July 31, 2009

Someone special is turning 30...

Everyone's favorite superhero, the fab ljkc, is hosting a special giveaway on her blog in honor of her birthday month - click the evite to check it out!

July 30, 2009

Lisa the Australian - Part V

I'm one step closer to dual citizenship! Look what I got in the mail:

It's my Change of Name Certificate - remember the little hiccup with my application for Australian citizenship? It turned out that the Department of Immigration will only accept an official Australian issued certificate as evidence of a name change - an overseas marriage certificate isn't any good, so I had to put the brakes on the whole process...until tonight, when my citizenship application was officially submitted!


I do still have to send them a certified copy of the name change certificate, just to prove that everything is on the up and up, but otherwise all I can do now is just sit and nervously wait until the Department of Immigration decides if I get to be an Aussie or not. Wish me luck!

July 29, 2009

15 books in 15 minutes

By now any Facebook users (which is pretty much everyone on the planet except Bill Gates, right?) have probably seen this. The challenge is to list fifteen books you've read that will always stick with you; the first fifteen you can recall within fifteen minutes.

This is my list - they're not necessarily the most profound books (check out #10!), but all of them made an indelible impression on me in some way the first time I read them, challenging my views, tugging at my heart, changing the way I looked at the world, or just making me laugh out loud no matter what curveballs life was throwing at me.

1. The Last Samurai by Helen De Witt
2. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
3. The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx
4. Gilgamesh (this is an ancient Mesopotamian epic poem, so there are various translations - I'm partial to Herbert Mason's Gilgamesh: A Verse Narrative - it's not the most literal, but really captures the emotional essence of the story)
5. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
6. I Will Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm (saddest children's book EVER)
7. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
8. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
9. Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
10. A Was Once An Apple Pie (A Nonsense Alphabet) by Edward Lear ("Pidy/Widy/Tidy/Pidy/Nice insidey/Apple pie")
11. Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond
12. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
13. anything by Roald Dahl...but especially James and the Giant Peach (I literally read my copy to pieces as a child)
14. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein (can you tell I have a thing for childrens' books?)
15. The Jeeves Omnibus by P.G. Wodehouse (as a side note, I have to thank Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry for introducing me to the wonderful world of Jeeves and Wooster)

What's on your list?

July 28, 2009

Not a great start...

This is the first week of the new school semester, so today I logged in to my course's discussion board to check out the first assignment. The professor had also posted a section for students to discuss their practicum placements. (For anyone not familiar with the term, a practicum is where you go and work for free somewhere related to the field you are studying - it generally lasts for three weeks or more.)

I knew a prac was required for this class, but I assumed that the university would instruct me how to set it up - maybe send some forms to fill out or instructions or something. Nope. Apparently I'm supposed to magically know how to do it, and magically supposed to know that I was supposed to do it during the school break - i.e., before the class had started. Maybe Aussie students are taught how to do this at some point in their undergrad years, so they don't go over it again for the Masters degrees?

Some students are allowed to do them later in the semester or can even get an exemption, so I sent the professor an email explaining my situation - I'm American, not familiar with how to do this, a big doofus (OK not really that one) - and asked to be directed toward the correct forms that I'm supposed to fill out for this. The silver lining is that since I already work at a library, I can just use my current workplace as my placement or possibly even get an exemption for prior experience, but I still need to get it on record that that's what I'm doing.

I'm feeling really incompetent right now. Not a good start to the semester.

P.S. Rain = deck fencing not complete yet. And so far we're both still alive. Barely.

July 26, 2009

Whoever first said...

...that home improvements were fun, relationship building exercises for a couple should be strangled with the cord of their own power drill.

We're in the process of creating some fencing for our deck to keep the pooches down in the yard and away from what is apparently the tastiest outdoor table and chair setting ever invented (I'm looking at you, Indiana - bad dog!).

I'll post photos in a day or two, provided the rain lets up. And we don't kill each other first.

July 23, 2009

Everything is better with bacon

A couple of years ago, I told my husband about a funny blog I was reading, all about a city girl who married a cowboy and moved to a ranch. Ben was indifferent to the charms of The Pioneer Woman ("That's a GIRL blog") until I sent him a link to a recipe for her bacon wrapped jalapenos, asking if he wanted to try it. And oh indeedy he did.

Since then, we have made these little snacks about a thousand times. Maybe more. In fact, Ben loves the recipe so much that he's now one of PW's biggest fans, and regularly recommends her cowboy recipes to his geeky buddies. He also often cooks up a big ole batch of the jalapenos to take for snacks when he gathers up the nerd herd for a day of gaming.

Last night, while we whipped up yet another batch, Ben said, "Hey, why don't you blog about this?" So I am.

Oh, before I start, I should warn you - these things are addictive. Really addictive. So don't blame me if you turn into a bacon craving crackhead. You've been forewarned, m'kay?

For this recipe, you will need:
  • A bunch of jalapenos
  • A block of cream cheese
  • Some bacon (how much depends on what kind of bacon you use - more on that later)
  • Toothpicks
To start, preheat your oven to about 190C/375F and then grab yourself a jalapeno:

Cut that sucker in half:

And scoop out the seeds with whatever is handy - a spoon is probably a good choice, but hey, I'm not judgy:

Then repeat 300 times:

Now grab the block of cream cheese:

Scoop up a nice big chunk:

Smoosh it into the hollow of the pepper, smoothing it out as you go:

And repeat 400 times:

Finally it's time to grab your pack of bacon. This is where it will get different for the American readers - Australians use middle bacon, which as you can see is far thicker, wider and longer than the streaky bacon Americans are used to (it's not generally cooked to a crisp either, just lightly pan fried). We've found we can usually get about three large jalapenos per rasher of Aussie bacon - if I was using American bacon, I'd probably just use half of a slice for each pepper (the Pioneer Woman says to use a third of a slice, but I like these more bacon-y than she does).

Aussie bacon also often comes with a rind still attached - we always cut this off, although I do know people who like to eat it:

How do you like my hand model? Somehow Ben doesn't object for posing for photos as much if he can do it while handling bacon. Which sounds kind of dirty somehow...

Grab one of your stuffed jalapenos and place it face side down on the bacon rasher, leaving a gap at the beginning:

Then just fold that bit of bacon over the top:

And roll the whole thing over to get another layer of bacon on the bottom, shoving a toothpick in to keep it all together:

Cut the little bundle free from the rasher and whack it on a baking tray - make sure you use a cookie tray lined with baking paper to catch the drips and a rack so the peppers can get air under them:

Then repeat the entire process 500 times:

Whack the tray into the oven - you'll need to leave it there for oh, 20-30 minutes. It's hard to say precisely how long, because it will depend on the size of the jalapenos and the thickness of the bacon - basically, you just want the meat to get nice and crispy, and by that point the peppers are generally cooked as well.

While you're waiting for the delicious goodness to cook, wash your hands five or six times to get the jalapeno juice off them, then remind yourself not to touch your eyes, just in case. Three minutes later, forget and absentmindedly scratch your eyelid, then howl in pain. Wash your hands another seven or eight times while weeping from your red and swollen eye.

Then eventually give in to the siren lure of the scent of bacon and cream cheese wafting from your oven, and pull out these beauties:

Pick up the biggest and juiciest looking one and take a bite, then howl with pain after burning the crap out of your tongue. Then take another bite anyway. Because they are that good. Really.

July 21, 2009

You know you're nerdy when...

...the first thing that pops into your head when you see this is, "I MUST HAVE IT. MUST. HAVE. IT."

It's a pi pie dish. I cannot begin to describe the awesomeness contained in that sentence.

MUST. HAVE. NOW.

July 17, 2009

My husband the comedian

I’ve mentioned before that my husband is somewhat overly fond of bad jokes. Really bad jokes. I’ve also told you all his infamous zoo joke before, but it bears repeating:

"I went to the zoo yesterday. They only had one dog in a cage. Yeah, it was a real Shih Tzu." (It makes more sense - note I didn't say was funnier - if you read it aloud: Shih Tzu = shit zoo. Bada bish! *sigh*)

He sidled up to me yesterday to regale me with his newest joke. It went something like this:

Ben: I have a new joke!
Me: Oh god...
Ben: OK so here’s how it goes –
Me: Why are you doing this to me?
Ben: Uh huh, so, there’s this lion and this bear in a zoo –
Me: I thought you loved me.
Ben: - right, whatever. So there’s this lion and this bear in a zoo. The lion says, “I’m the scariest animal in the world! When I roar, all the animals on the savannah tremble in fear!” The bear replies, “No, I’m the scariest animal in the world. When I growl, all the animals in the forest run away terrified.” Then a pig walks by and says, “Whatever, guys. When I sneeze, the entire world panics.”
Me: *groan*

See what I’m up against here? For better or for worse indeed...

Anyone think they can top those in the Bad Jokes Championship?

July 14, 2009

Another day, another post without zoo photos

The zoo pictures are swiftly turning into the Loch Ness Monster of this blog. Ah well. This is just a quicky post to wave farewell for the next couple of days, as my big hearted husband has offered to loan our internet router to a coworker overnight for testing purposes. Clearly he does not recognize the extent of my internet fixation.

This means that tonight I have checked my email, caught up with my favorite blogs and stocked my fields in FarmVille with long-growing crops that I won't need to harvest until the internets return (give it up for wheat, y'all!). Not that I have a FarmVille addiction or anything. That would just be sad. And nerdy. Ahem.

So until I'm back, I will leave you with a picture of jedi squirrels.


Just because I can.

July 12, 2009

Red Velvet, if you please

No, this isn't turning into a cooking blog (and yes, I WILL post the zoo photos soon), but last week I made the somewhat grievous error of promising Ben that I would make cupcakes for him to take to work. Obviously it was a moment of temporary insanity, but since I like to keep my promises, tonight I went to work and whipped up a batch of red velvet cupcakes.

I used the Magnolia Bakery Red Velvet Cake recipe that my dear cyberbuddy, Lisa from Daily Fix, passed on to me ages ago. I've made it a few times before now, but never documented the process before...which meant that I also never realized just how dodgy my baking skills really are. Moving on.

Another cast of characters shot, blatantly ripping off paying tribute to The Pioneer Woman:

Green tea tonight, folks, not red wine. Sorry to disappoint. Can't booze up all the time, you know. I also pre-measured the butter. See, I'm learning!

Step 1 and 2: Preheat the oven to 350F/175C degrees. Grease and lightly flour three 9 x 2-inch round cake pans, then line the bottom with waxed paper.

Check and check. Sort of, anyway. Since I was making cupcakes, I just lined my muffin pan with cupcake liners and squirted non-stick cooking spray in each cup to make removing the paper an easier task (elegant and classy? no. effective? yes.). No photos of this, mostly because it's really, really boring.

Step 3: In a small bowl, sift the cake flour and set aside.

Remember how I said that all I had was a pasta strainer? Yeah...

Voila! Sifted flour:


Regular flour, I might add. I have never seen cake flour in Australia. Ever. I'm sure it exists, I've just never seen it in a grocery store where we mere mortals shop. I'm assuming bakeries use it, but I don't know where they get it from. So far, a lack of specialty flour has not made my baked goods explode, so I'm going to keep going with the regular stuff.

Step 4: In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.


Alternate step 4: cream the butter and sugar until you get bored and your arm is tired of hefting your hand-held electric mixer, about 2 minutes. Then hope that dropping 3 minutes won't eff things up and move on to the next step.

Step 5: Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

No happy faces on this brand, sorry. These were on sale. I'm cheap about my eggs.

It should look roughly like this when you're done. I think.

Make sure you take a close up photo of the sugar-butter-egg mixture so you can examine just how closely it resembles tonton guts.

Step 6: In a small bowl, whisk together the red food coloring, cocoa, and vanilla, then add the mixture to the batter and beat well.


Step 7: In a measuring cup, stir the salt into the buttermilk.

There's salt in there, really.

Step 8: Add the buttermilk to the batter in three parts, alternating with the flour. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated, but do not overbeat.

A beater that was not used to overbeat. Overbeating is naughty.

Step 9: In a small bow, stir together the cider vinegar and baking soda. Add to the batter and mix well. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl, making sure the ingredients are well blended and the batter is smooth.


Step 10: Divide the batter among the prepared pans. In this case, that meant filling each cupcake paper about 2/3 of the way full.

Make sure you glob some on the tray. It's more authentic that way.

Step 11: Take a moment to admire the gorgeous color of the batter.


Step 12: Bake for 30-40 minutes (or about 20-25 min for cupcakes), or until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the layers cool in the pans for 1 hour. Remove from the pans and cool completely on a wire rack.

Or do what I do and yank the cupcakes out ASAP to cool by themselves on a rack since you only have one muffin tray and you need to get the next batch in the oven, pronto.

See the questionable looking cupcake on the bottom right? That's the result of Ben's "finger test." Turns out we were out of toothpicks because a certain someone who shall remain nameless (but the first three letters of his name are b-e-n) either used them up or managed to cleverly hide them so well that neither of us could find them. So instead, Ben employed the finger test - if you touch the top of a cake and it springs back, it's done. Obviously, these were far from done when that one was poked. Oh, did I mention that he knows this little trick because his family used to own a commercial bakery? Yes. A bakery. And yet I'm the one making cupcakes...

Steps 13 and 14: bake the rest of the cupcakes while admiring how pretty the finished ones are.


While the rest of the cupcakes are baking, mix up the icing, then repeatedly yell at your husband when he keeps swiping some with his grubby finger. The yelling is an integral part of the recipe. It helps make the cupcakes rise.

Step 15: Stay up until midnight or so icing cupcakes and swearing you'll never make a stupid promise like this again. Make sure you include the glacé cherry on top that your husband begged you for.


Step 16: Admire the finished product.


Step 17: Taste test. Just in case.



Magnolia Bakery Red Velvet Cake
3 1/3 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened (this is about 170g for all the non-Americans out there)
2 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
6 tablespoons red food coloring
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F/175C degrees.
  2. Grease and lightly flour three 9 x 2-inch round cake pans, then line the bottom with waxed paper.
  3. To make the cake: In a small bowl, sift the cake flour and set aside. In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together the red food coloring, cocoa, and vanilla. Add to the batter and beat well.
  5. In a measuring cup, stir the salt into the buttermilk. Add to the batter in three parts, alternating with the flour. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated, but do not overbeat.
  6. In a small bow, stir together the cider vinegar and baking soda. Add to the batter and mix well. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl, making sure the ingredients are well blended and the batter is smooth.
  7. Divide the batter among the prepared pans. Bake for 30-40 minutes (or about 20-25 min for cupcakes), or until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the layers cool in the pans for 1 hour. Remove from the pans and cool completely on a wire rack. Makes one three layer 9-inch cake, or approximately 30 cupcakes.

For the icing, I'm going to give you two options. The first is the one that came with the cake recipe - I'm sure it's delicious, but I prefer cream cheese frosting, so I'm going to add that on the end:

Creamy Vanilla Frosting
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
2 cups (4 sticks, or about 450g) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  1. In a medium-size saucepan, whisk the flour into the milk until smooth.
  2. Place over medium heat and , stirring constantly, cook until the mixture becomes very thick and begins to bubble, 10-15 minutes.
  3. Cover with waxed paper placed directly on the surface and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
  4. In a large bowl, on the medium high speed of an electric mixer, beat the butter for 3 minutes, until smooth and creamy.
  5. Gradually add the sugar, beating continuously 3 minutes, until smooth and fluffy.
  6. Add the vanilla and beat well.
  7. Add the cooled milk mixture, and continue to beat on the medium high speed for 5 minutes, until very smooth and noticeably whiter in color.
  8. Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes (no less and no longer – set a timer!) Use immediately.
Lisa's Favorite Cream Cheese Frosting
1/2 cup (113g) butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese
4 cups confectioners' sugar (aka icing sugar for the Aussies out there)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  1. Beat softened butter and cream cheese until well blended.
  2. Add powdered sugar and vanilla.
  3. Beat until creamy.
  4. Spread on cooled cake.
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