Monday, April 30, 2012

After Anime Central 2012

I'm glad that my husband and I got to go to Anime Central.  I say this because at this convention there are so many people there that we aren't the oldest in the bunch.  In fact, there's some who are quite a bit older and have been attending quite a bit longer than we'll ever hope to dream about.  However, on the flip side, it made me remember old times when I used to have quite a few more friends and acquaintances to meet up with.

It's weird, if you think about the scenario, because back in 2003, which I think was the first year I went to Anime Central, I had quite a few friends to meet up with.  I didn't have many internet friends, I didn't have MySpace or Facebook at the time, so there was no asking a friend on their wall and asking 'you going to the convention'?  You either saw them there, or you didn't, or maybe you dropped them an email if you had one, or you talked to them either in person or on the phone.

I used to hang out with friends at conventions, I used to have three-day weekend crushes on guys there, I used to flirt with other cosplayers, I used to get glomped, stopped, hugged, photographed and over-all just had a good time and met new people.

This year, with Facebook, I thought, 'oh, there shouldn't be a problem with me finding some of my old buddies.'  So I messaged them.  Nothing.  Completely ignored.  I can see my posting on their wall and see absolutely NO responses from them.  Thanks for all the fish....NOT.

Well, I was still hopeful, so I went in search of all of those friends, took time out of my schedule to search panels, vendors, alleys and wherever else I thought I might find some of my old hook ups.  Some I found, and I did find the majority of them, were polite and talked to me briefly, but I knew they were thinking about something else, not talking to an old friend they hadn't seen in awhile.  Others gave me the complete brush off.  Talk about disappointing!

This time around I didn't make any new contacts.  I was just too bummed by the ones who had gone on with their lives.  I understand that life happens, but this was the weekend of seeing old friends, making new ones and in general talking to people who have similar interests as yourself.

And basically, I'm too afraid any more to make new friends.  Which of course, leaves me in the awkward position of complaining about not having friends, but also unwilling to make new friends who will in turn lead me down this grump about feeling abandoned and betrayed.

All of this begs the question, why do I like My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic so much if I am having such a hard time finding friends?  I like Twilight Sparkle.  I'm basically her, growing up over the years, having one friend (not my BBBF - big brother best friend, but my LBBF - little brother best friend) with a few others here and there, but suddenly I've found myself with only a small handful of friends and too busy, and quite frankly, more than a little scared, to make new ones.  And I don't have a Pinkie Pie, or Apple Jack, or any of those others who pop over and say, "hey, want to be my friend?"

I did have that from time to time... a few friends helped me out along the way, and as I think back, I'm not sure I've ever made a friend all by myself....  Which, is really kind of pathetic.

Ah well, enough, I'm just writing this for myself anyway.  I just wanted to get it down while I was in the mood and felt like writing something.


We ate some really, truly, righteous food this weekend.  Sweet Baby Rays BBQ on Thursday night.  On Friday some really strange vegetarian sandwich I'm actually thinking of eating more veggie stuff from now on (but then also had an AWESOME BLT that day too).  Then on Saturday we had Giodorno's (sp) stuffed pizza which is like a Chicago deep dish only with TWO crusts.  Then on Sunday we had the best Ramen I've ever had at this Japanese market...the best bread there too...oh my gosh do they make anpan there like pros, it's like being in Japan without ever setting foot there.  And then Triple XXX Family Diner: rootbeer and burgers in the very first drive-in in Indiana near Purdue University (my first DDD Guy Fieri restaurant).  Never lets you down, always fills you up!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Landscaping Practice

So, here is my house.  It's one of those cookie-cutter houses that you see just about everywhere nowadays because the companies that build them have a handful of designs to choose from, and even though there are subtle differences between them, overall they just look the same.  I was attracted to our house...why?  I can't even quite remember why because when we were first looking at the place it was pretty pathetic, as you can see from the photo.  Besides a few online photos, this is what I saw the very first day we were looking at houses.  Bare bones, pretty ugly.

But even when I lived in an apartment, thankfully we had a ground-floor patio and there was just a tiny patch of land to plant stuff.  I was pretty happy with it really, because I could put a few veggies out there, a couple flowers, and it was my garden.

So, you can be rest-assured that when we moved into our new house I was pretty stoked about having a huge yard to do stuff in.  The first plants that went in were a few bulbs from the apartment that I had pulled up, as well as a six-pack of mums that I had bought just that previous fall.  All of the geraniums that I keep indoors during the winter, they all were packed up and came with me as well.  Then, I did all of the inside stuff for a good month until I was pleased and we had moved in and it warmed up enough to actually start the process of getting the outside looking at good as the inside.

First step, getting some stones in order to raise up the garden around the porch. There was one plant left in that poor little garden, which I later found out was a dianthus when it finally started blooming after a lot of water and Miracle Grow.  The only other plants left in the yard were a large lilac bush (of the miniature variety), three spirea, two peonies (which magically popped up in a bare patch to the side of the house) and one huge viburnum which has become something of a bane to me because it never stops growing and I have to constantly trim it during the summer.  But during the spring it has the prettiest smelling flowers.  (Oh, and some golden evergreen-shrubs that you can't see very well, they're just a hint of color).

Later that summer I added the stones to the garden, a second level closer to the fall, the mums love that front garden.  Planted a few other bushes, pansies and later petunias.  Put in a red Japanese maple, and the house started to look a wee bit better than it's winter counterpart (but of course they always do).  However, we're still having grass problems as you can see in the picture above, and in subsequent pictures too.

 Fast forward to this spring.  As I mentioned about the grass...we've got a lot of bad patches still (enough that a Scott's guy knocked one day after walking by and gave us some info...heh heh...urg).  Anyway, in the fall I trimmed out the lilac up front for a more square shape, added that second row of stones up front as I mentioned, and planted tulip and daffodil bulbs.  The tulips can be seen in the right garden.  They turned out to be a really pretty mix of fancy bulbs, some multiple rowed, some variegated, some frilly, and all either purple, white or maroon.

I digress.  So, at the time when I planted the Japanese maple I'd been thinking about continuing the garden out around the front of the sidewalk leading up to the front porch.  After a couple of co-workers first brought me a bunch of plants, and then another loaning me a tiller to work on my garden out back, I thought it was time to finally start work on a little more landscaping.

The result after about 5 hours of tilling, weeding, digging, planting, stone-laying, etc... is what you see here.  I came home after an eight-hour shift at work and started going at it before dinner, took a dinner break, ran to Home Depot to buy some edging stones (at the awesome price of like 36 cents a piece) and finished up at dusk.

The idea was to have a pretty cohesive garden that wraps around the front of the house.  The new plants that went in this year were two yellow/red spirea (which are supposed to bloom red, so I'm looking forward to seeing bloom alongside the larger pink spirea).  A couple of corabells that my friend gave me, and a dozen snapdragons of various colors because I've been in the mood for snapdragons this year for some reason.

 Here's a bit of a closeup of the garden itself.  I still have to mulch it, which probably won't happen for a few more days since it's threatening to rain now (although I took these photos first thing this morning it's gotten pretty windy and dark out as I write this blog).  I think the reds from the tree, the tips of the spirea and the corabells give a nice accent to the otherwise green flowerbeds.

Eventually I'll probably straighten out the line of the flowerbed so it doesn't do the funny little curve out around the tree, but since I have a bunch of curves around the yard like this already it softens up the very squared off appearance of the house itself.

As you follow the curve around the spirea and lilac, you can see the golden evergreen bushes, the tulips, and the viburnum.  (You can't see it but to the left there's a purple azalea hiding by the porch) and a recent addition is also the purple creeping phlox that I was given by a friend (and added to a bit with the help of a gift card from Home Depot).

It all needs to still be mulched, mowed, trimmed, etc.  But I think the overall appearance is appealing.  And what I think is the coolest thing is it cost less than a $100 for the majority of it all.  Can't ask a landscaper to do it that inexpensively!

Ah...I guess I need to wrap this up and close up everything...the storm is rolling in faster than anticipated.  Please look forward to seeing more photos of the garden as it progresses and fills out this summer!

Monday, April 9, 2012

On Baking Challah Bread

This is what came of my first attempt at challah bread.

A few months back I heard about the Jewish bread while watching Unwrapped and thought, "that stuff looks pretty tasty" and I came to find it pre-made at one of the local bakeries in my favorite grocery store.  It was soooo yummy!  I think you could easily compare the taste to Hawaiin sweet bread since it had that really light, fluffy consistency, you could just pull chunks off of it and eat it without any butter or anything (although cinnamon butter tasted pretty good too).

A month or so later I found a magazine that had the recipe for it.  It's the Fine Living Breads issue, and after a bunch of hoopla to get my hands on it (a coworker offered to buy it for me as she bought hers with a coupon and it took an extra week to get payment and my magazine in my hands) and another week or so before I tried a recipe out of it.  The delay was caused mostly by the chocolate issue that followed after it and I tried two recipes out of that one as well as Alton Brown's homemade gourmet ice cream (which, by the way, the chocolate is every bit as good as anything you've ever tasted...unless you've had Jeni's and then maybe it's a bit weak on the chocolate side, but her ice cream is crazy rich).

Anyway, after dithering over the bread making thing my mother-in-law took me into the kitchen the last time I visited and taught me how to make cinnamon rolls using the Kitchen Aid mixer.  Thank goodness because even though I had made a recipe of bread with it since I got it for Christmas, I hadn't tried anything that turned out to taste really good.  Those cinnamon rolls however, were pretty darn tasty.  Good enough in fact, that a week or so later I made a large batch of dinner rolls which we're still eating on out of the freezer.

So, with cinnamon rolls, bread rolls, and a kind-of-okay loaf bread out of the way I thought "It's time to try something a bit more difficult".  And with Easter Sunday off, it was the perfect time to try this Jewish treat.

But... the house was too cold, and I forgot to rise the dough in a warmed oven, so it rose too slowly.  Then I warmed up the oven too much and ended up killing some of the yeast (I'm pretty sure).  But the dough stretched good and it braided just fine, as you can see from the picture.  It browned a bit fast, but the recipe warned me so I did as told and covered it with foil and then waited to see how pretty it was.

It looked beautiful and the house smelled terrific.  It had to be good, something that looked this good, right?


I over-baked it.  The recipe warned about under-baking so I never once thought that maybe the timer would be too long.  It was also dense, dry, not nearly as sweet as the store-bought loaf and didn't pull apart...nope.  Had to use a knife.

Thought to myself, "Maybe it'll be better the next day."


Still dry, maybe more so, even after being placed in a Ziplock bag overnight.


Bread pudding.  First attempt.

This is the first time I've ever tried to make homemade bread pudding, and usually it tastes better when you make it with cinnamon rolls (the best I've ever had was made from a cinnamon sticky bun that was bought from a restaurant called Gracie's Country Inn up in Michigan - they would have it on their buffet from time to time).  But this turned out to be a close second, but for the fact I must not have beat the eggs and milk completely because there were a few chewy portions of egg.

The problem I found, soon afterwards, was that I didn't have a good vanilla sauce recipe.  I wanted something that tasted like those sauces I had as a kid at Gracie's and heck, even like my mom made, but most of the sauces that looked right online had ingredients I didn't have at home.  I ran out of eggs doing this and don't keep whipping cream or whole milk on hand.

The solution?  A mix of different recipes I found online, which basically came down to a cup of 1% milk (which I do have), 2 tablespoons of margarine (again, no real butter) a tablespoon (plus some) of cornstarch, 4 tablespoons of white sugar, another 2-3 of brown sugar, and then stirred and stirred and stirred on low, then let boil and it thickened up and I added a teaspoon of vanilla extract.  Voila!  So yummy!  Oh, and for the record, I was dumping by this point so most of the ingredients are estimates at best....heh, kind of lucky it worked out really.

So..... what have I learned about bread making?

Challah bread should have plenty of time to rise and become really fluffy - and sweeter, I think there should be more honey in it than my recipe called for.  And in the future I'll probably just buy it...  And as for bread pudding...ah heck, it tastes GREAT with enough sauce on it so who can complain?  Oh, some people I'm sure, I don't put in raisins as you may have noticed, but that's a personal choice since I'm not a big fan.

I hope you like my little bread story.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Flower Photography

Ever since I received my very first camera, I have found myself drawn to taking photos of flowers.  Of course, back in the day with my little Polaroid in hand, I didn't really have clear photos of them, nor did they look very photogenic when the picture developed after minutes of redundant shaking of said Polaroids.

I was in my early teens when I started a garden of my own in the old sandbox that neither my brother nor I used any more.  My mom allowed me to start my own pansies in a starter set and I watched those little seedlings take sprout and watched all summer as eventually they blossomed and I was able to see all of those beautiful little faces 'look' up at me.  I was hooked on pansies after that and also forget-me-nots because I grew those too...although they didn't bloom nearly as prolific, and they were too small to take good photos of at the time.

At my mom's house there still exists a scrapbook of the first photos of that garden and even a few pressed flowers from that first crop of pansies.  Ever since I've either grown pansies or planted them (they're a lot easier to buy pre-grown of course, though more expensive) and I've had a penchant for taking pictures throughout the season.  Pansies are an unusual flower as they tend to only thrive during the early spring and late fall.  I kept my fall planting through January and probably would have managed to keep more than the handful I still have alive had the aphids not killed them after I brought the pots indoors.  (Apparently bugs are dormant in the winter and they woke right up and started munching once they got inside.  I blame myself, those pansies were doing good in the very mild winter we were having except for a few frosts that provoked me to bring them inside again.)

Later in life I found myself drawn to all sorts of flowers, including the beautiful Redbud tree which my mom agreed to buy after she cut down the apple tree that was in her backyard when she refused to rake apples anymore and decided that my brother and I wouldn't either.  She resorted to cutting it down the moment someone knocked at her door asking if she had any trees she wanted taken care of, even though it had been the center of my childhood summers, climbing, adventuring, swinging beneath on the swing set... well, you get the idea.

The photo above is actually my second Redbud, this one I planted the first week we moved into our new house (you can see our rickety back porch in the photo).  At the time this photo was taken, it was just about to bloom early again (last year it had bloomed early when I bought it, nearly three weeks before other planted ones) but this year because of the ridiculously warm winter.

The pansy you see to the right here is actually one of the winter survivors.  I'm very proud of my pansies, you see.  I strive to keep them alive as long as possible throughout the year and many summers I can keep them alive until they start a second growth in the fall.  This fellow might actually have been part of the previous spring planting, but I can't be sure because it was buried by the chrysanthemum I brought from my apartment when I moved.  (Those are the leaves you see around the pansy.)  I may have planted them both nearly around the same time and because of the protection of the leaves the pansy may have survived both summer and winter, but I know for certain it survived winter and decided to bloom again this spring.  The flower was quite small, only the size of a quarter.

I've been fascinated by pansies and violas since a kid as I've mentioned.  Back then you didn't really smell pansies at all, they had a very light (if any) fragrance.  Since then they've created breeds with much bigger flowers and a much stronger smell to them.  I remember the first time I ever smelled a pansy and thought that was the prettiest smelling flower I'd ever smelled (outside of lilacs and hyacinths.)  My interest in these flowers also came from a childhood friend of mine who managed to keep a viola alive for a good year or so and it was blooming in the winter after she thought it had died.  It's amazing how strong these little flowers are.  I think I read somewhere that they stand for 'remembrance' but I can't be entirely sure.

 Most recently I've been growing azaleas.  When I lived in Michigan they weren't nearly as prevalent at garden centers as they are today or as they are in Ohio.  I think the weather is a bit milder and they're a bit happier.  This particular fellow is super pretty with a very beautiful purple flower - the color is pretty accurate in this photo - with dark green leaves.  The bush has gotten a bit bigger than when I planted it, so I'm pretty happy with the result.

I have two other azaleas in the yard, one is more of a pink color, the other was supposed to be white, but the rabbits got hungry this winter and ate all the leaves.  It's still hanging in there, if barely, and I've considered potting it again until it gets big enough to survive scary bunnies.

Well, that's all the time I have for now.  I hope you enjoy my little flower photo gallery.  I'm thinking of posting more of them on my DeviantART account if you'd like to see them.  Haven't yet but might.  I do enjoy taking pictures so if you like them too, leave me a comment!