Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Nothing says love like snow shovels

Tonight the newlyweds spent their evening shoveling the sidewalk and driveway....again.


Even though Idaho is famous for its winter recreation (and not just in a "Larry Craig" kind of way), Boise generally gets very little snow. We can see it & drive to it easily but usually don't have to live with it--it's a lot like dating winter. This year we have had 11 inches of snow in January already--compared with 1.9 inches last year. Not that we don't need snow, but the older couple living across the street are getting a bit smug about that snowblower of theirs.....

And in the world of outsourcing, Andy has a mandatory meeting tomorrow about training his replacement. I guess the company thought it was just too warm & fuzzy to ask someone to help work himself out of a job without having him train his replacement. It's a good thing there is a very large amount of money involved in this--it will help pay for Andy's therapy when this is all done. Or a snow blower.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Dear Google: Thank you for expanding my life

While I use Google almost daily, I don't really understand how it works. I know you can add "tags" to make your website more likely to be found by search engines, but it turns out that your website can be found through totally unrelated searches that, frankly, you shouldn't qualify for.

Example:

A couple weeks ago, if you "googled" on some combination of "female impersonators Canada," my blog--the September 12, 2007 entry specifically--popped up. This site had a TREMENDOUS amount of (what I imagine to be very disappointed) traffic that week. I tried to convince Andy to pose for some appropriately bedecked photos in the interests of "truth in advertising," but his dedication to the blog has some surprising limits.

I'm starting my list now for when we renew our vows......

Monday, January 28, 2008

We Really Don't Need You After All.....

Last week Andy received notice that his final date at work has been moved up by nearly two months--May 9.

Granted, I'm not sure how Emily Post would have written the "Thank you for staying on to help us outsource your job" letter, but having never worked anywhere for 18 years (OK, I was still in college 18 years ago), I guess I assumed that a company would applaud my loyalty, be sorry to see me go, and yes, shed a tear or two if I had spent the last 18 years with them and now, for financial reasons, they needed to end our relationship. But Andy's letter didn't even merit a "Dear" before his name. I guess corporations can't get emotionally involved, but if it had been me, some tiny part of me would have been expecting flowers. Optimists are rarely troubled by reality...

What it does mean, however, is that our 90-day version of the "Can't Buy Anything New" program has jumped up by two months, which means it will encompass Andy's birthday but not mine. That doesn't seem exactly fair, but I'm not sure to whom. It seems crazy to be trying it for a longer period of time, but it's easier to lose your job and income when you're making a bit of a game of it, don't you think? I'll bet Mary Poppins would have if she had been around for corporate downsizing, though she'd probably get smacked with that umbrella of hers by a disgruntled employee who didn't find a cheery singing nanny at all helpful after losing his job of 18 years....

And now I'm off to perform a dance routine with chimney sweeps.....or is it the gas man since we have a gas fireplace....?

Just a spoonful of sugar helps the job loss go down....

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The "Recipe of the Week" Weekend

When you have resolved to make one new recipe each week and have putzed around the entire week, you're going to be cooking on Saturday. Period. So, last night we enjoyed "Braised Chicken in White Sauce With Garam Masala," and since I'll be gone next weekend, I made "Sauteed Salmon with Five Spice Lime Butter" this evening. OK, to be honest, mine was little more flambeed than sauteed, but the flames were quite brief and I still have my eyebrows. We had been doing much better in the kitchen--it has been over a year since Andy's flaming robe incident, but we keep several fire extinguishers around "just in case." Someday we're even going to try a recipe that is SUPPOSED to have flames. The fire department will be notified ahead of time.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Dem fischer sin fru

The new KAL has been open for 24 hours now, and I'm sure someone has already posted a message that they have finished clue number one and that they are translating the Old Testament into pig-latin in order to have something to do while waiting for Clue #2. Luckily, as you might have guessed, this KAL is in German, so I am unable to read most of the messages, having studied Latin instead of German while in college. But if the Vatican ever hosts a knit-a-long, I'll certainly know what is going on.

I have started clue 1:



I am probably behind, but I learned to knit long ago to help cope with my Type A behavior, and am trying very hard to avoid competitive knitting, though there is a part of me that might be tempted to argue that if one can call Curling a sport, competitive knitting can't be too much of a stretch. I bet an experienced sock knitter turning a heal burns about as many calories as a curler. Throw in the occasional temper-tantrum over a dropped stitch or a printed chart error and presto! ESPN might even be interested.

Friday, January 25, 2008

I am a Slow, Slow Learner

Today is the kickoff of the dem-fischer-sin-fru, which is not a German festival, but another Mystery Stole knit-a-long (KAL). When someone first mentioned it, I was firm--this is The Year of the Stash (see the "A Little Yarn on the Side" link for that one). I have plans, and I still haven't finished the MS3 Mystery Stole, which has been banished to the back of the closet where all bad knitting projects end up.

Then someone else mentioned it.....

And someone else...

Last night was the final time to sign up before it was closed and the clock was ticking and......I joined. I am so weak!

I can just hear my mother's voice, "If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you jump off too?"

Why yes, apparently I would, provided there was yarn involved.....

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Toni's Almost Fool-Proof Dessert

Yesterday's post did bring up a good question--my friend is neither incredibly brave on the culinary front nor overly optimistic. I make exactly 2 desserts without difficulty, and one I can't share because it would violate copyright laws, but the other is my own creation and can be freely shared to help the rest of the pastry-challenged world. I thought this up while working for the American Diabetes Association, so there was a stronger emphasis on nonfat/low sugar and less emphasis on "compounds that exist in nature."

Early in the day, take the following:

*1 angel food cake, sliced (if you choose to make one from scratch you are clearly not on my playing level and you do not need any help from me)

* fruit, either fresh or frozen. If it is frozen, thaw and pour off the extra liquid

* 1 large box (or two small boxes) of instant, sugar free pudding in your choice of flavors. I've used white chocolate, banana, vanilla, and cheesecake with success. If you want to branch out to chocolate or butterscotch, you are braver than me and I wish you luck.

* 1 carton nonfat non-dairy topping.

In a trifle bowl--or anything else you might choose--arrange a layer of cake, add a layer of fruit, followed by a pudding layer. Repeat until you run out of ingredients. Top with nondairy topping. For a serious "gourmet" touch, toast sliced almonds or coconut to sprinkle on top.

See? No baking powder or ovens involved!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Easy as Pie

This past weekend, a friend of mine asked me to bring dessert to a dinner party. To put this in perspective, I am generally BANNED from bringing desserts anywhere, which possibly stems from a very unfortunate sugar-free cheesecake I once made, which has become legendary for all the wrong reasons, the three years I worked for the American Diabetes Association, or my generally acknowledged ineptitude concerning desserts--once having to pass off cake as "brownies" because it refused to rise and at various times inadvertently leaving the salt, baking soda, and sugar out of desserts. At any rate, that anyone would request a dessert from me for ANY reason made my entire month.

In college, in an effort to impress a guy I was thoroughly smitten with, I attempted to make a banana cream pie from scratch (i.e. no Jello pudding involved). Let's just say that the pie & the relationship ended up in about the same state. On the positive side, my experiences with dessert catastrophes has left me with the following knowledge:

* While it is pathetic to mess up an angel food cake made from a mix, you can make pretty decent cookies from a botched angel food cake mix.

* If it's made with applesauce, the fact that you forgot to add sugar to a coffee cake will be less noticeable.

* If you use enough frosting, no one will notice that a chocolate cake didn't rise--just call it "brownies"

* Baking powder really is necessary in a cake.

* If it's an old refrigerator, the freezer may not get cold enough to freeze ice cream or sherbet

* Chocolate yogurt from the store must contain a LOT of sugar, or be a different recipe than the one I have

* Once you scorch food, throw it away--there is no way to redeem it

* Chocolates freeze fairly well, and serving cold chocolates with coffee can be passed of as a "gourmet" thing instead of an "I-just-botched-the-dessert-thing."

*"Easy as pie" is a very stupid saying

Sunday, January 20, 2008

A Month Later - Month of Not Buying Anything New Aftermath

We've been able to buy things for a month now, but have not reverted back to "impulse buying" yet. Apparently when you've had to fantasize for weeks about buying epoxy, it sticks with you. Deciding to establish more of a budget, I set up an "allowance" for each of us through our online bill pay. We each have a credit card in our own names only in case one of us has identity theft problems, so I set it up so our online bill pay sent our allowance directly to our personal credit cards. This worked really well for me, since my card is from my old bank, but logging in to our account one day, I noticed that Andy's card showed no recent transactions. Andy checked with the bank. Their response: "That's a great idea, but it doesn't work."

It turns out that when we used online bill pay, it sent a check back to our own bank, and they automatically put it back in the checking account--apparently not stopping to wonder why we were writing checks to ourselves. So, since our account was linked to the credit card, I set up automatic transfers, which worked quite nicely until about two weeks later---the card balance was back to zero.

Now it's Andy's allowance, not mine, so if he wanted to spend every single dime of it, that is his choice, but what were the odds of spending the EXACT amount? So I checked with Andy, who had not been on a spree, and he called the bank. Their response: "That's a great idea, but it won't work."

Since the accounts are linked, in an effort to be helpful, our bank automatically moved the money back to the interest-bearing checking account because who would want to keep a negative balance on their credit card????

No wonder we are a nation of debt--it's the only thing our banks understand!

We do want to make our "reduced spending" habits permanent, so we have decided to go 3 months without buying anything new--starting when Andy gets laid off at Micron, which is slated for the end of June. Seems like good timing: make no money, spend no money. The new experiment will coincide with both our birthdays AND our wedding anniversary, which will be interesting. Maybe a little "shopping ahead" is in order......

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Recipe of the Week: Cooking Gods 1, Toni 1

For those just joining us, one of this year's resolutions is to select a new recipe every week, selecting one from each of our cookbooks until I have been through them all. Those of you who have been to our house know this is going to be a multi-year project, though if I am still working on it 5 years from now promise to donate a few books to the library.

For the first week of the year, I selected a recipe that sounded fabulous, looked great in the pictures, was in a really neat cookbook....and it was a flop. For this week, I selected a recipe from the boring old standby--the Better Homes and Garden New Cookbook complete with red plaid cover--just because I liked saying the name....and it was wonderful.

I can really thank Billy Crystal for this week's dining adventure. If you've ever seen "When Harry Met Sally" (and if you haven't, where exactly have you been since 1989?????) , you'll probably remember when Billy Crystal was trying to teach Meg Ryan how to talk in his Accent of the Day by having her repeat "waiter, there is too much pepper on my paprikash." Well, with that sort of recommendation, how was I going to pass up making "Chicken Paprikash," especially when it meant having a good reason to walk around the house saying "chicken paprikash?" And I am delighted to report that it was really good--Andy as the nonbiased voter agrees--so it now joins "Aesthetically-Challenged Chicken" in the Chateau S-G dining and entertaining repertoire.

A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but "paprikash" is still more fun to say.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The REAL Difference Between Men & Women

For years I've wondered about the things that interest men--Home Depot and engines, guns, 59 different hammers and spending hours listening to the difference between different types of stereo cables. How can the sexes really be so entirely incomprehensible to each other?

Yesterday, I think I figured out the answer:

The Crayola box of 64 crayons WITH the built-in sharpener.

The 64 box was a very big thing at our house--for one thing, I don't think we were allowed to have it until second or third grade. I've never known if this was about learning the primary colors, sensory overload, or just to give us something to look forward to, but whatever the reason, the box of 64 was IT. I remember the year I was allowed to have the 48 box--not quite as good, but still a MAJOR step as this box contained silver and gold, and I was initiated into the world of metallics. But the 64 box...that was when all the colors in the world were poised in front of me with those perfect crayon points and that lovely smell of wax.

Later in life, I would enter a paint store and realize that my knowledge of 64 colors was, indeed, very VERY limited--especially since paint stores have concocted more than 64 shades of white alone--but at least I had 64 colors.

Yesterday Andy and I were discussing this wall in our house:


While I would call it a "plum" color, one could make the case for purple, maroon, dark pink, or even some sort of berry. But for Andy, this is part of the "dark red" category. Just as our living room is "brown" (picked acorn), the halls are "light brown" (mushroom upstairs and nutmeg downstairs), I think men are stuck at the box of 24 crayons their entire lives. Maybe from there they branch off & start learning what one really does with 32 different types of hammers...

Maybe I'll give Andy the 64 box for Valentine's Day......

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

New Year Resolutions

Dear publisher of Museum Cafes & Arts Cookbook:

Your cookbook is so lovely with all the pictures of famous paintings that I decided to start the 2008 New Recipe Each Week Experiment off with your Pork Loin Chops with Apple-Tarragon Chutney recipe. The fact that I don't like cooked apples in any way, shape, or form might have been a tip-off for a more realistic person, so I accept full responsibility for starting the year with something that I didn't have a chance of liking. That was definitely my fault--I guess some part of me keeps thinking that, as an American, I must have some sort of genetic disposition to like apple pie. The CD of soothing music to cook to is a very nice touch, but I may point out that if you had included some very pertinent information, such as cooking times or the word "meanwhile," I might not have needed quite as much "soothing." Not that I'm criticizing--only one of us has published a cookbook and we both know which one of us that is--but a slight hint as to how long it might take to cook the pork chops, or a time frame for cooking 4 cups of liquid down to 1 cup, well, that might have been helpful, though I think I'm as up for surprises as the next person. To show that we bear no grudge, my husband will be fixing your Sauteed Duck Breasts with Swiss Chard and Ginger-Braised Celery later this week. I will have the soothing music CD queued up for him.

Sincerely,

Toni

PS. Even though I didn't actually like your recipe, it did smell fabulous and if you ever decide to market that scent as a candle, I think you might really have something.

Monday, January 7, 2008

In Preparation

See, we have learned something from the "month of not buying anything new:" PLAN AHEAD. Had I really thought about the timing of our last adventure, I am positive I would have purchased stamps and I would not still be sending Christmas cards TODAY. I don't think lying about being Catholic just to call them "Twelfth Night" cards is very much in keeping with the spirit of the holiday....

First item: What will be allowed and what won't?
It's hard to draw up a definite list, but we're kind of going with "the rule of syllables." If there is a polysyllabic unknown substance in the ingredient list, it's out.

Second item: Emergency workday lunches
We both work full time, and since I am in outside sales I am not always near home or my office at lunchtime, and my previous "healthy" options have been soup & a bagel or one of the sandwich shops. All would still be good except that I know the soup is from cans--large cans, granted, but cans all the same--and without being able to check the ingredient list, I'm going to guess there are a few polysyllabics contained therein. The second problem is the sandwich bread. The major chains that "bake" their own bread generally receive loaves of frozen bread dough, which again makes me suspicious of polysyllabics.

Third item: Digiorno frozen pizza
OK, not really a question on this one--serious polysyllabics, but the spinach & mushroom pizza really is fabulous and we're going to miss it. :(

Fourth item: Lunch meetings
Another part of sales is weekly lunch meetings that are currently held at a restaurant that was difficult enough when just trying to find a lunch option under 900 calories. Healthy and recognizable???? Is that even a category in American restaurants?

Fifth item: diet soda
This is one of our favorite things, and alas, will not be allowed. Whatever aspartame is, it certainly did not exist in nature.

Sixth item: canned goods
Since we both work full time, daily trips to the store are not an option--or not an option I am willing to consider, let us say. So, we will be checking tomato sauce, green beans, soups, broths, coconut milk (for the fabulous mulligatawny to be found on the Better Homes & Garden's website--the regular one, not the easy one), tomatillos, diced green chilies, and all our other pantry favorites.

I can give up Digiorno spinach & mushroom pizzas, microwave popcorn, and diet soda, but would a month without mulligatawny really be worth it???????

Sunday, January 6, 2008

I am about to be banned from listening to NPR

We have NPR to thank for the idea of the can't-buy-anything-new month, though thankfully I am enough of a realist to have not insisted on a full year. Now I have a new project:

Friday NPR had an interview with Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food. He made several points that I tried to convey to people when I worked for the American Diabetes Association--eat foods in or close to their natural state, shop the perimeter of the supermarket--staying away from the "canyons of processed food" in the center of the store, and cook your own meals as often as you can. As Mr. Pollan says, "Don't eat anything that your great-great grandmother would not recognize as food."

Since I grew up in cattle ranching country, it is possible that my great-great grandmother would not have recognized anything that wasn't beef accompanied by gravy as food, but we're going to choose to be a little less literal with this one.

Starting February 1, this is our new project. Nothing processed, nothing that has unrecognizable things listed as ingredients--basically eating foods as they would have been found 100 years ago. Sort of a "Supersize Me" in reverse. We want to see what changes, if any, we'll notice by eliminating all processed foods.

I think I'll miss microwave popcorn the most....

Thursday, January 3, 2008

A Little Work Humor

I realize these might not be funny to everyone, but if you work in the IT/IS world and have EVER had to work with Qwest, these are hysterical:

In response to a question about an authorized person on an account:

Hi Noel,

Yes I will look into this asap. Do you know Jesus's last name? Also, would you please let me know when you spoke to him.

Thanks,

Jan

If Jesus can't get authorization, it's hard to imagine who could!

And the latest:

Sorry, but we have no control and nothing to do with static imps here

Take Care.

Anne.

For those who were wondering how Voice Over IP really works, it's all done with uncontrolled imps with static cling.

Trust me--if you worked in telecommunications, these would be really funny. :)

And now you can appreciate why I never talk about my work on the blog....

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year!

Last night we bid goodbye to 2007, and while somewhat tempted to say "Good Riddance" to a year filled with battles with an ex-wife, an unsuccessful attempt to keep a lawn in a desert, and an impending layoff, we do take a moment to reflect on some of the highlights....

* Learning that neckless mice are actually voles and not simply mice who play football.

* Andy traveling in & out of the country as a female impersonator.

* Being led, albeit unwillingly, into a realm known as "artistic" knitting.

* Developing a new appreciation for being able to buy epoxy.

* Learning that even Walmart is fun after a month of no spending

* Proving once again that imaginative New Year's Resolutions are easier to keep.

For the past 5-6 years, I have found a new thing to do each year as part of my New Year's Resolutions. While I applaud those who seek to lose weight or exercise more, that type of resolution means little in my life. What works for me is to find something new to do each year. One year was to see a "tourist" attraction in my own state every-other month. One year was to host a monthly "soup night" open house. Every year should bring something new & interesting to your life--even if it's as simple as finding a new author or learning a new cuisine.

Last year's resolutions were:
1. To read 10 books--NOT counting audio books.
2. To finish 35 projects (and last night I finished number 75! Smokin'!)
3. To make one new recipe each week (granted, I've done this one for 4 years now, but it's such fun that it has become a regular feature)
4. To learn a new knitting technique (see the adventures in beading as part of the Mystery Stole experience. Note: I did not say I had to be successful...)
5. To swim 2000 laps (alas, I did not hit this one, but the laps I did get in were beneficial, so I can't really say it was a loss)
6. To write at least one blog entry per month. (Score! And I only missed one day during the no-spending month! Can one earn extra-credit on New Year's resolutions?)


This year's resolutions:

1. To continue the "new recipe every week" program, but to select one from every cookbook we own until I have gone through them--granted, this will probably take more than one year,
2. To write at least one blog entry per month--I know better than to try for daily
3. To read 10 books
4. To finish 30 projects--the catch is that everything I make in 2008 has to be from The Stash. No new fabric or yarn until 2009! I must remember that this sounded like a really good idea in 2007.....

And we're off to a happy 2008!!!!!

The Look

Anyone who thinks cats can't learn things hasn't lived with one. It took Theo maybe a month into his diet to figure out that I can...