Friday, October 30, 2009

Gaming: Free Champions Online Weekend

Hey! My current favorite MMO, Champions Online, is having a free trial weekend! Download the client, hop on-board, and help us blast some zombies and werewolves in this Blood Moon Halloween event.

If you've ever longed to design your own comic book superhero, now's your chance!

Television: Supplemental Alert

Thanks to my mother, I was alerted to a Rick Springfield appearance today on Ellen. Rick is starting a story arc on Showtime's "Californication" as a twisted version of himself (his words). Word on the street is there's humorous nudity involved.

I am on hold with the cable company as I type....

(Hubby, I'm kidding... sort of)

Television: Spooky Specials

It's that time of year where it not only becomes acceptable to scare your kids, it's expected. So what happens to TV shows that are already scary? They get funnier. Or they should.

"The Vampire Diaries", "the forgotten" and "Flash Forward" pretended like it was just another week at the office, which is sad, but expected, from shows in their first season. Whereas established shows had a little fun with the spooky theme expected at this time of year, ala "The Mentalist" and its ghostly tie-in.

"Castle" this week featured an appearance of Nathan Fillion dressed for Halloween as the beloved Captain Reynolds from "Firefly". In a 40-second gag, this show reminded me why I love this new show. It was clever, self-deprecating, and quite charming. And since the plot of the entire episode involved the investigation of a guy dressed as a vampire being murdered in a cemetary by a stake through his heart, it was also funny... but not in an over-the-top or disrespectful way. "Castle" laughs in the face of death, (sometimes literally) but always in a tasteful way.

It's too bad that shows like "Supernatural" took a week off (or more) for a brief hiatus before sweeps week. I would have liked to have seen what funny tricks they pulled out of the pumpkin.

**Ugh, my TiVo was slow on the uptake, and there *was* a new Supernatural this week. My bad.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Store Stuff Update: I'm writing about the Store, so it must be Thursday

Sales picked up this last couple weeks, but I'm still not in "OMG it's the holidays and everyone's shopping" mode. The "True Blood" series of rovings has been quite popular, between the second season of the show ending, and Halloween being around the corner.

I don't mean to capitalize on someone else's success, I just have a really, really hard time naming things. It helps to come up with a theme for a series, that way there's less worry and stress.

I'm really bad at writing slogans for my ads, too... too bad I can't come up with a solution for that problem! Well, actually there is... it involves just the name of the shop and pictures, but it's hard to be satisfied with pictures that are only 98 pixels tall.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Knitting: I swear, it's a coat!

Well I decided to (metaphorically) get off my hiney and start a new project, even though I am still working on my Dixon Knitters blankets (for the new people, I started a log cabin blanket and a moderne log cabin blanket at the same time... I know, I know). They are mostly stockinette or garter stitch, so they were kind of boring to do, even watching TV, and I spent less time knitting as a result.

Then I started (literally) grinding my teeth over my dental bills, so I knew stress-reduction was needed. Spinning and knitting are the two best stress reducers I know of. Since I'd ordered more spinning fiber for *that* project (the Clasica coat on the cover of the Fall 2009 Interweave knits) on Oct 8th and it still hadn't arrived due to a backorder on the buttons, I had to find another project fast.

I ordered a bunch of Knit Picks Gloss in heavyweight worsted (not fucking cheap, let me tell you), and started the Winter Wonderland coat. And re-started. And ripped back five times. There is something seriously wrong with that chart! The pictures show a lacey leaf shape flanked by lacey diamonds. At the top of those diamonds, the last row of them (at the edge of the repeat, no less) is a left-slanting decrease, then two yarn-overs in a row, followed by a right-slanting decrease. The next row was straight stockinette. Huh?

There had been previous rows with double yarn-overs. That wasn't what was boggling me. The problem is the row above it... how to resolve that last double yarn-over wasn't addressed. I ended up with a huge ladder above the diamond, no matter what. And since that wasn't what the finished coat in the picture looked like, I was at a loss. I tried looking up the erratta on the Interweave site, but they must have been having problems because every page I went to resolved into a 404 error or a database error page. Finally, I gave up. I mean, this was supposed to be stress *reducing* right?

So I switched to a coat I'd started and frogged in another yarn and color, the Blanket Coat from Knitter's Magazine Winter 2006. It is a basic blanket shape, with sleeves added at a strategic point allowing it to be worn as either a duster, or a cardigan with a very large cowl collar. At least this is what the pattern claims.

In any case, I'm now knitting yet another blanket. But in squares of stockinette and reverse stockinette, so it's slightly less boring. I even have pictures:

Okay, I have *one* picture of my progress. But that is two-days-worth of knitting, so it's proceeding quite quickly.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Gaming: Set Phasers to "Pick Me!"

Now that I've already signed up... uh, now that Tuesday is here, I thought it'd be a good time to let y'all know that the new Star Trek Online MMO has gone into closed Beta. If pretending to captain a starship or going on away missions is your "thang", then you might want to type as fast as your little fingers can and sign up. Go to and you'll see the graphic for signing up. Twice. If you miss it, I don't think I can help you. :D

There are already reviews up from people who got to see it at recent conventions, but honestly some of them have very poor writing skills. Even once you get past the poor grammar, it's hard to tell what they actually thought about the experience. It looks more like an "I was there!" post than an actual review.

Still, I'm excited. "Champions Online" is another MMO by Cryptic, and I'm fairly satisfied with the ability they've shown in that game to create a fun and varied experience. Now excuse me while I hit the refresh button on my email account while chanting "Pick Me!" over and over.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Food: Uses for freezer meatballs

While frozen meatballs can certainly be used for Spaghetti and Meatballs, there are so many more uses for them... and they don't necessarily need to be dinner entrees.

Swedish Meatballs (appetizer)
Italian Meatball heroes
Salisbury Meatballs
Sauerbraten Meatballs

These are just a few options. I've even seen an appetizer recipe that involves a bottle of chili sauce and grape jelly... and it's not as gross as it sounds. It turns into an interesting barbecue sauce once combined and cooked.

While I wasn't able to find that exact recipe (I think I saw it in one of those church fund-raising cookbooks my grandmother has) this one is darn close:

Buffet Meatballs

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Food: Supplemental on Canning

Spent the past week making and trying new things. What seemed like a huge bag of apples made a quart and a half of apple butter. Same with the pears. The grapes made two and a half quarts of what appears to be chunky grape juice (I clearly did not cook it long enough, or add enough sure-jell pectin). I can easily open the jars and re-cook the grape jam, but I will need to refrigerate it as I cannot can it again using the same lids. And like an idiot, I did not pick up spares.

I'd never had apple or pear butter before, and it is quite tasty. It's a great spread on toast, and tonight I'm looking forward to putting it on pancakes. The fruit's true flavor really shines through.

I decided against canning the yellow squash, as I've used it in meals all week and will not have enough left to can. Plus the family doesn't really seem to care for it. However I am currently pressure-canning my carrots. I'm a little nervous, because I didn't pay much attention when my grandmother was pressure canning in my youth, and the equipment is slightly different.

Well, the timer just went off, and I have to wait for the pressure to release naturally (they say in the instructions that it's important to do this so that the residual heat finishes the germ-killing process) so we'll know tomorrow whether the jars sealed themselves properly.

In a yahoo group I belong to, I've heard women talking about canning *whole chickens* (completely deboned, of course) in quart jars in a pressure canner. I don't know if I'll ever be confident enough in my skills to try that, but I must say it sounds intriguing.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Television: FOX is at it again.

FOX network is planning on setting Joss Whedon's "Dollhouse" aside during sweeps week, reports Entertainment Weekly. While this is not a good sign, I have to say I'm not surprised. I'm just not feeling "it" for Dollhouse the same way I did with "Firefly". Whether this is due to the intense drool-able appeal of Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Castle) or my vague distaste of Eliza Dushku (Buffy, Angel, Bring it On) or a combination of the two, I'm not going to be sad to see Dollhouse go. Considering the intense postcard-writing binge I went on when "Firefly" was in danger, that's really tragic.

I haven't hidden my irritation at certain plot-serving devices that make no sense (see last week's TV post) but these are minor things that can be overlooked if the rest of the show is stellar. But despite Joss' original statements that he wanted "Dollhouse" to be a showcase for the other facets of Dushku's acting talent, showing that she could play something besides a kick-ass bitch, Dushku comes off as wooden and silly in most cases, like a kid playing dress-up in big sister's clothes. Perhaps it's time to retire Echo to the attic and focus on the phenomenal talents of Enver Gjokaj or Dichen Lachman.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Knitting: When Monogamy is Bad

I have very picky criteria for picking an online vendor, whether it's for personal use or for raw supplies for my store. I insist on clear, easy-to-use shopping cart systems. An "account" area, so I can go back and check on previous orders. A flexible catalog system, so I can find what I'm looking for whether it's by weight, fiber content, or other search criteria. I think it's a given that it must work properly, and accurately. They should have decent prices, and their shipping charge must be reasonable.

Oh yeah, and they need to have something *in stock* for me to buy.

I'm not going to name names, but for the past year and a half I have been growing increasingly irritated with the yarn supplier I use. They run out of colors frequently. Apparently they've never heard of creating an "order point", i.e. if your stock drops to a certain number, you order more. I see inSANEly ridiculous back-order dates for FEBRUARY, right now. WTF? Are they shearing the sheep themselves? If I want to make a black sweater, I really have to wait till February? For BLACK?

Yes, I'm in the position where I could dye it up myself. My point is, I shouldn't have to. If they're counting on their consistently low prices to retain their customers, they're really kidding themselves. Right now, one of my raw wool suppliers also carries yarn. I don't buy from them, because they carry "luxury" yarn brands, and the prices reflect that. Their free shipping option is insanely slow, and their paid options are expensive. But if I have to, I will switch. Because I've never seen them run out of Cascade 220. In ANY color.

Get your acts together people. Folks are eyeing their purchases a little more closely these days. Billing errors are not going to be overlooked. Shortages and frequent out-of-stocks are just going to send them somewhere else. You could have the finest "Dollar Store" around, but if a person walks in ready to spend, and all they find is one lonely plastic bowl on the shelf, they'll turn around and shop somewhere else.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Miscellaneous: Mouths on your fingertips

**Maybe this is the pain of today's dental appointment talking, but I am really angry right now. Swearing follows.

I belong to a Yahoo! email group for a special category of cooking. I get a lot of interesting ideas and support for my foodie endeavors, but every two or three years or so, I find myself needing to take a break from the group.

Not to sound condescending, but sometimes people are *really fucking stupid*. I'm getting that feeling again that I need to take a break from the group or I'm going to go off on somebody.

Imagine, if you will, someone asking the following question: "I want to make bread, but I don't have a bread machine... is it possible?" They honestly asked this question.

My reply, if I didn't have any regard for anyone's feelings, would go something like this:

"Of course it's not possible! When the pilgrims first came to this country, you know, bread machines were built of beechwood and powered by a combination of steam and combustion. Why, to lay your bare hands on raw dough would be unthinkable!"

I'm so glad I have the capability for self-censure. Otherwise I think there'd be a tiny 22 year old housewife (I'm assuming) in the city crying right now. I KNOW she's not from farm country, or she'd know better.

Sarcasm aside, do people even listen to what they write anymore? Don't they run it through their heads first? I remember seeing someone in (typed) chat on an MMORPG swearing a LOT when he got jumped by enemies. When someone called him on it, he typed, "When I get surprised like that, I can't help it, I just blurt it out."

Is that what it's come to... blurting through typing? Are our fingers turning into extensions of our mouths, and by the same token, our brains? Is all our communication just turning into one big stream of consciousness?

Or is it just that people don't care anymore... care about their appearance to the outside world when they communicate? They don't care about what they say, they don't care about how well they spell it, and they don't care if they offend anyone?

Even just going back to the cooking mailing list, I am mostly irritated because people don't even care if they're asking the *right* question to get an answer to what they really want to know.

The question shouldn't be "Can you freeze celery?" because of course you CAN. You can freeze ANYTHING. The question should be "Should I freeze celery if I want it to still be crunchy when it thaws?" or "Should I freeze celery if I don't want it to be a mushy pile of cellulose in a puddle of celery juice?" If your aim is to make a crudite platter, then no, you should NOT freeze celery. If you want to preserve celery to put in soups, stocks, or make a veggie smoothie (gack) then yeah, go right ahead.

We can't read minds, people.

Television Supplemental: Damn you, FOX!

If you are like me, and you time-shift your shows via DVR, be aware that "House" and "Lie to Me" last night were severely SCREWED due to baseball. I don't know if it was regional, or nationwide, but you may want to check your recordings.

I did manage to see all of "House" ONLY because I also record "Lie to Me". Half the episode was on one recording, the other half on the one for the other show.

I think Amazon "Video on Demand" and iTunes are going to see an upswing in purchased episodes this week. :/

Gaming: Blood Moon

So last Friday, Cryptic offered a testing/preview of their first free add-on content, "Blood Moon". Due for live release on October 27th, it features instances and PvP with an Undead/Werewolf theme.

I only got a chance to try the PvP. Normally, I frikken HATE PvP, but this managed to be entertaining, fun, and griefer-free, for the most part. There were a couple incidents of respawn camping, but all in all not bad since the respawn points change.

You start out in a cabin in the woods, if you start as a hero, or in a cave if you're the unlucky soul who starts as an undead. You try to survive as long as possible. If you fall against the undead, you respawn as undead. The game continues as long as there is one living hero left.

I'm actually looking forward to the chaos on the 27th. :D

Monday, October 19, 2009

Food: Preserving the cornucopia

Fall is known as harvest time for a reason. And with all the crops coming in, it's a good time for loading up on preservable produce. I say bring it on!

So far, of the groceries purchased on Saturday are pretty much still as they were. Five pounds of ground chuck (80/20) has been boiled up and frozen, but otherwise I'm in a holding pattern. The pears need to ripen further, the apples aren't going anywhere, and lo and behold, I still have a decent number of grapes left.

Plans this week include the apple and pear butter as I've already mentioned. Not only am I waiting for them to ripen, but I need to buy pint sized canning jars. And believe me, they stopped carrying them at the grocery a month ago in my neck of the woods. So I'll have to order online. Fortunately, the apple and pear butter recipes are high acid (mostly because of the lemon juice used to prevent browning) so hot water bath canning is perfectly safe. I'm getting this straight from the Blue Book of canning.

I'm a little... nervous? about the yellow squash. I'm sure pressure canning is perfectly safe, but I think I'm going to be more comfortable freezing them. Plus, the pressure canner I have my eye on is $70 bucks... and that is NOT somewhere you want to skimp on quality.

The grapes will be turned into jelly or jam... the difference being whether I leave the skins in or not. The skins have natural pectin in them (the usual thickener for jelly and jam) so I may opt to cook it as jam for the natural pectin and then strain it. They are the tastiest, sweetest red grapes I've ever eaten, so I know anything made of them will be marvelous. Plus, the skins will lend a very pretty color to the whole thing.

So that's the plan over the next week. I do NOT plan on grocery shopping for a while now. We are pretty much covered in the veggie, meat, and starches categories. Mostly just topping off the staples like eggs, milk and maybe bread, although I have about twelve pounds of flour left, so I'm covered there too.

Now hopefully, after my dentist appointment on Tuesday I will still feel like eating. :P

Oh, and at some point I plan on making freezer taquitos from the rest of the ground chuck and the tortillas I picked up. They require less cooking than usual because they can be baked or fried directly from frozen and they don't need anything to hold them together.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Food: Supplemental edition

Madcap grocery expedition today. Kroger is apparently really hot on this 10/10$ thing they've got going. Some of the deals are good, some not so much, so you really have to keep an eye on it. I picked up:

10 lbs. Red Delicious Apples
10 lbs. Pears
some corn and flour tortilla packs for a dollar each
10 Pasta-Roni
10 lbs. Ground Chuck
10 lbs. red grapes
10 lbs. long grain rice (in two pound packs)
5 lbs yellow squash

Everything was a dollar each, except the Chuck, which was $1.50 per pound. Since I have a freezer full of apple pie filling, this time I'm going to make apple butter, and pear butter, and can it. I *might* try to make pear mincemeat for pies and can it, instead, but since I haven't eaten many mincemeat pies, I'm not sure about that one.

The ground chuck will get boiled, bagged and frozen. The grapes could be gone by Monday (by which I mean my family eats them like fiends), but if they're not, I'll possibly can those in a light syrup. I have no idea what to do with canned grapes, but hey, if I can preserve them I will. Maybe Jam would be a better idea.

I have a dentist's appointment on Tuesday, finally, to get my two crowns done. Once I know how much that will set me back (we found out hubby's insurance provider DID change back in January, so everything's up in the air again), I'm planning on getting a pressure canner, some more jars/lids, and probably a food mill. That will make canning the squash a little safer, lol. The fruits are all high-acid foods, so they can be safely canned in a hot water bath, which I'm already set up for.

I'm already looking forward to seeing my pantry full of jars of fruit and veggies. :D

Friday, October 16, 2009

Television: The Universe and You

Every "universe", whether it's the real one we're living in, or one made up for fiction, has its own set of rules. You can comfortably sink into a story and let it sweep you away, because you know how it's supposed to work and you don't need to spend brain power trying to determine how it's possible. This is why, especially in television shows where the universe is a little bit different, it's important to establish those rules right away, and STICK to them.

Joss Whedon, I may be talking to YOU here.

An interesting point was brought up this past week, while discussing the latest episode of Dollhouse called "Belle Chose". As fans, we can take the concept of vampires, esteemed geishas, people with programmed personalities and run with them. But screw with something like a GPS locator, and we flip.

I think it comes down to the established rules in the show's mythos, established “rules” in the real world, and where they clash… with a bit of liberty thrown in for expedience of telling a story.

If the rules for raising a demon, or whatever made-up procedure, are already established, and then the show breaks those rules simply to provide a plot point, people are going to cry BS. I think the problem with the tech in Dollhouse is that there are viewers who KNOW how GPS works, know how computers work, know how data streaming over wireless networks works, etc. The main objective of all this tech, wiping people’s brains, may be made up… but they’re wrapping it in familiar technology and trying to treat the familiar with the same cavalier attitude they used with the “mystical technology” of Joss’ previous shows.

Unfortunately, people are too familiar with real-world tech to be able to get away with it. And if I’m able to spot little holes like these, I can’t imagine how crazy it must make, say, someone who went to MIT.

Can we send Joss to ITT tech? I mean, seriously.

I remember an episode of Angel (maybe) where someone spilled a cup of coffee on a computer keyboard. This somehow magically caused sparks to fly from the CPU, and if I'm remembering correctly, tripped the breaker, plunging the hotel into darkness.

No. Just... no.

I think that it's extremely telling that while I can remember that incident with clarity, I can't remember what the episode was about. I can't even say for sure it was Angel, it may have been Buffy, although I doubt it. The reason I remember it so clearly? It totally slammed me out of the story. I couldn't think of anything after that but the gaffe.

I was reminded of all this quite vividly with this crap about a missing GPS strip from Victor. I realize this was all a setup so that Topher would have a reason to attempt something as potentially dangerous as a remote mind-wipe. I realize that attempting this is one step on the road that leads us to the events of the unaired episode, "Epitaph One" (viewable on the DVD set or for a fee from Amazon Unbox) I really get that.

But unfortunately, if you use real-world tech, you have to abide by real-world rules. If you have giga-quads of data LIVE streaming from an active in the form of heartrate, respiration, and brainwave patterns, then these actives have some form of tech still in their bodies. You can't tell me that someone, somehow, FORGOT to add the GPS locator, but added back all the other tech. And if it was removed for dermal reconstruction of Victor's face (which is doubtful in itself) then the rest would have needed to be removed also. Which it obviously wasn't. And you can't tell me that it's not possible to somehow stream all that biological information without being able to tell where it's coming from.

If the cops in '95 can track a cell phone making a call to within one city block on "Without a Trace", then Topher and his magical mystery machines can track down an active, with or without a damn "GPS strip" as long as they're still receiving data.

That's my TV gripe of the week.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Store Stuff Update: Zilch

Not a lot going on with the store at present, so no real post today. Halloween is just around the corner, but other than running a really LAME ad on Ravelry (I am NOT suited for writing ad copy. I'm really not.) there's nothing exciting happening.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Knitting: Not quite in gear

I am STILL on my blankets... I'm just not in a knitting mood right now. Didn't start my halloween socks (I've resigned myself to the fact that they will not be finished)and fortunately found a way around having to KNIT my daughter's halloween costume, as she's caught the Harry Potter bug and was wanting me to knit the wizard's robe from Charmed Knits. I mean, please. I'll be happy to do it when I don't have a deadline, but not with less than a month to go, and little money for yarn. Hellooo!

I DID manage to finally mail off my uncle's test socks. They've been hanging out on the back of the couch for two weeks, mocking me.

I've been far more interested in reading, which isn't so odd... hubby decided that I MUST read some Sidney Sheldon, which is fine, and bought a stack of used paperbacks from a store near his work. Mr. Sheldon is a fine writer, but I found some of his characterizations of women slightly naive, and quite frankly, sometimes insulting. I had to check the publish date on a few of them. One was from '69, which, okay, I get the caveman-like attitude about women, but the one from '95 made me feel like sending him a feminist book. Something from the Friedan ouvre.

Once I finished those, I was back into the Sookie Stackhouse books (snort... after a rant about feminism) to remind myself about the plotlines from the book, since we'd just finished watching season two of True Blood. They took liberties. I haven't decided whether or not they are good or bad ones. They ARE hitting all the high points (like sneaky Eric Northman) but the blending of the plots of books two and three was a little odd, and I would have preferred that they not have changed the incident near the end of season two to a bomb instead of a shooting. I can see why they did it, especially if they're trying to step up the "use" of the plotlines, but I was looking forward to more of Barry the telepathic bellboy.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Gaming: Feeling like it's the '80s

This week in gaming was very interesting. I got all my characters on Champions Online up to level 21, so they could access the next crafting tier. I re-installed King's Bounty: The Legend since I wiped my operating system drive after my credit cards were compromised, and thus lost all my games.

I also received Ghostbusters: The Game (360) from Gamefly. I cannot tell you how fun it is to strap on the proton pack! Figuratively speaking, of course.

The game pretty much takes you on a tour of all the characters and sites from the movies, with just enough of a little added information to make it interesting. The grey lady librarian? Yes, you find out what her deal was. Slimer, of course, makes an appearance, along with the Stay-Puft marshmallow man, the mayor, and various other people and ghosts.

Two things I don't like... one, you are playing as a guy. There is no way around that. I would have liked to have had the option to play as a woman, but them's the breaks. Two, it is fairly easy to lose track of your teammates, especially in dark environments. There's supposed to be a key to press that brings up a directional indicator, but it's not listed in your electronic organizer, or in the keybind options. It's nice that your teammates will often lead the way to the next area, in case you get stuck, but it doesn't help much if you've gone down the wrong hallway.

The only other nitpick I can think of is my daughter gets irritated that the loading screen cuts off the song right before she can shout "Ghostbusters!"

I can already tell it will offer many hours of entertainment trying to go back to get all the achievements. It's a great nostalgic callback, and worth the purchase or rental.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Food: This week in bargain shopping...

So I sent my intrepid husband, Barronius, to the stores armed with printed lists (one for each of the two stores), handwritten lists denoting amounts of items to purchase from the printed lists plus extra items, and a stack of coupons.

There was a coupon for three packages of hot dogs at a very reasonable price, and a coupon for 10/$10 on hot dog buns. I wrote on the list VERY CLEARLY to only buy three... and explained verbally before he left that it is NOT necessary to buy all ten to get the savings from the coupon. There was also a great deal on tart apples, red grapes, and some tender beef cuts. Also, a very cheap price on boneless/skinless chicken breasts and breast tenders (strips)

As you can guess, he came home with TEN packages of hot dog buns. I barely have room in the freezer for one, let alone ten. But he did spot another cut of meat that was at the same sale price for the roasts and picked some up, so I quickly forgave him. I packed half the buns (still in their original packaging) inside a couple of huge 2.5 gallon freezer bags and left them out on the shelf. They won't stay there long. I stashed a couple in the fridge too, and we had hotdogs for a quick meal on shopping day, so that was almost one package down... woo hoo!

Monday was spent clearing space in the freezer, dealing with a 10 pound bag of potatoes, and processing a couple of the roasts. First I washed all the potatoes and oiled and salted six of the best baking shapes in the oven to roast. While those were cooking for an hour, I peeled and washed the rest of the bag, dunking each in a bowl of salted water as I finished.

(PS. Don't try to put an entire bag's worth of potato peelings down your garbage disposal. Let's just say I had to make a small plumbing pit-stop in the middle of all this... the entire PVC pipe leading from the disposal to the drain was PACKED with unground peels.)

I then chunked up the potatoes, and packed a few cup's worth of chunks into each quart freezer bag, added a teaspoon of salt to each bag, and covered with water. I then pressed all the air out and laid them flat in the freezer on a cookie sheet. I'll remove them from the sheet on Tuesday and place them in the freezer as I normally would. The salted water method was outlined in my "Ball Blue Book of Canning" as being good (there's a section in the back about freezing), but I'm still worried about discoloration. We'll see how it goes. I saved one bag of chunks for dinner, but I kind of lost track of where I stashed it in the fridge (who can see with a bazillion bags of hot dog buns in the way?). Hopefully it won't turn up later some place that's unrefrigerated... that'd be my luck.

The roasting potatoes still had some time to go, so I took out one package of the steaks and chunked those up as well. I divided this into four parts, packing and freezing three parts, and tossing the fourth in a bowl with flour, garlic salt, and pepper. My dutch oven got called into service, and I browned it up. I added some onion, and baby carrots. Once this had had a bit of time, I added a cup of beef stock and a half a bag of the red sauce I had left from our last spaghetti adventure that needed to be used up. I set this to simmer, covered, while I cast about for a way to use up some of those buns without grinding them all up into soft, but less nutritious than I liked, bread crumbs.

Since I had a LARGE bag of apples and all that bread, I decided that Apple Bread pudding would be the way to go. Unfortunately it only takes half a package of buns to make four cups of bread cubes, so I may be making this twice. It turns out hubby liked it a LOT, so that will be okay.

By the time I'd chosen a recipe for the bread, the roasting potatoes were done. After letting them cool for ten minutes, I halved them, scooped out the flesh, and set the shells aside. I then mashed the middles with sour cream, garlic salt and pepper, and shredded sharp cheddar. I then packed this mixture back into the shells, topped this with more cheddar, smooshed it down into the potato a bit so it would stick, and put three each into quart freezer bags which I then labelled and froze. Since they are mostly fully cooked (not counting the cheese) they only need to be heated through to be enjoyed.

I assembled the Apple Bread Pudding, and set it to bake. By this time it was time to add the potatoes to the stew (I add them late in the game because I don't like them to break apart too much from stirring). Since I couldn't find the reserved bag of potato chunks (please don't let them turn up in a cupboard somewhere) I pulled one of the bags from the freezer which was well-chilled, but not yet frozen. I drained those and added them instead.

Dinner was a success. Hubby claimed he wasn't all that hungry, but still put away two bowls full and had dessert as well. Little MP ate all her stew, but wanted ice cream instead of the pudding. I tried to push for ice cream on top of the pudding, but since it was cookie dough, I understood the reluctance.

So... a good day of preserving grocery deals. I still have the chicken tenders and breasts to deal with, along with another package of beef. But I don't want this to get too long, so I'll cut it off now. I plan on making chicken strips out of the tenders, and repackaging the breasts into meal-sized portions. The beef will be cooked and shredded, then packed and frozen. Not bad for half price on everything... except the ice cream, lol.

Added later: I ended up making a triple batch of chicken curry out of the chicken tenders instead of breaded strips for later baking (like chicken nuggets). I just did NOT have the energy in me to batter, crumb-coat, and par-bake two whole packages. I did cook and shred one roast, and packaged the other roast for the freezer. It is stuffed quite full now, but this is good, since it means I won't be *forced* to go shopping for quite some time.

Someone asked for the Chicken Curry recipe, so I'm adding it to the post.

There are a couple of recipes for chicken curry that I use... the best one for the freezer is as follows. You can add things to it at the night you're serving it like peppers, cashews, etc. but those items don't freeze well, so I leave them out. This is tailored for a "Food Club" size tray of chicken, but you can buy the regular size to get the 6 lbs. needed, or scale the rest of the recipe. This is a mild curry... I typically add more powder to heat it up a bit.

Freezer Chicken Curry

1 tray (6 Lbs.) boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
2 cups chopped onions
1/4 cup curry powder
2 tablespoons minced ginger
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons chicken bouillon granules
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups water
4 cups milk
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 1-gallon freezer bags

1. Rinse and trim chicken as desired. Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces and cook in a large skillet over medium heat until no longer pink, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Divide cooled chicken evenly among freezer bags.

2. While chicken cools, melt butter in a separate large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring until soft, about 5 minutes. Add curry powder, ginger, garlic, sugar, bouillon and salt; cook, stirring for 2 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring, 2 minutes longer. Mixture will be like a paste. Gradually add the water and milk; cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce has thickened. Whisk to make a smooth sauce. Add lemon juice only after the sauce has thickened. Cool sauce.

3. Divide cooled sauce evenly over the chicken.

4. Seal and Freeze.

To use later, thaw overnight in the fridge, then cook over medium heat in a skillet till hot and bubbly. Serve over rice, or with warm flatbread.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Television: Reality Bites

So I was spinning yarn for an upcoming project, when I noticed my TiVo had suggested an old episode of "Charmed" called "Witch Wars". I have Charmed on DVD, so I was about to delete it when I thought "What the heck" and watched it. The playlist was pretty darn sparse, and I needed the background noise.

Amusingly, it's an episode about a reality gameshow made up by a bunch of enemy demons. Supernatural mumbo-jumbo aside, it has a few of the most amusing lines in it, despite the fact that it was one of the WORST episodes of "Charmed" ever. Hints that demons should have thought up the concept of reality television, but humans got to it first, etc.

Ever since the writer's strike that started the whole thing (not the last one, the one before) I have been reallllly trying hard not to say too much. I mean, there was a time I wanted to be a writer, so I understand the concept of wanting to be paid fairly for your work. The concept that the studios shouldn't pay you peanuts for your contribution, then make billions on digital internet distribution simply because standardized union contracts couldn't read the future. I get it.

But holy crap, the effects of ONE little work stoppage... in retrospect, I really wish it had never happened.

There are many reasons why I despise reality television. Actually, I'm not a fan of the business model of television in general (don't get me started on corporate advertising and its effects on the American people) but reality television in particular really bothers me. It's voyeurism coupled with coerced humiliation. I mean seriously, if people didn't have the promise of a lucrative outcome dangling over their heads, would they put up with people like Simon, or Donald Trump? That kind of thing happens all the time in private... reality television just takes your most humiliating work moments and shows them to a million people. Or dating moments. Or travel moments. Or dieting moments.

I find nothing redeemable in these shows. They're all means for networks to make a fast buck, and they exploit the hopes and dreams of the American people to do it. I wouldn't want someone to participate in humiliating *me*, so I don't watch these shows. I would much rather observe a well-crafted story than watch someone herd geese on "Amazing Race".

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Store Stuff Update: It's Aliiiiiive

As you can see if you're reading this straight from the website, the store is back up. Thanks to everyone who sent notes of sympathy and concern!

For right now, I'm relisting products that expired, and colorways that I've reprised. Home life has been too intense (and my kitchen too filled with food!) for me to enter into any serious R&D at the present time. Nobody wants dye in their meatballs.

I'm still trying to graph price trends in undyed wool. Maybe it's the supplier I use, but they don't seem to have seasonal trends. You would think there'd be a sharp drop in prices right before spring to clear space for new supplies at shearing time, but such is not the case.

In any case, if the US Postal service decides to hike their prices again this coming spring, my prices will also have to climb, since I get slammed at both ends... both buying and selling. Selling is not so big a deal, as people expect me to charge the amount of postage for their item to get to them. The problem comes when I have to pay more to get the raw materials to myself in the first place. It ALL has to be figured in.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Knitting and Fiber: Practically hoof to sweater

This week I am planning to embark on something I thought I'd never do... spin (and then knit) an entire sweater's worth of yarn.

Frankly, I'm undertaking this quest mostly because the alternatives are just too darn expensive. If you want an aran-to-bulky thick n thin yarn, there certainly aren't any cheap alternatives. For an entire cardigan, you're looking at $100 minimum. Spinning your own isn't much cheaper... the natural oatmeal BFL I plan on using requires at least 96 ounces to make the required yardage at the weight that will give the correct guage. Even at the bulk discount, that's close to the same amount... why would I choose to spin my own? Entertainment per dollar ratio, coupled with the fact that I already have close to the necessary amount on hand.

At some point this week I mean to start my halloween socks. Orange toes, black heels, and stripes all the way up. How far up? It's a mystery... one that can only be solved by knitting till I run out of yarn.

My blue cotton Log Cabin blanket is actually close to being completed. It was intended for cold mornings to go down to the bus stop. Plus, for some reason I've always been fond of the cotton blankets they have in hospitals... despite where they come from, they seem warm, snuggly, and durable. I'm hoping my home-knit version will prove to be the same.

The plum colored wool version is taking a bit longer. That's intended to be a "luxury" blanket, and I plan to make it quite a bit larger. Something to snuggle under while watching movies.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Gaming: Fluff Games, AKA "Casual" gaming

Goodness knows I love me some casual games. You know the type... BigFishGames, Real Arcade, Pop Cap, etc. Cheap games good for a month or two of entertainment, till the next big thing comes along. Cake Mania, Farm Frenzy, Bejewelled and the like.

I am a BIG fan of the Time Management genre, which is ironic considering how much time I waste on playing them.

I just completed all levels on Gold on Farm Frenzy 3 (which is really Farm Frenzy four if you count the FF Pizza Party game as part of the series). My days are now looking as bleak as a landscape painting of mid-winter in the Antarctic. I mean, yes, I still have Champions Online, but I can only get flattened by Mr. Poe sixteen or so times before I decide to call it a day (if you want to call that rage-quit, go right ahead, I won't argue). They REALLY need to reclassify the "Poe-wned" mission as a 2-man mission, and possibly scale it up a level or two. Or maybe that's the point, considering the title. Hmmm...

So I decided to try a new time-management series from Big Fish called "Empire Builder: Ancient Egypt" and I have to say, it was a really fun game... for about two days. Then I completed it. And trust me when I say I was NOT playing it constantly.

Granted, Big Fish only charges $7 for their games, less if you take advantage of a daily deal... but a couple of days of entertainment is seriously lacking. I mean, sure, compared to going to the movies your dollar per hour entertainment ratio is pretty good, but I have a certain expectation in my gaming life that my games will keep me riveted for weeks, if not months (or in the case of The Sims, years).

I mean, King's Bounty: The Legend was a $20 game when I purchased it, and I've barely scratched the surface. But then it's not considered a "casual" game.

So, are my expectations of a $7 game too high? If it took me two or three days to complete a game, and I bought a new game every time I completed one, that'd be around 10-15 games every month. Sure, that's a lot of variety, but that's more than $70 spent on gaming. That's an Xbox 360 title, with a little left over. And frankly, I get more out of the 360 games.

PS. If you are not watching "The Guild" with Felicia Day, you're missing out. They're now FREE Xbox 360 marketplace downloads...

Monday, October 5, 2009

Food: Savings knocked me flat

Last week was amazing in the food department. I joined a new website that is a really useful tool for finding local bargains while grocery shopping. It *is* a subscription site, but my first grocery savings on Tuesday paid for the tiny every-other-month fee five times over. It's called The Grocery Game, and if you'd like an invite, shoot me an email at tilandra(at)gmail(dot)com. I'll set you up, or you can go to the website at and sign up. Just please be kind enough to enter my email address as your referrer. I don't get much, just a free week of membership, but it would be nice if you did so.

ANYWAY... the savings. Thanks to the list, we found a couple of deals that were really worth tracking down a store we don't normally shop at. Two family packs (the limit) of ribeye steaks and ten one-pound packages of pasta (angel hair and fettucini, which we were out of). Original total was over $75, after sale price deduction.... $35! My husband just about had an apoplexy. The sale price on the meat was the real savings, but it didn't hurt that we only paid a dollar each for the pasta. Especially since we were out and I had a recent freezer full of meatballs, hah.

I ended up cooking one steak for dinner that night (to feed the three of us! Those things were huge) and froze the rest flat, then put in gallon zip freezer bags (more for the huge size, not the volume). The steak was tender, flavorful, and very satifying. The pasta is, of course, shelf stable.

We also found a wonderful deal on one-pound boxes of whole strawberries. We only got two, but I wish we had been able to get more. They were half the usual price, and so tasty. I ended up quartering them, macerating them in sugar, and making strawberry shortcake to go with the steak dinner. What we didn't use for the shortcake I packed into a quart freezer bag and froze it for later.

The new list was posted on Sunday morning. My husband has not done the shopping yet, but so far there are great deals on apples (I plan on getting 8-10 pounds and making apple sauce and apple butter), red grapes (possibly will be used for making jam), beef shoulder roasts, chicken leg quarters, and cake mixes of a certain well-known brand. The meat is half-price per pound, same with the fruits, and the cake mixes are 10/$10.

I plan on taking the beef and after I cut some up for stew, I plan on cooking and shredding the rest. It will then be packed in 2 cup portions into freezer bags and frozen. The chicken leg quarters (they come in ten pound bags at an unbelievable .59 cents per pound) I will divide in half (ish). Two one gallon bags I will put three in each and freeze as-is, or possibly in a marinade. The rest I will cook up, cool a bit, then de-bone and package the cooked meat in 2 cup portions into quart freezer bags. This works excellently for casseroles, Chicken ala King, and such. By pre-cooking, it saves space in my tiny over-fridge freezer, but I can still take advantage of the savings. I also save the broth from cooking the chicken, refrigerate overnight, and skim off the fat. I can then can this in a pressure canner, or freeze, depending on space limits.

Meanwhile, I will leave you with my "Cream of Soup" mix that I use for my sauce for Chicken ala King, to which I add the chicken and then serve over rice or biscuits.

Condensed Cream-of Soup Mix
Makes 9 batches, each batch equal to one can of soup.

You can substitue just about any herbs for the thyme and basil. To make a specific flavor of soup, add sauteed mushrooms, cooked chicken or beef, tomato sauce, sauteed celery, etc.

2 cups non-fat dry milk powder
2/3 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup chicken or beef bouillon granules (I use 1/4 cup of each to save having to make two batches of mix, but that's me)
2 tablespoons dried minced onion
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried basil leaves

1. Combine all ingredients in medium bowl and mix well with wire whisk to blend. Store in tightly closed container in a cool, dry place or freeze up to 4 months.

2. To use as a substitute for a can of condensed soup: Combine 1/2 cup mix with 1 1/4 cups water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly until thickened.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Miscellaneous: Concerns about Healthcare

**Small warning... I get very emotional and angry about this topic. There is a lot of cussing below.

I have many concerns about the current and future state of health care. On the one hand, my grandfather is currently in a care home. I realize that my grandmother, uncle, or even my husband and myself working together cannot care for him properly at home. His legs are too weak to support him, and not long ago he couldn't even turn over in bed without assistance. And he's a big guy... over six feet, and pretty solid.

There are people in the same home who aren't paying a dime... and I don't begrudge them that. Some are veterans, some are clearly homeless or poor. WHAT I DO object to is the amount of money my grandmother and grandfather ARE being charged... over $6,000 dollars a MONTH. Yes folks, that's the price of a very nice used car... every month. Are you goddamn kidding me? AND he has to a) share a room, b) pay EXTRA for entertainment events and c) Pay for his own medications. For those prices, he should be sitting on satin sheets and have a blasted TV in his room. No, they don't even have that. And if you want a phone, you have to PAY EXTRA for that too. The big "F" word comes to mind.

Worst of all, they have given up on him getting better, even though he's getting a bit stronger every day. I'm sure with a bit of physical therapy, and some proper encouragement, he could be much stronger physically. But do they have any goddamn incentive to get him out of there? Hell no! Not until they suck his miner's pension dry... and what is he supposed to live on then?

These places DO need to be supervised. If I hear one more idiot call them "death panels" I will smack them. There's only one thing these places understand, and that's money. Supervise them, make sure that ALL rehabilitation and care is being provided, and if it is not CUT their funding. Make them still morally liable for providing care to those that need it, but make it come out of their pocket, not the patient. They can't discharge them if they still need care, but they certainly should NOT be allowed to prolong their need for it.

On the other hand, take a look at dental care too. If my insurance company says I'm only allowed $1500 worth of coverage every year, then WHY are they only paying about 40% of my bills? How many people (besides myself currently) need $3000 to $4000 worth of dental work in a year? Pay the whole damn bill. If I use up my $1500, I use it up. I'll pay the rest out of my own pocket if needed. As it stands now, I have to SAVE UP money to get something done, thus delaying the procedure and making it MORE EXPENSIVE by the time I can get it done. I have tiny cavities I've been ignoring for a damn long time, just because I'm saving up for a root canal and crown. My wet-behind-the-ears dentist suggested just pulling the teeth and putting in a bridge. What's another name for a bridge? Partial false teeth. No thanks, jackass... do your job and save my teeth, thank you. Don't just suggest yanking them because the insurance company doesn't pay for the physical part, the crown. I'm pretty sure mine won't pay for a freaking bridge either.

The dental insurance system is deeply flawed. I don't know if they're implementing my suggestion for aging care above, and cutting off funds for procedures they deem "unnecessary" or frivolous, or if they just KNOW that no one needs $1500 worth of care, and they're trying to prolong the spending of it as long as possible, so that they keep more of it when the year flips over.

I do know that when I needed an emergency gall bladder removal a few years ago, the only thing I was billed for was the anesthesiologist's fee. It was 1/60th of the whole bill. Now, I can't even go to the emergency room without having to pay %50 to see the doctor and have blood work done. (Can you believe I saw the doctor for five minutes and they want to charge me over $1000? Of course this hospital is attached to my grandfather's care center... it's a very small town)

Maybe it's just small-town medicine. Maybe it's because I have a young, inexperienced dentist. I do know I've started grinding my teeth in my sleep (and sometimes while awake if I'm not thinking about it) due to stress. Gee, I wonder what the F&CK I'm stressed about?!

Friday, October 2, 2009

TV: Premiere Season is here

The kids are back in school, so you know what that means... new TV season! A LOT of old favorites are back, some unexpectedly (like Dollhouse), some predictably (Fringe, Lie to Me, Supernatural), and some regrettably (what the HECK has happened to Smallville for pete's sake? Tom Welling is cute, but give me a break! Time Travel? Guh!)

There are also some new shows that caught my eye that I've been enjoying tremendously.

Warehouse 13: This was a summer-run show that recently had their season finale. I caught up with the early episodes through Amazon's Video on Demand service (now sent directly to my new TiVo, thank you very much!) and caught the last five or six episodes from "live" TV, or as live as TiVo gets. It's an interesting blend of "Friday the 13th: The series", steampunk, and "Eureka". I find both the lead agents appealing actors, and have always enjoyed Saul Rubinek's work, even though he doesn't often play a very appealing character.

Defying Gravity: Unfortunately on hiatus with a shaky status, this glimpse into the future of corporate space programs with a sci-fi alien twist was just starting to get good when it was unceremoniously dumped from the airing schedule.

The Vampire Diaries: I would have accused this show of trying to ride on the coattails of "Twilight" and its popularity, had the books not been published a good long while ago. It's a vampire tale set in High School, with mostly unknown actors, the exception being Ian Somerhalder (Boone on "LOST") as the vicious older brother to the main male character. It's very "CW" (ie lots of very pretty, very young people running around, full of angst) but I'm giving it a decent shot to mature. After all, my number one show "Supernatural" is also a CW show, and it's matured nicely into a very engaging show.

Now a short recap of the season premieres of old favorites, and my impressions.

Supernatural: The Brothers Winchester screwed up last season and broke the last seal heralding the start of Armageddon. Now we've got angels and demons running amok, and one renegade angel looking for where God might be on earth. When Castiel first showed up, and those wings unfurled, I was like "Heck yeah!" but now I'm to the point where I'd just rather get back to the Chupacabra-esque stories, and drop the whole "good vs. evil" stuff. And two brothers from the same family as vessels for the main players of light and dark? Don't really buy it. I don't believe someone is considered the ultimate evil because of something DONE to them. Sam's truly evil and started down that path because he was fed demon blood as an infant? Nuh-uh. Still, the line-by-line writing, production values, and acting on this show keep me coming back every week.

Fringe: I was a little confused by the premiere of Fringe this season. I didn't have time to re-watch the first season before the premiere, but from what I remembered and what happened in the premiere, it seemed that we were supposed to know or have seen things that I just don't recall happening.

Castle: Smart-alec Richard Castle (played by Nathan Fillion... YUM-o) is still with the precinct, following Beckett around. The whole flavor of the show, very liberally sprinkled with cheesey novel titles and grammatical nit-picking is a fun romp of a detective show with the right balance of realism and humor. Lord knows I'd watch Mr. Fillion read a phone book, but his impish behavior really makes the show.

Dollhouse: Joss Whedon. It seems the renewal of the show surprised him, along with the rest of us. I'm still not 100% behind Eliza Dushku as Echo, but at this point I suppose there's not much to be done about that. The rest of the cast has been top-notch, and the writing is stellar. The scene between Whisky/Dr. Saunders and Topher was especially poignant. I'm sad to see Amy Acker leave for another show, but there's always a chance for a return.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Store Stuff Update: Damn Hackers

So my Etsy shop has been shut down for a week or so... this is because at some point my bank account was compromised. From what the support people could tell us, it was unclear whether it was my debit card, my husband's debit card, or my PayPal card that was compromised. So we ended up cancelling them all.

And, without means to pay for shipping postage, I had to shut it down until my new card arrives and gets activated. You can tell the economy is bad when identity theft stoops to people with a credit score as low as mine.

The good news is all the charges were reversed, and the Yahoo account the slime bag used to siphon funds from me is under investigation. I have no idea if they were successful in getting them, but I hope so.