separated at birth

I had occasion to catch an odd little interview on HBO a while back entitled Katie Morgan: A Porn Star Revealed. It follows a pretty standard documentary interview format: Ms. Morgan was asked questions from off camera and her answers (intercut with some of her film work) form the program. Of course, there is a twist. She’s naked, with her legs uncrossed, throughout the interview. I’ll bet the producer who thought that twist up felt he was being clever. Yeah, like showing full frontal nudity on television is ever clever.

Ms. Morgan herself comes off as rather well spoken, but slightly ditzy. Yes, she says she likes to complete online IQ tests in her spare time (and averages about a 165 IQ on them), but a discussion of her life shows some lack of common sense. A case in point: she got into porn because she was getting out of prison for smuggling marajuana across the Mexican border into the US and needed a career that didn’t require a fixed address. Yeah, ok… pretty much everyone finds themselves in that sort of situation and makes that choice… NOT!

More to the point of the title of this entry, however, is that I kept looking at her face and thought she reminded me of someone. In fact, I thought she looked like two people: Mariah Carey and Jennifer Love Hewitt. Are these three really sisters separated at birth?

You decide…

curse you, Martha Stewart!

Today’s search engine catchphrase:

Tyra Banks erectile implants

(Though truth be told, I think the biggest spike in diary readership I’ve had lately occurred when harri3tspy linked to my entry about Maureen Dowd.)

Mrs. Geek and I had a little culinary adventure on Monday night. Mrs. Geek was attending a pot luck sorority alumni gathering on Tuesday night, and needed a dessert item to bring. She did her homework, looked in the Martha Stewart Holiday Cookies special issue, and found some festive “Peppermint Meringues with Chocolate Filling” on page 60. The whole recipe had five ingredients. Its just some meringue, peppermint extract, some red gel food coloring, a pastry bag with two different tips (a #5 and a #22), and chocolate ganache. Easy as pie, right?

Bollocks, as the British would say. The process is supposed to work like this: you make the peppermint meringue, paint a couple stripes of red gel on the inside of the pastry bag (to create candy cane type stripes), extrude the meringue into fanciful shapes with the #22 tip on a baking sheet, cook at 175 degrees for 100-120 minutes, whip up the ganache, let it harden to the point that it can hold a shape, and then stick two of the meringue shapes together with a small amount of ganache piped out with the #5 tip. I say “supposed” because the Martha Stewart Omnimedia staff left out a few key pointers.

We started off ok. Making the meringue was no problem. I made sure to separate each of the three large egg whites over a custard dish before adding to a larger bowl to prevent yolk contamination. I also wiped down the operating parts of the mixer with white vinegar to prevent fat contimination that way. I warmed the whites over hot water to help dissolve the sugar and then mixed, as per the recipe to create a nice meringue with what I thought were medium stiff peaks. Mrs. Geek added the gel dye to the pastry bag, and we quickly banged out about 40 of the necessary shapes. I put them in the oven to bake and then we waited about an hour before concerning ourselves with the ganache.

Things quickly started going wrong at this point. I got the semi-sweet chocolate chopped, warmed up the heavy cream, and poured the latter over the former to make the ganache. The recipe says “Let stand for 5 minutes. Gently stir until smooth, about 5 minutes. Let ganache cool at room temperature, stirring every 5 to 10 minutes, until thick enough to hold its shape, about 45 minutes.” I did this… but at the end of 45 minutes, it still had the consistency of chocolate syrup. That chocolate syrup was also still slightly bitter — the semi-sweet chocolate I got lived up to billing. I tried adding a little confectioners sugar to brighten it up slightly; I didn’t think the recipe wanted a sweet ganache, but I also figured that it wasn’t calling for a bitter one either. Otherwise, we decided to play a waiting game to see if the ganache would harden further.

The meringue shapes came out of the oven after about 1:45 minutes. They had firmed up considerably, but still had some stickiness to the touch. I figured that this would go away as they cooled, and set them down on a cooling rack for 15-20 minutes. Boy, was I wrong about that! The gel dye on the outsides of the shapes never did completely solidify, making it these treats red and sticky right up until the end.

It is at this point that I should make note of the time. Mrs. Geek and I were too tired on Sunday to attempt this experiment. The sorority alumni meeting was Tuesday night. I ended up working late on Monday night… and didn’t get home until 8pm. The meringue went into the oven at about 9:05pm and came out at about 10:50pm. I also had an 8am meeting to attend the next morning.

So by about 11:15, we should just be able to assemble the cookies and catch some much needed sleep at 11:30, right? Wrong. The ganache still didn’t harden. Perhaps it was the warmth in the kitchen because of the oven, but ganache was still the consistency of chocolate syrup after over an hour of cooling “at room temperature”. Finally at about 11:30, I looked ganache up on the web, saw that it can cooled in an ice bath, and just put the bowl in the refridgerator. By 12:15, the ganache had finally arrived at consistency that approached pudding and could be piped to the sticky meringue shapes. We then put the finished cookies in the freezer (to hopefully firm up) and then collapsed on the bed.

So is something wrong with this recipe? I’m not sure. I’ve always heard that Martha Stewart’s recipes are a little shaky in the reproducibility department. Certainly, this seemingly simple recipe is not for novices.

I think if we ever try this one again, we’re going to make sure of a few things. First, the peaks on that meringue would be so stiff that the peaks could cut glass. Next, I think we needed to go a little lighter on the gel dye. We would also allow for plenty of time for the kitchen to be cool while making the ganache. Opening windows would not be out of the question. Finally, an ice bath would be at the ready to firm up and recalcitrant ganache. And oh yes, doing all of the above well before midnight would be nice too.

But until then, I choose to mimic the words of Charles Shultz’s World War I flying ace and say: “Curse you, Martha Stewart!”

Dr. Strangeloaf

This weekend’s latest culinary experiment involves meatloaf. This is probably probably the first meatloaf I’ve ever made. Mom used to make meatloaf when I was growing up… but I never liked it much. I’m not sure why. Perhaps something about the consistency. Or maybe it was the way she seasoned it; I don’t like the flavor of cooked ground beef all by itself. I like some browning, some spice, some hot sauce, some lettuce, onions, and ketchup… something. So, I stayed away from it for many years.

Circumstances conspired to pique my curiousity about meatloaf recently. I saw episodes of a couple of my favorite cooking shows dealing with the loaf of meat recently. Mrs. Geek and I actually had meatloaf at a fundraiser dinner last weekend.

Here’s my recipe for meatloaf:

1.5 lbs ground chuck
0.5 lbs country style pork sausage
0.5 lbs ground veal
2 large eggs
1/2 package Turtle Island Zuppa Italiano Herb and Cheese Soup mix
2 tbs italian seasoning
3 tbs worcestershire sauce
2 tbs smoked chipotle hot sauce
1 cup bread crumbs

Mix well. Form using a loaf pan. Cook on a baking pan outside of the loaf pan. Cover with a mixture of Chili Sauce, BBQ sauce, and molasses. I also added some sesame seeds. Cook in a 325 degree oven until the interior is 155 degrees. Baste occasionally with beef stock.

It was pretty tasty… but I think that’s true of a lot of meatloaf fresh out of the oven. The real test will come when I try to reheat it in a couple days. Then we’ll see how this Dr. Strangeloaf really stands up.

abortive thoughts

Abortion has been a topic of much discussion in the Geek household of late. Our lovely state had an abortion-related initiative on the ballot yesterday and the campaign turned rather ugly. Well, maybe not “he sleeps with dead boys and horses” ugly, but “lots of taped messages describing how mothers were dragged away from abortion clinics by police” ugly. Between that and the fact that I just gave the National Organization for Women twenty dollars to help prevent the confirmation of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, there has just been a lot of “pro-choice” vs. “right-to-life” action around here lately.

My own thoughts about abortion are murky. I don’t know if live begins at conception. I certainly know that the potential for life begins at conception. I know that an abortion is a tragic act. I know that many women resent the intrustion of the law into the function of their bodies, in ways that no man’s body is ever regulated. I also know, thanks to the recently completed election period for my Company O. health insurance, that a voluntary abortion would only cost me a $150 co-payment.

What I do know is that both the law and society are not ready (and may never be) to be in the middle of this issue. There have been unwanted pregnancies about as long as there have been human beings. There have been people trying to end those pregnancies almost as long. Law, custom, and spiritual teaching have all tried to stop it from happening and failed. Women as well as their children have died as a result. So what do we chose? To try to save the life of a child knowing that we may kill and mother and child as a result? It is a tragic situation, no matter how you look at it… and I resent the notion that the life of a mother contemplating abortion no longer counts because “she’s a bad person.”

I’ve known two women over the years who chose to abort a pregnancy. Both were very mature, intelligent women who were in confused places emotionally… and got involved with the absolutely wrong men. Should they have opted to do something else? Perhaps. I don’t know that I would have counseled them to have one. The choice absolutely remain with women like them and people they trust, however… because lawyers, judges, and government officials will not have to pay the personal price the way those women do.

a few odds and ends

I’m surprised to learn that I like peas, at least fresh peas. I never used to like peas. Mom used to boil the heck out of Birdseye frozen peas when I was growing up and I never particularly took a liking to them. I saw fresh peas in the pod at the supermarket a while back and I figured “why not?” So, I brought them home, shucked them, and let them kiss some salted boiling water for a while. They came out with a nice al dente texture, and consistency appears to be key for me when it comes to peas. So no more frozen peas for me except when I make Chinese fried rice!

I also only saw one interesting Halloween costume on Monday. I stopped in a cheap gas station near Company O. to fill the tank. As I was washing down the windshield with a squeegee, a large maroon truck pulled in front of the pump on the other side of the island. I saw that the woman driving the truck was wearing some kind of costume, but I couldn’t tell what it was, other than seeing a lot of red and white. Was she supposed to be the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland or something? When I finally got a better look, I saw that she looked a lot like the 80’s edition of Strawberry Shortcake… if Strawberry Shortcake was a call girl!

Little red and white lace hat. check
Bright red french maid mini-dress. check
White thigh high stockings with lipstickkiss mark pattern.check
Garters with large red strawberries (or hearts) on the front.check

It was quite a sight, let me tell you.

too many disks

I need to clean house. I have too many old hard drives sitting around the house. No one needs more than 8 of them sitting around loose. Ever. I think I’m moving up on an even dozen.

I’ve been collecting them for years. Buy a few of them at a store that deals in second hand computer parts here… pick a few of them being thrown out at Company O. there. You’d be amazed what you can get for less than $50 in hard drives when you don’t necessarily need the latest generation of stuff.

I just got two more about 10 days ago. They are 36GB in size and cost $30 each. Windows XP needed some more space. I also needed a dedicated 10GB of disk space so I can rip lots of CDs (that I own, thank you very much) and mirror the music on my iPod. One became my new main hard drive, and the other is used to back up the main drive. The extra elbow room has been great… I like being able to have most of the Led Zepplin catalog on my computer and iPod at the same time.

Of course, that kicked two more 4GB drives out of my system (one as a data drive, and the other as backup) and into the pool that are sitting around. I also just found four more 36GB drives identical to the ones I bought in a dumpster at work… discarded during a recent move of some staff between buildings at work.

I have to find a place that recycles this stuff, I guess. I don’t want them to be put in a landfill in Africa or Southeast Asia. I also don’t want them to fall into the hands of people involved in identity theft. I don’t think there is anything too critical on them… but you never know.

I just don’t want to be buried one day soon under an avalanche of used hard drives.