Monday, March 26, 2007

Return of the King

OK, I think this is my favorite of the three books. I love the courtly language between Merry and Theoden, and Pippin and Denethor. The wrapping up of the whole Aragorn/Arwen, Faramir/Eowyn mess is subtle but great. Sam carrying Frodo up the slopes of Mt. Doom, the deus ex machina of the eagles (again), the Scouring of the Shire, and the bittersweet goodbye at the Gray Havens. The moment that really catches me every time, though, is the heroic bit - when Aragorn's banner is unfurled on the field and he and Eomer meet in battle. For some reason, that part hits me every time, and I find myself snuffling along to it. Anyway, everytime I reread those, I'm glad that I did. If anyone reading this hasn't read them, hasn't read them in awhile, or has NEVER FINISHED THEM, please do. Soon. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Book 16

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Apple pie

Baked an apple pie this afternoon to bring to Nathan and Sarah to say thanks for some recent babysitting they did for us. As I started, I thought it would be fun to take some pictures of the process, and that snowballed into this. Gonna go for a personal record for longest blog AND most pictures here. (If it takes to long to load below, here's a link to the flickr set with all the pictures) Here's the recipe, straight out of Joy Of Cooking (the 1991 revision, I'm not allowed to get the new one apparently...) For documentation's sake, the recipe is "Apple Pie II", and it's on page 874-4 in my book.

Peel, core, and slice a little thicker than 1/4 inch thick:
3 pounds apples (6 to 8 medium-large)
In a very wide skillet or pot, heat over high heat until sizzling and fragrant:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Add the apples and toss until glazed with butter, Reduce the heat to medium, cover tightly, and cook, stirring frequently, until the apples are softened on the outside but still slightly crunchy, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in:
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt

Increase the heat and cook the apples at a rapid boil until the juices become thick and syrupy, about 3 minutes. Immediately spread the apples in a thin layer on a baking sheet and let them cool to room temperature.
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 425.
Pour the apple mixture into the bottom crust. Cover with the top crust or lattice, seal the edge, trim and crimp. Bake until the crust is richly browned and the filling has begun to bubble, about 40-50 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack.

And the crust; Flaky Cream Cheese Pastry Dough from page 864-66 (I'm doubling this):
Whisk together thoroughly in a large bowl:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cut into 1/4 inch pieces and add:
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
6 ounces cream cheese

Using a pastry blender, cut the cream cheese and butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs with some pea-sized pieces. Drizzle over the top:
2 to 3 tablespoons cold heavy cream

Stir in with a fork until the dough begins to gather into moist clumps. Press the dough into a flat disk.

OK - on with the show!

I started by peeling and coring the apples (I use Granny Smith's for the tartness) - if I haven't sung you the praises of this automatic apple peeler, let me just say: This thing makes peeling apples fun!

Got them all peeled, and quartered - one nice thing about that peeler is that it makes all the slices the same thickness, which makes for standard cooking times...

Here's the whole batch in a bowl, ready for the next step:

Which was getting some butter melting in a nice big pan:

I deviated slightly from the recipe here - I added most of the sugar and spices to the apples before I had cooked them down. Honestly, I was just distracted by taking the photos, but it seemed to work out okay in the end. Here's apples and stuff:

And the same all nicely mixed:

By now, the butter is melted and pretty hot:

And we put the apples in the pan and toss them to coat with the butter:

Like the recipe says, cook the apples until the outsides have softened, but are still crunchy inside. I find that 5-7 minutes is too long, and everything gets pretty mushy after the next step, which is to raise the heat and let the sugars for a syrup with the juice from the apples.

After they're satisfactorily cooked, let them cool on a cookie sheet while you make the dough:

While typing this up, I just noticed that I didn't double the amount of butter used; just the cream cheese. Oh, well - I guess that's testament to the amount of leeway in most recipes: I should have used 12 tablespoons of butter, but I only used 6:

This goes in with the dry ingredients, where it's cut in with a pastry blender:

Until it looks about like this:

Then the liquid is poured on (I ran out of cream, so I substituted water for the last bit that was needed) and it's stirred until it starts clumping together:

And it can be pulled into a ball like this:

I halved the dough, and started rolling out the bottom crust:

To a circle slightly larger than the pie pan to be used:

Then transfered this crust into the pan:

And trimmed and patched the edges:

Then started with the top crust - went for more of a rectangular shape here, for reasons which will soon become obvious...

Got it all rolled out:

And cut into strips for the lattice top:

Then transferred the cooled apple mixture into the bottom crust:

Two pictures of that step, I guess:

And then dotted the filling with the leftover 2 ounces of cream cheese:

Now for the lattice top: Started by laying down the horizontal rows:

Then folding back every other row and laying down a vertical piece:

Flopped the horizontal pieces back into place, and flopped back the alternating horizontal pieces:

Which left a place for the next vertical piece. Then flopped those horizontal pieces back, alternated again:

And so forth until the top is completed:

Then trim and flute the edges and get ready to bake:

Into the oven - I use one of these pie rings; keeps he edges from burning:

45 minutes at 425 degrees:

And out it comes!

Bonus picture of our kitchen mascot, the piggie potholder...

Surprise dinner

Sorry it's been awhile since my last entry - it seems like it's been a pretty hectic week, but I'm hard-pressed to say why exactly, now. Fellowship of the Rings viewing at a friends house last night, running with friends Sunday morning, did a little bit of baking (more on that later...) Anyway, Mich and I had a couple of gift certificates to spend at the Eldorado casino, and arranged last-minute babysitting (thanks again, Nathan and Sarah) to go out the Bistro Roxy. Casino restaurants are so weird. They usually have a high level of food with a mediocre level of waitstaff, and a really bizarre mix of clientele. At any rate, Mich and I shared a calimari appetizer with some kind of picorino (or something) peppers. Mich had her standard blue cheese salad (pretty good cheese in that. I had pancetta-wrapped swordfish on a bed of... uh... rice and stuff, didn't pay a lot of attention to that. Mich went for the lobster tail, which came with asparagus and a mushroom risotto. We shared a bottle of 2006 "J" Pinot Gris, which was a pretty good choice. We had pre-ordered the two dessert souffles they had, which were blood orange and vanilla with chocolate chunks and Grand Marnier. They were both EXCELLENT, the blood orange one being perhaps slightly our favorite. Not sure if I'm up to trying that one at home.

Monday, March 19, 2007


I had seen Erik Larson's Devil In The White City go across the counter at the library quit a few times before I finally picked up a copy to read it. It didn't have my usual requirement of non-fiction, a sense of humor, but it had its own thing going: it was totally captivating. I almost didn't want to pick Larson's next book, Thunderstruck, up for fear that it would disappoint. I needn't have worried. Thunderstruck is a fascinating history of the invention and feud over the invention of wireless telegraphy interwoven with a murder mystery that the same wireless technology was instrumental in resolving. The only reason this was slightly less satisfying than his last book was that I was expecting so much. Great read.

Marc, do you want my copy of this for reasons previously discussed?

Book 15

Sunday, March 18, 2007


Another foray into adult furniture: a new couch for the family room. It replaces an old (but comfy) tank of a couch that spent part of it's life on Mich's brother Nathan's porch in the university district. It had a much-washed couch cover on it since a failed reupholstering attempt that we made a few years ago. It was time for it to go. Saw this one at Cost Plus World Market and were drawn in by the name - it's the Sophia model (wrong spelling, I know.) Anyway, brought it home, rearranged, and here is the real Sofia giving it a try out.


This was last week, but we had such a busy weekend that I'm just now getting around to emptying the camera and blogging about it. Walked out of work last - well, I guess it was Tuesday. This is what was staring at us right outside the library. Amber and I both whipped out cameras and took a few pics of it; from the previews, they came out surprisingly different, but I haven't seen hers for real yet.

OK, here's Amber's photo also:


Made a blowout dinner last night, for Dianne and Sarah's birthdays. I meant to take a picture of each course as it was presented, but I got all wrapped up in the plating and serving and forgot the photos. You'll have to make do with one of the table setting, pre-party. Here's the menu:

Salmon Tartare with red onion crème fraiche on
cucumber rounds and rice crackers
Parmesan Crisps with chevre and sun-dried tomatoes
Prosciutto-wrapped melon
Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut Champagne
Gloria Ferrar Sonoma Brut Champagne

Cream of Asparagus with red pepper coulis
and savory walnut meringues
Ironstone “Obsession” 2005 Symphony

Sesame-crusted Seared Ahi on cabbage
with spicy asian dressing
Bonny Doon Pacific Rim Dry Riesling

Raspberry sorbet with mint and limoncello
Villa Massa Limoncello

Filet Mignon with bearnaise sauce and mashed potato
Spicy maple roasted quail on polenta
Chipotle Lime Shrimp
Green beans with tomato confit and chive oil
Hahn Estates 2005 Meritage
Erath 2005 Oregon Pinot Noir
Ray's Station 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon
6th Sense Syrah

Danish and French Blue Cheese with crystallized ginger
Iniskillin Ice Wine

Flourless oatmeal-almond chocolate cake
with white chocolate ganache
Dalmore Single Highland Malt Scotch Whiskey, aged 12 years

Saturday, March 10, 2007


The big issue around here recently has been Mich's finger. Dishwashing-related accident with the food processor blade, requiring 3 stitches. Went unsuccessfully to two emergency rooms and waited three hours before she came home, got some rest, and went back in the morning. Tough girl. Getting sympathy points now, though.

Wonder if I should start an "injuries" tag for this blog? Sure...


This picture does Sofia's hair absolutely no justice. Serious Van de Graaf generator action on the trampoline today. Couldn't get her to sit still long enough to get a good picture, though. Nice smile...

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Play Money

Pretty quick read, this one: Play Money: Or, How I Quit My Day Job and Made Millions Trading Virtual Loot. In the genre of "guy quits his job and spends a year doing something different", which I seem to like. This guy, Julian Dibbell, decided to see if he could better his yearly salary as a writer by selling virtual items in a few different MMORPGs. (If you don't know that wonderful acronym, please follow the link.) I've always been fascinated by the concept, but not so much that I actually am interested in playing in one. At any rate, he makes a go of it, delving into the social and economic aspects of the game, the shady bits and the nebulous tax status of the virtual economy, but always keeps it very readable. Only recommended if you're interested in that sort of thing...

Book 14

Piano Girl

Silly Sofia. Figured out how to open the piano bench, and climbed right inside. She was nice enough to pose for a few shots before she went on to her next conquest...

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Two Towers

Finished The Two Towers at the gym this morning. I know I said it before, but it's a testament to how much the movies affected me that I still can't get past comparing them to the books when I reread them. (This is only my second time rereading them since the films, though, so maybe that'll fade...) Anyway, I focused this time on a couple things: The portrayal of Faramir in the movie and how my post-mivie visualizations of the characters are colored by the films. First, Faramir. In the books, he is able to shrug off the power of the Ring and send Frodo and Sam along on their way. In the movie, he takes them part way back to his city before relenting and letting them continue their journey. I wish there had been a way for them to avoid that change, but I realize how hard it would have been to film Faramir's thought process. Plus it made for a good Osgiliath action sequence. As to my visualizations of the characters: In the films, Frodo is close enough to how I pictured him that I see him when I read the books. Gollum was done SOOO well that I will never think of him as other than in the films. Sam, though. All credit to Sean Astin, he did a superb job. He's just not how I pictured Sam, though, so I just don't see that movie character when I read the books. I pictured him thinner, older, more wizened - probably more like his father, the Gaffer, would be portrayed.

Wow, this was a long post for me. Jeez, get me going on Tolkien...

Book 13

Monday, March 5, 2007

Not-quite-as-new baby Gus

Finally got the chance to hang around with Gus again - he's only two months old, but looks like six months. Big guy. Silly, too - smiling, chuckling, making silly faces. What a fun baby. It was Ramona's fourth birthday party, and Julien stayed on to play with her for awhile. I rode over after awhile and picked him up on the motorcycle. Then later, Alicia and her daughters stopped by our house and everyone played hard. We had some exhausted kids last night!

Sunday, March 4, 2007

I, Lucifer

Not sure what to say about this one. It was one of those that I started, but didn't think I'd finish, then I didn't have anything else on hand, so I finished it. After a certain point, too, I felt I had to. I, Lucifer is the story, well, of Satan. From the perspective of him as he exists while inhabiting the body of a failed writer/suicide (yep, failed at both) in London. Lots of Britticisms, and a really dry, sarcastic sense of humor that I really like. And what an interesting perspective to write from. Kind of like a car crash; you jest can't look away. Apparently this is going to be a movie in 2008; I'm interested to see how they do it.

(Bonus: he mentions Wombles!)

Book 12

Saturday, March 3, 2007

New baby Elisabeth

For some reason, I haven't been able to see any of our friend's new babies recently. My first post of the year was of new nephew Gus, and I still haven't seen him again, 2 months later. (I will tomorrow, though.) Haven't seen my co-worker Chris's new daughter Hannah yet. Other good friends, Caroline and Erick, had their first, Elisabeth, a week ago, but I couldn't make it to see her either. Finally got to stop by and see her today - what a beautiful little girl. She woke up while we were there, and was very alert. Boy, you forget how small they are. Julien was fascinated, too, at least until he found the remote for their big-screen. He was really gentle with her; I was proud.