I had planned to do a fancy pumpkin design this year, perhaps a pirate ship pattern, or a ghost, but John convinced me I should go old school instead.
Hope you get lots of candy and have a fun and spooky Halloween!
I had planned to do a fancy pumpkin design this year, perhaps a pirate ship pattern, or a ghost, but John convinced me I should go old school instead.
Hope you get lots of candy and have a fun and spooky Halloween!
Today kind of sucked on many levels, most of which I can't talk about because they are work related. The low point was probably when I started crying in my boss's office. To be clear, this was not my boss's fault. My boss is awesome. I just got overloaded and heard the wrong thing at the wrong time. I'd also like to state, for the record, that usually I adhere to a strict no crying at work policy. There is no crying in baseball (per Mr. Tom Hanks) and there is no crying at work.
Anyway, rather than dwell on the sheer overwhelming craptacularness of my day, I thought I'd try turning each negative into a positive.
So I sat in traffic for a ridiculously long amount of time this morning just because it was raining. I'm grateful I was sitting traffic in my new car, which I love!
So I had a difficult day at work. I'm grateful to have a job that I enjoy and that pays me well. I'm really grateful to have a wonderful team full of people who I like and who do a great job, even when I'm so busy I can barely give them the attention they deserve.
So I got stuck in traffic on my way home at 9 pm because there was an accident. I'm grateful that I left work when I did, because if I had left earlier, I might have been on the road right when the accident happened.
So I got home late. I'm grateful that my husband and doggie were here and happy to see me when I arrived.
So I had a lousy day. I'm grateful for the iPod touch I bought myself as a consolation prize.
When you look at it that way, my day wasn't so bad after all...and it's not all just because I bought myself a fancy new gadget.
How do you turn a bad day around?
I made these brownies this weekend as a little celebration of buying a new car. They are adapted from a recipe my mom gave me, which she cut out of the Washington Post at some point. They are more complicated than your average brownie, but they are totally worth it. I was a little worried about making the caramel topping because I am a terrible candy maker, but it was easier than I thought it would be.
Ultimate Brownie recipe
For the caramel topping:
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 ¼ cups sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
To make the caramel: Combine the cream and the salt in a small bowl and set aside.
In a medium saucepan (heavy, unlined pans are best) with a lid, combine the water and the corn syrup over low heat. Add the sugar to the center of the saucepan and gently mix to thoroughly moisten the sugar, taking care not to let sugar crystals adhere to the sides of the pan. Cover, bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook for 3 to 5 minutes , without stirring, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the liquid is clear.
Uncover and cook for 3 to 5 minutes more, without stirring, but gently swirling the pan occasionally, until the liquid is a pale golden color. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook about 1 to 3 minutes, continuing to swirl, until the caramel is a light amber and registers about 360 degrees on a candy or instant-read thermometer. Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the cream salt mixture to the center of the pot, making sure that your hand isn't directly over the pot (the mixture will bubble and seam vigorously P.S. they aren't kidding about that!). Stir with a whisk or spatula until the bubbling subsides. Add the butter and the vanilla extract, stirring to combine. Transfer to a medium microwaveable measuring cup or bowl and set aside.
¾ cup flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into one inch pieces
4 ounces sweet baking chocolate, chopped
2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
2 large eggs, at room temperature (I only just learned you can quickly bring eggs to room temperature for baking by placing them in a bowl of warm water. Duh.)
1 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Place your oven rack in the lower middle position and preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a 9 inch square baking pan with aluminum foil, allowing the extra foil to hang over the edges of the pan. Lightly grease the foil-lined pan with a baking spray.
Combine the flour and baking powder in a small bowl and set aside.
Melt the butter and the chopped baking chocolate and semi-sweet chocolate in a double boiler, stirring until slightly smooth; set aside to cool slightly.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the sugar, salt and vanilla extract until well combined. Add the melted chocolate mixture to the egg mixture. Add the flour mixture a little at a time and stir until almost combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.
To assemble, spread half of the brownie batter into the prepared baking pan. Drizzle about ¼ cup of the caramel over the brownie batter, spreading lightly with a spatula. Drop spoonfuls of the remaining brownie batter over the caramel layer and spread into the corners of the pan. Top with another ¼ cup or so of the caramel. Drag the tip of a knife through the layers of brownie and caramel to swirl them together. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes (possibly even slightly longer) until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached. Cool to room temperature on a wire rack, 1 to 2 hours.
If necessary, heat the remaining caramel - you should have about ¾ of a cup left - in the microwave on high for 45 to 60 seconds until it is pourable but still thick. Pour over the brownies and use a spatula to spread evenly. Refrigerate and the brownies, uncovered, until they are fully chilled, at least 2 hours, or overnight.
Once the brownies have chilled, you can pull them out of the pan and peel the foil off. The recipe says to cut the brownies after you chill them, but I chose to cut them before I poured the post baking layer of caramel on the top. That way, the caramel drizzles in between the cut pieces.
These brownies are a bit of work, but they are incredible. Enjoy!
Friday went exactly according to my plan. First I went to the Honda dealership to check out the Civic Hybrid. Honda and I did not get off to the greatest start, because I couldn't seem to find anyone to help me at first, but after I wandered the showroom for a couple of minutes I found Vincent, sales guy extraordinaire. I was pleasantly surprised when all he did was make a copy of my driver's license, walk me out to a Civic Hybrid and then hand me the keys, saying I could take the car out for a spin on my own. I decided that meant it would be a good idea to drive home and show the car to John, so that's what I did. It handled nicely, even in the rain, and was comfortable - familiar, since I already own a Civic - but spiffed up and more luxurious. And a Hybrid, of course. After John got a good look at the car, I hopped on the highway for a couple of miles to see how the car handled that, and then zipped back to the dealership. I sat there for a while talking to my new pal Vincent about colors and interior colors while someone looked at my car to assess the trade-in value. They totally tried to lowball me on the trade-in too.
Then it was on to Toyota, conveniently located across the parking lot and on the other side of the BP, where I met sales guy number two, Jeff. Jeff seemed a little confused. It took three tries for him to get the keys to a Prius that even came close to having the right "package" of options for me. Supposedly he's their number one guy, and I have to say, if even the salesmen are having trouble sorting out the packages, it means the packages are too complicated. John and I had done our research online though, so I knew what I wanted. Jeff was not about to hand me the keys and send me on my merry way, however. He was determined to show me each and every feature of the Prius, of which there are many. We went for a test drive together, and then I sat some more and discussed colors with Jeff while the Toyota guys looked at my car to give me a trade-in value. If I was going to get a Prius, I felt pretty strongly that it should be red, but they didn't have any red ones at the dealership. Toyota was fairer on the trade-in assesment, although that may have had something to do with me telling them what I wanted to get for the car, and them thinking they had to beat Honda's offer. Which they did.
And then I came home to eat a very late lunch (looking at cars is very time consuming!) and started making my lists of pros and cons for each car. Both guys had laid out pricing and financing options for me (Honda had a slightly better financing offer than what I had already arranged, but Toyota couldn't even come close) and the cars cost almost exactly the same. The Prius is a fancier car for the money, but I wasn't sure that was what I wanted. So back and forth and back and forth we went, debating the pluses and minuses for each car. It was a little harder for John, because he didn't get to see the Prius. Plus, he was of the opinion that I should wait until next weekend to buy the car because supposedly you get better deals on the last weekend of the month. I was of the opinion that I just wanted to get it done and not have to think about it any more.
And so it was that on Saturday morning I went in to Honda and told them that if they could match the offer that Toyota made me on the trade-in, I'd buy the Civic Hybrid. They tried to lowball me again, but I stood firm, and in the end, they gave me what I wanted. Go me! I resisted all attempts to sell me add-ons, warranties, accessories and simonizing packages, and drove off with my new car early Saturday afternoon. I love it! John loves it, and he has very high standards! And even better, I haven't gotten one single "...but if you'd just waited a few more days..." statements from him. It's so pretty. It is sort of a dark shimmery grey with a blue and off white interior. It has an in-dash CD player, which is new for me, and a jack for an MP3 player, should I ever get that iPod touch I lust after. The Hybrid displays are simple and easy to read, although I'm already getting obsessed with watching the MPG indicator as it changes over the course of driving around. It's a sedan, which is a change from my little coupe, but as I ran errands this morning, I found myself enjoying the extra room. Seamus thinks he's in a palace in the back seat now, and he loves the way he can perch on the armrest between the two front seats if he wants to poke his head up front to say hello.
Why did I choose the Honda? It was a pretty close race, actually. The fact that I've owned two Civics previously weighed pretty heavily in Honda's favor, but I know Toyota cars are quality too. My mom's got close to 300,000 miles on her Land Cruiser, my brother has a Toyota pickup, and my friend Becky has a Forerunner. They are all really nice. The Prius has all sorts of neat gadgets, but it also has a bunch of crap I just don't want. I don't need a backup camera. The touch screen radio/climate controls are neat and space age-y, but felt kind of unnecessary. The beeping (fucking beeping!) while the car is in reverse is just ridiculous. My buddy Jeff claimed it was because the engine is so quiet that people don't realize you are backing up, but that would only make sense if you could hear the noise outside the car. You can't. The whole Smart Key thing - you don't start a Prius with a key, you have the key in your pocket and the car knows it and allows you to start it up when you push the power button - is quite clever, and I can see how it could be handy, but it also feels like one more thing that could easily break or be hacked. I liked the braking gear feature quite a bit, but really all cars have something like that. It's just called a lower gear. I loved that it had a hatchback, and the whole cargo area was really well designed. That was the one thing that almost tipped me toward the Prius, because you can't fold down the seats in the Honda Hybrid. The Hybrid battery is stored between the back seat the trunk area. However, I don't haul around that much in the way of long/tall stuff.
It all came down to this: The Civic Hybrid is basically a normal car that gets really good gas mileage because it has the Hybrid engine and battery. The Prius is basically a whole new lifestyle. Yes, the Prius is cool - perhaps even cooler than my Honda. But all I really wanted was a car that I liked and that would be better environmentally, and I worried that I would get annoyed with a lot of the stuff on the Prius once the novelty wore off. Maybe when I get my next car, Prius. We'll talk again in a few years when John is ready to get his own Hybrid. For now, I've got to go work on my list of excuses to drive places. I love my new car!
P.S. Thanks to Becky for the title idea.
I have the day off today, which is lovely. I'm probably shooting myself in the foot because my team has an enormous deadline looming on the 29th, but as I said to my boss a couple of weeks ago when I asked for today off, I just need a day.
And what am I going to to do with this day? I'm going car shopping. It's one of those situations where I am excited about the notion of getting a new car, but dreading the notion of having to go to a car dealer to buy one. I'm prepared though. I've done my research, and I know what my car is worth, what the cars I like should cost, and what colors and options I want. I even have a loan lined up already at a very good rate, so unless I can get one of those 0% financing offers at the dealership, I should be all set.
John and I have worked out a multi-step plan that we think will work in our favor. I'm going to go test drive the cars and see what I like. I'll talk to the sales people, do a little pricing recon, but I won't buy anything. If any cars look promising, I'll come back with John and we'll back each other up. We're in no hurry, so we have the luxury of being prepared to walk away.
Wish us luck!
Not only do I get to have a job that I love - I also get to work with the greatest team in the world. Today was Bosses Day, and my team decided to surprise me and take me out to lunch. They know I like Indian food, so they found a great new Indian place near my office. If you're ever at the corner of 355 and Shady Grove Rd, I highly recommend the buffet at Minerva, which is tucked in to the shopping center with the Jerry's. Their palak paneer was tasty without being too spicy, their naan (a key test for any Indian restaurant in my mind) was delicious, and they had a potato and red pepper dish I'd never have before, but that was awesome. Conveniently, I really like all of the people on my team, which meant that we also had entertaining and fun conversation.
When I got back to my office, I discovered they had put a huge piñata of a donkey in my office. It's hard to explain the piñata joke here, but trust me, it was extremely funny, and very much appreciated. My team (well, teams to be precise) rule. I'm so lucky to work with such a wonderful group of people. Happy Bosses Day to all, and to all a good night!
I’ve found myself struggling for inspiration more than usual lately. I’ve been worried that this blog, much like barbershop, is in danger of growing stale. Being me, I sat down and made a list of “features” I could introduce to help me stay interested and interesting. One of the ideas I liked the most was writing more about the cooking and baking that I do. Not only would blogging about cooking give me something new to write about – it would also give me an excuse to try new recipes and experiments. So, I’m going to try to have one post per week be dedicated to cooking or baking.
To start, I’ll write about a new recipe I tried this weekend. It’s called Vegetarian Toad in the Hole, and it is very easy. Also, it’s easily adaptable for you meat eaters out there. I got the basic recipe from New Vegetarian Entertaining, by Jane Noraika, which is a great cookbook.
First, you make the batter.
¾ cup all-purpose flour
a pinch of sea salt
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon milk
8 vegetarian sausages
½ red bell pepper, cored and seeded, thinly sliced
safflower oil for cooking (I used olive oil)
Put the flour and the salt in a bowl. Make a well in the middle and add the beaten eggs. Beat vigorously, adding the milk as you go, until the mixture is smooth. Put in the refrigerator to rest for 30 minutes.
Take 8 vegetarian (or real) sausages – I used Boca Italian sausages – and cook them according to the package directions. When cooked, cut them in half crosswise.
Fill 8 cups of a muffin pan with 1/8 of an inch of oil. Heat in a preheated oven at 475 degrees for about ten minutes or until the pan and the oil are very hot. Spoon the batter in to the muffin cups, filling about halfway, then put some sausage pieces and red pepper slices in to the batter. The recipe calls for sprinkling thyme on top, but I think I might mix thyme in to the batter next time. I also think I might chop my sausage pieces up smaller.
Put the muffin tray(s) on a baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes until golden and well risen. The batter will puff up to surround the sausage and pepper slices.
Top with gravy and serve.
Gravy recipe (this is not the recipe used in New Vegetarian Entertaining. It is my own gravy recipe, and I prefer it)
Small amount of chopped onion and garlic
½ Tbs olive oil
2 cups vegetable broth
2 ½ tablespoons soy sauce
½ teaspoon dried thyme
2 Tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 3 Tablespoons of water
¼ cup milk
Sautee the onion and garlic in the olive oil until soft. They should be pretty finely chopped, so it will only take a couple of minutes. Add the vegetable broth and bring to a low boil. Stir in the soy sauce and thyme. Whisk in the cornstarch mixture and continue to stir for one minute, until thickened. Reduce heat and add milk, stirring until completely mixed in. If you want vegan gravy, soy milk will work as a substitute.
• It got cold enough this weekend for our first evening in front of the fireplace for the season. That fireplace is one of my favorite features of our house. It's like we go in to a special cocoon down in the basement, snuggled under blankets, watching the flames dance and listening to the fire pop, with the whole universe condensed down to John, me and Seamus.
• On Tuesday, while we were whiling away some time on the treadmills at the gym, I asked my friend Becky if she'd ever used one of those exercise balance balls. She had, and even went so far as to say she thought they were good for abs work, and it would be useful for me to get one. On Friday I got a coupon in the mail from Target for $5 off a balance ball/DVD kit. Coincidence? I can't say for sure...but I'd kind of like to believe Becky has that kind of power.
• I spent a bunch of time cleaning my car on Saturday, in preparation for looking at new cars and perhaps trading it in. Unfortunately, while working getting some duct tape residue off my dashboard, I seem to have actually scrubbed some of the color off the dashboard. With a sponge. Suddenly my car seems far less sturdy than I thought it was. Also annoying me: Car dealers in Frederick aren't open on Sundays. Why the hell not? I would think the weekend would be the best sales time.
• In other car news, John finally experienced the wobbly tire thing I've been saying was happening from time to time when I drove the car. We still don't know what the problem is, but at least now I know I'm not insane. It does make a wobbly noise, and it is unnerving.
• Apparently Seamus has picked up my anti-fundamentalist tendencies. Yesterday, he was perched on the couch in his favorite spot, head propped up on the arm rest, watching the world go by out our front window. A young man and woman went up our next door neighbor's walk, and Seamus started barking and growling. Seamus is not a barker, but he just would not stop. I kept telling him the people weren't even coming to our house, but then I saw them heading down our neighbor's walk, straight for us. Well, it turns out they were from this big fundamentalist church in Frederick - a church that I think is pretty darn pushy, because they send people in to our neighborhood just about every weekend to go door to door. They are really big on the whole "wife must submit to her husband" thing, along with being anti-gay, pro-life, and pretty much the complete opposite of everything I believe, and everything I think Christianity should be. Not that I can claim to be a Christian, but still, I think they've got it wrong. Anyway, by the time they got to our door, Seamus was beside himself over their presence. I explained as politely as possible while also restraining my raging beagle boy that we weren't interested, and they went away. Seamus, on the other hand, kept woofing to himself discontentedly a while longer. Later that day we left to go for our weekend hike, and as we came down the front steps, Seamus stopped and stared at the head of the street in his best suspicious, narrow-eyed, tail up, I-sense-a-threat manner. Sure enough, our visitors were there waiting for the church van to pick them up. I don't know what he hated about them so much, but I think it is hysterical.
Of course, if this was a novel, they'd secretly not be church members at all, but aliens or pod people or robots, and yet only dogs could tell. Real life is much more boring. Now, if I could just convince these people to stop coming by my house every weekend. Perhaps a tasteful sign with a little dancing devil on it - "Liberal. Socialist. Feminist. Most definitely going to hell. Don't even bother. P.S. Cute appearing beagle is hellhound."
• My laptop seems to be feeling sorry for all the trouble it has given me lately, which is nice, because for a while there I thought it was going to be reduced to being a very expensive DVD player. Of course, I have no idea what I did that might have solved the problem, which means that either I haven't solved the problem and it will recur, or I did solve the problem, but if it ever recurs, I won't know what to do to fix it again. Either way, I'm pretty much screwed, so let's just all hope my lovely laptop decides to keep behaving like a good computer.
Got any tips for dealing with discolored dashboards, wobbly tires, or persistent church recruiters?
Last night I wrote a post for this blog. It may not have been the best post I've ever written, but it covered a) my joy that John decided to give up the fight against Comcast, declaring "Our grand experiment has failed" after watching me try and fail to log in to my computer at work for an hour on stupid dialup. He may also have been influenced by losing three eBay auctions in a row because of the slow connection. I don't really care what his motivation was. I'm just glad to cast off the shackles of dial up.
Then I went on to write about how I was baking for Chocolate Day at work. And then I stepped away from the computer for a minute to go check on my cake, only to have my laptop freeze, followed by the blue screen of death. Since it was almost midnight, at that point I had two options: Go on a rampage, or shut down the machine and go to bed. I chose bed.
I didn't even try to start the laptop tonight. Sigh. I have got to figure out what the hell is going on with that machine. But not tonight.
I have spent the last hour and half fighting with my laptop to get it to start up properly. I finally gave up and decided to reformat it, and it won't let me. I keep getting some stupid error message about dismounting my volume or something like that, and it will not reformat! John finally had the idea to go in and disable everything on the start menu, because that is where it was hanging up every time. That's working for now. So, after an hour and a half of wrestling with Windows, the hideous dialup connection is killing me. I'm supposed to work from home tomorrow morning, and that is going to be a complete nightmare.
As frustrating as this is, I spent a bunch of time today reminding myself that I have a good life, even with multiple malfunctioning computers. I'm lucky enough to own more than one computer. I'm lucky enough to be in a position that I can threaten to buy a new laptop if I can't get this one working to my satisfaction. And for that matter, I'm lucky enough to be able to work from home from time to time, even if I have to use dialup. So, I'll try to quit bitching and be grateful.
I have had one lousy weekend. No, lousy's not a strong enough word. Let's go with shitty instead. That's closer to how I really feel.
Let's start with Enterprise Rent A Car, which, much like the rental car company in that Seinfeld episode, knows how to take a reservation, but does not know how to actually have the vehicle you have reserved ready and waiting for you. The admittedly very apologetic girl told me there'd been some sort of mix-up when I made my reservation online. Never mind that I had actually called that branch in person with a question and the guy told me he couldn't give me the rate I'd been quoted online and directed me to go ahead and make the reservation that way. And what I needed was a cargo van, which apparently was very hot commodity in this area on Saturday. Thank goodness for UHaul, who I had initially dismissed in favor of Enterprise because I found their website so incredibly annoying. No, I don't need boxes, storage, movers, a dolly or packing tape. Why do I have to tell you what I had for dinner last night so I can get a quote on a van rental? At least when I called them rather than going online (see next item) I could say that to a person and speed the process along, and unlike Enterprise, they not only took my reservation, they actually rented me a van.
Shortly following the Enterprise debacle, two of the three computers in my house decided to stop working. My laptop is still a little shaky. I'm not sure exactly what I did this time that got it started and running, so who knows if it will start again the next time I try. Goddamn Bill Gates and his crappy operating system. Seriously, all of this was because Windows just decided to stop cooperating on both machines, for completely different reasons. Two different manufacturers, two different versions of Windows, two different people using the computers on a regular basis, and they both just stopped working. Words fail me when I try to express how insanely frustrating that is.
Let's see, we treated ourselves to takeout both Friday and Saturday nights, and on both nights, the food was disappointing.
And then today rolled around. I really did not enjoy today. John and I had a fight, which we rarely do. We're a good fit for each other, and while we can argue over slight differences of opinion on the separation of church and state or music or interpretations of history for hours, we just don't fight. This one was even worse because it came out of nowhere. One second I was in the car congratulating myself on buying Dunkin Donuts but not getting any for myself (sadly, this virtuousness was later rendered completely useless by me scarfing down three cupcakes and a glass of wine, but this day sucked and my diabetes can bite me, just this once), and the next, whammo, we were in the middle of a fight.
Even better, we had to go see my mom immediately afterwards. She was at the opening of her stupid farmer's market that is outside, and yet does not allow pets - a fact she might have mentioned to me since she knows we take Seamus with us to most places where he might be welcome. There were a bunch of people who showed up with dogs in the ten minutes that I was there, so I think they are going to have to reconsider that rule. It's a dumb rule. But whatever, at that point I wasn't really interested in making polite conversation with her friends and fellow farmer's-market-starters anyway. And then we got to go hang out with John's sister and dad and pretend we weren't mad at each other while divvying up John's mom's possessions and loading up our UHaul rented van with stuff to go to the dump. Actually, that part went far better than I thought it would, even pre-fight. It was good to see John's dad, and my sister-in-law behaved herself, and she had my small, sweet new little niece with her. There was this one moment, as I sat there watching John cuddle with and nuzzle this tiny little baby, that I had to work very hard not to cry. It was simultaneously very touching and heartbreaking to see, given my current lame, barren state. And so we made it through our day, and came home to sit on the couch, in my case reading and eating cupcakes. I sure am glad this weekend is pretty much over.
I've always liked Apple products, all the way back to preferring the Apple IIes to the IBMs back in the low tech computer lab in middle school, but I never bought one. My roommate my sophomore year of college had a Mac, and I liked that. However, John never wanted to get one because they don't make the computer games he likes for Macs, so we never bought one as a desktop. When I was looking for a laptop a couple of years ago, I really wanted to get a Mac, but couldn't quite justify the extra expense, because they were a lot more than my little Toshiba.
Then the iPod came along, and just about everyone I knew bought one. I got why people liked them, but the decent sized ones seemed too expensive. When my mom bought my brother an iPod as a graduation gift, I hated it. I was supposed to load songs on to it for him from John's extensive music collection. For whatever reason, I had a really hard time getting it to do that. I kept deleting things by mistake. And I hated the click wheel. So, no iPod for me.
When the iPhone came out, of course I thought it looked cool. But I have still have and like my little sidekick. Plus, again, it was too expensive, and I wasn't interested in switching to AT&T anyway.
Well, that all changed when one of my colleagues brought in his new iPod Touch to work to show off to the rest of us. Holy crap that thing is cool, and wow do I want one! The video looks amazing. The interface is so much better. And the size of the touch is just right. They are still kind of expensive, but I think I might have to get one. Steve Jobs, you've caught me at last.