Wednesday, May 30, 2012

295. The Countdown Has Begun

Guilty. Blogging at work again.

In exactly four hours and 36 minutes, I will, escape, this building for a full four days. As I walk to my car, and then drive gleefully away, I will be like Lot. I will not look back, for fear that this building may turn me into a pillar of truly ungrateful salt. After all, it is my employer who I should thank for this reprieve from the daily grind I am about to enjoy. For that, I am deeply thankful.
Yet I will not look back.
My mind will already be racing miles ahead of me, wallowing in the joy only freedom can bring.

Tonight is Best Coast, at The Firebird.
They have a new album out, which is currently streaming on NPR (last I checked). I haven't gotten a chance to listen yet because I was busy streaming the new Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. I would offer you a link to both albums, but NPR is blocked on this network.
I can blog, but I can't access NPR. Go figure.

By the way, I forgot to mention this in previous posts, but I'm very excited. Miracles do happen. I finished the spring semester with a 4.0 GPA. I received my letter notifying me that I made the dean's list last week! I had been wondering if there even was a dean's list at this school, because I had a 4.0 last semester too. Apparently part time students only qualify every 12 credit hours, instead of each semester. That seems sort of silly, but I'll take it. DEAN'S LIST BABY!

More than likely, this will be my last post until next week. Expect photos!!!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

294. The Arrival of Summer

Yesterday marked the beginning of a 10 day stretch which has no other choice but to be fantastic. I've been looking forward to it for some time. It was also the first really hot day of the year, and that means summer has officially arrived.

First, the three day weekend, which afforded me the time to invent a pineapple rhubarb and basil pie. Though I think there are some things I would like to amend for future incarnations, namely, using more pineapple, it was definitely a success. There was a nice balance between sweet and sour and a little savory, which I think worked well. Here's a shot of the filling before it went into the crust.

And a shot of the final product...
This charming number is evidence that I lack my grandmother's skills with weaving a lattice-top crust. I think I let the dough sit on the counter and get too warm while I was working on it. In the end, I decided to just fake it by layering the pieces instead of weaving them. The need to practice will just be my excuse to bake more pies.

If you're wondering how to go about inventing a pie, it isn't difficult to do. Find a crust recipe you like. Crusts can be seasoned all sorts of ways to make them more complementary to your fillings, but in this case, I opted for the basic model because I wanted to let the pineapple do the talking. Second, like anything else one does in the kitchen, find a recipe you like and use it as a starting point. This pie was based on a deep dish strawberry rhubarb recipe I made last summer and loved. I swapped the strawberries for pineapple, cut back on the rhubarb, and swapped the cinnamon and nutmeg for fresh basil from our porch. Easy.

Tomorrow I'm visiting my mum, and Monday I have hopes for Memorial Day grill action. I'd like to try grilling veggie burgers. Then it's back to work, but only for two days.
Wednesday night The Wizard and I have tickets to see Best Coast at The Firebird, and there are plans to ride our bikes there. The following morning, Frank-dog will go and stay with my parents for the weekend, and our escape to Chicago begins! In the two years that I have been living back in Saint Louis, I have left town exactly once. We went camping in Southern Illinois for two nights. To say that I need to get away is a gross understatement.

To start our holiday off properly, I've secured a swanky room on The Magnificent Mile for Thursday night, then we'll be moving in with some friends for the rest of the weekend. Friday (day) we hope to check out the Art Institute of Chicago, both for the college and the Roy Lichtenstein exhibit currently on display. We also have tickets to see a friend's play, The Jammer, on Friday night. I am extremely excited, and it should prove to be an action-packed weekend of adventures and fun. A real, not iPhone camera will be accompanying me, but I haven't decided which one just yet. I'm leaning toward film for its decisiveness and character, but I like the flexibility that digital offers. Decisions!

Monday, May 21, 2012

293. Rice Pooding

Just in case you've ever got a bit of a sweet tooth, maybe a pot of leftover rice from dinner, and you think to yourself, "Yeah! Rice pudding sounds good!" Only you don't have whole milk and heavy cream on hand, because who keeps things like that? But you have this can of sweetened condensed milk in your pantry for some reason...
Maybe don't do that.
Because what happens is a pot of sticky almost-pudding that's more nauseating than delicious. And you both (you and your friend or maybe just you by yourself) end up sitting there, eating the wanna-be pudding and kind of feeling more than a little obligated to pretend you're enjoying it. Until one of you starts feeding it to the dog.
At least it made the dog's day.

Friday, May 18, 2012

292. Qu'est-ce que c'est?

Frank and I went jogging this evening. The sun was going down, the weather was lovely. There was an event going on at The Piper Palm House, which means the area in front of Piper Palm, sidewalk included, was blocked off. It was too late to take a real detour, so I decided to cut around through the grass, between the duck ponds.

Like so many of us living in metropolitan areas, city ducks have become accustomed to having a much smaller area for personal space. Sure, they'll run the other way if you start walking toward them, but their flight response is greatly delayed. This is maybe not such a good survival tactic for a duck.

As we detoured from the sidewalk into the grass, we passed several people sitting on a bench, holding two very large and excited dogs. The dogs whined and lunged at Frank. He shot back with something about their mothers and kept right on running.

By then, the ducks should have seen us coming. A sweaty biped with an awkward gait, accompanied by a monstrous beast, all nose and tongue and teeth, headed straight toward them. Their party consisted of at least 4 mallards and several hybrid spawn of domestic and mallard parents, most of whom had been lazing about in the grass, enjoying an afternoon by the pool. Too late, they sensed the apocalypse that was upon them. Without adequate momentum, they couldn't take off, and the water was just out of reach. The group of them zigzagged ahead of us, their big duck tooshies egging Frank into a frenzy. We burst into the center of pack, sending ducks scattering in every direction.

In an instant, Frank had snatched up one of the male mallards and had its entire head in his mouth. I glanced down to see the duck hanging from his jaws, Frank still pacing me like nothing out of the ordinary was happening, the duck relentlessly beating him with its wings in an effort to free itself.
With a quick snap of the leash, the duck was free, and we sprinted away.

Fortunately, the duck seemed fine.
But the dog, he is a Psychokiller. He laughed all the way home.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

291. Relax, I'm a Professional

Blogging on the clock...I am such a rebel.
Things are really slow. I'm still training for my new jobbie (this is week 3), but there is only so much a mind can absorb at once, you know? Plus, it's Thursday, and I am very much looking forward to tomorrow afternoon (it's Friday, no explanation needed).

My spring semester grades should be posted this evening. I'm really nervous. I believe it's going to look like two Bs and two As. There is a possibility that it will be three As and one B. In my dreams, I will squeak through with four As, maintaining my sparkly 4.0 gpa. Let's not hold our breath.

Other adventures. Cliff and Ricka came over for dinner last night. The Wizard made a fantabulous salad and I got to try fresh fennel for the first time. Another of those things I've had on my "to-eat" list forever, but didn't know what to do with. It was quite good, offering a mild crunchiness that we found paired very nicely with red pears and goat cheese. To accompany the salad, we concocted these delightful potstickers filled with eggplant, onion, and zucchini, and seasoned with a little hoisin sauce, red pepper flakes, and dark sesame oil.
Afterward, we all trekked to the park with glasses of wine, played fetch with the Frank-dog, and did cartwheels in the grass.

Back at the abode, the subject of music came up. Lately, I've had a craving to play, but I keep putting it off for no good reason. Last night I finally dug out my clarinet, and I felt an instant connection to it from the moment I started to play. I never really play it because it's had a chip in one of the joints since high school that creates a substantial air leak. I keep meaning to take it in to find out if it can be repaired, but I sincerely doubt that it will be. In which case I need to find out if I can just replace that section of the body, or if the entire thing is a loss, which would make me very sad. The lower register still sounds really warm and rich, but the upper register can hardly squeak out a sound at all. After years of not having much interest in playing it, I've come to miss it more than I ever would have guessed.

As of *I think* June, my viola will be paid in full, and all mine. I'm hoping that within a few months I can start taking lessons again. If I can afford them, that is. I'm toying with the idea of switching between private lessons on all three of my instruments, but viola is my top priority, followed by my clarinet. I'm actually almost too nervous to even consider playing my euphonium in the house...I'm afraid I'll get myself evicted for how loud it is.

All of this has culminated into fantasies of auditioning for the college orchestra. I even went so far as to email the instructor for more information. Unfortunately, the college music program isn't something that's making itself terribly available to me, thanks to my day job. I can manage lower level art classes in the evenings, but things like music theory or those creative writing courses I'm dying to take only happen during the day.
I'm genuinely interested in pursuing music, but I think my options are limited to private lessons for now. Then again, that's not so bad... My viola teacher is a violist with the Seattle Symphony. He has anecdotes about performing with Henry Mancini.
How many people get a chance to train with someone of that level?

Poetry goes less smoothly. I've sat down several times this week to write, but nothing came of it. Everything sounds like forced existentialism and prepositional word association. No bueno a'tall. For now, I'm going to have to find some other project to occupy myself.

Monday, May 14, 2012

290. Container Gardening, Attempt #2.

The Wizard and I spent last weekend purchasing and potting the herbaceous additions to our new balcony. I would have liked more edibles, but we decided to share a little with the butterflies and bees. My fingers are crossed for prolific tomato production, however, and I may venture back to the nursery this weekend for another plant.

On the right, a Mortgage Lifter Tomato, and center, some unknown pink thing:


Tickseed, which claims to attract butterflies:

Some window boxes of Marigolds, and more Ageratum 
(with a squeaky-toy contribution from Frank):


Basil and Cilantro:

A new pot to let Spidey stretch its roots:

A close-up of the Pink Anonymous:

And of course, no porch would be complete without a cat on a bench:

Sunday, May 6, 2012

289. Mad Beets!

Welcome to kitchen stadium! This week's episode, beets!!

This was my first ever encounter with fresh beets. Having watched various chefs prepare them on television, I've always felt sort of intimidated by them. They seemed like they would stain everything in their path, and I tend to be a messy chef anyway. So I wanted to try them, but I was afraid, and kept saying later, later, later. I'm not sure I would have ever stopped saying later if Josh hadn't suggested this as our theme ingredient. And the result was really rather stunning...if I may humbly say so.

The recipe: Beet Ravioli with Poppy Seed Butter

Last night, I returned home from Dierbergs with two bunches of organic beets (twice what the recipe called for) because they seemed so tiny, I couldn't imagine 3 beets could ever be enough. Also, I do not own any sort of stand mixer or amazing pasta-making wonton wrappers it is!
I've actually used them to make other ravioli dishes before, and they're great.

Here they are, post scrub.

Next, I slathered each one in a little olive oil, bundled it in foil, and nestled them all together in an 8x8" glass baking dish. Into the oven they go!

The recipe said that it should take about an hour to roast them at 400 degrees, but mine took longer. An hour and a half was just perfect. We had plenty of time to ride our bikes to the store for the ricotta that I forgot I needed, and to plant all of garden additions we picked up at Home Depot earlier this afternoon.
So domestic today!

Worried that I was going to have to explain fuchsia fingers to my co-workers tomorrow, I also picked up a pair of vinyl gloves to wear while peeling. Smart!
The beets themselves were much easier to peel and work with than anticipated.

Once I started grating the roasted chaps into a bowl, I realized that three beets were going to be more than enough. I'm glad that I went ahead and roasted all six, because the leftovers are going to make a fantastic salad tomorrow. I sliced the three extra and tossed them in the fridge.

Here are the three relevant beets, post grating, relaxing in a medium-sized bowl with the ricotta and bread crumbs. They're pretty pleased, here. They're expecting big things.
We decided to use part-skim ricotta, even though the recipe called for whole milk, just to keep things a little healthier.

Up in the left hand corner, you'll notice a yellow scrambly looking mess. That's egg. I like to use raw egg to seal the ravioli (or dumplings, if that's what you're making). The recipe actually calls for water, and it works fine too.

And here are the raviolis, post-stuffing, pre-cooking. I definitely got a little carried away, trying to cram as much filling into each one as I could, which occasionally resulted in squishiness occurring. I'm ok with this. I strive for beautiful food, but in the end, the taste is what matters.

Into the pot they went, and not a single one fell apart. This recipe made SO MUCH FOOD. 
That's exciting though, who doesn't love leftovers? But you could easily make this and plan to serve 4 people. I don't know what most people do with ravioli, but I though they'd enjoy landing on a pile of mixed greens. Next time, I'd like to have some chopped nuts on hand to top them with when they're done, but parmesan and red pepper flakes were equally good. 

May I present, *buh buh buh buuuuuuhhhh!!!*

And it. Was. Badass. 
This recipe rates 5 stars, and I will definitely make it again. It's time consuming; I spent probably 3 hours on it. But so worthwhile. Taste-buds swooned.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

288. I'll Have Another

A more appropriately named horse could not have won this afternoon. If you didn't get to watch the Kentucky Derby, you missed one dandy of a race. I didn't get to attend, but I think we found the practically next best thing. I had the fortune of watching on a big screen, amidst a crowd of people dressed in their finest derby attire, drinking Mint Juleps all afternoon on the patio of The Royale.

Laurel and I completed our derby hats, garnished with horse figurines. I think that hers definitely outdid mine, but I was really pleased with how mine turned out. I was a little confused though...after standing around all afternoon with her, watching her get compliment after compliment, and hearing virtually nothing about mine, I had begun to feel like my hat must not have been half as neato as I thought it was. It wasn't until much later that it hit me.
I'm too tall!

When I put on a pair of heels, I tower over 6 feet. I loomed over most men today. Paired with the fact that everyone was wearing a gigantic hat that obscured their peripheral vision, anyone standing close to me wouldn't be able to see the top of my head.
And everyone who did notice seemed to like it.

Laurel and I competed in the best ensemble competition, but we were beaten by the female incarnation of Uncle Sam. The girl was red, white, and blue from head to toe, complete with striped gloves and a matching iPhone case. She looked like a big bag of crazy, but it was a very fun outfit. I do feel sort of proud of the fact that we were the only two in attendance who had done anything to customize our hats. I was surprised, I really expected everyone would do the same.

This evening I stopped by the grocery store and picked up the theme ingredient for Josh and I's Kitchen Stadium post tomorrow. BEETS!
I have never cooked fresh beets, so I'm a little nervous. We'll see!

Friday, May 4, 2012

287. Color RUN?! HERE?!

August 18th.
Saint Louis.

It's coming!!!

I failed to register in time for Chi and KC. I failed. But it's coming to StL!!!
Registration starts on May 15th.
I'm there.

286. Tremendous Dynamite

Conclusion of a strange week.
Ok, maybe not so strange, but definitely long. Lots of training for my new job, meeting new people, learning new software. Coupled with trying to get a lot o' shit done for school...yeeaeaeaaeah. The end of the semester! Practically here. Just a few more days.

I made a new pal this week. His name is James, and he's been training me on all of this work-related stuff. James lives in Austin, TX, which probably automatically makes him cool. I don't know. I haven't been to Austin, but I would like to go there. All I know is that the kids who crawl out of that place seem so incredibly's a beautiful thing.

James likes the spoken word. Poetry. Helping under-privileged kids find their voice. James is also an actor, and yet he has no apparent ego. I like this about James. He headed home this evening, and I actually gave him my number so we can go see some spoken-word poetry nonsense the next time he's in StL.

I never give out my cell phone number. That should tell you something. James is solid.

The main point of this is this:
I love writing poetry. I do not do it often, and I do not do it enough to validate myself as a real poet. In fact, reading over my prior postings has me CRINGING at my lack of ability to rhyme. But at the same time, I feel passionately about the non-rhymy things I have written. Reading back over them, I am glad they exist, and I want to make more of them. 

Make at least one new poem while I'm off school in the next few weeks.
Doesn't matter, anything goes.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

285. Kitchen Stadium, Wishful Bookstore

Seems I'm not the only one who feels a foodie post is long overdue. Mr. Rowan has thrown down the gauntlet for another dual cooking blog-off. Challenge accepted, sir. I look forward to it!

Actually, that was probably the only reason for this post. Lame, huh?

I felt a need to step away from my values/cornerstone class final-essay-thing for a second. I'm writing a short narrative from the perspective of Torvald Helmer (Ibsen's A Doll's House). I'm kind of enjoying it; it's virtually stress free, worth very few points, and only about a page and a half long. It's also the first thing I've gotten to write in a while that smacks of creativity. For someone who can't come up with a plot to save her life, I sort of like being given exercises that get me started.

Related; I am long overdue for a book shopping expedition. I'm not sure when I last set foot inside a Barnes & Noble, but it's been too long. Three books in particular which have climbed to the top of my wishful longings list:

120 vegetarian recipes from Chef Yotam Ottolenghi.

By Ryu Mitsuse. Plato, Jesus Christ and Siddhartha star in what is supposedly, the greatest Japanese science fiction novel ever written.

Timothy Crouse of Rolling Stone covers the exploits of journalists following the 1972 presidential campaign.

Ok. That's all I've got. I'll be back soon.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

284. In Which it is OK to Drink on the Job

Usually company-wide stairwell meetings are the sorts of meetings everyone wishes they could think of a way to avoid. We all gather around the stairs because it's the only area in the building where everyone will fit, and then some VP takes the second floor landing and drones on and on about some bit of news which only affects us in the trickle-down sense. Most of the time, that news isn't very good. My company is actually doing quite well, but only on the software side. The health plan side has been struggling, and downsizing, and that's usually what these meetings have to do with.

Based on previous experience, I assumed today's meeting would be another snooze-fest. I wasn't expecting bad news, because it was a celebratory launch of some newly developed software. The celebration turned out to be bigger than I expected. Rather than the usual stairs, we were ushered into the main meeting room at the front of the building. There was food! And alcohol! And I was still getting paid while I drank my alcohol!

Not a bad way to end the day, considering I had been crawling out of my skin for the prior 7 hours in training for my new position.

Afterward, I came home and took Franklin for a run around the park. I didn't run as far as I would have liked, but I haven't had much time to run lately, it was 83 degrees, and I'd had 2 drinks an hour and a half beforehand.

I love my new neighborhood. My apartment is pretty nice too, but it's the neighborhood that makes it. Everyday I come home from work, take Frank straight outside, and go for at least a 30 minute walk. If I don't have class that night, we run. It makes a huge difference to Frank, who is stuck sitting in his crate for an unacceptable 10 hours a day, 5 days a week, and it helps me to shake off the corporate miseries.

As time goes on, I am less and less enamored with my current career path. I have no interest in what I do, but it pays well. I think that will improve somewhat once I finish training and get the hang of things, because I do enjoy solving problems...but even then, I don't think this is what I was meant to be doing. I kept trying to convince myself to go into IT or something because it pays well, and it's stable, and you use your brains all day long. But I'm ANTSY. I dislike the regimented schedule of breaks and lunches and being chained to a desk. Even as an admin, when I had more freedom, I was bored out of my mind. I really don't know what I should do instead, but I think my main goal has become paying off my credit card so that I can afford to be more choosy about my employment situation.

Things are progressing, but I feel like I'm not able to spend the time on school that I want to, much less need to. I can't afford to pay my bills and have enough left for groceries if I take much of a pay cut. So I'm trundling along, doing nothing remarkable, feeling like my entire life is passing me by while I slowly pick away at part 1 of my ultimate goal. My Associate's is going to take a total of 3 1/2 years, even with summer classes. I should be traveling the world, and buying a house, and really starting to find what I want to be doing with my life...I feel like it's really starting to eat at me in a bad way. I can be a very patient person, but patience only holds up for so long.

In other news, this blog is about due for another foodie post. Maybe this weekend, if I can find time. I have finals starting, so we'll see. There are just so many things I'm dying to make!