Monthly Archives: November 2006

The Hot Cocoa Ceremony

Start with a your favorite large coffee mug and fill it with milk.

Pour the milk into a blender and add a heaping tablespoon of cocoa. I recommend Penzey’s Dutch Process. Hershey’s also works. Unsweetened is ideal because then you can sweeten to taste.

Next, add any or all of the following to the blender:
Pinch salt
Pinch Cayenne
Tiny splash of vanilla (careful on this because too much wrecks it)
Sugar. The cocoa is much tastier if it’s not too sweet so don’t be afraid to be stingy with the sugar.

Next, put the top on the blender, hold it down just to be safe, and hit any button. The speed isn’t important. Once you’re sure the lid is secure, you can step away from the blender and let it do its thing while you find a pan to heat your chocolatey treat.

When your cocoa is sufficiently frothy (use your judgment) turn off the blender and pour the mix into your pan. Heat at a low temperature and don’t go into the other room to check your email and forget about it. Most people would prefer if it didn’t boil. I like to stir with a whisk.

It’s ready when you stick your finger in the mix and go, “ack, that’s hot.” Pour into your mug.

At this point you can add mini-marshmallows, a quick shaving of chocolate, a splash of adult beverage or anything else you think might be good. I know some people who like to add a tablespoon of flax seeds to the mix. I can see why this might be hard to sell to the public-at-large but you never know, try it.

Since you’ve spend this much time and gotten this many dishes dirty, you need to take the time to enjoy this cocoa. Sit down by the window and watch the wind and rain. Pull your sweater a little more tightly around your shoulders. Enjoy.

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It’s a Trap. The coupon is a Trap.

This morning I did something so completely stupid you’d think I don’t pay attention to my own advice.

Based on a direct mail coupon, I made an appointment to get a “winter service special” for my car at the dealership. (01 Camry with 70K miles, so you have the details.) Today I took the car in.

You know what coupon means in car service? It means, “We must make up for the $4.99 you’re going to save by finding at least $100 worth of other services to recommend.”

DOH! This after reading on Consumerist that auto mechanics get paid on commission. Some in the 40% range. Sure, the article is referring to one particular business. We don’t know if all auto mechanics work on commission. But it makes you think, eh?

I didn’t have class today because of Veterans Day and this is the first Friday morning I’ve had since September so I had a ton of errands planned, including this car service which consists of an oil change, tire rotate, battery check, windshield wiper change (the selling point for me!) and something with fluids or hoses or whatever.

I made a 7:30am appointment thinking the drag ass out of bed early would be paid off when I was finished early and could have a fine morning of errand running. They said 1½ hours and I said no problem. Because I had tons of reading material with me.

Just like Murphy’s Law on a plane, I had a guy sit down next to me who wanted to chat. But he was mildly entertaining and I listened to his stories. He was doing the same service as me.

2½ hours later we were both a little antsy. Why was this taking so long? We joked it was probably the coupon. The guy came out to talk to him about his truck first and as soon as he opened his mouth I realized that I totally was forked by the coupon. He had a laundry list of things that should probably be taken care of.

They called my name and I followed my guy into the screw-a-torium. $527 worth of recommended services, plus replacing the spark plugs, no price given and some sort of air filter thing which I said fine: whatever. May your stupid coupon at least pay for itself.

Two of the items were 60K mile services items. “But I had the 60K mile service,” I protested. “Here?” the guy says.

No I did not. There is another dealership more convenient to my office so depending on what type of service I need and what my schedule is like, I switch back and forth. Apparently only the service I have at that dealership counts.

“No,” I say, “Can’t you tell by looking at it?”

“It doesn’t look like it was done 10K ago.” Is he covering his ass or did I not get this done? I don’t know and now like Fox Mulder, I trust no one.

One item was a front brake replacement which I expected except he wanted to wheel and deal and I did not want to spend one more minute of my morning sitting there.

One item was a battery, which I expected because I have a 60-month battery that turned 60 several months ago. I’ve been keeping an eye on it. $120. Obviously I’m stupid but that sounded awfully steep for a battery. When I balked, he started wheeling and dealing again.

One item had to do with the fuel injection. Remember my bent-over-the-hood of my Toyota story from a couple of years ago? (scroll down to June 1 and work your way up) I have to doublecheck my records but I thought they replaced my whole fuel injector apparatus during that fiasco. Does it really need to be serviced again? Are the two issues even related? This guy didn’t know jackcrap unless it was in his system.

Crap. I thought I was supposed to be able to trust the dealer.

Bob’s going to take the car to Les Schwab for the battery (I’ll report my savings here) and talk to them about the brakes. I’m going to look at my 60K service and see what they did. Crap. I hate car stuff.

But I LOVE my new windshield wipers.

Update: Bob got me a battery at Les Schwab for $72.

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Wanted: Blow Torch

One of this weekend’s projects is figuring out what I’m going to make for Thanksgiving.

We’re a very small crowd (3) and I decided months ago that I didn’t want to make turkey. I was sure that as the holiday got closer I would change my mind but I haven’t. I’m not sure what this is all about because I love the traditional Thanksgiving dinner but I don’t want to do it.

Part of me says it’s the work. But the things I’m thinking of making would also be lots of work.

Anyway, I need to go through my giant recipe files and books with marked pages and figure out what it’s going to be.

At the moment I’m thinking handmade pasta because I’ve always wanted to do that. I recently ran across a recipe for pasta with pancetta and something else. I can’t remember exactly but it sounded like it would be good.

Yesterday’s New York Times had a fantastic looking bread recipe that I think I might try. Bob and I have been talking about making a bean store run so I could grab some special flour along with all my other treats.

I’d need some sort of vegetable side. I need to do some homework on that one. And dessert.

As my regular readers know, I’m all about all things pumpkin and I have a bushel sitting on my counter just longing to fulfill their life purpose to be baked into a pie. BUT Cooks Illustrated just had a Pots de Crème recipe that was very tempting. And I’ve been dying to try Crème Brûlée. I have a Kitchen Kaboodle gift certificate burning (heh heh) a hole in my pocket. Could a home kitchen blow torch be far behind?

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The Futility Factor

When I was a kid, my Mom was a school teacher and for my birthday parties we would get to watch movies. This was way, way, way before the days of VCRs and DVDs and DVRs and a pretty big forking deal.

She would bring home a film projector and we’d have to pick a movie and there weren’t ten trillion choices so we’d get some variation of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, I remember something with bears, or my favorite: Paddle to the Sea.

Wikipedia tells me that Paddle to the Sea was a 1941 children’s book by a Canadian writer named Holling C. Holling. (It’s a cool name but what were his parents thinking?)

The movie was made in 1966 and is about a boy who carves this Indian in a canoe and then after all his hard work, runs out to the front yard and lets it go in a stream. The movie follows the Indian canoe as it travels into bigger and bigger water. Being that I was a kid, I didn’t really get that the journey started in Canada and went through the Great Lakes to the Atlantic ocean.

I must have seen it at least a half dozen times because we also watched it at school. I still have vivid memories of the images of this film. The little canoe bobbing along next to ginormous ships. I would love to see it now and you can buy it from the National Film Board of Canada. I’m guessing demand is low as the only format is VHS.

Another movie that we watched at my birthday party and also at school at least once a year, every year, for-freaking-ever that I did not like was The Red Balloon. Omigod, I HATED that movie. Every time I had to watch it I’d come home from school and whine to my Mom. I can barely remember what I hated so much except I think it pissed me off that there was no dialogue and why was that dumb kid pointlessly chasing around this stupid red balloon?

Yesterday boingboing linked to the movie online I accidentally clicked on it and even just the opening credits made me mad. Ug, that music.

I also never liked the Great Pumpkin and I would link to it but the last two times I opened the imdb page, it crashed my browser. I think my problem with these stories was the futility factor. Linus stayed out in the pumpkin patch all night long: for nothing. That French kid had nothing better to do chase around a balloon that had a short expiration date. For proper literary scope, I should probably include a third example, but nothing is coming right now and this was intended to be a phoned in entry rather than an exhaustive study of my early cinematic experiences so I’m coming to a screeching halt right here.

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Rain In Your Eyes

I used a tiny sticky note to jot down some ideas for today’s post and now, shocker, I can’t find it. Oh well.

I know one of the topics was this rain we’re having. I’m guessing another 8 feet since I last mentioned it. I know PAC NW rain is legend but normal rain is like a steady grey drizzle. The kind of weather where you can still go for a walk or do sports or possibly even have a barbeque if you’re so inclined. Half the time you don’t even need an umbrella.

The rain we’re having has me permanently strapped into a life vest and scanning Craigslist for a message from Noah. Oh good and look, today’s forecast is for heavy rains. Fortunately tomorrow the chance of rain plummets to 80%. Cross your fingers!

With all this rain I’m surprised that instead of flooding stories, I keep hearing people talking about an earthquake we had the other night. They discussed it on the radio and in the lunch room and at yoga class. One guy on the radio moved to the west coast recently and was disappointed that he was in the car and missed it as he cannot wait to experience an earthquake. (Insert Jon Stewart HUH? here.) Careful what you wish for guy because waking up to shaking walls and tumbling furniture is not really a good time.

You can imagine my surprise to see in the paper that this “earthquake” was a 2.6. That’s not an earthquake, that’s a fire truck passing by. This is sort of like when Los Angeles gets a quarter inch of rain and the whole city shuts down and people up here sneer about how they can’t handle the rain. Or like what Minnesota thinks about us when we get a quarter inch of accumulated snow and the city shuts down. We need to reserve our excitement for the real deal.

Another item I wanted to mention is that I finished watching Lemony Snicket last night and LOVED it. I haven’t read the books, although I want to, but I’m too much of a tightwad to pay $10 for a book I can read in 45 minutes. I thought the movie got lukewarm reviews but Erin liked it so I got it from Netflix. I liked the story and the characters but I loved the way it looked and I was mesmerized by the closing credits and saved the disk so I can watch that part again. They should make a show out of that.

Finally, I’m sad to report that I heard on the radio this morning that String Cheese Incident is disbanding, I think at the end of next summer. I’m not sad for me, but sad for my spouse. I wrote a review of one of their shows here and I can’t find it to save my life but I thought their shows were fun enough to attend one per year. I had a one show Cheese limit.

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Prehistoric MySpace

When I was a kid, my hobby was writing letters. I collected pen-pals.

My first pen-pal was my friend Julie Kaufer. Her family lived on our street in Encino, CA and they moved to Malibu. This was back in the elementary school era and, not having cars to travel that 30 or so miles, we started writing letters.

For a long time I saved all my letters but this eventually became ridiculous so I tossed most but I’m pretty sure I have a pile of Julie’s letters in a box somewhere. I think the last time I saw her was her Bat Mitzvah or possibly a high school graduation party, but by then we’d grown apart and the letter writing was long finished.

I also wrote letters to my cousins and sometime around middle school, I started writing to people looking for pen-pals who had their names and addresses in magazines. It’s hard to imagine now that there was ever a good time for a 13 year old girl to list her name and home address in a magazine, but there you go.

Turns out, it was a thriving subculture. There were networks of kids who shared addresses and put together these little handmade booklets called slam books that had variations but usually listed a different question on each page and you’d fill it in and send it on and ideally, it would eventually go back to the person who made the book. You could also write to other people listed in the book. Then there were these labels you could have printed up with your favorite band or a saying and you could get these with a friend and stick them in the slam book or trade them with people. Mine had Journey and Def Leppard sayings on them.

I have no sense of how much time I spent doing this, I don’t think it was ridiculous. And I have no idea how many pen-pals I had because there were always new one and old ones dropping off. Let’s say never more than 20 at one time.

There was one girl, Tami from Georgia, who got pregnant at 16. She moved to a special class at her school with the other girls who were pregnant where the school hoped to at least get these girls a diploma. She eventually married the guy and then had another kid before we lost touch. I had another pal from Tennessee who got married right out of high school with a big fancy wedding. She sent me pictures that I admired with a twinge of jealousy. It seemed so romantic.

Every once in awhile I wonder how these women’s lives turned out. They’re both probably grandmothers right now.

Somewhere along the way I also began corresponding with men in prison. My parents must have been clueless, although I don’t remember trying to hide it. I do remember more than one of my friends telling me that their parents though it was a bad idea. It’s hard for me to have any perspective now on the appropriateness of the situation. I wrote about being a high school student. They wrote about their lives. It didn’t seem weird at the time. I never worried that one of them was going to try to find me and none of them ever did.

Only one of these pals lasted for any length of time. Bill was in prison on the east coast and now that I think of it, I think he was busted for assaulting a woman. Okay, so this entire post is evidence of what a moron I am. At least nothing bad happened.

Bill and I wrote for a number of years and I occasionally sent him stationery, I think this was one of the few gifts he could receive, and we even exchanged a few cassette letters. He was not very bright but harmless enough. When he got out of prison he hooked up with another of his pen-pals. I’m sure her parents were thrilled. And the last letter I got from him he was having a tough time and had been working at Pizza Hut until he accidentally almost cut his finger off. I guess life was not easy for poor Bill.

By the time I got to college I didn’t have as much time. I still corresponded with friends that had moved or relatives but I dropped the pen-pal thing. Although it’s pretty much email now, I still have a few people in Germany that I send paper letters to and I still like to write a letter in a birthday card.

I’m still in touch with two of my pen-pals from back in the day. I met Debbie from a gymnastics magazine. She lived in Maspeth NY and came to visit me once when I lived in L.A. She now lives in Florida and we usually check-in during the holidays. Darren and I met from a guitar magazine and he lived in Wichita until he recently moved to S. Cal. We email on a fairly regular basis.

By all of this I guess I’m explaining that I have a long, long history of writing about what I’m up to for other people. You can see how this blogging thing would be natural for me.

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The End is Here

Before the Freeze
Tim Burton Dahlia

Today was going to be dahlia digging day because the weather people cruelly teased us with the information that today we were having a break from the rain. (Also note that the “after” photo comes from the special effects camera. I’ve got fall clothing needs and the holidays are upon us, thus I have yet to remedy my kaput camera.)

I realize that about 28 days in the month of October were a break from the rain, and I love the rain. But I don’t love an unrelenting downpour that makes commuting or even the smallest errand a soggy pain in the ass. Today’s paper says we’ve had 1.62 inches of rain this month and I’m not sure what measuring stick they’re using because by my estimate we’ve had about 8 feet.

So for now the dahlias have to wait. Better luck next weekend. I’m not digging them all if you’re thinking about last year’s disaster (scroll down to Nov 19, I can never make that link to target thing work right). I’m only digging a few side patches that I want to move and I’m digging up yellow ones to share with Kimberlee. Also I have one short orangey one that was beautiful but hard to appreciate nestled amongst the taller plants. Much smaller scale this year. Let’s hope it goes better this time. (scroll to Mar 2).

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Product Review: Puff Pastry

When I was at Jenny’s this summer, one of the many things we talked about was cooking and recipes. Jenny said one of the things she always had in her freezer was puff pastry.

What is this puff pastry thing?

She said it was handy when you had to make something to bring to a party.

Fast forward to Thursday night when Bob and I were putting our groceries into the trunk after a wild evening of food gathering at Safeway and as he closed the trunk he said: I didn’t get anything for Joe’s party. (Annual Day of the Dead Party – super fun time. They make this punch that’s sort of like hot apple cider only with tequila in it. Two drink limit recommended.)

Bringing party food has morphed into an awkward issue at our house, mostly because of bad communication. No one wants to hear on Friday morning when there’s a party that evening, that someone assumed you were going to make something to bring. No one wants to come in the door on Thursday night after working all day and then sitting in traffic and then be standing there violently yanking the cork out of a $5 red wine blend from Trader Joes and be asked if she’s planning on bringing something to a party the next day.

Can you blame a person for a head that swivels 360 degrees while flames shoot out of her eyes?

So often, rather than tempt the wrath of the dragon lady, someone else deals with party food by stopping at Safeway on his way to the outing and picking up one of their pre-made convenient party foods. This leaves the other someone feeling less put upon but somewhat embarrassed about the lameness of the party offering.

So when the topic came up on Thursday, I thought: Hey, this may be the time to try that puff pastry thing. But first, I needed to do some research.

On Friday, in computer lab, I plugged: puff pastry, appetizer and recipe into a search engine and what did I find? Is this a great country or what?

After a quick scan of a few recipes, I learned that puff pastry is a Pepperidge Farm product that you thaw on the counter and then unfold and spread with a mix of several high-fat items, roll up, slice and bake for a delicious treat. The high-fat items can be mixed with high sugar items as well or folded into different shapes depending on the effect you’re going for.

I chose the Artichoke and Spinach swirls because everybody loves artichoke and spinach dip. How could baking it into a crust not make a million times better?

It did. Bob loved it and the pan emptied right out. And this was a party with tons of fantastic food. Puff Pastry gets 10 stars.

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Phones on a Plane

I did Illustrator class this morning and when I got home, still fired up with the spirit of Adobe, decided to try a fun and easy tutorial and let’s just say that after an hour and a half it was neither fun nor easy. I got to the bottom of the tutorial and noticed that I was only on page 1 of 8 pages.

Enough tutorial for today.

Consumerist reports that by 2008 many airlines will be offering cellphone service to their customers.

Kill. Me. Now.

Two of my most detested sounds in the Universe are strangers talking on their cellphones and the sound of a TV unless it’s a show that I’m watching. Airports are a wonderland for these two sounds. That horrible airport in Minneapolis has a huge TV hanging from the ceiling every 10 feet. If you must have them, why so many?

One of the things I love about airplanes (the other being that it’s faster than walking because to be honest, I don’t love airplanes) is that the phone doesn’t ring. You can sit there with your book or iPod and you don’t have to do anything else because there’s nothing to do.

I admit, I can understand the appeal because some might consider it dead time, why not catch up with a friend or conduct a little business? But I can’t even comprehend what it would be like to sit there listening to someone yammering away completely oblivious to how loud they are or how their conversation is intruding on someone else’s space. It’s not that easy to tune out people talking. I hate hearing it in the waiting area. My only defense is earplugs or a white noise track on my iPod.

Consumerist says it could cost as much as $3 a minute. Maybe no one will think it’s worth it.

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Right Into The Danger Zone

I think we need to start a movement to get Kenny Loggins back to writing movie soundtrack hits. He is responsible for three of the most spectacular cheezy movie hits ever: “I’m Alright” from Caddyshack, “Footloose” from duh, and probably the best movie pop hit ever: “Danger Zone” from Top Gun.

Don’t you sometimes make a list in your head of artists you would love to hear cover that song? Can you imagine Bono singing:

Headin' into twilight
Spreadin' out her wings tonight
She got you jumpin' off the deck
And shovin' into overdrive

Highway to the Danger Zone
I'll take you
Right into the Danger Zone

Or Stevie Nicks belting out:

Revvin' up your engine
Listen to her howlin' roar
Metal under tension
Beggin' you to touch and go

That would be awesome. Too bad the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame doesn’t honor songs because I would make it my life’s mission to get this song inducted. Imagine the jam session they could put together.

You could make a good argument that Bryan Adams is the king of movie soundtrack hits. (e.g. “Heaven” from “A Night in Heaven” {Does anyone remember that movie?} and “Everything I Do (I Do It For You)” from the Robin Hood movie with Kevin Costner.) (While I’m here, I encourage you to check out BA’s bio. He’s been up to a lot since the summer of ’69. He also lives in England and supports a team I like, Chelsea.) But BA’s hits are mostly variations of the same sappy love song and don’t have the thematic range or rhythmic depth that Loggins covers in his superstar three.

When I went to UCSB Kenny lived in Santa Barbara or more likely, Montecito. I don’t know if he lives there now as we’ve lost touch over the years, but I suspect he does because no one would ever leave there if they didn’t have to. I worked at the Santa Barbara Zoo on the weekends and one Sunday afternoon Kenny showed up with his family. I didn’t actually see him but I heard about it and immediately had to go find a telephone (this was way before the days of cellphones, kiddies) and call my friend Jenny, because she was a Kenny Loggins fanatic.

She brought fellow fan, Gina (who you can see in a Kenny Loggins special going on stage and kissing him before gently being removed by security) and they stalked him from afar, taking photos. Last night I ransacked my old photo albums thinking I had one of these photos which consist of some people in the distance standing around on the grass. Sadly, I couldn’t find one.

According to Wikipedia, Kenny is still keeping busy including, and I’m so bummed that I just found out about this, participating in some sort of “Singing with Celebrities” TV show where he sang some of his hits with Lucy Lawless AKA Xena and super badass cylon lady. That would have been the best night of TV ever. Just the photos on Kenny’s website make me feel a bit tingly.

If you see Kenny, tell him I’m thinking of him and hoping for more hits.

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