Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I for One

Thanks to links from links from Andrew Sullivan today, I found all sorts of cool things.  We'll start with the gloating.

I make sure I have a small commute. Always have done.  I love driving, but hate commuting.  Commuting isn't driving, it's inching through obstruction.  Right now, it means I live in the sticks.  There are days when I choose to go somewhere interesting, but not nearly enough of them to justify a long commute.  And really, research shows that I'm pretty smart to prioritize a small commute.
Commuting is a different kind of hell every day.

Where I want to be smug but can't, another link from that article points out the things that make us happy  are primarily sex, socializing after work, and having dinner with folks.  The smug comes in the fact that I prioritize having dinner with folks enough that when I can't, I substitute eating at a bar so I can chat with people even if I don't know them.  However, my attempts to find a regular dinner date are enormously tiring, and not super successful.  I do have some regular lunch dates though, which helps.  As for the first thing, let me know if you have single male friends anywhere near LA who are looking for a, well, dinner date and we'll see what shakes out.

With all my antibiotics taking recently, I've bloated up like a tick.  This may explain why
Changes to gut microbes make mice fat or trim which is something I've long suspected.  I don't need to be *skinny*, I just need to figure out how to not be starving several hours out of each day even when I know, logically, that I'm not in need of food.

Along those lines, a finding that associates schizophrenia with a microbe is similar to something I've thought about a lot.  Ever since I met my half-sister who has pretty debilitating Multiple Sclerosis, and she pointed out that (all? most?) MS patients have a partiularly large viral load of a particular virus in their spinal fluid, it has made sense to me that diseases, like fractures, usually have 2 or more facets to make them happen. 

With fractures, you have an initiation site and a breaking force.  If the breaking force overwhelms the molecular structure, it blows apart (like when the Mythbusters cleaned a cement mixer with explosives or dropping a china plate on a tile floor).  But for most fractures, the breaking point is less than the molecular structure unless there's a defect that weakens the structure.  To cut glass, you scribe a defect in the surface then knock the glass at or near that defect and it propagates along your scratch.  Without the scratch, the glass doesn't break when hit with the knocking force.  Without the knock, the glass will stay whole, although still scratched, waiting for the next knock. 

Similarly, fires need 3 things: Fuel, Oxygen, and ignition.  Take away any one of these and you have no fire: soggy wood won't provide fuel, a closed chamber (or the lack of convection in outerspace) will prevent oxygen from reaching fuel, and you can have a whole room full of matches and oil vapor, but it won't burn until the match gets struck (or someone plugs in the toaster).  Fires are put out by removing oxygen or fuel or preventing existing fires from igniting adjacent areas.

Back to microbes.  My family appears prone to turn our immune systems in on ourselves, but that turning is different for each person.  My mom is allergic to asprin and other medicines, I'm allergic to plants and animals and dust and anything that can get in my nose or eyes, my brother has asthma, and as mentioned previously, my half-sister has MS.  My theory is that we're all pre-disposed to autoimmune responses, but the form that response takes is dictated by environmental encounters.  Someone exposed to microbe A becomes asthmatic, someone exposed to bacteria B become allergic, someone exposed to virus C gets MS.    But if there was no exposure to A,B, or C, it's likely that the response would never develop. Unfortunately for us, I think the trigger microbes are extremely common so the only question is when and what, not if the trigger will initiate the response pathway.  (Fortunately, it seems like once we've got an outlet for the autoimmune response, it stops trying for more.)  It could be that there's even a third thing involved that can exert a moderating effect, and explain why two susceptible people with similar exposures might get different levels of response.  Not everyone with HPV gets cervical cancer, for instance, but it could be that it requires both HPV, a growth site (the cervix) and a cancer trigger in that causes the HPV to go crazy.  (The idea isn't all that crazy when you think about the fact that tools I run at work don't have ignition switches - they rely on cosmic rays to do the job.  Your cell phone? Some of those components exist because of cosmic rays.)

I'd read earlier about the fact that scientists were able to breed genetically fat mice.  I'm pretty chuffed to learn that they can alter that predisposition by changing gut microbes.  Now if anyone knows some good human gut microbes I can get my hands on, my waistline will thank you.  I might even take you out for dinner.

UPDATE: not 3 hours after this post, one of the features on "Is it Possible" explained that Narcolepsy is an auto-immune response to the strep throat virus, which triggers the body to kill the hypocretin producers.  Sometimes what doesn't kill you is just annoying.  I'm wondering if we're going to find a viral or bacterial trigger for things like Autism too.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Let Me be Next to You

I'll be heading to NYC this weekend, coincidentally Easter weekend, to meet up with any number of friends and see shows. If we can get in anywhere, we'll also eat brunch. I'm not sure if I'll be able to pack an Easter Bonnet in my luggage, especially since I'm flying on American which charges evil baggage fees. (I would have flown Jet Blue but their reservations weren't working, and their customer service people refused to provide service.)

I've been up to other stuff too, thanks to another round of antibiotics actually making me feel better.

Saturday, I went out to a singles dance with my neighbor, whose mom just recently had her first book published. The Language of Secrets I haven't read it so can't vouch for it being worth a hardcover price, but if you're in the bookstore, look it up and check it out. It is pretty. As for the singles dance, it turned out to be for "over 40s" making me pretty much jailbait, but there were some nice folks there that we went to a late dinner with. Which netted this photo of a magic fork after a busboy didn't quite get everything in the bin.
fork standing out of carpet like magic

More pictures and updates if you...

Friday, March 26, 2010


I've been thinking a lot about how we could go about revamping keyboards. The story is that when the QWERTY keyboard was invented, it was designed to slow typists down. That may or may not be the case, but it is the case that common letter clusters were split up to avoid the striking bars sticking to each other and making the machine fault. If it's true that the QWERTY layout does slow people down, even, say 10% (more than 1, less than 100) of what they could easily do on a better layout, and if there are about 100,000,000 US adults who use computers at least, say, 3 hours a day (more than 1, less than 10), if we used a better keyboard layout, we could save or redirect 30 million person-hours a DAY. Even if the efficiency gains are only 1% (most of my typing time is thinking of sentences, not the typing), that's still 3 million person-hours a DAY or 600 million person-hours per working year. We could probably also include some things in there to help carpal tunnel - moving common letters like "a" away from weak pinky fingers. Come to think of it, moving common letters to the central keyboard position would speed up two finger typists considerably too.

But do we do that? Nope. There's a Dvorak keyboard that tried to do these things but never caught on in large scale. Why? Because there's huge sunk costs into QWERTY keyboards. They're everywhere - and they're often shared. I think it's the sharing of keyboards that's the killer. It's more efficient to use a slow keyboard layout you know than a fast keyboard layout you don't. But technology has come a long way, and more and more people are using keyboards, and more and more people are using them expertly, if inefficiently. So until a great many people use a new style, the old style will dominate. I think with so many keyboard variants popping up - virtual on a flatscreen iPhone or doubled letters on a texting phone, it's a good time to effect the layout shift.

It hit me this morning that if we can have a Number Lock key that switches the number pad from one set of characters to another, and a shift key that does similar things, why not have a layout key or switch as well? The obvious answer is that the letters and numbers are printed on the keys already. Again, tech to the rescue. The touchscreen layouts are a nobrainer.

For physical keyboards, we have strong, clear plastics. We have low energy, low heat LEDs. Why not make keyboard keys with a window over a selection of colored LEDs. When you turn on the red, the QWERTY layout shows through. When you turn on the BLUE, you only see the CrankyOtter layout. Similar with a green or white - or reserve the other colors for shift/control/alt/etc keys. As long as the keyboard sends out the correct code, the computer it's attached to doesn't care what order the letters are in. And for industrial and educational keyboard with multiple users, each one can sit down, choose the layout of their choice, and get to work, faster. Sure, they will cost more to start out, with custom filters/fluorescing patterns with lights being more expensive than screenprinting ink. But did I mention that 600 million person hours? Not every keyboard has to be both, but just enough. We could start with the touchscreen keypads that have no physical existence, test them, and move on.

Other keyboard modifications:
Put an ENTER key on the left side of the keyboard already! If I'm using the mouse (or other peripheral) right handed, it's handy to have an enter key at the ready with my other hand so I can leave them in place while I work through something.

There's so much online text now that it should be easy like falling off a wet rock to examine not just commonly used characters, but also commonly used character clusters. I'd particularly want "ing" and "ion" to be spaced to favor both combinations. Either make keys for those clusters in addition to regular keys (think of the old 1/2 and 1/4 keys), or position them so that the average user finds the combination smooth and pleasing as well. Or both. Or have them toggle-able. Like a "." can be either just "." or ". " or ". _" where the underline is a second space like they teach in typing class. "The" could be a single key. Similarly a comma could be set to ", " - then in the number pad, they would lose the space.

Speaking of the number pad, that could use some help as well. Any number of programs have alternate uses for those keys, I could handle having an equals sign (=) there and maybe other page/spreadsheet cell navigation keys like backspace/delete. Maybe adjust the spacing to be not quite rectilinear so that natural finger bending lands your digits in the right place making it easier to add useful, ergonomic peripheral keys (like "t,r" and "y,u" share the same extended finger and are easy to find because the diagonal layout puts both in easy reach. Then allow a user to move around the keys programming, if they like, to better win at MMORPGs or input the data for their thesis.

I was thinking of this particularly because I'm still being pained by the transition from Microsoft of old to MS 2007 which has totally messed things around, put commonly used things together to create icons that trigger more than one thing, and we're all expected to get used to it. As long as they're re-inventing everything else, why not the keyboard? MS has enough resources at their disposal that they could try various likely versions with new and old typists to correct major grievances before rolling out a final product. With a toggled layout both expert users of QWERTY and the kids who have no problem texting with a phone keyboard can use the same hardware. Then we can be more efficient when we surf the web at work.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


A friend just let me know she'd thought about inviting me over for the weekend to watch the Health Care Reform bill on CSPAN with her and her husband, saying "it was like the superbowl at our house!" Totally chuffed by that.

I can't wait until I won't be denied coverage for my pre-existing conditions of:
  • non-fatal allergies that require some intervention to make me a consistently productive citizen
  • an extra aorta which is totally asymptomatic and likely to remain that way
  • past history of mental health issues (this is why I was denied coverage for personal disability insurance shortly after I participated in a fitness camp run by Navy SEALs)
  • tendinitis in my feet
  • being a female with gender specific needs (oh, wait, that one might still be unavailable)
So, 2014, just gotta hang on to insurance until then.

As long as we're on politics, I finally found someone documenting all the hypocricies that have been making my head explode, then a few more for good measure.

Some people get on my case about how I should allow that other people may feel differently than me on certain heated topics. Well, I'll allow for the fact that people can disagree with me up to when they start spouting the FOX/Rove talking points that are directly contradicting what they, themselves said they believed two years ago. The one that really gets to me is the exact same commentators (and follower) who called it treasonous at worst and unpatriotic at best to be questioning the president or his motives or his actions when Bush was in the white house are all but calling for violent action against Obama and push for obstructing everything the current, legally elected American President does as being unAmerican. They're not even pretending to be honest about that. And I don't feel any need whatsoever to assume they're being honest when they are provably not being honest. Dissent is patriotic and makes our nation stronger. Infantile obstructionism and fear mongering is just that, and makes everyone weaker.

So. /rant.

(update from 2 days later... whoops! hit save instead of publish. Wondered why it wasn't showing up.)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Butte View

I got to Phoenix, checked out the used-refurbished tool we're buying, it works right, and only needed minor tweaks before shipping. We had mexican food for lunch, but no margaritas.

After my work, a nearby book-club friend picked me up and we went to the Marriot pool bar at "The Buttes" overlooking Phoenix on one side and a spring training ballfield on the other. We did have margaritas, then met up with another book club friend for mexican food and margaritas. (Ok, so my driving friend watched me have margaritas, but still). Then we retired to my friend's house and her husband made us "German Chocolate Cake Martinis! yum. We chatted a bit and surfed the web to find entertaining things. We checked out their "throws", the necklaces and other detritus of their trip to Mardi Gras. Given my hoarding tendencies, I'm not sure if it would be good for me to go, ever...

The trip was good - productive and friendly. But I have been a zombie most of the time. I had to *leave the house* at 5:45AM to get to the airport. I didn't have enough sleep (I tried, but things came up) and with the new time change, it was like waking up a 4:15AM body time which is one of the only times of day I'm ever reliably asleep. I've been trying to recover since. I slept on the plane out, got a good 8-9 hours at my friend's house, but hit the sack the moment the shuttle dropped me off at home. I slept for a couple hours, talked on the phone with a friend, slept on the couch for 4 hours, then was awake enough to be irresponsible. I finally got to sleep really, really, really late, only to have my boss call at 8am and a tech call at 10:30.

10:30 was good, though because I had my alarm set for that time anyway because my organizer was due over. I was essentially useless for the first hour she was here, but we sorted through all my non-sorted books and it was good. I now have a giant, but organzied, TBR (to be read) pile, more full-on keeper books tucked into a re-purposed bookshelf, and some provisional keepers. Next book organizing will go into my deep storage paperbacks and probably get rid of half of them. In the meantime, I need to acquire closed storage. Media storage works best, but I like the double depth stuff and that can be tricky. I do have some leads though. There's definitely hope.

If I can sleep right and be awake ever again.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Motherly Love

Well, my mom got her gift and it was a hit!
saltistry salt samplers
It was a selection of flavored, colored salts which I thought she could use while cooking and plating things (she enjoys cooking most when she can add 'special touches' and has a particular gift for elegant presentations and novel flavor combinations), a "Truffle Pig" dark chocolate candy bar, some homemade cookies and the home crafted card I was so excited about that I risked early exposure to share.

A friend had brought them a giant slab of salmon from Alaska (I can vouch for the desirability of such a thing), so they cooked it up and tried it with the different salts and different sauces, making a fun evening out of it and devouring the whole filet. Happy Birthday! I picked the salt mix because one of the flavors was "fennel pollen" which seemed esoteric. Mom likes fennel and esoteric foods (and dad will try just about anything as long as roughly 3% of people consider it an actual food). The "Saltistry Exotic Sampler" also sported a blackened salt (which "looked a little funny" on the salmon), a reddish salt (Genmaicha - could be mud*, could be cake, but it has a classy name), a lemon flavor (which seems like the cheap filler, but was probably from virgin lemons with zest removed by fairy kisses), and Lavender (probably for dessert to make breath sweet afterward because classy people put pretty salt on dessert). Yes, I enjoy odd food, but some really need mocking. Seriously, fennel pollen? But it's up mom's alley and I needed an excuse to buy something weird.

The cookies she has forbidden my dad to snack on unless she's watching him directly. Dad's not above eating the last one. They're icebox, icebox rolled in sugar, and the Earl Grey. That tea cookie is esoteric too (and dad likes Earl Grey).

I asked about the card. Mom said, "It's cute! Did you get it at the dollar store?"


Technically, I think she thought I found foam monkeys and frogs at the dollar store and assembled it myself, and we are living in the age where "store bought" is often taken to be an improvement over "homemade" so I suppose it's a compliment that she thought it looked professional? Still and all, she liked the gift, the gift is consumable so it won't add clutter, it got there before her birthday, the cookies didn't crumble to dust, the card is cute, so I'm calling success.

* I thought I was kidding here, but Genmaicha does appear to be, um, mud.
The color comes from 'Alaea red clay found on the Hawaiian islands and has been used for centuries in native ritual feasts. We blend it with Genmai green tea with toasted brown rice which adds an amazing nutty flavor. Genmaicha makes an excellent finish for all dishes especially roasted pork, edamame, and melon. Origin: Molokai, Hawaii

You are getting very sleeeeepy

I got maybe 2 hours of sleep last night, then had to wake up early. I was about ready to keel over on the couch when I got home, but just kept motoring on, semi-conscious. Am I asleep now? No. Maybe this is why?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Having an odd damn day

It was a good thing I left the condo today or I would have missed out on that whole daylight savings time change. I was sorely confused at 4:10pm when I thought we were still working through the 3 o'clock hour, but things are fine. I did sleep for at least 12 hours on friday and saturday night and am tired enough to sleep now, so hopefully I'll actually sleep and not just lay there thinking odd thoughts.

Because I had some odd thoughts last night/earlier today. The wacky dream started with the premise that the Irish celebrate St. Patty's day by taking cash to tax-free Caribbean islands to put in numbered accounts. That might have something to do with my recent re-watching of The Bourne Identity. Somehow in this dream I found some cash of my own to withdraw, convinced a friend to come with me and stayed at some wacky, hard to find hostel down a scary-steep road. Then I got distracted by the offer of a free hand-made purse. Mercifully, I didn't have to crawl through any small doors or hatches or tunnels, but it was still a pretty strange dream. I had thought recently that my dream frequency had fallen off, but both this weekend and last weekend had some pretty elaborate ones.

I tried again today to make beef stew. The cooks illustrated version had some good things going for it, but it cost too much, and I didn't really like olives in my stew. I found a similar recipe at the doctor's office, of all places, in the WebMD magazine they had a billion copies of in the waiting room. I risked the germs and brought a copy home and cut out the recipes. I might show some pictures of it tomorrow if I feel inspired, but it looked a lot like the other stew. The key difference was cost and beans. Instead of 3 pounds of meat, it took 1 and two cans of beans (kidney and black - I used "white kidney" beans). It didn't call for $8 mushrooms, or mushrooms of any sort for that matter, but I like them and added half a $3 box. It called for a cup of wine instead of a bottle, but I went with 2 cups and then doubled the broth too, only I used chicken instead of beef because the ethnic stores across the street do sell carrots and chicken stock, but no beef products. I followed the CI assembly order, added in their flour and orange zest, and it worked pretty well, but needed to cook a LOT longer than 90 minutes in the oven, even though it turns out my big oven overtemps by about 20 degrees. Anyway, I can buy the meat pre-cut, I like the beans better than olives, and it was $15 plus wine, not $40. So if I can handle the leftovers, it's a keeper.

Lastly, I stopped in at an open house in my complex today and talked to the realtor there (which is when I found out about the time reset). The place is the exact layout of mine, only upstairs so it has a vaulted ceiling and gets some light even though it also mostly faces north. And lists for 55% of what my condo cost me. My idea is that I buy a cheap place now (if I can) so I at least have one possible moneymaker while I can still get a good price. This realtor knows a mortgage person who'd be willing to talk to me about this. This could be cool.

Lastly for realzers, Jennifer Crusie's new book Wild Ride comes out on Tuesday, and I'm going to go see Suz Brockmann's play Looking for Billy Haynes in a couple weeks. I might be able to see a friend or several in Phoenix this coming weekend after a work trip. So there's good stuff coming.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

She's Crafty

After seeing those craft blogs earlier in the week, I resolved to make something. Good thing I had fun, because it took rather a while to do. It would be way easier to buy something instead, and cheaper probably too. But since saving money and time wasn't the point, it was a good project.

I needed a purpose for the project. My mom's birthday is coming up so I thought I'd make her something. After looking through some of my craft stash, I found these funky sheets of foam, and decided that instead of running out to buy felt, I'd use the foam, and work in layers instead of sewing up something to stuff. Then I decided I could make a birthday card. It worked!

monkey tree frog card, foam on cardstock

There you have it: Nothing says "Happy Birthday" like a tree, a frog, and a monkey made out of foam, by your kid who is 30 years out of preschool, right?

Details on construction if you

Friday, March 12, 2010


I found all kinds of great links yesterday. Let me know what you think of these, or if you have suggestions for your favorite new link of the moment -even if it's a fleeting moment. Although it occurs to me that I should just make a facebook page already and spend etime with people I already know and like...

One way to plan out blog ideas a year in advance. I need to do something like this with travel/socializing plans, and I have a lovely new calendar from New Zealand,and already carry around the little notebook, a holdover from vacations spent roaming around Europe before the internets were available for blogging.
Planning a Year
This could actually work for me because I am partial to the same tools and time-based oraganizing.

Here are some crafty things. I have a soft spot in my heart for stuffed felt things: animals, cartoony things. Here are techniques useful to making them.
Cool knot
Felt sewing, whip stitch
Felt sewing, blanket stitch
Felt sewing, choose between whip/blanket stitch

I was inspired by these to make something last night. More specifically, I was inspired by someone who used the felt sea creatures pattern to make valentines. I got so far as digging out some colored foam sheets (felt substitute I had on hand) and some silicone type caulk (figured it'll bond, be clear, dry easily, and not run and it's already open). I haven't made anything yet, but I think I'll get it done tonight.

The thought linkage: My mom's birthday is very near St. Patty's, and I have a gift but no card. The octopus valentine was cute, but maybe a shamrock would be better. I'm having a hard time getting excited about yet another shamrock, but green frogs, they're cute! Then looking up felt frogs, I found tree frogs. *I* like frogs, but my mom likes trees. So maybe I can make a tree instead. Or a frog. Frogs are cute. So, a tree, a frog, or a frog in a tree. I'm going to make one of those and mail off the present. Because what mom wants in her 60s is more handmade romper room cut outs from her kids! Well, I'm going to make it anyway.

Then for some reason, after finding the ikeahacker blog, I'm finding that everyone in the world has made adorable play kitchens for their kids from old cabinetry. It looks like a fun thing to do. Then that led, don't know how, back to trees when I found the suckatlife artist who draws and paints some of my favorite things:
cartoons and scraggly trees.>

I did also do my "homework" and search online for a desk and shelving. Why I can't find paperback book bookshelves is a mytery to me, but it looks like adjustable "media" shelves will work out the best. Although getting rid of some books probably wouldn't hurt either.

So it's not exactly a happiness post, but it's not exactly not because all of these things made me go "squee!" just a little on my first day of staying late at work after the plague. Which I apparently did pass on to my friend. Oops! So if you're sick and stuck at hope, but alert enough to be online, go see if any of those things get you some cuteoverload.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Happily Ever After

Yes, I do read romances, and yes, I am happy in California, dammit!

And yes, it is helping to write down what was good about my day at the end of it.  It works.  You don't see me doing it so much anymore necessarily, but I'm in better practice these days in looking for the glimmer of goodness in each experience.

  • I ran into a colleague at lunch so we sat together and I found out he got hired full time after two years as a temp. He does a great job; it's a long overdue promotion to security.
  • My "Apricot Windows" tart from page 84 was amazingly delicious.
  • I finished my project that was a squeak away from being done when I went out sick. (Updating PROMIS DCOps for daily/weekly tasks, for those who know how painful that can be.)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

And the Winner is?

I'm going to go with the winner is us, the viewers.  2009 was a bang up year for movies.  I saw 3 (4?) of the best picture nominees so far and any of them could have won and I'd have been good with it, although there seemed to be general agreement that The Hurt Locker should take it, and it did.  Overall, I was pretty pleased with how things rolled out.  I got invited to the Oscar party of a friend of a friend who went all out decorating with a large Oscar at the entrance and little black clapper party favors and Oscar posters around the place.  We had a comfy couch and a snack table and watched the whole thing.  All the clothes were lovely and appropriate - there were only good, better, and best as far as I'm concerned (that I saw). I was super pleased that Sandra Bullock won best actress, although I wouldn't have begrudged 3 of the other 4 winning (an Education was excellent, Meryl does the definitive Julia, and how could Helen Mirren being Mrs. Tolstoy go wrong?) but I just really thought SB gave a truly great performance in The Blind Side.  That movie could have been all things bad, but it did not go off the rails.  Rather, it exceeded all my expectations and I couldn't be happier for her. In general, the whole night was a best of the best, not a "where did *that* come from" kinda night.  Again, 2009 was a banner year for movies.

But let's get on to the important stuff.  The snacks!
My friend, if you'll remember, left me with the Martha Stewart Cookie Cookbook.  So I figured I'd take a small sampling of cookies to the party by making one  or two more treats, then slicing up some more of the Earl Grey cookies from the freezer.  And to no ones' surprise, I got carried away.

I started out with something approximating bars - brownies!  But I picked the special "coconut swirl brownies" where one floods the bottom with chocolate brownie mix, drop in some coconut sweet spots, then cover with chocolate and swirl them together.  There's one left, here, in the corner.
1 brownie and 2 pistachio cookies
I got off to a slow start when I didn't have any sweetened condensed milk to mix with the coconut.  I did have unsweetened coconut from the Bangluck market, though, and a motherload of coconut milk.  Since sweetened condensed milk is essentially milk with sugar added which is then cooked to reduce water, I figured I could make my own.  I'm not sure if it was the adding the sugar early or what, but the coconut/sugar mixture splattered EVERYWHERE unless I stirred it constantly, which I did not want to do.  Fortunately I had a sieve that fit right over the tiny pan to contain most of the splatters.   I could have cooked it down a tiny bit more (It went from 2/3 cup to 1/2 cup but I needed 1/3 cup and a little less water.  Still and all, they came out great, if a little more moist and swirled than intended.  Did I mention there's one left?

Also in the picture are two Pistachio Tuiles (/tweel/).  You may notice that they don't look like this:
Jeniffer Paxton from Melbourne Australia's cookies - lots of good looking tuiles on a cooling rack
I had some technical difficulties with these tweels.  Having a coffee grinder that I use for spices - and in this case nuts - the batter was dead easy to make.  Unfortunately, they're pernicious little buggers to cook.  They do taste excellent though - the pistachio comes through and they're nice and light and sweet and crunchy.  I started trying to bake them on an airbake pan with a silpat or tefloned "permanent parchment".  They stuck like crazy to both.  Turns out they have to be fully cooked or they won't come off even non-stick surfaces, and my edges got really, really cooked while the centers were still uncooked.  I moved to a greased silpat on a non-airbake and it went a little better, but by then I was out of patience and made them too large, so again with the cookies that came off partially then ripped.

I finally got about one pan's worth both baked and shaped and they were well enough reviewed (and the batter is easy enough) that I'm willing to try them again.  But if you do them, make sure they're brown almost all the way through before even thinking about approaching them with a spatula.  Eggs are sticky in general, but add sugar and heat and they'll stick like barnacles until they dry out.  Seriously, butter up that silpat and hold out an extra minute or two.

You'd think that would be enough and you'd be right.  But I had a couple hours to kill today and decided to go with my third choice of Apricot Windows.
Apricot tart with edges showing

The recipe makes a 9"x11" pan of these and calls for just over 4 sticks of butter.  Even though I did hit a good sale on, of all things, unsalted butter at the grocery store (yes, at Ralphs) last week and stocked up a bit, using a pound of butter seemed excessive and I really didn't need that much tart.  I decided to make half a recipe and put it in an 8" round springform pan, which I now own thanks to the reasonably priced bakeware from IKEA.  I probably could have made a third of the batter (making the egg division easier, but everything else trickier) but this seems to have worked out well enough.
 apricot tart in IKEA springform pan

The jam filling tasted fine before it went on and probably improved with the baking.  It wasn't straight up apricot though.  A friend of mine moved and left me the contents of her pantry which included a jar each of apple and peach jelly. I've been looking askance at them for a while and decided this would be the perfect use.  So I mixed them together along with some chopped dried apricots and hint of diced candied ginger and I'll know at breakfast tomorrow if I made the right choice. 

UPDATE: This is freakishly delicious.  I used Bob's Red Mill whole grain cornmeal, which I ground down a little finer in my non-coffee grinder, and it adds great things to the texture and flavor of the crust - something that's not normally my favorite part of a dessert which is also why I don't make many "bar" recipes.  I think 1/3 of the recipe would be totally fine for the 8" round and a half recipe better for a 9" round but my colleagues liked the ratio of the 1/2 recipe in the 8" round just fine and it's all gone now.

In the meantime, I'm hitting the wall.  I was social for a couple hours and my "yay, I feel better" feeling from my 5pm antibiotic is wearing off. On the good side, I have the "make something new" more than covered for March, and incidentally got my "bake something again" covered.  My recipes used 4 egg whites, leaving me yolks enough for a double batch of the best icebox cookies... so I made a double batch of those and have 5tubes of them in the freezer.  It seemed unseemly to bring some to the party, so they're technically unbaked but the dough tastes just right, so I'm calling the March resolution done, although I still plan to do the pistachio cake later.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Resolution Update

I had all kinds of ideas for baking in February, but didn't really let loose due to all the cooking (which is different than baking, and what an epiphany when I learned that). Nevertheless, I made my goal by squeaking in something at the end. My repeat baking was a Red Velvet heart shaped cake for Valentine's day. It was a modification to a white boxed cake based on something I saw Paula Deen do, and I figure if she does is, it's legit for southern dessert. Second was also on the southern side, if also just American: cornbread. I've made cornbread before, but not this recipe and never with buttermilk so I count this as new. It's another Cooks Illustrated "Best 100" recipe.
half pan of cornbread cut into squares on white plateThe texture is good, and the flavor is ok, but I think it would be a lot better if I could taste *anything*, which I can't so no fault to the recipe.

I've also gotten a jump on March's new recipe having whipped up a batch of Earl Grey cookies that caught my eye in the Martha Stewart's cookie book my friend brought for me. Since her boyfriend was also curious about them I figured I could send some back with her. Again, the texture is good and so is the sugar level in the dough, but I'm missing the bergamot and orange yet... I figured cookies were safe to cook for sharing given they get 325F heat which will kill my cooties. Still, some dough is in the freezer chilling in case my friend doesn't want me touching her food. The repeat baking for March will be my White Trash Green Pistachio Cake with Bailey's for St. Patty's day.

Dinner party wise, I'm counting saturday's as one of mine even if it was held at the neighbor's. I made stuff, met up with people and even though I was OMGWTFBBQ sick, I was not spewing-things-sick and everything I took had been baked or boiled. I took the cornbread, the roasted tomatoes with pesto stuffing, and half the beef stew from last weekend which had been saved in the freezer.

Health wise,

Monday, March 1, 2010

Two Steps Back

Yesterday it appeared that I was making progress against the dread nasal plague. I think it was just lying low due to toxic amounts of tylenol, advil, sudafed and such. Last night was one of the bad ones, and I did not feel better today. Fortunately for my friend, she'd planned to drive down to San Diego for a spell as she gets away from my 4am coughing and gargling fits.

I cleaned myself up enough this morning to get to the pharmacy, thinking to refresh my allergy nose spray and get my anti-fungal meds, only to find that the doctor had called in a prescription for me for antibiotics on friday, without telling me. I suspect that when I get to work, there will be a voice mail waiting for me telling me about the antibiotics. But what kind of moron leaves a message at a work address when they're calling someone who is sick enough to be home and doesn't reach that person? They do have my work as my primary contact number to remind me for regular appointments, but a little bit of thought might have been nice. If that's good enough for you, stop here. For the rest of the horrific details,