Archive for December 2008

New Culinary Explorations

December 30, 2008

For Christmas, Wheeler got me two new cookbooks. One is The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift; the other is Cooking Up a Storm: Recipes from the Big Easy.  Interestingly, Wheeler first heard about both of these books on NPR. (I guess this is a sign that he spends too much time in his car.)

They are both great books. I’ve never gotten engrossed in reading a cookbook, but that has happened on more than one occasion with both of these books. The Splendid Table is not just a cookbook; it includes stories, background, and opinions on recipes, food, ingredients, and society. It’s fascinating reading, and so far, judging from the four dishes I’ve made from it’s pages, the recipes are outstanding. Just in the past two nights, Wheeler and I have tried two completely new things – goat cheese and red chard. Both delicious. The homemade tomato soup I made last night was an eye-opening, and mouth-watering, experience for someone who’s soup history could be summed up with one word: Campbell’s.

I’ve not tried any of the recipes from Cooking Up a Storm yet, but that will change tomorrow when I attempt the “blue cheese puffs” for a New Year’s Eve party. This book is so unique:

After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, thousands of people lost their keepsakes and family treasures forever. As residents started to rebuild their lives, The Times-Picayune of New Orleans became a post-hurricane swapping place for old recipes that were washed away in the storm. The newspaper has compiled 250 of these delicious, authentic recipes along with the stories about how they came to be and who created them. Cooking Up a Storm includes the very best of classic and contemporary New Orleans cuisine, from seafood and meat to desserts and cocktails. But it also tells the story, recipe by recipe, of one of the great food cities in the world, and the determination of its citizens to preserve and safeguard their culinary legacy.

Every since we moved to Louisiana last year, I’ve wanted to expand my recipes to include more Cajun recipes. Now, I can.

While some of my friends have looked at me a little strange when I told them about my Christmas gifts (Not just one, but two cookbooks? Where those for your hubby or for you?!), I couldn’t have been more excited. I love to cook, but I had gotten in quite a culinary rut over the last few years. I’ve been as excited cooking dinner the last few nights as I was when I first learned to cook after Jed and I got married. It’s fun again!

Happy eating. And check out these books.


Finally, A New Van

December 30, 2008

I say finally because we were both sick of the Venture and because it took almost a week to get the deal I wanted on the new one.

As for the Venture, it was always a utilitarian vehicle. A minivan can’t be anything else. Even for a mini van, though, it was a hooptie: Ugly, old, raggedy, Chevy. Still, it got us across the country several times and I paid a pittance for it. So we drove it somewhat contentedly.

Then it started breaking down. The a/c last spring. Then a thermostat. The gas gauge stopped working and would have cost too much to be worth fixing, so we kept track of the miles between fillups. The driver’s side window motor barely had enough life to creak the window up. Up next, an alternator. The penultimate problem was the intake manifold gasket. Like I said here, we came thisclose to selling it after that one. But I didn’t.

Then on Christmas – mother f’ing Christmas! – the starter goes out. That was it. Not just one repair too many, but the moment it became personal. We managed to start it and drive home, and the whole way all I wanted to do was drive the stupid POS off the Texas Street Bridge into the Red River. Break down on Christmas after all the patience and loyalty I’d shown, ohh I was mad. I never even considered repairing it.

The next day I got to work. I found the van I wanted Friday, a 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan with 28k miles on it. It looks brand new, has a clean carfax, was a one owner vehicle (a rental) and is Chrysler certified, which gives us some extra warranty coverage beyond the 36/36k factory warranty. Chrysler redesigned the things this year, and its super nice. Integrated child safety seats. Stow and go rear seats. High tech stain resistant fabric. Two covered storage compartments in the floor in front of the second row seats. A really nice solid ride. My favorite part is the rear windows role down. As far as I know its the only minivan that does that.

The Blue Book and Edmunds values for it average about 16,000. After a four days of haggling and going home to think and playing one dealer against another, we got it for 12,800. Even better than the sale price is that they gave me 1,250 for my van, which won’t even start. I managed to get it to crank one last time, drove it to the dealer, put in in park in front of the building, went inside to find the salesman, and then told her: “Look at it good now, because once I kill it, it ain’t gonna start again.” And it didn’t. I parked it and that was that.

So now we’ve got a nifty semi-new ride in the driveway and I shouldn’t have to worry about buying another car for at least five or six more years. And I’ll be able to think about blogging and other stuff besides vans and mileage and prices and financing and down payments and all the other variables that I’ve obsessed over for the last several days.

I Hate Buying Cars

December 29, 2008

That’s why I haven’t posted for a few days, too preoccupied with wheein’ and dealin’. I have it down to two possibilities. Hopefully one of them will make me an offer I can’t refuse today. Then all will be normal again.

Merry Christmas

December 24, 2008

Though I’d really like to exterminate the whole season.


Thanks to Kathy for the pic.

Some Real Vampire Movies

December 24, 2008

After suffering through Twilight, I added the following vampire movies to my Blockbuster Online queue:

1. The Lost Boys

2. Nosferatu

3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer

4. Dracula

5. Blade

6. From Dusk Till Dawn

7. Underworld

I tried to add Vampiros Lesbos (“An erotic horror tale about a vixen vampiress seducing and killing women to appease her insatiable thirst for female blood”), too, but that one got vetoed. Not sure why. I thought it looked interesting.

Oh, and this isn’t a vampire movie, but when I realized Edward Cullen was like a hundred years old and still chasing high school girls, I was immediately reminded of Mathew McConaughey’s finest performance:

What’s The Point Of A Vacation If I Can’t Ride My Bike?

December 23, 2008

Grrrh. Two days into Christmas vacation, and no ride yet. I hadn’t planned on riding yesterday; it was a recovery day from the weekend rides. Today, though, was supposed to be a two or three hour ride with two other guys. Then I saw this:

Drivers are cautioned to drive slowly or not drive at all as a freezing rain advisory remains effect in Caddo and Bossier parishes. Currently, Shreveport police are working nearly two dozen minor accidents, according to 911 dispatchers.

Not wanting the next headline to involve cars sliding on icy roads into cyclists, we decided to stay home.

So here I sit, sipping my coffee and posting on my blog. All well and good, but I want to ride. (Especially after last night’s dinner: Lasagna, cheesecake, and, being Christmas time, lots of egg nog.) Maybe I can sneak in a mountain bike ride later this morning. Hope so, or I’ll be really grumpy by this afternoon.

Librarians On The Take?

December 23, 2008

I’d really like to know the reason for this:

Some not-so-cheery holiday news for staffers with the St. Tammany Parish Library: They can’t accept gifts from grateful patrons — not even small ones such as baked goods or houseplants.

That’s the word from the state Ethics Board, which recently responded to a query from library officials about the gifts.

An Ethics Board staff attorney says the gifts cannot be accepted.

Are librarians shaking down patrons? Keeping them last on the waiting list for a new book unless the patron brings the librarian a nice poinsettia? When I went to the library yesterday, could I have had my twenty cent fine erased if I brought a loaf of banana bread with me? If my kids colored a Christmas card for the librarian, would they get to sit closer to the front for story time?

Really, I’m having a hard time imagining what possible pro quo justifies banning the quid. Then, if there is a potential harm, I’m having an even harder time imagining it has ever occurred. Maybe I’m wrong, but the gifts are probably banned because someone says they are, not because there’s a reason for it.

Edward Cullen: Vampire, Child Predator, And Central Character In A Horrifically Bad Movie

December 22, 2008

I hated Twilight the book. In a word: Boring. Nothing happens for the first three hundred plus pages. Well, I suppose it’s supposed to be some kind of love story, but it has all the depth and originality of the average teen love letter. (Trust me, I know, as a teacher, I’ve confiscated more than a few.) On more than one occasion, I wanted to shout “I get it already, this is a dangerous relationship, she’s in love with a vampire, now how about a PLOT or something!” But for hundreds of pages, nothing happens, just endless cycles of “I love him, he’s dangerous, I love him anyway.” By the time something actually does happen – with about fifty pages of the book left – I was too beaten down to care.

After that experience, I would never have chosen to see the movie. Someone else in my house, though, loved the book. So we went to see the movie last night. I hoped they might adapt it a bit by introducing the bad vampires earlier and maybe adding some vampire fighting action. They did, but only for a few scenes. No where near enough to prevent the movie from being as boring and shallow as the book. Add some insane over-acting and unbelievably cheesy special effects and by about the one hour mark I was ready to gouge my eyes out. Only I figured I’d still be able to hear it all.

In fact, I spent the last part of the movie entertaining myself by trying to figure out if Edward Cullen is really a child predator. Edward looks like a seventeen year old high school student. He even attends the local high school. His girlfriend, Bella, is also a student at the high school. Supposedly, then, they are peers. But Edward is a vampire. He’s been one for almost a hundred years. His being a seventeen year old high school student is a charade. In fact, at his family’s home they have a piece of art made of all the vampire youths’ graduation caps. Edward says it’s “kind of a joke;” he’s been pretending to be a high school student for almost a century. Some joke, Edward, you’re about a hundred years old and you’re dating a sixteen year old. Paging Chris Hansen, and please bring some garlic and a wooden stake with you.

And then you can put the stake through my eyes if I ever cosider reading another of these books or seeing another of these movies.

Naomi’s First Cuss Word

December 21, 2008

Last night, the dog was in the back yard and unhappy about it. We were eating dinner, and the babies love to sneak the dog their food. To avoid that temptation we usually put the dog outside at meal times. Allie does not like that. Being  a very people friendly dog, some would say needy, even, she wants to be in with everyone, especially when food is involved. So, last night as we ate she sat in the middle of the yard staring at the back doors (which are French, so we can see her pathetic self all the while) whining and barking.

Tired of listening to her, I went out and told her to shut up or I was going to beat her. She laid down, whimpered a bit, and seemed to get the message. I went back inside. No sooner had I sat down than Allied started barking again. Now truly aggravated, I said “Dammit, Dog” and headed for the door ready to lay down the law.

Only before I could reach the door, I heard my little two year old daughter do as she does with everything we say, and parrott my exact words in her sweet voice: “Dammit, Dog.”

Needless to say, as Mommy was also at the table, it was I, and not the dog, who got beat.

Saturday Morning Cyclocross

December 20, 2008

That’s what I looked like by the time I got home today. My road bike has never been muddier. Even my mountain bike rarely gets so dirty. It’ll probably take me half an hour to clean it this afternoon.

imgp1522Normally my road bike stays fairly clean. It should. Dirt is for mountain bikes. Roadies and road bikes are supposed to be civilized. And, usually, to keep it nice and shiny, I  only have to wipe off my road bike with a dry cloth every few rides. Even after a ride on wet roads last Thursday, my bike looked good. Today, though, was the perfect storm of dirty bike conditions.

To start, the roads were wet. They’ve been wet for the last week. The sun appeared for a bit yesterday and dried the roads, but then it rained last night, and this morning was overcast and humid for the first half of the ride, which meant wet roads. Wet roads do to a bike the same thing they do to a car. All the grime on the road gets picked up by the water and stuck to the bike, meaning at best you’ll have a nice haze over the parts most exposed to the water. Today was not an “at best” day. Like I said, it was a perfect storm.

The second ingredient was mud. Like I said, mud is for the neanderthals mountain bikers, pavement is for latte sipping sissies roadies. When we rode on Thursday night, we stayed in town, where the roads are relatively clean. Hence, little mess afterwards despite the wet pavement. Saturday rides, though, go out into the country. Used to be, those roads were in good shape and free of debris and dirt. That was pre-Hayensville shale. Now large sections of Ellerbe Road, 175, Highway 1 and many others might as well be dirt. Not so much because the pavement has degraded, but because of all the ginormous

imgp1524 trucks dragging mud from the worksites onto  the road. Combine all that dirt with a little rain – like we had last night – and the road surface becomes a muddy mess. Just like anything that rides on it will soon be.

Next, I was with a decent group doing a decent pace. By yourself, all you have to worry about is the muck you spray up from you own bike. Your front tire will throw stuff on the downtube, the rear will get your backside. Other than that, though, you ought to be o.k. With the group, you get all the stuff from your bike and a soaking from everyone else’s overspray. So, not only was my bike a a nice reddish-brown color, but I had mud all over my arms, legs, face, helmet and everything else.

Finally, and similar to the previous factor, only to a much greater degree, those trucks that made the road look like it could host a tractor pull event? Every time one passes you on a day like today, you take a mud shower. You know the driver enjoys it, too. Revenge on all those homo-looking cyclists who hog the road and make his trip 30 seconds longer.

Rain, dirt, other riders, rednecks in dump trucks: they combined to desecrate my usually shiny ride. And me, too. Enough that I had to hose myself off in the yard prior to showering; a pre-shower to prevent drain clogs and the need to clean the tub after showering.

Oh well, it was worth it. The weather was warm. The group was fun. The pace and distance were perfect. And just like washing your car makes it faster 0-60, when I get my bike clean, I’ll be setting the pace on the next group ride.