Thursday, December 31, 2009

We're Home

Well technically we got home Tuesday evening, but other than going to the post office yesterday to ship Christmas presents (yes, I do realize it's now after Christmas) the day was lost to jet lag. The cats were attention starved after 8 days alone, so a lot of the day was spent cuddling with them. They left surprising little in the way of messes to clean. Either that or I just haven't been looking in the right places. So now we know they can handle 8 days alone, but I really wouldn't want to leave them that long again without someone to look in on them.

We had a great time in North Carolina for the holiday and if it weren't for the cats, our jobs, and you know the house we already have in California, we probably would have stayed in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area for as long as our friends would have us. I think Scoob's favorite part was that he didn't have to do dishes for 8 solid days, well, that and we got to spend a lot of time with very dear friends. And our friends were approved for a home loan while we were there and they'll be moving in about a month, so one or both of us may make another trip out east to help with the move.

This was the view from our bedroom window for the trip.
Festive and gorgeous.

The lights are LEDs and the neighbors had been having a tough time
getting a good picture so I borrowed their tripod and took several.

One of my favorite pre–tri-pod detail shots.

I love all the red lights and the way the light falls on the stone walkway.

Table setting for Christmas Eve dinner.

Our friends make entertaining look so effortless.

Take home favors.

We know we want to move, but the question has always been where to move to, and now we have another location to consider. Before when Scoob talked about moving to North Carolina I told him sure he could move there, but he would be moving by himself. But now I'm totally charmed by the place. It's hard to put my finger on exactly what charmed me, but I felt comfortable and at ease there and I hadn't expected to.

Oh, and the food. We ate a couple different meals where if I closed my eyes I could imagine I was sitting in my great-grandma's kitchen. Sausage cornbread stuffing (mom, yours is still better). Vinegary barbecue. Creamed corn. Green beans. Sausage gravy and biscuits. Turns out that both great-grandma and -grandpa were born not far from where we were staying.

So anyhow, we've known we don't want to stay where we're at. And we've known this for a long time, but I think we're finally motivated to do something about it. Still no final decision on the where just yet, but we're ready to get moving on unloading some of the stuff we've got. Scoob is finally ready to sell his car. He's only been threatening to sell since before we moved in together. He doesn't drive it much. I think in the 7 years we've been together he's driven maybe 2,000 miles (whereas I'm closing in on 100,000 since I bough my car almost 5 years ago).

We figure after we unload his car, which we plan to do in January, we'll use the garage as a staging area to sort through some of the stuff we've already got in the garage and begin packing things in the house. Time line-wise, Scoob had been talking about being out of here this spring but that seems a tad ambitious seeing as how we've done nothing to prepare so far. Now we're looking at spring 2011 at the latest. It could be sooner. It just depends on how things play out.

As for me, one of the people we met while in NC was selling his old VHS tapes and books on Amazon and I said I would do the same. I had Scoob bring my 2 boxes of CDs and VHS tapes up from the garage. I have a butt load of Disney VHS tapes. It made me sad to look at them and think about getting rid of them but the fact is—we don't watch them. Dudes, The Little Mermaid is still in its original shrink wrap. With the exception of Toy Story and Hercules, all those tapes haven't seen the light of day since they were packed up in 2002. So they're going. I started copying all my CDs to iTunes yesterday thinking I'll unload those as well. They're just taking up space and once they're in iTunes I'll actually start listening to some of them again.

I had actually started copying my CDs a year or so ago but then the CD/DVD drive in my laptop gave out and the project sort of fell to the wayside. So yesterday, there I am copying away totally geeking out and looking forward to listening to some of these gems from my 20s that I'd totally forgotten about—KMFDM, Love and Rockets, Beck. I'm 50 CDs into it when on disc 51 I hear this huge pop from my computer followed by a plastic tinkling sound.

Disc 51 completely shattered inside the disc drive and that tinkling sound was the hundreds of tiny shards cascading in the intestines of my computer. It even broke pieces off the disc tray thingie. Thankfully, it seems the drive is a contained unit and all the pieces should be in there and not the rest of the computer.

Thank goodness it's a new computer and everything is still under warranty. After convincing the Dell support rep that the disc wasn't merely scratched but actually shattered to bits, I spent surprising little time on the phone. They'll be sending out a technician to completely swap out the optical drive and components. I should be getting a call in a few days to schedule a time. So until then, the CDs copying project is sidelined. Again. Oh, and I busted the vacuum cleaner yesterday as well, but Scoob took it apart and replaced the belts and it works again.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Spiced Nuts

I know I said I would get the recipe for the spiced nuts up yesterday but people, yesterday was a madhouse. The evening commute took over an hour last night and I had to stop at Target on the way home for kitty litter. WHAT was I thinking? I was seriously tempted to start swing that 25 lb. box of litter. And I (successfully, thank god) battled the urge to grab this one guy's keys and park his damn car for him. Gah!

Memo for next year—lay in a several month supply of kitty litter by mid-November.

When I finally got home I still needed to cook dinner and put some meat up in the freezer before it turned and wait for Scoob to go to bed so I could wrap his gifts. By then it was 2:00 am and I called it a day and went to bed.

Back up this morning bright and early for physical therapy and woke up with a cold sore and a seriously sore throat. I've still got too much to do to take time out for being sick, not to mention we're leaving for North Carolina in a few days. And I seriously don't want to be traveling while sickly—I'll be that awful person sitting behind you on the plane hacking, coughing, sneezing, and sniffing (did I miss a dwarf?) for 6 solid hours. Not to mention being a lousy house guest invading my hosts' home with my germs.

So anyhow, here are my nuts.

I know you can't really see my nuts here, but I was pretty darn pleased with the packaging.

Spiced Nuts

    2 cups nuts (I used almonds)

    Spice Mix:
    2 Tbsps sugar
    ¾ tsp kosher salt
    ½ tsp cinnamon
    ⅛ tsp allspice
    ⅜–½ tsp cayenne pepper (to taste)

    1 Tbsp water
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    1 tsp brown sugar
    1 Tbsp canola or corn oil

  1. Heat the oven (or toaster oven) to 350°. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and toast them for 6 minutes or until they are fragrant and their color deepens slightly.
  2. In a medium-size bowl, stir together the spice mix.
  3. In a saucepan, combine the glaze ingredients and bring them to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly. Stir in the toasted nuts and continue to stir until all the nuts are shiny and the liquid is gone, about 1 to 2 minutes. Move the glazed nuts to a mixing bowl, sprinkle on the spice mix, and toss them well to coat.
  4. Spread the coated nuts on a cookie sheet and return them to the oven for another 4 minutes; check regularly to make sure they don't burn. Remove and let cool. (If you try to taste test these before the nuts cool you'll experience chewy, soggy nuts and be tempted to throw them out.)

I've found I like this recipe more when I double the amount of nuts and triple the glaze and spice mix.

**I can't even work up the energy to feel even the slightest bit embarrassed about all the nut references—toasted nuts, shiny nuts, chewy nuts, soggy nuts. Go ahead, laugh at me while I'm down. I would except that laughing kicks off a chest rattling cough.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Peppermint Bark-y Patties

So we had the bake sale at work yesterday and we raised about $425 for the Alameda County Community Food Bank. Yay! Here's the thing that gets me about these bake sales—we're selling all this stuff to ourselves. Add to that all the treats being sent in by authors, agents, and even our website server host and I'm doomed. Like I seriously need any help padding my hips and arse.

And if the other people who brought things to sell are anything like me, they've got leftovers from what they made at home already and the last thing I need is to buy more sweets to bring home. I was seriously hoping we would be able to set up our table on the sidewalk outside our building. We're right on a high-end retail strip in Berkeley and I'm sure the sweets, not to mention the cause, would be well received. I'm not sure why we didn't though I'd wager money that permits and health codes factored into it.

Since I knew a bake sale would mean lots of breads/cakes/pies/cookies and the like, I tried to mix it up a bit and took spiced nuts and these Peppermint Bark-y Patties and I tried to package things so that they could be gifted. One co-worker told me she gave a package of nuts to her son's teacher and I thought that was awesome. I'll get the nuts recipes up tomorrow.

Instead of the irregular pieces that you usually get with peppermint bark, I decided to try making these little cups using a mini cupcake pan. I really like the way they turned out.

Peppermint Bark-y Patties

    12 oz. bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
    12 oz. bag of white chocolate chips
    6 full-sized candy canes, crushed
    Peppermint extract

  1. Melt the white chocolate over indirect heat with a few drops of peppermint extract and spoon into the cupcake pan. You'll need to let the white chocolate set up before moving to the next step—10–15 minutes in the refrigerator should do it. (I learned this the hard way. Though Scoob was happy because he snacked on the rejects.)
  2. While the white chocolate sets, unwrap the candy canes and place in a plastic zippy bag and crush. The smashing/crushing part was great for getting out some frustrations! Be sure to use the freezer-style zippy bags—the thicker the plastic the better, those candy cane shards are sharp and rip right through a regular zippy bag. (Another lesson learned the hard way. I had so much [sticky] candy cane dust on the counters I thought the Candy Cane Fairy had been here.)
  3. Melt the semi-sweet chocolate over indirect heat and spoon into the cupcake pan, completely covering the white chocolate and spreading to the sides of the cups.
  4. Before the semi-sweet chocolate sets, place the crushed candy canes in a sieve and shake the fine candy cane dust over the cupcake tray. Then place the larger pieces into the cups. You may need to press down a little so the chocolate gets a grip on the pieces.

I did 2 batches of these (24 patties per batch) and one thing I noticed while making them is that the semi-sweet chocolate melts to a thinner consistency than the white chocolate. So while a 12 oz. bag of white chocolate chips barely made it through 24 cups, I had extra semi-sweet chocolate. (What a crying shame, I tell you. Don't worry, no chocolate was wasted.) Oh, be sure to add the extract to the white chocolate and not the semi-sweet, otherwise the semi-sweet will seize and have a grainy texture. (Thankfully mom warned me about this before I started so I didn't have to learn that lesson the hard way.)

I turned the cupcake pan upside down on a sheet of waxed paper and a few taps on the back of the pan was enough to free the cups.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Broccoli Rabe Pasta

So I'm finally getting around to posting the recipe for the second side dish we had for Thanksgiving dinner. I've tried it a second time, and we still ended up throwing some out even after I cut the recipe down.

I first had something like this at a catered lunch in the office and went hunting for the recipe and found a good base to start with over at Rachel Ray. Anyhow, my home version wasn't as good as what we had for lunch. I liked it, but I don't know that I'll make this again—it's just way too much food and it didn't seem to reheat well.

Broccoli Rabe Pasta

Cooking time: 30 minutes
Prep time: 10 minutes

    ½ lb. pasta (I used campanelle)
    1 lb. broccoli rabe
    ⅓ cup olive oil
    6–8 cloves of garlic, minced
    1½ tsps. red pepper flakes
    ½ cup grated Parmesan
    ½ cup crumbled feta
    ½ cup shopped red bell pepper
    fresh ground pepper to taste

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions.
  2. Trim the end and coarsely chop the broccoli rabe and add it to a deep skillet. Add 2–3 cups of water, cover, and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 7 minutes, or until no longer bitter. Drain and set aside.
  3. Return the skillet to the stove over medium heat. Add oil, garlic and pepper flakes and saute for 3 minutes.
  4. Return broccoli rabe to the skillet and turn to coat with the oil.
  5. Toss pasta and broccoli rabe in a bowl with cheese and ground pepper. Serve while warm.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Rollin', Rollin', Rollin'

Well December just keeps rollin' along and I feel like I've been incredibly busy. (That and I think it should still be April or something.) The office is doing the food drive thing again with the Alameda County Community Food Bank. We're currently doing the run-of-the-mill food drive with barrels and everything, a virtual money raising drive, having a bake sale on Tuesday to also raise money, and we'll be working at the food bank most likely in February.

I really enjoyed the work we did with them last year and am glad we're doing it again. And this year I've gotten a little more involved—somehow, in a fit of generosity and holiday spirit I suppose, I volunteered to coordinate an email campaign for the food barrel drive. It's really not much but once or twice a week I send out emails to the office about one of the preferred food items from the food bank donations list.

Sounds pretty basic huh? Except that I try to make these emails fun and entertaining—I still haven't figured out an email for canned vegetables, the peanut butter email was easy, but (so far) I think the one for tuna was the best, at least it got some laughs and had a few people talking in the hallways:

Subject: Food Bank—chicken of the sea

I don’t want to start any confusion; I’m talking about tuna here, not chicken—another item high on the Food Bank wish list. In addition to protein, tuna is also an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid. And with its mild flavor, it is easy to disguise tuna as chicken, just ask Jessica Simpson:

Simpson: Is this chicken what I have, or is this fish? I know it’s tuna, but it says Chicken ... by the sea. Is that stupid? [Long pause, with Nick Lachey giving Simpson a dirty look]

Simpson: What? Don’t make fun of me right now. I’m not in the mood.

Lachey: You act like you’ve never had tuna before.

Simpson: I’ve had tuna fish, like, sandwiches and stuff, like this.

Lachey: Baby, you and I have eaten tuna like this before.

Simpson: Why is it called "Chicken by the Sea" or "in the Sea"?

Lachey: "Chicken of the Sea" is the brand.

Simpson: Oh.

Lachey: You know, 'cause a lot of people eat tuna, it's like a lot of people eat chicken? So it's like the chicken of the sea.

Simpson: Okay. I understand now. I was ... I read it wrong.

For a more eloquent take on the tuna, check out Pablo Neruda’s Ode to a Large Tuna in the Market—but please, bring the Simpson version only (canned or vacuum sealed pouches, any brand) for the food barrels, not fresh!

Anyhow, it takes me some time to search for and find these little nuggets and craft them into coherent emails (time I could be using to blog).

In addition to the email thing, I've also done some baking for the bake sale this year—I've got some sweet and savory spiced nuts and some peppermint bark-y kind of stuff—or rather, I will have some peppermint bark-y kind of stuff if I get off my duff and get to the store for the white chocolate. They were totally out of white chocolate—all brands—on my last grocery shopping trip. I know, right.

Oh, but the real time suck this past week or so has been the decorating. I was tapped to decorate the office lobby for the holiday party, which is also on Tuesday—bake sale in the morning and party in the afternoon/evening. That's it, get us so hopped up on sugar in the morning that we can't sit still long enough to do any work then top it off with beer and wine as the sugar crash sets in. Oh, and the COO from the New York office will be in the office—sounds like the perfect recipe for making a good impression.

So anyhow, the decorating. I pulled out the office decorations from storage and they were dismal. Of the 10 regular strands of clear lights a total of zero still worked. I did find 1 strand of clear icicle lights on Friday that worked, so those went up. Other than that, we have a ton of decorative bows and ribbon, so basically I've had to shop for decorations last weekend and after work most nights this past week which has been an experience. Especially since the decorations shouldn't be overtly holiday specific. So that's been a fun, fine line to balance on. Oh, and I was told to make the decorations elegant and classy, not kitschy. I am so hoping to get reimbursed.

We have a wreath and a couple evergreen swags, in my mind these are seasonal and not holiday specific. I've hung some ornaments—snowflakes (I found some cool pressed tin snowflake ornaments in one of the office boxes and I bought some glittery snowflakes in red, green, and purple—bizarrely, they didn't have white or blue or silver) and icicles (which I also bought). I've wrapped the receptionist's desk in wrapping paper and hung a lighted garland across the front. And I'm basically done.

I wanted to wrap a bunch of empty cardboard boxes and scatter them in little piles (Dr. Seuss—style, teetery, wobbly piles) around the lobby but when I sat down to wrap, I realized I only have 2 kinds of holiday wrapping paper, and huge piece of one of those is already on the receptionist's desk. My family always gives me grief because I usually wrap all my presents in the same paper—all Miss Martha (there's Martha again!) matchy-macthy. So anyhow, rather than go out and buy a ton of wrapping paper I sent an email around the office asking people to wrap 1 or 2 smallish empty boxes with whatever holiday appropriate wrapping paper they may have at home. Hopefully that will work out otherwise I'll be wrapping boxes in baby shower and happy birthday paper.

Actually the whole decorating thing has been an experience because I don't decorate for the holidays at home. We're never home on Christmas, so I don't see the point. That and I don't really want to leave the cats alone with all the decorations while we're gone for the holiday. I tried decorating the first year Scoob and I lived together, and it was fun and festive. I had to be creative because we simply don't have room for a tree. But honestly, it would have been more fun if he had helped because it's a lot of work, as is putting away the decorations. If we had children, I would do it, but seeing as we don't I find it hard to see the point.

Anyhow, my Christmas shopping is done! Woo hoo! Except my sister called yesterday to tell me that my step-mom finally thought of something she wants. If I run across it I'll pick it up, but at this point I'm not hunting anything down. I'm still waiting for a few things to be delivered (love shopping online) so I'm debating if I should wrap what I've got now or just wait and do it all at once. I've bought Christmas cards this year, and the stamps to put on them, but I haven't sat down to address the cards yet.

Anyhow, I just feel like I've been doing a lot this holiday season and there's still way more to do, so I suppose I'd better get to it.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Cinnamon Roasted Sweet Potatoes

As promised, here is one of the side dish recipes from our Thanksgiving dinner. It's a super simple sweet treat. I even skipped the last step, partly because I forgot I'd even bought the limes and partly because I didn't have much olive oil to drain off.

Cinnamon Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Cooking time: 30 minutes
Prep time: 10 minutes

    ¼ cup olive oil
    2 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into half moons
    2 Tbsps brown sugar
    1 tsp ground cinnamon
    ¾ tsp kosher salt
    1 pinch freshly ground pepper
    1 tsp fresh lime juice (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Pour the oil into a 9x13 inch baking dish, and place in the oven until hot, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add potatoes to the oiled dish, and bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven, turning after 10 minutes. In a small bowl, mix together the brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, and pepper.
  3. After the 20 minutes is up, remove the potatoes from the oven, and sprinkle with the brown sugar mixture. Stir to coat. Return to the oven, and roast for another 10 minutes, or until potatoes are tender and golden brown. Stir potatoes as necessary to allow them to brown evenly.
  4. Remove potatoes to paper towels to drain, then transfer to a serving dish, and sprinkle with lime juice.

I made this mainly for Scoob since he loves candied yams. I liked that it was sweet without being over-the-top and that it uses real sweet potatoes instead of pureed yams from a can.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Techinically Difficult

Holy reindeer, it's December! Finally, all that holiday music I loaded on my iPod in July feels appropriate.

That's Harry Connick, Jr. in case you're wondering.

My physical therapy appointment was later in the day than usual yesterday, so I was able to work from home (yay!). I love working from home because I get to take care of little things around the house and run quick errands that I otherwise wouldn't be able to get to until after work hours or the weekend:

  • I managed to fold all the clothes that were in the dryer instead of dressing from the dryer like I usually do. Judging by the number of fabric softeners mixed in with the clothes, it's been roughly 3 or 4 weeks since it has been completely emptied last.

    And yes, I even had time to take a picture of the dryer
    sheets and share my shame.

  • I washed all the dishes that had been sitting in the kitchen sink since I didn't have to rush out the door for my commute.

  • I filled up the tank in my car. I would have done this anyhow, but the gas station on the way to my appointment and it just seemed easier than driving out of my way going to or from the office when I'm rushed and/or tired.

  • I dropped off the books I've finished reading at the library.

  • I made a quick detour by the post office to drop off Scoob's latest game trade at Goozex and the Netflix movies from the weekend.

  • I stopped at the Indian grocer near our house to pick up some flour (I went to make dumplings for turkey dumpling soup on Sunday and realized I didn't have more than a half cup of flour in the whole dang house, btw, we had the dumplings last night and they sucked. I totally did something wrong), some chickpea flour (called Besan at the Indian market) for a recipe I want to try, and a head of cabbage for the soup (which I completely forgot about by the time we actually sat down to eat the dumpling disaster last night, so the soup was cabbageless).

  • All that and I made it back to my desk faster than I would have if I'd had to commute to the office after my appointment. I was totally pumped and ready to get back to work only to find out our internet connection took a dirt nap just before I got home.

    We spent the next hour or so digging through past bills trying to find the support number for AT&T, but all I could find were the cell phone bills not the internet bills (I have no idea how Scoob has been paying these bills since I'm clearly not getting any paper to file). Anyhow, I suggested Scoob login to his bank account because I know we have to provide a telephone number for each vendor we pay bills to online, which was followed by the "Are you a complete ditz, woman" look and a moment of silence before Scoob calmly explained to me that he would gladly look up the number online, except WE HAD NO INTERNET CONNECTION, after which I checked my head for blond roots. At least I can laugh at myself, ya' know.

    Anyhoodle, I finally called the support number for the cell phone and got transferred to the internet service department and Scoob took over from there. AT&T was supposed to call back, but by the end of the day yesterday we hadn't heard from them and I got next to nothing done for work. Kind of threw my whole I'm-an-oh-so-productive-whirlwind-when-I-work-from-home plan, not to mention I wasn't able to do any of the holiday shopping on Cyber Monday that I wanted to.

    The AT&T guy came by today, and of course the connection started working again about 10 minutes before he showed up. Doesn't it always work like that? Anyhow, the repair tech they sent out thinks that we may need to replace our DSL modem and/or router because they're seriously old.

    Scoob's laptop has a wireless modem and he's been able to piggyback on another connection to get his work done today, but my computer doesn't do wireless so I'm at the mercy of the DSL modem's whim. I keep begging Scoob's laptop away from him and unfortunately for him, I'm not as easily distracted from my goal by feathers and catnip as the cats are.