Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Star Wars and Geek Knits

Spousal Unit and I have been watching Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy. One of the things that has most amazed me so far is the original concept art, done by Ralph McQuarrie, who passed away earlier this year.

I'd seen his work before, but I didn't realize what an impact his work had on the films overall - some designs followed his paintings down to the last detail. I'd love to have a copy of any of his pieces, but especially the ones I've posted here. (Click to see all the brilliant detail!)

Watching this documentary has somehow reminded me of an old knitting pattern I have, that I've never used. It's simple, and about time I made it: a knitted lightsaber.

This particular lightsaber pattern is for kids and dogs, hence the odd handle-to-saber proportion. I will, of course, make an adult-sized one, so that it doesn't look so much like a... well, you know.

Carbonscoring, the artist who designed those lightsabers, has an Etsy shop for the pattern, too. But the pattern I adore more is the Admiral Ackbar sock monkey. Delightful.

Other patterns you might enjoy, from Ravelry:

- Patterns for TIE fighters, R2-D2, stormtroopers, and more, all worked into hats, sweaters, socks, and hats (one link to rule them all!)

- The classic R2 beanie

- A baby Yoda hat for your little Jedi

- A crocheted Twi'lek hat

May the Gauge Be With You!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Vegas: Longest Acid Trip Ever

It wasn't long into our Vegas trip that I revoked Spousal Unit's camera privileges.

Once we landed, I felt the magic pretty quickly. One might imagine this is how an acid trip feels: the hotel lobby was full of floating flower balls. (If you could even call it a lobby. They might prefer "atrium.")

If that was impressive, I was completely floored by the view from our room on the 52nd floor. We could see forever.

Including the Vegas we lived in for a few years, I've never seen a place where grass looks so ridiculous; the natural landscape is completely barren, so all the greenery is man-made. See the big patch of grass near the window? A golf course. $500 per game.

We wandered the strip a little, and discovered some other cool things, like this siren motorcycle at Treasure Island...

...and a Sistine Chapel-esque ceiling at the Palazzo.

Then the event we all came for: The Beatles Cirque du Soleil.

We were not allowed to take pictures, of course; I got this one from here. What an incredible show - the energy in that hour and a half performance was so high, and the emotional response was amazing. I was practically in tears through the whole thing, just because of the sheer happiness of it all.

This picture was from the song Within You Without You, a George song. I may have mentioned before that George is my favorite Beatle; that may have influenced this being such an intense act in my eyes. Especially the line, "With our love, we could save the world."

Some people go to Vegas to gamble - I went for the art. Yeah, I could do that again.

But I'm glad I live the way I do. 

Friday, July 27, 2012


This weekend, I'm going to Vegas.

And now I have to clarify. I'm not going to Las Vegas, New Mexico, where I lived for several years. I'm going to the one in Nevada. The one with multiple neon signs and gambling that doesn't happen in tents on the side of the road. The one with a big street someone thought should be named "The Strip." Really, who thought that was a good idea?

There are two super-exciting parts of this trip for me. One is getting to stay in an amazing hotel with a view of the mountains.

The other is going farther west than I've ever gone before. A little at a time, I will make it all the way around the world. At this rate, it'll only take me another 30-60 years.

WAIT. I have one more thing to look forward to.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Wispy-Fun Scarf Action: Now With More Moon!

A couple of weeks ago, my sister had a birthday. I'd seen her wearing wispy little decorative scarves earlier in the summer - you know, back when you didn't want to wear nothing everywhere you went. And I thought to myself, hey, I could totally make her one of those.

So I did.

This is made with one of the earliest knitting patterns I memorized, a simple yarn over, knit two together. Then I weaved multicolored eyelash yarn through the holes. Simple, elegant, fun.

My most recent project is kind of an exercise in new techniques. The pattern is simple enough - something from my invaluable Knitting Stitch Bible.

(If you care at all, the pattern is called "Lace Wheels," though if anyone ever tried to use wheels shaped like this, they'd get called stupid pretty quickly.)

The new-to-me technique I want to use is to pick up stitches all the way around this scarf, once it's done, and knit frills for it in a different color - like green or orange. The edges will look similar to A Day in Venice, another beautiful shawl I want to make.

And just for fun, here's the view of the capitol from last night, when I accidentally walked the legs of the triangle rather than the hypotenuse to get home.

At least they were a nice pair of legs.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Exhaustion Leads to... This, Apparently

I'm not used to working a full week, but I'm in the midst of one right now. I don't usually complain about working a "whopping" 40 hours, and I know lots of people who work more than that in a week. But my leg and back pain, combined with moving and organizing an entire bookstore, results in a sore body and sore mind. I'm so done with thinking for the week, and it's only my Wednesday.

What this means is I'm not planning to think too much the rest of the week, so here, instead of witty commentaries, dry banter, and sharp analyses, you're going to get mass ridiculosity. I hope you can tolerate that for a week - I sure as hell won't have a problem with it.

For example...

- Here's a thneed someone knitted. A thneed, as you know, is a thing that everyone needs.

- A Silly Song, featuring Larry and some pirates

- A few terrible tattoos and some wonderful ones

- And a totally hilarious book you need to read.

Darth Vader and Son by Jeffrey Brown

Friday, July 20, 2012

Socially Awkward Bookseller is Awkward

Sometimes I think it would be safest for everyone in my life if I just introduced myself by saying, "Hello, my name is Allison. I am a socially inept human being. I shall now commence with the word vomit."

Even more helpful would be a t-shirt that just says "Socially Inept," a kind of do-not-feed-the-animals preventive sign to keep others from engaging me too closely in conversation. Especially on a weekend like this, when I'll be thrown into close proximity with more people than usual as the bookstore moves a block down, resulting in lots of weird moments when I run into the same people over and over again as I walk down the sidewalk. And then back again.

You can only say "Nice weather today" so many times to the same person before it becomes a weird and painfully obvious filler. Actually, you can only say it once. Which means I have to try really hard to remember everyone's faces. This should be fun.

Now comes the awkward moment in this blog where I realize I forgot to plan out anything else to write about this.

Crap. Um... How about this?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Killer Tofu with the Beets

Who remembers the TV show Doug? Furthermore, who remembers The Beets and their hit song Killer Tofu?

When we received our CSA a couple of weeks ago, it was full of beets. I'd never cooked them before, but I knew I wanted to create a dish to go with The Beets' song from the '90s.

The primary spice I used in this dish was Chinese five-spice powder, a mix of ginger, anise, cinnamon, fennel, and cloves. It went perfectly with the mildly sweet flavor of the beets - mine came from an Asian foods store.

When you use the beet greens, be sure to discard the stems and even de-stem a good portion of the leaves - the stems can be tough and bitter, and the sweetness is the best part of this dish. And when you cook the rice, rather than adding water, try some vegetable stock for flavor.

Killer Tofu
5 medium beets, sliced 1/8 inch thick
Greens of 5 beets, chopped
1 sweet onion, chopped
1/3 package of tofu, pressed and crumbled
5 egg whites or 3 whole eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups brown rice, cooked
1/2 tsp. ginger
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Five-spice powder

Lay the beets on a greased baking sheet. Brush each with a light coat of oil, then sprinkle generously with five-spice powder and a little salt. Bake at 400 degrees until just tender - about 10-12 minutes.

Meanwhile, you can chop the greens and onion. If you have a fresh sweet onion, be sure to use the greens, too. When the beets are done, toss the beets, greens, and onion together.

Combine the crumbled tofu and egg whites in a small bowl with the ginger and ground pepper. Layer the bottom of a well-greased 9x9 baking dish with rice, then sprinkle it with five-spice powder. On top, put the beet mix, then pour the tofu mix on top of that. The tofu should lay on top of the beets - do not stir. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt.

Doesn't look very appetizing right now, does it? I promise you, this is a very tasty dish.

Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, or until tofu is lightly browned.

Tofu may be a "strange bean curd," but there's no tastier way to eat it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Sunset Revival

 It's been a while since I posted one of these, huh? Enjoy this mini-vacation - pretend it's not just a sunset at James Madison Park you're seeing. You're on a donut-shaped tropical island. You're at an Australian oasis. You're on Lake Superior. You're in the backyard, feet dangling in the kiddie pool.

(I'm not here to judge what you consider a vacation - I'm just jump-starting your imagination.)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Books I Want: Glow and Spark

Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan 

About two years ago, I read an advance reader copy - an ARC, for short - of the book Glow. I was very impressed with this new-to-me author; Ryan has written some other books, so she's not a completely new author. But she is new to the intergalactic space opera, and she's done wonderfully with it so far.

One of the first things I noticed about Glow was that it had a terrible, terrible summary - though in a way, I was glad it was kind of awful, rather than giving away the book's biggest issues. According to the summary, this book is a love triangle in space, but it quickly became clear that it's a lot deeper than that. (This Kirkus review does a great job of summarizing without giving it away!)

Waverly (I hate that name) is headed for New Earth, along with everyone else on their ship. She's dating Kieran, and everyone figures they'll probably get married and have lots of fat, happy babies. (This is kind of a big pressure, as their survival on this new planet depends on massive reproduction.) Waverly's mostly happy; Seth, another kid her age, is in her peripheral vision.

Enter the New Horizon, their sister ship, which suddenly popped out of the nebula. There are no children at all aboard - all of their women have been rendered sterile. And they're getting desperate to have their own kids and help repopulate New Earth. (Though mostly, they're portrayed as an extreme version of baby crazy.)

I hadn't expected reproduction and religion in this young adult scifi, but there they were, cleverly debated and very well articulated from the start. In fact, I think these were Ryan's main focus for the series; these ships could be traveling underwater instead, and the ideas would still be the focus. (If you can manage to get past them, there are some fairly heavy science issues in this series - a punctured hull does not equate to "gentle breezes" on all decks.)

Despite the lack of hard science, I was also impressed with the realism of the kids on board the spaceship Empyrean - their emotional reactions all seemed very realistic. This trait continues in the second book, accurately depicting how those 15 and under might react if thrust into an adult job while dealing with the stress of sabotage and family issues at the same time.

That said, Kieran is a bit unrealistic in the first book, but he seems to gain ground in the second one. Waverly is easily the most developed character, though part of it might be that she faces more relatable issues aboard the New Horizon.

I had to wait two years for Spark to finally come out, and I think the wait was worth it. The same issues are pertinent here, but with a bit more focus on ship politics in the hands of teenagers. Characters are haunted by the recent past, and everyone is looking for someone to blame.

This is a series written for teenagers, which is part of why the faulty science and some weaker characters don't bother me as much. I view this series as a clever way to get teens to branch out their reading and consider some very heavy issues at the same time.

The Sky Catchers series is being compared left and right to The Hunger Games, and for very good reasons: there's high action, kids fighting in an enclosed space with limited weapons, and a higher adult authority to contend with. One of the big differences, though, is there is no clear good and evil, black and white. Everything is depicted in greyscale - I love that in a book.

Hang on, though - I have one more issue to bring up: the different covers. The cover of Spark shows the new cover theme: ladies with heavy eye makeup and sultry stares, pouting into the distance while their problems unfold behind them.

I hate how lackadaisical young adult covers are lately. Every girl on a book cover has outrageous makeup, a ridiculous dress, and/or is half dead. Enough. Why can't there be a cover that actually depicts what's in the book? Adults would not stand for this B.S.; why do marketers think teenagers don't give a damn? I can name at least half a dozen who would be ticked off by these cover themes. Here's a great in-depth analysis of YA covers - totally worth a look.

Friday, July 13, 2012


This is my real job.

Yesterday, a coworker and I went to sell books at an offsite event - at a country club. Knowing that, on its own, without knowing what kind of country club or anything, made me think, Yeah. This is going to be interesting. And unfortunately, I was right.

Country clubs can be good things, but generally only if you're a wealthy older white man with a nose so long you have no choice but to look down it at people, or if you married someone who fits that description. True, there are many nice people who belong to country clubs, people who give to charity and appreciate and respect all life, but they sure as hell weren't coming out of the woodwork yesterday.

We arrived at the club and pulled our massively unwieldy cart to our display table. I'm telling you the truth here: a lady with terrible (but probably expensive) taste in clothing came up to me, before I'd taken anything off the cart, and shoved her reconstructed nose in my face.

"How much are they, so people who want to can start writing checks?"

Because clearly, I was being very slow about my job. How dare I. We only had a whole hour before the event started, and there was a gigantic line at the table filled with nobody.

She backed off after being told that such information was still in the car (which it was, along with the calculator). After finally getting everything set up - including book prices - a well-dressed gentleman approached the table. He was perhaps 70 or 75.

"If I were to purchase some of these now, could you hold them for me until after lunch?"

Being a country club, this was a luncheon event, and I could understand him not wanting to keep the books under his chair while he ate. Despite that, we generally don't hold things for people at offsites - if one asks, others will seek similar treatment, and we'd end up with a mess of paid books mixed with unpaid books, a copy one person had paid for being shuffled away in the madness to someone else's stack. There were 200 people at this event - we just couldn't do it.

My coworker apologized. The gentleman said, "I've been here five minutes, and there's already a problem!"

He said it with what looked like a twinkle in his eye, so I smiled at him - a joke! Friendly banter! Maybe this place isn't so bad, I thought.

"So, you can't hold onto them?"

"I'm sorry," my coworker said again. "I don't want to be responsible -"

For losing them, she would have continued to explain, for your property being damaged. But the gentleman stopped her with a wrinkly finger in her face. "See, you're what's wrong with America today. Nobody wants to take responsibility." And he walked off to eat his three-course meal.

My coworker and I looked at each other, mouths hanging open.

I should point out here that the woman he said this to is about 60 years old. Such phrases are usually reserved for my generation and younger - if she's what's wrong with America, I don't want to know what I am. (Also, he seemed to have missed the fact that he was avoiding responsibility himself.)

That in itself would be enough of an experience at such a place. But more happened, as it always does.

After the luncheon began, we had a temporary respite until after the event, so we sat and listened. Observing people is something I've always loved, especially in such an unusual environment. One thing I noticed for sure was the head waitress: her all-black outfit set her apart, as did the running back and forth and her stress level, apparent on her face.

There were about 15 people on her wait staff, moving as quickly as they could to feed the growling masses, weaving between tables, working from front to back so that no one was missed. Any more people serving would have resulted in deadly collisions, lettuce and fruit bathing the diners in a rather unsavory manner. (Several of those collisions nearly happened anyway.)

One thing was certain: they were working very hard. And then someone got up to introduce the author.

I couldn't see the man from out in the hallway, where the help was seated. I had no idea what he looked like, or who he was. He could have been the mayor, for all I know. As he began speaking on the PA, loudly, I realized I didn't need to know who he was.

"May I have your attention? Don't feel like you have to stop eating - the service is rather slow today, so just go right ahead and eat while I talk."

No jest - he said it in all seriousness. With some of the wait staff in the room. I didn't need to know who he was, because after he said that, I knew he was just a mannerless slob. With such an incredible number of asses in one place, you'd have thought it was a barn instead of a country club.

But the irresponsible gentleman did come back afterward, to buy three copies of the book. I guess that's something.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

I Love My CSA

This is a giant radish we got in our community-supported agriculture (CSA) box a couple of weeks ago - just one of many reasons I love getting a big box of fresh veggies every other week. You'd never find a radish like this in a store, nor would it be quite so fresh. Hooray Circle M Farm!

Spousal Unit and I have gotten three of our ten summer boxes now, and I'm pretty happy with our choice thus far. How many CSAs let you go to the farm and work off what you owe for the veggies? We've gone once, with friends, and it was so cool to know we helped pick the sugar snap peas that came back to us - almost like when I went to Grandma and Grandpa's, picked a bucket of berries, and came back to the house to eat them over fresh biscuits. Sorry, CSA, but no matter how awesome you get, nothing beats the food my grandpa grows.

On top of that were all the animals we got to see. I miss my days on the alpaca ranch sometimes, and it was nice to see fuzzy critters again.

A little calf nomming Kaelin's hand/arm 

One of these fuzzballs came home with me! 

(No goats were harmed in the taking of this picture. 
Or after. At least, not because of that orange cord. 
I'm not sure if this guy is a meat goat.)

More people should partake of CSAs, I think. It's an all-around win: you know the farmer who grew your food, sometimes you get to help, money stays in the community, and you get farm-fresh veggies straight out of the ground, often pesticide-free.

Ours gave us a choice between a smaller or a larger box. Being vegetarians, we chose the larger one, and I'm glad we did. I recently cooked with turnips for the first time ever, too - and I decided I love them. I made them scalloped, like potatoes, and they tasted incredible. Why would I ever make them with potatoes again, when something like turnips gives them much more flavor? On top of that, I used the whole turnip to make them, greens and all. What an incredible veggie.

Of course, not everything's always a win. I've learned that I hate cilantro, much to Spousal Unit's dismay, and so I don't really use it, except for salsa. And his eggs. But these situations can be positive, too - give it away or trade something you won't use when you pick up your share. Pass it on to a friend who can't get enough of it.

You will have plenty of other noms to make your shares worth it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Two By Two, Hands of Blue

This morning, I head to the Dentist of Doom to get two fillings.

I'm not too concerned about the dentist himself; he speaks like an evening jazz DJ, calming and reassuring. It's the assistants that kind of have me worried. When I went for a cleaning a few weeks ago, one of them flossed me like she was wielding a giant chainsaw.

I'm nervous in general because I've never had fillings before. (This is what comes of not having been to the dentist in three years. Huzzah for finally having insurance.) I hear that fillings aren't supposed to hurt, but I've also heard that they can go badly. I had my wisdom teeth pulled in high school, one of which decided at the last moment that I was its best friend in all the world and we were inseparable. It took a dozen shots of novocaine and my former dentist's foot braced against my jaw to pull it out.

The new dentist had me fill out a three-page form, one question being about negative dental experiences, which I described in three-part harmony with full orchestration. (I also checked the box that said, "Yes, I have seen a shrink. Now please pick my teeth." Um, weird.)

This visit will be different, I keep telling myself. Mainly because I'm not having teeth pulled. But here's what's going through my head anyway:

When I walk through the door, everything will appear normal... until the assistant checks me in. Then she will stand up, a giant black cape unfurling behind her, and plastic Dracula teeth grinning at me from the depths of her cackling mouth.

She'll guide me through the door to the back, above which the words, "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here" will be emblazoned. It may or may not burst into flames as I pass through.

At the dental station, once I'm firmly strapped into the ever-reclining chair, ten spotlights will shine into my eyes at once as the dentist interrogates me about the last couple of weeks. Have I been flossing since I was last in? Have I been eating well? Does my shrink know how terrible my teeth are?


And then come out the gloves. Two by two, hands of blue will pry open my jaws, forcibly holding me down as my limbs flail spastically in all directions. While filling my mouth with cement, the dentist will exclaim, "Why look! We've missed some of your other rotting teeth! Let's just fill ALL OF THEM!"

His laugh will roll like thunder above my cries of terror.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Nostalgia on the Brain

When I was little, I had lots of tapes full of weird, fun music. One tape I especially loved was called The Music Machine, and it taught the Fruit of the Spirit (not to be confused with Fruit of the Loom): Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, Kindness, and Self-Control. Each had a song to go with it, and the one that still sticks with me is the song for Patience, about Herbert the snail.

I mentioned I'm Too Full For Broccoli by Joe Scruggs in an earlier post commemorating cassettes. My favorite was Oh By the Way, but that one hasn't been deemed fit for mass viewing (meaning it's not on YouTube). I had a tape full of Joe Scruggs songs, and I listened to it almost to the breaking point.

Some kids listened to Raffi; I was no exception. Baby Beluga was one of my favorite bedtime songs.

Remember Peter, Paul, and Mary? Puff the Magic Dragon was great, of course, but the one I still listen to over and over again is The Marvelous Toy.

I bet a lot of you still remember the hand motions for Sharon, Lois, and Brahm's Elephant Show! (Quite different from the hand motions we learned as we grew up...)

Keep an eye out on the Deviant Dispatches Facebook page this week - I'll be posting more awesome kids' music from the '80s!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Rising Above Consumerism

Many bookstores these days are required to carry more than just books in order to stay afloat as a store. You probably know that already - think of your last trip to one. What did you see? Probably cards, puzzles, stuffed animals, jewelry, bookmarks, book lights, and other little kitsch items.

It's when I'm receiving things like this, elbow-deep in price stickers and plastic and marketing, that I get disgusted at the consumerism and greed in our society.

Don't get me wrong; these things are not the bookstore's fault. It's a societal demand that results in bookstores stocking things like spidery head massagers and decks of literary-themed cards. But the fact remains that our society feels the need for these things. We give people useless gifts, so that we can give them something. We buy ourselves that new sweater or cool toy, not because we need it really, but because it's on sale and we want more - sometimes because we're enthralled with it at the moment, sometimes to fill a void, sometimes just to have it.

Working with so many cheap, useless things makes me think of other uselessness: Happy Meal toys that are treasured for an hour, then lost at the bottom of a massive wooden chest. Decorative knick knacks that accumulate dust in a corner. Clothing that we haven't worn in years, piled up in the closet - I have plenty of that myself.

When you're at home this weekend, think about all the stuff you have that you don't really need. Does it make you happy to have it? If it doesn't bring you joy each time you see it, chances are you can live without it. Make a pile. Take it to Goodwill, or Salvation Army. Post it on your local Freecycle, and someone who needs it will come take it off your hands (and you'll be amazed at what people will take if it's free).

By the end of the weekend, you'll have less clutter and more room to enjoy the things that really matter to you. My junk corner includes yarn I'll never use, old candle holders, craft items that aren't my style. If someone else can use them, I'm happy to pass them on.

And then, I won't be reminded of our ridiculous society every time I look at them. I can enjoy a society of my own design, that doesn't require stuff in order to achieve happiness.

At least until I go back to work and am once again knee high in flotsam and jetsam.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Fixing a (Word) Hole

I've at last completed number 13 on my list of 25 things to do before my birthday in October: finish a crossword puzzle.

The proof is in the... picture...

My original goal was to complete one entirely alone, without outside help from any persons or internets. But I realized most people get at least a little help from someone while completing these, so I gave myself some slack and accepted Spousal Unit's help when I needed it.

He may tell you that he completed up to half of the crossword for me. This is what we call lying, kids, and it's a very bad thing to do. I finished half the crossword before I even asked for his help, and even then, I didn't really need it. As we all know, I don't really need help. I just like the strangulatory hug a strait jacket gives me.

Anyway. Most of the reason I was able to finish this was because of the theme: Beatles songs turned into horrible insect puns, such as Ant Buy Me Love, I Bee Mine, and Cricket to Ride. Usually, the long, punny ones are what keep me from completing crosswords - now I know they're all just terrible, overreaching jokes with neither shame nor self-respect.

That should help next time I want to do a crossword. Which might be never.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Letter to the Weather

Dear Weather,

You are such a tease.

I see those clouds you put up in the sky this morning. Nice decorating, I've got to say, but unfortunately, I know they're all for show. You're a vain beast, Weather.

I wrote a letter last summer to your evil genius partner, The Heat. Not long afterward, he got the hint and chilled out for a while. How about you, Weather? A hundred degrees for a week straight? Come on already! All we're asking for here is some gentle rain for a few days - maybe at a temperature that won't make it evaporate before hitting the ground.

I know this might be a problem for you. Your close friend, Hell, has been visiting for weeks now. I know you like to make things comfortable for that wretched beast. But guess what? No matter what you do for that psycho, he'll still sell you out to Vader and make you work for the powers of evil. You'll be forced into cahoots with the Dark Side, and next thing you know, there's a wrinkled-ass Emperor bitching at you about the exhaust shaft you forgot to cover up. I've been there; I know how these things work.

You're better than that, Weather. You have such potential. You could train many little molecules in the ways of cool air currents, and you could teach hydrogen and oxygen about those very important three-ways called water. You could soothe this parched land and be a harbinger of Light, without burning everything in your path. It is possible.

But I still have a bad feeling about this, for some reason.

One of millions of crispified humans,

Monday, July 2, 2012

Spice Things Up

Spousal Unit and I found an awesome spice rack this weekend. I'm way excited.

We came across it at Saver's, which further convinces me that second-hand shopping is the best thing in the universe. At no other stores can you find such an odd collection of knick knacks, bizarre clothing, and cheap furniture.

The twelve little bottles (I've only filled four of them so far) evoke such a sense of an apothecary, with their little wooden rack. Spousal Unit said they reminded him of Practical Magic, and that I should replace one of the labels with "Eye of Newt" or some such thing. I certainly won't peel these labels off, but if one falls off someday...

Spices are my favorite thing about cooking. I believe that the spices you add to something can make or break the dish. If you can master which spices to add, when, and what amount, your recipes and experiments will pretty much always be delightful.

(I say "pretty much always" because even though I've gotten pretty good with spices, I still have dud soups and crappy stir fries. Usually still edible, but flavorless food is no fun.)

One of my favorite examples of Spice Power is my recipe for baking powder biscuits. They're good plain, but adding spices can make them into something wholly different - and perfectly matched to almost any meal. I always just guesstimate how much of any spice to add - if you're making these, start out with a teaspoon or so to see how flavorful a result you get, and then increase in subsequent trials. I prefer very strong flavors, so I'd say I use about 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons of spices.

Some of my favorite biscuits include:
   - Cheddar and black pepper: add ground pepper and 1/3 cup shredded cheese to the dry ingredients
   - Cheddar and cumin: follow same steps as above, but with cumin instead of pepper - or, try it with the pepper, too. Excellent with Mexican/Spanish dishes.
   - Cinnamon: add cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg to the dry ingredients, and 1/2 tsp vanilla to the milk. Glaze with equal parts milk and sugar before baking for a delightful breakfast biscuit.
   - Oregano and garlic: use 2 medium cloves fresh garlic, minced or pressed, for extra garlic-y goodness (add to dry ingredients)
   - Dill and onion: add 3/4 tsp dill and 1/4 c onion - these are especially good if you have green onion, or even garlic scapes

Baking Powder Biscuits
1 c. white flour
1 c. wheat flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 c. canola or vegetable oil
1 c. buttermilk or sour milk*

Mix all dry ingredients, including any spices you wish to add. Using a pastry blender or a fork, cut in the oil until mixture resembles crumbs. Make a well in the center and add the milk all at once. Stir just until moistened.

Grease a baking sheet and drop biscuits about one inch apart. Bake at 450 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes or till the tops are slightly golden. Serve hot, or freeze until you need them.

*Make sour milk by starting with 1 Tbsp lemon juice. Add enough milk to make 1 cup. Let sit for five minutes before using. Some will say you can use vinegar instead of lemon juice, but I much prefer the lemon.
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