Thursday, September 12, 2013

Movies: Now You See Me

My blog is never going to be known for its movie reviews.  Between the family members on the autism spectrum who hate crowds, and our rural location, going to a movie in a theater is an *event*.  And very rare.  But I had to share my thoughts on the movie I watched on DVD last night, "Now You See Me".

The friends I've made since high school don't know this, but I used to be a magician's assistant in junior and senior high.  Every year our high school put on a Madrigal dinner.  To be honest, I didn't pay attention enough to know if it was a fundraising effort for the drama department, the school in general, or just a tradition for a fun evening of theater.  What I do know is that our magic act would perform at it every year, and did side gigs for other schools and children's events.  I never got paid, I did it for the fun.  And it *was* a lot of fun.

So when I saw a trailer recently for "Now You See Me" I was enthralled, and knew I had to see this film.  Finally magic was once again the focus of the media... and not in a gross, Chris Angel, in-your-face kind of way.  It was a subject of wonder, excitement, and enchantment once again.  Yeah, they made it sexier with bank heists and crime, but it looked like it was celebrating magic in a way I could approve of.

I was not disappointed.  It did celebrate the wonder and theater of good magic acts, but it had more.  There were threads of misdirection in the plot, a tale of revenge (or two), a love story, death and resurrection, Robin Hood hijinks, a secret society, and humor.  Sure, some of the special effects were CGI instead of practical, and some of the twists and turns of the plot were a little heavy-handed, but I'd like to think even Shakespeare would have approved of the story.

The acting was very good.  Mark Ruffalo (does that man *ever* shave?) as the rumpled, reluctant FBI guy, Michael Caine as the elegant financier, and Morgan Freeman as the experienced magic-debunker all gave their usual stellar performances.  My only disappointment was the french Interpol agent, as her accent made her difficult to understand in spots.  It was a French director, I suppose he didn't realize.

I think if they had managed some of the stage effects with practical (physical) effects, rather than computer imagery, I would have considered this the perfect movie.  As it is, I only consider it to be a shade below five stars.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Food: Paleo and Whole30

I didn't really announce it (although maybe I should have) but for the month of September I'm trying the Whole30 "reset".  I don't want to call it a cleanse, or a diet, because both of those words have negative connotations.  I'm not trying to lose weight, and I'm not really coming off a binge of excesses, although sugar might count.  I *have* been having inflammation problems... the old frozen shoulder, my throat (I have an elongated styloid process on the left that I really don't want to have surgery for), joints that feel sprained.  I read the book, "It Starts With Food".  This is not a diet.

This is a fact-finding mission.

By cutting out "trigger foods"... wheat, dairy, sugar, un-healthy fats, and legumes... for one month, and then re-integrating them slowly back into my menu, I can figure out what's making me feel un-well.  Then decide if I really want to keep those foods in my rotation, or cut them out.  It's about finding a balance.

Leading up to the first of the month, I started easing into it by cutting back on sugar.  On the first of the month, I dropped it all (and believe me, that was not an easy thing to do having just made almost FOUR DOZEN burritos for the freezer).  I actually hit the symptoms of days 6-7 of the "what to expect" timeline on the 3rd of September, probably due to my "easing" into it.  Now on the 8th, I'm physically somewhere around days 10-11.  I'm bored with this.  My meat is always dry, I'm already running out of greens and it's a week before I can hit the grocery store again.  The highlight has been "crab boil night" (minus the little red potatoes and corn on the cob... sigh) with flash-frozen king crab legs, shrimp, and a foil packet of tilapia fillet in homemade citrus dressing.  (I was amazed the seal held)  Plain salad and sliced cucumber on the side.

But not every night can end with a pile of exo-skeleton on your plate.  And even *I* am getting bored with having to spend a half an hour in the kitchen every time I want to eat something.

So I bought a few of these cute little Rubbermaid "Lunch Blox" salad kits.  Last night I set my shoulders and lined myself up with three kits, using the separated trays and dressing container to line up ingredients from the Paleo Power Lunches book with a few modifications to fit what I had on hand.  I'd already made the Citrus Dressing with lime, and the Honey Mustard (OMG... yum) dressing earlier in the week, so it was basically a half hour of chopping and portioning.  So on those days when I hit eleven am and I'm starting to feel like gnawing off my own arm, I can just grab one of these and settle in for lunch.

And I'm sorry, but no amount of coaxing is going to get me to post a "beauty shot" of the inside of my fridge.  Let's just say they're lined up like good little soldiers, ready to be deployed.  The Lunch Blox are really quite neat, though, with nesting hollows on the lid for convenient, spill-proof stacking in your lunch bag.  They come with a fitted cooling block, too, and although I don't need them now, I might later.  I wish they'd had these twenty years ago.

I have already noticed an improvement in my shoulder and throat, so I definitely think there is something to this.  I'll try to keep you updated on my progress.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Movies: Star Trek: Into Darkness

I got spoiled on this movie right after theatrical release… one of those “top ten” lists where fans complain caught me by surprise. So I knew the identity of Benedict Cumberbatch going in. Amazon had the digital version for sale a month before the DVD is available, so I took the plunge.


Overall, I thought I would hate the whole thing, knowing what I already knew. I actually liked it, right up until the ending with its blatant re-write of a classic “old trek” moment. That whole sequence was, frankly, unnecessary. In old trek, Spock’s death was a segue into the next movie… it was required for the plot. Here, they just threw it in for gratuitous fan-pandering. It wasn’t needed. Kirk was alive again before the credits even rolled. Why the hell was it in there? And throwing in the shuttle from “that Mudd incident last month” to take down to Kronos… what was that? More old fan pandering.

If you’re going to reboot, reboot FFS.

I thought knowing Cumberbatch was Khan would ruin it for me, but (as Sherlock shows us) he plays the mad genius very well. I enjoyed his performance.

What I did NOT enjoy was JJ Abrams’ abundant use of lens flares. I see now why people complain about this. It was obnoxious. I don’t think there was a SINGLE SCENE where there wasn’t a lens flare. There were flares in space. There were flares off the equipment on the bridge. At one point there was a FLARE OFF McCOY’S HAIR. WTF? Someone needs to hold an intervention. Seriously. And when they clear out all the software, make sure they take away the lens flare filter in photoshop too. Could cause a relapse.

I’m buying the DVD of course. There’s just so little good Sci-Fi out there, and this is better than most. I just wish it was better than itself.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Food and Cooking: Make-ahead Frenzy for Back-to-School

Way back in 1991 (when dinosaurs roamed the earth) I was in MOS training for the Army in Aurora, Colorado.  It was a mixed-branch class, with Army and Navy represented.  Every morning before instruction started, a young woman would show up with grocery bags full of breakfast burritos of various ingredient combinations.  Chorizo, italian sausage, ham, beef and cheese.  We cleverly named her the "burrito lady".  She charged a dollar apiece, and she never went home with anything but our cash (we were not the only class... there were eight others in various stages of training).

Apparently she was operating without a food service license, because in my sixth or seventh month, she disappeared, banned from selling on-base.  I never forgot how her burritos were damn near perfect every single time, and completely delicious.  No-one ever got sick, or found something disgusting in them... I think it's just another example of over-rigid thinking.

After spending a couple of days this past weekend making and wrapping my own attempts for the freezer, I think I should have happily paid two dollars, or even three.  It's darn hard work.

I'm using this book:  Fix, Freeze, Feast  I made twenty breakfast burritos with ham, and twenty beef and bean burritos.  The breakfast burritos, filled with a mixture of scrambled egg and potato, then moistened with sour cream, were hard to fill and roll properly.  Maybe I needed to cut the potatoes even smaller, or I was over-filling them.  I was already dubious about the sour cream, and they tended to unfold on the ends.  I should have warmed the tortillas slightly.  I was going nuts trying not to lick my fingers (don't worry, I washed my hands instead).  And worst of all, they would not all fit into my stacking container OR a one-gallon freezer bag.  I had to divide it between two.

If I hadn't already written on a one-gallon with a Sharpie, I would have gone for the two-gallon bag instead.  I managed to remember that for the beef and bean burritos, and the entire batch fit into one two-gallon bag.

I sampled one of each for lunch on the Monday after.  I baked from rock-solid frozen as per the instructions, and although the beef and bean burrito was completely done, the breakfast burrito was still cold in the middle.  I would increase the baking time by ten minutes if you decide to try these.

This was not the only thing I accomplished that weekend.  We got home from vacation at a quarter to four on Friday morning.  After sleeping in (yay!) I went to work and got the following done over our three-day weekend before school started:

  1. Grocery shopping (the house was bare... I mean, really bare.  I thought I was moving up until a week before we left, plus I always clean the fridge before a vacation)
  2. Ten quarts of red sauce (think Marinara for the freezer)
  3. ten pounds pre-cooked ground beef, some bagged in quart bags as loose meat
  4. two full-size lasagnes (again, from the book above using the red sauce.  I would check very, very carefully what size noodles you use though.  They use three noodles for every layer, and they did NOT cover the width of the size of pan they listed.  I filled in around the edges with rigatoni, as I only had enough noodles as required by the recipe, and did NOT want to have to go back to the store)
  5. Saturday was ground beef day.  I pre-cooked a bit more loose meat, made a gigantic batch of meatballs and pre-cooked them, and divvied up the rest of the raw ground beef into one-pound portions in quart freezer bags, and pre-formed burger patties.
  6. Sunday was burrito-palooza.  I did breakfast ones in the morning, took a long lunch break, and did the beef and bean in the afternoon.  I also managed to fit in one batch of orange-glazed chicken breasts (six pounds worth) for the freezer.  There is a raspberry-glazed recipe in the book, and I adapted it since I did NOT want to use my last jar of raspberry jam and have a dozen of orange marmalade.
  7. And because I'm a masochist, I snuck in a batch of oven-roasted (paleo inspired) chicken breasts on Monday night.  I don't like when chicken is in my fridge for longer than that, so it had to be done.  For that, I used Well Fed: Paleo Recipes for People Who Love to Eat.  They do it with thighs, but have alternate instructions for b/s breasts, and it worked fine.
 So Monday night we had spaghetti and meatballs, all from the freezer.  Last night we had chopped roasted chicken breasts over a bed of spring greens.  Tonight?  Not sure.  Perhaps one of the lasagnes if I'm feeling indulgent.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Food and Yarn: Stop Encouraging Them

I have to say something.  I've been watching my fellow crafters over the years... women who want to dye their own yarn or fiber, but are afraid of "real" dyes and bringing harsh chemicals into their homes... dyeing with Kool-Aid.  Ladies and gentlemen, you are not thinking this through.

Dyeing with Kool-Aid involves taking the powdered drink mix, applying it to the fiber after dissolving it in liquid, and fixing it with vinegar and heat.

Dyeing with an acid dye, such as Jacquard, involves taking the powder, applying it to the fiber after dissolving it in liquid, and fixing it with vinegar and heat.

There is no difference.  NONE.  The substances are exactly the same.  In fact, by purchasing Kool-Aid instead of acid dyes, you are encouraging Kool-Aid to keep creating their noxious drink powders that contain substances that CAN PERMANENTLY DYE FIBER and feeding it to our children.

Instead of being afraid of Jacquard acid fixed dyes, you should be afraid that a company is feeding it to our kids.  Please stop encouraging them.  Kool-Aid is NO SAFER than other protein-fiber colorant agents.  It just has additional ingredients for flavor.

Now, dyes for cotton and plant-based fibers are a whole other story, but I'll save that for another post.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Cooking: Meatless Monday, Lentil Salad

Trying hard to work in a "meatless Monday" every week.  It's cheaper, healthier, and reduces my neurotic worry over our cholesterol levels.  It's also higher in fiber when you include legumes, like this lentil salad.

I heavily modified a version I found in the "Forks Over Knives" cookbook.  While their version uses a lot of cilantro and mint, I wanted to create something a little more like a cross between three-bean salad and hummus.  Sort of.

My Roja garlic hadn't performed up to my expectations.  Only half of them came up, and I wanted the garden bed space for lettuces, so I picked most of them early.  I replaced the green onion and garlic cloves in the original recipe with two too-young garlic shoots.  I added a bit of cilantro, but omitted

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Cooking: It's a Birthday all over again... only better.

Saturday was my birthday, and since we were phenomenally broke, I made a yellow cake from scratch from the "Homemade Pantry" cookbook (oy, what a pain with the separating eggs from yolks and such, and it ended up dry.  Delicious, but dry.)  And I frosted it with a tub of store-bought frosting that was probably way past its "Best if used by" date (okay, I won't lie... it was.  But that's a freshness date, not a "OMG you'll die if you eat this" date).

Since the cake was pretty dry, after the first half of it was gone, it wasn't moving very fast out of the fridge, even with a layer of my orange marmalade between the top and bottom layers.  Let me rephrase... a half a cup of orange marmalade mixed with a half a cup of apple juice, between two layers of yellow cake.  And it was still dry.

So here I am with a half a cake, broke, and unsure what to do with it.  I made it into a bread pudding, frosting and all.  Holy hannah!  It saved it for sure.  So here is my recipe for...

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Cooking: Bacon Cheeseburger Pizza

Last night I was in the mood for a bacon cheeseburger pizza.  I had half a pound of thawed ground beef that I couldn't do anything with because it just wasn't enough for a family of three to have burgers.  I could have created a stir fry, but with several strips of bacon left over from BLTs earlier in the week, this was a natural solution.  Click through for the full post, including my recipe.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

HtH: Garden is In?

Technically, the best bed of my garden has been in since November, when I planted my garlic for overwintering.  The outer leaves (?) died back a little in the winter cold, but now they're sending up multiple new shoots.  Each green leaf (?) equals another clove in the bulb, so I'm happy to see their new spring growth.

If you look down the middle of the garlic bed, you will see a brassica that also survived over winter.  To be honest, I don't know if it's a broccoli, or a brussel sprout, or a cabbage.  I tried to start several of them, and the sprouts just kept dying on me, until I spotted this little guy near the edge of the bed where the water had washed the seed, so I transplanted him.  We'll see what he turns into.  Click through to see the rest.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Food and Cooking: Oven Roasted Veggie Goodness

Welcome to my new food obsession... oven roasted vegetables.  While various veggie types get added or subtracted, there are four core ingredients in my current favorite side dish: onions, yellow squash, zucchini, and garlic.  Salt and pepper to taste, roast in a 350°F oven for an hour.

The mix you see here has carrots and sweet potato in it.  I've been known to dice up a tomato (getting close to ratatouille there) as well.  This amount shown here is enough for a side dish for three people at two meals, and it's incredibly cheap and easy.  I will sometimes make this in small dice instead of slices, refrigerate, and use as a relish on burgers or chicken.  It's incredibly tasty on a burger, so much so that you don't even need ketchup!  Click through to see the recipe.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

We Were On A Break

There must be something about the post-holidays that makes me react this way... I just take a break from my blog.  It's not intentional, but between the warming weather, my child's school schedule, and various other factors, I'm just not writing on my blog.

I even set Facebook aside this time... *gasp*!

The new factor this time around was the totally insane flare-up of negative internet activity on Ravelry and Facebook over the credit card processing system breach on Knitpicks.  I was angry.  Then I got paranoid.  I went around removing personal information where I could.  I was changing passwords, deleting accounts I no longer needed (or no longer trusted).

Then I was just sick of the whole internet thing altogether.  I took a break.

Don't get me wrong, you still have to check your email (paperless statements, family, etc.) but I found myself hanging out on forums less and less.  It was like the bad guys had finally invaded the last haven of the geeky.

Yeah, I know... the bad guys moved in to the internet neighborhood almost before they were done putting in the "drywall" so to speak, but I never really felt their presence until now.  I had two credit cards fraudulently accessed in two months.  After the first, I blamed my husband using it at the local gas station, or my daughter's lack of PC security.  After the second, I started scouring everyone's machines, looking for viruses and malware.  There were screaming fights involved, mostly because my daughter has Aspergers and she considers her computer to be an extension of her personal space.  I am NOT supposed to go anywhere near it. 

Then the Knitpicks news hit.  Finally I had an answer... sort of.  They claim I'm not one of the people who were exposed.  I don't think they realize who was exposed.  Whatever.  Two cards, both used at their site, both used fraudulently not more than two months after KP closed their breach?  Yeah, I'm putting money on them.  It's there, or Amazon... which admittedly is also a possibility.

So I'm cagier now.  I got a new card from a company that offers virtual card numbers... a one-use CC number that is no longer valid after you use it.  Unfortunately making payments is not as simple as it is with my bank-attached card.  There it's just a matter of transferring funds.

Anyway, my point is... I've been gone.  This is why.  I'm back, but I may not be quite as active.  Also, I'm starting a second blog... not to replace this one, but compartmentalize things.  This one will remain my personal blog... an online diary, if you will.  The other is going to be more focused.   I'll share that one with you all when it's actually doing something.  For now it is dormant, but there will be some exciting stuff very soon.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

HtH: Why, hello there little guy!

I may blog about gardening often, but let's face it.... I have not been particularly successful.  I did not have a house until about eight months ago.  June was far too late in the year to be starting a new garden in this Texas heat, and my patio container attempts at the apartment were laughable.

I am starting to gain confidence, however.  My fall-planted garlic is still doing well, despite a couple of days last month where we dipped below freezing.  And now, there is this:

That my friends is a lemon tree seedling sprouted from a supermarket lemon.  Here's how I did it.  (Click through to see!)