Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My, she was yar.

The squirrels thoughtfully packed my Christmas present in my aloe plant before I left Austin. That's right, 7 weeks after leaving, I found a little tree growing from a buried nut in the pot. Thanks you little f'ers.

Work is useless for me today. All I can think about is this:

Yipee skippee! Xmas morning I land in Brussels for a nice long visit with mom, plus my brother and his family, who are also flying in for the holiday. Am very much looking forward to seeing Belgium, which, according to Eddie Izzard, God created on the first day. Oh how I adore you, Eddie.

I plan to take countless pictures of my nieces and nephew, who are arguably the cutest kids on earth. Might take some of Belgium too. And frites. Gotta buy some chocolate for all who requested it. I'm not a big chocolate freak to be honest. Not unless it's in a brownie or something. But the frites and waffles, I will fall prey to immediately.

And I'll have Liz in tow. Meet Liz!

She's my Christmas present to myself this year. Donations are being accepted to pay off my credit card. Clearly I don't have funds to buy a digital SLR right now, but I'd decided long ago that I wanted to get one soon. And when the Belgium trip got booked, I knew I needed it before I left. So I researched and watched the sales and pondered and polled. In the end, lowest price trumped all other factors and I got the Nikon D40. I'm looking forward to learning what all its buttons do (there are a lot more than are on my old Pani). Speaking of my Panisonic, it's not retiring forever. It is a good, sweet, if slightly temperamental camera and has served me unbelievably well. Most important, it is with it that I discovered how much I love photography, and through it that I documented New York. Yes dear, we'll always have New York.

As for Liz, she's a good bit heavier, and makes me feel very fancy and professional. And not named for who you probably think she's named for (ahem Liz Lemon). I do love Lemon, but the Nikon is actually named for Liz Imbrie from The Philadelphia Story, one of my favorite movies. She was the photographer and straight gal to Jimmy Stewart's reporter.

Here she is meeting Tracy (Katherine Hepburn). God I love that movie. It's genius. I've got this odd habit of naming electronics for characters from old movies. I've already used Bailey and Devlin for computers. And the iPods have an exclusive contract with To Kill A Mockingbird (hello Atticus, Scout and Scout 2).

Anyway, turns out a Christmas tree is a perfect thing to have around when experimenting with an SLR for the first time. All those bits and baubles to practice zooming and focusing on.

Cats too, it seems.

Office is closing early today - hooray! Better scurry so I can get everything done. Hope everyone has a wonderful holiday, and I'll see you in '09!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Dining out is fun

Some of you might be familiar with this magazine (which shall remain unnamed because I used to work there). Their December issue had a huge round-up on small town cafes that I was fortunate enough to contribute to. I use fortunate loosely. It might sound like great fun to eat at 17 cafes in 3 days, but trust me when I say it gets old very quickly. Plus there's a lot of bad food out there.

I brought along my friend E, who grew up in a small town eating good, traditional cafe-style food. She had an astoundingly accurate radar for fake mashed potatoes and high standards for her chicken fried steak, and great skills at chatting up strangers, which was a huge help while I was feverishly snapping pictures or taking notes in a corner.

Our zone was south east Texas. Specifically from just north of Beaumont up to highway 21 and from the Louisiana border west to highway 59. It was hot and we were in a rented Suzuki that was of such poor quality of workmanship that we repeatedly checked the model year and mileage in disbelief that it was not much older or more well-traveled. My apologies if you own one.

E took that one of me. Since logistically it's near impossible to "eat in" at all these cafes in that amount of time, we would almost always order the food to go, jump in the car, and drive off to the next town while I would take a few bites and snap a few photos in the backseat, then carefully pass fork-fulls up to E. Again, this eating on the fly really takes away from the charm of the whole adventure.

Our first night we stayed in a roach coach, which was highly unpleasant. So on night two, we treated ourselves to a B&B in San Augustine. It was called The Columns - if you're ever in that neck of the woods, I'd recommend it.

Atmosphere was just as important as food, so finding that combination was a lot tougher than you'd expect. The answer to "Would I send one of our readers here?" was most commonly "no." A couple made the cut, though.

One in particular had that most sought-after pie case. We had such a hard time finding pies, and an even harder time finding good pies, and even harder still finding good pies that weren't purchased at Sam's (truly - we had to ask everyone if they made their own pies, and they usually didn't). And since the pie case place was also one of two to serve real mashed potatoes, and was obscenely cute to boot, it won our vote.

I was never really a fan of onion rings until this trip. Now I know I'd just never had good onion rings. If you're ever near Moss Hill, Texas, I'd recommend stopping into Simply Country Cafe. The weekends give you better odds of a wider variety of pies. The lemon meringue is heavenly. And if you're ever near Colmesneil, Texas, stop by the Burger House. I hear their onion rings are to die for.

This place was lovely and served good food, but they buy their pies. We considered this a deal breaker.

Not our hotel. Sour Lake was cute though. Anywho, it was a fun trip - quite an adventure I'd say.

Preparation is under way for last-minute holiday gatherings, cleaning and doing laundry, baking up a storm, and packing (soon) for my trip to Belgium. I leave on the 24th and am beyond excited. If only there weren't so much to be done before I go--ahh holiday stress attacks! Got Courtney's holiday mix CD in the mail yesterday and popped it straight into the car stereo. Oooh, that's better.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Pie, me oh my

I don't mean to brag or nothing, but I make a pretty good pecan pie. It's a Thanksgiving standard in my family, and it's become my responsibility to make it. Every year I hope to have enough time to experiment with home-made pie crust, but it never comes together. It's always a rush and therefore the pie always ends up in a Pillsbury crust from the grocery store, which I think works fine. Plus who wants to experiment when you've got company to feed? Go with what works. Maybe someday I'll get around to finding that favorite pie crust recipe.

I think a very, very important part is having good pecans. Obvs I've made it in the past with regular ones from the store, but getting some fresh ones always helps. I can taste the difference when pecans are crap. You just know. My mom always used to order them from a place down south called Fry's. This year I picked up some from the Dallas Farmers Market and saved some money on shipping. I was told that these came from a farm somewhere near San Saba.

Anywho, chop 'em up nice and even. I like when you see all those pieces on top all perfect and pretty.

Creaming the butter, sugar, etc. is really important too. I have a handheld mixer and I keep after it for longer than one would think you need to. Basically I do it til I think it's done, then do it a little longer. Get it as smooth as you can. Then mix in the rest and lastly, swirl in those pretty pecans. Pour it in the shell and pop it in the oven. Watch it closely, and if it starts to get too dark, throw a piece of foil on top. I've got a new oven this year and it runs hot, so the pie just nearly burned. But turned out okay I think.

Be sure to get you a piece quick. These go fast. This recipe hails from my mom's side of the family - warm with a glass of milk is our pie-eating M.O. Folks at my dad's place this year started putting ice cream on it. WTF? Don't do that.

Maw Maw's Pecan Pie

In mixer (or with the hand-held joint), combine:
3 tablespoons of softened butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Beat until creamed on high.

Turn mixer to low and add:
1 cup of white syrup (karo)
3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla (I like Mexican if you've got it)
1 cup of pecan pieces

Mix well. Pour into uncooked pie shell. Cook at 425 for 10 minutes, then at 350 for 25 to 30 minutes. Make sure the center isn't too wobbly - keep it cookin' if it is. Yummy yum - enjoy!

The goal is to get the Christmas cards in the mail, plus packages going overseas, by Saturday. Lots of stuff to do before then - eek. Got the cards made, just need to fill em in, gather those addresses, etc. They look damn cute, if I do say so myself. And so much easier than last year's Moo card debacle.

That was a lot of work. Turn on the Christmas music and just power through it. NPR's got this lovely collection of tunes streaming online right now called Jingle Jams. I wish they'd make a CD of this. I'd buy it. KUT is one of the stations that contributed songs. Ah KUT. I miss it. Almost as much as I miss WNYC. Sam is cool in the mornings but I miss Soterius. P.S. What kind of dork ranks Morning Edition hosts?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Flashback Fridays

These days, it's all washcloths, all the time. My sister-in-law is getting a stack from me as a joint Christmas/birthday present. My knitting skills are improving!

I got the pattern here - my SIL grew up in Louisiana. I've also made one with an "A" on it (for her name) and one with an apple, and plan to make one with hearts on it, and also one with an elephant, since she's currently living in Africa. Gotta hurry tho, Christmas is coming!

I used to love this movie as a kid. Seventies Disney at its best:

I think CJ needs a collar like that, don't you? Jake the cat from The Cat From Outer Space was such a badass.

Have a spiffy weekend kids. I'm off to buy a camera - merry Christmas to meeee!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Deck the bed (no holly pls)

I think it's cool when people have "holiday bedding." You always see it in the catalogs -- the holiday-perfect guest room. But what's the point of that bedding if you're only going to use it one month out of the year? Must have money to burn. If I did, this would be mine:

It'd be a nice break from my simple white with blue ticking stripe quilt that's on my bed year round. In the winter I could bust out a down comforter and toss this on the bed. And the good news is all my sheets would still work with it since they're all white and blue.

Don't forget the euro sham. That's an essential. Plus it's not covered with holly berries and snow flakes and such, so it's cool if it stays on until March.

I dig the quilt too. The whole thing is the perfect mix of my color scheme but a little heavier on the red. Nothing wrong with that. I'd probably tame it down a bit with a white bedskirt and a few pastel blue throw pillows. Yeah. Oh, and all of this is John Robshaw for HSN (spotted on Elements of Style). HSN?? Um, yeah! Go figure.

Is everyone already all decorated for the holidays? I'm not there yet but I'll get there soon. I've been out of town a lot lately, and the apartment is super messy, but I'll get there. I heart the holidays. Except this is the only time of year I miss having a roommate. Decorating a tree alone is a bit of a drag.

My last roommate, ML, had a kitty who loved sleeping on my tree skirt. That's her cat Patton above. In fact all cats love sleeping on my tree skirt. I spend the holidays terrified that CJ might barf on it. I love that tree skirt. It's all knitted and has shaggy yarn trees on it. What's your favorite Christmas decoration?