by Audrey Wood and Mark Teague.

One of the best children’s picture books I’ve read in a long time:

Pa Brindle blew the cobwebs off the trunk, then threw it open — and all the cats in the neighborhood opened one eye….

“I’ll be good this time,” Pa promised. “One big piece of Sweet Dream Pie, that’s all I want.”

“Well then…I’ll make it, and you help,” Ma agreed. “But if things get out of hand, don’t blame me.”

Ray and I are going to go to Harry Potter tomorrow or die trying. And I may pick up some butterscotch syrup on the way home. Heck, why not? We might need some butterbeer.

The rhizome–root–of the blue ginger plant is known as “galangal” and is the one ingredient I couldn’t track down for the tom yum soup I made on Saturday. It’s also called “laos.”

But it’s also called “John the Conqueroo,” a frequent player in blues songs and a component of a mojo bag.

Coooool.

1 lb. angel food cake
1 lb. strawberries
1 1/2 c. blueberries (opt.)
2 c. vanilla pudding or custard (recipe follows or use instant mix)
2 T. sugar or flavored coffee syrup
Whipped cream

Slice the cake into 1-inch cubes and set aside. Rinse, hull, and slice the strawberries and mix with 2T sugar or (vanilla) flavored coffee syrup and set aside. Make the pudding or custard and chill, if necessary.

Assemble the trifle: In a trifle dish or other large, deepish dish that can contain all the cake pieces with a little room to spare, line the bottom with about half of the cake. Spread half of the pudding or custard over top, then half the strawberries. Sprinkle with about 1/3 of the blueberries, if using. Add another layer of cake, the rest of the pudding or custard, and the rest of the strawberries. Decorate with the remaining blueberries. Serve with whipped cream for a total bliss.

Vanilla Custard Sauce (adapted from epicurious.com)

1 t. vanilla extract (or 1/2 vanilla bean but who has those lying around?)
2 c. half-and-half
2 large eggs
1/2 c. sugar

In a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat, bring the half-and-half (and the vanilla bean, seeds removed, if using) just to a boil and remove from heat. Whisk the eggs and sugar together until well combined. In a small drizzle, add about 1/4c of the half-and-half to the eggs and beat together well. Repeat until the half-and-half is combined with the eggs.

Rinse out the saucepan and add the egg mixture. Over low heat and stirring constantly with a wooden spoon (to help settle any bubbles), heat the egg mixture until it begins to thicken to the consistency of chocolate syrup or thinnish pancake batter; remove from heat immediately. Do not allow to boil or all is lost. Alternatively, the original directions state an instant-read thermometer should read 175F, but watch it when making at high altitudes. You can strain the sauce through a fine-mesh sieve if you used the bean or if you think a skin on top of the custard will be a problem.

As soon as you’ve removed the custard from heat, stir in the vanilla extract. It’s warm enough to burn off the alcohol, but heating the extract does destroy the taste a little.

For the purposes of this trifle, let the custard cool for a while, stirring occasionally with a whisk to keep the custard smooth and relatively skin-free. When it’s about room temperature, use as described above.

Jiggety jig. Got back yesterday. Not a bad trip…recommend both Phuket (foo-kate) for Thai (note: one of the guys ordered his meal Thai-hot. He says to avoid it unless you really mean it) and Tim’s Cajun Kitchen in Huntsville. Tim’s may not look like much, but it’s much.

I didn’t make it to the Space Camp, but if I go back, I probably shall.

In a strip mall in Colorado Springs, CO, in the middle of the new growth on the north end of town is a Cajun/Creole place named Culpeppers. There’s no ambiance to speak of: just bright yellow paint. And the waitresses are little white girls, for the most part. Skinny.

But with time, they will become mighty black women who will tell you, “There’s still meat on that bone. You know you want it…now put down that knife and fork and suck the meat off that bone like you mean it.” And then they’ll call you by some name that means something sweet.

Lee had blackened pork chops with sweet potatoes and maque choux. He doesn’t like sweet potatoes; they were almost gone before I got a taste. They smelled like…cotton candy? Homemade caramel? Sugar on the edge of creme brulee, anyway. The pork chops, despite the seasoning, was almost as delicate-tasting as fish.

I had crawfish tails and gumbo. The crawfish tails were…gone. The gumbo was the taste of nostalgia (rather than possessing the depth and bitterness that a dark roux can bring you), perfectly suited to the fact that they serve people in Colorado. –A nit of mine when it comes to gumbo is the okra. I don’t like slimy vegetables. But the pieces here were cut down, modest; I suspect some okra had been cooked up, pureed, and blended back in.

I took some of the bread pudding home (as if I could eat it there) and was rewarded with chocolate hazelnut sauce. Rum sauce, I think. While we were waiting for it to come out, the owner, named Martin, introduced himself. He’s a tall guy with white hair who comes across as being almost genteel. I think he was amused by the fact that I had to smell everything before I ate it. Anyway, we told him we’d recommend the place, so here we are.

I can’t say it was the best meal of my life, but I did have to think about it for a hint of a second before I could say that. If you know what I mean.

Pick up a can of “Anything” or “Whatever” and get a random taste sensation

WARNING:

This cola might, like Jelly Belly, pick up some kind of Harry Potter sponsorship, and then you’d be drinking grass…spackle…overcooked pork chops…

(via Growabrain.)

I was talking to Ray on the way home the other day, and for some reason we got onto the topic of vampires.

She decided there are three basic vampire food groups, as follows:

  1. Tomatoes
  2. Blood
  3. Fruit (red).

Okay, here’s the story: one day, somebody screwed up a cake. Oh, no! Then, suddenly, inspiration hit. Add pudding to broken cake pieces, decorate with fruit… Voila! The trifle was born.

I’ve been trying to figure out a birthday dessert to make for someone at work. When I asked her, she said her favorite dessert was two layers of white cake soaked in two different colors of jello with whipped topping between the two layers.

Hm…

1) Not going to assemble said cake at work.
2) Jello. Sacre bleu! This is a birthday present, not a church potluck!
3) Where’s the challenge there?

And then I thought…trifle. Cake + squishy stuff + pretty colors = pretty much the same thing.

So I did a practice trifle yesterday. This isn’t the same trifle I’m sending off as a birthday present (she wants berries and doesn’t care for sour stuff), but it was what I felt like making. Also, I bought a big bag of cherries at $2/pound on Friday and I wanted to use them up. And a ****load of eggs in the house. Also made potato salad (with bacon). My guests may die.

Cherry Limeade Trifle

Coconut Pound Cake (via Epicurious)

2c all-purpose flour
1t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1c unsalted butter
4 large eggs
1t vanilla
1/2t coconut extract (did not have on hand but recipe stressed as being vital)
1 1/2c sweetened, flaked coconut, toasted and cooled (did not toast)

Heat oven to 325 (350 for Colorado. Center still not totally done after 1 1/2 hours. May need to raise temp and cover with tinfoil next time). Grease a 9×5 loaf pan (dust with flour if that’s what floats your boat). Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. In a different bowl, cream butter and sugar, then beat in eggs and vanilla. Fold into flour mixture just until mixed, then fold in coconut. Spread batter (thicker than banana bread mix) into loaf pan, bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (watch for this…the crust is pretty stiff and will scrape off the batter!), 1 – 1 1/4 hours (or 1 1/2 hours at high altitude).

Cool cake in pan on rack for 15 minutes; run a knife around the edges to loosen, and invert onto rack and cool completely.

Key Lime Custard (also via Epicurious, sort of)

6 eggs
1c milk
1c sugar
2/3 c key lime juice

Do this at the same time as the cake or heat oven to 350.

Beat eggs by hand just until yolks and whites are completely mixed. In a saucepan, heat the milk, sugar, and lime juice over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until it reaches a boil. Add 1/4c of the hot mixture to the eggs, whisking the eggs constantly as you do so. Repeat until all the milk mixture has been added. Pour the custard into a heatproof dish and place the dish into a larger pan. Fill the larger pan with enough hot water to come up even with the level of the custard. Place the whole thing in the oven and bake until the custard jiggles (rather than oozes) when lightly shaken (about 1/2 hour). Do not overcook; you’re looking for the consistency of instant pudding, if that, rather than cheesecake.

To assemble the trifle:

(Do this the day you plan to serve it.)

When the cake and custard are more or less room temperature, cut the pound cake into squares (I dare you to try to keep this consistent) about 1″ square. Line the bottom of a trifle dish or other clear glass/Pyrex dish with the cake–don’t be shy about getting a solid layer of cake in there. Whisk or stir the custard to ensure an even consistency. Spoon about half of the custard over the cake. Place a layer of ripe cherries over the custard, about 1c of pitted cherries or so. The thought of adding maraschino cherries to this makes me feel ill now that I’ve tasted it (I had considered it), so try it at your own risk. If you don’t have fresh cherries, go for thawed frozen cherries rather than pie filling. Seriously. If necessary, you can make a simple syrup, heat it in a saucepan to boiling, add the cherries and heat until boiling again, then remove from heat, if you think it’s going to be too sour. But don’t use anything but real cherries.

Anyway, add the rest of the cake in another layer, add the rest of the custard, and cover with another cup or so of cherries. Refrigerate for a couple of hours. Serve with a big spoon and don’t worry about being neat.

(Note: Lee said the custard was too sour, but I thought it was just right.)

Dark Chocolate, 72% Cocoa.

…Is Russian dark chocolate, nyet? This has got to be the creamiest dark chocolate I’ve ever tasted. At first, I didn’t care for it. Dark chocolate shouldn’t remind you of…not dark chocolate. Very rich, but no bite to it, well, relatively speaking. But then I tried it again, and I had to change my mind: it’s very, very good, just not what I’m used to. 4 out of 5.

“…I’m just saying I don’t eat toast.”

“What do you eat with your eggs?”

“Okay, I’ll eat toast at a restaurant. I don’t even own a toaster. I have a toaster oven.”

“You don’t own a toaster?”

“I own a toaster oven.”

“You know what you’re getting for your wedding? About nineteen toasters.”

“You get me a toaster, and I’m going to hit you up the side of your head.”

“Hey! Everybody! Guess who needs a toaster for his wedding!”

Now, I’m not going to name the restaurant where this happened — it’s a Japanese place in Colorado Springs, which is more than you need to know but easily surmised from the context — but it’s just this guy. This happened a couple of weeks ago, but it still makes me laugh…

The waiter is Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome. He’s fresh-faced. He’s the kind of charmed-life idiot who always ends up with what he wants. He could easily claim to be an actor working as a waiter, except he’s not in L.A. A narcissist who uses more products than me, my mother, and my two sisters combined.

He has no sense of timing.

I know this. I’ve eaten here several times, and I’ve had him work my table before.

He delivers the menu. It’s 11:30 a.m. and there could hardly be stated to be anything resembling a “rush.” I tell him I need a minute. Why do I do this? Why? I already know what I want. It’s a gray, cool day, and I want udon. But I send him off anyway.

Less than thirty seconds later, he comes back with the tea. Doesn’t ask whether I’m ready to order, just puts the tea and the cup down and disappears around the corner.

Five minutes later, he’s back to take my order. (I don’t wear a watch, but we progress through about ten commercials.) “Udon.” He tries to leave. “And a California roll.”

He escapes. I wonder if the California roll will appear…

I read comic books. I forget what I was reading…oh, Batman-something-or-other and an Ah! My Goddess. Miso appears a few minutes later. Four spoonfuls later, the California roll. I’ve barely finished the miso (and haven’t touched the California roll) when the udon comes up. Chomp, chomp, chomp. Not the best, most perfect udon I’ve ever had — I don’t think I’ve found the perfect udon yet — but good. A solid performer.

I finish the California roll. The waiter appears and magically vanishes the dishes associated with the California roll, including the chopsticks. Uh, dude? Chopsticks? To slurp udon with? Hellooooo? Anyway, I work my way steadily through the udon until there are only a few dribbles left, and I’m almost positive that picking up the bowl and drinking the rest of it will cause dribbles in a bad way. (If you know the usual size of a dish of udon: Yes, I can do this. It’s soup. Good soup makes my stomach develop a Bag of Holding. Sorry. Probably TMI.)

I’ve finished Batman. I’ve finished Ah, My Goddess. Now comes the moment that restauranteurs should dread: bored, I whip out the notebook, immortalizing Mr. Pretty and his amazing sense of timing. That doesn’t even hold me over. I watch golf for a while. I decide sushi chef #1 is a wild man, because he isn’t wearing a t-shirt under his hapi coat, and he has one ear pierced. The tips of his eyebrows look like they’ve been fanned out with a comb. But he’s wearing glasses, so I know he’s not a superhero…

Eventually, sushi chef #1 spots that I’m just sitting there, staring out into space, and stares at sushi chef #2. Sushi chef looks questioningly at sushi chef #1. SC#1 looks at me. I look at him. SC#2 looks at me. SC looks at SC#3, who has a mesh-topped hat. SC#3 is looking at something he’s chopping. Tap tap tap, the kind of quiet, steady sound that puts babies to sleep. SC#2 looks at SC#1, who looks back at him. SC#2 sighs and puts down his knife, but by then, SC#3 has finished chopping, and SC#2 can just look at him without having to walk anywhere. SC#3, without really participating in the whole chain-of-looking-thing, walks around the corner, and a few seconds later, Mr. Pretty comes out.

But not with my check.

“Do you need more tea?”

“No, I’m ready to go.”

This is an invitation for him to disappear for another five minutes. While he is gone, I write the following:

The Sushi Place-Pillow Book
There were two professions for which nature had suited him: women’s beds and the stage. Fate, however, had arranged for him a different situation.

It went on in that vein for a while…ended up with:

But still, I wonder, how will he ever understand the nuances of the stage? And what woman would entrust to him her bed, when he cannot understand even the gross obviousness of leaving a pair of chopsticks for a hungry diner, let alone the nuances of the bill?

At any rate, I’m not still at the restaurant, so he must have figured out how to ring up the bill at some point.

About 400 words later.

Don’t give Girl Geniuses regular coffee.

It was kind of obvious that the name would come up at some point:

Ben & Jerry’s Karamel Sutra.

I will have to keep an eye out for it.

Dude, misnomer. I was hoping for a sign that said, “Come with Folgers…leave with Yergacheffe.” But no deal.

The Coffee Exchange is not a proper coffee shop. For one thing, the big-screen TVs run Fox News Network; for another, the radio station plays hard-rock oldies via The Eagle. Had I asked for soy milk, the halter-top wearing, sunglass-wearing, highlighted redhead would have laughed in my face. (Not that I ask for soy, mind you, but she is obviously very suspicious of the Crocs.) The liquor is set up like the place is a bar, and martini glasses dangle from the corrogated tin rack.

The place is next to Southside Johnny’s and across the street from a porn shop. The interior is corrogated tin on one side and brick and old barnwood on the other, with these giant doors that look like they open up onto the bar of a Saturday night.

I sit in a beat-up old recliner and check out the magazines: Men’s Health, Interview (Brad Pitt), In the American West. The sign below the individually pre-wrapped pastries reads, “CHOCOLATE COVERED ESPRESSO BEANS!” All the art on the wall is labeled with handwritten cards stating the price, tax, and total. One end of the place, back by the bathrooms, is dominated by a ginormous black table with executive office chairs: poker. The radio starts playing “Pour some sugar on mehhh…!” and I realize this would be a great place to come running in to if it suddenly starts to rain, but it doesn’t.

A bald guy with a goatee walks in, pours himself a cup of coffee, and starts taking customers while halter-top woman is outside on a smoke break with two friends. The day I went, the FAC Modern is closed for a new installation. (I try the door, and a guy in a suit tells me to come back at five for opening night.) This place, the outgoing artist just walks in and starts pulling stuff off the wall with the help of her daughter, while the incoming artist paces around outside. After a while, some woman comes in, sizes up the new art, and starts writing out tags, calculating the sales tax in her head as she goes.

(This one’s much shorter than the others. Two reasons: not much happened, and I didn’t write anything down. Carry the portable notebook. Carry the portable notebook.)

Got up, went swi–

Packed, loaded, paid, and went back to the Jackalope. (Which, now that I check, I realize I hadn’t mentioned before. Here’s the link.) Which is a tourist trap of the best sort, a half-dozen adobish buildings surrounded more pots than you would dare shake a stick at, if they were alien pot-shaped invaders. Rugs, live glass blowers (better than dead ones), weird imports…it was the entirety of Manitou Springs rolled up into one store.

We wandered around for a while: a lot of women were sitting around and sketching things in a very practical way. I mean, paper taped down to a sketch board and everything. For some reason, they all had hats on. I didn’t know why that struck me, but it did. We finally stopped to talk to one of them: they were all actually part of an arts-tourism group that had been staying out at Ghost Ranch (Georgia O’Keefe’s home) and had come into town. Why, I’m not sure. I mean, if you’re out at Ghost Ranch, why the hell would you want to come back to civilization? This seems like a no-brainer. Unless they didn’t have big bathtubs or they’d run out of chocolate, of course. Of coffee. Wouldn’t want someone going through caffeine withdrawal creeping around outside with paintbrushes; it’d end up like an Agatha Christie novel.

Found a cool cast-iron dragon candlestick for Lee, gave up on the whole pottery thing, and started for home.

It was an on-again off-again rain drive, all the way back to the Springs. In between one exit and the next, it became abruptly clear that someone had busted the showerhead off the sky and it was time for a floooooood. I barely got Ray to the doctor’s office (passing a drowned cop car and a minivan), where we picked up her shot record, headed back to the house, and tried to unpack. Lee got home, and we headed to Ray’s new kindergarten for a parents’ meeting-thingy and met Mrs. Fluffy*, etc. Lee said he was going to make me a bookshelf, which was good, and that he still loved me, which was even better.

Not bad for a birthday. I am now Jesus-old.

*Still not her real name.

Itinerary: downtown Santa Fe.

Revisit St. Francis Cathedral Basilica. Check.
Locate and visit Georgia O’Keefe museum. Check.
Don’t get lost. Check.

The St. Francis Cathedral Basilica, now, there’s a church. Huge, of course, with brightly-painted columns in the interior and an enormous baptismal font (ironic, since Catholics usually get baptized at birth and don’t do the full dunk) with a black marble font and a waterfall down to a submerged brass grate with the insignia of the four gospels (I think). Very peaceful place…until you take a left turn into the chapel of La Conquistadora. A kneeling rail, maybe five hundred votive candles, and a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM). An informational pamphlet assures you the name comes from her ability to peacefully conquer the hearts of men…

I’ve never seen a really Latin crucifix before. I’d heard of them. “Very gory.” Well, now I’ve seen one. It wasn’t gory. It was a corpse. I’ve seen dead bodies before…and this was Christ the Corpse. No peace, no forgiveness, no redemption…nope. The soul has left, and there’s only the flesh behind. Very striking; in its own way, very moving.

If it sounds like I was seeing this through sardonic eyes, my apologies. It was just so…different. Most of it was almost familiar, but I still felt disoriented. The difference between Norwegian-based churches and Hispanic-based churches? I don’t know. Things were both more colorful and more matter-of-fact than I was expecting. I don’t go around thinking the churches back in South Dakota as being mystical, but in comparison, they are.

The windows are almost, but not quite as good as the ones in Sts. Simon and Jude of Flandreau, SD. I’m having trouble finding pictures of the windows there, which is a shame.

We wandered around for a while and made a half-hearted effort to locate the church with the floating staircase thingy, but eventually just skipped it in the quest for the Georgia O’Keefe museum.

I must say the place, when we eventually found it, was a disappointment. It was small, had walls supposedly painted the color of adobe but really just looking like a bad paint job consistently smeared with fingerprints (what about that perfect shade of gray she had to paint Stieglitz’s place for her first show?!?). The guards were very hostile-looking. Now, Ray is five, and I can understand their concerns. However, most of the time when I bring her with me to museums, the staff (unless otherwise overwhelmed) almost always make a point of being extra-nice to us: it’s better if you start your art-lovers young, you know. (I mean, come on. We were welcomed to the Chihuly (read: glass) exhibit at the FAC in Colorado Springs. Glass. Five-year-old. And yet it worked, and they were happy to see us.) It was a profoundly boring experience for Ray…until we watched the introductory movie that we’d skipped earlier.

You see, the museum was packed with mostly mediocre works of a more historical than artistic value. “Huh. I didn’t know she did that much watercolor”-type of reaction. A few famous pieces, but nothing that made your eyeballs happy. The other artist, whose name I have mercifully forgotten, was dull and pretentious. For example, she’d painted large, well-textured boards with uniform pink spots where the knots should be. Knots of entirely the wrong shade of pink, I might add…a paler pink would have been better. Looking at pieces of wood a few days later, I was struck by the resemblance of wood grain to cosmic shapes and decided replacing all the knots with tiny, delicately detailed paintings of planets would have been much better and altogether more joyful. Rows of shiny deer skulls. Derivative (of Stieglitz) pictures of the moon shining through the clouds, replaced by 4X4 pixels. Yawn.

I like modern art. I think Georgia O’Keefe would have felt her hackles rise at the place…

Anyway, we were only there about twenty minutes, so we sat down to watch the movie, just to feel like we’d accomplished something, I guess. Gene Hackman narrated. It was so good…Ray was just fascinated all the way through it. So maybe I haven’t scarred her for life after all.

After that, we went to the Blue Corn Cafe downtown. Warning! When you see a place that advertises itself as Mexican, check for people who look Hispanic! If you do not see anyone who does, there may be a reason! It wasn’t bad, just eh. It was supposed to be a brewery, too, but I didn’t try the beer, which looked like standard brews rather than anything really fun.

Oh oh oh! We went to the Santa Fe School of Cooking and Market. They had molcajetes! But I did not get one; they were heavy, and I was walking. But I did get a couple of different kinds of chili pepper, chipotle and chimayo. The chimayo is very good hot-chocolate pepper (add a pinch of cinnamon and a baby pinch of pepper. Yum).

The Palace of the Governers is closed on Mondays. The front was lined with Native folks with jewely and whatnot spread out on flannel blankets (lots of Disney characters), which may not be as authentic-looking as might be, but looked pretty useful in keeping the constantly-looming rainshowers off the goods. Ray and I walked by, more curious in the tourists than anything else, and one lady in a blue sweatshirt said, coyly, “You know, you can haggle” as I walked by.

I looked in the windows of dozens and dozens of galleries, but nothing appealed. Therefore, the day quickly turned into a gluttony of book shopping.

Alla is a bookstore (upstairs, past the dinosaur cutouts) that specializes in Latin American books. Talking to the owner (who looks like an alternate version of Kurt Vonnegut, skinnier, fresher-faced), he said he had over 45 thousand titles in his little place, compared to 41K at the local Borders. Personally, I believe him. He’d been very creative in arranging his shelving. It was almost like a movie where you tilt the secret book and a secret passage opens, except there wasn’t a secret passage…just more books. I picked up The Anatomist and The Merciful Women by Federico Andahazi, after explaining to him I was looking more for the South American crowd than anything else. “Ahh….” He seemed like the kind of guy who would have given away all his books for free, because you had to read them, but had (after years and years of soul-searching) had finally come to the conclusions that 1) nobody would read them if they didn’t pay for them first, and 2) he had to eat.

We also went to Collected Works, which is this tiny, hole-in-the-wall place with a great selection of books. Definitely not in the 45K range, but on the other hand, I wanted to buy all of them. I stuck with two Bernstein Bears books (which Ray could not put down) and The Mysterious Benedict Society, a YA by Trenton Lee Stewart with coolio puzzles and, of course, a group of mismatched kids who Save the World. Totally geeked out on that one. I was only stopped on my book march of doom by the fact that I’d have to carry a lot of dead weight around if I didn’t quit soon, and regretfully put back a book on Hispanic black magic, among other things…

Eventually, we ditched downtown. When I lived in and near Iowa City (famed for its graduate writing program), I was annoyed by all the pretentious writing crap. (I miss it now, although I wouldn’t want to go back–we are still talking Iowa here, and I’m just not built for those rolling green hills.) My attitude toward Santa Fe’s attitude toward art may be described as similar. I like art. But I’m better off living in Colorado Springs, really I am.

On the other hand, driving back to the motel (and we stopped at Borders on the way home because I wanted to
pick up a movie for Ray but she wanted this wooden set of magnetic dress-up dolls instead, which was much cooler), I realized I actually liked the whole adobe thing. I also liked the fact that you were always about two minutes from getting lost on a gravel road in sight of where you actually wanted to be. There were too many tourists…but once you got off Cerillios, it was okay. It’ll take a while before I figure out what kind of story I’d set here, but there’s one there, I just know it…

Anyway, we ate up the leftovers in the fridge (molcajete!), played dress-up dolls, read books (I finished Uglies, this Ana-something (Anacrusis? Anatopsis?)* book that was very strange and not entirely effective but nevertheless good, and Benedict Society while I was in town). And went swimming. (Was this in any doubt?)

*Anatopsis.
I totally want to e-mail the author and find out what the title means. I am not finding it anywhere.

Woke up, swam, ate…somehow, this feeling of deja vu

We loaded up and got on Cerillios headed south — a.k.a. Highway 14. This is a very cool little road with lots of great scenery and some small mountain towns with some art shops (don’t know as I’d call them galleries) along the road. We turned right onto Highway 536, drove about a mile and a half, and ended up at Tinkertown.

Now, maybe it’s just my childhood. Vacation meant driving from our farm in the Middle of Nowhere, South Dakota, to Rapid City. We were allowed to stop in one of three places:

  1. Al’s Oasis.
  2. Wall Drug.
  3. That one place with all the prairie dogs.

We might stop at the Badlands every once in a while, but that was a destination in and of itself. And in Rapid City, we would hit up every damn tourist stop we could get hold of, from the dinosaur park to Storybook Island.

I’ve always loved tourist stops. My all-time favorite has been The House on the Rock. But Tinkertown is quite nice, too. A guy named Ross Ward built a house almost entirely from bottles, taking care to select all shades, from dusky browns to shimmering sea-greens. Then he filled it with a lot of stuff, including his brother’s (I think) boat, after it had sailed around the world for ten years. This theme of some guy just up and building some weird house and filling it up with stuff seems to resonate with me. Maybe that’s why I like our house so much.

Anyway, after Tinkertown, we drove down Highway 14 to Albuquerque and followed the signs to the Bio Park. For the same price that it takes to get into the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, we bought combo passes to the zoo, aquarium, botanic garden…

Amaaaaazing.

Now, the whole train setup is bad. You get on the zoo train, which takes you to the place where you need to get on the Bio Park train, but you can’t get off on that stop. Can’t. No, really, can’t. Why, I have no idea. But you can’t.

The guide recommended we go over to the aquarium and work our way back to the zoo, because the Bio Park train stops 45 minutes before the zoo closes. Whoever organizes these trains must be related to those creeps from The Castle. Nevertheless.

So we rode the zoo train. Pretty cool, pretty cool. Then we walked the exact same route over to the Bio Park train, passing by the gigantor McDonald’s-style jungle gym and promising to return later. The train to the rest of the park goes under highways (tunnels!) and past a fishin‘ hole. Again with the trains: you drive past your stop, go on for another five minutes, circle around, and come back to your stop, where, finally, you may disembark.

I didn’t mind so much; the extended route meant we got to go past the place they’re building the Japanese garden. They’re pretty far along, but I can’t wait to see it in a more-or-less finished form.

The aquarium was fun, but I don’t remember much of it…because after that we went into the Botanic Garden. The first thing you come across is the Children’s Fantasy Garden. The outside, complete with a giant, ivy-covered dragon, reminded me almost painfully of Storybook Island. The inside had the same feel, with a slightly different theme: instead of gigantic storybook characters, it was gigantic plants and animals. Very Alice-in-Wonderlandy. Highlights include a maze made out of anthills, a giant garden with a hole-through-the-redwood-style carrot, a sandpit filled with enormous worms…

We decided we had to take a break for food at an almost ridiculous time and ate at the Shark Reef Cafe, which lived up to its name: an entire wall was filled with an aquarium, complete with a shark with hillbilly teeth and a giant sea turtle, as well as numerous fish and a sunken riverboat. Why a riverboat? I don’t know; it looked cool. Also, there was real food to eat: something of a rarity when it comes to food at a zoo.

We went back to the botanic garden, where we played hide and seek (they didn’t forget to add a huge grassy area with no “keep off the grass” signs), wandered around while I played Georgia O’Keefe with some cool calla lilies inside a split glass pyramid, discovered frogs in the bog, and commiserated that the butterfly pavilion wouldn’t be open until the end of May.

We almost didn’t want to go back to the zoo, but go back to the zoo we did. Ray played and played on the gym, only stopping when I kicked her out due to rain (which stopped five minutes later, but I wouldn’t let her go back in). We watched the sea lions chase after their fish lunch, scoped out the polar bear and decided the waterfall was smooth enough to use for a water slide, and…were exhausted.

We left when they kicked us out and would go back in a heartbeat.

The drive out of Albuquerque was…difficult. Traffic had backed up on the one road I located that looked like it connected to the Interstate–the one that led straight through Old Town. Several people had recommended we stop there, but driving through, it looked like…well, boring. Shops, bars (one notable one where the street was completely lined with bikers), more shops…meh.

Ray slept from the time we got out of the zoo until Santa Fe.

We ended up eating at this teppan Japanese place on Cerillios called Osaka. The chefs at the table across from ours was a lot of fun–and Hispanic-looking. The one at our table wasn’t nearly as exciting, but executed the flaming onion volcano with much more skill. [Insert clapping here.] I kept expecting them to face off, Iron Chef style, but you know, that just never happens in real restaurants. Oh, sigh.

Swam some more…

I dreamed about gardens all night long.

Survival of the Sickest: A Medical Maverick Discovers Why We Need Disease. Perused this the other day, but it looks like a library-checkout over a purchase. Basic premise: things that keep you alive (or, rather, kept your ancestors alive) in the short run can cause your system to overbalance itself in the long run. Ain’t evolution a funny thing?

We awoke, swam, breakfasted (sort of), packed, argued…and shook the dust of the Best Western off our feet. From thence to the Santa Fe Children’s Museum.

Not open yet. We drove around until we reached St. John’s College, which sported a trailhead in one of their parking lots. I forget what the name of the trail was, but this was a lovely, easy walk. We spent about an hour smelling sagebrush and walking on the stone retaining walls of the washout that runs across the trail. I was amazed with how clean it was and thought maybe nobody used the trail…until we passed a garbage can, which was stuffed to overflowing. People actually take cleanup seriously out here. Maybe litter control is as carefully controlled as housing design, I don’t know.

We stopped at Ohori’s Coffee, Tea, and Chocolate. I got an orange soda (Anarancito?) and Ray got hot chocolate. I questioned her, but she was sure: hot chocolate.

It was the best damned hot chocolate I’ve ever had. Ray and I ended up swapping drinks back and forth, because it was just too intense to drink the whole thing on its own. Neat pottery/mugs, too. We got a cute little monkey mug, over even the neat Japanese pottery.

After sitting in the parking lot of the Children’s Museum to finish our beverages, we went in. And then almost didn’t leave. We would still be there if they’d had a concession stand or something. This was probably the coolest place in Santa Fe.

Most children’s museums that I’ve been to (which, all told, hasn’t been that many) are either lame or pedantic. This was neither: the kids just played. The first thing we did was to roll pool balls down plastic roller-coaster tracks to smack into each other or to bounce across the floor. Yes, pool balls (cue balls). As a kid, I totally spend a zillion hours studying momentum throwing pool balls at my brother each other. And then the full-body plastic pin thing where you push on one side and shapes pop out the other. And the tractor-tire bubble ring. And the pulley chairs. And the Gross Animal collection. And the subterranean birdhouse where you could dig for worms. And the jungle gym, where Mom sat under the plexiglass section and growled at kids when they went by…

(Oh yeah: I should note I spent about an hour and a half (not all at one time) trying to figure out how to make monster-sized bubbles, and finally pulled it off mere minutes before we left.)

We ate at McDonald’s, eventually, because it cracked me up: even the McDonald’s on Cerillios was adobe. Shootout at the McDonaldland Corrall…milk and cookies to follow. But it was actually the classiest McDonald’s I’ve ever been to. The people behind the counter were polite, fast, and wore button-up shirts with…ties. The food was all fresh and hadn’t been sitting there for a week. I ordered a Southwestern Salad, and there was…cilantro. Pinch me, quick!

We checked in to the Comfort Suites and swam a lot. Ray managed to do a little solo dog-paddling, the baby steps of swimming! Call me a proud mamma. Took a break, did some reading.

We ate supper at Los Potrillos (tr: the foals), a local Mexican place with hand-carved chairs with rearing, snarling horses, and painted tables (ours was chickens). Most of the people were hispanic: women with large hoop earrings and lots of cleavage. Men with noses of great prowess. Little girls with fluffy dresses that made Ray drool. We sat next to a booth full of very macho guys who had all ordered very macho bowls of soup. Bowls of soup the size of the communal salad bowl at Olive Garden.

Intimidated by the size of their bowls, I opted instead for the a molcajete (tr: mortar) dish with pork and pineapple. Ray wanted a cheeseburger, had to have a cheeseburger…we snacked on multicolored chips and salsa (and some kind of odd white sauce that was very good) and watched “El Vengador” (The Punisher?) on the TV.

The molcajete is a large mortar, of mortar-and-pestle fame. It looked to be carved out of volcanic rock, but what do I know? You put the filling in the white corn tortillas (no salt added, and the consistency of lefse (with corn rather than potato)), along with some pico de gallo: the molcajete keeps the filling hot all the way through the meal. God, was I stuffed. And I still took about half of it back to the motel (which had a fridge and micro). Ray ate the seasoned fries (how she fit that all in her body, I’ll never know) and called it a night.

Heh. On the way back, we stopped at pd bean coffee house, because…well, because. The coffee was okay, the atmosphere was poor, but the chocolate cookie I got Ray was entirely, osmotically absorbed. (She was so full it lasted until we got back to the motel–check that out.) The owner is apparently a former local journalist, who strikes me as being the kind of guy who’s slightly out of whack with the rest of the world, as in “I missed it by that much.” I think about the great coffee shops I have known, and…it’s just a little bit off. Not a bad place. But not Shelly’s in Vermin, or The Purple Onion in Dinkytown, Java House (where the staff all wore “There is No ‘X’ in Espresso” shirts) or even Ohiro’s (above).

Took a break, called Pappa, went swimming again (my arms hurt from those damn pulley chairs at the Children’s Museum), goooooood night.

Ray and I stopped downtown for lunch before braving the doc’s for her last chicken-pox shot yesterday and discovered a place called “The Original Soup Man“* was there…when it hadn’t been there before.

Now, I like soup. I mean, a few days ago, I had to crow over the fact that I had completely surpassed Panera soups. (I hadn’t eaten there for a while.) My current obsession is vegetable soups, with just vegetables. Maybe some rice. Some Parmesan on top. Croutons. Bread with butter…not as “life-restoring” as a homemade chicken soup, but soothing of all weariness and ennui, without being peppy.

Anyway. Huge line of people, men in suits and ties and women with clunky jewelry and guaze jackets: the (semi) professional moo crowd, willing to work so much unpaid overtime their hourly wages work out to McDonald’s-level, willing to line up placidly for anything as long it had “gourmet” in front of it and they could get back to their desks in fifteen minutes so they could log in to a conferene call. Stood in line behind a guy with a shiny flag tie, suit, and buckskin shoes (not moccasins) who tried to tell Ray he didn’t learn how to read until he was fifteen. The soup looked expensive and small. At the head of the line, talking to a fifty-year-old woman:

“We’d like the lobster bisque and the ham and cheese sandwich, with cheddar instead of–”

“No.”

“No?”

“The sandwiches are already made.”

“Can we at least get it without mustard?”

“No.”

We negotiated a different sandwich.

“What to drink?”

“Pineapple green tea for me, and milk–”

“We don’t have any milk.”

I pointed to the menu: Juices and Milk.

“We don’t have any milk.” She asked a coworker. “We don’t have any milk.”

“What do you have?”

“It’s on the menu,” she said.

Stupid customer.

“Milk’s on the menu,” I said.

Well, we negotiated our way through that, too. Paid up ($11 for a shared combo between the two of us), sat next to the overflowing garbage, and ate.

Gah! Delicious. I’d go there again…until I figured out how to make their lobster bisque, that is.

*Check out the Rules tab. Really.

(By the way, it’s not that going to New Mexico is all that remarkable, like going to Scotland or Japan or something…it’s just that I don’t get out of town much.)

I had to stop three different places in the Springs in order to get gas…everyone was out! The third place only had 85 left, at $2.89/gallon. (New Mex was about $3.09, Dad, before you ask.) I had to stop at a different gas station to vaccuum the car and get a map. But I had hit upon a gas station with no maps. Huh? So I stopped at Borders. They had a map. The cashier warned me that there were no rest stops along the way. (One of my coworkers told me there were no road signs the day before, too.)

Sheesh…more karma?

The trip was pretty uneventful for two women with moderately-sized bladders and the ability not to leave the Interstate, although the jokes got a little much from the back seat at times. The landscape reminded me of Colorado at first, but became more and more like South Dakota (out by the Badlands), with sage. Lots and lots of sage. And round, tumbleweed-looking trees that looked about to roll over the landscape, this sinisterly cheerful invasion or infection of trees.

So. Santa Fe. My first impression was to laugh: it’s so artificial. Adobe as far as the eye can see, even the bad parts of town…it wasn’t until I went looking for a trailer park that I found one, albeit cleverly hidden behind a tall adobe wall. We found our way to a likely-looking motel and checked in. I may have to start looking closer at motels…the lobby was okay, but the room was creepy, water stains on the ceiling, no towels, an absolutely frigid swimming pool… (We left in the morning and went to a different motel, the Comfort Suites, and did fine there. The room at the first place was as expensive as the room at the second place. Both were overpriced, and I’m sure will be even more expensive after Memorial Day.)

But that first day, we lived with it. After pulling most of the stuff out of the car, we decided to find something to eat.

Here is my first major lesson learned regarding Santa Fe: do not, under any circumstances, leave without your camera or your map. Sure, the town is small. Sure, it’s very much for show. Nevertheless, you will see stuff that tempts you to drive just a little further…and then the streets get very narrow, very tangled, and very much one-way in a very short amount of time. And, once you’ve miraculously found someplace to park, you won’t be able to take a picture of the Cathedral Basillica of St. Francis at sunset, because your camera is still in the bag.

We spent, after leaving the downtown area, an hour and a half trying to find our way back to the motel, or to a restaurant, or to a gas station…after passing signs announcing that it would be a poor judgement call to stop for hitchhikers just outside a prison facility, we turned around yet again, found a gas station, asked for directions, and found ourselves only a quarter-mile from the hotel. We stopped at a Sonic and ate tater tots, because by then, even I needed a little familiar reassurance. (Please note: there were a sufficiency of signs; we just didn’t know which ones we were supposed to be looking for. “Oh…you mean Highway 14 is Cerillios Road? Well, isn’t my face just red.”)

Nine o’clock. Back to the hotel. Called Lee. Yawned a lot. But of course there had to be swimming before bed; otherwise, the parental code of ethics (as in, “I promise you, no matter how lost we are, you can still go swimming before bed”) would have been utterly violated. I talked to a nice couple from western New Mexico on their way to Las Vegas, New Mexico, who had decided they were giving themselves a night off. Ray is such the charmer that it’s hard to stay shy.

To bed, feeling very much regretful of having coming all this way to get faked out, ripped off, and lost. But things were destined to improve…

This Sunday’s Sinfest.

Yesterday, we ate at Solo’s Restaurant in the Springs. It’s an aviation museum, with okay-but-not-memorable food; of course we sat inside the airplane and played with all the buttons in the cockpit.

Cote d’Or Lait Intense, nuance de noir, Belgian Milk Chocolate Confection with a Dark Chocolate Filling

Note: This is milk chocolate, which I usually don’t go for.

Yummy. I really didn’t notice the dark chocolate, though. Very creamy, smooth, soothing…very much a comfort food. Nothing grainy or oversweet about it. However…not dark chocolate. To me, this straddled the line between chocolate and candy, trying to partake of both but not committing to either. Maybe I’m just never going to be a milk chocolate fan…say four out of five stars, with a confusion detractor.

Green & Black’s Organic Espresso

Being on the decaf side of the cup, I couldn’t eat more than a few bites of this. It’s like eating chocolate-covered espresso beans without the unappealing aspect of actually eating a coffee bean covered in waxy, low-quality chocolate. Waaaaaaah! Two bites of the perfect chocolate-espresso mix, and I was up two hours past my bedtime. Five stars out of five, with a tiny tear to the side.

Not being dead, and just having finished the taxes, I need a sugar rush.

Cadbury eggs. Are they smaller than they used to be? Let’s find out.

Be pro. Warning: Sexy food. The vegetarian commercial Fox didn’t want you to see!

Hm…my sister is a vegetarian.

(via Lee)

…when our secretary runs out of gummi bears.

Where have all the gummi bears gone, and where is all the gum?
Who ate all my jelly beans (except the licorice ones)?
Weren’t there some skittles on top of the TV?
Late at night, everything’s closed, and I’m craving something sweet…

I need a sugar rush!

Please note I do like black jelly beans.

Coca-Cola makes non-high-fructose-corn-syrup Coke during the Passover season — it’s the kind with yellow caps.

Not only do the cops have to watch out for copycat killers, but the editors have to watch out for copycat writers, I bet:

Prosecutors said tests on their bodies showed they were poisoned with ethylene glycol, a sweet but odorless chemical in antifreeze. During Turner’s 2004 trial they suggested it could have been placed in foods such as Jell-O.

Dude. That says murder mystery to me right there. Lutheran church potluck…figure out how to poison only one portion of a communal jello dish. Hee!

There’s a bare minimum of what a story needs to accomplish: it has to allow the audience to suspend disbelief. A story doesn’t even have to be entertaining to accomplish this. Entertaining is good, thought-provoking is good, original is good…but first, the story has to let you believe in it before it can do anything else.

How you do you make a story believeable?

  1. Stuff happens. The stuff may or may not be caused by characters in the story.

  2. When stuff happens, people react to it. It isn’t the events. It’s the “and then what” that’s important. If it were the stuff that was important, stories would be, “Once upon a time, there was an earthquake,” and then they would end there. People like stories about people, not stuff.
  3. More stuff will happen later on. When it does, make sure people are expecting it–at least subconsciously. You know, the idead of “don’t put the gun on the wall unless you’re going to fire it later” should be rephrased to “if you’re going to fire a gun, first show it on the wall.”
  4. There’s the stuff, and then there’s what the stuff means. While you can’t screw up the stuff, what the stuff means is more important than the stuff. This is just like life, when two people are fighting about who does the dishes. You can’t screw up on who does the dishes, but how you treat each other is more important than who does the damn dishes on a particular day.
  5. What the stuff means needs to follow the same rules as the stuff: first, meaning happens; second, people react to what stuff means; third, new stuff will mean something too, and you have to set that up. Again this is just like life. People don’t get divorced just out of the blue; they either fight or don’t fight about it first. Maybe even about the dishes.
  6. There’s stuff, there’s what the stuff means, and then there’s what the story means. While you can’t screw up the stuff, and you can’t screw up the meaning, you really can’t screw up what the story means, or people will feel cheated when you get to the end and throw your book across the room. Only really skilled writers can make you throw a good book across the room, and if you’re reading this, you’re probably not that kind of writer.

    Say your story is about how a couple gets divorced and how they come to grips with that. Right there, you’ve screwed up your story. That’s not a story! That’s life. Now, say your story is about how a couple gets divorced and starts a restaurant together and hires a kid who actually likes to wash dishes and the ex-wife has an affair with him but so does the ex-husband and eventually the kid runs away to get married to a woman who refuses to do any kind of housework whatsoever, and the exes decide they’ll use paper plates from now on and get back together in memory of this kid. Now, that’s a silly story, but it’s a story, because it’s about finding out what makes you happy, and how to make a win-win situation. It means something.

    There are two ways to screw up the meaning of a story. One, don’t have one. Two, include stuff and meanings of stuff that have nothing to do with the meaning of the story. Oh, you can vary it: show what happens when people try to act against that meaning or when they do it only half-assed. But the meaning of your story is your story. If your meaning is “love conquers all” then don’ t make the ending depend on robots (unless the robots mean love).

    Note: The person telling the story goes with this, too. If the voice of that person doesn’t fit in with the story, that’s bad. Don’t have Kafka tell a love story unless you want a Kafkaesque love story.

Great. Now how the hell do you do that? It’s simple (but not easy). Strip the story of all its words and just leave behind the story. Write down what happens, scene by scene. Don’t use more than one or two sentences per scene. Or draw pictures. Whatever.

Then write down what each scene means: this brings the lovers closer together, this drives the lovers further apart, this sets things up for a big fight later. Again, maybe a sentence or two. Maybe just one word.

Third, write down what the story means–one or two sentences. (I don’t advise doing this first, because as soon as you write it down, you’ll want to go through your story and “fix” everything without really knowing whether it’s broken or not.) Go through the rest of your notes and find out whether or not they go with that meaning. If not, ditch ‘em and put in something that does. Don’t change your meaning, unless you’re just plain wrong.

Only after you fix the ideas behind your scenes should you come back down and edit words. Words? Words are just the way you tell a story. Just like you use words to deceive your readers, your words can easily deceive you. You may think everything’s fine, because you like your words. But no. If your stuff, your meaning, and your story meaning aren’t in place, you haven’t done the bare minimum of writing a story, even if your words are brave and smart and funny.

Think of the cheesiest, most cliche’d story you know. Soap operas. Their stories are about how life is full of continuing drama. The person who swore eternal love for you is really sleeping with your best friend, who is really your mother, who tried to kill you as a child… Soap operas mean something: Life goes on. And everything that happens in a soap opera illustrates that point. Even though there are sometimes plot holes, the writers still come up with (outlandish) explanations for them, because if they didn’t, they’d lose their audience. It was really her twin sister, the gun wasn’t loaded, she really wasn’t allergic to peanuts. And that’s okay, because life goes on. (The meaning of a soap opera has to be very flexible.) Soap operas are not the fine dining of stories. But you can’t deny that people like them–they are good at being stories. People forget what they’re doing and care about what happens.

And, really, that’s enough. The rest is gravy.

On average, I have one hiccup per day, which occurs in mid-afternoon. I know this, because the woman who sits next to me says, “Pass me the alcohol” every time I do it.

Hachez Cocoa d’Arriba, Strawberry & Pepper, 77% cocoa, “Suprerior Mild Dark Chocolate.”

The other chocolate I had with pepper in it, I forget which brand, was somewhat of a joke. There were little bits of lemon rock candy in it, fer gosh sake, and I never did run across anything remotely peppery.

On the other hand, this stuff is good. Maybe not the 100-year-old red wine your great-grandfather kindly put away for you in the dungeon next to the dead bodies, but good. Strawberries, pepper, and dark chocolate. Who knew? Not quite up to the level of the Maya Gold, but pretty darn close. It probably actually is a little bit better, objectively speaking, but my tastes are prejudiced toward oranges and hints of creaminess.

Note: This is not gonna be everybody’s thing. Don’t eat this if you’re looking for candy.

BLTs with guacamole. Now, doesn’t that sound yummy?

My favorite chocolate right now is Green & Black’s Organic Maya Gold: Bittersweet Chocolate with Orange and Spices. Creamy without being molten. The bittersweetness that lingers on the first kiss before the love affair goes south. The solidity: not too airy, not too chalky, not too smoky, not too earthy…mmmm.

Alice in Wonderland dinnerware.

If you happen to have homeade chicken broth, so much the better. I didn’t have any croutons, though, and they would have been yummy.

1 qt. chicken broth
2-3 c. dried cheese tortellini (woo hoo!)
1 10-oz. can of diced tomatoes (good ones)
1/2 bunch spinach, chopped
1 10-oz. can of white kidney (cannawhatsit) beans
1/2 tsp. thyme
1 clove garlic, crushed or smashed through a garlic press
parmesan cheese
salt & pepper to taste

Bring the chicken broth, tomatoes, thyme, and kidney beans to a low boil, adding salt, if necessary. Add the spinach and tortellini and cook until the noodles are floating and cooked through. Turn off the heat and adjust the salt to taste. Stir in the garlic and ladle into bowls. Grate parmesan and pepper over the top.

I went through a brief pagan phase a number of years ago; it didn’t last long. I thought about it too much and let it go — but I kept a sense of the passing of the seasons, and a sense that events can be influenced, by changing yourself more than anything else.

This was about the same time that I started getting interested in cooking, though, and I ended up using magic in my cooking from time to time. Not to say that I can make love potions or anything, but what I cook (and what I eat) depends on the seasons a lot. (You may have noticed.)

Most of the magic you see is about creating big changes. “Make X fall in love with me.” Or whatever. But part of what turned me off about paganism is that you shouldn’t make X fall in love with you: if that person wouldn’t have chosen you at that time, there’s probably a reason for it, and you’d be reckless to try to get around it without paying the price, because you will, sooner or later. (Nevermind for the moment whether or not a magic spell could do such a thing.) What really needs to happen is “Make me understand why X hasn’t fallen in love with me.”

So me, I stick with cooking. “Celebrate the way you feel in Spring.” “Boost the immune system.” “Cheer me up.” “Revel!” “Comfort.” Small things. Food can do these things. The magic part is the intent. When I cook, I keep my intent in mind. Doing this helps me adjust flavors, make last-minute adjustments, to know when something is going wrong, wrong, wrong. Regardless of whether they accomplish what I want them to or not, I end up with something a little bit beyond what I can normally cook, which is good enough for me.

Anyway, here are some of the books that have a little magic cooking in them:

Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel
Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses, Isabel Allende
Goddess in the Kitchen, Margie Lapanja

Another early-spring recipe.

1 pkg. cream cheese
1/4 c. chopped cooked shrimp
3/4 c. chopped portabella mushrooms
1 green onion, white and green parts chopped
soy sauce

Using the “reheat” setting on the microwave, bring the cream cheese to about body heat temperature. Stir in the shrimp, mushrooms, and green onion. Add 1-2 Tbs. soy sauce or to taste.

Which reminds me:

Crab Rangoon Filling

1 pkg cream cheese
1 can crab, drained
soy sauce

Follow the same procedure as above. Fill wonton wrappers with about 1 Tbs. filling, wrap (I can never get that flower shape to stay put, so I just make an envelope–at any rate, use a sprinkle of water to stick the edges of the wrappers together), and deep fry until golden-brown.

Before I forget :)

This would make about 2-3 cups of rice. I doubled everything.

By spring I don’t mean a warm, sunny day with cherry blossoms; I mean a raw, yucky day where you can just smell the promise of something good coming along later.

sesame oil, about 1 – 2 Tbs.
1/2 yellow onion, med. diced
1/4 c. slivered almonds
1c. rice (I used sushi rice, but it was a bit gummy)
1/4 – 1/2 c. chopped portabella mushrooms
1/4c. frozen peas
sliced green onions

Serve with soy sauce to taste.

In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, heat 1 -2 Tbs sesame oil over medium-high heat until fragrant. Add the chopped onions, almonds, and rice. Saute until the rice is nutty-smelling and the onions are translucent. Add more oil if the rice isn’t slightly translucent.

Add the recommended amount of water for the type of rice you’re using (more if at a high altitude). Cover the rice and allow to come to a boil, then turn the heat off and allow the rice to soak up the water. About 5-10 minutes before serving, stir in the peas and allow them to thaw.

Serve with soy sauce and green onions. I put teriyaki chicken on top.

Jackie’s Teriyaki (non-teriyaki teriyaki)

1/2 c. honey
2 Tbs. rice wine vinegar
2 Tbs. soy sauce
1 clove garlic, crushed

Stir together. Stir about 2/3 of mixture into bite-sized pieces of chicken breast and let site for 10-20 minutes to marinate a bit. Put on foil-lined pan under broiler for about 5 minutes, pull out, and stir in the last 1/3 of the mixture. Broil for another 1-3 minutes and serve over rice.

Quick reviews, because I’m behind:

The Songlines, Bruce Chatwin. Very readable. Good insights, not only into the Austrailian songlings the book is ostensibly about, but about the human nature to wander and how people have to turn their enemies into beasts — animals — in order to fight them.

The Soup Peddler’s Slow and Difficult Soups, Recipes and Reveries, by David Ansel. This made me miss college towns I have known. Lots of anecdotes about living in a strange little suburby place off Austin. The guy delivers soup to your door…Wah! Why not in Colorado, too?!? The soups look delicious, but I didn’t make any before I took the book back. Has a website.

Perfume, The Story of a Murderer, by Patrick Suskind. This has been made into a movie; I haven’t seen it. The story of a madman with a golden nose, and I’ll say no more of the plot. Wonderfully written. “In eighteenth-century France, there lived a man who was one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages.”

Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole. Don’t read this book in large doses unless you have an incredible talent for digesting rich food (or like that guy who eats planes). One of the great comic novels of all time — A Tom Jones of New Orleans. I read it at work and must say it was a great comfort, especially the parts about Levy Pants, to read while enduring the various nonsenses that go on there. The main character has a statue in New Orleans.

The Eight, b y Katherine Neville. Better than The Da Vinci Code by an order or magnatude or two, but I’m an Illuminatus! Trilogy girl. I loved Lily and her dog. I was hoping for a different ending, but the one written made a lot more sense.

Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot, Being the Correspondence of Two Young Ladies of Quality Regarding Various Magical Scandals in London and the Country, by Patricia C. Wrede and Carolyn Stevermeyer. Romance, magic, intrigue. Jane Austin meets Stephen Brust. Two pinkies gracefully extended!

Valor Dark Chocolate (Ghana, Panama, Ecuador) 70%

Again, this is just a little too dark at 70%.

Valor is a good, solid chocolate, but I can’t say it has much to single itself out. This probably explains why, when I saw it at the store, it was more or less buried under the “flavored” varieties. Not too much smell to it — while on the one hand, I wonder if that has to do with the fact that at 70% cocoa, there aren’t as many oils to hold the sent, on the other hand, I remember the bar of 87% Schaffen Barger I got that smelled heavenly. The break of the chocolate was more of a click than a wooden shap — less tough? Anyway, three stars for this one, too; there’s nothing about it that would lift it above “not bad.” I’m going to have to stop getting 70% for a while, I think.

Today, I smelled dirt. Winter is on its way out…

Here is a list of all the combinations of any two of the seven deadly sins, and their labels.

BG (Gluttony and Pride): Fat men in Speedos.
BD (Gluttony and Sloth): Saturday.

I’ve been on a “good chocolate” kick lately. I don’t really know how to describe chocolate yet…but I’m trying to learn. There, you’ve been warned.

Santander Columbian Single Origin Dark Chocolate (70%)

The chocolate smells delicious, and would probably make a good Mexican-style drinking chocolate (that is, the kind you make with extremely hot water and chocolate…and maybe some sugar or hot pepper), although there is a bright kind of smell to it, too, that can get a little overwhelming after a bite or two. Some chocolate, when you smell it, settles into your stomach and spreads a feeling of contentment; this moves more up into your nose — a little peppery, without smelling like pepper at all.

This is just on the edge of dark/too dark for me. With the first few nibbles, you’re happy, but after that, the bitterness starts to get overwhelming. The chocolate gives a wooden snap! when broken, and doesn’t really melt on your fingers or luxuriate on your tongue. It almost needs some kind of milk or cream to help balance the brightness and bitterness, although any more sugar and it’d just be bleah.

Not bad chocolate, but not my favorite. Say, three stars out of five.

Tomorrow is Groundhog Day (or Candlemas, or Imbolc, or Brigid’s Day, or Cross-Quarter Day), which marks the return of Spring, and usually the return of my Spring food cravings. None yet, though. I say we’re in for more winter.

Mmmm. You should have one.

The good news is that the Republic of Tea has created the “Get a Grip” tea, designed to balance out the hormones women subject to PMS and Menopausal fluctuations.

The bad new is that some dumbass put coconut in it. It doesn’t say so, but I smelled it. And that’s what you really want to do, is hand a woman going through the change of life a cup of coconut tea. “Who the !@#$ put !@#$&*( coconut in my !@#$&*( tea?!?” is the last sensible thing you’ll get out of her before the Holocaust.

Update: Lee says it wasn’t him.

By John Thorne, with Matt Lewis Thorne.

Because a pecan pie is so simple to make and because its major ingredients–sugar and nuts–can be combined in so many various ways, a pecan pie can be uniquely honed to a razor’s edge of perfection against a particular palate: unlike almost any dessert, it is amenable to infinite variation. But all that freedom demands that you know yourself; otherwise you will constantly be seduced by other people’s notion of perfect and never realize your own.

I happened to go on a quest for my perfect pecan pie this year (and found it, huzzah!), but that was just luck. I don’t usually go on a quest for my perfect anything in a dish–I split my time between making something that sounds good, winging it without a recipe (and feeling guilty about it) and following a recipe imperfectly, adapting it helter-skelter to what I have at hand (because I didn’t check whether I had enough of what the recipe called for). And the foods that I love to throw together the way I like them? Well, they’re almost embarrassing, because they’re so private. “Hey, world! I like ramen noodles with peanut butter and pre-mixed curry powder and carrots and baby corn when I remember to get it, and maybe some cilantro and garlic and ginger, but mostly just the curry-peanut butter mixture! And here’s my underwear, too, while I’m at it, not the sexy ones, just the regular ones! Freshly washed but at least as old as my daaaaaaauuuuuughterrrrrr!”

But where else does food come from? Until recently, people made food based on what they had on hand (or what they could get), to the particular taste of the family or self, without recipes. And–it was good.

John Thorne kindly points this out. He also charges quixotically at the egos of Paula Wolfert, Martha Stewart*, even James Beard, managing to puncture them a few times without doing them too much damage. He obsesses about things. He glorifies the “plowman’s lunch,” cheese, good bread, a whole onion, and something good to drink (beer!), and how it can be adapted from cheese spread on crackers to onion soup. He asserts the point of having a party is conversation, not centerpieces or impressive dishes. He even denies being a good cook–just an interested one.

Also, I strongly suspect he likes to eat.

*Who is actually the same person as Hillary Clinton.

Ever notice how the holidays requiring mass amounts of candy, chocolate, cookies, etc., are during the fall, winter, and early spring?

McCormick spices puts together a flavor forecast every year. In 2007:

  • Clove and Green Apple
  • Thyme and Tangerine
  • Tellicherry Black Pepper and Berry
  • Sea Salt and Smoked Tea
  • Lavender and Honey
  • Crystallized Ginger and Salted Pistachio
  • Cumin and Apricot
  • Toasted Mustard and Fennel Seeds
  • Wasabi and Maple
  • Caramelized Garlic and Riesling Vinegar

I could do without Wasabi and Maple. I really don’t care for wasabi with anything else. And what the heck is Tellicerry Black Pepper and Berry? But…yummy.

(via Slashfood.)

Using the 5,000 ft. elevation recipe in Pie in the Sky, I successfully made cracker-crisp French bread. Victory! Today: test Grandma Bouzek’s bread maker…

Thinking about getting a coffee roaster. Does 3 oz. at a time, costs $85, and beans are about $4/pound.

Also, it’s supposed to taste heavenly.

(from my mother)

As the holidays approach, my heartfelt appreciation goes out to all of you who have taken the time and trouble to send me “forwards” over the past 12 months. Thank you for making me feel safe, secure, blessed, and wealthy.

Extra thanks to whoever sent me the one about rat crap in the glue on envelopes, ’cause I now have to go get a wet towel every time I need to seal an envelope. Also, I scrub the top of every can I open for the same reason.

Because of your concern I no longer drink Coca Cola because it can remove toilet stains.

I no longer drink Pepsi or Dr Pepper since the people who make these products are atheists who refuse to put “Under God” on their cans.

I no longer use Saran wrap in the microwave because it causes cancer.

I no longer check the coin return on pay phones because I could be pricked with a needle infected with AIDS.

I no longer use cancer-causing deodorants even though I smell like a water buffalo on a hot day.

I no longer go to shopping malls because someone might drug me with a perfume sample and rob me.

I no longer receive packages from nor send packages by UPS or FedEx since they are actually Al Qaeda in disguise.

I no longer answer the phone because someone will ask me to dial a number for which I will get a phone bill with calls to Jamaica, Uganda, Singapore, and Uzbekistan.

I no longer eat KFC because their “chickens” are actually horrible mutant freaks with no eyes or feathers.

I no longer have any sneakers — but that will change once I receive my free replacement pair from Nike.

I no longer have to buy expensive cookies from Neiman Marcus since I now have their recipe.

I no longer worry about my soul because at last count I have 363,214 angels looking out for me.

Thanks to you, I have learned that God only answers my prayers if I forward an e-mail to seven of my friends and make a wish within five minutes.

I no longer have any savings because I gave it to a sick girl who is about to die in the hospital (for the 1,387,258th time)

I no longer have any money at all – but that will change once I receive the 15,000 that Microsoft and AOL are sending me for participating in their special email program.

Yes, I want to thank you so much for looking out for me that I will now return the favor!

If you don’t send this e-mail to at least 144,000 people in the next 2 minutes, a large pigeon with a wicked case of diarrhea will land on your head at 5:00 PM (CDT) this afternoon. I know this will occur because it actually happened to a friend of my next-door neighbor’s ex-mother-in-law’s second husband’s cousin’s beautician.

It’s my own invention. I was trying to make pecan pie that tasted like these cajun spiced nuts I’d made before. You think it would be spicy, but it’s not–the cayenne works to bring out the taste of the butter and honey. The only time I noticed I’d used it was walking up four flights of stairs: Phew, it was too hot all of a sudden.

2 9-inch pie shells
1 1/2 c. white sugar
3/4 c. honey
3/4 c. light corn syrup
1/4 c. unsalted butter, melted to a liquid
6 eggs, beaten
1/2 t. cayenne pepper
1/2 t. salt
2 c. chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 F. Prick pie shells in several places with a fork and bake in preheated oven for 5 minutes. Remove and allow to cool. In a large bowl, combine everything else. Mix well and pour into pie shells. Bake in oven on top of jelly roll pan (there will be overboil) for 45 minutes. Check after 30 minutes and cover edges of crust with tinfoil. I took the pies out when they had about 2-3 inches of looseness in the center (the edges had set), and they were just about perfect.

Those of you who have played World of Warcraft:

On the way home from school, Ray says, “I have a line and a dot!”

I glance over my shoulder. One hand is raised with one finger pointed up, and the other hand is pointing at the base of her other finger: an exclamation point.

“Momma, I have a job for you! I have a job for you! Click on me!”

Giggling, I poke her in the belly. “Click!”

“I have a job for you, momma.”

“What job is it?”

“I have lots of job. Your first job is the cookie job.”

“What do I have to do for that?”

“You have to get stuff to make cookies…”

That’s a job we’ll do this weekend :)

Mentos and Diet Coke. Now if only there were a way to incorporate synchronized swimming…

I need to do more road trips, so I’ve been looking around for weird stuff to do. I’ve been meaning to get up to Boulder. When I go, this will have to be done.

A few years ago, Lee and I watched “Cannibal! The Musical,” by the South Park creators (AKA “Alferd Packer: The Musical”). It was bad…but it was funny:

James Humphrey: Hey! You’re cutting into his butt!
Frank Miller: Well what sort of meat do you want?
James Humphrey: Well, not butt!

But to find out there’s a grill dedicated to his name? Oh, we must go there. I’m sure we’ll have to check out the other sites of interest, but:

“El Canibal is Boulder’s biggest burrito, and the Calypso pork is a student favorite.” The slogan is “Have a friend for lunch!”

Okay, in reality, this may not be as amusing as I’m hoping it will be. Nevertheless.

From Wikipedia:

“During the trial, the judge supposedly said:

‘Damn you, Alferd Packer! There were seven Dimmycrats in Hinsdale County and you ate five of them!’”

Bed and Breakfast.

(A B&B…in a cave. There’s only one bedroom, and there are warnings all over the site: “You have to want to come to Kokopelli’s Cave.”)

The butt end of bread will sit around forever and go bad, but croutons, designed to sit around forever, will be gone in mere moments. Yes, I’m on a crouton kick.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cube the bread into 1/2 inch cubes and spread onto cookie sheets. The cubes of bread may touch but should not pile up on the pan. Artisan (i.e., homemade) bread is best, but even processed bread will work.

Melt butter. Do not use margarine. You can use olive oil instead of the butter. A mix of about 1/2 butter, 1/2 olive oil is nice (just mix in the olive oil after melting the butter). I use about 1/4 c. butter or olive oil per 2c. bread, but then, I believe a diet is about eating less rather than eating diet food. Pour butter/oil over bread and stir until it’s soaked up.

Sprinkle the bread with salt and ground pepper. Stir.

If you like, about 1/4c. shredded hard cheese (parmesan or even sharp cheddar) can be added. Stir. Reduce the amount of butter by about 1/3 if you’re using an oily cheese. (Or not, if you don’t mind the croutons being more chewy than crunchy.)

Put in the oven. Take out every few minutes to stir around. The croutons are done when a) they’re crunchy and b) smell toasty. Cheese should be browned but not burnt.

More butter/oil/cheese = chewier croutons. Less = crunchier, drier croutons.

Last time, I made rye croutons with 1/2 butter, 1/2 Tunesian olive oil (thanks, Margie!), salt and pepper. Yummy. Oh, and it makes an excellent opportunity to roast garlic cloves, too, which will scent the croutons without making them overpoweringly garlicky.

This is petty. I realize this.

I went to Panera Bread yesterday to do some writing (out of work early), and this really annoying guy was working at the bakery counter. Luckily, he didn’t take my order.

For example, this older gent walks up to the counter with an older lady, pretty obviously his wife. His wife starts talking to the other girl at the counter, ordering food. This guy yells, “Are you looking at anything in particular?!?” because all older people are mostly deaf (in case you didn’t know that). The older gent says, “Just wishing.” The guy yells–yells–”Wishes can become reality!!!”* The older guy shrugs, and says something about being on a special diet. Without pause, the guy turns to the next people in line, who are actually just coming through the door, “Can I help you?!?”

A parody of great customer service.

I’ve seen this guy before, I swear I have. When I worked at Wells Fargo, there was a guy at the north Panera Bread store that was always there in the mornings. He had this bright, annoying voice, a romanesque haircut, a tic with his hands, and it was pretty obvious the other employees hated him.

When I first heard this guy at the Powers Panera open his mouth, I knew it was the same guy. Same voice, same attitude, same tic with his hands. But his HAIR was different! It looked like a wig–imagine an Elvis hairdo, levitated by additional, teased hair, to a full inch over skull height! It wasn’t extra highs and swoops–no, the whole thing was an inch straight up. The sides were flat against his skull, too.

I couldn’t help it. I had to laugh. I’m sure it wasn’t the case, but I kept thinking it: Shhhh…he’s in disguise!

* Some people speak in multiple punctuation marks. Really.

If death holds no fear for the true Buddhist, why be vegetarian?

(Be vegetarian if you like: I often eat that way myself. It’s lighter on resources, cheaper, healthier if managed well, and delicious. But eating vegetarian doesn’t guarantee that you’re not harming animals (encroached habitat, pesticides) or saving the environment (pollution caused by shipping, processing, packaging). Not eating meat is not equivalent to righteousness.)

The Japanese have a festival just to watch cherry blossoms. So tell me…where the hell are the Japanese recipes for cherries?

Can’t use it in an article? Put it in your blog!

From Wikipedia:

Another legend tells how a terrible famine struck the island and a malicious butcher lured three little children into his house, only to kill and slaughter them and put their remains in a barrel to cure, planning to sell them off as ham. Saint Nicholas, visiting the region to care for the hungry, not only saw through the butcher’s horrific crime but also managed to resurrect the three boys from the barrel. Another version of this story, possibly formed around the eleventh century, claims that they were instead three clerks who wished to stay the night. The man murdered them, and was advised by his wife to dispose of them by turning them into meat pies. The Saint saw through this and brought the men back to life. This alternate version is thought to be the origin of the English horror legend, Sweeney Todd.

Warning: Cusswords.

I’d never heard of Uncyclopedia before. Pity.

WALLACE: When we announced that you were going to be on “Fox News Sunday,” I got a lot of e-mail from viewers. We all agreed that you are a dirty scumbag, but let’s be reasonable about this. Most of the veiwers wanted me to ask you: Did you have sexual relations with Osama bin Laden, and if so, why didn’t you do more to put him out of business? Also, what sexual positions was Osama fond of?

“We’re thinking of inviting him onto the O’Reilly Factor, just to see what would happen,” commented the stage director. “O’Reilly would be much more popular if he were eaten by a Democrat.”

Er…or just a reason, really.

Every Day with Rachael Ray has a section every month with a recipe you can share with your pet. This month’s is Pumpkin Barley with Turkey.

If When we get a dog, I’ll try it out.

When making chowder, use a dough cutter to squash the potatoes after they’re cooked through. Pleasantly chunky results.

Max Brenner: Chocolate by the Bald Man.

(Via Grow-a-Brain. There’s a whole entry on chocolate for today, full of chocolate links. In fact, there’s a whole category called Unusual Chocolates.)

All is going well…more stuff packed today. Ray’s computer is packed, which means mother and child are now going to bicker over the same system for a few days. Lee gave me the day off, so I drove by the house, went to Poor Richard’s, ate at La Creperie (overrated), walked into a coffee shop just as the thunder boomed and rain dropped from the sky like spray from a punctured water ballon just as the door closd behind me, finished my book and walked back to the city parking garage in the much-lessened rain only to discover they weren’t charging people that day, stared at a movie (Silent Hill*) at approximately the same time Lee was (different location) and decided for some reason not to get it (as did he), read another book (manga), ate Pad Thai, and decided the day would have been much better if I’d taken Lee and Ray with me.

Sometimes that happens; I have to go, have to go wandering, and it takes a few hours to settle down enough to make sense of what it is that I’m trying to accomplish with the wandering, by which time, I can’t have it.

From Hyperballad

i go through this
before you wake up
so i can feel happier
to be safe up here with you

*Unintentional oxymoron.

(Tales from a Life of Delicious Excess)
By Gael Greene

As advertised, so delivered.

Gael Greene has been the food writer for New York magazine since its beginning in 1968, back when foodieism wasn’t big, or at least not big in the way it is now. According to the memoirs, she truly is insatiable for both adventures in food and sex*, so much so that it eventually wore me out. It’s a good autobiography, the kind that comes with the sense of time and place, warts (and vanity) and all, and I don’t mean to imply that the author is repetitive or dull. It’s just that I have human appetites for pretty much everything but books. The essence of being both unfulfillable and picky to a nicety seems the same, though, a kind of “I’ll try anything as long as it’s good” mentality.

The writing is fun, if somewhat melodramatic at times; I recognized a lot of foodie-type names, but by the end of the book, I could have cared less who opened which restaurant or who was seen there and how they were treated. I never tired of her gossiping abou the food:

Picasso had to learn how to draw before he did those Cubist tricks. And here I was, scolding a two-star Michelin chef because his vanilla creme was too strongly scented with rose petals and chiding Andre Solmer at Lutece for a vapid creme renversee au caramel. Yet in my brief years as an amateur cook, I had never tackled sweetbreads or cleaned a squid and had failed utterly in m one attempt at trying to duplicate Le Pavillion’s quenelles de brochet. The stink of abused fish had lingered in our kitchen for two days.

A life being lived in the moment, often selfishly. I recommend MFK Fisher more highly (less sex and gossip but more stories), but this was a fun read, and a good way of getting the sense of the New York food scene over almost forty years.

*The first kiss-and-tell cracked me up. I won’t spoil it for you.

(Adventures in Entrepreneurship From the Founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery)
By Sam Calagione

Too bad I don’t like beer. Some people have told me it’s an acquired taste, but other things I’ve eaten and drunk were supposed to be aquired tastes, and I liked them from the get-go. Like coffee. I started out on almost the worst coffee you can imagine, and I still enjoyed it right away. Beer smells weird to me, and I try not to ingest anything that doesn’t smell actively yummy.

This book is the story of Sam Calagione, who went from a punkish childhood to an unconventional college, where he studied English and dreamed of writing the Great American Novel. Naturally enough (at least, the way he explains it), this led to beer. His first restaurant started out with what was essentially a home brewing kit on steroids (brewing something like 30 gallons a batch–not fermenting, just brewing–versus the 6,000-gallon tanks used by “real” microbreweries).

The Dogfish Head motto is “off-centered ale for 0ff-centered people.” Blah, blah, blah, I thought. Then I moved on to research into other microbreweries and realized that he probably wasn’t kidding. I was just taking for granted that all microbreweries were just like Bristol Brewing Company, and that Dogfish Head wasn’t pushing the limit all that much. Errt. I got the buzzer on that one. Most microbreweries are about as inventive as chain restaurants, from what I was finding. It’s the same beer as Coors and whatnot, just “fresher” and with “better ingredients.” Fine, fine. Like I said, I don’t like beer. Maybe it’s like the difference between truckstop coffee and a fine pot of coffee where you’ve cleaned everything yourself, used filtered water and fresh-roasted and -ground beans, etc. But here is the offering listed on the website:

Midas Touch Golden Elixer
Raison D’Etre
Chicory Stout
Immort Ale
Golden Shower Imperial Pilsner
Verdi Verdi Good
Aprihop
Espresso Bock

And the descriptions, in the book, of the ingredients and techniques…well, it’s too bad I don’t like beer. I get the feeling this is the kind of beer Tim Taylor would come up with…lots of mistakes along the road, but done with a good heart and the kind of geekiness that you have to love.

The book is a good read if you like business-type stories or are interested in the brewing process at all. “What happens if you do X?” “At first we weren’t sure about Y, but then we realized…Heee!” That kind of thing. It’s contains a few little gems about learning how to be happy. Not especially deep or anything, but you can’t have a truly good beer story going without a little philosophizing in there.

When I see a corner pizza store with some wrinkled banner hanging lopsided from its awning that reads “Ray’s Pizza: The Best in the Universe,” I think they have no respect for their customers. If they did, they would attribute the quote to somebody. Odds are the quote can be attributed to an egomaniac named Ray. Does anybody really read a sign like that and think, “Well damn, if it’s the best pizza in the entire universe I better hurry up and order because there’s bound to be a spaceship full of little green men flying in from Mars to clog up the take-out counter”?

The book wasn’t engrossing or anything (although it doesn’t deserve to be damned with such faint praise). It just wasn’t the kind of book that demanded your attention so much as presented tidbits for interest, amusement, and edification. I wouldn’t want you wandering into this book thinking it was going to Change Your Life; instead, wander into this book the way you would wander into a brewery itself, saying “Huh…so that’s how they do that” and “Heh.” That’s it. This is a “heh” book.

The piano has been drinking
And the bar stools are all on fire
And all the newspapers were just fooling
And the ash-trays have retired
And I’ve got a feeling that the piano has been drinking
It’s just a hunch
The piano has been drinking and he’s going to lose his lunch
And the piano has been drinking
Not me, not me, The piano has been drinking not me…

(No, I’m not smashed, just listening to a lot of Tom Waits tonight)

Bonus Strangel.

By Bob and Melinda Blanchard.

I checked this out from the library, but it will be a purchase after we get settled in after the move.

So…with all the free recipes online, why would I need to buy cookbooks? (Why? asks Lee. Whyyyyyyy?) The authors address this question in the introduction, and I agree with the answer they quote in their book:

“Like other good books, the best cookbooks have strong voices that lure readers into unfamiliar worlds, give colorful observations about those places, and, above all, reveal a passionate interest in sharing pleasure.” (Barbara Haber, food historian.)

Online recipes (not the food described, but the writing style, if that makes any sense) are usually straightforward and colorless. “Do this. Do that. Don’t let this happen.” The recipes in the best cookbooks, on the other hand, imply the outlook of their writers. “Do this, because it will make your tongue melt. I did that the other day, and while it isn’t for everyone, it made me want to dance around naked.”*

The recipes in Cook What You Love are appealing. The first section, breakfast, begins with a short essay about the joys of making breakfast in bed, so while I was reading this section, I was imagining my husband bringing me breakfast in bed. “Yes,” I said to myself, “I would eat Crunchy Coconut French Toast in bed. I would eat Orange-Currant Muffins and One-Eyed Jacks and Spanish Scrambled Eggs in bed…” It all sounded good. I then asked myself whether I would cook all those recipes if it meant getting up early to do it…well, that one was harder, but I ended up with a “yes” there, too. As I read my way through the book, I realized I would cook anything in the book, just so I could eat it, and that, I think, is the mark of a good cookbook.

The mark of a really good cookbook is when it can talk you into trying something you normally wouldn’t try, either because you don’t care for it or it’s a pain in the butt to make. I found myself actually considering roasting cherry tomatoes, even though I don’t like them, just because of the description in the book:

“We’re always looking for ways to add color and texture to a recipe. Food seems to taste better if it looks beautiful. Roasted whole cherry tomatoes are a quick, easy way to brighten up a platter of these or any other scrambled eggs. Just toss the tomatoes with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast at 400F for about 10 minutes or until hot and wrinkled. Serve them hot or at room temperature.”

Hm….I’ll think about it. I keep promising myself a trip to the farmer’s market. Maybe I’ll pick up some cherry tomatoes and give it a go.

*Also, online recipes usually don’t have pictures. Mmmm….it’s food erotica.

…or maybe some good mac-n-cheese. Click here for a moderately safe-for-work quiz challenge: Porn Star or Famous Chef?

(Via Grow-a-Brain.)

Nordicware has the best Bundt Pans….

(Via BoingBoing.)

More research, blogger Lew Rockwell‘s description of eating Fugu, otherwise known as a pufferfish. Not only do pufferfish have big, nasty spiky things to prevent themselves from being eaten, they’re fatal to anything that does manage to choke one down.

(One of the inventions that came out of Christmas in July)

Note: Don’t mess around with canned or frozen cherries in this recipe. This is the kind of thing you want to save for once or twice a year, when the cherries are perfect and ripe.

1/4 c. butter (unsalted and if you use margarine I will sue you for defamation of character)
1/4 c. “all-fruit” jam or preserves (cherry, apricot, or other fleshy-type fruit is best)
1 1/2 c. pitted, quartered sweet red cherries*

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Stir in the preserves and heat until bubbling, stirring occaisionally. Turn off heat. Add cherries and stir. About five minutes before you need to serve the sauce, warm it up over low heat just until it bubbles, stirring often.

Serve immediately over roast pork.

*I have a gadget that pits cherries and olives. I geeked out when I saw it.

From a guy’s guy at work:

“Guys are made out of bacon.”

All,

I will be most likely not posting this weekend, as it’s a) Christmas in July, and b) my folks will be in town.

Tomorrow’s menu:

Roast pork with spices and cherry sauce
Sweet potatoes with candied, spiced pecans
Sweet corn
Fresh pineapple
Rice

I got The Cake Book, by Tish Boyle, in the mail today. Now, I am not big on actually decorating cakes, but I like to make them. I mean, come on. “Cake” includes “cheesecake,” and there’s a whole chapter on cheesecakes.

“[Cheesecakes] first became popular in America in the late nineteenth century, after a couple of dairy farmers from upstate New York developed a rich, cream-based cheese inspired by French Neufchatel.”

There’s even “Creamy Pumpkin Cheesecake with Ginger-Pecan Crust.” “White Chocolate Peach Cheesecake.” Oooh, and “Chocolate Guiness Cake,” which appears to be fudge with pretensions toward cakedom.

“Lemon Lust Cake:

“Lemon lovers are a special breed. They are shamelessly devoted to their favorite flavor, and they like it to be assertive and bold…”

Hm…bet I could turn that into Lime Lust Cake without too much difficulty. My passion for lemons, eh, well.

I wonder if there’s a personality test for your favorite kind of dessert. Cake vs. Pie. On the one hand, we have cheesecake. On the other, pecan pie. Considering that I make at least five cheesecakes a year (and an uncounted number of cakes, both from scratch and from a mix), I’ll have to go with cake.

More Texas.

You know, I left out the funniest part of being in Texas. Everything is decorated almost exactly as if it were in western South Dakota. Swap out the Native American influence for Hispanic, and there you have it.

Friday: Dallas Zoo, currently a tropical paradise.

We were walking along an outside corridor formed of netting and fence. Directly over us is some kind of hawk, who is eating a rat. By “eating a rat” I mean “noisily ripping it into rat sushi.” Little pieces of things are lying on the ground underneath. Lee and I watch it for a while and move on.

But wait…There’s a group of four little boys, about four years old or so, with a couple of adult women. We quickly double back.

“What’s that?”

“Oh, look! It’s a bird!”

“What’s it doing?”

The women give this little “eek” and hustle the boys off quickly. “Don’t look–”

But they’re little boys, and they see exactly what they’re not supposed to see, and they crane their necks as they’re being driven away.

“Cooooooool…”

Friday night we ditched the group and went to a restaurant at the hotel, Ama Lur. Very tasty “southwestern fusion” food. Dessert came in shot glasses. No, it was really dessert — I had lemon panna cotta and Lee had chocolate something-whose-name-escapes-me-but-I-should-know. The creme thing with the sugar crust.*

Saturday:

By the end of Saturday night, we were done. I went to a meeting, took a nap, and went shopping; Lee worked on his story and stared out the window at the pool.

For everyone who’s asked (my brother), yes, there was steak that night for supper. It wasn’t all that and a bag of chips. I would much rather have had some from SD or Iowa. I remember that restaurant right next to our place in West Branch…throw a chunck of meat on the massive grill pit, wander around, just smelling it cook, pull it off and dump about a cup of sauteed mushrooms all over it…yeah, not that.

I had a wonderful time listinging to Lee’s sarcastic comments. Man, he was ready to vamoose. Not that I wasn’t, but he was done.

Sunday & Monday:

Got up, wrote story, packed, got on the plane. Lee doesn’t like roller coasters, and even I was a little nauseous getting off in Denver. Back to Sioux Falls, give Ray a hug, get back in the car for Flandreau, spend the night, wake up, frantically search for toiletries, get in the car, go. We listened to an audiobook on the way back, and that helped. Snow through Denver. Scary roads. Colorado Springs dry, dry, dry.

Tuesday:

Tired. Lots of loose ends at work to clear up before the end of the month. Other stuff going on…got groceries, came home, and collapsed.

*Food writing is hard.

Chocolate Shop.

A friend of mine is visiting a quaint little college town the other day, wandering around with a friend of hers in the late evening when they discover a chocolate shop. The sign says the place closes at eight, but it’s still open. The owner tells them he just likes to give people something to do.

Looking over the rows and rows of fluffy raspberry-creme truffles, chocolate-covered espresso bean topped cappachino truffles, juicy, red chocolate-dipped strawberries, fudges of any and all descriptions, and way too much sublimated eroticism embodied in chocolate form in general, they hear the phone ring.

The owner picks up the phone and say,

“Hot tub, huh?”

“And you’re naked?”

“I’ll be home as soon as I’m done with these customers.” He has this huge grin on his face as he rings them up.

Spring!

My body decided today, during lunch, that it was officially spring. My tastes change with the seasons, and I walked out of the building, in 20-degree, blustery, snowy weather looking for fresh vegetables. My ears were listening for chirpy birds, robins and whatnot–

Heard ‘em, too.

Now that’s a sexy pan.

From the Chef’s cookware catalogue:

“Nonstick Mini Cheesecake Pan with removable bottoms for easy release.”

I bet you could make tarts in there, too.

Rachael Fix: Halloween

I didn’t find this recipe on purpose.

Spam Primavera:

* Exported from MasterCook *

SPAM PRIMAVERA

Recipe By :
Serving Size : 8 Preparation Time :0:00
Categories : Misc

Amount Measure Ingredient — Preparation Method
———————————————————-
1 cn Spam, cut in strips
2 Carrots, thinly sliced
1 Zucchini, thinly sliced
1/4 c Finely chopped onion
1 Garlic clove, minced
6 tb Olive oil, divided
1 9 oz package linguini-cooked
1/2 c Grated parmesan cheese
2 tb Lemon juice
1/4 ts White pepper

1. In a large skillet, cook Spam, carrots, zucchini, onion and garlic in 3
Tbsps olive oil until vegetables are crisp and tender.

2. Toss together linguini, vegetable mixture, parmesan cheese, 3T olive
oil, and lemon juice until well coated. Serve immediately.

Source: Geo. A Hormel Co, 1992

“In certain plant foods, including almonds, millet sprouts, lima beans, soy, spinach, bamboo shoots, and cassava roots (which are a major source of food in tropical countries), cyanides occur naturally as part of sugars or other naturally-occurring compounds. However, the edible parts of plants that are eaten in the United States, including tapioca which is made from cassava roots, contain relatively low amounts of cyanide.”

I’m working on something really fun right now…

“He that does not understand the bitter does not understand the sweet. Lucky numbers 2, 15, 21, 47.”

–That one’s been sitting on my desk at work for a while. The weirdest fortune cookie I ever got said, “You like apples.” That was it, no lucky numbers, no LEARN TO SPEAK CHINESE on the back. I kept asking myself, “You like apples in bed? How does that work? Do I want to know?”

Other ones that I keep at work:

“The best years of your life have not yet been lived.”

“Always advance, never surrender.”

Which I need to be reminded of at work from time to time…Someone reminded me about the bitter and the sweet the other day, inadvertantly. I needed it. Things haven’t been delighting me as much as they used to; I’d been running away from the bitter and thus eluding the sweet.

I’m at Panera Bread, trying to order a cup of chai. There’s nobody at the bakery counter, so I stand in line at the cafe counter. Someone comes out from the back of the house and starts sweeping the bakery, so I ask her if I can get a cup of coffee from her. She doesn’t look up, so I laugh and say, “Can you hear me? Can you hear me?”

She jumps. “Oh!”

“Can I order coffee over here, or should I wait in the line?”

“Oh, no,” she says, and starts punching things into a register. “Just a cup of coffee?”

“No, actually,” I say. “A cup of chai.”

“A chai latte or an iced chai?”

Now, the menu doesn’t say chai latte, but Hot Spiced Chai. “Not a latte, no coffee in it,” I say. “But still hot.”

“That’s a latte,” she says.

“But I don’t want the coffee,” I repeat, because I quit drinking large amounts of caffeine over four years ago and I am afraid.

“There’s no coffee. A latte just means, just means it’s–” she holds out her hands in some kind of gesture I recognize as “Good-God-what-is-the-word-I’m-looking-for”– “hot!”

“That’s what I want. Just a hot chai. No coffee.”

She rings me up and makes me a big mug of chai. “Here you go,” she says.

“Thanks,” I say. “I’m sorry. I’m just easily confused.”

“Me too,” she says.

“We should be careful around each other,” I say.

She looks at me like I’m an idiot, or maybe that’s just self-defense, because I think she’s confused. But that’s okay, because she just walked over to my table and offered me a baguette, because they had too many baguettes. She has been passing out baguettes to various people. Not everyone, though. I’m not sure why.

And I noticed that most of the people, when they accepted their baguettes, got this look on their faces, like she was an idiot.

One man said, “Do I want this huge loaf of bread? Do I look like I’m an idiot?”

moveable feast

n : a religious holiday that falls on different dates in different years

from Dictionary.com.

That is, Easter and the like. Now I know.

Pindakaashoofd (PIN-da-kaw-show-ft)

This is Dutch for “peanut butter head.”

I’ve made greek salad vinagrette before, but I’ve never been happy with it. Last night, I tried a different technique. Very good.

First, assemble your salad in a bowl sufficient to hold it, adding ingredients as desired.

Next, crush a clove of garlic using a garlic press or smash with the side of a knife into a paste. Flick garlic onto the salad — I’d say, about a quarter of a clove for an entree salad, or half that for a side salad. At any rate, if you find yourself reaching for more than a single clove of garlic, you’re probably going too far. Use less rather than more.

Finally, add a teaspoon each of good, extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice per entree salad (half that for a side salad) and toss. Shake some salt and freshly-ground black pepper over the salad, toss again.

If the salad is bland, you need more lemon juice and a little more salt.

Fact or myth?

Smoothies are good for you.

Myth!

Chocolate cherry smoothies:

1 pt. high-quality chocolate ice cream
1 c. pitted ripe cherries (slice down the middle, twist open, pick out pit)
1 c. milk (or less)
6 ice cubes
whipped cream (do not use fake whipped cream)

Blenderize. If the smoothie doesn’t turn purple, add more cherries. Top with whipped cream. I’d say three servings, but I’d be wrong.

I suppose you could add some good chocolate syrup or hot fudge (unheated) to it.

Oh, that reminds me.

I made creme brulee
for Father’s Day.
It turned out OK!

Also, I made barbecued chicken and the Best Beans Ever:

1 lb bacon.
1 large can of baked beans, not institutional-size, but pretty large (we used maple-flavored).
1 red onion, chopped in small but non-dainty chunks.
1/4 c. blackstrap molasses or more to taste.
Worchestershire sauce, salt, and pepper to taste.

Fry bacon until crisp. Remove bacon from pan and drain on paper towels. STOP!!! Do not drain the grease. This recipe is meant for guys. Pour the beans in the pan with the grease and warm gently. Add molasses and stir. Add worchestershire sauce, salt, and pepper to taste. Just before serving, stir in the red onion.

After eating, leave the room.

*If you bitched to yourself that my haiku had the wrong number of syllables, you’re a dork.

Seeing as Ray was asleep on my shoulder, Lee ordered Chinese last night from the Swan Palace. On a whim, I ordered pineapple chicken.

“You ordered pineapple chicken, right?” he asked.

“Yeah.”

“Well, you got pineapple chicken.”

And then he brought me half a hollowed-out pineapple with stir fry in the middle. It was the same kind of taste on the tongue as good wine. Not the same taste, but the same type of taste, that makes your mouth swim just thinking about it.

One of the things I miss about drinking strong coffe is the caffeine buzz. It seemed to make life just a little bit easier, at times. Like today, when I have no inspiration to do anything. I could sit down, drink a pot of coffee, and the world would have sparkly edges. Everything would inspire me to something.

I’d never finish that stuff, though. Because I’d travel back to the land of after-coffee, and it’d be boring. Utterly boring.

Anyway, I’ve had a long run of uninspiring days. Stuff happens, but it does’t feel important enough to write about. Made a new kind of chicken noodle soup, a pistou without the vegetables, I guess, and accidentally received an indoor grilling book from my cookbook club, which Lee was excited about, so I’ll keep it. (Yes, I belong to a cookbook club. I don’t usually cook using recipes, either.) I’m introducing Ray to the idea that letters make sounds, which make words. Lee’s brother Mike stopped by on his way to see their brother Dale in Tucson; Mike wanted to know what tricks Ray could do. Heard about Dale being Dale; it sounds like he’s dating someone who can relate to–not just laugh at–his stories. She only has one eye. I went to a potluck/open house celebrating the adoption of my boss’s two new kids from the Ukraine. I finally read Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. I’m roasting chicken with homemade yakitori sauce. I read Song of Susannah yesterday, and I found it lacking compared to the other books in the series, probably because so much of it was a writerly trick to set up the last book. Did laundry. Survived another sinus infection. Changed the batteries in 20 cheap watches and only lost one screw.

But I did sit down today and promise myself that I’d write in my blog. I don’t know why, but even the dull entries make me feel better, at heart, than drinking a pot of coffee. And not as twitchy, either.

Now this, I have to try:

Mayan Hot Chocolate

2 cups boiling water

1 chile pepper, cut in half, seeds removed (with gloves)

5 cups light cream or whole or nonfat milk

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

1 to 2 cinnamon sticks

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate or 3 tablets Mexican chocolate, cut into 1/4″pieces

2 tablespoons sugar or honey, or to taste

l tablespoon almonds or hazelnuts, ground extra fine

Whipped cream

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, add chile pepper to boiling water. Cook until liquid is reduced to 1 cup. Remove chile pepper; strain water and set aside.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine cream or milk, vanilla bean and cinnamon stick until bubbles appear around the edge. Reduce heat to low; add chocolate and sugar or honey; whisk occasionally until chocolate is melted and sugar dissolves. Turn off heat; remove vanilla bean and cinnamon stick. Add chile-infused water, a little at a time, tasting to make sure the flavor isn’t too strong. If chocolate is too thick, thin with a little more milk.

Serve in small cups and offer ground almonds or hazelnuts and whipped cream.

Site includes information about the history of chocolate.

Ray’s sitting on my lap. One cookie says to the other cookie (both of which have a big, semi-circular bite of them):

Cookie 1: What happened to your head?

Cookie 2: That one eat me.

Cookie 1: Spiders!

Cookie 2: Aaugh!

It used to be that all you could get were crappy donuts, at least where I lived. They were all cake donuts, and they all tasted slightly stale. Then I had my first Krispy Kreme.

“Ah!” I said. “There’s nothing wrong with this donut! What a relief!”

I was on vacation. When I went home (in Iowa at the time), I had to go back to the crappy donuts.

Colorado Springs has been inundated with Krispy Kreme donuts recently. From what I understand, they make them in Denver, because the actual Krispy Kreme stores in town don’t have the capacity to make that many donuts.

At first I couldn’t get enough, but I’ve finally realized that Krispy Kreme donuts are too @#$%*^& sweet. Once in a while, that’s all you really want, a sweet donut with nothing really wrong with it. I usually get Albertson’s donuts now. They sell Krispy Kreme donuts, too, but I get the other kind instead.

Walking along with my mother while she was in town. Sign.

“HEALTHY JAPANESE FOOD!”

I said, “But I don’t want healthy Japanese food.”

Mom said, “I thought you liked Japanese.”

“When it’s dead! Not when it’s healthy!”

She said, “I wished you’d been around more when Andy was growing up. The girls have the same kind of mindset, and Matt can fit into that when he’s around. Andy’s different. He’s been off in his own little world for a long time. You know when he saw that sign he said the same thing.”

When we caught up to him, I asked him if he’d seen the sign. He hadn’t. I started to tell the story, and he laughed as soon as I told him what the sign said.

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