Thursday, December 27, 2007

golden brown & delicious

After a weekend of holiday prep, cooking and baking (and a few days of a nasty tension headache), I hung up the apron for an enjoyable Christmas Day with Regina and Boomper, the Boy Wonder.

But after making "Southern" Russian Teacakes, a crock pot full of three-bean chili, a pot of Greens 'n Beans soup, a pot of Chicken Soup with Orzo, Chocolate AND Chocolate-Peanut Butter Truffles, a huge gingerbread cookie boy, and two other doughs that I just ran out of time to bake (but will be a nice treat next month), the day off of cooking left me with a bit of cook's withdrawal.

As Boomper and I sat on the living room floor, playing with the Mr. Potato Heads that Santa left under the tree, I spied one of the many accessories Aunt Cathy brought back from Disneyworld: a small plastic Mickey-shaped soft pretzel. I had found my inspiration...

I soon set forth to track down the recipe I remembered from the "Pretzel Logic" episode of Alton Brown's Good Eats on Food Network. With printed page in hand, I presented my idea to Regina, and then headed to the kitchen to make sure I had everything I needed. We decided to have them with dinner, so I had some time to plan and prep.

A few hours before dinner, I started the dough. I gave up on 'active dry' yeast a long time ago in favor of instant yeast. I like the instant yeast because when I'm making pizza dough, or baking bread in the bread machine, it can be added to the dry ingredients. No proofing necessary.

This recipe called for for proofing the active dry yeast in lukewarm (who WAS Luke, and why was he always so-so warm?!?), salt and sugar, so I decided to proof the instant yeast. I swear I could hear the little yeasties burpin' and tootin' (well, that's what they do). Soon the yeast was nice and foamy, and ready for the flour and melted butter.

After a thorough mixing, kneading and a one-hour rise, the dough was ready to be portioned, rolled, and pretzeled.

Now comes the science. Prior to baking, each pretzel took a 30-second dip in pan of boiling water-baking soda solution. Dipping each pretzel in this slightly "basic" solution, helps the pretzel brown to a deeper mahoghany finish, helping the pretzel look more like a pretzel, and less like a funky-shaped dinner roll.

Each pretzel then got a quick brushing of eggwash, and a sprinkle of Kosher salt, and then into the oven. Yes, pretzel salt is ideal, but I wasn't planning on heading to the grocery store just for it. Maybe on my next trip.

The picture above is all that is needed to tell of the end result. That, and the "yummy" I got from Boomper. That one makes it all worthwhile.

If at all possible, keep an eye out in your TV listing for this episode of Good Eats, as it has a great explanation on the whole process, in a rather entertaining way. And follow the link below for the recipe and instructions: Good Eats Homemade Soft Pretzels

Friday, December 21, 2007

the sweet relish conspiracy

Okay, maybe I'm a little crazy, but I think there's a conspiracy out there to rid the world of dill relish. And this, of course, worries me.

I know, I know, you're probably thinking, "Gee Matt, lay off the caffiene already," but I'm serious. Every time I go to the store for another jar, it seems that the dill relish shelf space keeps getting smaller and smaller, while sweet relish seems to be expanding.

The other day, I was in our local small-town grocery store, and counted five different brands of sweet relish, as compared to one brand of dill relish. Oh sure, they threw in one label of hot dog relish, but using that is just plain being lazy.

I'm a dill relish guy. Always have been, always will be. There's nothing like a Zweigle's White Hot, hot of the grill, with spicy mustard, sauerkraut, a little swiss cheese, and big dallop of dill relish. Mmmm, mmmm, mmmm. Now how can sweet relish even THINK about entering that equation?!? That's just not right.

Then there's cheeseburgers, tartar sauce, and the occasional turkey sub (with provolone, lettuce and tomato....good groceries!). I'd even throw a little in some tuna salad, but I'd have to eat that by myself. Potato salad? Sure, it's worth a try.

Okay, I'll admit, I have a jar of the sweet stuff in my fridge, but it's only for when company comes around... Honest, I never touch the stuff.... really!

Is it a cultural thing? A Western NY thing? Or does the conspiracy reach the entire Northeast?!? Are the cucumber people in cahoots with the high fructose corn syrup people or are they just on the outs with dill farmers?

Where, oh where to find the answers...

UPDATE: For the record, I am COMPLETELY absolving the Freemasons of any involvment whatsoever in this conspiracy... they get blamed for way too many things as it is.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

it's snowing... EVERYBODY PANIC!!!

Yup, it's a "major storm" here for us. The weather guys were all talking about 12-24" of snow falling in a 24-hour period. So far, we've had a few inches, a bit of light freezing rain, and now some lake-effect snow is falling.

"It's going to snow" is all the local meteorologists had to say to trigger what I call a "French Toast Alert"... meaning to tell everyone to hit the grocery stores for all the bread, milk and eggs they can carry. I came up with the term when we lived in South Carolina, because without fail, these were the first items snatched up when ever the "weather panic" struck.

Of course, the weather panic usually meant a "possible inch of snow", but mostly meant freezing rain. Where they basically don't have snow removal equipment (or very little), this will shut the state down.

The snow is coming down steadier now. Who knows....maybe we'll get what they predicted, and those weather guys can maintain their safe 65% job accuracy ratings...

UPDATE: It's 11:36PM, and at last glance it was still coming down. I was out around 9PM clearing the driveway, and finding the cars, in an attempt to lessen the chance of having the clear it again before I leave for work in the morning. Good freakin' luck.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

testing this email publishing voodoo

Is this thing working?  Just checking to see if this is working.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

first good snow

Last night we got our first "real" snow of the season. It was just a few inches of snowy goodness, but it's amazing what it does for the spirit...

These folks (over there in the picture) are the newest residents in our backyard, courtesy of Regina and Boomper, the Boy Wonder.

The stylish fellow on the left is sporting an ensemble called the "Build-Your-Own-Snowman" kit (just add snow) we received from Bob and Sheila (Boomper's godparents), and the lovely lady on the right is rather smart in Regina's hat and scarf. Very nice.

As I finished clearing the driveway, Regina and Boomper had a lot of fun playing in the snow and sledding down the big tree mound. It wasn't a big hill, but with some snow and a snow saucer, the laughter was fantastic.

And as classic as can be... he didn't want to go inside.

Now, along with learning all about the fun of playing in the snow, Boomper gets to learn the harsh reality of "snow-life".... because right now, it's 37 degrees... and raining.

Friday, November 30, 2007

colds suck

I've spent the better part of this week with a cold. To the point that I took two sick days (Wednesday and today), and came home early from work yesterday.

Normally, I have a 5-day cold that starts in the sinus and heads South, ending in a chest cold. Today is Day #5 and it can't decide on staying in my head or migrating.

Here's hoping that it stays put and fades away. The chest cold is the worst part. Well, except for Day #1 sinus headache (the wife keeps the cordless drill away from me for that one.)

Anyways, this cold has outstayed it's welcome...

Friday, September 07, 2007

"What I Did On My Summer Vacation"

Sorry for the delay in posting my vacation work updates, but I was pretty much toast each night, and too busy back at work this week. I'll do my best to give the week in review...

Saturday, August 25
The calm before the storm...

I spent Saturday hanging with Boomper, and working on some of the work plans for the coming week.

Sunday, August 26
"I want my @#$%^&* doors!"

After our traditional Sunday Morning breakfast of Dad's Special Waffles, I called Home Depot to let them know that I wanted to pick up the new side door so that I could start the project. Thinking that it would be a simple case of driving up there, picking up a few supplies and the door, and then coming home and getting down to work.... nuh-uh.

"Sorry sir, but your doors are on order, and won't be in for a few days."

That's the answer I got. I then explained to them that I had already purchased the doors, that I had actually put my hands on them, and was told they would be moved to a "on-call" area for me to pick up at a later date.


"Um, sir? I'm going to have to call you back."

So after waiting an hour or so, I call them back. It seems that the message never got back to the millwork department to investigate and call me. I finally talk with someone in millwork who could possibly help. He can't find the side door, and then starts pushing the blame onto the salesperson who sold me the doors. "I need to talk with my manager. I'll call you back in 20 minutes."

An hour later, I call them back again. The salesperson "got busy". "My manager says that you can come in and pick out a better door, and we'll give it to for the same price."

At this point, I'd had enough.

"Listen, I purchased both doors the other night. I had my hands on them, and after I purchased them, I was told they would be moved to an on-call area. If someone there did not move the doors, and then RESOLD them to another customer, that could be construed as theft of stolen goods. Here's what you are going to do: You're going to call the other local stores and find the same door, then you are going to go pick it up, and deliver BOTH doors (side door and French Door unit) to my house FREE-OF-CHARGE. You have until 6PM to make the delivery."

The doors were delivered about 2-1/2 hours later.

The work day was shot, so I puttered around and tried to prep things for the next day.

As I was closing up the garage for the day, I looked over at my "door-locked" generator, and made the following remark... "that's okay, we won't be needing it any time soon...."

Monday, August 27
"Sill? What sill?"

Remember the last remark? About not needing the generator? Guess what was out when we woke this morning? You got it... the power. We decided to change plans slightly, and run our shopping errands in the morning, but first, we were off to the North Chili Dinner for breakfast. As we were getting ready to go, the power came back on. See, no need for the generator.

By the time we got back from our errands, and ate lunch, it was time to tackle the side door. But first, I remembered to go apply for my building permit.

I was pretty sure that I'd be okay without having to get a permit to replace the side door, but I wanted to be sure.

I went and dropped off my permit application for both doors and was told that since it was just a replacement, that I didn't need a permit for the side door. Better safe than sorry.

Time to demo the old door and get the opening ready for the new door unit. Demo went well, until I realized that there was no sill to new door unit on. Back to HD for supplies.

I got back late, but since I had a hole in the side of the house, I had to finish the job. As I was grumbling outside, my beautiful wife called in a little help.

Thanks for our friends, Valerie and Keith, and their daughters (kept Boomper occupied as we finished up the project), for helping us get things buttoned up before it got too late.

Tuesday, August 28
"My brain hurts."

Yesterday late work left me with a whopper of a headache this morning, so I pretty much did more puttering around (awful lot of puttering goes on around here).

The one thing I did do was go and meet with the building inspector, Tom. I met Tom back when I replaced the kitchen windows, and I thing he appreciate that I knew what I was talking about when it came to building/renovation terms and practices. We talked about opening the back wall for the French doors, and my concern about adequate framing to support it. He advised me to go ahead and open the wall, and then call him to swing by and look at it.

Wednesday, August 29
"The Pope, The Virgin Mary, and the Ace of Spades"

Today was dining room wall demolition day. I spent the bulk of the morning prepping the room by taping up plastic to minimize dust in the rest of the house, taping down contractor paper to protect the floors, and taking down the remaining trimwork to be refinished and put back up later.

While removing the gumwood baseboard in the corner, I found three cards behind it: an early portrait of Pope John Paul II, a Mass card for a gentleman who died in 1973, and the Ace of Spades. I just found the collection amusing.

The three-yard dumpster arrived mid-morning (our village rents these for $20/week - SCHWEET!), and so, after lunch, I grabbed the buckets, my hammer and flatbar, and a dust mask, and started demolition. After five hours of tearing down old wallboard and paster, and trucking it out to the dumpster in five-gallon buckets, and after the dust cleared from vacuuming and sweeping up the debris, and was very happy to find that I had enough room under the header to install the new doors. Of course, I still needed to install a pair of double-jackstud posts under each end of the header because IT WAS ONLY BEING HELD BY BIG HONKIN' NAILS NAILED INTO THE ENDS OF IT!!!

By the end of the day, I was pooped, and didn't feel like cooking, so we went to our nearby Applebee's for dinner.

Thursday, August 30
Decking Material Gathering

Today, I pretty much spent the day picking up the materials for the temporary deck. I was back at HD with the plan of renting their Load&Go truck to haul the stuff back to the house. It's pretty affordable ($20 for an hour and a half), and since HD is only 11 miles down the road, it was going to be a quick run.

Of course, I had to pick the day that EVERYONE needed to rent the truck. The lucky part was that I was second on the list.

I finally got the truck, loaded it, drove it home and unloaded, took it back, picked up the van, and headed home again. It started sprinkling, so I decided to hold of until tomorrow to get to the deck.

Soon after, I get the visit from Tom, the building inspector. What I thought would be a quick 5-10 minute visit to look at the wall, turned into a one hour discussion about the neighboorhood, and the problems with the "5-family" slum a few doors down. Tom gave me the thumbs up on my plan with the wall and door installation.

Friday, August 31
Deck Build - Part 1

Today, the weather was perfect for working outside. Low-to-mid 70's, clear and sunny. Perfect.

I got right into building the deck. For the uprights, I reused 4x4's from the black walnut stack. Some were a bit twisted, or bowed, but I was still able to use them. I'll admit that my goal of having the decking all down by the end of the day was a bit ambitious, but I knew it was going down in flames when I second-guessed myself, and decided on a different joist layout.

Then I got slowed up by a bee that decided that I hadn't been stung in a while. I'm glad I'm not allergic to bee stings, because he hit me at the base of my neck. He just pissed me off for the next few hours.

My punishment for changing my plan midstream, was that I ended up one joist short. So, it was back to HD for the joist, and the remaining supplies to finish my projects.

Saturday, September 1
Deck Build - Part 2

Remember the bee from yesterday? Well, I think he's family was trying to avenge his death. All day long, I had about 3-4 bees constantly buzzing me.

I finished building the deck late this evening, and I must say, "not too bad for a first-time deck builder."

We celebrated the new deck with a moonlit dinner, and beer, out on it.

Sunday, September 2
"There's a big hole in the house!"

With the inside wall demoed, and the the deck in place, it was time to tear out the remaining window jamb, and open the wall up.

It took pretty much all day to cut the opening. I was trying to minimize damage to the fragile siding, and to the underlying sheathing. I also had to be care that I didn't remove too much before I got the new jackstuds in place.

I confess... at one point today, I stood up, looked out through the big hole in the back of the dining room, and said to myself, "What the hell am I doing?!?" My father had a similar moment many years ago as he stood on the second floor of their Cape Code, looking out over the neighborhood, with the back roof suspended by crane.... okay, so mine wasn't THAT bad.

I finally got to a stopping point, stapled the plastic back up on the inside and drapped the tarp over the opening on the outside, and Regina and I, again, sat out on the deck and had dinner by candle light.

Monday, September 3
Nice Doors

So, which "big day" is this? That's right: Door Installation Day.

Just a few things to finish up on prepping the door opening, and then I can call Brother Mark to come over and help me move the door unit.

Mark arrived, and we immediately moved the door unit up onto the deck... er, "temporary work platform". Yeah, that's it. We got it humped into place, and started the time-consuming, and rather mindtwisting task of shimming and securing the door in place. Thanks Mark!

Finally.... it was in, and there was much rejoicing.

Here I am with the doors. The doors weren't "completely secured", and then, Mom called:

Here's the deck with the doors:

Here are the doors from the inside:

Of course, we still need to do all the interior finish work (electrical, insulation, drywall, paint, etc, etc, etc), but that's another weekend.

I have to go back to work tomorrow. yeah.

Friday, August 24, 2007

going on vacation... well, it is to me

It's vacation time... which means "time to work on the house."

I'm taking the week off to replace our old "can-see-light-all-the-way-around" wooden side entry door, with a brand-spankin' new steel door unit. I'm also looking to install our new French (we're passed the whole "Freedom" thing, right?!?) in the dining room.

The side door should be quick n' easy, but the Frenchies are going to take more work, planning and sweat. First, I need to open up the dining room wall to see what structural support I have to work with. Currently, we have to side-by-side double-hung windows, and I'm hoping that once I remove the window units, I'll have the needed 72"x80" rough opening.

The real work takes place if the opening is too small. See, the wall is a load-bearing wall (the house is balloon construction), and so I would need to shore up the second floor and wall, and install a monster 2x10 header to distribute the load from above. Keep your fingers crossed.

I'll also be installing two outdoor lights (either side of the Frenchies), as well as two duplex receptacles in weathertight boxes.

I'll post updates as I can.

Okay, it doesn't seem like all that fun of a vacation... but it gets me out of the office for a week.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Monday, July 30, 2007

zero motivation day

It's one of those day.

I get this way every once in a while, but today is just feels worse. I actually feel guilty because I accomplished nothing, nada, zippo, nill, ziltch, bubkus... of course, does posting this contradict the way I feel today?!?


Well, so much for that thought.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Father's Day 2007

A year? A whole year since I started this thing? Gee, I guess time does fly.

A lot has happened of the past year, with some of the highlights listed here. Boomper, the Boy Wonder, the Boy Wonder is now 28 months, and growing up too fast. It's an adventure to see what he'll come up with each day.

The day, as every Sunday does, started with Dad's Special Waffles... still a big hit.

This year, I had one "desire": to stay home and send the day with my family. Okay, so I spent the day with the family, but the "stay home" part was broken.

See, I've been trying to work on a bunch of little, unfinished projects.... like, um, say.... the kitchen (most folks take four years to remodel their kitchen, don't they?!?). I also have some other easy projects to take care of, like trimming room doors, and sanding/priming/painting the kitchen cabinet doors (did I mention that I'm working on the kitchen?).

So, in order to do some projects, I needed....wait for it....that's right.... MORE power tools! This time around, it was time to dig deep and buy the only belt sander I'm ever planning on purchasing: The Porter-Cable 325VS 3"x21" Variable Speed Belt Sander. Great for sanding large surfaces, large curves, and of course, racing.

Go on, and bring that Craftsman over here, and I'll show you how we do things downtown..

All-in-all, I had a great day with Regina and Boomper. I love you two!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Let the Grilling Season BEGIN!

Boomper (Boy Wonder) and I just returned from HD (that's Home Depot for you noobs out there) with 20 lbs. of sweet propane.

Yes, I know that the grilling season is 12-months long, but there is something about THIS portion of it. Standing outside, in front of the grill, beer in one hand, tongs in the other, and nothing but the smell of cooking meat. Ah.... heaven.

Still got a tank from last season? Want to get every drop out, but don't know how much grilling time you'll have? Have no fear. Just check it out here: Propane Estimator Thingy. It's not perfect, but it'll help.

Mmmmm... I can already smell the goodness...

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Bah-ston bound.

Time to load up the van for our annual Easter Weekend trip to my brother-in-law's house near Boston. Of course, we skipped last year because we were in South Carolina for Easter, and so were they. So, can we still count it as "annual"?
Anywho... we're leaving in the morning, and taking our time. Here's hoping our decision NOT to get a portable DVD player for Boomper was a good one. Lots of books, and other activities, have been secured for his delight, and ours. Fingers-crossed.

It should be a nice, relaxing weekend with Bill, Miwa and the boys. Lots of cooking, a bit of wine, some shopping (Lego Store and REI), and just plain-old fun. I know we need this mini-vacation.

Of course, first, I need to escape the office. I'm waiting on some creative files from one of the local ad agencies... I just hope I'm not waiting all afternoon (I was hoping to squeak out at 3, but it's not looking good. Sorry, Sweetie.)


Sunday, April 01, 2007

I'm back


Okay, so I've been busy. I've been working on a number of projects, none of which has given me any free time to post. I'm hoping that'll change soon.

Aside from the numerous projects at work, I've been writing a bunch of code for the side biz, especially for the Boy Scout council website. I just finished a major upgrade on the events calendar (it now can be displayed in either grid or list views), and I'm just getting rolling on a major project that will really set the website apart from other councils. More on that shortly...

I'll be right back. The weather is looking pretty good, and so we're going on a "family walk". Be right back.