Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Suggestion Box

I have a wonderful mother.  She never stops being a mom.  For example, below is the ending to a conversation I just had with her.

Me: "Ok, I'll talk to you later."
Mom: "I love you and, please, behave yourself."
Note: Mom tells me to behave myself after 99% of the conversations we have.  It is like she knows me.
Me: "HA! You can't make me!"
Mom: "Very true.  There are a few states between us now.  Ok, then, I suggest you behave."
Me: "Our lives have now come down to suggestions."
Mom: "I highly suggest you behave yourself."

I'll be sure to take that suggestion into consideration.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Quick Dish: Quick Almond and Plum Cake

I'm a huge fan of Jacques P├ępin.  Partly because he sounds like my lovely Uncle William from south Louisiana who has a wonderful French accent.  Jacques is from Lyon in France and Uncle William is from the bayous of Louisiana but they sound the same. 

The other part of why I am a fan of Jacques is that he is an amazing chef.  He once shared a TV show with Julia Childs and, even though he is a classically trained chef, he continues to bring the laid back passion for food in the kitchen that Julia was well known for.  He can do the fancy techniques but he chooses to incorporate tips that his mom taught him and lovingly invites friends and family to cook with him on his PBS show. 

He made a Quick Almond and Plum Cake on his show and it was seriously quick.  I made it yesterday and it is amazingly simply but wonderfully delicious.  Plus, I had local, organic plums that needed to be eaten and thereby completing the needed ingredients located in my kitchen.  Below is the recipe copied from his website and can also be found in his cookbook "Essential Pepin".

CAKE
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup unblanched whole almonds
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 large eggs
1/3 cup milk

TOPPING
4–6 ripe plums, preferably Black Friar or Santa Rosa (1 1/4 pounds)
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup plum jam
1 tablespoon plum brandy or Calvados


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, with a rack in the center. Butter a 9-inch springform pan with 1/2 teaspoon of the butter.

FOR THE CAKE: Process the flour, almonds, sugar, and baking powder in a food processor until the mixture is a coarse powder. Add the vanilla, the remaining butter, the oil, and eggs and process for a few seconds, just until incorporated. Add the milk and process for a few seconds, until the mixture is smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

FOR THE TOPPING: Using the point of a sharp knife, remove the pit from the stem end of each plum. (If the plums are not fully ripened and feel hard, prick them all over with the point of a sharp knife to soften them.) Rinse the whole plums well under cold water. While they are still wet, roll them in the sugar. Arrange the plums on top of the cake, spacing them evenly, and push them down into the batter until the bottom half of each is immersed.
Uncooked cake.
Place the cake on a cookie sheet and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until puffy and nicely browned on top. Cool on a rack to lukewarm.
Cooked cake
Mix the plum jam and brandy together in a small bowl and brush the top of the lukewarm cake with the mixture. Remove the sides of the pan and cut the cake into 6 to 8 wedges, so that each serving contains at least half a plum. Serve warm or just at room temperature.

I realized yesterday that my upcoming week is packed with meetings during breakfast, lunch and dinner EVERY SINGLE DAY.  As a kid, I would have dreamt for weeks like this where I could eat out at every meal.  As an adult, it kind of grosses me out.  Therefore, I texted today's lunch partner yesterday and asked if I could treat her to a homecooked meal in my company's breakroom instead of going out to a restaurant.  She gladly accepted and her reward will be homemade potato & jalapeno soup with a salad made of vegetables from my garden and a slice of Quick Almond and Plum Cake for dessert (or afternoon snack).

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Nellie Mae

Legend has it Warren Buffet (every Anna Nicole Smith dream guy) still has his original truck.  Granted he has replaced the engine in it at least once and probably had the entire thing rebuilt since he bought it in 1779 (date not confirmed).  What I am trying to say is this, "If you want to be filthy rich ... don't buy vehicles".

I'm sure Warren did some other stuff too in order to amass his wealth but I'm focusing on the vehicle part.  And I'm quite certain he owns a fleet of cars now but he started off just owning one; the infamous truck.

Since I want to be independently wealthy some day (like Warren) I am having a hard time justifying a new (used) vehicle purchase.  Currently, I'm not in the market to buy but I am in the market to look around, get an idea of how much vehicles cost these days, and start saving up.

The problem is ... Nellie Mae.  She's a sweet ol' girl and has treated me well.  I love her to pieces.  Granted, her multi-CD changer doesn't work any more, she doesn't have bluetooth because it wasn't invented when she was created, and she has no idea what an iPod is (or an iPhone for that matter).  Nellie Mae is my 12 year old Nissan Xterra.
Not Nellie Mae but close resemblance.
When I say she's been around the block a few times I really mean like 180,000 miles of block.  She still has a lot of get up and go left in her.  Her miles per gallon rate is horrendous, but during my research for newer vehicles her's is still on par with today's SUVs and it is still the same rate she got back 2001.  I have had her engine rebuilt once and, currently, she doesn't have any mechanical problems.  She gets me from point A to point B safely and in air conditioning.  She's an ol' grey mare but she's still what she used to be.

As I'm doing research on newer vehicles and trying to find one to fit my needs I'm realizing I compare newer model vehicles to Nellie Mae.  Verdict: most of them come up short.  She's narrow enough to drive in the city, lots of cargo room to haul house project material, and clean enough to park in my company garage.  She's also old enough to park in the train station lot since I commute to work most days.

Nellie Mae has become my "Warren Buffet truck".  She saves me money (I haven't had a car payment in 5 years), she treats me well (AC always kicks to cold), and requires little attention (routine maintenance).  Even when the time comes to purchase another vehicle I think I'll be most happy with Nellie Mae staying in the garage and only being a vehicle to run errands in on the weekend. 

Don't get me wrong ... independently wealthy doesn't mean I won't settle for marrying rich and buying a Bugatti.
Don't mind if I do.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Judging Books by Their Covers (and Smells)

I live in suburbia.  I work in downtown.  I don't like driving.  Therefore, I ride the train to work.  The 30 minute ride gives me ample time to read emails, send emails, check up on family and friends through Facebook, lose at Words with Friends, listen to music and read books.  The 30 minutes really do fly by.

However, I left out the one activity that really eats up the 30 minutes ... people watching.  Oh, Lawdy!  It makes me happy.

People watching on the train allows me to create little stories about the individuals who ride my train.  And when I say "little stories" I mean "far fetched creations that would make great blockbuster Hollywood movies". 

For example, a guy about my age (early 30s) got on my train carrying a skateboard.  He was dressed in khakis and a plaid shirt.  So my mind started racing as to why he had a skateboard and if he lived with his mother.  Maybe he was a hipster creative director at a fancy ad agency.  Or maybe his ex-wife took him for all his money and left him nothing but a skateboard.  Or maybe he was a serial killer that the news anchors dubbed "the skateboard slasher".

Seriously, it makes the ride incredibly entertaining!  You just can't get that kind of entertainment sitting on the interstate waiting for traffic to move.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Living with a Pecan Tree

I have a huge pecan tree on the side of my house.  Before you ask, I have no idea if the pecans (Pronounced "puh-cons" ... not "PEE-cans".  If you want to eat a PEE-can go back to communist Russia!) are any good because the f*!#%@ squirrels eat them.

However, the f*!#%@ squirrels many times have to knock the pecans out of the tree in order to get their grubby lil' paws on them.  And the tree is about 500 feet high.  So, when a pecan gets knocked off a limb the downward spiral causes the nut to increase in speed beyond what the regular gravitational pull would equate a pecan falling at.  In other words, the pecan hitting my roof sounds like a shot gun being fired into my house from about three feet away. 

So, if you have trouble waking up to an alarm I would suggest getting a pecan tree.  Saturday and Sunday mornings will never be the same.
Artist's rendition of a pecan hitting my roof.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Moments in the Sun

I spent 10 glorious days on vacation.  Traveled to the UK then to the southern coast of Spain and spent quality time with some of my best gal pals.  We laid by the pool, lounged on the beach, ate and drank to our hearts' content, formed our own vacationers book club, and napped when the life of luxury was getting rough.  To sum it up: RELAXING.

Then I came back to reality.  My carefree 10 days of liberation were the sun and, since I'm Icarus, I flew too close, got burned, and crashed back into middle class America. 

Oh, the agony!

Enjoy my moments in the sun.
Everybody in London was sitting in the park.  Not sure if they have jobs to be at but the weather was lovely.
 
Looking out over the River Thames in London on our way to Richmond Park.

This is where I took naps.

In the City of Malaga, hometown of Pablo Picasso.
Deb and Sarah on our tour bus around Malaga.

In Granada at the Alahambra.  Amazing gardens.  They will NOT allow you to pick the flowers, though.

No dogs but they did have a pony show.
Flamenco dancing.  Great cardio but requires a lot of stage makeup.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Who Runs Barter Town?!

I don't get star struck.  However, it is fun to see actors and musicians in the real world because I feel like they are invading my turf.  I want to shout "I run Barter Town!" but I would need a midget to complete the entire shouting scene.  (If you have not seen 'Mad Max' you are the reason why Mel Gibson hates the Jewish community.  Shame on you!)

On a frequent flight from Spain to London I had the good fortune of sitting next to Rufus Sewell.  He was the dark/bad knight in "A Knight's Tale".  
I refrained from shouting at him, though.  He was, after all, on vacation with his girlfriend (pictured with him above).  I very nonchalantly gawked at him and did a very well rehearsed googly eyed smile.  He's probably still having night tremors from my idea of a pleasant smile.
What I imagine my face looked like during the entire flight.