Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Monument to an Arbitrary Milestone

Blogger says this is my 100th post (but it's sorta wrong because it includes all my drafts that are eternal works in progress). Let's commemorate this occasion with a picture of a pile of rocks.

Thrilling, no? We started stripping what sod we have and turning soil for a quarter of one of our four garden plots. So Saturday afternoon's labor resulted in 1/16 of our future garden area. The progress was slow thanks to several additions to our future waterfall stonework, as seen in the above photo. And so the pile grows... I confess that really it was all M's doing. I did a great job wandering around barefoot and distracting him when I wasn't in the garage painting a bookshelf.

Monday, January 28, 2008

That's Just How Scott Rolls...

We've spent 4 of the last 6 days celebrating Upchuck Festival 2008, on and off. It seems to be over (knock on wood), but you never can tell. Scott seems to like to keep you guessing with his intestinal upset. I can't decide if once a day for a week is better or worse than one miserable day. I think I'd be going much more crazy not getting to go anywhere if it weren't for the fact that my allergies have turned into a sinus infection. I really wish someone would help me pull this knife out of my face. Oh wait, it's just my sinus pain... So yah, I don't really have anything funny, let alone happy, to say do I?

Friday, January 25, 2008

I Love Lying to Myself

I was inspired by RA's latest post to echo my long time love of this particular oatmeal cookie recipe. It was even part of my recent cooking surge inspired by my new kitchen island. I don't need to give you the recipe as it's already in the link above, but I will tell you that these cookies are fabulous. A little crispy on the outside, but so soft and chewy on the inside! The recipe is for oatmeal raisin cookies, but in our house, raisins in cookies are considered a cruel hoax. They look like chocolate chips and string you along right up until you take a bite and discover the horrible truth. So we omit the nutmeg and substitute chocolate chips for raisins. There's enough oats in these cookies that you can even pretend that they're a little bit healthy! They're "hearty" enough that I'm occasionally tempted to make them my lunch. Also, keep in mind that they're designed to be huge. Observe how they dwarf Claire's hands:

So it's great because I can say, "I'm just going to have one cookie."

Anyway, the info I really want to impart here is a cookie dough rolling technique that I learned from one of the America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Illustrated Magazine cookbooks. How do you find the compromise between the cohesiveness and uniform density of the rolled cookie dough ball and the interesting cragginess of the dropped cookie?

Shaping Thick Chocolate Chip Cookies:

1.Creating a jagged surface on each dough ball gives the finished cookies an attractive appearance. Start by rolling a scant 1/4 cup (or however much you're using) of dough into a smooth ball.

2. Holding the dough ball in the fingertips of both hands, pull the dough apart into two equal halves.

3. Each half will have a jagged surface where it was ripped from the other. Rotate each piece 90 degrees so that the jagged surfaces face up.

4. Jam the halves back together into one ball so that the top surface remains jagged.

So go ahead! Go have yourself just one cookie that's full of healthy oats...

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

My Own Island

If I can't have my very own tropical isle, this is definitely the next best thing. Christmas morning I came down stairs to this:

M spearheaded this group gift and managed to almost completely surprise me. He even wrapped a decoy gift for under the tree. He stored the flat pack (IKEA, of course) in the neighbors garage. Then sometime on Christmas Eve my brother in law went and got it from them and put it in the side yard under the pretense of taking a cell phone call in the backyard. My dad almost spoiled it when he mentioned something about assembling something kitchen related. Fortunately, I am dense and I just thought he meant maybe we should go get the island I've been wanting from IKEA as something to all do together. But it did make me a little suspicious that maybe, just maybe, there was something going on that I didn't know about. Then bedtime rolled around and I figured I was wrong since I'd seen no sign of anything and M was headed to bed with me.

Turns out M laid there until I fell asleep, then got back up and snuck downstairs where he and my family all assembled my island for me. Aren't they awesome? In the few short weeks we've had it, I've reached the point where I can't figure out how we lived without it. It is the official dedicated food preparation surface. (This is important when you're bad about taking care of dirty dishes!) There was such a void in my life/my kitchen (practically the same thing, right?) and now it has been filled. I no longer have to trek over to the fridge, balance all my ingredients in my arms or set them on the floor because there's nowhere to set them down, then haul them all back to the counter (usually in several trips)! The island is right there, bridging the gap between food storage and cooking. Now I can declare that I like my house without reservation. This new found joy in a previously sub-par kitchen has inspired a lot of cooking. Brace yourselves for more info than you want about my culinary exploits...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Movie Review: Pride and Predjudice

You know how there were a few classes in college you just loved? The ones that had nothing to do with your major but you couldn't help but get an A in because you couldn't stop working on them? Well one of mine was Intro to Film. I am a special sucker for good cinematography and editing. You'll see what I mean. Here we go.

Pride and Prejudice (2005) (i.e. the good one) - 12/13 stars

This movie has it's faults of course. Kiera Knightly is too pretty to play Lizzie but the makers couldn't find any other big name actresses that had the spunk and moxie to play the part. Darcy probably doesn't quite come across as proud enough. G swears that Collins and Mrs. Bennett were better in the Super-sized version.

This version however is fabulous. There are lots of good things but like I said I'm a sucker for cinematography and editing and that is where this movie shines. I cannot believe the director and cinematographer have done effectively nothing else.

This movie has wonderful long takes. A long take is a shot that goes uncut for significantly longer than normal. Long takes require the actors to get the whole thing right in one go, so they aren't used much. There are two long takes that jump out at you. One at the beginning tracking Lizzie through the field then through the house and another following Lizzie through the ballroom. If you watch closely you'll notice there are probably hidden cuts where Lizzie walks behind things (sheet in the opening and pillar in the ball scene) but nevertheless they are well done and let the audience take in a great deal about the family without much dialog (necessary when cutting a 5 1/2 hour movie down to 2). The same technique is used (although I believe serious use of green screen was involved) when panning through the windows the night after Mr. Bingley proposes.

This movie also makes great use of abrupt zooms. I am not a cameraman but I assume these are fairly difficult but they do it well. For example, when Mr. Collins proposes to Lizzie and she abruptly stands up the camera cuts to Lizzie and quickly zooms in on her face creating a very disorienting feeling, which is how Lizzie feels at the moment. You see it again when Darcy bursts in on Lizzy at Mr. Collins' house.

The scene where Darcy is riding away on horseback after delivering his letter to Lizzie is no more than 20 seconds long but incredible. Somehow they found a section of forest with a road next to it they could drive a camera truck down AND that had a parallel path a few yards in straight enough for a horse to gallop on. Then they managed to light and frame the shot so that even outside of the context of the film it is patently obvious that the rider is running away from something rather than towards it by making it appear as if the left edge of the frame is constantly about to catch the rider.

When Lizzie is touring Pemberley she stops to look at the statues. She stands for a while in front of "A Veiled Vestal Virgin" whose true face can't be seen and/or who can't see clearly, and then turns to gaze upon Achilles. Could there be a more poignant visual representation of Lizzie realizing where she and Darcy stand? Possibly, and if so I would really like to see it.

Lizzie spinning on the swing watching the seasons go by is another fabulous way to portray the boring slow passage of time without actually boring the audience with the slow passage of time.

I could go on forever but that would be boring and rather disappointing when reading a review of a movie that manages to avoid that at all costs. Suffice it to say this is one of the better movies I have watched in years. If you haven't seen it, you should. If you have, you should see it again.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Sweet Perfume of Hoppe's No. 9

You ask, and I deliver:

I have always joked about dabbing a little of Hoppe's No. 9 solvent behind my ears. But seriously, I love the smell of it. That and the scent of primer after a shotgun round. To some it may reek of "violence" but to me it is the comforting smell of an afternoon of fun with my family.

I've never been hunting, but I love all kinds of target shooting. I don't go much these days, mostly because it's hard to do anything with little kids, let alone something that involves controlled explosions and potentially lethal projectiles. Obviously a sitter would be a necessity... But I still adore target shooting, even if I don't make a lot of time for it. For as long as I can remember guns have just been a natural part of life. An extremely safety-conscious, no nonsense, meticulous part, mind you, but a part nonetheless. My father grew up in a family of avid shooters. In fact, when my dad first introduced my mom to his family, they all went trap shooting. She thought it was so cool and has been a shooter too ever since. There are a lot of really cool historical guns in my family. I grew up thinking of guns as beautiful pieces of machinery, sporting equipment, or tools if you will. I think this mentality is particularly interesting given that I grew up in fairly metropolitan CALIFORNIA. There are some things I just adore about the Golden State, but one reason I'm glad I don't live there anymore is that they're such gun-haters. No love. Most women I know who enjoy shooting grew up in Podunk Nowhere, Montana or the like. But I'm just your run of the mill kid from the suburbs of San Francisco who loves to go to the shooting range.

Well, okay, I admit that sometimes we didn't go to a shooting range. The one thing that made me look forward to the painfully boring drive from Northern California to visit people in Utah was stopping in the middle of nowhere (so really anywhere in northern Nevada worked) and driving far enough away from the road on BLM land to shoot at aluminum cans. One of the praises my father has bestowed on me over the years that has stuck with me the most may in fact be when he told my grandfather upon our arrival in Utah that I was a regular Annie Oakley.

I remember when I was about 13 I'd guess and I got my first gun. My sister and I got a matching pair for Christmas, but I got a scope because I was older. It still leaves me in awe because I think it's so beautiful. Seriously, check out how sexy the stainless barrel is on that thing. I have such a weakness for stainless steel. You should have seen our wedding registry. You'd have thought our "color" was metal. Really, have you gone back and clicked on the link yet?

When M and I were first engaged, we drove to California to visit my parents at the end of the semester. My parents took us all to shoot sporting clays. (Think of golf with a shotgun. You can even drive a golf cart around to all the stations if you want. But the addition of explosions certainly seems to improve golf if you ask me.) I think this was an unspoken test of M. Would he fit in with my family and it's eccentricities?

M had been shooting before, but never a shotgun. Most of his practice at hitting moving targets came from video games, but there was no kick that way. So he was a little if not nervous, at least not really optimistic that he would do very well. He got his gun loaded and set himself up. He yelled, "Pull!" He totally smoked the clay. (For the benefit of those who do not frequent shooting ranges and are not familiar with this terminology, when you hit the flying clay disc dead on so that it shatters into countless tiny pieces and not just a couple chunks, the slang term is that you turned it into "smoke" or smoked it.)

M was so shocked that he hit the first clay that he missed the second one. He was shooting with a pump shotgun, so he forgot to pump in the next round as soon as he finished shooting his first round. The look of pleasant surprise on his face was so cute! After that pair was over, I looked at my dad. He had this look on his face that said, "Son, welcome to the family." At the end of the day, M even beat my dad's score (but not mine, mind you). M has fit in with my family almost seamlessly ever since.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Because Everything is Better in Color

Check it out!

(I promise this will be the last braggy backyard post for at least a week or so...)

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Little Tomato Plant That Could

I have to pay tribute to our tomato plant that finally gave up for the winter just a couple weeks ago. These were the last few tomatoes we managed to harvest from it.

Back in the spring/early summer we bought some tomato plants and a big half-barrel to plant them outside our apartment. (When we were drilling drainage holes in the bottom, we noticed a distinct smell. In a previous life our half-barrel and been a full-barrel filled with Jack Daniels. Maybe that's why the plants did so well?) The tomato plants got so big that M rigged up an elaborate trellis-like setup involving a large piece of wood, some string, and a neighboring tree. It was so trashy looking, it was great. I bet our neighbors were not sad to see us go.

We got a fair number of tomatoes out of it (except for the ones the neighbor boys pulled off when they were green). Then we bought our house and we had to move in July. There were still lots of tomatoes that weren't ready yet, but oh well. There was no way to move this Frankenstein's monster in one piece. But M went ahead and cut the tops off of a few of the best branches and when we got to the house, we put new soil in the barrel, crossed our fingers, and stuck the cut pieces into the dirt. One of them actually grew!!! It kept producing pitiful little tomatoes up until late December. I still can't believe that it worked. That's the kind of thing that only happens to my plant goddess sister.

Friday, January 11, 2008

My Little Boy Who Cries Wolf

For months now Scott's favorite phrase has been "Help me!"

The first time I heard him say it, I thought it must have been my mind hearing things that weren't there. But after awhile I realized that in fact my little one and a half year old boy was frequently pleading, "Help me!" Well, okay, so it's actually more like, "Hawp me." He could say this before he could reliably refer to us as "Mommy" and "Daddy." It was his first sentence of sorts. But it's getting old. He uses it for EVERYTHING. Resourceful, but annoying. Just in the time I've been composing this post, he's come to me twice and said it. I'm supposed figure out what he wants from his plea of "Hawp me" and the fact that he hands me disassembled toys.

I understand when he says it because he's stuck perched across the gaping chasm between the coffee table and couch and his grip is slipping. "Hawp me!" I also understand when he says it because he wants to get into his high chair to eat lunch. "Hawp me!" But all M and I can do is roll our eyes when he yells it out in the middle of church because we've barricaded him into the pew with our legs and he wants to run free. "Hawp me!" Who exactly does he think is going to help him???

Thursday, January 10, 2008

I Should Start Checking Her Sleeves for Aces

Claire told M tonight that she had a surprise for him. She brought him into the playroom where she had set up a game of memory. Claire went first and, amazingly enough, got a match on the first try with two adjacent picks. Hmm...

A couple more turns revealed that Claire had stacked the deck. All the matches were lined up, one after another. Despite the lack of challenge, every match resulted in exultant cheers of, "I got a match!" I wish I could run around clapping for myself and saying things like, "I'm walking upright!" or "I bought this on sale at JC Penney!" (When was the last weekend that there WASN'T a sale at Penney's?)

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Our Little Stick

Saturday we had beautiful weather, so we employed our slave labor:

(Don't ya just love that Scott isn't wearing shoes outside in January? In my defense, it was about 75 degrees out and the fire ants aren't out this time of year.)

All that digging was to plant another tree near the back fence:

Can you even see it in the photo? You have to look closely. It's about 18 inches tall and looks dead. A little anti-climatic, huh? Supposedly it's just dormant for the winter. I keep wondering if we got scammed and it's really just a dead stick. But if so, no big deal. It was free from our community center. The real cost was the amount of rock we (okay, M) had to remove from the hole:

Tune in next time for "As the Rock Pile Grows"!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

I NEVER Thought This Would Happen

This picture doesn't have much to do with anything, other than the fact that I took it at the end of the summer and love it but never got around to posting it.

Look at those adorable sandal-clad feet at the park playground! For someone who used to collect crazy socks, I sure have an aversion to actually wearing any...

Brace yourself for the words I never thought I'd say: I miss the summer.

Yes, in all it's over 90 degree glory, I'm missing summer. It's not that I mind the cold, it's just that I mind feeling like I have a cold. Cedar fever has my eyes feeling like they've been filled with lint. My congestion is so bad that I sound and feel like I have a bad head cold. M has only half-jokingly suggested that he fashion me a Kleenex holster. (It would have a box on one side and a garbage bag on the other because he's so sick of my piles of used tissues. I know it's gross, but I can't go waltzing over to the garbage every 23.8 seconds.) And this is likely to continue for at the very minimum, another month!!! Probably two.

Well, it took me until I was in my mid-20's, but I have officially followed in my parents' footsteps and become an allergy sufferer. I naively thought I had escaped allergies. Never mind the fact that my mother has horrible seasonal allergies with accompanying asthma and my father is allergic to a whole smorgasbord of things including ingredients in most delicious pre-prepared foods. They live on Zyrtec at their house. (I think many hallelujahs were sung when it was announced that it's going over-the-counter at the end of this month.) Never mind the fact that if one of your biological parents has hay fever or pet allergies, there's a 50 percent chance that you will have some sort of allergies as well. That probability jumps to 75 percent when both biological parents have allergies. I thought I had beaten the odds. I made it through puberty, college, and even 2 pregnancies (which is what intensified things for my mom) without any problems. I was lulled into a false sense of security when we moved here because I didn't have any problems the first winter. I should have known...

I guess it's time for me to explore allergy medication options. I was in denial last year when these symptoms kicked in. I told myself it was the apartment we were living in even though I knew it wasn't. I can't just suffer through again this year, especially since it's escalated. No more conversations interrupted by sneezing fits for me, I'm determined to DO SOMETHING...

Monday, January 7, 2008

A Hunk Of Burning Love

Now this is MY kind of "slaving over Christmas dinner":

Brother-in-law on left and M on right, grilling our steaks
for Christmas Eve dinner

Let's take a closer look at the real "hunks" in that photo:

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

THE Plan

You'll probably have to click on that sucker to actually see anything. That was one monstrous file. I deserve a gold star for editing, converting to jpg, and resizing that thing just for your viewing pleasure. I'm sorry I didn't have a electronic copy of the color version. It's pretty, but you'll cope in black and white.

Do you like how I'm sitting around reading on a lounge chair? I'm holding my sister to the fact that finishing our yard means that will happen. And apparently nothing will change for M, because he will still forget to change out of a shirt and tie before he does something dirty like grill in the backyard.

We actually took some baby steps toward this suburban utopia. While my sister and her husband were here, we painted the basic outlines to get a feel for everything:

Also, we bought one tree (On sale because it was a "living Christmas tree" and Christmas was over! They even threw in a free poinsettia!). One microscopic little tree. We planted it along the back fence. But at least we did SOMETHING!

Grow tree, GROW!!!