Saturday, December 28, 2013

What-What?! Week of December 29th

Our Christmas was pretty nice.  Unfortunately, the baby was sick and fussy for that part of the week, so that the husband and I got little sleep.  Other than that, we had a pretty good holiday; the big kids enjoyed seeing my extended family, as well as opening presents and leaving out cookies and milk for Santa (a first for this year).

Cooking:  Colcannon via Simply Recipes

colcannon-b.jpg
This year, my husband made a simple, classic Christmas dinner of roast turkey, Colcannon, and cranberry sauce.  The unusual element in this meal was the Colcannon, an Irish variation of mashed potatoes involving kale, cabbage or other vegetables.  I like this side in particular because it's a non-offensive way to get dark green veggies into the children (and the adults, for that matter).

Cooking:  Butterscotch Pie via Food.com

Jolean's Butterscotch Pie,  Pennsylvania Dutch Style. Photo by NoraMarie
A Southern pantry pie (that is, made from things you have in your pantry), butterscotch pie is a simple brown sugar pudding pie.  This recipe makes a thick, mildly sweet filling, perfect with a dollop of whipping cream atop it.  I was really surprised and pleased at the level of sweetness; rather than being almost sickly sweet like many other Southern pies, it was sweet enough to be dessert, but not so sweet as to leave your teeth aching.  This pie was easy to put together, though the 30-45 minutes spent stirring it is pretty mind numbing.  I passed the time by bugging my husband every two minutes or so ("Whatcha doin'?  Whatcha doin' now?").  I do think that I overcooked this recipe a bit --- I stirred it for about 35 minutes, and next time I'm only going to try 30 minutes.  It's difficult to tell what the final consistency will be when it's hot, so keep that in mind while you're cooking it.

News:  Do We Want an Erasable Internet? via WSJ.com

And now, something not about food. ;)
I understand what's attractive about an ephemeral internet -- that picture you took (post you wrote, flame wars participated in, etc.) while a foolish teenager won't come back to haunt you when you're an adult trying to get a job.  But would it really give you more privacy?  Rarely is anything ever truly deleted.  It's not like a paper journal, which you can throw away, set alight, or drop in a puddle, and have it be well and truly gone.  On the internet, and frequently on your computer, this is not so.  I think an ephemeral, erasable internet would give the impression of privacy, without actually being more private.  I'm not sure that's what we really need.

(imgs via simplyrecipes.com, food.com)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Art Thursday - December 26th


Santa and His Reindeer.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Weekly What-What?! Week of December 22nd

I haven't done much else this week.  I did publish a new article on Yahoo! Voices -- 3 Ways Businesses Can Use Behavioral Economics to Increase Sales and Profit.  So there's that.  I looked at graduate schools some; not sure about that yet.  We're not doing a Christmas tree this year, but we now have the stockings up.  You can see our (somewhat sad) setup here:

Music:  South Valley Symphony's Winter Romance

Last Saturday, the husband and I went to see the South Valley Symphony (SVS) perform, which we've done a few times in the past.  Since taking music history in school, I've developed a love of classical music, which my husband happily shares.  On Saturday, the SVS did its Winter Romance set, which was largely exciting and unusual (you can check out the full program here).  The more conventional pieces that they played, which were the Overture to A Merry Christmas by Wendel, and the Christmas Overture "Vom Himmel Hoch" by Klein, were well-orchestrated and beautiful, but it was truly the other pieces that made the evening.  My favorite piece was the Emperor Waltzes, op. 437 by Johann Strauss II; this piece begins with a lively march, and then moves into a fun, bouncy waltz.

The Suite from The Fantastic Toyshop, by Rossini and orchestrated by Respighi, was interesting partially for its history, but also partially for its form: unlike many other suites from ballets, this one had very abrupt, definite breaks between scenes.  The history of this piece is pretty hilarious: Rossini became tired of writing operas, so he wound up writing a series of piano pieces instead.  He titled the collected work "Sins of My Old Age", and the titles of the pieces themselves ranged from "The Harmless Prelude" to the most hysterical, "Gherkins".  A beautiful piano piece about gherkins.

Respighi took a selection of these pieces, orchestrated them, and arranged them into the story, The Fantastic Toyshop.  Which is also pretty ridiculous:  The story goes that the pride and joy of a toyshop is this pair of clockwork can-can dancers; one is bought by one family, while the other is bought by a different family.  The families pay the toymaker and leave, planning to return the next day to pick up the dolls.  That night, all the toys come alive, and decide that the dancers must stay together, so they hide them away in the shop.  The families come the next day to pick up the dolls, and when the toymaker cannot find them, the parents start beating the poor toymaker.  The toys come alive again, and kick the families out of the shop, firmly closing the door (with the wonderful BOOM! of a drum) behind them.  The toymaker and toys then celebrate.  The end.  That's it.  My husband dubbed it "every retailer worker's dream" -- being able to throw out unruly customers.  If you'd like to watch a ballet version, there's one in four parts on Youtube.

Sorry for the short post this week; I did do some reading, but haven't seen anything interesting enough to post here.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Art Thursday - December 19th

My Little Ponies -- The upper left hand side has Celestia and Luna, while the rest of the page shows the main six.
(I forgot to schedule time for this yesterday.  Oops!  I will do better in the future.)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

What-What?! Week of December 15th

Today is my middle child's birthday party.  He's turning four years old this coming week, and this, too makes me feel horrifically old.  We'll be having chocolate cupcakes, topped with this delicious chocolate chip frosting -- which almost has the texture and taste of fudge (be sure to use powdered sugar, though, you'll regret it if you don't).  It is so good!  I had about a million tastes as I was making it. :)

Ants, Ants, Ants!

The house is covered in ants.  In the bathroom, in the hallway, but most obnoxiously in the pantry.  I have cleared out my entire pantry, and it's not a small space; I have more pantry space than my mother does.  It was horrific.  I might have cried.  So for most of the week, I've had groceries all over the place, and I can't just leave them someplace easy to get to, because then the 18 month old will just be into them, squirting mustard all over and knowing all the packages open.  The husband and I were finally able to put groceries away on Thursday afternoon, after we got all the ants blocked off.  The upside to all this is that my pantry is very organized now.

Simple Wonton Soup

Last Sunday, I did make this really fantastic soup.  It's simple, but has all these delicious flavors, plus a bit of spice, and really fit the cold, cold weather we've had here.  Like most soups, it can easily be customized to whatever veggies you have on hand, and is surprisingly fast to make.  The wontons that I used are the frozen kind from Costco, but I bet some homemade ones would be absolutely divine.

Ingredients:
  • 1 medium Carrot, chopped
  • 1 Green Onion, chopped
  • 1 clove Garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon Butter or oil
  • 2 cups or 1 small can Chicken Broth (homemade is best, but use what you have)
  • 1/2 cup Water
  • 1/4 cup Soy Sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Padang Sauce (can omit or substitute with peanut butter if you don't like it spicy)
  • Dash of Crushed Red Pepper
  • Salt to taste
  • 10-12 Frozen Wontons
  • Other vegetables, as desired (cabbage, onion, bean sprouts, cilantro, etc.)
Saute vegetables and garlic in butter/oil until almost done.  Add chicken broth, water, soy sauce, Padang Sauce,  and crushed red pepper.  Bring to boil over high heat, then add wontons, and bring back to boil.  Cook wontons an additional 6 minutes, or until cooked all the way through.  Enjoy!

This makes two hearty servings, and could be stretched to four people pretty easily with some rice or other side.  If you plan on having leftovers, I suggest only cooking as many wontons as you want to eat right away; wontons left in the broth will continue to release starch, creating cloudiness.

News:  Flip Phones via The Wall Street Journal

Samsung Hennessy is official: a dual-screen flip-phone with a quad-core CPU

I thought that this was pretty hilarious, because I have a flip phone -- a simple little LG.  I like it.  My husband recently got a smartphone for work, which in some ways is quite convenient, for taking pictures and finding directions, and so on.  But, he has to charge it up all the time, and it's got a giant screen that can break, and real buttons are (in my opinion, of course) better in every way.  I think a flip smartphone has some real possibility, though the one they mention in the article still has an outside screen that can break (mind you, most flip phones do, but this ones outside screen is still huge).

(img via engadget.com)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Art Thursday - December 12th

 
"Jake and the Neverland Pirates".  Captain Hook's feathered hat (top left) is especially cute!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

What-What?! Week of December 8th

This week, my kids watched The Magic School Bus episode about computer programming.  It reminded me part of why I loved/love programming:  When you ask a computer to do something, it will do exactly as you asked it to do.  When you ask a fourth-grader to do something, sometimes they do exactly as you asked;  sometimes they argue with you about how or why they need to; sometimes they start to do it and get distracted; sometimes they tell you they will, only to wait until you're not looking, in which case they start lollygagging; and sometimes they think up the most ridiculous excuses why they don't have to (my favorite this week: "I can't do my homework, because my lips are chapped and it's too distracting").  One thing in common, though, is that both computers and children will do exactly as you've asked them to when you've told them to do the wrong thing.  Yes, I've had this conversation: "What are you doing?" "What you told me to" "...Oh, I see.  Oops.".  D'oh.  >.<

Literature:  I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen via Imgur

My husband came across this gem while browsing Reddit, which follows a bear on his journey to find his hat.  It is a pretty normal children's story, up until this page:

When the husband and I got to this page, we laughed out loud.  We've all had those "hey, WAIT!" moments, and I think the author conveyed it very well.  I like that this book leaves what happened between the bear and the rabbit up to the reader: Did the bear eat him?  Did they make up?  Was the rabbit sorry?  It could be a great discussion point about conflict and conflict resolution, while at the same time being silly enough to get kids interested.  Looking it up on Amazon, I found that it won the New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book in 2011.

Fixing that Gas Smell in a Subaru Legacy

Our car has occasionally had this odd gasoline smell when we turn on the air conditioner, but this last week, it's been significantly worse.  When we went looking online to see what the problem could be, we found that it's because of the weather; when it's especially cold, the rubber fuel lines contract and pull away from the steel clamps that fasten everything together, creating a gas leak that can be smelled inside and outside the car.  From the reading that we did, this is pretty common in Subarus, but can also happen to other makes as well.  Luckily, using a Philips head screwdriver and these photos, we were able to fix the problem in just a few minutes.  We only tightened the driver's side clamps, as seen in those photos above, as the passenger side ones (shown here) involve more effort to get to.

Reading:  Hohenzollern Castle via Time Travel Turtle


Browsing the internet, I found this nifty travel blog written by a man who quit his job in Australian broadcast journalism to travel the world.  Though I haven't read through all his posts yet (there's a lot), I did read about his trip to the Hohenzollern Castle in Southwest Germany, which was rebuilt in the 19th century.  The photographs of this are just fantastic.  It is so beautiful, the blue/gold color scheme that runs throughout the place reminds me of Cinderella's castle.  Definitely take the time to look at the pictures, even if you don't read the story that goes with it.
(img via imgur.com, Time Travel Turtle)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Art Thursday - December 5th

Sunset Shimmer and Twilight Sparkle, based on Saffron's new dolls.
(The kids have played with these nearly non-stop since we got them on Tuesday).

Sunday, December 1, 2013

What-What?! Week of December 1st

It's already December!  When on Earth did that happen?  I had this past week off from work (school's out on holiday), which was quite a nice break.

If you haven't noticed, I am now posting on Thursdays with one piece of my daughter's artwork.  I thought this would be great to both preserve memories and to encourage Saffron's creativity.

Food:  German Spaetzle via AllRecipes.com

On Monday, the husband and I made a German dinner, with schnitzel and spaetzle.  Spaetzle is a German noodle/dumpling hybrid, made out of a simple egg dough.  The spaetzle I made was "vom brett", which translates roughly as "off the board"; made without a spaetzle maker, just a wooden cutting board and a knife.  Here's a great (and impressive) video showing the technique for spaetzle vom brett, and while I didn't do nearly as well as that lady, it still came out well enough:



Rather than making plain spaetzle, I actually made kassespaetzle, which is a bit like the German version of macaroni and cheese; I layered my spaetzle with butter and shredded cheese, which melted and became absolutely delicious.  The spaetzle itself has a rustic, egg-y taste, and a soft, slightly-doughy texture.  If you haven't had it yet, then you need to try it; my children loved it, and it was a quick and easy side to make, taking no longer than regular noodles.
(A word from the wise on cleaning up after making spaetzle:  Whatever touches the dough needs to get rinsed off immediately.  I didn't do this, and had to spend a while scrubbing the bowl, board, knife, pot, and so on.)

Film:  Disney's Frozen Review and a Discussion of the PG Rating via Forbes


I read one article about Frozen before we went to see the movie, and while it didn't discuss the content of the film specifically, it did discuss the PG rating it had received... along with nearly every other children's movie in recent history.  In the films I grew up watching, characters were thrown off buildings, trampled to death, and so on.  These films were rating G.  Recent films have been rated PG for mild action and peril, which would obviously be in a movie, because what else is going to happen?  Beyond the ridiculousness of this, it makes it difficult for parents to decide which films to allow children to watch.  Some PG films are perfectly okay for my children, but many are not appropriate for young children at all.  At that point, why bother having ratings?

***MILD SPOILERS***

 
 
My daughter really enjoyed Frozen, which I guess is what counts in the end.  However, I have to admit to liking things as a child that, now as an adult, I can see are just terrible.  This wasn't terrible, but it had the potential to be a lot better than it was.  I went to this movie hoping for something similar to Sleeping Beauty, or Beauty and the Beast.  Instead, Frozen was more like Tangled, where the original story has been somewhat bungled in the effort to make it funny ("entertaining"?).  The comic relief character in this film, the snowman, did have some jokes that were genuinely clever, but it still didn't save him from being annoying.  Even my daughter didn't really care for him much (!!!).  There were two mild villains in the film, which confused the storyline a bit, and really they were all secondary to the main plot, the sisters' relationship struggles and the fallout from that.  While Hans was needed to move the story, the Duke of Weselton was completely superfluous; I think he was there only because someone became attached to the gags that could be played at his expense.  If they had removed those bits, then there could have been more time spent filling out the real villain -- maybe even make him actually frightening.

The other thing that bothered me about this film, is that when Elsa becomes the snow queen, she magically gains a slit on her skirt, high heels, and a hip-swaying gait.  While watching the film, I was honestly surprised.  Why does this character gaining her freedom have to be translated into looking sexy?  The point would still have been well made without those elements.  I think the best single indicator of the change was in her hair style.  Just that would have been fine.

Beyond that, I did very much like the scene in the lodge, because it was an actual dose of Scandinavian cultures -- a lutefisk joke(Norway), and the sauna (Finland).  But overall, I was disappointed.