where they put Monty Python's Quest for the Holy Grail on the TV, and all the restaurant staff lingered around the doorway when they weren't running tables. :)

All told, I ate way too much, and somehow lost an inch off my waist. Possibly it was all the walking. I walked a lot.

Of the few events I went to, my favorite was the "What makes aliens alien?" seminar, hosted by Michael Stackpole, which was far too short for a subject like that with a guy who knows his stuff that well (also a really good group of attendees who were just as much fun). The Origins blockade irritated me this year. Normally they have staffers at the doorway of the various exhibit halls who'll check your badge. This time they blocked off parts of the hall and the doors into the convention center so they could stop anybody entering the building (sometimes, when they felt like staffing those areas). I'm not even sure they were supposed to be allowed to do that. I think the place is supposed to remain open to the public, seeing as the food court and whatnot are advertised as public eateries. :P

On the way back, we drove through a driving rainstorm of the sort where you have to be careful not to hydroplane...in which my serpentine belt suddenly decided to give up the ghost. I couldn't even tell, at first, because the rain had the steering behaving so wonky already, but the "check guages" light came on, and then a couple of minutes later I realized that the engine was overheating. When I pulled over, I realized that my power steering had given out. So we were stuck about 20 miles away from the nearest anything in the middle of a vicious thunderstorm on a Sunday afternoon around 5 pm, and it took us about an hour to sort out help. When I checked the engine, sure enough the serpentine belt was missing. A nice man who stopped to help us said he couldn't figure out how my car could still move. It should've lost all power to the drive train, because the serpentine belt is what transfers power from the spinning bit the pistons make move (it's like the wheel a generator turns, folks) to...well, pretty much anything else. So I have a magic car. I knew this.

Anyway, the very kind state police helped us and got hold of not only a tow truck but also a car rental agency that was still open or at least on call with the police for emergencies, and things got sorted by about 6 pm. I drove home in a rented Taurus while my car got left with a really nice mechanic named Jim out in Mercer (highly recommended if any of you blow something in the vicinity of DuBois, PA). For that hour or so, it was dread and badness and the fear of spending EVEN MORE on my car than I had already. But as I merged onto I-80 in the (really rather nice, OMG I need a new car) Taurus, I was passed by a white Pontiac who had the entire rear end of their car held on by bungee straps.

And I realized with that little bit of perspective that I really wasn't in such a bad space. After all, I could've been That Guy.

I drove back out yesterday (hour and a half trip) to pick my car up. Jim had it all patched up with a new serpentine belt for a really very reasonable price, the steering is nice and responsive now, and I'll get a refund on the towing bill from my insurance agency.

Funny thing, though: I got there to pick up my car, and he asked me, "You know you had a serpentine belt in your trunk?" And you know what? I did know that. It burst upon my consciousness that I knew I'd had a serpentine belt in my trunk for EIGHT YEARS, because the last time I had it replaced, the mechanic accidentally abraded the new one so that it screamed like a cat in heat, and they'd re-replaced it with a clean one gratis and thrown the noisy but perfectly viable one in my trunk, where it remains to this day.

Jim could've put that one on on the spot, so I wouldn't have needed a tow or a rental car or anything. The nice man who stopped to help us (who'd actually asked my friend "I don't suppose there's any chance you've got a spare?" while I was down the road hunting for a mile marker) could've put it on. My friend could've put it on, because I have the tools to do so in my trunk as my family doesn't believe in driving around in big machines without a toolbox just in case.

Here's the thing. I'm not upset about spending the money or breaking down in the first place or anything like that. That white sedan taught me that valuable lesson. But I'm disappointed that I missed that special "What're the odds?" opportunity, so beloved of packrats, to save the day by hauling out the unlikely item in question.
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So...my sister and are going to visit our brother in New York in April. She commented that she'd like to eat at a fine restaurant, and I replied that I've always wanted to go to Delmonico's.

We knew it would be expensive; we're looking at a blue-blooded dining experience here, after all. So I thought I was prepared when I opened their sample online menu to find that a classic Delmonico cut steak was priced at $41.

And then I noticed it was for a 20 ounce steak!

What the hell, Delmonico's? Are you expecting to feed women pregnant with triplets? I have trouble finishing more than a 6 ounce steak in a sitting! $41 for half a cow is eminently reasonable...assuming you're got a pet tiger to feed!
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We had a holiday party this weekend, and it was lovely. Awesome food, good friends, fun conversation, interesting stories... Ah. Stories. Had a few folks from work there, including the cute cookie-baking supervisor who's been here for years and knew about Bert.

He told us another story. A story about our boss-lady *sob* using an ouija board to help her work out the five-year budget plan for our department. She's psychic, see. Only it didn't go so well, see, because while she was communicating with the beyond via party games, she felt a Dark Presence appear in her office, so she panicked and yelled "I ABJURE YOU!" called her useless administrative assistant, who had her come over so they could pray together with the family pastor for a few hours.

This was two years ago. God help me. I already worked here, then.

I have created a new tag, because "stupid" just doesn't cover this. I'll be off in the corner for a few minutes, making incoherent sputtering sounds.

...

But at least my co-worker, the one who sits next to me at work, has an absolutely awesome baby girl. I mean, unfathomably awesome. I'm not usually the baby-cuddling type, but I hold this one every chance I get. Since I'd met the baby girl at work a few times when Husband stopped by with her, I knew she was a quiet, well-mannered little thing who enjoyed being around people. So we told Co-worker to bring her whole family to the party, because we knew everybody would adore the little one (and also because they're new parents, so their chances for social gatherings can be kind of limited, and we were fine with taking turns with the baby so the parents could have time for themselves too). The child was the hit of the evening. This kid is five months old, and she's so alert and attentive. You look in her eyes and it's like you can already see her thinking. It's almost spooky. I've never seen a baby with such aware eyes. She's usually almost completely quiet; she prefers to watch people and listen to them talk. And bounce. She loves to bounce. So baby girl enjoyed the party as much as everybody else.

We had a storm over the weekend, but it didn't do much other than dump ice on us. Which didn't really cut the party short, because it didn't start up till about 9 pm. Which I remember really frigging well, because that's when some of our guests stumbled back in because their car had been towed out of a perfectly legal parking spot, which meant we had to drive them (in the ice storm) to get their car, for which they were charged $95 (that's $20 more than three months ago, when I last took somebody to pick their car up from this place) so they could retrieve it and drive home. In the ice storm, which had gotten worse while they were forced to wait.

That tow company--Walk's--is a bunch of jackasses. This is far from the first time I've heard of such things happening. But this time they did it in dangerous weather conditions and screwed over our guests. We've taken it up with the landlords for a refund and, hopefully, a reaming-out. The landlords are not best pleased, either. Apparently they've been having some troubles of this sort lately.

Also related to the party, here's a terrific gingerbread recipe:

2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup shortening
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup molasses
1/2 cup shortening
1 egg
1 cup boiling water

Stir it all together, make sure you've beaten the lumps out, and pour it into a 8" x 8" or 9" x 13" baking pan (the smaller size gets you fluffy, fat pieces, while the larger size gets you a more brownie-like texture). Bake for 50 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In completely separate news, I just read Melusine and The Virtu by Sarah Monette, and it is love. I'm already reading them again while I wait for the third book to come to me. I know some people on my f-list have read them, so...y'know, if you'd like to comment, or flail or burble or even criticize or whatever, I'd really be up for some of that.
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Sometimes you come across things that you just have to blog about. We were...Alice, this might be traumatic for you, it involves dead betas and weirdness...we were celebrating our boss's 50th birthday this morning, when her assistant dives into our break room kitchen and hauls out a small lunch-pail-sized box. "Shall we go out and bury Bert?" she asks. Well, half of us had no idea what she was talking about, till my supervisor explained to the room in a desert-dry tone, "Bert is our department fish who died years ago and has been sitting in the freezer ever since." Apparently Bosslady has been having trouble letting go.

Man... I've eaten food out of that freezer!

She also insisted on hugging each and every one of us, shortly before announcing that she had acquired a flu while visiting Gettysburg over the weekend. Wow, thanks. Nothing says "I care" like germs.

Anyway, Thanksgiving was super-fine. My hermit-like father actually came out of his burrow to visit us at our humble abode, and the three of us--Dad, Sister, and I--had a lovely Thanksgiving all to ourselves. Making a holiday dinner for a family can be grueling and tedious. Making it with a family is fun.

I made my first-ever completely solo turkey, which was beyond awesome. We brined it, which essentially means we soaked it in a bucket of salt water overnight. Holy crap. It took two hours to cook, and we didn't have to baste it once, and when I carved that sucker, it nearly exploded with juiciness. So freaking easy. I will never cook a turkey a different way again. Here. Do it. I swear it will convert you. You don't actually need any of the herbs, spices, or aromatics on that list if you don't want them. They're a matter of preference, though I do recommend using the vegetable stock and the sugar in the brine. And when you brine the turkey, there's enough salt in that water that you don't have to be concerned about bacteria in the food. I've talked to people who've brined their turkey for up to three days, though doing it even for a couple of hours makes a definite difference. It doesn't come out super-salty at all; just perfectly juicy and seasoned with every bite.

I think Dad'll come back to visit just for the shopping. He's a huge bargain hound (the thrill of the hunt!), and we nearly had to drag him from the stock surplus store we have here because every time he turned a corner, he said he kept finding more things that he suddenly found he needed desperately. :D I admit, it was pretty tempting. I bought a full-length cashmere/wool blend coat there for $20 (Albert Nipon, holy cow! Probably why it was so cheap; do they do anything besides perfume these days?). Almost got a leather duster for $30, but the wool coat was too perfect a fit to pass up.

Anyway, done babbling. How about some art? )
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Librarians are famous for loving their conferences. Thanks to the tireless nagging of our Associate Dean, Sally Kalin, the Pennsylvania Library Association is hosting their bajillion-and-second annual conference here at Penn State. It started on Sunday. They've never held it here before. It's always been in Philadelphia, Lancaster, or Pittsburgh. So, this is quite a coup--or something--and our particular department got volunteered to help make it as awesome and impressive and repeatable as possible.

Among other things, this means we've spent the last two weeks running around like we were fighting a zombie attack, designing posters, signage, banners (apparently they've never had a banner before, or a graphic theme, which leads me to believe that impressing the hell out of this group won't be terribly difficult), brochures, and whatever other printed materials a librarian's conference needs in order to function. Another thing we have that they've never had before for a PaLA conference is modern, standardized equipment. Y'know, laptops that dependably have functional software, that sort of thing. We also got volunteered as the A/V staff, since the conference center here charges extra for the service of their technical staff and equipment, and the PaLA doesn't exactly have an overabundance of money.

Most of which I mention because it amuses me.

Anyway, I'll be working A/V tomorrow, and alternately delighting in the chaos and screaming at the ineptitude of our Luddite bindery staff, who for some inexplicable reason our department head decided would be helping in the A/V duties (bindery supervisor managed to jam the blinds in one room through her panicked random button pushing, when no one had asked her to meddle with the blinds at all; God help us if she gets near an actual computer). But since Penn State's libraries have decided it'd be a crime for a locally hosted conference to go to waste, they're actually footing the bill for any and all library personnel to get themselves registered and attend at least a day of the conference on university money.


I went yesterday, and by God, it was actually a lot of fun. )


Humanity online and what could become of us? )


PrettyArbitrary dramatically switches gears and talks about her own future. )


* They say the hyphen is dying? Not on my watch!


Oh, I almost forgot! Two YouTube videos to amuse you.
Snowball the rockin' cockatoo--my sister sent me this.

Darth Vader turns out to be hip after all--this one is my dad's fault.




And! I forgot to brag. Our stove has been dying the slow death for quite some time, and then last week I...uh, kinda...set the washing machine on fire. Sort of! Okay, well really it was just smoking. They said it was probably the belt. ANYWAY! Point being that we've had our appliances attended to. Washing machine isn't fixed yet, but what we do have is a nice, shiny AWESOME new stove! Sleek black thing with a flat top range...our kitchen is now handsome. It cooks hot, fast, and evenly...man, I gotta get to some baking.

Point being, I brag about the new stove. And also, our kitchen has, ever since we moved in, occasionally displayed an odd funk. Nothing we could pinpoint, not bad or strong, just...present sometimes. Well, when they pulled out the old stove, it turned out...(Kashyk, if you're reading this, you may just want to stop here).

See, the guys who lived there before us had a pet ball python. The python escaped and went missing at one point (you can tell this is going nowhere good, can't you?). It was never heard from again.

Until Monday, when they pulled out the old stove and found that it had apparently crawled up underneath to get warm, where it was...less mummified, more petrified, and proceeded to funk up the place for four years.

In other news, on Sunday I baked fresh bread (used kosher salt, turns out that in the future I need to be a bit more liberal with that as the bread ended up undersalted). I also pretty much invented a tomato sauce recipe. Well, less invented, more followed an age-old pattern using all fresh ingredients, starting with fresh-picked tomatoes. It went down a big hit with the roommates, so I'll probably tinker, work the bugs out and make it more regularly.

Perhaps I should add that both of those were on the old stove.
prettyarbitrary: (Default)
This has always been one of my favorite RPGs of all time (this and VI are my favorite FF games). So now....Final Fantasy IV remake.

I agree with that reviewer. "I'm okay with SE totally whoring out this franchise so long as it continues to do so in this general direction." Exactly, reviewer dude. Exactly.

In other news, we caught our kitchen on fire the other night. That sounds spectacular, which is why I wanted to say it, but really it was just a little grease fire, of the sort you sometimes get when you're frying or grilling. The fire extinguisher got crap all over the place, though. It was a beast to clean up.

The chicken fingers, however, turned out spectacularly.

SPEAKING OF COOKING! Nate_Prentice just showed me this little beauty: Eater of souls, roaster of dogs.

Also: fine, fine! My birthday's up in my profile now. Happy, LJ? I only left it out to avoid the embarrassment of having half my f-list descend upon me in annual birthday wishes and most of the other half apologizing to me for a week after for missing it.
prettyarbitrary: (Default)
Really. Ineffably cool. It is. Courtesy of [livejournal.com profile] etherlad.

Now, as you may know, I'm a sucker for tea. I drink it all the time. I love trying different kinds. So now, I'm doomed. I've begun looking at online tea catalogues (huh, ever notice that sometimes I inexplicably use the British spelling for things?), and I've noticed that many of them sell little sampler tins for about $5 each, or whole sampler packs for $10-$20. Yeah, it seems so inexpensive, doesn't it? Doomed, I tell you!

So, uh, got any recommendations for me? I'm a particular fan of milder teas without much of a tannin bite, like greens, oolongs, and whites, but I don't turn down the occasional Earl Grey or Russian Caravan.
prettyarbitrary: (Default)
A great deal of eventfulness this weekend, which added up to little--my car is back in the shop, and my sister has the flu. On the other hand, there was a lovely turkey dinner and the exchange of presents among friends.

I'm still taking notes on that story idea, but when it's begun coalescing into anything involving actual sentences, I'll get that filter set up for those of you who want to be on it.

But most importantly, I've been working on this sucker for six months, on and off, and it's done! I've finished it! It is...a picture with an actual background! Iron Kingdoms: the Rigs
prettyarbitrary: (Default)
This is written with bread-newbs in mind, so forgive the rambling.

1/2 cup water, scalded--this means you heat it to around 105 to 110 degrees F) or warm from the tap, if your tap water runs hot enough. (Note that the original recipe called for 1/4 cup, but like I said, I changed it this time and it worked well.)
1 packet or cake of yeast
1 cup milk, also scalded
1 tablespoon (tbsp) sugar
1 teaspoon (tsp) salt
3 tbsp fat (butter, lard, Criso, whatever floats your boat)

Makes two loaves.

For those of you with bread-baking experience, here's the shorthand: mix the water and yeast, let stand till yeast is completely dissolved. Meanwhile, mix the milk, sugar, salt, and fat in a separate container. When the yeast mixture is ready, stir the two together. Add the flour, mix well, then knead on a floured board for about 20 minutes. Let rise for one hour or till the dough has doubled in size. Form into two loaves, bench for five minutes, then bake for 40 minutes at 375 degrees F.

For those of you not skilled in the bread-baking, LJ cut. )
prettyarbitrary: (Default)
I had a freaking awesome weekend. Not the kind where you do all sorts of exciting and novel stuff, but the kind where you flop down and revel in the luxury of doing nothing of importance whatsoever.

It started Friday on a low note: my car broke down in town. This sucked particularly because a few weeks ago, I had the battery terminal cables replaced. Last weekend, one of the clamps split apart, stranding a roommate downtown, and I had to have the thing towed and the repair re-repaired. This weekend, we're not sure what the problem is, but towed again it was and I'm hoping, oddly, that it's still the same problem because then I won't have to pay for it.

But I would not allow this to get me down. For also on Friday, there were Pirates (of the Caribbean 2). I know, I know, but who cares about quality? That movie had swordfights! And ships!

As a related sidenote, men, do you have any idea how hot your hips are?

*cough*

Anyway. On Saturday, because my roommates had forgotten to buy bread when they made the grocery run, I decided to bake bread myself using my sister's new mixer. And...not to put too fine a point on it, but I made some damn fine bread. The inner loaf is tender and fluffy, but deceptively dense and filling. More usefully, it shows a willingness to remain in one piece (unlike most of the bread I've baked, where cutting slices resulted in the bread falling apart--perhaps tasty, but useless for anything practical like sandwiches or toast). The crust turned out, dare I say it? Flaky. So far, I've eaten it fresh with butter, as toast, and as a grilled cheese panini, and it's performing magnificently on all counts. Especially grilled or toasted and saturated with melted butter. Oh, yeah.

Since I now have the appropriate equipment, I might well make a habit of baking bread. It was fun, and good exercise (kneading dough...OMG, my arms), and proper equipment makes baking so much easier, with the end product definitely being better quality. Perhaps even more importantly, I didn't have to spend more time cleaning up than baking. That's a real downer, when you have to do that.

While I was waiting for dough to rise, I cleaned the kitchen and rearranged the pantry shelves so that we could fit the new stuff in there. So technically, I did stuff, but I was the only one. Watching my roommates not do stuff was relaxing enough for me. They're always doing stuff, because they don't understand the concept of resting, but not doing stuff for one weekend did visible wonders for them. Having them not constantly underfoot while I did stuff was just as relaxing. I should try to get them to not do stuff more often.

I'm such a corrupting influence.

Saturday night, our Usual GM ran a session of Star Wars that totally rocked. Sadly, there was not much in the way of lightsaber fights. This is a problem, because players took Jedi characters so they could play with lightsabers, but as they are excellent players who know that Jedi try to avoid fighting whenever they can, they often weasel their own way out of the lightsabers. The chronicle blog, in case you're interested.

Sunday, we finished the Christmas shopping, and I finally--finally!--found a pair of winter boots that are functional and do not harm my feet. You have no idea how hard that is. It's been five years since the last time I found such a pair. Shoes do not 'break in' for me. If they hurt me at the beginning (usually by digging gouges into the back of my heels), they'll continue hurting me till they either fall apart or I stop wearing them. I hate shoes. But not these particular shoes. I love these particular shoes, and I hope they hold together for years to come.

Incidentally, can any of you tell me why it could possibly be a good idea to put high heels on winter boots? I see the purpose of winter boots as being a dual one--to keep your feet warm, and to keep from slipping on ice and snow. How could high heels on winter boots possibly be anything less than an attempt to stealthily execute the female half of the population?




In totally other, non self-congratulatory news, here's an excellent link: the spoon theory of chronic illness, for those of you who either need loved ones to 'get it,' or who want to 'get it' better for your loved ones.




Tips for prospective bread bakers: baking bread is a hell of a lot harder than you'd expect for what I, at least, tend to think of as the quintessential example of "baking." There are all these tricks that no one ever tells you, I suppose because bread baking used to be so ubiquitous. Unless you're lucky, you end up having to find out the hard way. For example, the duration of the kneading directly relates to the grain of the finished loaf. The more you knead it, the finer the grain you'll end up with. So if you want a good, chunky stew-dipping bread, go a bit easy on the kneading. For a fine sandwich bread, knead longer. (There's also precious little out there in the way of 'how to knead properly.')

But after gaining some experience, I'll tell you, the secret is in the crust. It's relatively easy to bake a nice, fluffy inner loaf, but whether the bread measures up all depends on whether the crust is worthwhile.

The crust's hardness has to do with the amount of water lost from the bread during baking. Turning the temperature of the oven down won't result in a softer crust; it only nets you a thicker crust and a drier bread, as the crust bakes more slowly and lets water evaporate from insde the loaf as well as the surface. But if you don't adjust the heat, it's all too easy to bake the crust too hard, so that once the loaf cools, you end up needing a jackhammer to get into it. After doing this a couple of times, I learned to put a pan of water in the oven with the bread. This helped keep things a bit more humid, so the air in the oven didn't suck all the life from my poor, helpless loaves. Also, while most recipes mention that you should baste the bread when it comes out of the oven, I discovered that basting the bread with melted butter before you put it in the oven also helps. Essentially, a coating of oil or melted fat on the surface of the bread acts as a barrier between the hot, dry air of the oven and the water in the bread. This also lends to the coveted flaky effect.

Finally, in this particular case, I quite accidentally added a 1/4 cup more water than the recipe called for, but I think that it turned out to be a good call.

If people want my bread recipe, I can write it up here. It's a simple milk-bread recipe, which I note for those of my f-list who happen to be kosher Jews (and this reminds me, do any of you have a good challah recipe? I'd love to try it).
prettyarbitrary: (Default)
I just finished with what may very well be the finest meal I've ever cooked. I figuered that since I had the day off, I should do dinner, so I went to the grocery store to pick up some fresh steaks and vegetables. Grilled the steaks (well, seared and then popped in the oven to finish, since we don't have a real grill), roasted the veggies with some olive oil and then melted provolone over top, and damn if it didn't come out as well as almost any meal I've had at most restaurants. It even looked pretty. All those cooking shows I've been watching apparently paid off. Wasn't perfect--the meat could've stood to be a bit more rare--but it tops anything I've ever cooked except maybe a couple of my best lasagnas.

Thank you to everyone who wished me a happy birthday, and I hope you all have splendid weekends!

Finally, before I go to bed for the night, artwork!

Boomtongue is a thingit from the Iron Kingdoms setting called a Trollkin. They're related to trolls, obviously. But, uh, while he should thusly not look human, I'm not sure he looks weird in quite the right way. Eh, well, he's the second non-human critter I've ever drawn. I'll learn.

Aha! His chest is too small, that's what's been bugging me.

I kinda like this one. Another for the list of 'things that I need to color.'
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Woke up at 11:30, spent some time on the computer, and when I'm done typing this, I think I'll go take a nice long hot bath because i'm the only person home and it means I'm not monopolizing the bathroom.

Monday is Labor Day.  I requested today off from work because that gives me a whomping four-day weekend, which I've been feeling the burn for for some time.  Tomorrow (and possibly this evening, if we can talk the ST into running something), we RP.  Sunday and Monday, my sister and I will sit down and watch the episodes of Carnivale that I signed out from the library.  I'll stay up disgustingly late every night, mucking with music and drawings.  It'll be good.

Yesterday was my birthday.  My friends and family rock!  We went out to a very nice restaurant in the area that specializes in Creole (mmm, alligator), and then I found they had pooled their money to buy me a honking great mp3 player.   So, now I'm contently splashing about with it.

Well.  Semi-contentedly.  When I reformatted my computer recently, the iTunes reinstall summarily imiported my music library without my knowing consent, and reorganized all 8 gigs of my music collection.  That's extremely annoying. I'm having to put things back the way I want it, and it's taking forever. Windows Media Player, meanwhile, is just its normally beastly self, but I have to use it because so far I haven't figured out how to get the MP3 player to just let me drag and drop into the device. Ah well. I blame iTunes. If it hadn't gone and done this to me, I wouldn't be having these problems now. See, nothing good comes out of Apple.

(I'm aware that some of you are Apple-users. Take that for a tongue-in-cheek statement. :) ).

That's it, really. This is a very self-absorbed and insubstantial post. I just wanted to make it because life is good today and I like nattering on about goodness.
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Bed, Bath and Beyond is my new nemesis.

Yesterday morning, I had a dream that Penn State had decided to raise funds by instituting a sort of gourmet bake sale. They redesigned one floor of the library to be all plush carpet, rich wooden panelling and expensive armchairs upholestered in red jaquard, and they installed several cases of the sort you'd expect to display your finest china in. These, they filled with baked goods. Now, most of the baked goods came from some poncy gourmet baker, and cost accordingly, but they were also soliciting pastry donations from staff. Having a yen to do some baking, I agreed to submit my apple cake and biscotti. Even in the dream, I didn't think this made much sense. I mean...how were they expecting to keep all this refrigerator-needy food on the floor of a library? Wouldn't it have been more appropriate to host such a cafe in, I don't know, a building where wealthy donors actually go?

I woke up wanting to bake.

What?

Biscotti came quickly to mind, due to some recent conversations. But to do that, I needed some things. So far, I've been unable to find a way to bake biscotti without creating the mother of all messes, so I figured I'd buy a pastry cloth or silicone table cover or something. On top of that, I was tired of putting up with our old crappy cookie sheets that've been abused and ruined. So, off I went to Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

Now, when I walked in I saw that they were having a feature sale on floor lamps. Indeed, I thought, we've needed one of those for the corner of the living room ever since my old one died. Oh, and look at the very reasonable prices on quality bedding! I've really only got one decent set of summer bedsheets left, and these are...ohhh, so soft (seriously, check out the Beechwood jersey bedsheets. My god). And...well, I did want a new set of headphones, and these aren't expensive, oh, and a flour sifter would be really useful, since I do bake a lot of bread, and...

I put back the very pretty-smelling candle and the hand-juicer, resisted the impulse to pick up the futon cover (which we do sorely need, as our only current one is dry-clean only, and that's not a safe arrangement in a house where I live), and merely made note of the underbed storage boxes, fluffy mattress cover, mixing bowls, towel sets, and oh-lord-it's-so-comfy chair, which we have nowhere to put even though it's incredibly affordable.

I stayed the hell away from the pots, pans, and utensils. Those're way too expensive for impulse-purchasing, but it would merely have been painful to look at the beautiful cookware that couldn't come home with me.

The biscotti turned out nicely, but while the pastry cloth did help me avoid a mess on top of the table, it didn't really make the biscotti-making process any cleaner. Just moved it to a different surface (granted, one that's machine-washable). I can't figure out how to get the biscotti dough to be anything but a viscous, runny, superglue-like mass without dumping in two cups more flour than the recipe calls for.

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