Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mountain High; Sentence Fragments

Mountain x3

The Brown & Haley Mountain "bar" (they're round) triumvirate. From Tacoma, Washington. By the makers of Almond Roca Buttercrunch. Thinking of Ranier.

Mountain. Round lumpiness. Smells nutty. Vanilla cream filling. Like a cherry mash with no cherry. Which brings us to.

Cherry Mountain. Same thick, irregular lump. Intensely cherry smell. Very sweet cherry middle. Less filling than in the original bar. Less nutty. Nicely smooshy as you chew.

Peanut Butter Mountain. Best for last? Most oblong and puddly looking. Faintest scent. First bite all chocolate - cursed oblong! Rich, soft chocolate. Crunch of nuts. Peanut butter inside. Want more. Happy smooth.

Who else a Northwest favorite? Tia!

Point and shoot: The Thanksgiving Day War of 2008


Marshmallows + PVC pipe + plumbing couplings = edible Thanksgiving fun.

Offensive strategy

Building the marshmallow guns

Pictured but not needed: three or more laptops.

- More cool how to projects

Aim for the cats!

Or each other. Whatever.


Shooting a marshmallow

At Battle

Thanks, NPR and Eric Wilhelm, for the idea.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Flow chart

It is important to make a Thanksgiving Meal Prep chart. This is a key piece of paperwork that works in tandem with computer-based grocery lists and printouts of recipes.

Flow chart closeup

You Must Do: pie crust snip snacks

Pie crust snack

If you make pies, you must save your pie crust scraps to put on a baking sheet and sprinkle with a little cinnamon and sugar. These you must bake in the oven along with your pie until they are crispy and browned. Then you must serve a plate of pie crust crispies to the people waiting for that pie to be done.

For extra presentation points, cut your scraps with a ravioli cutter, as pictured above.

Thanks, Martha (and thanks, Mom, for being the first person to model this idea to me).


The free turkey

That turkey I won? Pretty tasty! But that's thanks to Martha, who prepared it and spiced it (Moroccan-style) expertly.

Plate 1: Appetizers

I ate so many appetizers (Chinese, Indian, and American) I had to walk away at one point to catch my breath. The highlight? A kind of fried chickpea patty. Mmmmm.

I was almost too full for the dinner proper.

Turkey's in the wrong spot.

But I persevered. Can I take a moment to say I love Susan Stamberg's mother-in-law's cranberry sauce with horseradish? I do. That's it in the small bowl, all light pink and delicious, in the photo above.

Plate 2: Meat and Sides

Ah, the meat! The side dishes! Highlight: Cauliflower and Brussels Sprout Gratin with Pine Nut-Breadcrumb Topping (but the cream sauce could have been thicker).

Plate 3: The Salads

Ah, the brown-and-serve rolls! The salads! Highlight: Southwestern Christmas Salad with avocado, red onion, pomegranate seeds, grapefruit, and oranges.

Not pictured: Plate #4 (dessert): Caramel Pecan Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust that I made. It could have cooked a little more, but I was enamored all the same. There were several other desserts I wanted to try, but I hit a wall while eating my last brown-and-serve roll.

Happy Thanksgiving!

China/All the way to Pittsburgh.


Jim and Martha returned from China with assorted goodies.

In the Thanksgiving shuffle, I forgot to try any. Here's to what could have been.

Watch out, world.

A sign of the times

I'm back on the nog.

(This is from Costco and pretty tasty, but organic eggnog is even better.)

Friday, November 28, 2008

Found 'em!

Tim Tams located!

I am so kindly indulged by family members (yeah, and friends. I didn't forget you guys)!

A few days ago, Jim drove me to Target to look for Tim Tams (named after the horse that won the Kentucky Derby in 1958?!) after I read on Georgina's Tumblr that they are now available there.

We found them! I only saw a caramel variety and they were branded Pepperidge Farm, but they're Tim Tams. On sale, even. I bought four packages (there are only 10 in a package, after all. What do you want from me?).

Once home, I brewed a cup of Chocolate Chai and did a Tim Tam Slam. Then I did it again. And then a third time.

You guys. They're pretty good. Actually, I would love for them to resist the beverage a little longer. They mush up so quickly. Only the caramel stayed firm in its layer. It would be nice to chew on something slightly firmer once I pop it into my mouth. According to Wikipedia, that's why the Double Coated Tim Tam was created. But I don't really feel like complaining. I feel like eating more Tim Tams (they're delicious without slamming, too).

For the scoop on the introduction of Tim Tams to the American (US) market, read this article.

My holiday snack soundtrack

Pasta Tree, 2005

Hey, don't eat the pasta tree! Let's talk about something inedible this morning.

I'm a merrily uncool member of the Christmas Nerds Consortium (CNC) and the Sergeant-At-Arms of its offshoot, the "We Love Christmas Music" club. You may find our members hard to put up with this time of year, but I hope you'll refrain from wishing us ill.

They Might Be Giants: O Tannenbaum

I'm not saying I love that retailers begin putting up Christmas decorations and displays and playing winter holiday music in October. And I'm not saying everyone should be forced to listen to Christmas music everywhere he or she goes for almost two full months. I understand that not everyone observes Christmas, not everyone likes Christmas and that some people choose to celebrate a completely secular Christmas (and would rather not hear religious songs in public places). And I get why people might get sick of hearing the same songs over and over, too, as many stores seem to have the same holiday mixes playing overhead.

I also recognize that there are other holidays going on around the same time that get overshadowed by The Christmas Machine. I do try to be inclusive. I like non-Christmas holiday music, too (Does the Klezmer Nutcracker count?). Still, I will admit that I love Christmas music best -- when it's the "right" Christmas music (meaning: the style liked by me). So it doesn't annoy me in the stores if they're playing something I can appreciate, and it's on all the time in my house throughout December (when there's no one else at home who seems annoyed). And I'm trying not to be too annoyed by the songs (and arrangements) I don't like -- in the spirit of a happy December, etc.

Sesame Street Christmas record

So, while I celebrate Christmas attempting not to step on the toes of other holidays' celebrants, or on the toes of those who opt out entirely or have different traditions, and while I wouldn't force any part of the holiday on anyone uninterested, it just so happens that it's my favorite holiday. And I get excited about it. And a big part of how I enjoy the season is pulling out my Christmas music! Putting on that first record is a pleasant ritual. Some years I "sneak" a little, but my official self-determined rule is that I can start playing X-mas songs the day after Thanksgiving -- today! -- and that's when Christmas starts for me.

Pip Organ for Christmas

So, what's the "right" Christmas music in my opinion? It's not too narrow a category, or I wouldn't own more than thirty Christmas records in addition to a similar number of cds, but that doesn't mean I'm not picky.

Some of the modern "classics," frankly, make me itch. No offense to their fans, but there will be no Manheim Steamroller for me. I'm not into The Trans-Siberian Orchestra, though it has a nicely wintry name. I was okay with the "A Charlie Brown Christmas" soundtrack until I worked in a bookstore where it was played overhead constantly. Piano jazz overload! Now, no thanks. I'm not finding many albums I like from current recording artists, either. You won't find contemporary country, Christian, or pop music in my collection and when it's jazz I like it old and jumping, not modern and smooth. I also don't want to hear too many synthetic-sounding instruments unless maybe Information Society did a Christmas album I don't know about. I like vocalists I can sing along with, and often choose more up-tempo songs that move me around the house. I have to get things done! I'm not falling asleep in front of a fireplace (though I wouldn't mind having a fireplace). I mean, I have my contemplative moments, but they also tend toward the classics.

What I enjoy are the arrangements and vocalists of the 40s and 50s (earlier, if I can find it); decades-old jazz, gospel, and bluegrass; and the eclectic -- dixieland, organ, "lounge," etc. I'm always looking for something a little obscure that fits my mold, too. Some of the "easy listening" classics are a little too classic (i.e. overused). Or a little too "easy listening." Or just plain saccharine. I don't care to hear to Eartha Kitt sing "Santa Baby" 12 times the same way on 12 different albums. Bing doing "Christmas in Kilarney?" Once a year is almost more than enough. I'd rather discover Leroy Carr singing "Christmas in Jail - Ain't That a Pain" or a new-to-me yodeling Christmas carol from Austria.

Three Suns Christmas Party

A few years ago I started putting together a spreadsheet of all the songs I have, cross-referenced to the album or cd title. It's not finished, of course! I'm a nerd with librarian tendencies, but a lazy nerd with librarian tendencies. So far, I've listed 458 songs, including 10 versions of "Jingle Bells" (by the following artists: Arthur Godfrey, Barbra Streisand, Bing Crosby, Dorothy Meadows and John Eastman, Julie Andrews (and Andre Previn), Maddox Brothers and Rose, Milton Page, Robert Mason (instr.), Tex Beneke and the Modernaires with Glenn Miller and his Orchestra, and The Westminster Brass). And that's with 27 cds still to catalog. So you can see how I might need a whole month to listen to everything.

I was looking at that spreadsheet the other day, in anticipation of dusting off my holiday music this weekend. I have a modestly challenging collection, yes, but it isn't so big (and my place is not SO small) that I don't have room for one (or five) more. There have got to be cool songs I haven't heard. Am I the merriest I can be??!! I don't think so. Feel free to recommend your favorite albums or songs/artists in the comments.

Please Come Home For Christmas

In the interest of ending this post someday, I'll close with a few of my own recommendations and mention 5 of my current favorite holiday cds:
1. Where Will You Be Christmas Day?-- obscure recordings from 1917-1959, many bluegrass and gospel
2. A Christmas Gift For You from Phil Spector -- Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, Darlene Love, The Crystals, and The Ronettes
3/4. Christmas Cocktails 1 and 2 -- "ultra lounge" holiday music.
5. Happy Holidays/I Love the Winter Weather -- Jo Stafford (2 albums on one cd)

Are you lyrics-friendly? Looking for some smooth operators to sing to you? My favorite Christmas vocalists are almost all women. No gender bias meant, but they're easier for me to sing along with. ;) Their non-holiday music isn't too bad, either, by the way. They are:
Julie Andrews, Jo Stafford, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, The Andrews Sisters, Ella Fitzgerald, Julie London, Nancy Wilson, Sarah Vaughan, Kate Smith, Kay Starr, Lena Horne, and The Supremes.

Oh, but is there anything I like that is a bit more current? Why, yes! As noted, I'm not a big fan of Christmas Music made since the 1970s, but I have a few favorites from more recent years, my top pick being Sufjan Stevens' boxed set of Christmas music (originals, covers, many amazing arrangements, interesting instruments, etc.). I'm open to modern music, just cranky about most of it that I have heard to date.

Snoopy's Christmas

So, here's to the tolerance of holiday music! Let's both do our parts. I'll try harder this year not to sneer when people talk about Hilary Duff's (to choose at random) cover of "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve," if you'll try not to run over my toes with your bicycle just because I'm humming "Jingle, the Christmas Mouse."

Or maybe you're already in my un-cool club, in which case -- holler if you want to have a holiday record party!

Christmas with Julie Andrews

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Peanut Butter and Parrot


We picked up some treats from Pittsburgh's Allegro Hearth Bakery -"Crusty European Breads" - at 2034 Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill.

I felt right at home - the woman behind the counter even used to live in my neck of Brooklyn. Then again, I never have found myself feeling out of place as long as I'm surrounded by baked goods.

Above, Roscoe looks on as we prepare to sample our haul: a lemon bar, a pumpkin pie bar, 2 peanut butter and chocolate cupcake-shaped items (I've forgotten the official name), and one chocolate "petite four" (which also had a longer name).


My personal favorite - and the treat that started our avalanche of purchases - was the petite four, which had ribbons of thick chocolate frosting on top of alternating moist chocolate cake and whipped cream layers. It was like a homemade Zinger. Brilliant!

The cupcake-shaped items had the consistency of dense brownies or thick but soft peanut butter cookies. They weren't cakey or light like cupcakes at all, but the peanut butter flavor ruled and they were not too sugary. The pumpkin pie bar was a good concept, executed tastily and well-spiced while still being subtle, and a sweet-tart lemon bar is always classic.

Desserts aside, they also sliced and sold us a swell loaf of sourdough bread, perhaps my favorite sort of bread. Another winner, the sourdough has an open, lacy crumb and zingy flavor.


Cheap and naughty.

Rawther silly

I don't think my parents approved of the candy cigarettes kids ate when I was younger. I'm not so into them as a concept, myself. But they still captivated me in weaker moments. I didn't think that smoking was cool, but I did think that the type of candy cigarettes that puffed some kind of powder when you blew into them were kind of cool. I also had a love-hate relationship with Big League Chew.

These Pieterman, Holland "Hillburry" Chocolate Works "cigarettes" are chocolate cylinders rolled in paper inside a mock cigarette package. I'm told one can find them at Economy Candy for a reported 25 cents or so. They're not worth much more than that. The chocolate tastes kind of old and kind of like paper.

Not a hard habit to kick.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Now I am married to the sea

The Strip

Ah, the Pittsburgh Strip District!  There are lots of fun shops in the area, including plenty of good food and ingredients (browsing is as much fun as buying), but this year's highlight of the strip trip was Benkovitz Seafoods (2300 Smallman Street).

 Benkovitz sign

I've been here in search of shrimp and such, or to marvel at the variety of spices, rubs and hotsauces available, but I had never eaten the food prepared at the back of the store.  Judging by the line, this is an area favorite.

Inside Benkovitz

Judging by the food, there's good reason for the line and the favoritism.  Dan got a Fried Shore Lunch Special and I chose the Original Fried Fish Sandwich.  Prices were reasonable, considering the volume of food we came away with.

Food for two? Or four?

My sandwich alone had 3 or 4 tender and flaky fried fillets between its two buns.  Tartar and Tiger sauces were on hand to add to the mix.

Too many fish

Extra goodies included round french fries that were almost like mini potato pancakes (my preferred hash brown kind, not the floury, cakey kind) and fried zucchini planks.

Fried slug!

Hearty lunch

While exiting, over-full and happy to be so, I spotted a snackable friend on a shelf - one I knew from days in the midwest.  Long before I moved to NYC, I was eating these New York Style bagel chips with sea salt (below).  Nothing compares to the greasy, salty sensation of them melting, one by one, on my tongue.  

I've longed for you.

Oh, my friend, how I've missed you.

Try a Frostie beverage!

Those are earmuffs?

Thanksgiving around here means lots of supermarket trips and several impulse buys. Here's one.

We got two flavors of Frostie (made in Texas, it seems). Vanilla Root Beer is heavily vanilla with a hearty dirty (in a good way) root-taste backing it up. Cherry Limeade tastes a little more artificial but not so sweet that your teeth hurt.

Why not?!


P.S. This beverage reminds me of:

Don't take any wooden nickels. Buffalo Nickels are another story.

Go, Buffalo.

Spotted at a fancy-healthy-grocery-otherwise-store:

New chips

5 flavors of Buffalo Nickel Wingers, "The Original Potato Wing Snack." As the numbers on the packaging rise, so does the level of spiciness, so these #4 Caribbean Zing Wingers are the 2nd spiciest in the line.  Good heat!  Puffy, air-filled drumstick shapes are fun! Healthier than potato chips!  Loverly.

Buffalo "wing" chips

Still to try:

#1 No Bull Barbecue
#2 Honey Mustard Horsepower
#3 Nacho Chilichanga
#5 Fiery Buffalo Bleu

At the same grocery store I was reunited with a favored snack of yore.  I'm not a Pretzel Person in general (in snack mixes I eat the pretzels first to get them out of the way), but I could eat an entire bag of these Snyder's of Hanover Honey Mustard & Onion Pretzel Pieces over the course of a workday.  Years ago while temping in a church office I did just that. Several times.  And then I suddenly couldn't find them in my neighborhood anymore.  I miss you, honey mustard pretzel bites!

I miss you.

Hoitily, toitily delicious.

A ritzier mint

Let's dip into Tia's box of snacks for another treat! I'm about to bake thousands of cookies, so I've got to clear out some space in the kitchen.

Plus, I've been looking forward to trying these Holland Mints. They are described as "Dark-chocolate-dipped peppermint creams finished with a minty sugar shell" and are made by Marich Confectionary Co. in Hollister, CA.

Upon opening the bag, the scents of mint and sugar rose from these dusky pastel spheres (pink, green, purple, and white). Sucking on one released more sweet mint flavor that became stronger over time, eventually becoming quite as refreshing and present as a breath mint. Then the sugar shell melted away and the flavor became milder - dark chocolate and peppermint. When chewed at this point, the candy released a little more mint and crunched slightly.

The peppermint in the candy shells is stronger than in the Peppermint Pattie, and does seem to freshen the breath more thoroughly, but the mint-and-chocolate filling inside is creamy and reminiscent of the patty I love.

I think Holland Mints are rawther nice. They look ritzy enough to be served at the highest class event and are far more complex and unique than your average pillow mint or the like. Dan says, "They have a very expensive texture." I'd certainly choose them over candy-coated almonds if you're looking for a classy, special wedding favor.

Winner, winner, turkey dinner!

My turkey arrived!

I won a free D'artagnan turkey from a contest over at the Serious Eats blog.  It arrived in frozen form, not alive, which was a relief.

The website promises:  

Our farm-raised birds are fed an all-vegetarian diet consisting of 100% whole organic grains and pure spring water, with no protein supplements, added poultry or fish by-products, pesticides or herbicides. Additionally no antibiotics, growth hormones or arsenicals are administered and the birds benefit from an environment that never uses artificial light.

Turkey has never been my favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal, but this year I'm getting my hopes up...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Poetry Tuesday: Drifting, Drinking

Trial by Chai

Anastasia sent this Chocolate Chai from England.

First snow, lofty flakes straining finer in time
Cats snore, bird rings bell, everyone hums
See the suet set outside, feeding feathers flick
Orange leaves waver beyond the stream of flakes
The path to the park is empty, there is someone on the path
Trees shrug open to white, bark stacked with papery edges

This tea in this thick mug steeped long minutes
I steep, cats and birds and suet and leaves in seedpods
Steeping, bits and bobs of spice swell and wilt
The kettle shifts as it cools, snow is milk and sugar
Pages of weather turn, things float down, whirling
Everything is pulled to earth and all a blanket
Cocoa in the tea and my toes tucked under me.

photo by Dan.

We didn't write "We Didn't Start the Fire."

But at some point in 1995, we wrote the following "poem:"

salad bar

nested table
food court

egg rolls
turkey dogs
wooden clogs

lazy Susan
ketchup bottle
plain yogurt
full throttle

Yes, I had a long often-rhyming-but-never-capitalized-experimental-poetry phase.

I believe these verses remain open to a number of interesting interpretations.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Just as I suspected.

Nopelets and Notlets

Dan was happy that Tia sent along a mini pack of Aplets and Cotlets ("Apple and Apricot Confections with Crunchy Walnuts") in her box o' snacks. This is because I do not like them, so it was the one thing in the box he knew I would give to him outright.

I've already mentioned my dislike of these somewhat gelatinous - yet crunchy - and powdery cubes, so it would be boring to go into all that again. I thought it would be more fair to get the other side of the story. This is no exaggeration of our interview:

(Snackreligious): Dan, what is it you enjoy about Aplets and Cotlets?

(Dan): Ummm...That's a good question. [long pause]. I'm sure it will come to me.

[Long pause]

(SR): Do you think it will come to you within the next few minutes?

(D): No. No I don't.

(SR): I rest my case.


Okay, so maybe that was boring, too. But still.

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