Tuesday, December 18, 2007

An introduction to cookie baking on a massive scale

After a short postponement due to snow and ice, the annual family cookie baking event took place on Saturday. Each year, they make several hundred cookies in two varieties- normal "biscotti" drop cookies, and filled cookies which contain figs, dates, raisins, walnuts, and other stuff. This year we made 3 batches of dough, which required about 27 eggs, 15 lbs. of flour, 9 cups of milk, 3 sticks of butter, 10.5 cups of Crisco, tons of sugar, some baking powder and vanilla. And that's not even for the icing! These recipes have been in the family for several generations, although some tweaking of the recipe has gone on through the years. Dave sent me step-by-step pictures of last year's event, and since this was my first year joining the fray, Jerry & Dave documented it.

The plain drop cookies are pretty simple- you mix the wet ingredients in the pretty commercial-grade KitchenAid mixer:

Blend together the dry ingredients with your hands or a pastry blender. Jerry took care of this part:

Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients:

Mix it all together with your hands:

Put them on a cookie sheet by teaspoons and bake for 12 minutes.

The fig cookies take a little more intense preparation after the dough is made. Roll out the dough:

Cut it into thin strips. (I did not like this part so much because of my difficulty making straight lines.)

Use your fingers to make a thin, goopy line of the fig/date/walnut/orange liqueur mixture. This gets very messy!

Flip half of the dough over the fig mixture. Roll the filled dough into a log and cut into appropriate sizes for crescents or wreaths.

Put on cookie sheet & bake!

Dip the cookies in the icing and add sprinkles. Jeff took care of this step.

Divide the cookies into many, many containers and distribute to friends, co-workers, neighbors, and passers-by.

Above all, keep the dog from eating the product!

Monday, November 19, 2007

I swear I am not making this up.

For those of you who just can't wait for Dave Barry's annual Bad Gift Guide, I present you with this suggestion from our coupon section in Sunday's newspaper:

Yes, that's right, it's the perfect gift, guaranteed to make everyone laugh- a remote-controlled farting teddy bear! Furthermore, this is apparently such endearing behavior, that your friends will want to hug the little stinker again and again:

I guess I'd better go rewrite my list to Santa...

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Birth of a Landmark, Death of a Lawn

Summer has been hard on the O. household. Not on the O's themselves, mind you -- just on the house. Since June, the kitchen faucet has been replaced, the downstairs toilet has been reinstalled, the deck has been sanded and permanently sealed, copious amounts of rotted window trim and sill have been removed, and a settlement for the defective Masonite hardboard siding was reached. After surviving those calamities, we now get this:

That, in case you are wondering, is what white grubs can do to a lawn. About half of the back yard, half of the yard on the north side of the house, and a quarter of the lawn on the south side are in such condition, and are a total loss. The dead turf will have to be ripped up and the underlying dirt reseeded. Luckily, other than a few patches, the front lawn is relatively intact. Needless to say, Em and I are both ready for things to stop breaking/rotting/dying.

But with death comes rebirth, and while the yard may be gone, downtown Kansas City is making a comeback. After two years of construction, the long awaited Sprint Center is now complete. The city's newest landmark officially opens tonight with an Elton John concert, but its unveiling occurred last Wednesday, when the doors were thrown open and Kansas Citians were given an opportunity to see what their tax dollars had bought. As I work within walking distance of the new arena, I wandered over during lunch, and took a few photos.

In addition to hosting concerts and sporting events, the arena is also home to the College Basketball Experience & National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame , which looks like it will be sufficiently fun and interactive to lure some basketball-loving former roommates to KC for a visit.

From the inside, the arena offers sunlit concourses and 360 degree views of the city; I was impressed with how this connects it to its surroundings.

The seating bowl and arena floor itself are about what you'd expect, with comfortable seating and good sight lines for about 19,000 people, a state-of-the-art high definition scoreboard and ribbon board, and a very loud sound system. The ice hockey configuration was a bit of wishful thinking on the part of the city (though there's still hope of stealing the Nashville Predators for the 2008-2009 NHL season); later in the day, the floor was reconfigured for basketball, and later still, for a concert.

And, perhaps most exciting of all, there's this

Yes, it does charge normal QuikTrip prices. No, it does not have a soda fountain, chips or hot dogs (only frozen drinks, doughnuts, cookies and sandwiches).

Needless to say, I'm excited to attend an event at the Sprint Center, though now that it's complete, I'll miss being able to check on the progress of its construction. But that's okay -- I've already picked the next downtown project that I can track obsessively. Behold the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts!

Monday, July 2, 2007

Lobsterpalooza....well, sort of.

Well, we didn't exactly find striking evidence of Lobsterpalooza on Cape Breton Island. However, our friends ensured that we would at least have something lobster-related when we got home.

It is a tradition among Em's college roommates to decorate the house/apt. of a newly married roommate when the couple is away on their honeymoon. Heather & Jeremy came home from Hawaii to find their apartment strewn with a few hundred leis...some easier to find than others. Sarah & Steve went to England & Scotland on their honeymoon and arrived home to find almost every figurine or stuffed animal in the house wearing its own little kilt (including all the foosball players). They also had a distillery recreated from their hot water heater (complete with stuffed Veggie Tales stuffed toys with drink containers, I believe), the fields of heather and sheep on another table, and Bath, England recreated as a kiddie swimming pool that Heather kept adding food coloring to in order to make it as gross-looking as it apparently is in real life.

We got lobsters.

In other lobster news, some fantastic lobster bibs from Calvin & Kelly arrived last week. They had asked us about sending a mysterious "something" to us while we were in Nova Scotia, but we didn't have an actual address (just a P.O. Box) for the only place we'd be staying at for more than 2 nights.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Photo slideshow!

We will probably get around to doing more posts about the individual places we visited on our honeymoon to mainland and Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. But until we have time for that, here is a slideshow of about 120 pics (yes, it's a little long, but we narrowed it down from 3,000!) with brief info about each place. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Irresistibly Canadian!

For the most part, Canada appears to be a peculiarly accented U.S. What we have in the States, they have here (although, in the case of gas prices, Subway and Kraft Dinner, they just have more). However, delve a little deeper, and you’ll find some unexpected differences. Nowhere is this more evident than in the potato chip aisle at the grocery store. In amongst the standard plain, barbecue, and sour cream and onion were a quartet of flavor oddities. Without further ado, may we present the Lay’s Canadian Collection:

For the graphically challenged, or for those who simply distrust their eyes, those are, in fact Spicy Curry, Roast Chicken, Fries & Gravy varieties of Lay’s. Ketchup flavor was also available. Especially amusing are the enthusiastic profiles on the backs of the bags, which contain not only flavor descriptions, but a stirring appeal to Canadian nationalism.

In the interest of furthering good will and cross-cultural understanding between our two great nations, we took it upon ourselves to sample and evaluate these exotic examples of Canadian cuisine.

First up, Spicy Curry:

Spicy Curry...well, it tasted like curry. Not particularly spicy, but it lived up to its name. Dave found the back especially amusing, as it seemingly thinks that diplomacy, communication, etc. are all overrated- all we really need to induce multicultural harmony is to listen to the sage advice on the back of a potato chip bag.

Next is Roast Chicken, which tasted like we were gnawing on a bouillon cube:

Our third flavor is Fries and Gravy. This is inspired by poutine, a Canadian fast-food treat typically made with fries topped by cheese curds and hot gravy. It's like a heart attack all in one bowl! Anyway, the chips didn't really taste like gravy. Dave said they tasted similar to Funyuns (which also happen to be made by Frito-Lay). We couldn't figure out a better description- they were kind of oniony, but were difficult to pick out as gravy in an eyes-closed taste test.

And finally, winner of the Taster's Choice award for Most Likable Weird Potato Chip Flavor is (drum roll, please): Ketchup!

We actually got 2 bags of ketchup potato chips. They were the flavor we'd be most likely to pick up if we really, really wanted chips and these 4 flavors were our only choices. They tasted like slightly sweet ketchup. The thing that puzzles me is that Lay's puts out ketchup as an example of Canadians' great taste. Now we had some lovely meals on our trip, but I'm not sure any of the nice restaurants we ate at offered ketchup as their primary sauce. I love ketchup; don't get me wrong, but I just don't think it's a good example of a country's high-class taste.

We haven't seen any of these varieties in our grocery store back in the U.S., but take heart, fellow Americans- dill pickle was a Canadian flavor first before Lay's brought it over as a test flavor in the States. If you cross your fingers and write enough nice letters to Frito-Lay, you might just see Ketchup or Roast Chicken chips in your supermarket soon!

The gang is back in KC!

Our internet access dropped out shortly after we posted our first entry from lovely Cape Breton Island, and we haven't had a chance to update until now. We all arrived back in Kansas City safely a little over a week ago and have been settling in after our wonderful honeymoon. With Em's boxes moving in and Eric's boxes moving out, there are boxes everywhere! The kitty would love to use them as her personal climbing gym, but we have been keeping her mostly in her room so she feels safe and we don't have to worry about her eating bubble wrap or packing tape. She is enjoying peering out at her kingdom from the second story window.

Well, we didn't find the real Pinchy, despite the promises of the Lobsterpalooza website that he would be at the Port Hawkesbury Visitors' Center. However, we found a substitute Pinchy, seen above with Joshua Lawrence Chimperlain and Stampey (in a U-Dayton shirt!). Dave suggests thinking of this Pinchy as one of the real Pinchy's helpers, since Pinchy is apparently too busy to be everywhere (like Santa and the mall Santas).

We are still working on sorting through our photos (we took about 3,000! Behold the power of digital cameras!) and will post some of the good ones from Cape Breton and PEI. Up next: random Canadian food we stumbled upon during a stop at the Baddeck Co-Op grocery store.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Where's Pinchy? - Day One

We arrived on Cape Breton Island at approximately 4:30 p.m., almost an hour and a half before the Port Hastings visitor's center closed. That should've left plenty of time to meet and get our picture taken with the Lobsterpalooza mascot, Pinchy the Lobster, and to buy Pinchy-related swag. But not only was Pinchy not there as promised in the Lobsterpalooza online marketing materials, there were no Pinchy t-shirts, sweatshirts, action figures, soaps, playing cards, shot glasses, magnets, giant pencils, stuffed toys, coloring books, candy bars, or quik-dry cement. In fact, looking around the visitor's center, one would be hard-pressed to find any evidence that Pinchy or Lobsterpalooza existed at all. Not so impressive for a "feastival" that's supposed to draw tourists to Cape Breton and extend the tourism season outside of July & August. Besides not having Pinchy there to greet and entertain us when we arrived over the Canso Causeway, not a single visitor's center employee was wearing an "Ask Me About Lobsterpalooza!" pin for us to steal. We are both very disappointed. Tomorrow we will attempt to intercept Pinchy at the Baddeck Yacht Club, where a roaming photographic exhibit and alleged Lobsterpalooza gift shop is scheduled to be held for one more day. We will not rest until that lobster grows tired of posing for pictures with us!

In other news, we spent a night and a fun day in Halifax after our arrival in Canada. We missed all of the "No climbing on the ramparts" warning signs at the Halifax Citadel and proceeded to get some fantastic photos of the city (and a few classy pics of each other) before being yelled at by one of the security guards in an old-timey soldier outfit.

We also had great fun mocking the new kilted summer recruits who were learning to be proper fake soldiers. It was only their second day, so there was still much turning in the wrong direction and getting barked at by the experienced fake soldiers about line spacing. The bagpiper was our sign that it was time to go, and after a brief walk through the Halifax Public Gardens, we headed up to PEI.

We spent a lovely two days on Prince Edward Island, mocking the commercialization that has sprung up around the Anne of Green Gables novels and their creator, including the Shining Waters family fun water park in Cavendish (complete with twisty water slides, just like in the books!). Sadly, we were there a little ahead of the tourist season, so we didn't get to experience Avonlea Village, blacklight mini golf, laser tag, or go-carts. Ah, how fondly I remember the scene in Anne of Avonlea where she and Diana are running away from Gilbert in their go-carts, seeking shelter behind the replica of the space shuttle Columbia...

In all seriousness, PEI was wonderful. We enjoyed driving through the countryside, walking on Cavendish Beach, and exploring Charlottetown. The B&B we stayed in was an easy walk away from the Charlottetown waterfront, and we had some excellent seafood and Cows ice cream. Dave loved the Confederation Bridge and has been taking lots of lighthouse pictures for one of his co-workers.

Tomorrow: kayaking, then vegging out and crossing my fingers that the Pistons will get their act together and win.