Monday, March 30, 2009

Until Now, We've Driven Fords

Jerry is a tall, lanky gentleman from our church congregation, who wears a hearing aid. He's well known and well loved by the children because he always has candy in his pocket for them, usually little rolls of SweetTarts. For some reason, Jerry has decided that Dan and I, though certainly not children, also deserve candy. But instead of SweetTarts, he slips us each an individually wrapped mint Lifesaver every time we meet.

It's always the same . . . I see Jerry, he sees me, and we both smile. He comes over and hugs me with one arm, while appearing to shake my hand with the other, but in the handshake he slips me the Lifesaver. Often, our hug causes his hearing aid to whistle, and he grins, and his eyes sparkle, and he says, "Ooooh. You made me whistle!" I love Jerry.

Last Sunday Jerry came over to Dan and said, "I hear you have a 'Cataract.'"

"Yes," Dan said, "I sure do . . ." And before Dan could continue telling Jerry the details of his recently diagnosed eye condition, Jerry said, "That's great! A new 'Cataract'! I've never driven one of those, although I did own a Lincoln Continental once." All three of us laughed.

This Sunday, when Jerry came up to us to shake our hands (wink, wink), Dan said, "Well, guess what I learned at the doctor's office yesterday. I have TWO cataracts!" I think Dan knew he was playing straight-man for Jerry, who, never missing a beat, quipped, "Two Cataracts?! That's perfect . . . one for you to drive, and one for Linda, too!"

Dan's first cataract surgery is scheduled for April 15.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Daring Bakers' March Challenge - Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge. (Recipe HERE.)

You may be as surprised as I was to see lasagne (aka lasagna) as a Daring Baker challenge! At first I was a little resistant to the idea. After all, my dad and grandpa were bakers, and they never sold lasagne as a baked good in their bakeries. But after giving it a little thought, I realized that the mixing and kneading of the dough for the noodles was certainly a close cousin to mixing and kneading bread dough. And, after all, the entire dish is baked at the conclusion! Besides, I find it hard to pass up a tasty challenge.

The noodles for this lasagne recipe are spinach noodles. I have to be honest . . . I'm not a fan of spinach. But the Daring Bakers' challenges stretch me in more ways than one. They stretch, both, my creative and my epicurean boundaries.

There are four main parts to this dish, the spinach pasta, the Bechamel sauce, the Ragu sauce and the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. I started with the Ragu sauce, which included a combination of five ground meats, as well as minced vegetables, red cooking wine, chicken broth, tomatoes and milk. It cooked for a total of two hours, and filled the house with its wonderful aroma.

Next I made the pasta, completely by hand. We were allowed to use a pasta machine, if we had one, but I didn't. The simple ingredients - flour, eggs and spinach - worked up into a nice, pliable dough, but only after I added an extra egg and a little bit of water. Until then, it was too dry to form the dough. (I think our arid climate is the reason I often have to add more liquid to recipes.) The pasta dough was kneaded for a total of 15 minutes, and then allowed to rest, covered in plastic, for three hours. I divided the dough into fourths in order to roll it out. It had to be rolled very thin, and my kitchen counter would not have been large enough to hold the entire rolled-out sheet of dough. I cut the pasta into noodles approximately 4" x 8" and dried them over the towel-covered backs of our dining room chairs.

While the noodles were drying, I ran to the grocery store to buy the cheese - Parmigiano-Reggiano. I only needed 4 oz., but they didn't have a chunk that small. At $20/pound, the smallest piece in the case set me back $12.00! There was one wedge, weighing five-plus-pounds, with a price tag of $112.00! And to think that I've complained, in the past, about paying $8.00 for a two-pound loaf of Tillamook cheddar!

The final preparation, before the dish was assembled, was the Bechamel sauce, which is just a simple white sauce, with some ground nutmeg added.

I really did have fun making this authentic Italian dish; and fun is the reason I am a Daring Baker! I assembled it all and baked it off for dinner on Thursday of my Spring Break vacation. Dan was really happy with it, and I liked it too. I'm still not a true fan of the spinach pasta, so if I made it again, I would probably use plain pasta. And I would add some mozzarella cheese; I missed that! I'm pretty sure that I will make the Ragu again, though. That combination of meat and veggies was really savory. Here are a couple pictures of the baked lasagne, on our dinner table.

Other Completed Daring Bakers' Challenges: Lavash, Pizza Napoletana, Caramel Cake, French Yule Log, Tuiles, Chocolate Valentino

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sweetpea's News

For sixteen hours (from 5:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.), yesterday was pretty ordinary. Then we got a phone call that changed all that. It was Sweetpea's little voice on the other end: "I'm going to be a big sister."

I was so excited that I couldn't sleep last night.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Very Large Array

I had a great day today, the second day of my two-day Spring Break vacation. I left Albuquerque around 7:30 a.m. and drove to the Very Large Array (VLA). If you ever saw the movie Contact, you have had a peek at this amazing radio astronomy facility in New Mexico.

To get to the VLA from Albuquerque, I drove south on I-25 to Socorro, then took US-60 west, through Magdalena and up to the Plains of San Augustin, at 7,000-feet above sea level.

The VLA is made up of 27 dish antennas, each one 82-feet in diameter. The antennas are arrayed along three arms, which extend in a "Y" shape. Each of the arms is 13 miles long. A pair of railroad tracks extends along the arms, and a special, self-propelled transporter moves along these two rails to carry the antennas, when they need to be moved. When the array is reconfigured, it takes one or two weeks to move all of the antennas. They are moved every three or four months.

The 27 antennas work together to form a single, huge radio telescope. With it, astronomers study cosmic objects by means of radio waves, rather than light. The VLA is one of the most powerful radio telescopes in the world, and its combination of high resolution and high sensitivity make it possible to make detailed pictures of even very faint objects in the sky.

There is no cost for visiting the VLA. The visitor's center is a small building with some very interesting displays about the history and the science of the VLA. There are also some amazing astronomical pictures on display, that were composed using the radio waves gathered by the VLA. For 25 cents you can purchase a brochure to use on a self-guided walking tour of the facility. You can also go to the assembly building, where the dishes were first constructed and where repairs are made.

I have posted a few pictures from today's adventure in a gallery. The first few pictures are from the drive down, and the last few are of the VLA, itself. You can view the pictures by clicking HERE. Because of the huge distances between the antennas, it is very difficult to capture what the eye actually sees.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Zippity Doo Dah Day

Yesterday that song (Zippity Doo Dah) kept running through my head, which brought to mind, for the first time in many years, the classic Disney movie, The Song of the South, first released in 1946, and last released in 1986. Despite the fact that this movie is now considered, by some, socially and politically incorrect, so much so that Disney refuses to release copies for sale, I dearly LOVED that movie as a child. Some of you will remember it. It was based upon the stories of Joel Chandler Harris, who grew up during the days of slavery, in the deep South. The time setting of his stories, however, was after the Civil War and, therefore, after slavery had been abolished. Uncle Remus was, despite popular opinion, not a slave, but a free man, which was made clear in the original stories, but not so clear in the Disney movie.

Some of you will remember the movie, which took place on a southern plantation, with its cast of characters: Uncle Remus, the kind-hearted, lovable black man, who we assume had been a slave in his younger years; Johnny, the nephew of the plantation owner, who came to visit with his parents (who were planning to divorce); Toby, the little black boy who lived on the plantation and became Johnny's first and best friend there; Ginny, the sweet little girl of a poor white family and the sister of two bullying brothers; and the memorable animated characters who starred in the tales told to the children by Uncle Remus, Bre'r Rabbit, Bre'r Fox and Bre'r Bear.

I spent some time yesterday watching clips, from the movie, that can be found on YouTube. I fell back in love with Uncle Remus, after years of not thinking about him. I was enchanted, all over again, by the wonderful Bre'r Rabbit fables, the "color-blindness" of the children, and the mutual adoration of Uncle Remus and the children.

I've heard that the movie may still be available in Europe, and, of course, there are pirated copies available for sale in the US. There are well-founded hints that Disney might once again release the movie sometime in the future. One way or another, I'd love to get a copy of The Song of the South.

Clicking HERE will take you to a nice summary of the film and some of the social and political issues surrounding it; and one man's defense of the film, all of which I found worth reading.

For those who are too young to have ever seen The Song of the South, I'll post a clip (or two) from the movie. And, if you'd like to show Disney your support for re-releasing the film, you can go to THIS LINK and sign a petition.

Can't stand not knowing what happens to Bre'r Rabbit when he runs away? Here's the following scene, which answers that question.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Gallimaufry* III

* A jumble; a hodgepodge.

I changed allergy medicine, we had a refreshing rain here (first in ages and ages), and I'm feeling much better. Maybe it was the stuffy head and the watery eyes that kept me from blogging lately. But now that I'm feeling better, I thought I'd post another "gallimaufry."

I had a nice lunch at Jason's Deli with my friend, Pam, today. We are making plans to ride the New Mexico Railrunner up to Santa Fe for a day trip, sometime soon.

The construction on our church building is nearing an end; it should be done in about a month. It'll be nice to have additional classrooms, restrooms, and a large multi-purpose space. We all got to take a long-awaited tour of the space on the Sunday before last.

My Daring Bakers assignment for this month is something I'd never have expected and something that will be a real challenge for me. Although we are having company for dinner this Friday, I'm not confident enough of success to prepare it for them. Watch for the "reveal" on Friday, March 27.

Dan and I are watching this season's "24." We got behind in the beginning, so had to watch a number of episodes from recordings, last week, to get caught up.

We are still planning to make our anniversary trip to Ireland this coming fall, although I don't think it will feel "for real" until we purchase the airline tickets.

Working for the UNM Foundation has some nice benefits, including getting Thursday and Friday of Spring Break (March 19 and 20) as holidays. I hope to use one of those days to go somewhere for a photo shoot. I don't think it has anything to do with my allergies, but this spring weather is making me "itch" to take pictures!

I've been "dipping my toe" into the world of Facebook, based on the urging of a friend (Genie, that would be YOU!). I'm not real comfortable with it yet; it makes me feel like I'm in a foreign country and don't know the language. But I have located a few long-lost friends, so it can't be all bad.

I've been on a crossword puzzle spree lately. I've always enjoyed a good puzzle; I must have inherited the crossword gene from my Mom, the Queen of Crosswords.

My Bible class 4-year-olds graduated up to the next class, and the two-year-olds moved up into mine. I'm having to gear my lessons back down to a younger level, and it makes me realize and appreciate how much mental and physical growth happens between two and four!

March is a big month for Chris and Kelsey - two birthdays and an anniversary. This was anniversary #11 for them.

Our two cars have been demanding a lot of our attention lately. Between them they've needed a new battery, repair of a broken seal, repair of an oil leak, and one set of new tires. [Edit: AND both cars have cracks running sideways across the front windshields, thanks to rocks being thrown by the tires of other vehicles. We need to have them both replaced, and our insurance deductible is very high.] I saw a TV program this week about Mackinac Island, Michigan, an island community that, for more than a century, has banned motorized vehicles. Residents and visitors, alike, get around on foot, by horse and buggy, or bicycle. The time and money our cars are demanding make me wonder if I should move to Mackinac Island!

Sweetpea is doing well. She has a dance recital in May. Grandma's thinking it would be fun to be there for it! Grandpa doesn't know if he can hold off until May!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Sign of Spring #4

Not everything about spring is GOOD! I'm here to tell you that it's been a wicked allergy season here. Not one of these remedies has given any relief.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Sign of Spring #3

Just this week, the flowering trees have exploded in blossoms.