Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Closet Viper Can Be Many Things

I have been asking myself what a closet viper is since the term first entered my mind. It happened on a Thursday morning as I was selecting an outfit to wear to school. I peered into the mirror, dawning blue cordurory pants and a black thermal shirt. It was a rather frumpy ensemble. I thougt silently to myself, "I look like a closet viper." Having never heard the term before, I was perplexed at why my mind had insulted my choice of clothing this way. Curious to know what my friends and family thought a closet viper could be, I sent out a text message asking, "If a closet viper were a thing, what would it be?" Here are the responses:

"Hmm I'm thinking of some sort of snake animal that's very dangerous and only likes small dark areas. Or it could be a super villain."

"A gay car or a gay snake or a deadly reptile found in closet"

"A flexible clothes rack that hangs up your clothes from the drier so you don't have to"

"A venomous neck tie"

"A snake that waits in your closet that bites you as soon as you open the door. It would have similar coloration to argile socks"

"A viciously aggressive snake overcompensating for the fact that it hasn't come to terms yet with its true sexuality. Obviously."

"It's something that attacks you when you open your closet. Kills you"

"A snake that attacks as you enter a closet!?!"

"A snake that lives in a closet

"A thick, hairy snake with sharp teeth, also lacks venom. Only attacks if it feels threatened. Prefers messy closets. Original habitat: Idaho"

"A cross between a closet gay, a vixen, and a viper. Like, nobody knows but they're actually a foxy snake"

"A vicious snake, like a cobra that lives in a closet, or some other dark place"

"A snake that hides in closets"

"Something scary that can't survive outside the confines of a closet perhaps"

"Uhhhh either a snake in a closet orrrr someone who would rob you blind through bad investments.... or is this a riddle?"

I'm never ashamed to ask strange favors of my friends, but they are usually more than happy to help. The most amusing aspect of this little experiment is that all but one of the contacts that responded replied with a colorful answer without first questioning why I sent such a strange text. It appears that my friends enjoy sending strange texts as much as I do.

A House Without a Dog

I have never lived in a house where a dog was not a part of the family. Old English Sheepdogs have been the mainstay since before I was born, although we have rescued a few mutts in the past. The sheepdogs were usually rescues as well. With every rescue comes the joys and challenges of discovering a new dog's quirks and mannerisms.

I remember the day my grandma and papa came home with Elmo, our most recent Old English Sheepdog. My mom had told my sister and I that grandma and papa had gone on a trip, but didn't divulge more information than that. I remember peering out the window that day, and seeing a big, white, fluffy dog prancing through the backyard. My heart skipped a beat as I put two and two together, realizing this big puffball was the newest member of our family.

Elmo was a very excitable dog. Just by walking up to him and jumping up and down a few times, he'd reciprocate the motion, jumping up and down right next to me. One of the most amazing things about Elmo is that we never trained him with an electric fence, but we always let him out to run free in the yard. He never ran away, and never even left my grandma's property. My grandma lives in a suburb, on the corner of one of the busiest streets in the neighborhood. Some people refer to it as the Elmwood Avenue Expressway. A sidewalk is the only barrier separating my grandma's yard from that busy street. Elmo never once crossed that threshold.

Elmo and I would sometimes play a game called "Legless Dog" where I would get on all fours and try to tap his paws as he stealthily dodged my blows. Eventually he would get smart and tuck his front paws completely under his body, so he looked like a legless dog. It was one of the cutest things I've seen him do.

Another silly game we'd play involved one of us girls tying our hair back in a scrunchy. We would lay on the ground, call Elmo over, and he would immediately start working to pull the scrunchy out. He was so gentle, never causing injury with his teeth, but he would nibble eagerly until he loosened the scrunchy enough to undo the ponytail.

Elmo never learned to play fetch, but he loved to catch snow. I could just take a handful, toss it up for him, and he would leap into the air and "catch" it with his teeth. He was also very graceful as he leapt and bound through the snow. He really seemed to love running through it. It is heartbreaking that he did not get a chance to enjoy the glories of snow this year. I will be thinking of him the first time I put on my snow suit to relish in the winter wonderland of my grandma's enormous front yard. Cancer took him from us suddenly. I was with him less than a week ago before travelling back to school, and he seemed to be his normal, cheerful self. I even played the hopping game with him. We will never know the pain he may have experienced in these last few weeks or months, but he was a very brave and loving boy until the very end.

Enjoying the snow while my grandma shovels away
February 26, 2010

We always thought he looked like a polar bear
February 26, 2010

Licking whipped cream off of my friend's foot
June 22, 2011

Always smiling for the camera
November 17, 2012

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Possible New Species Discovery

Meet Arturo. He's not from around here. No one is really sure where he is from. Whether he is a mutant or a new species has yet to be determined. He appears to be a cross between the common octopus (Octopus vulgaris) and Tyrannosaurus rex. He was found stranded on a remote Chilean beach after a local fisherman alerted authorities that he had been rescued and brought ashore by a mysterious tentacled beast. Arturo measures twenty-five feet across from tentacle to tentacle. He is currently being held at the Santiago Zoo while researchers determine what to do with him. Because of Arturo's unusual physiology, the scientific community is hard-pressed to get their hands dirty and learn more about this magnificent creature.

There was no available enclosure for Arturo, so he was placed in the
same tank as a dwarf  humpback whale, a colossal tuna, and a herculean
shrimp. All three of these creatures are part of the Misterios Biologicos
del Mar (Biological Mysteries of the Sea) exhibit. The three
headed eel escaped earlier this month.

Arturo seems to be enjoying his temporary home. The dinosaur-
octopus crossbreed was seen canoodling with Ingrid, the
herculean shrimp, behind the rare spagetti coral specimen.

The rainbow spouting dino-ocoptus known as Dinopulpo
was thought to be an invention of ancient Chilean
mythology. Scientists and Chilean mythologists
are reconsidering the facts. Arturo has yet
to be spotted expelling rainbow beams.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Cuddly as a Cactus

I have this terrible habit of not fully paying attention to lyrics when I am listening to music. I often just get more caught up in the beat and the rhythm of the music. My family and I were listening to the holiday music station on the drive back to school on Sunday. "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" came on, and this time I payed close attention to the lyrics. I never quite realized how silly and obscure some of the lines are, but it's really quite amusing.

This song is full of insults that could have been contrived by a group of young children before they learned how to properly incorporate swear words into their discourse. That is except for the insults that utilize words like appalling and deplorable. These bigger, more sophisticated words seem to make the slanderous lyrics of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" cut even deeper. I wonder what sort of cunning insults Mr. Grinch himself would be able to produce. He probably has gotten a lot of practice over the years.

You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch
You really are a heel.
You're as cuddly as a cactus,
And as charming as an eel,
Mr. Grinch!

You're a bad banana,
With a greasy black peel!

You're a monster, Mr. Grinch!
Your heart's an empty hole.
Your brain is ful of spiders.
You've got garlic in your soul,
Mr. Grinch!

I wouldn't touch you
With a thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pole!

You're a vile one, Mr. Grinch!
You have termites in your smile.
You have all the tender sweetness
Of a seasick crocodile,
Mr. Grinch!

Given the chocse between the two of you,
I'd take the seasick crocodile!

You're a foul one, Mr. Grinch!
You're a nasty, wasty skunk!
Your heart is full of unwashed socks.
Your soul is full of gunk,
Mr. Grinch!

The three words that best describe you
Are as follows, and I quote,
"Stink, stank, stunk!"

You're a rotter, Mr. Grinch!
You're the king of sinful sots!
Your heart's a dead tomato,
Splotched with moldy, purple spots,
Mr. Grinch!

Your soul is an appalling dump-heap,
Overflowing with the most disgraceful
assortment of deplorable rubbish imaginable,
Mangled-up in tangled-up knots!

You nauseate me, Mr. Grinch!
With a nauseous super naus!
You're a crooked jerky jockey,
And you drive a crooked horse,
Mr. Grinch!

You're a three-decker sauerkraut
and toadstool sandwich,
With arsenic sauce!


Monday, November 26, 2012

Walking Gracefully

What does it mean to walk gracefully? Last Thursday, three generations of family discussed an array of topics while sitting around a table dotted with dessert plates and dirty forks. The eldest woman at the table described the day she realized she would never walk gracefully again. It was not in a tone of remorse that she told her story. She is after all, a very optimistic woman. The woman recalled instances of walking down the sidewalk and catching a glimpse of her reflection in a storefront. She would sometimes think to herself, "oh my, is that really how I look when I walk?" The elderly do tend to exhibit a slower, stiffer gait, but who's to say that this style of walking does not possess its own sort of gracefulness.

This woman who claims that she will never walk gracefully again is a woman who is more articulate and full of life than any woman of her age I have ever known. This is a woman who was a teenager during the 1930's, endured the Great Depression, and witnessed the glories and fads of nearly all of the distinct decades of the last century. The gait of old age that she has adopted by no choice of her own should be fully embraced. She is a woman of great dignity, with an abundance of wisdom to impress on others.

Her slow, purposeful movement is nothing if not graceful.


Holiday Tune Up

Right before bed last night I  updated my iPod so I could enjoy a nice festive walk to school this morning. Everyone has their favorite holiday tunes. I usually prefer more upbeat tunes, but steer clear of those cheesy, overdone versions of classics that play on the radio way too often. I don't want to hear Mariah Carey belting what she wants for Christmas, or hear Sarah McLachlan serenade me with her rendition of Silent Night. Both of these ladies are perfectly talented singers, but their voices are not the ones that get me in the true Christmas spirit. When it comes to holiday music, I'm a little more old fashioned. There are a few albums that have remained staples in my holiday music collection, and it is too hard to pick favorites.

For as long as I can remember, the Mannheim Steamroller album, Christmas, has been a mainstay in my family. This album was released in 1984, and I love it dearly. Several of the songs sound like pieces that might be performed at a renaissance festival, and I adore that quality about them. In my mind, a song that can cause a desire to get dressed up in an extravagant gown and promenade around a ballroom has done its job of inspiring Christmas spirit.

Vince Guaraldi Trio's A Charlie Brown Christmas makes me smile just thinking about it. I have played this album on repeat countless times while studying for finals in the cold days of December leading up to winter break.

An album that many may not know, Heartfelt Holidays, is an album that my mother purchased at a Bath & Body Works many moons ago. It is a compilation of some of the very best Christmas songs out there. The Beach Boys performing Little Saint Nick, Eartha Kitt's rendition of Santa Baby, and Judy Garland's version of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas are all on included.

I have a soft spot for Harry Conick Jr. He has a nice voice and I think he uses it well. He doesn't try to sound like a pop star, he's more of a crooner, and I enjoy that. Harry for the Holidays is a cheesy album title, but I still dig the music. Michael Buble also has a fabulous voice that is a treat to hear, especially around the holidays.

Who could forget the King! The Elvis Presley album entitled Its Christmas Time, leaves little room for misinterpretation. You can never go wrong with a little Elvis.

With all of these holiday favorites now added to my iPod, it's going to be a very jolly walk to school. Especially with the snow sprinkling so elegantly down around me.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Christmas is for Cookies

It's official, cookie baking season has begun. On the menu today: sugar cookies and gingerbread cookies, both flooded with a royal icing glaze. And one of my personal favorites: rum balls.

Sugar coated, rum infused goodness
Two hungry pups lurking nearby...

Sugar and gingerbread before gettin' all dolled up

That's right, this guy is wearing a turtleneck

The cookies I decorated to take back to school were iced
with little creativity. As long as the cookie is
covered, that's all that matters. 

My mom added a much more creative touch

Want the recipes?

Rum balls - You can add a bit more rum than the recipe calls for if you like. I did.

Sugar Cookies

Gingerbread - We made way more than sixteen cookies with this recipe. Martha must have been using some pretty large cookie cutters.

Royal Icing - This icing works just fine on gingerbread too!

The Most Delicious Way to Say Goodbye

Even with a whole week off for Thanksgiving, there is still not enough time to do all of the things that should be done and see all of the people that should be seen around the holiday. The time spent visiting friends and family always seems fo fly by. It is always so good to catch up with close friends, and enjoy  some tasty treats that are synonymous with being home.

For a very dear friend of mine, the coveted pretzel roll is the champion of native snacking. These tasty treats are usually one of the first baked goods to sell out at Wegmans. In the past we have made trips to this magnificent grocery store just to get our hands on these magical rolls. The real magic is how they manage to remain so crunchy on the outside while retaining a soft and doughy center. After our Wegmans run yesterday, we were indulging in our pretzel rolls while driving through town. We came to realize that every time we have purchased pretzel rolls, they have always been consumed while riding in a motor vehicle. These pretzel rolls are so darn good that they never make it home!

Would ya just look at that salt sprinkled goodness!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Stuffing Conservation Project

Everyone has their favorite Thanksgiving dish, and mine is the stuffing. Every Thanksgiving, the ever-present dilemma of left-over depletion threatens even the most over-stocked fridges. The need to conserve left overs becomes more crucial as the week progresses. There are few feelings as saddening as realizing that the scoop of stuffing I just put on my plate is the last of that dish to be had for a whole year. For this reason, I have been forced to find ways to stretch the stuffing left overs to last a bit longer than they would other wise.

Today for lunch, I assembled a tasty delight that countless other Thanksgiving lovers have surely done today as well. The Thanksgiving left over sandwich involves an assemblage of foods that makes it easier to experience all the flavors of Thanksgiving in one messy bite. There is nothing elegant about this sandwich. It's just freaking delicious. The stuffing at my house always includes a healthy dose of raisins, so I selected a sweeter, apple oat bread to replace the stuffing that I would be forgoing with this meal. The green bean casserole served as a moist dressing, eliminating the need for any mayonnaise or gravy. A heap of turkey topped with a scoop of green bean casserole only needs one more ingredient: cranberry sauce. Just a teeny amount for a hint of sweet and tart. I paired this sandwich with a scoop of squash risotto for a scrumptious post-holiday lunch.

Toasted the bread up nice and re-warmed
everything but the cranberry sauce

That's not mac & cheese, that's the squash risotto

It Only Happens Once a Year

Thank goodness Black Friday is a one time deal. If there is one thing I despise about the holidays, its spending the day after Thanksgiving marching through overcrowded department stores to give up hard earned dollars for things that nobody really needs.

You know what I want to do the day after an enormous feast? Sleep. I suppose the Thanksgiving dinner is the fueling up process for some who see Black Friday as a competitive shopping extravaganza. In many ways Thanksgiving is similar to the pasta parties that I remember attending in high school to fuel up the day before a track meet. The main difference however, is that today no one is expending tremendous energy in a display of athletic ability. Today countless Americans will line up outside of shopping malls and retail plazas at ungodly hours in the morning all to spend obscene amounts of money on high tech gadgets and ten dollar pairs of jeans. The only athletic feat witnessed today may be that middle aged woman hauling a seventy-two inch flatscreen HDTV over a sea of people as she rushes to the cash register.

Why have we allowed our society to become so materialistic? I understand that Black Friday is an effort for some to be more frugal in the holiday season by scoping out the best deals, but is it really worth sacrificing a good night's sleep, personal safety, and let's be honest, a little dignity? I'd like to let you in on a little secret that is guaranteed to help you save money during the holiday season. All you have to do is buy less things. What are the holidays about anyways? Have we lost the true meaning of Christmas? I'm not arguing any breakthrough concepts here. To me Black Friday is not normal. That is not how I want my Christmas season to be kicked off. As a college student who doesn't get to see a whole lot of my family during the school year, the only thing I care about is spending time with the people I love. Forget presents under the tree. I can't stand the thought of my dear grandma waiting in a ridiculously long line to purchase me a gift that I didn't even ask for. As long as I'm with my family on Christmas and we have some pretty Christmas light to look at, everyone with a hot cup of cocoa in hand, and either some jazzy Christmas tunes or A Christmas Story playing in the background, well by golly, all of my Christmas wishes will have been granted.

If I haven't done a good job of changing your viewpoint, please try reading Bill McKibben's Hundred Dollar Holiday. It's a quick read and poses some really interesting ideas about how we ought to be spending our holidays.

To all of you Black Friday shoppers out there, please stay safe.

Friday, November 16, 2012

My New Best Friend

Ever do this thing where you see a cute puppy and immediately want to take it home with you? The other day I was strolling through the park with some friends, enjoying the crisp November air. We made our way to the amphitheater where we planned to throw a frisbee around. After tossing the disc around for a short time, a young couple descended the stone steps to where we were standing, and asked if they could let their puppy run around. Dog lover that I am, the idea of a puppy running around my feet truly is a dream come true.

The couple taking care of the dog turned out to be the nicest sort of people who don't mind strange girls coming to their house to borrow their puppy. It has been one week since I first met Gunner, and I have already walked him on three separate occasions. Raising a puppy is a handful, and I'm sure it's as much a relief for that couple to have a willing dog-walker, as it is a delight for me to have a puppy to play with.

Gunner! He is a beagle/rottweiler mix

The Chocolate Experience

I would consider myself a foodie. I'll eat pretty much anything put in front of me, but I also harbor an intense appreciation for the culinary delicacies of the upscale dining industry. This can become somewhat upsetting, because it is an industry that I am completely excluded from as a poor college kid. Despite this, I am completely enthralled by the dining experiences of the one and only Anthony Bourdain. I watch his show and yearn to be put in his shoes, if only for a day.

Bourdain travels the world, scoping out the best local places to eat. Many a time, these places turn out to be local dives or backyard barbecues at private residences. These are places that only a person of his status and culinary knowledge would know about, or have an invitation to. Bourdain also visits some of the upscale venues, where he often gets to speak with world-renowned chefs and talk one on one about their inspiration. The way these chefs describe their food makes the culinary world really seem like its own unique art form.

The next time I plan to go on vacation, I have limited myself exclusively to countries that Anthony Bourdain has already visited. That way I will know exactly where to eat when I get there. The only tricky part may be trying to weasel my way into that private barbecue.

On a recent trip to Spain, my mom brought me back a sampling of Spanish chocolates. One of the chocolate varieties happened to come from esteemed chocolatier, Enric Rovira. It was a solid dark chocolate bar with 70% cacao. It screamed for me to tear it open and taste the sweet, but bitter flavor. When my mom mentioned that this chocolatier had been featured on an episode of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, I had to wait to try the chocolate until I could see what Anthony Bourdain had to say about it.

In the episode, Bourdain introduced Rovira as "the reigning king of artistic chocolate," who draws inspiration from the Spanish architect, Antoni Gaudi. Bourdain watched as Rovira constructed a batch of his signature egg-shaped chocolate sculptures. Rovira allows these sculptures to melt under the heat of the sun just long enough for their conical crowns to collapse and create a skillfully crafted work of edible art. They are almost too pretty to eat. Almost...

After watching the episode, I was disappointed that Bourdain never once put a sampling of chocolate anywhere near his lips. I could only imagine his rich and poetic description of the chocolate as it melted onto his tongue and released a combination of delightful flavors. Sadly, I can only give you my non-expert account:

I opened the square cardboard box to reveal a matrix of sixteen dark chocolate quadrilateral pieces shimmering in the clear plastic wrapper. After gingerly tearing the plastic open, I snapped off one of the squares with a loud "CRACK" as it fell into my hand. The rich earthy sent of chocolate wafted through my nasal passages as I lifted the morsel to my mouth. I took only a small bite off of a corner to start. The rich flavor exploded onto my taste buds, leaving the surprisingly fruity after taste of a mildly dry red wine.

The print on the box matches the design
on the chocolate itself

The Rajoles chocolate gets its name from the style
of tile that they imitate. These tiles were used pave the
sidewalks of Barcelona.

Somehow I just couldn't photograph my bar of
chocolate to look as magnificent as the internet version.
Stupid camera phone...


Old School Comics of the Future

I first heard of this guy while flipping through a magazine in the dermatologist's office a little while back. His name is Arthur Radebaugh, and in the late fifties and into the early sixties, he was sketching up futuristic scenes of innovative inventions that revolutionized the American lifestyle. In his comic strip titled "Closer than we Think," many of his creations seemed like real technological possibilities, which added excitement and a sense of realism to his work. A precursor to ultramodern cartoons like the Jetsons, Radebaugh brought a futuristic twist to the Sunday comic strip that fans adored. Here are just a few samples of his work:

"Please don't set my mail on fire"

"Hey honey, let's freak out the family dog!"

This could be a modern day political cartoon criticizing
industrial agriculture

"Let's strain our eyes on these tiny computer screens!"

Monday, November 12, 2012

This Crazy Weather

I almost wore flip flops to school today. The sky is overcast and the wind is blowing ceaselessly, but it's almost seventy degrees outside.

It's mid-November.

Does this normally happen in November? It seems a little out of the ordinary. Plenty of people on campus today seemed to be pleased with the pleasantly warm air temperature. In my own selfish way, I can't say I mind the warmth either. I've always been more partial to warmer temperatures. Still, I know this is not what November weather in Central New York should be like, and it troubles me.

The only consolation I can find is in the sound of the wind rustling through almost bare trees. It is reminiscent of the sounds of the ocean surf that have been permanently recorded in my mind. It's a calming sound, associated with fond childhood memories spent by the beach. The irony here, of course, is that if these strange weather patterns keep up, the beach is going to creep closer and closer towards Central New York.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Made to Order Oatmeal

Did anyone else hate oatmeal as a kid as much as I did? Even that dinosaur egg oatmeal junk didn't make it fun enough for me to enjoy eating it. But as I've grown older, my tastes have changed. I have come to quite enjoy a nice hot bowl of oatmeal. It is a welcome alternative to the usual cold bowl of cereal, especially during these chilly winter months.

I have recently become a fan of muesli as well, which is almost the same thing as oatmeal. Except for one main difference: It's a heck of a lot healthier. Pre-packaged oatmeal generally has added sugar and preservatives to make it extra tasty. One of those preservatives in my favorite oatmeal is BHT, which is used to "protect flavor." A study done by the International Journal of Toxicology found that BHT is known to cause liver damage when fed to rats, and lung tissue damage in rats when applied to their skin. Despite this, testing has concluded that BHT is not a carcinogen or a threat to human health. I don't know about you, but that evidence has by no means convinced me that BHT is okay to put into my body.

So what's a girl to do? Well since muesli is a healthier and also delicious option, I've been sticking to that. There are a lot of certified organic and "all natural" brands out there that don't have BHT listed in the ingredients. You can also make a trip to the bulk foods section of the grocery store and make your own muesli by adding in whatever ingredients you prefer. My favorite muesli combination is a mixture of rolled oats, coconut flakes, slivered almonds, dates, and cranberries. You can add in as much or as little of each ingredient as you like. And voila, you have your own, personalized mix of muesli.

If you want to take a step further, you can be a little naughty and add a few chocolate chips to the mix. As the muesli heats up in the microwave, the chocolate chips melt into little pools of chocolatey goodness. After microwaving, the muesli is stirred and the oatmeal transforms into a rich, decadent breakfast that hopefully has a little less sugar than that pre-packaged oatmeal (but who knows). Chocolate is good for you anyway... right? The point is that you control each ingredient that goes into the mix. If you want just a hint of chocolate, add five chocolate chips. If you want a stronger chocolate taste, add ten, or fifteen, or a hundred!!!

This morning I decided to be even more radical. How does chocolate banana muesli sound? The over-ripe banana sitting on my dresser has been begging to get eaten, but I wanted to do something creative. Chocolate and banana always go so well together so it seemed like a no brainer. Here's how I made it:

Here we have 20 chocolate chips, about a cup of
muesli, and half of an overripe banana

The chocolate chips have been added to the muesli.
Enough water has been added so that it just barely reaches the
top of the cereal.

After microwaving for two minutes it looks like this!
Not much different. Until...

You stir it up! Just look at that rich, chocolatey color

I didn't microwave the banana with the muesli. I've never
microwaved a banana before and didn't know what would
happen to it. If anyone has any insights please let me know.

A hot cup of chamomile tea with honey accents the dish nicely

If you think this chocolate banana muesli looks good in pictures, I can confirm that it tasted even better! Now that you've witnessed my breakfast success, it's your turn to cook up something different for breakfast. Have fun and be creative!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Moment of Truth

Who do you want to be running your country for the next four years? The Syracuse Quad was all chalked up today with messages urging students to cast their vote.

Not bad for a chalk drawing

Friday, November 2, 2012

Unhealthy Meals Made Easy

Mmm candy salad for lunch... such a healthy choice!

I am not endorsing these brands...