Saturday, April 30, 2011

Marmalade Muffins, part 2

How to make furry marmalade muffins:

1. Make marmalade muffins.
2. Don't eat the marmalade muffins.

So simple! And I may have developed a new antibiotic!

As you can see, we weren't impressed by the recipe I tried. I seem to be having bad luck with "made from scratch" muffins. There are so many boxed muffin mixes, I suppose maybe I should just stick with those, but I would love to be able to throw a few basic ingredients in a bowl and bake up some delicious muffins without needing to ask Betty Crocker for help.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Jen's Library - The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story

The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story
by Diane Ackerman

I tried to read it. Really, I did. It's rare that I will not finish a book once I've started, because I need to know how it ends, and flipping to the last chapter is cheating.

But I do not like Diane Ackerman's writing, and I just couldn't get through it. I feel bad - she's an acclaimed writer and her books seem like books I would enjoy, but this is the second work of hers that I had to put down and walk away from in frustration.

I tried reading her Natural History of the Senses last year. It's a fascinating topic, at least to me - a look at the five senses and how we, and other creatures, experience them. Interesting, right? A non-fiction subject right up my alley! But her writing style puts me off. It's too flowery and poetic for me to follow comfortably in that context. Here's a quote from the essay on smell:

Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the Poconos, when wild blueberry bushes teemed with succulent fruit and the opposite sex was as mysterious as space travel; another, hours of passion on a moonlit beach in Florida, while the night-blooming cereus drenched the air with thick curds of perfume and huge sphinx moths visited the cereus in a loud purr of wings; a third, a family dinner of pot roast, noodle pudding, and sweet potatoes, during a myrtle-mad August in a Midwestern town, when both of one’s parents were alive. Smells detonate softly in our memory like poignant land mines, hidden under the weedy mass of years and experiences. Hit a tripwire of smell, and memories explode all at once. A complex vision leaps out of the undergrowth.
by Diane Ackerman
from A Natural History of the Senses, 1990, The Mute Sense

It just totally rubs me the wrong way and I can't explain why. It's pretty, but I don't enjoy reading it in an essay. Thick curds of perfume and a myrtle-mad August? Really?

I picked up The Zookeeper's Wife at the library because the description on the book jacket sounded great. It's about a zookeeper couple who sheltered Jews in the Warsaw Zoo during the Second World War. I want to read this story! It's a real story and I would love to learn about this amazing couple and how they resisted the Nazis and protected so many lives! But I read the first few pages and was weighed down by the immensely poetic prose, and started to get frustrated. Only then did I take note of the author's name, and remembered my last attempt to read her work. I kept going, thinking that maybe since this book was more novel-ish than the essays, it would eventually feel more comfortable and I could finish. Well, maybe it's a question of being in the right mood, but this book is going back to the library unread. Sorry, Ms Ackerman, I'll give you another try sometime.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

On the existence of giant bugs

The warmer Maryland weather apparently allows for the existence of very large bugs. Some of the spiders here are big enough for me to believe that someone is breeding tarantulas nearby and the babies keep escaping. Folks back home don't believe me when I complain about the spiders, probably because I have serious arachnophobia and am prone to exaggerate the size and aggression of any individual critter. But really, we're talking about bodies the size of nickels. And then legs. Fast, furry, nasty legs. These bastards explode when you smash them, but I can't bear to get close enough to smash them because I'm scared they'll either fight back or climb my legs. And that would make me die. So I blast the sons of bitches with the delightful neurotoxin that is a can of Raid and they twitch and die horrible and deserved deaths.

I sometimes find them in the laundry room or the family room, but for the moment they keep to the lower level of the house. They also congregate by the front door, probably looking for a way in - with enough of them, they could probably carry off the TV. Dave killed a few of them out front as we got home last night, because I couldn't even get to the door with them sitting there with their too many legs and watching me with their freaky compound eyes. But now I need a plan, because I usually get home first, and I can't exactly sit in my car and wait for Dave every night I see a spider by the door. I bought an extra can of Raid, thinking I could keep it in the car for that sort of emergency, but my car can get really hot in the summer, and I don't think keeping an aerosol can in there is safe or wise. Maybe leave it near the door? Of course, then I am just asking for the irony of eventually finding a spider ON the can of Raid.

And it's not just spiders. A gargantuan wasp made it inside the house yesterday. I'd post a picture of it but I don't want to be liable for any panic attacks my dear readers may have as a consequence of viewing it. I could totally see a fight between that wasp and one of the "baby tarantula" spiders happening in a terrible horror movie.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

National Medical Laboratory Professionals Week, 2011

Lab week is here!

I can't figure out advanced movie editing, so this is as good as it's going to get. No sound and no fancy effects, but please enjoy a look at a day in a med tech's life!

I'm happy to answer questions, so please feel free to comment!

Bring me.... a shrubbery!

We have a great bounty of azalea, rhododendron, boxwood, rose-of-sharon, yew, English laurel, and holly bushes in the yard. Most of them are in sorry shape after years of neglect. All of them are in desperate need of pruning because they're much bigger than they should be, but unfortunately in most cases the green healthy layer is only a couple of inches thick, and the whole interior of the shrub is a mess of twigs.

Pruning them to the size they need to be will probably kill them unless we do it over the course of several years, and even then it's a long shot.

So we've decided to take most of them out. They're taking over the deck and patio and they look scraggly, so we're going to pull them out and start from scratch with smaller shrubs or other plants that we can keep under control.

This is before:
And here's that back corner after a couple of hours of work:

It's hard to see the difference, but there are three trash cans full of twigs and ivy sitting at the curb now, with those two piles of twigs and ivy you see in the photo left over to be tossed next week because we ran out of trash cans. It's going to take forever to clear out this yard, and it's going to leave things looking a little naked for a while but I think it makes the most sense to do it this way and start over with a blank canvas, choosing new plants and shrubs that don't need much care, while making sure to give them that little bit of care so they don't get out of control.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Yet more gardening

I added a few things to my garden today. Some seeds for forget-me-nots and Lunaria (silver-dollar-plant) are now sowed in the back garden, so there will be something growing there once the tulips are finished. I am in love with the hundreds of pretty violets sprinkled across our front and side lawns, so I dug up a couple for the back garden - they will spread like weeds, which is fine with me. I don't have a lot of money to spend on perennials right now, so anything I already have and can use is very helpful. I also found some beautiful and sweet-smelling plants growing under the pine trees in the front, so I dug those up and moved them too.

I was sure they were Phlox, but a little research corrected me and now I know they are in fact Hesperis matronalis, or Dame's Rocket. Technically an invasive weed/wildflower and often confused for native Phlox species, it's actually outlawed in a few places (Massachusetts, Colorado). As far as I'm concerned, they're free pretty perennials and so they can live in my garden. I left some under the trees too, because there were a lot of them, and if they're growing well there it'll make that area look nice.

In other news, it turns out that the big azalea by the front door, and the one by the back door, are both pink. The other one in the front of the house is red, and the third one by the gate isn't flowering yet so I can't be sure, but the buds look dark so I'm going to guess red. Sadly, they are attracting bees. Billions of bees. So I think I will move them to the side yard in the fall so I can enjoy looking at them from the computer room but not have to dodge bees every time I need to leave the house.

The huge rhododendrons we salvaged when the landscaping guys gutted the area under the pines are still alive, and a couple of them are flowering. I'll prune them back after they're done flowering (the azaleas too), because they're so gangly and spread out and I want to try and make them fuller and healthier. Or I will kill them by pruning. It's a fine line!

I also moved the tomato plants to bigger pots, and I expect to put them outside within a few weeks. I bought green bean plants too, and will give those a shot in a container garden on the deck, and see if maybe I can grow something edible. A good skill to have in case society collapses around us.

Lab Week

Photo credit: ASCP

Next week, April 24th-30th, is National Medical Laboratory Professionals Week. It doesn't mean a whole lot to the rest of the world, but it's supposed to be a week to celebrate the contributions of laboratory professionals in healthcare. Mostly, it's confined to the hospital, and we have silly contests and potluck dinners and there's a blurb about the lab in the newsletter. We have fun and then go back to work.

But I see Lab Week as an opportunity to educate. The laboratory profession is a very anonymous one - we're hidden in the basements of most hospitals, patients and families never see us, and yet we affect their care so much. Medical technology schools are closing down due to low interest, yet the profession is due to lose thousands of people to retirement in the next few years. It's a sure bet for a job, in one of the few fields that's actually growing, and yet very few people are aware it exists. Most of the other allied health professions have a similar visibility issue, so we're not alone... but I feel like as a group, we need to make ourselves more visible and get noticed.

So this year, for lab week, I made a slide show about the medical laboratory profession. I toured the lab and took pictures of my coworkers in action, and showed the many things we do in the lab every day, and made a quick movie out of it. I am proud to say that my work will be made available on the hospital's intranet system for everyone to look at. I'm a little nervous because it's just a dinky Powerpoint show, since I don't have any skills past that level, but I hope it helps to inform some of my hospital coworkers about what happens to the tubes of blood once they get stuffed into the pneumatic shuttle system.

I'm currently trying to tweak it to share it on YouTube so my friends and family can see it, and hopefully I can get that done over the weekend, in time for Lab Week.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


I found a Horton in my pajamas this morning.

How he got into my pajamas, I'll never know.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Recipe Fail - Marmalade Muffins

Another cookbook find at the book sale provided me with this intriguing recipe. Marmalade muffins sounded tasty, so I assembled everything and gave them a shot. Only after my ingredients were lined up on the counter did I realize that the recipe did not call for sugar. At all. No white sugar, brown sugar, honey, nothing. I hesitated, but it did ask for 2/3 cup of marmalade, and my jar listed high fructose corn syrup at the first ingredient, so I figured that would count as my sugar and I'd be fine.

I was wrong.

They were a little dry, and didn't taste marmaladey enough for me. Or sweet enough. I guess it's possible they were meant to be savoury muffins, but I didn't expect a fruit muffin to be without sweetness. They're probably good with butter and would go with a meal, like corn muffins would. But alas, they're not breakfast muffins. So I made pumpkin bread from a mix instead and have been eating that for breakfast.

I can come back and post the recipe if anyone's interested... but I recommend against interest on this particular occasion.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Project: Wallpaper Removal

The living room and dining room of this house have been blue since we moved in last year. The top half of the walls are blue, the wallpaper on the bottom half of the walls is blue, the carpets are blue, and the futon and chair are have blue furniture covers. Living in a Smurf village will make you crazy after a while, and it was time to tear the paper down to make the rooms ready for painting. We've wanted to change the look of this room from the very start, but other things kept jumping to the top of the priorities list. Replacing the carpets is what I most wanted to do, but that's a more expensive adventure that will have to wait a little while. Paint is cheap and will make a huge difference, so that will be the first step. But before painting, the wallpaper needs to come off.

We assembled some sponges, a bucket of water, and a couple of scrapers, and sat in the hallway to get started. I tried to soak the first panel with a sponge, but the paper is textured and smooth, and feels like it's made of plastic, so the water just beaded right off it. I picked at a corner until I got a little piece to pull on, and I tugged - the whole thing peeled right off in one wide strip. And nearly every piece came off like that, without even needing to wet the walls or scrape. There was only one panel with excess glue that needed extra work, and we'll need to patch the wallboard there before we paint, but the rest was an absolute breeze!

But, naturally, nothing we've done in this house comes without a surprise. I thought the blue was bad. Underneath the wallpaper, hidden by the textured ugly, was an entirely different ugly.

Pink. Pink. Little-old-lady pink. Chalky pink. Horrible, horrible pink. So now, until we can wash the walls and start painting, two huge rooms in my house are two-colored monstrosities. At least this will motivate me to get the painting done fast, because this is entirely ridiculous. And yet, someone painted their house this way because they thought it looked great!

Why would you do this to innocent walls?

Expect a painting update within a couple of weeks. Unless I go blind before then.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Year in review... so far...

It's a rainy, slow sort of day, and there will be no gardening for me in this weather, so I'll stay inside and comfy and maybe try to bake something this afternoon. But I was thinking a little and realized it's already April and the year is whooshing by at alarming speed. Maybe it's time to stop and have a look at the first part of the year, and what I've accomplished.

How have I done with my 30 in 30 list so far?

Learn to hem pants and sew on buttons.
I sewed some hems but they didn't stay very secure. I need more practice. I haven't had any buttons fall off of anything yet, so I haven't tried those. Maybe I'll try sewing them onto scraps of fabric, just to learn.

Figure out how to French braid my hair.
I chopped a lot of my hair off last month, so that one will probably not happen this year.

Start my retirement savings.
My employer changed retirement plan people, and there are meetings about it next week, so I'll be starting that before the summer for sure.

Paint the red room yellow.
Done. Needs a second coat, but we're now calling it the "yellow room".

Plant a tree in the yard.
A lilac is technically a shrub, but I put one in last week.

Drive on 95.
I managed 97... got to Annapolis all by myself to have dinner with the ladies from work and it was worth it.

Get my body into good enough shape to start growing a baby in it. This includes the loss of 20 pounds, but is mostly about feeling healthier.
HA! Yeah, not making a whole lot of progress on this one. I'm cooking more and eating more veggies, but I need to move more. A LOT more.

Related to #9 - Find a GYN and stop stalling about it!

Blog at least once a week - and blog about everything I accomplish off the list!
I'm blogging often but I guess I didn't blog about all my accomplishments. But then again, who wants to hear about my haircut or GYN appointments?

Get a filing system set up so I stop having to hunt for all my important paperwork.
We've been shopping for filing cabinets on Craigslist recently, and I'm trying to go through our paper piles more often to toss the junk, but the filing system isn't set up yet.

Speak up for myself at my annual review at work and tell them I'm awesome.
Done. I managed to get "exceeds expectations" or whatever the equivalent is. Because I'm awesome. I was a bit upset that I was told I seem to get overwhelmed a lot. Um, hello? Have you seen my workload and how I'm mostly doing it all alone? But it doesn't matter, I passed and if there's money in the hospital budget for raises this year I'll probably get something!

Read 50 books, or about one a week, this year.
On my way to that number. I've got a few in the queue for book review blog entries, but it's hard to find the time. Those take a while!

Participate in Thing-a-day in February.
Made it about halfway. But I had fun.

Go through all our STUFF and have a yard sale to get rid of what we don't need (or give it to charity). I want to keep what we need, and what matters.
I have piles of stuff in boxes! There will be a community yard sale this spring and I'm so excited to get rid of some of it! There will also be a dumpster around that weekend to get rid of what nobody will buy (but I'll try Goodwill first).

Go on a wonderful anniversary trip with my husband.
California bound, really soon! Can't wait!

Drink 8 cups of water EVERY DAY.
I was doing great until about a month ago when I started feeling grossed out every time I tried drinking straight water, and turned off by artificial sweeteners like in Crystal Light. I need to buy lemons and try using those to make water more appealing. Water sucks.

Do one of the FlyLady challenges weekly.
Nope. I shined my sink for about a week, and then other stuff got in the way. I'll keep trying.

Try to relax and be less critical of myself (and others).
Am I better at this yet? I'm not sure.

Celebrate getting my green card with a party or fancy night out.

Wear my face moisturizer with SPF so I don't get wrinkly.
I'm at about a 50% compliance rate.

Cook things from the family cookbook Mom gave me.
I've made 2 or 3 so far.

  • Take a yoga class.
  • Make homemade pasta from scratch.
  • Bake homemade bread from scratch. The real stuff. With yeast!
  • Learn how to identify different trees by their leaves/needles/bark/whatever. I used to know this and forgot everything, so I'm going to read up on it and put it back in my head.
  • Learn to change a tire.
  • See the night sky from somewhere dark enough that I can see the stripe of the Milky Way.
  • Find out how to get tuition reimbursement from work, and then apply for an online class.
  • Write. More than just blogs. Start a writing notebook, fill it up, get another.
  • Visit the Museum of American History and see every part of it (and read as much as I can handle of the info posted beside everything). I've been but the visit was so hurried and I need to go back.
Still on the "to do" list.

Not bad for 3 months, I think. Plenty of time left to try and get to the rest of it. And I've done other stuff during this time that wasn't on my list, too, like unpacking more boxes, assembling furniture, planting a garden and trying to grow tomatoes... so far, it's a good year.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Recipe Fail - Roasted tomato slices

I had a tomato. Just one. A big round one. And I wasn't planning to make a salad, or a sandwich, and I wasn't sure what to do with one tomato. So I remembered how I sometimes like grilled tomatoes, and decided to try putting tomato slices under the broiler instead. I am not sure why I thought that was a reasonable substitution of cooking method.

I sliced the tomato into thick slices and sprinkled some salt and pepper on them, and stuck them under the broiler. After a minute or two, they were just barely browning, so I added a little cheese, because cheese makes everything delicious, and put them back. Two more minutes and the cheese was bubbly and the slices looked pretty good. I forgot to take a picture, but it's just as well, because I don't want any poor innocent readers seeing a delicious-looking picture and then trying this sad recipe, because disappointment is guaranteed.

They were incredibly squishy. They completely fell apart into tomatoey, cheesy goo as soon as I tried lifting them off the baking sheet. I have since found a recipe in a book (probably a better bet than the ones that appear in my head) that cautions to only use underripe tomatoes for this sort of thing, lest they fall apart on you.

Lesson learned.

If my tomato plants make it through the summer and start giving me tomatoes, hopefully I will have a chance to test this and many other tomato recipes, as I try to get through what will surely be mounds of giant tomatoes.

Monday, April 11, 2011

What's for Dinner - Braised Sweet Potatoes & Spinach

One of the books I picked up at the book sale was a cookbook. Actually, my aunt picked it up, but when we were back at her place looking through our purchases, I flipped through it and fell in love with half of the recipes, so she told me to take it home. Thank you, Auntie! You'll get it back someday, I promise! I tried a side dish out of the book tonight, but as usual I didn't like half of the ingredients so I adjusted everything and made it different. Here's what I ended up with.

Braised Sweet Potatoes & Spinach

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into small pieces
One onion, cut so you have thin half-circles of onion
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp oilve oil
1 cup (packed) spinach leaves, torn into pieces
1/2 cup chicken (or veg) broth
1/2 tsp ginger

Cook the onion and garlic in oil until the onions are soft and golden. You can use a frying pan but I used my flat Le Creuset dutch oven because the whole thing goes into the oven afterwards. Stir in the chopped sweet potatoes and add the ginger and pepper. Pour the chicken broth over it all and put it into the oven, covered, at 425F for about 25 minutes. Check it after 20, because the cooking time varies depending how small you chopped the sweet potatoes. When you can stick a fork through the potatoes, stir in the spinach leaves and put it back in the oven for 5 more minutes (still covered).
Delicious. A little overcooked (I had mine in over half an hour because I followed the cookbook and forgot to check early), so the sweet potatoes were falling apart, but I didn't mind. Next time I make this, I'll increase the spinach to make it greener - the garlic and ginger really make the spinach fabulous.

Weekend plantings

This weekend, I planted a bunch of perennials in the garden. My garden is very big and my plants are very small, so there's a lot of empty space left over, but perennials keep coming back every year and they spread out and multiply, so it'll fill in nicely over the next couple of years.

In front, I planted two different kinds of Dianthus (common name: "Pinks"). One is a striped pink-and-red variety and the other one is a shocking pink color. They should look great together once they start to flower. I also put in a heather shrub, because heather smells incredible and once I sniffed it at Home Depot, I had to have it. It's not supposed to get more than a couple of feet in height, so it should stay comfortable in the front garden. If it gets out of hand like the mutant lavender did at the old house, I'll have to move it. The shrub is the small pink-flowers blob by the post, behind Solar Duck, and the three Dianthuses (Dianthi?) are in a triangle in front. You can see the tulips are getting huge, also.

In the backyard, I put in some English Daisies, again in pink. I'm not sure why I bought mostly pink things for my gardens this year! I think I'll pick up a couple more of them, because those two look lonely. I completely forgot about Mom's garden "rule of three" where everything should be planted in groups of 3, or at least in odd numbers.

I added Sedum (Stonecrop) to the rocky flowerbed where my grape hyacinths are currently blooming. They're a nice ground cover and they only make tiny flowers and shouldn't attract too many bees, which is important since that area is near the back door.I bought some daylilies, but I'm not sure yet where I want to put them. They would make more impact in the front, since people would see them from the street, but I think I want them in the backyard so I can enjoy them from the kitchen and family room. Still deciding on that, and I'll plant them next weekend. They can live for another week in their little plastic pots.

I'll put up some better pictures of the new plants once they're settled in and blooming happily!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

What a weekend!

First, we saw a bear at the mall.

Then we went to Bethesda to meet my aunt and uncle for the big annual book sale at Stone Ridge school. When I say a big book sale, I mean it... it's two gymnasiums stuffed to the gills with books of all kinds. It's so big, they give you a map on your way in and they have separate tables for psychology, philosophy and sociology. Full tables. It's impressive. We've gone every year for the four years I've been living here, and it's always worth it, especially when you can dedicate a couple of hours to shuffling through all the titles to find ones you want to bring home. We hauled back two big tote bags full for a little over $50. Not one book over $3.50, and that one was a huge hardcover in perfect condition.

Expect some book reviews in the next little while!

Today was all about paint shopping, because Sherwin-Williams was having a 40% off sale and we have a whole lot of painting to do. We bought a total of 5 gallons to do the living room and dining room, and I'm excited to get started. I'm so tired of all the blue! Since we don't have the money to get the blue carpets replaced yet, we'll make things better by un-blue-ing the walls, at least. First, the wallpaper on the bottom half of the walls will have to go, so I'll be spending the odd hour or two starting to pick at it, hopefully getting to the painting in a couple of weeks. Here's the before picture:

The trim work is going to be hell, because of the bay window, the built-in shelves, and the weird flowerbox-like thing we have by the front door, not to mention that we have crown molding, floorboards and baseboard heaters, and a chair rail to paint. It's going to be a while before you get an "after" picture!

Lastly, we did some yardwork since it was so nice and warm out. I got some stuff planted in the garden and Dave ripped out the first of many unsightly shrubs in the backyard. I'll get all those details up in a new post, hopefully tomorrow!

Saturday, April 09, 2011

The Saga of Solar Duck

In an earlier post, I lamented the unfortunate name given to a new lawn ornament - Solar Duck. Unfortunately, as it turns out, not only his name gave me grief. Solar Duck was not doing his job. He was not being solar. Oh, he was cute and all, and I still wanted to keep him, but Dave decided that if he wasn't going to glow in the dark, then he was going to be returned to the store. No free rides!

I'm lazy. I got as far as finding the receipt, but washing the duck off and bringing him all the way back to the store, was too much work. So he sat there for a few weeks, being a lovely but non-glowing garden ornament.

As it turns out, my laziness was actually fate intervening on Solar Duck's behalf. While at Sears looking for patio furniture, I saw a shelf full of solar creatures. No ducks, but the cats and butterflies and frogs were definitely made in the same style as our defective little guy, so I picked one up, and saw that it had a big square tag attached to it. A big square tag with instructions on it. Which, naturally, ours was missing when we bought it. Yeah, it seems there's a plastic thing inside him with a switch on it, which needs to be switched to - get this - ON, before it will glow. I popped Solar Duck open and fixed the switch that morning as soon as we got home, and sure enough, that night, we had a blue glowing duck in the front garden.
He works really well, too, staying blue almost all night. It's a good little solar cell he has in his butt.

Garden update

My tulips are starting to look like they'll actually flower, and that makes me happy-dance. The buds are huge - I hope that once they bloom, the flowers can stand up straight and not flop over! I am amazed and delighted that the bulbs were not eaten by squirrels and the greenery was not eaten by rabbits or deer, and I hope this is a good sign for the future of my gardens.

My grape hyacinths are doing their thing and starting to open up a little. It looks like I have two different kinds, which is weird because I bought and planted one big bag of what I thought was all the same thing. Some of them sprouted skinny striped leaves in the fall after I planted them, and then waited until the spring to push up a flower bud, but others didn't appear until this spring, with one wide tulip-like leaf with a bud nestled inside it. My online research leads me to believe I have some Muscari latifolium in my mix: the broad leaf is characteristic of that species. Don't you love the Latin name for these things? It's also the origin of the French word for them: muscari. Sounds so pretty! I also have a mix of white and purple, which was also unexpected, but not a problem. Both are going to be pretty. They're not quite blooming yet but you can see what color they'll be.

I hope to have another garden update tomorrow, because I bought a few plants last week and I want to put them into the garden if the weather is nice enough.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Seedlings Update

The seedlings were getting bigger and some of them had more than one set of leaves, so I transplanted them this weekend before they got too crowded in their egg cartons. The big tomatoes are growing the fastest, which surprises me because they were the last to sprout!
They're pretty tall now (on the right, in the photo) and have 3 pairs of leaves. The cherry tomatoes (on the left) aren't doing as well, but they're still alive and green, so I won't give up yet. The herbs are pretty pitiful, and I think that from now on I'll just end up buying little herb plants for $1.50 each at Home Depot instead of trying this seed thing ever again. For example, these are my chives:

I don't have a nice warm, bright spot for the herbs to grow from seed - the window I had them in, which was the best spot in the house, only gets a few hours of sun a day and I think they need a lot more than that. I'd need to invest in grow lights, and I'm not that dedicated to gardening quite yet.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Project: Patio Door

The family room has a sliding glass door that opens up to the patio, but we've never been able to use it. It was old and the track was warped, so we couldn't reliably open or close it. It wasn't well sealed, either, letting a lot of cold air in over the winter and probably increasing our heating bill quite a lot. I used duct tape ofer the gap, because I couldn't find the tubes of removable weatherizing caulk that my Mom had given me, and couldn't find replacements at Home Depot. I have since found the stuff at Kendall Hardware in Clarksville - it's called "Seal 'N Peel" by DAP. If you have drafty windows that you won't need to open during the winter (don't do fire escape windows, for example), a bead of this stuff along the cracks will do wonders to keep the cold out. In the spring, just grab hold of a loose end and peel it right off.

Anyway, this is our old ratty door:
Decorated with duct tape, and its screen hanging on for dear life.

After a ton of research, we opted for a Milgard French-style sliding glass door. It's supposed to be very energy-efficient, with double paned glass and a coating to reflect some UV light to keep things cooler in summer. My man was very happy about the warranty, which lasts forever and covers almost everything that could happen.

The guys showed up and tore out the old door, leaving a gaping hole in our house for a few hours. The cats were fascinated - Mojo even got outside and sniffed around a little, while I kept an eye on him. I got nervous when he got twitchy and went after a bird, but luckily he stayed close to the house.

And now: we love our new door.

The French-style doors have a wider frame, which I like a lot. the door slides open and closed quietly and smoothly, and the lock and handle are easy to use. We can leave it open on nice days because we now have a screen that slides back and forth and isn't full of holes. Maybe we'll have fewer stink bugs inside this year? I need to get used to using this door to go outside, because it was unusable for the first year we've been here, and I'm in the habit of going to the sunroom to get to the backyard! I did it twice yesterday.

Soon, I'll replace the old vertical blinds and re-tile that area, and complete the transformation!

What's for Dinner - Dijonnaise Chicken and Peppers

Warning: delicious comfort food ahead!

My awesome Mom invented this and for some reason we took to calling it "chicken mush", which makes absolutely no sense because it isn't mushy at all. It's got chicken in it, though, so it's half right. I call it Dijonnaise Chicken because that's what's in it. No fancy names here.

2 large boneless & skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 large peppers, any color, cut into strips or chunks
1/4 cup Hellmann's Dijonnaise mustard/mayo stuff
1/4 cup light cream
2 tbsp honey
1/2 tsp thyme
salt & pepper
Cooked rice, to serve it on

Season the chicken breast pieces with salt and pepper and thyme, and put them into a deep skillet with a little olive oil. Let them cook, turning occasionally, until they're lightly browned. Stir in the chopped peppers, and cook until the peppers are as soft as you'd like them. I like them to have some bite left, so it usually takes under 10 minutes. Stir in the honey, Dijonnaise, and the cream, and simmer for a few minutes more. Once everything is heated through, serve over rice. If you want a lot of sauce to soak the rice, increase the amounts of cream and Dijonnaise. You can also increase the amount of Dijonnaise if you like the mustardy flavor.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Jen's Library - The Model Wife, Nineteenth-Century Style

The Model Wife, Nineteenth-Century Style
by Rona Randall

First of all, let me say that olde-tyme etiquette books are awesome. It's fun to get a look back at what was expected of you in polite society at different times in history, like reading really old versions of Ask Heloise or Dear Abby. This author made a study of that type of book and compiled a quick how-to in case you're a woman who finds herself whisked back in time to the 1800s and need to catch and keep a man and keep your household from being talked about in the wrong sort of gossip.

One thought kept crossing my mind as I was reading: "how the hell did anyone get through that century alive?" The sheer amount of information every woman was expected to know, about social hierarchy and housekeeping and fashion - the type of gloves suitable to wear to dinner were not the same ones you'd wear to church, and certainly not the kind you'd wear to a ball - is mind-boggling. And let's not even discuss corsets and petticoats and the sheer indecency of letting your ankles hang out for the world to see!

It was a woman's place to help her husband look good and move up in the world, and any failings on his part were considered to be her fault. She had to keep him well-dressed and well-fed, and keep a tidy house to impress visitors, and host elegant dinners and parties in order meet the right people and move in the right circles to help him make connections and gain respect. I can't imagine taking on that role today and trying to make sure my husband met the right people by schmoozing the right group of women so we could get into the right crowd. I don't think I even like the right crowd.

There's a big part of the book discussing the various household tasks a woman needed to be on top of, if she was to be a good housewife. She had to be good at stretching a dollar and know how to do the shopping without getting cheated by shopkeepers, whip up multi-course meals when hosting dinners, and make up home remedies to keep her family from dying of whatever latest plague was in town. She needed to be able to sew and repair her own clothing - essential because laundering some pieces of clothing required them to be taken apart first. And even if she was lucky enough to afford a staff of servants, managing that crew was a huge job. Apparently, there was a hierarchy amongst servants, and for a naive housewife to assign the wrong task to someone, or to greet the wrong person first in the morning, was a horrible faux-pas. I think I'm glad I don''t have servants!

I'll stay in this century, thanks. I guess it's as complicated now as it was then, but in different ways, so I'm used to it. I need to keep a budget and manage bank accounts and credit cards, cook dinner, do laundry, clean the house, make sure we're never out of TP or shampoo or toothpaste... Not to mention working a full-time job! Yeah, we're not ironing shirts with hunks of metal heated in a fire anymore, but instead we're on the phone with Verizon arguing about our service... I think we're even.

Party Pasta Salad

I don't know why pasta salads only ever seem to show up at parties and picnics, because they're easy and delicious. This one, as you can guess from my title, was made for a party. My sister-in-law's baby shower, that is. Because it was made for a big party, it's a big recipe! This will serve a crowd at a party or as a side for a cookout. It's a recreation of a pasta salad I once bought at the deli counter at Giant.

1 box pasta, cooked and drained - I like farfalle or tri-colored pastas
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1 small red pepper, chopped into small pieces
Half a red onion, cut into rings, then cut the rings in half
1/2 cup (packed) baby spinach leaves, chopped
2/3 cup sundried tomato salad dressing
1 tsp dried oragano
1/4 cup shredded parmesan or asiago cheese
salt & pepper

Directions: mix everything, chill in the fridge a while to let the flavors mix, and then eat.

The amount of dressing you need will vary depending on your taste, and on the noodles. I sometimes find I need to add more after the salad has sat in the fridge overnight, because the noodles drink in all the dressing and leave the salad a little dry. I'm sure it would be tasty with other dressings, too, but I haven't played around with that yet.

Because I was so busy with the party, I forgot to take a picture of the one I made this weekend, but I had a picture from the last time I threw it together:

As with all pasta salads, it's flexible and you can change the amounts of the ingredients or omit some altogether. Oh, and because this is meat-free and not made with mayonnaise, it can sit out on the table for a while without poisoning your party. A big plus!

Saturday, April 02, 2011

April Fool's Day

I managed to prank a coworker yesterday, but it was pretty tame as far as April Fool's pranks go. I chose the one guy I have a jokingly antagonistic relationship with because I figured he'd be most likely to find it funny and least likely to retaliate or get me in trouble.

I took all the pens out of his lab coat and unscrewed them to take out the ink cartridge part, and then put them back together. They still looked and felt like normal pens but clicking the end wouldn't get the tip out to write with. Then I swapped out the extra-large gloves he always keeps in his pocket for a handful of extra-small ones, since they're the same color and the switch wouldn't be obvious right away. Then, the decoy prank, where I tied a knot in the sleeve of his lab coat. Because the best ones are the pranks you think are simple but end up having layers. Someone else wanted me to fill his lab coat pockets with lotion, but I thought that was a little much, not to mention incredibly messy!

The online jokes were a little sub-par this year, although I did enjoy going to YouTube's 1996 page and watching a "brand new" episode of the X-files. Ah, 1996. I'm so old.

Anybody get pranked this time around? Or pull off a good one yourself?