September 2003 Archives

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Courtesy of my friend Kevin, a fun thing about music:

Your meme, should you choose to accept it, is to rank the following bands in order, from COULDN'T LIVE WITHOUT to COULDN'T CARE LESS. To add value to this process, you must also add one band to the list, and remove one band from the list, before passing the meme on (including these instructions).

The Beatles
Tangerine Dream
Sex Pistols
The Pixies
Suzanne Vega
Fleetwood Mac
Jethro Tull

My comments: The scale from "couldn't live without" to "couldn't care less" is too narrow. It should include "can't stand to hear it" for the music one would go to great lengths to avoid. I would put Fleetwood Mac, Jethro Tull and Queen in that category. I guess removing one item from the list sort of serves that function. Like Kevin I put the one I added, Stereolab, in bold and used strikeout on the one I deleted.

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Well I had a pretty good show this morning, except for a couple of mishaps. First, without warning the EAS (emergency alert system) machine started spitting out paper and making a nasty noise. This is nothing to be alarmed about, except the nasty noise was going out over the air. Eventually a voice came on which said it was a monthly test of the system. Worse yet, this happened not during music but during Artline, a recording of local arts events that I have to play at that time. It took me a minute or two to realize this fact and pull down Artline, so they may have both been broadcasting at the same time, I'm not sure.

I didn't really know what to do so I waited for the EAS thing to stop, got on the air and apologized for the craziness, and then played Artline again. I wasn't sure how much of it got played before the EAS cut in.

The second goof was, at the end of the show I forgot to read my last PSA. Normally I would just read two in the next talkset, or drop in one of the prerecorded ones, but it was during my last song that I realized it. Anne, the next DJ, suggested that I should wait for an instrumental part of the song and read it really fast. Which I did, including many verbal stumblings because I was stressed and trying to get it out as fast as possible. That must have sounded great. Definitely not one of my finer moments on the air.

On the other hand, I should be thankful that another mistake was avoided -- I had to go to the bathroom and made it back with only 8 seconds to go on the track that was playing. Geez! Just think, if I had lingered a few seconds over washing my hands, there would have been some nice dead air for everyone to enjoy. Which reminds me of a funny story that Christine, another DJ, told me about having to use the bathroom and not realizing that it would take her longer than usual because she was wearing overalls. And the next thing she had to do was a talkset, but she was totally gasping for breath because of having to run back up the stairs at breakneck speed. Well it's funny when someone is telling it to you in person, acting out the fumbling with the overalls and the gasping and so forth.

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Whew! well the week has gotten started with a bang. See, we have this big deadline in a couple of weeks, and I needed to get preliminary pages to them by this morning. Was planning to do them on Friday, after last week's big project got wrapped up. But then something else came up that took all day. I probably should have worked on Saturday, but I really wanted to relax first. So I ended up working all day yesterday & pretty late last night. (jeez, I sound like some kind of hard worker or something. what's up with that?) All I can say is, thank god for French house music! Nothing like a good shot of Daft Punk and Cassius to keep you alert.

But the good news is, the pages are done. I got up first thing to email the client, thinking I'd go right back to bed. But of course, by the time I had dealt with the messages that had come in, I wasn't sleepy anymore. So I got back in bed with a book. Coraline by Neil Gaiman. Yeah, that will help me relax! Good book though, and a fast read too.

My lunch meeting cancelled, so all I have to do is have a phone conference with the client that I sent those pages to. Otherwise I'm going to do glorious nothing for the rest of the day. Right now I'm curled up on the couch watching Angel DVDs, courtesy of my friend Lisa. The season starts on Wednesday and I need to catch up.

Speaking of which, when did it get so freaking cold? Oh yeah, last night. Know what I'm wearing right now? A turtleneck (short sleeved), a hoodie sweater, and a big sweatshirt over that. And a blanket on my legs. When did hooded sweatshirts start being called "hoodies"? I hate that name, it sounds like something only a fourteen year old girl would wear. But I have to say they're comfortable. And the hood, while beyond dorky, does keep my neck warm.

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Whew, what a week this has been. I haven't been this busy in a long time. Still, it's good to have work to do.

We were hoping to have my friend Patricia over for dinner, since she hadn't been able to make the party last week. Unfortunately there was a miscommunication -- I thought it was all set, but she thought it was still up in the air and made other plans. It's a bummer that she can't come, but on the other hand, I'm glad to have a quiet evening after all the stress of last week. The good thing is, the house was still in pretty good shape from the party so I hadn't been running around madly trying to clean up. Just some light housework, including a desparately needed bath for the dog and cleaning the dust and grime off the photos on the mantel. (how do picture frames get so gross just sitting there?) Now I can feel good about lounging around for the rest of the day.

So anyway, we're unexpectedly on our own this evening with a nice dinner planned: sauteed chicken with crab sauce. Trying to recreate a "Chesapeake Chicken" dish we had at a restaurant near our friend Pru's in Columbia, MD. I had even bought some fresh lump crab. Well there's no reason we can't have a nice dinner just for us, now is there.

In other news, last night I got a comment to this diary that comprised an ad for penis enlargement pills. Not an email; a comment posted to the diary. Why the heck would someone fill out the comment form on a random page on my diary with penis enlargement spam? Now I've seen anything. (No, don't go looking for the offending comment; I deleted it.)

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So as I've mentioned before, I've been running a few times a week for the past few months. The weather was so nice over the summer, that as long as I got out the door reasonably early it was fairly pleasant to be outdoors. But a couple of weeks ago for the first time I went out in the rain. I had a cheap Wal-mart rain jacket, which kept me dry for about 10 minutes, at which point it soaked through and plastered itself to my body. Truly a miserable experience.

So I decided that I needed a better raincoat. Did some research online and found a good article in about raincoats, that explains how exactly that "breathable yet waterproof" stuff works and thoroughly tested a bunch of different jackets. The best bit of info in the article is that Gore-Tex is highly overrated and overpriced. They said Gore-Tex was the best thing going twenty years ago, but now there are plenty of other brands that work just as well or better. Okay, so no Gore-Tex. Check.

From the article I also found out my cheap jacket probably wasn't leaking; it just didn't have breathable fabric so it got all clammy inside after a few minutes of sweating. Whatever the reason, it felt hideous.

Spent some time looking online for my coat and was completely appalled by the cost. Who knew finding a raincoat would be so complicated? I saw jackets for over $200! For that much money it better be lined with heirloom artisan hand-spun lambswool and have reflective strips made of platinum. Finally Georg found one that looked reasonable, on clearance for about $50 including shipping.

Which still seemed like an insane amount of money to spend on a rain jacket, but I paid it. The good news is it arrived sooner than I had expected. In fact, the day before the hurricane. What perfect timing! Went out that morning -- no I did not go running in a hurricane, Isabel was still hours away & it was just a steady rain at that point -- and now I can say that yes, a hundred dollar (the list price) rain jacket honestly is ten times better than a ten dollar rain jacket. It kept me dry, I didn't get clammy, and the hood fit snug around my head so it wasn't so noisy. (Sounds weird, but the hood on the other one kept shifting back and forth and made this really loud noise right in my ears.) So I guess that's why they cost so much.

The only thing I don't like about the jacket is that it's made for a taller person -- duh, like every other article of clothing I've ever bought -- so the bottom sits lower than it's supposed to and is a bit snug on my hips. Which isn't a problem now but may be when I need something warm under it. Guess I could wear some kind of cropped sweater that only comes down to the waist.

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Well work has really picked up lately. A big project which was hanging out there finally came in, and a couple others are ready to get moving too. Which is good, but means I have a lot less time for recreation. Thus the lack of posting here for the past few days.

So anyway. The party. Went pretty well I think. Cooking & other preparations were less crazed than I had feared, although more stressed than they should have been due to the hurricane. Not that we suffered any damage, but I lost a day when I was planning to make a couple of recipes. But we had no net access, and I had bookmarked the recipes online but hadn't gotten around to printing them out. D'oh!

By moving furniture around we managed to make room for almost everyone to sit in the living room. Which is pretty amazing considering that our living normally seats 4 or 5. But we were short a couple of people for the movie-watching -- Patricia due to car trouble preventing her attendance, and Jeff having left early due to work the next morning -- so the overcrowding wasn't as dire as I had expected.

The dogs reacted predictably to the massive changes in their environment: Thirteen stood there shivering with fear at the throng of intruders, and Lina ran around practically hyperventilating with joy over all the new people to pay attention to her. Nutty, being much more laid-back, quietly allowed people to pay attention to him without getting so worked up about it.

Of course, we had enough food for an army. Because it wouldn't be a party without way too much food. Lots of people brought dishes, and I cooked so much that we might have had enough even if no one else had contributed. It was nice to have such good variety though. Like an Indian buffet in our house! Next time I definitely would not make double batches of the onion chutney and saag paneer. We've been eating that saag at almost every meal & while we've made a dent in it, we still have a long way to go. Georg has been testing his culinary skill by coming up with interesting ways to eat Indian leftovers so they won't taste like the same damned leftovers every night. With remarkable success I must say.

Everyone seemed to get a kick out of the movies. Originally I had thought to show one movie in its entirety, but fortunately I thought better of it. Instead we just watched the dance numbers. Phil brought a couple of DVDs of bhangra videos, which were great fun. Also we showed the best numbers from Gumnaam, Junglee and Amar Akbar Anthony. There was a general consensus that the title song from Amar Akbar Anthony is fiendishly catchy. Only one person so far has fessed up to singing it to themselves the next day, but I suspect it was more widespread than that.

The only major mishaps were Patricia's car trouble, Nutty trying to drink Phil's lassi, Calvin leaving his backpack here and having to come all the way back from Carrboro that night, and Ray getting a little too into one of the dance numbers and bumping into Thirteen, who nearly had heart failure. Poor dog, I really felt bad for her. First we moved the furniture, eliminating the spot where she normally hides out. Then before she'd had a chance to get used to that trauma, nine strangers pile into the house. I was planning to give her a bath on the day of the party but when the time came, I just didn't have the heart to. She was scared enough already and besides, she wasn't that dirty.

The living room actually looked more spacious with the furniture rearranged for the party. Too bad we couldn't leave it that way. But we couldn't, because 1. the couch was blocking the fireplace, and 2. the coffee table was way off in the corner away from everything else, so there was no place to put the remote or a drink or whatever. Which was why Nutty got a chance at Phil's lassi, because the glass had to be put on the floor.

I must say, I'm extremely glad we had the sense to clean up that night. It's no fun to wake up to a mountain of crusty dishes. But instead the house was reasonably clean the next day. We ought to have people over more often. If for no other reason than to force us to keep the house tidy. Next time not 12 people though.

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No we weren't blown away by the hurricane, we just lost our internet connection until a little while ago. Which was pretty annoying, but since a good friend had a tree crash into her bedroom I feel like a selfish jerk complaining about my net access. The Bollywood Fun Night party was tonight and I think it went well, if I do say so myself. I had fun at least. Will post in detail tomorrow. Now time to finish the dishes, and then I must sleep.

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I think I've calmed down enough that I can write about something besides USA Today. (By the way, did I mention that I was in USA Today? USA Fricking Today!) But aside from that, there is my, you know, life and all.

The hurricane continues plodding towards the coast. Looks like we're going to be west/south of its path, which means we won't see anything but a lot of rain. My only concern is that panic shoppers may make it hard for me to do party shopping later in the week.

Speaking of party shopping, the house is pretty well cleaned up and I've started cooking. Last night I made mango chutney. It was a recipe I'd never used before, plus I did a sugar-free version. I was worried that it wouldn't thicken without the sugar, but it did pretty well. It's extremely spicy though, what with vinegar, five cloves of garlic, a couple inches of ginger and a pinch of hot chili flakes. I may add another couple of mangoes to mellow it out a bit.

Today I did the paneer. Homemade paneer always impresses people way beyond what it deserves, considering how extremely easy it is to make. It's just milk and/or yogurt, heated to a boil, then mix in a bit of lemon juice and let it curdle. Pour the whole thing into a cheesecloth and let the whey strain out for a while. Once it cools, tie up the cheesecloth into a tight ball, set it on a cutting board over the sink, and weigh it down with whatever heavy stuff you can find (I used a big cast iron pan full of containers of fruit juice). Next morning you have a nice little ball of paneer!

In the past I had always made paneer with mainly yogurt, but this time I tried all milk. I had a little trouble curdling it, because it's been a while and I didn't heat it to enough of a boil. So I ended up with lemony milk. But I brought it back up to a good rolling boil, added more lemon juice and it curdled right up. I tasted a little before tying up the cheesecloth and it does have a smoother flavor than the yogurt version I used to make.

Tomorrow I'm going to make the onion chutney. (If I have time, which I may not. Busy day tomorrow.) I think I also may make another batch of paneer. Because one batch is plenty for 4-5 people, but we've got 12 coming. Note to self: get more milk.

I spent about 6 hours at the radio station today. First, my show was this morning. I've been trying to work on developing more variety within each set, rather than doing "an RPM set" then "a rock set" and so forth. I don't know how well it came out but I had fun. We've got this really interesting interview on CD, with a local couple who converted their car to run on vegetable oil. Apparently they get discarded oil for free from restaurants, process it at home, and then their car runs on it! Sounds really interesting, although I don't think I'd like having my car smell like french fries or falafel all the time. On the other hand, if it meant never using fossil fuels again I could probably get used to it.

So after the show I had do so some grocery shopping for the party, didn't get home until about 1. Found a message on my answering machine from my boss that simply said "Please call me back as soon as possible." Last time I got a phone call like that, he was angry about something I had screwed up. So I called him back, got his voice mail, then spent most of the afternoon dreading his return call and trying to figure out what I had done wrong. Finally he called back, and of course it was nothing like that. He had just had a very long conference call with our biggest client, and needed to tell me about it, and was too fried to go into details on the machine.

Turns out the project we're about to start with them is a lot bigger than we had anticipated, due to a lack of communication on both ends. And they need it by October 27, and I'm going to be on vacation the whole week before, so the effective deadline is Oct. 15. We were already expecting it to be a bit of a crush to get everything done, and now we're really going to get slammed. But we'll get it done somehow. The additional work is mostly going to fall on the programmer and the data guy, so the additional burden to me will mainly be dealing with their bad moods. (Which the data guy pointed out to me so I don't feel bad about repeating it here.)

We agreed that tomorrow (when I already have to take some old furniture to the dump) I'll also go in and help them rewrite the proposal on this project. When that was all settled, I had just enough time to make the paneer, then I had to head back to the station for another training session. It was an emergency situation, someone had cancelled at the last minute. This session had 5 people, and I was expecting it to be a nightmare -- if nothing else, the production room is so tiny! -- but it was actually much easier than last week's session. I think it was because these guys were much more engaged, asked more questions and so forth. So I felt like I was having a conversation with them, rather than talking to myself for two hours while four people silently watched me.

One of the trainees is a turntable DJ. He said he's been doing it for a couple of years. I have to say, I felt kind of stupid demonstrating how to cue up vinyl in front of someone with turntable proficiency! But three of the guys had never used a record player before.

Unfortunately, we had to skip a pretty major part of training because the mic in the production room is broken! Everything in there is kind of run down, because it's all equipment that was removed from the MCR when it got too old. But at least the basics usually work. Normally they each have to do a little practrice mini-set, but we had to skip the part where they backsell and read a PSA. Oh well, I guess they can pick it up in their on-air training.

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Well I was diligent, I made myself finish some work this afternoon before I went out to get a copy, or five, of the printed USA Today. It's a really nice full-page spread with a short article (the same text that's on the website), seven photos, and an infographic of Tim Klein's yarn car. A USA Today infographic about an art car, is that cool or what?

Three of the photos are Harrod Blank with Pico de Gallo, one is Tim Klein's promo photo, and the other three are from Artscape: That Car, Wicked Mojo, and yours truly, woo hoo! It's a similar photo to the ones in that Flash movie on their website: me leaning against the car with the bubbles all around me. They gave me a nice paragraph in the article too, with a good quote: "Some people like making statements with their cars, but for me it's just about seeing people smile wherever I go." If millions of people are going to read one thing about me, I'm happy for it to be that.

The audio on the website, well I feel kind of silly about the quotes they selected. I must have talked to the guy on tape for ten minutes, and they use some dumb thing about how I saw other cars with bubble machines at the Houston parade and one of them told me which model to buy! I guess they wanted a quote about the bubble machine because that's surely the reason why my photo ended up in the paper. (Georg commented that it was because I was the only artcar babe at Artscape. Demonstrating once again that he is the perfect boyfriend.)

Seeing this big article gets me all excited about my car again. Gosh I wish we could go to Art Car Fest at the end of the month! But San Francisco is way too far to drive. We are going back to Houston next year. I can hardly wait!


Holy moley! I'm in USA Today! Not just a photo, but audio too! Here's the link. Click on the "related story" underneath Tim Klein's yarn car photo. I'm on the last of 7 panels.


[later] Now that I've had a chance to view my spot a couple of (dozen) times, my only regret is that glare from the sun prevents you from seeing my domain name in the rear window, even though the photographer had lined it up perfectly. Wouldn't that have been a big traffic boost for my site!

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My friend B. says that when she's cleaning, she has to decide in advance what stays and what goes. Because when confronted with the actual objects, it's sometimes hard to let go of them. Which is interesting to me, because lately when I've been cleaning, the opposite has been true. I get going, and getting rid of junk just feels so good that I get a little carried away and toss out things that I maybe should keep.

It does feel good though. In the past two days I think I've thrown out five black garbage bags full of junk. I started out yesterday, going through the many piles of stuff that had piled up in front of and on top of my desk. Because I needed, desperately needed, a CD that a client had sent me a while ago. I got all the stuff sorted out, and the desk looking pretty good if I do say so myself, but didn't find the CD. Just when I was starting to wonder what I could say to the client to get another copy of the CD without sounding like a total moron, I figured out where it was. In another place entirely, in the basket where I put incoming mail, bills, etc. I must have put it there in one of those genius moments so I wouldn't lose it. Still I'm glad I didn't figure it out until after cleaning up my desk, because when I found it I had to stop cleaning and start working.

Then today we just got finished reorganizing a bunch of books in the dining room (yeah, like your dining room isn't full of books too) and putting them on a bigger bookshelf we got at Lowe's. The smaller bookshelf, that used to be in the dining room, got moved into the study to hold the Tarot decks and books. Now we just need to figure out where to put the former Tarot shelf. Which is the smallest of all, but a nice little shelf so I'd like to hang onto it if we can find a place for it.

Coolest thing I found while cleaning: This photo, taken when I was about 11. Weirdest thing I found while cleaning: A bunch of Castle Falkenstein books. I've been wanting to buy these books for a long time now, so I could write up a page on my site about using my deck to play the game. (Castle Falkenstein is a role playing game based in the Victorian era that uses cards instead of, or possibly in addition to, dice. Using it with VRT seems like a natural.)

The weird thing is I'm pretty sure I never bought them, but there they are on my shelf. They look well-used too; one of the books is in a three ring binder because the binding came completely apart. And I know I've never played this game, so who used the books? Must have been the person who gave them to me, whoever that is. My first thought was my friend Kevin, but I think I'd remember that. But then again, I ought to remember in any case, and I don't, so it could have been almost anyone.

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Yesterday evening before dinner I put the dogs out. Went out to bring them in, and Lina was doing a weird little dance: step forward, closer, closer, then jump back, and repeat. I could tell by the look on her face that she had some poor animal, a rodent I assumed. When I got a little closer I saw that it was a snake! It was coiled up on itself and was striking at her when she got too close. Being the superior animal, she was jumping back just a bit every time, then going right for it again. How did dogs ever survive in the wild?

Well I managed to drag Lina away from the joy of snake baiting and put all the dogs inside. I don't know a thing about snakes, but I took a photo of this one, compared it to photos online, and sent it to a few friends. I'm pretty sure that it's a copperhead. Eek! Apparently its bite is "very painful but not lethal," however I'm not sure if it could kill a 55 pound dog. Not to mention Nutty, who's staying with us and weighs in at only 20 lb. Jeez, I'm getting a little freaked out all over again, just thinking about what a close call the doggies had.

We didn't try to kill it because we read online that copperheads only attack when threatened, and most bites happen when people try to kill them. That makes a lot of sense, because it was clearly being threatened by Lina, but when I called her inside she ran right past it. It could easily have bitten her as she passed by, but didn't. When I came back to take the photo, I set up the tripod just a couple of feet away -- don't worry, I was wearing my sturdiest boots! and was standing a good 4 feet away, and would have run at the first sign of movement. But it didn't respond at all, just lay there trying to camoflage itself.

By the time we went back outside after posting the photos, the snake had moved on. We're going to work on the yard and see if we can find where it's living. If we do find it, we'll call someone to come get it. In the meantime we closed the gate so we can put the dogs out in the front yard (the snake was in the back). Also my friend Lisa sent me a link to a company called Critter Control who sell pet-safe snake repellant.

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There's something about sitting at my computer, surrounded by three soundly sleeping dogs, that's so comfortable. Even when they start snoring it doesn't annoy me, just makes me feel like all's well with the world.

(The third dog is Nutty, aka "Old Man," "Buddy Boy," "Wet Nose Boy," or "Mr. Underfoot Guy," who is staying with us. Yes, I like nicknames for dogs.)

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The Etiquette Hell site is jammed full of stories, mostly about weddings gone horribly wrong. I highly recommend it if you're planning to get married and want to know what not to do; you want to congratulate yourself on not undergoing the wedding ceremony ordeal yourself; or you're just in the mood for a little schadenfreude to brighten up your day.

Last night I did new DJ training at the station. I've done it a couple of times before; it's fun, a good way to meet new DJs, and also forces me to have a basic familiarity with station policy. I had four trainees, which is a lot to deal with, but I think it went okay. One of them was a former music director at the station at Vanderbilt! Which, on the one hand it was great that one of the trainees already knew how to run a board and so forth, but on the other hand it was a bit intimidating. I kept thinking, can't say anything stupid when there's a guy here who could be teaching this session!

I asked him how WXDU compared to the station at Vanderbilt and he said it seemed really similar to their original facility, but that at some point the university had completely renovated their station which really changed the experience for him and not in a good way. That gave me some concern, because Duke is talking about moving us into the Bryan Center when they renovate it in a few years. This guy said that the atmosphere became much less laid-back, and the new facility was really inconvenient in some ways (for instance, they had to leave the station in order to use the bathroom, and needed their ID card to get back in). He even said Vanderbilt tried to put in a big window, so that people in the cafeteria next door could watch the DJ while they ate! What are they, trained monkeys? Fortunately he said they managed to nix that idea before the window was installed. I can tell you, if they put in a window at XDU I'd bring a big curtain to my show every time.

Afterwards I hung out for a while with my friend Lisa, whose show had started in the meantime. It was fun to chat, although I probably wasn't very good company since I hadn't eaten dinner and it was 9:30 by the time I left, so I was feeling a bit sluggish. She was bummed that no one called for free Mogwai tickets. But someone did call to compliment her on the very long Mogwai track she played. For some reason I never play really long songs. Maybe because my first semester on the air, the guy who came after me used to show up late (or nearly so) every week, and then throw on some 17 minute thing by Ravi Shankar or Sun Ra to fill time while he went around pulling CDs and so forth. So I guess I have this idea in my head that long tracks are the thing you do when you don't have your shit together on the air. But that's not fair. I could try to work something long into a normal set.

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Today in the mail I got a CD of Artscape photos from the marvelous Tim Klein. Tim created the truly spectacular Yarn Car. I'd known him for a while on the artcarz mailing list, but didn't get to finally meet him until this year's Artscape.

He took a bunch of great photos, including three of me being photographed by USA Today! What a neat coincidence, after just having talked to the reporter on Monday. I don't know if you can tell from the photo, but he had me leaning against the car in a very specific way, and he would wait until the wind was just right so the bubbles were all around me, then take a bunch of photos. The boy standing next to the photographer with the mega camera was his son.

It's weird to see myself like this. I had no idea that Tim was getting this, but I'm so grateful he did. I had never had my picture taken by a professional before. Good thing I dressed up for the parade! I made that dress from a vintage pattern I got on Ebay. Good lord, imagine if I had worn old clothes, a ratty T-shirt or something, and then ended up in USA Today looking like that.

I'm really glad that he got Georg in this shot. Wish Pru were also in the picture, since the three of us were the Undersea Mah Jongg team that day. But Pru was manning the web cams and never got out of the car until the parade was over, as I recall.

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I just got off the phone with a reporter from USA Today. Looks like they maybe are going to use my photo in the paper!! The reporter said that they do the photo part separetely, but he asked them for a list of the photos they were likely to run and I was on the list. Wow!

He asked a bunch of questions, but again I have no idea what they'll end up using. Most of the questions were pretty typical -- describe the car, what kind of reaction do you get, what made you start doing this, how much you've spent on it, that sort of thing.

The one line of questioning that threw me was, what kind of people were the art car community, and why do they use their cars as a medium of expression. I said that the community ranged from professional artists, to professional eccentrics, to perfectly ordinary people who happened to have Santa Clauses all over their car. (Or at least, that's what I was trying to say. It probably didn't come out that articulate.) As for why cars, I think I said that most of us just like making people smile wherever we go. It's so fun to drive an art car. I feel good every time I go for a drive. Again, that's what I was trying to say, so I hope it came out like that. Anyway, I had pretty much given up on appearing in USA Today, so I'm really excited to find out that they may actually run my photo.

Poulet au Porto on Saturday night turned out great. It took a couple of hours but wasn't difficult to make, and a lot of that time was spent roasting. I used Lynne Rosetto Kaspar's method of roasting the chicken. It did get basted, and had to be turned once. But still a lot easier than trussing and turning every fifteen minutes.

While the bird was roasting I made the mushroom sauce (basically just mushrooms lightly cooked & then a bunch of cream mixed in, with a little bit of cornstarch to thicken it), then after the chicken came out, cooked up the pan drippings in port wine, added a bit of shallot and then added the mushroom sauce. There was some confusion at this point because she says to "remove all but 2 Tb of the roasting oil from the pan." We weren't sure if that meant to remove everything from the pan, including the onions that had been roasting with the bird, and just leave 2 Tb of oil. Or to remove all but 2 Tb of the oil and leave the onions in the pan. We decided that Julia would probable want us to remove the onions, but when it came to it I couldn't do it. They were so gorgeous and soft and roasty, I just couldn't throw them away.

Anyway, while I was making the sauce Georg carved the chicken. Here was our other confusion. We were supposed to put the chicken into a "flameproof casserole or chafing dish" so it could be heated on the stove and then flamed with cognac. But I misread it and thought that the "flameproof" part just referred to the cognac. So we put it into a regular Fiesta serving dish, poured on the cognac, and failed completely to set it on fire. Sitting in a cold dish, it just would not flame.

OK, we're not easily perturbed. We slid the whole mess into a big saucepan, heated it just until the chicken started to sizzle, poured on a bit more cognac and touched the flame to it again. Success! Lots of flames that time. Good thing we have one of those butane lighters or I think Georg would have burned his hand.

Once the cognac had burned out, we slid the whole thing back into the serving dish, spooned on the mushroom sauce, and then I read the part about heating the whole thing for five minutes to blend the flavors. At this point I started to understand why Julia/Julie says the F word so much in her blog. We came to a consensus that the chicken would be perfectly good without five minutes more on the stove, so we just ate.

It was fabulous. The sauce was incredibly rich, and I'm really glad I didn't make it with a pre-roasted chicken from Whole Foods (as I had been considering earlier in the week) because without the pan drippings it wouldn't have been half so good. I didn't even notice the roasted onions in the sauce, so good call on leaving them in. We had it with plain steamed green beans which went really well with all that cream.

My only complaint is that it tasted a little too strongly of cognac. This was probably from the flaming glitch & having to pour on the cognac more than once. On the other hand, Julia/Julie mentioned the same problem so maybe the recipe is just heavy on the cognac. We also noticed that the cognac flavor got stronger as the chicken got cold. At least we had splurged on Courvoisier so it wasn't like our chicken was overloaded with cheap cognac.


I've come to the realization that I'm never going to finish writing up our trip to Asheville. Well at least I hit the highlights -- the yurt and Keaton's Barbecue. The only thing I'll add is a photo I took of Georg and myself at one of the overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Now, Georg hates this photo and wanted me to delete it. And I concede, it's not the most flattering shot of either of us. But what is a weblog for, if not to humiliate yourself and those closest to you? With that in mind here's the photo.

Southern Season, local gourmet food shop, is having a big moving sale. We thought the sale had just started so we headed over this afternoon, hoping to get some 25% Le Creuset. Le Creuset being, of course, enameled iron cookware. Beautiful, long-lasting, wonderful to cook with, extremely expensive. I was also hoping to get some truffle oil and a little can of foie gras, because I'm certainly not paying full price for that stuff.

Well the sale must have been going on longer than we had realized, because they were completely cleaned out of truffle oil, the Le Creuset was totally picked over, and I couldn't find any true -- i.e. goose -- foie gras, although I did get a can of duck. Also the Indian section was pretty sparse, which was disappointing for reasons I'll get into in a bit. I did get a packet of pappads and a bottle of rosewater. Georg's kooky food splurge was a can of Cream of Stilton soup; mine was the foie gras I guess. Or maybe the $19 bottle of Shiraz (marked down from $28!). Or the white tea, which I've been wanting to try because I love tea but I've lost my tolerance for caffeine. Okay so I had a lot of splurges.

We did consider buying a Le Creuset oval casserole, but it wasn't exactly what we wanted and even at 25% off, still quite expensive. Sometime soon we're going to drive out to the Le Creuset outlet store in Burlington and see how their prices are. The one time I was in there before, I remembered it as being no deal at all. But that was many years ago and I wasn't really aware of how much fine cookware cost at that point. So I might find it more of a bargain now.

So in one of those strangely optimistic moments, I decided to have a Bollywood party at my house. Serve Indian food, watch dance numbers from Bollywood movies, that sort of thing. Georg and I had originally decided to invite 6 people, which would make 8 including us. A bit of a squeeze in our tiny house, but doable.

Here's the thing. It's been a long time since I've had a party, and I kept thinking of people who would enjoy Bollywood night, and before I knew it we had invited 10 people. For a total of 12. Which is about twice as many people as can comfortably sit at my table or in my living room. Not to mention, I only have enough of the good dishes for 6. (Which makes perfect sense if you don't invite more people than will fit around the table.) And we set the date for the 20th, two weeks from today.

So I'm kind of panicking a bit about finding room for all these people. Plus of course we have to get the house cleaned up, not to mention the cooking, all in two weeks! (Actually the cooking part is fun, but still a lot of work.) Luckily a few of the guests also know how to cook Indian and have volunteered to bring dishes. And one of the advantages of Indian is that a lot of it can be made in advance. Georg suggested that I would be much less stressed out about this party if I think of it as a party with dinner, not a dinner party.

In other cooking news, I tried a recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking II last night. Brocoli Étuvés au Beurre. Which means, "broccoli baked in a very large amount of butter." I made the variation with grated Parmesan cheese added. It turned out really well if I do say so myself. Just enough cheese to give it a nice tang, but not enough to taste like cheese rather than broccoli. And I have to admit, I was leery of Julia's reputation for overcooking vegetables, but I really enjoyed the broccoli. It was mellow and tender, not mushy or tasteless like I had feared. I did blanch it a bit less than she recommended. I usually like my broccoli pretty crunchy but I'm going to have to experiment with it more fully cooked.

Tonight we're going to try a recipe from Mastering volume I: Poulet au Porto. Which is a roast chicken, carved, flamed in cognac, then covered with a mushroom/port/cream sauce. Sounds fabulous, and not too difficult to make.

Don't worry, I'm not planning to start my own "Sarah/Julia Project" here. It's just that I've been reading the Julie/Julia project for the past few days, and was already reading Mastering before that, and we were in the supermarket, both thoroughly lacking inspiration because we had just eaten a late lunch. It's so hard to think about a meal when you're still full from the meal before. So anyway, all I could think of was "hey, what about that Julia Child recipe with the roast chicken flamed in cognac?"

I have read the entry in the Julie/Julia Project where Julie did this recipe, but she had a lot of problems unrelated to the recipe (mostly missing key ingredients) so she didn't write a whole lot about how it went actually cooking it. She did mention that the chicken ended up tasting too much of alcohol because she didn't let the cognac burn off all the way. So I'll watch for that. Also, in an earlier entry she made the incredibly helpful observation that Julia's method of roasting chicken is needlessly complicated and adds nothing to the taste or texture. Julia wants you to truss the bird and keep turning it throughout the roasting, but Julie found the chicken ended up drier and the skin less crispy than her usual method. Which is to oil and season the bird, stick it in the oven and leave it alone. That's my method too so I'll be happy to skip all that trussing and basting and turning.

I just realized that I've written a lengthy entry, almost entirely about food. Which isn't that inappropriate considering how much of my life is spent thinking about, preparing or enjoying food. But might get a little monotonous for you, dear reader. So let me just add that it cooled down yesterday and has been unseasonably cool since. So cool that I'm wearing a sweater in the middle of the afternoon. In the first week of September! How wonderful. It's supposed to drop below 60 tonight. Perfect weather for a roast chicken in mushroom cream sauce. Wait, I'm talking about food again.

Oh! Here's something that has nothing to do with food. I got the DVD of Wings of Desire, one of my favorite movies. It has a commentary by Wim Wenders and Peter Falk, which I haven't had a chance to watch, but I did watch a great documentary about the film. Really, really interesting to hear Wenders talking about the city of Berlin; the original purpose of the movie, apparently, was to showcase the city, and buildings and places which he loved. Berlin is almost another character in the film.

One fun thing was images of some of the angel costumes they tried before eventually settling on the long coats. One of them was an armored breastplate, which they kept in the movie by having it fall on Damiel's head when he became human. Also, I was amused to learn that there's a continuity error (or maybe it's plot logic, I always get those two confused) in Peter Falk's internal monologue. (SPOILER ALERT:) Falk kept thinking about things his grandmother had told him, but as a fallen angel he could never have had a grandmother. (END SPOILER) Falk had recorded those voiceovers after returning to the US so they weren't able to correct it. Apparently none of the monologues were scripted; Wenders just generally told people what to talk about and let them go to it.

Also on the DVD are a bunch of deleted scenes with commentaries. Turns out that he filmed a completely different ending to the movie! (SPOILER ALERT:) Instead of ending with Damiel and Marion finding each other, it goes on to show Cassiel becoming human as well, finding Damiel and Marion, and then they get into a pie fight with a bunch of pies that happen to be sitting there. That's right, this complex, somber, meditative film originally ended with the two angels throwing pies in each other's faces. (END SPOILER) Wenders even provides all the raw footage, from all angles, and encourages viewers to download it into their computers and edit together the scene. He invites us all to send the edited scenes to his website, and promises that the best scene will win a pie from him.

Hey, I'm talking about food again. I give up!

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Busy work day today. Spent most of the day getting ready for a conference call with a client. Which turned out really well actually. Mostly because the programmer on this project has been a bit more on the ball than I am. My part of the project was mostly done, and his part was entirely done. Between the two of us the entire job was somewhere in "almost done" range. Which was plenty to satisfy the client.

Took a break from work to get some house cleaning done. The study/sewing room is the only really wretched room left in the house. It definitely fits my dad's "law of horizontals": junk will accumulate on all horizontal surfaces until their capacity is exceeded. At which point the junk will slide downward to the next horizontal surface, and then the process begins again. So it's time to break free of the law of horizontals and clear out the junk!

I have a serious problem throwing things away, but lately it's feeling rather cathartic. "Will I ever use this again? No! Out it goes!" I had to stop today because the trash can is overflowing and we need more trash bags. Actually it was a good time to quit, because I'm feeling really really tired. Have been for a few days actually. Tonight I absolutely must go to bed early.

I suppose by now everyone has heard about the woman who died at Burning Man. All the media reports I've seen said very briefly that she fell off an "art car," with no other details. Today a message was cc:ed to the artcarz mailing list, purportedly written by the driver of the car. I'll find out if I can post the message here, but in the meantime here's the jist of it:

The "art car" was more like a parade float: a van with a second story built on top for people to hang out on, towing a flatbed that had a bar installed on it. The flatbed was either towing, or closely followed by, an Airstream that contained a chillout room. I gather that there are lots of vehicles like this providing roaming entertainment during the event.

The woman who died was part of the group who put this vehicle together every year. She climbed down from the second story of the van while it was in motion, jumped off the flatbed, and fell under the wheel of the airstream. It's so tragic.


Georg and I both got home late (me from Stoneline, him from the WXDU meeting). He brought home brisket (for me) and ribs (for him) from the Cue Shack. Good god that brisket is good. Better than beef has a right to taste. My mouth tastes like smoke now. Kevin, if you're reading this, that's where we should have gone that afternoon we spent driving all over creation.

There's a moth on my screen. I would shoo it off, but it's walking diagonally. Vaguely up, but more to the right. It's kind of interesting to watch. OK, it ran out of screen and flew away.

I've been seeing an ad lately for a new show about a New Yorker (actually he could be from any urban area, I'm just assuming New York) who moves somewhere in small-town Midwest to live near his new wife's family. Classic fish out of water story. Plus lots of jokes at the expense of yokels from the heartland. Must have seemed like a no-brainer.

Anyway, in this particular ad I've been seeing, the wife's sister tells him in a somewhat condescending tone that she's finishing up her dissertation, "which is a systematic examination of something or another." (She didn't actually say "something or another," I just can't remember what she actually said because it's boring.) The NY guy replies that he just finished his first novel, "which is a systematic cashing of royalty checks." And that joke is systematic evidence that none of the writers on this show have ever been first time novelists. I mean really! If he just finished his first novel, then he's months away from his first royalty statement, and chances are it won't include a check because he'll still be paying off the advance. In fact, chances are good that he won't ever get a royalty check. What, am I thinking too hard about this? You try watching that ad every ten minutes for two hours. Got to think about something.

I was thinking about Julia Child some more as I drove to Stoneline. And I don't think that if she and Paul had stayed in China after the war, it would have diverted her career into Chinese cookery. For one thing, it was the late 40s, and she was the wife of a career diplomat. One of the reasons she wanted to learn fine cooking was so they could entertain for his job, which could locate them anywhere in the world. Fine Chinese cooking might be be a good choice for that now, but not fifty-some odd years ago. At that time fine cuisine meant French cuisine. Something as off the wall (for the early 60s) as authentic Chinese would never have sold so well as Mastering or been given a TV show. Heck, authentic Chinese is still pretty off the wall for most of America, used to beef with broccoli and sweet and sour pork.

I started reading the Julie/Julia Project. Fascinating stuff. When I first heard of it, I definitely had a "why didn't I think of that" feeling. But then I remembered that Mastering has a whole chapter on eggs, plus lots of recipes featuring organ meats, which aren't my favorite thing. And I am not eating brains; I don't care how good they are. Not to mention, classical French cuisine is somewhat in conflict with the idea of not eating refined carbohydrates. So I think it's all for the best that I didn't think of that.

I started out reading the Julie/Julia Project from the end and working backwards, but decided I'd enjoy it more if I started at the beginning and followed her progress. By the end she has a very colorful way of writing. Lot of descriptions of screaming fits, full of tears and obscenities, when a dish didn't come together. You'd think she'd be more used to the process by the end, less likely to be thrown by obstacles. But I haven't read the middle yet, so I don't know if she got more frazzled as time went on, or just started writing about it more freely.

On a totally unrelated note, I just found out that someone I know through work has been diagnosed with type II diabetes. It sounds like, at best, a collossal pain in the butt, and at worst a very serious illness. I was in a bit of a dilemma. Because I wanted to tell her that one of the unexpected side effects of low carb, for me, was a complete relief of all blood sugar symptoms. I didn't even know there was anything wrong with me before. I thought everyone felt cranky and headachy before meals, and tired afterwards. But 3-4 days after I gave up sugar and starches, it completely went away & hasn't come back after almost a year. I've talked to people online who say they've been able to reduce or eliminate diabetes medication because of low carb's effect on their blood sugar.

It sounds like it might could help this woman a lot. But I couldn't think of a way to bring it up without sounding like I was suggesting she lose weight. Which would be extremely rude and hurtful, none of my damned business, and not at all what I was wanting to say. If she were a personal friend I could find a way to gently approach the topic from an illness management point of view, but since I don't know her that well I said nothing. I feel bad about it though, about withholding possibly helpful information which she might not be aware of. But I didn't want to offend or hurt. Sometimes the agony and anxiety surrounding the issue of weight is so frustrating. Or is that infuriating. Maybe "infrusterating."

I know there's something I'm forgetting to write, that I was thinking about earlier in the day. I should keep a little notebook or something.

panna cotta


I rescued a turtle from the road while I was running this morning. He was a cute little guy. Small enough for me to pick up with one hand, with yellow markings on his shell. Pretty brave for a turtle, too. He didn't start to pull back into his shell until I was a couple feet away from him, and didn't pull all the way in until I picked him up. I carried him to the side of the street and put him in the underbrush, about six feet from the road. He came out of the shell and started reaching for the ground before I had even finished putting him down. I stayed for a minute, watching to make sure he didn't head back out into the road. (Lower animals are sometimes stupid that way. Come of think of it the higher mammals can be too.) But he just hunkered down in the underbrush, waiting for me to leave probably.

The amazing thing is that two cars had passed right before I saw the turtle. I didn't see them swerving, but they managed not to hit him. That was one lucky turtle.

I just finished reading a Julia Child biography called Appetite for Life, by Noël R. Fitch. Child has had a fascinating life. I knew that her husband had worked in foreign service, but I didn't know that when she met him, they were both working for the OSS (the precursor of the CIA), during World War II, in Ceylon and China. Apparently she knew nothing about cooking and had little interest in food until falling for Paul Child, who was quite the gourmet. She learned to love food in China, and learned to cook in Paris when they were stationed there after the war. Just think if they had stayed in China. Would she have learned to cook Chinese instead of French? Would public television have given a show to "The Chinese Chef"? What would that have done to American cuisine in the 60s and 70s?

So I was expecting a great read, and got it for the most part. Unfortunately my enjoyment of Child's life story was marred a bit by bad writing. The book was poorly organized; for one thing, Fitch has a bad habit of dropping in names a few paragraphs, pages or even chapters before explaining who they are. Which reminded me a bit of talking to some self-important name-dropper who keeps mentioning people that you're supposed to be impressed by, except you've never even heard of them. And when you say, "who's that," they give you this smirky look because they're so happy to have the chance to explain how extremely important this person is. At which point you suddenly have a desparate need to refresh your drink / use the restroom / say hi to someone across the room / anything to get you away from such a bore.

Another problem I had was Fitch's frustrating vagueness on some points. For instance I really wanted to know more about Child's relationship to Jacques Pépin. As they're both teachers, authors, and TV hosts in French cooking -- the only two French TV chefs at one point -- I wondered whether they were friends, just professional acquaintances, competitive with each other, what. The book mentions that they did many cooking demonstrations together, including the infamous one where Child badly cut her hand and did the show anyway, but that's about it.

The structural frustrations got to me so much that by the end of the book, I was snarking at Fitch's writing style, including excessive use of parentheses which may or may not be relevant to the previous sentence. In one place I counted parentheticals after eight sentences in a row! I have a bad habit of overusing parentheses myself, but that's a bit much.

Because of the writing, I really can't recommend buying this book. However, Julia Child is an incredibly interesting person who had an tremendous impact on the way Americans cook and eat. So it's probably worth a read if you find it used or in a library, and you're interested in food. I paid $8 for it at that big used bookstore on Franklin St., which was a bit too much. If it had been $5 I would have felt like I got my money's worth.

The funny thing is, whoever owned the book before me had left two reviews tucked into the back flap. A good one from a Columbia, SC local paper, and a really negative one from the NY Times. Typical quote from the Times: "The indigestible result [of Fitch's research] -- ungainly, repetitive and unnecessarily gushing -- reads like the world's most heavily annotated resume." Alas, I would have to agree with that assessment. This is going to sound really cold, but I hope that when Child dies someone else writes a better biography.

On the bright side, reading about Julia Child inspired me to drag out my yellowed (older than I am!) copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Last time I tried to work with this book, I made a mess of things. I didn't know enough about cooking at the time to know the importance of the order of the steps, especially in sauces. I remember an attempt at a bearnaise sauce that ended with a horrible, curdled mess that literally made me vomit just from looking at it. (Have I ever mentioned how much I hate eggs?)

But now, *ahem* years later, I feel much more confident of my ability to a. work in the kitchen, b. follow a recipe, and c. choose a recipe that won't make me ill. Seriously, what was I thinking, trying to make a bearnaise? I can't stand eggs. I guess I thought it woud be lush and elegant and somehow wouldn't taste or smell like egg when it was done. Which might have been true if I had done it right.

So anyway, I saw several recipes that piqued my interest in Mastering. All the ones I liked seemed like cold weather fare (roasts, gratins and so forth) so I think I'm going to give them a try this fall. Georg told me that he was reading a blog somewhere by a woman who's working her way through Mastering, recipe by recipe. I'd love to read that, but he can't remember the URL. darn!

Speaking of food, a couple nights ago we went to our friends Christa and Ray's for dinner. They've been doing an amazing amount of work on their house, including a total renovation of one bathroom. Which impressed the heck out of me, considering how much work our bathroom was, and we paid someone else to do it. Christa kept apologizing for the state of the bathroom, but jeez, for a half-finished room it looked pretty damn good to me. They've already got the laundry machines in, and there's another working bathroom in the house, so they're in pretty good shape.

Well that wasn't about food, was it? The food part is that I had already run through all my good low-carb dessert recipes with them, so I tried a new one: panna cotta and balsamic strawberries. I hate making a new dish for the first time for company, but it turned out pretty good if I do say so myself. I think by itself the panna cotta would have been too much, but the vinegary, peppery strawberries cut the richness. It called for black pepper on the strawberries, but I used white pepper instead, thought that would be a little more subtle. I always make the dessert when we eat with friends, because desserts without sugar or flour require a bunch of specialty ingredients, which I already have. The funny thing is, now I feel all this pressure to come up with an even better dessert next time! I mean, you can't just make a different flavor of cheesecake every time. That's no fun.

We tried -- and failed -- to figure out what "panna cotta" means, an attempt which was hindered by my incorrectly remembering it as panne cotta. Bizarrely, it isn't in my favorite Italian cookbook, The Splendid Table, but I looked it up online and it means "cooked cream." It's interesting how dish names from other languages often sound all exotic to us, but in the language of origin are simple and prosaic.

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