Thursday, February 25, 2010

Olympics junkie

As the Olympic season starts winding down, I look back on the last two weeks and realize that my writing output ground to a halt.  I admit it.  I'm an Olympics junkie.  Normally, I avoid watching sports - many a season I sit in bored disdain listening to people celebrate their favorite team's performance or anguish about the lack thereof.  But the sports demon in me erupts every two years for the Olympics regardless of whether it is summer or winter.

I am an egalitarian vicarious Olympian.  Whatever the event du jour is, I'm into it.  Never seen ski-cross before in my life but the other night I was bobbing and weaving with the turns and the jumps.  I never even knew this sport existed (this is the debut Olympics for ski-cross) and yet I'm living the moments like the most ardent gladiatorial spectator.  The commercial break comes and I roll my eyes at my own antics and the coverage comes back and I'm glued right back there in British Columbia.

There wasn't a US athlete in sight but I was rooting on the frontrunner, until she fell and then I rooted for the next one.  The Canadians, the French, whoever has a good story.  I'm happy that my egalitarianism fits the Olympics.  After all, the national rivalries are there, and yet not.  How many so-called foreign athletes are training in the US?  How many US athletes are training in Europe and elsewhere?  In reality, who cares?  (Besides the politicians, I should say.)  We've heard so many stories of strong trans-national friendships on the various competition tours.  Isn't that the ideal?  Make friends, be friends, experience what the world could be like....if only.

Oh, gag me.  Next I'll be humming Kum Ba Ya....

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cake Conundrum

I decided to make a cake for a certain significant birthday in our household and when the call came for a German chocolate cake, I admit, I did utter a tiny inner groan.  But I quickly rallied and told myself, "You are up to this challenge."  After all, how bad could it be?  My mother had set the bar for another birthday last year by making a German chocolate cake from scratch and I thought I would take up the gauntlet.  (How's them mixed metaphors?  I thought it appropriate for a cooking oriented entry....)

I pulled out my new-to-me Betty Crocker cookbook and set to the task.  List of ingredients compiled.  Trip to store.  Equipment and hardware assembled.  I was ready to go.

Now when I say "new-to-me" I mean that this Betty Crocker cookbook (8th edition*) was purchased used at Powell's bookstore in Portland, Oregon.  Don't get me wrong, I love Powell's, but this time I got a lemon.  Not that the recipe itself was faulty, it's more that the book is missing many key pages, which I will come back to.

I do try, when attempting a new recipe, to actually follow the directions.  As a result, I often do an awesome job on my first attempt and then flub it on later tries because I am not as diligent.  This cake making process, mostly because I was being diligent, seemed to be going well....until I realized that I was getting a little mesmerized by the action of the mixer in the batter.  Shaking off my reverie I started pouring the batter into pans.  I only had two pans and as I poured the batter, half my brain wondered if the pans should be as full as they were.  The other half of my brain was merrily whistling as I put the pans in the oven to bake.

Once the pans were in the oven and the timer set, I turned my attention to making the frosting.  Not technically difficult, again just a need to pay attention to the order in which things should happen.  A phone call came, actually at a good time and so I took it.  Back to frosting.  Sniff?  Hmmm.  Cake baking smell ... and then in rapid fire sequence...burning smell and dark grey smoke puffing out of the oven and the smoke alarm went off.

Some small part of my brain was alert enough to switch off the burner under the frosting as I scrambled for a stool to reach the smoke alarm and open the back door.  I did take a moment to marvel at the billows of smoke wafting out the back door before I turned to find out what was happening in the oven.  I switched on the light to peer in at the chaos and found cake batter erupting over the sides of the pans and burning on the bottom of the oven.  I grabbed some cookie trays and shoved them under the cake pans to catch the drips and scraped some  of the char off the oven floor.

Five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes...the eruption continued. I swapped cookie trays to keep the drippings from charring and belching more smoke.

Thirty minutes...the eruption continued...and I called my mother (sniff).

Forty-five minutes later the eruption finally stopped.  I let what was left in the pans finish baking and wondered if anything would be salvageable for a decent cake.  When I tentatively pulled the pans out to cool I was amazed to see full cake pans.  Even when they cooled, they only fell a little bit.  Nibbling at the edges proved that the taste wasn't tainted by smoke.  Pretty good, in fact.

After frosting and all, the cake was relatively presentable, even if slightly lopsided, and was pronounced a success at said birthday celebration.  I don't know if it was just me, having been steeped in smoke for most of the day, but I kept getting whiffs of burning cake all evening.  

Later, I wondered if altitude played a factor in the eruption.  I live at about 3,500 feet which is on the cusp of what constitutes high altitude for baking purposes.  I turned to my Betty Crocker cookbook and found that the entire section, which includes a discussion of high altitude baking was missing. Once again I used some choice words about my lemon purchase.

Someone must have been listening because Valentine's Day dawned and no flowers, no candies...just a brand new Betty Crocker cookbook (tenth edition)**.   And there on page 25, "Cooking at Higher Altitudes - with Success!"  And what do I find amongst the suggestions?  "Use a larger pan."

In the words of Homer Simpson.  D'oh!

*  Betty Crockers New Cookbook 8TH Edition
** Betty Crocker Cookbook: Everything You Need to Know to Cook Today, New Tenth Edition

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Doppler - 2

Soon after Doppler decided to move in with us, we started making the rounds of the local animal shelter and the vets to see if anyone had left word they were missing him.  We dutifully left word of where to contact us in the event someone came looking and we all went home again.

Doppler himself gave us few clues about where he might have come from.  He wore a blue collar with no tags and nothing else attached but a few bits of wire and baling twine that looked like they'd been chewed through.  He was also scrawny and had some talents that indicated the scrawniness was no fault of his own.

As I'd mentioned previously, we were working at a friend's B&B.  One morning, there were leftover muffins to be had so I took them back to our apartment for a late breakfast.  Eric took his with whatever else was on the menu out to the living room while I had turned to fill my own plate and get a fork from the drawer.  When I turned back, my muffin was gone.

Feeling a little steamed, I went out to the living room and berated Eric for being a pig and taking all the muffins.  Picture the classic guy pose, mouth full, "What did I do?"  Pause.  "I didn't take your muffin."

Picture two heads turning slowly towards the quiet snarfing sounds from the other side of the coffee table where a scrawny dog was eating an orange chocolate chip muffin held gently between his front paws.  The nearest we could figure was that he, in complete silence, snagged the muffin off the counter (which had a top uncomfortably high for me to work at) and carried it into the living without either of us hearing or noticing what he was doing.

No one ever came calling to claim him.  Our best bet was that he was a Rainbow dog.  A Rainbow gathering had recently departed the nearby forest lands and we had quite the traffic moving through town for a while.   Eric says Doppler chewed through his baling twine lead and went off looking for adventure on his own.

And I was never that fond of orange chocolate chip muffins anyway.

Monday, February 15, 2010

If cats could whistle

It all started innocuously enough.  A sock on the stair or in the living room.  I thought I had dropped things as I trundled the laundry downstairs to the washing machine.  Or I blamed the kiddle for leaving dirty socks around.  But then I found a sock under the dining room table.  Hmmmmm.   Definitely not on my flight path.

Before unemployment I was gone most of the day, often home for a quick lunch because I lived close enough to work to make up for my poor, or lack of, lunch planning in the mornings.  When I got home I'd usually crack open the door to see a big toothy yawn from the nearest cat bed on a living room chair.  Lazy stretch and a meow from the big one we occasionally call Thud.  LWK, aka, Little White Kitty was usually curled in a tight ball on our bed and would come out to beg treats as soon as I started making lunch.  Her timing was impeccable.

Once I started staying home for lack of employment, the two of them were incredible pests.  I imagine they were confused because I wasn't leaving them in peace to get their morning naps as usual.  I was always moving about the house, doing this or that, or sitting at the computer with that very entertaining pointer arrow moving about the screen.  It was during this transition period that I started noticing more and more socks strewn about the house.

Now I'll be the first to admit that am not the most careful of housekeepers.  I like to joke that I can interior design them, but not keep them, but even I do not leave socks littering the floor like so many bleached leaves.  Hmmmm.

And then one day I caught the perpetrator.

Picture a cat crouched at the back window watching the birds in the trees and in her mouth...a sock.  She thought she was fast enough that I didn't notice, but I saw her.  LWK dropped the sock like a hot potato and looked up at the sky and I could swear I heard a breathy little whistle coming from a mouth that can't pucker.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Job hunting and creative writing

I've been neglecting my blog of late, I know.  And what's worse is that I've been neglecting my blog for something that is definitely not a new frontier.  Being amongst the millions of unemployed (14-15% in my county by last measure) I am diligently doing the job search thing and submitting application after application.  Currently I have about 15 apps in with various organizations, which, for my line of work, is not bad.  The challenge has been how to maintain my own interest in chugging out applications ad nauseum, which really translates into a challenge to find that kernel of connectivity that makes me say, yes, this is a job that's worth trying for when every job in this economy is "worth trying for."  The other challenge is churning out cover letters to go along with each application.

Cover letters are interesting beasts.  They literally cover the application in the form of a tidy little lid that is a like a label on a soup can that gives the ingredients (you) and why the ingredients are the best thing since sliced bread.  Ignoring, of course, the analogy that sliced bread and soup are equally delicious, particularly when eaten together, I found myself in a bit of a conundrum.  I had been in a series of job where my performance, actions and work products spoke for themselves.  I didn't have to do anything and the next job, experience, project would fall in my lap.  Here I am, 14 years later, an understated professional faced with blowing her own horn.  All of a sudden, the superlatives that others dished out so readily on my behalf take on a new light as I examine and re-examine my work history and go through a self-affirmation process of saying, "Yes, I really did all those things and I deserve credit and I know what I'm talking about."  And I need to put those things in writing.  Not everyone can see me on the job.

So, all in all, blogging is a lot like cover letter writing.  It is creative in finding the interesting links between you and what piques your curiosity enough to write and it is a totally narcissistic, self-aggrandizing world that definitely forces this writer out of her comfort zone.



Monday, February 1, 2010

Blatant nepotism - 2

In the spirit of "Buy Local," I recommend that you patronize a family-owned vacation rental the next time you travel.  Not only do you get the comforts of home, but you also save on restaurants by availing yourself of that fully equipped kitchen.  These are micro-businesses that contribute directly to the local economy.

Yes, we own a vacation rental and I will now shamelessly put in a plug that the next time you visit marvelous Bend, Oregon, stay in our lovely little house very close to the river and downtown.  Check us out at