Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas in New York

Today would have been the day set aside for the Brave Astronaut family's annual excursion to New York City. However, we the Blizzard of 2010 and the planned family events for today - we may do an abbreviated version tomorrow on our way home.

Normally, our route involves, the Long Island Rail Road into the city and then making our way around the city, taking in the sights. We usually walk over to Fifth Avenue and then up as far as FAO Schwarz, where LBA and SoBA would surely walk out with something. We also like to take in the windows at Lord and Taylor and of course, the Tree at Rockefeller Center. This year LBA commented he wanted to go into the New York Public Library, which is Ghostbusters-related.

Getting to Fifth Avenue from Penn Station in NY usually means walking along 34th Street (passing Macy's, which also has great windows this year). The New York Times had an article some time ago about altering the way 34th Street looks (seen first on kottke). Basically, they want to do something similar to Times Square, that is banning cars in a block near Macy's and the Empire State Building. I just don't want to think what it will do to the traffic.

Speaking of the Empire State Building, kottke (again) profiled the Ric Burns documentary, New York, in which there is a great segment on the building of the building. Let us not forget, the Empire State Building went up in about two years, and under budget.

Finally, recently the Museum of the City of New York has announced that the majority of its historical photo collections of New York City are now available online.

Happy Holidays to everyone!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

On the Road North

Happy Boxing Day to all. The Brave Astronaut Clan is heading north today to visit with my family - for the second year in a row all of my siblings will be present for Christmas (I'm sure wherever my mother is, she's mad - she very rarely could get all of us together). We have a full lineup of "social aerobics" planned for the few days we will be up there, including a trip to NYC on Tuesday.

The challenge today will be getting to my father's in less time than it took us last year. It shouldn't be hard - as last year's trip clocked in at nearly 11 hours. I might have to use this bypass around the Delaware tolls, as I really hate those tolls and the backups they create (see the map at right, click to embiggen).

I hope that Santa brought you everything you wanted and more!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas to All and to All a Good Night

[full disclosure - I wrote this post in advance (and for that matter - have posted this story before) but I am quite sure that when this post goes live, I will be at home - with my two boys safely sleeping in their rooms - making sure that everything is ready for Christmas morning here at the launchpad. Mrs. BA is surely around somewhere, but I am likely taking a moment, sitting on the couch in the living room looking at the tree, with some Christmas music playing in the background. I will look over at the ceramic trees sitting on the mantle and think about how much I miss my mother (Christmas was her favorite holiday). Then it will be time to head to bed for Santa is surely circling the house waiting for no creatures stirring before he lands on the roof. LBA and SoBA have put out some cookies and milk for him and left some carrots for the reindeer.

You see, I believe in Santa Claus. Yes, I understand that all of the Santas that you see around at this time of year are not him, they just work for him. The real Santa exists, he is always there. My very best wishes to everyone out there for a very Merry Christmas and Peace and Love in the new year. Love to my wife, the very best one out there, my two wonderful boys, and to my family and friends. I hope that you will always hear the bell, as I do.]

From the Editorial Page of the New York Sun, 1897

We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:
Dear Editor-
I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, "If you see it in The Sun, it's so." Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?

Virginia O'Hanlon
Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the scepticism of a sceptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to have men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive of imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest mean, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
If you are interested, here is the rest of the story.

Francis P. Church’s editorial, “Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus” was an immediate sensation, and went on to became one of the most famous editorials ever written. It first appeared in the The New York Sun in 1897, almost a hundred years ago, and was reprinted annually until 1949 when the paper went out of business.

Thirty-six years after her letter was printed, Virginia O’Hanlon recalled the events that prompted her letter:

“Quite naturally I believed in Santa Claus, for he had never disappointed me. But when less fortunate little boys and girls said there wasn’t any Santa Claus, I was filled with doubts. I asked my father, and he was a little evasive on the subject.

“It was a habit in our family that whenever any doubts came up as to how to pronounce a word or some question of historical fact was in doubt, we wrote to the Question and Answer column in The Sun. Father would always say, ‘If you see it in the The Sun, it’s so,’ and that settled the matter.

“ ‘Well, I’m just going to write The Sun and find out the real truth,’ I said to father.

“He said, ‘Go ahead, Virginia. I’m sure The Sun will give you the right answer, as it always does.’ ”

And so Virginia sat down and wrote her parents’ favorite newspaper.

Her letter found its way into the hands of a veteran editor, Francis P. Church. Son of a Baptist minister, Church had covered the Civil War for The New York Times and had worked on the The New York Sun for 20 years, more recently as an anonymous editorial writer. Church, a sardonic man, had for his personal motto, “Endeavour to clear your mind of cant.” When controversal subjects had to be tackled on the editorial page, especially those dealing with theology, the assignments were usually given to Church.

Now, he had in his hands a little girl’s letter on a most controversial matter, and he was burdened with the responsibility of answering it.

“Is there a Santa Claus?” the childish scrawl in the letter asked. At once, Church knew that there was no avoiding the question. He must answer, and he must answer truthfully. And so he turned to his desk, and he began his reply which was to become one of the most memorable editorials in newspaper history.

Church married shortly after the editorial appeared. He died in April, 1906, leaving no children.

Virginia O’Hanlon went on to graduate from Hunter College with a Bachelor of Arts degree at age 21. The following year she received her Master’s from Columbia, and in 1912 she began teaching in the New York City school system, later becoming a principal. After 47 years, she retired as an educator. Throughout her life she received a steady stream of mail about her Santa Claus letter, and to each reply she attached an attractive printed copy of the Church editorial. Virginia O’Hanlon Douglas died on May 13, 1971, at the age of 81, in a nursing home in Valatie, N.Y.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Christmas Drinking Game

As everyone prepares to settle down and enjoy family and friends for the Christmas holiday, here's a little something to help lighten to mood - when the family and friends prove too much (from the Daily Meal).
"It doesn't matter what you have in your glass — eggnog, punch, a warm cocktail, Champagne — chances are you're going to be drinking a lot this holiday season. Why not up the ante this Christmas with a fun game that actually turns typical holiday occurrences into an incentive to drink? Just print out the rules below, and let the imbibing begin!"
Take One Drink if:
  • Someone recites the "You'll shoot your eye out" line while you're watching A Christmas Story.
  • Someone asks if you have been naughty or nice this year.
  • A family member asks about your love life. (For singles: If you're in a relationship yet. For couples: When you're getting married).
  • Someone tries to guess what is inside a specific present.
  • A kid complains that a sibling has more presents under the tree than they do.
  • One of the Coca-Cola commercials with the super-cute polar bears plays on TV.
  • Someone recites more than one quote from Elf.
  • Someone gets called Scrooge or a Grinch.
Take Two Drinks if:
  • Someone is wearing a Santa hat or an ugly Christmas sweater (if they're wearing both at the same time, finish the drink).
  • You run out of wrapping paper on Christmas Eve.
  • Someone says, "I think Santa forgot..." on Christmas morning.
  • Your mother-in-law says she would have made something differently finish the drink if she says she would have made it better).
  • Someone comments that It's a Wonderful Life is their favorite Christmas movie. [everybody take two drinks - because it is my favorite Christmas movie]
  • You know most of the lines to Wham's "Last Christmas."
Take Three Drinks if:
  • Someone fakes excitement over a gift.
  • Someone makes an bad or inappropriate mistletoe joke.
  • An ornament breaks (take an extra sip if the cause was a pet's tail).
  • If some item of the Christmas meal gets burnt.
  • A family member starts to sing after one too many glasses of eggnog (or other Christmas cocktail).
Finish Your Drink if:
  • A visiting family member tells you you've lost weight (and you know you haven't).
  • It actually snows on Christmas morning.
  • You receive something you know has been re-gifted.
  • Someone accidentally reveals to a young child that Santa doesn't really exist. Oops.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Birthday Cake Recipe

I guess it's bound to happen periodically, when my birthday falls on a Monday (it happened in 1971, 1976, 1982, 1993, 1999, 2004, and this year). So the Brave Astronaut clan celebrated at home yesterday with some great friends, a big pot of chili, and an outstanding cake made by Mrs. BA. Just in case you were wondering, I have the best wife in the whole world.

The cake comes from the Buttercup Bakery Cookbook. I picked it. It was awesome. As a birthday present to me (I'm sure it's just for me), it appears that Magnolia Bakery may be coming to DC.

White Layer Cake with Chocolate Chips
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2/3 cup (1 1/3 sticks unsalted butter, softened)
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and lightly flour two 9x2 inch round cake pans. Line the bottoms with waxed paper.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix the milk and the vanilla extract together. Add the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with the milk and the vanilla extract mixture, beating well after each addition.

In a separate bowl, on the high speed of an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold into batter, making sure no streaks of white are showing. Then gently stir in the chocolate chips.

Divide the batter between the prepared pans. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cake cool in pans for 10 minutes. Remove from pans and cool completely on wire rack.

When cake has cooled, ice between the layers, then ice the top and sides of the cake.

[Here is the icing I chose]
Chocolate Whipped Cream Frosting
  • 2 cups heavy cream, chilled
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
In a mixing bowl, combine the cream and vanilla. In another bowl, sift the sugar and cocoa together. Then add them to the cream and vanilla. On the medium speed of an electric mixer, whip until soft peaks form but the mixture is stiff enough to spread.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Pasta and Peas!

A popular (and quick and easy) meal around the launchpad for the boys is "Pasta and Peas." It's not quite boxed mac and cheese, which appears as well, but just what it says. Cook some pasta, throw in some frozen peas, sprinkle a little cheese on top, and serve.

My new grocery love, Wegmans, had this recipe on its Twitter feed in early November - it's a good variation that should even appeal to the grownup set.

Fettuccine with Prosciutto & Peas

  • 1 box (16 oz) Italian Classics Fettuccine, prepared per pkg directions; keep warm (reserve 1/4 cup pasta water)
  • 1 pkg (24 oz) Italian Classics Parmesan Cream Sauce (Prepared Foods)
  • 1/2 pkg Food You Feel Good About Petite Sweet Peas (Frozen Foods)
  • 1 pkg (4 oz) Italian Classics Prosciutto, cut into 1/2-inch strips
  • 1 pkg (0.25 oz) Food You Feel Good About Italian Parsley, chopped
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  1. Heat sauce in braising pan on MEDIUM. Add peas and prosciutto; simmer 5 min.
  2. Add pasta, reserved pasta water, parsley, and lemon zest to pan; toss to combine.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Summer Blockbusters

With the first snowfall here in the DC area, it is as good a time as any to trot out this list of Top Summer Blockbusters (seen first on kottke, from Time Out New York to help warm you up. It is also Pizza / Movie night at the launchpad and on screen tonight is likely to be The Empire Strikes Back (#7 on the list below) possibly with a Christmas special appetizer. It is going to be SOOOO TINSEL!

Here's the list of 30. According to Time Out the movies are ranked as "the biggest fun machines of all time: the movies designed for maximum impact."

Feel free to discuss in the comments.
  1. Jaws (1975) - clearly the Summer Movie Blockbuster of all Blockbusters.
  2. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) - "Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?"
  3. Star Wars (1977) - the first, the original, the only one really worth watching (and by the way, that is the proper title - none of this "New Hope" crap.
  4. Ghostbusters (1984) - another popular choice in the Friday movie lineup.
  5. E.T. (1982) - not one of my favorites.
  6. Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) - the movie / documentary that almost swung an election.
  7. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
  8. Terminator 2 : Judgment Day (1991) - really?
  9. Face/Off (1997) - um, really, really?
  10. Aliens (1986) - don't know if I would put this higher on the list from the original
  11. The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) - I'll give them this one. The third was possibly the best of the trilogy.
  12. Jurassic Park (1993) - nothing says summer like man-eating dinosaurs
  13. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1998) - this was an OK movie, but it's getting a little better with age.
  14. Die Hard (1988) - I just saw an article that listed this as a Christmas movie. Well kinda sorta, I guess it is.
  15. Total Recall (1990) - The Governator gets another movie on the list?
  16. The Truman Show (1998) - If only we'd known this would spark "real" reality television, we might have smothered this film.
  17. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) - I know I speak blasphemy to many, but Harry Potter is just not my thing.
  18. Animal House (1978) - "Thank you sir, May I have another!"
  19. Batman (1989) - In this case, the first is the best.
  20. Gladiator (2000) - A Hero Will Rise
  21. Pirates of the Caribbean : The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) - I'm kinda not a big fan of the Depp.
  22. Gremlins (1984) - Again, a Christmas movie in the summertime.
  23. In the Line of Fire (1993) - Good for you, Clint, finally getting on this list.
  24. Star Trek (2009) - in this case, the last is one of the best.
  25. Wall-E (2008) - pass.
  26. The Dark Knight (2008) - It comes close to being as good as the first one, but only because of Heath Ledger.
  27. Back to the Future (1985) - A great film that on my list would be higher than here.
  28. X-Men (2000) - a lot of the superhero genre is lost on me.
  29. Armageddon (1998) - again, Bruce Willis!
  30. Independence Day (1996) - Mr. Summer Blockbuster, Will Smith, gets the final entry.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Upside-Down Pizza Casserole

[photo from here]

As has been mentioned here, Friday nights at the launchpad are usually pizza and movie night. I came across this recipe and wonder if it might be a popular choice in the regular lineup. Schedules are such that dinner for the boys often deteriorates to whatever can be produced quickly, wherein quality is often sacrificed.

But this looks like it might be OK, albeit not the most nutritious or healthy, but a fun substitution. Or maybe one could make pizza lollipops.

  • 1-1/2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 1 15-ounce can Italian-style tomato sauce
  • 1-1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (6 ounces)
  • 1 10-ounce package refrigerated biscuits (10 biscuits)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a large skillet cook beef until no longer pink, stirring frequently. Drain off fat. Stir in tomato sauce; heat through. Transfer mixture to a 2-quart rectangular baking dish. Sprinkle mixture with cheese.
  2. Flatten each biscuit with your hands; arrange the biscuits on top of the cheese. Bake in the preheated oven about 15 minutes or until biscuits are golden. Makes 5 servings.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

My Christmas List

The other night I flipped on the TV and found that it was time for the yearly showing of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Then last night, it was "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." Once we get "The Year Without a Santa Claus," the trifecta will be complete. There is also this special coming up on December 9, which is "so tinsel!"Yesterday, the Brave Astronaut Clan, along with the OSG family, Special K and J in PA, headed into the country in search of the perfect Christmas tree. The launchpad is mostly decorated on the interior (except for the trees) and outside lights went up today, so Christmas must really be here. Now is someone coming to write out all the Christmas cards?

If you haven't finished your shopping yet and you were looking for a little something for a Brave Astronaut that you love, here are a few ideas. This marked the first year I think that LBA followed in his father's footsteps by looking intently through the Target toy catalog (although in my day it was the Sears catalog) to help inform Santa what he would like.

In no particular order:
  • One of the many catalogs that have come to the house of late was the Signals catalog. I actually enjoy this catalog, interesting though this year it came addressed to LBA and not me. I found this plaque, which I really liked.
  • Stephen King has a new book out again this Christmas (after last year's Under the Dome). It is called Full Dark, No Stars and it looks to be good and creepy, just like you expect his stuff to be.
  • I would really like a new padfolio. I'm not picky, just one with a pad. My current one is being held together with packing tape. I could also use a new card holder / money clip (kind of like this one).
  • I missed this when it was out in the theaters and for that matter, live, but I am sure a DVD is on the way at some point. Billy Joel also has a new CD out with some of his greatest hits remastered. He must need money to pay for his dual hip replacement.
And for those of you out there for which money is no object, any of the items from the
The Neiman-Marcus Christmas Book, which is celebrating 50 years of the His and Hers gifts with its "special gifts" section, including:
Of course, if you are interested in what the going rate is for the gifts in the "Twelve days of Christmas," you can check here. The total cost of this year's gifts is $23439.38, up 9.2% from last year. Happy Holidays!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving Recipes (4 of 4)

For the final recipe (as it is appearing the Monday after Thanksgiving), here's a recipe for a breakfast casserole that would be good for a post Thanksgiving brunch. This one could even make an appearance on what is becoming the normal Monday night "brinner" at the launchpad.

Make-it-Mine Egg Casserole
Makes: 6 servings
Prep: 20 minutes
Bake: 45 minutes
Stand: 10 minutes

  • 4 to 5 cups Bread Cubes (see choices below)
  • Meat (see choices below)
  • Vegetable (see choices below)
  • 4 to 6 ounces Shredded Cheese (see choices below)
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1-1/2 cups Dairy (see choices below)
  • Seasonings (see choices below)
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 2-quart square baking dish. Spread half of the Bread Cubes in the dish. Add the Meat, Vegetable, and Shredded Cheese. Top with the remaining Bread Cubes.
  2. In a bowl whisk together the eggs, Dairy, and Seasonings. Evenly pour over the layers in the dish.
  3. Bake, uncovered, in the preheated oven for 45 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Makes 6 servings.
Make-ahead directions: Prepare as above through Step 2. Cover and refrigerate for 2 to 24 hours. Bake, uncovered, in a preheated 350 degree F oven for 60 to 65 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Bread Cubes: white or wheat bread, English muffins, baguette-style French bread, sweet Hawaiian bread, Texas toast, pumpernickel, rye bread.

Meat: 2 cups chopped smoked sausage, 2 cups cubed cooked ham, 2 cups cubed smoked turkey, 1 6-ounce can lump crab meat, drained and flaked, 8 ounces cooked bulk pork sausage, 6 slices bacon, crisp-cooked, drained, and crumbled, 5 ounces chopped Canadian-style bacon

Vegetable: 3/4 cup chopped sweet peppers, 1/2 cup canned sliced mushrooms, 1-1/2 cups blanched cut-up asparagus, 1-1/2 cups blanched broccoli florets, 1 cup frozen hash brown potatoes, 1 cup fresh or frozen chopped spinach (thawed and squeezed dry, if frozen)

Shredded Cheese: Italian blend cheeses, Swiss, cheddar, Monterey Jack

Dairy: milk, half-and-half, 1/2 cup dairy sour cream plus 1 cup milk

Seasonings: 1 tablespoon Dijon-style or coarse-grain mustard, 1 teaspoon dried dillweed, 1/4 cup sliced green onions, 1 tablespoon snipped fresh Italian parsley or basil, 1 teaspoon minced garlic.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Beach Thanksgiving

So the Brave Astronaut clan has taken itself to the beach for the Great American Holiday. We found ourselves devoid of family obligations - Mrs. BA's family held a "fake" Thanksgiving this past Sunday and we were not interested in joining the crushing tide along the New Jersey Turnpike (not after an 11-hour trip last Christmas, which we hope to avoid next month) to go to NY to see my father. We are "vacationing" in a friend's condo on the beach block in North Ocean City (it is practically Delaware - we are two blocks from the state line).

Even though it is just the four of us, I still wanted to have a traditional Thanksgiving. There had been talk of all sorts of downsizing (turkey breast) or alternate menus (seafood), but I decided to go with the regular menu. So today we will have a turkey, now properly defrosted and brined, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry, and green beans. There will be pie and ice cream for dessert. I'm sorry Mom, but the pearled onions will not be on the table - don't be mad. I'll make sure they appear at Christmas. The turkey is small and there will be leftovers, which will be good as we don't have a menu plan for Friday or Saturday. We are heading home on Saturday, so maybe everyone gets turkey sandwiches in the car.

Today of course started with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade and sure to be followed by some football. Tomorrow or Saturday we are thinking about a trip to the outlets in Rehoboth. I am tempted to go there tonight for "Midnight Madness" as all of the stores will open at midnight with crazy sales. But the tax-free and the already low prices prevalent at outlets will help whenever we go. Mrs. BA and I should be able to get a jump on Christmas gifts for the boys.

The beach in the off season is an interesting place. Driving in on Tuesday night (made in record time- beat that you New York bound people), we turned onto Coastal Highway and could have stopped and unloaded in the middle of the road as there was not a soul to be seen. The condo building is also empty except for us. We may think about ice skating here, perhaps make use of their pool, too. Another destination we have in mind is this to help push us in the appropriate direction for the Christmas season.

I wish all of you a happy and blessed Thanksgiving. I hope that you are spending the day with those you love and that you all have something to be thankful for. I am of course, extremely thankful for my family and I am very glad to be with you and am thinking about those that I am not with and look forward to spending time with them soon.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving Recipes (3 of 4)

Regardless of where we spend Thanksgiving, there must be dessert. My mother would come back and haunt me for the rest of my days if I didn't. As it is, I am risking her wrath by not having a huge crowd for Thanksgiving Dinner.

Here's a dessert that looks easy enough that it could be made at a condo at the beach.

Café Au Lait Puddings
Gourmet | November 2009

Fans of milky coffee will go crazy for these softly set little puddings adorned with whipped cream. Use decaffeinated instant coffee granules if you will be serving them to children or caffeine-wary adults.

Yield: Makes 4 servings
Active Time: 15 min
Total Time: 45 min

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 3 tablespoons instant coffee granules
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoon sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Cinnamon for sprinkling
Equipment: 4 (4-to 5-ounces) cups or ramekins

Whisk together milk, coffee granules, cornstarch, 1/4 cup sugar, and a small pinch of salt in a heavy medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, then boil 1 minute, stirring constantly. Transfer to a metal bowl set in an ice bath and cool, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Pour into cups or ramekins and chill, uncovered, 20 minutes.

Beat cream with vanilla and remaining 2 tablespoon sugar using an electric mixer just until soft peaks form. Spoon whipped cream onto puddings and dust cream lightly with cinnamon.

Friday, November 19, 2010

No Score, Just Four Years

When I started this blog (four years ago), I thought occasionally I might have loftier ideas to share here. Sure there have been lots of recipes and there have been noticeable gaps, but every once in a while something good comes along.

On this day, November 19, a tall man wearing a dark suit stood to make an address. He was not the primary speaker of the day, that honor belonged to a well-known orator, who spoke for more than two hours before yielding the podium. The great orator wrote to the tall man later, "I wish that I could flatter myself that I had come as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes.”

The great orator was Edward Everett. The tall man was Abraham Lincoln. The occasion was the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery. Lincoln's address was of course, the Gettysburg Address, delivered on this day "seven score and seven years ago" (that's 147 years ago to you and me) on November 19, 1863. Think you know all about the Gettysburg Address? Look here for some random facts (and this would be the opportunity for C in DC to tell her archives story, which she has done here before, if she likes).

Time Magazine rated the Gettysburg Address fourth in a recent list of the ten greatest speeches
The text of the speech appears below, followed by the list of the ten speeches. What do you think?
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
  1. Socrates, Apology, 4th C. BC - "The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways — I to die, and you to live. Which is better God only knows."
  2. Patrick Henry, Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death, 1775
  3. Frederick Douglass, The Hypocrisy of American Slavery, 1852 - "Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future."
  4. Abraham Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address, 1863
  5. Susan B. Anthony, Women's Rights to the Suffrage, 1873 - "It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union. And we formed it, not to give the blessings of liberty, but to secure them; not to the half of ourselves and the half of our posterity, but to the whole people — women as well as men."
  6. Winston Churchill, Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat, 1940 - "You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy."
  7. John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, 1961
  8. Martin Luther King, Jr., "I Have a Dream" Speech, 1963
  9. Lyndon B. Johnson, The American Promise, 1965 - "There is no moral issue. It is wrong — deadly wrong — to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country. There is no issue of States rights or national rights. There is only the struggle for human rights. I have not the slightest doubt what will be your answer."
  10. Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Brandenburg Gate, 1987

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

MARAC Harrisburg Recap

As noted here last week, I finished last week in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania at the Fall 2010 meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference (MARAC). It was a very good meeting and was well attended.

On Thursday, the meeting is devoted to tours and committee meetings. I participated in both parts. My MARAC Tour involved golf. Six of us played a round at the Hershey West Course at the Hershey Country Club. It was a great day for golf with perfect weather. My score however, was nowhere near perfect. After checking in at the hotel, I went off to my meetings. Unfortunately, right around that same time, I came down with a migraine headache and took to bed for a few hours before heading out to find some culinary delights in the city of Harrisburg.

The next day, I headed down for breakfast with the vendors and then to the plenary address, featuring Kathleen Roe. Kathleen is a great speaker and she kept us all entertained all the while making sure that we are doing everything we can to protect archives (and our funding). As I am co-chairing the Spring 2011 meeting (to be held in Alexandria, Virginia), I took the opportunity to talk with the vendors exhibiting in Harrisburg and getting them on board for my meeting.

All of the sessions that I attended were really good. One in particular was a new tactic for MARAC, but well done, in my opinion. It was a Pecha Kucha session, where eight of my colleagues spoke for just about 5-10 minutes on "A Day in the Life of an Archivist." There will be a Pecha Kucha session in Alexandria.

On Saturday morning, MARAC holds its business meeting. At that meeting, I was tapped to give the presentation to garner interest in my colleagues to come to Alexandria. If I do say so myself, I thought the presentation was . . . sensational.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Thanksgiving Recipes (2 of 4)

If we decide to do a turkey for our Thanksgiving dinner, this might be the one I would try. From BHG.com.

Maple-Brined Turkey
Prep: 20 minutes
Marinate: 12 hours
Roast: 2-3/4 hours
Stand: 15 minutes

  • 1-1/2 gallons water (24 cups)
  • 1-1/2 cups pure maple syrup or maple-flavored syrup
  • 1 cup coarse salt
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 8- to10-pound turkey (not self-basting)
  • Cooking oil
  1. For brine, in a 10-quart pot combine water, syrup, salt, and brown sugar; stir to dissolve sugar and salt. Set aside.
  2. Rinse turkey inside and out; remove any excess fat from cavity. Carefully add turkey to brine. Cover and marinate in refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours.
  3. Remove turkey from brine; discard brine. Rinse turkey and pat dry with paper towels. Place turkey, breast side up, on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Tuck drumstick ends under the band of skin across the tail. (If the band of skin is not present, tie the drumsticks securely to the tail.) Twist wing tips under the back. Brush with oil. Insert a meat thermometer into the center of one of the inside thigh muscles.
  4. Cover turkey loosely with foil. Roast turkey in a 325 degree F oven for 2-3/4 to 3 hours or until thermometer registers 180 degrees F. After 2-1/4 hours, remove foil and cut band of skin or string between the drumsticks so thighs will cook evenly. When done, drumsticks should move very easily in their sockets. Cover turkey; let stand at room temperature 20 minutes before carving. Makes 12 servings.
The test kitchen found that a 10-quart stockpot worked best to hold the turkey and brining mixture.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Off to MARAC - Harrisburg

Tonight, I am making my way to Hershey, Pennsylvania (The Sweetest Place on Earth!) in advance of the Fall 2010 meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference (MARAC). At this meeting, I will be making a presentation to my colleagues, inviting them to the next meeting (which is the best meeting). I am serving as co-Chair of the Local Arrangements Committee for that meeting, which will be in Alexandria, VA in May 2011. If you're around, you should come.

I enjoy traveling to conferences. It is good to meet up with my friends and colleagues and hear what is going on in the profession. While I always attend sessions, for me, the most beneficial aspects of the meeting are the networking opportunities the meetings present. I will admit to having a problem staying awake in sessions at times, even in the most interesting of sessions. I don't know what it is, but put me in a chair and don't let me move for a while, and down I will go.

Some time ago, a blog I read, Marginal Revolution, written by the very astute Tyler Cowen, an economics professor at George Mason University, posted a question from a reader, "Why do people ask questions at public events?"

The exact question was:
Does anybody have a theory about the length of questions during the Q&A sessions that follow lectures/talks? Is there a relationship between length of question and age, gender, status, place in queue? Why do some people make rambling statements disguised as "questions"? How can moderators avoid such abuse of the process (pleas to keep questions short don't seem to have any effect)?
Cowen's response made note of some use of Q&A sessions as satisfying a need to:
1. "make a public statement and show them" motive.
2. "somehow feel a need to void" motive.
3. "signal intelligence" motive.

I am not sure moderators wish to avoid "abuse" of the question and answer process. Perhaps the process is part of what draws people to the talk.

My favorite method for giving "talks" is to offer no formal material but to respond to pre-written questions, which are presented and read off as the "talk" proceeds.
I recently chaired a session at a MARAC meeting, where following the presentations, I took a microphone and walked around the audience to get the questions from the floor. I felt very much like Phil Donahue and even remarked that I was feeling that way, but most of the people in the room likely had no idea who I was talking about.

Unfortunately, Q&A sessions at our professional meetings are the time when people get up and head somewhere else (the bar?, no not us). But there is value in questions posed at the end of session talks, isn't there?


I will work on having another post for you mid-meeting, maybe something on Friday.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Thanksgiving Recipes (1 of 4)

This is of course the month devoted to Thanksgiving, that all-American holiday where we all eat too much, watch football and parades, and oh yeah, give thanks for what we have. This year, the Brave Astronaut clan is eschewing the family get-together and likely escaping to the beach. Yes, I know, it's not exactly beach weather (we are just going to the Delaware/Ocean City area), but there will be something charming about Thanksgiving Dinner at the beach. Won't there?

Here on Recipe Mondays for the month of November, I will post four recipes for Thanksgiving dishes that, if you like, you can add to your repertoire for you Turkey Day Feast. Enjoy.

A beach Thanksgiving may mean shaking up the usual suspects for dinner. That, coupled with the fact there are only four of us, may mean no [big] turkey (turkey hoagies on the beach perhaps?). But to start us off, here's a recipe (from BHG.com) for a potato gratin, which sounds pretty good. And there at the end is an option for those of you who prefer sweet potatoes on their Turkey Table.

Cheesy Garlic Potato Gratin
Makes: 6 servings
Prep: 25 minutes
Bake: 1-1/2 hours
Stand: 10 minutes

  • 4 medium Yukon gold or other yellow-fleshed potatoes (1-1/2 pounds), thinly sliced (about 5 cups)
  • 1/3 cup sliced green onion (3) or thinly sliced leek
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1-1/2 cups shredded Swiss cheese,Gruyere, provolone, or Jarslberg cheese (6 ounces)
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 2-quart square baking dish. Layer half of the sliced potatoes and half of the green onion in prepared dish. Sprinkle with half of the garlic, salt, and pepper. Sprinkle with half of the cheese. Repeat layers. Pour whipping cream over top.
  2. Bake, covered, in the preheated oven for 1 hour and 10 minutes. Uncover; bake for 20 to 30 minutes more or until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork and top is golden brown. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Makes 6 servings.
Cheesy Garlic Sweet Potato Gratin: Prepare as above, except substitute sweet potatoes for half of the Yukon gold potatoes.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Tomorrow is Date Night!

This weekend, my MIL is taking the boys to her house for Saturday night. She offered and Mrs. BA are taking the opportunity to go out to dinner and then to a movie. Oh, the Luxury! Our dinner destination is likely to be Hank's (I have a little problem with the fresh BBQ chips) and then next door to the movies. I think we should go see this as Mrs. BA and I have a thing for The Hangover and this looks to be just like that.

The Map above comes from here. It is sure to prompt discussion and dissent. But I don't care, I'm still taking my wife out for dinner and a movie.

And while I am sure to enjoy a beer at Hanks, Mrs. BA is sure to get herself at least one Coke. Here's another map that I came across of late regarding the wide variety of terms used to describe the carbonated soft drink. Which, BTW, it's never pop.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What Could I Be Doing? Part III

In my previous two related posts (Part I and Part II), I remarked about my "professional life" and then answered some questions about being an archivist. Finally, here today, I wanted to address what I could be? want to be? doing with my life. (I have to admit that I am a little proud of myself - I have found the time to write for the blog - I thank everyone for sticking with me).

Recently, I went through a few days where I wasn't feeling 100%. I wasn't exactly sure what it was, I thought I had a cold, then it got worse and felt like the flu, and so I finally went to the doctor. He put me on a run of steroids which made me feel 1000 times better. So whatever it was, the steroids killed it. And I'm getting a flu shot. And next week I'm getting a physical.

But while home sick at least one of those days I realized that I probably wouldn't be happy doing nothing for the rest of my life. But I would like to at least give it the old college try. Daytime TV is a barren wasteland (now that I don't watch the "soaps" anymore) although occasionally you score with the good movie. A few weeks ago it was the Airport 1975 and I am a HUGE sucker for the disaster flick. Then again, my point is still if I were to win the lottery and didn't have to work, I would still want to do something.

So what would I do? One thing I have always wanted to do was run my own restaurant. Mrs. BA, OSG, and Mrs. OSG even flirted with the idea a few years ago. I would still consider this one day. But on the "heavy workload" scale, that one is certainly at the top of the list.

I have been writing a novel for the better part of the last several years. One day I am going to finish it and see if I could get it published. I think it's a pretty good story. I also have a few ideas for non-fiction books. So if I had all the time in the world, I would write more.

As an employee of the federal government, I am not allowed to participate in partisan elections. As many of you know, I ran for Town Council last year (a non-partisan position) and am considering running again. I have always loved politics and I truly believe in the concept of public service and would like the opportunity to work for the people in my community. Maybe someday, if I am out of the federal service, I might think about some higher office.

So what's in your pipe [dream]? What would you do differently if you could?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Homemade Candy Corn

So, sick of all that Halloween candy? C'mon, admit it, you either buy stuff you don't like so you don't eat it - or you buy the good stuff and then turn off your porch light early so you'll have some for yourself.

There was recently an "issue" at the launchpad when LBA and SoBA received a small Halloween goody bag (courtesy of the neighbors - thanks!), which contained a small amount of candy corn. Now I am not a big fan of the candy corn, but Mrs. BA does have a small problem with addiction. LBA had a different treat out of the goody bag and without telling LBA, I gave the candy corn to Mrs. BA. I also neglected to tell Mrs. BA that she was eating LBA's candy corn. Then he noticed (as she put the last piece into her mouth). So I had to give SoBA's candy corn to LBA with the instructions that he share. He shared one or two and then as SoBA asked for one more piece, LBA told him to say please (as I had said, too). So, as SoBA said please to have one more, LBA popped the last one into his mouth. Nice.

So if you aren't sick of candy, candy corn, or sibling rivalry, think about making your own candy corn. From a recipe found on Sugarcrafter via the New York Times Food DIY Section.

Homemade Candy Corn
  • 2/3 cup agave nectar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 5 Tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • Pinch of salt
  • Orange & yellow food coloring
In a sauce pan, stir together the agave nectar, sugar, butter, and vanilla. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, corn starch, and salt.

Reduce the heat to medium and boil 5 minutes longer, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Let cool at least 20 minutes.

Knead the dough gently until smooth. If it begins sticking to everything, don’t add extra powdered sugar to the dough – simply work with the dough on wax paper.

Divide into 3 pieces. With rubber gloves on, knead several drops of yellow food coloring to one piece of the dough until the color is even. Repeat with the orange food coloring. Leave the third piece of dough uncolored.

Divide each color dough in half again. Roll each piece into a long, thin rope. Line one rope of each color next to the others: yellow first, then orange, and then white. Flatten with a rolling pin. Cut the ropes into triangles. Some will be yellow-tipped and some will be white-tipped.

Place in the refrigerator for about 15-20 minutes to firm up, and then enjoy homemade candy corn!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Reading, Part II

Here are the rest of the questions from the reading meme that I started last week (see part I here). Thanks to C in DC for giving me some content for the blog!
  • Favorite reading snack? There's no eating or drinking in a library! But a hot cup of coffee and maybe a cookie?
  • Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience. I can honestly say, I don't think that has happened to me - then again, I have avoided the Harry Potter books and the other, most recent overly publicized book series.
  • How often do you agree with critics about a book? God, I remember how my mother used to read the NYT Book Review every Sunday and then write up her book lists and go off to the library with a stack of reserve slips. Today, you are lucky to find a decent book review, so if I do, I will usually read it and it might push me in a particular direction.
  • How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews? If it's bad, it's bad. Move on.
  • Most intimidating book you’ve ever read? I don't think that I have ever been intimidated by a book - although I am sure there was a college textbook here and there that I really didn't want to read for one reason or another - but it probably wasn't intimidation.
  • Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin? Isn't War and Peace like the benchmark for this question?
  • Favorite Poet? Robert Frost. Period. End of Discussion.
  • How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time? When I went to the library on a regular basis, 3-4 often came home.
  • How often have you returned book to the library unread? On a rare occasion.
  • Favorite fictional character? Ooh, tough question. But if we are sticking with Mr. King (see the next question), I'm going with Andy Dufresne and Red from "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption."
  • Favorite fictional villain? First one(s) that pop into my head would be the many, scary villains / monsters that populate Stephen King's stories. In the lead would be Randall Flagg from The Stand.
  • Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation? paperbacks
  • The longest I’ve gone without reading. I don't think I've ever really stopped reading, I just don't do it as often.
  • Name a book that you could/would not finish. I don't know if I can identify one, although I am sure there was a college textbook in there somewhere that I could not get through, despite the requirements.
  • What distracts you easily when you’re reading? I don't really get distracted too . . . hey what's that over there?
  • Most disappointing film adaptation? The Stand
  • The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time? I'm not at liberty to say. But on myself, probably too much, on others, not enough.
  • How often do you skim a book before reading it? I do not adopt the Billy Crystal approach (see "When Harry Met Sally") but I will usually read the leaf pages to see if it is something that I might enjoy.
  • What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through? See my earlier answers about if it is not good, it's not worth the time.
  • Do you like to keep your books organized? Hi. Have we met? You all know what I do for a living right? The Brave Astronaut library is even online through Library Thing. Here's a story. Before I moved in with Mrs. BA (back when we were dating), I would visit her and would visibly twitch at her serendipitous arrangement of the books in her apartment. She would repeatedly tell me, when you move in, you can rearrange the books. The day I moved in, before I unpacked a box or a suitcase, I was emptying those shelves and arranging them according to subject, genre, and author.
  • Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them? There are a lot of books in my home and there always will be. But I also have a large inventory of books up on Half.com.
  • Are there any books you’ve been avoiding? No, although Mrs. BA would probably tell you she avoids The Giving Tree.
  • Name a book that made you angry. Mrs. BA would probably say The Giving Tree makes her angry, too.
  • A book you didn’t expect to like but did? That's sort of a bonus for me. I have been given books as gifts and given them a shot. In most of the cases, it has worked. But it will always come back to if it's bad (or I don't like it), I'm not going to read it anymore.
  • A book that you expected to like but didn’t? I attempted to get through the few collaborative works that Stephen King wrote with others, but couldn't. It was too clear to me where his writing ended and the other started up.
  • Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading? Not necessarily a book, but I still enjoy reading the comics in the newspaper. Last thing in the paper I read everyday.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I Am An Archivist, Really - Part II

Last week (see Part I), I gave some background on my professional life, how I got to be where I am, what I have done before my current profession, etc. Next week, I will discuss those things that I would like to be doing. Feel free to come along and comment for the ride.

To confirm? deny? support? disavow? that what I am doing is the right thing, I am going to answer a few questions that were recently posed to friends in the profession and answered on their blogs. Geof, the first, is one of those people who is always operating at that higher plane. We can all aspire to be like him - or at least be liked by him. The second, who chose to answer the questions on his blog is also one of those "too cool for school" archivists. I am glad Terry agrees to be seen with me on occasion.

How did you become an archivist?

That's an interesting story. I went to school fully intending to become a social studies teacher. Which I did. For a few years. Then the education system and I had a disagreement and I found myself looking for something else to do. It came down to wanting to work with the records and being able to work with people with a genuine interest in history (the students only had a marginal interest, at best).

There is some conjecture in the archival profession that many of us suddenly find ourselves working in archives (starting work in libraries and other information-related positions, like teaching). I know of many of my colleagues who started work at some library, museum, etc., and then found themselves "in the archives" and then never left.

What's changed the most since you became an archivist?

When I started at my first archives position, we had only two computers that were connected to "the Internet." This was in 1995. For us, the web was still a series of pages that often contained the word [image]. I helped my repository update its computers, revolutionized the website and served as its webmaster until I left.

In my second archival position, I had the opportunity to work for a repository that was just getting its archives program up off the ground. Now, of course, I work primarily with electronic records (which I never thought I would). So, if you ask me what has changed since I became an archivist, it would be that everything has. Suddenly we are picking up steam and really barreling into the next generation. Finally.

What's stayed the same (for better or worse)?

I have long wondered why the national organization for our profession does not get behind and support an "official" archives degree and make sure that job vacancies call for that degree. I got a Masters in Library Science (MLS) because that's what I needed to get ahead in the field, but I am not a librarian.

Another thing that I would like to see start to change would be the competitive nature that exists between the various archivist types that populate our profession. In the end people, we are all really just trying to do the same thing. We don't need to be sniping at one another.

How did you become interested in electronic records?

I never expected to be where I am now, dealing primarily with electronic records of the federal government. While I think I have told this story before, it serves as a really good answer to the question. A few months into my position here I was sitting with two friends and colleagues and we were discussing our work and I began talking about this and that and actually making sense about electronic records. The two of them looked at one another and then looked at me and pretty much said together, "you remember when you said you didn't want to work with electronic records? Well, you're there now." So it would seem that I made the transition fairly easily.

What advice do you have for new archivists or those interested in the profession?

Get involved.

Our profession will only continue to be successful with us reaching out, speaking out, being involved in the issues that are important to us.

Monday, October 25, 2010

It's International Kim Ayres Day!

It's Monday. Which means recipe day. I was all prepared to post some regular recipe and then I saw that several bloggers were getting together to honor one of our own. Over across the pond, is one particular blogger, who has even visited this blog on occasion. I once labeled him a celebrity blogger and have come to know him through the wires and now consider him a friend. Although we have never met, through his photography, his brilliant writing, and his sharing of his speaking voice on another of his blogs, I feel as if I know him very well. One of his photographs is currently my desktop wallpaper on my home computer and he and I have corresponded outside of our blog personas on a variety of issues that we have in common.

Today is his birthday. He turns 44 today, which he is not ashamed to admit. In common, we both have lovely wives, who we adore, and two wonderful children. I hope one day to find myself in Scotland and to have the opportunity to share a pint or two with Kim. A few months ago, I had the most vivid dream where I was visiting with him in Scotland and it was a rollicking good time, as I expect it would be.

This idea to honor and celebrate the great Kim Ayres started with Debra. Several others, whose blogs I read also picked up on the idea, including Mary, Pat, and Eryl, which is when I decided to hop on. Go and visit with them, but be sure to go and see Kim and wish him the best!
I am not sure what his wife, Maggie, is preparing for his birthday culinary celebration, or if his son, Rogan, who has become a fine baker in his own right, has something extra special for him, but I thought I would share a recipe that Kim shared with me. It is for his wife's Bramble Crumble.

A very Happy Birthday to Kim Ayres!

Bramble Crumble
from the Kitchen of Maggie Ayres

[It should be noted this is a recipe of approximations and eyeballing the measurements.]

  • Rub 4 ounces of butter into 8 ounces of self-raising flour (or a mix of flour and oats), then mix in about 4 ounces of sugar (brown or white – it’s up to you).

  • Place 1 pound of blackberries (or any fruit you want) into an oven-proof dish and sprinkle on sugar (how much sugar gets very vague at this point – “to taste” is my wife’s phrase – as it depends on how sweet or sharp the fruit is – but it could be up to a couple of ounces). Mix it together.

  • Pour the flour/butter/sugar mix onto the top and place into an oven for about 40 minutes (or “until it looks ready…”) at Gas Mark 4 or 5
Serve with thick fresh cream, or good quality vanilla ice cream. Eat until nearly sick and have gained several pounds in weight.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

It's All About Baseball

In a few days, the World Series will get under way. As most people know, I have always been a Yankee fan. I have borne the scorn of my friends for being a Yankee fan - for, again as you may know, the Yankees are not universally loved. I do not make apologies for the Yankees, they are what they are. I do not approve of everything they do, especially the huge, obnoxious sums of money they throw at players (see the upcoming purchase of Cliff Lee as a perfect example). I am, for the most part, a baseball purist and really want to watch games for the sake of the game. (And don't I know that the preceding sentence is going to get me in trouble.)

Well the Yankees got sent packing - and of course they will be back next year. Congratulations to the Texas Rangers - it is nice to see a team that has never been to the World Series get there - it was hard to root against Nolan Ryan. Ryan is one of those players that played the game for the game. He is why people love this game. But let's remember that guy who used to be part owner of the Rangers. And that they used to be the Washington Senators. And their manager used to be Ted Williams. And . . .

Good luck to the Rangers who will face off against the San Francisco Giants in the Fall Classic. Both Pennant series were great displays of baseball and I hope the World Series will not disappoint.

Baseball has become an industry. It's not a pastime anymore. Owners, agents and "superplayers" have definitely polluted the game. Scandals have rocked the game and money has driven fans away. But I will continue to watch. It's broken, but there isn't an easy fix.

To that end, here is something I spotted on McSweeney's the other day.

After You Hit a Home Run:
A Guide for Major League Baseball Players
by Kate Hahn
  1. Point to God.
  2. Kiss necklace.
  3. Kiss your hands, biceps, and shoulders. Kiss each finger, individually.
  4. Begin running.
  5. At first base, stop, mount podium your agent has rolled out for you, and make thank you speech.
  6. Kiss your own mouth, for making such a beautiful speech.
  7. Run slowly, very slowly to second. Raise your hands in the air to make the crowd cheer louder. Fist pump! Monster face! Gorilla gallop! Back flip! (Kidding, you're not in that kind of shape.) It's like you are the only player who has ever hit one out of the park!
  8. At second base, call agent on cell and demand endorsement deal with God.
  9. Between second and third, tackle opposing team's shortstop and ask him, "Who the man? Who the man?" Dance on his chest, pointing to the sky.
  10. At third base, build a small church. Invite select group of international dignitaries to attend your first sermon. Preach about how God will make you rich if you follow the right path, especially if it's an uninterrupted path around a major league baseball diamond.
  11. Refuse to cross home plate until you have warmed up for your happy dance.
  12. Jump on home plate and do happy dance. This should be a signature move that fans associate only with you, or it can be from Footloose, which everyone loves. Either way, it should include pointing at the sky.
  13. Do a chicken-walk toward the dugout, emphasizing a head nod at the catcher. This shows the fans you have a sense of humor about yourself. Plus it subtly reminds them to buy your bobblehead doll.
  14. Enter dugout. High five your teammates. One high five is not enough! Allot ten minutes. Refuse to come out of dugout again until your agent has gotten you the endorsement deal with God.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Reading? I Vaguely Remember What That Is . . .

Unfortunately, my reading these days is limited to childrens fare and while I know I should, I am not reading as much as I would like. But here for your enjoyment (and possible derision) is a reading meme that I stole from C in DC. The meme has 55 questions and she broke her posts into 4 different posts. I'm going with two posts. Look for Part II next Friday.

One of my jobs growing up was as a page in a library. It was an enjoyable job and I made some great friends there. It also helped to strengthen my love of reading (which had been instilled in me by my mother).
  • Favorite childhood book? This is certainly different from favorite children's book, which is what I read a lot of now, as the parent of a 6 and 3 year old. But one childhood book that jumps up in front of me is My Brother Sam is Dead (I know, I know), which was a historical fiction book about a boy whose brother is killed in the American Revolution. Sorry to start out on such a downer.
  • What are you reading right now? American Lion by Jon Meacham (a biography of Andrew Jackson in the White House)
  • What books do you have on request at the library? None. I am ashamed to admit that I do not even currently have a library card.
  • Bad book habit? How to answer this question? A habit, as in addiction? Maybe. A bad habit, like dog-earing pages? No.
  • What do you currently have checked out at the library? Unfortunately, nothing as noted above.
  • Do you have an e-reader? Never. I will always want the feel of pages on my fingers (newspapers, too).
  • Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once? I have tried this, but I prefer, and do better, with one at a time.
  • Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog? No, it was more the kids that changed it.
  • Least favorite book you read this year (so far?) With the amount of time that I have to read, if I don't like the book, I move on. My mother's rule was to give it 100 pages, if it didn't have you by then, don't waste your time.
  • Favorite book you’ve read this year? I really enjoyed the most recent Stephen King book, Under the Dome.
  • How often do you read out of your comfort zone? When I do read, I really want to enjoy the experience. I am long past the era of "required reading" and don't need the aggravation.
  • What is your reading comfort zone? I have long been a fan of fiction (especially historical fiction) and the political thriller. I also enjoy good biographies (as evidenced by my current book on the night table).
  • Can you read on the bus or train? I can pretty much read anywhere, but I usually cannot do much else, that is, the book must be the focus.
  • Favorite place to read? in bed
  • What is your policy on book lending? For all you people can tell the difference, I am a librarian. You can borrow my books.
  • Do you ever dog-ear books? No
  • Do you ever write in the margins of your books? No
  • Not even with text books? That would imply that I had read them closely enough to have wanted to make marginalia [cough, cough]
  • What is your favorite language to read in? English
  • If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you chose? I could, if I really wanted to struggle, read a book in French. I had a relative, who spent much of her life moving in the circles of the French Communists (and met Lenin and many other revolutionaries) and wrote a book about that time. Someday, I would like to read that book.
  • What makes you love a book? The language. And being able to "see" the story that I am reading.
  • What will inspire you to recommend a book? Same as above.
  • Favorite genre? Fine, nail me down? Political Thriller
  • Genre you rarely read (but wish you did?) Fantasy, but only on the rarest of occasions.
  • Favorite biography? Wow. Tough one. Nail me down again? The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (the autobiography he wrote as he was dying so that his family would have some income after his passing).
  • Have you ever read a self-help book? Yes, if the "dummies" books count.
  • Favorite cookbook? Hands down, The Very Best Recipe Cookbook (although I don't think that is the exact title) from the publishers of Cooks Illustrated. Have not had a bad thing out of it.
  • Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)? Inspiration is not really my thing (although with LBA in Catholic School and our semi-regular attendance at Sunday Mass, I am getting a little more accustomed to the bible readings).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What Do I Want to Be When I Grow Up? - Part I

I recently started a temporary detail to another division in the agency where I work. I will be a part of this division until the middle of December. The division is "above" the division where I work and the work is at a much higher level than the granularity of processing and reference where I work every day. The detail comes at a good point, I was beginning to feel a little stale and it is my hope and expectation that I will return to my work refreshed and ready to be much more productive and efficient. (It will also coincide with those New Years Resolutions that I should make.) Let me be clear, I love what I do and am very glad to be doing it.

There is a larger question here as well, that being, am I doing what I want with my life?. Excepting those teenager part time jobs that I did growing up that kept me in candy and Matchbox cars, I have done a variety of things so far. I was a paperboy, but that got old rather quickly. I mean, really, delivering papers? In the morning? As previously discussed, I worked in a library, which was a job that I really enjoyed - likely pushing me in the direction of where I am now. Later, I also spent a few brief months as a bank teller before I started teaching.

One of the most fun jobs that I have had was one as a valet parking attendant. It was a job I got at the last minute (I needed money and responded to an ad and got sent out to a job that next evening). The money was really good and I had the opportunity to drive some really nice cars (and learn how to drive a standard). And there was always Prime Rib from the kitchen at the catering halls after the cars were all parked.

Inexplicable to many (including Mrs. BA), I spent a fair amount of time working in retail. I was never interested in the fast food or restaurant-type jobs, but I could work with people and I became fairly good at it. I rose through the ranks of retail, from a sales associate, to a trainer of new hires, then to a staffing supervisor, then finally "retiring" as a Senior Customer Service Manager (basically, when a customer got out of hand, they sent me to deal with them).

As for my first "real job," I was one of those people who went off to college fairly certain I knew what it was I wanted to be. I wanted to be a teacher. It had everything to do with the Social Studies teacher I had in high school. So I went to college and pursued that degree. My undergraduate degree was in American History (with a minor in Political Science - I am and always have been a political junkie) and I then set out to get my Masters Degree in Social Studies Education.

I performed my student teaching in the Junior High School where I went to school, a somewhat surreal experience. There were those teachers (ones that I had not had as a student) who I could call by their first names and then those that would always be referred to by their surnames. After my student teaching, I spent another year at good old Harry B. Thompson (by now) Middle School) as the building substitute, before getting my first real teaching job. Unfortunately, the educational system of which I wanted to be a part of did not exhibit the same fondness for me and I ultimately left education behind for a job in archives.

My career in archives started as a result of my first marriage. My wife at the time took a position in archives with the understanding that it was what she wanted to do. Then she realized it wasn't. She had also been recruited to return to a position as a library director for a small public library where we were living in the Hudson Valley. She jumped at the chance. I was at a point in my life where I was out of education, back in retail, and looking for something else. In my head I could hear the words of one of my beloved college professors - "You must make the decision to either teach students history or teach history to students." He never explained himself and left it up to us to figure out what he meant. As a teacher, I strove to emphasize the latter, using first-hand historical materials whenever possible and trying to make history as much fun for them as I had always found it.

So why not a job in archives, where I could be right next to those materials that I enjoyed working with for so long? I got myself an interview with the Director of the Archive Center and the rest is, as they say, history. As much as I thought I really had wanted to be a teacher, I had moved into a career that I really enjoyed.

In a subsequent post sometime next week, I will address several questions about how I got into the archives field (which have also been touched on here) and finally, address the idea that somehow my professional life may as yet, still be unfulfilled.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pumpkin Spice Creme Brulee

Over the weekend, I took the boys to a local farm to pick pumpkins and generally enjoy a great fall Sunday in Maryland. Fall has really taken hold here and the weather is crisp (but don't tell Mrs. BA - she hates "crisp"). I also seem to have gotten myself subscribed to an email distribution of Better Homes and Gardens recipes and they have started with holiday recipes. While I am not a fan of the pumpkin pie that usually graces the Thanksgiving table, here is a recipe that I might be able to get behind.

And yes, I know that I missed the recipe deadline yesterday - chalk it up to too much to do and not enough time to do it. I mean there's baseball to watch (but if the Yankees continue on this pace - my interest will vanish, possibly as early as tomorrow), soccer practices and games to attend (LBA is becoming quite proficient in soccer), and places to be. But again, no excuses, just promises to try and be better.

Pumpkin Spice Creme Brulee

  • 2 cups whipping cream (no substitutes)
  • 3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 10 baby pumpkins*
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a small saucepan, heat whipping cream over medium heat just until bubbly. Remove from heat; set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine egg yolks, eggs, the 1/2 cup sugar, pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and cloves. Beat with a whisk or rotary beater just until combined. Slowly whisk the hot whipping cream into the egg mixture.
  3. Use a small serrated knife to cut off the top 1/2-inch of the baby pumpkins. Discard the tops. Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds.
  4. Place the pumpkins in a roasting pan. Divide custard mixture evenly among the pumpkins. Place roasting pan on oven rack. Pour enough boiling water into the roasting pan to reach halfway up the sides of the pumpkins.
  5. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until centers appear nearly set when gently shaken. Carefully remove pan from oven. Remove pumpkins from water; cool on a wire rack. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour or up to 8 hours.
  6. Before serving, let custards stand at room temperature for 20 minutes. **Meanwhile, for caramelized sugar: in a heavy 8-inch skillet, heat the 1/4 cup sugar over medium-high heat until sugar begins to melt, shaking skillet occasionally to heat sugar evenly. Do not stir. Once sugar starts to melt, reduce heat to low; cook 3 to 5 minutes more or until all of the sugar is melted and golden brown, stirring as needed with a wooden spoon.
  7. Quickly drizzle caramelized sugar over the custards. (If sugar starts to harden in the skillet, return to heat, stirring until melted.) Serve immediately. Makes 10 filled pumpkins or 6 custard cups.
* Instead of the pumpkins, you can use six 3/4-cup souffle dishes or 6-ounce custard cups. Place the souffle dishes or custard cups in a 13x9x2-inch baking pan.

**Culinary Torch Method: Instead of caramelizing the sugar in the skillet as directed in steps 6 and 7, sprinkle sugar evenly over custards. Use a culinary torch to caramelize the sugar.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Casseroles and Crock Pots

As Fall arrives, it is time to think about some warm, comforting food. It is a daily dilemma as to what to prepare for dinner, and I often have to "hit the ground running" and throw something together quickly. It would be better for all of us if there was some menu planning and food readied to defrost before that time. I think it is my goal to find that crock pot up on that shelf somewhere, dust it off and see about getting some more dinners ready to go in the morning.

This recipe jumped out at me from a recent Washington Post food section as casseroles (especially those that can be prepared ahead of time) are also good dishes to be able to serve in a relative short amount of time (provided they are defrosted, etc.)

Lemon Chicken and Rice Casserole
The Washington Post, September 29, 2010

  • This is comfort food you’ll be glad to have around. For ease of use, cut the cooled casserole into individual portions before freezing.
  • The sauce recipe beats using canned condensed cream of chicken soup.
  • Serve with sauteed spinach or a spinach salad.
MAKE AHEAD: The sauce can be made and refrigerated up to 5 days in advance. The casserole can be frozen for up to 6 weeks (see directions). To reheat the casserole, unwrap it and drop it back into its original casserole dish. Cover with plastic wrap and defrost in the refrigerator for 12 to 18 hours. To reheat, discard the plastic wrap. Sprinkle the surface with the bread crumbs. Cover with foil and bake in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes, then uncover and bake for 15 minutes to brown the topping. Insert a knife into the center before serving to make sure the casserole is heated through.

6 servings

For the sauce
  • 1 cup regular or low-fat milk
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons rice flour
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
For the casserole
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1/2 large onion, finely chopped (3/4 cup)
  • 1 medium clove garlic, minced
  • 4 cups cooked white or brown rice
  • 3/4 cup regular or low-fat sour cream (do not use nonfat)
  • Freshly squeezed juice from 2 to 3 lemons (1/2 cup)
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 cups cooked (skinless) chicken, torn into 1-inch pieces
  • 10 ounces frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup seasoned Italian-style bread crumbs
For the sauce: Combine the milk and broth in a large, heat-safe measuring cup. Microwave on MEDIUM just long enough to warm through (without boiling).

Melt the butter in a medium, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the rice flour and cook for 2 minutes, whisking constantly. Slowly pour in the warm milk-broth mixture, whisking, until all of the liquid is incorporated. Stir in the cheese; cook for 4 to 5 minutes, whisking to form a smooth sauce that has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Season with salt and pepper to taste. The yield is 2 cups.

For the casserole: Combine the butter and oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the onion and garlic; cook for about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft. Add the rice and stir to coat evenly.

Combine the 2 cups of sauce, the sour cream, lemon juice and broth in a large bowl; mix well, then add the rice mixture, chicken and spinach, stirring to incorporate. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use nonstick cooking oil spray to grease the inside of an 8-by-8-inch baking dish.

Spread the chicken-rice mixture evenly in the baking dish. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. If you plan to serve the casserole right away, uncover and sprinkle the bread crumbs evenly over the top. Bake for 5 to 8 minutes or until the the crumbs have lightly browned.

If you plan to freeze the casserole, bypass the bread crumb step. Remove the casserole from the oven after the 30 minutes and allow it to cool. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate to chill through. (At this point, if desired, cut it into individual portions and wrap each one first in plastic wrap, then in foil.) Freeze for 6 to 8 hours, then unmold and wrap first in plastic wrap, then in foil. Return to the freezer and store for up to 6 weeks.

Recipe Source:
Adapted from "Cook & Freeze: 150 Delicious Dishes to Serve Now and Later," by Dana Jacobi (Rodale, 2010)