MARCH 2008
Thursday, March 27, 2008
This weather is crap. We had an enormous snow storm last Friday, and we're shaping up to have one again in an hour or so. It might not be enormous, but five inches of snow now? It's enough already. But I will say that all of the nasty weather this winter has inspired me to rediscover pajamas. Not old sweats and tee shirts for sleeping -- real honest-to-god matching pajamas. I used to love them when I was younger, especially the one-piece fleecy kind with the white-bottomed feet. I loved how warm they were. I loved that they were so comfy. I loved the pat-pat-pat sound those white feet made on the vinyl kitchen floor. And then...I don't know what happened, but I got away from pajamas for quite a few years and just always wore pajama bottoms with old sweatshirts. Practical, I guess.

But then this winter came, and Paul said something like he thought it was cute when girls wore matching pajamas, and then microfleece pajamas were on sale when I was home for Thanksgiving, and then my mom got me a few more pairs in February, and now I just wear them all the time. They're so warm and comfy! And they match, so it's not like I look awful or anything. And besides, Paul thinks they're cute. But now it's gotten to the point where if I'm not in work clothes, I'm in pajamas. With the exception of the embarrassment of having them on when a solicitor knocks at the door (which unfortunately seems to be quite a lot lately, but I always pretend I'm not feeling well and they've just woken me up from my sick nap), I really don't have a problem with wearing pajamas all the time. In fact, I like it a lot, and maybe I'll miss my matching microfleece jammies a little when the warm weather gets here. If it ever gets here. It should definitely get here soon, because a snow storm on March 27 is beyond depressing.

Sunday, March 23, 2008
Usually, the day after Easter is one of my favorite days of the year. For one, it usually means that spring is officially here. Of course, that is not the case this year -- temperatures around here have been well below normal for a while and look to be well below normal for the foreseeable future. But for another, the day after Easter is when all of the delicious Easter candy goes on sale! It is also the day when I usually stock up on Cadbury chocolate. I used to get bags of small, fun-size-ish, individually wrapped Cadbury chocolate bunnies. I haven't seen those in a few years, but that's okay, because I have since discovered Cadbury mini eggs and have come to the conclusion that they are the best chocolate for the money in the entire world. I'm not talking about Cadbury creme eggs, or even the mini creme eggs. I'm talking about Cadbury mini eggs, which are like M&Ms on steroids. Really good, chocolately, delicious steroids. They started making them in dark chocolate last year or the year before, but I think I prefer the milk chocolate.*

The problem this year, aside from the aforementioned lousy March weather (or, if you're a fan of the Simpsons, lousy Smarch weather), is that Evan and Lainey are getting married in two weeks, and I am the matron of honor. The horror of being called a matron aside, the issue is the dress. Lainey picked out simple, elegant dresses for us to wear, and they are a lovely grayish-purple that actually looks good on all of us (as opposed to that popular tannish/champagne color that seems to be a popular choice for bridal parties these days -- that color makes me look eight seconds short of asphyxiation), the shape of the dress is rather unforgiving, and any excess chocolate I eat will make that dress look awful on me. And if I buy any bags of Cadbury mini eggs, I will certainly eat a lot of excess chocolate. So, I have made the executive decision to skip the half price chocolate this year. With the weather being so crummy (we got 15 inches of snow on Friday if that's any indication), it only seems right.

So, I implore you: go forth, buy Cadbury mini eggs on sale tomorrow, and enjoy them. Next year, I'll be right there with you.

* As a consistent fan of dark choclate over milk chocolate, I was as surprised as anyone to discover that I prefer the milk chocolate Cadbury mini eggs over the dark choclate ones. Not that anyone else was really surprised. Or even interested. But still, this might be the one time when I really truly like the milk chocolate version of something that also comes in dark, and I am wondering if maybe I am channeling my grandma here. Milk chocolate was her favorite, and I'm only sorry that she never got a chance to try Cadbury mini eggs, because I'm sure she would have loved them. Getting a bargain was also her favorite, and I'm sure she would have loved getting them the day after Easter at half price even more.

Thursday, March 20, 2008
Today's mayonnaise fiasco started with this article right here. I had never attempted to make homemade mayonnaise before, but I had seen Alton Brown do it, and I had thought about trying to make it, and I had made salad dressings using similar methods, but I was always a little apprehensive about actually making homemade mayo. It looked like it took a lot of time and elbow grease for something that you can buy at the store, use in recipes, and still call those recipes "homemade." And there was always the danger of the mayo breaking, meaning that the ingredients would separate. Once that happens, you basically have a bowl full of useless slop. Really: no one expects you to make your own mayonnaise. But when I saw this article about making your own mayo in the recent issue of Bon Appetit, it just sounded so good, and since I always like homemade anything better than its storebought counterpart, I thought, Yeah! I'd like some homemade mayonnaise! I've always liked mayonnaise a lot, and while I've never eaten it by the spoonful the way some people eat peanutbutter and the way I eat Nutella, I will often lick a spoon after it has deposited mayo into a bowl of tuna or egg salad. And so when I saw this article touting the deliciousness of homemade mayo, I thought, now is the time. Also, I had planned to make chicken salad for dinner one night this week, so I could use it for that. And tonight was chicken salad night. I pulled out my whisk and got to work.

Having watched Alton Brown's "Mayo Clinic" episode, I understood the chemistry behind colloids and emulsions, which are basically what mayonnaise is. (Side note: There must be a bit of a lack of creativity among people who make homemade mayonnaise, because the title "Mayo Clinic" gets used a lot for articles and tv shows on how to prepare and use the stuff. Come on! Is that the best you can do? It's obvious.) I read the article, read the recipe, and followed along. Egg yolk: check. Vinegar: check. Dijon mustard: oh you bet check. (I love Dijon mustard.) Salt: duh. The only problem was lemon, but I figured I'd just add a bit more vinegar, since they're both acids. (I am fairly confident that my lack of lemon did nothing to cause the impending mess, but who knows?) I whisked all of those ingredients together until they were well emulsified, and then I started adding the oil just a few drops at a time. Oh yeah, in case you didn't know, mayo is essentially egg yolk and oil. Sorry if that ruined your day. Anyway, the recipe called for three-quarters of a cup of oil, so as you can imagine, it was taking quite a long time to use the oil, much longer than the eight minutes described in the recipe. I had been whisking for a good 15 minutes and still had half the oil left. I'll leave it to your imagination to guess how my right arm felt at that point.

The article said that you could start adding the oil a bit faster once a third of it had been incorporated, so I did that. I had little oil spills on the counter that were pissing me off, but otherwise, everything was working, and the mayo was light in color and looked pretty good, and I was thinking that maybe I'd actually pull this off. But then, just as I was finishing with the oil, I noticed that my mayo started to get a little shiny looking. I blinked, and then the whole thing curdled and broke. I desperately tried to save it by adding more mustard -- as mentioned, I like mustard, and I know from making salad dressing that mustard is a great emulsifier, so I thought maybe that would help pull it back together, but it did not. And I could literally see the mayo falling apart and the egg and oil separating. I'd whisk it a little, and it would look incorporated, and then it would just come apart. So, with a sore arm and a severly bruised ego, I dumped the whole thing. There would be no homemade mayo for me.

Or would there? I remembered seeing tv chefs make homemade mayo and aoli (which is basically mayo with garlic) in a food processor. I didn't want a full food processor bowl full of mayo, but I do have a Cuisinart miniprep, which is a one-cup food processor, so I pulled that out and put my mayo start-up ingredients in. I whirred them together, and I should have known that it wasn't going to work about five seconds in, because the blade wasn't low enough to really work up the egg yolk. Still, I put some oil in, and again I got slop, only this time, the slop had scrambled eggs in it! Apparently, the heat from the motor cooked the egg yolks. Great. Not wanting to waste any more ingredients, and knowing that I had a pretty full jar of Hellman's in the fridge, I scrapped the homemade mayo idea and made my chicken salad with mayo from a jar instead. And you know what? It was delicious. It had grapes and walnuts and dill and hand-shredded chicken breast in it, and I can't imagine that homemade mayo would have made it much better. So suck it, homemade mayo makers. You're wasting your time and arm strength!

The one upside to this story was that I didn't toss the egg whites. I just put them in a bowl and thought I'd figure out what to do with them later. And then I remembered that whenever my mom had extra egg whites, she would make meringue cookies, and I used to love meringue cookies. So I poked around online and found a recipe that was more or less like the recipe I remembered my mom using, and I made almond chocolate chip meringue cookies, and they're really really good -- crispy and chewy and nice and sweet. So at least the experience wasn't a total loss. But still, I will probably never try to make homemade mayo again. If I do, it will be because I was convinced to do so by a tv show or an article that is not titled "Mayo Clinic."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008
So you may remember that a few weeks ago, I was at a conference. And you may also remember that at this conference, there were lots of vendors who enticed conference-goers to stop by their booths by offering free candy and prize drawings. And you may still remember that I entered all of these prize drawings and ate free candy, but ultimately did not buy anything from these vendors, mostly because I am not authorized to make such purchases, but also because most of the vendors had products that were exclusively for PCs. Alas, I work in a Mac lab, so we could not do business. But still, that did not stop me from eating free candy and entering prize drawings.

I had grand delusions of winning an iPod, or maybe a pocket-sized digital camera, or something equally technorific and sexy that was being given away. I did not win any of those things. However, there was one booth that had an Italian restaurant theme, perhaps to stand out from all the other booths that had more or less the same computer-accessory salesperson theme. Anyway, this booth looked cool, and they were giving out those little chocolatey mints, which I love, and I might have had quite a few of those, but the prize in their prize drawing was not technology-based at all. And, it had nothing to do with education. (The theme of the conference, you may also remember, was education and technology.) No, their prize was a gift card to the Olive Garden in the amount of $50.

Now: I am not a huge fan of the Olive Garden. Call me snobby if you want, but I'm sorry -- when you're raised in a metropolitan area that has an enormous population of Italian-Americans, and a lot of those Italian-Americans operate family-owned restaurants that serve delicious, homemade Italian food, the Olive Garden is just blah. I don't hate it, but let's just say it has never been my first choice of places to eat, and if you value your time, do not even get me started on the atrocity that is the mammoth Olive Garden in the middle of Times Square and the shiny-faced tourists who go there, despite the fact that Little Italy and some of the best Italian food outside of goddamn Italy itself is just a short cab ride away and despite the fact that they know this little tidbit of information because it is included in all of the tourim books. Whew. Sorry. Anyway, Paul likes the Olive Garden. It's not like his favorite restaurant in the world or anything, but he does like it a lot. He agrees that the family-owned places in and around New York are excellent, but he still likes the Olive Garden. So I saw the prize drawing at the conference, and I thought that while I might not really love a gift card to the Olive Garden, Paul would like it quite a bit. And $50 goes pretty far when it's just the two of us for dinner at the Olive Garden; it means we can have entrees, drinks, and a dessert to share. So I figured what the heck, and I entered.

You've probably figured the rest of the story out by now: I won the damn gift card to the Olive Garden. Woohoo -- soup, salad, and breadsticks for everyone! No iPod, no digital camera: dinner at the Olive Garden. Paul, as you can imagine, is happy about this. I guess I'm happy that he's happy, and really, I was thinking that he would be happy if I won that, so in a weird way, it all sort of worked out. Still, I wanted the iPod. But we will have dinner at the Olive Garden at some point in the near future, and I won't hate it, and Paul will like it, and I'll know that it won't cost us anything.

There's another part to this story, and it's this: the company that hosted the Italian restaurant-themed booth at the conference is located in Detroit, about 150 miles from my house. When a representative from this company emailed me to let me know there would be an Olive Garden gift card coming my way, he also emailed me a Fed Ex tracking number. I figured I'd get the gift card the next day, or within two days at the latest, since Detroit is so close and since Fed Ex is all about speedy delivery. But oh my, was I wrong. It took a week! Why? Because my gift card got routed through Memphis, Tennessee, which is Fed Ex's home city. Memphis is about 600 miles from my house. With the price of gas these days, can Fed Ex really afford to give my gift card a round-trip plane ride to Memphis when its final destination is only 150 miles from its point of origin? It just seemed weird.

Saturday, March 15, 2008
Yes, a bad sprain. Yes, an ankle brace. No, nothing they can do. So yeah.

In better news, it's finally starting to warm up just a little outside. That, plus the fact that I'm starting to plan out my summer, means that this mind-numbing winteriness is finally on its way out.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Okay: after four weeks, a lot of swelling, and dozens of turns of an ace bandange, I've finally decided to get my ankle looked at. It's just not healing as quickly as I thought it would. It's still kind of fat, and it just doesn't feel as stable as the healthy one. And really, I thought I'd be back to normal in a few days. I sprained it over four weeks ago, and it's still sore, so obviously it's a bit more serious than I had initially thought. So tomorrow morning, I have an appointment with an orthopedist, who will hopefully just tell me I need a compression bandage and vaya con dios. I'd buy the compression bandage myself, but my health insurance won't cover it unless a doctor specifically tells me to buy one. Anyway, hopefully that's all it is. I'm pretty sure it's nothing more, but gak, stranger things have happened, I suppose. What a pain in the neck. Or ankle, really.

Sunday, March 9, 2008
Last week, I went to my first ever education conference. I thought it was maybe about time I attend one, and this one dealt with technology and education, so it was a good overall topic. Plus, my boss agreed to foot the bill, so I figured, what the heck? I learned that a lot of teachers want to be open-minded about using new technology in the classroom, but are still reluctant. I also learned that some teachers make awful students! They can't get over the fact that they're not up in front of the class, so they talk during an entire presentation, to anyone who will listen, about how they know so much about the specific topic at hand. So annoying, especially because they probably never let their own students get away with that crap. But still, I did learn some useful things, I got to check out the new Macbook Air (so super sweet), and I got lots of free candy from all the vendors in the exhibition hall. Apparently, vendors think that giving out free bite-sized Milky Way bars will entice teachers to buy their very expensive product. That and drawings for free products. My experience is that most teachers don't have that much buying power, but are willing to listen to anything in exchange for free candy and enter a drawing if they think they'll win a free iPod. And then some (like myself), just take the candy, enter the drawing, smile politely, and keep walking. I feel justified in that, because 1, they now have my email address, and 2, by the time I picked up a piece of candy, I could see that the product was, 9 out of 10 times, not Mac-compatible and therefore of no use to me. But again, some of the vendors did have cool stuff. The products made by the Lego Company for use in science clases are especially cool. It almost made me want to take a science class. Almost.

And then I had the house to myself most of the weekend, as Paul was away for my brother's bachelor party. With all that quiet time, you would think that I could get some work done. You would mostly be wrong. I did a few things, and managed to clean up around here a bit, but I still have a bunch of papers to grade and articles to read and general things to do to feel caught-up. I could really use spring break right about now. Not that it feels like spring or anything. Will it ever get warm?

Thursday, March 6, 2008
Tired and headachey. And really, if I could punch someone for making the weather so cripplingly awful, I would. Right now, in the face, all out.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008
More unrelated items, again in no order, again without segues, but this time with some freakin' line breaks at least.

My grandma's funeral was a year ago today. I will probably never forget the date because it was March Fourth, and I said something about how she always pressed on, or marched forth. People thought that was clever.

The other night Paul and I were about to leave a pub when Paul had to use the restroom. Some guy sat down at the table before Paul got back. I thought this guy just wanted the table, but he was actually drunk and wanted to talk. Then when Paul came back, this guy told Paul that he wanted to kick his ass. Who says that? (P.S. This guy was about half Paul's size and completely drunk, whereas Paul was not. We laughed and walked out. But really, who says that?)

My ankle is still sort of swollen, but wrapping it every night seems to be helping.

I love Kashi GoLean hot cereal. Lainey got me into it when I was in New York last week, and now I eat it every day. Sometimes I eat it twice a day! I like to call it hot Kashi. Sometimes I say "hot Kashi" like the little jingle for Hot Pockets.

I'm freezing. I really wish spring would just hurry the hell up and get here already.

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