Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Golden Sun

I wrote an excellent blog this morning, but at the last minute, I've decided to save it for later. So instead, you get this. I took it last week, before all of Wisconsin became a winter wonderland again.





Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Future Perfect Head 'Splody

At work yesterday, I had to deal with lots of future perfect tense. For those of you who are unaware, the future perfect tense goes something like this:

At this time tomorrow, I will have been attacked by velociraptors.

Future perfect tense is used when talking about the future, but in a historical sense. I know - it makes my head hurt, too. Which is why, when I ran across a sentence with an extra verb in it, my head almost exploded.

I couldn't figure out what to do with it for quite a while, and then I subverted the issue entirely by just removing the second verb. I was so pleased with myself for it that I came up with an excellent slogan.

Copy Editors
Will have been subverting future perfect
since tomorrow

Awesome, right?

...Okay, fine. It's excellent to linguists and writers. Everyone else is taking a step back to avoid having geek spilled on them.

Monday, January 28, 2013

One Crust to Rule Them All

I have a new favorite pizza crust recipe. My old favorite recipe was very biscuit-like, with lots of crunch on the outside and soft poof on the interior. Its main problems were in being so crunchy and falling prey to pizza's Enemy Number One: sogginess.

Sog does not a good pizza make.

Going through my recipes one day, I ran across some recipe sheets meant to be kept in a three-ring binder that were floating free. I think they were random junk mail I received several years ago, and I kept some that looked decent. One was for a yeast-based pizza crust.

Before this new recipe, the only other yeast crust I'd tried took forever. It's yeast, after all, and requires time to rise. I was under the impression that all recipes were that obnoxious, but apparently I was wrong. This crust is just as easy as the biscuit crust, but with a delicious bread-y quality: it rises well, is soft all around, and does a marvelous job of not getting uber-soaked in the sauce.


Amazing Pizza Crust
1 1/2 c. white flour
1 c. wheat flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 pkg. (1/4 oz.) dry yeast
1 c. water, lukewarm(ish)
1 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. olive oil

Mix together flours, salt, and yeast. Make a well in the mixture and add all of the oil and the water (I find the crust turns out better if the water is a bit warmer than lukewarm). Mix till you have a dough. Knead it gently (with extra flour, if needed) and press into a greased pan - either a 12-inch pizza pan or a 12x9 cookie sheet. Cover and allow to rise for 10 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Bake the crust for 5 to 7 minutes. Add whatever toppings you'd like - the picture above features an olive and garlic pizza sprinkled with Italian seasoning. I like to sprinkle it with whatever pre-shredded six-cheese mix is on sale. Bake another 15 to 20 minutes or until perfectly golden. Slice and nom.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Why I Wish (in a way) the Equinox Wasn't Coming

While I love that, even if the weather is frigid, the winter darkness is slowly melting away, it does make me a little sad. Right now, the sun rises just as I do, and I get to see the glory of sunrise first thing in the morning. 


A spectacle like that makes a day start off well.

But as spring draws near, the sun will rise earlier and earlier, while I will continue to be a comparative lazybones who doesn't get up until 6:30. I'll no longer see the sunrise every morning.

On the flip side, I will get to see the sunset. Right now, it finishes setting on the drive home, so I only catch a hint of the spectacular colors that once were. Soon enough, I'll be able to see it from my dining room every night.

But that doesn't mean I won't miss the sunrise.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Kidney-Shaped Mess Where My Heart Should Be

Last night, I took up a new knitting project. I was thinking of a relative I haven't seen in a while, and I wanted to knit something to show I was thinking of her. Many might think that, in deciding on a string of knitted, stuffed hearts, I fell prey to corporate marketing. Many more might agree, as I chose pink alpaca yarn for this craft. Honestly, I was just throwing together something I thought this relative would enjoy. Nothing more.

I admit to being a bit distracted as I worked. We were watching Alien.

Yes, Alien.

I have made a mental note to myself that scifi thrillers are not conducive to good knitting, at least on first viewing.

I began the project (chosen from here) with no problems whatsoever. The stitches fell into place easily; the instructions were easy to understand. But with all of the hosting and egg-laying and gnashing of teeth on the TV screen, I missed a vital step in knitting the first heart: I forgot to knit every other row without adding on any stitches.

At first, as I finished the top of the heart, it didn't look so bad. It was fairly heart-shaped. A bit on the wonky side, at half the height it should have been, but it would work.

Or so I thought, until I stuffed it.


In this picture, you can see exactly where I went wrong. There's not much of a point at the bottom of this heart. It does still look a bit like what I was going for... At least, until you turn it on its side.


Clearly, all I've made is a very loving kidney.


At least the cats have a fun new toy.


(Blog title thanks to the Magnetic Fields song The Cactus Where Your Heart Should Be.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Ultimate in Stink Engineering

With the addition of two cats to our household, I've been noticing smells a lot more lately, which has made me want candles. I usually have a few on hand, but my winter stash of cinnamon and pumpkin scents is running low, so I want to explore for other delightful fragrances. Naturally, this makes me wonder what the stinkiest, most disgusting candles in the world smell like.

After smelling a few last night, I know I definitely hate mixed berry candles; I hate that combo as yogurt, and it would make me puke as a household scent. But the bacon candle might be worse.


If you want your house to smell like bacon, then make bacon. Simplest solution in the world.

This link talks about a series of candles designed to smell like New York at certain places and times in history. Some are meant to smell like tar and paint thinner. Unsurprisingly, the only ones still available in that series are the ones that don't make you want to die. (Though black pepper and grapefruit might come close.)

I picked up one last night called "Sea Grass." As far as candle names go, that one is horrible. It's a cross of eucalyptus and a hint of cucumber melon, with some mint thrown in, I think. Apparently, no one surveyed the manatees when they engineered it.

I personally can't stand anything vanilla scented. I'm good with the flavor in my food, but the candles smell like your kitchen caught fire and then threw up. Way too strong. And I've learned to love coconut milk in curry, but I hate actual coconut, which leads me to believe I'd also hate this Almond Joy scented candle.

I definitely know my preferred smells. Food candles apparently rank very low on my list.

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Letter to the Cats

Dear cats,

Look at you there, pretending you're adorable when you're unconscious and cuddling with a knitted GIR.


I am not fooled.

Yes, your cuteness abounds. Your fuzzy faces are sweet, and you are so fun to watch when you play. But you have much to learn, young Jedi. Fear leads to hate, hate leads to anger, and excessive meowing leads to suffering on my part. Just listen to you.


On this occasion, it was rather cute, to hear you beg and beg as I prepared your dinner - Titania, you are an especially skilled biped. But lately, both of you - yes, even Oberon - have taken to whining whenever I'm in the kitchen, regardless of how recently you've been fed.

The kitchen has people-food, too. Get used to it.

I know you'll probably get over your obsessive nature in time, once you realize that we will always feed you when it's time, give you treats on a daily basis, and rub your bellies when you're drowsy enough to like it. In the meantime, our neighbors are going to think we're beating you with hammers. You are so whiny. 

Titania, you're an especially guilty party. Yesterday, you whined at me the entire time I made chocolate chip cookies. After you'd had your dinner. Your vocalizations of misery resounded with such pain and despair, a casual listener might think we were torturing you.


I promise, we will feed you. Always.

Now be quiet.

Sincerely,
Your food-human and loving servant,
Allison

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Soup Has Failed Me

Earlier this week, I tried to make split pea soup in the crock pot.

Tried.

I've been trying to use the crock pot more often lately; it's been hard, with my new work schedule, to walk in the door at 5:30 and try to figure out whether I have the ingredients for a particular dish. On the morning of the split pea soup, I tossed the remaining lentils into the Instant Meal God, along with some rice, frozen broccoli, onion, spices, and a spoonful of bacon fat, for flavor. I added a few cups of veggie broth and walked out the door for the day.

I always try to make soups that are more stew-like, because Spousal Unit is fond of saying, "Soup is just wet food." Meaning he doesn't like soup. Unfortunately for him, soup is one of the easiest things in the world to make, and almost the only meal I can make in a crock pot. (So far - I have a few recipes I want to try, though.) This split pea soup was no exception, but I had added a bit more water than usual, due to the rice and lentils needing to soak it up.

Unfortunately, it was only when I got home and lifted the slow cooker lid that I remembered what happens to lentils when you cook them a long time: they break down and turn into dal, an Indian stew that basically looks like a thick lentil mash.

And despite the fact that I used red lentils, this lentil mash was green. The broccoli I'd hurriedly added wasn't full florets, like I'd hoped - it was shredded. So now I had a really sickly green accidental dal for dinner.

"Um, Spousal Unit," I said as I stirred, "Turns out dinner is less like a stew and more like a... glop."

"Awesome," he said. And he totally meant it.

Ten minutes and one package of baked refrigerator biscuits later, we discovered it actually tasted good, with a little garam masala sprinkled on it. So even though I completely failed at what I wanted to make, it still turned out delicious.

Win.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Tastes Like Indoor Chicken?

I really have no idea what "indoor chicken flavor" cat treats taste like, and I don't want to know.


I'm also curious about Titania's seating choice.


But I'm not one to hate on a person (or cat) for their lifestyle choices. Sit wherever you want, cat.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Moment of Brilliance

Last night, Spousal Unit and I made a couple of stops after work. We meandered home later than usual, full of lively conversation, as we often are after work. After nearly four months of car pooling, we still have things to talk about on the drive. After eight years together, we still have stories to regale one another.

I drove into the parking lot and pulled into a spot, frigid with ice and twilight. I swirled away my skirt and long coat as I rose, slipping keys into purse and chill breath into lungs. But the sound of the car door closing? I don't remember that.

I don't remember it because as the door closed, I looked up, toward the south. The light extended this evening, the first clear promise of eventual spring, and a sliver of moon shone in the sky during our drive. I could forever say this was the reason I looked up, but the truth is, looking up is what I've always done. My dreaming mind is in the stars, and in seeing them, I see all I am and all I want to be, reflected.

Last night, I looked up, as I often do, and in the darkened sky there appeared a flash of white. At first, it was a brief pinstripe, but it expanded into a wide burst of orange, an ignited flame stretching across miles of sky. It was eternal, it was breathtaking, it was the most gorgeous meteor I've ever seen. And it didn't even last a full second.

The memory, even now, takes my breath away. How could I chance upon such brilliance? Imagine the timing in place so I could see that streak burn into the black. Imagine the exact turn of my head, to see such a shooting star from beginning to end.

Imagine that object's size, to have been so bright and lasted so comparatively long. It was like nothing I've ever seen; it may have been like nothing I'll see again.

Sometimes, it's the seemingly smallest things - burning out their brilliant existence in milliseconds - that make me feel luckiest of all.

Friday, January 11, 2013

One of These Things is Not Like the Other

I have two things to tell you about today. One of them is thrilling like getting caught in a cool rain on a hot day. The other one is thrilling like discovering something at the back of the fridge has turned an unusual color.

This week, I made brussels sprouts. (You already know which one this is, don't you? Damn. I tried so hard to make it a guessing game.)

We realized, heading home last night, that we had no vegetables at home.

"What kind of vegetarians are we?" the two of us wondered, missing our summer CSA. So we stopped at Aldi for cauliflower, radishes, and, of course, brussels sprouts.

This is how they grow, in case you were wondering. I know I was.


I've never made brussels sprouts before, so this was interesting. I charred them in butter and leftover bacon fat (yes, I saved it from the lovely CSA bacon we had a week ago), then let them simmer in veggie broth for four minutes and added salt. Spousal Unit, who's had them before, said they were very good. I had a hard time telling, as I didn't know what they should taste like.


They were... okay. I could see myself liking them once I get used to the unusual flavor. And there are more in the fridge, so I definitely have that chance.

The other thing Spousal Unit and I did this week (and, I think, the more exciting thing) was naming the cats.

This is Oberon... 

...and this is Titania.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Skullcap Scullcap and New Needles

Dear Internets: I have made a hat. Is it not sweet?


I was slightly bored one night just after Christmas, but still feeling the spirit of the season. I spliced this skull-and-crossbones hat together from two patterns: the skull flap hat by So Much Yarn, So Little Time and the Kim's Hats pattern from Last-Minute Knitted Gifts by Joelle Hoverson. I've mentioned this book to you many times, because it is awesome, of course - I love every pattern in it. This hat is further proof that you can do anything with the pattern.


Even the skulls are wearing little skullcaps!

Knitted on size 8 needles (just like all the other hats I've made) with Caron yarn. It has wee pom at the end of each flap-string, too.

In other knitting news, here is one of my Christmas gifts, from my mama-in-law: three sets of needles in a gorgeous box.



They are made of huaranguito wood, in sizes 8, 10 1/2, and 13. I've only used the size 8 so far, but they knit well, with a slightly rougher texture than my bamboo needles - excellent for slippery yarns.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Eighth Anniversary

Today is my second married anniversary with Spousal Unit. Tonight, we're just having a quiet evening with Harry Potter and a bottle of wine. In ten days, we'll celebrate our eighth anniversary together. So far, it's been nice having two of them; we get to choose which one is more convenient to make a big deal out of, but we can still celebrate both.

This picture is from before we had anniversaries together, but turned out to be the first big thing we celebrated (aside from our month-aversaries).


We're sitting in an old phone booth in my college dorm - the pink fluff sticking out of the wall is where the phone used to hang, presumably. Spousal Unit (then Boy I Liked in the Spring) wasn't even expected to show up that semester - it was September, and he was supposedly in France for four months. But this day, he showed up at the car wash fundraiser my sorority was hosting. I didn't recognize him from the back, with his new haircut, but when he turned, something in me clicked into place.

That was when I realized the summer had done nothing to temper my feelings for him. Crushes in between had been just that, but for him, I felt something different.

Oh crap, I'm in trouble, I thought as I turned away from him. Tears sprung to my eyes at how thrilled I was for him to suddenly be there, and at the intensity of that click in my heart. One of my sorority sisters asked what was wrong, and I mumbled something about how I still liked him.

At this point, we'd only really spent time together at the spring formal dance - the one to which he wore a dress (which is a different story). All the other time together was mostly with other friends, too.

By the end of this brief weekend, we'd shared our first kiss and whispered ideas about what might happen on his return, if neither of us had found someone yet. And while he was gone, I recited this poem to myself, over and over.

Little Elegy by Keith Althaus


Even the stars wear out.
Their great engines fail.
The unapproachable roar
and heat subside.
And wind blows across
the hole in the sky
with a noise like a boy
playing on an empty bottle.
It is an owl, or a train.
You hear it underground.
Where the worms live
that can be cut in half
and start over
again and again.
Their heart must be
in two places at once, like mine.



Those months were nerve-wracking, exciting, and terrifying. But when he came back, our happy ending began.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Tortie and the Fainting Goat; or, Our New Cats

Spousal Unit and I have kitties!

Cats, to be precise. We found them at a shelter, about a week ago, and when we finally decided which ones we wanted (two of the shyest), I went nuts with some kind of weird maternal nesting. It was bizarre. I even made these toys.


I'm glad the mouse turned out well; at first, it looked like a snake that had just eaten a mouse.

When our library was finally cat-proofed, bedded, and litterful, we went to pick them up. The ladies at the shelter had rather intense cases of "crazy cat lady," to the extent that, when Spousal Unit asked if the cats came with collars, one snipped, "Why do you want collars? Are they going to be outside? You don't need collars. They're microchipped. You're not going to let them outside, are you?"

Talk about freak-out.

The ride home was kind of nerve-wracking for the poor things (though the boy cat didn't move and didn't make a peep), but kind of exciting for us. They're finally getting more comfortable here, and they are less nervous exploring.


The girl is the tortoiseshell on the rocking chair; the boy is the black and white by the ottoman.


The boy is likely to be named Oberon or Romeo. So far, we know he's an attention whore and loves to be petted. He's more like a hunter when he plays, going for the kill on the mouse's body. He's also more of a scaredy cat, which we didn't expect - we thought he'd be the explorer. But once he's ready to explore somewhere, he's pretty confident in it.

He also laid in the litter box for the first hour or two after creeping from the carrier, meaning he was pretty scared. But aside from that, it was hard to tell. He hunkers down when he's afraid, and doesn't move. Kind of like a fainting goat.


He plays more like a dog though, and loves to lick us while we're petting him. So he's half dog, half fainting goat. Strange; I thought we were getting a cat.


I'm still debating on a name for the girl. I really liked Titania at first, till I said it outloud a few times. Lenore is anther possibility, though it doesn't fit her character well.

She was the first one to explore when we set her loose, and she's the troublemaker, too. She's knocked multiple books off shelves and tried to eat three of the plants. But she's quite skittish, too, and seems afraid of feet. We were told both of these cats were strays, but I think she had trouble in a home before that. She doesn't like being petted unless she's half-asleep; I think once she realizes we won't hurt her, she'll like it better.

Both have their left ears clipped (because they are spayed/neutered). The boy cat must have gotten into some fights, because he has a strange notch in the other one, too. They seem to get along fine so far, and have even been comfortable enough to play for a while.

Hopefully, they will be happy in their new home with us.

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Frosty Sunrise

I woke this frigid morning to find Jack Frost had visited my patio door in the night - the gateway to all my sunrises. The delicate patterns were starkly gorgeous, especially against a creamy orange glow, so I couldn't resist sharing them. I've increased the contrast quite a bit so you can see the details more clearly.



Below is a detail of the previous shot. My favorite part is the little curl in the middle of the top pattern.



Here's another detail of the previous shot. (Be sure to click on these to enlarge them.)


Thursday, January 3, 2013

From One Excitement to Another

When I was little and we went to my grandparents', coffee time was both something I loved and something that bored me. I loved it because that was when the homemade cookies came out - Sally Ann, chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin. In the hot summers, sometimes there was ice cream or popsicles, or even fresh strawberry shortcake. In the cold winter, there was warm apple crisp.

Before I had sisters old enough to play with, I got bored with coffee time because the adults would sit around and talk. And talk, and talk, and talk, like there was nothing better in the world and they had endless things to say. Now that I'm older, I share that feeling (and even have coffee, on occasion). But at the time, as a four- or five-year-old, I couldn't wait to be excused so I could run downstairs and play.

My grandparents had (and still have) the best places in the world for a kid to play. They have an orchard on the hill behind the house, a delicious garden out front, a creek across the road, and lots of yard in between. I loved to run around barefoot in the dirt or grass, but the basement was a treasure, too. They had a pool table, a dart board, and a closet full of old toys, begging to be brought to life.

The closet's pull-chain light was even a thing of mythology. Later, when my sisters came along, I thought to ask if my mom and her six siblings ever had a rivalry.

"Oh, of course we did," she told me on more than one occasion. "Once, one of my brothers took my Barbie and tied the toy closet's pull-chain around her neck, so that when I turned on the light, I grabbed the Barbie instead of the chain." She always laughs when she tells this story. "I cried and cried."

One of my early favorite toys in the toy closet was a simple but enormous jar of marbles. But by the time my siblings came around, it was the Green Bay Packers helmet. My sisters and I would tie pillows to ourselves and take turns wearing the helmet, tackling each other on the hard basement floor (as the adults grimaced with each sack). Luckily, we never cracked our heads open, and we got to be linebackers for a brief afternoon.

Now, I'll gladly take a chat and a cup of coffee over the kid-sized Packers helmet (which, in my mind, was always a genuine helmet from a real player). Now, I'm one of the boring ones to my youngest cousins, sitting at the kitchen table and chatting about the weather, the state of potatoes, and the prettiest bird I happened to see one day.

It's just as fun as being a linebacker used to be.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Precap

The first post of the new year. Many people have done a top-ten recap of their last year, posting the glorious things that happened to them in 2012 or their best blog posts. Don't worry; I'm planning to list my most popular blogs for you, too. But as far as my own life? No recaps here.

I'm doing a precap - a top-ten list of what will happen for me in 2013. (This would be so much better if I had a Magic 8 ball.)

Allison's 2013 Precap

1. Kitties come to live with Spousal Unit and I. (This is imminent - happening at the end of the week.)

2. I actually manage to hold a job for more than half a year without wanting to stab myself in the jugular - new record since moving back to Wisconsin.

3. My wee sister graduates high school and realizes I was right - it does end, and not everyone acts like high schoolers in the rest of the world. (Not everyone, but still some.)

4. I will finish my novel. Not as in, "Dear publisher, Please love this pile of word vomit." More along the lines of, hey, it has an ending.

5. We'll renew our lease on this place and stay here another year.

6. Germany. We will go there and drink beer. Also maybe Norway and France.

7. I will probably get sick. Like, stomach-flu sick. (It's been several years since I last was, so my immune system must be rarin' for a good compromise. I'm not saying I want to get sick; I'm just saying it's likely.)

8. I only forsee myself accomplishing about 14 of my 25 things before 29. I've had a tendency to forget about them lately. Also, I like being at home more than I used to - I'd pick this over a museum most days, I think.

9. My birthday will be okay.

10. It will rain on July 4.
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