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Apr
6
2012
Photo (Good) Friday: Jellybeans, Chicken Hoo-Has, and the Resurrection

Last year, there was some crazy talk about a “War on Easter.”

As an atheist agnostic apathetic agnostic in need of a couple of Easter cards, I can’t say I would have minded a skirmish as I scanned the selection of cards at the grocery store.

I just wanted something cute and upbeat and not too “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again” to include with the Easter candy I planned to send to my nephew studying abroad this semester. But the Catholic school girl inside me was actually a little shocked to find this:


Jellybean day? Seriously?

The term “Easter” doesn’t have anything to do with the resurrection, why should I have to give up saying Happy Easter? Christians should have to come up with another name for their celebration of the resurrection. But this card was just childish and ridiculous enough to make the care package cut.

This year I also needed a card for my Mom. I’m bummed she isn’t visiting for Easter this year per our usual tradition. Don’t worry, she mailed my Romolo’s chocolate to me…

“Jellybean Day?” No.  “Romolo’s Day?” Perhaps…

Anyway, since I won’t get to spend the holiday with Mom, I needed to find a card that conveyed just the right sentiment for Easter. Oh yeah, here it is.

As someone who’s had something (two things in fact) come out of her hoo-ha, I thought my Mom would appreciate the reminder on this most holy of occasions. Quite frankly, I just enjoy the hell out of the word “hoo-ha.” I was a fully formed adult before ever hearing this term (ironically, in reference to my Mom’s hoo-ha) and after I fell out of my chair laughing, I tried making up for lost time. I must have said “hoo-ha” 900 times that day. Here are a few more for you: hoo-ha, hoo-ha, hoo-ha.

At least this card says “Easter” and not “Jellybean Day.”

With my card selections complete, I started to wonder if American Greetings actually was engaging in a War on Easter. But fear not, only two slots away from the chicken hoo-ha card was this:

When I showed Dave the inside of this card, he said “and how much happiness is that?” Hmm, good question. Wishing you all the happiness of an unjust death sentence, followed by kinda, sorta, not really coming back to life. 

We’ll try to carry on as best we can without Mom. We’re headed for Willow’s Fish Fry tonight, then we’ll trek out to Wegmans to stock up for our Easter feast (ooh, date night at Wegmans. And I’m not kidding). I also plan on making Peeps ice cream (favorite Peeps Diorama contest entry below!). Is it wrong that I’m looking forward to chopping up Peep bunnies? What are your Easter Jellybean Day Decorated Chicken Hoo-Ha Expulsions Day plans?

Mar
23
2012
Photo Friday: Cherry Blossoms

For one week out of every year, the two cherry trees in front of my house make me the happiest person on Earth.

That week is now.

Also, the instructor of my photography class earlier this year said cameras automatically focus on what is closest. My camera missed that memo. Could someone please explain why my camera likes to focus on something behind my damn subject? I swear to all that is holy I focused on the center cluster of blossoms in each shot of this series, yet some of the shots turned out like this, with blossoms further away in focus instead:

Seriously, if anyone can help me on this, I’ll be your friend forever.

Mar
16
2012
Photo Friday: Vanilla Ice Cream

You know what? I really don’t have time to blog. This is annoying, because I enjoy blogging so much more than many other activities (for example, work). 

I’ve been obsessed with the ice cream thing.

I made five versions of vanilla ice cream last weekend in the continuing quest for my perfect ice cream mix. This test was about eliminating egg yolks without sacrificing texture. The recipes I had been using all called for four to six egg yolks per quart. First of all, that’s a lot of eggs. Secondly, that shit is called custard (custard mix must be at least 1.4 percent egg yolk solids by weight, and that’s only about one egg yolk per quart of mix if my figures are right). I have nothing against frozen custard, but I’m anal and want to make ice cream. When I was testing my more strongly flavored brown sugar ice cream, the custard vs. ice cream thing seemed more a matter of semantics and texture, but plain vanilla custard with six egg yolks tastes like eggs, y’all.

So while I can see making a custard for some flavors (I’d like to make a nice creamy lemon custard, sort of like frozen lemon curd), I really want to develop most of my flavors using no egg yolks.

Here are the five vanillas I made this week. I’m irritated that this is the best shot because the bowl blocks the little tag I made to label ice cream #3 (hello, perfectionism!).

#1: custard mix made with 6 egg yolks

#2: same mix, no egg yolks

#3: same mix, no egg yolks, 1/8 teaspoon xanthan gum (the xanthan gum is a stabilizer that commercial ice cream makers use to combat iciness and improve shelf life. I hoped it would serve the same purpose as egg yolks, without the egg flavor and the wasted egg whites. I couldn’t get the powder to blend and ended up having to strain most of it out. But it still gave the ice cream a weird gummy texture and a slightly off flavor. I think I’m done with the xanthan gum).

#4: same mix as #2, made with organic heavy cream (it took me several weeks of ice cream testing before I realized the regular heavy cream I’d been using actually contained a stabilizer (carrageenan) already and I wanted to test whether that mattered. It didn’t seem to.) This one also replaced a tiny bit of the sugar with 1 tablespoon corn syrup (which I learned at Ice Cream 101 can help reduce iciness and improve shelf life). I actually haven’t found any of the ice creams to have an icy texture as of three days out. Also, I felt I could taste the corn syrup (in a bad way).

#5: same mix as #2, made with organic heavy cream, all regular sugar

These were all passable (except #3) but I wasn’t super thrilled, so it’s back to the drawing board this weekend. I’m already getting a little sick of vanilla.

Mar
9
2012
Photo Friday: This is What Perfectionism Looks Like

On the surface, it may seem counter-intuitive for a perfectionist’s office to look like a cyclone hit it. But those of you who have the perfectionism affliction, or love someone who does, see the truth.

Am I comfortable with this picture? No. Do I enjoy working in this environment? No. While a normal person might think, “just spend a few minutes cleaning this up,” I know it would take hours or even days (hours and days I don’t have at work) to clean and organize it the right way. To do anything less is not comfortable, so it will just have to wait until I can do it right.

I’m a perfectionist; I’m hardwired to do shit the tediously inefficient but right way.

I think I would have skewed this way no matter what, but my first grade teacher didn’t help. She split my classroom into the “good side” and the “bad side” and placed me on the bad side because I’d forgotten to turn in a permission slip. Mistakes, no matter how small, would be noticed, would be punished. Got it, thanks!

This experience lodged itself into my amygdala, where it still drives me toward a goal I can’t reach. When I was little, my thoughts on perfection were simple, “if I stop making mistakes, people will like me more.” I even had a code word, “NOW,” that I’d say to myself as a pep talk to be perfect from that point forward. Until the next time I made a mistake, of course. These days, “NOW” has been replaced by exhausting post mortems on what I could have done differently to avoid a mistake and often an internal berating for not knowing this already.

I’m sick of it and I’m trying to recover from perfectionism. I’ve realized there’s so much I want to do. I just don’t have time to do everything I’m interested in doing as well as my brain tells me I have to do it.

But letting the perfectionism go has been hard, for at least two reasons:

1. My brain doesn’t seem to have the capacity for the kind of flexible thinking needed to create shortcuts.

2. Even if by some miracle, I think of a shortcut or someone offers me a different solution to a task, I don’t feel comfortable implementing it. It feels half-assed to me.

I didn’t even realize how crazy my methods seemed until the running shoes conversation. You see, a few weeks ago my knees started feeling wonky and I wondered if it might be time to buy new running shoes. I thought nothing of my process until I talked to a normal person about it. I mentioned how I needed to add up the mileage I’d run on my current pair of shoes, but before I could do the calculation I had to enter the back log of data from my Garmin GPS watch into my workout log spreadsheet.

I’ll never forget the look that passed across the normal person’s face.

Her: “How long will entering all that data take you?”

Me: “I’m not sure…probably two to three hours at least.”

Her: “Uh, what would be the harm in just buying new shoes without doing all that data entry?”

This suggestion blew my mind.

Today I reached two personal milestones. I achieved a goal I’ve had for over two years; to get my work email inbox of almost 1,600 emails back to zero. And, perhaps more importantly, I did it by implementing a shortcut that my perfectionist brain had previously convinced me was “cheating. ”

I moved everything older than 2012 into a separate archive folder labeled “unsorted.” If I get around to culling that great, if not, c’est la vie. I had told myself I needed to wait until I had time to cull 1,600 emails. But that was going to be never. After removing the old emails, I culled the 404 emails left in my inbox to zero in a few hours. Yea!


PishPosh

Feb
24
2012
Photo Friday: A Complex Food Colloid

From Ice Cream Sixth Edition by Robert T. Marshall, H. Douglas Goff, and Richard W. Hartel:

“Ice cream is a complex food colloid embodied in a product the consumer associates with pure enjoyment. It is paradoxical that what can seem so simple is indeed so complex.”

And that about sums up Ice Cream 101, y’all. In a word…overwhelming. Leave it to me to select a food to sell that is defined in the Code of Federal Regulations. I was trying to get away from working for the man.

If I wait any longer to write about Ice Cream 101, I won’t, so here are my thoughts: 

  • “Ice cream” has a standard of identity defined by the federal government (so recipe development is not as simple as you might think, unless you are willing to sell something you have to call “frozen dairy product.”).
  • The mix must be pasteurized (even if your dairy ingredients are pasteurized). Before the professor hammered this point home, he said, “now is when I shatter your dreams.” We were told 98% of ice cream shop owners purchase their mix and most of us sighed dejectedly.

Who knew ice cream could be such a pain in the ass?

This was hour one of a two-day course. Quite frankly, I tuned out a little the rest of that morning. I want to MAKE ice cream, not flavor and freeze somebody else’s mix.

  • During the tasting lab, I ended up being quite attracted to the version of vanilla made with artificial sweetener instead of sugar. Oops. My taste buds must have been exhausted by then…
  • A presentation on the business side of opening an ice cream shop likened the process to having a baby. Unfortunately, conception is the only part of pregnancy that sounds like any fun, and I worry the ice cream business might feel the same. The part of his talk that stuck with me most was the following off the cuff remark:  “if I could get rid of all my staff and I could get rid of all my customers I would have the best business in the world. Just go down and make ice cream.” Uh-oh.

On the afternoon of day two, several batch freezer (basically a huge expensive ice cream maker) representatives hawked their wares. They demonstrated their machines and let us taste the ice cream. The moment I saw fresh ice cream extruding from the first machine, I was back on board. I wanted to remove the bucket from under the spout and replace it with my open mouth.

  • I’m a very risk-averse person. I learned there is a lot I didn’t know about making ice cream. And I know even less about starting and running a business.

In the short term, I plan to make a lot of ice cream. We’ll see if it’s as much fun as I thought and whether my friends and family think it’s any good. My lovely husband ordered me a snazzy new ice cream maker for Valentine’s Day. Last weekend, I made my first batch of my signature flavor idea, basically ice cream that is supposed to taste like chocolate chip cookie dough (I threw in actual cookie dough for good measure). I couldn’t decide if I should share the full view or close-up, so you get both.

Feb
17
2012
Photo Friday: It’s Always Better on Holiday

Every day for the past few weeks, I have walked by this advertisement.

Part of a set of ads with “humor” customized for DC, they miss the mark for me in that they resonate just enough to remind me how annoying DC can be (it’s an election year, so I’m extra cranky) but not so much that they are funny.

Another example of the hilarity: “It took an act of Congress to get you out of bed this morning.” HA! Get it? Mornings are hard…and this is DC, so like Congress makes laws here and shit. So yeah. That’s hysterical. It’s not as if I get out of bed every morning so I can continue to receive a paycheck.

A quick internet search yielded the news that others find these ads charming. Oops. Apparently they also ran ads in New York, and the NYC ads are a little more clever, like maybe they were written by people who actually live in New York. They inexplicably used the dumbest ad in both markets: “A text-walker ran into you while you were text-walking.” Is this thing on?

But back to the holiday ad, which really fries my ass.

You see, this Monday is a holiday. Indeed, my calendar most certainly does mention that fact and I’m sure yours does too. And I’m not likely to forget a paid day off, whether it’s on the calendar or not.

So you can imagine how charmed I was when some people I’m working with who don’t get the day off kindly scheduled a meeting I need to attend on the holiday.

The splash or 12 of vodka I plan to add to my OJ will be the only good part of that particular DC morning. Thanks for the daily reminder of my missed holiday, Tropicana!

Happy President’s Day. If you have the day off, enjoy! If you don’t, grab a mini bottle of Tropicana on your way into work. Tell ‘em Congress sent you!

Feb
10
2012
Photo Friday: Early Spring

How about this weather? Spring flowers are popping out all over our neighborhood. Our neighbor’s quince started blooming in January.

I’m taking a five-week photography class and I decided to use the quince blooms for last week’s homework assignment on “equivalent exposures” (basically taking the same shot, but messing with the depth of field). So the top picture blurs the background (my neighbor’s house).

I’m excited that I now know how to use my camera on manual mode. But this class has mainly just confirmed my camera is possessed by Satan. The first week of class, the instructor said “the camera will always focus on what is closer.” Nope. Not my camera anyway.

The only thing that should differ between these two pictures is how much of the picture from front to back is in focus. But even though I set the focus point to be the stamen in the middle of that main flower and used a tripod, the stamen are not in focus in both pictures, even though all I did was change the aperture and shutter speed. I even checked to make sure the red focus dot hadn’t moved. I’ve discussed this issue with my instructor and she can’t explain this. I clearly need a new camera, right?!?

Happy Spring Winter!

Feb
3
2012
Photo Friday: From Cow to Cone

Thanks to everyone who commented on my last post and shared tips. Ice Cream 101 at Penn State was great, but overwhelming. The “it’s 5am and I’m still awake and my alarm is set for 6:05″ insomnia Friday night into Saturday morning didn’t help. I haven’t had a chance to catch up on sleep so I’m still exhausted. In brief, I learned a lot and the class didn’t fully talk me out of this ice cream business idea. I plan to write about what I learned, but only after I’m no longer hallucinating from exhaustion.

In the meantime, here are two photos from the weekend. It was hard to get decent shots with only our small point and shoot and its max ISO of 400.

We got a behind the scenes tour of Penn State’s Creamery. There were pipes running everywhere, all carefully labelled as to their contents (raw versus pasteurized milk, etc…).

I didn’t get any good shots of ice cream being extruded during the batch freezer demonstrations, but here’s a shot I like of ice cream being mixed and frozen in a cool European machine. It seemed like more of a novelty machine than a workhorse. The only way to get the ice cream out of the tub is with this huge paddle-like thing. The company representative demonstrated how you can make the ice cream in front of your customers and then basically shove the paddle full of ice cream in their face offer up the paddle full of fresh ice cream for them to sample. Kind of reminded me of fudge demonstrations at Niagara Falls.

Jan
20
2012
Photo Friday: Guinness (Cupcakes) for Jesus*

The Event: Iron Chef Potluck (ingredient: “spirits”)

The Recipe: Guinness Cupcakes with Irish Whiskey Ganache Filling and Baileys Buttercream

The Verdict: while I announced the following on Twitter pre-baking… “Baking cupcakes filled w/whiskey ganache & topped w/Baileys buttercream. In other words, cupcakes I’m 98% sure I won’t eat. #5YearOldPalate” …I ended up eating…uh, several.

Cake: Loved. Delicious and moist and not Guinness-ey.

Frosting: Liked. A little grainy and definitely Baileys-ey, but sweet enough that I could eat it anyway.

Filling: Not good. The ganache set up too hard (heh-heh) to be a cupcake filling. It was like a solid truffle in the middle of the cupcake and made the cupcakes difficult to eat. I gave my fillings to Dave.

The New Obsession: Developing a signature cupcake recipe. Stay tuned!

*The silly memory these cupcakes bring to mind: Years ago, Dave and I spent St. Patrick’s Day in Philadelphia with friends from college. They were insane. John Boy (don’t ask) kept insisting that the guys drink only Guinness and Guinness-based drinks all night. When everyone else tired of Guinness, John Boy encouraged them to keep drinking it by exclaiming: “Guinness for Jesus!” I laughed so much my face hurt.

Jan
7
2012
Photo Friday/Saturday: Red Panda Babies

Getting sick over New Year’s is apparently now a tradition. I’ve had a cold (and colds make me act like a man…poor little bunny!) since Tuesday. So I’ve been drinking orange juice and catching up on “How I Met Your Mother” on streaming video even more quickly than my retired mother (not that it’s a race or anything). Hopefully I’ll feel better and will be back to my non-regularly scheduled posting soon.

Dave’s last day off was Tuesday and even though I was already feeling a little off and the wind chill was 17 degrees, our plan to visit the red panda babies at the National Zoo was too important to blow off. In retrospect, standing outside cooing over the red panda family (Mom, Dad and the two babies, Pili and Damini) for 30 to 45 minutes in the bitter cold was probably a bad idea. But look!

Red panda’s too sexy for this branch.

The pandas were all basically napping when we first arrived, but then the keeper came out with food. They seemed to listen to him, check it out–so adorable! Dude has my dream job.

It kind of looked like they were eating cut up hot dogs.

The keeper and the volunteer we talked to said that Dad is still not used to sharing his enclosure with the two babies. Here’s a baby adorably trying to hold his/her ground when Dad approaches. Dad had the right of way.

Baby red panda!

The babies were born in June. Next time we need to get to the zoo sooner. They were still adorable, but getting pretty big. Even the keeper said he had trouble telling the members of the family apart.

This is my first attempt at watermarking my photos. I kind of hate it. It’s a pain in the ass and I don’t like the way it looks. I’m also baffled as to why it looks different depending on photo orientation. But I’d hate having one of my pictures stolen too. Ironically, I’m pretty sure Dave took most of these since I prefer to focus on enjoying red pandas without a camera in front of my eyes. I took some photos, but it’s impossible to know for sure which, if any, of these I snapped.