30 December 2009

The most wonderful time of the year.

2 remarks
I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday weekend. Mine was jam packed with excitement and festivities! We got things kicked off this year by having our first annual 'cousins' dinner on Wednesday evening, on the Eve of Christmas Eve, if you will. When I found out Eva was coming to town, I thought is would be fun to get as many of the Shifferli cousins together for dinner at my house. The response was great, and it turned out better than I envisioned. Nedra, Eva, Angela, Katie, Theresa, and Tim were the cousins who were able to make it.

Eva and I prepared the meal for the evening; the menu included lasagna, garlic knots, salad (prepared by Eva), and cheesecake with a berry compote for dessert (prepared by Angela). Eva and I made the lasagna noodles from scratch, as well as the ricotta cheese. We also used some homemade marinara from my tomatoes that I saved. The meal was wonderful and the company even better. We even watched Mary Ann's choir on television, so it was almost like she was with us. I wish I had pictures, but I was kind of exhausted by all the cooking and I just wanted to sit back and enjoy the evening.

The following day was Christmas Eve and we had a get-together at my mom's house in the evening. Aunt Sue and Uncle Steve were in town and we were lucky enough to celebrate Aunt Sue's birthday with her. Theresa arrived in a pink Santa hat with gifts for the kids. Ari loves his little wooden car, by the way.


Laughter was in the air.


Memories were made.


A perfect lead in for the Christmas festivities to follow.

17 December 2009

Brown Sugar

1 remarks
I learned a handy culinary trick during the recent "Good Eats" episode, Pantry Raid X: Dark Side of the Cane. Alton Brown taught me how to make my own brown sugar. He explained that, anymore, brown sugar is just refined white sugar with molasses added to it; and if you have white sugar and molasses in your pantry, you can make your own brown sugar. You can view the recipe here.

I had some brown sugar on hand when I watched the episode, so I didn't try making my own right away. When I ran out of the store bought kind, I was anxious to make my own. Preferring not to use my food processor to make it, for fear of Valerie chastising me for having to clean it, I just put some sugar in a bowl, added some molasses and started mixing.

I just eyeballed how much molasses to add, and I used my fingers to mix it after starting with a fork. It was nice because I was able to adjust how dark I wanted the sugar. My hands got pretty messy in the process, but it was well worth it. Curious on how it tasted by itself, I gave it a try. It was the best brown sugar, I have ever tasted! Plus, it was nice and moist and not a bit lumpy.

The recipes I have used the brown sugar in have also turned out extraordinarily well. I see no reason that I will ever have to purchase brown sugar again. It is also nice because I am able to adjust how much I make at one time. Since I don't use brown sugar all that often, I don't have to worry about it drying out because I can make it in small batches.

If you don't have any molasses on hand, go get some. For this application alone, it is well worth it. For all who may be baking Christmas cookies in the coming days, I would highly recommend trying this application for making brown sugar, if the recipe calls for it, of course. Just a little piece of holiday cooking advice from your friend here at latent chestnut.







14 December 2009

Happy belated anniversary to me!

3 remarks
I'm not really trying to draw attention to myself or anything, but I just realized my blog was one year old on December 10. I didn't really have any expectations when I started posting my thoughts and musings a year ago, I was just having so much fun with my Ditalini Press posts, I wanted to do more. So, I came up with latent chestnut, and the rest is history.

I think I've done a fairly good job representing myself here. I don't think I've held back showing who I really am and what my interests are. For those of you who read my blog regularly, I'm sure you've come to realize how big of an R.E.M. and Alton Brown/cooking fan I am. Those are probably the two things I post about the most. Heck, even latent chestnut is a thinly veiled R.E.M. reference. Very thin, I might add, but I had R.E.M. in mind when I came up with the name.

I guess if there is one thing I have held back on, it would be how big of an impact the television show 'LOST' has had on me. I just don't really think I am educated enough to discuss that show here. But I do enjoy it, and I am surprised how much I have learned from the show in terms of science and different theories regarding time travel and whatnot. That show has been one heck of a great ride.

I do have a lot of interests, from Mythbusters, Nintendo, Calvin and Hobbes, quilting, as well as the occasional random observation and quandary. I thought about giving the blog more of a focus, to maybe attract more of a following, but I didn't want to make any compromises. I like how I've done things so far, and don't plan on making any changes. I just hope I don't run out of ideas, though, I will admit working in Lafayette has had kind of a negative impact on my creativity and writing, but it's getting better.

I have to say the high point of the year has to be my R.E.M. quilt post, and remhq posting a link to my blog on their website. I don't think it can get much better than that, and that's alright with me. It was also a lot of fun doing a monthly tomato update and being able to go back and see the changes the garden went through. From planting the seeds to picking the fruit, it was all here. I'll be sure to do that next year, too.

All in all, it was a wonderful first year in the world of blogging. A lot better than I expected actually. I want to say thank you to everyone who reads my posts, your feedback is really what keeps me going (the positive feedback, at least). I just hope that this next year on latent chestnut will be at least half as good as the first.

12 December 2009

Parmigiano-Reggiano

2 remarks
It's no secret that I am a fan of pasta; and I seem to have passed my love of it to my son. When I was young, my grandparents always had freshly grated Parmesan cheese for us to add to our pasta. For whatever reason, I always passed on adding it; I just preferred my pasta without it. I remember everyone else piling on the grated cheese by the spoonful while I was content to eat mine plain. It wasn't until years later that I would appreciate the cheese and savor every tasty bite.

As I've mentioned before, pasta with a little Parmigiano-Reggiano and olive oil might just be my favorite thing to eat. Ari is following right along in my footsteps, though I think he may like the Parmigiano-Reggiano better than the pasta itself, as evidenced by the chunk he bit off the wedge in the above picture.

Whenever we have pasta, we have to watch him to make sure he doesn't eat all the cheese. We usually keep the cheese on the table with a grater, but have had to leave it in the kitchen as of late because the boy just can't get enough. I guess there are worse foods he could be hooked on, but that cheese is so pricey, we like to use it in moderation. But hey, at least he has good taste.

08 December 2009

Boundin'

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ABC Family was broadcasting a two hour block of Pixar shorts the other day, and I decided to save it to our DVR because I thought Ari and Emilie would like watching them. What caught my eye initially was the "Cars Toon" shorts starring Mater and Lightning. I thought Ari would be thrilled with some new Cars material to feast his eyes on. What I didn't know was that there would be so many other gems hidden within those two hours of television. I was quite taken with "Boundin'", both for the animation style and the story that was told. I like it so much, I thought it would be a nice touch here on ol' latent chestnut for those of you who may not have already seen it. Enjoy!

04 December 2009

We're gonna need a bigger gate...

2 remarks
Five years ago, Valerie and I become the proud parents of a cute little fur-ball we named Walter. At the time, we thought it would be a good idea to put in a fence so that he could go outside to run and frolic. There was no good way to connect the fence to our house, so we decided to just fence in the grassy area of the back yard; I liked to call our yard the "box".

As Walter got older, it became apparent that he was no lover of the outdoors. We would take him out to the yard and he would just stand at the gate and bark, even if we were right on the other side. The only way he was content in the yard is if we were in the fence with him. He would also sit at the gate and bark if he was alone outside, and even if he had some other dog friends over to play. He did not like to be inside that fence without any other humans. Go figure.

So, we got him a tie-out so he could spend time outside with us outside the fence. The problem then, was the fence. If he was on his tie-out, he couldn't really get into the yard because of the fence. We didn't want to take the fence down since it was so new, and it kept the kids in the yard and out of the alley, so we were content to leave things the way they were.

Because of his lack of access to the yard when he was outside alone, Walter got into the unfortunate habit of relieving himself on the driveway or patio. Too much information, I know, but it lead to us making a decision about the fence. We couldn't continue to let him display that behavior, but we also knew he really had nowhere else to go. We could take him out to the yard every time we let him out, but that would just lead to a barking fit. We realized we only really had one solution to our ongoing problem.

What we ended up doing was taking down the section of fence that was between the yard and the house. Ari and I headed outside, tools and shovels in hand, and disassembled the fence. It was a pretty quick process, really, aside from digging those posts out of the ground. Removing that part of the fence enabled Walter more access to the grass and still kept the kids at bay in the yard. We are retraining Walter to relieve himself in the grass and all things are going well so far.

I am really happy with the way the backyard looks now, too. Removing that piece of fence really opened things up and makes the area look bigger. We are going to have to find another place for our garden this spring, but that's really no problem at all. We are also going to get Walter a longer tie-out so he can go further into the grass. I just love stories with happy endings.

27 November 2009

fascinating

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video
I've latched on
I've been wrong
no one told me what to wear
no one sent me home
space age party, fascinating
I just don't fit in
someone throw me anything
the oxygen is thin

if you just could speak to me
just throw me a line
give me just a little nod
I could fascinate you

but I am out of place
float in outer space
no one wants to pull me in
it's awful saving face
I could fascinate
I could serenade
I'm opinionated
I'll have Vodka lemonade

if you just could me speak to me
just throw me a line
give me just a little nod
you are fascinating

I could serenade

we could throw this party
and take off on our own
find our own higher place
an odyssey back home

I could not be less included
you could not have known
in my darkest rose and pennant
I am so alone

if you just can speak to me
just throw me a line
give me just a little nod
you are fascinating
I could serenade

I could fascinate you
I could resonate

Working in Lafayette has given me a chance to get reacquainted with some music I haven't heard in a long time. I just load up my iPod with as many songs as it can hold, set it to 'shuffle', and I have a pretty good variety for the hour long drive home. "Fascinating" came up in the queue the other day, and even though I am normally in the mood for up-tempo music on the drive, I listened to it.


Fascinating was never commercially released and was only available as a download to the aptly nicknamed "Reveal 1.0" album. "Reveal 1.0" is the February 2001 master of the Reveal album. This first master included "Fascinating" and some alternate versions of some of the songs that were released on the album. Apparently, the band felt this song slowed down the already slow album a bit too much.


But anyway, I remember first listening to "Fascinating" in 2001 and it really stirred up a lot of emotion in me. I could really identify with the character in the song, and it pretty much sums up my entire high school experience. Listening to it again so many years later brought back the same emotions, yet, with a confidence and new outlook that wasn't there before.

It was kind of weird to hear it in that respect, and I don't even know if what I just wrote makes any sense. But, that's the best way I know how to describe it. I think it has a lot to do with being comfortable with myself, who I am, really knowing who I really am now. It's a good song, but I can see why they left it off the album. After hearing it again, I just wanted to share it here.

21 November 2009

New Super Mario Bros. Wii - World 8-7

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One of the best Super Mario Bros. levels I have ever had the pleasure of playing, and it was even better with four players. What a blast!

19 November 2009

The R.E.M. Starter Kit

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I was met with a challenge by a fellow co-worker the other day, a challenge I haven't had the opportunity to take advantage of in some time. She asked me to make her an R.E.M. CD. Talk about pressure. I haven't made an R.E.M. CD for anyone in a long time. I stopped my personal crusade to spread the music to unsuspecting souls long ago. Just because they are my favorite band, doesn't mean they have to be everyone else's. But, when asked, I couldn't pass up the opportunity.

I wanted the CD to be a good representation of the band, highlighting some of my favorite songs mixed in with some "classic" R.E.M. sounds. It was quite hard to narrow down my favorites to fit on one CD and then to arrange then in order so that the music flowed; something my mom taught me. Eighty minutes of music is not much to convert someone into an instant R.E.M. fan, but this is my best attempt.

After I chose the songs for the CD, I realized a lot of them were some of my first favorites. I still remember playing Donkey Kong Country in the basement with Angela with "Driver 8" blaring away. We had a five disc CD changer and it was usually filled with only R.E.M.; at least if I had my way. That's probably why I am so fond of the alternate versions of "Gardening at Night" and "Radio Free Europe"; because Eponymous was always in the mix.

The songs I chose are a representation of the best of what R.E.M. has given us so far. I made the playlist in iTunes and remembered a feature called an iMix that allows one to share any given playlist with the world. I thought it would be neat to post my playlist as an iMix and post it here on latent chestnut. Now everyone knows my favorite R.E.M. songs. I feel so exposed. Below I posted the cover art I made for the disc, so if anyone feels so inclined to create this CD for themselves, go right ahead. I hope you enjoy the music!

17 November 2009

A ring. A string. A mystery.

5 remarks
There is an old wives tale that if a ring on a string is dangled over a pregnant woman's stomach, the ring will reveal whether she is going to give birth to a boy or a girl. If the woman is having a boy, the ring will swing in a circular motion; if she is having a girl, the ring will swing back and forth. The ring test held true for Ari, Emilie, and Piper. We did the test on Angela a few weeks ago, and it predicted a boy; sure enough, Angela's ultrasound confirmed she is having a boy.

When we did the test on Angela, Ari wanted us to try it on him; so he laid down and I held the ring over his stomach. Nothing happened. I tried it on Valerie, nothing happened (thank goodness). I then tried it on Angela again. I held the ring perfectly still right over her stomach, and sure enough, is slowly started to swing in a circle all by itself.

I was intrigued. Why is this so? Why does the ring swing over a pregnant stomach and not another. Does the baby emit some sort of energy that is lost once it is born? Does the mother? I scoured the internet to find the answer only to come up short. Unfortunately, I still do not know what exactly makes that ring swing. I was, however, able to discover if the ring would swing over a person who is not pregnant.

Determined to find out what, if any, part of the body made the ring move in a non-pregnant person, I volunteered Ari to be part of my experiment. He happily laid down on the floor as I dangled the ring over his stomach. Not surprisingly, it stayed perfectly still. I moved the ring over his head, nothing happened. He then got antsy and started batting the string around while I was trying to hold it still, so I had to find another volunteer. So much for having a three-year-old as part of my experiment.

Valerie reluctantly agreed to be part of my madness. I think she may have been a bit intrigued, too. I first had her hold out her hand and dangled the string over it; nothing happened. She laid down and I held the string over other areas of her body. Did the ring move over her head? No. Chest? No. Stomach? No. I moved the ring further down the length of her body to over her female area, and viola! The ring started to move back and forth. I then tried it on Ari in the same area of his body, and it swung in a circle, they tried it on me and it swung in a circle, too. We couldn't get Emilie to hold still long enough to try it on her, so we couldn't make it four-for- four.

Mystery solved! Well, one of the mysteries at least. The ring can move on it's own over a non-pregnant body as long as it is held over the right spot. Sure enough, the right spot is an area on the body that distinguishes gender; so that makes it a very valid test for pregnant women with consistent results. I still do not know why the ring swings one way for males, and another for females. If anyone knows the answer or has any theories, I'd love to hear them.

13 November 2009

How I spent my Halloween

4 remarks
It was Friday, October 30, 2009, and I had just finished churning my pumpkin ice cream. When I opened the freezer door to place the ice cream container inside, I noticed a little frost on some of the apple juice concentrates. I paid no mind to my observation thinking Ari just closed the refrigerator door too hard and the freezer door popped open a little bit. It happened all the time, so I casually closed the freezer door and went about my business.

A few hours later, I checked on the ice cream to see if it had hardened at all. Nope, it was still soft, but the frost was gone from the apple juice, so everything seemed fine. Later on that night, as I put the finishing touches on the jack-o-lantern cake, I checked the ice cream again. Huh? Still not firm? What's going on? I noticed the freezer wasn't all that cold and I picked up an apple juice concentrate and it was completely liquid on the inside. It was then that I realized the freezer had stopped working.

Luckily, our old refrigerator was in the basement in fine working order; so Valerie and I hauled all of our frozen items into the downstairs freezer for safekeeping. I then checked the upstairs refrigerator to make sure it was still working and it everything looked good. A little after eleven o'clock that night, I got a sinking feeling that something wasn't right. I checked the refrigerator again and the butter was a little soft. I took the temperature of the refrigerator and it was fifty-something degrees. Not good. So, Valerie and I hauled the refrigerated items downstairs as well.

My dad was in town for the weekend and he was over the next morning for breakfast. Pa was there as well and they both looked at it and thought that it was most likely the compressor that failed. Valerie and I were at a crossroads. Should we look into getting it fixed or should we just go out and buy a new refrigerator like we had been wanting to? Of course, by now I'm sure you already assume we decided to get a new one; because, why would I be writing about getting a repair? You know?

So, Valerie, my dad, Mary Lee, and I all went around town that afternoon hunting for a new refrigerator while Angela volunteered to stay at our house with Stephen and the kids. We found one we liked at Sam's right off the bat, but still went to several other stores to see what we could find. We ended up getting the one at Sam's because we really liked the refrigerator and we really couldn't beat the price. Our next dilemma, how would we get the refrigerator back to the house?

Valerie called her dad and he wasn't able to help, so she then called Kyle; who is the proud owner of Marty's old truck. He graciously accepted our desperate pleas for help, and met us at Sam's a little after five o'clock. After finally figuring out how to get the refrigerator out of Sam's club (there were four employees trying to help), we strapped it in the bed of the truck and headed home. Looking back, it was quite naive of me to think we would have it unloaded and installed before trick-or-treating, but I thought it nonetheless.

So, we got the old refrigerator out of the kitchen, and then managed to somehow get the new one in. I really need to think about getting a hand truck, by the way. It was a real team effort and it is times like these when I realize how lucky I am to have such a wonderful family. I sadly missed trick-or-treating with the kids, and I'm sure it wasn't he Halloween my dad, Mary Lee, Stephen or Kyle were planning on having, but they were there when I needed them without giving it a second thought.

The refrigerator really looks great and it matches the stove perfectly. We ideally wanted a refrigerator with French doors on top and a pull out freezer door, but those were way out of our price range. I am very happy with the one we got, though, and the freezer is a lot bigger than our old one. Perfect for housing all the meat and sausage I've been grinding. Valerie is quite happy with it too, and she didn't waste any time getting it decorated with all of our magnets and pictures. What a day.

11 November 2009

121 weeks ago...

2 remarks
this picture was taken.

07 November 2009

My Latest Quandary

3 remarks
One day, during one of my pondering sessions, I sat quietly thinking of some of the great unknowns I had yet to gain an fluent understanding. What struck my fancy so viciously that I could no longer be uneducated in the matter was that none other than tennis scoring origin, of course. I thought to myself, why is tennis scored by increments of "love", "fifteen", "thirty", "forty", and "deuce"? I had to know the answer, so I went to the place where anyone can find all the answers to life's great mysteries, wikipedia.

Now, I know that the information posted on wikipedia is not always accurate so I did some other research to validate what I found. I don't know if the origin of tennis scoring is common knowledge, but I found it to be quite interesting and it really does make a lot of sense. I wasn't really concerned with the six games to a set because that would be like questioning why baseball has nine innings. Hmm...why does baseball have nine innings? Nah, I'll leave that for another post. It intrigued me because I could not think of another game where the scoring seemed so arbitrary.

The origins of the 15, 30, and 40 scores are widely believed to be medieval French. Most articles I read stated that a clock face was used on court, with a quarter move of the hand to indicate a score of 15, 30, and 45. When the hand moved to 60, the game was over. Aha! It makes perfect sense. Wait a minute! Where did the 40 come from? Why isn't it just 45? Well, it was soon realized that the game could then be won by luck, and the idea of "deuce" was introduced. "Deuce" comes from the French word "deux" meaning "two", as in two more points. In order to make the score still fit within the clock face, the 45 was changed to 40. Then, if both players had 40, the first player to score receives ten and that moves the clock to 50; if that player scored a second time before the opponent scored, he or she was awarded another ten and the clock moves to 60 and the game was over. However, if the player failed to score while on 50, the player's clock would move back to 40 and establish another "deuce". It makes perfect sense!

Now, the origin of the use of "love" for zero is shrouded in mystery. Some argue it derives from the "l'œuf", the French word for egg; since an egg looks like the number zero. Some claim "Love" is derives from "l'heure" or "the hour" in French. Another possibility of the origin, which I think is a stretch, comes from the Dutch "iets voor lof doen," which means to do something for nothing. The word 'lof' (nothing) has changed over time to 'love'. so many schools of though, it's sad that no one may ever know the one true origin.

So, now you know what happens when I have too much time for my mind to wander. But I feel better for now knowing the truth about tennis, at least the most accepted truth. I was surprised that the origin of tennis scoring isn't something absolute and undisputed. There are several different theories out there, but I decided to focus on the one that has been widely accepted as fact. So, next time you go out and play a game of tennis, maybe you'll picture a big clock in your head to help you remember the score. I know I will.

05 November 2009

Bring it on Food Network Challenge!

1 remarks
As you have probably figured out, for those of you who have read my blog, I enjoy cooking. I especially enjoy baking, and my dad posed a challenge to me for our October birthdays celebration. His challenge was simple, make a cake and decorate it by using fondant.

Seemed easy enough, and by all accounts, it really was. I ended up making my own fondant since buying it was really expensive. I found a recipe for the fondant and for the butter cream that needed to be used to keep the fondant from sliding off the cake.

I've seen a number of Food Network cake challenges, so I felt like I knew the basics of what I was supposed to be doing. I just made a ten inch round cake and decided to decorate it like a jack-o-lantern since we would be eating it on Halloween.

I made the cake and the fondant on Thursday night and decorated it on Friday night. All in all, I think it turned out really well, being my first time using it. Everyone enjoyed the cake and my dad was pleased that I finally got around to using fondant.



I would have liked to have done a little more detail work on the pumpkin part of the cake; like adding a stem or indents to show the sections of the pumpkin. But due to time constraints and other extenuating circumstances, that wasn't in the cards. I am still pleased with the way it turned out, though I feel it could have been better.

I think I may end up using fondant again in the future because it really is easy to work with and it looks nice. Ari wants a "Chick crashing the King" cake from a scene in the movie Cars, so if I am going to pull that off, I think I am going to have to use fondant. It should be interesting.

01 November 2009

Carvin'

3 remarks
Well, Halloween is over, and it sure was a doozy. We got the festivities going by carving our pumpkins on Wednesday. Mom, Marty, Ang, Michael and Piper were all over at our house for a fun-filled evening. Five pumpkins went under the knife that night and they all turned out really good.

We went to a pumpkin patch with my dad and Mary Lee down in Southern Indiana a couple weeks ago so the kids could pick out their own pumpkins. Ari liked the "bumpy" pumpkins, so we got a couple to display on our front porch. On Wednesday, when I cut the top off Emilie's it was rotten on the inside. Ari's was a little rotten, too, but after we got over the smell, the carving went off without a hitch.

All the kids liked their pumpkins and we lit them all up together before everyone left. We did them freehand this year after using patterns with Eva & Daniel last year. I would have used a pattern, but I couldn't find the one I wanted. I had a specific face in mind, but all my searches came up empty. Also, I noticed a lot of websites did not provide free patterns this year, you had to pay or join the site too see the patterns they had. Nevertheless, it was a fun evening of pumpkin carving, and I can only imagine it will be even more fun when the kids can carve their own.

Here is some visual proof of the pumpkins we carved this year. From left to right the pumpkins belong to Emilie, Ari, Michael, Angela, and Piper.


And with the lights out...

22 October 2009

this is not a show

0 remarks


I was looking forward to this new R.E.M. release, but after watching this trailer, I can hardly contain my excitement!

15 October 2009

A Quilt for Emilie

3 remarks
Before I started work on my R.E.M. quilt, my original plan was to make quilts for Ari & Emilie. The R.E.M. quilt was just going to be something to get me started so I would know what I was doing and not mess up the quilts I wanted to make for my kids. I learned a lot from making my first quilt and did a few things differently this time around. The R.E.M. quilt turned out better than I expected, so that gave me a lot of confidence and excitement toward making more.


Emilie's quilt is now complete and I must say it was much easier making a quilt without using t-shirts. I used the same basic concept as my first quilt by essentially just cutting squares and sewing them together. I then made a solid colored backing and tied the quilt layers together. It came out beautifully! I think it is just the right size for her.
I was able to get it done rather quickly and she absolutely loves it. She already knows that I made it for her, and I hope it becomes special to her as she grows up.
I am planning on making Ari's quilt out of his Mario shirts when he outgrows them. Yes, he has that many! But I don't get a break. We have already bought the fabric for me to make a quilt for Valerie. Stay tuned...

12 October 2009

That's My Boy

3 remarks
This picture looks really cool upside down and I felt the urge to post it.


I don't really know what else I can say, I'll just let the picture speak for itself.

05 October 2009

Our nutty squirrel

6 remarks
Ever since we have lived in this neighborhood, we have enjoyed the squirrels that traipse merrily about outside. Thinking of these squirrels brings back a memory of the fearless squirrel that challenged Walter to a dual and would not back down. The squirrel won the showdown and Walter spent the rest of our walk without the same spring in his step he is known for.

The squirrels that take residence in the maple tree in our back yard are especially entertaining. A year or so ago, I snapped the picture posted above of the squirrel lounging on a tree branch. This summer, we decided to put a squirrel feeder on our tree as a token of appreciation for all the joy these squirrels have brought us the last few years.

Just a small token of thanks to our nutty squirrel.

02 October 2009

A Salty Boil

3 remarks
One of the best tips I could give anyone in terms of cooking pasta is to salt the water the pasta will be cooking in before adding the pasta. I felt compelled to write about this because I have had a number of pasta dishes lately that were quite bland and would have benefited greatly from properly seasoned pasta.

So, why add salt to the water in the first place? Salt should be added to the water because every element of a dish should be seasoned. The salt adds a slight saltiness to the pasta that enhances the flavor considerably. Cooking pasta in salted water means that the pasta will absorb some of the salt and therefore not taste bland. This can't be fixed later by salting the pasta after it is cooked or adding extra salt to the sauce; this would just result in a bland pasta with a salty exterior.

So, how much salt should be added to the water? As a general rule of thumb, and what I have also heard from Mario Batali; is that the pasta water should taste like the sea. I even go as far as to season my pasta water with sea salt, another tip from Mario. I hope this didn't come off as being too preachy; I just wanted to get that off my chest and stress the importance of properly seasoned food. The dishes I had would have been saved by simply adding some salt to the pasta water. Thanks for reading.

27 September 2009

Frisbee Golf

2 remarks
Who says videos games don't promote an active lifestyle? Up until a couple of weeks ago, I wouldn't have believed it myself. As I've mentioned before, my family enjoys the Wii Sports Resort video game. One of our favorite games to play in Wii Sports Resort is Frisbee Golf. Ari & I love to duel it out on the virtual golf course. I had never given Frisbee golf much thought in the past, but playing on the Wii got me interested in trying the sport for real.

Highland park has had a Frisbee golf course for a few years and it is free and open to all who want to play. One afternoon after work, Valerie and I grabbed a couple Frisbees, packed up the kids, and headed down to the park. Armed with our plastic Frisbees we received for free at the fair, Ari & I hit the course. I thought we would play a hole or two and be ready to leave, but we ended up playing 10 or 12 holes. It was more fun than I could have imagined!

Ari was really good. Throwing the Frisbee on the Wii really gave him a good understanding on how to throw a real Frisbee. It was really just like the game. It was also nice just walking through the park with my family and being able to play a game with Ari at the same time. The only downfall was that we played too much. Ari's arm hurt pretty bad after we were done from throwing so much; which in turn, has caused him to not want to play again. Every time I ask him if he wants to go, he tells me that he has to wait until he is four before he can play again. Oh well, he'll be four soon enough.

23 September 2009

Apple Pie - from Nonna

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I don't remember how old I was, but I do remember a feeling of winning the lottery when Nonna handed me this card with her apple pie recipe lovingly handwritten on the front. I held in my hands the recipe for the best apple pie I ever ate. But, little did I know, merely having the recipe wasn't enough, executing the recipe properly was a whole different story.

Apple pie is not easy to make, at least for me it isn't. I remember Nonna's apple pies always turned out perfectly; tender, flaky crusts with the fork holes on top, apples at just the right consistency, and perfect little tapioca pearls scattered throughout. Delicious. Eating the pie was the essence of perfection. It was what instilled in me my love of pies.

Whenever I tried to make it, however, I always would do something wrong. I remember the first time I tried it, I overworked the dough, and it was neither tender nor flaky.  Along the way, I mastered the pie crust, but the tapioca caused me fits. I could never get them to cook all the way. The pearls would still be a little hard, and it took away from the enjoyment of the pie considerably. Tapioca pearls haunted my dreams. The flavor of Nonna's pie was there, but I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong with that darned tapioca.

A few months ago, my mom gave me a box of old recipes she found at Nonna's house. It was like a treasure chest of culinary gold. She told me of some of the recipes from her childhood, and they were all there for the most part. Other recipes from my childhood I recognized, too. I was so delighted to go through those recipes, anxiously rummaging through the box of goodies. I was like a kid on Halloween going through the candy bag at the end of a night of tireless trick-or-treating. As I was going through the box, I saw an old handwritten apple pie recipe. I looked at the recipe to see if there was anything different from the recipe Nonna wrote for me. The recipe was exactly the same, except for one ingredient. Instead of two tablespoons of small tapioca, this recipe called for 2 tablespoons of minute tapioca.

Minute tapioca! Maybe that was the answer! I resolved myself to wait until apples were in season to try this new ingredient. I literally thought about it all summer. Last week, I went to The Sunspot's farmers market to pick up some apples. On Thursday evening, I rushed home from work and got to work on the pie. It wasn't until Friday that we cut into the pie. The suspense was almost too much for me to handle as I made the first cut. As I served the first piece, I looked and the tapioca was completely cooked through. Success! The pie was very good! It still wasn't as perfect as the one's Nonna used to make, but it was definitely a step in the right direction. A couple more tries and I should have it down pat. Looks like I'll be going to the apple orchard this weekend. Hooray for pie!!

17 September 2009

Lightnin' Hopkins - Embryonic

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"Lightnin' Hopkins" is the ninth track on R.E.M.'s fifth studio album Document released in 1987. The track shares it's name with Sam "Lightnin'" Hopkins, a country blues guitarist from Texas.
The similarities end there, as it is widely assumed that the song really has no meaning at all. The song is also recognized for Bill Berry's drumming, which is pretty much the most frenetic and busy performance of any R.E.M. song.

I'm not a huge fan of the song, but my mom likes it a lot. Any time we talk about it and I tell her it's not one of my favorites, she always says, "But what about the drums!?" The early version takes place at McCabe's Guitar shop just a few months before Document was released in 1987. I also provided the album version for comparisons sake. This one's for you, Mom. Enjoy!

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15 September 2009

Deciduousness

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Every year since we've lived on Main Street, I guess it would be about 5 years now, the tree directly across the street from us is the first tree where I notice the leaves changing color. It's always somewhat shocking to see it the first time. All the other trees in our neighborhood are still almost all green, but this one is in full swing of the abscission process.

I do enjoy this time of year. I love the autumn leaves, the crisp, cool mornings and evenings, and apples and pumpkins galore. Now, if there could only be a way to go directly from autumn to spring, I would be a happy camper. But I guess there wouldn't be an autumn or spring without winter, so I should be grateful for that, too.

12 September 2009

3-year-old Finds Cure for Hiccups

1 remarks
So, Ari and I were in the kitchen making biscuits this morning when I was suddenly struck with a mighty bout of hiccups. Not a fan of the hiccups, I complained as they kept coming with reckless abandon, one right after the other. Seeing that I was uncomfortable, Ari looked at me and said, in a very manner of fact manner,

"Daddy, if you laugh, then your hiccups will be gone."

"Laugh?" I asked him, to make sure I heard him correctly.

"Yea, laugh." He said as if I should have known.

So, I let out a hearty laugh, and sure enough, my hiccups were instantly gone. Ari knew how to cure my hiccups! I gave him a big hug and high praise for his astute wisdom. I have never heard of laughing to cure hiccups. I guess it's true what they say, laughter is the best medicine. Thanks Ari!

10 September 2009

Pastry Cream!

4 remarks
It would be an understatement to say that I have thoroughly enjoyed Alton Brown's new book Good Eats: The Early Years. I have been reading sections of it every night since I got it; digesting all the wonderful nuggets of information thoughtfully placed on it's pages. It is truly a must have for any Good Eats fan, Alton fan, food fan, or really anyone! It's just that good. The book covers the first eighty episodes of Good Eats and is chock full of recipes, fun facts, trivia, and good ol' cooking know-how. So far, I only have one complaint; where's the Stove-top Mac & Cheese?

My excitement for the book grew to an even higher level yesterday when I was flipping through the pages and saw a recipe for pastry cream. Pastry cream? I don't remember that recipe on Good Eats. I turned to the page prior and saw that it was grouped with the recipes from the Choux Shine episode. "No way!" I yelled as I realized what I was seeing. In the actual episode, after Alton makes a batch of eclairs and cream puffs, he tells the viewer to use a pudding mix for the filling. Pudding mix? That doesn't sound like AB. Why would he tell us to use pudding mix? As it turns out, they did not have time to include the pastry cream recipe in the episode and he goes on to say that it really deserves an episode all to itself.

So, why am I so happy to have this recipe for pastry cream? I guess I don't really know. Maybe it's because I felt like the recipe was incomplete. I'm Just Here for More Food doesn't even have a recipe for pastry cream in it. It could be also that I didn't know that the name of the stuff that fills the eclairs is called pastry cream. I was looking for custard and pudding recipes, I didn't know to look for pastry cream. It may also be because I made eclairs a couple weeks ago and my pastry cream turned out lumpy. I didn't really use a recipe because I couldn't find one and just made it on the fly, so I really have only myself to blame. But now my eclair recipe arsenal is complete! Look out world!

08 September 2009

Wuhu Island Dilemma

1 remarks
Always wanting to have the latest greatest Nintendo developed video game, it was a no-brainer to purchase Wii Sports Resort a couple months ago. Wii Sports Resort is the follow-up to Wii Sports and includes many new games for the whole family to enjoy. The sequel comes with the new the Wii MotionPlus accessory that augments the Wii Remote's capability to track real motion, making user input incredibly accurate and precise. These new controls help revamp classic events like Golf and Bowling; and make new ones such as Archery, Table Tennis, and Frisbee Golf possible.

The game is a blast and Ari has become rather accomplished at it. He is quite the competitor and it is all I can do to beat him in a 3 hole match of Frisbee Golf. Don't even get me started on Fencing; I simply can't beat him. His favorite game though, is the island fly-over. All the events take place on Wuhu Island and in the Island Flyover you're able to fly freely over the island for five minutes, exploring Wuhu Island and its environs. The main point of the flyover is to collect i Points, which hover above certain points of interest on the island. You'll also be able to shoot balloons once you unlock them. There are eighty i Points in all and Ari can tell you where most of them are.

Ari has been talking about Christmas and his birthday a lot lately; every time he sees something he wants at a store, he says he wants it for Christmas. The other day he told me that he wanted a Wii Sports Resort game for Christmas. When I told him we already had the only Wii Sports Resort game available, he proceeded to tell me specifically what he was talking about. He wants an actual island that we can set up in the living room, and he wants his own little plane that he can fly around with his hands to collect the i points.

I was taken aback by the sincerity and innocence of his request. Why wouldn't there be an actual island for purchase? He has a Mario Kart track, Toy Story toys, Thomas train tracks, and countless Cars cars, it's only common sense for there to be a Wuhu Island set out there somewhere. I want more than anything for Ari to have an actual Wuhu Island play set for Christmas, but I have no idea how to pull it off. I know what he wants doesn't exist and I have no modeling experience whatsoever. It's not that I think he has to get everything he wants for Christmas either; I just think it would be so cool to have something like this. Unfortunately, this may have to be a Christmas wish that goes unfulfilled, but I haven't given up yet...

04 September 2009

Is The Wizard of Oz (1939 film) a musical?

4 remarks
The last time we got together to play cards, an interesting topic presented itself and soon became a heated debate. The conversation always flows like wine during poker night at the Wheeler's. Whether it be about a song that is playing, rekindling memories of card games past, or just playful banter, someone always has something to say, and it's usually good for a laugh.

I don't know how we got to talking about it, but the movie genre of the musical became the topic of discussion and Michael and Marty were declaring how much they disliked the musical, and how they refused to watch them. I, for one, am fond of musicals. By no means do I deliberately seek them out, but I don't avoid them or turn a movie off if a character breaks into song.

In fact, some of my favorite movies are musicals, mainly one's starring Danny Kaye; I have my mom to thank for that. Some Danny Kaye musicle favorites include Up In Arms, Wonder Man, The Court Jester, and White Christmas.


Plus, how can you go wrong with Mary Poppins or The Wizard of Oz? And that's when things really got interesting. When I mentioned The Wizard of Oz, Michael and Marty looked at me like I was crazy and told me The Wizard of Oz was not a musical.

Huh? There are about twenty times during the movie where the characters break into song. How could it not be a musical? Still, they stood their ground and Valerie even went on the internet to see if she could find the definitive answer. While she couldn't find anything that stated The Wizard of Oz was definitely a musical, she did find the definition of a musical film on wikipedia. It states...

"The musical film is a film genre in which several songs
sung by the
characters are interwoven into the narrative. The songs are usually used to advance the plot or develop the film's characters."

Well, if that doesn't sound like the formula The Wizard of Oz used, I don't know what does. Still, Michael and Marty were not convinced. I don't think it would have been such an issue if they didn't like The Wizard of Oz so much; Michael even said it is one of his favorite movies. How could one of his favorite movies be a musical when he despises them so much? My point is, don't dismiss a movie just because of the way it is labeled. So what if they sing a few times, as long as the story is good, what's the difference?


Since we could find no absolutly difinitive answer, I'd like to know what you think. Is The Wizard of Oz (1939 film) a musical? Please feel free to comment on the subject. Thanks!

03 September 2009

End of Summer Party

1 remarks
This past weekend, Valta hosted the first annual 'Sunspot End of Summer Party' and it was a rousing success. After we got there, Valta showed us around and we immediately spotted the paddle boat peacefully floating next to the dock. Valta said we could take it out and Angela and I were all over it. Valta got some life jackets for the kids and we were off.
Ari got to steer and he even paddled a bit himself. We went all over the pond and then decided we had better let someone else have a turn. It was tremendous fun, and Ari and Piper really enjoyed themselves. As we were waiting for the food, the kids took advantage of the hill that lead from the house to the pond and played on it for quite some time.
Ari had a blast rolling down the hill; and watching him brought back a lot of memories from my childhood. This was the first time he rolled down a hill successfully; we tried to show him how to do it on the hill at Jackson Morrow Park last year, but he just couldn't figure it out. He got it on his first try this time, and it was hard to get him to stop so that he could come eat dinner. After we ate, we were treated to the musical stylings of the Eleventh Hour.
It was an awe inspiring, rocking good time! It's always fun to watch them, and they put on a memorable show. The kids were dancing, spinning, and running to the music; they were having the time of their lives.
It was a wonderful party, and I was happy to hear that Valta said she would like to host it every year. Looks like the start of a tradition to me!

01 September 2009

The Real Fordly VonBeaglesford

3 remarks
The August topic for the Ditalini Press was to create a Tall Tale and make up a folk hero and build a legend around that character. It was a daunting task, indeed, but ultimately fun to write. Inspiration struck as I thought of my dog, Walter, and decided to build the story around him and some of the adventures we have shared together. There was no doubt of the name I would give my canine folk hero; one of my favorite nicknames I have given Walter...Fordly VonBeaglesford. Don't ask.

We have taken many a walk with Walter happily romping along; nose down ever so close to the sidewalk. Sometimes we get the strangest comments from people as we pass by. One of the most memorable, and one we still laugh about today, is when someone inquired "What's that? One of them smell hounds?" I've never heard the term 'smell hound' before that day. Another comment came as we passed a shirtless man with a beer bottle in his hand, and out of nowhere he said, "I got three pits at home." How do you respond to that? We just smiled and walked on.

Another element of Walter I had to include in the story was his insatiable appetite. Some of you may remember the Food Snatcher Extraordinaire post I did a few months ago. Well, the hound's appetite still hasn't changed and he still eats anything he thinks might be food. I'm just thankful he didn't develop an appetite for tomatoes or we would have had to watch him like a hawk every time he went outside. I can't say the same for the peanuts we throw out for the blue jays, though; if there are any left in the yard when he gets out, they are as good as gone.

I love my beagle, and I could not ask for a better dog, really. He is wonderful with the kids, a good listener, and just a lot of fun to have around. I've told Valerie that Walter is going to be our last dog. Not because I think he is going to live forever, but because I really don't think there could be a better dog than good ol' Walter. If you'd like to read my Tall Tale that was inspired by my trusty 'smell hound', just click here. I hope you enjoy it.

31 August 2009

September's coming soon...

0 remarks
"Nightswimming" is the eleventh track from R.E.M.'s 1992 album, Automatic for the People. It is yet another R.E.M. song that I enjoy singing to Ari & Emilie before bed; and a song that I feel is a fitting tribute to the end of summer. Enjoy!


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Nightswimming deserves a quiet night.
The photograph on the dashboard, taken years ago,
Turned around backwards so the windshield shows.
Every streetlight reveals the picture in reverse.
Still, its so much clearer.
I forgot my shirt at the waters edge.
The moon is low tonight.

Nightswimming deserves a quiet night.
I'm not sure all these people understand.
It's not like years ago,
The fear of getting caught,
Of recklessness and water.
They cannot see me naked.
These things, they go away,
Replaced by everyday.

Nightswimming, remembering that night.
September's coming soon.
I'm pining for the moon.
And what if there were two
Side by side in orbit
Around the fairest sun?
That bright, tight forever drum
Could not describe nightswimming.

You, I thought I knew you.
You I cannot judge.
You, I thought you knew me,
This one laughing quietly underneath my breath.
Nightswimming.

The photograph reflects,
Every streetlight a reminder.
Nightswimming deserves a quiet night, deserves a quiet night.

28 August 2009

Artistic Vision Realized

2 remarks
Valerie wanted Ari to make something artsy craftsy to give to Marcia for her birthday, and I had the idea to buy a canvas, some paintbrushes, some paint, and let him loose. So we set Ari up at the table with his paints and let him do pretty much whatever he wanted on that canvas. We showed him how to clean off the paintbrush in some water and that's about it. The paint on the canvas was all his own; his own artistic vision.

When he said he was finished, I went to help him write his name at the bottom of the canvas. Our first attempt was unsuccessful and I was thinking about how he could sign his name. Before I knew it, he was painting the letters A - R - I on the canvas all by himself. This was the first time he has written his own name, albeit backwards, but he wrote his own name! I was so thrilled and tempted to keep the painting; but we still gave it to Marcia (she loved it by the way.) Though, Valerie did go out and buy another canvas so Ari could do another painting for us to keep.

The painting pictured is the second one he made. He did this one all by himself as well, with even less help from Valerie and I. He was painting in the dining room while we were in other parts of the house, so I don't really even know what techniques he used. There are some paint splatters on this one that weren't on the first, and I don't know how those got there. When he told me he was done, I asked him if he signed his name, and he did. The result is a pretty cool painting that I am proud to display in my home. Way to go Ari!

26 August 2009

Seal of Approval

5 remarks
When I got home from work yesterday and saw the open envelope adorned with foreign postage and Eva's unmistakable handwriting, I knew that the catnip mouse prototype from BelleMereBelleFille had finally arrived. I was filled with glee as I asked Valerie where it was. She told me she gave it to Link on the porch where he was playing with it like he was a kitten again.

I went to the porch to witness the spectacle, and sure enough, he was out there batting it around, chewing on it, and rubbing his face against it. He was in kitty heaven. It's been a while since we bought Link a cat toy, and I don't think we could have gotten him anything better than this catnip mouse. He absolutely loves it! Thanks Eva!

24 August 2009

Culinary Napalm

2 remarks
Sugar water...boiling sugar water. Hot stuff. As I've heard Alton Brown affectionately refer to it a few times in the past, 'culinary napalm.' Yes, I imagine if this boiling concoction made contact with the skin at 240 degrees it wouldn't be a pleasant experience; but oh, the wonderful things that can be created with it. My favorite iteration, marshmallows.

Ever since I saw the Good Eats episode Puff the Magic Mallow, I have been making my own marshmallows. Let me tell you, the home-made version is light years ahead of the store-bought varieties. There is a certain softness, lightness, and smoothness that isn't there in the mass produced version; plus, there is no chemically after taste. Bonus! The process couldn't be simpler; and if you plan ahead, there is no reason to buy marshmallows ever again.

Here's how to make them:

Homemade MarshmallowsRecipe courtesy Alton Brown
Printable Recipe


Ingredients
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

Directions
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

There you have it. Couldn't be simpler, really, and it's a lot of fun, too! The marshmallows are perfect for roasting over a campfire, for use in rice crispy treats, or for just eating all by themselves. Plus, there is the satisfaction of a job well done, and knowing exactly what ingredients went into the delicate little wonders.

20 August 2009

The Joy of Riding

4 remarks
I remember reading this comic with Ari last year and thinking, "What an exaggeration! There is nothing that bad about riding a bike;" and "Ha! None of that stuff has ever happened to me!" You see, I just got my bike last year and began riding consistently; so everything was hunky dory. My bike rode like a well oiled machine, nothing could stop me! It's funny how much difference a year makes. After a recent series of events, this comic popped back into my head, and I saw there was actually a lot of truth to it.

So far this year, I have had a flat tire, my chain came off, and I had my first wreck on my bike. The chain incident and the wreck were within a couple days of each other, and to add insult to injury, both happened on my lunch break. When my chain came off, my hands were too covered in grease for me to eat my lunch; and after I figured out how to put the chain back on, it had a kink in it that made riding less than enjoyable. I then spent the evening trying to work out the kink. Thankfully, I was successful. As for my wreck, I lost control of my bike while riding on some wet pavement and scraped my arm up pretty bad. I was in the park at the time, and used all my water to wash the dirt out of the scrape on my arm. I don't think the chain incident or my accident would have seemed as bad had I not been on my lunch break.

Even with these minor setbacks, I still love to ride; and I still ride to work and during my lunch whenever I can. The comic rings true now, though, and I could even add a situation not depicted there. Maybe something like riding five miles while pulling a couple of screaming children in a bike trailer. Yeah, that got old real quick.

All in all, it's been an excellent year for riding, and I have been doing plenty of it. The weather has been cooler and not as humid as we're used to here in Indiana, and we have had very little rain. I got a bike rack for my car, so we have been able to drive to some of the paved trails around the state. Even with the missteps, it's been a lot of fun so far and I look forward to the adventures and challenges ahead.

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