TV breakthroughs!

I finally, finally managed to make it through not one, but two! episodes of Dr. Who. This may not seem like such a great thing, but I kept trying to get into it in preparation for when we finally get the David Tennant Dr. Who series on PBS

(because how lovely is he?), so that I would know what was going on. I never really saw the appeal of the Christopher Eccleston Dr. Who,

but after this weekend, suddenly, I do! He’s no David Tennant, but still…

Anyways, bring on David, PBS!

And in related TV news, I finally got around to watching Torchwood.

I don’t know why Ianto’s not in there, but there is a surprising lack of easy-to-find photos of the Torchwood cast. Anyways…

So. Much. Love.

So much.

My arch nemesis returns…

Well, in light of the successful baby knitting, I decided that I would once again attempt the devious Mrs. Darcy. But this time, I come armed with a theory as to why it grew so large upon blocking it the last time.

While reading through some older entries of the Yarn Harlot’s blog, I discovered that she and a friend has run into a similar problem whilst knitting matching sweaters. They’d been knit to gauge and measure correctly when they were finished. Once they’d been blocked, however, she found that the sweaters had expanded to outrageous proportions.

‘Wait a minute,’ I thought. ‘That’s what happened to me!’

In the process of describing how she managed to save the sweaters in time (I think they were knitting his-and-hers sweaters for friends of theirs), she happened to mention that they were knitting with superwash wool.

‘Wait a minute!’ I cried. ‘That’s what I’m knitting with!’

So. My theory now is that it is neither my attempts at resizing the original pattern nor my knitting skills which are the problem here. My theory is that the problem lies with the yarn.

So. I did what all the books recommend that you do and which I obviously should have done in the first place and will now do every single time since I’ve learned my lesson the hard way, which is BLOCK YOUR GAUGE SWATCH!

I was so proud of myself for knitting up the gauge swatch (which tells you if your stitches are the same size as the one used for the pattern – basically, if your gauge is off, the size of your sweater will be off), but I thought ‘Block it (wash it, pin it out, and wait for it to dry)? Pppfff, no way – I want to make a sweater now!’

But look what happened!

It went from measuring 6 3/8″ x 4″ to measuring 6 11/16″ by 4 5/16″! Sure, it doesn’t sound like that big of a difference, but when you spread that growth over something that you think is, say 24″ wide, it ends up being…excuse me while I attempt to do the math here…a whole inch wider! And something 24″ long would end up being 25 3/4″ long!

But now that I know that my gauge is actually significantly larger than I originally thought, I should be able to adjust the pattern and change the number of stitches I do to hopefully get something that will look too small when I’m done, but end up being the correct size once it’s been blocked.

Hopefully.

It’s like a fiesta in my mouth!

So my team at work last week had a rough day on Thursday. When I told my DE that she deserved cookies, she said ‘What I really need is a margarita.’ Now obviously, I can’t make a margarita and bring it in to work, so I thought I’d do the next best thing…

Margarita cookies!

They’re not just cookies in a margarita glass, they are really Margarita Cookies from Smitten Kitchen. Basically, it’s a shortbread recipe to which lemon and orange zest and tequila have been added. You make them into logs and then roll them in sugar and a little salt, slice them up, and bake them.

Despite the fact that they sound easy, they were rather more difficult (read: annoying) than I expected. But they are pretty tasty! And they’re small, so they’re easy to snack on…

ETA: Sounds like a couple of you are going to make these – yay! My advice? Double the amounts of zest (and maybe also the tequila) – I think that might help give them more flavor and zing and help them not just taste like a citrusy shortbread. I haven’t tried it that way, though, so do so at your own risk! 😉

In which I host a ‘dinner party’…

Those of you who know me know that I can bake, but cannot cook. Every once in a while, I go slightly insane and decide to prove that I can, in fact, cook. Some of these…experiences…are more successful than others. Tonight’s, I think, can be added to the ‘Success’ column. Huzzah!

The theme for this evening’s dinner was ‘The Four Seasons.’ Representing summer was the appetizer, Crab, Mango, and Avocado Salad from Simply Recipes. I think this was the least successful of the dishes. I substituted coconut rice for the crab which was problematic on a number of levels, but mainly that cold rice does not equal good rice. Also, if I made this again (and it was good enough to have another go at it), I’d probably layer it mango-avocado, then rice, then another mango-avocado instead of the opposite. But it wasn’t bad.

There was also some trouble with this one as one of the slices of mango made a run for it underneath one of the stone’s burners while I was making the main course.


After repeated attempts to stab it out of there (and rather more swearing than I’m proud of), I eventually had to wait until the soup was done, then lift up the top of the stove, and retrieve it.

ETA: This evening for dinner, I decided to try and heat the rice, mango, avocado salad up and see if that improved it at all and it did! It’s still quite a bit more bland than you’d expect with all those flavors in there, but it softened the rice up a bit and made it seem a bit less dry. Still needs some work, but much better!

Then, for fall, I made Pumpkin Soup with Smoked Paprika also from Simply Recipes. I won’t go into the entire rant, but needless to say, the local market no longer seems to carry McCormick’s spices and flavorings, so I had to jury-rig smoked paprika from turmeric, cumin, and cayenne. I was trying to recreate a soup I had when I was visiting a friend in Sweden and, while I didn’t manage that, it was still very yummy. And I did this the long way, too, which was very satisfying. I started with this:

And ended up with this:

(It really is rather more orange-y than it looks in that picture…) Yum! Very good for a chilly fall (or winter) night. And I now have vast quantities of it, so I’ll probably end up freezing it and saving it for later.

To go with that, there were hot rolls (made from a box, so nothing special) and…spring! Green beans provencale from Recipe Zaar. Verrry yummy. I added cubes of mozarella to this and it was perfect. (Alas, the picture is quite blurry – I promise they were in focus when I took it…)

And there was winter for dessert, in the form of Gingerbread Cupcakes from Post-Punk Kitchen (a vegan recipe, made unvegan by me), which went from this:

To this:

I was not sure the frosting was going to work, but I finally got out my hand-mixer and it ended up being really nice – sweet, but with enough lemony flavor and surprisingly light considering it has shortening in it. It didn’t look very pretty, but it sure tasted good…So. 3 out of 4 ain’t bad, right?;)

A golden fall evening

I was home sick today, an event made ironic because of the fact that I got my flu shot yesterday. Actually, I think it was a reaction to said flu shot, but that’s just me. I’m feeling better now, but I was just sitting here reading (The City of Dreaming Books) and watching TV (Everybody Loves Raymond) this evening when I happened to glance at the window. ‘What an odd color it is outside…’ I thought.

And then I thought I would share it with you because it was very pretty when I saw what was causing it…

I wish you could see that tree better – its leaves are the exact shade of golden yellow that the sky was so that everything on that side of my apartment seemed to be glowing.

I love fall.

Fiction

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

There is no other word for it, this book (novella, actually) is delightful. It’s about Queen Elizabeth discovering that she has a love of reading. Really, that’s about it. Okay, it’s also about how she approaches reading, how her reading habits change (and change her), what her staff think of these changes, and has a lovely, and surprising, ending.

It’s only about 120 pages, so it’s a quick read and it really is surprisingly satisfying despite its diminuitive size. I would recommend it to anybody who likes books about books (a la Ex-Libris, which I adore!) or just anybody who likes books, full-stop.

My rating: A-

Fiction

Empire of Ivory (Book 4 of Temeraire) by Naomi Novik

See? I just said a little different, didn’t I? There were dragons in Guards! Guards! and there are lots of dragons in the Temeraire books.

For anyone who hasn’t heard of the Temeraire books, it’s basically the Napoleonic Wars with dragons. Needless to say, it’s awesome. Dragons are used like sentient ships, basically, bringing the battles to the air about a century earlier than in reality. The stories center on Captain Will Laurence who is unwillingly (at first) drafted into the Dragon Corps when his ship captures a French ship which is carrying a dragon egg. Upon hatching, it (Temeraire) bonds with Laurence and, well, the rest is history. Except that it turns out that Temeraire is a very rare Celestial – a Chinese breed which is only meant for emperors and was intended as a gift from the Chinese to Napoleon.

This book (the fourth in the series) picks up right where the last one left off. Seriously, it picks up again finishing up the last scene from the previous book, while Temeraire and the group of feral dragons they’ve picked up on their latest journey are bringing Prussian soldiers back to England while under attack from a group of French dragons and their crews. Basically, a plague is, well, plaguing the English dragons, diminishing their numbers (which they are trying to hide from the French) and Temeraire and Laurence must find the cure.

Turns out, Temeraire had a bout with a similar illness which was unintentionally cured during a stopover in Africa, so Temeraire, Laurence, and their squadron of sick dragons with their crews head off to Africa in search of the cure.

There are even more political manueverings in this one (which is saying a lot, trust me) than in the previous two books (there were some in the first, fair enough, but it was mostly about Laurence and Temeraire) which sometimes slows (and confuses) the plot a bit. It’s still good and the dragons are fun to read about.

I think the main problem with this book is that there isn’t enough of Laurence and Temeraire – my favorite parts are reading about their interactions and their relationship with one another. And the other dragons (although, my second-favorite (after Temeraire, of course), Volly does make an appearance) seem to be given a bit of short-shrift, too. Basically, it was a lot of political goings-on in this one. But.

In true Novik fashion, she has set up a very interesting premise for the next book in the series (due out sometime in 2008) which may be the reason for my main problem with the book. Knowing the ending now, it seems like the entire book is just a big set-up for the next one. Which I am greatly looking forward to. Hopefully there’ll be more of Laurence and Temeraire in that one.

So despite the fact that I think this is probably the weakest of the four books, it’s worth the read just to be back in the universe Novik has created and it’s a promising set-up for the next one. I highly recommend the series overall. I think Entertainment Weekly put it best – this series is for ‘anyone who’s read one of Patrick O’Brien’s 19th-century-set naval adventures and mused: You know what would make this better? Dragons.

My rating: B

Fiction

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

Well, I finally finished this book. I have no idea why it took me so long to finish it, I certainly didn’t not like it. I think perhaps trying to read three in a row are what made it feel a bit tiresome despite being every bit as clever as the other two I’ve read. So.

Guards! Guards! continues in the charming and clever vein established by the first two (that I’ve read – I’m reading these nowhere near in order). The characters are likable despite their faults – I especially liked The Patrician. The Night Watch are adorably inept and well-meaning. Errol is just darling!So still very enjoyable, but I think I’ll put Pratchett aside and try something a little different. Just a little.

My rating: B

Lazarus rises! Again!

So the lemon plant is wintering at my parents’ house where it can sit in the pool room and enjoy the humidity and get some sun and not be harassed by cats.

But.

While we were out de-bugging it this afternoon, I took a look at Lazarus (who I’d completely given up on) and look what was hiding in the corner!

So now it is a race to see who will triumph: Lazarus (and, by extension, me), the squirrel, or Mother Nature. I bought him a nice little stake that will hopefully help his posture a bit, but which may end up making him more obvious to the squirrel.

Ramshaw Real Estate is a SLUMLORD!

Okay, Ramshaw. Here is a list of the things I have forgiven:

  1. The stove that leaked gas.
  2. The lightbulbs that I’m sure you just rotate from one stairwell to another so that there are always a total of five that work distributed between the two of them.
  3. The scaffolding that was outside my windows for two and a half weeks and resulted in negative progress.
  4. The radiators that broke in April when it was still snowing that you just started fixing now. (‘Uh, you know, maybe if we don’t fix them, it just won’t get cold.’ Brilliant thinking there, Ramshaw.)
  5. The water being off for five hours at a time.

But this is the last straw. THERE IS NOT HOT WATER! I saw a man skulking around outside this afternoon with a plunger, so I know you were up to something (probably yet another inept attempt to fix the radiators), but whatever it was resulted in NO HOT WATER. In my shower – oddly enough, there is hot water in the kitchen.

YOU ARE NOTHING BUT A GLORIFIED SLUMLORD, RAMSHAW! And if you did not require us to re-sign our leases a YEAR in advance, I would move out of here!

Well, that and my apartment is pretty damn cute. BUT I AM SO MUCH WITH THE FURIOUS RIGHT NOW THAT IT IS BLINDING ME TO ITS CHARMS!

ETA: Okay, still no hot water this morning (not even in the kitchen), so I called the emergency maintenance number, despite not being sure if it qualified as an ’emergency’ (I mean, I’m not going to die from not having a shower, am I?) and the woman who answered was very nice (I wish she was the normal receptionist) and said that she thought it qualified and would call the maintenance team. Now, whether they actually come AND manage to fix it? We’ll see. If they do, however, they will be off my bad list. If not, well, I’ll just have to shower at work on Monday morning…

Perhaps watching some Entourage before it’s time for my B.A.C.H. rehearsal will soothe me. 😉

Are you all watching Pushing Daisies?

I certainly hope so because it is AWESOME! I love everything about it, but especially:

  1. I love that Ned is tall.
  2. I love that Ned’s name is Ned!
  3. I love that he wears the same shoes as me (and the Edge!).
  4. I love that he walks around with his hands behind his back.
  5. I love the brightly colored dresses with pockets and crinolines that Chuck wears.
  6. I love her hats and sunglasses, too.
  7. I love that Kristen Chenoweth is absurdly tiny.
  8. I love that Emerson Cod knits!
  9. I love that Ned makes pies for a living.
  10. I love that they talk fast (a la Gilmore Girls).
  11. I love that Ned and Chuck have to kiss through plastic wrap!
  12. I love that Emerson Cod’s car is seafoam green with white-wall tires.
  13. I love, love, love that Jim Dale is the narrator – it’s like a weekly dose of Harry Potter.

So if you are not watching Pushing Daisies, you seriously should be!

No, seriously.

p.s. – Back to You is off my roster.

I am procrastinating.

What am I procrastinating? you might say. I am procrastinating writing. Because instead of actually writing, I’m writing blog entries about how I’m not writing but how I’m thinking about writing and showing you my notebook (from afar because I’m still working through very basic stuff – a recurring theme on those Post-Its is ‘WHAT IS GOING ON?!’ Which is not really a good thing for the writer to be thinking. Really. Somewhat ironically, the other theme is ‘No talking to the reader!’ Maybe I need to convince them to relax that rule just until I’ve figured out what’s going on…).

Yes, I use both sides – it’s not like Post-Its grow on…oh. Wait. No, I guess they do. Never mind – it’s just a writerly eccentricity, then.

More Post-It notes, along with things scribbled in the margins at 3am which no longer make sense. I’m sure if only I could decipher some of them, this book would practically write itself, but until then…

So here’s the basic, basic outline of a summary of a vague idea that’s been tramping about in my head and on those Post-Its lately (with no specifics, mostly because I don’t know them, but also because if I ever do get it out of my head, onto paper, and you lot want to read it, I don’t want you to already know what’s going to happen – where would the fun in that be?):

  • A can do X
  • B can do Y
  • C can do Z
  • A knows B and C and what they can do
  • B knows what C can do (but do they know each other? At first they did, but now I don’t think they do)
  • C knows A and what A can do
  • Some combination of A, B, and C know what’s going on
  • I know what A, B, and C can do, but I do not know what’s going on
  • There may or may not also be other letters involved

So…yeah. There you go. An insight into my psyche, no doubt, but hopefully it’s a little interesting.

Janis, you need a blog. Seriously, because you’re one of my writer friends and I’ll bet you have lots of interesting things to say about how you write. At first I was going to say that I bet it’s entirely different since you write non-fiction, but now I think it probably isn’t. I mean, you still have to come up with connections and relationships between your subject and their family and friends and then you have to decide how you’re going to tell their story or even which story of theirs to tell!

So.

Janis or Cayt or any of you out there who might write but I don’t know about it (or know you, for that matter), how do you write? What’s your process? Literally, how do you write? Post-It notes, charts, outlines, typewriter, computer, by hand, or some other way I haven’t thought of?

Yum, yum, yum!

I made pumpkin cookies this evening!

They are very yummy. I think it’s a really good recipe – they’re chewy and sort of cake-like, very similar in consistency (I think) to the lemon blueberry cookies I make a lot. The icing is pretty sweet, as it’s mostly powdered sugar, but it’s balanced out by the spicy, pumpkiny goodness of the cookie. A perfect accompaniment to a nice cup of tea…too bad it was actually fairly warm today! Definitely a good addition to the fall recipe lineup.

Iced Pumpkin Cookies (courtesy of Allrecipes.com via the brown sheep)

Ingredients:
Cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Icing

2 cups confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Small dash of cinnamon (optional)

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone mat.

2. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves, and salt; set aside.

3. In a medium bowl, cream together the 1/2 cup of butter and white sugar. Add pumpkin, egg, and 1 teaspoon vanilla to butter mixture, and beat until creamy. Mix in dry ingredients. Drop on cookie sheet by tablespoonfuls; flatten slightly.

4. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes in the preheated oven, until cookie springs back when lightly pressed. Cool completely on wire racks.

5. Make glaze by mixing confectioners’ sugar, milk, 1 tablespoon melted butter, cinnamon and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Add milk as needed to achieve drizzling consistency. Drizzle over cookies with a fork, allow icing to set before serving or storing. Note: it’s helpful to leave the cookies on the wire rack while icing to allow the excess to drip off, with some old newspaper or another plate set underneath the racks for easy cleanup.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

 

Okay, well, I think I have to say that I was a little disappointed. A little. And not in any of the actors – they were all really good. Especially Cate Blanchett who is fantastic in anything! Really, she’s always great, but she’s just completely awesome when she’s Elizabeth. Geoffrey Rush was great, Clive Owen was looking great, Samantha Morton was great, really everyone was great. And there were a few times when I got all choked up just because everything was so pretty – and because the fimmakers were obviously manipulating the audience’s emotions, but that’s what they’re supposed to do right? – like when she’s in her nightdress on the cliff at the end looking over the burning armada and her speech in front of the troops when she’s all done up in her armor (even though Henry V’s was better) and when she’s in her big Elizabeth dress standing over the floor-map of the British Empire.

But. I think the screenwriters must have been sleepwalking through this. Also, there were some weird shot choices and sometimes I think the director was just like ‘yeah, and let’s add a guy getting his tongue cut out, that’ll be good. And then when we’re showing the battle, we’ll just show real tight close-ups of people we’ve never met before but are missing legs and stuff, it’ll be cool.’ I don’t know. I mean, fair enough, battles aren’t pretty, but it just seemed an odd way to try and make that come across.

The costumes are amazing, of course. Especially Elizabeth’s dresses. It would be fun to play dress-up with some of those outfits, but I imagine the fun would wear off pretty quickly once I realised how heavy and cumbersome they are. Still…

My rating: B

Basically, I would say, if you liked the first one, go see it. If you like Cate Blanchett, definitely go see it. If you’re wanting to learn about history, do NOT go see it.