Monday, December 31, 2007

If It Ain't Broke...

Since it is New Year’s Eve, there is a certain obligation to review one’s life. As I spent the last five minutes thinking about it, I realized that those things I would share, I have and those things I won’t aren’t going to come pouring out today.

As I talked to a friend last night, all I could come up with was the cliché, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” My life really is in good shape at the present, so I’ll leave it be (despite applying for a second graduate program…yeah – it’s a contradiction).

Unfortunately, there may also be an omen mixed within it. When I first typed it, I wrote, “If it ain’t fixed, don’t broke it.”

Somehow I think the typo has as much truth as the original chestnut. With the challenges facing the nation and people personally, there is that natural inclination to try to make things better. With a presidential campaign going on, we will spend the entire year hearing about how much better things can be. I just how we have some recognition that as we make the choice for the next four years, that despite the things that are broken, we don’t choose someone who is going to “broke” it worse.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Friday Foodie - Eggnog

Friday Foodie





Ingredients: milk (or cream or half and half or a mix of them), egg, sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg

Discussion: I comment from time to time about some food I have cooked or eaten that really stands out to me. So often lately, my conversations with friends have centered on food or drink. In the holidays while gathered with family and friends, food plays an integral role in the socializing.

Food, for me, is something to be savored. Every bite should bring a few moments pleasure to the palate. Flavor, texture, and satisfaction are the three qualities that determine how much I like the food I eat. Presentation is an issue for some, but for me it only sets the stage because when I whack it into bite sized pieces, the looks don’t really matter.

For the holidays, we will begin with a drink I’ve heard described as an alcohol delivery device – eggnog (or egg nog).

Eggnog has both flavor and texture I find appealing. I have always been a fan of nutmeg and that spice lends much of the flavor to nog. The creamy texture is at once soothing and pleasing to the mouth as it coats the entire tongue and lingers there to allow a full experience of the flavor.

The satisfaction from eggnog is not the same as a hearty meal, bur rather a comforting sense like that of being wrapped in heavy blankets on a cold winter’s day. Rum or whiskey adds to the calming sense.

Around Christmas, eggnog is available at most grocery stores, but I prefer to make my own (in fact I make it year-round). It is very easy to make as the ingredients are only milk, egg, sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt.

I follow the proportions: 3 eggs, 2 cups milk, pinch salt, with sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon to taste.

The recipe, of course, can be adjusted based on the amount you want, but I have found that 1.5 eggs per cup of milk gives a good creaminess. I always like to include some cream or half-and-half in the mix just because of that extra bit of smoothness. Eggnog, clearly, is not a drink for dieters.

One trick I’ve found is to put the eggs in a blender, mix them until smooth then add the sugar and spices. The spices seem to stay better infused with the egg when done this way.

Keep the eggnog refrigerated, and for safety, use within two days or dispose. Historically, eggnog was served warm, but I have not had much luck getting it warm other than in a double-boiler. Both direct and microwave heating have led to lumpy eggnog and that will ruin the mood quickly.

Once made and chilled, drink as is or add your favorite libation and have a good time!

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Winter Wonderland - Not!

Annually I make a trek to Kansas for the gathering of my cousins who live in Wichita – and their prodigal brother who moved off to Kansas City. We always have a tremendous amount of fun as we gather to visit, exchange gifts, and eat.

This year I made it up to Kansas in near record time by getting a jump on the holiday traffic – and before the predicted blizzard blew in. I don’t know if anyone who gets real winter would call the weather I experienced in Kansas a real blizzard since there were only about eight inches of snow, but the news stations all talked of “blizzard conditions” and for this South Texan, it most certainly counts.

As I watched the snow fall and blow, I kept thinking that I should write about how beautiful it was, creating a winter wonderland on the first official day of winter and just a few days before Christmas. Because I’m a southerner and the snow is such an unusual sight for me, I should be in awe at the transformation from the barren brown ground visible at dawn to the bright white dune-like topography visible at mid-afternoon. Instead, I am not moved in the sense of the romantic authors so inspired by the beauty of such pristine newness. While watching the snow swirl and blow, I only saw it in the view of the realists.

The ferocity of the gusting winds shifting the snow around the ground reminded me more of the wind and rain of a tropical storm. The rain, like this snow falls sideways so much that one wonders how any of it ever makes it to the ground, yet somehow, it does and flooding ensues. The snow is somehow making it to the ground.

Mother Nature did not create this show for my interest or amusement; she did this because it is what she does when warm moist air meets frigid air. These conditions would kill me just as quickly as amuse me – not out of any malice, just because they are beyond any conditions my body can handle without help.

All that said, the disaster freak in me wonders at the quiet violence of the snowstorm. Unlike rain that pounds the walls and roof, the snow dodges and swirls with the wind. The flakes that do collide with the house do so with a sigh rather than a scream. Tropical storms announce their own arrival. The snowstorm settles in on you and envelopes you in its grasp.

I keep waiting for some disastrous occurrence in the snow outside the window. Much like NASCAR is really only fun when there are crashes, I keep waiting for limbs to give way or roofs to go flying – something to break the quiet.

Even if nothing extraordinary happens, I’ll never look at another Rockwell winter scene quite the same again. The perfection of the final product hides the stories of its creation. It is one thing to wonder at that final beauty, but isn’t the story of its creation so much more fun? That story can be retold and remembered and the exhilaration of the moment comes back fully. That final perfection only lasts until the first step breaks the smooth surface. From that moment on, only the story remains.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Too Smart for My Own Good

This past Saturday I sat for the GRE at one of the internet testing sites. I’ve already earned a Master’s degree, so though I have taken the GRE before, it was well before the five-year-window for which test scores are good, I had to take it again for the new Master’s program to which I am applying. Most disgustingly, the scores have no bearing on admission as this program has admission based on a portfolio and interviews with co-workers; nevertheless, the graduate school requires the test scores be on file.

So I forked out the $140 the test cost and woke up early on a Saturday to take it. I didn’t bother to review any sample questions or the online study guides my $140 had paid for. I resolved to see just how fast I could make it through the test.

I finished in less than half the time allotted. I was pumped.

And then the scores came up.

Remember – I made absolutely no preparation. The last real math class I had was in the spring of 1986 – almost twenty-two years ago.

Going into the testing room, my internal measure of success was getting out in the shortest possible time so I could go back to bed or get on with my Saturday.

And then the scores came up.

Kind readers, have you figured out that I have a competitive side and a bit of an ego that… well… that spills out of my head from time to time? I know that about myself and it sometimes gets the better of me.

Because then the scores came up.

I had done well!

In fact, I was shocked to see that the combined score of verbal and reasoning was exactly the same as I had earned on the SAT in 1984! (Yes, I remember my SAT scores.)

The competitive side of me rose up and I have been kicking myself ever since.

The scores were good!

What if I had used the scratch paper on a few of the math problems?

What if I had actually picked up one of the sharpened pencils they had handed me instead of doing all mental math? People who dine with me know how dangerous it is to rely on my mental math.

What if I had really read the passages instead of scanning for key words?

What if….

The scores could have been REALLY good!

I almost want to dish out another $140, prepare for the test, and take my time answering it. My competitive side keeps grabbing for the credit card, but my frugal side keeps slapping the competitive hand away.

I have nothing to gain from taking the test again but peace of mind knowing I did as well as I could. The GRE is not a measure of intelligence but a measure of academic skills; knowing I didn’t make full use of the academic skills I have gained over the years gnaws at my mind every waking moment.

The scores could have been really, really good.

Nevertheless, the scores will do for now, but I learned this about me: I will not blow off future tests for convenience.

The next scores will be incredibly good!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Larry Craig Experiment

I keep thinking the Larry Craig event will fade into political history, but it keeps cropping up in blogs, news, and humor – just as the Republican Party feared (and I secretly hoped) it would. Since the event was essentially a he said –vs- he said event, I decided to put it to scientific reasoning. Since there are a few actions that are agreed upon (the meaning is in dispute on all of them), I put them to the test: did the action lead to pee, no pee, sex, no sex, or dancing?

In order to replicate the situation as closely as I could, I used a stall in the restroom where I work rather than my own toilet at home. Just like with the label in the restroom toilet, I was careful not to be spotted doing my experiment when someone else was in the restroom.

To easily understand it, I created a table.



No Pee


No Sex



Peeking in Stalls



Wide Stance



Foot Tapping




Bending Over






Bending Over

While Sitting



*You do want to check to see if the stall is occupied before grabbing the door, so it could be for pee or sex (if the occupant is cute).

**My feet are not normally in a place that would lead to tapping during sex, but peeing is impossible while foot tapping.

***Dancing is premarital sex for Baptists.

It is time for Senator Craig to come clean (out). After my careful research, there is no way he was in that stall for its engineered purpose. Every action possibly works for sex, but peeing is only possible with two of them.

What happened to the age of investigative reporters who should have figured this out months ago? It took me getting bored while peeing one day (I had already been though a pot of coffee, so I was there for a while). But now that we have scientific proof, we can put the entire event to rest and the Republicans can adapt to having a gay senator in their midst while they continue their rhetoric of intolerance.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

When Food Stars Align

By my own declaration (and that of most people who have eaten my cooking) I’m a pretty good cook. Ninety-five percent of the time whatever I prepare is edible and sometimes exceptionally so. Food is one of my great pleasures, and when I am unable to enjoy it, either from time or illness, I’d rather just not eat.

The idea got into my head while on the phone with a friend earlier. He spent the weekend suffering from sinus congestion as many of us find ourselves doing now (Austin has been named Fall Allergy Capital of the United States).

He had just eaten the food he craves when ill. I commented that I don’t eat when I don’t feel well. As we talked, he commented on eating as a matter of necessity. He sees food as important and finds a way to eat even when not feeling well. I admire that quality because I’ve never been able to do it. If I can’t enjoy it, I just won’t eat.

Throughout the conversation, I could smell the bread then baking in the oven. I have purchased only one loaf of bread since Christmas 1999 when my mother gave me a bread maker. The bread maker has been in the closet since I moved to Austin and came out of the closet. I much prefer to make bread by hand now. Sunday afternoon and evening, whenever possible, is reserved for bread making.

Just like the bulk of food I prepare, I have no set recipe for bread. Bread simply consists of flour, milk, egg, salt, yeast – and anything else one wants to add to give it some zing or zest. Today I went with dried cranberries which I had run through the food processor briefly.

Occasionally the food-stars align and the dish I make comes out exceptionally well. Today was one of those days and the bread rose beautifully and symmetrically, browned evenly, and contained the perfect texture on the inside.

Don’t believe me – here’s photo evidence!

I think tomorrow night, I’ll be having peanut butter and jelly French toast with cranberry bread!