Thursday, December 31, 2015

How Do You Cook?

Well folks, I don't know about you, but I feel like I've done nothing but cook, eat, snooze, and watch movies for the past few weeks...

OK... with a little bit of yoga thrown in there so my poor little body doesn't turn to complete jelly until I can get back on the bike again.

Seriously though, the combination of the bitter cold (the mercury hasn't climbed above freezing in over a week) and with it being the holidays... well, it all pretty much has me in hibernation mode.

Anyhow, as I was cruising the blogosphere earlier today, I came across an interesting post by Kristen over at The Frugal Girl. The post was basically about these new "ingredients in a box" services like Blue Apron.

As usual, the part I found really fascinating was all of the comments.

What really struck me was the number of people who said something to the effect that one of the selling points of these services is that they provide everything you need for the recipe and no more, so you don't end up with extra ingredients that will go to waste. For me, this was sort of a baffling idea, because if I ended up with extra amounts of something that I'd purchased for a special recipe, I'd just use up whatever it is by making something else.

Anyhow, in reading the comments, and in thinking about all the cooking I've done over the past few weeks, I'm coming to the conclusion that there are very different schools of thought when it comes to preparing food.

Maybe this is crazy or maybe it falls under the category of Captain Obvious, I'm not sure, but I'm starting to think that some folks are "recipe followers" and others (like me) are improvisational cooks.

Once I thought about it that way, a lot of things I've run into on the blogosphere started to make sense.

I've always been baffled by people who are deeply into meal planning, and who claim that the key to success in the kitchen is to decide what you're gonna cook for the week, make a list of all the ingredients you'll need, stick strictly to your grocery list, buy no more than you will use in a week, and aim for an empty refrigerator by week's end. Honestly, I can't imagine trying to cook (or shop) that way - I think it would thoroughly exhaust me.

My technique is to keep a well stocked pantry (I don't have an actual pantry, but you know what I mean) as well as a freezer full of staples and a refrigerator filled with an assortment of fruits, veggies and dairy products. When I shop I look for things that are in season or on sale, as well as stocking up on the basics.

When I cook, I often don't exactly know what I'm making until it's done, I just choose a nice assortment of ingredients, a general flavor idea (Mexican, or Chinese, or traditional American, etc.) a cooking method that suits the weather (reserving things that require long hours in the oven or on the stove top for days like today) and then I have at it.

I seldom make the same thing twice, and if I do, it almost never turns out the same because I vary the ingredients based on what's on hand and what I feel like eating. The one exception to this rule is when I'm cooking for CatMan because... well... let's just say that the man values predictability over all else where food is concerned. I actually really struggle to cook for him because I find it to be hideously boring, but we've managed to settle on a system that works for our weekly movie & dinner nights.

It's not that I NEVER use a recipe when cooking for myself. I mean, I think recipes can be a great source of inspiration especially if you've got an odd collection of ingredients that you're trying to figure out how to combine, or if you're trying to recreate some dish that you've run into elsewhere, or if you're just bored and want to try some new flavor combination. But even when I use a recipe, I tend to view it as a rough guideline, not a set of instructions that must be followed precisely.

Perhaps this sounds crazy, or like I'm putting down the idea of following a recipe or something, but I sort of think that these ingredients in a box services are to cooking like a paint by numbers kit is to art.

I mean I think that following a recipe to the letter like that may help you to ensure a decent result, but it also seems like it just takes the joy out of the entire process and fills it with a bunch of rules.

Because to me, the whole fun of creating - whether it's art or food - is the process. You start with a blank canvas, you mix, you chop, you stir... and then you get the enjoyment of seeing what you come up with. Am I just totally crazy?

Anyhow, thinking about all of this got me curious about how other people cook? Do you follow recipes? Do you shop with a specific ingredients list? Are you an improvisational cook? Do you cook differently for your family than for yourself? Inquiring minds want to know!!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Christmas Wish for a Simple Holiday

Well folks, I couldn't convince CatMan to watch White Christmas with me. It's probably for the best since he's not a big fan of musicals and would have spent the entire time rolling his eyes and biting his tongue, which would have made it significantly less fun for me.

So I Jasper, Smoky and I had our annual viewing last night, and, of course, I had to cry my way through the banquet scene. "We'll follow the old man wherever he wants to go..."

Seriously, it's the look on the general's face that gets me every time.

Anyhow, I thought I'd share with you my very favorite scene from that movie.

This version is "enhanced" with some silly animations, but it's better than the one that makes you sit through a loud ad before playing it.

Anyhow, perhaps this is corny, but I really love this song, and the sentiment behind it. In this crazy world of ours where self-righteous indignation seems to have become our national pastime, and people seem soooo focused on who's getting what, and it's not fair, and ain't it awful, yadda, yadda, yadda... well, I just think it's important to remember how blessed our lives truly are.

So Merry Christmas everybody. May your holidays be filled with gratitude and blessings. And just so you know, I count my blogging buddies among my many, many blessings.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Colorado Quiz Answers

Alrighty folks, I've had a lot of fun with this little Colorado quiz. If you missed it, you might want to go take the quiz first so the answers don't ruin it for you.

June over at Live and Learn-Toss and Turn wins the prize with about 8 and a half correct answers. Not sure what that prize might be other than bragging rights, but anyhow... I know you're all dying to know the answers .. so here you go!

1) Most of you got this, Colorado is state number 40 on this map.

And yes, the Rocky Mountains run through our state, but June was the only one to get the more specific answer which is the Continental Divide.

Besides being interesting for the sake of trivia, it means that all the rain and snow that falls on the western side of the divide eventually ends up in the Pacific ocean, while everything that falls on the eastern side eventually ends up in the Atlantic, and this has crazy weird ramifications for our crazy weird water laws!

2) OK... once again, June nailed this one, and Northmoon was in the right neighborhood. The double diamond is the symbol used to denote the most difficult ski slopes.

So when you get off of the lift at the top of the mountain, you're likely to see a sign that looks something like this:

And if you're me, you head for the greens and blues and steer completely clear of these!

I did get a chuckle out of the "Argyle Alert" guesses though. I suppose argyle and skiing sorta go together...

Not exactly argyle, but close!

3) OK... another one that June was the only one to get. A 14er is a mountain peak that's over 14,000 feet in elevation. Here in Colorado there are about 54 of them (depending on which ones you think "count" - some mountains have double summits and people disagree whether both count as separate peaks or not.)

My high school boyfriend was pretty obsessed with "bagging 14ers" (a phrase that could have a completely different meaning if you went with Kris's guess that a 14er is a perpetual teenager!) Anyhow, I'd imagine he's climbed most of them by now. Me, I've only climbed one, Pike's Peak... back in the dark ages. Actually "climbed" is a bit of a misnomer since there is a nicely groomed trail that goes all the way to the top, but it was still a long hard slog.

At the top of Pike's Peak - I'm the redhead in the middle
Honestly, it's a bit anti-climactic because you can drive to the top where there's a cheezy gift shop and cafe. Apparently it didn't occur to us to stand next to the sign to show that we made it... but still...

4) Poor Governor John Hickenlooper, everybody teases him for his crazy name and corny smile. I have to admit though, he does look a bit like Howdy Doody!

He actually has quite the interesting Colorado story. Hickenlooper was originally a petroleum geologist who came to Colorado to work in the oil industry. But he (along with many others) lost his job when the bottom fell out of the oil market in the 1980's. So the man turned to beer! Seriously, he converted an old abandoned warehouse in lower downtown into a micro brewery. (Lower downtown is now a hip and happening section of town, but at the time was a completely abandoned area full of homeless and blight).

I believe Hickenlooper is the one on the left
Anyhow, his restaurant/brewery was called the Wynkoop Brewing Company, and it was one of the first craft breweries in what is now a booming business in our state.

Hickenlooper in the early 1990's
Hickenlooper is also a Quaker and an all around good guy. He was a big supporter of the music school where I used to work (both before and after he went into politics) and I even had lunch with him a few times!

5) OK, the Mile High City... I guess that was an easy one. CatMan said it was sorta like asking: What color was George Washington's white horse?

Anyhow, you all got it right, Denver sits exactly one mile above sea level at 5280 feet. There's a step on the state capitol building marking the exact spot.

Actually, since surveying techniques have gotten more accurate over the years, they keep changing which exact step it is... so now in addition to the engraving there are two brass markers on different steps... details!

6) OK, apparently I baffled you all with the Tabor thing.

So the first Tabor is the story of one of Colorado's mining legends, Horace Tabor, who made a fortune with a silver mine called The Matchless Mine up in Leadville, which is, coincidentally, the town where my father's side of the family comes from. Horace got filthy rich and then dumped his wife Augusta to marry the young and vivacious Elizabeth McCourt, better known as Baby Doe.

Tabor was one of the richest men the state had ever seen, and he lavished his riches upon his new bride, Baby Doe. His friends begged him to invest and diversify some of his wealth, but Tabor was sure that the Matchless Mine would continue to provide an endless stream of money, so he just kept spending and living in opulence.

The Tabor Grand Opera House in Denver, which was torn down in 1964 in the name of "progress" - sigh.
But apparently karma has a way of catching up with you, because in 1893 the government basically took the currency off of the silver standard (more complicated than that - look up Sherman Silver Purchase Act if you're curious). Anyhow, the bottom fell out of the silver market and Tabor went broke & died shortly after.

Baby Doe ended up penniless and living in a shack out by the old Matchless Mine while Augusta ended up comfortable with the divorce settlement that she had received. Incidentally, my grandmother grew up in Leadville during this era, and she and her friends would often see poor old Baby Doe shuffling around the outskirts of town. This photo shows her in front of the shack that she called home.

The other TABOR is an acronym for the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, which is an asinine constitutional amendment passed by Colorado voters in 1992 (not that I'm opinionated or anything.) TABOR severely limits the state's ability to collect taxes. It basically provides a formula that ties taxation to population and inflation... but it fails to take into account what happens during a time of recession and deflation when tax revenues shrink.

Anyhow, the result is that Colorado is constantly starved for tax revenue, our roads are falling apart, and our schools and children's health programs rank pretty near the bottom of the nation in terms of per-capita funding. And unsurprisingly, the measure failed to produce the wonderful economic benefits that the supporters claimed it would. But hey... we all get about a $35 tax refund each year... whoopie.
Seems to me that perhaps there is some sort of an object lesson in there somewhere... something about investing for the future... Or maybe that's just me.

7) OK... Lois and June came very close to guessing who number 7 is... but everybody seems to be mixing up our iconic quarterbacks! Peyton Manning is number 18, and while we do love him, John Elway is "Number 7" and he will always hold the top spot for quarterbacks in this town!

Elway basically turned the Denver Broncos from a group of hard luck loosers into Superbowl champions, and we all love him. He's also been very involved in the Denver community and even helped coach my friend's son's Pop Warner football team (that's like Little League for football).

One of my favorite Elway stories is the time that he hurt his shoulder and was out for a few games. I heard him interviewed about it, and it went something like this: "So I opened the paper this morning and was greeted with a full page diagram of my shoulder, and all I could think was, geez... I hope I never hurt my groin!"

8) OK 1859... several of you got this one right. That was the beginning of the Colorado Gold Rush, which basically put Colorado on the map.

9) OK... I thought that photo was a dead give away, but only Debbie got it, however Northmoon was close... This is Red Rocks Park, the home of the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheater - which is all actually owned by the city & county of Denver.

Perhaps this is less of a big deal if you're not a music fan, and maybe nobody outside of Colorado has heard of it. But just west of Denver are these amazing sandstone formations which create a natural amphitheater and it's famous for outdoor concerts in the summertime.
My high school graduation was actually held at Red Rocks. Hard to tell from this photo, but here I am delivering my valedictorian speech on that iconic stage...

10) Rocky Mountain Oysters... several of you got this one right, they are steer testicles, and NO, I have not, and will not partake! Eeeewwww!

11) OK... I didn't really expect anybody to get this one, but this fellow is named Jake Jabs, and he's a local entrepreneur who opened a chain of furniture stores here in the 1970's. He's one of those local businessmen whose face is ubiquitous because of his commercials, which often feature exotic animals. He was even spoofed once on the TV show, South Park.

I didn't really expect anyone from out of state to get it, but thought it would be a good chuckle for any locals who happened upon my quiz. Here's a little outtake from one of his commercials to give you the idea.

12) The 420 mile marker sign. Yup, y'all guessed that one right. Ever since Colorado legalized marijuana, people were stealing the signs quicker than they could replace them! But creativity prevailed and we now have 419.99 mile marker signs instead!

Incidentally, the number 420 has nothing to do with the name of the Colorado proposition that legalized pot or anything like that - I don't exactly know how the number came to be associated with marijuana, but the association is a universal one, not unique to Colorado.

13) Pretty much everybody got this one, it's a cattle guard.

The eastern part of Colorado is cattle ranching country, so these things are everywhere - and judging by the fact that everybody got it, they're apparently everywhere else too! 

Anyhow, here's a little taste of a rural Colorado traffic jam!

14) Apparently June is the only coin collecting geek among my readers. If you look closely at the half dollar you'll see a tiny little "D" right above the date. 

This means that the coin was made at the US Mint here in Denver, which is one of only a handful of mints in the country.

This too, is a leftover from our mining past, when gold and silver had to be quickly converted into coin.

So there you have it! Thanks so much to everybody who took my little quiz. It was really fun, and somewhat eye opening, to learn which things were obvious to folks who don't live here, and which were a total mystery.

I'd love to hear about some things are obvious to people where you live, but unheard of elsewhere!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Colorado Quiz - A Little Fun for the Holidays

OK folks... I feel like things have been way too heavy here in CatLady land lately, so I decided that perhaps it was time to lighten it up a bit.

I'm not sure why this idea came to me... something about shoveling snow reminded me of a post that Dar over at An Exacting Life did about Canada a while back - so I decided that perhaps it would be fun to do a Colorado trivia version.

These questions range from the historical to the bizarre, I was mostly aiming for fun stuff that's familiar to anyone living in Colorado, but might be unknown to other folks. So let's find out how much you guys know about my beautiful state!

I'll give you the answers in the next post... though I'm sure most will be revealed in the comments section.

So without further ado...

1) Which state on this map is Colorado? And what important geological feature runs right down the middle of our state?

2) What does this symbol mean?

3) What is a 14er, and how many of them are there in Colorado?

4) Before he entered politics, what was the career of Colorado Governor, John Hickenlooper?

5) Why is Denver called the "Mile High City"?

6) The word "TABOR" has two important meanings in Colorado. What are they?

7) Who is "Number 7" and why do we care?

8) What happened in Colorado in 1859?

9) What iconic park was this photo taken in, and why is it important to Colorado music fans?

10) What are Rocky Mountain Oysters, and would you eat them?

11) Who is this man? And why is his face familiar to long-time Colorado residents?

12) Why on earth did the Colorado Department of Transportation replace the mile 420 road sign? (If you've read my blog for a while, you'll know the answer to this one - and yes, it's for real!)

13) What is this, and why would you see one in Colorado?

14) What does this coin have to do with Colorado?

OK... that's about all I can think of for the moment. I'm not sure if these will be really easy or really hard - can't wait to hear your answers... No cheating now!