Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Best Cheap Cat Toys: #1: Egg Cartons

At three months

Cardboard Egg Cartons. Absolutely have to be cardboard, 
or chewing them is really unpleasant. Or so I've heard.

Simply throw them in the recycling bin after too much fun.
The entertainment lasts for years.

At three years

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Kitchen Basics #1: Brown Sugar, Baby

It started out with an "Oops, I forgot," as well as an on-going effort to bring home fewer plastic bags. Once upon a time, it wouldn't have mattered, because brown sugar came in a paper box. Now it's a plastic bag.

In this house we use cane sugar. According to the SF Chronicle, cane sugar and sugar from sugar beets do not perform the same way, especially in baking.

White sugar still comes wrapped in paper, only - surprise! - in a Four pound package, not the once-upon-a-time standard of five. Apparently, the price of sugar has increased significantly since 2008, so we now get less while paying more.

(We also eat a ton more sugar these days. Well, maybe not a ton, but estimates are that Americans now consume anywhere from 70-140 lbs. of sugar each year, as compared to 5-10 lbs. or so, 150 years ago. I'm sure, though, that back then they pigged out on honey, molasses and rum instead.)

Before Mixing
But we were out of brown sugar, a necessary ingredient for the homemade granola that is served here almost every morning (hell is a place where granola is served every morning, no exceptions...). So, since it was my "oops," I had to make some:

       Brown Sugar

* One cup white sugar

* Two Tablespoons Molasses (for dark brown sugar)

Place both ingredients in a bowl and mix with a fork. It should take about 4 minutes - faster than a trip to the grocery store. Yeah, I know, it looks pretty unpromising to start, but trust me on this one, it really does work.

And because I am a fiend for vanilla, I store my sugar in a container with one vanilla bean tucked inside, a nice touch I learned from Patricia Wells' Bistro Cooking.

Ready to Use

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Volunteers of Oakland #2

Spring 2012

I didn't plant it. My best guy didn't plant it. But it was there last year, shoving its way through impossibly thicky-icky clay, from who-knows-where. I wasn't really sure what it was aiming to be, but I waited long enough (not usually a strength of mine) and got the reward.

Dutch iris (iris hollandica), most likely either the Casa Blanca or the White Excelsior variety.  Obviously, easy to grow, though, as far as I know, someone has to plant the rhizomes in the fall. And the squirrels that I am acquainted with are not that thoughtful.

Just for good measure, a second reward this spring, too.

Spring 2013

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Learning a Language: A Lesson in Geography

I wasn't the only one who was intrigued with my niece Tamzin's antics with writing lyrics in her invented language, Ingaaric. My friend Mary wrote:

"Checked out your recent blog about Tamzin - brought to mind the country that my daughter and a couple of her friends "invented", starting in middle school, named Tamyeva- with a geography, history, language, culture, and cuisine (I remember that there was no wheat in Tamyeva, and the kids spent lots of time trying to grind rice into flour!)."

Now I've spent plenty of time in fantasy land, staring out the window and gathering wool. Apparently I even had some imagination when I was a kid. But I was more concerned with what streetlights were going to be when they grew up than I was with creating new countries and languages.

So with the rice grinders in mind, I wasted more time looking up what other, better informed people had to say about invented languages. Which led me to Arika Okrent's book, In the Land of Invented Languages. She's been trained as a linguist, so she's thought about these kinds of concerns more than most people.

I had fun with this book. So did my best guy. It pushed me to think about "real" languages - specifically, which languages are considered worthy of being taught today.

Ahhh yes, so I goofed off a bit longer to look at what both Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone had on offer.  The usual suspects, as it turns out, except that Pimsleur also offers a language - Twi - which I had never heard of. Turns out it is a language spoken in southern Ghana. Where most of the country's petroleum can be found. That little clue helped explain why Pimsleur, in addition to the expected oil-producers' languages, also lists two separate versions of Armenian: Caspian Sea oil.

But Objiwe? Why that one North American language when there are so many? It took me a while to do the geography... How do you say "Alberta Tar Sands" in Objibwe? I have no idea, but somewhere out there, at least a few non-native speakers are learning.

So imagine if the Iroquois had stayed on top in New York - just think how many languages the hydraulic fracturing people would have to learn. Provided that the Iroquois would even be sufficiently shortsighted to allow fracking...

Rosetta Stone, instead, offers lessons in Latin, describing it thus:  Develop the Latin language skills to enjoy social interaction and learn to share your ideas and opinions. 

Now I just want to know, I really want to know, where I could possibly "enjoy social interaction" in Latin, short of time-travel. Travel to Rome, perhaps, to hobnob with the new Pope? Time-travel seems more plausible, and certainly a lot more entertaining. In the meanwhile, I'll just stick with Italian, Spanish, or maybe even Ingaaric.