Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I Watch A Lot of Movies, I Guess

SUPPOSEDLY if you've seen over 85 films, you have no life. I've marked the ones I've seen. There are 239 films on this list. Copy this list, go to your own blog/Facebook account, paste this as a note. Then, put x's next to the films you've seen, add them up, changing the header adding your number. I've seen 153 of the films listed (plus many more that aren't--remember Blademaster, Kev?). Do you have more of a life than I?

(x) Rocky Horror Picture Show
(x) Grease
(x) Pirates of the Caribbean
(x) Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest
( ) Boondock Saints
(x) Fight Club (I read the book)
(x) Starsky and Hutch
(x) Neverending Story
(x) Blazing Saddles
(x) Airplane

(x) The Princess Bride
( ) Anchorman
(x) Napoleon Dynamite
(x) Labyrinth
( ) Saw
( ) Saw II
( ) White Noise
( ) White Oleander
( ) Anger Management
(x) 50 First Dates
(x) The Princess Diaries
( ) The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement
Total so far: 14

( ) Scream
( ) Scream 2
( ) Scream 3
(x) Scary Movie
( ) Scary Movie 3
( ) Scary Movie 4
(x) American Pie
( ) American Pie 2
( ) American Wedding
( ) American Pie Band Camp
Total so far: 16

(x) Harry Potter 1
(x) Harry Potter 2
(x) Harry Potter 3
(x) Harry Potter 4
( ) Resident Evil 1
( ) Resident Evil 2
(x) The Wedding Singer
( ) Little Black Book
(x) The Village
(x) Lilo & Stitch
Total so far: 23

(x) Finding Nemo
( ) Finding Neverland
(x) Signs
(x) The Grinch
( ) Texas Chainsaw Massacre
( ) Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning
(x) White Chicks
( ) Butterfly Effect
(x) 13 Going on 30
(x) I, Robot
(x) Robots
Total so far: 30

(x) Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
( ) Universal Soldier
(x) Lemony Snicket: A Series Of Unfortunate Events
( ) Along Came Polly
(x) Deep Impact
(x) KingPin
(x) Never Been Kissed
(x) Meet The Parents
( ) Meet the Fockers
() Eight Crazy Nights
(x) Joe Dirt
Total so far: 37

(x) A Cinderella Story
(x) The Terminal
( ) The Lizzie McGuire Movie
( ) Passport to Paris
(x) Dumb & Dumber
(x) Dumber & Dumberer
( ) Final Destination
( ) Final Destination 2
( ) Final Destination 3
(x) Halloween
(x) The Ring
( ) The Ring 2
( ) Surviving x-MAS
(x) Flubber
Total so far: 44

(x) Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle
(x) Practical Magic
(x) Chicago
( ) Ghost Ship
( ) From Hell
(x) Hellboy
( ) Secret Window
(x) I Am Sam
( ) The Whole Nine Yards
( ) The Whole Ten Yards
Total so far: 49

(x) The Day After Tomorrow
(x) Child's Play
( ) Seed of Chucky
( ) Bride of Chucky
(x) Ten Things I Hate About You
( ) Just Married
( ) Gothika
(x) Nightmare on Elm Street
(x) Sixteen Candles
(x) Remember the Titans
( ) Coach Carter
( ) The Grudge
( ) The Grudge 2
(x) The Mask
( ) Son Of The Mask
Total so far: 56

( ) Bad Boys
( ) Bad Boys 2
( ) Joy Ride
( ) Lucky Number Slevin
(x) Ocean's Eleven
(x) Ocean's Twelve
(x) Bourne Identity
(x) Bourne Supremacy
( ) Lone Star
( ) Bedazzled
(x) Predator I
( ) Predator II
( ) The Fog
(x) Ice Age
(x) Ice Age 2: The Meltdown
( ) Curious George
Total so far: 63

(x) Independence Day
(x) Cujo
( ) A Bronx Tale
( ) Darkness Falls
(x) Christine
(x) ET
( ) Children of the Corn
( ) My Boss's Daughter
(x) Maid in Manhattan
( ) War of the Worlds
(x) Rush Hour
(x) Rush Hour 2
Total so far: 70

( ) Best Bet
(x) How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
(x) She's All That
( ) Calendar Girls
( ) Sideways
(x) Mars Attacks
( ) Event Horizon
(x) Ever After
(x) Wizard of Oz
(x) Forrest Gump
(x) Big Trouble in Little China
(x) The Terminator
(x) The Terminator 2
(x) The Terminator 3
Total so far: 80

(x) x-Men
(x) x-2
(x) x-3
(x) Spider-Man
(x) Spider-Man 2
(x) Sky High
( ) Jeepers Creepers
( ) Jeepers Creepers 2
(x) Catch Me If You Can
(x) The Little Mermaid
(x) Freaky Friday
( ) Reign of Fire
(x) The Skulls
(x) Cruel Intentions
( ) Cruel Intentions 2
( ) The Hot Chick
(x) Shrek
(x) Shrek 2
Total so far: 93

( ) Swimfan
(x) Miracle on 34th street
( ) Old School
(x) The Notebook
(x) K-Pax
(x) Krippendorf's Tribe
(x) A Walk to Remember
( ) Ice Castles
( ) Boogeyman
( ) The 40-year-old Virgin
Total so far: 98

(x) Lord of the Rings Fellowship of the Ring
(x) Lord of the Rings The Two Towers
(x) Lord of the Rings Return Of the King
(x) Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
(x) Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
(x) Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Total so far: 104

( ) Baseketball
( ) Hostel
( ) Waiting for Guffman
( ) House of 1000 Corpses
( ) Devil's Rejects
(x) Elf
(x) Highlander
( ) Mothman Prophecies
( ) American History x
( ) Three
Total so Far: 106

( ) The Jacket
( ) Kung Fu Hustle
( ) Shaolin Soccer
( ) Night Watch
(x) Monsters Inc.
(x) Titanic
(x) Monty Python and the Holy Grail
(x) Shaun Of the Dead
( ) Willard
Total so far: 110

( ) High Tension
( ) Club Dread
(x) Hulk
(x) Dawn Of the Dead
(x) Hook
(x) Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe
( ) 28 days later
( ) Orgazmo
( ) Phantasm
(x) Waterworld
Total so far: 115

( ) Kill Bill vol 1
( ) Kill Bill vol 2
( ) Mortal Kombat
( ) Wolf Creek
( ) Kingdom of Heaven
( ) the Hills Have Eyes
( ) I Spit on Your Grave aka the Day of the Woman
( ) Re-Animator
(x) Army of Darkness
Total so far: 116

(x) Star Wars Ep. I The Phantom Menace
(x) Star Wars Ep. II Attack of the Clones
(x) Star Wars Ep. III Revenge of the Sith
(x) Star Wars Ep. IV A New Hope
(x) Star Wars Ep. V The Empire Strikes Back
(x) Star Wars Ep. VI Return of the Jedi
( ) Ewoks Caravan Of Courage
( ) Ewoks The Battle For Endor
Total so far: 122

(x) The Matrix
(x) The Matrix Reloaded
( ) The Matrix Revolutions
( ) Animatrix
( ) Evil Dead
( ) Evil Dead 2
( ) Team America: World Police
( ) Red Dragon
(x) Silence of the Lambs
( ) Hannibal

Total 135

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

16 "interesting" things about me

I was tagged by an...I was going to say "old High School friend," which would only be 3/4 correct since we're not a friend I met back in High School to post 16 "interesting" things about myself. The only problem is, I'm not so sure I'm a great judge of what's interesting. So with that in mind, here are 16 things that you may or may not find interesting about me:

1. I played Gonzorgo, the pirate with the parrot, in the musical Babes in Toyland at a children's theater in PA shortly after High School. I loved it, and I still have the parrot. (You can see it on my Facebook profile pic.)

2. I love to camp. I love, love love to camp. But between chronically cold toes and an inability to sleep through loud noises (e.g. crickets chirping, trucks barreling down the adjacent highway, Scouts making flatulent noises and giggling about it) I almost never actually get to sleep when camping. Even when I bring ear plugs, I just can't sleep for more than a half-hour or so at a time.

3. I really enjoy working with Cub Scouts, moreso than I ever thought. I'm the leader for a group of Tiger Cubs (1st graders) and I always have a lot of fun.

4. When sufficiently motivated, I can be highly organized. There was a winter backpacking trip two years ago that I spent months organizing. I had map routes, GPS waypoints, 3 potential campsites depending on how far we got the first name it, I had a plan for it.

5. I coordinated an auction/fundraiser for two of my dear friends who were very much in love, so that they could meet one another face to face. We raised over $1000 dollars (enough to get him to Europe and both of them back) among a small group of friends--in large part due to the selfless monetary and material donations of a bunch of Internet friends who had mostly never met each other. We've lost a few from our circle, and gained one or two, but I think there'll always be that special bond between all of us who worked together on that common goal.

(There was also a highly charged "feline" bailout that just about did a few of us in!)

And now I'm waxing all nostalgic. *Ahem* On with the boring stuff. I mean, interesting stuff.

6. Since the last time I got meme tagged, I taught myself the harmonica.

7. (Geez! Not even halfway there yet?) I'm rather ADD. There was this one time in school, where my teacher...what was his name? Oh! That reminds me! I need to get a new name tag at work soon. Wait. What was I saying?

8. An unfortunate skateboarding accident shortly before I turned 16 put a rather dramatic end to my pole vaulting career. That really had me down for a while. Heh.

9. I never reached Eagle Scout. Some of you who know me might be shocked to hear that, but that was the time when my father was very sick and I think my parents had bigger things on their mind than motivating me to advance in Scouts.

10. Nobody I know can tie a greater variety of knots than I can AND name their uses. Bowline, two half hitches, square knot, sheepshank, name it. Rob Wilson may come close.

11. (Am I still really working on this list?) I can wiggle my ears, flare my nostrils, and wiggle my eyebrows all at the same time.

12. Dessert is my favorite food group. Breakfast is my second favorite. Dessert is also my third.

13. If I were independently wealthy, I'd probably devote a lot more time to volunteering in Scouting, and I'd also probably build wooden things (like Adirondack chairs and such). Anyone care to make donations to the "Brig Needs To Get Rich" fund? Maybe I'll hold a telethon.

14. My wife is an exact, prefect complement of me. She doesn't mind taking care of many of the things I despise doing (finances!), while I take of the things where he confidence is lacking (fixing things, like cars and computers!). I provide many of the project ideas, and the enthusiasm to get them started, while she provides the endurance to finish them up.

BC <3>15. With my recent purchase of a convertible--and what a joy it is to drive!--I think I've ticked off every major thing on my list of "things I want to do before I die."

Scuba dive? Check.
Drive a motorcycle? Check.
Own a convertible? Check.
Skydive? Check.
Bungee jump? Check.
Snow ski? Check.
Sing in the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City (home of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir)? Check. (And at a General Conference, no less!)
Sing at Disney World? Check.
Get married to the woman of my dreams? Check.
Get a Master's Degree? Check. (MSCIS from UoP Online)

I guess the last few I have to wait on: see my sons achieve Eagle Scout, and see them off on missions for the church.

16. I am a rather decent shot at rifle, shotgun, and archery, especially for someone who doesn't shoot regularly. (Mostly just at summer camp.)

Well there they are, my 16 things. Now I tag the following 16 people to go through the same laborious exercise I went through! (Isn't that like when a mother wishes that her son has kids just like him when he's a dad?)

Robb G.
Brooke W.
Grant P.
Lulu (who didn't complete my previous tagging!)
Katrina H.
Liz H.
Sheldon C.
Kim W.
Shauna E.
Sarey-Loo Who
Shani E.
Chris "Pete" P.
Julene C.
Marianne K.
Melanie M.
Linda W.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Chicken Milano

I stumbled across this recipe somewhere, and my family is glad that I did. We all love it! This is a relatively quick recipe, but it requires some pretty complex multitasking because you've got to cook pretty much everything at the same time, because one part of the recipe relies on another. So try it, but you might want to have two of you the first time you try it.

Chicken Milano
If you are using frozen chicken breasts, thaw them thoroughly and butterfly them so they'll cook more quickly. I also like to have everything chopped, measured, and ready to go before I start cooking because it can get a bit hectic.

1 Tbsp butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1 cup chicken broth, divided
1 cup heavy cream
2 chicken breasts, butterflied
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil
8 oz. dry fettuccine pasta

In a large saucepan over low heat, melt butter; add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and 3/4 cup of the chicken broth; increase to medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes or until the tomatoes are tender. Add the cream and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Simmer over medium heat until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

While the sauce is simmering, lightly coat the chicken with 2 Tbsp of olive oil, then sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. In a large skillet (not non-stick!) over medium heat, saute the chicken. Cook chicken thoroughly, about 4 minutes per side or until meat is no longer pink inside. Transfer to a board; cover and keep warm. Discard the fat from the skillet.

In the same skillet, over medium heat, bring 1/4 cup chicken broth to a boil stirring the pan juices. Reduce slightly and add to the cream sauce; stir in basil and adjust seasonings to taste.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add fettuccine and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain, transfer to a bowl, and toss with 3 to 4 tablespoons of the sauce.

Cut each chicken breast into 2 to 3 diagonal slices. Reheat the sauce gently if needed. Transfer the pasta to serving plates; top with chicken and coat with the cream sauce; serve.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Spence's Scarf

For some silly reason, I mentioned to Spence a month or so ago that I'd make him a scarf. And any comment stated to a 6 year old, even a passing idea, is as good as a promise. That night, he rummaged through my yarn bag and came up with a skein of bright red yarn that he wanted for a scarf. And he wanted me to start on it right away.

I have made a few hats on my hoop loom, and a tube scarf too. This time, I figured I'd mix things up a bit and make a flat-panel scarf using knits and purls, but on my hoop loom. Isela Phelps has some great instructional videos on "needleless knitting" with a hoop loom at I followed her instructions and used the garter stitch for the first 8-ish rows, then switched to the stockinette stitch for the rest of the scarf, then closed with the garter stitch for the last 8-ish rows. What I didn't do was a border of three stitches of the garter stitch on each side of each row, which would have prevented the scarf edges from rolling. Oh well. You live and you learn, right?
So slowly but surely, I worked on the scarf over the holiday break, and hit the right length just as I ran out of yarn. I might consider making another scarf this way, but if I do I'll certainly take her advice about the garter stitch borders. One of these days though, I'd like to try my hand at making some woolen socks.

Crafting + Camping = DIY Gear

I've wanted a certain non-essential piece of camping gear for a while now: a sleeping bag liner. You can buy them for as little as $30, or for as much as you have cash to spend. They usually come in cotton, fleece, silk (or "silky" material), each one being good depending on what you want to do with it. I wanted something to keep the inside of my bag clean (liners are more washable than sleeping bags), to add a bit of warmth to my bag, and to have a lightweight bag for summer camping.

Shortly before Christmas, I found fleece blankets on sale for about $3.50 each. I don't know how much a comparable amount of fleece fabric would cost, but that seemed a pretty fair deal to me. So I picked up two. And I also picked up a 36" double-zip zipper.

I had a design in mind similar to this one, which I referred to for inspiration. Instead of sewing straight across the feet, I sewed a circle onto the feet to make a nice, big foot box, because I have big feet and they don't like being too crowded when I sleep.

All in all, it was pretty simple sewing except for the zipper. We may have a zipper foot around here somewhere, which would have made things much easier, but I was too lazy to go hunting for it. Still, I have had zero experience with zippers, and they're not the easiest things to navigate, as I understand it. But the zipper zips, which is what I was going for. We'll see how it holds up to regular use.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas Songs

I sing. I've been singing for a very long time, in many different choirs at many different times. I love to sing, but I haven't done much singing for the last few years--I've been pretty busy with other things.

Last year, I sang O Holy Night at my Christmas church service. It was very well received, so I figured I'd repeat my performance again this year. When I told my mother what I'd be singing, she said, "Oh, I'd love to hear that!" When I figured out that my camera has a voice-only recording feature, I thought that I'd try to capture the performance for her. It's not a great recording, but it's better than nothing.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cauliflower Update


In response to my request for assistance with my Cauliflower and Cheese dilemma, my dear old mother spilled the beans:

Apparently, my dad would make a simple white sauce (butter, flour, and milk) and then melt in chunks of cheddar. Next time I make this, I'll try draining the cauliflower well after steaming it, and using a cheesy white sauce. Stand by for the results!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Cauliflower Experts Needed!

One of my holiday must-haves is cauliflower with cheese sauce. I remember my dad making it when I was young, but he passed away many years ago before I was instructed in the art of the cauliflower cheese sauce. I can steam a head of cauliflower--that's not the tough part. I can melt Velveeta and add a little milk to thin it--not too tough either. But whenever I make a Velveeta-based cheese sauce...alas, its charm is fleeting. For after a few minutes, the water trapped in the cauliflower from the steaming process thins the cheese sauce to a milk-like consistency. Eww.

So what am I doing wrong? Is there a special way to prepare the cauliflower? A special recipe for cheese sauce? A proven method for bringing the two together without the cheese getting thick and developing that nasty skin while still in the serving dish? If there are any cauliflower Jedis who read this blog, or if either of my readers (*grin*) know of such a person, please enlighten me.

Candy Canes

For years, I had taken the manufacture of candy canes for granted...until I met the girl who would be my wife. See, her family has a tradition of making candy during the holidays, which includes that most perplexing of sugary oddities: the candy cane. And the most perplexing of questions surrounding the candy cane--for me at least--was "how do they make the stripe?"

That first holiday that we were together--no, it must have been the second--I was let in on the family secret. Yes, I was ushered in by cousin Michael to the manufacture of candy canes. I think it's a fun recipe, and doesn't take a whole lot of special or expensive ingredients, so give it a shot! You might have a new family tradition of your own!

And here's the family secret, made not so secret:

Candy Canes
Warning: You do not want to even attempt this recipe without at least four non-child people. It involves handling hot things with quasi-bare hands, so it might be good for them to not be whiny either.

6 cups granulated sugar
3 cups cold water
2 Tbsp white Karo syrup or honey
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp cream of tartar
flavoring as desired
food coloring

Mix ingredients (except cream of tartar, flavoring, and food coloring) in a 6 to 7 quart deep saucepan. After sugar is dissolved, do not stir. Bring to a rolling boil and wash down the crystals, (Brig's note: You can also clamp on the lid for at least 3 minutes, since evaporation and condensation will help wash the sugar crystals down the sides too,) then add the cream of tartar. Boil rapidly until it reaches the hard crack stage.

Pour most of it quickly onto a greased dripper or marble slab. Pour the rest into a small metal dish. DO NOT MOVE THE MIXTURE UNTIL PARTLY COOL. Turn the edges in (Brig's note: We use a clean metal putty knife dedicated to candy canes for this) and add the flavoring (2 teaspoons for the marble slab, 1 teaspoon in the small dish). Also, add food coloring to the small dish. Pull the candy in the large dripper until creamy, then form into a ball. (Brig's note: This is just like pulling taffy. You may want to grease up your hands lightly with butter to prevent the hot mixture from sticking to your hands)

Wrap the colored stripe from the small bowl around the middle of the ball. Stretch and roll, twisting to form the traditional stripe on the stick. If it tends to stick to the surface, use a very small amount of flour. Cut into several lengths as necessary. When the desired diameter is achieved, cut and form into canes. If it gets too cold to work, put on a wooden breadboard in a warm oven to soften.

Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

It's worse than that...he's dead, Jim!

I had a lot to do right before the Thanksgiving holiday, especially concerning planning for my family's trip to Syracuse. So much to do, in fact, that I forgot to do one important thing: refrigerate my AFB starter. So when I got back...and I'm so ashamed to say it...I found my starter had shuffled off this mortal coil. It's pushing up daisies. It's bereft of life. It freakin' snuffed it.*

Rest in peace, Amish Friendship Bread Starter. Maybe I'll start up another some day...but not today.

*Originally a reference to a dead parrot, courtesy of Monty Python.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Lions and Tigers and Chairs! Oh my!

Okay, so there aren't any lions or tigers, but I have been working on chairs lately. Way back in 2000, Kara and I received a dining room set from a family member who was going to upgrade. The chairs were gucked up with that nasty black waxy stuff that gets on chairs after they rach a certain know that stuff? The finish was peeling off the table, too. It was a pretty decent set, it was just old.

Well Kara and I spent weeks stripping down all the chairs (chemical stripper, not sandpaper), and restaining and polyurethaning them--4 chairs, 2 arm chairs, a table, and 2 leaves. As it turned out, they were made from solid walnut and looked great after all our efforts. But time has passed and table's finish is chipped in places and the chairs have gotten rather rickety and squeaky. We got an estimate on repairing the chairs at just over $100 per chair; however, we're too cheap for that.

I took one of the armchairs where both arms had fallen off, and knocked the thing completely apart. It was held together with dowel pins, but they'd worked themselves so loose that it didn't take much work with a mallet to get them apart. Once they were apart, I drilled pocket screw holes with a new Kreg Pocket Hole Jig (this has nothing to do with dancing in my pants pockets!) that I purchased for this very purpose. I figured that replacing the dowels would be good, but pocket screws would make these chairs bombproof. On the arms, I ended up using epoxy to fill in the voids and redrilling holes for dowels.

I also bought new foam for the cushions. The fabric was washed thoroughly (in the washing machine) and restapled to the seat form, then screwed back onto the newly glued-and-screwed chair. Voila! Like-new chairs for a few bucks each!

So far, I've done 5 out of 6 chairs which is what we need right now with Mike deciding recently that he'd like to sit at the table in a "regular" chair too. The last soon as I get over this cold, I may tackle it.

The most intricate part of the chair rebuilds was rebuilding spindles. Over time, some of the spindles that go from the front legs to the back legs were broken, and I couldn't imagine a way to buy a replacement. So I made them. If I had a lathe, I would have turned exact duplicates of the originals. But I don't. I do have a spokeshave though, which I made with my brother in law Tom a few years back, and that'd do in a pinch. I bought a 3/4" poplar dowel from my local Lowe's, and shaved the dowel down just like I was whittling. And I'd say I did a pretty fine job, if'n I do say so m'self!

Unfortunately, I was only able to weasel one new tool out of this job; the Kreg Pocket Hole Jig. But that's better than nothing, right? Plus, I saved us a few hundred dollars over fixing or replacing these chairs.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Almost Pumpkin Pie

It's that time of year again...that dreaded time of year where everyone goes on and on about pumpkin pie. How they love pumpkin pie. How they adore pumpkin pie. Well I'm not a fan of pumpkin pie, and I know that at least one other person on this earth is with me on this: Kara. So up until a few years ago, pumpkin comestibles were conspicuously absent from our Thanksgiving spread.

Then, one year, a coworker brought in a recipe his wife made called "Almost Pumpkin Pie." Essentially, it's a pumpkin dump cake. And I love, love, loved it. I was singing its praises to Kara when I got home that evening, but she was skeptical. Then I made some. Now she's hooked. In fact, it's our new Thanksgiving tradition. Here's the recipe:

Almost Pumpkin Pie
1 can (16oz) pumpkin puree
4 eggs
1 can (5 oz) evaporated milk
1 1/2 c sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 box (18.5 oz) yellow cake mix
2 sticks butter, melted
chopped walnuts (optional but highly recommended)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine pumpkin, eggs, evaporated milk, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg in a bowl; mix well. Pour the mixture into a 9x13 inch baking dish. Sprinkle the dry cake evenly over the pumpkin mixture. Drizzle the butter on top and sprinkle with nuts.

Bake for 50 minutes. Serve chilled with whipped cream.

From the A Slice of Kentucky cookbook.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Knitster

You may have caught my award winning* post referring to knitting hats; those hats were knit on hoop looms, which I consider to be like the training wheels of knitting. Now don't get me wrong...there's nothing wrong with training wheels. In fact, they are a godsend for people who need them! And when it comes to can seem rather overwhelming to get started so training wheels can be a good thing. But there comes a point where the adventurous and/or determined souls need to ride on their own two knitting needles, so to speak.

Shortly before Mike was born (about 2 years ago), I resolved to knit him booties and a hat. I hadn't ever knitted with needles before, but I wasn't going to let that stop me. In fact, I was going to jump right to knitting with five needles. In the round. So I found a sock pattern and had a go. They turned out not so bad, although Mike had such big feet when he was born that they only barely fit him. The hat was a bit more complex; it had three colors of yarn, and several different stitch patterns, but with the practice I obtained on the socks, the hatwork wasn't as rough.

I was still knitting the hat while Kara was in labor and finished just before Mike was born. Unfortunately, the hat was way too large for Mike even with as big of a head as he had. So it waited for him to get a bigger head. Just last week--two years after I made his hat--I saw the hat in the closet and tried it on Mike. Yay! It finally fits! Maybe I'll work on sizing my next knitting project better.

*Post did not actually win any awards.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Ramen Chicken Dinner

At 4:00 this afternoon, Kara turned to me and asked, "So, what are you making for dinner?" Since she had just been grocery shopping that afternoon, there were plenty of options to choose from; however, I was tired. Glancing behind her into the open pantry, I saw a case of chicken Ramen and was inspired. A quick Google search later and I found a recipe that turned out rather well. I took some liberties with the recipe I found here, and ended up with the following recipe. I thought it was rather tasty, and not bad for half an hour's work.

Ramen Chicken Dinner

3 packages (3 ounces each) chicken ramen noodles
2 1/2 c frozen peas and carrots
2 c frozen broccoli
1 1/2 c water

1 1/2 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch strips or cubes
2 Tbsp canola oil

1/3 c soy sauce
1/3 c canola oil
3 Ramen seasoning packs
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp chile powder

Set aside seasoning packet from the noodles. In a 2-qt. microwave-safe dish, combine the noodles, frozen vegetables, celery, peas and water. Cover and microwave on high for 8-10 minutes or until noodles and vegetables are tender, stirring once.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, oil, contents of seasoning packets, sugar and chile powder. Set sauce aside.

Drizzle 2 Tbsp of oil into a frying pan placed over medium high heat. Add chicken and cook 5-10 minutes or until done. In the last 2 minutes of cooking, add about 3 Tbsp sauce. When done, stir chicken into noodle mixture.

Pour remaining sauce over chicken mixture. Microwave, uncovered, on high 45 seconds longer or until heated through.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Best Amish Friendship Bread Ever!

When I was looking for AFB pizza dough, I stumbled upon a post on My Sister's Kitchen. And although it didn't have an actual recipe for AFB pizza dough--plenty of request for it, but no responses--it did have some pretty good recipes for AFB. One recipe stood out to me because it seemed extraordinairily well though out. So I tried it tonight and WOW! This recipe buries all other AFB recipes. It was light, fluffy, and oh so delicious. Thanks a million, James!

James' Amish Friendship Bread
spray oil (PAM or similar)
1/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

2 eggs
1 c. lowfat vanilla yogurt (I used sour cream due to my lack of yogurt)
1/2 c. canola oil
1/2 c. lowfat milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon

1 c. AFB starter

2 tbsp. coarse sugar (I used the leftover cinnamon sugar)

Preheat the oven to 325F. Spray bottoms and sides of two loaf pans with oil. Mix 1/4 c. sugar and 1 tsp. cinnamon and use to coat insides of pans, saving any excess.

In a large bowl, briefly beat two eggs. Add remaining wet ingredients (except starter) and stir until uniform. In a medium bowl, stir together dry ingredients. Dump dry ingredients into wet ingredients and mix just until moistened (as with pancake batter, some lumps may remain). Fold in 1 c. starter.

Divide batter between loaf pans and sprinkle top of each loaf uniformly with 1 tbsp. of coarse sugar. Bake 45 min. or until toothpick inserted in middle comes out mostly clean with just a few crumbs.

Let loaves cool in pans 15 minutes or so, then remove to finish cooling on a rack. Slice and enjoy! It’s extra good with a bit of butter or spread, especially while still a bit warm.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Amish Friendship...Pizza?

Hi. My name is Brig, and I'm an Amish Friendship Dough addict.

Last night, Kara said that she'd like to make pizza for lunch/dinner today. I volunteered to make the dough with AFB starter. She wasn't entirely convinced that it would taste pizza-ish, so she asked me to make some pizza crust out of my Pseudo-Sourdough, too. (I think she's just chicken.)

Unfortunately, finding a recipe for Amish Friendship Bread pizza dough is next to impossible. I scoured the web and found...nothing. Several people asking for such a thing, but nobody posting it. I found recipes for every possible variation of AFB using whole wheat, wheat germ, oatmeal, and arrowroot powder, but nothing on pizza. So I asked myself: WWMGD? (What Would MacGuyver Do?)

I found this site, which describes several methods for creating pizza dough, and adapted one for AFB use. Did it work? I should say so! The dough wasn't as sweet as it is in breads, and wasn't as elastic as I'd expect pizza dough to be--it required some serious time with the rolling pin, but it made for a tasty pizza.

Amish Friendship Bread Pizza Dough
You're going to need Amish Friendship Bread starter for this, so add 1 1/2 cups each of milk, flour (self-rising is optional), and granulated sugar a day or two before making this dough. The earlier you prep the starter the better the results (read: flavor) will be.

1 1/2 c Amish Friendship Bread starter
1/2 c warm water
3 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp olive oil (plus a few Tbsps for coating dough)

If you're using a mixer, use a dough hook. Combine flour and salt, then add wet ingredients and mix on low until the dough begins to clump around the hook. Dough should be smooth and slightly elastic.

Coat the dough with a thin layer of olive oil and place in a large bowl also coated with a thin layer of olive oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise 12-18 hours in a warm place.

Divide the dough into 4 equal portions. Then, working on a floured surface, roll out to approximately 10-inch circles. Add toppings and bake at 500F for about 7 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and crust is golden.

To get a great, golden crust, I used a 12" dutch oven lid--turned upside-down--in the oven in place of a pizza stone.

Amish Friendship...Pancakes?

Yes, you read that right. This morning, I made pancakes with AFB starter.

Amish Friendship Pancakes
I recommend that you add 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar, and 1 cup milk to your starter at least 24 hours prior to making these pancakes, but 2-3 days prior would be better. If you make the additions just before making the pancakes, then you're effectively diluting the yeast. Yeah, you can do it, but they won't have that little bit of tartness that gives them character.

1 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 Tbsp oil
2 cups Amish batter
1/2 cup milk (plus/minus 1/4 cup)
1 egg

Combine first 4 ingredients in large bowl. Combine last 4 ingredients in smaller bowl. Add ingredients of smaller bowl to ingredients of large bowl and mix until blended. Let batter rest 5-10 minutes. Cook as you would with regular pancake batter.

Monday, November 3, 2008

I've Got Amish Friendship Bread Starter--Now What?

If you are one of the fortunate few who have received an Amish Friendship Bread starter from me or from anyone else, you're probably thinking, "Now what?"

day 1:
Set it on the counter and watch the bubbles.
Note: DO NOT REFRIGERATE this starter. If you do, the little microbes will go to sleep and not make those nice gas bubbles and you'll have flatbread, which is a whole different recipe. Ha ha.

days 2-5:
Mush the bag a little and let out the air.

day 6:
Add 1 cup self-rising flour*, 1 cup sugar, and 1 cup milk. Mush the bag a little and let out the air.

days 7-9:
Mush the bag a little and let out the air.

day 10:
Add 1 cup self-rising flour*, 1 cup sugar and 1 cup milk. Stir. You've now got just over 4 cups worth of starter. You could:

  • Make 4 bread recipes, each of which calls for about a cup of starter and each makes about 2-3 loaves OR
  • Make 3 bread recipes and have one cup left over that you can use as a starter for next week OR
  • Make 2 bread recipes, have one cup left over that you can use as a starter for next week, and give one starter to a friend OR
  • Make 1 bread recipe, have one cup left over that you can use as a starter for next week, and give one starter to 2 friends OR

    You could reduce the day 6 and/or day 10 additions to 1/2 cup each and have less starter on day 10. I personally find it hard to find time to bake every 10 days, so I shifted day 6 to day 3 or 4, and bake every 7th day. It seems to work fine.

*I use homemade self-rising flour because the recipe I received said to use it. It's just 1 c all-purpose flour, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt. I don't suppose you have to use self-rising, which some purists may consider cheating, but I figure if you've got it you might as well give your bread every advantage you can.

Now, you'll be wanting recipes. You can Google Amish Friendship Bread Recipe, or you could look up the recipes I've used for Chocolate Bread, Banana Bread, and Plain Sourdough.

Mini Surprise Cookies

Last year, I made a variation of a Snickers Surprise recipe for a church gathering. I was rewarded with oohs and ahhs, and a smattering of questioning on my methods. They're basically miniature candy bars (the "fun" size) rolled into cookie dough and baked. It makes the candy a bit softer, and is a simple way to add a boost to plain old cookie dough. I especially like to use mint chocolate Hershey minis. Yum!

Mini Surprise Cookies

16 Tbsp (2 sticks) softened butter or margarine
1 c creamy peanut butter -- There's a time and a place for chunky peanut butter, and this is neither the time nor the place!
1 c light brown sugar
1 c granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 pkg mini candy bars:
Snickers/Milky Way "larger" size, or Milk Chocolate Hershey "smaller" size work fine. Cut Twix in half and lay halves side-by-side.

In an electric mixer, combine butter, peanut butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar on low until fluffy. Slowly add eggs and vanilla until combined. Slowly add flour, salt, and baking soda. Cover and chill dough for 2-3 hours.

Unwrap minis. Remove dough.

Scoop out one Tablespoon-size ball, adding slightly more for larger minis. (Is that like "jumbo shrimp?") Flatten ball, then form around mini making sure that a good seal is achieved. Place on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes. Cool on rack or waxed paper. Makes about 4 dozen.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Envy, With Side Order Of Pettiness

I bought a new car recently--a nice one. I had been driving the same 1996 bare-bones Saturn SL1 pretty much since we got it in 1997; we got a used Chrysler minivan 6 years ago as the "family car" since we were finding it harder and harder to all fit in the Saturn.

Now this was not a snap decision...Kara and I had been planning it for years. We have kept our credit good--almost to the 800s--have been contributing to Roths and IRAs, and still managed to sock away funds for when the Saturn finally gave out. (And although it didn't actually "give out," it got to the point where it needed new tires, a new e-brake lever, and some rust repairs, all of which totalled more than the blue book value of the car, a whopping $300.) And I had one primary criterion: it must be a convertible. Why? Because.

I have always wanted a convertible. It has been my dream ever since I first got my license--and before--to have a convertible. Yes, I've heard that some leak. Yes, I know that they can be easy to break in to. Yes, I've heard that they can be noisy. But I still wanted one. Haven't you ever wanted something that you know may not really be practical, but wanted it anyway? Real bad? You get my point.

The problem is that my wife is all about the practical. And we've got 3 kids. So those sporty little 2-seaters like a Saturn Sky weren't really even on the table. Okay, so a 4-person convertible: It pretty much had to be a Ford, a Chrysler, a Toyota, a Volvo, or a BMW. The Ford Mustangs leak horribly, and are not super reliable. The Chrysler Sebring suffers much the same problems as the Ford. The Toyota Solara, Volvo C70, and BMW 135i all seemed decent enough; however, the BMW is way out of our price range, and the Solara has a softtop, which is easily broken into and is terribly expensive to repair. And it leaks. In general.

The Volvo was out of our price range too, until we found the perfect deal. We found a silver 2008 (bought originally in October 2007) hardtop, 4-seater convertible with about 10,000 miles on it. Leather seats, good sound system...the works. We worked some negotiation magic--okay, it was Kara, not "we"--and managed to get it to just barely outside our desired price range, but well within our means. After all, we had been planning this for some time, remember...

So the happy couple takes home their new car. Brig is happy because Kara likes tha car, and he gets a way sweet convertible that's safe and gadgety. Kara is happy because Brig is happy, we can afford it, it doesn't have the problem-prone softtop, and it's safe. We're all happy! Then, we start telling people about it.

On the whole, most of my friends have been very excited and happy for me! But a few people have turned...rather catty if I dare say so. Why can't they just be happy for me? No, I didn't just get a raise. No, I'm not made of money, I just keep very careful track of what I have! (Um, Kara keeps careful track. I attempt to keep careful track.) No, I didn't get a Volvo because I only buy fancy-schmancy European cars.

I'm trying not to flaunt it, and I'm really trying not to make anyone feel bad or anything, but I'm happy. One of my lifelong ambitions has been reached and I'm really, genuinely happy. Be happy for me, okay? Or at least, take some age-old advice and "if you can't say anything nice, don't say nothin' at all."

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Homemade Marshmallows

So this last week, my hero Alton Brown made marshmallows from scratch. I didn't know that such a thing could be done, but not only did he do it, but he explained in painstaking detail how it could be done by me in my own kitchen! I figured that if things went horribly wrong that I'd be out about $.50 in materials tops, so I figured I'd give it a try.

How did they turn out? In a word: Heavenly. Fluffy, white, and heavenly.

Here's the recipe from the Good Eats episode I saw:

Homemade Marshmallows

3 packages unflavored gelatin
1 cup ice cold water, divided
12 ounces granulated sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cups
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
Nonstick spray

Place the gelatin into the bowl of a stand mixer along with 1/2 cup of the water. Have the whisk attachment standing by.

In a small saucepan combine the remaining 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt. Place over medium high heat, cover and allow to cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Uncover, clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pan and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F, approximately 7 to 8 minutes. Once the mixture reaches this temperature, immediately remove from the heat.

Turn the mixer on low speed and, while running, slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. Once you have added all of the syrup, increase the speed to high. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick and is lukewarm, approximately 12 to 15 minutes. Add the vanilla during the last minute of whipping. While the mixture is whipping prepare the pans as follows.

Combine the confectioners' sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Lightly spray a 13 by 9-inch metal baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Add the sugar and cornstarch mixture and move around to completely coat the bottom and sides of the pan. Return the remaining mixture to the bowl for later use.

When ready, pour the mixture into the prepared pan, using a lightly oiled spatula for spreading evenly into the pan. Dust the top with enough of the remaining sugar and cornstarch mixture to lightly cover. Reserve the rest for later. Allow the marshmallows to sit uncovered for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.

Turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting board and cut into 1-inch squares using a pizza wheel dusted with the confectioners' sugar mixture. Once cut, lightly dust all sides of each marshmallow with the remaining mixture, using additional if necessary. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks...(if they last that long!)

Monday, October 27, 2008

125 Pushups - Week 1

Last week was the first week of my new goal: 125 consecutive push ups in one set. Not wanting to reinvent the wheel, I used week 4's workout from thinking that it would be a good place to start from.

I had assumed, since I made it through week 6 of the workout, that week 4 would be relatively easy--boy was I wrong! I must have forgotten to eat my Wheaties all of last week, because that workout kicked my butt! Granted, on 2 of the 3 days, I was working to find my new max bench press weight which may have contributed to my overall feeling of butt-kickedness...but man! I'm (once again!) not looking forward to week 2 (which equals week 5 of the routine).

I figure that in perhaps 4 weeks I cann hit my goal of 125 by doing week 4, 5, and 6, then repeating week 6. We'll see how it goes!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Halloween Costumes

Kara told me in no uncertain terms that this year, costuming the boys was my job. Mike would be a pumpkin (again). The other two were in my hands.

Spence wanted to be "an Army Guy." Okay, I can do that. J wanted to be a chicken. "A chicken?" I asked. "Yes," he said. "Definitely a chicken." Great.

So I took Spence out shopping and found camo pants, a camo jacket and an olive drab t-shirt. I found some insignia at an Army surplus store and tacked it onto the jacket. One of my buddies from work loaned me his Army cap and duffel--the duffel made a great goody bag for Spence to put his stuff in at the Trunk or Treat!

J's costume was a bit tougher. Last year, he was a crow. (I readily acknowledge that there are things I do to mess up my kids--just because I'm their parent. I want to make it clear that this bird fetish is not my fault, nor is it from my side of the family.) I made black construction paper "feathers" and stitched them onto a black sweatshirt. Sounds like a neat idea, but they tore off at the lightest touch, so I knew that I'd need to use real feathers if I was going to use feathers at all; however, I couldn't find a bag of plain white feathers! I found a couple of long, white, quill-type feathers for $1.99 each...and that wasn't happening for this costume. No Halloween store in the Greater Metropolitan Lexington area sells a child-sized chicken costume--plenty of Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Power Ranger costumes. Not so much with the livestock. So it was DIY or not at all.

I knew we could reuse the orange tights from last year's crow costume...but I needed a white ensemble for him to wear. I found a long-sleeved white shirt at Wal-Mart, but no white short-type things for the lower body. Then it hit me: whitey tighties! Yes, I had him wear clean white underwear on the outside of his costume. I cut then spray adhesed several layers of thin felt together to make the tail, then stitched it to the underwear to attach it.

Lower Legs: Check.
Upper Legs: Check.
Torso: Check.
Head: TBD.
Beak: TBD.

Then I remembered that we had some white flannel sheets that came in a drawstring bag. Perfect! I put the bag on his head with the opening facing forward and the drawstrings at his chin. I pinned the back to roughly fit his head, stitched it on the sewing machine, then trimmed and fine tuned it until it fit him well. While we were at Wal-Mart getting the shirt, I eyed a pair of little stretchy red gloves that I knew would be a fantastic comb for the top of his head. (I initially planned on using red felt, but I couldn't pass the gloves up when I saw them.) I cut up a soft plastic folder to fit inside the glove (for stiffness) and sewed the glove to the hood.

For the beak, I cut an orange plastic folder into triangles, spray adhesed them together (same adhesive I used to make the tail), punched a few holes for elastic, and trimmed them to fit his face. He complained a bit that the lower part of the beak was uncomfortable since it was digging into his lip, so I attached a small piece of leftover felt to help cushion the beak where it touched his face. Since he really wanted to have a two-part beak that moved when he opened his mouth, I made a smaller beak to go on his chin.


Will Nothing Help The Burning Stuff??

My church held its annual Trunk or Treat tonight--the parents park in the church parking lot and kids go from trunk to trunk and get treats instead of from house to house. (We'll go house to house Trick or Treating on Halloween, too!) One unique thing added this year was a chili cook-off/dinner. And I can't resist a good chili cook-off.

I have a standby chili recipe that I've used for a few years now that really does the trick. It's usually pretty hot, but not habanero hot; it's more of a delayed, three-seconds-after-the-bite-you-feel-the-tingle kind of heat. I stumbled across Dixie Johnson's recipe when I lived in Denver and have made it about 4 times since then; I've never made it strictly according to the recipe because I'm not willing to special order the precise spices called for. However, I readily substitute ingredients and I fiddle with the amounts of some of the spices as the mood strikes me. (I never substitute Sazon Goya--it gives its own pretty unique flavor. Find it in the Mexican aisle at your local grocer.) Here's how it goes:

Dixie's Championship Recipe Chili

Gray 3 pounds of cubed beef chuck tender (or chili grind) in 1 TBSP Crisco (I used 5 lbs of chopped stew meat, from which I trimmed the fat and cut into smaller cubes.)


1 Can - 8 oz Hunt's Tomato Sauce
1/2 Can - 14-1/2 oz can Swanson Chicken Broth
1/2 tsp - Cayenne Pepper
2 tsp - Wylers Chicken Instant Bouillon
1 tbsp - Pendery's Fort Worth Light Chili Powder
2 - Serrano Pepper (seeded) (I used 3 jalepenos)
1 Can - 14-1/2 oz Swanson Beef Broth
1-1/2 tbsp - Onion Powder
2 tsp - Wyler Beef Instant Bouillon
1 tsp - Pendery's Cumin

Bring to a boil and cook for about 1 hour (depends on whether you are using cubed or ground meat). Remove the peppers and add the following:

3/4 tsp - Pendery's White Pepper
1 Packet - Sazon Goya
1/4 tsp - Salt
3 tbsp - Gunpowder Foods Texas Red Chili Powder
1 tsp - Garlic Powder
1 tbsp - Pendery's Cumin
2 tbsp - Pendery's Fort Worth Light Chili Powder

Adjust liquid with remainder of chicken broth or water. Cover and cook for 30 minutes. Add the following:

1/4 tsp - Brown Sugar
1 tbsp - Pendery's Fort Worth Light Chili Powder
1/4 tsp - Gunpowder Foods Hot Stuff
1 tsp - Pendery's Cumin

Reduce heat and simmer/cook for 10 to 15 minutes. Adjust chili final taste for salt and front and back heat.

I didn't win anything, but was told by a couple of people that it was good and that it was a "jump out and grab ya" hot.

Now, the family that sat at the table with us had a young girl (Wendy) who happened to procure a large bowl of my chili. I warned her dad that it was hot, but he said that she really wanted it and that if she didn't finish it that he'd gladly finish it for her. So I watched her take a bite, chew, and swallow.



Then it hit.

She grabbed her water glass and took a big drink. Apparently, that didn't do much to calm her fiery tongue because she exclaimed, "Will nothing help the burning stuff?" Her dad and I looked at each other and burst out laughing.

(Just to clarify, we were laughing at her exclamation, not her pain and sorrow. Besides, it wasn't all that hot.)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Six Random Facts About Me

I've had my first ever meme tag! M at Random Misfires tagged me to give six random facts about myself:

The Rules
1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on the blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself (but since she did three, that must mean that this one's flexible!).
4. Tag six people at the end of your post (same deal as #3).
5. Let each person know they have been tagged.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

The Facts
1. I am addicted to my Palm Pilot (currently a Palm TX). Without it, I couldn't tell you what day today is, what I'm doing tomorrow.... Heck, I probably couldn't even tell you when my birthday is! But with it, I can tell you the phone number, address, email, etc. of pretty much anyone I've met in the last 10 years.
2. I love fixing things, especially really broken things. The brokener the better, since if I don't fix it, it can't get any more broken. :) I fix laptops, dining room chairs, cars, vans, PCs, trampolines, you name it.
3. I can do 100 push ups in a row.
4. I know how to lash--not the kind with a whip. I can tie logs together and make a tower or a bridge or a flagpole or whatever.
5. I shattered my right kneecap while rock climbing in Phoenix, AZ. I had reconstructive surgery on New Years Eve, 1997. Then I cracked it again (while it was healing) about 6 weeks later so they had to re-reconstruct it. The pins, screws, and wire came out in August of '98. If I don't keep it moving it tends to stiffen up, so long car rides can get rather uncomfortable for me.
6. I have always wanted to play an instrument--the clarinet, piano, guitar, flute, and harmonica to name a few--but I don't have the patience or the stick-to-it-iveness to ever be more than a novice.

The Peeps
1. Kara
2. Rob
3. Julene
4. Shauna
5. Lulu

Y'all have been tagged. Git to it.

More Backyard Photography

We had a few ripe tomatoes out back, so I thought I'd see if I could make an interesting shot of them...

...and of our measly basil.

And while I was walking on the lawn, there was a swarm of little hopping bugs flitting around me. This was one of them.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Amish Friendship Bread - Chocolate Bread Recipe

If you are *ahem* "lucky" enough to have an Amish Friendship Bread starter, you can make a yummy chocolate bread with it. This is only a slight variation from the recipe included with the chain letter.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

1 cup friendship bread (sourdough) starter
3 eggs
1 cup oil
1/2 cup milk
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups flour
1 large box instant chocolate pudding
8 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips (or more, if desired)

1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

In a large bowl, add bread ingredients. Stir until well mixed. Dough will be very soft and sticky.

In a small bowl, combine crust ingredients. Grease bottom and sides of 2 large loaf pans. Dust the sides and bottom of each pan; reserve remaining crust mixture.

Divide batter evenly into the 2 pans and sprinkle remaining crust mixture over the top. Bake for 60-75 minutes, or until a tootpick comes out clean. Cool until bread loosens from the pan easily. Turn out onto a serving dish.

Amish Friendship Bread - Banana Bread

This is a banana bread that uses the Amish Friendship Bread starter. This is only a slight variation from the recipe included with the chain letter.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

1 cup friendship bread (sourdough) starter
3 eggs
1 cup oil
1/2 cup milk
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups flour
2 large ripe bananas, smashed
1 large box instant banana pudding (optional)

In a large bowl, add all ingredients. Stir until well mixed. Dough will be very soft and sticky.

Divide batter evenly into the 2 pans and bake for 60-75 minutes, or until a tootpick comes out clean. Cool until bread loosens from the pan easily. Turn out onto a serving dish.

Amish Friendship Bread - Plain Old Sourdough Bread

This is another variation on the Amish Friendship Bread, using one cup of the starter.

This recipe calls for bread flour, which has a higher protein content than all-purpose flour. You can use AP, but your bread won't be quite as good.

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup oil
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 cup starter
6 cups bread flour

Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Oil bottom and sides of a large bowl and put dough in. Let stand overnight at room temperature.

In the morning, punch dough down 4-5 times and divide into 3 equal balls. Knead each ball 8-10 times; use additional flour to keep dough from sticking. Place dough into 3 greased and floured loaf pans. Brush tops with oil and cover loosely with oiled foil. Let rise at room temperature for 4 - 8 hours.

If dough has not risen sufficiently, put a small pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven, heat oven to 200 degrees, then turn off the oven. Put dough on the top rack for 1-2 hours or until dough has risen.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes. While it is baking, and after the top has lightly browned, you may cover the bread with foil to slow further browning.

Amish Friendship Bread

Many of you have either received or know someone who has received "Amish Friendship Bread." I think that this is a horrible misnomer; it should be called "Chain-letter Obligation Bread." I doubt its origins have anything to do with the Amish aside from they fact that they also use sourdough to make bread. And a true friend would bring over the bread AFTER it had been cooked, not while it's still a lump of bubbly goo.

Nomenclature aside, I received a bag of this sourdough starter from my next door neighbor 11 days ago. When I received the starter, I had no idea how much work it would be! Roberta from my work--the one I built the fence with--had mentioned that she never liked dealing with "friendship bread" unless it was during the Christmas holiday, and now I know why.

Days 1-5 are easy: just mush the bag and release some of the gas if the bag gets too big.
Day 6 is not too bad: Add 1 cup each of flour, sugar, and milk, then mush the bag.
Days 7-9 are easy too: mush the bag some more and release gas so the bag doesn't pop.
Day 10 is a different story altogether.

You feed the starter some more flour, sugar, and milk, and mix it up some more. No big deal.

Then, you split the starter into four 1-cup batches. Put one in a bag and care for it for 10 more days for your next batch of bread. ("If you don't save one batch," the chain letter cautions, "you'll have to wait until you receive another starter from a friend, as the Amish are the only ones who know how to create a starter." Not true at all; you can make a new starter with about 2 cups of water, 2 cups of flour, and a week of time. Just Google "Sourdough Starter.") Put another starter in a bag for a "friend." Use the remaining two cups of starter to make your bread.

Not having made this kind of bread before, I figured I'd try it out myself before subjecting a friend to a potentially bad recipe, so I had three cups worth of starter to work from. Little did I know that each recipe delivers 2 to 3 loaves of bread.

So I got to work on the first cup of starter using the recipe in the chain letter, but I committed the #1 worst mistake when baking with a new recipe: I didn't read the whole recipe through before I started. When I got to the very end, I saw that this bread recipe calls for 1 large box of...instant vanilla pudding? Huh?

I scrounged in the cupboards for the pudding mix that I knew I didn't have, and after a fewe minutes came up with one small box of sugar-free chocolate instant pudding mix. Well, it would have to do. So I added it and a 3/4 full bag of chocolate chips I found in another cupboard, and hoped for the best. Into the oven went the first two loaves.

For the second batch, I used two smashed bananas in place of the pudding. It went just fine.

For the third batch, I didn't have any pudding or bananas left, and all I had was a scant 1/2 cup of oil, if I used up the rest of both my vegetable oil and olive oil. (Time to go shopping.) So I found a recipe online for plain old sourdough that is started with this kind of starter. This morning, I punched down the dough and divided it into 3 loaves...and it didn't look good. The dough was thick and sticky, and did not look at all like it was going to end well. I left them to rise while I went to work.

When I got home, the three lumps were exactly the same size I left them. Oh well. Two out of three ain't bad.

Hammock Camping - Minor Setback

Unfortunately, my hammock ingenuity was too good to last. This last weekend, I set up my hammock between two trees that were about 10 feet apart. That left a lot of slack in the hammock, which is good because you're supposed to lay in them slantwise (this kind, at least). The problem is, that I'm 6'4". Most things just aren't built for my height, including hammocks. So when conditions are IDEAL, I just barely fit slantwise in the hammock. This weekend, conditions weren't ideal.

I unknowingly tied one end of the hammock about 6 inches higher than the other end, which meant that when I layed slantwise about 10 inches of my legs and feet were hanging off the hammock. :( Not exactly comfortable.

The difference between this time and last time was that last time, I set my tripods at exactly the length of the hammock, and tied the hammock tight. Since the tripods were only 5-ish feet off the ground, I needed to have the hammock tight so that my hindparts wouldn't drag on the ground...

It's seeming like every hammock setup is different, so I get to learn something new each time. This time, I learned to either pick trees spaced a little further out or tie both ends at the same height. Last time, I learned that you shouldn't pitch your hammock within a half-mile of train tracks unless you've got really good ear plugs. (I'm a light sleeper.)

100 Pushups - Back to Week 4

After I hit my 100 consecutive push ups two weeks ago, I don't think I did a single push up--until today. I was feeling pretty blah again (post-goal letdown?) and needed a new goal. So the new goal is to start from week 4 and go through to week 6, then do 125 push ups without resting.

So today's set was 21, 25, 21, 21, > 32. When I first went through week 4, I was barely able to get the max. Today, I maxed at 45. (The sets have changed a bit since my first time on week 4, but the level of effort is about the same.)

I was curious about what these last few months of push ups had done to my benchpress ability. About 6 months ago, when I was working out with a couple of guys at work (Pete and Will) during lunch, we would bench 2-3 times per week. My max was about 185 on a good day. Today, I ate 185 for lunch and hit 205 with only the barest of help from my spotter, but that was after doing 145 push ups in about 5 minutes. So I'd say that fresh, I could certainly get 205. A 10% bench press improvement? Yeah, I'll take that.

Oh, and now I can officially say that I can bench press more than I weigh.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I May Not Be Entirely Right (In The Head)

This weekend, I'm going camping with the Boy Scouts. We had planned this trip for September, and things just kept popping up to put it off later and later...and this is about the latest we could possibly get away with doing it. We're going water skiing. In October. The middle of October.

Now I may not be the brightest bulb, but I know that 65 degree air temp plus 72 degree water temp plus me equals one Brigsicle. Am I going to risk it in order to ski? I'd like to think I will...but I'll have to wait to see how cold that water actually feels. I may just spend a lot of time fishing instead. It'll be chilly enough just sleeping...but getting up early on Saturday morning to get in frigid water, just to be either dragged through the frigid water if I can't get up on the skis, or sprayed with frigid water if I can...

On the bright side, the Scouts picked some good-sounding meals: Mac and Cheese (from semi-scratch), apple crisp, omelets-in-a-bag, and rolls-in-an-orange are some of the ones I'm looking forward to (I'll post the recipes for the ones that turn out okay). But for some reason, they kept on trying to have hot dogs for a meal. What's the deal with that?? Don't they know that the stuff that's in hot dogs will kill you?


So will hypothermia.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Hammock Ingenuity

Okay, I'll admit it. I have a rather high opinion of my cleverness, it's true. I don't quite live up to the old Scout Camp Ma-Ka-Ja-Wan verse, "Oh we're not a bit stuck up about the clever things we do / Most everybody likes us and you hope you like us too." I apologize to those of you who have to bear through my detailed explanations of intricate details that mean nothing to you *coughKaracough* but smile through it anyways. I've been trying to reign it in...

...but I really think I outdid myself on this one.

Camping with the Cub Scouts two weeks ago, I brought a hammock and planned on sleeping in it overnight. I find it to be much more comfortable to sleep in a hammock than to sleep on the ground, but maybe that's just me. But when when we got to the camp, I found that we were camping in the middle of a field. I don't know about you, but I often find it difficult to keep a hammock suspended when it is attached to nothing but grass. ;)

Luckily, I take the Boy Scout motto to heart: Be Prepared. I brought along several lengths of rope and 6 "Scout Staves," a.k.a. thick broom handles that Scouts can use for lashing practice. With three on each side, I tied each set into a tripod (using a tripod lashing, of course!), then strung over each tripod a rope I had tied an eye splice into. Why an eye splice? Because I had previously hooked climbing carabiners into my hammock ropes so that I didn't have to actually tie a rope into my hammock every time I use it. I just hook the carabiner into the eye splice and then tie spliced rope to an anchor.

Aah, the anchor. I relied on my Pioneering Merit Badge work from eons ago to anchor the hammock in the same manner in which you would anchor a monkey bridge.

You drive a stake and attach the main weight-bearing line to it, then you drive another stake close behind it and attach the top of stake 1 to the bottom of stake 2. This prevents stake 1 from pulling out of the ground due to the tension leveraging it out.

To top things off, I added a tarp suspended from the tripods. This prevented my sleeping bag from getting wet with dew overnight--and a dewy bag is a cold bag. Oh, and I laid my sleeping pad (Thermarest Z-Rest) in my hammock but underneath my sleeping bag. That helped keep my bottom side warm through the night, and also seemed to help make things even more comfortable. The icing on the cake would have been if the earplugs I wore would have muffled the sound of the trains clacking by every half hour, all night long.

My anchors worked all night long, and kept my butt off the ground for the whole night...once I made a slight modification to the staves. See, broom handles are smooth; they're supposed to be smooth. Their smoothness helps your hand to slide up and down the handle while you sweep, and prevents splinters and blisters. Their smoothness also helps ropes to slide down the handle when weight is put on them. I had to get out my hatchet and chop a channel near the top of the staves, and lash inside that channel. Once I did that, the sliding terminated and the sleeping commenced.

I'm planning on hammock camping this weekend with the Boy Scouts, too. We'll see how it goes.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Little Macro Photography At The Farm

Here are a few shots I took of the rose bushes when we were out at the farm this weekend:

And two shots of goats, and one of a fowl little creature:

Apple Dumplings

While we were at the farm this weekend, we bought a small bag of Gala apples. I was plotting their cullinary demise from the moment I laid eyes on them. The first batch succumbed to my recipe for Apple Dumplings. I was going to make an apple coffeecake too, but I don't think I have enough apples. No swooning girls for me, I guess. I know, it's so sad.

Apple Dumplings

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Peel and core 6 apples--I used Gala apples.

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 cup butter or margarine
2 cups water

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup shortening (I used butter-flavored Crisco)
1/2 cup milk (I used 1/4 cup milk, 1/4 cup apple cider)

6 small apples, peeled and cored
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

For syrup, in a saucepan combine 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, and 2 cups water. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cook 5 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in butter. Set aside.

Combine flour, baking powder, and 1/2 tsp salt. Cut in shortening till mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add milk all at once; stir just till all is moistened. Form into a ball. On a floured surface roll out into an 18 x 12 inch rectangle; cut into six 6-inch squares. Place an apple in the center of each square. Sprinkle apple generously with a mixture of 1/3 cup sugar and 1/4 tsp each of cinnamon and nutmeg; dot with additional butter. Moisten edges of dough; fold corners to center atop apple. Pinch the edges together.

Place in a 13x2x9 inch baking dish. Pour syrup over dumplings. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes or until apples are tender.

Happy Birthday Mike!

It's little Mike's birthday today. He's 2. My how the time has flown. After his favorite dinner of spaghetti--actually, his favorite part is the meat in the sauce--he had his birthday cupcake. He was much more interested on the candle than on the chocolate cupcake.


Down On The Farm

On Saturday, we went to a nearby farm with another family. This farm is set up specifically for kids, with a hay ride, play areas, a petting zoo, a corn maze, and other fun stuff so we thought it would be fun to get out for a while.

Overall, it was pretty fun. Mike's reactions to some of the animals and baby animals was fantastic. He was so excited!

The older boys really got a kick out of this suspended pipe that they could crawl through.


And while we were there, we picked up some apple cider (my favorite!) and a few pumpkins. The two older boys kept grabbing HUGE pumkins and asking "Is this one okay?"
I'd tell them that the one they picked out was "Dad-sized" and to pick another.
"Is this one okay?"
"No, that's Dad-sized, too."
I finally aligned their expectations with reality and we left with two large, orange pumpkins.

The instant we got into the van they started asking, "Can we carve these when we get home?"
"No, that'll be a job for later. Mom and Dad are tired."

The instant we got into the house, they started asking, "Can we carve the pumkins now?"
"No, we'll do that later."
Sigh. "Monday. We'll carve them Monday evening for Family Night."
Guess what I'll be doing tonight.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

100 Pushups - I DID IT!

I started a *ahem* 6 week program on June 22nd, with the goal of doing 100 consecutive push ups. In the subsequent 3 1/2 months, I had a brief hiatus and ended up redoing several of the weeks several times. I wanted to do things right, and just wasn't hitting the max sets so I kept repeating that week until I either hit the maxes or got really close.

But this morning, I did it. I hit 100 consecutive push ups! And you know what, it wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. The week 6 really helped build up the requisite strength and endurance to get through the trial. The mental strength was a bit more difficult to come by, but I'll say that looking at the blogs of some of the people who were also working the program, and the difficulties they had along the path to their hundred really helped me to know that I wasn't alone. The encouragement of you, my friends, and my wife, were also instrumental in the mental preparation to make this happen. So thank you, all.

So what's next?

I figure I'll take the rest of the week off, then next week I'll start on week 4 again. I'll go to week 5, then 6, then try another hundred. Something like that. Something to maintain this strength and--okay, I'll say it--I really like what this program has done for my physique and I want to keep that. And being on the back half of my 30's now, I think that feeling good about the way I look is a good thing.