Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Joys of a Real Book...

It's already Sunday evening. As always, the weekend flew by in a complete and utter whirlwind and here I sit, blogging before I go to bed and get up again on another somewhat-dreaded Monday morning.

I can't complain about my weekend, it was nice, even if it flew by. I finally got to see Avatar in 3D which was amazing. The movie itself was pretty blah. It was "Dances with Wolves" set in space, as a friend had warned me. However, it was so amazing visually to watch that it was well worth the price of the ticket. I also got to spend time with my brothers which is pretty rare unless a holiday is involved.

I also finally just finished reading Julie and Julia. All I can say is thank goodness I can move onto another book with a hopefully more likeable main character. I kept hoping Julie Powell was going to redeem herself and have some moment in which I realized she wasn't that bad. Not so. She had a tantrum and crying fit after she attempted a majority of the recipes which didn't seem to turn out that well very often. What I found amusing is that in the third "The End" part of the book (she couldn't seem to find a place to stop so she wrote "The End" then continued. Then she wrote "The End" and continued again anyway), she talks about how the challenge of cooking all of Julia Child's recipes helped her find a sense of "Joy". I'm curious as to where, exactly, she found that joy because it's certainly not apparent in the book. Perhaps she did but maybe she should have tried to capture that the same way the movie did far more successfully. She did nothing but whine, complain and insult quite a few people. She was also horribly condescending.

Now, I'm going to move on, hopefully to something entertaining. My friend, Ms. P, suggested Outlander and said that it has some nice steamy moments. Since I could use a few steamy moments, I'm willing to give it a try. My mum had a copy of it so I didn't even have to work that far to find it.

I often borrow books from people. I often loan them out too. It's a fun way of bonding with people. This is why I'm becoming more and more curmudgeonly regarding e-readers and e-books. Now they're coming out with the iPad in March. It's a big, giant iPhone, essentially, primarily for reading electronic media such as magazines and books.

Now, don't get me wrong. I get some of the reasonings behind this, the Kindle and the Nook- the current popular e-readers on the market. I just don't personally agree with them. Sure, if I'm going on a plane trip that's going to last a while, taking one little tiny electronic device instead of a bag full of books is going to be more economical, not to mention saving my poor back some strained muscles because of the weight.

But it's not the same. I love the smell of a book, the joy of opening a new book for the first time and hearing the crackle of new pages. I love throwing a book in my backpack in case I get chance to read somewhere.

I love to read in the bath. Which is one of the reasons I think the e-readers will never replace paper books. I mean, accidents happen. Books get dropped in the water or, at the very least, splashed. On a paper book, it means some warped pages, perhaps having to buy a replacement copy.

What if you were to read the iPad in the bath? First of all, not practical. Though I'm sure it's not possible to electrocute yourself in this manner, I'd still worry about that anyway. Also, if you drop that in the tub, you're down $499. I don't think apple is going to be offering replacement iPads if you were dumb enough to drop it in the bath.

No, I know the technology junkies salute e-readers because you can have that instant gratification of wanting to read a book and suddenly thinking, "hey, I'll buy it." And boom, there it is on your reader.

Not me. I'm a contemplater when it comes to books. I only buy them when I've either read it before and must have a copy of my own or when I trust the author so much that I know it will be good enough to invest in. Otherwise, I go to the library. I like to read the back covers of books, browse the pages to see if the writing style is going to agree with me.

How can you do any of that on an e-reader? It's just not the same. Besides, though I know they're trying to light the e-reader screens so they resemble the experience of reading a book, rather than staring at a computer screen, you're still looking at a screen. I spend far too much of my day already. When I get home, I want to sit on the couch, tuck my feet under me, grab a pillow and curl up with my book. I want to bend the pages so that they sit poised underneath my fingers, ready to be turned eagerly. I want the freedom to hug the book if it pleases me to the point at which it deserves a hug. I also want the freedom to hurl the book across my bed if it irritates me, as I was tempted to do with Julie and Julia.

I may change my mind in the future though at this point in time, I can pretty much say I don't think that's likely. Perhaps they'll come out with an e-reader that feels like a book as well as contains the same content. Of course, then I'll wonder why we don't just read books instead and I'll be greeted with a chorus of "it's GREENER!"

I get that and in most cases, I respect it. Yet when it comes to books, I'm a traditionalist. I like the feel of paper. It's been around for thousands of years, papyrus before paper but still the same concept. I want to keep that tradition alive.

So, I'm pretty sure I won't be buying an e-reader. Give me a paper book any day. I'll try not to drop it in the bath.

Happy Monday.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sharpening the Pencils to Death....

I think today was what you call "karma" in the office. After my blog yesterday that gently poked fun at the Weight Watchers, it turned out today that I was the only member of the "anti-Weight Watchers" in the office. I did not relish the thought of sitting in the kitchen, eating my salad that had real fresh pieces of leftover bacon on top and having the Weight Watchers ask me what I was eating and make "The Face*," so I ended up running errands and eating my not-as-healthy-as-I'd-like-but-really-tasty salad at my desk.

(*Definition of the face: Picture the food that appeals to you most in the world. Picture how it tastes and smells. Then picture a big metal cage being placed on the food so that it's unreachable. Yet you can still smell it and imagine how it tastes... but you can't eat it. Now look at your face in the mirror. That...="The Face")

I didn't really mind too much. It was that type of day, anyway. It was, in short, a typical Thursday; a day in which I got much done but my mind was looking forward to the weekend.

Then again, there's nothing much new about that, is there?

Still, I can't complain. Today went by pretty quickly. My boss has not spoken to me in two days, not since the meeting we had on Tuesday. I'd say I'm heartbroken but in actuality, it's actually quite nice. My boss does this thing that my coworker and I call "Drive-By Managing." For the most part, he ignores our existence. Then, every now and again, he'll come out of his office and take turns to stop by our desks and say, "hey, how's it goin'?"

And that's it. He just stands there, waiting. We usually say, "Pretty good." And then he stands there some more. So then we launch into a description of what we're working on. He still stands there. It's like he wants to chat but has no idea how. With the males in our area, he stops by their desks and talks sports. They can do that for hours. Yet with my coworker and I, both of us females, it is in a word...awkward.

This is the type of 'awkward' that should be muttered or whispered in two syllables- "awk. ward" - while looking out of the corners of your eyes down at the ground. If you don't know what I mean, try it. You'll understand.

I want to chat to him, don't get me wrong. Yet when I do, he looks fearful, as though I'm going to say something sarcastic. I've mentioned this before: He thinks everything I say is sarcastic when, in actuality, only about 50 percent of what I say to him is intended to be sarcastic.

No, I've actually tried to engage him in real conversation, to ask him about his kids, his wife, his name it, I've probably tried it. Granted, it's getting a little personal but when you have the type of boss that walks up to you and says, "you look nice. Why are you so dressed up? Do you have fancy social plans?" it doesn't seem so out-of-the-question to try to take an interest in who he is as a person aside from who he is as a boss.

It's just plain...awkward. The most frustrating part of it is that we have bi-weekly meetings to discuss what our area has been doing. We go around the meeting table and say what we're working on. Compared to the programmers, I'm pretty dull- I could go into great technical detail about what I've been doing but the way I look at it is that no one really cares. Unfortunately, some of the programmers do not feel this way and feel that it's necessary to break down into intricate detail exactly the work they've been doing down the programming code. It's not that I'm not interested because I am. Yet when it gets down to when they're naming every single phone call they received and the answer they gave and the respondent's reply to their answer and then the follow-up emails that occurred...well, by then they've lost me.

Yet, since our boss does take notes at these bi-weekly meetings, I suppose what I hope is that he actually listens and makes a note of what we're doing. However, two days later, he's standing by my desk saying "hey, how's it goin'?" and I have to recap what I'm working on which, most likely, isn't that different from what I said in the meeting.

I forgot to mention, during this time, he's fiddling. He's a fiddler, my boss. If he's standing by my desk, he's got to be touching something on my desk. Sometime it's my name plate which he knocks down quite a lot. He usually does this when he's trying to perch on my desk. It's the perching which actually alarms me. My desk really isn't perch-able. It's a got a decent work top but it's got two cubby-holes above it with overhead lift-up lids. They sit pretty low. Thus, perching on my desk means your shoulder can't quite fit comfortable with these cubby-holes. Also, my desk is a little slick. Since I've never tried to sit on it, I can't say that I've experienced sliding on it. However, seeing as how my boss takes a little bit too much of a slide every time he tries to perch, I have to assume it's a bit slippery.

So, the perching ends up with my boss looking slightly flustered because he's either knocked my name-plate over, gone sliding or whacked his shoulder on my cubby-hole. So, usually, by this time he's on his feet, trying to think of the best escape plan so he can save a little face.

When he doesn't perch, he's usually looking at some of my toys- either my Geico Gekko statue or my Green Day SuperAction figures. It alarms me when he picks up one of my Green Day men and 'fiddles' with it. He doesn't know he's doing it. It's a bit of a violation of my space. Also, I don't think Green Day would appreciate quite the manner in which he's trying to remove Mike Dirnt's chicken from his hands. Trust me, you have to see it to understand quite how odd it is.

So, long story short, days upon which my boss doesn't speak to me are actually not that bad at all. Since he has absolutely no clue what it is I really do nor what it is I actually am capable of, I tend to get a little annoyed with him in general anyway. I've tried repeatedly to have him take me seriously, to listen when I suggest something or to at least understand that I'm not a complete twit. Nothing seems to work.

Yet he is a 'drive-by' manager. I can't decide if this is better or worse than a micro-manager, someone who wants to know everything I'm doing all the time. I think it's probably better although at least with a micro-manager, he might actually realize that I'm constantly having to find my own projects to work on because otherwise, I might stab myself in the eye with a pencil out of boredom.

I don't want to stab out my eye. I quite like having my eyeballs. I also quite like my pencils. I've kept those away from my boss when he comes to 'perch' on my desk. My pencils are very personal to me. I mean, think about it, a pen runs on its own ink. A pencil...a pencil must be sharpened in the palm of your hand. It becomes personal the first time you sharpen it. Each turn of the sharpener serves to make it work better for you.

Yet, really, you're slowly slaughtering the pencil in order to make it more efficient.

Not terribly unlike my company, when I think about it. Or most companies, for that matter. Eek gads, what a thought.

But it's Friday. That's a better and slightly less dark and twisty thought. I think I'll stick with that, what do you think?

Happy Friday and have a good weekend!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Weight Watchers vs. Real Food....

It's getting closer to the weekend. Isn't it sad how we wish time to pass so quickly during the work week? What I'm truly afraid of is that if I live to be 100, complete with all the wisdom I'd think I was due, I'm going to look back and say, "what the heck was I thinking, wishing time to fly so quickly!"

I don't. Not really. Just the time I have to spend at work. It's not even the time I want to pass...just the work. Am I a bad person for wanting this?

I think life would always be much easier if we didn't have to work. It would also be far less interesting and far less frustrating. Still, we need a way to pay our bills and feel like we have a purpose in life.

Ok, so I confess, I can't say my job makes me feel like I have a purpose. Yet it does pay the bills. And that...that is important too.

Nevertheless, I do think that if I didn't have a regular routine during my day, I'd soon get a little befuddled by life. For all of its negative days, my job does have its highlights.

For me, my favourite part of the day is lunch. I know, I know...this sounds rather sad. Yet since we've moved from our cruddy old building to our new State of the Art, High Tech Building, lunch has become more of an event than just something you partake in around noon every day.

Unlike our old building, our new building actually has a "kitchen". It's in quotation marks because there is no stove. As a self-declared "cook", I am snobbish to think that a kitchen needs a set of burners and an oven to be a real "kitchen". Therefore, I refer to our kitchen as "The Lunchroom."

The "Lunchroom" is nice. It has three tables with bench style seating. It has a big flat screen TV. I'd wow you by citing the size of the TV but, in all honesty, I have no idea how big it is. It's bigger than my TV at home. It's also flatter. That's all I can tell you.

We no longer have a cable box. As I might have mentioned, they seemed worried that we'd hijack the cable boxes so they hid them in our 'server' room- the same room that houses our computer serves and to which you need an access key to enter. I have no access key. Thus, I cannot enter it. I think that about 98% of our personnel is also unable to enter. When they first moved the cable boxes to the server room, they had the unfortunate experience of realizing it was actually quite impossible changing the channel with the remote control when the receiver box was nowhere within the vicinity. After a few protests (but no complaints!), they did realize it was a little futile to have two TV's that could not be controlled because the remote control's signal was not strong enough to reach the server room.

They finally installed 'eyes' on the TV's- receptors that allow us to change the channel in the lunchroom, even though the cable box is not present. Personally, as I mentioned before, I think I'd rather steal a flat screen TV than a cable box but it would be a bit pointless to lock the TV's up too.

Still, now we can change the channel which is vital to any good lunchroom experience. If I'm in there alone, I put it on the Food Network (duh!). However, if any males, whosoever, should be in the lunchroom, the TV is guaranteed to be on ESPN's "Sport's Center". If the girls get there before hand, it goes onto the Style Networks "What Not To Wear."

Honestly, I could care less. Since I'm not allowed to eat at my desk, I've taken to eating in the lunchroom. I've actually come to like it. There's a regular group of us that arrives at noon to microwave our lunches and we end up eating and socializing.

I admit, it's quite nice. It does make a brief escape. I like sitting with 'the regulars', discussing our lunches while they examine my weird 'Foodie' lunch and try to figure out what I'm eating. Today, it was penne with crimini and button mushrooms in white wine cream sauce. Tomorrow, it'll be mache salad with lardons and red pepper dressing.

Ok, so I admit, I quite enjoying stumping people. It's fun to eat. It's more fun to cook the food that will become the leftovers that will become my lunch.

I like my regular 'crowd'. We've actually sort of dubbed ourselves the 'anti-Weight Watchers.'.

I like that designation. You see...the New Year passed. With it, passed resolutions that involved weight loss and getting in shape.

This led to....Weight Watchers.

Now, as an aside, I respect the people who are trying to watch what they eat. I generally, overall, keep an eye on the amount of bad ingredients I use vs. good ones. While I tend to use a fair amount of extra-virgin olive oil and even the dreaded butter, the majority of the dishes I used rely on vegetables. As I mentioned yesterday, I've taken up yoga.

Thus, the moral of this story is that while Captain Monkeypants is a foodie who likes the good stuff, she also likes to keep a balance between health and taste.

However, the Weight Watchers are a challenge.

They've become a 'gang', you see. Once upon a time, there was one Weight Watcher. She was one of those poor souls that is constantly on a diet but genetically engineered so that no matter how many calories were deprived from her diet, she'd still never really lose much, even when she worked out constatantly. Then there were two Weight Watchers. They compared notes, swapped diet schedules and point counters.

Then there were three. Now there are five. They have taken to conversing in the kitchen while us "anti-Weight Watchers" eat our lunches. The sad fact of the matter is that people on diets become obsessed. They compare calories, protein, fat grams, sugar content and overall health of an item. When they find a fellow dieter, it's exciting for them and two become one. When one becomes five, as in the case of our Weight Watchers, it's a bit of a nightmare.

Now, don't get me wrong: Captain Monkeypants is not against dieters. She could certainly stand to watch her own diet far more than she does now. Once upon a time, Captain Monkeypants was skinny. Then she became slender. She's currently hovering on curvy...on the cusp of being either flabby or moving back towards slender.

I'm not overweight by any doctor's scale but compared to the figure I had ten years ago, I've gained a lot of weight. The problem is, I'm ok with that. I want to be skinnier...who doesn't? Yet...I also like food. I'd rather enjoy what I eat than be miserable and have to count every calorie.

Which leads me back to our Weight Watchers.

They're not happy. It's obvious. On my birthday, they took me out for lunch. It was lovely of them. I enjoyed it. Yet listening to the Weight Watchers have to examine the menu and 'point it out' was exhausting. They couldn't read the menu and think "hey, that sounds good!" They had to manually calculate fat vs. calories vs. their point schedule.

It was no fun.

As I said, I understand it. I just can't do it. To me, it's pretty obvious that cappellini pomodoro is pretty safe. I mean, yes, it's pasta but it's angel hair. It's just flour-based pasta, fresh tomatoes, basil, pepper and a touch of olive oil. It's healthier than, say, fettucine alfredo which is usually egg-noodles, cream and cheese.

Yes, I'm a foodie. Yes, I know the ingredients that comprise many dishes. Yet does it really take a foodie to know that fresh tomatoes and basil vs. cheese and heavy cream is really a contest as far as healthier options go?

That being said, the Weight Watchers don't care about their instincts. Even though 100% of them know that fettucine Alfredo is bad, they still pull out their little guides to 'point it out'. Then they determine that, indeed, the cappellini pomodoro is MUCH better for them.

So they order it and act like they're happy even though they're looking at the non-Weight Watcher's fettucine Alfredo and wishing they ordered that instead.

I'm not lying. I've seen this at least a couple of times. I admire the Weight Watchers' resolve. It takes strength to resist the temptations of the food that makes us happy. Me, personally...I can't do it. I love the taste of half and half as the finishing element to a soup. I'm a cheese addict. There's not substitute for butter, as far as completing a flavour profile.

Thus, I'm doomed. I know this. Yet I also balance the bad stuff with the good, as I've said a few times.

What I don't appreciate is the Weight Watchers' need to "point" my lunch for me. I know they see what I'm eating in the lunchroom and compare it to their Smart Ones/Lean Cusine Frozen meal and wish they had my lunch instead. After all, I've eaten my share of Lean Cuisines. I know that while it might make me feel good to eat that cute little dish full of microwaved nutrients that has few calories and fewer grams of fat, an hour later, I'm going to be STARVING.

It's the way it works. It's the same thing I've said before about those 'healthy' lunches like Progresso Soups. Sure, they look healthy and say they're healthy but that's only if you only take a sip from the actual can of soup. If you eat the whole thing, you're apparently feeding at least two people and the healthiness is significantly reduced.

Which is why those Weight Watchers are to be found, all afternoon, rotating shifts at the popcorn machine, trying to find ways to fill the hole of hunger while not padding their thighs. Yes, they've taken to using the popcorn machine rather than the microwave because apparently the popcorn machine is healthier, even though it uses vegetable oil and they pile on the seasonings and salt.

What I'm really annoyed about is the need for the dieters to tell me how unhealthy my lunch is. That's just downright rude. Ok, so I know that eating my cream based pasta-sauce is not the same as eating steamed broccoli. Yet, I made it with fresh mushrooms and half-and-half. It might not be a Lean Cuisine but it's not that bad. I don't WANT to know how much fat is in it, how many calories I might be eating.

What I do want to know is "does it taste good reheated?". Yup, that's the extent of my "diet".

As I said before, I do respect when people are on diets. It's a challenge, an accomplishment. What I don't like is when that diet becomes an obsession to the point that they're clearly miserable and therefore finding pleasure in making non-dieters feel bad about what they're eating. I'm actually a pretty healthy eater. Just because my leftovers don't have a label regarding the calories and fat, doesn't mean I'm not trying. I do not appreciate knowing how many points everyone's lunches has, including mine. I really just want to eat my lunch and enjoy the taste. I like to sit with the coworkers I like and chat. That's what lunch is for me. When mathematics is involved, lunch loses its appeal.

Yet when the Weight Watchers invade the kitchen we're all doomed.

Still, it keeps things interesting. Even if I don't agree.

Happy Thursday.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Power of Yoga and a Smile....

Today was one of those days at work that seriously challenge my newfound attitude to say, "it's just a job! Screw it!". I've been doing very well at keeping zen even when things don't always go quite right.

Today was probably the worst day I've had in a while. Once more, my boss decided to completely disrespect the work I've been doing and basically say that I might have been wasting my time, even though he doesn't give me any projects to do. I thought I'd done rather well in undertaking a necessary project that I've heard over and over that needs to get done. Nevertheless, even though I'm almost half the way through, my boss has decided that he now needs to see what I've been doing before I can proceed. Naturally, he did not mention anything else that I would be doing in its stead which means that, as before, I'd be sitting at my desk, bored out of my mind because I don't know what I'm supposed to work on.

It didn't help that I had to sit through almost three hours of solid meetings, one of which was basically one of those where absolutely NOTHING was decided because my boss, the Executive Vice-President of our company cannot make a decision and feels that he absolutely must defer to his boss. While I understand his instinct, it still shocks me a little that he can't make a decision. After all, if his boss should happen to get hit by a bus or befall some other hideous fate, guess who's in charge?

The thought terrifies me a little.

Still, even though there were moments where my resolve was thoroughly tested, I managed to get through the day without getting too upset or angry. This, I think, is an accomplishment. While I still had the brief desire to run away, I didn't get in a snit and tell myself that I'm going to pour over tonight and find another job. Granted, I might still have a look, just to see what's out there but it's not with the urgency and fury that I've had in the past.

I think I owe it to yoga. I took it up about two weeks ago, about the same time that I decided my job was not worth giving myself an ulcer over. I'm not the most flexible Monkeypants but that doesn't seem to matter. It's not about the flexibility as much as it is about the breathing and the ability to let your mind go. I think I'm getting the hang of it and I am seriously noticing that my stress level has declined.

So, in my meeting today, I used the same breathing technique I use in yoga. It worked for a little while. Then I visualized using the yoga strap that we inflexible folk use to stretch our legs....

ok, so I did sort of, uh, visualize me wrapping it around my bosses neck and then beating him with my yoga block but that helped too! Yoga is wonderful!

I did my yoga as soon as I got home from work and I can fully state that it really, really does help. While the frustration is there, it's no longer a tangible thing that makes me want to strangle something or someone with a yoga strap- it's a manageable situation that happened earlier today but is over. It might continue tomorrow but, if it does, I can deal with it.
I'm pleased. I like that I've found a way to accept my job and the paycheck I earn without turning it into a drama, without seeking out my coworkers and venting about my boss. I like that even if my relaxation techniques get a little violent, they make me laugh and grin like a loon. My boss caught me grinning like a loon at one point and I could see him look a little confused.

I figure that the more I confuse my boss, the more fun I'm having at work. There's a song made famous by Charlie Chaplin, called "Smile" and the basic concept is to smile, no matter how much life sucks or how upset you are.

What's the use of crying?
You'll find that life is worthwhile,
If you just smile."

I can't say that this always works but when it makes your boss wonder what, exactly, is making you smile like in a slightly maniacal manner, something's worthwhile there.

Happy Wednesday.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Purple Fingers and Decent Mondays....

We made it through another Monday. That's always an accomplishment, I think. Today wasn't actually a bad Monday. We had another birthday lunch for two of my coworkers, my boss was working from home and I got a lot done. Ignoring the fact that my boss doesn't like it if we work from home but often chooses to do so himself, there really wasn't too much to complain about.

It's even snowing again which, of course, makes me very happy. It was a nice beginning to the evening. Since I had lunch out, I didn't want to make anything too heavy for dinner. Since I'd made out menus for the week last night based on ingredients I have, I picked something light to make: Stuffed mushroom caps and roasted beet and parmigiano bruschetta.

I have to say, I might just be in love with cooking. The stuffed mushroom caps are always fun to make. I usually buy the big caps from the grocery store when they're reduced because they're near the expiration date. As long as you use them quickly, they make an inexpensive appetizer. I never use a recipe but more of a formula. I brush the caps with melted butter. I suppose you could use olive oil if you wanted to be a bit healthier but the butter adds a really nice flavour. Then I take some type of cheese, add some breadcrumbs to soak up a little of the oil when the cheese melts, an aromatic, usually chives, garlic or sweet onion and most often a herb to finish off the flavour, usually something that goes well with the cheese. Tonight, I made Fontina stuffed caps with garlic and fresh basil. I have to say, they were absolutely delicious. The roasted beet and parmigiano bruschetta was a Mario Batali recipe (naturally.) It, too, was tasty. I love roasted beets, they're sweet and juicy and when you add caraway seeds, it brings out a whole new flavour.

The only slight problem is that now I have purple fingers. To be fair, it's more like neon pink because I've scrubbed my hands rather a lot. I also had a bit of a purple kitchen as well as a bright red sink. It actually looked like I'd murdered someone when I washed the bowls and plates I'd used to prepare the beets. It was sort of interesting, if a little gory looking. I'm also a wee bit afraid my mouth is purple. Beets are delicious but they're messy.

Then again, I'm probably the messy one. I often make a bit of a mess while I'm prepping. I do clean between each prep though because I like my workstation to be neat and tidy- another lesson I learned from Mr. Batali.

What I don't get is those TV chefs like Giada and the Barefoot Contessa. They use their hands to prepare ingredients and yet they never seem to have a crumb on themselves. Also, they chop onions and their eyes don't water. I've read up on how to chop onions without crying and I've tried everything. However, I have overly sensitive eyes to begin with and by the time I'm done chopping the onions, my eyes are streaming, my nose is running and I can barely see.

I'm sure those TV chefs have artful editors who make sure the messy hands aren't shown, that the scenes are cut between sections so Giada and her fellow TV cooks can actually wash their hands before they continue. Me, personally...I'd rather see their hands messy. It makes them a little more relatable.

Yet there are some cooking shows that do let you see the mess. I watched Worst Cooks in America again last night. Anne Burrell taught her team to make pasta dough. I've watched her make that dough countless times on Iron Chef America when she was Mario Batali's sous chef. She's a pro. There's a technique to making pasta, you see. You make a pile of flour and then make a deep well in the middle, deep enough that you can crack eggs into it, swirl in the flour as you gently beat the egss. All of this has to be done without breaking the well which slowly forms a dough.

Last night, Anne Burrell's "students" were sent off to imitate her technique and make their own dough. I watched as one of her team attempted to make the well. I saw, immediately, that it was too high and deep and I knew what would happen. Sure enough, as the "student" tried to swirl the eggs into the flour, the sides collapsed, the eggs spill out and it was like a volcano erupting as the "student" tried to stop the eggs from escaping and ending up with a giant mess.

I knew what would happen because the first time I tried to make pasta, I, too, made a high and deep well. It was Mount Eggs erupting over my kitchen counter. I still managed to catch them and make it into a dough but it was pretty hairy there for a while. Now, I've learned to make a high but wide well into which I can crack the eggs, still have room to beat the eggs without collapsing the walls of the well and letting the eggs run away.

My point is that even though these are supposed to be the Worst Cooks in America, it was rather nice to see someone on television screw something up that we can all relate to possibly having done. I'm not a huge Emeril Lagasse fan; I used to like him but his "Bam"-ing got a little annoying and overdone and I lost interest. However, one thing I did like about him was that there were quite a few times when he broke a cake or did something wrong and he'd keep going, often laughing about his catastrophe.

It's always nice to know you're not alone when you do something silly. Of course, I don't think I've ever quite seen anyone on the Food Network stain their fingers- and possibly their mouths - with beet juice so maybe I'm alone in that. I'm hoping I can get it off. Otherwise, as Lady Aero suggested, perhaps I should just tell my boss I have contagious Pink Finger Disease and take a sick day.

Maybe I shouldn't take leftover beet bruschetta for lunch then....just in case.

Happy Monday!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Come Back, Weekend! Come Back!

I won't wax too poetical today on how quickly the weekend flew by compared to the work week that proceeded it. I'm sure you all feel the same way.

It was a good weekend, albeit fast. We had our first 50 degree day in a long while on Saturday. Since it's winter, anything about 32 degrees farenheit is considered warm. In comparison, Saturday was absolutely balmy.

As I headed out to run errands on Saturday, it occured to me how different the interpretation of temperature is. When I lived in L.A., 50 degrees was cold. I'd reach for my thick jacket and shiver until the heat in the car came on. At night, it would dip down as low as...forty-five degrees and I'd put my thick down comforter on my bed and still manage to be cold. I'd hug my hot-water bottle, hoping to warm up. When you live in a climate where 65-70 degrees is pretty average in the winter, anything below that starts to feel cold.

Yet, here, in the Midwest, I've acclimated back to what I knew before L.A.: In January, 50 degrees is a treat. It's sort of a little tiny gift to remind us that even though there's more cold in store, spring isn't quite so far off and all we have to do is wait. In Ohio, 50 degrees in December means getting way to warm in your winter coat as you go in and out stores in the mall or even outside. It's not quite cold enough to cool you down if you keep that coat on so, as you move on to your next destination, the coat comes off and gets flung on the passenger's side of the car. Sure, it's a little bit chilly when you get out but it's not cold.

I think it's supposed to cool back down this week. I believe I even heard 'snow' in the forecast but I might be mistaken. Either way, it's going to cool way down below that 50 degree mark and re-remind us that it is winter and we have a little bit of hibernation to go before the spring bulbs start shooting and the grass starts greening.

Nevertheless, it was a nice way to kick off the weekend. Nothing like a 50 degree day to make you feel like you don't have to move in slow motion. So I didn't. I ran a multitude of errands on Saturday, even though I'd actually planned on being lazy. I ended up grocery shopping- planning on Kroger but ending up, by fate, in the parking lot of Meijer, another good grocery store. I have to say, despite my love affair with Jungle Jim's, Meijer is smaller but it has a good selection. I was able to procure the small cipollini onions that had thwarted me at Jungle Jim's. Now, if they start getting fresh quail eggs, Jungle Jim's might have some serious competition.

It's funny that going to a grocery store is part of my weekend entertainment. As a self-proclaimed foodie, I suppose it's quite natural that the possibility of ingredients for a new dish makes me happy. Yet, there's something about having free reign in a grocery store that just makes me feel at peace with the word. Yes, I know that's sad...but I can't help it.

It was a food-filled weekend, in one form or another. A coworker loaned me the book of Julie and Julia, upon which the movie was based. I saw the movie, as I mentioned last week. As for the book, well, let me just say as a blogger, I quite would have liked to have to have slapped Ms. Julie Powell a couple of times. Yes, I know what she did was quite unique. She managed to cook her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year. I admit, I couldn't do it. For one thing, that is WAY too much fussing around with food. I love to cook but give me the Mario Batali/Giada Di Laurentis school of cooking any day- simple is good, simple is tasty, simple is...simple. Maybe this is why I prefer Italian over French...although I wouldn't say no if someone were to cook me a French meal. Yet, in her book, there is something quite irritating about Ms. Powell. For one thing, she's just...not a pleasant person. She does acknowledge this in some ways. She's stuck in a cubicle job she hates and finds cooking to be her escape.

I can relate to that. I've found that I cook best on days when work has been awful. It really is an escape. It's being able to focus on the mire poix on a soup, making sure the aromatic base simmers to perfection before you pour in the broth and ingredients. Yet, there's something about Julie Powell that is just unlikeable. I know, it's a work of 'fiction'; she herself says in the beginning of the book that she 'made a lot of stuff up.'

As a novelist, I make a lot of stuff up. Yet if I were to write a book based on my experiences in the kitchen and tied it in to someone like, say, Julia Child's life, I probably would be a little less honest in stating that I 'made stuff up.' After all, her book is supposed to be based on a true story. Without a detailed description, how do we, as readers, know what she 'made up' and what was actually true?

admit, some of this is probably a little bitter. After all, she blogged about food, got a publishing deal and now had her story turned into a movie. I'd just love that.

Yet, the other part of me is a wee bit angry about the whole thing. For one thing, she's pretty honest about stating how she added a Pay-Pal link to her site in order to cover her ingredients. Ok, so I wasn't in on the Julie/Julia Project phenomenon but this does seem a little cheeky. Based on her book, she wasn't exactly a great cook. She was trying to get through the recipes. She had more failures than successes. It was, as most good moneymaker's are, a gimmick.

I'm not saying that Julie Powell wasn't smart. I wish I'd had the idea before her. Yet I find it a little...offensive that she asked for donations to cook her dishes that she couldn't afford.

Perhaps if I were on her side of things, it would be a little different. Yet the only view I have is the one she presents in her book. She seems to have this fantastically loyal husband. He seemed to not want to throttle her at most stages of her attempt to cook through Julie Child's recipes. That, in itself, seems like an accomplishment. Interestingly enough, it seems in her second book, Ms. Powell confesses that she cheated upon her overly patient husband. I haven't read it so I can't judge but, in all honesty, it doesn't surprise me. In Julie and Julia, I'm actually quite surprised she had a husband at the end of the book. She's just not a very nice person. Yes, cooking is hard but there's no reason to treat your husband's migraines like an irritant in the way of conquering aspics. If you don't like aspics, don't try to make them. I don't care what the challenge; there's nothing more irritating than a martyr who thinks she's doing something for 'the cause' even when it means her life is hard.

That's what Julie Powell is, in my opinion: A big martyr. I understand her challenge. I respect her challenge. Yet she was the one who decided she wanted to cook her way through Julia Child's recipes. It was her idea. Does she really have the right to 'beg' for money to complete her challenge? Should she really be whining how hard it is? How much her life sucks because she drops her dessert on the streets of New York?

I'm being mean, I know. Yet, if you take on a challenge, in my opinion, you should be prepared for it. Gourmet cooking is expensive. Yet, as much as I hate to admit it, there's something to be said about using butter over margarine, parmeggiano reggiano over store-brand grated parmesan cheese. If you want to cook properly, you have to be willing to accept that it's not always inexpensive.

I think the point at which Ms. Powell set up PayPal on her website was officially the point at which I'd like to have slapped her. For one, she does nothing but make fun of people. Yes, Julie Powell, Republicans do things with which you don't agree. Yet I guarantee at least one of those people who sent you money was a Republican. Perhaps you could have toned down your slightly pathetic bias in order to accept that these were the people who were indulging your attempts to learn to cook. I don't honestly know which party I fall in to; I tend to agree more with issues than lean one way to the other or not.

Ok, I'm not about to turn this into a Twilight sort of hatred. I'm just not enjoying Ms. Powell's outlook on life that much. Mostly, I think she was an exceptionally lucky average-Joe who takes what she has for granted. She blogged about it and her blog got attention. I'm happy for her there. I love it when anyone reads this blog. I'm exceptionally grateful for those that read it regularly.
Still, people like Julie Powell make me appreciate my own life where I can dabble with cooking yet still appreciate the life I have around me. I actually didn't cook this weekend, other than to make a fresh tabbouleh salad that involved no cooking at all- just chopping, which I love.

All in all, reading Julie and Julia makes me appreciate the fact that while I may set guidelines for myself, deadlines in life, writing, cooking, etc, they're on my own terms. If i know I'm going to have to be in order to make my deadline, I won't do it; I'll reconsider and arrange the timetable so I can get everything done on my own terms.

And even if the terms are a weekend that flies by way too quickly, I will, at least try too meet it. If not, I'll move forward anyway. Life always gets in the way of fun; it's the way things are. I think accepting this is half the battle. The other half...

Well....that's up to us, isn't it?

Happy Monday!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

De-Motivational Staff Meetings....

Tomorrow is Friday. Which means the lovely and welcome weekend is just around the corner. I, for one, am glad about that.

I woke up in a foul mood today. I think I was just irritated with myself for wasting so much time the night before on the computer issues and I also didn't want to get out of my comfy bed to go to work. Over the course of the morning, I did get in a better mood though why, I really don't know unless it was because time was passing.

Still, by lunch, I was in a pretty decent mood. I'm glad because after lunch, we had a staff meeting. It was not an impromptu staff meeting, thank goodness because those inspire fear and worry in most of us at work. I think we all worry we're being told someone just got fired...and then we realize that in our office, if someone gets fired, we get an email to tell us and that's it. No discussion allowed.

Today's meeting was scheduled. By the time I came out, I was in a ridiculously goofy mood. I can't explain why, really....I think it's a result of my newfound ability to care about my job enough that I do it well but not enough that I take it home with me so much anymore. This attitude has done wonders- I've stopped being bitter towards my coworkers and I've stopped resenting the fact that I continue to be invisible. Not much has changed there, to be honest. My coworker still gets asked to give all the webinars on our shared software and be on all the commmitees while I plod away on the work that gets done. Yet rather than resent it, I tend to rejoice in the fact that I don't have to do it. Granted, it is a little unbalanced but it's not going to change and, honestly, that's ok by me.
The scary thing is that I mean all of what I'm saying. I don't know, it's like someone flipped a switch on inside my brain. Today, I discovered my coworker had been asked to do a webinar on the software we share yet again even though I've made it widely known that I would like to at least co-present at the next one and for a brief minute, a surge of frustration flared and was gone. There was no harboured resentment, just a nice resignation that I can't change anything and I'm ok with that.

So, back to the staff meeting. Today, we had another pep talk. Fortunately, this one did not involve budgets and numbers. Instead, we were told that because salary is one of our company's biggest expenditures, the ratio of work to salary was going to be examined and analyzed.

I think this is the point at which I started to get giddy. It's the type of fodder you can't ask for but just falls in your lap. After all, as one of the, uh, lower paid employees in the company, that sort of works in my favour, right?

Here's my logic, you see. My salary is quite a lot less than what I'd consider the average. I know this because when we were going through the nightmare of being sold last year, they had to post our salaries on the web for due diligence purposes. Thus, the first thing we all did was go out to the website and see what people were making. I didn't exactly memorize it but it stuck with me. Let's just say I'm making quite a fair amount below average.

Anyways, so, if the average salary is, say, about $12K more than mine, that means those people are expected to work at a ratio of 1 days work for the average daily salary. Thus, since I fall below average, doesn't that mean that I have to do less work?

I admit, I did consider asking my boss for daily thumb-twiddling time but then realized he wouldn't be amused. Also, we're supposed to pretend we have no clue what anyone makes even though I know my boss and his boss make at least triple my salary.

So, that was my first moment of glee- when my snarky sense of logic kicked off. The comment about salary to work ratio was followed by another encouraging statement of how in the immediate future, our jobs are going to be analyzed so that the company can best find how to use our talents and skills because there are a "lot of really smart people" who aren't being "used efficiently."

You think? Really? I've now told my boss this no less than three times.

The sad thing is that I know, in my area, nothing will change. Besides, I'm using my talent right now...writing...a snarky blog about my company.

Besides that, I think I have a bit of a talent for making soup. However, I don't think they're going to find much of a use for that in the office....though it'd be fun to see them try. Software and Soup: Guiding the Future of Education while Comforting your Soul with the Power of Soup!

I like that idea. I have a feeling my boss wouldn't.

The sad thing is I have skills that I've honed in my last few jobs...they're wasting away because I don't get the opportunity to use them. For some reason, I'm always kept back from dealing with clients even though, prior to this position, that was one of my biggest assets and strongest skills. I used to be a good liaison between technical people and non-technical people, breaking down complicated stuff into terms that a non-computer-savvy person could understand. I think our company could use that but, alas, even though I've asked to do more of that, it's not considered part of my job so my suggestions are ignored.

So, you can understand why I was so amused during our staff meeting. We've become a corporation. We've transitioned from this nice, friendly, family-like company where we were allowed to speak out and say what we thought and have some input to a corporation where we get pep talks every week. I'm telling you, if they start putting up those motivation posters that say things "TEAMWORK: When we all work together, we all win together," I'm really going to go around a replace them with the Demotivator version that says "TEAMWORK: A few harmless flakes working together can unleash an avalanche of destruction."

We've become a corporation that needs meetings to say "Go Team!".

I am amused. Our corporation recently hid the cable boxes away from us in a locked room because they were afraid we'd steal them. Now me, personally, I'd go for the big flat screen TV rather than the cable box but, hey, that's just me. We're also getting new cameras added around the building for 'security'. We don't have much to steal, not really. Ok, so we have computer servers but we always had those and no one stole them. I think our 'security' really means that we're going to be monitored so that we behave ourselves.

I know, I sound loopy. I am, I suppose. I'm entirely amused at my company. It might wear off tomorrow but, for now, I have to admit, I've always liked the non-impromptu staff meetings. I usually find some form of entertainment in them. I preferred it when the vocal folks would stir up trouble and speak their minds. Now, they just quietly sit there and while you can see their irritation by their change in postures, they don't speak up so much anymore. It's a shame, really. Still, as long as I can be amused by something in our meetings, they can't be all bad.

At the very least, they give me great blog fodder.
Thanks, as always, for reading. Happy Friday and have a good weekend!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Computer Frustration...

There's nothing more infuriating than a computer that doesn't work.

We expect them to work. They're man-made machines, completely user controlled with no minds of their own and yet...somehow...we assign a mind to them anyway.

Take me, tonight, for example. I've been in awe of quite how quickly the evenings go by. For me, they're increments of time: Time to exercise, time to make dinner, time to relax/watch TV, time to be productive. By the time the evening is done, I'm still going to bed later than planned, not sure how, in the short hours between work and sleep, I was really supposed to relax.

Tonight, I seemed to have time. I made a nice dinner- shitake mushroom in white wine sauce with spaghetti- and still had time to relax. Just as I was about to turn on another episode of "Worst Cooks in America," I remembered that I needed to scan my new health insurance card and email it to the nurse in my doctor's office. No big new printer is a printer/scanner/copier all in one.

Except, it seems, just like with anything electronic, nothing is ever simple. It turns out that I need a special software program to scan. I thought I'd installed it. After all, when I installed my new printer, it took no less than two hours to install everything to get it set up. Turns out that in the two hours, it never installed the software needed to scan. So, tonight, I inserted the CD ROM that came with the printer. I'm not joking, it took almost 30 minutes for the disk to finally stop churning, to stop telling me it was 'scanning my system' before it just...froze. I was infuriated.

At the same time, I had also wanted to watch a TV download that I'd bought on iTunes. Once upon a time, I was a naughty Monkeypants who used to download things for free. These days, I only do that when I have to because a) I'm worried about getting caught, b) iTunes has made music affordable and, c) It takes WAY too long with my crappy internet provider to download a file illegally.

So, when I told iTunes I wanted to buy the file, it said "You need to download a new version of iTunes first." Well, honestly, I think I did that last week but because it's iTunes, I wouldn't have been surprised if they'd told me there was a new version five minutes after I'd downloaded the last NEW version. So I finally said "Ok, whatever, give me the new iTunes." Well, it's now been a good 30 minutes and it's still downloading Safari, the Apple Web Browser. Ironically, I didn't WANT to download Safari but iTunes decided I needed it. Thus, even thugh I tried to skip that part, it's now been 35 minutes and iTunes is only 50 percent downloaded. What do you want to bet they tell me to restart my system when I'm done?

Thus, basically, the moral of the story is that though computers have no real brain nor do they have a free will, a soul, body or mind, they still manage to govern our lives. It doesn't matter if they're in cell phone format, laptop format, iPod format....computers govern us.

To illustrate my point, for the last 20 minutes, I've been attempting to download the software to make my scanner actually scan. It just stopped at told me I was running Windows in Safe Mode and thus it could not continue. I am NOT running Windows in Safe Mode. It's perfectly normal....or as perfectly normal as Windows gets. It now means that I am unable to get my scanner to scan. Which means that I can't get my insurance card to my nurse. This means tomorrow at work, I'll have to run around like a chicken, trying to find someone who has their computer set up to accept copy machine scans. I used to have this capability but since we moved offices, that went out the window. It also doesn't help that our tech support person tends to pretend I don't exist and conveniently forgets whenever I ask him for assistance. He's done this more than three times now. I don't think it's coincidence.

So, essentially, tonight is one of those nights in which I've wasted at least an hour of my life trying to be productive but failing miserably. I wanted to get my productive stuff done, then relax with an episode of online TV. Instead, I've now been trying to get my computer to run something, anything for a very long time. I'm very frustrated.

I suppose what I really want is the pipe dream: that a computer work when I expect it to without argument. I know...nothing is ever simple. Yet, therein lies the rub....why CAN'T anything be simple? Why can't my computer do what I tell it instead of making me wait 30-60 minutes to find out that it's really been stringing me along?

I don't know but I'm going to find out. The hardest part about knowing something about computers it that you can't really call anyone to help. I've done enough tech support that I know why my computer hates me....and I know enough to know that it doesn't really hate me...I just feel like it does.

I suppose it's the same for anyone in a profession...when you're qualified to answer your own questions, you're a little screwed if you get stuck. Of course, you could ask someone else's opinion but there's that little matter of pride in which you really have to suck it up to ask someone else to figure out what's wrong when you can't help but think you should be able to figure it out yourself.

I admit, I've done that before- asked for computer help. It's resulted in someone sitting at my computer, trying everything I tried and then finally declaring they don't know what's wrong. It's not that I'm that's just that I know enough to try the common fixes and even enough to try the intermediate ones. When they don't work, I get a little flummoxed. Usually, it's something that takes time to figure out.

Thus, I really just need to learn to be patient and not yell at my computer like it can actually hear me. It can't...I know this. If it could, I'm certain it would probably electrocute me while laughing and say, "That's what you get for calling me a piece of crap!"

And yes, I have called my computer a piece of crap and, uh, stronger insults within it's range of hearing. Thus, I'm not horribly surprised that it's trying to spite me by not doing what I want. It's only normal I suppose. Except as I said, a computer can't think...right?

Oh, I hope not. Otherwise...we're in trouble.

Happy Thursday!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Stuck in the Middle of the Pile...

It's come to my attention that I am what I've started to refer to as a "Middling." I'm not rich and I'm not poor....I'm in the middle. I'm usually in the middle when it comes to most things.

I'm not saying it's a bad thing; I'm very fortunate when I think about the people who don't have what I have: A job, a house, a family, security....the list can go on.

It's just that being a middling, you tend to get passed over for almost everything.

Take, for example, the show I watched tonight. I've been DVR'ing "The Worst Cooks in America" and I finally watched the first episode. The show takes twelve of the worst cooks in America and will put them through a ten-day boot camp where they get to learn how to cook from Anne Burrell (who, by the way, was Mario Batali's sous chef on Iron Chef America") and Beau MacMillen who....well, I'm not sure who he is but he sounds like he's from Boston.

Now, while I'm sure these people are the worst cooks in America because based on their sample dish, they certainly don't seem to know how to cook but...well...there's a little voice in my head saying, 'hey, that's not fair!'.

I'm ashamed to admit I hear that voice more often than I'd like. These people get to learn from professional chefs and have the chance to win $25,000 because they are terrible cooks.

On the flip-side, there are the shows like Chopped, Top Chef and The Next Food Network Star that reward the best cooks, professional chefs who want the chance to move further in their career. I salute the contestants on these shows but they're picked because they're professionals.

So, you have shows for the best and shows for the worst. What about us humble cooks who'd like the chance to compete, to win money because we can cook, we just haven't been to culinary school?

I know...I'm whining. Yet I can't help but get frustrated when I see shows like Clean House on the HGTV network that reward people for being huge, giant slobs by having professionals go in, clean their house and buy them all new stuff. Or shows like "What Not to Wear," that give terrible dressers $5000 to improve their wardrobe.

I'd like $5,000 to improve my wardrobe. Unfortunately, with the exception of the giant gold blob incident, for the most part, I'm a safe dresser. I know what works for me and I stick with that. My biggest wardrobe crime is that I'm boring. I'd like to be more daring but, unfortunately, no one has give me $5,000 to try being more daring with my wardrobe.

I'm not begrudging people who really deserve it but once in a while, I feel like I want to quote Ben Linus from Lost and just say, "What about ME????"

But I'm a Middling like so many other people I know. I make too much to be poor but not enough to have enough money to be frivoulous. We slip through the cracks because we're not worthy of aid or help. I looked into going back to school and filled out a financial aid form. I got it back to discover I'm not eligible because I have a full-time job. Which is true except I need the full time job to pay my mortgage, pay my bills and support myself. There's nothing left for school. Since I'm still paying off my undergrad loans even though I graduated 12 years ago, there's no way I can take on more loans.

So, I won't be going back to school. It's not that I had my heart set on it but I would like the chance to actually think about it and at the moment, it's just not financially possible. On the other hand, my brother and sister-in-law who are both unemployed and have three children are both going to a private university and not having to pay anything.

I can't begrudge my brother that. He was laid off and I'm proud he's trying to get an education. He's lacking direction and I hope he can find it.

I do admit, I'm a little bitter. The devil on my shoulder whispers in my ear that I work and pay taxes while they don't work and therefore don't pay taxes. Yet somehow they get to go to school for free and live off government aid while I go to work at a job I really don't like.

The angel on my other shoulder tells me that I wouldn't want to be in their situation and at least they're trying to improve their lives.

I agree with the angel but that devil certainly can be loud sometimes.

The problem I'm finding is that since I can't go back to school, it's going to be hard to move up into a job that pays much more than I'm earning now. Which means for better or worse, this is my standard of living and short of winning the lottery, miraculously landing a lucrative publishing deal or marrying someone wealthy....I'm stuck treading financial water.

Thus...I'm a Middling. We Middlings tread water, making ends meet, sometimes a little too creatively but we manage. We don't need help so we don't get any. When it comes to pride, that's a pretty good boost. Yet it does occasionally lead us to wonder why, exactly, that's always the case. Can't there be something, some reward for those of us that work each day, doing too well to be bad, yet never truly great because that's beyond our reach?

I'm not intending to be political at all although I'm sure this could easily turn political if I let it. I don't want to though. It's no one's fault- it's the way things are. If I really, really wanted, I'm sure I could do something about it. After all, I'm a dreamer and I believe that if I want anything badly enough, I can get it in some form or another. It's just that once in a while, I admit...I want to be lazy. I want someone to notice me, to remember that there is something in between rich and poor and while it's nice not to be at the bottom, the middle can be awfully dreary sometimes.

It's just that between the best cooks and the worst cooks, the biggest losers and America's Next Top Models, there are those average folk...the ones who aren't really anything enough to rank on a scale of goodness or badness...we just are. We're the steady ones, keeping everything going. I guess there's something to be said for that.

I apologize if I've got too heavy. Trust me to get philosophical after watching The Food Network. Don't get me wrong, I'm not at all unhappy with my life. I may not like my job but I'm not in the dark place I was a few weeks ago. It's my job, for better or worse. It's just that sometimes, I think everyone wants to be Cinderella, to have a fairy godmother make things better, even for a little while. It doesn't matter what form the fairy godmother takes: government, TV network, Simon Cowell, Ty's just that sometimes I worry that the fairy godmothers forget that sometimes life can always be a little better for everyone, regardless of how good, how bad, how rich or how poor they are.

In the meantime, I'll enjoy the fact that I'm NOT one of the Worst Cooks in America or, at least, I don't think so. I'll enjoy the fact that I'm not deluded enough to go on American Idol. And I"ll enjoy the fact that my house is clean because I want it to be. I suppose in a way, I am rich...I'm independent and have power over my life....I'm also free to make choices.

That's not such a bad thing.

Thanks, as always, for reading. Happy Wednesday.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Unpredictable Mondays

It was definitely a Monday today. There's no doubt about it. Some Mondays are better than others. Today wasn't was just...a Monday.

For example, our lovely new building is still under construction. The deadline for completion is by the time our first workshop arrives. That's in less than three weeks. is in full swing. When we first moved in to our building, we were told the bad noises would only take place during our lunch hour, during the evenings or on weekends. These bad noises involve hammering, drilling, sawing and whatever it is that causes the building to shake so that my entire desk is vibrating.

Today, they added a new sound to the mix: That of the jackhammer.

The jackhammer is evil. Not only does the sound horrible but it makes your teeth hurt. I know it's necessary to construction because concrete must be drilled through somehow but when it's literally right outside your window, it's horrible.

So, today, in addition to the many sounds of a Monday morning- my boss being annoyed because he worked all weekend and got nowhere and conversing loudly with people aboutthat sad fact topped with the fact that his boss came in to talk football with the males in our was loud. Very loud.

Still, the jackhammer quieted, mid afternoon. Aside from the jackhammer and the sawing and the drilling and the was just a Monday. Just a loud Monday.

The evening was also odd. I stopped at the closest grocery store to my house on the way home from work- it's not my type of grocery's one of those run-down types where people go to buy the necessities but where you wouldn't feel comfortable buying fresh fish. Still, I just needed eggs, milk and cheddar cheese.

The shopping itself wasn't bad. When I came out, I was stopped by an older lady asking for bus fare. She was stranded. I didn't have too much change and am always wary of people asking for cash so I shook my head. Then she asked for directions which, sadly, I could not provide. Then she asked for a ride to the gas station which I was going to pass by anyway. So I let her ride with me only to discover she just needed a ride to her sister's which wasn't that far. Since I had my GPS, I decided to do the nice thing and give her a ride to her sister's.

Well, we got there....she asked me to wait. I did...just as I thought it was safe to leave, she came running down. Her sister wasn't home. Rather than sit in the cold on the stoop, she wanted to wait in a restaurant and nicely asked for a ride. I sighed and let her get back in my car. Well, it turned out the closest fast food place was next to Jungle Jim's which is where we ended up. This was rather ironic given that I hadn't wanted to go as far as Jungle Jim's to go grocery shopping. When I finally dropped my passenger off at White Castle, she asked if I had any money- she hadn't eaten all day. Thus...silly, soft Monkeypants, I gave her a few dollars.

I have no idea if she really was broke. I have no idea if that was really her sister's place. All I know is that I gave a ride to a stranger tonight whose name was Gail. That's all I know. She barely said thank you when I dropped her off. I admit, I was a little put out- I had driven her around rather a lot and thought a real thank you might have been nice...but I knew that it wasn't necessarily a bad thing. It was just an odd way to spend my Monday evening.

Yet, in a way, it was quite an interesting way to pass an hour or so. Sometimes it's doing things like give rides to strange Gail's that take us out of the routine of our lives for a little while and remind us that it really is ok if things don't go quite according to plan. There was no harm done by my little driving excursion tonight- just the opportunity to pass time with a stranger and hope that, in the end, she found a way to get home...or back to her sister's. I will most likely never know...that's the thing about life. If it were a story I was writing, Gail would have found her way back...but in real life, there's never an easy ending...sometimes there's the frustration of never knowing. But for whatever moments of our lives passed together, I hope that Gail found her way back to her little house that has creepy sounds in the attic but has her 35 year old son to protect her. It's amazing how much you can learn about a person in a short time.

As for me, my Monday is almost over. It's been an odd, loud, unpredictable sort of day. As strange as it sounds....sometimes I think we need that. Like with Gail, it's a reminder that life is full of surprises....and I quite like that.

Nevertheless, I think I'll avoid the supermarket tomorrow....just in case.

Happy Tuesday.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Weekends, IKEA and Blobby Kitchen Messes...

Somehow, it's managed to become Sunday again without my being fully aware of it. That's the thing about weekends, they're tricky. I'm still convinced that there's some weird time-space continuam thing where time slows down while we're at work but speeds up as soon as we have some free time.

Since it's Sunday evening, my free time is rapidly moving by and Monday morning looms closer. Since I plan on spending part of the evening with Jack Bauer on "24", I anticipate wildly-ridiculous plot points, a miraculous recovery for Jack who was formerly dying and lots of "Damn it!" spoken with Jack's trademark inflection. Naturally, I'm still looking forward to it.

I can't complain though. I've had a very productive weekend. I managed to clean and organize and my house is feeling much better. I also got to go to IKEA which is always dangerous. You go there for one thing and come out with ten. For example, I was looking for some shelves for my pantry. I managed to find something better- a unit with interchangeable drawers from baskets to tubs to fabric ones. Because it was IKEA, it was inexpensive. I also managed to buy some towels, some candles, two toy mice/rat things- one for me, one for my niece- heat pads for hot pans, tupperware-like containers and a rug. All I wanted were the shelves. Curse you IKEA for your inexpensive products that are very useful and have odd names.

Of course, I realized when I got home that my shelf/drawer unit thingy really did need that worktop that I thought I could live without. Having it would give me much more storage space on top. Also, it would make my pantry look tidier. Since my kitchen currently looked like a bomb had hit it because I'd taken everything out of my pantry, I ended up going back to IKEA for the worktop. I emerged with the worktop...and a set of washcloths to match my new towels and a 79 cent vase that I thought would look nice in my bathroom. Curse you, IKEA!

I'm willing to concede that it probably isn't really IKEA's fault. I really need to NOT put things in that handy blue bag you pick up when you walk in the door.

Aside from my IKEA trips, I also managed to finally watch "Julie and Julia." I'd been loaned the movie by a coworker but hadn't watched it. Then my good friend, Saz, gave me it as a Christmas gift so I figured it was time to watch it. You'd think I'd have done so much sooner since I'm a blogger and a foodie.

I found the movie entertaining. I like the idea and I admit, I could relate to Julie rather a lot. As a yet unpublished writer, having a blog is one way to feel better about writing. I like her idea too- cooking your way through that many recipes in a year would be fun and a challenge. Since I've recently become obsessed with cooking, i think it's a cool idea. Yet, like so many of those, someone else had it first. Now everyone else would be a copycat.

Yet the thing I like most is that Julie took on the project so she could finish something. It's good to have a goal like that. For me, that's what the National Novel Writing Month challenge was for. I actually spent the evening editing that novel and as horrible arrogant as it sounds, I made myself laugh out load a few times. In my defense, I haven't read the book since I wrote it and though I can't speak for other writers, for me, at least, when I'm writing, it's like being in a different world. I often just write and let the words flow out and not know what I wrote until I reread it a few days later. It seems alien, foreign...not something I created. It's like stepping out of your body and observing yourself from a distant point of view. You think, "I wrote that? The demon says that?" Sometime, it's the characters writing the story. For this last novel, I can't say that was the case. It just...happened.

Yet, like it was for Julie when she finished her 365 of cooking Julia Child's recipes, finishing a novel in a month was a feeling of accomplishment. Granted, unlike Julie, I don't have publishers, editors and the Food Network leaving me messages but that's ok. I can live with that.

Though it'd be super fantastic if the Food Network called me. Don't you think "Cooking with Captain Monkeypants" has an interesting ring to it?

I'm kidding. My food tastes pretty good but it never quite looks....pretty. For example, I made radacchio pancakes for lunch (Mario Batali's recipe, naturally) and while they were delicious, it really showed me that I haven't got the hang of presentation. The pancakes looked a bit like uneven, discoloured blobs of egg that were not round but more like, uh, clouds...misshapen, slightly awkward, blobby clouds. I really must work on my plating. Still, when it's just me, it doesn't matter. I'm just afraid that if I ever cook for someone else, they'll balk at the sight of my blobby, odd-looking food that makes the plate look messy even when I try to wipe it the way I see the chef'\s on TV do it.

Anyway, all in all, it's been a very nice, productive sort of weekend. The nice thing is that there's another one coming up in under six days.

If only that pesky work-week wasn't in between.

Happy Monday!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Online Dating Debate...

So, it's finally Friday. I'm very relieved about that. It hasn't been a bad week at all but it's still been a work week. I think part of it's that we're coming off the holiday season and January is a bit of a blah month. Some companies get Martin Luther King Jr. day off on Monday. Alas, my company does not. It would be a nice day to have but given that we've just had a couple of breaks, it's really not something to complain about. And we do get President's Day off so it's not all bad.

It's been a decent week though. I've still got five queries out in rotation at the moment. I've sent seven, total, and had two rejections. Usually, I've had a lot more than that by now since it's been a week so keep your fingers crossed for me.

Aside from that, I'm contemplating computer dating yet again. I tried it recently and ended up meeting yet more overgrown fraternity boys who like to go out with their buddies and get drunk on weekends. While I don't mind a social drinker, I keep wondering when men grow out of the needing to get hammered every weekend phase of their life. Some of the men I've talked to are significantly older than me which makes it slightly pathetic. The last semi-successful date I had seemed ok although he was still a weekend partier

Online dating is hard. It seems that you either have to fill out the fifty-million question personality survey like e-harmony and then jump through a million hoops to just communicate with someone or you use a free site where the respondents think sending you a message that says "hey" is enough to make me want to know more. Seriously, that's all they say in their message..."Hey." Some of them vary it up a bit and say "hi." Sometimes, I even get responses that say "how are you?" That's nice of them to ask but it's a dating site. If I wanted people to just ask how I was, I'd go to work.

I'm probably being a bit finicky. I just go back and forth on online dating. Sometimes, I think it's the only way to meet people because we're all so isolated now and I'm not a barfly who goes out looking for single men. Othertimes, especially in the case of e-harmony, it feels so contrived, like you're genetically engineering a date. Even then, I've had no luck. Last time I tried e-harmony, i got matched up with at least three men who played the bagpipes. I think e-harmony sees "British" in my description and matches that automatically to bagpipers. Either that or cyclists. I do NOT ride a bicycle unless it's the stationary kind. I have no balance. I like to walk.

I think I should try it again. I'm not sure if I'm doing something wrong or I just need to commit to it more. I've tried making my profile very specific. I've tried mentioning I want a man who can carry on a conversation and I still get 'hi!" in an email with nothing else. To me, if someone say's "I would like to meet someone who can carry on a good conversation," it seems a little daft to say "Hi!" in your email. I mean, how about you either prove you bothered reading my profile or you give me something more to go on because what will end up happing is I'd reply "I'm fine. Tell me about yourself." And they'll say "Let's meet tomorrow."

Here's the thing with online dating: There's some crazies out there. I'm not a stupid Monkeypants. I'm not about to meet some stranger without knowing anything about him, even in a public place. I want to know a little more first.

Anyway, I'm sure I'll figure it out. I'll probably give it a go again. There are a couple of sites in Cincinnati that are free and that have been recommended by other single folks I've met. The problem is that whole dating thing. The first date is usually awkward. If you get a second date, it's usually slightly better but it takes a while before you get comfortable and my problem is I don't always get to that stage before I start second-guessing myself. It'd be really nice if you could skip the awkward stage and go right to the comfort stage. If anyone has any suggestions on how to make that possible, I'd be pleased to hear them.

In the meantime, I am registered with a dating site. I'll keep looking for someone who actually seems serious because, let me tell you, there are a lot of people out there who aren't. Yet I have some good friends who met online so I have to think that it is possible to find someone's all about hope, right...and commitment. Which.....well....I'm going to work on that.

Happy Friday and have a good weekend. Thanks, as always, for reading....

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sliding Towards the Weekend....

It's that midweek point. Tomorrow, being Thursday, marks the downhill spiral towards the weekend. It's the point in which the week leans favourably towards the weekend and, thus, is manageable. The first part of the week is the hardest. It's an uphill stroll, knowing that, eventually, you'll hit the midpoint where you can see in both directions. Today was the midpoint...I can see the weekend.

I think it's all relative- based on who you are and where you work. For me, I'm slowly accepting that while my job is not fulfilling my passion for life, it's paying the bills. I might not wake up every morning, excited to start working but it could be worse. My boss has given me a couple of backhand compliments over the past week- he's mentioned at least twice that I need to be fired because I'm too good at my job. My job is to test software to find the bugs before we release it. I find a lot of bugs. He jokes that he wants to hire someone who is too dumb to find the bugs that I find. It may not seem like much but, for me, that's a huge compliment. My company isn't big on positive feedback. The only time you know how you're doing is when you're summoned to the President's office and you leave not long after, carting whatever belongings you've collected while working for our company.

Bitter as it might sound, it's all true. Our President, himself, has said that the only time we'll get feedback is when we screw up. Thus, when I'm told I'm too good at my job because I'm finding bugs...I'm happy.

Granted, it doesn't mean I'm going to be excited to go to work each day but then, realistically speaking, who is? Even my friends who like their jobs don't jump out of bed each morning and say "WOW! AM I GLAD TO GO TO WORK TODAY!"

I don't know many people who feel that way. For me, in the mornings, the reality of waking up is this:

"[Clock Radio] What is this song? Hey, it's that's Jason Mraz song I like. Hi, Jason Mraz. Mmmmfff. What time is it. Oh, yeah, 6:44 a.m. , the same time I always wonder what time it is. Ten minutes more of sleep.'s that Jason Mraz song I like. I should let it play. Ugh. It's over and now it's Sheryl Crow." [Bash Snooze button]

[10 minutes later] "Crap! it's almost 6:55 a.m.! I have to get up. Wait, it's warm under my covers and cold outside. What if I shut off the clock radio and turn on the TV? Maybe there'll be a massive snowstorm and I'm stuck here, in my nice comfy bed....[Turns on TV, turns of radio]. Bugger. No snow. Nothing but depressing news. Got to get up. [Get up] Damn! It's cold here. Why'd I get up?? Ugh, what do I have to do at work today?...

And so on, and so forth. This is a typical morning for me. I'm sure it's not that far off from anyone who works a typical Monday-Friday, eight hour day.

Honestly, I think work gives us a routine. That's not to say I like getting up at 7 a.m. to go to work but, in a way, it gives shape to our lives. I find, nowadays, even when free to sleep when I choose, I'd rather go to bed earlier to get up earlier. I guess I'm a 9-5 Monkeypants, as much as I hate to admit it. Even on weekends, I find myself being fully awake by 8 a.m. I might lie awake for a while, trying to fight it but, in the end, I'm always up by 9 a.m. It's an internal thing.

On the flipside, no matter how hard I try, I'm half-dead by midnight. When I was in college, my friends would want to go out on weekends. I'd go, because it was what you did. Yet, interestingly, my college friends were all what we'd call "sleep wienies." Every one of us would be half-asleep by 1 a.m., fully dozing by 2 a.m. Even when we tried to stay awake until 6 a.m. as some as our cohorts were able, we'd fail. I'd always end up in my own bed by 3 a.m., exhausted and still unable to sleep in later than 10 a.m. the next day.

I think our ability to sleep is inborn. My mother has informed me that even since I was born, I was an easy sleeper. I'd be in bed early and wake up at a nice 'do-able' time. My older, brother, however, was NOT a good sleeper. He'd keep my parent's up late and end up sleeping in to make up for it.

I think there's something in that, no matter how old you are. Weekends are the telltale sign. To this day, that same brother, who is almost 37, still stays up WAY too late and doesn't get up until almost noon on weekends. I was always an early-to-bed, early-to-rise type of Monkeypants. It stayed with me.

I fear for my sister. Her daughter, who is only three, is already asking to go to bed early. However, despite what may seem to be an innocent, sweet approach to bedtime, is proving to be an opportunity to thwart authority. For example, on New Year's Eve, I went over to my sister's to hang out and watch a film. My niece, having requested an early bedtime, was already in bed.

However, the next morning, she slept in late. My sister and her husband discovered that my niece had been up partying to the wee hours of the morning, having moved most of her toys around and having redressed them by the time they went up to see if she was ever going to get up. She's a night owl. Since her birth, it's been a challenge to get her to sleep. I think she's going to be like that through her life- much as my brother was and is, to this day.

I think it's interesting how things as simple as our sleep patterns are really defined from birth. Me, I'm a breeze. I like to sleep early and get up early. I like getting out and about early in the day so I can relax later on. I used to do my homework on Friday nights so that I'd have the rest of the weekend to have fun. That's me. My brother...he'd wait until Sunday evening to do his homework.

In the long run, it doesn't really matter. We all grow up anyway, regardless of our approach to life. Both my older brother and I have good jobs and are doing fairly well in life. We used to fight all the time and, because of our polar-opposite natures, dislike each other. Yet, over time, we've learned to get along, to embrace the fact that sometimes it's good to be different. I talk to my brother far more now that I used to when we lived in the same house. It's a strange thing in life but I'm not going to complain: I wouldn't swap it for anything.

Thus, as we move towards this Thursday, I'm reminded that my happy downhill path to Friday might be someone else's uphill fight. My Friday might be someone else's Monday. Thus...I shall stop, pause and consider that with reverence.

Yet, then I shall nod at them with sympathy and still do my happy dance of joy- when they can't see me, of course. It's very nearly, very almost...Friday. The downhill battle has just begun.

Happy Thursday.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Overpriced Pasta and Another Ode to Jungle Jim's...

So, sometimes when I sit down to blog, I have to do a check to find out how much I've ranted, raved or rambled about a certain subject. It seems that the last couple of months have been a little bit too much full of work. I also mention snow rather a lot but I'm afraid that's not likely to change. I love snow very much and will never get tired of writing about it. You'll notice that I've backed off Twilight and Stephanie Meyer. Having found out that there are some pretty fabulous snarky places out there that salute the awfulness of the book, I've found it cathartic to know I'm not alone. If you're bored, check out this fabulous parody. The illustrations are worth it alone but I couldn't have written anything quite so simply that nails Twilight the way this site does.

Anyway, I've also noticed that I blog a lot about Jungle Jim's. I don't think I can help that. I'm actually contemplating starting a new blog to replace my poor neglected TV blog. It's not that I don't like writing about TV but, lately, there's not much on TV to write about. Also, I watch more Food Network than anything else and I think that might get a tad boring. My new blog would take one of the new ingredients I bought at Jungle Jim's and detail what I did with it. I suppose it would be a bit Julie and Julia like except, well, it would have the Monkeypants spin. Also, I'd be completely honest if I accidentally dropped it on the floor and ruined dinner. Chances are, that blog would read:

Bought endives. Attemped to make a Batali recipe. Accidentally dropped endives and recipe contents on floor in dish. Dish=failure.
I went to Jungle Jim's tonight. I haven't been in over a week. It's shocking, I know. I received two lovely Mario Batali cookbooks for Christmas/my birthday AND I also got a great new copy of the Food Network magazine (if you don't subscribe, you should- it's excellent for recipes and tips). So, last night, I went through my cookbooks and magazine and picked out recipes I wanted to try. Then I made a list of what I lacked to make them- primarily fresh vegetables- in one of my handmade notebooks, courtesy of RadLinc Crafts that has bananas on the cover. Bananas are my secret symbol at work although my "sarcastic banana doodle" that was over my HP logo on my PC to parady the fact that I am the only one in my area to lack an Apple PC has mysteriously disappeared.

So, tonight, armed with my banana book, I went to Jungle Jim's. I was a good little Monkeypants and only bought three items that weren't on my list. I bought some chocolate covered Gingerbread pretzels that were left over from Christmas. They were only 99 cents. Also, I bought some salsify because, well, frankly, I was so excited to find it, I had to buy it. In case you're wondering, salsify is also called 'the oyster plant'. It is a root vegetable that has a faint oyster-ish flavour. I've never had it. To be honest, I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it but I saw it and I wanted to get some. The reason being...I saw it on Iron Chef America in the hands of none other than Mario Batali and I was fascinated. I'd never heard of it, you see. So, I did the Monkeypants thing and researched it. Immediately, I wanted to try it because it's related to the parsnip family. I adore parsnips. They're one of my favourite vegetables. If you've never tried them, let me know. I'll be happy to tell you how to use parsnips. They're a staple of the British traditional roast dinner.

The last item I bought was wine. My new budget favourite- Kenwood red table wine was on clearance! They only had a couple of bottles left. I was both excited by the reduced price and dismayed that I might have a hard time finding it in future. I bought the bottles they had left. How could I not?

Anyway, aside from the salsify, I stuck to my shopping list. Granted, it was quite a long list but it covered at least six to seven recipes. My shopping listed included cardoons which might not be familiar to you, as Lady Aero pointed out on my last blog. They're a bit spiny and they're related to artichokes. Last time I used them, I made a beschamiel sauce and fresh breadcrumbs, grated them with pecorino romano cheese and roasted them in the oven after blanching them in lemon water. It sounds like a lot of work but they were delicious and worth every minute. I have a couple of other recipes that use them so I got two bunches. I also got some beets to make some beet bruschetta. I bought fresh herbs, peppers and a radaccio lettuce. The nice thing about learning to cook is there are some pantry staples that you're never without so when it comes to cooking, the fresh stuff is the only thing you have to buy.

I can't believe I'm blogging about my shopping list. It's not that this is the only thing that I have to blog about, it's just that it's so much fun to learn to cook. Finding the ingredients is sort of, uh, thrilling although if you don't cook much, that probably sounds a little...scary...and odd. I can't help is my new favourite thing to do.
Anyway, I digress...The only ingredients I lacked were small cipolini onions- Jungle Jim's only had the large- and the never-present fresh quail eggs. Ok, so I really didn't need the quail eggs but it's become a quest and Captain Monkeypants does love a quest.

The thing I was truly amazed at was that I didn't really spend that much money. I probably could make, without exaggerating, at least eight meals from what I bought tonight. I like to make a dinner and then have the leftovers at work for lunch the next day. Sometimes my attempts to cook aren't that successful but, for the most part, if I follow a recipe properly, it usually turns out pretty well. If you think about how much it would cost to eat something similar at a restaurant, it's a brilliant way to save money. For example, yesterday, I went to Romano's Macaroni Grill with the girls from work for my birthday lunch. Because I tend to prefer cooking Italian food, it always amazes me how much restaurants charge for a plate of pasta. For example, many of the weight-conscious girls ordered capellini pomadoro. Essentially, capellin pomodoro is angel hair pasta, basil, olive oil, fresh tomatoes and red pepper flakes. Retail cost of that, provided you cook enough to keep olive oil and pepper flakes around is, seriously, probably less than $4 per person. If you bought the ingredients, you could feed three people for what you'd buy in the store to make it. Total estimate would be about $6-$8 total to make it for three people. At the Macaroni Grill, it was $8.99 a plate or something like that. That's $27 altogether.

I know- sometime it's nice to go out to eat and not have to cook. I just find myself, more and more, figuring out how to make dishes I buy in restaurants. There are some things I just can't be bothered to figure out because I'd rather go out and get it. Yet pasta is fast becoming something I don't order because I resent the inflated price of it on a menu. Apparently, I'm not alone. Even after I started figuring out that pasta is one of the easiest and cheapest things to make, I read an article that interviewed chefs and what they expected when they ate out. Several of them said they refused to order pasta because it's so overpriced compared to the cost of making it.

That's not to say that if I went to a really good restaurant, I wouldn't order pasta. I might, if it was tempting enough but you better believe I want it to be homemade pasta that's something special. I admit, I even make my own pasta at times. It's really not as much work as people think and it tastes amazing. It takes time so I wouldn't resent paying for that in a nice restaurant. No, what I'm talking about is the Olive Garden/Macaroni Grill type of places that use Barilla pasta or whatever brand they prefer and serve it with pre-made sauces. They might taste nice but, trust me, you can make it at home for pennies compared to what they charge.

However, on the flip side, there are some things I'd rather get in a restaurant than make for myself but have no choice. Tonight, for example, I made Vietnamese pho soup. It's one of my favourite 'comfort foods'. When I lived in Los Angeles, there were pho places everywhere. You could get a bowl of pho- noodle soup with meats and herbs in a spiced broth- everywhere. It usually only cost about $5 for a bowl and I could never finish my helping. Here, in Cincinnati, it's hard to find. I've tried several places that claim to have it but it's just not the same. Thus, tonight, I tried a Food Network Magazine version. I have to say, it was pretty tasty. Not the same as the restaurants in L.A., of course, but still pretty nice. It wasn't that much work either. However, even though it tasted good, it just didn't give me that satisfied feeling that I always had when eating it in a restaurant.

So, there are two sides to every recipe, I suppose. Some are two easy and simple to make to merit paying restaurant prices and some are so hard and complex that it's just worth it to pay the price and eat it in a restaurant. For me, I'm still working on which is which. However, I'll keep trying new recipes. As long as I have Jungle Jim's to provide me with the ingredients, I'll happily keep experimenting. And keep shopping because, let's face it, that's just half the fun.

Happy Wednesday!