Monday, December 31, 2007

home for the holiday

I’m back from my week at home, which was fairly uneventful.

Between the two days in airports, the day we drove downstate to visit my grandparents, and the sitting around the house, I managed to read five books. I had a goal this year of reading 52 books, one a week, but by my count I only made 49 unless graphic novels count. I’ll try to meet the same goal next year, and will probably make it since I wasted six weeks on the same book (Stanley Coren’s The Left-Hander Syndrome, which should have been interesting but was dryer than the dullest textbook) this year.

Things have changed at the homestead. My dad’s dog, QB, died early in the year, and my brother bought my mom a tiny lapdog for Mother’s Day. The dog, as most small dogs are, is very high strung, and spends most of its time torturing Penny, the other dog, but I managed to catch them at a quiet moment:

sleeping dogs lie

Before anyone else asks, that’s a couch cover to protect it from the dogs, not the actual couch. I’m pretty sure nobody’s taste is that bad, although the addition of the inflatable Tony Stewart race car in my parents’ front yard does cast some doubt:

inflatable nascar

I suppose it’s no worse than the inflatable Homer Simpson with a Santa hat I was going to buy them one year. They also still have their herd of light-up deer, although the one with the real antlers attached can’t raise his head because they’re too heavy:

yard deer

Other than visiting and hanging out at the house, my friend Tiff also drove up one day to get me out of the house, as being at home with no car can be a little frustrating after a couple days. I didn’t really have anywhere I needed to go, so we drove around and saw some of the local sights, like the giant Lifesavers roll in the village square of neighboring Gouverneur:


The founder of the Lifesavers company was from Gouverneur, although Lifesavers themselves do not seem to have been invented there. While on the square getting the Lifesavers roll shot, I also snapped this photo that I might use for my Christmas cards next year:


If I actually do send out any cards.

If not, there’s always next year.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Merry (early) Christmas

I leave for the airport in an hour, and don't know if I will be updating from home, so Merry Christmas to all five of you who read this.

merry christmas

I took that last night through the window of my apartment complex office, on my way to the mailboxes. My hands shake a little, so when I take pictures with the flash off they usually come out a little blurry, but I think the effect works in that picture.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


We had a treat day at work on Friday, since it was the last day before vacation. It’s not a Christmas party (we already had one of those) or a holiday luncheon (we had one of those, too), but more of an open holiday grazing. On treat days everybody brings in something, we set it all in the kitchen or on a table in the conference room, and everyone goes in and out whenever they’re hungry and gets something to eat. We had veggie trays, fruit trays, sausage balls, chips, homemade cheese balls, ham dip, and I decided to make cookies with my cookie gun.

Last time I went to visit my friend Sandy we stopped at Crate and Barrel, and I got a cookie press on sale. When I was little, my mom used to make spritz cookies with her cookie press every Christmas, and I remember them as being neat little uniform bite sized cookies. Tragically, as often happens when I try to make things like mom did, something broke down somewhere.

The dough part was fine. I made the standard recipe, than split it in half and colored one half green:

halving the dough

I put vanilla flavoring in the white half and mint flavoring in the green. Next time I do that, I’ll use twice as much flavoring, because it seemed like most of it cooked out. After flavoring and coloring the dough, I stuffed the press and started trying to make snowflakes.

While all snowflakes are unique, I was disheartened to note that mine definitely were. I expected slight differences, but I thought they would mostly look the same. They didn’t.

snowflake cookies

I chalked it up to beginner’s error of some sort, and thought maybe after another sheet or two I would get better. Instead, the white cookies just got worse and worse. They weren’t the same size, they didn’t always stick to the sheets, and I got more and more annoyed. By the time I got to the tree cookies I was ready to just give up on the press and make them round and be done with it, but then I had a breakthrough, halfway through a sheet:

mastering the cookie press

On the left, disaster. On the right, perfection.

It turns out that I wasn’t squeezing the extra air out of the press before starting, which was making the dough come out unevenly. (The instructions never told me to do this, so I had to figure it out on my own. Luckily, I had years of Play Doh experience to draw on.) Then, because I was reusing the cookie sheets (I only have two), it didn’t occur to me to wipe them down in between, so each cookie that baked was leaving a little slick spot from the butter and the dough coming out of the press wouldn’t stick to it. Each batch was, inadvertently, greasing the sheet instead of the capitalized UNGREASED that the recipe demanded. As the picture shows, once I figured that out I was golden, and eventually I had about eight dozen cookies.

so many cookies

Granted, some were a little overdone, and some were a little (or a lot) oddly shaped, but overall it didn’t seem like a bad night’s work. Just as I was sighing with contentment and a sense of accomplishment, I realized I’d forgotten to buy frosting. I didn’t feel like going back to the store, especially after spending two hours fighting with the cookie press, and then I remembered that frosting didn’t always come in a can, and there had to be some way to make it yourself. Rather than running for the internet, I went to a proven source:


The 1949 Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, which I picked up a few years ago for two dollars at an estate sale. Since that’s less than the cost of a can of frosting, that cookbook just paid for itself. After a quick perusal of the frosting section, I found a recipe for confectioners’ sugar glaze:


Maybe a half hour later, I finished work on the cookies:

glazed cookies

Everyone loved them. There were less than ten of us in the office on Friday, and we still managed to eat five or six dozen of the cookies on top of all the other food. Next time, rather than trying to flavor the hell out of the cookies, I bet I could just add the peppermint flavoring to the glaze, and it would go a lot further.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Accidents happen?

This morning I managed to catch "Happy Birthday to Me", an old horror movie starring one of the daughters from "Little House on the Prarie". If you ever get a chance, you should at least watch until you get to the big accident scene.

See, all during the movie, you know prarie-girl has been in a terrible accident and had a head injury needing some kind of brain surgery that involved putting a hinge in her skull for some reason, but you don't see the accident itself until a flashback about two thirds of the way through.

For reasons unknown, it's the most elaborate accident ever.

Prarie-girl and her mom are riding in a car, with Mom driving. But it's dark! And it's raining! And Mom's crying! And she's drunk! And a truck almost hits them! But it misses! And they end up on a bridge! But it's a drawbridge! And the opening is right under the car! And the car falls in the river! Mom opens the windows to let them swim to safety, but Mom is trapped by the steering wheel! And drowns! And prarie-girl swimps up and cracks her skull on the bottom of the boat that the bridge was raising for!

And that's how she injured her brain.

All it was missing was something on fire.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

memes, darkness, and centaurs

Nan sent me a meme where you post a picture of your computer desktop, so here’s mine:


It’s a screenshot from “City of Villains”, one of the game that I play on my computer, allegedly to relieve stress. Most of the time the game gets me all stressed out, too. I’m not sure what that picture tells you about me, as I change the desktop on a weekly and sometimes daily basis, but there it is right now.

While I’m posting random things, I stayed late one night this week, and left work after dark. I snapped this on my way to my car:

bright lights, mid-sized city

It’s blurry because I had the flash shut off, and my hands shake. That’s why I don’t take many pictures at night.

In other news, I had a meeting in the library this week, and finally got to see our campus’ (in)famous centaur skeleton.


It was a hoax perpetrated by a campus professor to teach students about gullibility. What I find most amusing is that not only is the exhibit itself fake, but the base is made of fake marble and the sides are faux wood. I guess I’m a sucker for a thematic display. It has its own web page if anyone is curious.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

warm for the holidays

I still can’t bend my head around how warm it is here. Christmas in Tennessee, for me anyway, is a season of absurdities.

Today at lunch, according to the thermometer in my car, it was 75 Fahrenheit, and I saw this on Market Square when I went to meet Lauren:

Christmas in Market Square

If you just look at the tree on concrete, you could kind of pretend it’s cold and windy, until you turn around and notice the wreaths:


Green grass. Lights wrapped around living trees that are not evergreens. The mind boggles.

Fortunately there are wonderful things that can take your mind off of holiday oddness:

vegan cupcake

That tree could have been on fire outside and I wouldn’t have noticed.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Apple Barn

Thursday night a group of ten of us went out to dinner at The Apple Barn in Pigeon Forge, a local restaurant, cider mill, and winery. I’ve heard good things about it ever since I moved here, and never got around to going, so I was very excited.

Pigeon Forge is Tennessee’s Branson. The main road is a continuous strip of hotels, pancake houses (dozens of them; there has to be something I’m not getting about it, but there are Oldtime Pancake Houses, Grizzly Pancake Houses, Hillbilly Pancake Houses, but bizarrely enough no International House of Pancakes), mini-golf places, outlet malls, theaters, and restaurants. It’s the home of the theater that took out the advertisement in USA Today to protest Kathy Griffin, although I can’t get anyone to go there with me, and also the place where we went to that retreat in August. In short, it’s like a tiny Vegas, but without sin.

Ginger, TW, and I drove down early because they wanted to hit the outlets. Ginger was looking for a specific ornament for her boyfriend’s mom at the Waterford Crystal outfit, TW was looking for assorted Christmas gifts, and I was along for the ride. TW didn’t find what he wanted, Ginger found her ornament, and I saw this disturbing Santa ornament at the Waterford store:

halloween santa?

If you don’t want to click and can’t tell at that size, that’s a Santa Claus holding Halloween jack o’ lanterns. What the hell? Is he coming a wassailing or is he going trick or treating? I realize Hallowthankmas is just one big season now, as far as the stores are concerned, but couldn’t we at least pretend they’re separate? And why isn’t there a Thanksgiving Santa? My calendar has a whole other month between October and December, and there’s a holiday in there. Two, if you count my birthday.

While outlet shopping I also accidentally gave a lady at one of the Christmas stores a mini-breakdown. Ginger was buying two large angels that the cashier had to carefully wrap up and bag, and I got curious about what it must be like to spend every minute of every day immersed in Christmas.

“Do you get tired of Christmas, working here?” I asked, smiling. She smiled back, and I thought we might be ok.

“This is just my part time job. I work forty hours somewhere else and then come here for a little extra.”

“Cool. So you’re not really here enough to get tired of it,” I concluded, but this apparently opened some sort of floodgate for her.

She leaned across the register, still bagging Ginger’s angels, and burst.

“It all looks like junk! There’s just, there’s so much of it! Every day another truck comes in, and there’s just more stuff!”

Ginger grabbed her bag of holiday junk and we fled before the lady could snap and kill everyone in the store. All the way to the Old Navy outlet (where everything was at regular prices; does “outlet store” not mean what I think it means?) TW and Ginger were like, “What did you do to her?” and I was protesting, “All I did was ask a question!”

When we finally got to dinner, it was everything I’d heard. The best part, better than my turkey even, was the apple fritters.

apple fritters

They keep the basket filled, and you dip them in the apple butter, and they’re just to die for. It was like having dessert all the way through dinner, and everyone enjoyed it.

housing family

See? We’re all smiling, and we hadn’t even started drinking yet. We saved that for after dinner, when we walked around the barn and over to the winery.

the apple barn

They give out free tastings (you have to tip), and unlike professional wine tasters we swallowed, rather than spit. Most of the wines were blends, traditional wines with apple wine mixed in, so they tended to be on the sweet side. I’ve had hard cider, but never apple wine, and it was good, so I bought the three bottle bargain pack, as did a couple of the others. I picked up a merlot, an applewood white (very sweet), and a cranberry wine, which was very tart but very good.

All in all, it was a pretty good night.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

went for a walk

Parts of my drive to work in the morning are really pretty, but I never really get pictures of them because there are a lot of cars and I’m kind of busy driving and trying not to crash into them. I decided today, since I needed to go to the store anyway, that I would get up early, drive to one of the parking areas on the way to work, and go for a walk.

I only got a few pictures, because I haven’t charged the camera battery all week.

it's early

the water

There were some big birds down by the water that I kept disturbing, but the pictures I got of them were really blurry and indistinct.

I thought the buildings across the river looked kind of New England-ish in their little cluster with the church in the middle.


Of course, in New England that little boathouse wouldn’t be painted Volunteer orange and white.



Next year I should do this when there are still leaves on the trees.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


I made Thanksgiving for myself for the very first time ever this week, and it actually turned out well. I planned out my slow cooker turkey breast, which always comes out juicy and delicious, and spent about a week flipping through my cookbooks (or “food porn”, as I sometimes think of them) for side dishes. The original menu I planned called for mashed potatoes, balsamic glazed carrots, and blue cheese puffs, but a few days before I cut out the potatoes since it was just me eating.

I forgot to plan a dessert, but I had some Little Debbie cakes that I buy for my lunches, so the evening wasn’t a total loss.

As I said, the turkey is really easy, even though it looks kind of sketchy when you’re mixing the ingredients:

slow cooker turkey

Throw the turkey breast in the slow cooker and then pour a mixture of orange juice, cranberry sauce, and onion soup mix over the top. It’s the onion soup mix that makes it smell vile, but once it cooks down the smell is gone. The recipe says to cook it for six to eight hours, but I always let it go for at least eight, because then the turkey is so done and tender it kind of shreds itself on the plate.

With the turkey set to “ignore” for the next eight hours, I turned my attention to the blue cheese puffs, which need a lot of prep time but, unlike the carrots, do not need to be served warm. It’s a basic puff pastry, and after they cool you add a filling of blue cheese, mayonnaise, and chives, but that means they need time to bake and cool, so I started early.

Mixing the flour, butter, and water over heat until it formed a ball worked out well:

blue cheese puff dough

So did adding the eggs and cheese:

add cheese

It wasn’t until after baking that disaster struck. Just like the last time I made these, I took one pan out about three minutes too early, and the puffs deflated, leaving me with flat blue cheese rolls.

blue cheese puffs

It’s hard to tell from the picture, but the pan on the right is perfect. The pan on the left, not so much. I ended up spooning the filling on top of them and mentally berating myself until I felt like dirt. It was similar to real Thanksgiving, except then someone else does the berating for me, and there’s usually more drinking.

Despite the failure of the blue cheese puffs, the carrots turned out to be the biggest annoyance, because I had to peel and slice them by hand. At first I was annoyed because I didn’t have a slicer, but really I think the problem is that I don’t have good knives. A long time ago I had one of those wooden blocks with knives in it, but now I’m down to three knives in my utensil drawer. If I get a gift card for Christmas to anywhere with a kitchen department, I guess I know what I’m buying.

Back to the carrots, though, I had to simmer them in oil and water with garlic until the liquid cooked almost all the way off and the carrots were tender, and this was surprisingly easy:

carrots, simmering

Once they cooked down a little I added the balsamic vinegar, and plated up a little of everything for my “Top Chef” camera plate shot:

camera plate

Happy Thanksgiving to me!

Monday, November 19, 2007

botched cooking

Those premade crescent rolls that come in a tube are pretty much my best friend. Leftover hot dogs? Put cheese on them, wrap them in a crescent roll, and bake away. Gourmet olives and tiny pieces of cheese left over from wine and cheese night? Make stuffed turnovers out of them with crescent rolls. Feel like mini calzones? Cheese, pepperoni, crescent rolls. I always have a tube of crescent roll in my fridge, and it hasn’t led me wrong until last night.

Killing time in my last hour before “The Amazing Race”, I realized I hadn’t eaten yet and was feeling really lazy, and remembered that there was a tube of crescent rolls in the fridge. I couldn’t think of what I wanted to do with them, though, until a sudden idea dawned. What if I put some jelly on them and made little sweet rolls? Like tarts? That could be delicious, right?

In theory, yes.


Jelly doesn’t hold up well in the oven.

I was greatly amused to see that the pan is a study in most to least melty. For those who are curious, cranberry preserves barely moved. Next down, strawberry jam melted a little. Orange marmalade melted a lot. Grape jam turned into a purple lake. It was all still delicious, but very sticky.

The pan has been soaking overnight because I don’t even want to try touching it.


I guess I’ve learned that everything doesn’t go with crescent rolls.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Three F's

I kept meaning to update this week and kept not getting to it, so I decided to do a weekend roundup instead. Think of these as mini-updates, I guess.

1) I Drank It For Science

Last week I was at the grocery store and noticed that now that Halloween has come and gone, we’ve ventured into the Christmas retail season. When I was little this never used to happen until after Thanksgiving, but now the trees and garland and lights go up in the stores on November first, and that means they have eggnog at Food City. I was getting milk anyway, so I glanced at the eggnog section and stopped in my tracks when I saw this:

pumpkin pie spice eggnog

Pumpkin is a strange food. Pumpkin pie, by itself, is delicious, more so with whipped cream on it. Pumpkin seeds are also delicious. Pumpkin anything else, though, tends toward the sketchy. There’s a reason why they don’t have pumpkin candy or pumpkin pudding or pumpkin soda (Jones Soda Company doesn’t count, since they only make it this season). It’s because, for every delicious pumpkin filled vegetarian ravioli, there is also a Starbucks Pumpkin Latte that tastes like a regular cup of coffee with a can of pumpkin pie filling poured in to make it extra-vile.

With this is mind, I was skeptical of the pumpkin pie spice eggnog. I mentioned it to a few friends, and the general consensus was best expressed by my friend MegaBigEye, who said, “Probably disgusting. With the off chance of being delicious.” Confused and curious, I finally bought it this week because I decided that I just had to know.

And it was delicious.

2) Fire?

I feel bad for the people at my apartment complex office sometimes, because our emergencies always seem to come in pairs or trios.

Last year, for example, lightning hit my building right before Easter. The power went out, and stayed out for several days because the lightning bolt fried the meters at the end of the building. They put us up for a week in a nice business traveler’s motel with suites and DVD players and kitchens in the rooms, and one night I was laying in bed in my suite, waiting to have power in my apartment again, and saw, “Meth lab found in local apartment complex” on the evening news. As I watched, I thought, “That complex has balconies that look just like mine.”

That’s because it was my complex. Fortunately the meth lab was at the other end, and, oddly enough, meth labs are pretty much normal neighbors in Tennessee. I was worried that it meant I’d moved to a really shady apartment complex, but my coworkers assured me that, no, it happens to everybody.

Anyway, this week we had a huge water main break. I don’t know if it flooded anyone’s apartment, but it wrecked the landscaping by the exercise room, and they had to shut off the water for a few hours on Thursday and Friday to work on it. Wednesday night, though, the same day it broke, we had terrible thunderstorms, and they set off the fire alarms in the building next to mine:

fire engine

Thankfully there wasn’t a real fire, and I didn’t miss “Top Model”.

Or, you know, lose all my belongings in a cloud of flame and smoke.

3) The Last Home Game

Today was our last home game, so it was my last weekend working at the gates. I usually get to mine a half hour or so before we’re supposed to open, but today I was running a little late and didn’t get there until five minutes before, which meant the parade had already started and I had to push through the crowd to get to the stadium.

last home game

Next year I’ll be on time more.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

UT stomps Arkansas

Yesterday turned out to be a really nice day for football.

volunteer village

It was cold, but I guess if you love your team it's never too cold for something like this:

vol fans

It should surprise no one to know that I will never love the team enough to paint my body white.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Homecoming, a week late

Homecoming rock

Last weekend was Homecoming. There was a parade on Friday and a big game on Saturday, and since it was a home game I was working at the stadium doing the ticket thing. Those of us working at Gate 23 decided over e-mail to have our own little tailgating event up at the gate, so we each brought something in. My contribution was sausage balls:

sausage balls

I never had a sausage ball until I moved here, but they are apparently a delicious Southern tradition, and I’ve become a fan. They are made with bulk sausage, a lot of pepper, some Bisquick, and cheddar cheese. You roll them up, bake them, and eat them at room temperature. I made 72 of them, and 68 actually made it into the container to go to the game.

Anyway, here’s a few more shots of Homecoming before I go work this weekend’s game.

the band goes by

cooking with smokey

steamboat float again

stadium banners

banner, with cheerleader

Also, at the parade I was close enough to Pat Summitt, the Lady Vols basketball coach, to climb in the back of the car with her:

pat summitt

I didn’t, of course, but once I talked to her in line at lunch and it was awesome!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

photos and statuary

Yesterday I took a picture inside the old courthouse because I liked the way the ceiling and the lights looked.

courthouse interior

I really like the way the light coming through the windows continues directly down the line of the windows themselves. I liked it even more when I converted it to black and white:

black and white courthouse interior

I’m mostly just a point and click type of photographer, but every once in a while doing that happens to catch something that looks pretty good.

I’m kind of curious about that covered window in the ceiling, though. Was that a skylight?

Other curious things I saw yesterday on my trip downtown included this statue:


The plaque says it’s a “lady of justice”, but since it’s not blindfolded it can’t be Justice herself, so who is it? I’m not an expert in Greco-Roman mythology, but I took a course in it in junior high and I’ve read years of Wonder Woman comics, and I don’t remember Justice having any ladies in waiting. I’ve heard the figure of speech “handmaiden of Justice”, though, so I guess she might be one of them?