Friday, October 16, 2015

The Pumpkining II: 2 Sweet 2 Savory

Around this time last year my friend Suzanne and I competed in the first annual orange gourd-based cooking throwdown between us, The Pumpkining: Beyond Pumpkindome. She ran away with the top prize then - no surprise - and a good time was had by all.
Pumpkins! Pumpkins! Pumpkins!
However, with six desserts that we just had to eat, things got a bit too sweet that afternoon. (I almost lost a foot.) So we resolved that this year's edition would introduce some savory goodness into the mix.

And that's just what we did. Once again, she prepared most of her entries on the day prior. I planned on doing the same so things wouldn't be quite so hectic, but the day of the competition was unexpectedly (to me) moved up 24 hours. Things were quite hectic. Like Weezer predicted, though, everything was alright in the end.

Here were my submissions*:

I got tickets for Rush's fall tour, eh.
Pumpkin poutine (recipes for the pumpkin fries and the pumpkin nutmeg gravy) - Please note: due to the time crunch I wasn't able to go to the specialty cheese shop for curds, so I had to use Monteray Jack. My deepest apologies, Canucks.

Beat that, White Castle.
Pumpkin sliders topped with pumpkin BBQ sauce and pumpkin snickerdoodle cookies (recipes for the burgerssauce, and cookies; I added Muenster cheese to the sliders.)

And now Suzanne's entries:

Soup is good food.
Chipotle chicken and pumpkin soup (recipe)

Stack 'em high.
Pumpkin pie toffee (recipe)

I unwittingly ate cream cheese.
Pumpkin cream puffs (recipe)

By, uh, tradition the judge for the context is determined by who is occupying the house next door to Suzanne. This year she had new neighbors, with the esteemed critic being chocolate and black lab owner extraordinaire Kenica. Due to the spread out nature of the cooking, the contest unfortunately didn't provide blind submissions. Suzanne provided Kenica with her offerings first and then a few hours of palate cleansing later I served up mine.

And just how did she rank the dishes? I'm glad you asked!

A whole mess o' pumpkin.
Per her post on Instagram:

Very thankful to have been selected to be the judge for the neighbors annual #pumpkinrecipe #cookoff! It was hard to pick a winner because they all were so delicious and to be honest the top 3 all should be#numberone But I had to vote... 1. Pumpkin slider with pumpkin BBQ sauce (perfect hint of cinnamon and tang, it was so yummy it needs to be on a menu)
2. Pumpkin cream puff with marshmallow (this is dangerously good w a bit of honey and overall could be sold at the top bakeries #obsessed )
3. Pumpkin fries (the texture was just like sweet potato fries but was made with the actual pumpkin cuttings...amazed to say the least)
4. Pumpkin chicken bean soup (had an extra kick which I loved and I want the recipe)
5. Snicker doodle pumpkin cookies (not my fave but ended up eating 2, so I guess they were pretty good) lol
6. Pumpkin toffee bar (was a little sticky but I like this idea)
Overall, this was so fun and I'm very impressed with their kitchen skills and wish you all could've taken part in this tasting to get you into the pumpkin spirit!

Victory is mine! Success was evenly divided, though, with me taking the odd places (natch) and Suzanne with the even ones. I totally agree with Kenica. Everything turned out great this year. It was the first time that I've cooked with actual pumpkin and let me tell you that it was a bit of a chore. It took forever to prep them. The video embedded in the French fries recipe shows the woman using a potato peeler to remove the skin. HA! My attempts broke two peelers and bruised my knuckles. I recommend using a knife. Also: one of the four pumpkins I bought must be constructed out of stone and has made a career switch from food to front porch decoration.

Anyway, aside from a couple of setbacks, it was another fun culinary throwdown. But with success comes dread. I have to up my game somehow to defend my crown next year. How the heck am I going to do that? Blurgh. That's a year away, though. Now my priority is to decide on a Halloween costume. I'm thinking sexy autumnal food competition winner.

*Regrets? I got a few. Mostly that I didn't take better, more mouthwatering food porn pictures. I didn't bring my camera and was constantly busy cooking. Sorry.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

Every summer I try to read an epic-length book. Several weeks ago I decided this year I'd give Gone With the Wind a try when I was done with my current book. (From Russia With Love; yep, still chipping away at those 007 books.) Then Charleston happened and I wasn't really feeling it. But after the increasing amount of ridiculous overcorrections that are only tangentially related to that tragedy and do absolutely nothing to absolve us for our past sins, my interest in the book was renewed.

Well, I'm a couple of chapters in and find it to be a beautifully written work, painting a vivid picture of the South through words. Did that version ever exist? Maybe, probably not. The fact that reading it now weirdly feels like a small act of defiance is a bonus, though. And more than a little bit sad. From immaculate sculptures to silly TV shows from 30 years ago about backwoods moonshiners never meaning no harm, we can appreciate and learn from art, its roots being good or bad, innocent or less than so. Let's put it in it's proper historical context, not completely eradicate it from our collective consciousness just because it displeases us today. I'm sure the Dixie Chicks would agree.

Monday, June 29, 2015

I'm only streaming

I can't sleep to music. Well, that's not true. I can't sleep to music that is uptempo or has vocals. The rest? Fair game. My favorite album to drift away to dreamland to is Jason Falkner's exquisite Bedtime with the Beatles. (FYI: Volume One is much, much better than Volume Two.) But sometimes you just need a little more variety, you know?

So last month I created a playlist in Spotify that's chock full of instrumental lullaby versions of pop, rock, hip-hop, and alternative songs:

At 390 songs (Almost 23 hours' worth!) the novelty value was off the charts. I gave it three nights before abandoning it because the playlist was terribly ineffective. If my brain wasn't actively trying to figure out which song was being covered, the higher pitched toy piano playing the melodies on most of the songs was keeping me up.
So I moved on to... what's the opposite of classical thunder? Classical light breeze? Anyway, I gave some of Spotify's pre-made "Sleep" playlists a spin for a week or so. Specifically, the piano, classical, jazz, ambient music, and various meteorological ones. Not bad, though none of them were terribly deep. That's not much of a concern, though, when the objective is to only hear a few songs before losing consciousness.

With my brain now on the same wavelength as the music, a new problem was brought to the fore: advertisements. While I absolutely love Spotify Premium, I did not renew after my three month trial ran out. Uninterrupted music on demand is an unnecessary expense and I've eliminated all of those that I reasonably can. (See, I'm currently unemployed.) So that means I have to hear ads every few songs. It's no big deal really. Except when I'm trying to sleep. Every time one would come on it would momentarily snap me out of it and I'd go all Admiral Stockdale - WHO AM I? WHY AM I HERE? - before I managed to make my way back into dreamland. Clearly this wasn't working.

Then Google Play Music suddenly offered a free version of their subscription service.
I was *this close* to putting Pandora on my phone when Google made the announcement. Figuring that Google Play Music was already installed on my phone and storage space there is a precious commodity, I nixed my plans. It was time to see what Google brought to the increasingly crowded streaming music market.
Like Spotify, it also has a section of curated playlists for sleeping. Unlike Spotify, it doesn't tell you which tracks or how many songs are in them. Intrigued by its air of mystery, I put two of Google Play's classical and jazz stations to the somnolent test. Guess what? I freakin' loved it. While this new free tier is ad supported, those come in the form of banners and pop ups. There was nothing audible to jar me out of sleep. For that reason alone, Google Play Music radio is a keeper.

I've put many hours into the service during my waking hours, too, and have been quite enjoying it. There are a whole lot of stations to choose from. There was one weird occurance early on when I booted up the '90s Alternative Rock Radio, possibly the genre I'm most into. (Nostalgia is a hell of a drug.) The first song it played was by the Gin Blossoms, followed... the Gin Blossoms. Odd. That's only happened once. Other than that I haven't notice too much repetition so far.

I'm particularly loving the Indie R&B station, which has exposed me to a bunch of new artists and songs. My current favorite discovery is AlunaGeorge's "Your Drums, Your Love". For the past several years I've tried to make it a point each summer to delve into a genre I'm not overly familiar with, like classic reggae or Memphis soul. I hadn't planned on do that this year, but indie R&B - or *snicker* PBR&B - found me. I've been a fan of The Weeknd for years, but now it's time to take it further. Welcome, new soundtrack to the remainder of my summer.

But I digress. In the end, each streaming service has its strengths and I'll use both accordingly. Spotify will be for when I want something familiar via the many playlists I've make there. Google Play Music will come in handy for night time listening and when I want to discover something new. Ain't technology grand? This is a marvelous time to be alive.

Well, unless you make your living solely through creating music, I guess. I'll let David Lowery sort that out.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Money can be exchanged for goods and services!

Summer is fast approaching - honestly, it feels like it's already here - and I figured that I should make a few fun and kicky tweaks to cope with the climbing temperatures. So I temporarily unfroze my personal spending freeze and hit up eBay.
A hair past a freckle.
First I dropped less than $2 on this Chinese knock-off Fitbit Flex band. You get what you pay for, but it has held up for a week and counting. So far, so good! I have two official Fitbit bands, but they're getting really torn up after a couple of years of continuous wearing, swapping out the module, etc. This may just be a stopgap solution, but at least it's a dirt cheap one.
But my mom says I'm cool.
The second of my two purchases was this Simpsons Mighty Wallet. Some who know me are probably shocked that I didn't own it already, what with how that show is almost a second religion to me. (You're still tops, Jebus.) The construction is kind of weird: It's one big sheet of Tyvek - you know, the nigh indestructible stuff overnight envelopes are made out of - folded a certain way. It's taken some getting used to, but I've grown to really like this wallet. It is well worth the $3 I spent on it. Not for the seller, though. It was her first auction and per the mailer I received, the shipping alone cost more than that. There's an eBay learning curve. She'll get there.
Sour C.R.E.A.M.
And since we're talking about wallets, this is my old one, which I've used daily since the mid-aughts. I got it at a Tommy Hilfiger outlet in Hilton Head. See how the white in the logo is now yellow? Yeah, it's high time that I gave it a rest. Though when the situation calls for a little more professionalism - say, a business lunch or trip to the petting zoo (damn those judgmental goats!) - I'll bring it back out of retirement.
Yeah, I guess it's my favorite movie.
Or maybe I'll just go with my other standby, given to me by Kate the Great many moons ago. I imagine that this wallet will be promoted to be my daily companion when I enter the "walk the Earth" phase of my life. Wait. Shouldn't I be doing that right now? I need to call my career counselor.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Newer shoes? I still can't wait.

So my first professionally-fit pair of running shoes that I got in January? They didn't take. My body rejected them. When I ran in them the pain in my knees was much sharper and appeared a great deal sooner than usual. (Within the first quarter to half mile.) What's more, new pains appeared in my shins and hip. I gave them a shot: five runs of about three miles each. The New Balances hurt me every single time. Were my overpronating legs weird in that stability shoes made things worse?

Luckily I was still within the return window and took them back to Lucky Foot over the weekend. They took them back with no questions asked and set about helping me to find the perfect shoe. It turns out that within stability shoes there are a range of how much correction they provide. Last time I must've erred on the side of massive support. Maybe that's what hurt me so much? I tried on four more pairs, no repeats from my last fitting there. Three of them were stability shoes, one was neutral.

It was a lengthy process, but I ultimately settled on this pair ASICS GT-2000 3's. I really liked the cushioning. They feel like pillows strapped onto my feet. Also, bonus points for the wilder colors than the more conservative New Balances. Granted, all that's meaningless if I take them out for a run and they try to kill me.

I'm going for my inaugural run in them in a few minutes. Here's hoping that I finally found The Ones. If not, well, then I think that will be my body's way of tell me "No stability shoes for you!" I'll go back to the store and try the neutral Sauconys I tried on.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

"And the Oscar goes to... Nicolas Cage's hairpiece!"

Ah, Oscar night. The glitz! The glamour! The sitting around in elastic-waist pants and typing out snarky commentary in real time! Yes, this is our time to shine, ladies and germs.

Though I'll no doubt be thinking to myself mid-ceremony "I delayed watching The Walking Dead for *this*?" I look forward all year to tonight. It's weird because I couldn't give a flying fig for any other awards show and going in I usually on have seen a paltry number of the nominees. (Well, I do see the films in the technical categories, since those are typically big, dumb, and loud.) This year is no exception. So who will take home the statue? The true-ish story of the military's most deadly gunman (Boyhood), the tale of a tough but inspiring drumming instructor (Birdman: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire), a brutal examination of America's racist past (The Theory of Everything)? The one about the guy in a wheelchair (Selma)? A write-in for the criminally overlooked LEGO Movie?

The only Best Picture nominee that I've seen is The Grand Budapest Hotel, which I greatly enjoyed. Wes Anderson is back, baby! (I was lukewarm on Moonrise Kingdom.) What other movies did I see and love this year? I'm glad you asked. Get thee to a Redbox and snag They Came Together, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: The Winter Solder, The LEGO Movie. X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Back to Oscar night... oh, the fashion! I don't care! But I know that the press needs to churn out content and the public craves something to lap up, so I'll clue you into who I'm wearing tonight: shorts by House of Adidas, t-shirt by Georgio de la Sports Backers, hoodie by United Colors of Fruit of the Loom, and socks by Pierre Starter. Swanky!

Per usual, I'll be live blogging the ceremony here in the comments section. I invite you to join in the snarkfest and comment along. Feel free to talk smack about what films and actors you hate, who you love, what a disaster the telecast is, who you are wearing, your prognostications, the most glaring snubs, etc. If I come across an exceptionally funny tweet I'll post it.

Give us a night to remember, phoney Hollywood One Percenters! Make it well worth me putting my binge watching of Bosch on hold. (That show is my current jam, BTW.)

UPDATE (03.02.15): A hearty congratulations goes out to KPMD for winning this year's Oscar pool. Her impressive run - including starting out with an 11-0 streak - put us all to shame.
The award ceremony was held while she was in town yesterday, at D-Hall. Because of her Guatemalan-ness - her natural heat - she won a copy of The Birdcage. Thanks to everyone who played and came here to lay down some snark. You guys make it fun.

Friday, January 30, 2015

New shoes? I can't wait.

I'm creeping up on it being one year since I started doing this stupid running thing and I guess it's going to stick. Figuring it was about time that I got my first pair of professionally-fitted shoes, I headed to Lucky Foot to get an analysis.

It turns out that my feet collapse inward as I run, setting off a chain reaction of stress in my knee and hip. That explains the pain! All this time I've been running in a pair of neutral shoes, but I actually need stability ones. So I tried on three pairs and settled on these New Balances. Even with a discount for belonging to Gold's Gym, these are the most expensive pair of sneakers I've ever owned. But I guess they do more than sneak.

It's funny: in every other area of footwear I much, much, MUCH prefer something understated and conservative. Yet for running shoes I like to peacock with shoes that are slightly gaudy. (Though I do have my limits.) Honestly, I find my new shoes to be pretty boring. Though here function should trump form, I guess. Still, zzzzzz...

After the snow melted I took my new shoes out for their inaugural run and... I don't know. I went on a four mile run and at mile three my hip was killing me. So much so that I had to walk for about 30 seconds before resuming my run. And my knee still hurts. I can't tell if it's more or less than with my old shoes.

Maybe my body just needs to acclimate to a different type of shoe after getting used to my old neutral pair. Jeff at Lucky Foot did say that they wouldn't be an instant panacea to my problems. I'd also have to build my leg muscles up, as well as stretch adequately before running. So I'll give them a few more runs before I make a final verdict.