Oscar

This is the story of the “The Joke”,  the longest joke I ever undertook. In fact, The Joke would still be going on if my intended target hadn’t come down with some sort of ridiculous cancer and died. I swear, the inconsideration of some people.

If you scroll down through my entries, all the way down, down past the owl penis envy…the pussy hat….the pussy…the elbow surgery…the other elbow surgery…the flute confession…the “Fuck You Scalia” eulogy…

Oh never mind. Just click this.

That was my very first Dangerspouse entry on WordPress.

But it wasn’t written by me. And that’s not a picture of me (most days). It was written and posted by Poolagirl.

Poolagirl first accosted me on my original Diaryland blog, back in the days when blogging was actually cool (ie: before MySpace/Facebook). I was boppin’ along posting my usual crap when all of the sudden I started getting all these comments from some chick claiming to be a pirate captain. And she wouldn’t. stop. insulting. me. Even the most innocuous “Woke up. Went to work. Came home.” entry was met with a blistering put-down.

So of course I fell in love with her.

(At one point she wanted to hear my voice so she badgered me and badgered me until I for godsake stop badgering me! gave in and called her. During the conversation I mentioned that one of my radio stations made me use the pseudonym “Rick Forrest”. Right after we hung up she left this note at my blog:

Rick Forest? Who thought up that lame ass name? It sounds like something from “The Young and the Restless” – something that Fabio would use. *puke* You’re right about one thing (probably many things but let’s just stick to one) – when you get too good at something they can HANG you with stupid shit. I’ve heard your voice, and you’re a heart melter. You called me and I was ironing my pants. What a sweet moment for me to remember for the rest of my life.

Ten minutes later she left a follow-up note:

“…‘ironing’ is a euphemism for ‘creaming’.”)

She had a thing for hats, and invariably any selfie she posted featured some garish upturned flower pot or something on her head. One day she had a bunch of baseball caps custom made with a sailing ship and “HMS Pie Rat” embroidered on the front. She signed one and mailed it to me. I still have it.

After that we corresponded regularly by email, continuing even after she left Diaryland and opened a WordPress account. She was constantly trying to get me to join her here, but I resisted because I’m fat, lazy, and stupid (according to her).

Finally she had enough of my obstinance. She set up a WordPress account in my name without my permission, aided by cohort-in-crime and webmistress supreme, Poundy. Then she wrote that initial entry, added the pic of what she imagined I look like, and sent me an email with the link. I can’t say I was surprised when I got the email, as I’d learned early on that that’s how Poolie did things. If you didn’t yield, she just ran over you.

Wow, I almost lost track of what I was writing about! Sorry, this is supposed to be about The Joke…

One of the few things I was able to eviscerate Poolie about on a regular basis was her self-proclaimed inability to cook. Which, of course, I later found out was a lie. She just liked when I insulted her. I would write scathing notes telling her she didn’t deserve love because she was using her oven as a clothes hamper. In turn she would barrage me with photos of herself gleefully eating crappy vegetarian take-out. It was a standoff.

Then one day she wrote an entire entry about how she has all these Meyer lemon trees cluttering up her yard, and other than making lemonade from them she didn’t know what they were good for. She was just gonna throw them out.

I hit the roof. “If you throw those Meyer lemons out I will never insult you to your face again” I wrote. “You better send them to me, or else.”

She did.

And I wrote this entry about it (lifted from my old blog):

The Lemon Grab

I’ve had a sour taste in my mouth for the better part of 4 days now.

One of my oldest D-Land friends is the dread pirate Poolagirl. At the time I started blogging she really WAS a full fledged pirate, a guide on a historical replica pirate ship with the eye patch and mustache and everything. She then did the same thing at a car museum (just bleach the mustache, and voila: Car Guide!), and then left museums behind altogether to write Tony Award winning plays. Which means she now looks down on me and my “Internet Humor Award”.

Before that snub though, NewWifey(tm) and I flew out to California one summer to see her. It was pretty cool. It was the exact opposite of New Jersey: no snow, and lots of Mexicans. I liked both.

Poolie was a hostess par excellence. She laid out her finest yoga mat for us to sleep on, and unscrewed the best cooking Sherry that Costco sells to serve with our take-out. Which we had every. Single. Night.

Her hospitality extended beyond domestic concerns, too. A few days after we arrived, Poolie took us on a private after-hours tour of the auto museum, which was un-freakin-believable.

At one point NewWifey(tm) excused herself to use the Ladies Room, which was two floors down in the lobby. When she got back Poolie was on the phone.

Did I miss anything?” NewWifey(tm) said.

“I got to second base with her behind the Talbot-Lago.”

Big deal” she said. “I got to third. Last night, while we were making dinner.

That really shocked me. “You cooked?”

That’s how close we were.

I honestly didn’t think it could get any closer than that. But a week and a half ago I read on Poolie’s blog that she was suffering a surfeit of Meyer lemons. She’s got, like, an entire grove of them on her estate. But there are only so many Lemon Martinis she can drink in a year, so she was bitching about having to once again drop them surreptitiously into every Salvation Army kettle at every WalMart between her house and the Oregon line.

New Jersey has a lot of things, but one thing we don’t have is Meyer lemons. In fact, we don’t have Meyer lemons so much that I’ve never even tasted one. Over the last decade I’ve seen them for sale maybe twice in the local grocery store, but they were hideously expensive – about a dollar a lemon. I pulled back each time.

So after reading her little “Woe is me! I have too much!!” First World diatribe, I wrote and generously offered to lighten her awful burden. She fell for it, and immediately shipped out a box of 12 Meyer lemons by 2nd Day Air.

This is how I felt when I saw them.

Then I saw the postage stamp. She paid 23 dollars and 94 cents to rid herself of those monsters.

That’s 2 dollars a lemon.

How did I feel when I saw that? Terrible. I mentioned in my initial e-mail that I’d pay the shipping costs if she sent them out. But I assumed she’d send them Ground and I’d be on the hook for 4 or 5 dollars. 6, tops.

I decided to weasel.

Hey listen Poolie,” I wrote, “you know that getting that 24 bucks out to you is #1 on my To-Do list, and because you mean so much to me I’d like to send you back double that amount. But, see, NewWifey(tm) is battling some “Breast AIDS Scofula Lyme Ebola Syndrome” thing that’s going around and even though getting the money out to you is much more important than staying home and giving my wife comfort and making sure she takes life saving medicines, she doesn’t feel that way. Can you find it in your pseudo-Christian heart this Christmas season to let me pay you back a few months from now when her physical and mental scars start to heal and I’m not on suicide watch any more?”

She fell for it again. “Ah, don’t worry about it” she wrote. “Merry Christmas. Keep the change.

Woo hoo!

Guilt free, I ripped into the box of lemon scented…er, lemons, and pulled two out. The first thing I made was avgalemono soup, that Greek sunshine-in-a-bowl that so many people fuck up because they forget to temper the eggs and end up with “Lemon Clot Soup”. I served it alongside a platter of pork piccata, the classic Italian lemon caper treatment.

They were awful.

What the hell was I thinking? I took lemons renowned for their sweetness and put them into highly spiced savory dishes that needed sweetness like JFK needed a hole in the head. Prepared that way there was no distinction between those Meyers and the 33-cents-per-lemon lemons I usually get.

Ok. Lesson learned. Stick to desserts.

So that’s what I did.

But first, I had to worship them. If you don’t know that you must worship your ingredients before you use them then you know nothing about food and don’t deserve to eat.

Behold:

(I’m the penguin there in the upper left, btw.)
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That done, I zested the remaining lemons and divided the pile into three mounds. The first mound I simmered in milk, which became a creme anglaise, which then became lemon ice cream. The second pile got dumped into a thermal carafe with a bottle of vodka. In the weeks ahead, with the addition of a simple syrup, it will magically transform into Meyer limoncello.

The third mound, with the addition of lemon juice, became lemon curd. Most of which got turned into this:

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That, my friends, is The Best Lemon Tart in the World(tm). I’m glad none of you were able to taste it because then you’d never be satisfied with any lemon tart ever again. And that would be just too sad. (For you baking geeks: the crust is a pate sucre with an extra yolk, a little more sugar, and instead of ice water I mixed ice water and vodka 1:1 to reduce the gluten production. It was sweeter and more tender that the usual pate sucre, which countered the tartness of the lemons.)

I have to say, the zest is where I really saw a difference with these lemons. Meyer zest is so fragrant and so pronounced that my hands smelled like furniture spray polish for two days after cooking with it. The juice is great too, but the real thing that makes those puppies worth a dollar apiece (*cough*ortwoifyou’reasucker*cough*) is that oily, golden, outer layer. In fact, it might even be worth it to rekindle my friendship with Poolie just so I can get invited out there again. This time I’ll cart home a case of lemons instead of burritos.

I’ll also make sure NewWifey(tm) isn’t the only one to get to third base this time.

Ciao, kids. And THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU POOLAGIRL! (For the lemons, too.)

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You ever gonna get to The Joke, Danger?

Chill. Here it is:

After Poolie airlifted me out those lemons at a cost of 24 dollars and told me it was on her, I hatched a plan. This was back in 2013. First thing I did was write her a brief note telling her that regardless of her Christmas largess, I was going to mail her back a package of equal value. Eventually.

And I planned to. Eventually.

This is what I did. After I got done making the picatta and the avgalemono and the tart and the limoncello, I saved a couple of the lemon seeds and shoved them into a bucket of dirt.

I was gonna grow my own Meyer lemon tree, and when it bore fruit I was going to mail them (or something made from them, probably more appreciated) back to her. It was brilliant! Hilarious! So like me!

I figured the whole joke would take about a decade. Decade and a half, tops. In the meantime, every few months I would mention in one of our email exchanges that I hadn’t forgotten her package, and would be mailing it out shortly. “The Joke” was a running one.

In the meantime, on the homefront, NewWifey(tm) and my good buddy Doc both poo-pooed the idea. “It’ll never work” they told me. “Lemon trees don’t sprout from seed.”

Several weeks later one of the seeds DID sprout.

This time they said, “It’ll never work. Lemon trees grown from seed don’t bear fruit.”

“You just wait” I said.

So we waited. And waited. A year. Two years.

By year three it had grown so large we could no longer keep it in our bay window. For Christmas that year NewWifey(tm) got me a portable greenhouse, and we moved it out to the back porch:

Oscar resized

It’s still not gonna give you lemons” NewWifey(tm) said.

“You just don’t have enough faith” I said.

Then, one day that summer, I went out onto the back porch to water it….and saw this:

Oscar Lemon 1

OH MY GOD!

I ran inside, grabbed my little PlaySkool point-n-hope, and took that photo. Then I ran downstairs to where NewWifey(tm) and one of her stitching buddies were working on a project in her office.

“Honey! Honey! LOOK!” I shoved the camera in her face.

She took the camera, showed her friend, and they both started laughing.

“Why are you laughing?” I said. “My tree grew a lemon, just like I said it would! So there!”

She patted me on the hand. “That’s nice, honey. Now go upstairs and start planning recipes for it.”

What kind of reaction was that? I just got a lemon from the lemon tree I grew from a goddam seed! The least she could have said was, “Gee, I guess you were right. For once.” I walked back upstairs. I heard them giggling behind me as I left.

Fine. I would start planning recipes. It was just one lemon now, but more were bound to burst forth any day now. In fact….

I went back out on the porch to see if there were any tiny little lemon-ettes I missed in my excitement.

And that’s when I saw it.

I mean…you saw it already, right? That seam down the side of the lemon? The seam down the side of that PLASTIC lemon?

I’m sure when my nose was only 3 inches away as I was taking the picture I must have seen it too. But mania is a funny thing. I wanted a lemon so badly that my brain would not accept evidence that it wasn’t a real lemon. I was duped.

I turned to walk back inside, but as soon I did NewWifey and Co. started laughing again. They had snuck upstairs behind me and were gleefully watching as the dawning realization that I had been duped turned my ears fuchsia.

Sucker!” they said in unison.

Shit.

Two more years passed. The tree got bigger and bigger, but still no fruit. I still wasn’t worried, though. I’d allotted at least 10 years for The Joke to come to fruition, so this was only the halfway point. Poolie was gonna practically die laughing when I finally mailed her back those lemons! I couldn’t wait….

Neither could she, it turned out.

Last year Poolie wrote and told me she had cancer. Lymphoma. “But don’t worry” she said, “I’m gonna beat this thing!” She sent me out a green Lymphoma Awareness pin, which I pinned to my microphone at work and took a picture of (that’s her wearing the custom hat she sent out):

Poolie Radio resize

In return she sent me back this:

Poolie Blue Eyes.JPG

Apparently radiation treatments have some side effects.

Over the next several months we kept in constant contact, and if it weren’t for the pictures and flip, almost offhand, remarks about horrific physical symptoms she was dealing with, you’d never know she was battling a life threatening illness. She sent me an electric juicer when I told her I was jealous of hers, and for Christmas I got a barrel of artisan salted almonds. I sent her pictures of my Spongebob collection. She sent me pics of her in her hospital gown with titles like, “Check out the cleavage, big boy. Hubba!

Then one day the lighthearted tone stopped.

After her first round of treatment the tests showed her cancer was in remission. We whooped and hollered and swore we’d get together – she was going to fly out to NJ and finally have a DangerMeal(tm), and we’d take her into Manhattan where one day she was gonna put on that Tony Award winning play, and we’d all laugh about how tough she was that she even beat cancer. It was gonna be great!

But the cancer came back. It came back hard. Masses had re-formed on her spine and in her brain. It didn’t look good.

I decided I had to end The Joke.

“Poolie, meet Oscar” I wrote, and included the pic of the greenhouse.

Oscar?” she wrote, “Why ‘Oscar’?

“It’s a Meyer lemon. You know – Oscar Meyer! It’s a mnemonic device so I can remember what the hell I’m growing.” Then I explained the whole plan. I told her she’d better hang on at least another five years so that I didn’t go through all that trouble for nothing. She laughed and said she’d do her best.

But she couldn’t hang on. In the middle of January she sent me an email headlined, “Scared out of my wits”. All it said was, “Cancer is back. They are running lots of tests. Does not look good for me. I am really scared.”

Through all the months of tests and raised hopes and dashed hopes and pain and debilitating side effects, I’d never heard Poolie say she was scared. Never. I started writing some crappy “buck up babe, you’re gonna lick this thing yet!” response, but then I realized that stupid platitudes were the last thing she wanted from me. So I told her that she had to at least hang on long enough for me to fly out there and grab one last cheap feel before she went. She wrote back, “Crazy Man, I will never let you go.”

But last Sunday, February 4, exactly two years and one day after she posted my very first Dangerspouse entry on WordPress, Poolie – Paula Brandes – did let me go. And everyone else, too. 

In a few days her family is going to take her ashes out to sea and scatter them in the Pacific. She’ll finally and forever be the pirate she always wanted to be.

It’s taken me a week to write this stupid entry. I’ve known Poolie longer than I’ve known my wife. I was so upset by her passing that I couldn’t even acknowledge it at first. Then when I decided to write something here, I knew I couldn’t do it, or her, justice. And re-reading what I just wrote, I didn’t. I know she wouldn’t have wanted somber, not from me anyway. But…all I feel is somber.

I can’t write any more.

Farewell, Captain Poolie. Thanks for the love, and the lemons. Both were sweet, and gone too soon. And that’s no Joke….

Spongebob Poolie Hat

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Loafing

I had fully intended to post some ribald bit of fluff today as an antidote to yesterday’s stultifying tl:dr pudding episode. But some odious creature over at my other blog took me to task for not first posting the bread recipe I apparently promised I would. God, I hate people with functioning memories.

Fine. Here’s your stupid bread post.

Ok first, let’s get one thing straight. The recipe I’m posting here is not for some artisan loaf that “Chez Boulanger” would be proud to serve for $17 a slice. It’s for a no-frills everyday white sandwich loaf, commonly known as “American bread”, ~ $.03/slice.

If you ARE looking to make the kind of bread that would make even a Frenchman like you, you want to head over to Bewitching Kitchen. SallyBR (aka “The Iron Uptake Chef”) is an actual, bona fide, no kidding, “just like Dexter’s Lab!” working research scientist. And she applies her anal-retentive mania for exactness – necessary in her profession – to her cooking passion as well. Her breads  particularly. She’s one of those obsessed nuts ardent perfectionists who owns a proofing box, measures percent hydration, uses a CRISPR-Cas9 to genetically engineer her own strains of bacteria for sourdough (I don’t even know what that means), and writes her own recipe code. All so she can have the best damn peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the planet. So yeah, if that’s your goal, head there.

(BTW, I’ve been making her ‘Bolo de Fuba’ on a regular basis since she first printed the recipe seven years ago. That’s a record for me. It is – she is – that good.)

Enough brown nosing. Here we go.

I did something this time that I rarely do when making bread: I measured the ingredients. I normally just pour some flour and yeast into a bowl, then enough add liquid and some kind of sugary stuff til it feels like dough (sorry, Sally). But that doesn’t translate very well to internet instruction, so I went back and looked for the notes I made when I first started making this recipe around 20 years ago.

I also timed everything out. When I last harangued people to start making their own bread I noted it could be done in two hours start to finish. That was a guess. This time it’s not. I did this in just under a deuce. You can too.

See for yourself:

Basic American White Bread

Mise en place:

1 c. Milk (yes, that’s a bottle of buttermilk in the picture. I was out of milk so I used what I had: 2/3 buttermilk, 1/3 half and half here. You can just use milk.)

3 1/2 c. flour (any kind will do, other than perhaps cake flour. Don’t sweat it.)

salt (er, forgot to measure this…maybe two teaspoons? Something like that.)

3 Tablespoons honey

2 Tablespoons butter

1/3 cup water

and RAPID RISE yeast. That’s crucial here if you wanna meet the time schedule. Rapid rise, not “active”. Also, make sure it’s a pretty recent pack you got there. Dead yeast means no bread.

Bread 1

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Prep:

Stir the flour, salt, and yeast together in the bowl of a stand mixer.

In a microwaveable measuring cup place the milk, water, honey, and butter and nuke it on high for around a minute. Long enough to get it between 110 and 120 degrees. Stir it til the butter melts completely. (No microwave? Do it on the stove. Do I really have to tell you that?)

Bread 2

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Slowly pour the liquid into the running mixer fixed with a dough hook (my KA is set on Speed 2). Little tip I discovered that helps a lot: lightly grease the dough hook before you start. That’ll help keep the dough from “climbing” to the top, an annoyance that used to almost keep me from using the thing:

Bread 3

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Let it spin for 10 minutes. Don’t go longer than that if you can help it (the text can wait). Over-kneading is something that will ruin a loaf faster than almost anything else. Other than the other stuff that will ruin a loaf quickly also, I mean:

Bread 4

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After your stand mixer has been stand mixing for 5 minutes do this. Put a microwave safe bowl or measuring cup in the microwave and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Don’t open the door when it dings. Congrats – you just made a highly inaccurate, but effective, proofing box! Or at least, I think you did:

Bread 5

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After 10 minutes dump the dough onto a floured surface (and set the mixing bowl to the side – you’re gonna use it again in just a minute). Using your impressively masculine hand, knead the ball a few times. Really, just 10 – 15 good down-and-away pushes with the heel of your hand is all you need.

Bread 6

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After 10 – 15 massages of your doughy ball, form it into more of a ball. Doesn’t have to be exact, and don’t worry that it looks like a brain, or the bottom has a bunch of seams that didn’t stick together. It’s fine, bub:

Bread 7

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Now take the dough brain and dump it back into the mixer bowl. The bowl you have lightly oiled/greased/sprayed even though I forgot to mention it. Then cover with plastic wrap:

Bread 8

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NOW open the microwave door, and quickly put the bowl in. Close the door, and leave it closed for the next 45 minutes. This is your “first rise”.

** A WORD OF SERIOUS WARNING **

Whatever you do, and I’m not kidding around here, do not stick anything – a fork, a whisk, your finger, your wife’s finger, a tribble – into the water you just microwaved. There is the possibility, however slight, that superheated (ie: heated above the boiling point) water could explode out once you introduce what’s called a “nucleation site”. If you want to learn more about it, here’s the Snopes page, with links to the FDA warnings, engineering sites talking about it, etc. Seriously, take this one seriously:

Bread 9

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After 45 minutes, my ball got huge. That’s what you want. A huge ball.

If yours is not huge, it may be because of things like an unexpectedly colder temperature, half-dead yeast, or some other things that are still a mystery to me.  Whatever. If your ball isn’t big enough, re-heat the water for a minute or two and stick the ball back in. Check it every 15 minutes or so until it meets your size requirement. Which is “big”. Go listen to that AC/DC song for inspiration.

Here’s my big ball:

Bread 10

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You ever heard the advice to “punch the dough down” after the first rise?

Don’t.

Dough balls, like all other balls, don’t like being punched. Just press the ball down gently. Balls like that much, much more. Seriously, don’t punch your ball. Aside from the double entendre thing, you could actually cause the dough to stiffen if you slam into it here.

Just remove the dough ball to a floured surface again, and start pressing down, spreading it out. You can tug it and pull it, too (yes, back to double entendres):

Bread 11

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This is your goal. You want to push, tug, and pull the dough into a rough rectangle as wide as your loaf pan is long. My own trick is to put the loaf pan right there so I can tell easily. (A note here: I am using a long loaf pan, which as the name implies, is longer than your usual department store loaf pan. If all you have is one of the smaller jobs, your loaf will be shorter but higher. I prefer making longer loafs that aren’t quite as tall. But don’t worry, yours will be fine. Just taller. And stubbier. Stubby.):

Bread 12

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By the way, before I forget again: lightly oil/spray the loaf pan all over the inside. Don’t forget the top rim and handles, because sometimes the dough rises over the rim and can stick to those surfaces.

Now start rolling the dough into a tight log. If the edges start ballooning out, just pat them back towards the center. Try to make it pretty damn tight, not just two or three rotations:

Bread 13

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Make yours look like this. If it doesn’t, leave me a note and I’ll mail you out one of mine. (BTW, if it’s not obvious: this is seam-side down, the end pieces folded over so it doesn’t look like an open jelly roll):

Bread 14

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Put the log in the loaf pan. If you used the pan as a guide while you rolled, it should fit in perfectly:

Bread 15

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Now comes the second (and last) rise. No microwave this time. See what I did here? I’ve got two pots of water set on a low simmer, with the loaf pan on a trivet between them. The oven is on, pre-heating to 350(f). This gives a good temp for the second rise, which take around 20 minutes. Cover the loaf pan with plastic wrap. (BTW, do use a trivet here. The stovetop can get warm enough from the oven pre-heating to start cooking the bottom of the loaf.):

Bread 16

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This was what I saw when my timer went off after exactly 20 minutes. It’s what you want to see as well:

Bread 17

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You’re now ready for the final lap. Soon, all those carbs will be yours!

Now take a good, sharp, thin bladed knife (or a bread “lame” if you have one, but unless you’re Sally I know you don’t) and hold it menacingly against the throat of the dough until it gives up the dough:

Bread 18

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The stupid dough refused to hand over the dough!

You know what that means:

Bread 19

So sad. Send a bouquet of flours to the widow.

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Ok, now comes the cookin’. Place the loaf onto the bottom rack of your 350-degree oven, towards the back. In front, place one of those pots of simmering water you had on the stove. That will give off some moisture as the loaf cooks, and through some kind of science-y magic I don’t understand, help the crust. Or something. I dunno. Just do it:

Bread 20

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Set your timer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes rotate the bread pan around, so the front side now faces the back. Set your timer for 15 minutes again.

When you timer goes off, check the temperature. You want the internal temp to be around 190-ish. A bit more won’t hurt, but don’t go under or you risk having spots of raw dough in your loaf.

Like rising times, baking times can also vary a bit. Normally 30 minutes does it for me with this recipe, but this time it took 38 minutes to hit the target:

Bread 21

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Now just turn it out onto a rack – anything that will keep the bottom elevated so it’s not sitting on a flat surface and steaming will do – and then…wait.

You gotta wait because…wait for it…more science! As the temperature slowly comes down some chemical reactions take place inside the loaf forming various flavor compounds. If you cut into the loaf too quickly, the internal temperature will drop fast enough that it will keep those reactions from happening. It’s true, I read it in a book! Anyway, just hold your horses for a few minutes, bucko. That loaf ain’t goin’ nowhere:

Bread 22

You see my loaf came out very cleanly. If yours is sticking, don’t force it out by pulling the top, spraying it with WD-40, or doing anything else really stupid. Just run a thin bladed knife, like a boning knife, gently along each side between the bread and the pan. I will say that with modern non-stick pans that you can get anywhere this is hardly ever a problem, and the dark coloring makes an excellent loaf on top of that. But I like using my cobalt blue stoneware Le Creuset because…shut up. I just like it, ok? I mean c’mon – cobalt blue!

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Finally enough time has passed. The loaf is still warm, but not TOO warm. So….

CANNON BALL!!!

Yup. Dive in.

Butter and salt is the only music your bread needs to sing:

Bread 23

I want to call your attention to that nice even crumb for a second. That’s from rolling the dough log very tightly back there. If you do it loosely, well, you’ll just end up in tears. In tears and eating bread with a loose crumb. So again: tight.

Now let’s see if my time prediction in that previous post held up, or do I suck:

1 minute 15 seconds heating the liquid ingredients.

10 minutes machine kneading.

30 seconds hand kneading.

45 minutes first rise.

2 minutes rolling into a (tight!) log.

20 minutes second rise.

38 minutes baking.

Equals……..

116 minutes, 45 seconds.

1 hour, 56 minutes, 45 seconds.

That’s…that’s less than two hours, right?

It is! Yes!

I DON’T SUCK!

Take THAT, SallyBR! You think you’re so smart just because you’re so smart. HA!

Finally, just to wrap things up (before I go have more carbs…mmmm….), those of you who’ve been reading me for a while know I’ve had this ongoing “bread experiment”. See, I have this theory that any liquid which doesn’t kill yeast can be turned into bread by adding flour and yeast to it. If you go back through my archives you’ll see loaves I’ve turned out using melted ice cream, various soups, Earl Grey tea, Korean ginger-cinnamon drink, sauerkraut, etc. So far, I have not had one failure. And this is the base recipe I use. So if you want to try your own bread experiment, follow along with what I did here, but substitute your own insane liquid choice for the water/milk combo. And let me know how brilliant I am in the comments (or how much I suck, depending).

There ya go, fellow blogger who shrilly requested this. I hope you’re happy. Or at least, shut up for a while.

NOW the next time I come back, it’ll be with stories and jocularity. Unless somebody harangues me for something else again. Please don’t. Just loaf contentedly until I get back.

Ciao!

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Hasty Pudding

Boring food entry ahead. If culinary geekery is not your thing, and I can certainly sympathize, come back mañana.

So.

Over at the fascinating (if unfortunately abbreviated “KKK”) cooking blog “Kool Kosher Kitchen“, hostess Dolly produced a “Fake Napoleon” for her husband recently, one which comes together in a flash and meets his particular dietary requirements.

Now a REAL Napoleon (“Mille-Feuille”) consists of layers of puff paste and “Diplomat Cream”, which is pastry cream stabilized with gelatin. Authentic Napoleons can be a bit time consuming to build, especially if you’re like me and insist on making your own puff paste. And the calorie count is…well, I can’t count that high.

Dolly’s version trims things considerably by using Phyllo instead of puff paste, and boxed sugar free vanilla pudding made with soy milk for the filling. The result is a quickly assembled dessert that looks good on the plate, and meets her hubby’s needs. Bravo, I say!

And I was just about to say “Bravo” in her Comments section too, when I spotted a thread between Dolly and the Unsinkable Judy Brown (of the aptly named “A Blog By Judy Dykstra-Brown” which focuses on all things Judy Dykstra-Brown. And something called “Lifelessons”. Lovely lady).

Judy expressed her admiration for Dolly’s creation, but lamented the fact that she wouldn’t be able to make it herself because of the lack of boxed pudding outlets in her area (Mexico). Without boxed sugar free pudding she’d be reduced to serving her husband a plate of baked Phyllo leaves. I think we can all agree that would be grounds for divorce.

Wanting to help Judy maintain harmony in her marriage, I gamely offered to send her instructions on how to make sugar free pudding from scratch. “Gasp!” she gasped. “Is that even possible??

Of course it’s possible. I am Dangerspouse. Anything is possible.

Well ok, not anything. But homemade sugar free pudding is.

I like pudding. I like pudding a lot. Any custard, really. Even the saucelike versions, like sabayon/zabaglione. In fact I never worry about someone knocking my teeth out for something I said because then I’ll be able to eat all the pudding I want!

These days when I make pudding it’s the old fashioned Good Housekeeping/Betty Crocker/Julia Child version, stalwart standby of school cafeterias and roadside diners since cows were first invented in the 1940’s. The combination of milk, sometimes cream, sugar, lots of cornstarch, more sugar, and more cornstarch, can’t be beat. (Yeah, sometimes I fancify it. But the original is still my go-to.)

But during the year I went on Atkins (and dropped 65 pounds!) I had to switch things up. No sugar, just Splenda, and the use of alternate thickeners like egg/cream liaison, or gel.  And it worked! Don’t get me wrong, you’re not gonna confuse a no-sugar, no starch pudding with the pre-disgraced Bill Cosby stuff. But for that one year it was manna from heaven.

The point is, I know how to make pudding without using sugar.

So Judy Dykstra-Brown, this one’s for you.

Ohhhhhhhhhh, alright. It’s for anyone else who wants to make their own sugar free pudding too. I guess….

Just a few words before we start. Yes, they’re manditory:

1. This may look like a lot of instructions with numerous pictures and text, but that’s only because there are a lot of instructions with numerous pictures and text. I don’t know how good a cook you are, so I’m detailing every little thing I can think of. This WHOLE PROCESS took me just under a half hour from the time I started pulling ingredients out of my cupboard until I set the final product out on my back porch to chill. It’s ridiculously easy.

2. Sugar does more than add sweetness. It’s also a thickener. Splenda is not a thickener. Therefor when you substitute artificial sweeteners for sugar, you have to bump up other thickeners to compensate. In this case, that means more cornstarch than in a sugared pudding recipe.

3. Splenda can mask some flavors, including vanilla. Add more vanilla than you’d normally use (here I went with 2t. instead of 1t.)

4. I don’t have soy milk in the house. I hate the stuff. Instead I used buttermilk, which is 1% butterfat and should be a pretty close substitute. If you find your pudding using soy is too thin following these instructions, spill a little more cornstarch in.

Alright, enough of that. Here’s what you came for:

Basic Sugar Free Vanilla Pudding

Mise en place:

Buttermilk (or whatever)…Sweetener (generic Splenda here)….salt …cornstarch …vanilla (artificial is fine)…eggs…butter.

Pudding 1

Prep:

Measure 2 cups buttermilk/other. 2T butter. 2t. vanilla. 2 egg yolks (don’t need the whites here). 1/3 c. sweetener. 4 heaping T. cornstarch (keep extra handy in case you need more). 1/8t. salt.

Pudding 2

Method:

Whisk sweetener, cornstarch, and salt in a pot. Turn heat on medium:

Pudding 3

Pour in milk/other, whisk to smooth:

Pudding 4

Keep whisking til mixture really thickens up:

Pudding 5

Here’s the classic test for doneness. Coat the back of a spoon, hold it vertically, and run your finger across the middle. If it stays clean like this, you’re aces:

Pudding 6

Once it’s thick enough, pull the pot off the heat. Lightly beat the egg yolks in a bowl and set it next to the hot thickened mix:

Pudding 7

Now you have to add some of the hot mix into the eggs, but very slowly at first so the eggs don’t scramble. (That looks like a giant ladle I’m using, but it’s actually the tiny 1 oz. ladle from the previous picture, held close to the camera lens.) Add just a few drops initially, whisking the whole time, and gradually increase the stream:

Pudding 8

Keep going until you have about equal amounts in each vessel:

Pudding 9

Now pour the yellow stuff back into the white stuff:

Pudding 10

Return to medium heat, and keep whisking. Now the usual mantra one always reads in cookbooks is, “bring it ALMOST to a boil, but whatever you do, for the love of god, do not let it boil!” That’s a good cautionary instruction for some egg-containing mixtures (noteably crème anglaise) because at higher temps the eggs will scramble and you’ll have to…eat it for dessert! (Don’t ask me how I know.) But when you introduce this much starch, it actually protects against that happening to a fair degree. So don’t sweat it if you see some bubbles appearing:

Pudding 11

Now pull the pan off the heat and whisk in that lump of butter:

Pudding 12

Now pass the hot mixture through a fine strainer into a clean bowl. Although you may not have any scrambled egg, you might have small lumps of cornstarch. It’s always a good idea to pass just about any homogenized sauce through a strainer anyway. Just a little pro tip:

Pudding 13

Stir in the vanilla:

Pudding 14

Pour your pudding into either individual serving vessels like custard cups, or a single bowl like I did here. I used a broad, shallow bowl because I wanted it to cool down quickly for purposes of making this entry. But if you like digging into a deep serving bowl of custardy goodness, by all means. Just realize it will take longer to cool and set.

BTW, the traditional method is to smear some soft butter over the top of the pudding to keep a skin from forming, or alternately to lay a sheet of plastic wrap right on the surface for the same reason. Or both. I’ve had better, less messy, luck just giving a light spray of that canola oil can right on the pudding, then laying a sheet of plastic down. The plastic peels right back without any ropes of pudding sticking to it that way, once it’s set. You’ll see:

Pudding 15

Ready to be set out on our back porch in 10 degree weather:

Pudding 16

In 10 degree weather the pudding set in about as much time as it took you to read this sentence.

Check out how clean the plastic wrap stayed:

Pudding 18

(I should mention I made this pudding more stiff than one normally would if one were serving it as I did here. You can probably tell by looking at the cut line in the bowl, above. I did that intentionally, as I was trying to come up with a version that would be appropriate for a Napoleon, which is often compressed a bit as it’s cut. As I mentioned up top, the “real” Napoleon recipe calls for a pastry cream buttressed with gelatin. That helps keep it from squirting out the sides when it’s cut (or just sitting on a plate). I wanted to mimic that without the extra step of adding gelatin, and I think this worked. If you are going to just spoon this into your face, you might want to cut the amount of cornstarch to 3 tablespoons.)

This was the first time I ever made pudding with buttermilk, and I have to say I really liked it. It’s definitely different, with a real discernible buttermilk “tang”. I don’t think everyone will fancy it, but I found it quite refreshing. I’m going to make it again in the future, probably for a summer’s lunch out on our porch (although using real sugar this time).

After the first bite I gussied it up a bit. I thought the “tang” would go well with fruit flavors, so I added some blueberries and zested a mandarin orange over it:

Pudding 17

That worked really, really well. (I also tried drizzling honey over it after a few bites, and for those who can have sugar that elevated things even further.)

So there ya go, Judy. I hope you were able to follow along, and I hope it fits your needs (you too, Dolly, if you ever decide to try making pudding from scratch for your hubby). If you have any questions feel free to shoot me an email, or just fire away in the comments.

To all the rest of you: sorry! I’ll be funny next time.

Ciao!

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Losing My Sole on the Stairway to Heaven.

Welp, another year closer to that cold, unvisited grave.

Let’s have cake!

Normally on my (and Mozart’s) birthday my wife makes me an authentic Sicilian cassata cake, and each year’s is more elaborate than the one before. Witness:

cassata-1cassata-2

Sierra Exif JPEG

(Yes, these are the pics I posted last year at this time. If you’re new here, give it a read. It’s much funnier than this year’s.)

However last year she was down with the flu and couldn’t make it to the kitchen.

And I’m not getting one this year either.

No, it’s not La Grippe again. It’s those damn two pounds. NewWifey(tm) knows if she makes a cassata she’s gonna EAT a cassata – at least half of it – and afterwards she’ll have to go back on the Worm Diet to keep me from hooking up with Kate Moss.

So because my wife is in danger of getting fat, I have to suffer.

But as it turned out, I didn’t have to suffer much. NewWifey(tm) came up with a brilliant plan: serve me something I love, but she hates so much that she won’t be tempted.

So she did:

KFC color

KFC! (All thighs!)

Beer!

Supermarket grade cheesy card!!!

*sob*

I married well. Yes I did.

I love KFC. For all my high falootin’, toque wearin’, French trained gormandizing, the meal I’m gonna ask for before being strapped into Ol’ Sparky following my conviction for Grand Theft Manatee, is KFC. A bucket of regular recipe thighs, no sides. Not even the crappy plastic spork. Just pass that bucket and I’m off to meet my Maker with a smile. And a grease stain down my shirt.

I love KFC so much I actually learned how to make it myself:

KFC Clone orig

I wrote an entire post about this some time ago, but in a nutshell: it’s not the recipe, it’s the equipment. Those “13 herbs and spices”? It might have been in the original recipe, but now it’s just salt, pepper, and MSG. That battered metal thing is the key. It’s a pressure fryer, not cooker. THAT’S the secret.

But on my birthday, NewWifey(tm) got me the real thing. Not because it’s better than mine (it’s not), but because that leaves us more time to boink. And there are some birthday traditions she will not compromise.

The beer! Now make no mistake: NewWifey(tm) drinks beer. She’s Irish, so it’s an integral part of her religion. And often, breakfast. But she’s not a particular fan of dark beers, and my favorite beer happens to be rather dark indeed: Celebrator Dopplebock, a Bavarian double bock beer that comes with a cute little plastic goat medallion on every bottle (no, that’s not why I like it…not the only reason, anyway). Unfortunately it’s $15 per 4-pack around here, so I rarely get any. But NewWifey(tm) found a place that sells them by the single bottle, so…lunch! And she won’t be tempted to try any. Win/win!

However, before gift giving and and Round-1 of Boinkfest 2018, I decided to try another sunrise photo. I was up again before dawn, but rather than repeat the shots I posted in my previous entry I thought I’d tramp out a bit farther and catch something special: sunrise over Vernon, NJ.

I live up on a bluff overlooking a stretch of the Appalachian Trail, and if I walk down my street there’s an entrance to a part of the trail known as “The Stairway to Heaven”. A lot of city day-hikers come up during the summer – in full mountaineering gear, including tents, starvation rations, and crampons – to trek the full 1 mile to a rocky outcropping that looks down on Vernon, and back again. Then they go home and tell their friends how they almost died of exposure up there on the north face, but managed to make it back to base camp just in the nick of time. Thank god they had crampons!

They typically take pictures like this (found online):

21

Pff. Amateurs. NO concept of how to compose a picture. The quaint charm that is Vernon is completely lost in a wide angle shot like this. Fools!

This time of year though, none of those incredibly hardy souls venture out for some reason. So I was all alone when I headed out with my camera, tripod, and cat. Somehow I managed to forget my crampons, though.

There’s a little cutout off Barret Road where these dainty hikers park, and I stopped there first to take a quick pic of the historic “High Breeze Farm” farmhouse and the valley beyond. This farm has been continuously worked since being carved out by the original Dutch settlers in the 17th century:

Barret Road sunrise

A very grey, misty morning. The temperature was starting to rise, so the fog was also. I had to over-expose several stops to get this shot, as the sun was still some minutes away from making an appearance.

I wanted to get that shot of the sun cresting over Vernon though, so I had to book. The entrance to the trail is just to the left of that pic, and I hustled down it. The cat followed.

The trail was rocky and still snow covered, despite the climbing temps. But I had on my good Columbia hiking boots and a bottle of Cap’n Morgan Spiced Rum, so no worries. In a half an hour I’d be setting up my tripod on a jutting rock and snapping award winning photos of the sun illuminating the whitewashed church spires and rooftops of Vernon, NJ. Award winning, I tell you!

And then my boot exploded.

I was maybe 100 yards from the lookout point when all of the sudden my left foot got very cold, and very bleedy.

What the hell? I looked down and saw one normal looking dun colored Columbia trail boot with black sole, and one that had the dun colored upper, but a snow white base. Where did the black go?

It turns out the black rubber sole decided it didn’t want to go hiking in the cold any longer, and made a break for it. It separated from the rest of the boot in one solid piece, hoping the rest of me wouldn’t notice.

But I noticed right away. The very next step saw my un-soled foot catch the jagged point of a rock buried under the snow, and it sliced a gash from pinkie toe to arch.

Dammit, of all things. A mile into the woods, mere minutes from my destination (and the subsequent award winning photograph) and a wardrobe malfunction strikes. What should I do? Soldier on, ignoring the pain and stench of blood, til I got the shot? Or turn and leave?

I’m a pussy. I turned and left. I thought, “I wonder if the smell of fresh blood will be of interest to any of the large black bear population around here?” and decided yes, yes it might.

I hobbled back to DangerHouse along the snow covered trail, wincing every time my bleeding foot landed on another pebble, then not wincing once it became numb from cold.

I should mention here that the cat was no help at all during any of this. He sniffed at the wayward rubber sole, rubbed against my shin, then just lay there purring and looking inscrutable while I rocked back and forth holding my bleeding foot. He could have at least caught me a squirrel or something to keep my strength up.

Finally, of course, I did manage to make it home where NewWifey(tm), unlike a certain ingrate cat, was very sympathetic and helpful. Remind me to give her a treat later. I took a hot shower, she bandaged my foot, and I’ve been sitting here ever since writing this entry until the pain subsides.

And now it has.

So….

Let Round-1 of Birthday Boinkfest 2018 begin!

After a beer and a thigh, that is. It’s my birthday, after all.

And remember kids, nothing is worth losing your sole over. Take it from me.

Award winning, I tell you!

Boots no sole

Ciao!

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The Diet of Worms

In 1520 the Pope got mad at Martin Luther for putting holes in a perfectly good church door, so he ordered the new Holy Roman Emperor to form a diet (pronounced “DEE-it”) in the town of Worms (pronounced “Ewwww!“) to discuss how they should punish ol’ Marty. Out of sheer formality they also invited Mr. Luther so that he could either defend his position, or nervously laugh that it was all a big misunderstanding and could they allow him to keep his head on his shoulders a little while longer please?

So the Diet of Worms formed in 1521, and yes, they did invite Martin. To their surprise though, Martin was having none of it. “I don’t eat worms” he wrote by way of refusal.

The diet wrote back, “Mr. Luther, ‘Worms’ with a capital ‘W’ is a town in Germany, not the squirmy thing on your fishing pole. We thought you knew that, seeing as how you’re German. So please, show up so we can decide if you need a flaming poker shoved up your arsch to cure you of your heresy. Yours, etc.”

It didn’t work. “I don’t believe them” he told a friend. “I still think they’re gonna make me eat a worm. They’re just trying to lure me with the hot poker thing.”

The diet was pissed. There they were, miles from home in a city called “Ewwww!“, and the guy they were throwing the party for was standing them up. They told the Holy Roman Emperor, who told the Pope, who told the diet to write up an edict (conveniently called “The Edict of Ewwww!“). The edict said in all caps and huge font with frowny face emojis that Martin was now an outlaw, and if they caught him they were gonna make him eat worms. THEN ram a flaming poker up his arsch. THEN remove his head from his shoulders.

Martin just laughed when he heard this. “They wrote the edict in German” he wrote to his sister. “By the time they finish reading all those 230-syllable German words out loud I’ll be long dead. Oh well. I guess I’ll go start a new religion and have people fight to the death over who’s version of “Thou Shalt Not Kill” is the correct one.”

So he did. Then he wrote a book called “On the Jews and Their Lies“. And then he died, still never having eaten a worm.

The end.

Until 5 centuries later when….

In January year of our lord 2018 NewWifey(tm) stepped on our bathroom scale and started crying. “You bastard!” she screamed at me. “Your stupid gourmet cooking made me fat!

I didn’t hear her though. I was 50 miles away at work, and her voice only carries 40.

But I sure heard it when I got home.

In a very real way this all goes back to our original marriage contract, specifically the clause which states NewWifey(tm) is not to weigh more than 135 pounds sopping wet. If she balloons beyond that I get to have sex with any woman I want who has not let herself go. (She probably only agreed to that because she knows no such woman would ever consent once they saw me. But still.)

Before you tear into me, let it be known that NewWifey(tm) knew of my predilection for willowy waifs back when we were just friends,  never objected to it when we were courting, and she proposed the clause and penalty as an inducement to marriage. So she has no one to blame but herself if I end up in the arms of some gracile sylph because she blimped to a size 8.

Therefor she was very upset when she saw that needle threaten to touch 140. She knows a deal’s a deal.

IT’S ONLY FOUR ORANGES!” she screamed at me when I got home. “EIGHTEEN JUMBO SHRIMP! SIX PAIRS OF SOCKS! TWO POUNDS! PLEASE DON’T FUCK KATE MOSS!!!

To say this caught me off guard would be an understatement. I didn’t even have my trailing leg through the door yet and my wife was already bellowing random numbers, random items, and a plea not to shag a has-been model. Normally I get at least an obligatory “Hi honey, how was your day?” before the insanity starts.

I had to assume the worst.

“Honey, get in the car – you’re having a stroke!”

I’m not having a stroke” she almost sobbed, “I WEIGH 137 POUNDS!

I gasped.

“That can’t be. You’re talking nonsense. You MUST be having a stroke. Please let it be a stroke….”

She hung her head. “I wish it was too. But look.”

She took me by the hand and led me to the bathroom. She dropped her robe and stepped on the scale. The dial spun up to 150, back to 122, up to 146, down to 131, up to 140 then down to

137

where it stopped.

137.

We both stared at the impossible number between NewWifey(tm)’s feet.

She started crying.

Two pounds! I’m only two pounds over our agreement! That’s just four baby ducks! FOUR BABY DUCKS!

I felt cold.

There was one hope though.

“Did it all go to your boobs?”

She glanced down. “You tell me.”

I looked, then turned and walked out of the room.

She ran past me in the hall and spun around. “Please” she begged, “I never ask you for anything, and I’ve done everything you’ve asked me to do. Please, just this once….”

I thought about it. True, NewWifey(tm) has been remarkably low maintenance. Other than food and a new Hitachi Magic Wand every couple of years, I really don’t have to lay out much. And she does fix our cars, shovel the drive, mow the lawn, re-shingle the house (bonus for clicking any of those links: pics of NewWifey(tm) in action!), race motorcycles, boink, play Mario Cart, and run her own business.

But…137. That’s tough.

Still, ever since we got married NewWifey(tm) has been practically like a wife to me. I’m not totally heartless. I decided to go against the Guy Code and – just this once – give her a break.

I took a deep breath. “Ok” I said, “I won’t fuck Kate Moss. This time. But I’m putting you on a diet so you can get back down to human weight as soon as possible. And this time, you better stay there.”

She dropped to her knees in relief.

“Don’t” I said. “Too many calories.”

.

Later that  night we discussed what diet she should go on.

I’m kinda liking the ‘Binge and Purge’ thing” said NewWifey(tm). “You can eat however much you want of whatever you want, and never gain any weight. I can’t stand the idea of having to eat diet food. Blech. Kale.”

“I dunno” I said. “I really don’t want to see my gourmet creations projectile vomited five minutes after I serve them. Besides, that hogs up the the bathroom. How about Atkins? I lost a ton of flabbage when I tried that a couple of years ago, remember?”

Yeah, you did” she said. “But Marie Osmond endorses it, so no way. All those kids!

I’m not sure I understood the connection, but I knew better than to ask. That would only be opening a can of worms.

Wait – that was it!

“Say honey, have you ever heard of the ‘Diet of Worms’?” I asked, knowing full well she’d had an American public school education so the answer would be ‘no’.

The diet of…worms? Ewwww! Tell me you’re joking!” she said.

Bingo.

“No joke. It’s one of the oldest recorded diets in the world. In fact, it’s the diet that inspired Dr. Atkins in the first place. Back in the middle ages they discovered that eating an all-meat diet made you lose weight. But poorer people couldn’t afford beef, pork, or really anything else in the quantities needed. However they had plenty of worms. So….”

She stared at me with her mouth open for probably 15 seconds. What little natural color she has drained from her face.

Fine” she said finally. “If it keeps me from getting Kate Moss’s sloppy seconds, I’ll try it.”

“Great!” I said. “I’ll stop off at the bait store tomorrow and pick up a bucket of night crawlers.” (They do a lot of ice fishing up here, and “night crawlers” are the preferred species of annelid to use for bait.)

I headed for the kitchen to make my dinner. It took every bit of self control I had not to laugh the entire way.

The next day I stopped at WalMart on my way home from work for a bag of gummy worms.

I was hoping to get one of those novelty 3-foot long ones because it would scare the crap out of her when I threw it in her lap. But also because-

maxresdefault

Hey, you have fantasies too. Don’t judge.

Alas, all they had was the usual:

haribo_worms_halal_160g

But that would do. I grabbed two bags, along with a Tupperware container and a package of Oreo cookies. Back in the car I dumped the worms in the container and poured crushed Oreos over them. It looked perfect.

I couldn’t wait to hand NewWifey(tm) the container and watch her pop that first “night crawler” in her mouth. This was gonna be one of the best pranks I ever played on her, and that’s saying a lot.

I pulled into the driveway and gave a last check to make sure her “diet food” looked authentic. It did. I opened the door and walked in to DangerHouse for the big reveal.

“Honey, I’m home!” I called cheerily. “C’mon out – I brought dinner.”

Nothing.

“Honey…?”

I peeked into the living room. No wife. Kitchen? Nope. Maybe she’s in her office in the basement working on one of her designs. But nope again.

That was odd. Her car was in the driveway, so I knew she wasn’t trying to escape. Maybe she was hiding in the attic. I went back upstairs to check.

On my way down the hall I glanced towards the bathroom. I’d passed by it before, but didn’t see anything amiss. The door was cracked open, something NewWifey(tm) would never do if she was dropping a friend off at the pool. So previously I just kept walking. But this time something caught my eye.

At the base of the door, poking out from under the gap, was a…toe? I walked to the door and bent over. It WAS a toe!

I figured the toe had to be attached to something, so I gently pushed open the door to look. And immediately wished I hadn’t.

The toe was attached to NewWifey(tm), who was on her knees on the other side of the door, sprawled over the bathtub.

There was vomit everywhere.

Not only was there an inch of vomit lining the bottom of the tub, but all four walls were spattered, the light switch was coated, puke was dripping off the curtains, and there were even blotches on the ceiling. Chunks of bacon and pasta studded her hair – last night’s spaghetti carbonara.  A wad of decomposing Pâte à choux from the profiteroles I made the night before was stuck to her ankle.

I thought she was dead.

Much as I hated the idea of wading through the emptied contents of her stomach, I had to check. I lifted my pants cuffs and gingerly tiptoed over.

“Honey…?” I said. “Are you dead?”

From the bottom of the tub came a low groan.

Alive!

Whew.

….I guess.

I gingerly lifted NewWifey(tm)’s head above the rim of the tub and waited for her eyes to stop spinning in opposite directions.

“Baby! Sweetie! What happened??”

She didn’t say anything, just feebly pointed to a spot on the floor near the toilet. I looked over and saw a red plastic Solo cup on its side with what looked like a pile of dirt next to it. Around it were what appeared to be more strands of spaghetti, but when I looked closer….

“Honey!” I said. “Did you…did you eat a worm?”

Worms” she said weakly. “Plural.”

“But…why? I thought you were gonna wait til I got home.”

Didn’t want to wait…went to the bait store…Kate Moss….” Her head dropped back into the tub. I stared at her back, mouth open.

Oops.

“Ok” I said, “let’s get some fluids in you. Do you think you can stand?” She gave a nod and I helped her up. I half carried, half dragged her to the living room where I plunked her down in the recliner. Five minutes later I handed her a cup of weak camomile tea with honey, and a cracker.

While she regained her bearings I went and troweled out the glop in the bathroom. Tub and walls went fairly quickly, but the bath mat and curtains were a lost cause, and the ceiling stains are permanent I’m pretty sure. When I was done I fetched NewWifey(tm) and helped her into the shower, then threw her clothes out.

Finally she was able to talk.

I can see why this diet works” she said. “More calories come out of you than go in. That was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever put in mouth in my life.”

I was marginally relieved to hear that.

She continued. “It’s gotta get better though, right? I mean, poor fat people in 14th Century England didn’t die en masse on this diet, did they? So maybe in a day or two my entire alimentary tract won’t try to escape my body when I put another worm in my mouth? You think? Cause I really thought I was gonna die there.”

I took a deep breath. “Honey. Baby. Pookie…I have a confession to make. See, I stopped at the store on my way home from work today and picked you up a surprise.”

I reached over the counter and grabbed the prepared Tupperware, the one with the faux wrigglers. “See, the ‘Diet of Worms’ was actually -”

But she couldn’t wait. She grabbed the container out of my hands and tore the lid off.

I really have to compliment the Haribo people on the quality of their product. From even a fairly close distance, the resemblance of their gummy worms to real worms is striking, particularly if you – as I did – bury the majority of each one in the cookie “dirt” so the brightly colored portions are hidden. Well done, I say.

NewWifey(tm) looked down and immediately froze. Her eyes bugged like a Graves Disease patient, and her breath started coming in ragged sobs.

“Wait, honey, let me explain! See, I was going to play a joke on you by substituting -”

But it was too late.

BLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHH!!

Whatever somehow managed to stay down during Round 1 now came up for Round 2. Old snails shells from the first time she tried escargot (“They’re crunchy!“),  a plastic fork tine from Taco Bell (that was 5 years ago!), a petrified wad of circa-1980’s bubble gum (it’s not a myth!!), a wheat penny she downed when she was two! All of it shot out of her with the force of a water cannon trained on civil rights marchers, and caused almost as much disgust to anyone watching. Which in this case happened to be just me.

Finally there was nothing left that could come up. She lay there retching for a little while longer, but it was all dry heaving. When either exhaustion or fluid loss caused her to stop shaking I picked her up and carried her to the bedroom. I laid her down without even bothering to sponge her face. I could wash the pillow tomorrow. She didn’t move.

Back to the living room, and the trowel. It took a good hour, but I finally managed to squeegee all the hard surfaces clean, and blot most of the fabric dry. There will definitely be some stains to remember this by, but at least there’s no structural damage.

When I was done I made another cup of camomile and honey tea and brought it in to NewWifey(tm). I figured she’d be conscious by now.

She was, and had already wiped the puke off her face with one of my shirts from the hamper. ‘Atta girl.

“Here ya go, honey.” I said, handing her the mug. “Now listen, I have to explain something here. That whole ‘Diet of Worms’ thing was just something I made up to…hey, where are you going?”

NewWifey(tm) pushed the teacup aside, hopped out of bed, and started sprinting for the door.

“Wait! Honey!”

I took off after her. She ran straight down the hall and into the bathroom, tearing all her clothes off as she went.

Fully nude, she reached down under the vanity and slid the scale out.

She hopped on.

The dial spun to 148, back to 120, up to 143, down to 128, up to 139 then down to

133

and stopped.

133.

We both stared at the impossible number between NewWifey(tm)’s feet.

She started crying.

Yes! YES! In your face, Kate Moss!” She grabbed me by the face and kissed me hard. “THANK YOU! That is the best diet in the world! C’mon, let’s fuck!

“Um…ok.”

.

The next day I took the Gummy Worm Oreo container to work and left it in the kitchen for people to help themselves. It was gone in an hour.

I don’t think I’m gonna tell NewWifey(tm). Who knows, she might balloon up again one day and need to go back on her now favorite diet for a while. I don’t want to spoil it for her. I mean, it’s not like she’s ever gonna research the Protestant Reformation on her own and find out it was all a ruse. So keeping mum is probably the kindest thing to do. I know, I’m a helluva husband. I know.

Oh, just do me one favor, will you? If you happen to see Kate Moss, tell I said “Sorry, babe. Maybe next time.”

I hate breaking hearts, but that’s life. Sometimes you eat fish, sometimes you eat worm. She’ll get over it. Eventually.

Ciao!

.

ps. You know what word I hate? “Tardy“. But it’s the Word of the Day today and I’m determined to get this entry onto that list. If only I could find somewhere to insert it without it sounding contrived….

pss. Might as well get a photo up here for that list too.

The Photo Word of the Day, silence, certainly describes the -10 degree woods I was standing in when I took this sunrise shot last Sunday:

Sunrise small 1

I probably shot 190 pictures one after the other, a second or two apart, from the time the sky first started to glow until the full orb was over the horizon. This was my favorite of the bunch.

When I showed NewWifey(tm) though, she said “Pfff. I can do better. Give me that memory card.

She downloaded that picture onto her laptop, opened some editing program, and emailed me back this:

Sunrise small 2

Ok, yeah, that’s pretty. Especially if you like blue. Or have something against orange. But I dunno. I kinda still like the first one more since it looks EXACTLY the way the sunrise looked, and I’m proud I was able to get a shot like that on full manual all by myself. Manipulating it like that after the fact is…is…is an indication I’m becoming an old fogy, I think. Everyone in the photography blogosphere tells me I’m an idiot for carrying a torch about this when I bring it up. Maybe I should sell out too….

Which version do you prefer? I’m really curious, so leave me a comment. Thanks!

Ok, gotta go crawl off to bed now. With a 133 pound hottie. (Hottie again, that is.)

G’night!

.

.

Strut

“Golf was invented in Scotland. It’s not supposed to be fun.”

I saw that quote in a magazine a while back, and I’m still not sure if it was supposed to be funny or not. I mean when you think about it, things that originate in Scotland are mostly meant to be endured, not enjoyed. Haggis. Bagpipes. Plaid. Robbie Burns. Presbyterianism. Fly fishing. The aforementioned golf. And of course, Scots.

To be fair, not every culture is all bad, Scottish included. So while they do indeed toss cabers and eat nettle soup, they also invented whisky. That alone is enough to forgive all other sins. (On the other hand, whisky is probably what initially produced haggis, bagpipes, plaid, and an awful lot of Scots in the first place.)

Other things on the positive side of the equation? Oatmeal is actually pretty tasty when made right. And they stir it with something called a “spurtle”, which is an excellent word to toss around at parties. “Yeah, this damn prostate problem is driving me crazy. I never thought it could be so tough to spurtle, but now...”

Also, Sheena Easton.

37851fa1518bfd2b962e9a73af3041e9-sheena-easton-disco-pants

I think she was also a singer.

Oh wait! There’s one more:

Finnan Haddie.

There is a grand tradition in many countries of using desiccation – sometimes with smoke, sometimes just a-hangin’ in the cold air – to preserve food. This had the welcome effect of staving off starvation during lean months in the days before refrigeration.*

In Scotland one of the carryover dishes from this primordial era is smoked haddock, or “finnan haddie”. But here’s where things get a little fuzzy for me. A few years ago I got caught between two dress – sorry, kilt – wearing Scotsmen who were engaged in an Islay fueled argument about whether all smoked haddock was called “finnan haddie”, or just that haddock which had been smoked long enough to turn a golden color. (They did agree that the smoked haddock dyed yellow to look aged was a national disgrace – unlike haggis, apparently.) I’m not sure what the final resolution was, as I managed to wriggle past them and out the door before cabers started flying.

Either way I love the stuff and call it “finnan haddie” yellow or not. My mom used to make it for my dad, as his British mother did before her, and that’s how I was introduced to it. However the price of this once peasant dish has since risen to the point where the last time I prepared it for myself was sometime around 2006.

That is, until last Monday. Last Monday I was trawling the aisles of my local Price Chopper looking for replacement sock garters when a familiar golden glint caught my eye. It was coming from the fish counter.

Finnan Haddie! A whole pile of ’em!

And they were on sale!

I practically leaped over the glass case and grabbed the fishmonger by the throat.

Yo! Fishkeep! Get your halibut over here and serve forth some of that Hebrides haddock!

“Huh?”

I’d like a half pound of the finnan haddie, please.”

“Oh. Ok. Here.” He handed over a paper cone. It smelled like my old Chevy Nova after I drove it into my neighbor’s compost heap to put out a brake fire.

I immediately abandoned the sock garter quest. Hosiery could wait – I had finnan haddie!

Back home I tore the top off the cone and slid the golden slab of fish onto my cutting board.

Not 10 seconds later NewWifey(tm), back in the computer room on the complete opposite side of the house, yelled out, “HONEY! DID YOU BUILD A CAMPFIRE IN OUR LIVING ROOM AGAIN?!” I heard her padded feet come sprinting down the hall. She slid into the kitchen, eyes wide with fear.

I laughed. “No, it’s just finnan haddie. I promised I’d never try to make S’mores indoors ever again, remember? But that does remind me of a joke: how do Cub Scouts become Boy Scouts? They eat a Brownie!

She rolled her eyes. “You told me that joke in 2007. It wasn’t funny then either. So what the hell is finnan haddie, and why did you light it on fire?”

Finnan haddie” I said, “is smoked haddock. It’s Scottish.”

“Why do the Scottish hate haddock so much?” she said.

They’re Scots. They hate everything. But this stuff is actually really good. You simmer it in milk and onions and stuff to tame it a bit and get it soft, then pour thick cream sauce over it and –

She cut me off. “You enjoy” she said, and turned to leave.

You don’t want to try it?

“Smoked fish in milk? I’d rather eat haggis.”

I can make that too. I just need to find sheep lungs.

She padded back to the computer room without answering.

Fine. More for me.

I made the finnan haddie.

Now let me back up just a minute here, because I gotta set the stage.

Two weeks before, lamb went on sale at Price Chopper. This was highly unusual. Lamb normally only goes on sale twice a year: just before Christmas, and just before Easter. To see it marked down to $2.99/lb a week after Christmas meant there must have been some sort of epidemic that decimated the sheep flocks of Australia and they had to get rid of the carcasses fast. Oh well. Their loss is my meal. I picked up a 7-pounder.

If you’re new to my blog, here’s a quick fun fact: in addition to haggis, smoked milk fish, and sock garters, my wife also hates lamb. I’ve written several entries mentioning this, and it still holds true. So, once again, I went it alone.

I made a pretty simple preparation. Just boned it out, butterflied the meat, spread it with an herb paste and some fruit compote, then rolled it, tied it, and baked it off. Made a stock with the bone.

It was very good. But of course you knew it would be.

I ate that damn roast for the next five days straight. Mostly just sliced as-is, but a few times in more exotic dishes. A bunch went into a batch of Scotch Broth, one of my favorite soups.

It just occurred to me: I actually do like a lot of Scottish stuff, don’t I. Maybe I should forgive them already for being forced to read “Tam oShanter in high school. After all:

37851fa1518bfd2b962e9a73af3041e9-sheena-easton-disco-pants

Where was I? Oh yeah –

So I’ve eaten all this lamb and now I’m basically down to scraps. But they’re lamb scraps, so I just can’t throw them away. I seriously mulled over the possibility of turning them into lamb ice cream, just to see. But I only had a couple of eggs left, and the crème anglaise base I use to make my ice cream requires at least 8.

So I made pie:

Pie 1

I likes me a good meat pie. But examples around here tend to feature either a small amount of meat bolstered by large amounts of veg and a rather soupy base, or an overly dense, no-filler block of meat that would be better used as a wheel chock (you need some filler to lighten things up, since protein is pretty damn dense. If you wonder why it’s so hard to swallow your meatballs/meatloaf , try using lots more breadcrumbs than you think is necessary next time).

I like plenty of meat, not too many competing flavors, soft texture but not soupy, and Sheena Easton serving it to me. So that’s what I made. To really amp up the lamb flavor I used the rest of the stock, and thickened the entire thing with Chinese sweet (sticky) rice, a roux, AND an egg/cream liaison. I wanted it to set up firm without being dense, and that’s the way to do it. I added a few leftover roasted mushrooms, a bit of miropoix, and a couple of  smashed roasted baby potatoes to keep things from getting monotonous, and dusted the top crust with rosemary and sea salt.

It was very good. But of course you knew it would be.

So why am I telling you about my lamb pie in the middle of an entry dedicated to finnan haddie?

I dunno. Vanity, I guess. That’s why I do anything, after all.

But there’s this also: I took a pic of the finnan haddie, but not by itself. I artfully (*cough*) placed a wedge of the aforementioned pie in the shot on a whim. If I’d posted that picture without context, you all would have been terribly confused.

I suppose I should also explain the bread. Finnan haddie is often (in my house, anyway) served with toast points, similar to how Welsh Rabbit is (and it’s “rabbit”, not “rarebit”. Yes it is). But if I’m gonna fork over half a week’s salary for a slab of Scottish smoked haddock, you can bet your single malt that I’m not gonna spoon it over Institution Grade Wonder Bread. I quick whipped up a loaf of basic American white, fortified with a little whole wheat and some vital wheat gluten** to give it a bit more structure, and used that.

(BTW, if you never learn any other cooking thing, learn how to make a basic loaf of white bread. At its simplest it takes 2 hours start to finish with “Quick Rise” yeast. That’s less time than it takes you to drive to the store and buy a loaf…if you blow a tire along the way and have to change it yourself by the side of the road. Anyway, just make the damn thing. You can’t fuck it up, not even you, and it’s world’s better than that aerated sponge you paid $3.99 for just because it comes pre-sliced. Write me if you need a recipe.)

Ok, enough talk. Pictures:

Finnan Haddie group

(I read a food photography article that said you should place one of the ingredients of the dish in the shot. Since the lamb wouldn’t stand still long enough, I used mustard powder, which went into the cream sauce. They also said to drop the exposure one stop to evoke a rustic, country setting. I think the article lied. It just looks dark.)

Here’s the pie alone (again, because vanity):

Pie slice 2

So, that’s why I’m fat. Thanks again, Scotland.

On the other hand.

I guess it’s a wash.

Oh, what the hell. Pass the haggis…..

Finally, I know this was a food intensive entry. To make it up to those of you who aren’t interested in such things, here’s a gratuitous picture of my cat winking at you:

One eye cat

We cool now? Good.

Ciao!

.

* Go watch the movie “Babettes’s Feast”. If you’re a foodie, this is mandatory.

** Do not tell me you are gluten intolerant unless the Celiac test came back positive. You DID get tested when you first suspected you might have a debilitating biological disorder, didn’t you? You realize that “But I feel pukey whenever I eat a cracker!” is not a diagnosis, right? Gluten intolerance is just today’s version of the 80’s MSG hysteria. And no, there is no such thing as “Frankenwheat”. They tested it against historical stocks, and there’s no difference. Go look up “placebo effect”, then make yourself a sandwich. Stop being stupid.)

I shoulda said “Neptune”….

As I write this it’s 4 degrees outside.

4 degrees is stupid cold. Almost surface of Uranus cold. And you know how cold Uranus is.

(NewWifey(tm), looking over my shoulder as I typed that, said “Will you stop with that stupid Uranus joke already? Nobody thinks it’s funny any more.” Tough. I do.)

Anyway, it’s 4 degrees out.

Of course as I write this it’s also 4:30am, the coldest part of the day. Yesterday during the day it was a relatively balmy 7.

Which is why NewWifey(tm) and I decided to see the holiday display at the Orange County Arboretum then.

Let me qualify that: as usual, when I say “we decided” I actually mean “she decided”. I almost always write “we” though, so I don’t feel quite so emasculated.

So, yes. “We” decided when I got home exhausted from work yesterday that we would drive an hour up Rt. 207, past Goshen, all the way to Montgomery, New York to see a bunch of trees strung with lights. Just like the ones we have in our yard. Less than 5 seconds away.

I did put up some token resistance when the idea was first floated, but as usual it booted nothing.

“Honey, I -”

I can’t wait to see the new additions this year! Hurry up, I wanna get there before they run out of hot cocoa!

(One of the arboretum’s big selling points is that every year they add a new bug, flower, or cartoon character display to the pile. It’s always a Big! Surprise! that everyone for miles around drives in to see. They also have a corner table with paper cups, a kettle of hot water, and a basket of Walmart imitation Swiss Miss brand instant cocoa flavored beverage for revelers to enjoy. Along with a donation basket. “Suggested Gift: $5 Adults, $4.50 Kids Under 10“).

“Honey, I -”

I said, hurry up!

Did I mention it was 7 degrees out? When we got in the Nissan we (or rather, I) had to sit and let it idle long enough for the steering fluid to warm to the point where I could turn the wheel again. Then I beeped and NewWifey(tm) joined me. She was carrying the camera case.

I want you to take pictures” she said. “My wussy friends think it’s too cold to go, and I want to show them what they missed.”

NewWifey(tm), forged from generations of hearty midwestern stock who regularly trudged out to the north forty in the middle of a South Dakota (ie: Uranus) blizzard to patch that barbed wire fence “because the cows ain’t gonna do it themselves now, are they“,  will without hesitation venture out into conditions that would stop an Emperor Penguin in order to Get Shit Done. Ten years ago I posted this pic, and nothing has changed since. Witness this past November’s storm:

Snow Blowing '16

I’m telling you, she would hands-down win the Hunger Games if it were held at the Casey Station. It wouldn’t even be close.

Going to a local park to look at Christmas lights strung in the shape of insects and orchids when it was 7 degrees out was nothing, therefor. That’s practically thong and flip-flop weather for her.

So off we went in 7 degree weather to take pictures of holiday bug displays and drink envelopes of imitation hot cocoa. Again.

Speaking of taking pictures….

You know how in my previous post I mentioned that I got NewWifey(tm) an Epilady (with upper lip wand!) for Christmas? Well, er, I may have neglected to add that I also got her a speedlight and a zoom lens for her new camera, too. Both used, but…she doesn’t have to know that. Ok?

Another Christmas present I neglected to mention was the cloth face shields. These are small tube tops that you pull over your head and are supposed to keep everything between your eyebrows and your sternum warm while you struggle to find your way back to the cabin in a blinding snow storm.

NewWifey(tm) got us each one, and in true NewWifey(tm) fashion they each had a funny pattern. Mine was some monster with gaping maw and teeth dripping with blood.

Hers?

Behold the Abominable Wifey!

Abominable Wifey

Hmmm. An improvement. In fact, one might say one of her 2017 favorite looks.

Hideous artificial visages in place, we set out on the icy paths to gawk at –

a chipmunk:

A chipmunk

a grasshopper:

A grasshopper

who’s about to be eaten by this bird with the bleeding legs:

A robin

Audrey II from “Little Shop of Horrors”:

A green flower

a bee:

A bee

a beehive:

A beehive

a beehive hairdo:

A beehive wife

a racoon that swallowed a dancing sunflower:

A racoon

a frozen spider:

A frozen spider

and a small intestine:

An intestine

BTW, all of the above shots were taken in my camera’s “Program” mode. I set it to what I hoped was an appropriate ISO (12,000) and let its little computer brain  figure the rest. Not because I’m too stupid to do it myself (*cough*), but because…7 degrees, remember? I couldn’t feel my fingers, let alone the tiny knobs they were supposed to manipulate. I fired the shutter button half the time by mashing a fist down onto the camera and hoping it was in the right general area.

I really needed to warm up.

But when I suggested to NewWifey(tm) that thawing out for an hour in the arboretum’s public hall might be in order, or maybe even calling it a day and retiring back to Dangerhouse, I got this:

A wifey glares

Uh-oh. I know that look.

We forged ahead.

And saw…

two fish:

A Fish

being stalked by two herons:

A heron

a rat:

A hedgehog

It’s a hedgehog!” said NewWifey(tm). Uh-huh. Sure it is, honey.

a pink tree:

A pink tree

a Vegas showgirl:

A peacock

and a family of soon-to-be venison:

Deer lights

Finally, finally, NewWifey(tm) had her fill and we started back. There were a ton of other displays along the way, but honestly my hands were just too cold to work the camera. I did grab one or two on the loop back though, like this hot underage sprite:

A sprite

I woulda made a move on her, but this whole sexual harassment hysteria has really crimped my style lately. Plus, a pat on her ass would probably result in a 30,000-volt response. I’ll stick to harassing NewWifey(tm)’s unplugged ass.

Nearby that electric Lolita we also spotted:

A kingfisher and goblin

Uh…a kingfisher attacking an orc? A winged Martian asking a bunny and his feathered headpiece to take him to their leader? Not sure.

One last thing. As we came around a curve at the far end of the grounds there was a statue of Pan, unlit, that you could barely see in the dark. I snapped a pic with a few lights in the back just to see how the Nikon’s 24 megapixels decided to balance it. This is it, no flash, just program mode. Waddaya think:

A statue and lights

I’m pretty sure I could have done better on my own…but not by much. I mean, depth of field obviously. But it’s good to know at least that when I’m sporting 10 Good Humor Bomb Pops at the end of each paw instead of fingers, the Nikon will at least give me something serviceable.

And with that, we turned and made for the clubhouse:

A look back

I’ve never been so happy to gulp down a paper cup of Walmart brand imitation hot cocoa flavored drink in my life. I had two.

When I could finally feel my feet again, and after peeing out two cups of Walmart brand imitation hot cocoa flavored drink, we made for the Nissan. Another 5 minutes of warming up was needed again before the wheel would turn, and then we were off.

An hour later we were back at Dangerhouse, for some real hot cocoa (the recipe on the back of the Hershey’s cocoa powder box is actually really good) and an assortment of liquors to enhance the proceedings. We popped a Perry Como Christmas album in the Wollensak, hooked the Nikon up to the TV, and kicked back in the recliner to watch a slideshow of the pics I took.

NewWifey(tm) was really impressed. “I can’t believe how much better that Nikon is than your Nintendo DSi!” She snuggled closer, and I poured more cocoa. She spiked hers with Amaretto, I went with Cointreau. Then we had another. She snuggled closer.

When we finally got the the end of the shoot she sighed. “That was really nice. Thanks for bringing me out there. I know cold really isn’t your thing. But maybe I can make it up to you” and she reached up a hand to pull me towards her.

“You know, a nice view of Uranus really would warm me up” I said.

The hand reaching up turned into a fist, and she clocked me right above the ear with it. “I told you I hated that stupid joke!” And she stormed off to the bedroom.

Dammit. Overplayed my hand again. I pressed my cup of cocoa to the lump that was forming on the side of my head.

Oh well, at least not all was lost. That electric Lolita is still set up at least through the New Year….

Speaking of, I wish all of you much happiness, real cocoa, and warm companionship in 2018.

And please, this coming year let’s all try to be a little nicer to the environment, shall we?

A Brace

Thank you.