Saturday, March 27, 2010

Adventures in Babysitting

Every once in a while there is a work thing that I don't have to go to but everyone else does. Normally this is not a crisis, but today Jeannie happened to need a sitter, and all of her regular people had to be at work with her. That left me as pretty much the only option, or so she claimed.

This isn't as scary or dangerous as it may have seemed to our friends, because I kind of have a secret: While I don't want kids and don't really enjoy being around them while they are awake, I pretty much babysat my way through high school. I took a Red Cross training course in babysitting and everything. It's just been kind of a long time since high school, and in between I've made it extremely clear that you don't want to leave your screaming, jam-hands kids with me because I might get bored with their noise and leave, or trade them to a wandering peddler for a Mint in Package Mego Supergirl and a handful of magic beans.

Jeannie was desperate, though, so I agreed, and it turns out that none of my rusty, long neglected babysitting skills were needed, because four of the five hours looked pretty much like this:

the babysitter

That kid loves standing right up next to the TV and gazing vacantly at it, and as long as he's quiet, I love letting him do that. I've said before that I'm not a nurturer, and the TV was already on when I got there. Who am I to come between a child and his television?

I did decide at some point that I should feed him breakfast, and Jeannie had left instructions and supplies for that:


I had to lure him away from the television by shaking the cereal bowl like a rattle, using it to lure him to the dining room, but things seemed to be going ok once I had him seated:

breakfast (1)

After about three bites of cereal, though, he tried to free himself from the chair to run back to the television, so I let him:

breakfast (2)

At some point the cartoons switched to that creepy Thomas the Tank Engine show:

thomas (1)

and Jeremy proved that he's a typical American kid by immediately running to his Thomas toys:

thomas (2)

Marketing executives everywhere will be thrilled at how ready he is to fall into the Gap or to be unable to believe that it's not butter.

After a while he fell into what I refer to as "coma time":


He just lay on the floor like that for about twenty minutes. When I went to check on him he was still breathing, so I figured he was fine, and eventually he got up and started moving again. For all I know, he does this all the time and it's totally normal.

Eventually, though, the thing I was dreading all morning reared its smelly head:

diaper changing supplies

Someone needed a diaper change.

I'm not going to get into this too much, except to say that based on the stench Jeannie apparently feeds her baby a steady diet of rotting vegetation and rancid fish. I don't know what he's been eating, but he eats a lot of it. A LOT. Like "Oh my God, I can't believe the diaper didn't explode" quantities. And the smell, dear Jesus, the smell.

I never changed a diaper so fast in my life, and I still felt like I needed to spend a few hours rocking back and forth fully clothed in a steaming shower stall while I rub my skin raw with a steel brush and sob.

Fortunately, Batman was waiting downstairs to soothe us both:

batman worship

And there was plenty of time to shower when I got home.

Friday, March 26, 2010

"Where did March go?" Part 3: Jeannie's Birthday at Wasabi

Bringing my March misadventures to a close (I have to hurry and be up to date because roller derby returns tomorrow! I'm watching "Whip It!" right now to get in the mood, because roller derby makes my heart sing.), I managed in the middle of the busiest time of the semester for my end of the department to put together a ten person birthday dinner for Jeannie at Wasabi, a Japanese steakhouse that she requested.

I'll go on record right now as saying I have no idea how authentic the "Japanese steakhouse" experience is here in America, or whether it bears the slightest resemblance to the way the Japanese prepare and serve food at home. I mean, it looks kind of Japanese:

maneki neko

but it's the same way that EPCOT looked kind of Japanese:

Hello, kitties

Either way, it's a fun show. There's a lot of fire, and a lot of food flying around.

It started with the vegetables:

vegetable preparation

First he was chopping the vegetables, then there were vegetables in the air, and then William, Elizabeth and Ben's toddler at the end of the table there, was throwing vegetables in the air, too. Somehow in the middle of all of this a peice of onion ended up in my coke, but I politely continued drinking it until the refill came. Besides, I was too enthralled watching the chef build the onion volcano to really care about the coke.

First he cut the onion in half, and then, using just the knife, he began to stack the rings on the grill:

onion volcano (1)

I'm not sure I'd be able to do that even if I could use my hands, but he just kept stacking:

onion volcano (2)

and then he squirted something in the middle and all of a sudden OH MY GOD, THERE WAS FIRE!

onion volcano (3)


After the fire there was rice:

fried rice

And then he started making rice balls and throwing them at people. Elizabeth caught hers:

rice throwing

but mine bounced out of my mouth and landed in Kristin's salad. It was like some sort of horrible food related gym class moment.

After the rice throwing, most of the show was over, and he got down to grilling the proteins:


That little corner of the grill there:

my dinner (1)

is my dinner:

my dinner (2)

It was pretty good, but by the time we got to the chicken I'd already had soup, vegetables, and rice, so I barely ate any until the next day. Everyone seemed to have a really good time, though:

birthday guests

Everything was fine right up until we were all splitting up to head for our cars and the inevitable happened:

parking lot baby rage!

Baby rage, made all the more entertaining by Kristin and I standing on the sidelines with our cameras out yelling, "Turn him this way!"

You know what's even funnier than baby rage, though? When one baby is in full tantrum mode, and the other baby wanders over to point at him and laugh:


William is totally my favorite baby that I see regularly.

Sorry, Jeannie.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

"Where did March go?" Part 2: Exploring

I only made two excursiouns this month, and one of them was rather short. Armed with a rumor from a student who had stopped in my office, I went out on a weekend morning in search of the Giant Octopus of Knoxville. You might think we didn't have octupi here, what with Tennessee being a landlocked state and all, but the student insisted that they had seen it "somewhere downtown, maybe in the old city."

"An octopus? Like a mural?"

"Kind of, but big! And not, like, an official mural."

I took that to mean that it was a graffiti mural, which only made me want to see it more.

"Do you remember where you saw it? Was it near anything?"

"Well, it was sort of down Henley Street, but where it turns into another street. You go over that bridge after the music sculpture, and it was just kind of there on the wall."

With directions like that, I couldn't possibly go wrong, right? I know that Henley becomes Broadway, but that's where the whole thing breaks down. The music sculpture, which I interpreted to be the large treble clef near the Old City, isn't on Henley. It's at the end of Gay Street in a little plaza. Worse, there are multiple bridges and overpasses in that area, so the octopus could have been anywhere. Amazingly, I found it on my first try:

the giant octopus of knoxville

It's on a wall that borders the parking lot of the Graning Discount Paint Center on North Broadway, immediately to your left after the overpass. It's fortunate that it was next to a parking lot, because I had to get out of the car and really study that thing. Some of my friends think it's a squid, but squid don't have beaks, so I'm sticking with octopus. That doesn't account for the horns, though, or anything else that's going on in that picture. That little line at the bottom is a row of pregnant women, marching toward a tiny man whose head is the symbol for radioactivity. They may or may not be chased by pirahna, as seen on the far left, and the octopus may or may not be helping them by shooting that ink.

In short, I have no idea what's going on there, but isn't it still kind of awesome?

The same day that I saw the octopus, I also went to the Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum. Early spring is probably a horrible time to visit such a place, but I was intrigued, and wanted to see if it was worth going back to in the summer.

The Botanical Garden is located on the former grounds of the Howell Nurseries:

howell nurseries sign

I'm not sure what happened to the nursery, but all of the buildings are still there. On one side of the road, where the terraces, vegetable garden, and stone greenhouses were located, there's a lot of old, castle-ish stonework:

view toward whimpole ave.

While it is in a little bit of disrepair, mostly with glass missing from the windows and vines creeping in:

bolt and ivy

it's still very pretty:

shed window view

and will no doublt be prettier with flowers and grass around.

The real highlight for me, though, given my love of ruined things, was that the old commercial buildings for the nursery business are all still in place, slowly crumbling in the larger part of the gardens across the street:

sales building

And oh, boy, are they crumbling:

broken window with vines

yale latch

mule barn window

As one of my friends put it: "They didn't even need to advertise it as a garden. They could put a big sign on the side of the road that says, 'Ruined greenhouse! Open to the public!' and you would have shoved people out of the way to get in."

It's true. They do have ruined greenhouses:

glassless greenhouses (1)

glassless greenhouses (2)

and I would shove people out of the way to get to them.

There's a lot of other stuff to look at, too, like rusting barn roofs:

mule barn ceiling

vacant sales counters behind glassless windows:

sales counter

broken fountains flanked by crumbling statuary:

crumbling deer

decrepit outbuildings:

wooden window

And more!

I really can't wait to go back in the summer, as this tiny leaf I found on my jacket when I was leaving:

tiny leaf

suggests that the garden might also have plants.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

"Where did March go?" Part 1: Cooking

I know March isn't over yet, but it got really busy at work and I didn't get as much updating done as I should have because I wasn't getting pictures posted, either, but I'm in catch-up mode now. So, what have I been doing? Cooking, for starters.

A few weeks ago I decided to try the Carrot and Ginger Soup recipe that I saw in Food Network Magazine. Yes, Martha Stewart and I finally broke up. Since I was only buying Martha's magazine for the recipes, and those are less than half of the content, I decided at New Year's that I would finally drop Martha and just start buying straight out food porn. No more decorating your kid's room or working in the garden; now I just have pages and pages of food and kitchens and more food. Thank you, Food Network, you filthy enabler.

Anyway, the carrot and ginger soup seemed pretty simple, except that it called for raw ginger:

ginger root

It's like a filthy tumor covered in onion skin. It wasn't as scary as that time I used fennel, as it's at least kind of obvious what you do with the ginger. I cut off the three inch peice the recipe called for and peeled it:

peeled ginger root

Then I was supposed to grate it. I know from years of watching food porn that people use a microplane grater, but I don't have one of those. I have a box grater, though, so I figured I would give that a try. This turned out to be a bad idea. The holes on one side were too far apart, and the tiny parmesan holes on the other side turned the ginger into stringy pulp. Since everything was getting pureed at the end of the recipe, anyway, I decided to just dice the ginger into small peices and hope for the best:

diced ginger root

My knife skills aren't going to win any prizes, but they serve the purpose. Also, if you've never worked with raw ginger before, you should try it at least once just for the smell alone. Oh my God, the whole kitchen smelled like ginger ale, and I kept wanting to pick the ginger peices up and put them in my mouth and suck all the ginger out of them. I was salivating the entire time I was chopping, like Homer Simpson-level droolmouth. It smelled that good.

Anyway, eventually the ginger, some defrosted carrots from a bag, and a diced onion made it into the pot:

vegetables cooking

And then I had to add the carrot juice, which I looked for all over town and couldn't find in a bottle smaller than this:

carrot juice

That's about a half gallon of carrot juice. Who would need a bottle that big? What else do people do with it? I was curious enough to taste it, since I had so much extra, and yes, it tastes like carrots. So much like carrots that the act of drinking carrots with no texture made my stomach do a weird flip and I had to spit it out. Do people drink that by itself, or just add it to vegetable smoothies or something?

Either way, I added the carrot juice to the vegetables, and then deviated from the recipe in the magazine. They said to add water, but I added vegetable stock instead:

liquid added

After that simmered for a while, I hit it with the immersion blender, and suddenly had a pot full of delicious soup:

carrot and ginger soup

It turned out well, but made a lot. I ended up with three gladware containers in the fridge. I've frozen one of them, to see how it holds up, but haven't defrosted it yet.

Not that soup is all I've made. I also invented Spam and Cheese Tarts.

Yes, Spam:

canned spam

I have no idea how Spam got into my pantry, but that happens to me a lot in the grocery store. I'll buy something (Spam, creamed corn, phillo cups) with no clear idea of what I want to do with it, and by the time I get home I won't feel like thinking about it, so it will just get put away and sit for a bit until I'm going through the cabinets bored some afternoon and think, "Hey, Spam! What can I do with that?"

In this case, I decided to make mini-tarts, based on an idea I saw in a magazine. Using a tube of crescent roll dough, the magazine made fruit tartlettes, but even though I had a tube of dough I didn't have any fruit around.

I did, however, have a can of Spam that I could crack open:

uncanned spam

Spam is not very appetizing when it comes out of the can. I rinsed it off before doing anything else with it, because it was covered with something clear and slimy. Fat? Aspic? Spam jelly? We'll never know, and I never want to. Even though you can eat Spam right out of the can, I remember my mom frying it when we were little, so I decided I'd give it a good fry before putting it into the tarts. Meat is good, but fried, carmelized meat is even better.

Just ask my dear friend, Bacon.

Anyway, first the Spam got diced:

diced spam

then fried:

frying spam

and then it was a plate full of little tiny crunchy delicious meat nuggets:

fried spam

Following the directions for the fruit tarts, I unrolled a tube of crescent roll dough and pinched all the seams closed to give myself one sheet. I cut the sheet in half vertically, then horizontally, making four rectangles, then cut each rectangle into six squares and put each square in the bottom of a cup in the mini-muffin pan. I added a spoonfull of Spam nuggets and topped each one with a couple of chunks of cheese:

tart assembly

I baked according to the directions for the rolls on the tube, and ended up with delicious, bite sized mini Spam and Cheese tarts:

spam and cheese tarts

Those are coming to a football game with me this fall.