DO NOT CALL: The legal wrangling around the National Do-Not-Call List is more amusing than anything else. TechDirt sums it up pretty well (follow the link for extensive links within the post):
At this point, I'm not sure if anyone knows if the national "do not call" list is legal or not. Last week, the list was declared illegal, then made legal again by Congress, only to be declared illegal again (all within a few hours). Following all of this, telemarketers (who had brought the suits) said that they would obey the lists even though the latest lawsuit said they didn't have to. Today, to add to the confusion, the FCC stepped in and said that they would run the list themselves - taking it away from the FTC. This was seen as a more legally sound way of offering the list. However, telemarketers (yes, the same ones who we thought said that they would obey the list) immediately appealed to the Supreme Court, saying it was unfair, and the list should at least be delayed. Their specific complaint was that some telemarketers could no longer reach the list, and thus couldn't be expected to comply by October 1st. The Supreme Court, however, quickly rejected the request and President Bush signed the bill passed last week by Congress (which may or may not matter). Have you got all that? Where does it leave us? With a lot of lawyers who will have a lot to argue over in the next few months. Hopefully it will lower the number of telemarketing calls you receive, but I wouldn't count on it.
The telemarketing industry representatives are starting to remind me of a misbehaving four-year-old child. "Please don't punish me, Daddy, I'll be good, I promise! Quadruple-super-promise! With a cherry on top!"
WARNING - TOILET-RELATED CAT-BLOGGING: Ethelwolf has recently developed a bizarre desire to use the litter box while I am emptying it. Cats are supposed to be notoriously shy about their bathroom habits. Should I interpret this as disdain (I am simply an object, not worth being shy about) or love (I am close enough to him that he doesn't have anything to hide)?
INVISIBLE WEAR AND TEAR: I was thinking this morning about the widespread belief that modern products are cheap and poorly made, and thus break easily. Certainly this is true of some products, but I wonder whether in most cases, we are simply less aware of the gradual process of wear on our belongings.
The working parts of modern devices have become more and more concealed. In the days of horse-drawn carriages, you could see all the moving parts of the vehicle just by walking around and crawling underneath it. Then the car, with mechanical devices hidden out of plain sight, under a hood. Now, running parts are sometimes so small they can't be seen without up-close examination (or even microscopes), and other important components are data-based and can't be visually seen at all.
So, a few months ago when my cell phone broke, I was outraged. I'd owned it for two years, used it as my primary phone, and left it turned on nearly 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. That's a lot of work for a precision device, and must have caused extensive wear and tear. But from the outside, it looked shiny and good as new. All the buttons pressed, menus could be accessed, alarms beeped and rang properly. Everything looked to be in perfect order, except for the fact that the person on the other end of the call couldn't hear me when I talked.
I think I would have been much less angry if I'd seen a gradual process of wear. If I could watch the teeth on a metal gear wearing down month by month until they no longer caught a tread, or something like that. More and more frequently, products work perfectly until they suddenly don't. It's a shock, and there's no opportunity to replace them before they fully wear out. And, I think, it gives the impression that they're less well made than they really are.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- An Apollo moon rock that was given to Honduras in 1973 only to later disappear was formally returned to the Honduran ambassador Monday after NASA undercover agents recovered it from the black market by running a sting operation.
THE MALL: Glenn Reynolds has an interesting bit on Tech Central Station today about the mall as an American "third place". Comparing the mall to downtown:
But more important than physical safety, I think, is the desire not to be hassled by unpleasant people. Vagrants (relatively safe from prosecution in light of Supreme Court decisions), panhandlers, and accosters-of-pedestrians ranging from bible-thumping street preachers to various political activists are all relatively free in downtowns, thanks to the expansive First Amendment jurisprudence of the past half-century. But they're barred from malls. And, in a curious coincidence, that's where people tend to go.
HURRICANE RESIDUE? I sent four movies back to Netflix last week, three that I'd watched and one with the "This DVD is scratched and won't play, please send a replacement" box checked (this was the first time I received an unplayable DVD from them, and to their credit, they make the replacement process quite easy). I mailed one on Thursday, the other three on Friday. My local Netflix distribution center is in Rockville, Maryland, which is in the far northwestern DC suburbs.
Usually, Netflix notifies me that the returned movie has been received the business day after I mail it, with my next movie being shipped out that same day or the next day, and received by me a day or two later. So normally, if I send them a movie on Thursday, they'll receive it and mail the next one Friday or Monday, and I will receive it sometime between Saturday and Wednesday.
I know there was postal service here on Thursday (hurricane day), and I'm pretty sure there was on Friday also (I didn't get any mail, but the outgoing mail looked like it had been collected). But Netflix still hasn't even registered that they've received the movies I sent back during those days. I'm wondering whether they lost power for some long amount of time, or whether they just closed for 2 days plus the weekend and are now in a processing backlog. Either way, I wish they'd sent out some kind of notice about the delay.
UPDATE: Netflix received all four of my movies this morning, and has shipped me two new ones already. (My Girl and Disc 2 of The Family Guy)
PERSONAL TECHNOLOGY AT SCHOOL: Good God, was I in high school only six years ago? The scene has completely changed, according to this article on the use and misuse of PDAs and laptops in high schools. When I graduated high school, in 1998, any cell phone or other electronic equipment found on a student's person would be confiscated. Just a few years before that, bringing a cell phone or pager to school could get you expelled, since "only drug dealers use those things." Six years! We couldn't have imagined Internet without wires.
WHY CALL IT A PHONE NUMBER? Pretty soon, you'll be able not only to keep your cell phone number when you switch carriers, but also to move your land line number to a cell phone if you drop your land line service altogether.
Picture of the future: Everyone has just one "personal number", with no area code. If you want to contact me, you enter my personal number in your communication device (phone, e-mail account, whatever), and then select the type of message you want to send me (stored text (i.e. e-mail), live text (i.e. IM), voice message, live voice, videophone, etc.). The signal is then transmitted to whichever device I've designated as my primary carrier for the moment, or switches to a stored message system if I'm not currently available. Some devices could be private, or I could set to an emergency-contact-only mode, by requiring an additional code in order to contact them, one that would be given only to family and close friends.
I'm pretty sure this could technically be done now. I expect it will be standard within a few years.
GOOGLE CALCULATOR, I LOVE YOU: Yesterday I googled "cups in a quart", expecting to find a list of websites with measurement conversion tables. Instead, I got an answer from Google itself! Thanks, guys!
SPAM: I have officially started receiving spam at work now. Sure, I've received a spam e-mail here and there since I started this job. First were the Nigerian scams, surprisingly, but they were soon followed by more traditional, commercial spam. But it's been on the order of one a week or less. This despite the fact that my e-mail address has been posted on CEI's website since I started working here in January.
My spam level at this e-mail account has now increased to about one per day. While that's still quite low (especially compared to my home account, where 75% of the mail I receive is spam), it's the threshold at which I consider it an annoyance.
A spam first for my home account the other day, too - I received a penis enlargement e-mail which had "before and after" pictures. I'm used to porn advertisements having dirty pictures, but I hadn't seen naked-man-spam before.
ANDREW SULLIVAN has written an interesting article about the wives of John Kerry and Howard Dean. Neither of them would make a traditional First Lady. His conclusion:
I have to say I find both these women refreshing in their forthrightness and desire not to conform to a constructive and essentially banal role of First Lady. But it's another question altogether whether Americans are ready for them. One of the truly excruciating sights of the last couple of decades has been watching liberal "blue" Americans go through contortions trying to make themselves and their lives match the expectations of the socially conservative majority. Hillary's poll-driven hair-styles, her dishonest books, her bland rhetoric and schmaltzy cynicism were the result of a woman who put power before integrity at every stage of her life. Steinberg and Heinz are like cold showers after that muggy, sticky mess. But America is still, at heart, a traditional country. And Americans, in general, like the representations of their family lives to reflect more their nostalgia than their own reality. That's why "Sex in the City" is on cable, not network television. And why both Dean and Kerry will have a truly Sisyphean struggle to make it to the White House with their marriages still intact.
SCALED-BACK SEPTEMBER 11? FoxNews is reporting that the original plan for September 11, conceived in 1996, involved hijacking 10 planes, 5 on each coast of the United States. A second wave was to follow sometime later in southeast Asia.
DINNER FAILURE: Last night I made a promising recipe from The Passionate Vegetarian, called "Creamy Gratin of Exotic Mushrooms and Potatoes". Alas, it did not turn out as expected.
The concept is pretty simple - sliced potatoes and several kinds of mushrooms baked in a creamy sauce. And actually, the flavor turned out great, especially for the fresh mushroom chunks. But there were several serious problems
The recommended 1/4 cup soaking liquid (vegetable broth) for 1/2 ounce dried mushrooms was not nearly enough. I added more, but there still wasn't enough (either liquid or time) to reconstitute the mushrooms. They ended up with a gummy texture and not much flavor.
Related, there was not enough leftover soaking liquid in which to disolve the cornstarch for thickening the sauce, so I used some of the heated milk from the sauce itself to do that.
The potatoes should have been in smaller chunks. Granted, this is a minor difficulty, but it took 20 minutes longer to cook (and at a higher temperature for that time) than the recipe said it would.
The sauce just didn't thicken. I stirred in the recommended amount of cornstarch (4 tsp), and nothing happened. I added 2 more teaspoons cornstarch, and still nothing happened. In desperation, I added another teaspoon of cornstarch to the entire thing after it had been in the oven for half an hour, and there was still no change.
So basically, it turned out to be boiled potatoes and mushrooms in a garlic-milk soup. There are plenty of leftovers, unfortunately. Maybe I will fish out the potatoes and mash them, and eat the mushrooms separately.
To cheer myself up, I'm making a crusty Persian rice dish from Seductions of Rice for dinner tonight. To go with, I'm going to marinate a chicken breast in yogurt and Indian spices, and cook it ... somehow. I'll report on this later.
A POLL: How cold does in need to get before I can make beef stew? I've been craving it for about three weeks. Problem is, just when it starts to feel like fall (yesterday evening), it warms up again (high of 83 today). Please e-mail me with suggestions.
LIGHT DAY: I'm blogging from the office now. There are about half a dozen other people here, including one of our stalwart interns, but we're that CEI is officially shut down. We came to this conclusion based on the fact that the people who called last night to tell us to come in are not here themselves.
The city seems relatively normal, but with fewer people in it. Only a few stores are closed, but there are noticeably fewer street vendors than usual. Traffic, both motorized and on foot, is light but existent.
There are many downed branches in Farragut Square. I also saw a newspaper box that was not just tipped over, but completely upside-down! (Probably someone had put it up to get it out of the way.) The usual homeless persons are nowhere to be found, presumably still in the emergency homeless shelters that were set up. Honestly, I hope the scary psychotic guy finds a different corner to live on.
Coworker in Alexandria reports by phone that he's had neither flooding nor a power outage in his newly-purchased home. Coworker in Prince George's County reports a power outage and a broken emergency stove - even though he checked it two days ago and it was working fine. Relatives in Bethesda report that their yard is cluttered and they are off to the mall.
Speaking of malls, I walked through Pentagon City mall around 10:30 AM on the way to and from the grocery store. Almost all the stores were open, but strangely, McDonald's was closed. I've never seen that McDonald's closed before, not even on Easter Sunday.
POWER OUTAGES: The TV reporter is shocked, SHOCKED, that from where she is standing outdoors in suburban Maryland, she can turn 360 degrees and not see any location with electricity on. Hello! When the power goes out, it goes out for a whole chunk of area.
LOCAL DAMAGE REPORT: I just went out and took a walk around the block. The air is cool, crisp, nicely windy, but the gray sky gives it a kind of sad tone. I saw a couple other joggers and damage inspectors, and several cars driving about.
The damage is a bit worse than I can see from my apartment. Since my window faces west, I'm looking out over the area sheltered from the storm by my apartment building. So, whereas the newspaper boxes to the west of the building are standing up, those to the east have toppled over. I also saw several large tree branches that have fallen, including one tree that was ripped into three huge pieces, leaving only the trunk rooted in the ground. That one blocked some of the right lane at the very end of Army Navy Blvd, but the road is quite passable.
Debris is everywhere, but it's mostly leaves and light garbage. Overall in this area: big storm, but no residual effects.
THE SUN'S COMING UP NOW, and I was right about the lack of water on the roads. They're just damp, with all the rain pools in the usual after-storm locations. Some people, mostly in trucks, have even started to park in the big dirt lot across the street again.
DID ISABEL WHIMP OUT? My power never even flickered. It's still dark outside and hard to see the ground from the height of my apartment, but judging by the cars moving by on the street outside, there is no water on the road. The trees are still waving around a bit, but the morning traffic is starting to kick in.
Meanwhile, the TV news is showing pictures of massive flooding in Georgetown and an inch or two inside some stores in Alexandria. They're still claiming about 750,000 people without power in the greater DC area, 75,000 in DC itself. But all the buildings I can see around my apartment have lights, and the street lights and stop lights are working, too.
Many schools and transportation methods are still closed. Metro did not open at their normal 5:30 AM time, but say they are currently checking their track to determine when they will be able to open.
Weatherpersons claim the area could still see further flooding, since mountainous areas to the west of us got a lot more rain than we did. In the next 2-3 days, rivers will be bringing that water back down to the bay.
UPDATE: Judging by the fact that I can access my office e-mail, the power is on there, too.
PETER JENNINGS ON ABC NEWS had a pretty good collection of hurricane reporter bloopers - reporters staggering around, getting whapped in the face with water, hanging on to their tether cords and so forth.
I still have power. They're saying the worst of it will hit this area between 10 PM and 2 AM.
JUST GLANCED OUT THE WINDOW and saw the apartment manager and one of the maintenance guys dragging in a very large piece of tree. It's hard to tell from way up here, but I'd guess it was over 10 feet long.
POWER: I still have electricity, but the TV is reporting that about 5,000 people in Alexandria are out of power. That could be as close to me as 5 miles away, depending on which part of Alexandria it is.
UPDATE: For all of Virginia, they're saying over 900,000 without power. Guess I'll be signing off unexpectedly pretty soon.
WHAT'S THE ONE THING I FORGOT TO STOCK UP ON BEFORE THE HURRICANE? That's right, folks, clean underwear. The laundry's running now. There shouldn't be a problem getting it done before possible power outages, but I'm glad I noticed now instead of a few hours from now.
The wind's really driving out there now, but still no rain.
ISABEL COMETH: My Internet connection has been splotchy all morning, but the weather's not even bad yet. High winds moving trees and garbage around, but not a drop of rain. Very cloudy. Metro's shut down, so I'm working from home. More later.
THANK GALT FOR MODERN TECHNOLOGY: I can't imagine living on the coast through hurricane season before weather satellites were invented. Some interesting history of hurricane tracking predictions in this Washington Post article.
INTERNET DIFFICULTIES: I arrived home from work yesterday to discover that my DSL connection wasn't working. A call to technical support couldn't fix it, so they're sending out a technician to my apartment today. If I'm lucky, it will be their fault (so I don't have to pay) and easily fixed (so I can get online tonight).
THE CASE OF THE MISSING FLASHLIGHTS: InstaPundit reports that some Maryland residents can't find flashlights or batteries anywhere. I had my choice of about ten different varieties of flashlights at my local Eckerd's (in Arlington, VA) yesterday afternoon, and there were plenty of batteries to be had as well - at Eckerd's, Radio Shack, Best Buy, and my apartment building's convenience store.
I did, however, note that my grocery store was out of bottled water, most kinds of peanut butter, and tuna fish. Good thing I already have plenty of those items.
SORRY FOR THE RECENT LACK OF BLOGGING. I went up to Bryn Mawr for the weekend, then got stuck there part of Monday due to a storm that caused a tree to fall on the train tracks. By the time I got home yesterday, I was too tired to blog anything.
I celebrated my birthday with all my Bryn Mawr friends. I brought them some food, which was praised to high heavens by those poor dining-hall-trapped souls. There was White Cheese Chicken Lasagna from AllRecipes, which survived the freezing/microwaving process remarkably well. I also made a vegan Jerk Eggplant (think Jerk Chicken but coated in soy milk and baked) from The Passionate Vegetarian (which I also found for sale at the Bryn Mawr College Bookstore) that was well-received even by those who don't usually like eggplant. For dessert, I made Honey Ginger Chocolate cake with "Midnight Icing" from my Chocolate Cake cookbook, which everyone loved.
In return, I got several presents, including How to Cook Without a Book, and a book of household hints from magazines in the Victorian era.
I had a wonderful time, particularly when I arrived at Ren Choir slightly drunk by accident. Now, my attention turns to hurricane planning.
THE ESSENCE OF BRYN MAWR: From the LiveJournal of a friend of mine who is a Bryn Mawr senior this year.
OK, so it's only the second week of the semester and I am already Making Tea With Intent ... I swear, it's the natural reaction of the Mawrtyr under stress. Some schools drink. Some schools break stuff. Some schools have a football team. We Make Tea. In a calming sort of ritual with elements of the British and Japanese. I never really drank tea until I came here. A universe in which there is a nicely brewing cup of Vanilla Almond Earl Gray on the side table is a universe in which one can generally put off having a nervous breakdown for a little while, which is the entire point, really.
ARE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS GETTING SMARTER? There's a small controversy brewing over this year's SAT and ACT scores. SAT scores show students improving in math, while ACT scores have remained constant. My theory: Students are taught to the SAT test and know what kind of questions to expect, while they're less directly prepared for the ACT.
THIS MORNING, IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE: A chronicle of my thoughts this morning.
7:15 - "I'm awake. Now what?"
7:15:30 - "Shit, I have cramps."
7:18 - "It's my birthday."
7:19 - "Maybe I can buy new cookbooks, since it's my birthday."
7:19:30 - "Better check the news before Amazon.com"
7:20 - "Oh. It's September 11."
THE WORK-AT-HOME WORLD: I find Glenn Reynolds's vision of modern cottage industry extremely appealing. It brings back many of the old-fashioned things I long for without sacrificing the good things of the modern world. Parents at home during the day. Kids seeing, and possibly participating in, the world of work. A more integrated family life. Good stuff. Go read the article, especially if you've missed his previous musings on this topic.
UPDATE: Regarding what I wrote about the book I'm reading, directly below. Have you ever read the Magna Carta? I did, as a homework assignment the first week of the undergrad Constitutional Law class I took. Of course, we only dwelled on the general parts, relevent to the concept of constitutional government. I'd completely forgotten about this line:
58. We will immediately give up the son of Llywelyn and all the hostages of Wales, and the charters delivered to us as security for the peace.
EXCELLENT BOOK: I'm reading Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman, and it's so good I can hardly put it down. It's historical fiction, set in a period of about thirty years during the end of the 12th century and the beginning of the 13th, in England and Wales. It focuses on Joanna, an illegitimate but much-loved daughter of King John of England. She is married off at age 14 to a Welsh prince she's never met (at this time, Wales is not part of England and is internally divided) to forge a political alliance. Happily, she and her husband Llywelyn fall madly in love with each other. Unhappily, the alliance does not last and war after war pits Llywelyn and John against each other. Joanna is torn between love for her father and her husband.
The growth of the characters is simply amazing. The reader is introduced to John as a teenage prince, and watches him develop through the reigns of his father Henry and brother Richard. He manages to start out as a relatively good guy, later becomes a brutal and power-hungry ruler. We meet Joanna at age five as a poor and lonely child, watch her develop into an innocent, happy, rich young woman, and then a mother, before her illusions are painfully torn away to face a harsh reality. Llywelyn is the most constant character in the book, though he's introduced at the tender age of ten. Alliances form and crumble and break and are reforged. Wars rage and end and rage again. Births, marriages, deaths in war and childbirth and murder and old age.
Best of all, it's the beginning of a trilogy, and the author has written several other books as well. The next two books are highly rated on Amazon, and I've already ordered the second one.
MORE COOL OPTICAL ILLUSIONS: Caution - this may cause eyestrain. Two of them don't work for me ("Toothaches" and "Goro-Jumo"). But most of them are really cool, and I've never seen anything even remotely like "The Music" before. (Link via GeekPress)
I'm a native speaker of American English, and have little trouble understanding foreigners who have learned American English. Similarly, when I took a vacation to England, I had very little trouble understanding the various British English accents. However, I had great difficulty figuring out what foreigners who had learned British English were saying to me. At one point, I was trying to order Chinese food, and I could not for the life of me understand what the waitress was trying to tell me, in her Chinese-accented British English.
WASHINGTON HUMOR: You definitely won't get the jokes if you've never lived here, but today's Below the Beltway column (in graphic form this week) from the Washington Post Magazine cracked me up. Unfortunately, the print on the graphic is too small to comfortably read online, so I'll type out the funniest bits.
The graphic is a map of the Maryland and Virginia suburbs of DC, and the captions are similarities and differences between Maryland and Virginia. Highlights:
Potomac, MD and McLean, VA, the 2 big-money suburbs, are basically interchangeable, which suggests that at some point they were joined by a land bridge that permitted easy migration.
84% of Marylanders find the Civil War "kind of boring." In Virginia, that sentiment is shared only by women (42%) who wish their husbands would find a new hobby.
Virginians name 31% of their roads "Glebe" (which they persistently misidentify as a kind of duck). Marylanders laugh and say "stick with naming things 'Lee'. At least you can spell that." *
* A strand of Glebe Road has been detected in Glen Echo, a sign that it has metastasized across state lines.
The feature article in the Washington Post Magazine this week is completely devoted, for 12 pages, to mocking the French.
FOOD PICTURES: Following in the path of all the other food blogs out there on the Internet, I've decided to post some pictures of my creations.
I didn't take a picture of the Mexican food when I first made it, but here are the leftovers reheating in the pan. Please ignore the mess on my stove.
Chicken with Serrano Cream Sauce and Mexican Rice
Last night (and tonight for leftovers), I made Spicy Simmered Tofu, the first thing I'd tried from my Seductions of Rice cookbook/travelogue. (Amazon has it on sale right now for $9.98. In hardcover. It's worth every penny of the $35 list price. Go buy it now. Trust me.)
Spicy Simmered Tofu is a Chinese dish that is mainly tofu, but also contains slices of pork. (I used ground pork I had in the freezer.) The spiciness comes from chile paste, the recipe for which is also in the book. It was way spicier than I expected - the authors suggested using 1 to 2 tablespoons of chile paste. I used 1 tablespoon, and it was so spicy I could barely eat it. I think I downed half a bottle of white-cran-strawberry juice while eating it last night. However, it substantially mellowed after sitting in the refrigerator for a day. It has a really nice flavor, is mostly meatless (and you can make it without the pork if you like), and cooks very quickly. Plus, having read everything the authors wrote about life in China, I had the feeling of eating something very authentic.
TRAGIC DEATH: Today we mourn the loss of our dearly beloved Frodo Baggins. For while I was at work today, my Lord of the Rings poster fell off the wall, and one of the cats tore a long gash through Frodo's head. He shall be sorely missed.
Many leading al Qaeda terrorists are from Saudi Arabia and Egypt, countries we have supported, not countries we have pulverized. Conversely, we have treated the Mexicans poorly and stolen much of their land, but we don't expect them to blow us up in the foreseeable future.
POOR COMPUTER SKILLS? This article doesn't really have enough information. It says that one in seven office workers don't know how to turn their computers on and off, and one in five asked for help saving or printing a document.
Taking the second stat there: I have great computer skills, but I've had to ask for help on "printing" and "saving", defined broadly. Office networks can be a little confusing, and they're different in every office. So, for instance, I know how to save a document to my hard drive and to my personal network folder, but I had to ask our tech guy where I should put a document that needed to be accessed both by me and two other coworkers. And if I ever need to print anything in color, I'll have to ask him to set up the color printer in my networked printers list.
In turning off the computer, I wonder how many users were asked to turn it off and logged out instead, either through carelessness or preference.
TISSUE RING: From Virginia Postrel's blog a few days ago, here's a radical new way to store tissues. It looks cool, and might be good for an office or petless home, but put that thing out on the counter in my apartment and the cats would tear through the tissues within ten minutes. I'll keep the box.
EXTRA CARS: InstaPundit is in one of the American families that has more cars than licensed drivers. I don't understand why anyone would want extra cars, in general. I can see, maybe, saving an old car for a teenager about to turn 16. And I could see having an SUV or truck, in addition to your everyday use car, if you're a serious sportsperson who needs to get offroad on a regular basis. But aside from a few narrow cases like that, what purpose can it serve?
It's like my extraneous credit cards. I have two of them (used to have three), but I only ever use one. I don't think I've seen a bill from the other one since I was in college, when I used it to segregate the expenses my parents would pay me back for (like textbooks and college fees) so I wouldn't have to add it all up myself.
CUTENESS: I decided it was time for some cat pictures. (Click on each one for the full-sized image.) Most of these were taken some time ago, but just uploaded today. First, here's Maggie claiming Sasha's box of books as her own, a few days after he moved in.
Next, Maggie pretending she is being squashed under a giant anvil.
Moving on to the other cat, here's Ethelwolf in EXTREME CLOSE-UP! (That's my knee in the background - he's sitting on my stomach.)
And here's an artsy picture, taken in the evening with only a little lamplight, of Ethelwolf contemplating his shadow. Even if you didn't click on the others above, I highly recommend looking at the full-sized version of this one.
COOKING MEXICAN: Last night's dinner was chicken breasts with serrano chile cream sauce and Mexican rice. It came out absolutely perfectly. All the recipes are from 1,000 Mexican Recipes by Marge Poore.
Mexican rice is a fascinating thing. You know what I'm talking about - that orange-colored rice with small bits of tomato and onion that you get at any Mexican restaurant. Last night I learned how to make it, and it came out just like at Chuy's, my favorite Tex-Mex restaurant. (Now I just need to replicate their Deluxe Tomatillo sauce, and I'll be all set!)
The recipe starts with normal long-grained white rice. But instead of boiling it immediately, you first toast it in the bottom of a large saucepan with several tablespoons of olive oil. I was certain that this would create a huge mess - burnt, brown rice sticking to the bottom of the pan and never coming off. But actually it worked out just fine, and turned a nice golden color in less than ten minutes. (Make sure you stir constantly during this part.) Next, chopped onions, garlic, and tomatoes, and a sprinkling of ground cumin. When the onions are soft, add several cups of chicken broth - and no water at all. Stir it around, and let it cook like normal rice, simmering on low heat until the liquid is gone, then resting off the heat for about five minutes. Absolute perfection.
The serrano cream sauce was also excellent. Serranos are very hot chiles, and I'd learned my lesson with the jalapenos, so I wore rubber gloves. Next lesson: No matter how strong your desire is to see and smell how things are going, it's a bad idea to stick your nose over a pot of boiling vinegar, chiles, and onions. Once the liquid reduces, cream and chicken broth go in, and those reduce as well. Then strain out the solids, mix in a little cornstarch, and let it thicken for a few minutes. Take care that it doesn't clump (I lost a bit this way).
The sauce was rich and creamy, and not too hot at all. In fact, you don't realize it's spicy when you first taste it, but the heat infuses while it's in your mouth and adds a lively dimension to the food. Really, really good. I'll definitely make this again.
NEW FROM THE ONION: That's the satirical newspaper, not the vegetable. Check out the graphic, How Are We Organizing the Closet? It reminds me of the time I organized my bookshelf alphabetically by the name of the person who recommended the book to me or assigned it for class, and then rearranged it a few weeks later by dominant color in rainbow order.
DINING AND TECHNOLOGY: Pretty much the perfect combination for this blog. Washington Times has an interesting article about the ways restaurants are using technology to provide better service. (Link via TechDirt)
ARGHHHHH!!!! I was nearly done with a post about last night's dinner, and I accidentally closed the browser window while looking for a link to something. Blogger has this really obnoxious thing where they ask you if you want to save the post, and then you click okay, and the post is not saved anyway. It's only there to taunt you. I'm so mad. Anyway, information on dinner will have to wait now, because I am upset and don't want to type it all over.
ADMINISTRATIVE NOTICE: For some reason, my home e-mail account won't send any messages. Again. If you haven't heard back from me about something, that's why. I hope to have it cleared up by this evening.
ETHELWOLF, CAT OF MASS DESTRUCTION: Around five AM, I was awakened by a very strange sort of scratching sound. I'm pretty familiar with the sound that materials in my apartment make when scratched by cat claws. I can tell the difference between a scratching at a barstool, the couch, the computer chair, a cardboard box, the wooden bedframe, and the scratching post (Maggie is much better about using the scratching post than Ethelwolf). But this early-morning scratching was something new. Worse, I couldn't see Ethelwolf, even once I'd put on my glasses and turned on the light.
Searching revealed his presence inside the couch. He'd torn a hole in the lining underneath the couch and climbed right on inside. He was busily tearing up more of the lining, which shreds into nice long cotton threads, possibly to make a nest for himself or something.
He was far enough inside that I had to get down on my stomach, reach in, and pull him out by one of his legs. Then I shut him and Maggie in the bathroom while I removed the legs of the couch so that it sits directly on the floor and he can't get back inside. The couch is now three inches shorter than any reasonable couch should be.
When I let the cats out of the bathroom, Ethelwolf was extremely upset about the sudden disappearance of his new secret fort. He expressed this displeasure by knocking down everything in sight, including the things he usually leaves alone, and running loudly around the apartment so that I didn't get any more sleep.
AUTISM AGAIN: Newsweek has a cover story this week on autism. Attached to the online version, there's a quiz to determine where you fall on the "autism spectrum" (scroll about halfway down the page, look for "The Autism Spectrum" on the left side of the page). I scored 36, which is in the "very high" range. It says that most people with Asperger's Syndrome or high-functioning autism score around 35.
CHECK UP ON YOUR GOVERNMENT: Every once in a while, just so you know what you're paying those Congresspeople for, you should take a look at the Senate or House floor calendar. Tomorrow, the Senate is set to consider S.Res.320, "a resolution congratulating the Louisville, KY Little League team on winning the Little League World Series."
MONDAY'S FOOD: None of it turned out great, but on the positive side, I spent most of the day in the kitchen, made a whole lot of stuff, and had good fun.
Lunch: Following a suggestion in the cookbook, I made a second batch of the filling for Sunday night's excellent stuffed peppers. Then I mixed it into a cheese sauce (from The Joy of Cooking), and poured it over fresh-baked cornbread muffins (from The Perfect Reciipe). The cheese sauce was disappointing - not cheesy enough at all. Combined with the corn filling, I think it detracted from the taste. And the cornbread muffins were just okay. Anyone have a good recipe for cornbread? Mom?
Dinner: Baked tortellini, from the Martha Stewart Everyday Food magazine. Satisfying, but not spectacular. There was a little too much sauce, and the cheese should have been mixed in rather than just sprinkled on top. Leftovers for lunch today.
Cake: From the Chocolate Cake cookbook again, Deep-Dish Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting. The cake is excellent, but I didn't care for the frosting. To tangy, and not sweet enough. I brought the cake into work, and everyone seems happy with it.
Planned for dinner tonight: Chicken breasts with serrano chile cream sauce and Mexican rice. I'll let you know how it goes.
Lesson learned: Early Sunday evening, I was chopping jalapeno peppers without the recommended rubber gloves. This caused my left thumb to feel like it was about to burn off my hand. Up through last night, I could still taste jalapeno on my left thumb.
CHILLIN' OUT: At most restaurants, salad is served on a chilled plate. I never thought much about this until a few days ago, when I read a fancy salad recipe which actually included the step "put salad plates in the freezer to chill". I figured, why the hell not? So this evening, I put my salad (just mixed lettuces out of a bag, sliced cucumber and red onion) on a plate that I'd chilled in the freezer for ten minutes. What an incredible difference! I'm not even sure why the cold plate made the salad that much better. Was it an added crispness or freshness? Did it keep the lettuce colder? Was it just the feeling of a special occasion? Anyway, I'll be doing this from now on, definitely.
FROM ANNOYING TO TERRIFYING: Ethelwolf just keeps getting bolder. In the past few days he's jumped onto the stove twice (fortunately, it was turned off both times) and also tried to claw the window screen (I live on the 11th floor). I've screamed at him so loudly that he now runs when he sees me coming. I really don't know what to do.
Next thing you know, he'll learn to unlock the door and operate the building elevators.