Saturday, December 31, 2005

No More Ads

With the dawn of the new year, I've ended my experiment with Google Adsense. I never expected to earn any revenue with it. I was curious to see how it worked, how well the ads meshed with my content, and if there would be any click-through at all. The ads were frequently about food, no surprise there, and occasionally about television and other topics. But no anime ads, no Asian movie ads, not really any videogame ads either. As I wrote about all of these things, albeit less than food or family lately, I'm a little disappointed that they never made the cut.

Oh, and in the several months that I had this experiment running, there were exactly four click-throughs. Very amusing.

So to you few friends, family and regular readers who patiently put up with my little geek game, thanks for your patience. The slightly less cluttered Terebi2 is back.


Can't remember now whether this was Thursday or Friday, but I went to see Syriana. This is one seriously bleak movie. It is entirely credible behavior by a series of bad actors chasing wealth and power. Fascinating and depressing all at once.

As if that wasn't enough, I'm going to try to see Munich before work starts again on Tuesday.

Friday, December 30, 2005


Wednesday saw Jean, Renee and I attending The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I thought this was an excellent adaptation of the book, and that it captured the spirit of the characters and story quite well. The temptation to get all saccharine must have been overwhelming, but in truth the sentimentality was limited to the areas where it was actually called for.

Tilda Swinton is fast becoming one of my favorite character actresses. She was in Constantine, as the archangel Gabriel, and here plays the White Witch with a great sense of detachment, contempt and suppressed fury. The voices of the various animal characters were appropriate, and James McAvoy, as Mr. Tumnus, was almost exactly right. His character was the one I was most worried about, as there would surely be a temptation to turn him into the fluttery children's book stereotype that pops up so often in fantasy movies. Here he gave, in just a few brush strokes, a performance that evoked a living person, with flaws, that I could actually believe in.

When Renee was five and six (and still Kelly) we read all the Narnia books together (me doing most of the reading) and they are etched in my memory. Now there is a movie of the first book, and I'm quite comfortable with their stewardship. Let's have another!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

King Kenmore

About the time I was watching King Kong, Jean was taking delivery of a new clothes washer. We'd been without one since Thursday or Friday, when the agitator on our twelve year old washer gave up for good. Christmas Eve morning, I drove over to the mall, found the parking lot nearly empty, but Sears staffed with many helpful clerks. In less than half an hour, I'd ordered our washer, to be delivered that coming Tuesday. The date was set, but not the time. I figured they'd be done before I left for Kong.

However, Monday came, and I sent an email to Tom, Alan and Dan confirming that I'd be there for the movie. Mere minutes later, we got an automated message that the washer would be delivered between 6:15 and 8:15 pm Tuesday night. I was reluctant to cancel my movie date, especially after such a late confirmation, so Jean agreed to handle it herself. Thanks, Jean!

So now we've worked through the backload of laundry, we've got clean sheets again, and my dwindling closet of clean clothes never got down to the really old, ugly stuff that doesn't fit any more. Yay!

Holiday Cinema

Scanning over the last several posts I've spotted a pattern. Odd posts are about vacation cooking, even posts about why I haven't played my videogames yet. Either I'm suffering from seizures of deja vu, or I really have very little to say. So with that in mind...

The Producers. I can give no better review for this movie than the linked one by Roger Ebert. I've been a fan of the original Mel Brooks movie for decades, watching edited reruns on television every few years. Seeing this rendition now makes me want to purchase the DVD and see the original in all it's unedited glory. When I first heard that The Producers was being adapted as a musical, I was both excited and sad, because I knew I'd never get to see the stage version, but loved musicals and hoped they would create a movie version.

And they did, with the original Broadway stars, Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane (reprising the roles of Leopold Bloom and Max Bialystock created by Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel). I knew I was going to see this, by hook or by crook. Monday, the day after Christmas, having taken the day off, I drove to Bridgeport Village, only to get trapped in a parking lot traffic jam. Finally finding parking, I walked to the theater, and there were massive lines. It became apparent that I wouldn't be able to get into the theater in time for the show, so I gave up. I thought about going in anyway to see a showing of Munich, which started later, but it is a longer movie, and Jean would probably have wondered what happened to me, so I just went home.

I tried again on Tuesday. I went to the 11:05am showing, and Bridgeport Village was only sparsely populated. The parking garage was nearly empty, and the theater was populated only by helpful staff. Happy day! I settled in and watched the film, a silly grin on my face at least half of the time. I'll grant you I am a special case, but if you like Mel Brooks and musicals, then you will almost certainly enjoy The Producers.

I'd decided that the holiday crush I saw on Monday was over. But emerging from the theater, I saw a crowd that was maybe two-thirds as large as the post-Christmas logjam. Once again, cars filled the avenue leading to the parking garage, and though the crowd in front of the box office was maybe half the size it was on Monday, it was still surprising large for a weekday lunch hour. I guess more people take off the week between Christmas and New Year's Day than I had thought. With that in mind, I shot off an email to my friends, whom I was meeting that evening to see...

King Kong: The 1933 version that started it all runs an hour and forty-five minutes. It is a silly romp with a jerky stop-motion animated monster that at the time was state of the art, supplied by Willis O'Brien (who tutored Ray Harryhausen). The story divides naturally into three parts. The first establishes the human players and briefly sketches their reasons for going on their fateful journey. The second part reveals Kong on the fantastical Skull Island, and the third part returns to New York for a fateful finish.

This modern remake by Peter Jackson is architected along the same general lines. Only now it takes three hours to get there. Does Jackson really need three hours to tell this tale 'better' than the 1933 original? Sadly, the answer is no. I enjoyed the film, and to judge by Alan's vigorous rant during the credit roll, it held a bit more pleasure for me than him. But looking at this film with an editor's eye, I'd have to say that an hour and 45 minutes, or at most two hours, would have been quite enough.

The action scenes were very exciting, until they clearly decided that more is better. James asked Alan if he enjoyed Kong more or less than National Treasure, a clunker we all saw which was filled with egregious ten minute chase scenes (more than one) that had me waving my hands in a 'get on with it' gesture. Alan said he enjoyed them about equally, which is to say, not much.

I'd say that the aspect I enjoyed most was how Jackson attempted to turn the relationship between Ann Darrow and Kong into a mutual one (much like the 1976 version with Jessica Lange). Instead of being a sacrifice inexplicably given a prolonged reprieve, Darrow (played by Naomi Watts) becomes a willing accomplice after a series of incidents on the island. I'm tempted to call this the most extreme example of Stockholm Syndrome ever depicted, but of course Jackson is striving for more than this, and Watts generally succeeds in elevating her interactions with the imaginary beast.

Overall, I'm not ready to join the critics who give this version top marks. It's too long, too heavy-handed and just too wearying. But I'm glad I saw it, especially with a gang of like-minded friends.

This post has run on for quite a bit, so I think I'll be taking a break. I'll post about my family viewing of the Narnia flick separately...

How I Spent My Winter Vacation

While I have certainly managed to go see a few movies (about which I'll talk in a separate post), and I did have some fun cooking (already mentioned), I don't seem to have managed to fire up my new games once yet. Why?

Well, I've already mentioned that I'm studying Flex and Bison. Just as a matter of scale, the Bison manual is 142 pages long. Somewhat more challenging is What Every Computer Scientist Should Know About Floating Point Arithmetic (1991), a 93 page treatise on machine representation of real numbers. What exactly I am reading it for I won't go into, suffice to say there are unnamed individuals who think that real numbers should be representable exactly in the computer, I mean, what's the big deal, right?

The other distraction is of course family. I've been enjoying time with Jean and Renee, doing the Christmas thing, going to a movie together, playing games (chess and mancala, not video), and just generally hanging out.

Since I elected to use my recreational time to see those movies (and hope to squeeze a couple more in before returning to work), those games will have to wait!

Monday, December 26, 2005

Pie, Pie, Pie!

Yesterday was Chicken Pot Pie, and my filling runneth(-ed) over, so today I made a huge shephard's pie with the remainder. Topped with cheese and breadcrumbs. I've yet to eat any, but I can't imagine it tasting much worse than the original. Renee made noises like she wanted some, which is why I made it, but came the time, she turned her nose up at it. Sniff.

But that was really because we were capping the holiday weekend with a pizza pie. Half ham&olive, half 'Hawaiin'. Yummy.

If that's not enough pies for you, I spent the last of my holiday energy making a sweet potato pie (recipe courtesy of America's Test Kitchen). Sort of reminiscent of pumpkin pie, but there is no mistaking the presence of sweet potato here. The recipe calls for placing a layer of dark brown sugar on the crust before pouring in the filling, and it makes for a nice sweet note under all the tuberiferous goodness. I'll have no problem eating up this one.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

To Play, or Not to Play

I've 'officially' had two new videogames and an old favorite video in my hands since this morning. But did I play them? Nah. I spent the bulk of the day cooking, reading Flex documentation and writing sample Flex specs to test my understanding. When I wasn't doing that, I was herding Renee, trying to keep her from melting into a puddle training virtual dogs to go on the virtual paper. This is not to say that I didn't play at all. The cooking was mostly fun. I need to make Kelly do more of my pot washing, that's all.

Whither Magna Carta? Perhaps tomorrow?

Chicken Pot Pie, Slowly Escaping Kitchen

My holiday dish had a few quirks. For one, my notion of what constitutes a medium onion or a medium carrot is apparently a good deal larger than that of the cooks at America's Test Kitchen. In addition to this pie, there's a whole casserole full of the filling that went into it. For another, you may have noticed that the crust seems to be listing to one side. I followed the directions for sizing and shaping, but my alignment left a bit to be desired, and it was still a little overlarge.

But it tasted damn good! Tomorrow, I'll take a stab at making that Sweet Potato Pie I was going on about.

If you have a hankering for more holiday photos, head on over to my Flickr gallery.

First Wave

We got up this morning and emptied our stockings. I'm not going to do a laundry list of every little thing; suffice to say that there were many cute trinkets, and I got a bundle of cash. I really wasn't expecting that, as I had asked for (and received) a food processor this Christmas. Still, Jean surprises me, and leaves me feeling guilty as well. I got her some presents, but didn't go that extra mile this year. Must think of something...

Anyway, this year is somewhat non-routine. Jean is working as a nurse, and she's pulled shifts over the holiday. She worked yesterday, and Renee and I used the time to finish wrapping presents, among all the grocering and other chores. I did the prep work for a dish I'm making today, chicken pot pie. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Jean has another shift today. She's leaving for work in an hour. So we decided to save the sub-tree presents for when she returns this evening. I'll probably spend the day cooking, studying Flex and Bison for a work project, and playing Magna Carta, my stocking stuffer to myself...

I'll hold off on posting pictures until the tree gifts have been shredded. Later!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Behold, Git-san!

I'm too lazy to set up a proper backdrop, but you should be able to figure out the general color scheme of this present from Valeska to Renee, hand crafted with skill and loving care. Thanks, Valeska!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

It Snows...

Ugh. Make it stop.

On the positive side, the NOVA Christmas party was fun. We finished the second season of Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex, and it was fully as satisfying as I had hoped. Major Motoko Kusanagi became a lot more human in the final episode. I remember after the first season wondering if they'd be able to sustain the complex, challenging narrative in a second, prolonged story arc, but they did it somehow. Now I'm wondering if they'll be able to do it again. I don't know if they plan to try a third season, but after the emotional trauma inflicted on Major Kusanagi, and the loss (again) of the Tachikoma, I'm once again wondering if it would be a good idea to continue. But they've got a good track record, so I'll watch once again if they do.

Bob, our programmer, chose also to show two episodes of Noein, a series that I've become somewhat taken by (I'm up to episode four). I hope it catches on enough that he's tempted to show more episodes. Elliot, the club pariah, thought it was boring, so that's a good sign.

Then there were the presents. I'd assured all my friends that due to my penury I'd be skipping the present exchange this year, and to please feel free to leave me out of it. No such luck. Or my own good fortune, anyway. Tom got me Aeon Flux - The Complete Animated Collection. Apparently he'd been listening when I'd told Chris and Valeska at the last meeting that the live action version (visible in this trailer) out recently was tone-deaf and wooden in it's attempts to mimic the original. Thanks Tom!

Alan got me a game, Trapt, which I'll give due attention on the holiday week. The mechanic of the game is that you must build traps and lure your enemies into them. I look forward to mixing it up with this and Magna Carta on Christmas morn. Thanks Alan!

John brought a passel of DVDs and gave everyone a chance to choose their own. I grabbed a copy of The Incredibles, as I'd not gotten around to buying it. Thanks, John.

Bo and Lisa were handing out home made baked goodies, and I got a sizable pile of cookies. Thanks guys.

Finally, Chris and Valeska gave me a present for Renee. Valeska did all the work, really. She's a very generous and skilled crafts woman. She tells me she's been knitting and crocheting since at least Renee's age. So she, never having met Renee, only seeing my photos of her, hand knit a doll. A very nice doll, very cute. I'll try to get a picture up soon. Thanks very much, Chris and Valeska.

Oh, and Tom, in case you see Valeska before the next meeting I'm at, you can tell her that Renee loved it, and began crocheting it a vest this very morning. She's nicknamed the doll Git-san.

So happy holidays to all, even you cantankerous sorts who assault folk for not saying "Merry Xmas"!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Deadly Silence

No, not my recent posting record...

Crap, this almost makes me want to buy my own Nintendo DS. (if you're into this sort of thing, be sure to check out the gameplay movie for a dose of bad voice-acting nostalgia)

Sunday, December 11, 2005

'Tis the Season

Yes, once again it's time for Renee's Sunday School Christmas Play. As pictured in the banner, Renee portrayed an ordinary girl trying to remember what's really special about Christmas (hence the ribbon on her finger, barely visible in this picture). Of course, what's really special about Christmas is that it's about two months after Halloween.

Jean had to pull a nursing shift today, so she was unable to attend. So I took a few photos for her, and you can find the stream at Flickr, starting about here, if you really care. Introvert that I am, I was more comfortable skulking around with my camera than joining in the festivities. Example, at one point the pastor invited everyone in the congregation to stand up and mill about hugging each other, "sharing the peace and joy." Shiver!

Friday, December 9, 2005

Stocks and Math

I just finished A Mathematician Plays the Stock Market. John Allen Paulos makes his living popularizing math, but I found this book rather uneven. While I found the middle chapters generally interesting, the beginning was muddled to the point of seeming nonsense at times, and the latter chapters really didn't tell me anything that wasn't already obvious (actually, I knew most of what was in the book, but some chapters were pretty good at illustrating concepts at an intuitive level).

On the whole, I don't think I'll bother with any of his other books.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Five Years

Whoops. Missed my five year weblogging anniversary. I started out on with the URL, then moved to my local ISP using Greymatter, and lately using various incarnations of Movable Type.

Anyway, my first post was this, now archived at the current site. Dated October 4, 2000. I may not post as diligently any more, but it's still a source of occasional amusement.

Traditional Holiday Fare

So I came home early today to prepare dishes in advance of the holiday. I like to flaunt tradition, although I could be said to be creating my own. Once again I made tofu chili. This is one hell of a tasty dish, and it's a shame not to make it more often. I also made a pumpkin pie, though I'm not planning on eating any until tomorrow (when I'll whip up fresh whipped cream as well).

Tomorrow Jean will make fresh cranberry sauce and turkey. No, I'm not planning on losing weight anytime soon.

Ooh! Next recipe I wanna try from the Best Recipe baking book, probably for Christmas dinner: sweet potato pie!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Guitar Hero

After NOVA, a crowd of us headed over to Tom's house. He hooked up his PS2, and Alan broke out his new copy of Guitar Hero. This is a rhythm game like Bust a Groove, but instead of using the regular controller, you use a 3/4 scale guitar-shaped controller.

Just about everybody there took a turn, including me (even though I sucked so bad at Bust a Groove that I bought myself a shirt that says "More Rhythm!", one of the taunts that game shoots at you when you miss too many beats). I was one of only two people who 'failed', trying to play along with Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water". Alan, Valeska, Tom, all played at the Easy level, and then Chris stepped up and immediately chose Medium. Of course. He's a DDR fanatic.

Years ago, as I hinted, I bought a copy of Bust a Groove, and played it even though I sucked. Then my wife started playing it, and man was she good! So I'm thinking that we need to buy a copy of Guitar Hero for Christmas. Just so I can watch her work her magic. We'll just have to see...

Magna Maxima Carta

Turns out I'm not the only one interested in Magna Carta. I sat down at NOVA Saturday, when Alan walked in. I mentioned that I was getting Magna Carta for a stocking stuffer, and he acted excited. "Where did you get it? Do they have more?" Turns out Gamestop is sold out. So I told him Fry's had them, and in fact that they were carrying the collector's edition, and had plenty on Friday.

Then in walked Tom. Alan mentioned that he wanted to go to Fry's to buy Magna Carta. Tom said "I bought it this morning." Bing! So the three of us piled into Tom's car and drove down to Fry's so that Alan could buy his own copy. Did they have any? They had plenty. It's so pleasant to have young, single engineers as friends. While we were there, Alan saw a box for Guitar Hero, and after only a moment's internal debate, he grabbed that too. More on that in a later post.

So anyway, I'm not the only RPG fan around.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Magna Carta

A little birdy tells me I'm getting Magna Carta for Christmas. I'm looking forward to it. Play magazine rates it very highly, and the description of the play mechanics makes it seem right up my alley. I love my RPGs.

The only catch is the somewhat unfortunate character design for Reith, who looks like an Asian Jane Mansfield. Once again I'll have to divert from play to explain why "that lady has such large breasts." Oh well, once we get over that obstacle, I'll be able to sink a few dozen hours into gameplay!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Friday the Thirteenth Come on a Sunday This Month!

I managed to get to the very end of the day without realizing that it was the thirteenth. The title is a reference to Pogo, the classic Walt Kelly comic strip, which I read as a kid in the Sunday funnies. His character Churchy La Femme would fearfully exclaim that it was Friday the Thirteenth, just appearing on the wrong day. So this should have been a day of bad luck, especially after the week's bad vibes at work, right? Well, apparently not.

Jean is still fighting a cold, and is probably on the early side of the curve, if she's following my pattern at all. I'm still hacking up random guck, but feeling much more energy. So we pushed Renee to set up a play date on her own, and I ended up taking her and her friend Emily to see Chicken Little, in 3-D, no less. The 3-D registration was generally pretty good, though there were the occasional fuzzy moments I've come to expect even from modern efforts. Not really headache inducing, so I feel I'm ahead of the game. The movie itself was inconsequential, and I expect to have forgotten all about it in about three ... two ... one ... what was I talking about?

This evening Renee and I worked together to make our first ever lasagna. We started with a recipe from the America's Test Kitchen folk, but modified it to suit our tastes. We used two kinds of cheese and pork. We would have used three kinds of cheese, but in the hustle and the bustle, I clean forgot about the tub of ricotta in the refrigerator. So I guess that's my bit of bad luck from the thirteenth!

What's the verdict? It is quite delicious. Now if I can just remember what the actual cheeses we used were. Romano and something else. Renee sort of shredded the wrappers when she was shredding the cheese.

Friday, November 11, 2005


Renee and I attended a free performance of the Portland Baroque Orchestra at my workplace Thursday night. I had asked her if she wanted to go and she made a mildly interested sound, but Jean tells me that she spent most of the day picking out her clothes and making references to the concert. I don't think she knew what to expect, since the only orchestral music she's seen has been full symphony music. The PBO performed with one flute, two violins, one oboe, one bassoon, one bass cello and one violoncello piccolo (sort of a tenor cello with five strings).

We arrived early, found seats in the gym, and chatted and goofed around until the performance started. The program was A Musical Offering, by J. S. Bach. This is a series of canons around a theme provided to Bach by Frederick II, then king of Prussia. Each canon is a variation on the original theme, and usually also a musical puzzle. As my friend Burr observed, the puzzles in canons are often mathematical exercises, and as a result, of interest only to the professional musician. But Bach was a musical genius, and could make these exercises beautiful to listen to as well as mathematically gratifying.

Renee listened with real appreciation for the first twenty minutes or so. Then she began resting her head on my shoulder, then leaning on me and holding my arm. Affectionate, but in those crappy folding chairs, my back was beginning to ache. I finally asked her if she wanted something to do while listening to the music, and handed her my Palm Pilot. She played Bejewelled, and I listened to the remainder of the concert.

I have no formal musical training, and make no pretense toward classical knowledge. I just let the music wash over me, and this evening was totally hypnotic. I was trancing out much of the time, entering a musical, mathematical meditative state. It was great fun. Renee assures me that she enjoyed the music very much as well.

After the concert there was a buffet. Corporate finger food. I made sure to stack my plate with raw vegetables and fruit, but also had a couple of mini sandwiches. Renee was not so discerning. I went there mostly for her, since I know that she enjoys these little buffets almost as much as the events. While there I ran into Alaine Warfield, who used to work in the same company, and whom I went to grad school with. She's offered to help network with my friends who were laid off, so I'm feeling a little better about that.

More interesting is that she's done tons of volunteer work with animals, and she gave Renee lots of advice on things she could do to get experience with animal care. Renee, at age ten, has many years to choose a career, but one of the things she's expressed interest in is veterinary medicine. So we've begun offering to take her to volunteer opportunities so that she can get a feel for the experience. Last summer she helped at the local no-kill cat shelter, but they were reorganizing, and it sort of tapered off. So maybe we'll be able to use one of Alaine's leads next...

Cold Rounds

So Jean is coming down with a cold now. It's an entirely different prodrome from mine, but she insists it's the same virus, just a different variety. I said it's the same variety, just a different flavor!

Anyway, day fourteen and counting for me, but I'm feeling a lot better. If the full-blown cold, raging at force ten, happened around ten days ago, I'm probably suffering from mild gusts of wind now, around force three. If I don't relapse, I hope to begin working out at the gym on Monday or Wednesday. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, November 8, 2005


It would be unprofessional to go into detail, so I'll just say that yesterday there was some 'rebalancing' at work, and a couple folk I've worked with a while now are looking for jobs. I didn't sleep much last night, it's always stressful when the ax falls, even if it misses you. Considering I have been nursing a cold for the last week, I expect I'll have another sniffle soon. Pooh.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Halloween 2005

Pictured is the pumpkin that Renee and I gutted on Saturday. We put it on the porch to signal our participation in the holiday. Then we promptly went out ourselves to collect ill gotten booty. For a hint of the majesty of Renee's costume, visit my Flickr account...

It was warmer than last year, and drier than the year before. If only I had not had this nasty cold. I was sucking on cough drops the whole time we were out there. Definitely takes some of the fun out of the holiday. I barely managed to get this trickle of photos up before running out of steam. So to wrap this post up, Halloween 2005 was a success, even with coughing. Take that, viral evil!

Sunday, October 30, 2005


I got a lot done this weekend, but I still feel like I missed doing more, since I've been feeling run down with some respiratory infection. Call it a cold, but no sniffles or sneezes, just coughing and rough lungs and sore throat. I'm hoping it's short-lived, especially as tomorrow evening is Halloween, my favorite holiday.

Last night we carved the pumpkin. Renee did all the carving, after I did 90% of the scraping and scooping. I was going to take a picture, but slacker that I am, I had let the battery of my camera go flat. I'm recharging it, and will try to get a picture up in the next day or so.

Renee has her costume, custom-built by her. It's all black, tight pants, dark shirt, furry boots, cat ears and a crimson cape. She initially thought she'd be a 'super cat', but now she's thinking she might be 'Darth Kitty'. If I can just hold out, I know it will be fun. Wish me luck!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Rhythm of Life

So I was watching this video (very good, by the way), and the song just got stuck in my head. It took me awhile to nail it down, it's The Rhythm of Life, from Sweet Charity. I'm pretty sure I saw this movie when I was very young, but I don't remember it. More likely, I saw it while working the night shift at a ski lodge in my twenties. That's where I learned to love Fred Astaire, after all.

I'd like to buy it, but I'm not sure it's available. Sure, you can buy the CD for the current Broadway revival with Christina Applegate, but that's not the one in the commercial. The singer in the commercial does sound like Sammy Davis, Jr., who sang the movie version, but the sample on Amazon sounds like a different arrangement. I wonder if it's a remix? A few years ago I bought a remix of Elvis Presley's A Little Less Conversation. They used his original vocals, lots of filters, synthesizers, and what not to punch it up. I think something like that was done to The Rhythm of Life.

Well, I'll keep an eye open for it, and in the meantime, maybe I'll try to rent Sweet Charity.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Three Umami and a Little Lady

Saturday afternoon I mixed up a batch of the fajita marinade that we enjoyed so much, and threw in a pound of chicken and a pound of pork. After refrigerating it for twenty-four hours, I sauteed a medium red onion and one jalapeno. I chopped the meats into one inch cubes and added them to the onions. Then I opened a can of diced tomatoes, added them and two diced roma tomatoes, and cooked the whole shebang for another ten minutes over a medium heat.

It was all very juicy, so I strained off some of the juice, and put the mix into a bowl to cool. We had it for lunch on Sunday, wrapped in flour tortillas. It was very tasty. Monday night, it was even better. I'm adding this to my permanent recipe book. Now I'm thinking about variations. Jean suggested some sort of lettuce or celery, or cabbage. I must ponder...

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Who Is He Talking To?

Okay, some fairly spirited swearing here, if that sort of thing bothers you, but I was laughing uncontrollably by the ending: Yes.

Sunday, October 16, 2005


Jean got me hooked on sudoku, the constraint solving puzzle that's enjoying a surge of popularity right now. This is exactly the sort of puzzle I love, which runs on pure logic, solving a puzzle based solely on reasoning out the constraints present in the starting conditions (a previous obsession of this nature: pixel puzzles). To be frank, I've been skipping posts on the weblog because I've spent me spare evening time solving sudoku. Initially I was running through paper puzzles available from, but I just bought the Astraware Sudoku program for my new Palm Pilot, and I use that now. Wait for the novelty to wear off, and you'll probably hear from me again...

Summer Squash and Corn

Meaty main courses were not my only goals this weekend. I pulled a recipe out of Aprovecho: A Mexican-American Border Cookbook (neat book from the library). The ingredient list runs sort of:

  • 2.5 pounds zucchini, thinly sliced

  • 1 medium onion, chopped

  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced

  • 1.5 cups fresh or frozen corn

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

  • 3 tablespoons butter

  • Salt and pepper

Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the other ingredients and cook, stirring. The book says five minutes, but I cooked it ten or fifteen, and it seems just perfect to me. This is hella tasty!

Chicken Cordon Bleu

This weekend's main course was Chicken Cordon Bleu. Pretty tasty, rich as befits a three umami dish. I'm afraid the chicken breasts were my master, as I was unable to pound them thin enough to make for a decent roll. The four 'cordons' were big honking fat things, and I had to cook things twice as long as the recipe called for. But the taste and moistness were spot on, so in all, a success.

I got to thinking tonight about the 'umami' notes in this dish, both with the pork and the sodium from the ham curing, and the swiss cheese. This makes this a very filling, hearty dish. I got to wondering if I could make a similar trifecta of umami with some variations. How about chicken (not very umami, but a good base), pork (lowering the sodium content, but retaining the umami traits of pork) and tomatoes (one of the few vegetables with a high umami quotient)? I thought I'd dice the chicken, shred the pork, rough dice the tomatoes, and cook them in a light oil, like EVOO or saflower oil. Then toss this in with some pasta, such as farfalle. Or maybe make a layered dish like ravioli. Or wrap the umami mix in a corn tortilla! Ooo, getting excited here!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Last night my Palm m500 went toes up. A soft reset brought it back to life briefly, but it died again, then again. The final time, it made a pretty pattern on the LCD before giving up the ghost completely. It's now unable to synch, unable to start, nada.

Unlike my friends who used one, and have since outgrown it, and unlike the buzz on the 'net, where everyone and his brother proclaims that we will all just use PDA/cellphone combos (ugh), I'm not ready to depart the PDA club. So I went to Fry's over lunch and bought a Palm Tungsten E2.

A couple of years has passed since I bought the m500, so it's entertaining to me to compare some of the specs:

screen160X160 mono320X320 color
processor speed33 MHz200 MHz
memory8 MB26 MB

Of course, the E2 is a higher end model, and I have to say that it's fit and finish is cheaper than the m500's. Still more horsepower than I need. It's charging as I write this. I have no idea if it will be satisfactory, but I wanted to note it here so I'll be more aware of the exact lifespan of this unit.

Monday, October 3, 2005

Weekend Recipes

I see I've pulled a 'Tom', in not posting for nearly two weeks. So just to prove I'm not dead, I'll share my latest recipe experiments:

Mulligatawny Soup with Chicken (this link is behind a free registration firewall, and will likely disappear behind a subscription firewall in a few weeks). This is a really simple recipe, and tastes great. It is very spicy. Not too hot, really, just 'floral' spicy, though it's true that there's cayenne in there too. The thing I like most about this recipe is that you cook the ingredients (onion, carrot, celery, garlic, ginger, chicken stock, chicken), then you puree it in a blender! That was a lot of fun. Oh, and set aside the chicken before blending. I chopped the chicken into 1/2 inch chunks, and added it back to the puree for a bit more cooking afterwards. This recipe makes a lot of soup (the chicken stock alone is seven cups), so I'm freezing some of it. I loves me soup!

Pork Loin with Prune Sauce. This came out of some magazine Jean has, so I don't have a link to a recipe. It's another really simple recipe. Really simple. Thinly slice an onion, cook over a low heat with a tablespoon of EVOO. The aim here is to soften, not caramelize. Add finely minced two cloves of garlic and cook a little while longer. In a separate saucepan you'll prepare 3/4 cup of chopped prunes, ?? cup of apple cider and a teaspoon of cider vinegar. Bring to a boil, then simmer over a low heat until reduced by half. Throw the mix in with the onions.

In the meantime, cook your pork loins, first searing in a pan (couple of minutes) then baked in an oven at 400 degrees. When they're done (internal temperature around 140 degrees), take 'em out and pour the prune sauce over 'em. Serve and enjoy.

I think I need to marinate the pork loin with something, as to get them cooked properly toughened them up. Or next time I'll substitute pork tenderloin and make medallions, as the sauce will work with that too.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

More Songs About Buildings and Avoiding People

Occasionally I read some epistle on the web bemoaning how technology is alienating us all. One example, the coffee shop that has shut down wi-fi on weekends because too many people were staring at their laptops instead of chatting with each other. Another is the now frequent charge that people using iPods to listen to music in public spaces are antisocial.

Guess what, folks? We were antisocial before the gadgets came along. I hate, hate, being at some public function, where I am sitting quietly enjoying the people watching, only to be approached by some nit who decides to 'rescue' me from my isolation by trying to rope me into some banal conversation. I would use my iPod as a buffer everywhere, except that even I sometimes think it would be inappropriate.

Sitting on a bench outside Renee's school, waiting for a ride, is not one of those occasions, though. I was able to relax and decompress to the soothing sound of Maaya Sakamoto on her singles collection, Hotchpotch. It reminded me of all those times I was standing at the bus stop in Akron, Ohio, listening to Camper van Beethoven on my portable casette player. Of course, then I thrashed about with the music, which served as an even better buffer to human interaction than the headphones.

Invisible Parent

This evening was a Parent's Night at Renee's school, where you meet your child's teacher(s) and get the buzz on how they do the things they do in the coming school year. It started around 7:20pm, Jean dropped me off at 7:15. She and Renee went back home since it was ostensibly just for parents (how's that supposed to work, if both parents want to come?). I found Renee's desk, and sat down, looking over her textbooks, scoping out the wall decorations, and finally, playing PalmJongg until the other parents settled in and the talk began.

Now understand, by 7pm I'm generally pretty done. My day is over, I'm pondering the day's events, kidding with my wife, and unwinding, in preparation for the next day. So I'm pretty toasted, and endeavoring to take a note now and then when some point comes up that seems important and is not on the preprinted outline, is a major effort. When Mrs. Houtz asks if there are any questions, I'm thinking "no, let's all go home now", but of course there are several questions, none of which interest me. I sit silently, pencil in hand, trying to look engaged.

Finally, it was over, and I'm making my way out of the room, thinking only of calling Jean to come pick me up again. Out of my peripheral vision comes Renee's other teacher, Mrs. Kronsub, hand extended. "Nice to meet you," she says. I reach out, grasp her hand, try to smile, mumble something, then turn around and continue walking. It's really only now that it occurs to me that she may actually have wanted to engage in some sort of social chit-chat. Oops.

So those of you who know me and are secretly wondering if I ever shut up, this is an example of how I always behave around people I don't know. Mr. Introvert. The Invisible Parent.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Creme Brulee!

After receiving positive feedback on my fourth batch of creme brulee at Tom's gathering, I thought I'd write down the specifics of the recipe and how I modified it. This will serve as well as a placeholder I can point Max to, since she expressed an interest in the recipe. Credit where credit is due: the original recipe comes from The Best Recipe (pages 525-526), one of the many fine books from the editors of Cook's Illustrated magazine. I highly recommend this book, their magazine, and their television show, America's Test Kitchen. What follows is that recipe, modified over four trials, to get the results which resemble the dessert I had at McCormick and Schmick's.

I have four ramekins, each holding between 6 and 7 ounces (bought by my wife at Fred Meyer's). This turns out to be just right for the amount of custard produced by this recipe. Find an oven safe pan that will hold the four ramekins and enough water to reach the halfway point on each ramekin. Place a small dish towel in the bottom of the pan, and fill with hot water. Place into an oven and preheat to 295 degrees (the book calls for 275). Let the oven reach equilibrium.

In a large bowl, place six egg yolks. I save the egg whites in a separate container and make a fried egg sandwich the same day as my prep work. Whisk the egg yolks by hand for a couple of minutes. I'm not sure why this helps, but it does. Next, add six tablespoons of sugar. Whisk the sugar in until it is evenly distributed. Finally, add one and one half cups of cold heavy whipping cream. Whisk till there is a bit of air in the mixture, but don't try to whip it. When the mix is even, place it in the four ramekins (you can butter the ramekins with unsalted butter if you want to. The recipe calls for this, but I discovered that it didn't seem to matter}.

Gently lower the ramekins into the water bath, called a bain marie. Set your timer for 45 minutes. When the time has elapsed, check the ramekins. The mixture should still be loose in the middle. If it is not, you've overcooked it and should stop. If it is very loose, rotate the pan and continue cooking. In my oven, I found that an additional 15 minutes, for a total of an hour, seemed to give the best results.

While you're waiting for the custard, get out a cookie sheet, and line it with aluminum foil. Place four tablespoons of brown sugar on the foil, and use the tines of a fork to gently separate the sugar and spread it about the cookie sheet. When your cooking time is over, remove the bain marie, but leave the custards in the water until it gets close to room temperature. Turn off the oven and place the cookie sheet into the oven for twenty minutes. This dries out the brown sugar.

When the custard has approached room temperature, remove it from the water, and cover each ramekin with cling wrap. Place in the refrigerator overnight. Remove the brown sugar from the oven, and scrape it all into a sealable plastic sandwich bag. Roll a rolling pin over the bag until the brown sugar is a fine powder. Set aside until tomorrow.

The next day:

When you are serving dinner, sprinkle equal amounts of brown sugar evenly over the tops of the custards, and place the ramekins on a cookie sheet. Set your oven on broil and place the cookie sheet directly under the broiler. What happens next depends on your oven, how thickly you've spread the brown sugar, and whether the gremlins have visited overnight. Anywhere from one to three minutes will be required to caramelize the brown sugar. Take it out too soon and you get a gritty agglomerate on top of your custard. Leave it too long and you get carbonized sugar, which is not generally appetizing. Once you remove the ramekins from the oven, give them a couple of minutes to cool, then put them back in the refrigerator for thirty or forty minutes, to really crystallize the sugar. Then you can serve them. Be aware that if you leave the sugar capped ramekins in the frig more than a couple of hours, the custard will begin to absorb the sugar and make it soggy.

That's all I recall that went into fine tuning the recipe to work with my equipment. I fully expect that your experience will be different from mine, so be prepared to try a few times rather than giving up and assuming I've sabotaged the recipe to retain trade secrets.

Jerked Chicken

Jean found a recipe for jerked chicken in some magazine and we fixed it up this weekend. The main concept is a spice rub, applied both under and over the skin of a whole chicken (though cut into pieces). There was nutmeg, allspice, cayenne, salt, pepper and I don't remember what else. All this gets mixed in with olive oil and lime juice, then smeared onto the chicken, which is then baked at a high heat on a bed of scallions.

The recipe also mentioned a corn bread with scallions and minced jalapeno, so Jean made that part.

We served it up for lunch, with lime wedges for the chicken. It was a very interesting dish, but perhaps too spicy to do very often. By spicy, I don't mean hot, just bathed in spices. That gets a little overwhelming after a short time.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Biking Field Trip

Renee and I went to Champoeg Park today, with our bicycles on the rack. We rode the bike trail there for around ninety minutes. The curves, slopes and pathside drop-offs kinda got to Renee, I think. There was also a lot of bike traffic in both directions, and she had to get used to sharing the road, something she didn't have to do down at my workplace. As a result, ninety minutes was enough for her.

I'm not going back there the very next week, but we'll consider it for an occasional biking treat. My friend at work, Burr, also recommends Willamette Mission park, though it's maybe twice as far to drive. We'll see if that one's in the cards, before the rains come...

At Long Last

Five whole weeks have elapsed since I last attended a NOVA meeting, my usual outlet for socializing. Well, this Saturday was not a NOVA weekend, but it was the weekend of the Tom Jansen soiree. For all I know, it's still going on. Folk from up North came down to visit with Tom for the whole weekend, and I was invited. I'd been looking forward to it for weeks. I'd also been crossing my fingers, as I had no idea when Jean was going to get a job, and if she did, what her shifts would be. But luck was with me, and I was able to go.

I took my fourth effort at producing creme brulee, four ramekins of creamy custard. I also took a couple batches of my favorite homemade salsa. Both were appreciated. In fact, I've now got independent feedback that my creme brulee is actually pretty good. I feel vindicated, and I can now stop making it.

We watched Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, sat and talked for hours, and sampled Tom's bottle of Balvenie Portwood, which, by the way, is an excellent Scotch.

Adam, Max and Brian (and their offspring Ethan) were the Northern Contingent. Alan was the other local. Thanks to Max, I now have a loaner copy of 2046, over which I'm tickled, as I'm a big Wong Kar Wai fan. I also bought a copy of Bayside Shakedown on Max's recommendation. I added two that were on my list to the order: Magic Kitchen and Breaking News. These were both on my AX2005 shopping list, but I had to pass due to budget constraints. Now I got 'em! And they arrived the day of Tom's shindig, so I could give Max her copy of Bayside Shakedown. How's that for timing?

Anyway, next weekend is the NOVA weekend, and is elections for club officers to boot. And I most likely won't be able to attend, as Jean is starting her first weekend shift then. So for this weekend I am very grateful.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Nurse Jean

Jean got an offer for a nursing job today! She starts training next Monday. Her shifts will be three days a week, every other week, for starters. Sounds like an interesting if busy place, and she'll be able to practice a variety of skills. I'm very happy for her!

Sunday Biking

Renee and I both rode our bikes this Sunday. We started at the parking lot where I work, but I soon took her on a greenway that circles a farm field across the street. The loop measures around 1.5 miles, and she did great. When we were done, she wanted to keep biking, so we peddled around campus at work. Jean came down to visit us, but has no bike, so she kind of got left out in the cold. When all was said and done, Renee and I biked (casually, at a meandering pace) for nearly two hours. And she wasn't ready to quit when I called time, either.

If rainy season wasn't so near, I'd run up to Performance Bike and buy Jean a bike as well. But then I'd need a better bike rack for my car, too, and it all adds up too quickly! So for now it'll be just me and Renee.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Taylor's Gone

We followed all the advice given by the veterinarian, including a quarantine in the laundry room with her litter box for two days. When she was released, she was loving and needy, but within hours I found another piddle puddle on the futon. So now she's back at the no-kill shelter, and there's a smelly futon in the garage.

I'm gonna miss Taylor, but it's plain we're not equipped for a cat anymore.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Kristen Hersh

More reasons to wish I were in Seattle more often. Kristen Hersh is touring with her new band, 50FOOTWAVE, and played at two locations in Seattle Friday and Saturday.

I first saw Throwing Muses, her original band, in Cleveland, in a cellar bar on the waterfront (though not in the upscale Nautica district). Cripes, this was probably '88 or '89! I had already bought the untitled album I called 'Green', due to it's cover. Apparently, Throwing Muses couldn't get an American label at first, but caught on in Britain, and this album got mentioned in Mike Gunderloy's Factsheet Five magazine.

I fell in love with their strange and quirky music, the dark, alien wailing vocals. When I heard they were playing in Cleveland, I got my co-worker Christine to drive up with me. I had my album in hand, in hopes of getting an autograph, but the bouncers rebuffed me. Kristen was amazing, and just as alien and remote in person as on vinyl. She rocked back and forth while playing her guitar, hair sweeping side to side. Tanya Donelly, her half sister, was still with the band.

I've since bought a number of Muses albums, and one of Kristen's solo projects. Gotta say I'm tempted to pick up the first 50FOOTWAVE album now, too. We'll see, they've got three freebie tunes up on ThrowingMusic, so I'll be giving it a listen first.

Friday, September 9, 2005

Your Little Hoodrat Friend

Salon has a section called Audiofile, covering all things music scene. One feature I take advantage of is their Daily Download, which is just that, a sample of music made available for free on the web by artists and labels to promote themselves. I typically listen to each song once, and rarely a song or band grabs my interest. I got introduced to Four Tet and Nouvelle Vague this way.

Now I'm obsessing over a new song I discovered on Salon: Your Little Hoodrat Friend, by The Hold Steady. This song makes me think of a cross between Elvis Costello and The Ramones. That's not really accurate, I'm grasping at a description that somehow does this song justice. I know there's a good fit somewhere in my pop culture trunk, but I can't put my finger on it. If you've got thirty or forty years of musical culture, including some punk, in your history, download this song and give it a listen. Then tell me who it reminds you of.

I've also got their song The Swish, from their first album. As is so often the case, the first song grabs me much more than the second, and a little research indicates that most people think they've got one or two good songs. That's my fate lately, latching onto the One Hit Wonders (I had the same experience with The Tiny).

Oh, and I had to look up hoodrat. Feelin' old, feelin' old.

Thursday, September 8, 2005

2.1 Decades

Jean and I celebrate 21 years of marriage today. She's already asleep, Renee is in bed pretending to be, and I'll be retiring soon. How's that for romance? In reality, we'll be dining out Saturday or Sunday, when work and school make no demands of us. So for the record, I'm very happy that I'm still married to Jean, and I hope like hell to get another 21 years out of this relationship.

For the curious, the modern materials associated with this anniversary are nickel and brass. The gem is iolite (huh?).

Creme Closure

So I ate the last creme brulee from batch three. It turns out I didn't do so bad. The two which seemed done perfectly were, in fact, done perfectly. A very creamy custard, not runny, and not cheese-cakey. The third certainly seemed loose in the center to visual inspection, but on eating it, I found it was near enough to that perfect texture that I was satisfied. Number four, this evening, was the most suspect. It was not runny, but the center had a bit of 'juice'. Still a creamy custard.

I'd like for each ramekin to be filled with a perfect creme, but 3.5 out of four is not too shabby. I pronounce this experiment complete, though I may attempt to make a batch to take to my friend Tom's in a couple of weekends, so his friend Max can try it out. Hope I don't screw up that batch if I take it on.

I've been pondering what to do with the ramekins other than put them on a high shelf. Jean suggests individual apple crisps, Kelly wants 'tarts' and I'm thinking chocolate mousse. This evening Jean and I were watching America's Test Kitchen, and they made a dessert called Lemon Souffle. It sounded tasty, but I'm worried about the fact that they whip egg white and stir it into the mixture without any cooking. Is this safe?

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Taylor on Trial

Not quite three months into her tenure with us, Taylor has begun urinating outside her litter box. She seems to choose cushions and comforters, and so far we only have two locations. But this will not be acceptable. We knew it was a risk with a declawed cat, and now we're trying to see if we can train her out of it (unlikely, I suspect). She had a visit to the vet and he gave us some antibiotics in case it was a bladder infection. He also gave us some chemicals to kill the cat urine smell. Jean says we'll go all the way to the stage where we give her medication for anxiety, and if that doesn't work, it's goodbye Taylor.

Renee will surely be crushed, and I'd miss Taylor too, but we're not really the type of family that can comfortably live in a house drenched in cat pee. Wish us luck.


I'd heard Steven Gould's Jumper described as a 'young adult' science fiction novel, and though it's usually spoken of favorably, this categorization had led me to put off reading it. Considering that the central character is a runaway who has been beaten by his alcoholic father, abandoned by his abused mother, nearly raped at a truckstop, and who launches his independence by burgling a bank of nearly a million dollars, I can see why it's such a hit with young adults.

Seriously, this is a classic adolescent power fantasy, viewed through the filter of a rational science fiction writer. Gould tries to imagine what a smart teenager would do with the power of teleportation, short of becoming a megalomaniacal sociopath. Davey Rice of course, coming from a broken home, starts off a little rough, but is genuinely good-hearted, so the story doesn't take too dark a turn. In point of fact, other than the protagonist being a teenage male, I don't think this really is a 'young adult' novel. It's just a decent science fiction novel, and I can imagine myself reading the sequel someday.

Monday, September 5, 2005

Microwave Caramel

Shirley Corriher has a very interesting discussion of caramel, it's chemical composition, and how difficult it is to make. After all the caveats, however, she supplies a recipe which is supposedly very easy, and relies on the knowledge of chemistry occurring during the formation of caramel. Consider:

  1. 1/2 cup sugar

  2. 1/4 cup corn syrup

  3. 2-4 drops lemon juice

Put the above into a microwave safe two cup container (thoroughly mixed). Run the microwave on high until bubbles begin to form on top of bubbles. Then 'watch the mixture carefully'. As soon as it begins to turn tan, remove it. It will continue darkening once removed. If you don't feel it is dark enough, return to the microwave for ten seconds, and another ten if needed. Time taken depends on how dark you want the caramel, and the strength of your microwave. So, guess as best you can.

I tried this today, and in typical male fashion, decided that if it wasn't distinctly dark, it wasn't cooked enough, and kept putting it back into the microwave. Eventually it was dark enough, and I relented. I've never seen caramel preparation, only the candies and sauces labelled caramel. These are all opaque, but I suspect this is due to the addition of dairy products. My experiment was clear, and after it had cooled, was totally crystalline. It's a pain to cut a chunk loose, but definitely has a smoky caramel flavor.

I'm gonna try again some other day, and stop sooner. According to Corriher, longer cooking produces more, shorter sugars, leading to a denser crystalline matrix. So I took it to the limit, I suppose. I want to try for something more gooey next time. Dunno why, as caramel is not generally my choice of candy. Guess I just enjoy the chemistry!

The Chicken Variations

Today I tried a variation on the Marinated Pork Tenderloin recipe which was so successful the other week. The marinade this time substituted Jean's mother's barbeque sauce for the hoisin sauce found in the original, and I used the grocery store's generic boneless skinless chicken breasts, pitiful things really. As they did not have nearly the mass of a pork tenderloin, I had to guess at the temperature (chose 400 degrees) and the cooking time (12 minutes). They were a tad overdone, but still tasty.

Saturday, September 3, 2005

Ride, Renee, Ride!

Weekend Two in the bike riding training camp. In addition to continuing our success in launching Renee by holding the bike up for her and pushing until she got up to speed, we also walked the length of the soccer field twice while Renee practiced propelling her bike scooter style, and doing my 'jumpstart mount'. The former is Jean's way of getting Renee used to the bike's balance, and working her way toward mounting the bike without help.

Renee crabbed, complained, and came close to tears on one occasion. I played 'bad cop' and told her that she could have a cry if she needed it, but that afterwards she was getting back on the bike. She had a few scrapes from knocking herself with the pedals when 'scooting', but nothing serious. She kept asking me how long we'd been doing this, and when we could go home. But over time, she showed gradual improvement at keeping the bike level while coasting. Finally, she put together Jean's scoot maneuver with my jumpstart mount and got onto the seat and pedalling without any help from either of us. And she just tore down the field without a pause! Man that felt good!

Just to prove it wasn't a fluke, we did it again (she did it again), and then she lay on the grass panting and cheering. I was hooting and clapping. Felt like I was at Kittyhawk, what with all the wheeling hardware around getting ready, followed after long hard work with a 100 yard 'flight'. So I'm very proud of Renee, and now she's not so down on the whole bike riding idea. Funny how her attitude turned around after that successful mount.

Anyway, a couple of images at Flickr, including the banner.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Renee's Glasses

Just in case you've been wondering what Renee looks like with her new glasses, the banner photo should give you a good idea. Larger sizes available at my Flickr account.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Another Pork Tenderloin Recipe

I have a standard recipe I use for preparing pork tenderloins, from, yes, the folks at America's Test Kitchen. It involves searing the tenderloins in a fry pan to seal in the juices, then baking them. Using an instant read thermometer lets me know when they are done without overcooking them. Cut on the bias, they yield juicy pork medallions, and make for a nice main course.

I've been reading Shirley Corriher's CookWise: The Hows & Whys of Successful Cooking with over 230 Great-Tasting Recipes. It's similar to Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, but in addition to the science and chemistry of foods, it includes a number of very interesting recipes.

For example: Juicy Pork Tenderloins with Spicy Chinese Sauce. This recipe is really simple, and quite easy. Start with a freezer bag filled with 1/4 cup hoisin sauce, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 3 tablespoons sugar and 1/4 cup soy sauce. Put two tenderloins in the bag and seal it. Place in the refrigerator at least an hour or overnight. I did overnight. Making the marinade takes around five minutes.

The next day, line a tray with foil, spray a cooking rack with vegetable oil spray, and put the marinated tenderloins on it. Roast in a preheated oven (500 degrees!) for nine or ten minutes, turn over, and repeat. The internal temperature should reach 148 degrees if done.

In the meantime, take the marinade, put it into a saucepan with 1/2 cup of water, bring to a boil. Boil gently for a few minutes, then add 4 tablespoons of butter. Bring back to a boil. I boiled until it had reduced a bit. I also tented the pork tenderloins for a few minutes after they were out of the oven.

Slice the tenderloins into medallions, cover with the sauce, and sprinkle with sliced scallions.

We had this for lunch today, and it was very tasty. This is the second marinade recipe I've tried (the other was a lime chicken marinade) and I'm becoming a believer.

Another item that makes Shirley Corriher's book so neat (in addition to the food science sections -- read her treatment on making caramel to learn about the breakdown of sucrose in high heat into 124 other sugars!) is her tips on ingredients. Here is what she says about hoisin sauce:

"This dish is highly dependent on the taste of a good hoisin sauce (Chinese barbecue sauce). Unfortunately, hoisin sauces vary greatly, and some are not that good. It is well worth a trip to an Asian market to get Koon Chun, an outstanding brand. It comes in jars or cans with a blue and yellow label."

We had to make do with Sun Luck brand (I foresee a trip to Uwajimaya in Beaverton soon...) but the dish turned out great. I asked Jean if she thought that Sun Luck was one of those 'good hoisin sauce(s)' or if the dish would have been even better with Koon Chun. "Definitely it would have been better!" Of course, she was humoring me.

I Want to Ride My Bicycle...

Renee never graduated from the trike to a full blown bicycle. We had a tiny bike with training wheels, but she convinced us not to take them off, then winter came, and by the following summer, she was too big for the darn thing. Now she's ten, and we decided the time had come. Yesterday I bought her a bike from Target, and took her down to work to take her first falls on the soccer field.

We practiced for around a half hour with just the tiniest halting starts. She's now too grown for me to support her when her balance falters, and I wrenched my right knee trying. So we kept working on the 'jump start' of getting that foot on the pedal, then the butt on the seat. On the whole, she was not very satisfied with the progress. I had to pull the dad card: "you will learn to ride this bike, no matter how long it takes." Of course, the plan is a half an hour to an hour each Saturday and Sunday.

Jean accompanied us down today. With her help, we were able to steady Renee until she had enough forward momentum to balance (more or less). Eventually, it was more a matter of me being brave enough to let go of the seat and let her pedal or fall. When I did, she managed to cover 45 yards unassisted! The very next try, she hit the brakes in a panic after fifteen feet. But by fits and starts, she kept trying, until she was able to bike the length of the soccer field.

I haven't done any kind of running for several years, since wrecking my ankle pretty good. So I was huffing and puffing to keep up with her. At the end, I was soaking wet, but I felt really proud of Renee. Now my plantar fascitis is bothering me, and my ankle is burning, but I'm thinking it was worth it.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


My iFriend™ Pascale, asks in a comment to the entry before this:

How about triangulating with different recipes?

Like this one: Creme Brulee

Oven temp: 325

Cooking time: 35 minutes

In fact, Pascale, I have looked at other recipes, and considered trying them. Your recipe reminds me somewhat of this recipe, for instance, though as engineers, they are satisfied with vanilla extract. Shirley Corriher's Cookwise has a nice recipe, with the added twist of a crumb crust shell!

The reasons why I find myself doggedly pursuing this recipe from Best Recipe are manifold. Firstly, I've suffered all my life from completism. I've gotten better over the years--for instance I don't slog through a book to the finish if I am not enjoying it. But I still have tinges of the disease. Secondly, I've had a lot of success with recipes from the America's Test Kitchen crowd over the years, and I'm hoping that the hiccups here are just a fluke. To be clear, the unflavored custard of this recipe to my palate tastes great. It's just the texture that I'm working on.

Finally, and this is one Jean will appreciate, I can only make so much creme brulee. My first experiment was unsettling enough that Renee will have nothing to do with it. And Jean just plain don't like custards, as I've mentioned before. So this experiment is just for me, and I have to eat all my results (no, I won't throw out perfectly good food). Since I feel I'm so close to getting this right, I don't want to hare off on another tangent, introducing a whole new pack of variables that need nailing down. If this next experiment is still off, I'm confident I can get it right by the fourth try.

Once I get it right, I'll probably put away the ramekins and not return to them for a long while. I've got lots of other recipes that are a tad more forgiving of deviation that I want to try. Still, I'll probably try Pascale's recipe come the holidays, especially if she has done that recipe herself and vouches for it. Pascale?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Triangulating the Recipe

Still using the recipe for Creme Brulee that I found in our Best Recipe cookbook, I took another shot at preparing the dessert. Last time, the centers were downright soupy, so I knew that with our oven, at least, I would need to either cook longer or hotter. Since I was using a bain marie, I felt that longer was needed (since the bain marie is supposed to stabilize the cooking temperature at 212 fahrenheit, boiling water temperature).

Our oven runs about 20 degrees hotter than the dial indicates, as measured with an oven thermometer. Last time, I set the oven to around 255, as the recipe suggested 275 degrees. What difference would this make, if the bain marie limits the cooking custard to 212 degrees? I theorized that (1) the tops of the custard are still exposed to the full heat of the oven, and (2) the water bath gets pulled toward the boiling point earlier the higher the oven temperature is. So this time, I set the oven to 275 (making the actual temperature around 295 degrees) and put the bain marie into the oven to preheat, rather than pouring hot water into the bain marie when adding the ramekins. This way, when I added the ramekins, the water would already be close to the boiling point, and the custard would be exposed to the full temperature from the start.

I put the ramekins in and started with the specified 45 minutes. When I checked, the centers were very liquid. So I set the timer for another ten minutes. The centers were still liquid, but I wasn't sure if they were too liquid, so I set the timer for another ten minutes. I should have been watching, but I just waited for the timer. When I checked this time, the custards were rock solid, no jelly motion at all. Oops. I took them out, let them reach room temperature and refrigerated them.

The next day I took two out and layered the brown sugar on top. Into the broiler they went. You're supposed to broil them two to three minutes, until the sugar is carmelized. I got distracted and let them run a full three minutes. One turned out okay, the other got carbonized, rather than carmelized. But the custard tasted great! The texture was more akin to cheesecake than custard. But at least it was not runny.

So I have to try one more time (triangulate, triangulate!). This time I used an oven set to 275 (295) and a preheated bain marie, and cooked a total of 1 hour, 5 minutes. Forty-five minutes was way too little, and the latter was a bit too much. Where in the middle to set it this time? I'm really stuck. The difference in cooking time is twenty minutes, so split down the middle I should add ten minutes. But the custard still looked really liquid at 55 minutes. Would it have coooked through on residual heat when I pulled the bain marie out of the oven? Or would I have still had a liquid center, albeit smaller? Maybe I'm gonna try this two more times...

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


With just one episode left in our Season Two DVD set of Six Feet Under, I voted that we crack the box open on Deadwood. I'd been casting about for a new series to watch with Jean during the summer reruns, and Deadwood gets mixed reviews. The consensus seems to be that the first season is worth the effort, though, so I bought the sucker.

Set in the late 1870s mining camp of Deadwood (Dakota Territory), we follow Seth Bullock, who has laid down his badge as a sheriff in Montana to pursue a career as a hardware store owner in the wild camp. Deadwood can hardly be called a town, as buildings are being erected and tents serve as store fronts when Seth and his partner arrive. There is a saloon, the Gem, owned by town boss and villain Al Swearengen.

A lot happens in the first episode, and we paused and backed up a couple of times. If you're put off by swearing, then this show is not for you, as these are the colorful characters of the old West, and they swear as frequently as they breathe. This is another dense HBO soap opera, and like Six Feet Under, I think it will rely heavily on character studies unfolding over multiple episodes. For now, at least, I'm looking forward to seeing more.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Tale of Zatoichi

Bought at Kinokuniya in Seattle, The Tale of Zatoichi is the original inspiration for the Takeshi Kitano vehicle Zatoichi, which reimagines the character. I got the Kitano work as a Christmas present last year, and enjoyed it tremendously. So did many of my friends, both in anime and at work. As a result, I'd been planning on grabbing this original film for some time, and seeing it on the shelf at Kinokuniya, I just had to grab it.

Watching this movie last night, I was reminded many times of the Kitano movie. The broad strokes of the story, introducing the character of Ichi, the blind masseur, his prowess with the sword, and his friendship and rivalry with an unattached samurai, are the same. Beyond that, what makes this movie is the screen presence of Shintaro Katsu. Shigeru Amachi is also great as Miki Hirate, the former samurai suffering from tuberculosis.

I'll be handing this movie around the same circle of friends who enjoyed Zatoichi.


The first meeting of August at NOVA, my friend John Jackson lent me the movie Onmyoji. I didn't get around to watching it before the trip to Seattle, so I decided to take it along with me. Friday night, worn out from our drive and initial forays into the city, I loaded up my iBook and sat down to watch it. Jean and Renee both went to bed and I sat up with headphones in an armchair with the laptop in my -- lap -- and watched the remainder of the movie.

I found it very fun. It's occasionally a little cheesy, and the special effects are occasionally weak, but the story was quirky and engrossing. I also have the sequel from John, and I'll try to watch it before the next meeting I'm likely to make, which will probably be the second one in September. That should be plenty of time, right? Riiiight....

Back From Seattle

Friday morning we hit the road, and drove up to Seattle. Jean's in charge of the next Moyer Family Reunion, and she wanted to see if there was enough stuff of the sort that appeals to her clan in the city center. We stayed at the Red Lion Inn on Fifth Avenue, which put us central to many of our goals. We walked to Pioneer Square, and from there to the International District. Kelly and I spent awhile in Kinokuniya looking at stuff, and then we both bought some treats. I got the first Zatoichi movie, and watched it that same night on my laptop in the hotel.

Saturday afternoon we walked to the Westlake Center Mall, where we ate lunch and then rode the Monorail to Seattle Center, home of the Space Needle and the Experience Music Project. When we got back, we took time to tour Pike Place Market. We ate at a few neat places over the weekend, including Elephant & Castle and the Rock Bottom Brewery. One restaurant we didn't try that I want to hit next summer is the Pike Pub and Brewery, which Jean tells me won some sort of award. More importantly, they brew all their own beer on site.

All in all, while a whirlwind trip, it was quite satisfying. I love Seattle and only wish I could find more excuses to come visit.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

More Change

Jean tells me Renee (formerly Kelly, change one) now needs glasses (change two). They'll arrive in the next few days. Pretty soon, I'll come home to a daughter named Renee, wearing glasses, with raven hair and a trained parrot on her shoulder!

Monday, August 15, 2005

Creme Brulee

While my dad and Bette were here, we did a Sunday lunch at McCormick & Schmick's restaurant at Bridgeport Village. True glutton that I am, when the dessert tray was presented, I ordered the dessert sampler. This consisted of a small berry cobbler, a small chocolate mousse, and a small creme brulee. I shared the cobbler with Kelly (as she was named back then ) and gave her most of the mousse. But the creme brulee tasted so good that I pretty much hogged the whole thing for myself. Since then, I've been kind of obsessed with trying to make one of my own.

Creme brulee is basically an egg custard with a carmelized sugar shell. There are tons of recipes on the web, varying widely in their ingredients and techniques. Here is a decent example recipe. For my first attempt, I decided to try the recipe in our Cook's Illustrated cookbook. This is definitely a 'for me' project, as Jean is clear on her 'no custards' policy.

The recipe calls for cooking the mixture in ramekins bathed in a bain marie, fancy French for 'water bath'. This has the dual effects of creating a uniform cooking temperature, and limiting the temperature to 212 degrees, regardless of oven setting (as the water reaches boiling point, that energy is bled off into the stove). You are supposed to cook at 275 degrees for 45 minutes, then remove the bain marie from the oven and let the ramekins cool in the water to room temperature. Then refrigerate for at least two hours.

I let the custards sit in the refrigerator overnight, and I'm afraid the centers were still more of an eggnog than a custard. I'll have to try the recipe again, with a longer cooking time (one hour?). In the meantime, the periphery is somewhat custardy, suggesting that the recipe will be quite satisfying when I get the cooking time down pat. And there are always those hundreds of variations online, as well as the recipe I found in Cookwise, a cookbook recommended in On Food and Cooking.

On the bright side, the brulee part, the carmelized layer of brown sugar on the top, turned out very nicely. It's pleasing to get at least one component of the recipe right the first time.

Sunday, August 14, 2005


What is farfalle? That's what I was asking myself this weekend at the grocery store. I'd selected a recipe on America's Test Kitchen called Farfalle with Tomatoes, Olives and Feta to make, based on an all-pasta episode of the television show. Farfalle was the pasta called for by the recipe. It turns out that farfalle is bow-tie shaped pasta. So I got my farfalle, some tomatoes, kalamata olives, extra-virgin olive oil ('ee-voh' on all the cooking competition shows I've watched recently), mint leaves and feta cheese.

The tomatoes are diced, the olives chopped, the mint leaves chopped and mixed in with the olive oil. The pasta is cooked al dente and drained. Stir in the ingredients, then add the feta last and stir some more. Sound like a traditional American spaghetti and meatballs dish? No, of course not. But almost all the dishes on the ATK pasta show were like this one. Cook pasta, prepare a bowl of ingredients, mix 'em together. I was intrigued by this approach, which I'd seen a few other places in the past, so I determined to try it myself. This particular dish was one of the simplest.

How did it work? It worked great. It's easy to prepare, and very tasty. Given the high starch content, I don't imagine I'll be making it all that often, but for a change of palate, it's pretty neat.

In Honor of My Suckitude

Not that I'd ever give anyone else a chance to play against me:

Player vs. Player

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Keyboard Sharing

Last weekend, Alan was tellling me about a program he was using called Multiplicity. It's a commercial product for Windows computers, which lets the user share one keyboard and mouse with multiple computers. I understand that it does much more than this, but that's the kernel. He mentioned that there was also an open source tool which duplicates this basic functionality, called Synergy. I'd meant to look and see if either supported Mac OS X, but forgot about it.

Then recently I was reading Engadget, a geeks gadget weblog, and what did they have, but a tutorial on using Synergy on Macs. So tonight I downloaded Synergy, and after a few false starts, got it working with my iLamp and my iBook. I can now sweep my mouse cursor off the right edge of my iLamp's desktop, and it shows up on the left edge of my iBook's desktop. Then I am able to type things on my laptop using my desktop keyboard. It's pretty cool.

The documentation seems to indicate that this functionality is platform independent, using the network and a client-server communications model to let one computer be the server and the other the slave, so I'm gonna try compiling Synergy for my Solaris box at work and see if I can't use my work keyboard and mouse with my laptop. There are times when I want to use my laptop at work, such as when I need to read Windows .doc files, and this would make things so much simpler!

More evidence of my geekishness. Stay tuned...

The Rotary Twelve

It's just a coincidence (I think) that there are twelve people in this photograph. Rotary 12 refers to the cabin where Kelly was bunked while she spent a week at Camp Collins. She's back, and it is in this posting that I initiate her new identity. Her full name is Kelly Renee Wakefield. At camp, she chose her camp nickname to be Renee. I'm told that this is the name she identifies with most. I've agreed to try to remember to call her Renee whenever I speak to her. So far I'm batting maybe .600.

Today's banner is my scan of the 3"X5" snapshot they took of Renee's cabin mates. Counting the councilor, that comes to twelve warm bodies. Bet it got uncomfortable in those bunk beds. Still, better than a sleeping bag on the ground, which is what we had to do in my day! [queue old geezer music...]

And yes, they are wearing face paint. And I'm told there was a pony...

Friday, August 12, 2005

Oblique Justifications

I've been holding off on purchasing Tiger for my iMacs, since (a) the feature additions seem uninteresting and (b) early releases have seemed very unstable to judge by the forum chatter at various Mac troubleshooting websites. But now I've seen something that I must have! The Oblique Strategies widget, which only runs on Tiger. What is it? It's a little quick access desktop tool that replicates Brian Eno and Peter Norton's card deck of the same name.

Readers of this site know that I'm a long time fan of Brian Eno, especially his 'pop rock period'. These cards come from around that same timeframe, and remind me of gentler days. Will I really run out and buy Tiger so I can run this widget? Nah. But the next time I'm weighing the usefulness of Tiger, this will put a thumb on the scale.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Final Date

Jean and I did what was probably our final date before Kelly returns from camp Saturday. We went over the the Sweetbrier Inn, where my Dad and Bette stayed, and sat in the Jazz Bar. Jean ordered nachos (only so-so) and a non-alcoholic Margarita. I saw that they had Balvenie Scotch, so I ordered a glass. This was the basic Founder's Reserve 10 year old scotch. In September, Tom is going to buy a bottle of the Balvenie Portwood, and circumstances allowing, I'll be there to taste it. So now I know what a basic unflavored scotch from Balvenie tastes like. I should be able to tell whether aging in a used port cask makes the scotch sweeter, fruitier, or is indistinguishable. I'll update you when I know.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Tea Time

Our other 'holiday' outing was a visit to the Lavender Tea House, in Sherwood (or as the proprietress informed us, Smockville, after the man who owned most of the land in the downtown Sherwood area). Jean and I both had the 'Queen Mum', which is a plate with various finger sandwiches, some fruit, and a scone. This was served with a homemade strawberry 'freezer' jam and a clotted cream. I had some vegetable soup and a chilled tea with pineapple flavoring. Jean had a loose-leaf black tea.

Jean was telling me that her hairdresser was surprised that I was willing to go to a tea house. She apparently knows some guys who think it is 'unmanly'. Sorry dudes, I'm too secure in my masculinity to miss out on a neat nosh just 'cause it seems 'girly'. It was a lot of fun, and I'm really pleased that Jean and I got to do it!

Miniature Holiday

Kelly is at camp. To take advantage of that, I took today off, and Jean and I attended the Portland Art Museum. There were several nice travelling exhibits. We lingered over the exhibit of silver coffee and tea services. John Singer Sargent's portraits of children contained several large portraits that were quite striking. I enjoyed the Han and Chu dynasty artifacts, and of course visited the regular collections for my infrequent fix of Childe Hassam.

But the item that really intrigued me was the collection of lantern slides from the Wulsin expedition to Tibet in 1923. This collection is from the Peabody Essex Museum. "As the young American couple Janet E. and Frederick R. Wulsin, Jr. traveled in China, Inner Mongolia and the borderlands of Tibet between 1921 and 1925, they joined the ranks of explorers drawn to the people, cultures, and geography of unfamiliar and distant places."

About 80 of the photographs they took were mounted on glass plates, then hand tinted by artists in Beijing familiar with the culture, using tiny sable brushes. They then mounted the painted glass plates between two protective plates and sealed them, to be used as lantern slides. Until I got to the plaque explaining this, I was trying to figure out what the tinting process was, since of course there was no color film at that time. This article contains some sample photos to give you an idea. These photos made my trip to the museum, and if you're in the area and into photography, you should really make the trip.

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

Money Grubber

You'll notice a column of ads to the right (unless you're reading this in my RSS feed). Relax, it's an experiment. I'll be truly surprised if I earn a penny off this service, but I was curious to see if anybody actually clicks on these things. If you're a regular reader, don't try to do me any favors by arbitrarily clicking on ads, as this might be misconstrued by Google as a violation of their terms (I'm not supposed to encourage or offer incentives to click) and get me kicked off the island. Even harsher, I'm not allowed to click on any of the ads myself, absolutely. I understand this is to prevent me from inflating my own numbers, but if I see a relevant ad, I'll have to copy the url and go there separately.

Which brings me to the interesting feature of this program. The ads are supposed to be appropriate for the content on the site. The first batch all seem to center around food (recipes, restaurants) which is appropriate given how much I've been writing about it lately. I'll be interested to see if they ever offer ads for anime or Hong Kong movies, or maybe DVDs for Firefly or Dr. No.

Monday, August 8, 2005

Subconscious Geek

I gave Jean a laughing fit tonight. I was coming up from downstairs, where I'd been watching Firefly, now a guaranteed recording on my Replay (after all, they're setting the scene for the movie, Serenity, due out in late September). I rounded the corner into the living room, where Jean was reading and watching television. There on the screen was a very young Sean Connery, in light garb, in a typical room for the period. Somehow I just knew which movie it was, and remarked, "oh, Dr. No!"

Jean started cracking up right away, and it took me a moment to figure out over what. "You just walked in, and it was literally two seconds! He's alone in a room, no villains, no window view, and you name the movie!" My inner geek is showing. Really, I just got lucky. But we both found the unconscious remark pretty funny, in a pathetic sort of way.

Not Norwegian Wood

Pilvet Karkaa, Niin Minakin is the theme song from Kauas Pilvet Karkaavat, a 1996 film by Aki Kaurismaki. I'd forgotten all about this Finnish director, popular in Japan, until I received an email from someone whose name appeared to be a string of random letters. I remember remarking to Jean that it looked like Finnish. At first I thought it was spam, but a closer look revealed it was from my friend Nami! She was sending me a message from her cellphone. Her email address on her cellphone is a reference to the song, and the director whom she introduced me to, many years ago. Those wacky youngsters and their cellphone email!

Hi Nami!

Sunday, August 7, 2005

Chicken Fajitas

I don't know if this link will work in general, as it required I input a code (9052) on the Cook's Illustrated home page, but the Chicken Fajitas I made today turned out great. We did not do outdoor grilling, nor did I use a broiler. I simply cooked the onions and green peppers in a saucepan on the stove, and fortuitously carmelized the onions slightly, which Jean says is just the right thing. The marinade really made the chicken, and I'm thinking of using the marinade again, even without making fajitas. Jean suggests that it would work well with shredded pork too. Yum!

I'll excerpt just the marinade here to whet your appetite:

  • 1/3 cup lime juice (from 2 to 3 limes)

  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 3 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press

  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar

  • 1 jalapeño chile, seeds and ribs removed, chile minced

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves (left out for Jean)

  • Table salt and ground black pepper

  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts/ (about 1 1/2 pounds), trimmed of fat, tenderloins removed, breasts pounded to 1/2-inch thickness

In medium bowl, whisk together lime juice, 4 tablespoons oil, garlic, Worcestershire, brown sugar, jalapeño, cilantro, 1 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper. Reserve 1/4 cup marinade in small bowl; set aside. Add another teaspoon salt to remaining marinade. Place chicken in marinade; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 15 minutes.