Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sturm und Drang Trooper

As promised, version one of the storm trooper cake project.

Yeah, it looks a little bit like a seagull was having some intestinal problems before flying into my house, but surely you can see... okay, so I won't have to pay royalties to Lucas any time soon.

That was done with a modified marshmallow fondant. Modified because I just can't follow directions ever. Anyhow, I think attempt number two will be with marzipan. Mostly because I like the taste.

On a brighter note, I made a really good salsa verde out of the tomatillos in the garden. However, it's a good idea to cut serrano chilis in half before roasting them because otherwise they plump up and explode. The oven may never be the same.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bits and Pieces (just like head cheese without the gelatin)

Ugh, I recently saw a picture of a slice of head cheese and I was truly disgusted. How does that qualify for the title of cheese? There's no cheese in that. I don't think they sell that around here. But yeah, this post is like that, except there's no tongue involved.

  • The fence: Hey, it's a work of art, all N-8 feet of it. There's just that last section that... is still not done. It's very weird, but I have faith that Hot and Hotter will return to finish if only because they haven't gotten paid yet.
  • The chiller for the aquarium arrived today. Yay! Unfortunately I am not feeling like figuring out the installation tonight, and I'd rather be around (and awake) when it's first installed, so I'm going to wait until the weekend to set it up.
  • It's Jojo the Enforcer's birthday today!
I've been reading a bunch of stuff about cakes lately (in preparation for the Lego/Star Wars birthday cake that will be made, and damn it Eric, we do too have enough talent to make it), including the absolutely hilarious Cake Wrecks. (Just go look up the origins of the phrase "Happy Falkersatherhood". Really. It will make your day.)

Anyhow, I was reminded of the first "special" cake I made, which was for Jojo's second birthday, which would have made me not quite thirteen. It was the first cake I'd ever made from scratch, and I hadn't really done any baking at all up to that point. I mixed it all up and put the pans in the oven, and then looked at it in dismay twenty minutes later. All the oil had risen to the top, and the solid components were flowing like lava at the bottom of the pan, with occasional gaseous burps. My mom took a look at it and asked "How much flour did you add?" and I replied "There wasn't any flour in the recipe." Well, yeah, there really was, I just missed that line. Whatever.

Try number two was better. Eventually it had pink icing and little marshmallow elephants held together by toothpicks. Sort of like Rvan's infamous "Spikes of Death" meal, but different. It just goes to show that you shouldn't even try to make a meal that requires toothpicks to stay together...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

On The Fence

So... for the last seven years, my neighbors (Jill & Larry) and I have agreed that we need a new fence. About once every three months we would repeat the same conversation. ("We really just need to replace this whole fence." "I agree.") And then we would nail another piece of wood to the drunken meanderings of rotting pine and forget about it for another while. Whole sections of the fence were held up by a) ivy, b) rope tied to a tree, or c) a rusting trampoline. I once stupidly trimmed an oak branch that was growing over the fence, then had to jump back when an eight foot section of fence came crashing down.

Anyhow I finally told my neighbors that I would pay for the fence if they would do all the arrangements for it. Sure, that doesn't make any sense from a monetary standpoint, but they currently don't have a lot of extra money, and I still have a hole in the overhang from where a branch crashed through it four years ago, so we know that I'll never call anyone. The thought of getting quotes and dealing with strangers just makes me want to go take a nap. (I really need a personal assistant to deal with this sort of thing -- but then I'd have to hire a personal assistant. You see the problem, right?)

Within two weeks Jill had hired someone. She gushed about the job this guy and his crew had done for a friend of hers.

Then I met Ponch, who looked like he ought to be modeling for "Fencers of the West" calendar. And then I met his ridiculously good looking co-worker who looked like he ought to just be modeling. And then I started to wonder if I was paying thousands of dollars for Jill to have a temporary cabana boy. I mean, as far as I know she and Larry are very happily married, but maybe that's what the housewives of Woodland do. Which would be fine and all, I guess, but we really do need a new fence.

Lucky for me, these guys actually seem to know what they are doing. I don't think I've seen more meticulous work. This fence is going to be a masterpiece.

I wonder if they do housework...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Reefer Madness (*)

We had a couple of cool days and I immediately decided that there was no way my nano-reef tank could possibly overheat (again) until next summer, so I ordered a bunch of coral. From Wisconsin, where there is apparently the Less-great Barrier Reef.

Anyhow, the package got shipped overnight via FedEx, and once again, I am amazed at the FedEx tracking system. No matter how long I procrastinate and stick around the house, they always manage to deliver the package fifteen minutes after I leave. Either they have a hidden GPS unit on my car, or there's someone hiding in the tree across the street with binoculars. It's uncanny.

So the box sat in the 90 degree heat all day until I came home. However, the company I bought it from deals with FedEx on a daily basis, so it was a packaging marvel, and it was so well insulated that the contents of the box were still cool. The plug of each piece of coral was rubber-banded to a square of styrofoam, and floated upside-down in a one-liter bag of water which was then quadruple bagged (which explains how five tiny pieces of coral had a shipping weight of 10 kilograms). Lots of thought went into this packaging, but it was still a long, rough trip.

At first glance I thought all the fragments were dead, but aside from one frag that fell off the plug and thus sloshed around in the bag unhindered, everything perked up within an hour of going in the tank. The problem child was all slimy and basically unhappy, but I'm crossing my fingers that it survives.

Here are some fuzzy pictures. (Surely this must be some defect in the camera, right? Maybe I need a different lens or something? Because this couldn't possibly be because I can't take a picture to save my life, right?)

With the lights on:

And with just the actinics:

(It looks much better in person -- the green really glows.)

And my favorite, the silver branch pumping xenia:

When the water is still enough you can see the individual branches moving.

In other news, some guy named Ponch is going to be putting up a new fence for me tomorrow. I'll miss going over to my neighbor's house at 11 pm because my dog has gotten through a gap in the fence and can't get back, but I guess somehow I'll survive...

* Thank you, Rvan, for coming up with the silly title of the day.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

I suck (no, really!)

So, tonight I did my first ever water change on the new reef tank.

Up to now the tank has been cycling and I haven't had any creatures (other than hitchhikers that came with the rocks) that needed protection from nitrates. But I tested my water last week, and the ammonia and nitrite levels were zero, so I ordered a "clean up crew" consisting of a couple of types of snails and some scarlet legged hermit crabs.

Ordering the invertebrates was a bit of a pain because most places require bulk purchases, which is what you would need for a 75 gallon tank, but not for a 14 gallon tank. But I finally found a place that would let me order a few at a time. I learned some things:
  1. I may have ordered a total of 8 creatures, but they sent almost twice that. I think they assume there will be some loss in shipping, probably because
  2. They sent me mail saying the order had been shipped six hours after it had been delivered to my porch where it sat all day long.
Despite this, everything survived. I had a bad moment when I looked in the bag with the hermit crabs and saw detached legs in one corner of the bag, but there are three shells and three hermit crabs with all of their legs, so either one of them molted, or a few extra parts were thrown in the bag for free.

Naturally, the next day I didn't turn on the air conditioning and it got over 100 degrees, and the tank was 90 degrees (optimal temperature is about 80 F) when I came home. But they all survived even that.

With all the extra snails, I was worried that some would starve to death, but these guys seem to be like a Caltrans road crew -- most of them are standing around doing nothing, and one snail is cleaning the heck out of the glass.

The wavy lines in the foreground are the cleaned areas.

Here's one of the hermit crabs. I don't know if they do anything to clean the tank, but it's fun to watch them climb around the rocks dragging the big shell behind them.

In any case, I needed to do my first water change, so I mixed up the salt water and then got ready to siphon out the two gallons of old water. I was going to just submerge part of the tubing and kink it off to get the siphon started, but the tubing I have doesn't kink well, so that didn't work. After five or six tried I realized that I was going to have to suck on the tube to get it started.

I don't remember the last time I siphoned something, but I do remember that it took a fair amount of vacuum. Maybe I was using defective tubing or something then, because when I sucked on the tube this time, the only reason I didn't get a mouthful of nasty salt water was that the tubing was five feet long.

(Okay, I'll pause here so you all can make all the hilarious dirty comments now and just get it over with.)

Anyhow, the water change went well, and I'll be ordering coral soon. Or, at least, as soon as I figure out how to keep the tank cool on hot days...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Cooking For Real People

Let’s face it – there are a whole lot of cooking shows out there already. Do we really need another one? I would argue yes we do, for the same reason that although there’s a lot of porn out on the internet (at least that’s what someone told me), what we really need is for the second season of Castle to bring back Nathan Fillion. (Monday, Sep 21 for those who haven’t yet marked your calendars.)

My point is, the current cooking shows on television are for people to sit on the couch and watch while the frozen pizza is in the oven. Nobody has kitchens like these chefs, and we sure as heck don’t have all the fancy cookware. Nobody I know would (intentionally) light something on fire in the kitchen. It’s all just food porn.

No, what we really need is a cooking show for people who not only don’t cook, but also don’t have anything that didn’t come from Target or Costco in their kitchen. A cooking show for real people.

Here’s what I would cover in the first episode of "Cooking for Real People":

  • Knives – yeah, yeah, we’ve all heard about how important it is to have the right knives, and a dull knife is more dangerous than a pit bull on meth, and blah, blah, blah. You know what I have? A set of serrated knives that I bought at Costco twenty years ago. Most of them are technically steak knives, but there’s also a cleaver (never used) and a bread knife (which I once used to shorten the pressboard when I goofed while putting the entertainment center together). I chop things every day, and I’ve never sharpened these knives. And I haven’t cut myself with them either since I finally stopped holding the bagel in one hand while slicing with the other. Fancy chefs are horrified by my knives, but I say screw ‘em. They work great.

  • Pam – Want to avoid greasy food? Don’t roll things around in a bowl of oil, just spray Pam on them. It’s faster and you don’t have to wash an extra dish. (That last bit is important when you only have two bowls of any decent size.) It’s just olive oil anyhow.

  • Old Spice – Not the cologne (although, that’s really something to avoid – I knew someone whose dorm room walls were basically rotting and he covered the odor by sprinkling Old Spice in the carpet – I will take the resulting stench with me to the grave). No, I’m talking about all the spices that came with the spice rack you bought two decades ago. Yeah, everything is over ten years old now, and those cooking show people keep trying to convince everyone to throw out spices older than six months. Those people are on crack. I don’t even go through that much salt in six months. It you can’t see bugs in it, I say it’s still good. Just add a little more than the recipe calls for. (But maybe not so much with nutmeg – I found that out this week.)

  • Measuring – This may be the only thing I agree with the chefs about – measuring is for wimps. The size of your palm doesn’t change. Figure out how much of your cupped hand is covered by a teaspoon and use that for measuring. Your prep time will decrease. Granted, every once in a while you may completely miss the mark, but you can always claim that the problem was that your spices were too old.

That’s it. The Food Network should be calling any moment now…

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Family That Keeps the One Year Old Out of the Toilet Together Stays Together

So, I went down to Orange County to visit family this weekend. It turns out that I am related to these people. Here are some highlights of the trip:

  • My dog came with me. Dogs aren't allowed in my parents' house. I slept in the garage with my dog. My parents' garage is cleaner than my house, but has many more mosquitoes.
  • It took my three year old nephew Aiden two days to get over the fact that I don't like garlic.
  • My 14 month old nephew went running back the hall with a remote control. After some discussion of who was supposed to be watching him, my sister-in-law followed him into the bathroom and gasped. Jojo the Enforcer (the little devil's mother) started laughing and said "I guarantee that means the remote is in the toilet."
  • When I left, K-poo was sitting on the bed with Aiden, flying a rocket ship to the Sticky Planet while following the pirate treasure map. Part of flying the rocket ship involved the three year old wearing K-poo's oversized white sunglasses and iPod earbuds. It was a good look for him.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Wasting Away Again In La La La La Land...

When are they going to invent a transporter already? This is the sort of thing I wonder as I'm stuck in traffic in LA. In order to visit family in Orange County, my choices are
  • Get locked up in a little metal box with horrible air and no personal space. And pay for the privilege.
  • Drive.
Driving really is the more attractive choice. Unfortunately, there really isn't a way to get from Sacramento to Orange County without going through LA.

Here is the Los Angeles that I know:

I see the same thing every time. In fact, traffic is all I see. I used to try to time things so that I would miss "rush hour", but then I realized that rush hour extends from 6am to 10 pm, and sometimes later.

It took roughly three hours to drive what should be a two hour drive through Los Angeles. I had lots of time to take pictures because this was my speed for a significant part of the trip:

Fortunately, my navigator doesn't mind stop and go traffic, so it was alright in the end...