Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sunday Night Recipe: Oatmeal Cake with Butterscotch Sauce

My mom hates chocolate. Hates it with the undying passion of a thousand suns. So, one year when she was a kid, her mom took a plain-Jane oatmeal cake, topped it with a simple butterscotch sauce and stepped into history. My mom's had this cake every year since, including this year. What God has brought together, let not man put asunder.

Oatmeal Cake with Butterscotch Sauce

For the cake:

1 c. boiling water
1 c. quick oats
1 stick butter

Combine and let stand while you mix:

1 c. brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 c. white sugar

Combine with above. Add:

1 1/2 c. sifted flour
pinch salt
1 heaping t. baking soda
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. vanilla

Bake in a greased and floured 9"x13" pan at 350 degrees (DO NOT preheat) for 30-35 minutes.

Before serving, combine

1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1/2 c. white sugar
2 T. flour
1 c. water
1/2 c. butter
1 t. vanilla

Cook the sugars, flour and water in a saucepan until clear, then stir in butter and vanilla. Serve warm over squares of cake. Try not to get trampled in the rush for seconds. Happy Birthday, Mom! Enjoy!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Nothing like a little improvisational breakfast theater to start your day ...

So I had some fun this morning: Halfway through making breakfast, I discover that all of my eggs are frozen (ovary jokes are at your own expense), hampering my efforts to create a bacon/egg sandwich (the muffin was already in the toaster, for pete's sake). I ended up holding an egg with tongs and running it under hot water until it oozed when I dropped it. That was fun.

Before that, though, I made another discovery: The pot for my coffee maker was cracked, I think from when I fumbled it in the sink last night. The percolator was primed and ready to go, so I found a heat-safe bowl and stuck that on the burner (and kept a wary eye on it, because I had to assume it wouldn't explode -- it wasn't marked as such).

Anyway, the point is that I now need a new coffee maker. I would just get a new pot, but the appliance in question is probably 20 years old and I think the Mr. Coffee people would just laugh at me if I asked for one. I'll probably just pick up a cheap-O new one over the weekend, but suggestions are welcome.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Mark your calendars ...

... set your clocks, pay the neighbor kid to remind you, whatever it is you do to keep from forgetting something: One week from today, that'll be Wednesday, June 3, yours truly will appear on the game show Jeopardy! (The exclamation point is part of the show's name; I'm actually fairly sanguine about the whole thing.) If/when I have a shindig, watch this space for details. For times, check your local listings. Thatisall.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Yahaaaaaaaay, boomsticks.

So it turns out I was right: I have to be really, really careful about the grips on the pistols I fire, or my trick wrist is going to be really, really sore the next day. Luckily, long guns do just fine.

My weekend sounds so much more exciting than it actually was.

Some thoughts on yesterday's ceremonies

I was home yesterday and spent the hours indulging largely in guilt-free cartoon watching (don't ask me what; I won't admit to it), but I did take a few minutes to switch over to Fox for the wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknown. (Okay, fine, I stumbled onto it. Sue me.) It was a moving ceremony -- Taps, in particular, always gets me, especially when I stand for it -- but I was very disturbed by Pres. Obama's words and actions.

Number one was his body language during the actual placing of the wreath. The best way I can describe it is that he moved like a kid roped into being the ring bearer at his step-sister's cousin's wedding. He was gangly, he was loose, and he moved with the undisciplined motion of someone who's been told where to stand and what to do but not why. There was a blankness in his gaze as he stepped back from the tomb that indicated a vapidity of thought. He was filling a role, nothing more.

His address immediately following was equally disturbing, if not more so. Time and again he asserted that he couldn't imagine the level of sacrifice exhibited by our fallen soldiers. He couldn't fathom what would lead someone to that point. He could not understand the urge to act for something greater than yourself. He did not understand. And that made me very sad.

Self-sacrifice is a scalable experience. Most of us will, thank God, never have to jump on a grenade or charge a machine-gun nest -- but we will, at some point, choose someone else's well-being above our own. Even if it's as small as changing your plans for the day or giving someone the last slice of cake, it's a selfless act. And I don't say this to denigrate fallen soldiers -- far from it. My point is that for anyone who's ever given of themselves and expected nothing in return, no matter how small the gesture, there's going to be an understanding of what leads a person to die for their country. Even if you can't get to that level of heroism, you can at least see the start of it, the spark that lights the fire.

I saw none of that in Obama's address. He was completely without reference, without landmark in this realm of human experience. He spoke of things he knew nothing of. And even if he did not write the address himself, he still approved of it enough to deliver it, which is just as bad. It's a very sad thing when a person gets that far in life without ever giving at that level to another person and experiencing that glow of loss that burns at the bottom of the human soul. He is an empty crucible, an unfired ingot, a victim who piggybacked on those who actually suffered. He was an empty suit. He made me sad.

In the man's defense, though, North Korea had just done its thing. Obama gave his remarks on the events literally moments before the ceremony. I saw those, too, and the main thing I noticed was how gray he's gotten, just in the past couple months. He's about a year and a half younger than my Dad, and he already looks older. I hadn't expected that kind of aging for at least a couple years. This is going to be an interesting era.

A day late, but it's the thought that counts

From the Tomb of the Unknowns:

Here rests in/honored glory/an American soldier/known but to God
And He knows them all. Remember them.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sunday Night Recipe Special Memorial Day Edition: Grandma's Potato Salad

Every year on Race Day (the day of the Indianapolis 500, for you out-of-staters), my mom's family and friends gets together for a massive fried chicken lunch and general get-together. As a holiday, it ranks right beside Thanksgiving and Easter. The biggest thing about it (aside from the camaraderie and catching up) is the food, including (drumroll) my grandmother's potato salad. Even people who don't like potato salad like this potato salad.

You may need to ... uh ... scale it down just a tad.

Grandma's Potato Salad

10 lbs. Russet potatoes
2 1/2 c. chopped white onion
4 c. chopped celery
1 dozen hard-boiled eggs, chopped
2 large jars diced pimentos
1 qt. Miracle Whip (NOT mayonnaise), thinned with milk and pickled banana pepper juice (I suppose you can substitute regular pickle juice, but it's your call. I'll post the family banana pepper pickle recipe some time, I promise.)
salt to taste (you won't need much)

Peel and boil the potatoes until cooked, then cut into 1/2" pieces and mix with other ingredients. The key to this dish is to mix while the potatoes are still piping hot; it keeps the sauce from getting slimy and drastically improves the overall texture. Happy Memorial Day!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sunday Night Recipe: Mini French Toast

I came across this combination last week by accident, and it turned out to be a keeper. I'm a big fan of french toast to begin with -- if I'm going to be trapped in my house by a blizzard, I can think of worse things to do with eggs, bread and milk -- and I was very excited to discover a delicious snack-sized variety.

Mini French Toast

Start by cutting a baguette into 1/4" slices (four to five slices per person). Begin heating a griddle and mix the following ingredients:

Per serving:
1 egg
1 T. 2% milk
2-3 drops vanilla

Run some butter across the griddle when drops of water dance on it. Soak the baguette slices in the egg mixture and lay on the griddle to cook, spacing 1/2" apart. Turn when browned on one side and cook through. Serve warm with the toppings of your choice; they're delicious with powdered sugar or just a dab of butter. Enjoy!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

You're not as special as you think you are.

The Silicon Valley Insider has a great article about the newspaper industry and why it should be allowed to fail. In fact, that's the name of the article: "Newspapers Must Be Allowed To Fail." Sound too pessimistic? The writer begs to differ. The alternative to bankruptcy being floated is -- I kid you not -- a government bailout for failing papers. They would be restructured as not-for-profit organizations and would take a significant (if not majority) portion of their funding from the federal government. If I have to explain why government-run media is a bad thing, you need more of a history lesson than I'm willing or able to give you.

The other main complaint from newspaper supporters, the other dying squawk of this wounded animal, is that newspapers fill a niche that nothing else can fill. The article addresses that specifically:

Just because newspapers go away doesn't means sources will. Watergate broke because an FBI agent, aka Deep Throat, didn't like the way Nixon politicized the FBI -- not because Woodward and Bernstein sleuthed it out. Source will always find the biggest megaphone they can to get their views out.
These few lines sum up one of the biggest problems plaguing the newspaper industry: the utter and unshakable conviction that they are indispensable.

I'll let you in on a secret. I'll whisper it.

You ready?

They're not.

Newspapers came into being because there was a role for them to fill. Given the technology and communications networks available, newspapers were the best way to get news and information to the masses. Didn't matter if the masses didn't like how that news and information was presented. They had nowhere else to go. When technology advanced and communication improved, this changed. Television provided some competition to newspapers, but, barring a few notable exceptions, those unhappy with newspapers were likely to be even more unhappy with television. The long and the short of it was that when technology became available for people to express their opinions and produce news themselves, it caught on. The same goes for sources. Deep Throat sought out Woodward and Bernstein because they provided the biggest platform for what he had to say. Take away newspapers, and sources will simply move to the next convenient outlet.

Even if their business model was viable, newspapers would still be suffering because they let themselves think that their readers needed them. Reality, unfortunately, is precisely the other way around. I don't care how many Pulitzers you've got, they don't mean a thing if no one's buying your product. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Nostalgia doesn't pay for ink.

My excitement jumped the gun, there

I just realized that buying everyone a round at the blogmeet will have to wait until next month because I haven't actually gotten paid yet. I feel silly. (I also don't want to jump the gun celebrating, to be honest -- it is technically still a temp position.) So, there's that. See y'all tomorrow!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Time elapsed: 5 months, 10 days

So I may have a job.

I got a call this morning that I've been offered a temp-to-hire position for a company that produces phone books. (People still make those? -Ed. Apparently.) I interviewed for a different position with the same company about six weeks ago, and I thought the opportunity had passed. But apparently they just didn't need anyone until now. The temp portion goes for approximately 90 days, so I'm not making any big plans for now. But it's full-time work and it pays almost as much as my old full-time job. We'll see how it goes. I start on Monday.

The interesting thing about all this is the timing. My unemployment benefits are almost completely exhausted, and I finish my ill-advised part-time job this Friday. It's almost like God was standing there watching the second hand on his clock, waiting for exactly the right time when I would hit bottom, and then said "Go." So it's undoubtedly a lesson of some sort. I'm eager to learn it. I'm just not anxious to do it again any time soon.

I'd also like to express my heartfelt thanks to everyone who's supported me while I've been out of work. All contributions, emotional and otherwise (you know who you are and what they were) are appreciated more than I can say. And to everyone who's bought me lunch and/or beer at the blogmeets: Next round's on me. See you all on Sunday!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sunday Night Recipe Mother's Day Edition: Banana Pancakes

UPDATE: I had the wrong proportions for the leavening. I also left out the nutmeg. Both are fixed.

In honor of Mothers Day, I present something she used to make for me when I was a kid: Banana Pancakes. It was always special because we would usually just have plain ol' pancakes, but if I asked I got them made to order. (Anyone else who asked got some, too, but that's not the point here. The point was the asking.) So: Banana Pancakes.

Banana Pancakes

1 c. flour
1/2 T. cream of tartar
3/4 t. baking soda
1 c. milk
1 egg
3-4 T. oil
1/4 t. nutmeg (optional)

One banana, sliced

Heat a griddle until drops of water dance when flicked onto the surface. Mix the batter while the griddle is heating; baking soda is a fickle beast and will go flat if you let it sit too long after meeting. Let a pat of butter melt and spread it around to grease the griddle, then ladle out 1/4-cup portions of batter, spaced appropriately for the space available. Lay slices of banana into the batter and cover with another thin layer of the mix. Flip when the batter forms and holds bubbles and begins to cook around the edges. Serve warm for best effect. I love you, Mom! Enjoy!

Quote of the Day

From Farmer Frank, here's some of the best advice that I've heard in a long time:

Dad taught me how to plant a straight corn row, and to do it you have to sit up straight, hold your head high and be proud of what you're doing. Find your mark, sight down it and then find a goal on the horizon. It's the goal on the horizon you always drive toward and only check your progress by checking your sight gauge (the hood ornament seen at the front of the tractor) against your close mark, but you continually judge the straightness of your line against your goal on the horizon, not by those marks closest to you while keeping yourself 'straight' in the seat. [...] Of course, his brother (my Uncle Johnny, who recently passed) reminded him with a laugh and a smile that you get more corn planted in a crooked row.

I'm only writing this because the people on TV can't hear me yelling.

So I'm watching "In Plain Sight", which is a pretty good show (but not as good as "Burn Notice"). The characters were discussing mercenaries, and one said that "Soldiers follow ideals. Mercenaries follow the money." The other character replied, "Soldiers follow orders; governments follow the money. That's why we put a couple hundred thousand soldiers in Iraq instead of Darfur."

I just wanted to pop over here and respond to that. Iraq and Darfur were two different animals. Yes, they're both run by genocidal madmen, but Iraq's particular madman was a major threat to the region and, yes, to us. He was also positioned on the other side of Iran from Afghanistan, meaning that if we put troops there, we would have Iran (also run by a genocidal madman) flanked on both sides. There are many, many other reasons, but I'm going to stop with those two. As terrible as Darfur's situation is, it's not our job to fix it just because people are suffering. That's not what the army is there for. It's there to act in the defense of our nation and its allies. As callous as this sounds, we may be the world's policeman, but we're not its babysitter.

There's also an annoying reporter character. I really, really hate it when journalists thinks they have a right to know the details of classified operations just because they're journalists and "the public has a right to know." The only thing the public has a right to know is information that directly affects them -- corruption and things like that. There's a difference between "stop-at-nothing reporter" and "doesn't-know-when-to-stop nosy idiot."

Thursday, May 07, 2009

I'm trying to communicate here, guys! With the world!

My Internet's cutting out again, this time saying it's connected but can't do anything about it. Unfortunately, the same thing is happening with the unsecured wireless connection I poach from in these situations, so the problem is either with a) the whole complex, or b) my computer. Neither prospect is particularly stress-relieving. I literally cannot afford computer repairs right now. In any case, blogging will probably be pretty light until I can get it fixed (or it fixes itself). Keep an eye on my Twitter widget for updates; I can do those from my cell phone. Cheers.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Blah.

So ...

1) Good News: I got an e-mail forward from my cool uncle in Oklahoma and, long story short, I am now a member of the NRA (at least for the next year).

2) Bad News: I just balanced my checkbook and I have something like $68 dollars in my account. I'm also short of the bank's balance by 90 cents, which isn't a huge deal, but it does bug me.

3) Weird News: Today I gave notice at the part-time job I've been working at a bookstore downtown. It was a situation I should never have gotten into, and I wasn't thinking clearly when I accepted it (yayyyy clinical depression). I had numerous chances and reasons to run from this job from the very start, but because I had romantic notions about working there, I fooled myself into thinking I could work around all the problems. I was also desperate to be working somewhere, even if it wasn't a good job. Unfortunately, I can't justify a 50-minute bus ride (one way) or driving 40 minutes and paying through the nose for parking for a 15-hour-a-week, $7.50-an-hour job. I'm not happy about it and I'm not happy that I let myself get into the situation, but it was actually keeping me from other, more profitable opportunities. So I did damage control and now I'm out of it. I just have to finish out the week, and then I'm done.

I'm also feeling a lot better, depression-wise. That was another problem -- as down as I've been these past few months, the added stress of keeping that job actually pushed me over the edge to suicidal. Luckily, my sister (with whom I am incredibly close) was there for me. She is, in fact, in the dictionary next to the entry on "awesome". So I'm doing all right. Don't worry about me.

Ha, like you guys worry. :-P

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Sunday Night Recipe: Crock Pot Roast Beef

I actually couldn't eat this dish for most of 2008 because it was the first thing I ate (along with some white rice) when I got home from my surgery. (I can't cuddle the little stuffed dog I got in the hospital for the same reason.) Luckily, I got over it, which makes me very happy -- this is one of my favorites.

Crock Pot Roast Beef

Start with a piece of roastin' beef that will fit in your crock pot. Try for a leaner cut of meat (cheap cuts work fine, so this can be a great saver of dollars). Place the meat in the crock and cover with:

2 cans low-sodium beef broth
an equivalent amount of water
1 bay leaf (2 if they're small)

Cooking times and temperature settings depend entirely on your time frame. Set on high, it will cook in four hours or less. If you put it together in the morning, set it on low and let it sit for 6-8 hours. The result is a roast so tender that you often can't get it out of the pot in one piece. Since it makes its own gravy (heh heh), I suggest just slicing it in the crock (you can do it with a table knife and fork if you cook it long enough) and shifting it to the serving dish piece by piece, then turning the crock pot on low and stirring in a little arrowroot powder to thicken the gravy. Mashed potatoes are practically a requirement. Enjoy!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Just a quick note ...

... to express my heartfelt thanks to the people who hit my tip jar this past week. (You know who you are.) Right now, it's that kind of thing that helps me get out of bed in the morning. So, thanks.

No midnight trains, just city buses.

This is kind of my theme song right now. It just seems to fit.

Hugh Jackman is a close, close second.

In my life, the phrase "I'd follow him anywhere" is usually said in a swooning voice about a handsome movie star or some such. On the other hand, there are those few people where it's a serious statement of intent:

Although I am not usually given to omens, I can’t help feeling it means something that the next presidential election will take place on November 6, 2012, the day before Gen. David Petraeus turns 60. I, for one, can’t think of a more appropriate birthday present for the man and the nation than giving him a well-deserved promotion.
Read the whole thing. On the other hand, Scipio makes some good (depressing) points about pinning our hopes on the 2010 election. He seems a little over-the-top, as usual, but I think a little over-the-top is good sometimes.