Whirlwind day

What a day it’s been. Today we were scheduled to have an event at work that I’m in charge of. It’s not a big event by any means, but it’s still something that gets a fair bit of attention, so I’ve been working hard to get ready for it. Hence the twelve-hour workday yesterday. I woke up already stressed out this morning and got to work by 6 AM so that I would have a couple of hours to finish my final preparations before everyone else arrived. I had my test cases defined, all of my printouts organized, and a few hastily put together charts ready for the morning kick-off meeting. I was pretty much ready to go. But then I logged in to my computers, checked my email, and discovered that something much more important had come up. It was a bit of a shock. I ran around my work area (literally) and surprisingly I was the only one there, but that changed about a half hour later. When the dust settled my event was postponed indefinitely, probably until sometime next week, because all of our resources will be focused on more high priority items. While I was a little relieved to get more time to prepare for my event, I was really looking forward to completing it and relaxing the rest of the week. As it is, I have to work the 6 AM to 3 PM shift instead. The good news is that I got to go home much earler than I expected this afternoon and I took advantage of that time with a much-needed two-hour nap. I was planning to make a nice dinner tonight, but when Dan got home he requested salad instead so that’s what we had. Good thing salads are simple to assemble because I only woke up ten minutes before he got home! We watched tonight’s episode of “Top Chef Masters” together while we ate, and now as I’m writing this post Dan is packing up the car to leave for his desert camping trip tomorrow. He’s taking my CR-V so I will be driving his M3 while he’s gone. I’m a little nervous about it, but I’ll be fine. I’ve done it before. And since I have to leave for work at 5:30 AM there won’t be a lot of cars on the freeway for me to worry about. I have big plans to try some new recipes this weekend so get ready for some mouthwatering (hopefully) posts this weekend. I fully intend to spend some time writing while Dan’s gone so that I can have something worth publishing (at least on my webpage) over the weekend. Thanks for hanging in here, my faithful readers!

No clue what to write, part 2

No clue. Seriously. As in I spent 12 long hours at work today trying to get ready for an event tomorrow, I’m still not ready, and my brain has decided to take a vacation for the night. It’s bad. I should have been asleep an hour ago because I have to get up again at 5 AM. So I hope you’ll forgive this post that barely counts as a post for today. When I get home from work tomorrow I’ll be infinitely more relaxed and hopefully more coherent. Good night.

No clue what to write

It’s been a long day, I’m tired, and I’ve run out of topics to write about. On days like this I usually fall back on a new recipe for my daily post, but I’ve actually run out of them. Shocker, I know. Meals this week are going to consist of some simple, tried-and-true recipes (skillet lasagna, tacos, and pasta with browned butter sauce). OK, I might try to make Cider-Glazed Sausages if I can talk Dan into letting me use the bratwursts he picked out for that purpose. I’m not sure he’ll go for it, though. The first three days of this week are going to be way too busy to make anything fancy for dinner, but Dan is going camping in the desert starting on Thursday so that means I’ll be trying some new recipes while he’s gone. This way I’ll just ruin my own dinner if it all goes horribly wrong. I’m most looking forward to making White Cheddar Cheese Soup, also from Noble Pig’s food blog. I’ve tried several recipes from this website and I haven’t found a bad one yet. I’m not going to have time to give it much more thought until Thursday, though. In fact, I really need to be getting ready for bed now because I’m exhausted and I have to get up early tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll come up with something to write about before tomorrow. I hate these boring, rambling posts that I inevitably create when I don’t have a topic in mind before I sit down at my laptop, but this is as good as it gets today. Sorry about that. I’ll do some brainstorming as I get ready for bed tonight so that I don’t end up with “No clue what to write, part 2” tomorrow.

Laker flags

I’ve been meaning to write a post about Laker flags for a while now, but I’ve delayed so long that tonight’s game just might be the last of their 2010-2011 basketball season. After watching the Lakers triumph in the first playoff series against the New Orleans Hornets (it took 6 games, but they made it through), they’ve lost the first three games of the Western Conference Semi-Finals to the Dallas Mavericks. It’s been really difficult to watch. Being so sure that the Lakers were going to win, watching them build up a sizable lead, and then having it all fall apart is getting depressing. Game 4 starts in a couple of hours and I’m really dreading it. But I’m not a fair weather fan so despite the threat of a season-ending defeat, I’ll still be glued to the TV hoping that the Lakers can live to play another day. It doesn’t help that every sports commentator likes to remind us that no NBA team has ever come back to win a seven-game series after going behind 0-3. Thanks for the vote of confidence. At least Kobe Bryant still has hope. In his interview on Friday night he said, “I don’t know, I might be sick in the head or crazy or thrown off or something like that because I still think we’re going to win this series.” Well, I’ve got my fingers crossed.

But back to the topic at hand. If you live in Los Angeles you are familiar with Laker flags. Each year when the playoffs start, sometime mid-April, the flags begin to appear on the tops of car windows all over the city. They come in a range of designs, they can be purple or gold, and they can be displayed solo or in pairs (one on each side of the car). It’s funny how few Laker flags I see during the regular season. Either folks don’t think their home teams needs their outward support until the postseason, or the flags are just too annoying to have on their cars for the previous six months. I have a feeling it’s the former because those flags are very distracting on the freeway. The photo above is of a flag Dan got for free at the game last Wednesday night. He was lucky enough to get free tickets to watch Game 2 of the Lakers vs. Mavericks series in the Boeing box at Staples Center (I watched at home). Too bad they weren’t giving out free t-shirts like most of the other playoff games. Also, too bad the Lakers lost when Dan was there. As annoying as those Laker flags are, hopefully today won’t be the last day fans will be flying them this season. I have faith that the Lakers will live to play another day. We’ll see if I’m right or not in just a few hours.

Little magnets

A couple of years ago at work we requested one of those status boards where you write everyone’s name and use little circular magnets to indicate who’s in the office and who isn’t. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but we never actually used it for its intended purpose. The board sat out on a desk for a long time, gathering dust, until eventually we did find a use for it. Well, part of it. The board itself got stuck into a drawer somewhere and has been all but forgotten (I have no idea where it is anymore), but the little magnets have been an endless source of entertainment over the years. In one of our communal rooms there’s a large column with a metal breaker switch access cover on one side. I don’t know who put the little circular magnets on metal plate in the first place, but I’d like to shake their hand because it turned out to be a stroke of genius. When we’re working in that room and we have a rare quiet moment, the magnets inevitably get arranged into whatever shape we think is funniest at the time. Although there are no rules, the designs are usually an homage to an upcoming holiday. Last year I made a pretty awesome pumpkin, if I do say so myself – even though it morphed into a jack o’lantern and then into an evil pumpkin-headed man over time. I don’t think the magnets got rearranged for Thanksgiving this year, but in 2009 I tried to make a cornucopia and it didn’t turn out well. It looked like a vomiting whale. Fortunately someone else created a Pilgrim’s hat as a replacement. After Halloween last year the magnets became a festive Christmas tree, and in January our decoration of choice was a snowman with a top hat, which actually lasted until April because winter lasts forever in Los Angeles. At the beginning of April I figured it was time to start getting ready for Easter so I meticulously arranged the magnets into the shape of a marshmallow Peep – the chick variety, not the bunny. I thought it looked great, but evidently my co-workers decided there were improvements to be made. This really shouldn’t have surprised me. The general Peep outline remained the same, but now he’s got legs, he’s wielding a fork with two broken middle prongs (we call it the “vampire fork” because it made its first appearance in October), and a real marshmallow Peep has been impaled on the intact prongs. OK, I have to admit that the Peep sacrifice was my idea, but when someone brought in two packages of leftover Easter treats it was just too funny to pass up. I call the creation “Peep Cannibalism.” Now that Easter is over I’m sure the magnets will get rearranaged again soon and I look forward to the next design. I’m glad we requested that totally useless “in the office/out of the office” board all those years ago because the magnets have not only been a source of amusement, but also a creative outlet, which is something we engineers don’t always have at work. I’ll bet you didn’t know we were artists too!

Twenty-fourth new recipe

Pulled pork is one of life’s great indulgences and this recipe is really good. It looked so easy so I copied it out of the Slow Cooker Revolution cookbook I borrowed from the library and made it last week. I mixed the spice rub, seasoned the pork roast, and put it in the refrigerator on Thursday night. Then on Friday night I popped the meat into the slow cooker, poured a little barbeque sauce on top, set the temperature to low, and put nine hours on the timer. On Saturday morning my alarm went off at 8 AM so that I could get up and shred the pork when it was done cooking. I went right back to bed afterwards because Saturdays are meant for sleeping in, but the house smelled wonderful – if you like barbeque. I didn’t actually serve any of the pulled pork until later in the week, but when I dug into a plate of it with some Bull’s-Eye Original BBQ sauce (which the cookbook recommended) I was in heaven. I couldn’t believe how much flavor that pork had after such a simple preparation. I think letting it marinate in the spice rub overnight made all the difference. Obviously this isn’t a quick recipe (it’s really more conducive to weekend fare), but it couldn’t get much easier. With a little bit of planning you can have homemade pulled pork right out of the slow cooker – perfect as a sandwich (with BBQ sauce and pickles, of course) or just served by itself. Delicious!

INGREDIENTS:
1/4 c packed brown sugar
3 Tbsp smoked paprika (the recipe called for sweet paprika, but I don’t have any)
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp onion powder
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 (5 lb) boneless pork butt roast, trimmed and quartered
Barbeque sauce (I used Bull’s-Eye Original, which the book recommended)

DIRECTIONS:
1) Combine sugar, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, cayenne, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Prick the pork all over with a fork. Rub the sugar mixture over the pork, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 8 to 24 hours. Unwrap the pork and place in the slow cooker.
2) Brush barbeque sauce evenly over the top of the pork, cover, and cook until pork is tender, about 9 hours on low or about 5 hours on high.
3) Transfer the pork to a large bowl, let cool slightly, then shred into bite-size pieces, discarding excess fat (my pork roast had a LOT). Serve with barbeque sauce. Enjoy!

Based on Beginner’s Pulled Pork from Slow Cooker Revolution.

Reading my mind

“I love books, by the way, way more than movies. Movies tell you what to think. A good book lets you choose a few thoughts for yourself. Movies show you the pink house. A good book tells you there’s a pink house and lets you paint some of the finishing touches, maybe choose the roof style, park your own car out front. My imagination has always topped anything a movie could come up with. Case in point, those darned Harry Potter movies. That was so not what that part-Veela-chick, Fleur Delacour, looked like.”
Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning

“I am of the opinion that the images you create in your mind from the written word are more tangible than anything projected on a screen. When I read a book my imagination creates visions of the characters and their surroundings that are all the more real because I made them myself. You can’t rely on Hollywood to do all of that work for you. In fact, that ‘work’ is what I like most about books. Don’t misunderstand me – I love movies. I will be one of the first people in line for Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings next year. The difference between me and the person standing next to me, however, may be that I have read the corresponding text and he hasn’t.”
My 9/19/00 diary entry

“The written word is so powerful. Very few movies can touch you that deeply. Something about recreating a story in your mind makes you more a part of it than having it presented to you on a screen ever could. Not that movies haven’t brought out strong emotions in me before but books just seem to be more effective more often.”
My 4/13/11 diary entry

When I saw read that paragraph in Darkfever yesterday it felt like the author was reading my mind. It’s uncanny! And since my writings definitely predate the book (published in 2006), who plagarized who here? Where are my royalty checks?

Loser Like Me

“Just go ahead and hate on me and run your mouth
So everyone can hear
Hit me with the worst you got and knock me down
Baby I don’t care
Keep it up and soon enough you’ll figure out
You wanna be, you wanna be
A loser like me”

“Loser Like Me” by the cast of “Glee”

Have you heard this song on the radio? I love it. It’s an anthem for kids in school who, after many years of being ostracized by their egotistical peers, have realized that they don’t have to be cool or popular to be happy. It took me until the age of fifteen make that realization and my life since then has been so much easier. I no longer cared about being called a geek or being looked down on by the popular cliques. I had plenty of friends and we got along just fine without the approval of the “cool kids.” I was a proud math nerd in high school and an unapologizingly studious sorority sister in college. When it comes to teasing, I’ve heard it all. Learning to be comfortable in your own skin is one of the hardest things we have to do in life, but knowing that you don’t have to conform to anyone else’s ideals feels wonderful. Take a look at ten years worth of photo evidence of my nerdiness!

Florida All-State Chorus 1994 – Tampa, FL
Wasn’t my Cobb Middle School chorus uniform awesome?

Mu Alpha Theta National Convention 1996 – Orlando, FL
Charles, Gabe, me, and Dan hoisting our team trophy

AIAA Club at the University of Florida Engineering Fair 2001
We made a fantastic wind tunnel that year, and won some trophies!

University of California Los Angeles Combustion Lab 2004
Sevan and I were illustrating how cold our lab was that winter

Twenty-third new recipe

Before I tried this recipe, I don’t think I had ever made brownies from scratch before. Why bother when you can pick up a box of Ghiradelli brownie mix at the grocery store? Delicious! So why did I try making this recipe for Fat Witch Bakery’s classic brownies on Cakespy’s webpage? A couple of reasons – 1) I’d heard a lot of good things about the famous brownies from the Fat Witch Bakery in NYC, 2) I was craving chocolate at the time, and 3) I had half a carton of Egg Beaters I needed to use before they went bad. I guess the satisfaction of discovering a good from-scratch brownie recipe ranks right up there too. Adding some dense, moist, fudgy brownies to my holiday care packages would definitely be a plus. Unfortunately the brownies that came out of the oven last Monday night do not fit the bill at all. I was so hopeful after reading Cakespy’s great review of this recipe from Fat Witch Brownies: Brownies, Blondies, and Bars from New York’s Legendary Fat Witch Bakery, especially since they were so simple to make. My kitchen smelled amazing as they were cooking, and the brownies looked perfect coming out of the pan, but they tasted…off somehow. They weren’t really that chocolatey and they had a weird custard-y flavor. More like cake that brownies – very disappointing. I was afraid I’d made a mistake in the preparation, but then I read the book reviews on Amazon. It seems that quite a lot of people for the same results as I did and just about everyone has come to the conclusion that this is not the recipe for the brownies that Fat Witch Bakery sells. Very disappointing. My coworkers all has good things to say about them the next day when I left a bunch for them to sample, but I think they were just being nice. The brownies definitely tasted better after sitting overnight, but I won’t be making this recipe again. The search for a good brownie continues.

INGREDIENTS:
14 Tbsp (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 c plus 2 tablespoons bittersweet chocolate chips (I used Hershey’s Special Dark)
1 1/4 c granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 c plus 2 Tbsp flour
Pinch of salt

DIRECTIONS:
1) Melt the butter and chocolate in the microwave in a medium bowl. Set aside to cool while you prepare the next step.
2) Cream the sugar, eggs, and vanilla together. Add the cooled butter and chocolate and mix until well blended. Gently mix in the flour and sugar until no trace of the dry ingredients remains.
3) Spread the batter evenly in a greased 11×7″ pan and bake at 350 deg F for 33 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with just a few crumbs. Cool completely on a wire rack before cutting. Enjoy!

Based on Cakespy’s review of the Fat Witch Brownies recipe.

Writing prompt – 2/1/11

NaBloPoMo writing prompt from February 1, 2011:
Who’s your favorite character from a book, play, film, or other work of art?

With all the trouble I’ve been having producing posts for my webpage lately you’d think I’d be leaning more heavily on the almost daily writing prompts from NaBloPoMo. Every once in a while I see the prompts scroll by in my Twitter feed, but I just don’t find them very inspirational. Not most of them anyway. My writing generally flows in a stream-of-consciousness sort of way rather than having any kind of enforced structure or schedule. Usually a topic, a sentence, or a memory just pops into my head and I write as much as I can about it. Not that I’m discounting the benefit of writing prompts. When I saw this one in my Twitter feed back in February it was 100% effective because it made me start compiling a list of my favorite literary characters. This was tough! I have so many that it was hard to figure out where to start! I was on a business trip at the time and I sat in my hotel room trying to picture my bookshelf at home so I wouldn’t leave any of them out, but it was an impossible task. When I got home I spent about ten minutes scouring the volumes I’ve accumulated over the years and making note of characters I’d forgotten. Unfortunately after that this post got lost in my draft folder for a long time. Yesterday as I was pulling a copy of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo that my Dad loaded me off my bookshelf I remembered this post and pulled it out of obscurity. The list below is by no means all-inclusive, but I think it’s a good representation of my favorite literary characters at this moment in time. No surprise that they are mostly strong female characters!

Lucy Pevensie from The Chronicles of Narnia
Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice
Rose Hathaway from Vampire Academy
Mia Thermopolis from Princess Diaries
Nita Callahan from Young Wizards
Jo March from Little Women
Princess Eilonwy from The Chronicles of Prydain
Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry from His Dark Materials
Meggie Folchart from Inkheart
Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games
Violet Baudelaire from A Series of Unfortunate Events
Hermione Granger from Harry Potter
Bobby Pendragon from The Pendragon Adventure
Clary Fray from The Mortal Instruments