Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Computer Help

When most people talk about getting computer help, they mean calling in a geek. A smarty pants kid next door, their relucant spouse, and in worst case scenarios, tech support from their computer vendors. Heaven save us from that. Over the course of the summer, my new computer and moving from XP to Vista with software and hardware issues to spare, meant literally days on the tech support "help" lines, at least 6 total reinstalls, with some problems still existing. If I pretend not to notice, they'll eventually fix themselves, right?

In my case, tech support better come equipped with a big bag of catnip.
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Time to come clean... I like fruitcake. I especially like Grandma's Famous Fruitcake with Amaretto. I've tried baking my own fruitcake. It's expensive and more prone to being a 20 pound doorstop than a dessert. Take my advice, don't. Just buy Grandma's. I figure, if they've been doing it since 1917, their Grandma must have been a better baker.

There's a bakery outlet in my town, where it's made. It's half price right now. Guess where I'm stopping my my way home from work. Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Post Holiday Haze

Does anyone else have a pair of mysteriously shrinking jeans? I mean, they fit just fine a couple of weeks ago. I don't know what happened. Maybe the cookie, candy, cheese, more cookies feeding frenzy of the last 2 weeks? Nah.... mystery jeans!

We made a mad dash to Texas for the holiday. Happily, with Christmas day being on Thurs, my work gave us Wed and Friday off, extending the weekend just as much as possible. It was a magical ride from sub zero daytime temps to balmy upper 70's for several days. Even more magically, we returned to the great white north to discover a freak warm spell had swallowed up all the snow! Now, that's Christmas magic!

The whole holiday was wonderful for me, starting with a fun hide & seek hunt for my Secret Santa gift at work. Not only was it fun to play games, look what a treat the gift was! I love my new camera phone! And I adore my retro new mug in a cool, funky color I never thought I'd like! Thanks Santa!

Sunday, December 21, 2008


On this darkest, coldest and longest night of the year, Winter Solstice, we all need a little warmth, joy and light. Since I can not be with my family this night, I have virtual gifts to share.

Yesterday's toffee has become warm hearted gifts. These are going to friends at work tomorrow, and there is a secret message of love in this photo. I'm very pleased that my cutting skills have improved now that I have "middle aged" eyes and see better up close that I've ever seen in my life!

For my daughter, this memory...

Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near.
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

And for you all, this song, Light is Returning .

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas Toffee

I spent the day making candy, that is after I wapped presents and spent about an hour in 8° arctic,windy cold hacking away at over an inch of ice entombing my car. I broke my scraper... I guess it really wasn't meant to be used like a fireman's axe. When my ears started to burn despite a hood and hat, I decided to call it quits, done or not. A strong north wind will kill your ambition like nothing else.

So once I could feel my hands and ears again, I decided to have some fun. Making candy is fun. Now, I wish I had some secret ingredient that made this toffee recipe unique, but alas, I do not. This may be just about the easiest candy in the world to make. Which is a good thing, because once you start sharing it with your friends, you're going to be making it over and over. One year, I think I ended up making 10 batches and had requests for more.

Classic Toffee
1 cup butter (no substitutes)
1 cup sugar
3 T. light corn syrup
1/2 to 3/4 cup chocolate chips
1/2 to 3/4 cup finely chopped (or ground) pecans or walnuts, optional

Before you get started, prepare a cookie sheet by either spaying with PAM or lining it with a parchment sheet. I like parchement, it makes life much easier when you're dealing with multiple batches. You'll also need to have a couple of hot pads or a towel under the cookie sheet, cause there's not much hotter than the molten sugar lava you're about to be dealing with!

After years of making candy in various pans, I've learned 2 things.
1. You always need a larger pan than you think you will.
2. Once you find the right pan for you, guard it with your life. Mine's a nice deep Revereware saucepot.

Lets's get started. Put the butter, sugar and corn syrup into a large sauce pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly as the sugar dissolved and melts into the butter. Now for my electric stove and my beloved pan, that means the number 4 setting.

Keep heating until the mixture begins to boil. It will be a light lemony yellow color for quite a while, and then it will start to thicken and you'll see it gradually turn light tan. Starting to understand the lava reference?

Now it's the most critical part of this whole process. If the phone rings, don't answer it! I'm not kidding, this next part goes fast. Trust me on this. DO NOT WALK AWAY.

Continue stirring this boiling molten sugar until it reaches 305°. If you're going to make candy, you need a thermometer. There's no messing around here, no eyeballing and praying. Adjust heat as necessary to avoid scorching. And keep stirring!

This will take about 20 to 25 minutes. By this time, the candy will be thick and will have turned a nice golden brown. See how the upper part of the candy has changed color, just a bit...that's the magical indicator of just right and 1 blink later, scorched beyond belief... and probably buying a new pan.

Notice how the pan is slightly off the burner? For me, it's easier to move the pan off and on the burner to help control the heat. And pay attention to how thick this candy is at this point, building up quickly on the indsides of the pan and looking like it could support life?

Remove from heat. Working quickly, pour the toffee onto the cookie sheet, spreading with a wooden spoon to desired thickness, generally about 1/4 inch thick. Don't be poky about this, you need to work fast to get it on the cookie sheet before your spoon is permanately cemented to your pan!

Immediately sprinkle the top with chocolate chips. You don't need to completely cover the top, just evenly distribute the chips. Wait a few minutes for them to melt.

Then, spread the melted chocolate across the hot toffee. I find this easiest to do with the back of a soup spoon. Be extra careful not to grab the pan, it's incredibly hot right now. If you're a nut person, now is the time to sprinkle the melted chocolate with nuts. Gently press then in place.

Cool toffee completely. Break into bite size pieces, and enjoy one of life's little pleasures.

It's really much easier to make than it is to talk about, so get in the kitchen!!! you want to do this NOW and you just don't have a candy thermometer. All is not lost. Do it the way your Grandma did, with the cold water test. Liquid sugar at the 305° range is referred to as "hard crack stage". That means that when a bit of molten sugar syrup is dropped into a glass of cold water, it will harden very quickly(in seconds) into a mass. Take it out of the cold water and you should have a nice snap or crunch when you test it's consistency.

Don't freak out about making candy. You are absolutely going to burn some batches. You'll have some candy that doesn't get cooked enough and stays too soft of gooey. It's o.k. It's part of the process. Actually, I think it's part of the master plan, to weed out those wanna be candymakers who only show up at Christmas time and never try it through out the year....oh, wait that's something else entirely. So, go for it. Make a mistake. Try it again. Then when you master it and you KNOW the magical moment when sugar become candy, you'll really have something to be proud of. And your family and friends will love you forever. Think of toffee as your little insurance policy!

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Santa Wars

So, the Viking did not like that I think Santa lives in Finland. Even the proof did not convince him. So I went hunting to see what I could find. Santa claims Norway as his birthplace on his blog , but I'm still not convinced.

The Norwegian consulate Christmas page seems to want us to think so too, but I'm still not swayed. Where's their conviction? Oh! I forgot, they're Norwegian, so the conviction is frozen under a foot of ice. So I kept looking.

Being partial to Rein Poortvliet's illustrations of Gnomes, I hoped to find some clue there, but then I remembered that Poortvliet isn't Norwegian, so I had to fess up and admit that I really just liked looking at gnome drawings!

Back to the Santa mystery. I keep looking and here's what I've decided. Santa indeed lives in Finland, but since Norwegian kiddies leave glogg or Christmas beer instead of milk, he goes to Norway to party. Need some proof ? I warn you.. you'll never think of Santa in the same way again. Santa dancing the Norwegian Boot Dance.

Santa Lives in Finland

Do you believe?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Snowy Day

It started in the wee hours this morning and has been snowing all day. The first snow of the season is pretty and it's easy to have wistful romantic thoughts of winter wonderlands. As I was making my way to work this morning in the balmy -2° along the highway that had not been plowed, in the dark with only my headlights illuminating the icy crystals, I actually liked the sparkle of snow falling.

Fast forward 7 hours to when I had to brush off 4 inches of snow from my car before I could head home, and the romance is over. I changed gloves midway to keep my hands dry. I changed one more time when I was done to keep my hands warm on the way home. It doesn't seem silly any more to have about 6 pair of gloves in my car.

I confirmed something today too, about living in Nebraska. It's too wicked cold when even the cows have snow building up on their backs!

Monday, December 15, 2008

What does -9 degrees look like?

Ever wonder what -9° looks like? Are you crazy? I would actually be quite happy not really knowing the answer to this question, but here it is. -9° in all its glory.

Frankly, I could have gone my whole adult life without knowing how it FEELS, but it is sort of pretty. Did you know that if you combine -9 with a pretty stong wind, it actually becomes just like -22° and schools even close? And that your steaming hot coffee in the very good thermal mug will become a tepid memory of coffee in less than 10 steps from your door to your car?

Me either. But it does. A friend at work told me today that it can also freeze your pillow to the window if you sleep too close to -9. That's just not right.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Cell Phone for Soldiers

The Viking gave me the spiffiest new phone for Lucia Day! It's my first camera/mp3 phone, its RED and most importantly, I can read the blasted thing without my reading glasses!

That left me pondering what to do with the old phone. Or more correctly, the 4 old phones that have been living in a drawer for the last couple of years.

I found Cell Phones for Soldiers. They take your old phones and turn them into free calltime for deployed service people. Check out their site for other service relief projects too.
So, who needs old phones? They do. They even pay postage.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Happy Lucia Day

The start of holiday festivities in my home is Dec. 13, St. Lucia Day. This tradition started when our daughter was about 4 or 5 and just couldn't stand waiting until Christmas for gifts. I learned about St. Lucia's celebration from ladies in my church group at the time, with strongly Scandinavian backgrounds. Since my own Viking didn't come with any family holiday traditions, except the one about monster potato balls which we'll talk about some other day, I decided to adopt Lucia as one of our own. There's some Swedish, I think in my own ancestery, so Lucia became the bringer of the holidays for us.

In Sweden, Lucia Day is celebrated in a big way. St Lucia was a young Christian girl who was martyred, killed for her faith, in 304AD. The most common story told about St Lucia is that she would secretly bring food to the persecuted Christians in Rome, who lived in hiding in the catacombs under the city. She would wear candles on her head so she had both her hands free to carry things. Lucy means 'light' so this is a very appropriate name.

December 13th was also the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, in the old Julian calendar and a pagan festival of lights in Sweden was turned into St. Lucia's Day.

St. Lucia's Day is now celebrated by a girl dressing in a white dress with a red sash round her waist and a crown of candles on her head. The crown is made of Lingonberry branches which are evergreen and symbolise new life in winter. There are parades, feasts and other celebrations.

In families, the youngest daughter traditionally dresses as Lucia, and awakens the family bearing special saffron breakfast rolls. Our Lucia had a crown of battery operated candles; can you imagine putting real candles on top of a squirmy 5 year old! When I didn't work, I'd bake cinnamon rolls for her to wake Daddy with. And then there was a present for everyone.

Over the years Lucia Day evolved into cooking baking day. One year at a craft show I came across this Lucia doll. She makes her appearance one day a year, this year she's got a peppermint Oreo! Lol... no little Lucia's anymore. I like Lucia day because it blends so nicely our older Christian traditions with our more current worldly religious beliefs. We still give each other a gift on Lucia Day. Now it's holiday time! How does your family mark the beginning of your holiday season?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Mystic Seaport Christmas

I spent most of my childhood and teen years living in a small town next to Old Mystic, Ct.
.ow that I live in a totally landlocked state, I realize just how much I miss the romance of the sea, even if it is just in the memories of wooden sailing ships.

Mystic Seaport is located in Mystic proper, always my favorite memory of living in the area. Each holiday season, the Seaport has a living history event, Lantern Light Tours, an evening walk through the historically correct, recreated village of Greenmanville. As you step back in time to a whaling village of 1876, visiting various merchants and families, you'll find yourself wishing for a simpler time and maybe, you'll even begin to find some meaning in the holiday season beyond the number of gifts under your tree.

Or maybe you'll really be thankful for the almost instant heat in your car and the warm homes we take for granted. And glad you weren't the homemaker, ropemaker, whaler or sailor in that long ago time when bone chilling cold and the smells of living weren't always as nice as gingerbread.

If you're in the New England area, try to go. It's really special. If you're far away as I am, hop on over to the web site, watch their video and rejoice in the internet.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Weird Word Wednesday

Here's one every crossword puzzler needs to know!

pachynsis - pă-kĭn'sĭs)n. A pathological thickening of a bodily organ, tissue, or structure.
pa·chyn'tic adj.

Now, don't you want to know what the heck I was writing about at work to come across this one!

The elephant has nothing to do with it, execept for the root of the work, which looks like it should come from pachyderm. I just think it's so joyful I wanted to share a smile.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Perfect Winter Soup

It's cold and windy where I live, definately soup weather! I love making soup and usually it's a weekend activity, because I love the whole process and like to do it all from scratch, including making stock or the broth. But, when you don't get home from work until 6 pm and you MUST have real soup, there's always a way to find shortcuts in the kitchen and still have a great warming meal. You'll have this on the table in about 40 minutes or less. Gosh, now I sound like Rachel Ray!

Chicken Corn Soup with Rivels is a traditional, hearty Amish soup that warms you body and soul. I learned to make this soup at a church soup supper in Rosedale, MD. It's got quirky little Rivels, that I just adore. They're like random bits of noodle dumplings floating in your soup, but tons easier than making old fashioned noodle. This recipe perfectly divides in half, important to know if your family is only 2 people like mine. This is one chewy soup. Let's get cooking!

Shortcut Chicken Corn Soup

1 store bought rotisserie chicken,meat removed or about 2 cups of cooked chicken
1 pk (20-oz) frozen corn
3 qt chicken stock ( 2 boxes of good chicken broth/stock )
8 tablespoons butter
1 sm onion; peeled, chopped
4 ribs celery,sliced thinly
1Bay Leaf
2 cans (17-oz) creamed corn

Ingredients for Rivels
2 Eggs; beaten
2 c Flour
1 pinch Salt

Soup Garnish
4 Hard boiled eggs; peeled & diced or sliced
1 tb Chopped parsley

Instructions for Chicken Corn Soup with Rivels
In a large soup pot, melt the butter. Add in the celery and onion and cook slowly until softened, but not browed. If you don't already have hard boiled eggs, get them started now. Or wait until you decide if you really want them and do them micorwave style at the end. I'll tell you how later. Add the broth and bay leaf. Simmer broth and vegetable about 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaf. Add the package of frozen corn kernels.

Time for Rivels!
Rivels are pretty straight forward and I don't think anyone can mess them up! Not even the most kitchen challenged. In fact, this is the perfect, no fail soup!

Here's the Rivel ingredients again.
2 Eggs; beaten
2 c Flour
1 pinch Salt
Stir the flour and salt into the beaten eggs. It's going to be dense and gluey, but that's ok. If it's really dry and you don't have nice clumps of dough forming like in the picture, add just a teeny bit of water. You don't want it wet, but it does need to clump. It should get too messy for your spoon and you start thinking you should have done this with your hands. That's good! In fact, that is just when the dough is perfect! Get those fingers in there and work out your frustrations.

Now the fun part..... with your broth just simmering, grab up a handful of rivel dough. Roughly pinch off little bits, no larger than an inch, and drop them into the soup. I like them best when I've somewhat flattened the little rivel before I've dropped it in, so it's like a fat noodle chunk. They kind of look like clouds in your soup.
They only take a couple minutes to cook depending on their thickness. If you like a little more chew to your soup, make rivels a bit thicker.

Adding the rivels really thickens the soup, keep your heat low so you don't scorch the bottom or have your broth cook off! Almost done. By the time you've added your last rivel, it's time to add in the cans of creamed corn and the chicken meat.
Now you've got to consider this garnish business. The soup if perfectly fine right now. In fact its significantly better than just fine. The traditional garnish is a bit of sliced or diced hard boiled egg and a sprinkle of fresh parsley. I almost never have fresh parsley, so you know that's not going to be on the top of my soup. But I do like the egg finish.

The Viking does not like hard boiled eggs, so it hardly seems like the electricity and water it takes to hard boil 1 egg is worth the effort. I do mine in the microwave. Have you ever tried it? Just crack your egg into a microwavable cup, I usually use a measuring cup, and nuke it for between 25 and 30 seconds. The egg pops right out and you can chop up all the egg garnish you want!

Taste the soup for seasoning, you may want to add a bit of salt. I always add pepper and a splash of Tabasco.Usually the stock and canned corn is salty enough for me, but I do sometimes add about a teaspoon smoked paprika, but that's just me and not at all traditional to this soup.

Of course, if you were lucky enough to find this on your kitchen counter when you came home from work with thoughts of soup on your mind, then the ideal garnish becomes apparent. Who wants to come have dinner at my house?

Saturday, December 06, 2008


For one reason or another, we haven't had a Christmas tree for several years. This year, it was time for a tree again. I am entranced with the glow of the lights. When the rest of the room lights are dimmed and I take my glasses off, I am in a gaussian blur world of warm, glowing orbs.
It's the upside to insomnia.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Weird Word Wednesday

Today's word has nothing to do with weird words I come across in my work. Today's word comes from the music I'm listening to lately: Brobdingnagian Bards , Celtic music to lift your spirits. Plus, one of the bards, Marc Gunn, has the only Celtic music podcast devoted to cats that I've ever heard! How can you go wrong?


Pronunciation: \ˌbräb-diŋ-ˈna-gē-ən, -dig-ˈna-\ marked by tremendous size
Function: adjective or noun

Brobdingnag, imaginary land of giants in Gulliver's Travels, by Jonathan Swift
Date: 1728

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Night Sky Smiley

If you lived in the Southern Hemisphere, you got a treat last night - a celestial smiley! For those of us in the cold north, it's still a pretty spectacular sight. We've had clear skies, so I've been able to planet gaze. I wish my camera could capture this.

That's Venus and Jupiter keeping company with Luna. An event that won't happen again until 2052. I'll be 97...hope I get to see it then.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Spirit Photography Video

Found a really well done video on YouTube, The History of Sprit Photography. If you enjoy this video, please go to the creator's YouTube page and let him know.

Its a Cat Thing

What is it about a keyboard that some cats find irresistible? I have four cats, three of whom don't care a bit about my desk. Then there's Frannie, who didn't care at all about it either until about a month ago and now she's making up for lost days. As soon as I sit down, she comes from wherever she is and leaps on the desk. She'll even wake up from a NAP (she's a champion sleeper). She's very determined and no matter how many timess I toss her off, she jumps right back up and will inisist on head butting my hand if I continue trying to decide who gets the keyboard.

If I really need my whole desktop, I have to close the door to the room.

She hates that.

We've compromised. She mostly just leans on the very edge of the keyboard now, and only tried to eat the mouse cord when she thinks I'm not looking..or when she's successfully slid something off on the floor to distract me before she pounces on the mouse's tail.

She also thinks the ideal place to sleep is under the covers with just her nose peeking out. It's a cat thing.