Dueling Pies.

So for some reason I thought that all this pie making was a good idea for a weeknight. Didn't stop to think, hmm, perhaps I can make two pies from scratch on a weekend day when I don't have crap else better to do. Noooo... I went to work, went and bought some things I needed for work, and then came home and commenced to pie making around 5pm. Not one, but two "pumpkin" pies from scratch.

Pie #1: Bryan's Gram's Pumpkin Custard.

I have heard my mother-in-law say, in passing, that she's not fond of dealing with this pie, yet it is a staple at every Klinger holiday meal. It's good. It was my father-in-law's mother's recipe, and after following it last night, I have decided that this woman was SERIOUS about the pie making. Holy crap. First of all, it's made with butternut squash, not pumpkin. And a freaking butternut squash is a BEAST to cut. And when I say beast, I mean "vegetable that would really prefer not to be cut and therefore will fight you with every last fiber of its being."

I did finally tame the sucker and get it in the pot to boil. Excellent. Once it's done, I drain it and recall that the recipe Jan wrote me says, for my next step, "Sieve." So I get out the sieve and put the pumpkin in it and mash it through the best I can, and hardly anything is coming out the other side. So here's a glimpse into my thought process at this point:

"Huh. Which of these parts am I supposed to use in the pie? This part in the bowl that looks like baby food, or this part left in the sieve that looks like pumpkin? Surely I'm not supposed to press this through the sieve until I get enough baby food stuff for 2 cups... but what would be the point of the sieving if that's not what I'm supposed to use? Oh, wait, what if SIEVE is Yankee for STRAIN?! Then I'm an idiot battling this sieve for no reason! But a sieve's a sieve... I mean, they are northerners, but they speak basically the same language..."

At which point I decide to call the in-laws just to be sure I've got this right. And of course I am told that, yep, I'm using what comes through the other side of the sieve.

I sieve my ass off until I get just enough for 2 cups, throw the rest in a freezer bag, and commence to making pie crust. Because of course when I mentioned buying pre-made to my husband the day before, he whined about how his mother makes HOMEMADE pie crust (Thanks, Jan. ;-) ).

Eventually it's all ready, and into the oven it goes. In the meantime...

Pie #2: Regular Ol' Pumpkin Pie

Since I don't have a family recipe for regular ol' pumpkin pie, I used one out of my giant Baking Encyclopedia. And let me detail this process for you since I did so for Gram's Pumpkin Custard.

I cut the pumpkin into pieces and scooped out the innards. Slice, slice, scoop, scoop. Easy.
I put the pumpkin in a pot to boil.
I strained the pumpkin.
I scooped the pumpkin out of the skin.
I dumped some ingredients in the bowl.
I mixed.
I baked.

Okay, that might be overly simplified (still had to make pie crust #2), but the point is, it was SIGNIFICANTLY less work than Pie #1.

Since the pies weren't done until late last night and had to cool, Bryan hasn't sampled them yet to determine which one he likes best. I have a suspicion he's going to choose his Gram's pie. First of all, any recipe made by your grandmother is gonna win out over one from a cookbook. Secondly, Gram's pie is a custard, and pumpkin pie is thick and... well, pumpkiny. They're really two totally different types of pie, in spite of both being called pumpkin.

So we'll see. I tried a little sliver of both, and I think they're both good. Regardless of Bryan's decision, we have got some tasty pies to eat over the next few days!

Oh, and by the way, Bryan is so smitten with the jack o' lanterns we carved that while I was whipping up a frenzy in the kitchen, he went outside to have another portrait session with the pumpkins. Here's some of his handy work, with a little alteration thanks to Picasa.


Pumpkin Party.

Bryan and I finished out a pretty low-key weekend with a trip to the Chesterfield Berry Farm and some pumpkin carving. Even though this is our seventh (!) Halloween together, it's the first time we've carved pumpkins together, and it was a lot of fun!

We headed to pick out our pumpkins yesterday afternoon--the first FALL day of the Fall! I hadn't been to the Berry Farm to pick pumpkins since I was a little girl. My most distinct memory of it is going there in first grade on a field trip, and my mom and Christy Anderson's mom arguing on the bus ride back about who was the HEAD Room Mother. :) Well, maybe they weren't arguing. But there was definitely a difference of opinion there...

But I digress.

We hopped on the wagon ride and headed down to the pumpkin patch, which by this point was full of pumpkins from some other field, but who cares. It was still fun to pick them out ourselves. :)

Bryan said he wore orange to blend in. Ha! The Berry Farm was a lot of fun, would have been even cooler if we had some kids to enjoy all the kiddie stuff. On our way out, we bought a couple of butternut squash and a pie pumpkin. Bryan's gram's recipe for pumpkin pie actually calls for this type of squash, so I've been charged with creating that pie and a real pumpkin pie so Bryan can see which he prefers. :) I'll keep you updated.

After a quick trip to Target to get some pumpkin carving & lighting gear, we settled down in our living room with a lot of newspaper and our big orange gourds. We decided rather than flexing our own creative muscles, we'd use the stencils provided to us by the carving kit.

Doesn't Bryan look sweet carving his pumpkin? (Note the light behind him--he brought it in from the garage because he couldn't see his pumpkin well enough. :) )
And after a couple hours of pumpkin guts and cutting, here's what we came up with. Bryan's is on the left, mine's on the right. I think they both turned out pretty cool, but Bryan had cleaner cuts than me. :)

Of course now we are so proud of them that we're nervous to put 'em on the front porch for fear they'll end up pumpkin road kill... so for now they're in our kitchen. Perhaps tonight we'll debut our handywork to the neighborhood. :)


Saturday morning annoyance.

You know what makes me mad? I have a perfectly good newspaper box tucked conveniently under my mailbox, yet instead of sticking my newspaper in there on a rainy Saturday morning to protect it from the elements, my paper person slips it in a bag and throws it in my driveway. Where I find it soaking wet, INSIDE the bag. UGH! He/she just totally screwed up my breakfast/newspaper/coffee routine. Wonder if I should call and complain?


The Ark of Colonial Heights

Last night, my friend Erin posted a blog on her MySpace about building an ark so that she and her dear kitties didn't float away in the torrential rains beating down on Blacksburg. When I read it this morning, it reminded me of one of my favorite Tri-Cities area landmarks: The Ark.

If you grew up in Chester or in the Tri-Cities (Colonial Heights, Petersburg and Hopewell for those of you not in the know), you may have seen it. It's in Colonial Heights, on a side street off of Ellerslie Avenue. When I was about 8, my mom or dad (I can't remember which) drove me past it, and I've gone by to see it every couple years since then. It fascinates me.

This is no minor watercraft. It's a giant metal vessel, taller than the one-story house next to it, and longer too, I think. The story I was given is that the man was convinced that God was going to flood the earth again, in spite of all Biblical promises not to. So he built himself an ark. In his yard in Colonial Heights. And there it has set, for years.

I wonder if Mr. Ark is still alive. I wonder what his family will do with that thing once he is no longer around. For that matter, I wonder if it's still there... I did a google search to see if I could find a picture, but I guess not so many people are as fascinated by the ark as I am... I found nothing. I need to go by there and snap a picture for you people... it really is a sight to see!

Since I know some of you that read this blog were around back when Mr. Ark was building this sucker, I'd love to know if you know anything else about its story!


Really? Mac 'n' Cheese is that easy?

Last night, I decided to cook dinner even though I hadn't taken any meat out of the freezer to thaw. Since we've been gone so much on the weekends lately, I haven't had a lot of time to plan meals. I had picked out a few recipes, though, and figured some pork tenderloin chops would be easy to defrost in the trusty microwave and quick to cook. So main course, decided.

And for the sides? I had found a recipe for creamy stovetop macaroni and cheese that I thought I'd try. I really dig the mac 'n' cheese. Like, a lot. Occasionally I'll even cook up a box of Kraft mac 'n' cheese and eat just that for a meal. But I had never ventured into the world of homemade mac 'n' cheese.

I had NO IDEA it was so freaking EASY! And, people, it was SO GOOD. Bryan wasn't home from work yet when it was done, and I had to call him and tell him I was being forced to eat without him, because after a bite of this mac 'n' cheese I couldn't not eat it. And seriously, it did not take that much more work than your average blue box of the stuff.

It's so fun figuring out this grown up stuff. ;-) Oh, and the best part? It was from Cooking Light magazine, which means it's at least kinda healthy! Sweet!


San Diego.

My little sister and I just spent a weekend in San Diego in August, and we both love that city. In fact, we both came home with visions of sweet little homes in Coronado. So it's very sad to see that San Diego (and much of Southern California) is being engulfed in flames. One of my must-read blogs, Buttermilk & Molasses, pointed me to this Google map that shows just how pervasive the fires are right now. It's unbelievable. My heart goes out to all those being evacuated and losing their homes.

View Larger Map


This tri-lingual business is taxing.

This morning, like every Monday, I had my Spanish class. This is my third semester of a one hour a week conversational Spanish class. I've learned enough to catch 70% of what the Mexican twins say when I watch Heroes on Monday nights, but not enough to actually hold up my own end of a conversation in Spanish... I understand it better than I can originate it, if that makes sense.

So anyway, last week we were given the assignment of watching a movie in Spanish and then giving a 3-5 minute presentation about it in class today. That's all fine and dandy. I watched Pan's Labyrinth yesterday and wrote a few sentences to say about it last night.

I get to class today and finally it's my turn. At the last minute I realize I need to throw in some key facts I had left out--director, where it was made, etc.--and also I find that as I'm talking about it, there are a few other things I want to say. And do you know what happened? I couldn't find the words in Spanish, and instead of finding them in English to ask the teacher how to say what I wanted to say, I kept thinking in FRENCH! Every word I tried to find in my overloaded brain in Spanish I found in French. And it was annoying the living shit out of me. Pardon my English.


The 15-Minute Rule.

Holy crap, people, that 15 minute rule I started about 2 weeks ago? It has lasted, and it is WORKING!

To catch you up, I decided a couple weeks ago that I would start picking things up/organizing every day for 15 minutes, and cleaning every day for 15 minutes. That way I'm only giving up 30 minutes of relaxing after work, and at the same time I don't have to spend hours on the weekends cleaning. I have actually stuck to this with a few exceptions (on belly dancing nights, since I'm only home for an hour or so, I skip the cleaning, for example), and I decided that on Saturdays I would do each for 30 minutes. I've just finished the Saturday workload, and I'm feeling good! The house is clean, things are getting neater each day... it's amazing! There's still a long way to go, because Bryan and I have not been good at organizing since he bought this house at all, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel!

One of the things that has made this, dare I say, fun for me is using a kitchen timer. It's set for 15 minutes and I clip it onto myself and go at it. I am amazed how much you can actually accomplish in 15 minutes. On my second 15 minute cleaning stint today, I dusted the den, vacuumed the den, vacuumed the living room, vacuumed the dining room, cleaned the toilet and counter in one bathroom and dusted that bathroom's door. Had you asked me before timer how long all that would take, I would have said a good 30 minutes or more.

I know they say that it takes 6 weeks for something to become a habit, so that's my goal now. 6 weeks of a clean-becoming-cleaner house. Of course, if I keep this up, Bryan's NEVER going to buy into the idea of getting a housekeeper...


Me 'n' mayo don't get along.

Today for lunch, I followed my pal Krystyna's lead and got an egg salad sandwich from a cart on the street outside our building. Being a hospital and being downtown, there are lots of lunch carts around. This sandwich comes from one of the carts that doesn't typically have a very long line. I've only eaten there once before, but Krystyna adores their egg salad sandwiches, and so I finally decided to try one. Sounded good to me, and it tasted good too... egg salad, a couple slices of tomato and some fresh ciabatta bread. How can a girl go wrong?

The problem is, me and mayo don't get along so well. Every time I eat something like this, made with a lot of mayonnaise, I spend the next several hours feeling generally icky... occasionally like I'm gonna barf. And I know this. But for some reason I always think it's not going to happen that particular time. That I can't possibly REALLY not get along with mayo. That maybe last time was a fluke (and all the times before). Because let's be honest, stuff made with mayo tastes pretty good. And yet, every freaking time, I get the ickiness afterwards.

I guess you could say I'm a little embarassed I can't control my mayo eating impulse.


My worst nightmare.

At least she wasn't sitting down...

NYC Woman Finds Python in the Toilet

New York Woman Screams After Seeing 7-Foot Python Peeking Out From Her Toilet

The Associated Press


There was no Halloween bogeyman in the closet for one Brooklyn woman just a 7-foot-long python in her toilet. Nadege Brunacci was washing her hands in her bathroom before dawn Monday when she glanced back and saw the slithering serpent peeking out from her toilet, most of its body hidden in the pipes.

"I turned on the light and screamed," Brunacci, 38, told the New York Daily News. "It still makes my heart race."

Brunacci slammed down the lid, put a heavy box on top of the toilet and began calling for help, which came from her landlord and firefighters. Plumbers had to tear apart the downstairs neighbor's pipes to capture the snake, she said.

It's unclear how the snake made its way into the pipes.

Brunacci, a restaurateur, says she gave the snake to a friend who keeps it as a pet and named it after her.

Brunacci says she started using her daughter's training toilet after the scare in her third-floor apartment. And when she brushes her teeth, she said, "I'm looking over my shoulder."

Viva Knoxvegas!

Well, our trip to Tennessee was excellent. And now I've got 27 states marked off and Bryan's got 26... less than half to go! :)

On Friday we took our time heading out of town. The wedding wasn't until Saturday at 5pm, so I sort of thought we'd play it by ear on Friday... leave when we got around to it, stop when we got sick of driving, perhaps wander around one of those darling towns in the Southwestern part of the state that nary a Virginian sees. (I mean, seriously, how many native Virginians do you know who have ventured into that little tail part down there??)

What ended up happening was Bryan decided my car was in dire need of a bath and some serious cleanin', and I puttered around packing and picking up around the house until about 3:30 when we finally headed west. This late departure meant that there would be no daylight wandering in any town I'd never been to, but we did stop in cute Marion, VA and eat at a Macado's "downtown." Anytime you have to put "downtown" in quotes, you know it's tiny. Like, 3 blocks tiny. :) But it was nice... and I considered it a cultural experience. Amazing how different the accents are there from Richmond...

Since it was barely 10pm, we decided to keep going. We ended up saving $40 that night by staying in a Motel 6 about 40 miles outside of Knoxville. This hotel was clean, cheap, and right next to a Cracker Barrel, but it made me realize how spoiled I've become when it comes to hotels after 7+ years of business travel. I mean, they didn't even provide SHAMPOO! And just TWO pillows on the bed?! Oh, the squalor... ;-) Luckily the proximity to Cracker Barrel and my hungry husband provided me the rare opportunity to eat my beloved biscuits and gravy, and Saturday was off to a good start.

We headed into Knoxville, checked into the Marriott Downtown (which had EIGHT pillows on the bed, The Body Shop toiletries, and a down comforter!), and went exploring. Knoxville, or Knoxvegas, as I hear it's sometimes called, is a pretty town, right on the river (the Tennessee?? who knows. I should look at a map...). We wandered around a cute shopping area, drove through the "old city," and tried to go to the World's Fair Park. Unfortunately there was a giant brewery festival there, and we weren't interested in standing in a 3-block line and paying to go to something we'd only be at for an hour or so. So instead we went over to the University of Tennessee and walked around the campus. It's nice... but it's no UVA. Heck, it's not even as pretty as Penn State! :)

Then, the wedding. Stacy and Chris got married at a beautiful Civil War manor house, also situated on a hill above the river. The ceremony was beautiful, but not as beautiful as the bride. The reception was fun and I was so glad to see Stacy and Chris looking so happy and so in love. A few photos from the wedding:

On Sunday, we decided to stop in Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg on the way home. These towns were a little ways off our direct route home, but only by about 30 minutes. Neither of us had ever been to either, so we figured we might as well take the opportunity. I had heard of both places and knew that they were tourist destinations in Tennessee. I've known about Pigeon Forge since I was little, because of Dollywood. I have no idea if my Pop and Grandma actually went there, but I remember either stuff about Dollywood or stuff from Dollywood in their house when I was little. I always pictured a quaint mountain town, driving through the forest and all of the sudden coming upon an amusement park. Gatlinburg I have heard mentioned, but know of mainly because my college roomie and her husband went there for their honeymoon and got a chalet for a week. Again, I pictured quaint little mountain town.

Holy crap, was I wrong.

Let's start with Pigeon Forge, which is a combination of the following:
  • Suburban sprawl main drag, such as Broad Street.
  • Virginia Beach (or any beach) Boardwalk
  • Las Vegas Strip
  • State Fair Midway
  • The Beltway around DC at rush hour.
Um, I had no idea you could cram so much STUFF in one stretch of highway! Not even highway, it was a road, really. But there was every type of store, every outlet, every restaurant, every show, every hotel, every theme of mini golf, every theme of go cart rental, every type of fair ride, even several "museums!" (I swear I saw a Hillbilly Museum.) I was in total sensory overload. WAY too much to process. And WOW can those people decorate. I have never seen so many dead cornstalks and pumpkins in my life! If nothing else, I certainly felt festive after driving through!

Finally, we made it through Pigeon Forge and started into the Great Smokey Mountains. Trees! Nature! This was what I was expecting. And a few miles later, Gatlinburg.

Yes, this is what we saw. Until we finally found somewhere to park and get out and actually walk around. Once we were out of the madness of traffic, we were actually able to enjoy this little town. Again, it wasn't what I expected, but I did at least feel like I could breathe in Gatlinburg. And it's beautiful there, surrounded by the Smokies.

We walked around for a bit and took a ride on the sky lift, which gave us a great view of the area.

After an essential stop at Auntie Mahalia's Candy Shop for fudge and chocolate covered pretzels, we headed home. We had a beautiful drive, and made it home by just after 10:00.



This past weekend Bryan and I were total homebodies. And considering that I have only spent one full weekend at home since mid-August, that was just fine with me. I didn't really realize it until Monday morning when I was getting ready for work, but I got home on Friday afternoon and didn't leave my house again until I headed to work yesterday. I think Bryan did manage to get out a little bit, but I'm not even sure about that.

I spent my weekend inside the house: cleaning, doing laundry, reading magazines, and babysitting. Bryan spent his weekend in the garage doing maintenance to my dear Mitsubishi Eclipse that it has sorely needed for several years now. The end result was that when Sunday night came around, I had a great feeling of accomplishment, and yesterday when I went home I was invigorated to come home to a clean house... so much so that I cleaned some more! My new resolution (which has lasted already one day longer than most of my resolutions) is to, every day, spend 15 minutes putting things where they belong and/or organizing and 15 minutes actually cleaning (ie, sweeping, dusting, vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms), and do one load of laundry. I'm thinking if I can keep this up during the week, I should have significantly less big time cleaning to do on the weekends. We'll see how long it lasts...

On Saturday night I babysat for my friend Jodie. Her daughter Jordan is 8 and her son Dylan is 6. We had a fun time... Jordan was highly impressed by my construction paper cutting skills, my coloring skills and my drawing skills. Dylan was smitten with this tube thing my mom got me for my birthday... you spin it around and it makes a whistling noise (if you're from the South you've probably seen one of these before... I thought everyone had but Bryan didn't know what it was when I brought it home). We made pizza and brownies and Jordan made "nothing," where she threw everything she could get her hands on in a bowl and then we baked it. She wanted to tell Bryan it was his birthday cake, so we cut him a slice and she took it out to him in the garage. I was horrified to see him come in the house spitting green mush into the sink! I didn't think she'd actually let him eat it!!!!! Of course, Bryan knew it was probably not going to taste good but he was humoring her, and I think even though Jordan knew she hadn't really made a cake, part of her hoped that by some miracle she had invented a new tasty treat and she wanted to see if maybe it did taste good! (It didn't. Perhaps if she hadn't put dish soap in it would have...)

This weekend we are headed to Knoxville for a wedding. Should be fun! My friend Stacy is tying the knot. I met her several years ago when I worked at the Arthritis Foundation... she was a 2nd year at UVA whose mother had died from complications of rheumatoid arthritis and she wanted to start an arthritis awareness group. We met at Barnes and Noble to talk about it and she immediately became one of our most dedicated volunteers. Over the years, she went from volunteer to intern to employee in Tennessee to now being an Executive Director of a branch of the Arthritis Foundation in Tennessee. I couldn't be prouder of her and can't wait to see her marry her love!


happy anniversary to us!

oh, how time flies!

it's hard to believe our wedding was a year ago this past sunday. seems like it was only yesterday, but the past year has been a great one for us. we've continued to learn about each other and it feels like we are more in love now than ever. which may sound cheesy, but it's true.

we spent our anniversary weekend in washington, dc at the ritz carlton dc. i am fortunate to have a good friend who works for the company and got us the room for a great deal of less than half the going rate. we spent the weekend doing what we do best: being dorks in love. we spent many hours at the air and space museum, and a couple more at the natural history museum. we went to a mystery dinner theater on saturday night that was fun, but not at all like the episode of golden girls i expected it to be like. (i envisioned fake gunshots and fake blood and me jumping from my seat shouting, "Professor Plum! In the library! With the candlestick!" it was more like "Oh, ha, funny, that guy did it.")

our goal was to make it back to richmond before dark, but we hit traffic outside of DC and outside of richmond, too, so we didn't make it back until about 8:00. nevertheless, we were determined to recreate, to a small degree, our wedding day. we stopped at brown's island first, where we stood in the spot where we got married, smooched, and professed our continued love and commitment to each other. then we scurried over to main street station, where bryan carried me up the stairs one more time, in spite of the extra pounds on my derriere since last year and no wedding day endorphins to give him additional strength. then home we went, where we exchanged cards, tried not to watch the eagles get trampled by the giants, dimmed the lights in the living room and danced to our first dance song, ate some of our wedding cake (thanks, grandma, for saving that for us!) and finally crawled into bed and watched our wedding photo slideshow. it was the perfect anniversary weekend... a little practical sightseeing, a lot of fun with each other, and some romance thrown in for good measure.

at 5:45 or so, we stopped and snapped a picture of us. this is about the time we were actually pronounced married. i'm hoping we can make this an annual tradition so we can watch ourselves age... we shall see. i compared this picture to one of us on our wedding day right after we were married, and, i gotta say, we looked a little better last year. of course, we were trying harder. :)

i'm so grateful for the love we have, and hope we have many, many more years ahead together!