Friday, August 31
Ah Calvin - you have summed it up so well. I have always felt that as a genius I have a responsibility to share my genius with the world. Isn't that generous of me?
The record of my mental activities for today would be pretty short. A little stimulating TV before work - an old episode of Boy Meets World, I think. Work. Lunch with Denise where we discuss and solve other people's problems (largely ignoring our own). Work. Finding this cartoon. Dinner of pizza and wings with my brother where we discussed and solved other people's problems (including Denise's). Writing these two paragraphs.
I can't draw Indianapolis - so this is the best you're going to get tonight.
I also found a recipe for a pie made from Reese cups. But I don't think that counts as a mental activity. It has a pretzel crust. Let me know if you want a copy.
Thursday, August 30
The first thing we discussed was how many things in a kitchen could hurt you. Should have included Denise. I think she wanted to smack them back on to their kitchen stools a few times. I had no notion that they would sit angelically upon their stools listening intently to my every word. So I was not disappointed!
They really did a nice job. I was surprised to find that they had so little experience doing simple tasks, like measuring 6 cups of water - or reading directions on a box of mac and cheese. We prepared a box of Kraft to compare with our homemade version...and I think that even that would have been impossible without my help. We even had to learn the difference between Tsp and Tbsp!
But they were VERY eager to assist in the whole process. Whenever I started the phrase "would someone like to..." I always had at least two volunteers.
After choosing our pasta shape (the boys went with Rotini - a spiral pasta) and getting the water headed to a boil - we began to make a Roux. Which I explained was the beginning of every cream sauce or cream soup they could think of. We figured out that a stick of butter equaled a half cup of flour (roux is equal parts flour and fat) and after the butter was melted a couple of the boys took turns constantly stirring the paste on the stove. Denise helped get 4 cups of milk measured and heated in the microwave. Then once the roux was a golden blonde (you keep cooking the paste until you get the right color for the dish you're making. Gumbo would be all the way to brick-colored) we added the warmed milk and the whisking continued without fail.
Finally the water for both the rotini and the box macaroni was boiling. I set the other three boys to the task of grating cheese. They wanted to grate all the cheese I had bought for two weeks of classes!
After a few minutes of cooking the white sauce (bechamel) had thickened to the point that it would coat a spoon so it came off the heat and the cheese was added one handful at a time. They boys were all excited to have a chance to make a batch of cheese disappear! A little salt, pepper and ground mustard made the cheese sauce complete.
Since this was going to be our entree - we diced up a ham steak (the cheese graters moved up the ham dicers) and had it ready to add to our deluxe mac and cheese. Once the pasta was cooked - we drained it and I added the butter, milk and cheese powder for the box batch. The boys stirred it up and boy did it look lame!
Then we added our cheese sauce to the drained rotini and added our diced ham! Boy did it look tasty! Thanks to denise, we had a big pitcher of lemonade and dished up some of each mac and cheese.
Although at the beginning of the night there had been grumbles about not having pizza and "having to eat mac and cheese" instead...one of the boys commented (and they all agreed) that this was much better. They want to come back next week! (Of course my next group would be upset...)
We got to have second helping and they decided that the box stuff was okay if you mixed it in with the made-from-scratch. They even experimented with adding a little cayenne or chili powder to kick up the heat. And there were even leftovers for each young man to take home. (Not much - but a little bit to show off to their family!)
No, they weren't angels. And the only person who hung on my every word was Denise. But I think it sparked an interest and I believe they'll be looking forward to their next cooking adventure!
And I need some more "takeout" containers - so send me your butter/sour cream/cottage cheese containers, okay?
And somebody get Denise a Valium for next Thursday.
Wednesday, August 29
I have always been the family bug host. The one that everyone looks at with pity while I slap away at flies, gnats, mosquitoes, etc. I think that every family must have one. And then all the other sweet souls get to stare, shrug their shoulders and say stupid stuff like "hmm...I haven't gotten bit once" and "are you sure they're mosquitoes"? Argh!
Everyone in my family has their own personal curse - Dad can find the one cherry pit in any pie. Even McDonalds cherry pies...and I'm not real sure that those are real cherries!
Tonight, even though I was in the midst of a lovely group sitting on the dock at the river, I had enough. After spraying every inch of my skin...and then every inch of my clothing...they were still snacking on my tasty flesh. You win this round bugs...but I shall find a way!!
I'm gonna find some serious toxins to bathe in this weekend...anyone know where I can get some black market DDT?
Tuesday, August 28
Blogtap's Random Topic Generator" - which even has subjects to choose from. Going to be brave and select from "All". And the topic is (drumroll) - The Wright Brothers. Seriously...that is what popped up first.
At least I know something about the topic (unlike a topic suggested to me earlier today - diminishing Arctic ice...which I will need to research first). I have even been to the Wright Brothers Memorial in Kitty Hawk, NC because it is in the area that I vacation. I will say that the $5 I spent when I visited several years ago was about right (it is down to $4 now!). At the time, the museum was housed in a couple of trailers but had very informative exhibits. Then you could walk over the area that the First Flight took place. There are markers showing the distances achieved in the first flights that Orville and Wilbur took. I learned that the brothers had made hundreds of glides - the flight in December 1903 was the first heavier-than-air powered flight.
One thing that I always wondered about - how did they decide that Orville was going to be on the flyer? Rock, paper, scissors? Flip a coin? Chicken wishbone?
One more Random Generator: Random Questions at Conversations Starters.com - and the questions is (drumroll...) What was your favorite subject in school? Really?
Well...I was quite the nerd in school, so I can't go with the goofy response of "lunch". And being an uncoordinated nerd, my answer can not be "gym" or "PE". I think that the answer would depend on what grade we are examining. In first grade, my favorite subject was definitely Math. I grasped the whole concept of numbers, sets, addition and subtraction very quickly. I had a really cool teacher who let me keep going in the workbook and by the end of the first 6 weeks...I had run out of math to do. So she arranged for me to join up with the second grade math class. That teacher didn't let me get ahead of the class and I got bored. By third grade, after memorizing the multiplication tables (which took the rest of the class FOREVER) - I was bored again.
I always liked reading - I read to my kindergarten class because my older sisters had taught me to read when I was 4. That was pretty advanced back then. I think my four year old nephew and niece are reading Spanish now. One day I went to my first grade homeroom and she said that they were moving me to the second grade. So I spent the last 6 weeks of that year in a new class. The reading teacher spent part of the first day assessing my reading skills and when she found that I could read all the way up to the silver books, she put me in charge of my reading group. I wasn't trying to be smart - I just wanted to keep reading new stories...and I had finished all the ones in the other levels.
But if I had to answer what my favorite subject in high school was...it would probably be Advanced Algebra. Not because of my love for math...but I got to sit next to Derek Jennings...and he was cool. Or maybe it would have been English because I sat in front of Kevin Parr.
I did enjoy some of the subjects in high school. I liked Chemistry because the teacher was a short wacky woman who let us play with chemicals and stuff. I loved Creative Writing but the teacher was pretty tweaked out on coke most of the time (not the stuff in the can...). Speech class and typing class probably gave me the most useful skills that I still use today. Journalism was fun...I was layout editor of the school newspaper. We actually did physical paste-ups then. It was printed on the presses of the local paper. We only managed to get about 4 editions out that year...but I enjoyed working on The Amherite.
This has been an interesting look back....thank you Random Topics!!
Monday, August 27
I know that my posts are often rants about my personal pet peeves...this is no exception. Question: Why can't folks grasp the concept of BCC (blind carbon copy)? I cannot tell you how many emails a day I get with giant lists of other people's email addresses. It isn't just the fact that on my Blackberry I have to scroll through the endless list - although that is indeed tiresome (and starting to wear out another trackball!). It is really rude to share your friends' email addresses with everyone that you want to share "The Irish Friendship Blessing" or "How Shania Twain got cancer from a water bottle she left in her car" or "How to separate an egg with a water bottle (hopefully non-cancerous).
Do not get me wrong - I enjoyed receiving the email itself (especially the egg separating one...that was cool!) and I'm glad that I have friends who send me generous angels who will bless me with cash and perfect mates if I send it on to 11 of my closest friends (I never do...I hate emotional blackmail email...but usually the blackmail comes after some sort of lovely thought that I DO enjoy)! It is the careless spreading of my email address to people who I don't know.
I received an email from my eye doctor's office last week inviting me to vote for him in a local magazine for "Best Bedside Manner" - once again, not offended by the email itself...he really is a fantastic optometrist and I am happy to spread that word far and wide. But his staff mistakenly sent out some of the email batches as CC instead of BCC. So in this case - I had about 50 of his patients email addresses (and you know, with a lot of email addresses...the names are not hard to figure out). I emailed him and he not only promptly apologized to me - he later sent out an email (properly BCC) to the clients who were affected and apologized to them as well. That shows real class.
If you are interested in being kind (and protective) to the people who you email - here is all you have to do to use BCC when emailing, forwarding, etc. in several of the most popular email interfaces.
If you are using Outlook - just put the addresses on the BCC line instead of the "To" line. If you don't see that line, click Options, Show Fields and then BCC.
In Gmail - once you've started to compose, you'll see the Add BCC button directly under the "To" line.
I understand that AOL's BCC button is easy to find...I wouldn't know, never used AOL! Thank you for listening to my latest rant. Next rant will probably be about chopping the extra 14 headers off when you forward the National Friendship Day email. I'm sure glad you're my friend - but I'd feel even more friendly if I didn't have to dig so far down to know why!
Saturday, August 25
The Hamster Beaters are my Fantasy Football team (winner of the 2011-2012 season in our league). My team has been named that since the year I changed it from The Big Johnsons (that year I drafted an entire team of people named Johnson or Jones. Well, my kicker was Hanson - which I decided was Swedish for Johnson).
Fantasy Football is pretty simple - you gather a bunch of friends and "draft" members of the NFL. Only one team can own Peyton Manning, or Reggie Bush, or the Eagles defense. Then each week you "start" a team of one quarterback, two running backs, two receivers, a kicker and a defense. How the player performs in the NFL game determines how many points you score. I remember a time when I had to add up all the scores by hand - reading the box scores in Monday's sports page. Now the website does it all automatically - and in real time! For only $179 a year! (Ouch)
Tomorrow afternoon is the draft. It is not exactly a painless process. We try to make it fun - food, beverages, good natured ribbing... But with 10-12 teams each drafting 15 players...it takes time. And unless every team owner stays glued to the draft board (which is impossible considering the food, beverages, etc.) people lose track of who has been picked and who is still available. So by the tenth round, somebody is usually trying to draft a player who went in the 3rd round. And things grind to a slow halt while they catch up their cheat sheets.
Some teams take it all very serious. And although I won the league last year - I don't take it very serious at all. I'm just hoping somebody makes meatballs!
I believe this legitimately counts as a post. Take that - Romney!
Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device from U.S. Cellular
Friday, August 24
I have a couple of Facebook friends who work with Humane Societies, animal shelters, pounds, animal fostering programs, etc. From time to time they will post pictures of animals that need homes. Because at least one of my housemates is NOT a big pet-person - I am limited to housing the one rude cat (who at this moment is lying with her arms crossed wearing a look of disdain like a petulant teenager. Rude.)
Recently I have had great desire to trade-in my rude cat for a kinder and gentler cat. The first to capture my heart was Ty. A gorgeous tabby cat who lost both eyes to infection. Oh my - my heart just stopped. Blind kitty.
After a trade-in was rejected, I still got to see posts about Ty - including this one: "What's the best fun you can have in the morning? Watching a blind cat with a case of the zoomies pinball around the house." And then a nifty picture of Ty In Box. No matter how you feel about cats - I think it would be hard to resist loving that one.
And then tonight was the real kicker - I got to virtually meet Slider. And I want that cat. Slider even has her own blog that tells her whole story. But basically...Slider slides because the back legs don't work. If that sweet face doesn't make you want to dive through your computer screen and hug her...you are made of stone, my friend.
So - if anyone would like to take possession of Rude Cat...I can take Slider! Since I've already bent the household rules by allowing Riva Cat to take up residence at the Riva Howse...I better not push my luck by bringing another cat home. So many kitties, so few homes. PLEASE, spay or neuter your cats. (and some of your friends) And when you can - give a cat a home.
with the exception of the pic of Rude Cat - all these pictures were shamelessly stolen from my friend's FB page and Slider's Blog. Sorry.
Thursday, August 23
Tonight was the first night for JIFF and we had the opportunity to introduce the plan for having Culinary Arts classes this year. I discovered that very few of the students (grades 3-8) know what the word "culinary" means - but they all like to eat, and some of them even like to cook!
We began the classes with a contest - how many kitchen tools can you name in 2 minutes? Go ahead, take the two minutes...we'll wait... Most of the kids came up with 8-10 items and the most often named items were knife, fork and spoon. Sometimes they wandered off into lists of ingredients...but I have to admit, without food...there would be no cooking! All four groups came up with things like microwave, toaster and whisk...the most unusual items were ladle, garlic press and sink. How was your list?
I will now take two minutes and see what I can come up with: knife, fork, spoon, spreader, spatula, slotted spoon, wooden spoon, whisk, garlic press, mallet, meat tenderizer, kitchen shears, baster, pot, pan, skillet, blender, food processor, mixer, oven, stove, microwave, dishwasher, measuring cups, measuring spoons, mixing bowls, meat thermometer, candy thermometer, deep fryer...time's up. Wow...two minutes goes by quickly too!!
After that contest we talked about the fact that we would be trying some new things - both skill sets and tastes. Then we had a little tasting plate to begin the adventure. That was my sister Denise's idea - and a pretty darn good idea it was! I was proud to see that most of the students at least tried everything on the plate.
We had 3 different cheeses - Smoked Gruyere, Chevre and Parmesan; 2 fruits - a dried apricot and a slice of kiwi; 2 types of cracker - wheat thin and Club cracker; and for the adventurous ones we even had a small piece of roasted garlic. We tasted the cheeses by themselves and with the crackers, explored the kiwi - learning that you can indeed eat the little black seeds, talked about dried fruits....and without fail, ran out of time in every session!
I'm looking forward to having a whole 90 minutes with each group in the kitchen.
But knowing me...we will still manage to run out of time!
Till tomorrow - keeping my promise!
Wednesday, August 22
It was a dark and stormy night. A shot rang out...
No, wait...try this one: I was on a hill outside the lights of the city when I saw a strange glow in the western sky. It grew brighter and brighter until I realized that it was not just a formless light - it was a spaceship! I tried to run but I found myself rooted to the spot that I was standing. Terror fought with curiosity in my mind - what would the inhabitants of this strange vehicle look like? Be like? Alas, I cannot recall anything that happened between the time I saw the ship and when I awoke last week in the strange land called "New Jersey." Fortunately the aliens dropped me off in a friendly neighborhood near the NJ Light Rail.
Okay - enough excuses and wild tales...I have been a bad blogger and you, my faithful readers (are there still more than one?) deserve a decent apology. I'm sorry. And you deserve a decent post. I'll try. Somebody get me a topic! To the random topic generator!!
Instead of a completely random topic, I will share with you that the JIFF (Juniors in Fun and Fellowship) program begins again tomorrow night. And since my last wild idea worked out pretty well...I've had another one! It all began in early summer when I was watching an episode of Restaurant Impossible. If you've never seen the show - host Robert Irvine is challenged to turn around a failing restaurant with a budget of $10,000 and two days. This was a special episode with a unique challenge. First Lady Michelle Obama challenged him to renovate a DC center that provides neighborhood kids with mentoring, tutoring and nutrition. Part of the challenge was to be provide healthier food choices...including utilizing a nearby patch of donated ground for a neighborhood garden.
The whole time I was watching the episode I kept seeing parallels between that program and our JIFF program. And something kept poking at my consciousness - our students need opportunities to learn more about food. They need to know where it comes from, how to prepare it and how to make better choices.
As a person who is pretty good at ignoring poking from my consciousness...I promptly pushed that thought to the back of my mind. Then a few days later I saw ANOTHER episode of Restaurant Impossible. This time he was working to turn around a high school's student-run cafe. Because of diminishing budgets the culinary arts program at this high school had declined to the point that their cafe was serving a lot of re-heated frozen food and the student body and faculty had stopped eating there. Without the income from the cafe, the program was in danger of being folded altogether.
I got the hint. And so I decided that I needed to try this wild idea. I am going to teach JIFF kids how to cook. And yes, we are even going to learn knife skills. As I told my doubtful brother - if you don't teach them, how will they learn?
Each week I will have a different group of students (3-5 grade girls, 3-5 grade boys, 6-8 grade girls, 6-8 grade boys) for the entire hour and a half. Our first session will compare the taste differences between box macaroni and cheese and that made from scratch. During that, we will learn the first of the "mother sauces" in French cuisine - bechamel. And then how that becomes a cheese sauce. We will have the opportunity to discuss the cost differences, ingredients to add to mac & cheese to turn it into a main dish, etc.
What will the other sessions be? If you have ideas - let me know.
As far as my infrequent blogging is concerned - I am making this promise: I will post every day for the next 30 days. I will allow myself three "Free Passes" - days that I can post "I am using my Free Pass" instead of a real post. If I fail in this promise then I will give $100 to the Romney campaign. And I'd rather cut my arm off.
Friday, August 3
After ordering my shrimp - I began to dream of all the ways I will prepare them. The first few pounds will never even hit the fridge. They will go from the boat - to the refrigerated truck - to my cooler - to the kitchen - to my table. And I am about 90% certain that my first dish will be scampi and cheese grits. This simple preparation of shrimp allows me to sample all the sweet goodness that is shrimp. How do I do it?
First things first - you have to clean them. I usually get comfortable at a table and clean 3 or 4 pounds. First I peel them - which I find immensely easier before they are cooked. Although the shells can contribute some shrimpy goodness to a dish - I can get the same effect by making shrimp stock with the shells later. The tools you will need to prep a few pounds of shrimp: a discard bowl for the shells, two clean bowls large enough to hold all the shrimp, a small bowl of water and a knife (I like a serrated knife, like a steak knife. Many chefs would disagree). To peel the shrimp, starting at the head end (where the head would be), slide your thumb between the 2 rows of legs and grab about 2/3 of one row, peel those away from you. This should take the legs, shell and the opposing row off. This would leave 2/3 of nekkid shrimp and 1/3 shell/tail/legs. Hold onto the nekkid shrimp part with one hand - squeeze the tail with the thumb and forefinger of the other hand. Gently pull the nekkid shrimp part and it will slide right out. That will leave empty shell in one hand and every bit of shrimpy goodness in the other hand. It takes a little bit of practice but soon you'll be able to peel a pound of shrimp in 10-15 minutes.
Keep going until you have one bowl full of nekkid shrimps and one bowl full of shells. Before you go on to the next shrimp prep step - put the shells in a pan and cover them in water and a sprinkle of salt. Bring it to a simmer (near boiling, but not boiling) on the stove. Go back to the shrimp.
Yes - you can skip the next step. But I think it is kind of gross to serve my friends and family shrimp that is not de-veined. Because that isn't really a vein. It's more like the colon. And friends don't feed friends shrimp poop.
It is a dead simple task - hold Mr. Shrimp in one hand, cut along the back with the knife, head end to tail end. You really only have to make the cut along about 75% of the shrimp. And you only have to make the cut about 1/4" deep. Use the tip of the knife and your thumb to bring the "vein" to the surface and pull it on out. Dip the knife, thumb into the bowl of water. The "vein" will sink to the bottom. Rinse the shrimp if it needs it. 99% of the time, the "vein" will not be damaged by the knife and the poop will not contaminate your shrimp. Pretty tough little "vein" there.
By the time you finish your de-veining...the shells will have given up all of their tasty goodness to the water and you can discard them. Catfish like to eat them, so I toss mine in the river. So now you have beautifully prepped shrimp and shrimp stock (strain the stock to get rid of stray legs...). And now you can make a little scampi. Combine the stock, 3 or 4 minced cloves of garlic, the juice of a lemon (maybe a little zest if you're feeling fancy), and a bit of salt and pepper (a splash of white wine if you like). Bring that to a boil and toss in the shrimp. When they are pink, they are done. DONE! Please don't overcook shrimp...it makes me sad.
Cheddar grits - make grits according to canister (quick grits are okay - instant grits are NOT. I'd rather eat shrimp poop.) and add cheddar till it just won't stir (I figure about 2 cups). Well, two caveats there...for a richer and creamier dish, use half water and half milk. Feeling adventurous with the cheese? Parmesan makes a nuttier flavor, goat cheese gives a nice tangy flavor, blue cheese alone would be pretty overpowering... And for goodness sake - SALT THE WATER!!!
If this has made you long for some tasty shrimp of your own...there is still time to get me shrimp orders!! Call me, email me, facebook me, text me, send up smoke signals. But if I don't know by midnight on Wednesday, August 8...you'll have to revert to using those frozen suckers from foreign lands. Wouldn't you rather have some great Atlantic shrimp to call your very own? $10/pound and the proceeds go to support Kiwanis community projects like building playgrounds and stuff. It's a win-win.
And think of all the wonderful shrimp dishes you could make...You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it. Dey's uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There's pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich...
Wednesday, August 1
I miss the chicken nuggets and the lemonade. But currently I am not a patron of Chick-Fil-A. And long-time readers of this blog know that I appreciate my local franchise and the staff there - I have written before about my love for the food and the service. Right now I'm choosing to not visit.
Let me be perfectly clear - Mr. Cathy has EVERY right to believe what he believes regarding marriage. And he has EVERY right to state those beliefs in any forum that he chooses. I applaud his courage to stand behind his beliefs in the face of his critics. And, of course, he has EVERY right to donate the profits of his corporation to whatever cause he deems worthy. I would not spend a single breath denying him these rights.
So - having stated that unequivocally - why am I denying myself the delicious chicken and lemonade?
Because I disagree with him.
Now, I have the right to decide whether or not to patronize his company. Will the lack of my business even be a blip on his radar? Nope. Even considering that I averaged two visits per week to CFA prior to July 16 - no one will notice my absence. I am well aware that the $1000 per year spent at my local franchise would translate to about 12 cents being donated to organizations that make my blood boil (especially Exodus International whose belief that gay people can be "turned" actually turns my stomach). For me, that is 12 cents too much.
Friends have stated, "we don't know what the leaders of most businesses believe in. McDonald's or Target or Sheetz may be led by people with the same beliefs." True. But it is when I DO know and then choose to ignore how that makes me feel - that is when I compromise my integrity.
To all my friends who are visiting CFA today to show support for Mr. Cathy's right to believe and say whatever he wants - good for you. You are choosing to stand up for something you believe in. Even if it is just believing in the right to free speech.
To all my friends who are choosing to boycott CFA - whether it be for a day or a lifetime - good for you. You are ALSO choosing to stand up for something you believe in. For some, it is marriage equality. For some, it is a show of support for gay friends and family. For others...your reasons may be very personal.
Will I ever return to Chick-Fil-A? I honestly don't know. Would it be acceptable to eat there if I make a donation to organizations that are on the other end of the gay marriage spectrum? Can I offset my indirect donation to the Family Research Council with a direct donation to Marriage Equality USA? Would it be like a carbon footprint offset? One pack of nuggets = one dollar to a group that I agree with?
I still have a great deal of thinking to do on the topic. I know that I have seen long-term committed relationships involving gay friends. And some of those couples are doing a great job raising children. I have seen some horrible dysfunctional relationships involving straight friends. And some of those couples have severely damaged their children. Every relationship is unique. And each should be judged on its own merits.
For now...I know one thing for certain...regardless of how much I miss the food, I am choosing to eat at home. I know that the squash Mom made (from local farm co-op Lynchburg Grows) tonight will not cause me to lose any sleep.