Thursday, July 31, 2008

When the Moon Hits Your Eyes Like A....

A couple of weekends ago, Steven and I went to Annapolis to meet up with Julie and Shawn while they were in the area. We had a delightful lunch out on the docks overlooking the water (a duck walked right by our table as we ate!), and after lunch, we wandered around window-shopping in all the stores.

One of the stores was called "The Cook's Revenge." And inside that very store, I discovered one of my best purchases of 2008. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you....

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The Pizza Paddle. (Eee!)

I have made quite a few homemade pizzas in the past year or so, with homemade dough. It is especially fun to let the dough rise outside in the sunshine during the summer. (Also, it makes the neighbors wonder what you're up to...)

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Especially when you're out on the porch every 20 minutes, peeking under a towel into a big bowl. The guy on the porch next to ours gave me the strangest look. (I should have told him it was a human head or something. I always think of these things too late.)

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However, in my pizza-making ventures, I would get the dough all stretched out and covered in toppings but then I'd hit an obstacle. How do I transfer my droopy pizza dough laden with cheese and pepperoni into a 500 degree oven and onto the pizza stone without seriously injuring myself or the pizza? Or both?

Enter the magical pizza paddle. Toss a little cornmeal on the paddle, situate your dough just so, add toppings as you please, and when it comes time to toss her in the oven, all it takes is a little flick of the wrist, and the pizza slides perfectly onto the hot pizza stone.

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Crispy crusts, perfectly melted cheese, and no more third degree burns! This might be my new favorite kitchen implement ever.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

I Heart Spell Check

Part of my work today involved drafting an Indemnification Agreement, whereby three people would be signing as "indemnitors."

Turns out, Microsoft Word Spell Check does not know the word "indemnitors," and it kept giving me the annoying red squiggly line every time I typed the word. Finally, I got tired of seeing the squiggly red lines everywhere, so I ran spell check on the whole document.

Spell Check respectfully requested that I change "indemnitors" to "inseminators."

I nearly fell out of my chair.

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(On an unrelated note, Pringles would like to inform you that the calla lillies are growing well under his watchful eye.)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Sustenance

Too bad if Pringles hates the bread machine. I officially adore it.

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It couldn't have been easier. Dump water, oil, bread mix into the machine, then make a little divet for the yeast on top of the flour. Press start, wait 2.5 hours, and enjoy delicious homemade bread.

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I will be doing this every single weekend from now until forever.

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However, the universe seeks balance, and for every successful kitchen venture, I tend to also have a tremendous failure. Lately, its been chocolate chip cookies. I just can't get them right. First it was the no-name brand chocolate chips. I was trying to save a few bucks by getting the Safeway brand instead of the genuine Nestle semi-sweet chocolate chips. Unfortunately, the recipe on the Safeway brand is extremely sub-par. I ended up with round rocks of dough instead of nice, soft, flat cookies.

So, like any extremely stubborn and persistent person would, I attempted to make cookies again, this time using the Nestle recipe. Only I didn't have any chocolate chips left. So I chopped up some unsweetened Baker's Chocolate that was in the cabinet, begging to be used up. (Or so I thought.)

The dough looked glorious. I thought I'd conquered the bad-cookie fluke.

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Turns out, unsweetened chocolate is called "unsweetened" for a reason. It was horrible. The chocolate pieces in each cookie tasted like chocolate-flavored chalk. Two strikes. My cookie skillz are not looking good.

I went shopping today for reinforcements: brown sugar, eggs, two bags of Nestle Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels, vanilla, flour... the works. I have printed out a rather famous cookie recipe.**

I will not be foiled again!

(**Also, I realize that it is rather ironic for me to slam Neiman Marcus leopard print flats in one post and then laud the Neiman Marcus cookie recipe in a second post. What can I say, I am a study in contradictions.) :)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Mother Nature Saves The Day, Again

As surprising as it may seem, even my own incompetence cannot foil mother nature.

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Even after originally being planted upside-down, my lovely little callas sprang up this weekend. Adversity's got nothin' on these flowers.

Additionally, despite my bumbling beginner-gardening, I have managed to keep the plants alive long enough to produce something resembling actual food.

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Amazing, isn't it?

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I am so proud of my little tomatoes! I feel so accomplished - I can make food appear from the dirt!

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(And, because we all know that pride cometh before a fall, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the Good Lord, the sunshine, the folks at Lowes who actually planted the seeds, and my trusty watering can. Now everybody cross your fingers that it doesn't hail until November.)

I suppose I should also thank Steven for letting me take over the porch. (Myself included for scale.)

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The harvest of our first little tomato has also brought a secondary discovery: Pringles is apparently a vegetarian. He is just dying to get at that tomato.

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-----------------------------

This has been a big weekend for Pringles. He has found his new arch-nemesis. I give you, Oster, the evil bread machine.

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Mom Steele gifted this bread machine to me at least two years ago, and today is the first time that I've actually used it. I am remiss in my gift-using. I blame the combination of GMU Law and BarBri entirely.

We bought some bread machine flour on Saturday, and I tossed the ingredients into the bread maker this afternoon. I plugged her in, and from her metal belly came the loudest, screechiest beep I have ever heard from a kitchen appliance.

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It sounded like a fire alarm. And it made Pringles angry.

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He officially hates the bread machine now. He barked at it for a solid hour after that first beep. And then, when it beeped again to signal that it was finished kneading the dough, Pringles launched into a second round of vicious barking, growling, and glaring menacingly at Oster.

To calm Pringles' shattered nerves, I stood guard until the bread was finished baking.

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He still doesn't entirely trust the thing, but since it was producing such delicious smells, I think Pringles has forgiven the bread maker for its breach of the peace.

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For now, anyway. He's still keeping a watchful eye on it from his spot here on the bed.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Living Oprah

I was listening to All Things Considered the other day on my way home (because my nerdly side truly loves me some NPR. Especially Marketplace, because it comes on at 6 PM while I'm usually driving home and keeps me apprised of all the latest financial happenings in the world. I like to know what the CEOs of Freddie Mac are up to these days, as I will soon be relying on them for a mortgage. But I digress...)

This particular day, however, I'd missed Marketplace, and All Things Considered comes on right afterwards at 6:30 PM. While Meee-shelle Norris' pronunciation of her name does bother me slightly, I listened anyway, and I caught the beginning of an interview of Robyn Okrant. She's 35, she lives in Chicago, and for one entire year, she's decided that she will live Oprah.

By "living Oprah," Okrant means that she will spend every single day doing everything that Oprah says to do -- in her TV show, her books, and her magazines. If Oprah says you should do it, Robyn's going to do it.

The most interesting part about the interview was when Robyn explained why she'd decided to live out Oprah's directives for a whole year. She posted a brief explanation on January 1 in her blog, but she expounded a bit further in the radio inteview. When asked what inspired her to do this, she responded:

"I was feeling really strongly about the fact that I think women do not ask why enough. We are told we have to dress a certain way, we are told we have to get flat abs in two weeks, we are told we're not allowed to get old. And we follow these programs sort of blindly, without asking why or is it important to us. And I think Oprah is the most influential person in media today, and that's where we're getting a lot of our information. The tag line of her website is "Live your best life," and I think those are pretty strong words. So I wanted to see what would happen if I did everything Oprah said, if at the end of this year I would be living my best life."

How's it going so far? She's exhausted. According to Robyn, Oprah tells you how to shop, how to dress, but she also tells you how you have to feel -- for example, you have to be "content" every time you walk in the front door. She says it's very tiring.

Tiring and expensive. And so far she's spent $2,000 but she still has quite a list left of Oprah-recommended purchases. She's tracking the costs to see just how much money it takes to do-as-Oprah-says. The goal, Robyn says, is to challenge women to consider how we place celebrities on a pedestal and then look to them for answers.

I think it's even deeper than that. I think the real issue to glean from her 365-days-of-Oprah experiment is what she said in the beginning of the interview -- that women don't ask why enough. Someone tells us that we should wear a certain color, and we go out and buy a wardrobe's worth in every shade. Someone tells us that we should avoid eating carbs, and we head straight for the meat aisle. Advertisers tell us that we need certain things to make us feel better, to make our lives more complete, to make us and our children smarter, happier, healthier, more beautiful. We don't ask why we should buy this or do that -- we just do it. And then we wonder why we feel stretched so thin?

So I'll go ahead and ask it. Why? Why, as women, are we advice-collectors? Why do we constantly seek to hear what other people think we should do about our hair, our wallpaper, our future? Do we fear feeling inadequate if we can't live up to the collected advice of glossy magazines and TV personalities? (I personally think that Martha Stewart is another huge offender in making women feel like they just can't quite measure up.)

Maybe its time for us as women to realize that we can stand on our own two feet. Maybe its okay for us to say, "Thanks but no thanks" to the never ending lists of must-do beauty routines. Maybe we can just be strong women with strong opinions, instead of blindly following the latest "gotta have it." Maybe we can decide to let our houses get a little messy, let our venetian blinds gather some dust, and leave those leopard-print flats at Neiman Marcus where they belong. Maybe if we stopped trying so hard to live up to Oprah, Martha, Rachael, Gwyneth and the rest of them, we’d realize that our own ideas, feelings and viewpoints are uniquely valuable. And maybe we’d start to understand that sometimes your “best life” can include refusing to do anything other than what you think works best for your life, and not what Dr. Oz, Bob Greene, or Nate Berkus thinks.

Besides, I’ll bet you Oprah can’t drive home from the courthouse in a Mazda with a broken windshield, change out of her suit pants into jeans with a ripped knee, prune a tomato plant and then eat lemon sorbet and drink cinnamon coffee while watching the Twins game nearly as well as I can. So there. :)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Market For Farmers

There's a shabby little parking lot by the Fairfax Courthouse, and most of the time it sits empty and unloved. But every Saturday morning from May to October, 8 AM to 1 PM, the little parking lot comes alive with a bounty of bright, colorful food.

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And when bright, colorful, locally-grown food is calling my name, I cannot resist.

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All last week, I kept making Steven promise and re-promise to take me to the Farmers Market on Saturday morning. Being a man of his word (and having received my not-so-subtle daily reminders), he drove us to the Farmers Market and even patiently walked over to the bank with me when I realized we forgot to get cash. (He wasn't all that happy about it, but he was at least patient.) :)

I bought a gorgeous pint of blackberries from this little girl (she was maybe 14?). I told her they looked fantastic, and she raised an open hand to show me her purple fingertips.

"I've been eating them all morning for breakfast!" She grinned. I think her whole family was there, helping to unload the bounty from their truck. I decided right then and there that I want purple fingertips from eating blackberries every morning for breakfast, too.

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And there was so much fantastic stuff to look at. Cherries, blueberries, blackberries (these are the ones I picked out and bought -- each one was bigger than a quarter.

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We couldn't buy everything we wanted to buy -- even my fruit-loving ways have their limits, and most of it would have spoiled before we ate it up. Here's a sampling of what I intend to get in tomorrow's haul...

1. Peaches (because I am from Georgia, and therefore it is only right...)

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2. One of these crackly-delicious melons.

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3. A scone of indeterminate type (apple?), dusted with sugar and warm from the oven or the sun, or maybe both.

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I probably won't buy any of these green beans, given the fortitude of our porch plants, but I do feel better about the stringiness of our own beans after seeing these. They are downright scrawny-looking.

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And as badly as I wanted one of these tomatoes, I didn't pull the trigger, because once my porch tomatoes start turning red, it will be Tomato-pa-looza up in here. Seriously, there have got to be at least 40 little green tomatoes on those plants, of varying sizes. One of them has begun to turn red, and I am resisting the urge to pluck him off the vine before his time. Maybe this will help remind me what I'm waiting for.

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Last time, I bought white nectarines from this little stand - Kuhn Orchards, I think? They were good, except one of them was a little over-ripe. I have two left in the fridge that I will eat up for lunch tomorrow.

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And both times I've been to the Market, I've been faithfully buying quickbreads from Grace's Pastries. We've had Chocolate Walnut Bread, Pumpkin Spice Bread (in July! Yum!), and Carrot Loaf Bread (not as virtuous as you might expect, but delicious!).

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Coffee cake may be next on my list.

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I got some great stuff last time (checking the bags because I forgot what all I'd purchased by the time we got to the car). I am totally going back tomorrow, and every Saturday after that until Octoberish.

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Steven, take note. Also, can you drive us again please?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

News Flash

This just in: Upon review of her porch garden and a brief conversation with Mom, your humble correspondent has discovered that I did, indeed, plant my calla lily bulbs upside-down. A team was immediately assembled to dig up the lilies and re-plant them (me, some gardening gloves, and Pringles and Carlie for moral support).

Such a critical error in judgment (thinking the bumps were the roots and not the stems) has resulted in some very wonky looking calla lily bulbs. The stems were still trying to grow upward around the bulbs, and the roots had sprouted from the top, growing downward around the bulb as well. I am one ace gardener.

The situation has been rectified, sort of. The bulbs are right side up, but now the stem growth is pointed downward. I intend to rely on Mother Nature to sort out this whole mess, as it seems best if I henceforth just keep my hands out of the dirt on this one.

Stay tuned to see if I haven't wrecked the lilies entirely. :) Go me.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Blahs

I have the blahs today. Not sure why. I think its mostly from winding down a big week at work. One of our attorneys was out because his wife was having a baby, so I got most of his workload. Which was GREAT because he was handling some interesting cases and it kept me nice and busy. But it was also Not So Great because I ended up staying late almost every night this whole week. I had court this morning in Fairfax and it lasted from 8 am to noonish, and when I finally got back to the office, I still had another day's worth of work to do. Needless to say, I am totally exhausted and thanking God that its Friday. (A terrible cliche. I know. My inner wordsmith just cringed.)

Nevertheless, I did manage to make dinner at one point this week. (Actually, come to think of it, this was Sunday night's dinner, so I really didn't manage to make dinner this week. Oh well. I made myself some lunches, and I fixed a mean pot of coffee or two. It was all the effort I could muster.)

We tried something different by putting the cheese inside the burger this time. I also mixed some A1 sauce into the meat pre-cooking and then a little more A1 on top of each burger when served. They were okay -- a little gooey on the inside. I think I prefer cheese in its normal place atop the burger.

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Also, Steven's bean-plant beans made an appearance as a side dish. Pringles thinks I over-salted them a wee bit. (I did.)

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I actually don't have the blahs all that bad, because pictured below is our new household item that was, at first, the bane of my existence, but has now become my friend and daily ritual.

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Steven and I finally caved and bought a scale around the weekend of my birthday, and since then, we've been trying to exercise and eat better. I say eat better because I doubt we'll ever really eat healthy. We love ice cream too much.

The scale is my friend these days because its telling me that I'm down about 7 lbs. since we first bought it. (Nevermind that my initial weigh-in was conducted in our local Target, wherein I pulled the scale out of its box, still wrapped in plastic, and proceeded to stand on it right there in the store. With my shoes on. And my purse on my shoulder. And my purse alone probably weighs 7 pounds.)

Notwithstanding the foregoing, I am happy with the number as of today. Just let me live here in the delusion -- we'll all be a lot happier. (I have probably another 10-15 to go, but its not going to happen because I am stubbornly unwilling to give up Dairy Queen. No way, no how, people.)

In knitting news, I have finished my Monkey Socks.

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I started these back when we went to ATL in April to see my niece Riley. Looks like a pair of socks is taking me a solid three months now. Not half bad. I could crank out another pair before the weather even considers getting colder.

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Upon repeated request, Steven proudly posed with my first completed sock. (Imagine a second one, just like this one. What, you thought you were getting a post about both completed socks? You have much to learn. Also, I am too lazy to go take new pictures of both socks right now. Like I said, imagine a second one.)

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At least Pringles is somewhat impressed. (Either that or he has indigestion. He pretty much looks like this all the time, just louder.)

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Tomorrow I will possibly do some creative things, including but not limited to, laundry; dishes; much sleeping; more laundry; running on the elliptical machine.

An artist's life I lead. Truly.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Reasons Why I Love Summer

Brown paper packages tied up with string... (Okay, actually white paper packages tied up with packing tape, but just as exciting!)

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Mom bought some mail-order calla lilies awhile back, and she sent three of them to me, for my little porch-garden.

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Mom, I followed your instructions religiously. See? (They actually sat in the water for closer to 48 hours.... it took me a while to get out to Lowes to buy another garden pot. Oops. :) They seem fine, if a little waterlogged...)

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I'd show you what they look like on the porch, except they are still under the dirt, so you would basically just see some potting soil. And you know what that looks like.

Meanwhile, Steven's bean plant continues to soundly whomp my tomato plants in terms of productivity.

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Also, the extra berries from my cupcake-extravaganza on July 4 were begging to be finished off.

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With spoon and vanilla yogurt in hand, I was happy to comply.

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Summertime rocks, people.

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Monday, July 7, 2008

Seven... Seven... Steven!

Today is Steven's birthday!

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I always like Steven's birthday because it sits at the height of summer. Unfortunately, since 2004 or so, I've been in school and therefore somewhat distracted from the issue of present-buying. (And also somewhat penniless, which also contributed to the trouble with purchasing gifts, but also just stuff in general. But I digress...)

My lack of good gift-giving abilities has been a problem in the past, as his birthday (along with most other holidays) has tended to sneak up on me and all of a sudden, its July 7 and oh dear Lord let's hit up Target on the way home because I have to get him something! Hurry!

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This year? No school! Some money! Ergo, I planned ahead. (Sort of. I still went shopping on July 6, but I maintain that I knew what I was shopping for this time, which is a huge advance in my world.)

They even got wrapped. Coordinatingly.

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Half of the fun is in having them sit on the counter, untouched, for at least 24 hours. It builds the excitement of "What's in the Bag?"

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So what was in the Bag, you ask? I'm not telling, but I think I did pretty good this year. :)

Okay, okay, now that you're twisting my arm, but just a sneak peek...

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Shock and awe, baby, shock and awe.

Happy Birthday, dear! I'm glad you're my same age again. It was getting lonely here in late-twenties-ville. Love you!