Continuing The Z Theme.

Posted by DmentD | Coolness,Entertainment,Pictures | Thursday 17 September 2009 2:17 pm

Seems to be the day for all things Zombie… they just keep shambling into my online surfing path.

Zombie shooting range targets, including the recently popular Nazi soldier theme.

Zombie Range Target

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ArtJournal Chai.

Posted by DmentD | Cooking,Coolness,Links,Promotion,Spotlight | Thursday 17 September 2009 11:26 am

Here’s an ArtJournal Chai Tea Syrup Recipe by Lucy Knisley, presented as only an illustrator can.  Looks tasty, actually, and I know there are chai tea lovers out there that read my blog.  Enjoy.

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Yet Another Zombie Webcomic.

Posted by DmentD | Coolness,Entertainment,Links,Promotion,Spotlight | Thursday 17 September 2009 9:47 am

Yes, the soft spot I have for the living dead is well known (I think it’s my abdomen…), and I ‘ve run across another very worthy webcomic.  Raising Hell by Andy Belanger, who is also a freelance artist at DC Comics, Transmission-x, Oni Press and IDW.  Here’s a preview:

And oh yes… I WILL make the bladed goalie stick to have in my weapons arsenal.  It is made of dreams and awesomeness… and cold hard steel.

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Uncle Sam Says “You can Stay”.

Posted by DmentD | Coolness,Domestica,Family | Monday 14 September 2009 1:31 pm

It’s official — The US Government was unthreatened by the presence of a quiet, deceptively sane-appearing, nerdy English girl in our country, and has granted her the permission to legally hang out as long as she likes… with the caveat that she check back in two years time to let them know that everything is still groovy, and deny wholeheartedly that she is turning the denizens of these shores into her willing zombie slaves through the cunning use of delicious baked goods.

Sweets has written a thorough account of the immigration interview that we attended on Friday, Sept. 11th (how’s that for an ominous date to have to attend a government appointment?), and I’ll point you in her direction for the big picture and just add my own embellishments here.  Go read, then come back.  I’ll wait.  Shoo!

Alrighty, then.

First, we’ve had an unholy amount of rain the last week — a refreshing change considering the drought that Austin has been suffering, but c’mon… overcompensating much? — and the drive to San Antonio on Friday was like nipping at Moses’ heels while passing through the Red Sea, all the while knowing that the mass of water coming down on your head was a mere few seconds lead-in to the crashing sea that was going to wash over you.  So yeah, a fun drive in the rain, both ways.  Being a NOLA native, and being accustomed to driving in the rain every damned afternoon in the summer months, this was no big deal — even down to dodging around the idiots who acted as if they’d never seen moisture tumble from the sky.

We got into San Antonio stupid early, on purpose.  Looking to kill some time we searched out a coffee house, and I’d have even gladly accepted a Starbucks… but it was a hell of a job trying to find one.  I mean for the love of Jeebus, you can see them from SPACE, but I couldn’t find one anywhere along the I-35 stretch we were searching along.  We were in what passes for a business sector and in the vicinity of a government office building… I mean, isn’t it in the zoning ordinances to have a Starbucks every 50′ or so given the area?  Eventually common sense gave in and we used our fancy-pants Blackberry to search one out.

Entering the USCIS building we had to put bags/boxes/etc through an x-ray machine, and pass through a metal detector.  The usual dance for metal detectors is to strip all metal things off and put them in a little tray and pass though.  I wear steel-toed boots and they can occasionally set them off, so I asked the officer (an honest to goodness cop, not a rent-a-badge) if I should take them off, to which he replies “no, because I’m not STUPID.” It took me a beat or two to realize he wasn’t insulting me, but taking a shot at the TSA and their retarded flavor of airport security.  We were then treated to a highly entertaining rant on why it’s ineffective, and “do  you know what grows on those floors with all those barefoot people walking through?” I liked this guy immediately.

As we waited to be called, we were concerned that with all the Latino names being called that they would mispronounce Sweets’ name (as the officer did when we were passing through security).  She suggests we listen for our last name as that ought to be distinct enough.  When they finally called for us, they used Sweet’s first and middle name, mispronouncing the first.  Figures.

The interview process was… brief.  Startlingly so.  Literally, it was confirming our basic information (with a check-off on the form as we did so), and I suspect it was as much to ensure we were the ones who filled out the form as it was to guarantee accuracy.  They quizzed me on Sweets’ birth date and our marriage date (and my brain has a retarded habit of transposing March and May, so I had to do a quick mental check off before speaking —  January, February, March, April… “May!”). The whole time I’m looking at the HUGE stack of paperwork in her folder on us and wondering what else is in there… just curious, as I always am about these things (“Wow, they have a copy of my high school art-class projects in here!  This is incredible!”).

I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this brief polite exchange.  Maybe a bag would get slipped over our heads as we ascended in the elevator and we’d be brought to separate rooms to be quizzed under a single 100 watt light bulb, never seeing the faces of our inquisitors.  Electrodes would be strapped to our sweaty extremities to detect if we were lying or truthing.  Who knows?!  As nervous as we were about not inadvertently screwing up, I think none of that would have come as a shock.  At the least I was expecting a little more behavioral observation while being asked a few more probing questions about our relationship, you know, to see if we betrayed any of the common “tells” of someone who is lying — not that we were, but with my luck, I’d raise some suspicions from just being so nervous.  *shrugs*

I guess the answer lies somewhere between the fact that the English aren’t rampantly running/climbing/swimming illegally across our borders (the “Mexican Triathlon” — not my term!) and thereby aren’t much of a threat, and that we obsessively researched the entire process and over-anticipated their every requirement — not only on the forms we submitted, but on what we had to bring with us to the interview (as was evidenced by our box full of stuff, where everyone else had a single, limp folder with them).  We must not have raised any red flags.  Go us!

So, Sweets can now work and travel without restriction, and without the need for any other government issued IDs beyond the Greencard (once it arrives).  In 3 years time she can start the citizenship process and can eventually count herself amongst he ranks of “stupid Americans”… a title she will have not only chosen willingly, but will have worked hard to earn.

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Neurosonics.

Posted by DmentD | Coolness,Entertainment,Links | Thursday 10 September 2009 10:44 am

Bizarre and entertaining.  I felt like sharing.

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Piazza d’ Breadytalia.

Posted by DmentD | Cooking,Coolness,Domestica,Rambling | Thursday 10 September 2009 10:34 am

Suffice to say, sourdough makes a mighty fine pizza dough.  Made pizzas last night with a homemade sauce (tomatoes, roasted garlic, and tons of fresh herbs from the garden), baby portabella mushrooms, pepperoni, thinly sliced sausage and topped with a mix of cheeses.

Sadly, no pictures of said masterpiece.

We’ve got our technique just about perfect for making crispy pizzas at home, and it starts with firing up the grill and finishing in the oven.  The grill lets you get a nice high direct heat that you can’t get in in your home oven, and lets you toast and “pre-bake” the crust. What also helps is when I bought my grill, I splurged for a few accessories and one was something I’d never seen before… a perforated pizza pan with a long, insulated handle.

Start your oven pre-heating at 425 – 450 degrees, and your grill pre-heating on high.  Spritz the pan lightly with cooking spray, spread and shape your dough on a flat surface (not too thick, not too thin) and brush one side lightly with olive oil.  Flip it over onto the pan and lightly brush the other side with oil.  Once your grill is pre-heated and rocket hot, place the dough and pan on it and immediately lower the heat to medium/low — you need that initial burst of heat to “set” the bottom of the crust and start the browning so that the dough doesn’t sag through the perforations in the pan.  Keep an eye on the crust by flipping up an edge every so often and check for browning — the crust will start to rise and firm up, and that’s a sign that the crust is starting cooking through — and once the crust is firm enough, rotate it around a bit to ensure even heat distribution.  Once the bottom is evenly and lightly browned, flip it over (I use a combo of a broad flat spatula and tongs) and toast the other side lightly as well.  If you’re doing multiple crusts, re-heat your grill to high between each one.

Once the crust is done, transfer it off the pan and onto a large plate, tray, pan or peel and build your pizza to your tastes, leaving about ½” – 1″ of unsullied crust around the edge.  Don’t overdo the sauce or the crust will get soggy again during cooking.  Try not to build a mountain of toppings, a few even layers of thinly sliced items is plenty.  Don’t go overboard with the cheese… ok, you can go a little overboard with the cheese.

Once your pizza is built, slide it off the plate/tray/pan/peel and directly onto your oven rack.

Yes, directly on the rack… don’t argue with me, just do it.

If you toasted the crust well enough on the grill, there should be sufficient structural integrity to keep the crust firm and prevent drooping.  Putting the crust directly on the rack rather than on a pan will let the indirect heat from the oven travel directly into the pizza and finish making the crust crispy, rather than insulating it from that heat with the pan — which, yes, does eventually get quite hot but that takes time to get so… and metal pans have poor heat storage, so that even if you pre-heat the pan, it’ll lose all that heat the instant you put the cool pizza on it.

Optimally, if you have a pizza stone, you have the best of all worlds.  You pre-heat the stone with the oven, it stores a lot of heat and transfers it into the pizza when you place it on the stone in the oven.  In the absence of a stone, put the pizza directly on the oven rack.  Trust me on this.

Your three goals here are to 1) heat all the ingredients through, 2) melt the cheese and brown it a bit and 3) make the crust nice and crisp.  If you have too much stuff piled up, you lose all claim to balancing those and will either burn your crust to a cinder and/or render the cheese on top inedible long before the ingredients heat up.  Show some restraint wouldja?  This is all done by keeping an eye on things, but aim for about 10 minutes as a general guideline.

Take your pizza out of the oven, and show about 2 minutes of restraint.  Let it cool for those 120 seconds before cutting, and you will be rewarded with slices of pizza that don’t miraculously heal themselves back together with molten cheese.  Again, trust me on this.

Eat.

You know, I have absolutely no idea how this went from a “neener, neener… I had yummy homemade pizza last night” post to a “how-to”.  *shrugs* I went from no posts in a month or so, to “please, for the love of Jeebus, shut the hell up!

I do tend to ramble.

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Nightmare On Yeast Street.

Posted by DmentD | Cooking,Coolness,Domestica,Entertainment,Links,Pictures | Wednesday 9 September 2009 11:07 am

My darling, dear, wonderfully odd wife has created a new mission for herself… to instigate the spread of a growing blob-like creature to the four corners of the Earth!

Wait… four corners?  Of a sphere?  Who comes up with this crap?

Anyway, about a year ago Sweets as part of her coursework at the TCA, created a sourdough starter from scratch and it’s been living and growing in our fridge ever since.  Its name is Bready Kruger, and he’s a happy, bubbling, alcohol producing amorphous mass of goo.

Bready Kruger

Her concept is this: send small portions of Bready Kruger to friends and family (and strangers) to grow and use and make bread from — a strong, healthy starter is a thing of wonder, and a good path to having a healthy starter of your own (and a hell of a lot easier than making one yourself).  Everyone we send it to will be represented by a pin on a map.  We’re encouraging these folks to in turn send a portion of Bready Kruger to their friends, family and strangers, then report back to us so we can put a pin in the map.  Etc, etc, etc.

It’ll be amusing and awesome to watch the map slowly populate with pins as Bready Kruger starts traveling the world.

Go HERE to read Sweet’s post and get all the details if you’re interested in participating.  The map lives as a link on the sidebar of both Sweet’s site and mine.

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Peppery Bloom.

Posted by DmentD | Coolness,Domestica,Links,Pictures | Friday 4 September 2009 12:01 am

Miraculously, we managed to succeed in a few of our fumbling attempts to grow veggies and herbs earlier in the year.  While still considering it a learning period, it’s nice to have had some good results.

The most notable of the victories (so far… there’s still time to screw it all up!) are our pepper plants — jalapeño and bell pepper varieties.  We sprouted six of each, and all but one jalapeño seedling made it to the final potting stage.  After much research we found that pepper plants would thrive for years in a 4 – 5 gallon pot, and shooting for economy over aesthetics (planning on a dozen plants, dontchaknow) we opted for simple, cheap at $2.50 a piece, 5 gallon buckets.  With drain holes drilled in the bottom, they make the perfect planter, and they’re easy to move around the yard for repositioning.

Pepper Seedlings

Once the seedlings acclimated to being outside and living in a good sized planter, they took off and grew like mad!  About a month ago we started seeing flower buds appear on the jalapeño plants, and soon after a few white blooms popped open.  One by one, the entire bloom and stalk would wither and drop off (aka “blossom drop”).  This could be from a number of things, most notably a lack of pollination.  Peppers (and tomatoes) are self pollinating plants, needing little help from outside influence, but if the plants are in a sheltered area with little wind and there are no wandering insects to lend a hand, then pollination more often than not won’t happen.

After a little research I found that one can apply a q-tip to the inside of the bloom the spread the pollen about, and it actually seemed to work.  After faithfully diddling each new bloom every day (henceforth know as “plantsturbation”)  I had two jalapeños starting to grow and very little blossom drop.  After a week or so of no new peppers appearing I did a little more research… I had a sneaking suspicion that the q-tip method was a little heavy handed.

Turns out, there is a much simpler method (actually, two, but they amount to the same thing).  The consensus is that a vigorous shaking of the plant and/or flicking the bloom with your finger is more than sufficient to shake the pollen off the stamens and onto the stigma.  It also takes a hell of a lot less time.  I even found a helpful video, too.  Now, we have a bunch of jalapeños growing on several different plants, and a ton of flowers all around.

Jalapeno PlantsJalapeno BloomJalapeno GrowingJalapeno GrowingJalapeno Growing

The bell peppers are being shy… only two of the dozens of buds have opened, and one of them has dropped off (this was before I learned the shake/flick technique).  I feel that they are gonna start popping any day now.

Bell Pepper PlantsBell Pepper Flower Buds

Our biggest failures from the beginning have to be the herbs.  We planned on having eight or so different varieties, and as time went on they just didn’t fare well.  I estimate that the problem was two-fold — first, the craptacular starter kits that we bought that just kept the environment far too wet, which resulted in a lot of mold killing off seedlings and hampering root development, and second, that we didn’t transplant the seedlings soon enough after their initial growth in the seeding trays.

The only survivors were a few really stunted chives, parsley and basil.  Not ones to give up, we went ahead an planted them anyway and did what all good parents do when the family hamster dies… we bought replacements from the store before the kids could notice the missing rodent.  The store-bought plants took off while our gimpy herbs just sorta’ survived.  Gradually, though, we noticed that our herbs were actually starting to grow… the lone basil seedling grew into such a large bush that it overtook the sweet basil that we bought.  What the parsley lacks in abundance, it makes up for with strength and the chives, while sparse, are frigging gorgeous.

Chives

Next year, we’re hoping to use what we learned and bring our herbs up to full strength and numbers.

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Fall Seedlings.

Posted by DmentD | Coolness,Domestica,House,Pictures | Thursday 3 September 2009 12:00 am

We’ve started sprouting the seedlings for our fall garden planting (with all the heat and drought here, the fall is the primary growing season… not to mention that the fall weather is mild, and the season is comparatively long).  We have in mind to plant tomatoes (Heatwave Hybrd II — which is a short season, full size tomato that can withstand temperatures up to 95 degrees), onions (Yellow Granex — which is the same variety Vidalia onions are grown from), garlic, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.

We planted the seeds ten days ago, and learning from our previous efforts we improved our methods.  First and foremost, we abandoned the commercial seedling-growing kits with all the trays and starter soils and such — you don’t need ’em.  You just need a shallow tray with some enriched soil (the same stuff we’ve been planting all our vegetables in when they make it to the garden or pots).  We planted four times as many seeds as we needed plants as some seeds never sprout, and some seedlings never develop into proper plants.  The seeds need to be kept moist, but not drowned, and for that we employ a spray bottle set between mist and jet, and saturated the surface daily.  Keep them near a sunny window and wait.

Onion & Tomato SeedlingsTomato SeedlingsOnion Seedlings

Once they break ground, fully develop their first two leaves  and grow to a decent height of an inch or so, you then transplant them to individual small pots — or in our case, we take brown paper bags from the grocery store and cut them into strips, then using a plastic (Mardi Gras style) cup as a form, we wrap them around and fasten them with tape… and viola, off pops the perfect biodegradable planter that not only recycles a free (!) existing resource, but can in turn be recycled when you’re done.  You can also use newspaper, but I’m wary of the ink, myself… and some people slit the sides of the paper planter and plant them along with the seedling… we prefer to tear them away keep them out of the ground.

Broccoli SeedlingsBroccoli SeedlingsBrussels Sprouts SeedlingBrussels Sprouts Seedlings

The broccoli and Brussels sprouts took precisely a week to sprout and get big enough to transplant.  This was a huge improvement over the previous attempt in the spring in the commercial trays.  There was a night and day difference in the root development, too… a definite change for the better.

When transplanting them, we cull the seedlings down to twice as many as we need for the final planting and plant them deep, so that just the leaves are above ground.  Now we wait.  Each plant is different, but anywhere between 4 and 8 weeks, we should get most of them into the ground.  Once we’re ready to plant them proper, we’ll see if we can find good homes for the extra seedlings amongst our friends.

We’re considering this our “learning curve” year for gardening.  I’m shocked we’ve done as well as we have, and no matter how smart you think you are, you’re always going to learn better by screwing it up at first and figuring out how to fix it.

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We Done Gone To The Chapel….

Posted by DmentD | Coolness,Domestica,Family,Links | Wednesday 13 May 2009 2:09 pm

I’m a married man.

I’m blissfully wed to a woman that I have been head-over-heels in love with for the better part of two years, and whom I am thrilled beyond mortal words to be able to share my life with.

And because I’m a lazy bastard who doesn’t want to recreate the wheel, I’m sending you over to Sweets’ site to read the details and see the pictures*grins* She’s done an excellent job of it, and by law I’m now entitled to half the credit for the post.

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