Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sound the Feasting Horn!!!

I actually did some cooking for the first time in a couple of weeks. Mostly I've been eating microwaved frozen vegetables, microwaved refried beans and salads or other cold foods. Now I have vegan sloppy joes and broccoli-tofu in garlic sauce. I didn't cook any rice to go with the broccoli yet. Lunches this week will alternate between the two. As chilly as it is expected to be this week, hot meals will be a good idea, I think. The office was nearly freezing at the end of last week. The upside of that is that I have greatly increased my intake of hot herbal tea in an attempt to stay warm.

The cold, wet weather has impeded my gardening progress. I really should fertilize the lawn, but I was lucky to get the lawn mowed at the end of last week. The irises are blooming beautifully. I have several clumps of bronze irises in addition to the purple ones. The heavy rain last week caused some of the flower stems to break, so I now have a nice arrangement of irises in my living room.

Photos for the week:

Daisies and creeping phlox at the front of the house. The daisies have really spread well since I moved into the house. I love how cheerful they look. The phlox will need to be divided at the end of the blooming season.

The goldfinches are back in full force. It is not at all unusual for there to be eight of them at any given time. Aren't they gorgeous?


The fire station exterior walls are coming right along!


A sign of good things to come: the buds on my blackberry bushes.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Maybe learning *doesn't* take place....

For the 2nd year running I have failed to wear any sunscreen at all when spending the first loooooong day in the garden. I've got a good start on my annual "farmer's tan". Right now my forearms are the color of the inside of a pink grapefruit. By tomorrow morning they ought to be nearly lobster colored! (Note to self: buy some aloe gel tomorrow.)

In gardening news, I have successfully burned the pile of brush/twigs that I was piling up. It was a good day for a fire, being the first calm, dry day we've had in a while. I'll rake up the ashes this week and spread them across the garden. I weeded the front flowerbed, for the most part. The area where the cannas are planted really needs help as does the section by the rose bush on the corner of the house. Those areas are still mostly grass. I have also purchased my veggie seeds for the year. So far I'm going to grow radishes, sweet peas, green beans, butternut squash, mixed lettuces, cucumbers and basil. In a week or two I'll buy some tomato, pepper and zucchini plants. I've got dill seed saved from last year. For flowers in the veggie garden, I have the usual sunflowers and nasturtiums.

The tiller was completely uncooperative today and I couldn't figure out how to get to the carburetor to clean it. I'll have to call the mobile small engine repair guy to come out maybe next weekend and fix it again. He cleaned the carb for me last year and changed the oil too. I've tried on three or four different occasions to start the silly thing and it just doesn't want to go. It almost caught once, but shortly afterward fuel started dripping out of the air filter area. To me that indicates a bit of a carb blockage. The thing is also dripping oil a little, which is annoying. I really really really want to till up the garden.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Wakey Wakey! Shaky Shaky!

This morning began in a rather unusual way. At about 4:45am, my bed started to jiggle. This wouldn't have been odd except that I didn't move and there wasn't anybody else there. Pretty quickly I deduced this must be an earthquake. It lasted about ten seconds. I hopped out of bed and checked the US Geological Survey website. Within 5-10 minutes the tremor was posted on their website. Magnitude 5.2 with an epicenter in southern Illinois. Later in the morning there were aftershocks, the strongest of which had a magnitude 4.2. I didn't notice any aftershocks.

Finding My Motivation
Have you seen it? It seems to have fled me. Not all of it, just the bits associated with working out. I have worked out fewer than ten times since the beginning of the month. Apparently it takes me longer than 28 days to establish a new habit. I have, however, managed to lose about ten pounds and drop a pants size between the working out I did do and the better eating habits that I've been following. Now to find a bit of motivation to keep that trend progressing.

Cooking....
I have a new favorite recipe. What's funny is that while I collected this recipe off the internet (I don't know the source), I probably would not have made it if a friend hadn't been asking for crock-pot recipes....
"Moroccan" Lentil Stew
1 cup dried lentils, sorted and rinsed
1 lb. butternut squash, peeled and cubed
10 small new red potatoes, cubed1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 (14 oz.) cans diced tomatoes, undrained
1 Tbsp. curry powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. white pepper
1/8 tsp. crushed red pepper
2 cups water
8 oz. pkg. frozen cut green beans, thawed

Combine all ingredients except green beans in a 3-4 quart slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours until lentils, squash, and potatoes are tender when tested with knife. Increase heat to high setting. Stir in thawed green beans, cover and cook for 10-15 minutes until mixture is thoroughly heated and beans are tender.
I ended up adding additional water toward the end of the cooking time. I also didn't add the green beans. This soup is incredibly filling. The lentils and the squash basically disintegrate into a flavorful thick paste surrounding chunks of potato and tomato. One bowl for lunch and I wasn't even remotely hungry until after 6pm. With some soups, you feel hungry pretty quickly. That's definitely not the case with this one.

This weekend's big meal will be broccoli and tofu in garlic sauce. This recipe came from All-creatures.org. I'll probably cook it on the stovetop, rather than in the microwave. This will be my primary lunch meal for the next week.
Broccoli and Tofu with Garlic Sauce
2 lbs. Broccoli, florets

1lb. Tofu, firm, cubed
1 Onion, medium, diced
3 tbsp. Garlic, crushed or minced
1-1/2 tsp. Ginger, powder
1/4 tsp. Cayenne Pepper, powder
1/3 cup Soy Sauce
3 tbsp. Corn Starch
1 cup Water

Peel and dice the onion, and place in a wok or in a covered glass baking dish for cooking in the microwave. Peel and crush the garlic and add to the onion. Cook until the onion just begins to become translucent. When using a wok, use a little water instead of oil to cook the food.

Wash and separate the broccoli florets and thinly slice the tender stems. Cube the Tofu into 3/8" to 1/2" cubes. Add the broccoli, tofu, ginger, and cayenne pepper. Cook until the broccoli begins to get tender.

Mix the cornstarch into the soy sauce and about 1/2 cup of water and add to the cooking broccoli and tofu. Continue cooking and mixing continuously in the wok and every few minutes if cooking in the microwave. When the sauce thickens and thoroughly coats the other ingredients, remove from the heat. Add water as necessary to adjust the thickness of the sauce. Serve over brown rice.

Pictures of the Week

The firehouse re-building is progressing. The outer wall is started. I hope the periodic rains don't slow things up too badly.

The goldfinches have returned

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A New Experiment

So, I'm living in the mid-South, land of the "dry" county. Paradoxically, this is also the home to some of the best US whiskey distilleries--the land of the bourbon. A couple of months ago, it occurred to me that I might explore the various whiskeys available "locally". If nothing else comes of it, I'll have myself a nice mint julep on Kentucky Derby day. If I find a beverage I do like, all the better. I've never really consumed much whiskey, other than some Jack and coke or Southern Comfort and coke. I don't know that I'll actually like bourbon much, actually, but figured it was worth exploring.

To get a start I consulted a colleague at work regarding any recommendations he might have for good sipping bourbons. He advised that his favorite is Henry McKenna Sour Mash and that he likes to drink it with a splash of Fresca and lemon juice. My local liquor store carries Henry, but only had it in a huge bottle. I was unwilling to drop $40 on a biiiiiig bottle of a whisky that I might not like. I settled for a smaller bottle of Maker's Mark. Given that it will take me a couple of weeks to finish a bottle, smaller bottles will enable me to finish my experiment in a more timely manner. As I collect data, I'll post my results here. I'm planning on trying each whiskey straight, then mixed with cola and mixed with Fresca or Sprite and lemon. I'm sure that's sacrilege to some folks, but that's just too bad. Eventually I may ease into just sipping it straight, but for now my palate just isn't up to that.

As an added bonus, the result of my initial bourbon recommendation query has inspired my colleague to do some exploring on his own. He's ordered a bottle of Old Ezra Brooks' Rare Old Sippin' Whiskey and has promised to share his reviews.

The Maker's Mark whisky's aroma reminds me of cherries and perhaps almond. It's a smooth burn. I can detect cherry overtones, but the strongest flavor is vanilla. I don't know that this one is a keeper, but I also don't have anything to compare it with yet.

Relaxing Weekend
I have now spent most of two days sitting on my behind watching TV. I got sucked into the Deadliest Catch marathons. I have also managed to accomplish getting my bathroom and kitchen cleaned, caught up on some long avoided website updates, plus did all my laundry. And I knit half of a sock. In a little bit I'll make some banana bread since I failed to get the bananas eaten before they got over-ripe. I'll workout too, since I haven't done that in a while. (Bad girl!) This evening I'll catch a movie on TV or DVD with Twitchh and call it a night.

This week's plan includes cleaning the carb on the tiller and seeing if I can get it to start. I either failed to put stabilized fuel in it last spring or else it's just being difficult. In either event, cleaning the carb won't hurt it and I've got a full can of carb cleaner. I really need to get the garden tilled up so I can plant in the next couple of weeks. I found pineapple sage plants at Lowe's and will put them in a pot for the deck. I haven't ever cooked with pineapple sage, but I do really like the aroma of the plants. I've also got a couple of small hardy ivy plants that I'll plant in the former poison ivy corner in a couple of weeks. I wonder how many people will be caught this weekend by the late freeze.

Friday, April 11, 2008

A Weekend Without a Plan

Well, sort of. I did all of my weekly errands yesterday afternoon, when I was flexing off the overtime from Sunday. This afternoon I finished up a few odds and ends when I flexed off the rest of the overtime. Now I am facing an entire weekend in which I can do exactly NOTHING and still have nothing hanging over my head. w00t!

I have a wee bit of a headache at the moment, which I hope will subside with a bit of water and ibuprofen. I unintentionally overdid the caffeine this morning. I just wasn't paying attention to what I was drinking or how much. This got me all sorts of jittery. I'm really glad I just had a half day at work because I was buzzing so badly. I ended up spending the afternoon trying to wind down. I did get in a nap which helped take the edge off. Now I'm good to go for the evening.

New Beginnings
The fire station is being re-born. Cinder block was delivered yesterday. I'm curious how long it will take to finish. I don't think I've ever seen a fire station being built.

Much of the other tornado damage in the area has been eradicated, with the exception of obvious gaps where trees used to be. The house which was completely obliterated down to a bare slab has been completely re-built and is even occupied! That only took about 30 days.

Reality Show Reassessment
Some time ago I ranted about reality shows, mostly for their inanity. I have found an exception. This past week I caught an episode of Deadliest Catch on The Discovery Channel. This show I like. Here's why: the people in it aren't trying to prove they are better than anybody else or to justify their existence. They talk about what they do for a living and share their experiences. It's more of a documentary about crab fishing in Alaska than it is a true reality show. To me, the typical "reality show" seems incredibly fake, staged and otherwise manipulated to be sufficiently dramatic and self-aggrandizing. In Deadliest Catch, the environment makes things dramatic without any assistance from the people and the people don't have time to be pompous idjits. These guys are just trying to stay alive while they do their jobs, which is not to say that they don't have fun too (there is a tendency to play pranks/practical jokes within and between crews). It is interesting to see how different people and personalities handle various stresses and strains. Some of them get angry, while others remain calm and just explain things increasingly firmly. A couple of the captains get quite philosophical while driving through the night.

I was unaware until this week that one of the boats in season three actually rescued a fisherman who fell from another boat. I wouldn't have thought the intensity level among the crew could have gone any higher until the "Man Overboard" call went out. Everybody was scrambling. The fisherman was rescued successfully and everybody cried in relief/release when he was safe aboard and wrapped in a warm blanket below deck. I, too, was relieved to see a happy outcome to that situation. Not all of the overboard incidents depicted have ended happily.

RIP to some great people this week
First, we lost another wonderful actor--Charlton Heston. I will be spending the evening watching Ben-Hur and cheering wildly during the chariot race.

"Art is imperfectable...but the wonderful thing is that you get to keep trying."
--Charlton Heston

Secondly, Oscar Cuniberti "The Little O" Canavan. I do not know this person and have no connection to him or his family. I take great delight in reading his obituary. If there was ever an example of how to celebrate the life of someone in writing, this would be it. The author clearly loves "O" dearly and feels blessed for having known him during his short stay on Earth.

The obituary reminded me of a brief classified ad printed in The Daily Illini on December 13, 1999:
In Memoriam
Hattie Jean Hilliard, October 2, 1945-February 15, 1995. B.F.A. 1967, Graphic Design. M. A. 1975, Education, New York University. Talented artist, scholar and teacher. Long-time resident of New York. Went to Nigeria on a Fullbright Fellowship to teach, and to fulfill a life-long dream -- cut short by an automobile accident. Remembered lovingly by a 1966 Sociology 100 classmate, who found her interesting, inspiring, and the most beautiful woman on campus.
I cut out that little ad and have saved it for almost 10 years now. It is carefully kept under the protective plastic covering of my desk, where I see it almost daily. I find it incredibly touching and even romantic. A love letter to Ms. Hilliard in 1.5 column inches. Simply beautiful. I wonder if she knew how he felt about her or if he loved her from afar. Was this an unknown romantic crush? Were they friends at all? I have often wondered about the author and what prompted him to print the ad in the paper--did he still live in Urbana? Was there any particular significance to December 13th? It is all a mystery. Perhaps some day I'll write a story of what might have led to this poignant and public bit of very personal prose.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Hmmmmmm....

Well, the garden lizard is now an ex-lizard. I don't know how long he's been dead, but he was stiff as a board this afternoon. I didn't see any evidence of trauma so I'm not sure what happened. I'll bury him tomorrow after work. Hopefully there will be more lizards hanging out in the garden later. I'd really like them to eat lots of bugs for me.

The Updates:
I ended up working almost a full day yesterday as part of a group TB testing thing. Hopefully I'll be able to take the time off Thursday and Friday. The weather isn't supposed to be very good then, but I might get more work done around the house, like a bit of spring cleaning and getting all the laundry finished up and put away. I've got some writing to do too and those two half-days would be just perfect for writing.

The garden is waiting for me to do something with it. With any luck I can get it tilled up tomorrow night before the rain starts. Soon I will need to decide what to plant. The garlic appears to be growing very very well. I have quite a bit of volunteer lettuce (mostly romaine) which has either survived the winter or sprouted from the seed last season's crop dropped. I will harvest it, then till up that section of the garden. I had considered not tilling that area, but I would rather start fresh instead of battling the re-growth of last year's weeds and grass. I am going to expand the garden a little bit and will move some of the volunteer blackberry plants to a different location. I really need a half-load of good black dirt or composted manure to do things right. My little compost pile isn't quite going to do the job and I don't have nearly enough rotted leaves from the back corner. I'll do the best I can and we'll see how that does. Things grew fairly well last year, so it's not all bad.

On the exercise front, I didn't do as well last week as I'd hoped. I did perhaps two decent workouts and two half-hearted ones. I like my new yoga mat. I now need to get my sleep schedule back on track so that I have the energy at the end of the day to use it. I did, however, prove to myself in March that I can, in fact, work out nearly every day after work. It felt really good. I'm going to get back into that groove this week. My goal is to once again workout 5 days per week and to eventually be able to get through the entire cardio DVD without wishing my arms or legs would fall off.

On the food front, things are good. I did have a bit of a indulgence at the end of last week. A co-worker was approved for bariatric surgery, so we went out to lunch at the local Italian place. She had eggplant parmigiana and I had the broccoli and fettuccine in garlic cream sauce. After a couple of weeks of eating fairly low-fat food, the high fat stuff just wasn't very tasty. It was also far too white or beige in color. I have discovered that I like pretty, colorful food and when I didn't get any of it, I missed it.

Today for lunch I had quinoa with corn and black beans, some frozen green peas and an orange. Yesterday I made a pot of lentil stew with butternut squash, potatoes and tomatoes. The recipe called for green beans too, but I didn't get them put in. The lentils and squash pretty much disintegrated. It's quite flavorful, but I think it would be even better with a bit of thyme and maybe a bay leaf added.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Outsourcing vs. Outsourcing

Boeing is complaining today (yes, I'm flipping my bracelet) that the military tanker deal should have gone to them because Airbus/Northrup Grumman will outsource it. The Boeing guy's argument is that the people making the planes (somewhere in Europe) haven't always agreed with our nation and may, in the future, withhold parts and planes. I don't know exactly which European country is involved, but I wonder how far back in history he had to go to make that statement.

Boeing Guy clearly doesn't know that Boeing itself builds planes made of foreign parts. That would be parts which were outsourced because they could be made more cheaply in other countries, by non-American employees. Countries which may decide at any time to withhold parts if they don't agree with US politics. Sure, it's assembled here, but India could just as easily quit shipping the parts. In fact, I'm willing to bet that the all US producers of airplanes and automobilies use at least some outsourced parts. This same argument has long been used by Harley owners as a measure of how superior their bikes are to Japanese ones. The trick is that a higher percentage of parts on Harleys are made in Japan than the percentage of Japanese parts on my Japanese bike. My "German" car isn't actually made in Germany either and neither are all of its parts.

If you want to follow the argument that doing business with countries or even companies which were once against the US, we should definitely not be doing business with Mitsubishi. You see Mitsubishi has also been in the aeronautical industry. Their best known model was the Zero, a nifty little fighter plane which was used extensively in attacks on Pearl Harbor and Midway. Mitsubishi also built several very effective bombers. Following WWII, they re-tooled and refocused their energies, building up their fledgling automobile production and expanding into other industries. There's a Mitsubishi automotive plant 45 minutes from where I used to live in Illinois that employs a couple thousand US citizens. I imagine Boeing Guy would find that a bad thing too.

I also don't buy the argument that the US military should only use US producers. Frankly, if you can get a better product at a better price from somewhere else, the US producers need to look at how they're doing things rather than whine about not being picked. Funny how Boeing never complained about the contract selection process before, isn't it? I seriously hope that Congress leaves this one alone. The U.S. may once have led the aeronautical engineering world in skill and quality, but, as has been noted in other technical industries, we're not producing college graduates with the necessary skills any more. Perhaps the gutting of educational funding from elementary school on is FINALLY having an impact. Perhaps the de-emphasis of science and critical thinking because it's not on the school performance tests is finally having the predicted impact on the abilities of the student that is produced. Perhaps the mental laziness of the TV generations is having an impact too. (Thinking takes effort, you know, and we just don't like that. We want *easy* and we'd really like to have it done for us.)

Aggravating Comment of the Week:
"Why can't these people just get over it? Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed 4o years ago and people are still upset." --from the mouth of a *MEMPHIS* DJ. I wonder if anybody will point out to him his silly wailings about Elvis being dead or that people sure don't seem to have gotten over the dead folks on D-Day or getting over JFK or RFK being killed either. Seems to me like a 40 year anniversary (that give you at least one generation past the event), is a fine time to compare the current state of race relations/civil rights today to how things were in 1968 during the sanitation workers strike.

And you know what? MLK, Jr. didn't complain. He didn't talk about how screwed up things were now and rant/rave about the establishment. He talked about how things might be in the future. How they could be in the future. "I have a dream....." Bet he didn't have to flip his bracelet much.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Yard Critter!

hanging out in the garden.I haven't got much to say. I'm busy knitting socks. I have a new yard critter though. Isn't he cute? This is the second time I've seen him/her. I'll have to think of a name soon. Right now Frank comes to mind. I'm not sure why, but it does.

Yesterday there was a goldfinch hanging out on the deck rail, snacking on sunflower seeds while I was mowing the lawn. He made no attempt at all to fly away even when I mowed (with the big green monster) right next to the deck. On closer examination, he wasn't fully fledged, so he may not have learned yet that big, noisy, non-bird things may be bad for your health. Or else he was really hungry. Then again, he did fly away when I walked up on the deck after the mowing was finished. I didn't get a chance to take a picture of him.

There has been a pair of house finches on the deck that has been amusing to watch. It's a dad and a juvenile. The male cracks opens seeds while the kid sits next to him with his mouth open making "feed me!" noises. The kid is old enough to fly, but apparently hasn't figured out feeding himself yet. I wonder if this is the avian equivalent of the adult in their 30s or 40s who still lives at home, so the parents can continue to do everything for him/her.