Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

First things first, a treat for me:
Today was the last day of early voting in Denver. Didn't have to wait very long, maybe 20 minutes, but the poll workers said it had been busy all day. They were out of paper ballots for my precinct (and many others), so I had to use the touch-screen machine. How amazing is that? It's great to know so many are voting.

Went candy-shopping, too, just in case that big Costco bag didn't last.
No, I did not get friggin' Christmas candy. Can you believe that's on the shelves already? Sheesh.

I got some Gummi Bears, Mounds and, yes, "High School Musical" candy. It has Pop Rocks in it!
Got my second pumpkin carved, too. Kind of a quick hack job, joining last week's creation, who lost most of his teeth to squirrels.
Then I sat down to wait. And wait. It got dark, and still no kids. Finally, two adolescent boys in scary masks appeared, a parent trolling alongside them down the street in an SUV. How lame is that? I told them to smile for the picture. See the grins? Then finally some parents who were better sports. Where do you find an adult-sized Scooby-doo costume?
A passel of princesses and Wednesday from the Addams Family:
And a bunch of rowdy boys who were going full-tilt on a sugar high. They were a little crazed but essentially polite, and obligingly screeched to a halt for my camera before dashing on.

My favorites were the little girls from around the corner (or "the sqealers" as I like to call them – they have one volume: piercing). The puppy twins were clearly having the time of their lives. Suckers! Candy! They were very cute.
I had a few other small groups, but what you see here is essentially what I got. What happened? The parents I talked to were surprised, too. Reportedly last year a lot of people ran out of candy, there were so many kids, even though it was a Wednesday night, cold and drizzling.

Well, at least I had a few! And a lot of leftover candy. Oink.

I capped the evening with dinner at Oshima Ramen, where the Sergeant and I were the only diners. I guess Japanese noodles aren't really a Halloween thing. But they sure are good.

I hope your Halloween was fun!

I should be cleaning a pumpkin

But I got distracted by the filthy upstairs windows. I thought I'd have to get up on a ladder, but I can reach many of the windows from the front and back decks, and the trickiest ones tip in on the bottom. A cloth on a squeegee proved effective.

Now I have to go get more candy. Just in case I run out.

I do hope your day was more exciting!

My alarm clock

This is usually true for me. Working later in the day should mean I can sleep as late as I want, but invariably I wake up after six or seven hours and start thinking. Gotta get this done, need to take care of that. Doesn't matter if those things aren't urgent; my brain says GET UP!

Except this morning, when the smoke alarm in the upstairs hallway was my wake-up call at 6:30. Blaaaaaat! Blaaaaaaaaaaat! I sat bolt upright. What the hell??? Jumped out of bed. Sniff sniff. No smoke. Friggin' battery needs to be changed.

This weekend Daylight Saving Time ends. You should be changing your smoke-alarm batteries (and flipping mattresses). I just wish mine had waited until daylight to remind me.


Well, I learned something about planting and harvesting shelling beans. One, you have to plant a lot of beans to get any kind of return worth writing home about. I planted only 10 beans from Rancho Gordo. Which would've filled up a quart jar with cellinis, except for Lesson Two: You're supposed to leave the bean pods on the vine until they turn dry and brown, yes, but not if there's going to be a freeze.

I should've harvested all the remaining green pods and put them somewhere cool – but not freezing – to finish drying out. Once they'd frozen, the pods and beans turned to mush. I thought I might be able to save the once-frozen green beans and use them right away, but they tasted off, so into the compost they went. (The ones in the jar are fine, though. They dried out before the freeze.)

Ah well. Garden and learn.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Another invisible cat

You probably can't see it either. Here, let me zoom in:
I try to stay observant on our walks, and carrying a camera helps me record some of the interesting stuff I see. I look back though my photos and think, "Oh yeah! I forgot about that!"

I've found that as I get older, making a mental note isn't always effective. I remember that I wanted to remember something, but what it was, I can't recall.

Cooking in a hurry

I never thought I would be a person who made bread. Heck, I never thought I'd be someone who could even cook. I was a picky eater as a kid, much preferring to nibble on this or that and dash off again than to sit still and finish a whole meal. Drove my mom crazy. Hated peas, hated tomatoes, soup was yucky, pasta sauce gross. I couldn't let foods even touch on the plate and preferred to eat my sandwiches as separate components.

Mom was good cook and liked trying new things. Dad was a gourmand and loved to go out. So I wasn't a stranger to fine cooking, and when I liked it I ate a lot of it. But I never had a yen to make it myself.
That changed when I went off to China in my 20s. The teachers' fare in the dining halls was a cut above what the students ate (which was dreck; one reason you rarely see fat Chinese students), but still pretty eh. Boy, did I get tired of Chinese food. (I was very skinny then, and got even skinnier after three years of the Chinese diet. People were always trying to fatten me up. "Tian shengde; mei banfa!" I'd say. I can't help it; I was born this way!)

The best meals I had were cooked by my teaching partners or students and their families, and I started to realize that maybe I could eat better if I learned to make a few things myself.

Fast forward to many years later. I'm still learning how to cook, but I have a grasp of the basics and a willingness to experiment. And I can make bread! It's not fancy bread, but it still feels like alchemy to me. Such simple ingredients: flour, water, yeast and salt.
That brings me to the parmesan sprinkling. Mix up some basic dough that lives in the fridge, and cut off a hunk when you want to bake. Every day, if you want. Spread the dough in a rectangle, cover it liberally with shredded parm (or cheddar, or jalapeƱo jack) and roll it up.

Here's a trick I finally figured out: If you're cooking no-knead bread in a pot and want the cheesy top nice and golden, don't wait until it achieves that color at 450 degrees with the lid off. The bottom will be burnt. Instead, when the top just starts to color, turn the broiler on and brown the top for a minute that way. Perfect!

This photo doesn't really do it justice. I was in a hurry, having miscalculated how long it would take me to throw lunch together. I was also prepping another batch of chard from the garden (yes, there's still some to be harvested).
I am really liking it creamed. You just sautée a bunch of onions in olive oil and butter, throw in the chard and toss it to coat, then cover and let it wilt down. Add a splash of heavy cream and cook it some more. I added some chopped tonsils to it, too, (that's oven-dried tomatoes) and a sprinkle (love sprinkles!) of parmesan. Very tasty.
I also had some very attentive supervision underfoot.
What really threw me off was Jen's apple-cranberry crisp. I was also trying to make that while baking bread and cooking chard. Supposedly to take to work for the cow-orkers. (Manisha made it, too, and it just sounded so good). But I was in such a hurry I didn't cream the butter and sugar properly, I ran out of brown sugar (used light brown demerrera instead), and frankly, the butter was a little off, I think. (It had been in the freezer maybe too long.)

But you know, it came out not half-bad:
I'm going to make it again this weekend, and maybe the cow-orkers will get that batch. I would like it with much more fruit and somewhat less topping, though, so I'll use more apples and a deeper dish next time, and reduce the topping.

But you can never go wrong with vanilla ice cream on it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The freshness of downy

Outside my backdoor there's a birch tree whose upper branches shade my deck. Squirrels like the tree, and they're amusing enough, but it's always nice to see someone else come visiting, like this efficient little downy woodpecker.
He seemed mostly unconcerned by my presence, but spent a lot of time tap-tap-tapping away on the opposite sides of the branches, just peeking around from time to time to see if I was still there.

His head was moving so fast it was hard to get a decent photo, especially on zoom.
This tree is slated to get a good trim in a few weeks, when the dying maple out front comes down. Yes, I finally got an affordable estimate on that: $880. Ouch. No word yet on whether we'll be able to save the beehive inside.

Who doesn't love sprinkles?

Parmesan sprinkled onto bread dough:
Oaty topping sprinkled onto apple-cranberry crisp (recipe from Jen of Use Real Butter):
Details coming soon!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Bungee stumping

Yes, we love our abundant sunshine in Colorado, as I just mentioned. Its drawbacks are few. You need to have UV tint on your windows if you don't want textiles to fade to oblivion, and sunglasses and sunscreen are a must.

If you need a reminder that the sun can cause some serious damage, check out what it has done to this bungee cord. The poor thing was just sitting there, wrapped not very tightly around my upstairs deck umbrella to keep the wind from turning the umbrella into a guided missile.

Not that I'm complaining. I used to think that people who kvetched about a few overcast days were wimps, but now if I don't get my regular dose of Vitamin D, I see what they mean.

Doughnuts to apples

Sunday was the last farmers market of the season, which makes me very sad. However, the day was brisk but sunny, and everyone was in a festive mood, especially since there were Halloween costume contests for kids and pets.

No, Sophie did not take part. She's got her blinged-out collar and that's enough costume for her.

I had my hands full with dog, NaBloWriMo art and rolly cart, so I took no photos except for the one above, in the booth next to the Soap Crone. It featured an odd variation of bobbing for apples, with mini-doughnuts on strings. (There's a use for that silly gadget!)

I got some of Amy's special edition herbal soap, then unfolded my cart to roll home with this:
About 20 pounds of "keeping" apples, a mix of Braeburns and Fujis. Wrapped in a blanket in the garage, they should keep through January. But I'm hoping to use them up before then. I've got some baking plans.

Monday, October 27, 2008

What is it? No. 23

I'll be disappointed if some of you don't know what this is. Click on the photo to see if you're right!

Don't give away the answer in the comments, please! (Some folks see the comments along with the post.)

Look over yonder

As the leaves fall, the view from my window gets better and better. I can see the mountains in the summer, too, but they're more striking with a fresh blanket of snow.

Many people think Denver is snowbound all winter. But most of the white stuff stays in the mountains where it belongs. Snow that falls in the city usually melts within a few days. We love our abundant sunshine!

The exception was a couple of winters ago, when it snowed every weekend for several weeks. The city didn't plow immediately (it'll melt, right?), so we ended up with a big mess. I felt like I was back in South Dakota.

For now, I'll enjoy the balmy weather this week promises. Time for garden cleanup, and more window-washing.

Silly kitchen gadget No. 27

I once made the mistake of roasting a head of elephant garlic and eating almost the whole thing myself, with nice crusty French bread and some runny brie. Or maybe it was Camembert. I was having one of those sybaritic, indulge-yourself kind of evenings.

Oh yes, roasted garlic is yummy. But eating a whole head of it by yourself is not advised. Not only will you suffer a certain amount of gastric upset, but everyone, even your dogs, will recoil in horror from the noxious cloud of garlic that emanates from your every pore for days after.

Do you really want to spend $30 on a countertop garlic roaster to find out what that's like? Trust me, you don't.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Good artists know when to stop. My mom's a good artist. Me, I doodle, but I never know when I'm done. I'll get a line wrong, and try to fix it with another line. I end up with a mess of squiggles, not art. Oh well.

Manisha got the ball rolling on the NaBloWriMo traveling masterpiece, then handed off to Jen, who gave it to me. This morning at the farmers market, I passed it along to Groovygrrl. Can't wait to see what she does!

Roasted pumpkin seeds

For a while I was addicted to the pumpkin seeds you can buy at the convenience store, but they're very salty and fattening, so I quit.

At Halloween, though, I'm entitled to indulge in the output of my jack-o-lantern. A dash of Worcestershire, a sprinkle of salt, a glug of olive oil. Mix it all in with the seeds, then spread them on foil on a cookie sheet in a 400-degree oven. (Don't worry about cleaning up the seeds; the goopy stuff turns crispy and tasty, too.) After 10-15 minutes, give them a stir, then keep roasting them until they are golden brown (another 5-10 minutes). You need to keep close watch; they can burn really quickly.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Cleaning the carpet took a lot longer than I anticipated, so I was a late arrival at the pumpkin-carving party. But I got to see some of the handiwork, at least. The pumpkin boys went for scary:
Even scarier was the Gene Simmons pumpkin.
The fancy stencils you can do these days. And the tools! I particularly appreciated the little scoops for cleaning out the inside of the pumpkin. Much more efficient than a spoon. I saved my seeds to roast.

All this pumpkin needs is a kitty inside it for the perfect photo op. But leave it on the porch for a while and you're sure to get a squirrel, at least.
I carved the same pattern I do every year (see last year's pirate). I could do it in my sleep. Except there are sharp implements involved.
I'm hoping Mr. Punkinhead survives on my porch all week. If not, I've still got another, larger pumpkin to carve.

I'm very excited to be at home for trick-or-treating this year. It's been at least 10 years. I don't know how many kids there will be; a lot of parents these days opt for "safe" events like trick-or-treating at the mall or something. Where's the fun in that?

Still not goofing off

Well, I did lounge around in the morning. But the carpet's been crying out for attention. The living room sees a lot of heavy traffic, and the shag-type berber was look pretty grungy.

Talk about a tedious job. You want to run the cleaner over the carpet verrrrrrry slowly, to suck up as much water as possible. Once over the whole thing with cleaning solution, then a drying pass. Then again with plain water, and another couple of drying passes. I really should do this more often.

Architecture: You're doin' it wrong

I've posted before about my neighbors' problems with pigeons (and my own worry-free avian friend). Most of the time the pigeons like to hang out on top of the pillars by the front door. They build nests up there, too, and no amount of shooing chases them away for long. Nor do homemade bird spikes.

At nightfall, though, the pigeons seek out spots that are more secure for roosting (I'm guessing a raccoon could climb a pillar pretty easily). But they don't need to go far. In addition to the pillars, the builder thoughtfully included little decorative struts along the roof line, under the eaves. Ah, perfect!

It takes a fair amount of flapping and false tries for them to get up there, but once they're there, they settle in for a night of pooping and an early morning of cooing and burbling right outside the bedroom windows.

The neighbor on the other side invested in commercial bird spikes and borrowed a 28-foot ladder to get them up there. The cooing at 6 a.m. was driving him crazy.

Now new tenants are moving in on this side. Let's see how long it takes for them to go battty, too.

Let the sun shine in

More fun with ladders today.

It's a little embarrassing to show you how very dirty my windows were. But with the emphasis on were, I guess it's OK. (And they didn't look quite as dirty as the close-up below appears) The dining room originally had two tall, narrow windows. You can see the brick arches where they were. But someone replaced them with a big picture window flanked by two thinner ones that open. That's much nicer, I think.

They're double-paned, anti-UV windows. Traco brand, which the inspector said was good.

I'm not fond of washing windows. Who is? Everyone has different ideas about how to do it. Mom swears by cornstarch in hot water, and newspapers. I use Windex and microfiber cloths. Seems to work OK.
How do you clean your windows? And how often?