28 January 2008

Relive your childhood. (Or maybe mine.)

So I'm sure that with all these gaming posts, I'm alienating some of my readership. (Not that it's that big, anyway.) I've thought a bit about it and realized that I really just gots to be me. I love video games and since it's Winter-een-mas and all, what better time of the year to fully embrace my affection for the digital gaming world?

With that in mind, my brother and I (Duggy's on a business trip) were discussing video games with the tots over dinner. My oldest boy, who has definitely inherited the gaming bug from both parents, was wanting to know who came first out of the various personas he is familiar with. Donkey Kong? Mario? Who? (for answer, see comments.) This lead into a discussion of video game history from the first home console, Atari, through Sega, Nintendo and to our latest console, the Playstation 3. (To be honest, we thought Pong was the first video game, but with a little internet research, I discovered that it was predated an entire year by the game Computer Space, of which I've never heard. Of course, it's no question which game was the most popular.)

As we were talking of old Atari games that we loved, River Raid, Pressure Cooker, Pitfall, Dig Dug, we moved on to the old school Nintendo faves. Do you remember Bubble Bobble, Gunsmoke or Kung Fu? We spent hours upon hours on those babies. After we were done with dinner, we got online to see if we could find any other titles from long ago and we found one of the most awesomest sites on the web.

Every Video Game

It is so cool. You can play all these old titles, for free, online. It's like going back in time and having your old favorite toys in your hands again. Now, I won't lie to you. I can't play these games for too long anymore. Once you've tasted the future that is now, the grip of the old games is lost. But for nostalgia's sake, it's pretty fun to mess around with them once again.

That feeling of, "Oh my gosh, I remember that." is relived over and over. Things that you had forgotten are brought back to the forefront of your memory.

For me and my brother, those were some good times.

I guess you could call it "A Visit From the Ghost of Winter-een-mas Past."

Play on.

26 January 2008

I owned Bohan!

Bohan had ravaged our land with his mark of corruption, but I beat his sorry bohunkus down. Oh yeah. Me, playing Nariko, and my heavenly sword dominated!

I haven't taken the time to finish a game since the good ol' days of Metroid and the old school NES (Nintendo Entertainment System). (Rock it, Samus!) But today, I'm glad to say I've ended that streak. I took Bohan down, possessed by his little Raven Lord and everything, which made the Raven Lord mad enough to peck his eyes out. Then I died.

But it was all worth it. I made it to the "end movie," which is the reason you play games anyway. And guess what? Right in the middle of it, when everyone is so sad because I sacrificed myself for my people, the phone rings. So what do I do? Ignore it. But my son can't, so he gets it and it's Dug, my hubby. So then hubby is mad because I'm not answering the phone, but he understands when I tell him why. But still, I don't fully get the "end movie" experience because my brain was divided.

Oh well. C'est la vie. After it was over I promptly threw my hands in the air shouting, "I'm the coolest girl in the whole wide world!" Which, of course, everyone ignored, but I don't care, because why? Because...


25 January 2008

Happy Winter-een-mas!

Winter-een-mas is upon us! The brainchild of Tim Buckley, author of one of my favorite web-comics, Ctrl-Alt-Del, Winter-een-mas is a holiday celebrating video games. It is always the last week in January, the 25th through the 31st.

Tonight we're having a little party over at our house. Pizza (true gamer's food), our favorite sodas, Virgil's and Reed's Ginger Brew, cupcakes and lots of gaming will make up the evening. Dug is leaving for business on Sunday, so we are celebrating tonight and probably tomorrow too. Although officially it's tonight.

My brother got me Heavenly Sword for my birthday and I need to finish it. So that will be my main objective, although as a group I think we're going to take on Ultimate Alliance. Maybe see if there are some other multi-player co-op titles out there.

How can you celebrate? Why, play some video games, of course. All you need to do is get out your old Atari, Nintendo, Sega, Playstation, Xbox, Dreamcast, Computer, whatever gaming platform you have, shove in a game and play.

Happy Winter-een-mas to you all!

The sadness of a skirt.

I made a beautiful skirt. My very first try and it was beautiful.

I've recently been introduced to Soule Mama. She makes these amazing hats/clothes/decor for her family. My daughter recently discovered sewing and wanted to make herself some clothes. Between the two of them, they inspired me to want to make myself a skirt. Daughter and I went to the fabric store, found some patterns, found some fabric and came home.

I wanted my skirt to rest comfortably on my hips. I wanted it nice and loose. So, according to the pattern I needed to make a size 18!! I normally wear a 12 so this was a bit much for me to handle, but I figured, so be it. If that's what size the pattern says it must be, that's the size I will make it.

I followed the pattern METICULOUSLY. I transferred the pattern lines faithfully, I basted (Even though I had to look up what it meant and then found that I really didn't want to bother, but did it anyway.), everything. The pattern was really hard to understand at one point, but I thought I figured it out. Did you just notice that? I said "thought." That's important.

I thought I figured it out. After I got past the "point of no return," which I didn't know was there until I had passed it, I realized something important. It didn't fit. It was too small. What!? How could this be? I measured!!!

But alas, it was too small. If you notice on the picture, I didn't hem it. Didn't have the heart.

Very important lesson learned: Try it on early. Try it on often. If you do both of those, you'll find out before the "point of no return" and therefore be able to "return."

I'm guessing it's a size 8 or 10. I don't know what I did to drop it down five sizes, but I promise you this:


Do you know how much work that took?! It was almost six hours of my life! Six! And it's too small!! I made an 18 for goodness' sake! Aaaauguughh!

And that is the sadness of a skirt.

23 January 2008

Choice Goods Wednesday!

It's been two weeks since I last posted a choice good. But I've got a good one for you. I try to vary them, but as I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, I tend to find things that make my time the most productive and efficient in there. Now, while today's good is found on your kitchen counter or wall, its uses far exceed that room of the house. You'll find a need in every room, your car, camping, automotive work, everywhere. What is it?

Paper Towels!! But not just any paper towels. Viva paper towels are our towel of choice. In our house, the only thing worse than wimpy paper towels is wimpy toilet paper. Because nothing ruins your day like a finger going through the paper when you're cleaning up your business. Am I right? Yeah, I thought so. But that's for a different post on a different Wednesday.

Do you know what brand of paper towel any of your friends use? If you have spent enough time in our company, at some point or another you would know our brand of choice. When we find something of great quality, we are rather vocal about it. We've converted friends, family and even strangers in the store to Viva paper towels.

What is it that puts Viva up on that pedestal? Quality. Unadulterated quality. These babies can go through the wash, the dryer and come out the other end ready for work. They are strong and soft. They are absorbant as all get out. A small spill is no problem for a Viva paper towel. For a large mess, you can clean up part of it, rinse the paper towel out, squeeze dry and continue cleaning with the same one. You can blow your nose or wipe your bum* and you won't get scratched to pieces by those lesser-quality towels.

Now, I'll be completely honest. You can't have all this goodness with zero drawbacks. There are two things that keep Viva from divine perfection (although I wouldn't be surprised if God used Viva for wiping up his milk and honey spills): lint and price.

In order to be so soft, the trade-off is lint. They have a bit more lint than, say, those brown industrial things they pass off for paper towels at businesses. So when you're cleaning glass, i.e. mirrors, windows, monitors, you'll have some lint hanging around. Not enough to notice, but if you're lint-o-phobic you just have to make a choice. Do you want soft and absorbant? or lint-free and scratchy as a briar patch? I choose soft absorbancy.

As for scientific proof, I give you Zach R's science project. Here he proves that Viva is the most absorbant paper towel! What further evidence do you need?

Issue #2: price. These are not your bargain-basement specials. If I can find them under $1/roll, I stock up. There are some things in life quality doesn't matter, like tomato paste. You never eat tomato paste plain, it's always in recipes with other stuff added in. You might as well go cheap since you won't be able to taste it specifically. But there are other things where quality matters. For us, paper towels matter. When you need to wipe up a spill, we want to know that we just need one paper towel, not the whole roll. (And believe me, we have a lot of experience in this matter.) Now, the issue of price gets tricky. Spend less per roll on crappy cheapness, use more towels. Pay top dollar for quality, use less towels. In the end, are you really paying less for those cheap rolls?

Here's how we deal with the problem. I buy Viva and then I buy super cheap napkins. If someone spills a little tiny bit, we use the cheapo napkins. We don't waste our beloved Vivas on insignificant messes. That would be like sending an Army Ranger in to deal with a shoplifting teenager. No, we conserve the royalty of the paper towel world. But when there's a mess worthy of a Viva paper towel, we're ready. We are not afraid because when messes make their appearance, Viva wipes them off the face of the planet. Boowah!

Viva paper towels...they're choice!

*If you choose to wipe your bum with these excellent paper towels, please do not flush them down the toilet. Their strength is too much for your pipes.

Our favorite hummus

Here's another Tried and True favorite from my recipe box.

We love hummus. Get some pita out and our family will clean the dish. And being the crazy recipe tryer-outer that I am, we've tasted many hummuses (hummi?). Store-bought from the refrigerated section, just-add-water mixes, blend-from-scratch recipes, you name it, we've probably tried it. Yet, we always compare it to the first recipe I was ever given. One of my beloved roommates from college, the amazing Heidi, presented me with my very own copy on a 3x5 card that proudly states, "from the kitchen of Heidi ____." Over the years I've figured out just how we like it and it is, beyond compare, King of the Hummus Mountain.

Heidi's Hummus (tweaked a little by Tricia)

In a blender, toss:
1 can garbanzo beans, drained (save the liquid)
1/3 c tahini
1/4 c lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
2 cloves garlic
pinch of cumin

Blend until it forms a smooth paste, adding garbanzo liquid, if needed, to reach hummus-y consistency. Adjust any seasonings, if needed.

Dump into a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with paprika.

That's it. So easy and so delicious. Just writing about it makes me want to blend a batch and then fry up some falafel. Oooh, falafel. That's another Tried and True I'll have to share...

A Slow Drain OR Decades of Gunk

Dug finally rerouted the kitchen drain. To give you an idea of what we were dealing with, I've provided illustrations.

The first is a diagram of how water drained from the kitchen sink to the sewer line. Notice the many-cornered path the waste water had to travel. This route + corroded pipes = eventual slowing of drain.

The second diagram illustrates the new route. Straight lines, few corners. Easy peasy.

Not only does the kitchen sink have happiness, but our downstairs (and right now, only) shower can drain by itself. The kitchen sink drain pipe used to run into the shower drain and often plugged it. Few things are grosser than taking a shower that stops draining and suddenly pieces of decomposing food start floating around your bare ankles. Nastiness.

But now it's all better. One more step to a completely happy house.

For your viewing enjoyment. Here is one last picture. This is a cross-section of a piece of pipe that Dug removed. Believe it or not, this is not the worst of them. (Sorry I didn't add anything in the picture for reference. That hole is just big enough to let a nickel fall through.) And we wondered why the sink and shower were always clogging...

22 January 2008

A little funny break...

I saw this and had to post it. With Dug being a computer guy, we've witnessed a lot of people needing the "Help Desk."
I don't know what language it is, but it's subtitled. Enjoy!

18 January 2008


In case you didn't notice, there was no "Choice Good" this Wednesday. I'm sorry. Things have been a little hectic with the plumbing situation and all. Don't worry though. Normal programming will return next week...

14 January 2008


(Some of the pictures can only be appreciated if clicked on and viewed full size.)

It all started so innocently.

Dug found that some of the pipes in the bathroom weren't being used anymore. We cut, tugged, cranked and pulled to remove those suckers. Once the pipes were removed, we capped them. Well, I should say we capped one and found that the other one wasn't threaded. Until we could figure out what to do, we stuffed a paper towel in its mouth and wrapped it in plastic to protect us from any fumes that might try to escape from the sewer lines.

Fast forward one day. My youngest son is in the newly sub-floored bathroom saying, "Water! Water!" Dug, working in his basement lair, hears him and also notices the sound of falling water. Upon investigation, he finds that the kitchen sink, which has some drainage issues, causes water to backflow up the same removed pipe. Problem: Pipe removed = no where to go but out.

Of course this is also a day where Dug can not stop to work on house issues. Major things with his job need to be done. So we are all on strict orders: Don't use the upstairs sink or dishwasher.

Fast forward to my brother, Chris, coming home from work. Dug asks him to snake the pipe and hopefully clear up any obstructions. After a few tries, it's obvious that the snake ain't the pipe hero we had hoped him to be. Dug and Chris determine that the best solution is to reroute the entire drainage pipe in a more direct route.

This whole house renovation thing has been quite a historical lesson. While we don't know who, specifically, was responsible for all the of "improvements," it is obvious by looking at the different piping "solutions" that we are not dealing with the craftmanship of a plumbing professional. Heck, I'm not even sure the guy had any plumbing experience at all. But just wait. I haven't even scratched the surface yet.

So, back to the story. A more direct route is discussed and as Dug is off to Home Depot to get the proper supplies, Chris is in charge of removing a pipe that comes from nothing and leads nowhere, but is blocking the way. It's around 5 o'clock and the sun just set. (That comes into play in a moment.) I'm at the computer. (I know, big shock!)

As I'm perusing various blogs, I hear the Sawzall. Thinking it's my brother, I pay it no mind. Then I hear my oldest son chastising my youngest and my brother yelling, "Turn it off!" My heart leaps into my throat and I race into our unfinished bathroom, sure that I'll find the giant power tool, blood and little fingers on the floor. As I push open the door I find the two brothers, but nothing else. (I still don't know what their scuffle was about.) Chris is still yelling "Turn it off! Turn it off!" from the basement and I'm confused. I hear water flowing, but am not understanding. I start down the basement stairs, all the while my brother's cries are growing more and more frantic. And that water sound is starting to get louder.

"Turn it off!!!" Chris continues to shout.

"Turn what off?" I yell back.

"The dishwasher, the washing machine, whatever it is that is draining!" he screams.

I run back up the stairs and check the dishwasher. Nope, the green "Clean" light is on from when I ran it this morning. Through the kitchen door I check the washing machine, but it's empty. I still haven't seen what has happened, but know it has something to do with a lot of water pouring into places it shouldn't be.

I yell down the stairs, "Do I need to turn off the water to the house?"

Barely a half-second passes before he bellows, "Yes!!!"

I run out the door. It is getting dark because the sun is down, but still light enough to see. (Told you sunset would come into play.) Out by our sidewalk are the water meters for our house and our neighbor's. I've done this before but can't remember which meter is ours. I try to see what meter is ticking off faster, but the stinking sun is gone and the little holes where they live are black as night. So now I have to run back into the house and grab the Maglite, which by a MIRACLE OF GOD is actually in its drawer. Back out to the curb, I stick my hands in the muddy goo, wipe off the dial of water meter #1. Nada. Dang it! Plunge my hand into the mire of water meter #2 and the numbers are spinning as fast as you can read this: tick tick tick tick. Since it's been raining nonstop for months, the valve is in about five inches of seriously cold, murky water and its specific location is unknown to me. So, just like the girl in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, I have to feel around for the valve with who-knows-what living in that dark, wet hole. I find it, chant my faucet mantra of "Righty Tighty, Lefty Loosey," and turn off the the water. I take a deep breath.

Cold, barefoot and muddy I return to the house and venture down to survey the damage. My brother is on his knees, a 2-liter bottle with the neck cut off in his hands, bailing the water from the flooded bathroom into the storm drain outside the basement door. The entire bathroom has at least an inch of standing water and looks as though someone took a fire hose to it. Water is everywhere. Dripping from the ceiling fan, light fixture, and any other hole in the ceiling. Everything is drenched. The floor, walls, toilet, shelves...everything! Dug's office is on the other side of the bathroom wall and water is leaking under the wall and starting to spread across the room. Chris yells at my oldest to get towels and we try to stop the flow while continuing to bail. I didn't know you could bail outside of a boat. But you can.

What happened? We didn't know. Chris was starting to cut the superfluous pipe and vibrating things up a bit when suddenly he heard water flowing. At first he thought it was the washing machine or dishwasher draining because it was so much. But then when it came gushing out of the ceiling, he didn't know what was going on. After yelling at me, he tried to figure out which pipe was to blame. On the far side of the bathroom, water was flowing from the ceiling fan, the light fixture, and heavily from the hole where a pipe vents in the middle of the room. But most of the water was flooding onto the floor right next to the door. When Chris looked down and saw that it was overflowing into the computer room, he switched from search and rescue to emergency bailer. And that's where I found him.

If you remember, Dug was at Home Depot. I called him, in a bit of a panic, and ordered him home.

"Dug, you need to come home now!"

"Why?" he asked.

I then proceeded to explain the whole situation. He, a little too calmly, stated, "You find out what happened and I'll buy the stuff to fix it."

What?! Did he just say that he wasn't going to come and immediately take care of this completely out of control situation?! "But we don't know what's wrong, it's in the ceiling."

"Get Chris to stick his head up there and see what's wrong."

He was still not as concerned as I thought he should be. Although in hind sight, I'm glad, but at that moment I felt a little like a one-year old when their parents try to get them to walk by standing them up and letting go. So I did the only thing I could. I hung up on him.

Chris and I conferred and realized that the only the thing to do was to turn the water back on and watch. The plan was simple. I go outside, turn the water on for five seconds, turn it off and Chris locates the leak. The first three parts went like clockwork. When I come back in, the water is still draining out of the ceiling and Chris calmly states that five seconds is too long and he is looking in the wrong spot. Apparently the water first starts leaking at the far side of the bathroom and because whoever built our house has no idea what a right angle is or what the term level means, the deluge at the near end is just run off from the far end.

Now our only choice is to tear the ceiling apart. Since Chris is my brother, we think along the same lines. He punches a hole in the ceiling and we happily tear it apart. (Dug isn't there to rein in our messy natures.) We still can't see anything though. By this time, Dug has called back to check on our progress and tells us that there is a main shutoff in the house. That would have been nice to know about an hour ago. But I am not a woman who bears grudges. I turn off the inside valve and turn the outside one back on. (Risking the cold water, yucky mud and nameless creatures once again.) Now I can actually talk to Chris while working the valve, since we have to turn the water back on once more, to find the leak.

My brother sticks his head and a flashlight in the ceiling and I open the valve. Once again, I hear the familiar, "Turn it off!" I do and run back just in time to see him spitting and wiping his face. (My big sister self snickers.) The best news is heard, "I found the leak!"

Apparently, the previous "plumber" did not glue one of the joints.* It was just stuck together. Maybe he thought his own strength was enough. Or maybe he didn't think at all. (I personally think it was the latter.) Whatever the case, the vibration of the Sawzall and the pressure of the water popped that sucker off, allowing water to shoot to the far wall of the bathroom, flow back along the ceiling, dripping through any crack and pouring from the large hole that accomadates the four inch vent stack (big huge pipe for us laymen) next to the bathroom door.

The good news? All we needed to do to fix it was glue the pipe into the connector. As I am typing this, we have running water into the house again. Yay! Now if we can just get that kitchen-drain thing fixed, we can focus back on renovating our main bathroom again.

*We know that the work was done at least a decade ago. How it held together so long is beyond me.

13 January 2008

"Spell with flickr" is C-O-O-L-N-E-S-S

\"T\"imes Square Alliance D A W G

Mej, the wunderkind, posted about Spell with Flickr. I had seen it earlier and forgotten it. I'm so glad she reminded me. I was typing all sorts of words in, and thinking they were only ok. Then I typed in TDawg. Mej calls me that. And of course, the most ridiculous name was the one that came up looking the most cool. Oh well, c'est la vie.

12 January 2008

Closing-In-On-Perfection Pizza

For my mom.

Every so often I'd like to share some tried and true recipes that we use. These are ones that we've found to be so good that I don't search for a bigger/better version, anymore. (Well, technically my husband doesn't want me experimenting anymore, but is that really possible for a chef-at-heart?)

I've been making homemade pizza every week for a couple years now. I haven't perfected it, but it's getting close. My husband likes it better than any pizza joint in town. But I think as far as quick-and-easy goes, I've gone as far up the road of perfection as possible. In order to progress any further, I need to jump off the rise-once recipe jet plane and live on the 24-hr think-ahead recipe barge. Just by my comparisons, I'm sure you can see why I haven't quite made the leap yet. But it's coming. I can feel a growing desire for the basking-in-a-Divine-beam-of-light-as-angels-sing-Handel's-Messiah-perfect pizza. The desire is almost strong enough. Almost, but not quite. In the interim, I thought I would share with you our current pizza of deliciousness.

Two recipes are important for great pizza. The dough is obviously a huge deal. But I think the sauce is the most valuable player. Mr. Sauce can make or break the team. Boring or bland and you've got an okay pizza as long as the other parts are pulling their weight. But get a magnificent sauce? Oooh, baby. That's the ticket for greatness. That's the panache you need to bring your little Italian pie to the forefront of specialness. Fortunately for you, I've found the recipe.

Exquisite Pizza Sauce is a gem I found at Allrecipes.com. It truly is exquisite. And simple. Did I mention that the sauce can be ready to go in five minutes? It has an amazing, complicated flavor that is perfect. There is one caveat, though. It does not, I repeat, does not keep well. The basic recipe is tomato paste, water and seasonings. If you put the extras into the fridge, you are left the next morning with a perfect gelatinous mold of your bowl. It never recovers it's smooth sauce qualities, even with added water and heat. In general, one batch of sauce is good for one batch of the dough I use. It also works well for a marinara dip. (i.e.-breadsticks, mozzarella sticks, calzones, etc.)

Exquisite Pizza Sauce recipe tweaks: Reduce honey from 2 Tb to 1 Tb, omit cayenne and pepper flakes if you don't like heat. I've used the anchovy paste and it is good, but I rarely have it and the sauce is still great without it. "Salt to taste" is about 1/2 tsp. It says to let the flavors blend for 30 minutes, but don't forget that you can add the pizza assembling time, the baking time and the resting time and by the time you eat, it will have been over thirty minutes.

The other recipe I use is also from Allrecipes.com: Pizza Dough III. This dough works well for our family. I double it and get three 12" pizzas. We usually have a few pieces left over. Alternatively, I will make one batch, shape it up, then add olive oil and garlic salt, bake it, spread with a bit o' butter and serve the "foccaccia" with soup or pasta. The other day I topped it with carmelized onions and garlic and it was positively addictive. It was all I could do to be polite and not shove it down my throat a la a starving person.

Pizza Dough III recipe tweaks: Increase flour to 3 cups. I don't know if it was a typo or what, but 2 cups leaves you with a sticky goop, not dough. It calls for bread flour and I have used it, but I also have used all-purpose flour and whole wheat flour with great results. Bake the pizza at 450 for 8-15 minutes.

Get yourself a pizza stone. A pizza stone is a clay baking stone that absorbs the moisture in the dough and gives the pizza its great crisp bottom. After finding the best sauce, the stone is the next great improvement to pizza making. It adds an authentic texture to homemade pizzas. You can use a cookie sheet with no sides to transfer the pizza to the stone, but it is so much funner (yeah, yeah, "more fun", I know)to have a pizza peel. It is one of those giant wooden spatula things like they use at pizza parlours. They are so much more fun, I promise. (I got mine here.)

Parchment paper is not necessary but is incredibly useful. You can put cornmeal under your pizza while you make it so it won't stick to the counter, but parchment is so much cleaner and slippery-er, letting you slide the whole thing into place on the baking stone with great ease. Believe me, I used cornmeal for about a year before I discovered the heaven-sent parchment paper. I'll never go back. Never!

HOMEMADE PIZZA - For ingredient amounts, use the Pizza Dough III recipe, with the above tweaks.
  1. Turn oven to 450 F. It takes a while for the baking stone to be fully pre-heated, so turn it on immediately.
  2. Put the yeast into warm water and let it sit while you get the other ingredients ready.
  3. Dump all the flour, salt and sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer.
  4. Add the oil to the water and yeast, give it a stir and then dump the yeast mixture in with the flour.
  5. Using a kneading hook, let the machine work the dough until it is nice and smooth. You may have to pull the dough down the hook once or twice to ensure all the dough is being worked.
  6. When it is done, with oiled hands, remove it from the dough hook and shape it into a nice ball.
  7. Drop it into an oiled bowl, pick it up, turn it over and then put it back in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and sit in a nice, warm spot for about thirty minutes or until doubled in size.

  8. Dump all the ingredients for Exquisite Pizza Sauce into a bowl, noting my tweaks above, and stir. Voila! Pizza sauce!
  9. Grate mozzarella (about 12 oz or so, depending on how cheesy you like it) and prep any toppings.
  10. When the dough is ready, remove it from the bowl and place it on a sheet of parchment paper on the counter. This dough only rises once, so you want to make sure you handle it gently.
  11. Use your hands to press and shape it into a circle. Twelve inches will give you a nice, thick crust; sixteen is good if you like it thin. You can use a rolling pin if you want but it will really press the air out of the dough. Not only that, but the hand-molded method is much more "artisanal" looking and beautiful in my opinion.

  12. Add your sauce, cheese and toppings.

  13. Using a pizza peel, transfer the pizza (parchment and all) to the stone in the oven. (If you are making more than one pizza, once one is in the oven, start making the next one.)
  14. Bake until the cheese becomes golden brown in a few spots. This is normally about 8-10 minutes for plain cheese; 10-15 for more toppings.
  15. Let it "rest" for a few minutes so the cheese can set up and handle slicing without pouring off the sides.
The whole process takes our family about 2 hours, from turning on the oven to bringing the third pizza to the table. For one pizza it is between 1 and 1.5 hours, depending on how experienced you are.

In conclusion, I thought I would give you a list of our favorite toppings. Don't be limited to these, though. Use your imagination.
  • steamed broccoli, sun-dried tomatoes, sauteed onions (pictured above, front left)
  • extra cheese, minced garlic, dusting of italian seasoning (pictured above, back right)
  • grilled chicken, red pepper
  • zucchini, tomato and fresh basil*
  • canadian bacon, pineapple, black olive
  • black olive, mushroom, green pepper
Don't be intimidated. Once you've tried it, you'll see how do-able it is. Happy pizza-ing!

*put on when the pizza comes out of the oven, or else it turns brown.

09 January 2008

Choice Goods Wednesday!

Do you need more from the knives in your kitchen? When you are fixing a meal, is there a hidden ninja wanting to come out?

Before I was given an ulu, the answer to both these questions was a resounding, "Yes!"

My husband is from Alaska where they have a saying: "Alaska - where the men are men, and so are the women." How is that possible? Well, my friend, they have ulus in the last frontier.

The ulu is a knife. A super-sweet knife historically used by women and crafted by Native Alaskans over 5000 years ago. It has a curved blade and looks quite menacing. Actually, it is menacing to any food you want to prepare. One look at the blade and that green pepper will know you aren't messing around.

According to Wikipedia.com, "Traditionally, the ulu would be passed down from generation to generation. It was believed that an ancestor's knowledge was contained within the ulu and thus would also be passed on." I love that sentiment. Of course I don't believe it, but I love the generational closeness that it symbolizes. How cool to work with the same tools that your great-grandmother worked with.

You can get an ulu by itself or as a set with a specially designed bowl-shaped cutting board. The cutting board is indispensable if you want to cut messy things like nuts or olives. The bowl keeps the olives from rolling away and the nuts from flying off. If you want to quickly mince herbs, use the ulu on a normal flat cutting board. With a quick, rocking motion you can make short work of those leaves with professional chef-like speed.

I have to be honest, when I hold my ulu I feel like a kitchen warrior. Woe to the vegetable that thinks it can best me. My ninja moves cut it down to perfectly minced pieces. What can stand in my way? Nothing! Nothing, I tell you! Wa ha ha ha ha...

Normally, the proper follow to that paragraph would be something like, "Sorry, I got a little carried away." But I can't lie. I wasn't getting carried away. I was merely baring my soul. My honest kitchen-hero soul unlocked by the power of an ulu.

If you feel restrained by your lack of food-prep weaponry, I highly suggest acquiring an ulu. With one you can be freed to prepare food in the highly efficient, entirely speedy way God intended you to.

Ulus...they're choice!

06 January 2008

You've got free labor, use it!

A great day has dawned. My children are now old enough to help. I mean it. Not "help" as in make things harder and get in my way, but really help. Our job yesterday was to remove all the nails from the bathroom studs. When the lathe and plaster was ripped out, we didn't take the time to pull the nails. We are now at the point where they need to be gone.

It started with Dug armed with a nail puller and I with a hammer. Of course, since Dug was in charge, I had to pull a nail, grab it , then fling it in the garbage can. A dropped nail was immediately located and dealt with. Left to my own devices I would have been pulling them like crazy, letting them fall where they may, but once again, Dug's method proved the most efficient.

Our oldest son wandered into the kitchen, saw what we were doing and wanted to help. We had an extra hammer, didn't want to bend over or squat, so we said, "Sure, you do the ones by the floor."

In walks oldest daughter. "I want to help, too." I told her that the best way to help was by loading the dishwasher. We didn't have another hammer and it was her brother's turn right now. She didn't like that. Of course she wouldn't. Nails are much funner than dishes. But I told her that after she did some dishes, it would be her turn. She loaded it up, asking, "Is that enough?" after ever dish. I told her she had to load it all.

When she was done, her and her brother switched places and she pulled nails while brother washed the non-fitting dishes by hand. It all worked very well and I was very proud of myself for orchestrating it.

In the end we pulled over 446 nails! Not sure how many over because I got the idea to count them after I had already started. Now, if we had done it my way it would have been a lot more cleaning up to do, but it would have been a great picture, right?! Probably close to 500 nails scattered on the floor. That would have been cool. Oh well.

Home Renovation, cont'd.

We've been working. Slowly but surely it's coming around. We're about to move into the "noticable improvements" phase of our bathroom reconstruction. Up until now everything we've done has been hidden. Our kitchen wall is still down, no new plumbing is showing, the floor isn't even fully in, nothing that someone off the street would walk in and say, "Gee, you've been busy haven't you?" But we have been busy!
This picture has some whacked-out exposure levels, but I needed to tweak it so you could see the pipe we were dealing with. Amazingly enough, it is the only picture we have of that black thing. See it there at the back wall running most of length of the photo from top to bottom? And of course it has a 2x4 partially obscuring it. That black monstrosity (you really can't appreciate its size and girth with this photo) was a cast iron pipe that we needed to remove. I don't know the proper terminology but it's the "breather" pipe for our plumbing. The joints where one pipe is fitted to another were over 6.5" wide! The pipe itself was only 4" but it had huge joints. Left in place, the tub we ordered wouldn't fit.

Dug did some 'net research and found the tool needed for the job. A soil pipe breaker. Sounds menacing, doesn't it? It's actually the simple ratchet tool that Dug is holding in the picture. (Once again, sorry about the photo. Dug had ten minutes to get it back to the rental shop and I only had one shot. Hey, at least it is in focus!) Simple doesn't mean light, though. That baby was sooo heavy and guess who got the job of holding it? You guessed it, me! Dug had to thread it around the pipe, attach it, flip some levers and tighten it up before it could stay in place. I had to hold it level so it wouldn't bind. My arms were bent with my hands at my shoulders in the most stable, least energy-used position I could muster. Did I mention it was heavy? The cool thing was that, once in place, it only took about two pumps on the handle when we heard this loud crack. Dug stopped pumping and I went in for a closer look. Sure enough, there was a nice clean crack all the way around. I think the chain breaker was in use for all of ten minutes. It cost us about one dollar/minute and it was the best money we've spent so far. Our other options were using two sawzall blades to cut through the pipe, taking roughly fifteen minutes OR bashing the thing to pieces with a sledge hammer and spending about an hour cleaning up the mess, hoping nothing too big fell into the sewer pipes. (I must admit, the sledgehammer option sounded the most fun, but not the cleaning part.) As most renovation takes longer and is harder than you think it will be, it was nice to be surprised in the other direction.

If you need to get a cast iron pipe out of your way, get yourself a pipe breaker. You'll be glad you did.

05 January 2008

Support my cousin!

One of my beloved cousins, Rob, his wife, Liz, and their two children recently moved to Kansas. Rob is stationed there. He quit his teaching job to enlist in the army. He and Liz really felt that this was what he needed to do. So they did it. I'm super impressed by their leap of faith. With Rob in boot camp, then officer training school, then his specific field training, their first year was pretty difficult. Liz didn't get to see him very often and they were all over the country for awhile. But now they've settled in Kansas. And Liz couldn't be happier to finally have a place to really call home after all that "in transit" business.

This brings me to the point of this post, Liz makes some really cute tote bags. She also sews diaper bags, blankies, and other soft items. She has set up an etsy* shop, called EMJ Design. She also uses her blankets and totes to benefit the Red Cross and families of US soldiers.

The green tote in the pictures above is one of my favorites. Check out her shop, it's filled with cuteness. You'll be glad you did.

*etsy is a website to sell and buy handmade items. Think online mall. Or you can also compare it to the Amazon Marketplace, a commonplace that brings buyers and sellers together, with the added security that each has to follow certain guidelines.

04 January 2008

I thought they had to be rotten first.

I was making some tacos last night. Shredded the cheese, sliced the olives, started to chop the tomato when something caught my eye. What could that be? Are those little dark green worms in my tomato? I looked closer and found myself nose to leaf with tiny little tomato sprouts. The tomato seeds were sprouting inside the tomato! How wierd is that?

The little red fruit, (Yes, it is botanically a fruit. Legally, it is a vegetable in the US. Click on the link and scroll down to the section 5.2 "Fruit or Vegetable?") the little red fruit seemed okay. From the outside it looked very nice. Beautiful red color, no blemishes. I figured, for scientific pursuits, I should taste it. No problems there, either. Of course, it was a winter tomato so it was lacking in real tomato-y flavor, but other than that, normal.

I thought a fruit/vegetable had to be all yucky before it did that. I guess not.

Here's a visual for you. It does look like worms at first, doesn't it?

I started another blog!

I just started a new cooking blog. Check it out!

every possible recipe

Developing my eye

Part of cleaning up after Christmas is dragging out the "general decorations" box. That's where I put everything that I take down to make room for Christmas stuff.

Last year I was on a minimalistic thing and didn't want anything put back up. Sort of an extreme response to Christmas decorations that I didn't like. The cool thing is that there was stuff in the bottom of the box that I forgot I had.

A Taiwanese friend of mine, Janet, gave me three beautiful postcards. I wanted to use them. My daughter broke the glass that was holding her portrait. Since I couldn't put her siblings' pictures up without her, I decided to use the three remaining frames for the postcards! Perfecto!

The postcards were too small and I didn't have any matting, so I put black construction paper behind the postcard and slid it into the frame. It was okay, but that's it. I scanned the room, What could I use instead of the black paper? My eyes fell on an Urban Outfitters catalog, and then I knew.

I perused the pages, looking for color schemes that would go with the postcards overall look. When I found one that looked right, I traced the frame, cut it out and carefully taped the postcard to the new "matting."

Overall I'm super happy with the results. They look so much better than just plain-Jane black paper. I have to credit the beloved Mej for this. Previous to knowing her, I would have settled. But not now. Now I've seen too much to go back. I can never be who I was. Once you've tasted beauty, nothing else satisfies...

(How was that for over-dramatic?)