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Photo Friday: I’m Still Here

A good chunk of this year was very unpleasant. At work one day during a particularly dark patch in the spring, when it was hard to imagine getting through the workday, let alone the year, I scheduled a holiday-related task on my online todo list for December. I was hoping that I would forget about the task and that by December things would look different.

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I did end up forgetting about it until the task showed up on my todo list this week. Although it reminds me of that difficult time, the memory of scheduling the task (and putting up the lights) made me smile. Because things are better now. And because my office is now festive. And because I’m still here.

Christmas Card 2012

Every year since 2000, our Christmas card photo has involved a statue wearing a Santa hat. The first eleven photos are here. Last year’s photo is here.

We took the 2012 photo during our Thanksgiving trip to Erie, where the world’s best Christmas card statue lives. I don’t see how we can possibly top this one. Because nothing says “Merry Christmas” like Jesus in a Santa hat. Nothing says “I’m going to hell” like the cursing I did in front of Jesus when I realized I’d forgotten the wireless remote for the camera (the photo shoot can’t go smoothly, it’s part of the tradition).

My brother-in-law doesn’t believe this is Jesus. He’s convinced it’s Copernicus. But I assure you, there is a statue of Jesus at Gannon University and we put a Santa hat on it. I’m a little disturbed that my brother-in-law thinks we are weird enough to put a Santa hat on Copernicus, but lie and say it’s Jesus. But now I feel the need to find a statue of Copernicus for a future photo.

Santa hat difficulty: easy, except for the arctic wind that kept blowing the hat off Jesus’ head.


We gonna party like it’s your birthday.

Photo Friday: Lucky 13

In the words of my Dad, I’ve been “steady busy.” I’ve been planning a new ice cream blog. Because when you can’t find the time or energy to update your first blog, why not start another one?  I’ve also been: making ice cream, taking a small business workshop (see also: ice cream), worrying about my dog (he’s fine, don’t worry, but there’s been stuff), basking in the glow of my Craft Whores win, and celebrating anniversaries.

Last Wednesday was my 13th wedding anniversary. Dave had his usual Wednesday night jam class thing, and that means on Wednesdays, Dave is gone before I get home. This means that Wednesday is not the night we make sweet weekly love, but rather Wednesday nights I have to not only walk the dog, but also provide my own dinner (my life is hard).

But I found these on the counter when I got home.

I assumed there were 12, because a dozen roses is a thing, right? Later Dave told me there were 13 because we’ve been married 13 years and I was touched in my cold black heart by his  uncharacteristic romantic symbolism. But the best part of my anniversary present was the note on the counter saying “Chuck walk: check.” When I realized I could report directly to the couch, plant my ass there and watch TV, my eyes welled up with tears of joy. ‘Twas a happy anniversary indeed!

Last week was also our 20-year dating anniversary which, holy crap, is a long time, no? We celebrated by seeing Peter Gabriel on his last “Back to Front” tour stop. He performed the album “So” in its entirety in honor of the 25th anniversary of its release. Which occurred when I was FOURTEEN years old and Peter Gabriel didn’t look like an elderly Druid. But he sounded awesome. He also played two other non-“So” sets, including songs from the album “Us” that came out the month I met Dave (11 days before we officially started dating, not that I looked it up and counted). I assume he played “Come Talk to Me” in honor of our 20th anniversary, right?

As I rested my head on Dave’s shoulder and listened to the song, memories of that CD playing over and over as we fell in love came flooding back to me like 20 years hadn’t passed. How the hell did 20 years pass so quickly? Add Peter Gabriel to the growing list of bastards who made me cry at a concert.

Please to enjoy this video (this wasn’t our show, but the only video from our show on YouTube gave me vertigo). Song starts around 2:15:

Ice Cream Social

I ended up taking a little more time off from blogging than I’d anticipated at the time of this post. But I managed to make 33 pints of ice cream for my Ice Cream Social, have 20 people over to eat ice cream in a social manner, and live to tell the tale (four weeks after the fact).

I didn’t take a single picture during the actual party, so on the point of knowing 20 people willing to come to my house, you will just have to take my word for it.

I like to call myself a “recovering perfectionist,” but this party proved the falsehood of that term as a description of me.

During the planning, I found this ice cream social party planner on Epicurious. They suggested making 3/4 of a pint for each guest, and having “a few extras” to avoid running short. That suggested making about 20 pints for my party. Being certifiably insane, I decided to make more. Being as anal-retentive as the day is long, I also created an online poll of my guests to help me calculate the appropriate amount overall as well as by flavor. I was prepared, y’all.

Check out our brand new second freezer in the basement, stocked with 33 pints of delicious homemade ice cream:

If I don’t keep up the ice cream hobby, this will be one of the silliest purchases ever.

What was the menu, you ask?

I also made: hot fudge, salted butter caramel sauce, raspberry coulis, and served extra marshmallow sauce, strawberry sauce, pretzel crust, crushed chocolate cookie, and chocolate chips.

What did the ice cream look like, you ask?

Atlantean Vanilla Bean

As someone thinking about starting a business, I’m getting increasingly frustrated with the pretentiousness permeating food service today. Even with something as simple as  ice cream, it seems you have to be able to use words like “gourmet” and “artisan” and “organic” to get consumers interested in buying it. It used to be that “Madagascar bourbon” vanilla was exotic enough. But not anymore. One of the books I’ve used for inspiration while developing my recipes uses vanilla beans from Uganda. Why? My guess: because they were super hard to import, and sound very exotic, and justify charging more. Since I don’t want to be outdone, I’m just asserting that my vanilla beans come from the lost city of Atlantis.

Spicy Chocolate

Almost everyone I’ve shared this flavor with (OK, everyone except Dave) loves it. It is lovable. It’s creamy and rich, but refreshing at the same time, with just a hint of heat from cayenne. And a good hit of cinnamon too (100% certified organic from Mars).

Toll House

I got the idea for and name of this ice cream from my favorite ice cream shop, Gannon’s Isle in Syracuse, NY. The idea behind it is that the ice cream itself tastes like chocolate chip cookie dough (rather than having chunks of cookie dough in it). I’ve been working on perfecting this flavor for months (see an earlier version here). I’m 90% pleased with this version. There is disagreement among those who have tasted it on whether it should contain walnuts (the version pictured does). Any thoughts, dear readers?

Peanut Butter Chocolate Cookie Crunch

My favorite Dairy Queen Blizzard flavor is Peanut Butter Crunch. It’s vanilla soft serve mixed with peanut butter topping and the crushed chocolate cookies DQ puts in the middle of their ice cream cakes. There’s only one DQ in my area that still makes this flavor because most locations now use a pre-packaged solid disk of cookie in their cakes. I wanted to make ice cream that tastes like the Peanut Butter Crunch Blizzard. The flavor of this ice cream is right, but the texture needs tweaking. The extra protein of the peanut butter makes the ice cream too thick, with a “foamy” melt.

Lemon Meringue Pie

I worked on a perfect lemon custard for weeks this spring. It took several tries, but I finally did it. It’s creamy, not too tart, not too sweet, and thoroughly lemon-flavored. I add some homemade marshmallow sauce (it turns out more like Fluff, so I don’t think anyone believes I make it myself) and crushed homemade spice cookie and call it lemon meringue pie.

Strawberry Pretzel Salad

You all remember Strawberry Pretzel Salad, no? I worked for weeks on strawberry ice cream without much success. A tweaked version of the recipe from Cook’s Illustrated came out OK, but the strawberry pieces still froze. Yuck. My compromise is to thicken strawberry puree with sugar and swirl it into cream cheese ice cream with a crushed pretzel crust (baked with sugar and butter).

Peach Lambic Sorbet

I ran out of time to develop sorbet recipes. So I just made peach lambic sorbet from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home (Jeni of the Ugandan vanilla) and called it a menu. I’m not a big sorbet fan, but I wanted at least one non-dairy option. This was really tasty, very intensely peach-flavored, and the alcohol wasn’t overpowering.

Since I had 3,000 tasting spoons, I made a little game out of some of them.

Take a guess!

Per Jill‘s suggestion, I also made cards for people to make tasting notes and received really nice compliments and helpful constructive feedback, and no one complained about the lack of exotic-ness of my vanilla beans.

So how much ice cream did 22 people eat? Remember, Epicurious said 3/4 of a pint per person…

When the dust settled, people had only eaten about seven pints. Have you ever laughed at the serving size listed on a pint of Ben and Jerry’s? Well, that’s basically all people ate. I was flabbergasted. Obesity epidemic, my ass!

I would have easily eaten 3/4 of a pint or more had I been an attendee at a party like this. I think I’m learning why I’m overweight.

People are pretty health conscious around here. Frozen yogurt places are all the rage (yuck). If I really want to sell ice cream, I probably need to move somewhere with more fat people. Suggestions?

How much ice cream would you have eaten? How many spoons were in the container? Do you think you would be able to tell the difference between a grocery store vanilla bean and one imported straight from the producers in Uganda? Where do all the ice cream lovers live?

Photo Friday: Harvey Wallbanger

My birthday was Wednesday. Dave and I always make each other a birthday cake.

My favorite cake is Harvey Wallbanger. This cake (boxed yellow mix doctored with vanilla pudding and the ingredients of the Harvey Wallbanger drink–vodka, Galliano, and orange juice) was a childhood favorite. In my family, there were two schools: cream cheese frosting/normal cake pan (my Gram) and powdered sugar glaze/bundt (my Great Aunt Gert…and apparently everyone else in the U.S., as evidenced by my futile search for an online recipe that matches mine–this is the closest I could find.). While I’m not going to turn down a slice of Harvey Wallbanger bundt cake with glaze on top, I’m on Team Cream Cheese (yea, Gram!). Everything tastes better with cream cheese frosting.

Bundt??? It’s a cake!

Here is Dave’s handiwork this year:

Here is some physics humor:

ME: Is the pattern on the top some sort of scientific notation?

DAVE: It’s the signature of the Higgs boson.

ME: Really?!?



This year’s worst birthday present: Timeline, thanks Facebook!

This year’s age: 39.

I have some thoughts about turning 39, or more accurately, being 363 days away from 40, mostly along the lines of, “fuck!”

But since my period will start anytime in the next 0 to 14 days, (it’s like broken-clockwork) perhaps I’m just generally cranky, not age-specifically cranky. So I think I’ll mull it over more before sharing my deep and meaningful and bitchy feelings.

Hey, speaking of broken clocks…did anyone else find Ato Boldon’s Olympic sprint commentary sort of bizarre? It’s like he talked until he stopped making sense. He’d just throw random shit out that sounded like it could be relevant, such as: “Even a broken clock is right twice a day.” Um, right. Wait, what? Hey, a stitch in time saves nine! He who fights and runs away, may live to fight another day! Insert random saying mentioning time or running here!

I’m going to eat more cake now.

Destroy My Sweater

I once believed I’d look smaller if I wore clothes that were too big. In high school, the Gap sold a cardigan sweater that ran ridiculously large. Boom! I could have the satisfaction of buying a medium and still have it be two sizes too big. I got the foamy green color and my friend Sarah got the dusty rose, or maybe it was coral. Why does it irritate me that I can’t remember the color of Sarah’s sweater? All I know is the sweater looked cute on her. On me…not so much.

I got rid of it, right?

No. Being the pack rat I am, I still had the foamy green over-sized Gap cardigan sweater five years later when I started my job. I soon learned I needed to leave a sweater at work permanently to protect me from the arctic air conditioning in the summer. The hoarder in me was thrilled to finally have a use for the otherwise unworn foamy green over-sized Gap cardigan sweater. See, it is good to hang onto things (let’s reinforce my hoarding!). Over the years the foamy green over-sized Gap cardigan sweater slowly started to disintegrate, starting at the cuffs.

I threw it out, right?

No. I rolled up the sleeves to hide the fraying edges and the growing holes. The sweater was too big, remember? I could roll the cuffs a few times and still get full arm coverage.

I have next to no fashion sense. But even I couldn’t keep wearing that sweater. My colleagues were going to think I was homeless.

I threw it out, right?

No. Even though I wouldn’t wear it, it could still come in handy. Like that time last winter when a cold rain pummeled me sideways in the wind tunnel that is the walk from the subway to my office. After removing my soaked wool pants, I sat on my chair with the foamy green (mercifully) over-sized Gap cardigan sweater draped over my lap until my pants dried. And I believe I updated my Facebook status to say I wasn’t wearing pants. Praise all that is holy my office has a door.

During my office cleaning in May, I faced a critical decision.

Maybe it looks better on…like, on fire.

I decided it was time for the foamy green over-sized Gap cardigan sweater to go. But not before documenting it’s foamy green over-sizedness. You can see why I had to keep this sweater for 21 years, no? The fabric to cost ratio alone made it worthwhile. I love how it hangs all heavy and ill-fitting. The extra fabric bunching under my elbow is particularly fetching.

Thank God no one came into the bathroom during this photo shoot.

Dave likes this close up shot of the holes.

It might be time to admit I have a problem.

I threw it out, right?

R.I.P. foamy green over-sized Gap cardigan sweater

I couldn’t get this song out of my head while writing this post, so here you go.

Photo Friday: Obsolete

I’d say I’ve been phoning it in recently, but it’s more like calling in sick. All my blog energy went into finalizing the redesign, and now I’m left with a backlog of five dozen post ideas and no idea where to start. How about more crap I found when cleaning my office?

Please don’t tell me you can’t recognize these, it will make me feel old:

This one reminds me of those “Eyeball Bender” puzzles from Games Magazine.

I can sort of forgive myself for keeping the couple dozen floppy disks with stuff from grad school on them. But 10 blank disks? Seriously? Why was I keeping these?

If you think I didn’t color code by course, you don’t know me very well.

I still haven’t thrown out the disks with stuff on them. The hoarder in me wanted to clarify what was on them first. But then I remembered I have no way to read them. So I put them on the trash pile, only to grab for them to check what was on them before throwing them in the trash can…only to remember I can’t read them. Repeat futile cycle of hoarding obsolete technology until exhausted.

I asked Dave how to dispose of them and he laughed at me. He says I should just toss them…no one can read them (duh, including me!). God bless anyone who still has the means to read a floppy disk and who would be willing to rummage through trash to dig these out. Your reward…the results of the survey I fielded about Niagara Mohawk’s energy saving light bulb program? My thesis? My resume circa 1996? Enjoy!

Maybe I’ll hang onto this green one, it’s so pretty.

I stumbled upon an out-of-the-way deserted little filing room at work a few weeks ago. I’d never been back in that suite of offices before and I was curious (and on the prowl for my favorite size post-it notes that our division never seems to order anymore–shh!). I wandered back there on my way out one evening and got thoroughly creeped out. There were 5 1/4 inch floppy disks back there! And a word processor. And an ashtray. I was afraid I’d accidentally entered the early 90s. Luckily I made my way safely back to 2012. That experience actually helped light the fire under my ass to clean my own hellhole of an office.

Do you have any unusable media lying around? Do you think it’s weird that I brought blank floppy disks home so I could take photos? Have you ever felt like you’d gone back in time?

Like It’s 1999

You can accumulate a lot of crap when you work at the same job for over 15 years. I’ve brought a lot of personal stuff into the office. I figured if I was going to spend so much time there, I could at least make it more comfortable. But perhaps all the stuff made me become too comfortable, entrenched even. So I had to laugh when I read Margaret’s post about starting her new job.

She is the anti-me regarding personal stuff at work: “I don’t like to bring anything to work that I can’t fit in my handbag and carry out with me on a moment’s notice.” She concluded she’d like to “leave a little more of myself at work.” But I realized I needed to do the opposite…begin to extract myself. This is one of the reasons I cleaned my office recently. I was so ruthless in my commitment to cleaning, I kept waiting for my coworkers to ask me if I was leaving. I even had a snappy comeback ready: “Is it that obvious?”

I may not be leaving imminently, but I’m creating an environment in which leaving would be a hell of a lot easier.

Here is an assortment of the crap I found in one of my desk drawers, some of it lovingly scanned for your amusement (actually I hoped having scans would make me willing to throw this stuff out). While some accumulation of crap is forgivable in my situation, my physical office has changed locations three times. So all this stuff made it through at least one cull. Some of it I bothered to pack and move three times.

This drawer contained:

Menus for closed restaurants, obsolete carbon paper forms, a handwritten list of blogs I read circa 2007, and a Day Runner I haven’t used since 2001. Of the 37 contacts written into the address section, I have spoken to only six in the last year. I have no idea who one of them is, even after Googling.

The drawer also contained miscellaneous decorations, none of which have been displayed since at least 2006. These include:

1.) The dream catcher Dave’s parents brought back for me from Alaska. It’s been in the drawer since my last office move and the disintegrating leather left dust all over the drawer. Yet I still had trouble throwing it out because Dave’s Mom had given it to me and she’s gone now.

2.) At least three dozen postcards from my travels, many from my 1994 study abroad semester. Anytime I saw a painting I’d learned about in Art History, I bought the postcard. Why wouldn’t you want to look at this during your work day?

Or how about a picture of the Danish Queen, circa 1992. I need to hang on to that, right?

Tracy is very jealous of these emeralds.

3.) Precious child artwork. I can’t say exactly when these masterpieces were created, but since my older nephews are now 20 and 17, I’m guessing it was at least five years ago. Ha.

The black hole in the tree symbolizes man’s search for meaning.

I like the bold use of empty space.










4.) Print out of a 2000 article from the Onion that mentions my favorite element. The yellow highlighting of the relevant line (“Rumors of a longtime feud with molybdenum…”) is now too faded to see…perhaps because this piece of paper is 12 frigging years old.

5.) A yellowed clipping about my favorite tennis player’s 2001 Wimbledon win, which made me cry big fat tears of joy (in 2001, not when I cleaned my office).

6.) Several cards from my Mom, back when she still loved me and sent me cards for no reason (in other words, ten years ago).

Boomerang Bear is sad because Tracy’s Mom doesn’t send random cards anymore.

7.) I have no idea where or when I got this, but I love Paddington Bear and should totally keep this in case my boss gives me a coloring assignment.

8.) Original works of art by yours truly. Meet Knookie the Computer Chip, a comic I made up in 1985. Apparently I got swept away by nostalgia for the 20th anniversary of Knookie’s creation (and/or was really bored on work travel). I have no artistic talent whatsoever…enjoy!
















9.) And finally, the best thing I found while cleaning out my office, this page from the 2001 Onion calendar (Moses, Moses, Moses). I’m probably not going to throw this out.

How much personal crap do you have at work? Are you entrenched or could you make a quick get-away if necessary?

Merry Berry Month of May

I’ve never been a big fan of strawberry ice cream, especially when it includes pieces of strawberry. They freeze and provide a grating, icy mouth feel to something that’s supposed to be smooth and creamy.

My Ice Cream 101 professor mentioned the difficulty of adding fruit to ice cream due to its high water content, and my mind started racing about ways to tackle the problem. Ever since the class, I waited for strawberry season. For the past two weeks, I’ve been up to my eyeballs in strawberries. After washing, hulling, and eating many quarts of strawberries, I’m over strawberry season.

The recipe I used as a starting point (Jeni’s Splendid Roasted Strawberry and Buttermilk Ice Cream) used only one half-cup of roasted strawberry puree per quart of finished ice cream. Two weeks ago, I made that recipe as well as two variations. Why did I make the variations? Because I like to make things difficult and I want to create something of my own. Irritatingly, we liked Jeni’s recipe the best of the three. But none of them (all made with just a half-cup of strawberry puree) bowled us over with strawberry flavor.

In case you didn’t believe I made three versions of strawberry ice cream in one weekend.

I’m a bit on the lazy (logy!) side. So given all the work involved in this endeavor (hauling our asses to a farm in Maryland to get the strawberries, then washing, hulling, slicing, roasting, and pureeing them), I wanted more berry flavor. I’m demanding like that. The ice cream sort of tasted like a strawberry yogurt popsicle. 

Not being such a huge strawberry ice cream fan to begin with, I decided to try making one of my favorite strawberry desserts into an ice cream flavor. Enter strawberry pretzel salad ice cream:

Strawberry Pretzel Salad Ice Cream

I took some of the leftover roasted strawberry puree and boiled it with more sugar until it became syrupy and thick (so it wouldn’t freeze). Then I swirled the strawberry sauce into cream cheese ice cream. I baked up a small amount of sweetened crushed pretzel crust and threw that in as well.

I loved it. It tasted almost exactly like strawberry pretzel salad and the strawberry swirl had much more berry flavor than any of the dedicated strawberry ice creams. The pretzels started getting soggy after a couple of days though. And Dave didn’t like it, totally bursting my “I’m a brilliant ice cream flavor creator” bubble.

Over Memorial Day, I tested another variation of strawberry ice cream, doubling the amount of strawberry puree. We liked it marginally better than the original three versions. Economically speaking, I’m not sure the flavor boost was worth adding an extra half-cup of puree. The dairy just seems to dilute the flavor either way.

Gold star for anyone who correctly guesses which of these contains double the amount of strawberry.

I don’t know if I have a future in the ice cream business, or food service more generally. It seems that “artisan” and fresh, local ingredients are all the rage. That’s all well and good, and I would want to make homemade ice cream with high-quality ingredients if I opened a store, but some of the effort (and more importantly, expense) seems silly. Maybe I’m just disgruntled from all that washing and hulling and slicing and roasting, but I find it really hard to believe that most people would notice a difference between fresh farm strawberries and store-bought frozen strawberries after adding sugar, pureeing the crap out of them, and then diluting the puree with more than 3 cups of dairy. I see a test of this in my future, but not anytime soon, because I’m sick with this.

After all of this, we simply hadn’t eaten enough strawberry dessert. So I did what anyone who had already made five batches of ice cream in two weeks would do…I made another dessert. A testament to the lack of excitement in my life, this extra dessert-making was due in large part because I wanted to take a picture of a piece of actual strawberry pretzel salad next to my ice cream version.

Variations on a theme of strawberry pretzel salad.

Since strawberry season is almost over here, I also made extra strawberry puree to freeze so that I have it on hand to make strawberry ice cream for my summer ice cream social. I didn’t make quite as much puree as I’d hoped since I overfilled the food processor, causing puree to ooze out everywhere, but that’s a bitch-fest for another day.

NOTE: Photo of the puree made with my blood, sweat, and tears from $5.49/quart strawberries running all over my kitchen counter and down my kitchen sink drain is not available.

Please to enjoy one of my favorite commercial ear worms ever, from my hometown joint Eat’n Park. I make better strawberry pie, by the way.