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I opened a box of Cheerios a few days ago. Mind you, I'm the target market for the "supermarket pastoral" image that Whole Foods pushes, so when I buy oat-based toroidal breakfast cereals, they're usually the store-brand "Morning-O"s (tagline should be: Who doesn't like a good morning O?)

However, I was at Safeway last week, and as a matter of convenience, I picked up a box of the name brand. (I still want to know what marketing genius thought "no keeping them down" would be a good slogan for a food product.) I noticed that it came with a prize: extra excitement! But when I opened it a couple of days later, the Spidey(tm) Water Squirter (in its own little plyobag) was right there. Just below the flap. Yes, I opened the correct side of the box. And I didn't even have to open the bag that contained the product. Where's the suspense? What, no collecting box-tops and mailing them in? No having to eat your way down until the level was low enough to get your hand all the way down to the bottom to root around for the toy? No wondering if you could avoid spilling it all over the floor and rousing mom-wrath when you transferred the entire contents to a mixing bowl and then back into the box?

I felt cheated.
The KFC near my house has been undergoing a major remodel. Within the last few days, they completed the fascia on the corner, which features a large back-lit sign of the familiar Colonel, but with a big difference: he's wearing what appears to be a red apron over his usual white suit and black bow tie.

I'm sure this reinvented, stylized logo is intended to convey the notion that Harland Sanders is in the kitchen, rolling up his immaculate white linen sleeves to tweak the herb-to-spice ratios into perfection, but to me, it gives the impression that he's a pensioner plastering the mandated smile on his face as he prepares to get behind the counter and take some orders to supplement his SSI payments. Or perhaps getting ready to hose down the kill floors (in which case the smile is even more creepy than it already was).

Muscle memory is...

...when you gently agitate your carton of orange juice... and then tap it on the counter to dislodge any air bubbles from the film.

(Seriously. I did this when I was half-awake the other morning, after not having hand-developed film for, oh, a decade.)

Realizations


  • Oranges taste fantastic with good olive oil and sea salt. (Realized when the other half of a spritz garnish ended up too close to the salad on the plate.)


  • I enjoy dining in world-class restaurants because getting the attention of the staff is often a matter of simply inclining the head or glancing in their direction with raised eyebrows. (Realized while pondering the wireless "press for service" button on the table at dinner last night. I speak at a special frequency that is generally inaudible to waitstaff.)


  • Whatever muse was visiting the pre-Sticky Fingers Rolling Stones came back to spend some quality time with The Shins. (Realied while browing the 'S' section of my library for CDs to bring in the car this morning.)
OK GO's song Here It Goes Again was playing at the gym tonight.

I was sorely tempted to jump on one of the treadmills.

Orb Weaver

Orb Weaver There's been an orb weaver living near my rosebushes for the last month or so. There've been some lovely webs built between the rose canes and the house, but by the time I had a chance to take a picture, they'd be gone. Last weekend, I finally had a chance when the spider had graced my front yard with yet another web. You can't see the web so well, but I think the macro lens worked well to get some nice close-ups of the spider.
Click on the pictures for larger versions.

Orb Weaver

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The Week (or Two) in Review

Glancing over at my work bookshelf, I see the set of chocolate bars that remain even after I've shared several with co-workers. Work-Jennifer brought by a passel of mostly-Eurochocolates (two Lindt, two Daskalide's, a Ghiradelli, a Valor, a Perugina, and a Witor's) as a thank-you for last-minute help with a client issue a couple of weeks ago. Apparently Trader Joe's has a great deal on a "variety pack" that includes them. I (and my team) have thought they've all been pretty yummy so far; guess we'd better get crackin' on the rest of them. Between the bars and the bottle of 2000 WillaKenzie Pinot Noir that another client team brought me, it's quite the little pantry I'm building here.

It hasn't been a good couple weeks for sharp things. Last week, I was steeling a knife when it slipped and made a nice incision on the back of the knuckle of my left thumb. Ow. Awkward place for a bandage, too. And the second incident... well, more on that later.

Tuesday of last week, I saw Little Miss Sunshine. Great flick. Alan Arkin in particular was awesome, but it was a great ensemble effort. On Wednesday, saw Casino Royale with the work team. There were enjoyable action sequences, which (to me) is mostly what a Bond film should be about. But the story tended to drag a bit in places, and there was some chronological awkwardness which I couldn't see that they had any way to work around.

Wednesday evening, went shopping with V to prepare for the feast the next day. I got my buttons pushed by her mentioning that the stuffing option was going to be Stove Top, and decided that I had to get the ingredients to do it myself (in addition to the other two things I was already going to be making). Helped V get the turkey brining, then went home to make Southern-style cornbread to prepare for the next day's extravaganza of cooking and eating.

Slept in a little later than I should have on Thursday (but what luxury!), which meant that I was a bit late starting the cooking. First to start was the dough for the Parker House rolls, aka "pockets of buttery doom": nevermind the 8 tablespoons that are in the dough (yields 18 rolls), each roll getes a dollop of butter sealed into it, then they all get brushed with yet more melted butter. Yum. Also made the aforementioned stuffing (cornbread and sausage), as well as prep for the creamy garlic and chive mashed potatoes.

Made it over to V's at last, where R1, M, P, and R2 were already enjoying V's new copy of Guitar Hero II. Popped the cork on the bottle of NV Rene Collard Brut that I brought, sampled some of the cheese tray, and got to work on the remainder of the a la minute cooking, with help from P and M. The other two bottles I brough included what I now refer to as the chewy-cherry-chocolate-chunk Syrah (2003 Foxen; a bit over the top, I thought), and a 1994 Zilliken Saarburger Rausch Kabinett, which I knew R2 would like, but it also proved to my other friends that Rieslings don't have to be cloying... that lovely minerality starts to show so well after a decade or so.

The turkey was fab, as were the beans, mac & cheese, pie, cake, and cranberry sauce supplied by the rest of the group. A good time was had by all, including one of R1's students that wasn't home for the holiday and would've been at the mercy of whatever restaurant she could find open on that day. Much work on the Guitar Hero chops for all, that evening.

Spent Friday running useful errands that hadn't been gotten around to otherwise: grocery shopping, cleaning around the house. Also saw Stranger Than Fiction with V (apprently it's been a good week for seeing movies). Fun! Will Ferrell knew well enough not to play it to crazy, and Hoffman was perfect for his role.

On Saturday, worked on the pile in the sink that had accumulated from the Thanksgiving cooking. Was so excited by having clean dishes again that I decided to make bread. Started the biga (sponge) for a loaf of rustic Italian bread.

Sunday, ran more errands and made the bread. One half of the divided dough was made into a batard shape (what I usually use for this dough), the other went into the banneton that I purchsed a few months ago but hadn't used yet. Oh, and here's the other sharp-object tragedy: when I was trying to pull the safety cover (oh, the irony) off of the lame, I neatly sliced the pad of my left thumb. Have I mentioned how sharp those things are? Like, scalpel-sharp. It was bleeding almost before I felt it. Bandage, alcohol on the lame, then back to the bread... rising dough waits for no man.

Both loaves turned out great! I think he diastatic malt powder helps the crust immensely: brown and crisp, with a cool, creamy, irregular crumb. The one from the banneton was slightly nicer, I thought, and very pretty, with the impression of the bent-willow spiral showing in the flour-dusted crust. Will be doing that one again.

Spend Sunday night cleaning up the mess from the breadmaking.

Monday, was so excited by having a clean kitchen again (sensing a pattern?), that I decided to make West-African Chicken Peanut soup! This is a recipe from Gordon, the chef of a cafe at a company that I used to work for. This soup was always a crowd-pleaser; when it was on the menu, one wanted to be sure to get to the cafeteria early to get a share. When we learned that our office was to be shut down, we pleaded with Gordon to share the recipe with us, and he relented. My kitchen still smells a little like curry. Made plenty: after the two bowls I had, there was about a half gallon left; it's as easy to make a lot as it is a little. I ate soup for lunch and dinner for a couple of days, and shared the rest with friends. Finally convinced V to try a bowl of it; and she loved it!

After a busy week at work (and some unexpected car repairs), I'm preparing to head off to Las Vegas to hook up with V, P, K, R, and M for R's birthday and the Mike Doughty/Barenaked Ladies concert. Should be fun, but I'm having to make some effort to get into the Las Vegas party-down spirit, given the fact that it's been a somewhat-stressful couple of weeks, and I feel like I might be coming down with a cold. But I'm a trouper. Just need more caffeine, I think. Or booze. Oh, I know, both: Spanish Coffees! Woo! The legal equivalent of speedballs.

Cytokines and Catalan

Damn cytokines... still sniffly, but certainly not as bad as I was on Tuesday. Throat's sore, but the honeyed tea is helping with that. Spent the last couple of days at home, since Rule Number One of the open office plan is "keep the germs at home when you turn into a virus breeding ground". I expect that I picked it up from one of my fellow 378 passengers on the way back from Barcelona (had a fantastic time there with basmati, more details later!); the long leg was 12 hours, from Munich to San Francisco. Gotta love intercontinental flights for picking up colds... it's like grade school times ten. And you get to deal with the lag at the same time!

Spent the days working from home and sipping a decoction (I've been reading the His Dark Materials trilogy on the plane, so yeah, that word worked its way into my vocabulary) of orange juice and seltzer. Now that I'm feeling better, I was thinking about being social tonight and going to see Run Lola Run, but I dunno... I may have filled up on German after the Lufthansa flights.

(Amusing aside: After last year's language debacle in Munich, I promised myself that I wasn't going to make the same mistake when ordering a coffee in Frankfurt. Which of course, meant that it happened. "Si. I mean, Yes. I mean, Ja." *rolls eyes*)

I love the way that German strings old nouns together to make new ones, so you get these six-syllable words (like Annahmeschlusszeiten: "Acceptance conclusion times"). But German has so many hard edges to it, though... it takes a talent on the scale of Goethe or Schiller to wring poetry out of it. Not like Spanish, where even the announcements at the Metro station sound lyrical. (But you have to admit that the phrase "Möchtest du Strudel für Frühstück in München?" while not poetic, is amusing. Especially, as H. says, if you use the Swedish Chef voice when you say it.)

The predominant language around Barcelona, in Catalonia (what became an autonomous region, post-Franco) is Catalan--don't make the mistake of calling it a dialect. Unforunately, there are limited resources for learning it. On the plus side, pretty much everyone there also speaks Castillan Spanish, and/or English, and/or French. People make jokes about how English borrows from other languages (follows them down alleys, beats them up, rifles through their pockets for words), but it's as if Catalan has tampered with God's plan by creating a mutant hybrid of French and Castillan, with extra sets of appendages stolen from Italian bolted on for good measure. Yikes. I'm going to have to learn at least a little of it if I want to make anything from the Comerç 24 cookbook, though. (Hi, my name is Byron, and I have a coffee-table cookbook addiction.)

Caffe dell'Ufficio

It's nice working at a company with enough "vision" to have an espresso machine on the premises, even if it does neet a bit of tweaking (it's an automatic, and the shots it's pulling are too long). I need to bring in a wide, shallow cup so I can practice latte art.

Being able to pull a quality shot is very satisfying. I mean, yeah, for every one that's perfect, there are many that are only okay (and a few that are just plain bad), but it's worth it to see the bubbles and "tiger stripes" in a lovely, caramel-colored crema and taste that perfect balance of smokiness, berry sweetness, and chocolatey bitterness.

At the last company I worked for, in Portland, a cow-orker and I figured out that between the two of us, we were spending about $100/month on our daily americano fix at the Daily Cafe (how apropos). So we decided to pool our resources and buy an espresso machine (a Rancilio Silvia) for the office.

Unforunately, said cow-orker was laid off a few weeks after we bought the machine. Suckage. I ended up buying out his "share", and now it's my home machine. It's a great machine. (Note: Dream Home will have a plumbed-in Synesso Cyncra.) It's not a super-automatic that does the grinding, dosing, tamping, and pulling all with the push of a button; it does require a bit of patience and understanding. But again, the rewards are worth it.

(I read a recent article on the NY Times website about the resurgence of cafes with a focus on quality; the inevitable backlash against the McDonalds-like ubiquity of Starbucks.)

I miss places like the Albina Press, Anna Bananas, Stumptown, and yes, of course Coffee People, but I've been able to find at least a couple of sources down here that are quite excellent. Barefoot Coffee roasts some great blends (Sweetness is my favorite), and pulls a mean shot. They even have an "exchange program" where they occasionally carry blends from other roasteries (such as Stumptown!) Blue Bottle Coffee is also very good, though I've only had it from their booth at the farmer's market. I've yet to visit the cafe location in Hayes Valley.

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