Saturday, March 28, 2009

Playing with my food

One of the rarely-mentioned joys of being a married guy is that you've always got a wife waiting to be appalled by what you eat. Laura has a show tonight, so for dinner I did some experimentation with food in a blender. First experiment: half a can of white-meat chicken, 3/4 cup of nonfat yogurt, and a teaspoon of crushed garlic. Surprisingly not bad; a bit like evil tzatziki. It went well with pita. And, second experiment: the other half of the can of chicken, 3/4 cup of low-fat cottage cheese, a little milk, and some black pepper. Also better than expected. I heated it in the microwave and ate it with tortilla chips, and it wasn't half bad. Both of these are quick, easy, and high in protein -- almost 60 grams in both experiments. And both invoked retching sounds from Laura.

I suspect that one of the reasons I liked the meat in a blender is that my standards for high-protein blender foods are very low. I'll have the occasional protein shake on mornings when I'm planning on heavy exercise, and this stuff is awful. I keep experimenting with it to see if I can improve the taste, but I haven't had any luck. My best bet is to just mix skim milk and chocolate-flavored protein powder, then drink it quickly to get it over with.

And, I was curious to know if I'm the first person to ever use the phrase "evil tzatziki". Google says no; 212 hits. While I'm googling, I also found 238 instances of "cat bidet," one hit for "electrified shingles," and 4 hits for "anti-pigeon artillery". It's a weird world we live in.

Speaking of inappropriate things in a blender: if you haven't seen the Will It Blend? guy, you need to check him out. He's the amusing kind of crazy.

Monday, March 23, 2009

An old joke, but still funny

English majors have gotten this line before, but it's still funny to see in webcomic form.

My personal experience has been that an English degree has exactly as much value as any other liberal arts degree, which is: letters after your name. I've had a few jobs for which it mattered that I had a college degree, but it didn't really matter which degree. At least with a liberal arts degree, it's less important that I have any particular skills imparted by my years in school, because I didn't learn many. The sum total of the practical skills I picked up in my four years as an English major came from one single copy-editing class, and I've never needed these skills for a job. But a lot of jobs have wanted me to hold a degree.

I think it's mostly a matter of job-application triage. For any decent job, employers have at least a few dozen times more applicants than openings available. Being able to instantly limit that stack of applications by culling the ones without a degree, or without a specific amount of experience, or whatever arbitrary hoops you set, simplifies the hiring process. It doesn't matter if the job requires a college-specific skill set; it doesn't matter if the job is learn-as-you-go, and therefore requires no real experience. If you can simplify your hiring process, you're happier. And, you're shifting the boundary upward -- you're selecting for applicants more qualified than you actually need. This seems like a good thing, but it isn't necessarily. If your applicants are truly overqualified and savvy enough to know it, they'll be looking elsewhere. And you're cutting yourself off from the people who meet the real needs of the job but don't meet the artificial hiring standards you've put in place. The best fit for the job won't even get an interview.

Which is its own problem. The person who'll do best at the interview process is probably, in aggregate, not be the best person for the job. You're hiring a person based on job-interview skills, not job-performance skills. It's a slightly more human version of hiring someone based on whose resume is neatest. The best-presented, smoothest-talking applicant isn't necessarily the one with the most substance. The interview system works best if you're hiring someone for a sales or management job, where performance skills and interview skills have significant overlap. But if you're hiring a computer programmer or a theater tech, you're trying to pick winners based on irrelevant data....

This topic is on my mind for two reasons. First, I know a lot of people looking for work, and I've been thinking them positive thoughts. The job market is hard now, both because so few people are hiring, and because for any open jobs you're competing with a much larger number of qualified applicants who have recently found themselves out of work. Freelancers have the same problem; when you're bidding for that plumbing job, you're now competing with a hundred other guys, all recently laid off from big homebuilders, all willing to work for less (sometimes much less) than the going rate, just to have the work. Times are tough, and I'm not seeing an end.

Second, we spent a frustrating two hours at the AT&T store today trying to cancel our cell-phone service at work, being tormented by a perky but clueless and utterly unhelpful salesman. And I kept thinking, "you beat out how many other applicants for this job?!?"

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Just like a real SWAT team!

My favorite video game of the last few months has been SWAT 3. It's a tactical team shooter, and it's been around long enough that people have made a heap of mods and missions for it. It was released in 2001, and I found it on the $10 discount rack at Fry's just before Christmas; it's old, but new to me. The main perk of an older computer is that I can buy software cheap. My hardware is too old to run any game released in the last three years or so, so any new games I want to pick up are highly inexpensive.

SWAT 3 is a blast so far; I haven't finished it, mostly because I can only play a few minutes before a voice in the back of my head starts screaming, "you should be writing!", loudly enough that it starts messing with the game's incoming radio calls. This is new for me. Once upon a time, when I got a new game I'd play it constantly, finishing it in a day or two, or two weeks at most. Now, I play for a bit of relaxation or simulated action and adventure; I don't feel the compulsive need to Beat The Game that I once did.

And some of the missions are tough, which means I have to replay them a lot to get through them. The bad guys are smart and sneaky, and better armed than me. And they don't have to worry about hitting hostages. I'm just playing to finish the missions in order; I don't pay much attention to the scoring. The game has a weird points system, and a low score doesn't affect gameplay. But I just discovered a sort-of hack for the game. One of the things that counts against your score is erroneous radio calls. If you report a hostage as cooperative but they're not, or if you report a downed enemy as wounded rather than dead, you lose points. But I don't think you lose points for shooting a downed, wounded enemy. So once they're down you can shoot them again, then report them as dead, rather than watching to see if they're wounded. It's a bit evil, but I suspect actual SWAT cops do it occasionally.

And, I have to share the mission description of the mission I just finished:
Rapid deployment of tactical personnel is required to quell heavily armed, highly disgruntled auto body employees. Employees of Heather's Euro-Asian Imports have taken up arms and are strong holding the shop in an apparent protest over the break down of labor negotiations. Employees have refused to negotiate their demands: free soda pop, pizza Fridays, stock options, four weeks vacation, private office (with window), signing bonuses, and dogs allowed at work. Going tactical is the only option at this time.
This made me laugh. This kind of thing is another reason to play well-written video games. The Splinter Cell games were also laden with low-key funny moments....

Friday, March 20, 2009

Nice while it lasted.

Plus side: I've got my Saturn back! Wheels!

Down side: I had it for just over 24 hours before something else went wrong with it.

Monday, I get to take it back to the shop, where they'll replace the alternator. I'm less grouchy about this than I would've expected; I've taken an almost fatalistic approach to the car. When the battery light came on last night on the way home from dinner, I wasn't angry or upset. Nor was I particularly shocked. My reaction was more akin to, "what else is new?".

With luck, I'll get it back in less than two years this time.

Lunch Math

I'm on a quest to eat cheaply at work. It's not easy, especially if you eat out. A complete lunch (food + side + drink) costs anywhere from $6 at Arby's or Taco Bell or Subway, to $8 at most of the food court at the mall, to $10 at King David's Dogs or Dick's Bodacious Barbecue. For only a few dollars more, you can spend $13 or $14 and eat well at Rock Bottom or Weber Grill, but I don't do this; I can much more easily justify two $6 meals at Subway than one $12 meal at Weber.

Packing a lunch is cheap in direct relation to how homemade it is. Peanut butter and jelly: about 70 cents per sandwich. Balogna and cheese is about the same, depending on how refined your taste in lunchmeat is and how thick you stack it. Homemade chili: about $1.80 per serving, the way I make it. Homemade chicken noodle soup: around $1.60 per serving. Any prepackaged lunch food starts at a dime for a package of ramen, jumps quickly to a dollar for Kraft Easy Mac (which isn't a complete meal), and gets more expensive pretty quickly. Frozen entrees range from a dollar for bulk Banquet budget meals, to four or five dollars for the healthier choices.

What I really need to watch for is snack food. It's easy to wander into Au Bon Pain or the South Bend Chocolate Company and spend five or six dollars on a mocha and a scone, or coffee and cookies and hard-boiled eggs. And this is food I should be avoiding anyway. Bringing snacks from home is cheaper, but not necessarily a lot cheaper; bars of any sort (PowerBars, MetRX protein bars, CLIF bars...) are a healthy snack, but also an expensive way to eat. On the other hand, unhealthy snack food is pretty cheap if purchased in bulk and eaten a serving at a time; a double handful of chips costs around 50 cents, and pretzels are about the same. My problem is that I'm prone to cranking through a bag of corn chips in a sitting, instead of stopping after a serving. This adds unhealthy to expensive; if I make a mess while I'm doing it, I hit the Fritos Trifecta.

I've recently discovered the cheapest possible meal downtown. I've got an Einstein's Bagels travel mug, so a coffee refill only costs 99 cents. And bagels are also 99 cents, with nothing on them. So I'll get a cup of coffee and a cinnamon-sugar bagel (if you ask nice, they'll put the cinnamon and sugar on the inside, too) for $2.08 including tax. Sure, it's carb-intensive with almost no protein. But it's also a $2 lunch; it's hard to beat that.

Enough rambling about food; time for my $2 Einstein's lunch!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Saturn is back!

I go tonight to pick up my car! It's been over two years since it was in working order, so this is how long we've been a one-car family. Or, a one-Jeep, one-bicycle family. I'm not sure how much I'll drive; I like the bike and I like the exercise. And, I even enjoy the attenuation of options. When you've got a car, you can go anywhere and do anything! On a bike, you can go anywhere within five or ten miles, assuming you don't need to carry anything heavy with you, also assuming you can chart a bike-friendly path between here and there. For instance, I never get up to Fry's Electronics; it's a long ride on a lot of extremely bike-unfriendly streets. But, really, I'm fine with this. I don't need to torture myself by window-shopping for electronics I can't afford. As long as Laura and/or I can take the Jeep to pick up cat food and major groceries, I don't mind having my options limited. So having a car but mostly riding the bike might be ideal; I can go the distance if I need to, but I'll spend most of my time on the bike.

In theory. We'll see how that works out when I've got a car, and the bike is suddenly an option instead of a necessity....

Priorities: do I need a phone?

As part of our budget cuts at work, I'm losing my cell phone. I've enjoyed having a phone for which I didn't have to pay; limiting my personal calls on it was a small price to pay. Before my phone goes away at the end of the month, I need to make a decision about what to replace it with. On the extremely cool side, an iPhone would be nice; it's also got the added advantage that, if I take over the number and change service, the company won't have to pay the early cancellation fee ($175) for ditching our phones before the contract ends (this is true if I get any AT&T phone, not just an iPhone). On the down side, I can afford neither the phone nor the minimum monthly service plan. In the middle, every cellular carrier charges roughly $50/month for a plan with text messaging and a minimum number of talk minutes. On the cheap end, prepaid wireless can be as cheap as $30 a month, with text messaging; Virgin Wireless seems to be the best deal with coverage in Indy.

But $30 a month still seems a bit expensive. I'm considering going with Option Z: ditching my phone altogether. I'm trying to decide how necessary a cell phone is these days. It's useful, certainly. It's convenient. But is it mandatory, in 2009, to have a phone with me at all times? I don't have an answer for that; I don't know when extreme convenience transitions into actual necessity. I suspect a bigger problem than my personal need for a phone, would be the fact that everyone else expects me to have a phone. It's tempting to go phoneless for a while, just to see how much trouble it is....

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How to tell I'm possibly in a bad mood, St. Pat's Day edition

A friend today commented that he was surprised to see me wearing green for Saint Patrick's Day, given that I generally don't jump on this kind of bandwagon. I replied that it was actually to keep me out of jail; if I didn't wear green, there's a moderate chance that some random stranger would pinch me for not wearing green. Then I'd have to put him on the ground and break all of his fingers, which might land me in legal trouble.

I'm not entirely sure I was kidding about this, but it did get a laugh....

Monday, March 16, 2009

What he said.

Every so often, I'll read something that exactly sums up my feelings on a subject. I just found another one of these, an article by Philip Howard in the Wall Street Journal about how law is killing the American spirit. It's a good read. So go read it now!

It's easy to bash lawyers; they've got even more jokes than musicians (how can you tell there's a singer on your front porch? He can't find the key and doesn't know when to come in!). But this is a legitimate criticism of the general approach to the law in this country, and very well said. The horrible thing about this is, it's a change that can't be reversed. Too many people with too much power would stand to lose too much. And it's a self-generating problem -- law breeds more law, not less.

It's the same reason we won't see real public health care here: too many extremely powerful people would lose too much, and they won't let it happen. Maybe if we get real lobbying reforms to kill the influence of the insurance, medical, and pharmaceutical lobbies, we'll be able to make a start. But it's not going to happen on any reasonable timetable (like, before I hit retirement age).

Friday, March 13, 2009

The new, low standard for housekeeping

By the time Laura gets home tomorrow, she will have been gone for three weeks. That's long enough that it's giving me a glimpse of what my lifestyle would be like if I were left to my own devices. A single week isn't long enough to tell. If she's out of town for a week, for instance, I won't do laundry when she's gone. I will have generally done a bunch of pre-departure packing laundry, and I won't need to wash anything for at least a week. But in three weeks, I'm noticing that I determine my wardrobe choices based on what will let me avoid laundry for a few more days. Ditto, housekeeping. After a week, I'm still keeping to Laura standards of cleanliness. But in three weeks, I've got enough time that my standards start showing. And they're low. It turns out that, left on my own, I've got a fairly high tolerance for dirt. Since Laura left, I've made chili, mac-n-cheese, several varieties of beans-n-rice, and a host of breakfast foods at all hours of the day, but I haven't cleaned the stove yet. The splotched tomato sauce and that one piece of macaroni baked onto the stovetop aren't messing with my sense of order, except for the lingering I'll-have-to-clean-that-up-before-Laura-gets-home vibe. I'm not a complete slob; I keep up with about half of the housework. But I've completely ignored the other half. I'm still religious about vacuuming the kitty hair from the carpets, for instance, but I haven't cleaned the sink. I don't let dirty dishes pile up, but I haven't changed the sheets on the bed. I'm religious about cleaning the cats' litter boxes, but I haven't washed the towels. I water the plants every three days, but I haven't dusted. I'm good about taking care of anything that looks like maintenance, like changing light bulbs. But I haven't put any of the newspapers in the recycle bin.

All this means that I've got to do a lot of housework before I pick Laura up at the airport tomorrow. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Phantom Beeping Saves My Brownies

I made dark-chocolate brownies tonight with chocolate chips. I popped them in the oven, then crashed on the couch to read until the oven timer went off. A few chapters later, I heard the beeping and went to get them out of the oven. They were done perfectly, the brownies just starting to pull away from the edge of the pan. Then I looked up at the oven clock and saw the original baking time blinking away, 45:00. The timer doesn't reset when it goes off; it switches back to the clock. This means I never started the timer, which means it didn't beep in the real world, only in my head. I wish I thought this was cool -- that the back of my brain has a perfect brownie timer built into it (or maybe I have a baking fairy). But, honestly, I'm more concerned that my subconscious is capable of producing high-quality auditory hallucinations....

BTW, the brownies rock. Here's the recipe:

1. Buy a package of Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Brownie Mix
2. Prepare according to package directions

Complicated, I know, but I've got it committed to memory already -- yet another impressive thing my brain can do.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Apparently, I can snort cocaine now.

One of the signs of a frequent blood donor is that you recognize when they change the verbiage on the health-screening questionnaire you fill out before you donate. I've got a slight edge in that I donate platelets; you can do it every two weeks, rather than every eight, so I fill out the form more than a whole-blood donor ever would. They make little changes every few months, but near the start of this year, they reworked the entire questionnaire. They removed the question about whether I had snorted cocaine through the nose, for one thing; cocaine usage is no longer an automatic deferral. They've also become concerned in greater detail about transplants. Instead of a single question, cornea transplants, organ transplants, and bone transplants now have their own questions. They also now care if I've had an endoscopic biopsy. But they no longer care if I'm taking any medications, as long as they're not on the short deferral list they hand you with the questionnaire. And cocaine isn't on it. So, on the off chance I decide to add to my lengthy list of vices, it's good to know that snorting coke won't interfere with my regular altruistic blood-product donations.

It's been interesting seeing the questionnaire change over time. I can date fairly accurately when the blood bank became concerned about mad cow disease -- it's when they added questions about travel to the UK. A year later, the question expanded to cover all of Europe, when they first found BSE in France. And, because tattoos are so extremely common these days, they also expanded the tattoo question. It used to be one big catch-all question: "In the last twelve months, have you had a tattoo, ear or skin piercing, accidental needle stick, or come into contact with someone else's blood?" Now body piercing, needle sticks, and strange blood each have their own questions. And if you check the YES box to the tattoo question, there's a subset of questions about whether it was at a regulated tattoo parlor, or at a tattoo party (tattoo party? I feel extremely unhip, that I've never heard of this before), whether they used sterile equipment, and whether they used single-use disposable supplies. They've also fiddled with the wording of the armed forces question. They want to know if you've been in the armed forces, are a civilian military contractor, or if you're a dependent of a member of the military. I'm not sure why they need to know this; the paranoid part of my brain wonders what the blood bank knows that the rest of us don't.

Maybe the biggest change they made was a few years ago, when they started allowing us to fill out the questionnaire on our own. Previously, a staff member asked us the sensitive questions aloud; it was odd, having a grandmotherly septuagenarian ask me if I had ever given money or drugs for sex (snide answer: "does extreme begging count?"), or if I had ever accepted any sort of payment for sex (snide answer: "does dinner and a movie count?"). It was a welcome change, being able to fill out the answers on my own.

One change that still needs to be made: the consent form on the front of the page. They describe the procedure in detail ("...after which a sterile needle will be inserted into an arm and approximately 500ml of whole blood will be..."), but the procedure they describe is for a whole blood donation. Those of us who donate platelets are, technically, signing a consent form for a procedure they never perform, and are having a procedure done for which we haven't given legal consent. I'm surprised nobody's ever called them on this.

BTW, I had asked about the cocaine question -- did they care if I had smoked crack or injected cocaine, or was it only snorting coke? They told me that it's not about the drug itself, but that snorting coke radically increases the chance that you've got hepatitis. Injecting cocaine is covered by another question: "Have you ever, even once, used a needle to take drugs that were not prescribed to you by a doctor?" But smoking crack is apparently fine, as long as you've never traded it for sex....

-ine words

One of my low-grade language fascinations is animal adjectives that end in -ine. We all know canine, feline, and bovine, and probably a few others as well, but much rarer are words like vermine (wormlike) or acarine (relating to mites). I've been keeping a list for years, and whenever I encounter a new one, I add it to the list. So, in the interest of sharing too much, here's my incomplete, non-canonical list of all the animal -ine words, and the animals they refer to:

acarine: mite
anguine: snake
anserine: goose
apian: bee
aquiline: eagle
asinine: donkey
avian: bird
bovine: cow
canine: dog
caprine: goat
cervine: deer
chelonian: turtle
corvine: crow
croataline: rattlesnake
discophoran: jellyfish
equine: horse
feline: cat
hircine: goat
larine: gull
leonine: lion
leporine: rabbit
lupine: wolf
murine: mouse
musteline: weasel
ophidian: snake
oscine: songbird
otarine: seal
ovine: sheep
passerine: songbird
pavonine: peacock
pelargic: stork
phocine: seal
piscine: fish
porcine: pig
ranine: frog
selachian: shark
simian: monkey
taurine: bull
testudine: tortoise
ursine: bear
vermine: worm
vespine: wasp
vituline: calf
viverine: civet cat
vulpine: fox

There are a host of others, too -- you can take almost any taxonomic genus and attach an -ine suffix to it. But these are the ones I've seen used by people who aren't biologists. Am I missing any obvious ones?

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Profit and Loss and Scalability

The economy's tanking over the last year and a half has opened my eyes a bit to the way businesses earn profit. I had never put any thought into it, and had never realized how fragile the state of profitability is. I had been assuming that if your sales fell by half, your profits also fell by half; this is so blatantly untrue that I feel a bit stupid for ever thinking it. I had never realized how many businesses work with extremely narrow margins of profitability.  As an example, I talked recently with the manager of a car-rental company, and he said their profitability point was when they had 92% of their cars rented. If they had a hundred cars in their inventory, and they had eight sitting on the lot unused, they were breaking even; if they had twenty cars on the lot, they were hemorrhaging money.

I think my problem was that I had spent too much time listening to business statistics. When you hear that Amalgamated Widgets makes ten dollars on every widget they sell, that's (probably) true, but it's also misleading -- it's got a host of unspoken assumptions behind it, the biggest being "...assuming we sell a million widgets this year". The ten-dollar figure is net profit, after paying all fixed and per-unit costs, and a lot of it is dependent on scale. The material cost of making a widget even varies with scale; if you buy your widget grommets in lots of a hundred, you're paying more per grommet than if you bought them in cases of ten thousand. And you need a guy manning the widget press, the widget amalgamator, the widget demagnetizer, and the widget wrapper, whether they're making a hundred an hour or five an hour; your labor cost per widget is cheaper if you make more of them.

Your fixed business costs (electricity and water and rent and insurance and admin staff -- any cost not immediately dependent on production) also weigh more heavily on your profit the fewer you sell; if you sell fewer widgets, each widget bears a proportionally greater portion of the fixed costs. If your insurance is a thousand dollars a month, and you sell a thousand widgets, a dollar of each widget's sale price goes towards insurance; if you only sell five hundred widgets, insurance now eats two dollars of the price of each widget sold.

All this is a long way of saying that I had never connected exactly how major a 3% drop in sales can be. It makes the economic outlook seem even more intimidating....

Staying inside now!

It's a gorgeous day outside: windy, but 65 degrees and sunny. And I decided a walk around the park would be fun. So I put on walk-appropriate clothing and had just stepped out the front door when I heard gunshots from somewhere down the block.

Suddenly it seems like a good time to stay inside and not go for a walk. Maybe I'll read a book or listen for sirens....

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

dessert meals

One of my usual Laura-out-of-town traditions has fallen by the wayside recently. I used to always begin my "bachelor week" with an extremely unhealthy meal involving edibles that are occasionally hard to quantify by food group: Spaghetti-O's, SweetTarts, fish sticks, hint o' crack, things like that. I don't do this anymore. Partially, I've started practicing my cooking skills while Laura's away. But mostly, I just don't feel well after I eat too much unhealthy food in one sitting. Another sign of aging, I guess. I mention this because dinner tonight consists of a Hagen-Dazs shake and some Toll House cookies from our closest neighbor in the mall, but it's a special occasion: I feel like a treat, and I found out I'm working a 12-hour day to fill in for someone who called in sick. So this is a combination comfort food and splurge meal of the week.

But this is far from the worst I've ever eaten. My record bad-for-you meal came years ago, when I was working in the scene shop of a summer stock theater. The scenery crew decided to splurge and go to Ponderosa Steakhouse for their all-you-can-eat everything buffet; ten bucks got you a bad steak, plus unlimited access to their pasta, soup, side-dish, salad, potato, and dessert bars. Or, you could skip the steak and just get the all-you-can-eat everything for six dollars. On our way in, I asked the cashier how much it would cost for just the dessert bar. He said nobody had ever asked him that before, so he didn't know; he guessed a dollar, since there were six bars, and it was six bucks for all of them. A dollar! For all-you-can-eat dessert! We thought this was such a great deal, we all did it. Lunch consisted of bowls of chocolate chips with whipped cream and hot fudge. Tureens of ice cream with crumbled Oreo cookies and peanut topping. Brownies with ice cream and strawberry sauce. I suspect we tried every possible combination of everything on the dessert bar. And we felt great, for about an hour. When the inevitable sugar crash hit, it hit like a sledgehammer. The tech director ended up closing the shop early, because we were all to wiped out to work.

And that's another thing I can't do anymore: all-you-can-eat restaurants. When I was in college, I'd go to Duff's with a few friends, and the place would actively lose money until we left. I'd fill a plate, polish it off, and go back for seconds. And thirds. And fourths and fifths and sixths. We'd stay for hours, talking and eating constantly, and we'd generally leave when we were bored rather than full. I can't do this anymore. The last time I went to a stuff-yourself-silly buffet, I had a plateful of food and one dessert, and I was done. I've turned into such a lightweight that when Laura and I go to Weber Grill, we'll typically get a burger and fries and split it. This is probably a good thing; I don't think I could afford to eat like I did when I was twenty....

Meet The Artist

The current visual art exhibit in the Artsgarden is by local painter Douglas David. He's a rarity for an artist: he's organized. I have no idea how this happened; it's a rare enough trait amongst artists that it makes him nearly unique. He arrived with a precise number of paintings (120), and an exact plan for how he wanted each displayed in the cases. And they arrived in order. Really, I'm impressed. Normally, on the morning of their load-in artists can't even tell us how many works they brought with them. So it's a treat to work with someone who's nice, organized, and efficient.

And, I like his work. This exhibit is a collection of 3" X 5" original oil paintings that recreate things he saw on his recent Creative Renewal trip to Europe, and I like the style. Evocative, painterly, recognizable -- fun little works, and lots of them. We're having an unofficial opening for the exhibit in the Artsgarden this Friday, 5 to 8; if you'd like to meet the artist, this is your convenient chance.

Also of note, he's got close to the perfect artist's website. It displays a good variety of his work, it's nicely organized, and it's friendly and pleasant to look at. And, while it's a sales tool, it's subtle about it; if you want to buy something, it'll help, but it doesn't annoyingly scream BUY BUY BUY! the way some artists' websites do.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Non-spousally-approved food

When Laura's gone, I make a point of buying non-Laura-approved foods. This time, the day she left I picked up a tub of Cool Whip. I used to love Cool Whip. It was one of my universal foods; I'd make Cool Whip sandwich cookies, pile it on ice cream, dip fruit and vegetables in it. And I just realized that I don't care much for it anymore. This might be Laura's influence. In my pre-Laura days, my choices were Cool Whip and Redi-Whip in the spray can. My preference depended on what I was doing with it; Cool Whip was better for dipping and for cookie sandwiches, but Redi Whip was better for ice cream (plus, Redi-Whip is a member of the Fun Aerosol Foods category, along with spray cheez).

But Laura introduced me to real whipped cream, the kind you make by starting with whipping cream (go figure) and whipping it (go figure). And it's so easy to make -- just dump some cream in the Kitchen Aid, maybe add a little sugar and vanilla, and turn it on. Come back in five minutes, and you've got real whipped cream. The problem is, it doesn't keep well. So whenever you make some, you need to either use it all for the ice cream or pie or whatever, or you need to eat the leftovers with a spoon within an hour or two. I'm using the word "problem" lightly here; being forced to either heap extra whipped cream on your dessert, or to eat leftover whipped cream with a spoon, isn't really traumatic.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Minor culinary modifications

When Laura's out of town, I tend to eat simply. But I also generally avoid pre-packaged meals. So one of my meal archetypes is "packaged food, slightly modified". Tuesday was Vigo black beans and rice, to which I added a pound of turkey sausage (next time, I'm adding lime juice too). Thursday: Kraft mac and cheese, modified with a can of tuna, a can of peas, and some tabasco sauce. This is all pretty basic stuff, quick and easy to prepare and clean up after. And it all seems to make intuitive sense; none of it's too daring. It helps that I've got Laura a phone call away to help me with cooking decisions that require actual taste. Last night I made Vigo red beans and rice and added sauteed chicken breasts. But I had to call Laura for sauteeing advice. Paprika, pepper, and red wine vinegar sounded good, and she agreed. But I need to ask, because apricot preserves and orange juice also sounded good to me.

Tonight, another experimental recipe: chili, but with ground turkey and turkey sausage instead of beef or pork. It's a lot like my Chili With Buffy recipe, with the meat substitution and no green peppers. And no Buffy.