Posted by: fireweaver | November 15, 2009

venerable institutions gone XTREME!!!!

remember when national geographic was considered odd only by pre-teen boys excited abut the magazine’s unabashedly showing native womens’ boobies?  apparently the pressures of modern marketing and mtv attention spans have gotten even to this bastion of mapmaking scholarship.

whilst in the bar last night playing trivia, we saw a commercial for tonight’s program about searching for the lost amazon tribe that was infamous for shrinking heads.  the trailer (which i unfortunately can’t find) was the worst kind of over-the-top salacious OMG yellow journalism…Chris heard a radio ad for it today, and was gung-ho about watching it.  about 1/3 through, he says, “this is like the geraldo rivera meets the history channel.”

we’d thought that was about as crazy as it got, until the commercial came on for tomorrow night’s insanity.  witness the crazy bastards hook a great white shark, wrangle it on board a raft, drill some tracking devices into its dorsal fin, and avoid the huge snapping jaws.  ditto that i can’t find the IN YO FAAAACE commercial, but the clip gives you the idea.

journalistic integrity take THAT!

Posted by: fireweaver | November 13, 2009

advances in dog training

with 2 eager little scatterbrains vying for treats, it can be more than a handful trying to work with these whippets.  both do their standard 3 tricks quite reliably – sit, lay down, and “up” (i abhor using the word “beg” to prompt this behavior because i’m not running a concentration camp here) – plus Xyla will shake with either paw.  now that we’ve got the raw basics, i’m working on refining things and adding new ones, and shaping an idea of manners into them.

one of my issues is the dogfather.  Chris is an animal lover, hands down, and spoils these kids all the time.  but he’s not an animal person, and that’s an important distinction.  i have a theory now about all those dog trainers that say you’ve got to be the alpha dog in your pack (a method which i’ve always ascribed to, because it reliably and effortlessly works for me):  they’re simply the people who just do it naturally.  something about innate confidence and a genuine expectation that of course the dog will do what you say miraculously produces results in a way that negotiating with the dog just doesn’t.  teaching Chris how to teach the dogs has really shifted my mind on this whole cesar milan dominance theory crapola, though.  if someone who didn’t have that natural and innate ability to obtain results bullied his way through it, the results could be utterly disastrous – confusing or depressing for the dog, and with a more powerful creature rather dangerous for the human.  case in point: while eating dinner on the couch, our delicious food attracts canine attention.  Xyla usually takes one look at me, gives it up as futile, and goes back to sleep.  Saxon, though, is a world-class opportunist, and an optimistic one at that.  once Chris and i get settled in, Sax hops off the couch and heads over to Chris, laying down as close as possible, with the tragic eyes cranked up to 11.  Chris has to be reminded that letting the dogs beg in the first place is right out, and then he has to raise his voice to an angry-toned near-shout to drive our wayward chowhound back to his corner of the couch.  i need merely a firm one-word command (“couch” works pretty well) in a normal tone & volume to produce quicker results.  if i actually shouted at him, poor Sax would collapse into a heap and act like he’d been thrashed soundly for an hour or so – my baby boy is a rather sensitive fellow.  but Saxon never tries this shenanigan with me in the first place.  it would be right easy to declare that this is due to the dogs viewing me as a dominant and Chris as a mere equal.  i don’t anymore believe that’s the whole case.

step one is clearly work on consistency with Chris – we had a primer on operant conditioning a couple of days ago.  understand what the goal is, then shape towards it.  we gotta both be on the same page for all the goals, or we’ll keep undoing the other’s work.

other goals:

  • get them to respond to names individually, and “pups” as a group.  Saxon’s not getting any love when i call Xyla by name, and vice versa.  we’re working on small training sessions in the kitchen involving lots of treats to get them to think about this.
  • get them to quickly and reliably come when called.  i’d like them to pay a little more attention to me at the dog park, so that if they were bothering a smaller dog it would be easier to call them away.  when not distracted, they get about a B- in coming when called.  a more consistent response to this would be important for:
  • get them safe with off-leash walks.  obviously, this goal is NOT for around the deer- and squirrel- and kid-infested neighborhood, but if i was at the beach or a big park, i’d love for them to be able to wander a bit.  over at Saving for Sesame, they make it sound so simple.  gotta work up the courage to try this out.
Posted by: fireweaver | November 12, 2009

a do-over would be nice

some days, you’d just rather not participate.  so anyway:

drinking good wine was the best thing about today, fo serious.

Posted by: fireweaver | November 11, 2009

foreign lands

though i am a voracious reader, i generally avoid anything that could be labeled “classics” or “literature” like plagues.  i blame high school, as i’m sure many similar-minded people do, for ramming such things down our throats when we were too young and devoid of life experience to get much out of them.  reading these books was a chore, not a joy, and was therefore avoided from then on.

sometimes, though, you pick up something that’s “good for you” that actually is good.  exhibit 1:  Marjane Satrapi’s ‘Persepolis‘, the autobiographical story of her childhood and young adulthood in iran told as a graphic novel.  available as either 2 volumes or in one larger book, the whole thing can be consumed in one long afternoon or two.  the illustrations are simple, thick, filled-in b&w drawings that tell the story in a matter-of-fact utilitarian way; the text is casual conversation.  this quiet, personal story had a lot to say that i’ll go ahead and admit was completely novel to me: for all our roll-over bumper stickers, iran & iraq are not interchangeable similarities; a cultural 180 from modern to veiled happened nearly overnight in our modern era; and another window into the concept that “muslim” is not a monolithic homogeneity.

exhibit 2:  i’m about 2/3 through Barbara Kingsolver’s ‘Poisonwood Bible‘, which i’d always dismissed (since it’s an oprah book, after all) as something girly and/or middlebrow.  wow, was i wrong on that front.  the 1001 books reading group has caused me to pick up several of the types of books i’d otherwise avoid, some surprisingly good, but this one is amazing.  the intimate meltdown of a white baptist missionary family parallels the political meltdown of the congo revolution, while the beauty and the hell of impoverished africa is told through the varingly naive points of view of the missionary daughters.  there’s nothing fluffy or middlebrow in here, and this otherwise-to-be-avoided high literature is keeping me reading up late at night.

Posted by: fireweaver | November 10, 2009

tasty tuesday: roast pork part 1

Chris is a hunter-gatherer of meat products at the grocery store.  when that man finds some hunk of flesh on deep discount, it’s going in the freezer, regardless of what’s already crammed in there.  last week, he found a **huge** pork loin (and by huge, i mean it’s easily as big as most beef loins) on crazy sale, so that’s been cut into 5 or so portions and frozen for future parceling out, too.  i’m quite confident that we shall be revisiting other pork chunks on future tuesdays.

i’m a big fan of cooking things that aren’t too terribly difficult, yet look and taste like you spent some time on them.  hoity-toity with minimal effort, if at all possible.  this week’s wild-rice stuffed roast pork falls nicely into that category, i think.

1.  prepare the rice stuffing

use a good quality wild rice blend, with plenty of the long, dark grains that give a rich, nutty flavor.  toss a few handfuls into the rice cooker (or cook by package directions), one serving per person or portion of finished roast.  while that’s bubbling along, mince some mushroom, onion, and dried fruit (i used craisins, but dried cherries or golden raisins would be fine for this).  melt a generous pat of butter in a saucepan on medium heat, add a few tbsp diced garlic and some french provençal herbs, and sauté everything just until done.  when the rice is done cooking, evenly mix the other ingredients into it.

2.  carve the roast

this will work best with a piece of roast shorter than your knife’s blade (so you can make it all happen in one slice).  picture the spiral-thru-the-long-axis pattern of a jelly roll:

slice the roast along the dark line in that picture (though with probably less turns; i only spiraled about 1.5 times), so that you end up with the whole thing carved to a sheet of about 1-1¼ inches thick.  by opening the roast in this way and slightly overlapping the 2 edges, you’ll create a much larger cavity to fill with the rice stuffing than if it was simply cut in half part way through like a book.

3.  assemble & cook

place your flat sheet of roast cut-side-down onto a large piece of aluminum foil.  sprinkle the outside of the roast with garlic powder and more french herbs, then flip so that the inside is facing up.  pile on the rice mix, then fold the roast closed so that the edges just overlap.  the object you end up with should look like a pork cylinder full of rice.  wrap snugly in the aluminum foil, pop into a baking dish, and then into a preheated 325° oven for 45+ minutes (longer if your roast is big).  when it’s mostly done, gently slice through the foil on top and push back to the sides of the baking dish.  back into the oven for 10 minutes or so to lightly brown the top, and you’re done.  cut into crosswise slices, the same as for that jelly roll.  yum!

4.  variations

the choices for stuffing are pretty endless.  you could replace the wild rice with a bread-style stuffing (or even stovetop, knock yourselves out), veggies alone (a mix of several types of mushroom would be great), or tweak the spices used.

Posted by: fireweaver | November 9, 2009

PSA for the day from the grammar nazi

apostrophes, people.  sometimes you need them, but most certainly, sometimes you don’t.  in general, you need ’em for 2 categories:

  1. possessives
  2. contractions

you’ll notice that plurals are just not on that list.  in a storage hallway here in my office building, we have a collection of boxes labeled things like “mask’s” or “respirator’s,” which some other grammar nazi¹ has red-pen’d (thanks!!).  i’m editing a professional document today in which nonhuman primates is abbreviated in every instance as “NHP’s.”

i blame the 80s, or more specifically, CDs that had titles like “80’s greatest hits!”  see, if you say something less direct, like “greatest hits of the 80’s,” then everyone gets the idea that pluralized things in general (and pluralized abbreviations most certainly) deserve an apostrophe before the s.  the trick with that particular example is that it’s still possessive, like “the blue sweater of John’s,” so it still merits its apostrophe, as does “80’s music,” but not “the latter half of the 80s.”

it’s ok, just let it go.  save yourself the time it takes for that extraneous pen stroke.  thanks!


¹i am 100% aware that claiming to be a grammar nazi opens me up for heavy critiquing.  knock yourselves out.

Posted by: fireweaver | November 8, 2009

eating strange things

i was out having sushi tonight with some friends & acquaintances, when the subject of cheese came up.  i had a pretty even split of horrified and intrigued when i was discussing the in-fridge mold-aging method that naturally happens in my cheese drawer, but there are certainly stranger things to eat.  it’s an old meme, but here goes:  the VGT one hundred crazy omnivore things to sample, with added snark & chatter, of course:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at linking to your results.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison (axis is far superior to regular white tail deer)
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros (i’d really rather not – just hate eggs in general)
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile (wait, does alligator count?  that’s pretty much the only crocodillian we get stateside)
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush (an odd thing, really.  i’ve had AWFUL stuff that the wait staff tried to convince us was “smoked”, and really delightful versions.  guess it’s just the trickiness inherent in eggplant)
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart (there is a circle of hell made entirely out of the vile stuff that is hot dogs)
16. Epoisses (not this one in particular, but i am a big ol fan of raw cheese and stinky cheese, so why not)
17. Black truffle (in and out of cheese even!)
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes (brought back some AMAZING stuff from bartlett winery in maine last month)
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes (would eat only if cooked into something else – i despise tomatoes)
22. Fresh wild berries (we used to pick dewberries off the undeveloped property at the end of our street every summer when i lived in houston)
23. Foie gras (mmmm, iron bridge’s foie gras fridays!)
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese (this is the sort of mad max not-unless-post-apocalypse-upon-us, survival-necessary thing i’d rather not contemplate)
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche (as dessert, as ice cream, as candy…)
28. Oysters (from many locales, yum!!!)
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl (don’t think i’ve had the soup in a bread bowl, though i have had each of these individually)
33. Salted lassi (but i highly prefer mango or rose lassi)
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar (i’ve been around fat cigars with my cognac, but i’m just not a smoker)
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O (ah, memories of 20)
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat (and most every other form of caprine deliciousness)
42. Whole insects (see 25 above, re: apocalyptic necessity only)
43. Phaal (i’m not into pain like that)
44. Goat’s milk (and goat cheese and goat butter and goat yogurt)
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more (prolly not, though i have been served some marvelous things at friends’ houses)
46. Fugu  (Chris has an endless fascination with this, but i doubt you can find much of it domestically)
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel (only on sushi, not as a whole-animal dish)
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut (i will never understand the fascination with KKs.  so many other, better choices available)
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear (best margaritas ever, with the most delightful fuscia color)
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal (haven’t eaten mcpoo in 15ish years, and don’t plan to again, unless that apocalypse rolls around, at which point i doubt the continued existence of the establishment)
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini (both gin and olives are repugnant)
58. Beer above 8% ABV (the delicious DTs)
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads (the only exception to my strict organ meat prohibition is small quantities of foie gras.  unless that apocalypse thingy actually happens.)
63. Kaolin (not on purpose, ok if in meds as needed)
64. Currywurst
65. Durian (this is all you need to know.  hellllll no)
66. Frogs’ legs (some in my freezer right now)
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis (“i think all scottish cuisine is based on a dare“)
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette (same as 62)
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe (oh, but i WOULD)
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill (seriously, about this impending apocalypse, and what i’d have to do to avoid starvation)
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong (never again, though.  i’m a tea lover and this was vile)
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum (well, tom kha anyway, and it’s basically the same, just different ratio to the ingredients)
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.  (oh, i wish)
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare (rabbit is surprisingly easy to find frozen in the meat section of the asian market)
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam (particle meat, ugh)
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

i’m at 58/100…got a few to work on, but pretty good, i think!

Posted by: fireweaver | November 7, 2009

omg the library!! now with e-awesome!

a big part of my current e-reader debate is the ability to borrow books from the library.  i really really need to cull out the books i’m never going to re-read + the ton of new books always vying for my attention = i’ve been checking out a lot more books from the library than i buy anywhere.  one of the sad things about the kindle is that it’s locked up tight with its own proprietary book format, so you can’t borrow e-books from the library.

as a good little tech researcher, i need to see if that’s even an issue before i chalk it up as a black mark.  and oh, dear, it’s quite possibly a very black mark indeed.

i’m already in love with the county library system, and my tax dollars are working well in there.  i have to think of it as “county” rather than merely the local branch:  when you search the catalog, it doesn’t matter what building the book is housed in now, they’ll send it off to your preferred pick-up branch for free within a day or 3.  i’m very spoiled.  the maryland e-book system doesn’t disappoint.  in my hour or so of surfing along (wading through all the mountains of audiobooks i’m not interested in), i’ve come across classics, chicklit, scifi, new stuff that’s awesome but too damn heavy to physically cart around (‘Anathem’), Neil Gaiman’s newest, several things on my TBR list, and a bit of local baltimore color as a crime novel.  there’s already 42 items on my “wishlist”, and i’m not done.

new toys better show up soon…

Posted by: fireweaver | November 6, 2009

the state of public education, or, wow i’m whitebread

i had 2 moments of utter confusion at work today.  like most of us, i operate under the assumption that at some point in our education we’ve all got the same memo outlining what qualifies as “famous”.  clearly, my version of the memo must be on white-bread-centric, good-quality-public-education letterhead.  as i was reminded today, there are definitely other versions of the memo in circulation.

a while back, i got a free copy of a novel about genghis khan’s boyhood.  i finished it up this past week, and since a)i don’t have any plans to re-read this one and b)my library needs to be culled savagely anyway, i decided to set it free in the world.  i took it in to a (brilliant & educated) friend at work to give to her kiddos – she says one of her sons particularly enjoys ancient rome and history and whatnot, so i figured he’d like this too.  after giving her the quick synopsis, she said she didn’t know who genghis khan was.  i thought that one was pretty standard, but eh, maybe it’s due to all my own childhood ancient history delving.

later this morning, one of my techs stopped by my office for some paperwork, and then asked about the calendar i have up.  it’s a freebie from jax, mostly spoofs of famous paintings that have mice added into them somehow.  “what’s up with the crazy chick?” he asked me, about the fearful stare of a farmer’s wife at the pair of mice now perched on her dour husband’s shoulder.  “that picture is in no way familiar to you?” i asked him, befuddled again by what i’d taken for granted as common knowledge.  i took the calendar down and flipped through it with him as he further didn’t recognize magritte’s bowler hats & clouds, munch’s scream, or coolidge’s poker-playing dogs.  he wasn’t particularly impressed with any of the originals we looked up together on the internet (‘american gothic’ being boring, and ‘the scream’ being scribbly), but well, they’re, you know, famous.

or so i’d assumed.

Posted by: fireweaver | November 5, 2009

good genes = so cute as to avoid trouble

sometimes, of course, dogs can be “bad” (concept in air-quotes because animals don’t make moral judgements).  these dogs are pretty darn good, but even if they were evil, it’d be pretty simple for them to avoid much punishment.  see, they’re genetically evolved to be too cute for harsh words:

couch cuddlers

yes, the cuddle together all the time.  and no, i don’t have to pose them, it’s just genetic awesomeness.

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