Saturday, December 29, 2007

it's a cel-e-bration!

Hi y'all! I hope you've all had happy and satisfying holidays. I definitely have. I only have a sec now (but hope to find some time to write tomorrow), but just wanted to give a shout-out to a few peeps who are celebrating personal holiday-style today.

The first, my dear, dear love, the K-Bear, Caleb, K-lip--mommy's baby tulip, CornNibblet, Kipper, the Kippopotamus, Kibbit, PunkinPie...aka my #1 dog. As in, I am hangin' with my literal dog. It's his birthday! He's 12 years old today! I first met him when he was but three days old, on New Year's Eve 1995. He looked like a blind hamster. The next time I met him he looked like a little old man puppy. The next time after that he came home with me. We've been inseparable since. He is full of 100% pure sweetness and love. We've so far commemorated the day with Happy Hips treats, Canine Carryout treats, my famous "dog casserole" (contains no actual dog), pig ears, and extra-big and frequent walks in the park. Happy birthday, baby boy.

Here's us holding paws:

Here's when he was taste-testing my homemade dog treats (he gave them two paws up, way up, btw):

Here's the picture that was featured on Dozen's website a while back when he was enjoying a doggie cupcake (speaking of Dozen, it's their 1st birthday today!):

And, I have a really cute picture of him on xmas, but I don't have a way to get the pictures out of my computer at the mo'.

And, another person celebrating today is my pal Kara. She just graduated! I'm actually heading out in a minute to celebrate with her. Woo hoo! Congrats, grad!

Also, last but not least, yesterday was Nowlzie's birthday! (she and the k-bear are both Capricorns). Tonight is her bowling birthday party. I so much wish I could be there, but alas, it's in Brooklyn.

I hope she is having this much fun:

Friday, December 21, 2007

thank you for being a friend

Seriously. I'm a lucky lady. I've been down in the dumps lately with the brokeness and the sickness and the carlessness. But, every time I think that I just can't do this crazy thing called life, a friend swoops in and does something amazing, and makes life just a little bit easier and a little bit better.

Last week I got the amazing gift of the lil' laptop from Alex. Ani just lent me her car for a few days (you saved me, girl!). A few days ago I got rescued by Mags (which made her feel important), and she has a tendency to swoop in at all the right times. E-dawg has been hauling my ass around everywhere, and is always up for (nerdy) fun. A Hurd keeps me in good times (and liquor). Kramer makes lunchtime deliveries of deliciousness on her bike. Dan keeps me in inappropriate humor and car advice from afar. Big Al keeps me in jams and snappy wit. Kara makes gorgeous, beautiful food. Schwattzie-Bear is my rock, and she gives me more than I could ever express. Nowlzie brings the noise and da funk. B-dub gives me a year's worth of hi-larious catch phrases. T-Dub and Leslie make my world a little brighter, a little better, a little more interesting, a lot tastier. Dra has been amazing all year long (and I so owe her a long-overdue email or call). The K-Bear and the China-bear keep me full-up with 100% pure love. Ashley keeps me in the loop for cool-nerd-pop culture. And, so many others of you brighten my days often--through emails or calls or comments on this-here blog. I adore each and every one of you. For real and really, really. Sometimes when I'm in the midst of a mini-crisis I forget how truly lucky I am.

I hope to post (sporadically) over the next week or so. In the mean time, I hope you all have a fabulous holiday, and get to spend it exactly the way you want to.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

it's all about perspective (and minty fresh feet)

Okay. I'm better today. It'll all work out with the car crap, and luckily I have generous friends and family that have been/will haul my sorry ass around when I need it for a little bit longer. I've already promised E-dawg that I will give her one gagillion rides and when I finally get some wheels.

Deep breath.

Ugh. That made me have a coughing fit. Several shallow breaths will have to do.

And, speaking of coughing, I got an email from one of the women in my queer book club (who heard me hacking at our meeting last week, and again at the queer dinner on Monday) a couple of days ago. She'd read this thing that she thought might help. It was this article about how the soles of your feet can absorb essential oils very well. And, the article suggested that you could rub a raw garlic clove on the sole of your foot and then "taste" it about 20 minutes or so later. So, anyway, it said that to get relief from a deep and persistent cough, you could slather some Vick's vap-o-rub on the soles of your feet, cover them with socks, and then your cough should cease in a few minutes. Well, I've been coughing horribly for a couple weeks now (seriously, my whole body is sore from the violence of the coughing), so I'm willing to try anything. So, I tried it night before last. And, you know what? Within a couple of minutes my coughing stopped, and stayed stopped for a few hours. Then I reapplied, and had the first full night of sleep I've had since I got this dang cold. And, the really weird thing? After about an hour, I had this taste in my mouth like I'd just smoked a menthol cigarette! Freaky! But, now I'm totally hooked. Yesterday when I got home from work, I took a hot shower (to open up the pores), then slathered that shit on, then covered them in socks and blankets, and watched several episodes of Buffy. Now, that is my idea of a good time. For reals. Thank you, Janice, and thank you, Vicks!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

never mind. there are no such things as happy days.


Well, I didn't get the car. The credit union had misunderstood something about the guy's situation (he still owes on the car, so we have to do a buy-out), so didn't make the checks correctly, yada, yada, yada...I can still get the car, but it's going to take two weeks (and maybe even longer because of the holidays. bah humbug). I just started crying in the AAA. It didn't help that I'd gotten dropped off there by a coworker, and was stranded a long way from home and suffering keen disappointment and frustration.

Luckily Mags was working with a client in Monroeville, and able to come rescue me. And, she's also helping me get home (to West Virginia) for the holidays, too. I'm going to ride with her to Morgantown, then my step-dad will pick me up there, and take me the rest of the way (and do the same for the return). So, I guess it's not the end of the world, but when I was standing in the Monroeville AAA last night, it sure felt like it. Buying a car with little money, not-great credit and a lack of experience with the accompanying bureacracy is challenging. So much so that I was ready to abandon the idea of buying a car, and just throwing myself in front of one instead.

I hate the lack of autonomy when you don't have a car. I feel like a jerk asking for rides all the time, and feel trapped when I need to get somewhere and it's going to take hours on the bus. Pittsburgh's bus system? Not so great. Especially now that they've effed up their website with some stupid ad that obscures the area where you search for schedules (which is already a very poor tool indeed). (If you need to use the "tool", you can turn off the images, and get to the fields beneath. But, what a pain in the ass in using an already very cruddy site). PAT, I hate you and you can suck it.

I am sad. Sometimes life feels really hard. I know that I sound like an idiot and a whiner. I know that there are billions of people out there in way worse shape than I am. I know that I am fortunate in a myriad of ways. But, sometimes I just feel very alone and very ill-equipped for life. Of course, I'm also mid-period and mid-winter, which always help to bring on the ol' woe-is-me complex.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

happy days are here again!

I'm still holding my breath and refraining from counting chickens until I'm actually driving away, which should happening in mere hours, but...I got a car!!

(this isn't the actual one, but it looks like this)
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I'm so, so, so (cautiously) happy!

The process of shopping and buying a car is not pleasant at all (a serious understatement), but I've learned a lot.

Also, fyi, blue cars are chosen by the more introspective, reflective and cautious driver. Just sayin'.

Also, I am in love with my little XO laptop! And, everyone I've shown it to is in love, too. The nerds at my office almost staged a riot at my desk vying for their turn at playing with it. And, as a result of showing it off (both here and other places), several peeps are going to make the donation and get one for their only selves!

And, I feel better than I've felt in a week! I've still got the disturbing cough, but I'm feeling pretty okay.

Heck, at this rate, I might even get my kitchen cleaned up this week and do some cooking!

Last night the "Queers: They're What's For Dinner!" monthly dinner that I organize for the queer ladies in da 'Burgh. We have it at the Gypsy Cafe, and it's always delicious and a good time. If you want to get in on the fun for next month, email me and I'll get you hooked up with the deets.

In other news, I'm kinda obsessed with Buffy. I wasn't sure about it at first, but now I can't stop thinking about it. I should have a netflix when I get home. That's how I'm going to celebrate the new wheels. With Buffy. Now, I'm not obsessed to the point I was with Queer As Folk, and it hasn't made me want to do it to ridiculously hot gay men, but still. It's a good time.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

back in action!

Woah. It's been some week. Delirious highs, staggering lows. And, I'm serious about the delirium. I was dog-sick all week. I was off Thursday all day from work, and took off early Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Phew! I'm still coughy and a bit tired, but I'm starting to be able to breathe through my nose and move around without getting dizzy and sweaty again. That is progress.

Also, I went car-shopping again today, and I'm cautiously optimistic that I may've found a car. I'll give details when/if it actually materializes. But, today I looked at cars being sold by individuals instead of dealers, and it couldn't have been a more different experience than the one I had last weekend. These people were nice, helpful and genuine. What a refreshing change!

And, then I came back home to find a box sitting on my steps. It was from my friend Alex, and contained one of these:
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If you don't know what that is, it's an XO laptop. You've probably heard something about this program over the past couple of years on NPR, the news, and the like. The mission of One Laptop per Child (OLPC) is to give children in the developing world laptops to give them educational opportunities they may never otherwise have. A quote from their site is "to help make education for the world’s children a priority, not a privilege." It's pretty amazing. And, they're currently running a promotion that if you donate the XO laptop, then you can also receive one for "the child in your life". I am the child in Alex's life. And, I'm so, so grateful that I am! This little machine is totally amazing. Alex is totally amazing. She's at it again, being generous and doing good deeds, all the way from Poland. (Annnnd, after some, uh, to-be-unnamed slacker never got a care package in the mail to her. d'oh.) You can find out more about this amazing organization, including donation information, here.

So, yeah. It's been an action-packed week. I also paid a visit to Hoi Polloi a couple days ago, paid up from the dine-n-dash incident (my not-so-secret shame), got some delicious cream-of-mushroom soup, a grilled cheese and some hot tea. And, some fantastic service from Hoi Polloi fella, Daniel.

And, the queer book club had our holiday meeting and gifty book exchange meet-up extravaganza this week, too. We'd read Kate Bornstein's Gender Outlaw, and had a great discussion (seriously, the best/most literary book club I've ever been involved with), exchanged our book-gifts, and picked our next selection--Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children. It sounds like a good one. (If you're interested in joining the book club, send me an email and/or post a comment with how to email you).

Peeps, life is good. Sometimes I forget that, and often I lose focus, but I do believe it. I'm lucky to have wonderful friends, a fantastic family, a good job, and now all the little things are starting to fall into place. I'm looking over the last year, and see that I made some significant progress, had some setbacks, learned a lot and am grateful for it all. Sometimes I get to feeling really low and small and frustrated and embarassed at feeling that I've fallen behind my peers in this ol' game of life. But, it's all interesting, it's all, ultimately, good. And, I'm trying, really trying, to opt for personal growth as I can. I want to recommit to the commitment I made to myself at the start of 2007. I'll post more about this soon. I'm still pondering. But, the overall feeling is that, indeed, life is good.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

oh, lordy.

You know what? Yesterday I had the most hits on this-here blog of any day since I've started counting. I'm guessing it's because you, dear readers, hate used car salesmen as much as I do. In fact, with the reputation they've got, doesn't it seem like they'd try to correct that? I'd like to see some overcompensating used car salesmen trying to make good. You know, stuff like not ripping people off, not lying, not being total jerks. I'd buy stuff from them if they did that. Instead I'm just still dreading the next round out with the sleazy jokers. I will not, for sure, be stopping by Monroeville Kia. They can suck it.

I actually had to go there last night to drop off the car I was using until "my" car was ready. It took everything in me not to drive it through the ginormous glass display window onto the showroom floor. But, I didn't. I wanted to, but I didn't. That's just how virtuous I am.

And, now I'm sick. It actually started on Saturday, the very day I spent with all those a-holes. (Coincidence? I think not). But, now it's blossomed into a body-shaking chest cold/cough sort of thing. Yet, it's a dry cough, so it hurts, but is getting me nowhere. Except sent home. In the last few hours I was at work, every passerby suggested I get the hell out of here As Soon As Possible. So, I'm busting a move soon, and hopefully it'll be a quick bus ride, and I'll soon be nestled under covers, in bed. I wish I had some "Buffy", but the next discs aren't due from Netflix until tomorrow or Thursday. Dang.

(Ashley--aren't you excited I'm watching Buffy? I'm getting ready to start Season 6).

I set out some soup base (a veg/tomato broth) to thaw (the base from the "peasant soup" I made not long ago), so I think I'll just throw in some veggies and cook it a bit, and it'll be ready soon with little effort.

Now, if I could only whip up my mom as easily. That's what I really want when I'm sick. I want to be babied. By my mom. Accept no substitutes.

Monday, December 10, 2007

i hate car salesmen

Well, I thought that I was going to be writing about a tale of triumph today because I thought I bought a car on Saturday. I managed to get a car loan approval from my credit union, and spent all morning Saturday looking at cars, then spent all afternoon (with the Hurd, god bless 'her) negotiating, signing paperwork, etc.

I was set to pick up my brand new [to me] car today after work.

And, then...

Well, they effed me. The car isn't in sale-able condition, and the deal is off.

Never buy a car from Monroeville Kia.

I had other stuff to write about, but now I'm so depressed about this that I just need to go cry.

Friday, December 7, 2007


Oh, dang.

Well, last night E-dawg, Mags and I went to Hoi Polloi to check out the space, get a cuppa and a snack, and see how Sandra and Jessica were doing on their opening day. We'd all been there for a Halloween party when the space was still very much in transition, so I was pleasantly surprised by how finished everything looked! The gals looked a little exhausted, but were fantastic hostesses, along with Jessica's younger brother Daniel who is working there for them (and such a polite young fella!). (oh wow, just was checking the link I added above for Hoi Polloi, and see our picture's on their site already!). It's a really warm and inviting space, has a good mix of simple, wholesome offerings on the menu and it's in the North Side! woot!

I had a decaf coffee, a currant scone, a garden salad (which was truly beautiful) and a grilled cheese (which was perfectly cheesy and perfectly grilled). I can't believe I didn't think to take my camera to snap some pics for the ol' blog! time.

In fact, we got so caught up in chatting and eating and enjoying that we left as they were closing, and uh, E-dawg and I accidentally dined and dashed. Sheesh. But, we promised to show back up for more good times and to pay up soon, and they promised not to send their henchmen out after us.

(Actually, they haven't actually emailed/called me back yet, so the henchmen are possibly on their way).

I only dine-n-dash friends. Awww...

Aiight, have a good weekend, peeps. TGIF!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

simple is as simple does

Okay, so I was trying to come up with a title for today's post about simple food and preparations, and that's what I came up with. And, then I realized that I'm calling myself simple. Ah well.

Anyhow, I was just thinking about ways to make really quick, healthy-ish, tasty dinners. When I get home from work I'm often ravenous, and if I don't have leftovers for the day before I sometimes find it hard to have the patience to take the time to cook up something good. Tuesday night was one of those nights. I got home, walked the dog, pet the cat, and found myself staring blankly at a ridiculously over-stuffed refrigerator and pantry shelves thinking "I don't have anything to eat!". And, that was half-true. I didn't have anything prepared to eat, but I did have (do have) tons of food with lots of kinetic meal-stuff stored up inside 'em.

So, I first made a snack to tide me over until dinner was ready. Some of my leftover biscuits with jam. (have I mentioned that I love these biscuits?)

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Then I scrubbed up a couple of sweet potatoes, poked them with a fork a few times (to let the steam escape), wrapped them in foil, and baked them at 350 for an hour. When they were done, I opened them up, and decided to make them into sorta twice-baked potatoes. So, I scooped out the flesh, and mashed with a little maple syrup (3-4 T.), a pat of butter (you could easily leave this out or use Earth Balance to make this vegan, unless you're a maple syrup-eschewing vegan, that is), a shake or two of cinnamon, ditto for cayenne, cumin/coriander (I have a spice blend that has both). I topped them with chopped pecans, and stuck them back in the oven for a bit while I was making my greens.

A couple weeks ago I had some really fantastic sauteed greens at Leslie's. I can't remember exactly how she did them, but this was an homage to that meal, and also because I love the word "garlicky".

Garlicky Sauteed Kale
(you could sub any green leafies for the kale, makes 2 big servings)

1 bunch kale, washed and chopped
1-2 garlic cloves, minced and mashed to a paste with some coarse sea salt
1-2 T. olive oil
red pepper flakes
malt vinegar
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Heat a skillet of medium heat. Add the olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper flakes, and cook for a few minutes, but don't brown the garlic. Throw in the greens, and stir around to get all the leaves coated in the olive oil. Cover, and cook about twenty minutes, or until tender but al dente (time will vary if you're using other greens). Splash with a few shakes of malt vinegar. Enjoy!

It was exciting to have this really beautiful and easy meal with very little effort!
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What are your favorite last minute or lazy evening meals?

Oh! Oh! Oh! Big news!

My pals Sandra and Jessica just opened their cafe, Hoi Polloi, today! Check out a great article on Pittsburgh Dish here.
They're serving coffee, veg food, smoothies and good times. It's at the corner of Galveston (if you want to fit in as a true NorthSider, you'll pronounce that: gal-VES-ton) and North Ave. North Side represent! And, it's walking distance from Zeke's house, so whenever I'm there, I'm, like, totally there!

Speaking of Zeke's house, he and I just decided that we're going to host a little New Year's Eve soiree. Just a small thing, but hopefully fun! Now, I need to figure out what kinds of snacks to make. And, what I can make early and freeze... That is what I call fun!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


Crankful is how you feel when you're full of crank. Uh, I mean crankiness, not, like, methamphetamines.

Today the downfall of being a non-driver hit hardcore. Since I live in an out-of-the-way neighborhood there's only one bus that services it, and it only comes every so often. So, you gotta count on it. But, this morning, due to the cruddy weather and snowy roads it was late. Which meant that I stood outside in the bitter cold for about twenty minutes waiting for it. And, it also meant that I missed my second bus, and subsequently had to wait another half-hour in the cold for the next round. And then, I was on the bus forever this morning because traffic was moving so slowly. GRRR! Not the way to start a day.

So, in search of ways to elevate my mood I bused into Squill today at lunch to hit the library (a book I'd requested and wanted to read for a while, Julie and Julia: 365 days, 524 recipes, 1 tiny apartment kitchen by Julie Powell, was in), Dozen (it's raspberry zinger day) and rustle up some lunch. I'd made a similar lunchtime journey yesterday, and had a truly disappointing lunch at Uncle Sam's, so I was determined to Get Something Good today. I often go to Bangkok Balcony for lunch, so I thought I'd check out their sister restaurant, Silk Elephant, today. But, much to my surprise and disappointment, they actually have the same exact lunch menu! Is that wise? Having two restaurants within a couple blocks of one another (neither of whom is doing a brisk lunch business) with the same menu? I vote no. But anyhow, I ordered my usual, but then found out the only difference between the two eateries (at lunch, anyway), is that a level 5 spiciness at Bangkok Balcony is not the same as a level 5 spiciness at Silk Elephant. I'd put SE's closer to a 7 or 8. Ouch! (why does Silk Elephant have a website, but Bangkok Balcony doesn't? weird).


Also, I forgot my camera card today with my photos from last night's cookin'. Ah well. Tomorrow is a another day.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

despite my best intentions

Well, I had big plans last night for cooking up some grub so I'd have lunch and dinner for today, at least. But, I got home, had some dinner, read a little, decided to flip on the TV just for a minute, and the next thing I knew my alarm was going off this morning. This guy was all worned out!

But, it made for an easy morning awakening this morning. I'm not even sure what time I fell asleep last night, but early. I feel pretty rested. (Except when I just typed "rested", I yawned).

I just checked Dozen Cupcakes website to find out the scoop on when their new shop in Lawrenceville is opening (January 2008, by the way), and found out that their going to do more than cupcakes; they're going to do all manner of baked goods, and even have a Sunday brunch! I love brunch! It's the best meal of the week! And, I have complete confidence in any Dozen venture. I think James, the fella in charge, is a peach, and their cupcakes are divine (my current favorites are the Raspberry Zinger and the Snowball). Plus, I also found a fantastic video they have on their site. Check 'er out! I love that there's a Dozen coming a little bit closer to, if only the next-next shop would open in Troy Hill...

On a completely different note, any Euchre players in the house? Maggie and I are long-time players, and we taught the e-Dawg last year, now we just need a fourth. I was thinking of setting it up for some early Sunday evening(s) at my pad, making dinner, playing some cards, good times. Right on.

I just ran up to the library on my lunch break, and picked up a copy of a cookbook I'd requested, Fresh Everyday by Sara Foster. One of my favorite Pittsburgh food bloggers says it's one of her favorite cookbooks, so I'm really looking forward to it. And, I also stopped by the bookstore to pick up current copies of Food and Wine and Cooks Illustrated. I love, love, love reading cookbooks and food magazines. And, now I have more reading time since I'm busing it, to make up for the reading time squandered on the altar of the cable television.

In other news, I have two new favorite bands, but don't yet own anything by them. One of them is for babies. Like, literally. (But, I often share tastes with babies--you know, soft-n-fuzzy outfits, sleeping, boobs). They're so sweet. Renee and Jeremy (that's twice in this post that the inability to use ampersands on the blog client has stifled me! grr!). My favorite song is "It's a Big World". You can listen here. My other new favorite band is Beirut. Check 'em out, and listen here.

Okay, that's quite enough outta me.

Monday, December 3, 2007

ps. The Gooch is an international sensation!

You all might remember me mentioning my pal The Gooch every now and again (when I kick her ass at Scrabble)? Well, a month or two ago she started a website called One Cold Hand. This mission of the website is this:

“ is a project that connects the Pittsburgh community through one unfortunate event – the loss of a glove. This site creates a method for dealing with the conundrum of finding these lost articles. Do you leave it and hope the owner comes back to find it? Do you pick it up? Throw it away? With, the abandoned object now becomes a symbol of benevolence and hope."

[coincidentally and interestingly, my friend Dylan has been photographing single lost gloves in NYC for the past few years, but they're not related projects].

So, she started getting some media attention in the local papers and stuff, and then it blew up! She's interviewed in the New York Times! And, will be interviewed today for the BBC! And, for various TV stations (she told FOX TV to shove off! heh!). Check out the site!

She needs volunteers for picking up drop-boxes around town, and I'm sure lots of other related tasks since she's all busy being famous. And, you can get stickers, too, for when you find some lost-n-lonely gloves.

Go, Gooch, Go!

car, schmar

I have to say, for my first car-less weekend, and weather that was not necessarily ideal, I had a heck of a good time! Friday I went about my shopping with determination and ferocity. I hit the co-op first, then the Giant Eagle, and then...well, by then the room in my backseat and my patience were pretty much gone, so I headed home. I put all the groceries away, made some breakfast-for-dinner and retired to watch some netflixes and cable. Good times.

Breakfast-for-Dinner was roasted potatoes, fried eggs and toast. I got these beautiful little local fingerling potatoes at the co-op. They were gorgeous! The flesh was brilliantly golden and the skin was red, so while I was cutting them up I kept thinking that they looked so much like peaches that my mouth kept watering for juicy peachiness, and then I'd remember that they were potatoes. Seriously, look!
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So, I heated up the oven to 350, tossed the potatoes with some herbs de Provence, red pepper flakes, olive oil, and salt and pepper, and put them in for about 15 minutes. At that time, I took them out, tossed them again with some onions, garlic and fresh parsley and rosemary, and stuck them back in for another 15 minutes. In the meantime, I chopped up more parsley, and mixed that with some lemon zest and coarse sea salt, and topped the potatoes with that when they came out of the oven.
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So, here's my breakfast-for-dinner:
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Saturday was a lovely day! E-dawg picked me up in the morning, and we hit the East Liberty Farmers Market, which operates indoor year-round. It was small, but fantastic! I got so much good stuff. Check it:
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l-r, clockwise:
sweet potato gnocchi, sweet potatoes, black walnuts, garlic (two kinds, one regular, one that's little and supposedly stronger, but I forget the name), turnips, dried sweet corn, brussels sprouts. Now, that's a good haul from a wintertime farmers market in the 'Burgh, you know?

Then we hit the Strip for oodles of more delights. I didn't photo them, but I got a bunch of cheese from Penn Mac (brie de meux, beemster, Black Diamond sharp white cheddar), some almonds, some baguette, some beautiful fluffy tortillas from Reyna's, and some treats from Cafe Richard. I got a spinach-feta-sundried tomato quiche, a couple croissant and a coconut tart. All fantastic. And, when I got home, I got a call from a WV friend, Jeffron, who was in Pittsburgh for a few hours, so he came over and shared my quiche and some of my leftover roasted potatoes, and we sat around drinking coffee and playing cards for a few hours.

Then Hurd and I hit the town early-evening, old lady-style. We went to Verdetto's 'cause Hurd had a hankering for their delectable mac-n-cheese triangles, but alas, they're not serving food on the weekends (whack). But some old guys bought us shots of some Slovokian liquor that tasted a little like Jaegermeister. Then, we continued our downward spiral by hitting up Donny's for dinner. Yes, you read that correctly: Donny's for dinner. (Thankfully) their kitchen was also not open. Then we rolled up to my 'hood, and went to Billy's. Now, it's only a mere five-ish blocks from my house, but I don't frequent it. But, we had a really nice time! We got some pretty good pub grub, cheap beer, and friendly service. I have decided that this will be our gang's new hang-out since I can walk to it. Pass it on. Billy's is where it's at.
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Sunday was an inside day. The weather was cruddy, but I had cable to keep me warm. And, I've been craving a veggie version of biscuits and gravy for a while. Leslie told me about some gravy a friend of hers makes, and gave me an outline of how to make it. So, I made a recipe of Heidi's cornmeal biscuits from Cook 1.0. They are tender and delicious!

Cornmeal Biscuts [ek: this is not a "light" recipe by any stretch, but good enough to splurge!]
(from Heidi Swanson's Cook 1.0: A Fresh Approach to the Vegetarian Kitchen)
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Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Into a large bowl or food processor, sift:
3 1/2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t. salt
2 T. baking powder
1/2 c. finely ground cornmeal

To dry ingredients add:
1 c. chilled butter, cut into 1/4" chunks.
Using a pastry cutter or 25 quick pulses of a food processor, blend until mixture resembles tiny, sandy pebbles.

With a fork, stir in the following until just combined:
2 c. milk (lowfat is fine)

Drop by heaping tablespoonfuls onto an ungreased nonstick baking sheet. Brush the biscuit tops with a bit of egg white and sprinkle with a dusting of cornmeal.
Bake on the middle rack of the oven until the tops and bottoms are golden, roughly 12 minutes. [ek - I got about 2 dozen biscuits out of this]


And, for the gravy, Leslie said that her friend Mary makes it by:

(from Leslie's email description)
First sauté some onion, garlic, mushrooms and chopped up frozen veggie sausage links (don't thaw) until nice and browned. Remove from pan. Then make a roux with butter and flour. Toast your roux for a few minutes over medium heat, then toss in a good sized handful of brewers' yeast. Toast in pan for a few minutes until fragrant.

Slowly add milk (maybe ½ - 1 cup…see how it looks in the pan, depending on how much brewers yeast you use), cayenne pepper (if you like a nice kick), black pepper and white pepper (I like a spicy gravy). Get crazy and add a little sage or thyme, if you like.

Stir until thickened, serve on sweet potato biscuits! (my favorite)

So, here's what I did:
Sauteed 1/2 an onion with a clove of garlic and about 8oz of white mushrooms (stems removed), diced, with a little butter. I added some (about half the package) Gimme Lean (sausage-style) and browned/chunked it up. And some fresh thyme. In another pan, I made a roux with some butter and flour, then stirred in some Brewer's yeast. You may remember that I am afraid of making roux, and with good reason. It always turns too thick and pasty and floury. This time was no exception. When I started adding in the milk, it just turned into a thick paste., I got a larger skillet, and warmed the milk in there, then slowly added little bits of the butter/flour mixture (the roux, sorta), and just whisked until there were no lumps and it was a nice thickness/viscosity. Then added in the brewers yeast, cayenne and black/pink pepper. Oh, and some freshly ground nutmeg! I love nutmeg in cream sauces. Then, added in my sausage-mushroom mixture (with a splash of marsala), and cooked it a little longer. It was still a little too thick, so I added a little water until it was the right consistency. Salt to taste. It is sooooooooo good! Exactly what I'd been wanting! And, I felt like a champ for rescuing the roux.
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Seriously, it is so good that my stomach just growled writing about it, and I have more (yay!), and I'm really excited to have it for dinner tonight. The biscuit recipe made enough biscuits to share, and put a few up in the freezer for another time. When you heat up the gravy, you'll have to thin it a bit again with a little water or milk.

Expect more lovin' from the oven this week as I bought enough groceries on Friday to last me though the winter!

Friday, November 30, 2007

these feets were made for walkin'

Today is my final hurrah of owning a car. Not because I'm so utterly environmentally conscious that I'm giving it up, but because my car needs $3000 of work to pass inspection, and it's not worth that much. And, the inspection runs out tomorrow. I'm trying to work something out, but with the opposite of stellar credit, and not much scratch to work with, it's a tough row to hoe. But, hey, on the upside, it gave me an excuse to reinstall cable, right? [if you would like to give me a car or co-sign a loan, get in touch!]

It's payday (once a month! dang!) and since that is coinciding with my soon-to-be-carlessness, I'm planning a big grocery trip. I'm trying to walk the line between getting enough of everything that I won't have to worry about it for a while, and getting so much stuff that everything goes bad before I can use it. So, I'm trying to think of what I need perishable now, and what is heavy (i.e. not good for busing it) and what can last for a while. I'm having a hard time getting out of the mode of thinking that I'm trying to stock up Little House-style for a long, brutal winter. 'Cause it's kinda fun to think of it like that. But, I don't want to go overboard, which I have a tendency to do anyway with regard to the grocery shopping. Because, E-dawg has offered to haul my sorry ass along with her on shopping trips, Mags has offered use of her car when she doesn't need it on weekends, and Zeke's mom has even said I can use her car whenever I am sitting him. So, it's not like I'll really never be leaving the house again (despite my urge to hibernate). In order to keep myself sane, I'm making a spreadsheet (I love spreadsheets). It will list all items that I require, broken down by which store I want to buy them at (I'm hitting the co-op, Whole Foods and Giant Eagle this evening), and in order of where they are in the store. I actually like to do this even when I'm not stocking up for winter, but usually don't take the time to be that elaborate (or, some may say, anal).
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I haven't done a whole lot of cooking in the past couple of days. Mainly just sandwiches and baked potatoes. But, I did get a hankerin' for deviled eggs yesterday. (Is this still leftover from my extended Thanksgiving?). I make mine very simply, like I like almost all of my egg-themed recipes. I just hardboil the eggs, slice in half and pop out the yolk, add (lots and lots of) mayo (until the yolk mixture has kind of a glossy appearance) and (a little dab of) yellow mustard and some black pepper to taste. Then scoop the yolk mixture back into the whites, and sprinkle on a little sweet paprika. Perfection.
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But, this weekend I'm planning on cooking and/or baking a bunch. Probably some kind of soup and some kind of yeasted bread. Oh, that reminds me, I need to add mushrooms to the list...and maybe some graham crackers...

Anyhow, have a great weekend, folks!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

because i love thanksgiving

Actually, I'm of two minds when it comes to Thanksgiving. On one hand, I love a holiday that's all about the cooking and eating of food, tradition and observing a time to be thankful. On the other hand, I'm disturbed that we continue to honor an annual celebration of conquering and decimating a native population. I wish that were more acknowledged when people talk about the Thanksgiving holiday. But, apart from the genocidal undertones, I actually really, really enjoy Thanksgiving. And, I don't really want it to be over. Yesterday most of the talk around the water cooler at work, and in catching up with friends, was about Thanksgiving dinner. And, since I didn't cook the giant meal this year I'm not the proud owner of a refrigerator loaded down with leftovers. I kept craving stuffing all day yesterday. I could smell the sage and celery wafting from the workplace kitchen while everyone warmed their leftover feasts, and wanted more, more, more!

Now, I did actually end up with a beautiful container of leftovers from Thursday. I dubbed it "tupperware full o' love", but it was quickly gobbled up for breakfast and lunch on Friday. So, last night I had to--had to!--cobble together some stuffing. (Do you call it dressing or stuffing?) I didn't have all the ingredients I wanted/needed, but it still came out a-okay, if not exactly as I was picturing. Speaking of picturing it...
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Cornbread Stuffing
makes a 9x9" pan

1 16-oz bag of cornbread bread crumbs (or make your own cornbread, and crumble it up)
about 4 c. vegetable broth (always best if you make your own*, but I like this kind, too)
1 lg onion, diced
2-3 celery stalks, diced
1 c. dried cranberries (I was out of these, but they really make it!)
1/2 lb. mushrooms (any kind, I used white, 'cause that's what I had on hand), sliced
2 T. fresh sage, chopped
2 T. other fresh herbs (I used rosemary, thyme and parsley)
3 T. butter or olive oil (it tastes better with butter, but I was out so used evoo)
a little wine for deglazing the skillet
1 egg, beaten
freshly ground sea salt and pepper, to taste

So, I preheated the oven to 350, and lightly greased a 9x9 pan.

In a large bowl, add the cornbread crumbs and set aside.

I added the evoo to a skillet, and sauteed the onion and celery with the sage, rosemary and thyme until softened and translucent. Then add them to the cornbread crumbs. In the same skillet, without cleaning it first, add the mushrooms and parsley and cook about 8 minutes or so, until the mushrooms have released their liquid and then it starts to evaporate. Add a little wine (I used marsala, 'cause it was handy), and get all the goodness from the pan--the bits or herbs and veggies. Cook that for a few minutes, then add the lot to the bowl. Add the beaten egg (I actually don't usually use egg, but I needed a little extra moisture) and the stock/broth one cup at a time until it has a dough-like consistency. Make sure all the breadcrumbs get mixed in or you'll have hard bites in your dressing.

Transfer the stuffing mix to your greased pan, and pop it into the oven, covered, for 30 minutes. Then remove the cover, and return it to the oven for another 15-25 minutes (depending on how moist your mix was).


I also realized last night that I left two important items off my Thanksgiving menu list! Leslie also made a roasted truffle gravy and a salad with butter lettuce, oranges and fennel. We had the salad at the end of the meal (I love when the salad is at the end of the meal), and it was the perfect end to a lovely meal. The salad itself was light and fresh, and really ideal to conclude a big meal.

Unfortunately, I had to run out not long after dinner--way before I was at a point where I could eat pie--so I didn't get in on the pumpkin pie. Now I need some. I may have to make that this week, too. It's the never-ending Thanksgiving!

Here's a Natalie Dee Thanksgiving themed/pie themed slice of goodness:
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Why did I have to run out so quickly after the meal, you ask? Because my excellent pal Dinah had an extra ticket to see Avenue Q! And, this was no ordinary ticket to a show. Oh no. This was front-row center! I've never had a seat like that before. I could peek down into the orchestra pit! I was sitting right behind the conductor! I could look over her shoulder and see the names of the songs and her notes on the sheet music! And, it was such a great show! I've had the song "The Internet Is For Porn" in my head for days, and even got Mags and the e-Dawg singing along on Sunday.

*I mentioned making your own vegetable stock above, and I've had a few people ask me how you do it. It actually couldn't be easier! Basically all you do is simmer vegetables and aromatics in water for about an hour and strain. I usually keep a bag in the fridge where I keep vegetable scraps--the stems from herbs, the end pieces of veggies, potato peel and ends, mushroom stems, etc. For your stock, you just want a bunch of veggies--I use my scraps, and then also add some carrots, onion, celery and garlic, all in large chunks. And, I usually add in a couple bay leaves, some peppercorns, etc., too. Add enough water to cover all the veggies and make a good amount, then bring it to a gentle boil. Then lower the temperature to med-low, and simmer for about an hour. Then pour the broth through a piece of cheesecloth or a fine-mesh strainer. I like to freeze it in several tupperware-style containers in about 4-cup increments, so I can just take it out and thaw it as I need it. Easy, peasy!

Tonight I'll be spanning time with my pal Zeke. The K-Bear just had a bath this morning (after rolling in some stench during our little hike on Sunday), so he'll be joining me. They're a cute pair. I also have Classic Book Club tonight, so I'll be reprising the lemon-rosemary-pinenut cookies, and I'm sure I'll get to taste all sorts of delicious treats contributed by my fellow book clubbers. I love book club!

Have you peeps tried out the Double Wide restaurant over on the S.Side? I didn't find out that it was uber-veg/vegan-friendly until they were temporarily closed due to a fire. But, they're back. And, I checked out their menu online yesterday, and feel very excited on the inside. Vegetarian Pulled "Pork"? Oh, hells yeah! The only glaring omission I notice is that they don't serve grits for their brunch. Seeing grits on a menu always makes my day. And, it seems to be such an obvious choice for their motif. Hopefully I'll be checking it out soon, and can personally tell them that they need to get some grits on the menu, tout suite! Will report back...

Monday, November 26, 2007

thanking with thankful thanks

First of all, I'm thankful for my friends and family. I usually spend Thanksgiving at my mom's house, and we spend a couple days cooking. I'm always in charge of the bird, stuffing, mashed potatoes, deviled eggs and half of the broccoli casserole and sweet potato casserole. My mom makes a gagillion desserts, the gravy, rolls, salad and the other half of the casseroles. It's sometimes hectic, but it's always fun.

But, since my car woes made the scene, I stayed in the 'Burgh this holiday weekend. I was taken in as a Thanksgiving orphan by some friends. Leslie (remember her from this post of deliciousness?) hosted the dinner at friend Beth's lovely home (this house was made for Thanksgiving celebrations). She cooked up a storm, made it look like a breeze and a snap, and then cleaned up, too! Seriously. Have you ever heard of such a kitchen sensation? Sadly, I only snapped one picture. I got too into drinking wine, chatting, standing outside by the fire pit and deciding whether or not I was going to taste the turkey and gravy to remember to keep clickin'. But, this is a great picture. She made a little serving dish with the sides for ease in heating and eating. Isn't this perfect? It's making my mouth water.

(l-r: wild rice stuffing, roasted carrots, roasted turnips and my brussel sprouts)
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I only made one dish all day! (Which felt odd, but good. But, I think now I might have to actually make some stuffing tonight. I was talking about it a lot this morning, and I think I need one last dose of Thanksgiving). I made the aforementioned roasted brussels sprouts with cranberry brown butter (from Food & Wine magazine, recipe here.

***I used considerably more maple syrup than called for. It needed a little more sweetness since the brussels sprouts are a little naturally bitter, and the cranberries so naturally tart. It helped round out the flavor a little more. I probably used an extra 1/4 c. of syrup, a drizzle at a time (into the cranberry-butter mixture) until it tasted right. These were fantastic! I'd totally make this recipe again and again. It's going to be one of my Thanksgiving staples.
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So, the menu for our dinner was:
-roasted truffle gravy
-garlic mashed potatoes
-roasted carrots & turnips (my god, those turnips were like manna from heaven!)
-cranberry sauce
-wild rice stuffing
-roasted brussels sprouts with cranberry brown butter
-corn pudding (a nod to our collective Appalachian heritage)
-pumpkin pie with whipped cream
-lotsa wine

Dang. As I was typing that my stomach growled. It was So Good.

In fact, it was so good that I ate a few bites of turkey and gravy!

Yes, I'm still a vegetarian, I just needed to taste it. It struck me when I had the first bite that nothing you eat as a vegetarian has this texture. It's a very satisfactory feeling to bite into a piece of meat. It felt almost primal. I'd forgotten about that. I quit eating meat at the tender young age of 13, and lasted until 26. Since then I've spent several years (I'm now 34) oscillating between meat-eating, vegetarianism and pescatarianism. I re-quit eating all meat early this year (February?), and have felt good about it. Although, as I continue to learn more and more about sustainable agriculture I sometimes think that maybe I should do an all-local diet, including some meat products as opposed to an all-vegetarian diet. But, that's still up in the air. I'm staying on the veggie side of the fence for now. but, I am grateful to Leslie for cooking that delicious bird, and for the bird itself. As humans, something always must die for us to eat--whether that's an animal or vegetable, and I think it serves us well to remember that and accept that gift and sacrifice with grace and gratefulness, regardless of its source.

Okay, now back to the eats.

I made the brown butter for the sprouts on Wednesday night, and since I already had a pan with a thin layer of butter, shallots and thyme I decided to make a pan sauce and some crispy tofu. So, I took a block of tofu (I love the extra firm tofu from Spring Creek Natural Foods; great taste and texture, and it's from West Virginia! You can find it locally in Pittsburgh at the co-op) and got to work.

I haven't settled on a name for this, but it needs one because it was so fantastically good. Definitely a repeater. How about...Crispy Fried Tofu with Lemon-Butter Cream Sauce?
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for the tofu:

1 block Spring Creek (or other extra-firm tofu), drained (I wrap it in paper towels, and drain between two plates with a weight on top--like a large can of tomatoes or something, for an hour)
a little tiny bit of oil for the pan
some Bragg's, or soy sauce

Slice the tofu into thin (like 1/4") fillets. Heat a skillet to med-high, and put a little oil in the pan. Squirt in some Bragg's (or soy sauce), probably about 2-3 T., but it's not exact--you just don't want to drown the tofu, 'cause you want it crispy. Lay the tofu in the pan, and flip it around so that it gets some Bragg's on both sides. Cook it for about five minutes on each side, until it's pretty browned and crispy. I just made a little of the tofu, and kept the rest, uncooked, in the fridge for the next time.

for the lemon-butter cream sauce:

1 1/2 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice, with about 1 1/2 T. water added, for 3 T. of liquid total
3 T. butter
1 lg shallot, minced
1 T. fresh thyme leaves
a little marsala for deglazing
a little heavy cream for creaming

First, add the shallots and butter to a pan over med heat. Cook for a few minutes until the shallots are soft and translucent. Add the thyme and lemon liquid, and cook down for a few minutes until it develops a lovely deep golden hue. Pour in a little marsala (or, other wine of your choice) to deglaze the pan. Reduce it down, and deglaze again with a little more wine. Then add some heavy cream, drizzling in and stirring constantly, and continue to cook over med-high heat for a few minutes until the sauce starts to reduce and thicken a little (it'll continue to thicken off the heat, so it's okay if it's still a little thinner than you want).

To serve, spread a little sauce on the plate, and lay the tofu planks on top while it's all hot and delish. The sauce doesn't keep well (it just separated when I reheated it), so just make the amount you want to use for this meal. Enjoy!

In other cooking/baking news this weekend, I made a batch of brownies. I used a recipe from my good pal and former Pittsburgher, Susie Q (she's a liar on myspace, she really lives in Monterey, CA now). She is a baking wonder, and her recipes for brownies and banana bread are possibly the Best Ever. I'll check with her, and if she doesn't mind I'll share her brownie recipe. Check 'em out!
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I also had a hankering to try out a sugar cookie recipe. I wanted to base the flavors on this utterly fantastic pan of vegan rosemary shortbread that Kara brought to a queer book club meeting this summer. It was herby and was chock-full of pine nuts. She'd noted, when I begged for the recipe, that she'd use a little lemon juice to make the herbs pop next time. So, I scoured my cookbooks and the internets for some good sugar cookie recipes. And, then I didn't have quite enough butter, and no solid vegetable shortening, so I improvised with drizzling in some canola oil with my creamed butter. This made them crispier than they'd have otherwise been, but I think they turned out really well! It was kind of a conglomeration of recipes that I adapted, and this is what I ended up with. I have another roll of dough in the fridge, and will use it to bake up another batch for Classic Book Club meeting tomorrow (we read Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire. two thumbs up; way up! And, p.s., his next book, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, is due out in January 2008!).

Lemon-Rosemary-Pine Nut Sugar Cookies
makes about 4-5 dozen cookies
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3/4 cup butter
1/4 cup canola oil (you could use all butter instead of the oil, they just wouldn't be as crisp)
1 1/2 cup sugar
freshly squeezed juice of one lemon (i'd maybe add about 1/2 t. of lemon extract next time, too)
3-4 T. lemon and/or orange zest
2 eggs
2 3/4 cup flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 T. fresh rosemary, minced
1 c. toasted pine nuts
some washed raw sugar for sugaring the cookies

On the stovetop, toast the pine nuts until lightly browned and fragrant (about 8 minutes). Take them out of the pan, and make sure they're entirely cooled before adding to the dough mixture (below).

Cream the butter, then drizzle in the canola oil with beaters going. Add in the sugar, eggs and lemon juice (and/or lemon extract).

Mix the dry ingredients--the flour, cream of tartar, soda and salt--and, add that into the butter mixture. Stir in the rosemary, the zest and the (cooled!) pine nuts.

Form into logs about 1.5" in diameter, wrap in waxed paper and chill in the refrigerator for about an hour or two (I chilled them overnight).

When the dough is well-chilled, preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and either lightly oil the pan, or use some parchment paper. Remove the dough from the refrigerator, and slice into thin slices, about 1/4" thick. Press the tops into the sugar, and place on a cookie sheet. Bake for 8 minutes, until the edges are brown and crispy. You want to give these babies plenty of room on the baking sheet because they will spread out quite a bit.


In other news, the cable came back on Friday, and it is good. It's a wondrous thing. I watched an appalling amount of television on Friday and Saturday. I called Mags yesterday morning to describe it, and she asked if I'd started developing bed sores yet. I realized that I was right on the precipice, so to save me from that fate, I went over to her house where she made me a tasty breakfast of french toast, fruit salad and roasted regular-and-sweet potatoes with coffee and oj. Then we took the dogs on a nice walk somewhere near the river--near enough for them to run down the side of the hill, jump into the water, and find something dead and stinky to roll in. A good time was had by all. Which I'm thankful for.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

the Dawg days!

Happy Birthday, E-dawg!!
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It's her special day! If you find yourself in close proximity to an E-dawg today, wish her well.

For my part in her celebration, I whipped her up a batch of cupcakes last night. (She's off work today, and not looking at the internets, so's I can tell you guys about these 'cakes).

When she visited San Francisco this summer she fell in love with some ice cream she had at Bi-Rite. The flavor was salted caramel. And, it sounds divine, doesn't it? I love a salty-sweet intersection (to use a Hurd-term). When I was deciding on a cake/cupcake flavor she said "SALTED CARAMEL? HEY, MAYBE SALTED CARAMEL?"

She doesn't typically enjoy chocolate cake, but I went out on a limb because I know she likes coffee-flavored desserts and went with a dark chocolate-espresso cupcake (the chocolate is subtle; it's the espresso that stands out) with salted caramel frosting. And, I kept a little of the salted caramel to the side to drizzle over the top, then gave a couple quick grinds of some Himilayan pink sea salt.

Of course I had to try one (or, uh, two), and they are really yum!

I adapted the cupcake recipe from this blog. My notes are in brackets:

Chocolate Espresso Cupcakes
6 tbsp cocoa powder
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1/3 cup espresso, cooled [ek: I used instant espresso powder, constituted it in boiling water, then cooled it]
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F. Place 9 baking cups on a baking sheet (or 12 muffin liners in a muffin pan).
In a large bowl, sift together cocoa, flour, sugars, baking soda and salt.
In a medium bowl, whisk together espresso, buttermilk, egg, vegetable oil and vanilla extract. Pour the espresso mixture into the flour mixture and stir to combine. Evenly distribute batter into prepared cups.
Bake at 350F for 15-19 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.
After 5 minutes of cooling on or in the pan, remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
Makes 9 egg-shaped cakes or 12 regular cupcakes.

For the frosting, I adapted from a recipe I found here.

Salted Caramel

4 tablespoons water
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup [ek: I used brown rice syrup here because it's organic and less highly processed. However, I didn't get the same consistency that this recipe mentions--i.e. couldn't get the caramel to harden enough to make candies even after all night in the freezer--and, I think it may be the syrup. But, that said, it's still amazingly delicious, and the drizzle looks lovely]
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt, kosher or sea [ek: I didn't think the salt was prominent enough, so I added more. Probably around another 1/4+ teaspoon]

1. Combine the water, sugar, and the corn syrup in a deep saucepan and cook over medium heat.
2. Stir together with a wooden spoon until the sugar is incorporated.
3. Cover the saucepan and let it cook over medium heat for 3 minutes.
4. After 3 minutes, remove the lid, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil.
5. Do not stir from this point on, but it is important to carefully shake the pan so that one area of the caramel doesn’t burn.
6. Continue to cook until the caramel turns an even amber color then remove from the heat and let stand for about 30 seconds.
7. *** This is the dangerous part *** Pour the heavy cream into the mixture. Wear oven mitts, stand away from the pan, and be careful. The mixture will bubble up significantly.
8. Stir the mixture, again being careful. Add the butter, lemon juice, and salt. Stir until combined.
9. Measure 1 cup into a Pyrex measuring cup. Stirring occasionally, allow to cool until thick like molasses and warm to the touch, about 20 minutes.

Note: There was a small bit of extra caramel that I poured onto a small plate that I covered in aluminum foil and greased with vegetable oil. I transferred the plate to the freezer for about 30 minutes. I chopped the caramel quickly into squares (its starts to get soft) and topped each cupcake with a square. [ek: see my note above, re: the syrup and hardening]

Salted Caramel Frosting

2 sticks butter
8 ounces or 1 package of Philly cream cheese
5 to 6 cups powdered sugar [ek: i only used 3 cups of powdered sugar, and it was plenty]
1 cup salted caramel

1. Bring butter to room temperature by letting it sit out for 1 or 2 hours.
2. Beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed until creamy.
3. Sift 3 cups of powdered sugar into the butter/cream cheese mixture and beat to combine.
4. Add 1 cup of the salted caramel and beat to combine.
5. Sift 2-3 cups of powder sugar, in 1 cup increments and beating between each, until you arrive at the thickness and sweetness you desire. I used 6 cups. The frosting wasn’t super thick, but it was starting to get pretty sweet. [ek: again, I just used three cups of powdered sugar]

1. Frost cooled cupcakes with a generous amount of frosting.
2. Sprinkle each cupcake with sea or kosher salt. I ground some rock sea salt onto each. [ek: i used a Himilayan pink sea salt]
3. Top with a caramel candy, homemade or otherwise. [ek: and, here's where I used the extra salted caramel that did not set into candy for drizzlin']

Dang. These are good. And, look how cute!
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I'm gonna go hang and devour cupcakes and drink some Beaujolais nouveau with E-dawg this evening. Good times! It is her special day and

In other news Kramer is treating me like a queen! She just offered to ride her bike over to Spice Island, and then drop off a batch of Java Fried Rice for me! Kramer is the wind beneath my wings! Oh, hells yeah!

Kramer delivery:
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Java Fried Rice joy:
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I've been doing some good eatin' in the past few days! Last night I again had my soup (I've been calling it "peasant soup" in my head; not really for any particular reason except I love the way it sounds, and I think that peasants would enjoy it. I'm a peasant, and I enjoy it!). I stopped on the way home for some creamy brie and a whole wheat baguette. I had those with a glass of the aforementioned Beaujolais nouveau, and some squares from a Barcelona bar to follow it up with. Perfect. This would have been a good meal to eat while listening to Edith Piaf. (I just netflixed La Vie En Rose, so I'm kinda obsessed with her right now).

My lovely peasant dinner:
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And, for no good reason except that I Love Lolcats:
funny pictures
moar funny pictures

Have a fabulous holiday weekend, peeps! I am thankful for each and every one of yinz!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

souped up

Howdy, pals. You may have noticed that I haven't been doing much cooking lately--or, much cooking worthy of a blog post, anyhow (what? you don't wanna hear about my gardenburgers and riblets?).

But, with the recent developments in my car situation, I have a feeling that I'll soon be spending more time at home, and that means more time in the kitchen. So, even though Comcast can suck it, I'm getting my cable back on Friday. Winter + no car = one gal who will need to warm it up with the delights of the boob tube.

(boobs... oh, sorry. nothing.)

So, last night I braved the crowds at the grocery store, stocked up my pantry and made some soup. I love making soup. It does require lots of chopping (which I love) and does not require lots of precision (which I often don't want to have). I didn't use a recipe, just started throwing stuff together, tasting, throwing more stuff in, and so on. I put on a pot of white beans (cannelini) and set to work on my broth. I used some vegetable broth, some mushroom broth, some crushed tomatoes, some marsala, just a touch of Bragg's, some herbs de Provence, a big can of kidney beans, some carrot, celery, onion, garlic, rosemary, parsley, mustard seeds and dry mustard, a little red wine vinegar, a little honey, lots of pepper, some sea salt, a little cayenne. And, I simmered it all night (without the beans, 'cause I didn't want them to fall apart). I took out half of it (I made a HUGE batch), and stuck it in the freezer as a soup-starter for next time (it'd make a great base for a cabbage soup, or if I ate clams, Manhattan clam chowder. The rest I added the white and kidney beans in, seasoned a little more, shaved some parmesan and threw some fresh parsley and rosemary on top and voila! An assload of soup! I cooled it, and then portioned it into single and/or double serving sizes. I brought some for lunch today, and it was the first time I'd really tried it. It's really good! I was describing it to E-dawg, and she said it sounded like minestrone. It's definitely reminiscent, but without the pasta, and the spicing is a little different. It's seriously yummalicious. I am eager to get home and have some for dinner. I might have to make a quick stop to get a little baguette and some triple-cream brie to have on the side with a little salad. Doesn't that sound like the perfect accompaniment to hibernation?

Here's my little lunch portion. Isn't it cute?
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Man, writing about it is making me hungry!

Also making me hungry is reading about this recipe for Vanilla Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Autumn Spice Oil. E-dawg was telling me that she's making them for Thanksgiving. I literally drooled when she told me about them, and I nearly died when I read the recipe and saw the photo. Heidi is a genius! Well, it's her adaptation of a Terrance Brennen recipe, but still. (Oh dang! Check out the recipe for Spice-Kissed Pumpkin Pie today!)

I'm also craving these little canapé-type snacks that my aunt used to make when I was a kid. They were ritz crackers with dates and a sweetened cream cheese spread, then baked. I'm not sure why I've been thinking of them, but it seems lately that every time I'm thinking "I'm hungry; what do I want?" I think of those little treats. I'll have to ask my mom about them.

I just found out that I get to leave work early tomorrow--3:00 p.m. I cannot wait to start my long weekend!!

Monday, November 19, 2007

it was a long week

Hi folks.

Sorry for the lack of blog fodder last week. It was a hectic and tough week, and all the extras (like, bloggin') had to fall to the wayside. I got a very sad fatal diagnosis for my car--which just totally blows 'cause I'm not sure how it's all going to shake out, but it could be that I'll be car-less for a while. On the upside, it's winter, and my mental bumper sticker reads: "I'd rather be hibernating!". So, I may not have much choice. Eh.

This also means that I won't be traveling for Thanksgiving. I'm sad to miss cooking with my mom and seeing my nieces and nephew. But, I'll have it all figured out by xmas (right?!?), so I'll see them then. Savanah (my favorite!) is really bummed. She said that she made me a "special Christmas centerpiece for your table, and you need to have it before then so you can enjoy this whole time!". It was so weird when she told me that. She's five. And, obviously has been possessed by my mother.

the good news, however, is that I'm going to have Thanksgiving with some friends, and Leslie is going to be cooking up a storm. And, she's an incredible cook. I'm looking forward to it. I'm going to make those roasted brussels sprouts with cranberry brown butter I posted about a few weeks ago. Yum!

In other news, it was an action-packed week. On Wednesday I took in a show at the Warhol. My Brightest Diamond features one of my favorite peeps, bdub, on the skins. I hadn't listened to much of them before then, but they're really great. Shara, the gal behind My Brightest Diamond, has a truly gorgeous voice. Operatic, even. I went with my pal Tracey, and we'd tentatively plan to scoot out early since we were both feeling kind of exhausted, but it was too good to skip out. Good stuff. And, she's in Sufjan Stevens' band, and I LOVE SUFJAN!

On Thursday I went to the (not safe for workplace clickin'!) Girls Night In going-outta-business sale at Amani. I got some good stuff for not much scratch, and even won a special treat from the raffle! I hear that Karen still has stock to liquidate, so give her a holler!

The weekend was pretty quiet. I met up with the E-dawg parade for lunch at People's on Saturday. I'd also planned to hit up the E. Liberty farmers market, but didn't realize they closed at noon. That's okay, next week. The rest of the city farmers markets ended last week, but this one is indoor and stays open all year! I haven't been there yet. I can't wait to check it out. I was lamenting the long winter with no CSA and no farmers market, but it's gonna be okay. Also, the folks that run the CSA I subscribe to are having winter boxes. You can get on their email list here. The way it works is that they send out an email each week, and you choose whether to opt in that week (and get your delivery location). And, of course, the co-op will be there to supplement everything else.

Okay. It's Monday, and I actually don't even mind. I had a restful weekend, and it's a short week. (Work usually lets us out by 3:00 p.m. the day before a holiday, too!) Good times.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

get your turk on

Hi all,

I just got this email from Carrie at Farm to Table regarding getting orders for local, organic Thanksgiving turkeys. So, for the meat-eaters out there looking for a bird, she's taking orders today only, so act quickly (most other local outlets for heritage and/or organic turkeys have already filled their orders.

In other news, I'll try to write some stuff later, but just wanted to get this posted because of the time crunch!

Buy Local!

Sorry for such short notice! I have been very busy preparing for a conference in DC that I just returned from.

If you are still in need of a FRESH, healthy, great tasting, locally raised, organic, soy free, grass fed turkey – I am taking orders TODAY ONLY.

More information:

· Orders must be received no later than 10pm tonight. I will order a few extra (these will be on a first come first serve basis for those of you who did not receive this message in time).

· These are broad breasted white turkeys (not a heritage breed).

· Fed organic, soy free grain along with their grass and bug diet from being outdoors all summer.

· Birds will not come with a USDA certified organic label - only because the farmer will be processing them himself as there are no USDA certified organic poultry processors in the area.

· Necks and organs will be included. (if you do not want them please let me know and we will remove them for you before you pick your bird up).

· Feet are available on request (when making soup from the turkey carcass, adding the feet will make for a wonderful, nutritious broth)

· Turkeys will average 15-25lbs and we will do the best we can to fill any requested weights (but no guarantees).

· The cost is $3.00/lb with a $2 per turkey delivery fee. (I am not marking this up at all).

· Birds will be processed tomorrow – Friday, November 16 – and stored just above freezing until delivery.

· Turkeys will be delivered on Monday to my house on Ashland Ave in Mt. Lebanon. You must pick your order up by 9pm Monday night.

Turkeys are also great for all your other holiday dinners but you must purchase your turkey now as they will not be available later. I may be able to store some turkeys but will have to charge some nominal storage fee to do so.

Call me if you have any questions. 412-337-1671.

Carrie Hahn

Hahn's Farm to Table

322 Ashland Ave

Pittsburgh, PA 15228

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

this is you

Okay, it's not you, it's me.

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I love it. If there is a fire and I have to quickly snatch up my most favorite things, I will grab it.

In other news, this guy is so, so, so crompy! I thought for sure the action would begin on Saturday, and stopped at a drug store and bought: a heating pad, a bottle of ibuprofen, tampons (eff divas!), pantyliners and a package of ferrero-rocher. The check-out lady looked at my stuff, looked at me, and said: "Normally I ask 'How are you today?', but I can tell how you are." Right on, sister, right on.

Strangely, my uterus isn't requesting java fried rice. It's see-you noodles she wants. She will not be denied (or defied)!

In other news, I'm reading a book (on a suggestion, like many of my reading selections, from E-dawg) called Women Who Eat, edited by Leslie Miller. It's a bunch of essays by women about food. I'm about a third of the way through and really enjoying it. Check it out!

Speaking of E-dawg, her b-day is coming up! She's doing a birthday run-then-eat. It may come as no surprise to you that I'm skipping the running part. But, feel free to send her gifts and accolades. If you wanna send cash, I'll collect it, and uh, hold onto it for safe-keeping. Happy Birthday, E-dawg!!

Monday, November 12, 2007

no fair

I have made no secret about my hatred for Mondays. And, that hatred gets ratcheted up a billionfold when there's a Monday work holiday that I am not privy to. Veterans, I salute you, but to everyone else: pppbbbbbbbbbllllllllllltttttttttttt! (aka, a raspberry).

But, the weekend was swell. Friday night I just had a quiet evening and watched a movie. Um, Ratatouille. Yes, it's a kids' movie, but it's also about a rat that's a chef. It was really cute! I give it two thumbs up.

Saturday I got my hair did, and actually really like it. So, crisis averted for now. I was thinking that I'd stop by the Apple Festival, but I got busy with other errands, and then went to hang out with Zeke, so I missed it (did anyone check it out?). Saturday night I sat in traffic for over an hour on 376E (while, remarkably, not freaking out. i mean, bummed that i was late, but no road rage), then went to see Persepolis (part of the Three Rivers Film Festival). It was amazing! It's based on the Persepolis book(s) by Marjane Satrapi, and I love the books. The movie was perfect.

Sunday I met a Hurd at Handmade Arcade where I found some really wonderful things. I got a couple prints, a cell phone charm that is also a screen cleaner (I've been looking for these for two years!), a print for my neice (of an inchworm. she loves worms or "wormies"), a t-shirt for my brother (of the "major award" lamp from A Christmas Story), some assorted cards, a couple buttons, my favorite vegan cupcakes (fell in love with her coconut-avocado cupcakes last year at Handmade Arcade), a book mark and stocked up on a year's supply of my favorite lip balm (I'd sooner be without cigarettes than lip balm. i literally freak out without it), and saw loads of peeps that I enjoy running into. And, the best thing I got? Hands down it was a little custom portrait of me. This guy, Reverend Aitor, had a little sign up that said "Unflattering Portraits--while you wait! $10". He said that the concept was that he was talking about those caricatures that you get at theme parks and stuff that are always kinda dumb and unflattering. He thought if you're gonna make it unflattering, you should just really go for it. His style is a little reminiscent of R. Crumb. The portrait is definitely unflattering. And, awesome. I'll try to scan it this week and show yinz.

Good times.

And, Sunday evening I went over to my pal Leslie's for "boyz night", which was gonna be beer n' pizza, but then she kicked it up a notch, and decided to stay in and cook (so, we renamed it "gay boyz night"). I grabbed a bottle of pinot and headed over (again, sitting in traffic for over an hour! Steelers! dang it!). She had a lovely assortment of cheeses, then served butternut squash crepes with sauteed kale with barley (yuh-um!), and an applesauce cake for dessert with caramelized apples and maple whipped cream. Dang. This girl is a whiz in the kitchen and an excellent hostess. And, also introduced me to Miss Leslie. Miss Leslie does not tolerate slovenly and vulgar behaviour! You have been warned!

Friday, November 9, 2007

comfort, schmomfort

Well, the colcannon was a big, fat failure. It turned out more like spackle or papier-mâché or glue than a bowl of fluffy love. I'm not sure whether it was the potatoes (they were more sweet, less starchy) or the fact that I cooked them the night before (even though I rewarmed them for mashing). It may have been a combo of both, but I'm leaning towards the potato variety. You need starchy goodness, but I just wanted to both use up my CSA potatoes I'd been stockpiling for weeks and wanted colcannon, so I made a gamble. And, lost.

So, after I realized that the potatoes were glue it just hurt my heart that I'd already invested ten or twelve (smallish/mediumish) potatoes, three cloves of garlic, half a head of cabbage, a bunch of chard, a bunch of parsley, lots of grated parmesan, some half-n-half, some butter...well, I just wasn't ready to throw in the towel that easily. So, I came up with the plan of making them into potato cakes. So, I threw in a couple eggs, some more cheese and an entire bag of panko. I formed them into cakes (not easy since they were still so gluey), and fried them in a little olive oil. Guess what the result was?

Yep, glue cakes.

The flavor wasn't horrible, but the texture was grody. So, I threw the finished cakes in the trash, but was still left with a giant bowl of the glue. I called Schwatts for her expert advice. Guess what that was. She said, "Make a piñata?". And, then she settled down and shared her own tales of Potatoes Gone Wild, and suggested that maybe I could try using it as thickener for soup. So, that's gonna be my last-ditch effort. I'm gonna warm some stock, and whisk some in and see if that'll work. Otherwise, I just gotta bite the bullet and toss 'em (dang, and today was garbage day). So sad!

So, I went empty-handed to book club last night, but I didn't leave with an empty belly. There were lots of delicious treats--E-dawg's chocolate chip pumpkin loaf (yum!), Nat's baked apples (yum!), Hayley's madeleines (yum!), and all the other delectable treats that I can't think of right now. All in all, apart from the colcannon debacle, a delightful evening.

And, today's Friday! Woot!

Handmade Arcade is this weekend, and it's two days this year! It's this big annual DIY craft fair, and it's awesome-awesome. I plan on getting all my holiday shopping done there. Halfly because I don't plan on doing a ton of holiday shopping this year (down with capitalism, up with good cheer!), and halfly because there are so many incredible things to see and purchase (okay, so not totally down with capitalism).

Also, I'm getting a hair cut tomorrow. Finally. My head is looking like I'm sporting a mullet mop. It's so displeasing to me that it actually makes me nauseous. It's that bad. Yet, I'm going back to the same person that cut it last time. If anyone has excellent hair-cuttin' suggestions for the 'Burgh, please bring 'em on. My friend Beth once told me, "You should always have someone cooler than you cutting your hair." And, hey, let's face it, it's hard to get cooler than this guy.

And, I'm pet-sitting Zeke this weekend! My special little guy!

Annnnd, Slow Food Pittsburgh is having an Apple Festival tomorrow at the Union Project! Complete with apple pie baking contest and Johnny Appleseed look-alike contest! (I love this gal's blog, and she mentioned a while back that she's entering the contest. I'm pulling for her for the win! Seriously, her blog is called "Pittsburgh Needs Eated". That's the cutest name ever).

So, it'll be an action-packed weekend! Not so great for hibernating, but good for the soul, nonetheless. Hope you have a good one, dear readers.

Thursday, November 8, 2007


When the weather gets cold all I want to do is hibernate in pajamas with lots of blankets and pets and snacks and dvds and books and magazines. I am anti-leaving the house. Since hibernation isn't an option for my gainful employment I make do by cooking comfort foods. So, tonight I'm leaving the house for Queer Book Club, but I'm taking some (modified) colcannon with me. It's one of my favoritest, comfiest foods. I cooked some potatoes last night so I'd be all ready to go after work today. I'm adding in cabbage, chard, spinach, and also adding garlic, parmesan and some white truffle oil. So, even though colcannon might be weird as a snack food, I don't think anyone will mind. I mean, who doesn't like mashed potatoes?
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Okay, that's all I got today, folks. It's been a long day.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

ps. vote for Heidi

Heidi's blog, was nominated for the 2007 Weblog Awards for best food blog! It's a close race, so go here and cast your vote!

hello, my lovelies!

How I've missed you!

Okay, actually I was having way too good of a time with Schwatts in York to miss anything. I didn't want to come home! First of all, it was just great to see my gal since I hadn't seen her since our beach trip. She's one of my very favorite people on earth, and I don't know anyone else like her. If there were any justice in this world I would be able to clone an extra to keep in my pocket at all times. Plus, even before she went to culinary school she was one of my favorite cooks ever--always beautiful and delicious food infused with love.

I arrived on Saturday afternoon, and we had some wine, ran some errands, and then came back home and made dinner. She made grilled pizzas--three varities! I was in charge of rolling out pizza dough, and she was in charge of making the magic happen. My favorite variety was arugula, pears, honey, olive oil and brie. Oh, dang. It was amazing! And, then we had a tomato-veggie version and a pepperoni-veggie version for her main man, Joe.
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The next morning she let me in on her plan of attack (personal cheffing takes a LOT of organization), and we shopped, made sauces and then made ourselves a fabulous dinner. Firstly, I gotta say, I'd never made homemade mayo before. I've made vegan mayo, but never the real deal. It makes such a difference! We made a regular mayo and then an herbed aioli--which is one of the Best Things Ever To Touch My Taste Buds EVER! Seriously, rich, fragrant, gorgeously velvety. I'll never buy store-bought mayo again (unfortunately I *just* bought a jar of Hellman's). I could've eaten a bowl of it!

That evening we made ourselves a pasta dish with lots of veggies and a rich cream sauce (I've always been terrified of making cream sauces and gravies, but Schwatts let me do it with her guidance). It turned out so well that I forgot to take pictures! Suffice it to say, it was heaven with a side of garlic bread. For real. We ate it, and then both passed out on our respective couches moments after she said, "now, let's not fall asleep out here...".

The next morning we got up early and went to the local culinary school where she rents a kitchen (for her Jon & Kate clients since she can't cook there), and whipped up a Chicken and Veg Soba salad with peanut sauce, scalloped potatoes, roasted asparagus and crabcakes (with the glorious herbed aioli). And, I got to have her teach me to make a roux (for the potatoes), which is another one of those creamy things that I'm a-scared of. I meant, again, to snap some photos, but forgot until we'd already cooled and packaged everything. But, it looked gorgeous and delicious. It was so fun to get to work in a big kitchen like that, and so fun to cook with Katherine (aka Schwatts). I normally get all uptight if there are peeps in the kitchen with me while I'm cooking, but we worked like a well-oiled machine (well, I thought so, she might have been telling me to get offa her land! in her head). Then we stopped off for some giant and tasty burritos at a local spot.
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That night for dinner she made a big salad (arugula, toasted pine nuts, parmesan, gorgonzola, red peppers, sugar snap peas, carrots, scallions) with a fantabulous pomegranate vinaigrette and I made some grilled cheese sandwiches on pumpernickel with triple cream brie and some hard farmers' goat cheese and, Schwatts' brilliant addition, herbs de Provence. It was heavenly. Really. The perfect meal.
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I got to see all the ins and outs--the cooking, the scheduling, the writing menus, making grocery lists, cooling, packaging...I didn't get to do the delivery with her because they pushed it back a day, but it was all so much fun!

And, when we weren't cooking, we were hanging out with her fabulous fella, Joe, and their dog, Gus (The Gutmaster General, Baby Lambda--half lamb, half panda, Guttercup) and two cats--Natalie (who I dearly, dearly love and who has the sweetest cat face ever) and Goya (who is kind of a jerk, but has the cutest spotted back left foot and moments of pure sweetness).

I wish you could see her face straight-on because it is seriously gorgeous:
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Goya, doing his every-two-minute ritual of being let in/out the door:
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The Gutmaster General, and I don't know if you can tell in these pictures, but he is huge. Seriously, his head is at least twice the size of mine. He's a St. Bernard, and weighs almost 150 pounds. And, all those pounds are comprised of sweetness and love. He could be the K-Bear's long lost soul mate.
Here he is taking up almost a whole couch:
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And, here's his glamour shot on the porch:
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Speaking of the porch, it's beautiful. They have a beautiful home, and the back porch is very reminiscent of our porch at the beach, but even bigger and more beautiful!
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All in all, it was a dream visit. Katherine and Joe are incredibly gracious hosts, have a lovely and comfortable home, anticipate the needs of their guest, and I learned a ton. I wish they would adopt me! Thank you, Schwattzie-Bear!