Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Oh no, Papa, not the bookmarks!

Papa's most recent naughtiness: pulling two bookmarks from books on the nightstand. She left the other book up there, sans bookmark.

Coincidentally — or maybe not — I happened upon these border collie horror stories. I take solace in the knowledge that Papa isn't as bad as Dylan, who broke into the shed, buried gardening shears, and cut her paw on them. Or Cody, who nipped kids in the butt. At least Papa's not endangering herself or others. I also don't think she's as crazy as Roscoe, who methodically pulled books from the shelves and shredded them.

Who she does remind me of, though, is the dog who would bump your elbow as you sipped hot tea: so rude, the both of them.

Sheesh, Papa!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The easiest quiche ever

Okay, so this is the only quiche I've ever made. For some reason, I've always thought of quiche as fussy, and I don't usually keep pastry crusts on hand. When I host a brunch, I like to hit all the major food groups — meat, eggs, sweet baked goods, and fruit. Scrambled eggs are tasty, but they're a bit unsightly. So I wanted something savory and pretty.

I could type out the Quick Quiche recipe for you, but then you wouldn't read the helpful reviews. Sometimes the audience is a bit verbose, but they always have handy tips about substitutions, cooking times, etc. I figured it wasn't too risky to try a 4½-star recipe with over 300 reviews.

My little twists: I used half Swiss and half Kerrygold cheddar and reduced the salt to ½ tsp. I also added fresh chopped spinach (the prewashed stuff). One other thing: I sauteed the onions for a couple of minutes in bacon grease. (I did not, however, grease the pie plate with bacon drippings.)

Mary pronounced it both tasty and tasteful. As in, appropriate for brunch. My favorite part: It really was easy, even for a novice like me.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Oh no, Papa! Not the ginger spice.

My Spice Girl's naughtiness continues. Monday night I came home from the gym and found this: a glass jar of ginger, plastic cap cracked, with a spill in an even line.

Did Papa unscrew the cap, or did it break when the jar fell? Did the jar actually fall, or was it dropped? And how long did Papa entertain herself with the spice game?

I don't have much insight about any of this. But at least the mess was easier to clean up than the paprika.

Oh no, Papa.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Thoughts on writing and solitude

I'm reading Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird and I've been thinking about one of her observations: that the real reward of writing is... writing.

As in, the process of writing. Not publication.

And yet I love the validation of publishing — the proof that my thoughts and words exist and at least one person believed they were worth noting. I suppose a stronger (or more self-actualized?) person could know they exist without the experience of publishing, but I like to be extra sure. The pressure to do good work, the rejection along the way, the thrill of acceptance, even the strange disappointment over saying goodbye to a story, all of it's part of a process that feels compelling to me.

Back to the writing...

I'm trying to write more. By simply writing more. ("Duh!" I hear you saying.) I'm still working on getting up early and writing stuff in my semiconscious state, before my editing tendencies kick in. Right now, though, I write in fits and starts, and my enthusiasm dictates whether I write. (I suppose that working in publishing also affects my energy level.) I'll spend hours at it one day, staying up till the wee hours of the morning, and then not write for weeks. There's a joke about how the amateur waits for inspiration and everyone else just goes to work. Well, I have an amateurish approach to writing. Must... just... work.

By the way, I wrote this post longhand while I had dinner by myself at Café Hollander. (Long story why I was alone, but don't worry, I wasn't stood up.) Dining alone is always an interesting social experiment. It wasn't busy there tonight, and I did feel uncomfortable sitting at the bar while the college couple and the 20-something waitstaff tried not to stare.

When I was in New York two years ago, I had dinner alone at a tiny Italian restaurant. The two women at the next table took pity on me and included me in their conversation. I didn't feel pity-worthy (or pathetic, or whatever the word is), but I was grateful for their kindness. It's funny how being alone is something people don't want to witness, as if it's a condition they have to alleviate.

But I digress. The good news: At least I'm writing.

PS: I know that dining alone doesn't really count as solitude. But "Thoughts on writing and dining alone" didn't have the same ring to it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Oh no, Papa! Not the honey, Honey.

The day after the paprika incident, I came home to paprika (in a jar this time), pepper, curry, lavender, and thyme on the living room floor. Papa had simply brought the jars from the kitchen to the living room. However, check out the bottom of the photo: she also chewed the cap from a plastic container of honey and licked the inside.

She did leave one spice jar in the kitchen rack: the ginger. Oh, the Ginger. Is it symbolic? What is it, Lassie?

The good news: no new stains. The bad news: after my multiple approaches to last week's stain, the carpet is now bleached — and only slightly less unsightly than in the photo. Oh no, Papa.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Another chocolate cake

To celebrate my sixth year at Kalmbach, I made a chocolate cake with mocha frosting. I love this Hershey chocolate cake so much, it’s hard to try other recipes.

A couple of weeks ago, I found a frosting recipe on the wrapper of an unsweetened chocolate bar — when I made a different, less tasty chocolate cake. I tend to view frosting as a waste of calories, but I couldn’t in good conscience serve a naked chocolate cake to my co-workers. There’s something uncelebratory about that. So I tried this recipe.

And loved it. It’s like having a layer of mocha fudge atop the cake. I figure, it’s not a waste of calories if it actually tastes good.

A couple of notes:
It’s best to make the frosting right before you use it. When it sets, the solid consistency makes it hard to spread evenly. Also, I used 2 Tbsp. of strong brewed coffee (Alterra) instead of the instant granules, which I think are a travesty. Finally, I reduced the powdered sugar a bit.

Ghirardelli mocha buttercream frosting
(Yield: one 9 x 13” cake)

2 tsp. granulated instant coffee
2 Tbsp. boiling water
1 bar (4 oz.) Ghirardelli 100% Cacao Unsweetened Chocolate Baking Bar, melted
2/3 cup butter
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/3 cup milk
1½ tsp. vanilla extract

Dissolve the instant coffee granules in the boiling water. Stir into melted chocolate and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter until fluffy. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, milk, and vanilla extract, mixing until smooth. Add the melted chocolate and mix until well combined.

For you Ghirardelli purists, here’s a devil's food cake recipe that goes with the frosting (there’s yet another one on the chocolate bar wrapper). It looks rich — butter and buttermilk, whoa! If you try it, let me know how it is.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Oh no, Paparika!

When I came home from the gym on Sunday, I found two ounces of paprika sprinkled on my living room floor. Oh, no. Here's Papa's guilty face when I told her she was naughty.

Although two ounces might not seem like a lot, it is when it’s a bright color on a beige carpet. (She also tried to shake some other spice, too, but didn't get far with it. You can see the container at the top of the second photo.)

On a related note, I saw a video of a talk that Kevin Roberts gave at Wharton. One of my favorite points: Emotion leads to action.

The stain spurred me to action. I vacuumed and used a stiff piece of paper — those blow-in cards are useful — to pick up as much paprika as I could. But here's where I went wrong: I liberally sprayed Resolve and scrubbed. Apparently I was supposed to dab. Oh, if only I had had my usual rational reaction and researched and overanalyzed my options. Alas, my decisive action only intensified the stain.

On to the next step. After borrowing Christa's Little Green carpet cleaner and making several attempts, the stain was slightly faded — but still prominent.

So today I went to Lowe's and explained my situation. A very helpful employee suggested the Capture products. They are enzyme-based cleaners that dissolve stains. I bought the aerosol: you just spray and then repeat if necessary. It's working, but I think I'll need several applications. Another Kevin Roberts principle: Fail fast, learn fast, fix fast. I hope I handle the next stain more effectively.

The bigger problem: I think I overbonded with Papa when I got back from my vacation. Two days of naps and walks and kisses and Frisbee might have been too much. Sigh. I hope I don't need to Papa-proof the house, but her dismantling of spices and pens worries me. She acts up the most when my routine changes. She can handle being alone for hours, but gets into trouble when I leave the house more than once a day. Any ideas to quell her naughtiness, other than me staying at home?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Southern California, April 2009

I've been back since Friday, and it's 40 degrees cooler here (and a lot less sunny). My vacation seems like it happened a long time ago. But I wanted to post a few pictures, so here are some highlights of the L.A. part of my trip.

Monday: Yukie and I hung out at Finn McCool's with Justin, Devin, and Bryan (the Mensa kids). We played trivia but were not smart enough to use our cell phones to search for the answers. For one round, we got a sheet of Grammy winners' photos and had to identify them. I was particularly upset about one that I missed: Christopher Cross. It should've been more familiar because I spent too much time last year watching his old videos on YouTube.

Wednesday: Julie and I had lunch at Marmalade Cafe in Sherman Oaks. (It's nice to be lunching ladies once in a while.) We also went to Beads of Paradise and she helped me pick out a strand of green rutilated quartz.

Later, I went mini golfing with Devin and Bryan at Sherman Oaks Castle Park. The weather was gorgeous and the competition fierce — well, as fierce as it gets in mini golf. None of us has been mini golfing in the last decade, but I hope to go again soon. It's fun like ping pong.

Thursday: Todd, Yukie, Cousin Kay, and I had dinner at Gyu-Kaku, where we grilled steak, shrimp, salmon, and veggies. I also ate a lot of crunchy rice. A lot.

Okay. It was a great trip, but it feels like I'm living in the past by blogging about it several days later. And, I've already moved on to being shocked at the surprise Papa left me yesterday.... more on that on Wednesday. Now it's time to sign off (it's almost time for the One Shining Moment montage I look forward to every year). See you Wednesday.