Sunday, April 13, 2014

Photos of Your Daily Life, or "Why I am an Instagram Addict"

You may have noticed that this blog is full of my personal photography. Most of it is not an attempt at "capital-A" art, but my attempt to capture a fleeting moment of my daily life that I think is neat, nifty or otherwise interesting.

My memory is like a steel sieve. I don't have clear memories of a lot of important things in my life, so there is almost nothing of the daily stuff that I can call up without having another trigger to bring it back. Smells provide the most impact, but it's not as easy to make a smell happen when I am feeling melancholy or need a quick emotional pick-me-up during a long day as a corporate cog.

(Side note: This is an interesting article from the BBC about the evolutionary link between scent and memory.)

I have photos from me as a kid, but they are mostly all holidays or costumes or other 'special' events, like this one, which is from Halloween in maybe 1983? I was a kid when "digital" didn't apply to photography and "social media" didn't exist as a concept yet. It meant film and bulky cameras and developing; even as film and processing got cheap and one-hour photo convenient once you had the photo you had to frame it, put it in an album or store it in a photo-safe container. You carried the occasional family photo in your wallet, but not photos of your favorite city sky line.

A little llama, circa 1983-ish. I was a pretty, pretty princess for Halloween

Now, I carry a Samsung Galaxy S3 which has an 8 megapixel camera and enough storage for hundreds of photos. I can share them easily, I can display them easily, I can share the little bits of my reality with the click of a button.

Flipping through the photos directories on my handheld and desktop devices is a little walk through that time in my life. I take photos of all kinds of things that I just find fascinating or interesting that might be categorized most often as "plain" or "mundane".

If Wikipedia is to be believed, I'm not alone. 87 million people use Flickr. 100 million people use Instagram. Scroll through the photos on either of those sites at random and while some of it is certainly professional photography, a significant amount of it is kids, food, clothes, scenery, animals, selfies. Mundane stuff.

People bitch endlessly about the 95 photos of their old high school friend's baby on Facebook or slam people for taking photos of their food. My suggestion, if you don't want to see it, figure out how to use filters and blocks on your social media sites. Sharing experience is a useful and worthwhile endeavor, even if it is eye-roll worthy after the 11th post in a day of the same adorable-but-not-yours baby.

We are creating a new kind of collective memory that is created by our individual narration of our daily lives. When my kid looks back on his childhood he will have a wealth of information to help him create a narrative of times in his life that he likely can no longer actively access without that record. When his generation looks back not only will they have images and personal of the most important, most tragic and most impactive moments of my generation, but they will have mundane examples of everything from food to art to fashion. Images and input at their finger tips for a time they can't remember.

I follow several people on Instagram whose post commentary I can't read because I don't speak their native tongue, but I am fascinated by the images they post of their daily lives. It's a small window into a real culture, actively being narrated to me as it happens. ( Check out @ghaidaalrotoue and @anastasia_volkova )

My favorite community on G+ right now is the Street Photographers. It's international and highly active and all photos of just people and things on the street in whatever place the artist happens to be in. I'm totally addicted.

There is the school of thought that we are spending too much time looking through the 'lens' of our phones instead of being present and in the moment and experiencing what is going on around us. It's not an argument that I entirely disagree with, but it has a flaw - a photo take a moment and leaves you with a way to remember the moment later. I strive to be present in the moment, but I also don't plan on not stopping to take a photo because that act of stopping occasionally centers me into that experience.

If you share bits of your self via social media, tell me, I want to look at all your pictures!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Photolog { Throw-Back Thursday } Nothing Like an Taco - Burning Man 2009

10 days in the desert. No showers. No bath. Covered in a layer of playa. Dehydrated. Sleep Deprived. All pretty well by choice. At the end of Exodus from Black Rock City and just a little ways down the highway are food trucks run by local residents of the Indian Reservation that serve what is mostly a taco served on this fresh, hot, chewy flat bread. Mana from Heaven. Ambrosia. 

I wake up in the middle of the night with a craving sometimes. 

My partner in life and in crime about to inhale the best taco on the planet. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Photolog - Snake in the Garden

I had a ball python for a long time. I used to let him have supervised outside time on my back porch.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Photolog { Throw-Back Thursday } Unsafe Construction is the Best Construction

The happiest part of any burn for me has always been building. This is me, hanging off of unsafe scaffolding with a sawzall cutting wood along another piece of wood. Alchemy build weekend, October 2008

It's Better Than Cereal Again : A Quick Meal for a Busy Tuesday - Roast Chicken, Gnocchi, Broccoli and Alfredo Sauce

My role as a corporate cog reaches a fever pace at the end of each month. I end up working 11 hour days that are full to the brim so my brain meats are mush and the only thing I want to do at the end of them is drink wine, put my feet up and watch @midnight.

9 times out of 10 we play The Dinner Game. The game play is simple and repetitive:

Player One: "Dinner?"
Player Two: "Yeah."
Player One: "Whatca want?"
Player Two: "Meh. I dunno."
Player One: "We have to eat something."
Player Two: "Take out?"
Player One: "Meh."

You only have the chance to 'win' this game if at least one of the players is motivated to go above and beyond a stomach-growling stale mate of cereal, or a ham sandwich. So.Many.Sandwiches.

I try to keep our house stocked with cereal and lunch meat, but also some easy to throw together items, staples that are shelf stable or happy in the freezer but that aren't box meals full of preservatives, sugar and salt.

I'm never happy with a decision to eat crap food after a long and stressful day. My body wants something easy, but tasty, that leaves me pleased with my food choice.

Last night I walked out of my office near 8pm and headed home. We won the "Dinner" game because I decided to pick up a rotisserie chicken from the local green-themed big box grocer, a bottle of the store-brand Alfredo sauce and some greens for salad.

I already had frozen broccoli bits, the cheapest ends and pieces you can get for a buck or so. The stalk ends are my favorite and they hold up better in this application. Additionally, I had a package of gnocchi in the pantry. It's nothing like making your own, but on a terrible Tuesday there is no way I am making them from scratch.

Substituting any tube pasta will also work. It's too chunky of a mix to use a long pasta like spaghetti or linguine.

For a gluten free option -use day old rice, even brown rice, but add more moisture to the sauce.

** It should be noted that what follows is less of a recipe and more of a food plan. I would suggest you read all the way through it and grasp what happens start to finish. **

Step One: Read package of gnocchi and follow the cooking instructions. While you are waiting for the water to boil, do Step 2.

Step Two: Put the Alfredo sauce into a pan over the lowest heat possible. As it gets warmer, taste it. It's not likely to need salt,  but try adding some fresh pepper or lemon juice or garlic. Using a little butter or milk will help take the 'bottled' taste out and make is less starchy.

Step Three: Take the chicken apart and off the bone. I use a half a chicken for the 2 of us. A full chicken would be enough for a family, but you might want another package of gnocchi.

Step Four: Cook the gnocchi. This takes about 3 minutes, so have a bowl and a hand strainer standing by. Your goal here is to keep the water. If you don't have a hand strainer or if you are making tube pasta, you are going to need 2 pots of water.

Step Five:  Drop the broccoli into the gnocchi water. It's only going to be in there until it's warm, so no reason not to use the old water.

Step Six:  Put the chicken in the bowl with the gnocchi, add the broccoli as it gets warm and add ladles of the Alfredo sauce until it all comes together. The chicken will break down a little and it will dry up rapidly. Don't over mix it. Toss it together and serve while it's still hot.

Add a tossed salad and you have a less than 30 minute meal that doesn't suck.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Photolog : Portal of Evolution - Burning Man 2009

There is nothing that compares to the spectacle and scale of Burning Man. I don't care who you are, if you find you possess both the inclination and means to go to Burning Man. Do it. It's truly an unmatched experience of art and people and expression.

My last visit to Burning Man was in 2009. This is the Portal of Evolution. You can now see it in downtown Reno, although rusted it  loses some of its organic grandeur.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Photolog { Throw-Back Thursday } Alchemy Temple 2009

Taken at the Alchemy Festival, the Burning Man style event in North Georgia that until recently was my whole life, in October 2009 at the Temple on top of Effigy Hill.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Geocache Project: Bessie B Is My Homegirl 5/100

The weather is finally on the upswing here in Atlanta and the last week has seen this llama out soaking up the sunshine in a number of ways. Activity the first : Geocaching!

Bessie Branham Park is in Kirkwood and the Geocache description calls it "the jewel of Kirkwood" and it's a pretty spot-on. It's a big, open field that serves as a baseball field, a nice playground and a grove of large gorgeous oak trees. They call the big wooden platforms the "Urban Tree House" but I was hoping for more tree house and less deck. Still, if you are in the Kirkwood area and need a place for a picnic or to run the kids around, it's a great little spot.

The cache itself if well hidden and it was a blast trying to find it without catching the eye of the two geriatric walkers who thought I was crazy. There is a bench nearby that gave me a chance to look through the very damp and moldy container, but it was nice just to soak up the sunshine.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Photolog { Throw-Back Thursday } A Long Walk

In October 2006, I took a very very long walk with some really awesome women. Regardless of my current political feelings about the Komen Foundation, the experience of the 3 Day is something that left a lasting impression on who I am.

That is the Llama on the left, along with a dear friend who did the walk with us. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Geocache 100: Freedom Park 4/100

The weather here in Atlanta has been cold and wet and terrible the last several days. I'm a big wimp when it comes to long walks in the rain when it's below 50 degrees - that temperature takes it from ennui or romance to "this is the dumbest thing I have done in awhile". The weather is putting me further and further behind in my goal, but the weather is supposed to clear up this weekend and I'm certainly headed outside!

I found the "Don't Shoot the Messenger" geocache on the last good warm day we have seen in a week.

Freedom Park is a favorite of mine. It's a good size open grassy area with some amazing oaks topping the hill and large, wide pathways that feed you directly into Candler Park, which is just to the east.

This is Kai's favorite park in all of Atlanta. Technically, it's not a dog park and technically she is supposed to be on a leash, but there is a little area on the downside of the hill with a couple little trees in a good flat spot that becomes a gathering area for local 'dog park people' who have pooches you can trust not to run off into traffic (mostly).

This cache is amazingly hidden and I had a GREAT time trying to find it and look nonchalant.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Photolog: Kai on the Long Road Home

Taken during our geocache walk through Constitution Lakes Park in Atlanta. I'm kinda obsessed with my dog. She barks at me while I take her picture, or any picture. I'm convinced she thinks that it's stealing her soul.

Friday, March 14, 2014

It's Pi Day - A Celebration of Math ( and Baking )

3/14 - Pi Day - Celebrate the mathematical constant that gives reason to geek bakers everywhere to bake puny things!

Link through to original graphic and interesting Pi Day activities at
So, Pi Day isn't just about baking, it's about celebrating math in our culture, which we spend far too little time doing!

What is Pi?   It is a mathematical constant, a ratio of a circle's circumference to it's diameter, approximately equal to 3.14159.

Why do I care about Pi?  Regardless of how many times you slammed a trig book shut in frustration screaming "HOW IS THIS RELEVANT TO ME!!" and eventually finding no satisfying answers, this mathematical constant is key to our understanding and advancements in cosmology, statistics, thermodynamics and mechanics.

Why do I care about Pi Day?  1. Pie is tasty. 2. Math is awesome. 3. We do a terrible job in American culture of getting excited about math and science. 4. Never ever miss an opportunity to let your geek flag fly!

What can I do to celebrate Pi Day?

  • Go educate yourself on Pi. Use the internet, it's atwitter today with fun info. 
  • Go to your local grocer at lunch and get a pie to share with your co-workers (or, bake one for your friends and family) 
  • Learn about fractals, especially the Mandelbrot Set. You can download the Electric Sheep screensaver for interactive fractal goodness. 
  • Do some math. I know for most people math is that thing you left back in school in the discarded heap of "why did I have to learn this", but math is important and useful. Find something about math that is interesting and share it with your friends. 
  • If you do nothing else, indulge in a little geek entertainment. Watch Neil deGrasse Tyson's latest episode of "Cosmos" (really, if you haven't already watched the first episode, go now and do it). Or, listen to a little Jonathan Coulton

Might I suggest... Jonathan Coulton's "Mandelbrot Set" (This is a SFW version, the "Fucking fractal" part has been bleeped out.)

Pi Day snuck up on me this year, so I didn't have time to bake a pie for work. I'm going to run out now and get mini-pies for the office. This weekend, I will be baking a Pi Day pie and doing math with my son. Promises to NL readers, I will post my apple pie recipe. It's delicious and chocked full of math!!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Photolog { Throw-Back Thursday } After

I took this photo just minutes after a micro burst tore through our suburban neighborhood in Woodstock, Ga on May 5, 2008

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Geocache 100 : Constitution Lake Park 2 & 3

2/100 : Trainspotters Three 

Never would have found this park in a million years. It's out of the city, towards the perimeter down a road that has nothing but industrial property. Atlanta is full of little gems like Constitution Lakes Park I can't wait to find all of them! 

The park has a short, wide concrete pathway that runs into a lovely wooden path that runs just over the edge of the 'lake' - which is really more a swamp. You are instantly removed from the traffic noise that is just on the other side of the trees. 

Past that the wooden path ends and a clear dirt path leads you up just along the train tracks. I got to watch the engineers do maintenance and drive the same tiny train back and forth over the same quarter-mile track. I had a happy little Stand By Me moment walking out of the swamp and up to the train. I did have to hang out a little and wait for them to leave before I could hide the cache again.

3/100 : Doll's Death Head

You keep walking up and around the edge of the train tracks and the path kinda of disappears into an open clearing. When I left I was following the compass, not the path and I missed the trail-head. I wandered into Doll's Death Head Park because I saw an oil drum with a fish pole hanging on it and one hanging from a tree nearby. It was Blair Witch meets Deliverance, which of course made me want to look around more. 

I came into the park in the middle, little bits of art like breadcrumbs hanging from trees and laying on the ground. The further I got in, the more I was enthralled and enchanted. It's an amazing place full of weird art and bits of brick and tile and ceramic (toilets mostly) with messages written on them. 

The cache became a distant second while I walked all around looking for more art, leaving my own messages. I did find it, mostly on accident. It's very easy to find and given the park you find it in and the walk getting to the cache, it's great for kids. We are hoping the weather this weekend is good enough to take the whole family out for an afternoon. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Llama Obsessed : Geocaching and the 100 Day Project - 1/100 Coan Park

“The most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what's in between, and they took great pleasure in doing just that.” ― Norton JusterThe Phantom Tollbooth

The winter has finally started to fade here in Atlanta. This last week has seen 60+ temperatures with sunshine and dry ground. Anyone who has lived in Atlanta knows that when the weather is this nice in March you grab it with both hands and wring all the glory out of it because it's entirely possible that tomorrow will be a shitshow of rain and 30 degree temps. My social media feeds are bursting with pictures and status updates of glorious hikes and photo shoots and long drives with the windows down. It's also been awash with #100DayProject posts. I was inspired.

Geocaching combines the love of a treasure hunt with the interaction of social media. Also, several things I'm really into: hiking, getting lost, finding my way out and discovering little bits of happiness stuck in the trunk of a dead tree.

The premise is simple: a registered user hides a cache- usually a small container that is marginally weather resistant- somewhere it can't be easily seen by anyone who just walks by (the users on call them 'muggles' which I hate) and then records and posts the coordinates to the website. Users can then use their GPS to find the coordinates and the container, sign the log, take/leave schwag and enjoy the utter accomplishment of finding it, filling it out and putting it back, without anyone noticing.

Many moons ago I tried to get into geocaching but this was before smart phones were common place so finding geocaches meant using a (then really expensive) handheld GPS. Now, there is a app for that. Many of them actually. Currently, I am trying out the c:geo app for Android. So far, I'm impressed, but there will be a review later.

If you are a fellow geocacher, I'm NerdLlama on Friend me!

I've made my 100DayProject a race against myself to get to 100 caches found in 100 days.

My partner, Robert, suggested pipe cleaner animals to leave as markers of my 100 project and I think that I am going to take that advice and number them. I might just have to go back to the 3 I have already found and leave them new presents.

Geocache 100 Project - 1/100  Coan Park

I've been to Coan Park many times, they have an EXCELLENT playground and huge open fields, as well as outdoor tennis and basketball courts.

This cache took me to a side of the park where there is a great stone amphitheater with these neat wooden xylophone-type instruments you can play with big, heavy wooden mallets. I spent several moments making the dog crazy with them.

The cache was expertly hidden and getting to it required picking up some garbage and sliding through some mud, but it was well maintained. I took a baseball card, which I plan to leave in another cache at some point and left a weird little fake flower I found during my walk to the park.

The walk from my house took me through parts of Edgewood that I am already pretty familiar with. I attempted to pick up another cache on my way, but there was a guy standing on the little bridge and he wouldn't walk away.

Through out this part of Atlanta there are volunteer flowers and plants that have washed to odd areas. This time of the year it jonquils and daffodils and with all the rain and snow we had over the winter the city is covered in them. I love them. They make me sneeze, but are still my favorite part of spring in the South.

Friday, March 7, 2014

From My Kitchen: Snow Toast

I have my own horror story from the epic snow of doom Atlanta saw at the end of January, then again in February. We call it french toast weather because suddenly everyone needs to buy ALL of the eggs, milk and bread. What are you left with after your long, arduous 3 days snowed in when you find yourself in possession of more eggs, milk, and bread then you were ever reasonably going to use before it goes bad- snow toast!

Let's talk about bread for a moment. I'm all for super fancy artisan bread, but when it comes to indulgent, moist, thick french toast go for the slightly-past-date-under-a-dollar Texas Toast. For a Saturday breakfast, open the bag of toast on Friday night, just take the twist out, shake the bag to loosen the slices a little and put it on a counter overnight.

Tools to Use: 

Mixing bowl, medium
Whisk or stick blender
Baking dish, 2" sides
Jelly Roll Pan x 2
Large skillet or electric griddle

Your Shopping List:

*the 'serving size' for this is about 2, but you should make the whole loaf, its good in the fridge up to a week and rewarms in the toaster (bagel setting) or toaster oven in just a couple minutes.

12 large eggs
1 loaf of Texas Toast, just past it's sell by date
1 cup half and half (or whole milk)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon, plus a little to sprinkle on top
2 tsp. fresh ground nutmeg
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. salt

The Mise.

  • Bread out, twist out of the bag, on the counter overnight
  • Beat eggs until well blended. I use a stick blender, makes it really easy. 
  • Pre-heat oven to 350
  • Line  one of the jelly roll pans with parchment
The Assembly. 

  • Mix all the ingredients together with the whisk or the stick blender until the sugar is dissolved into the liquid. 
  • Pour an inch of the mix into the baking dish
  • Dip the slices in the baking dish and let them sit for 30 seconds on each side. 
  • Place the dipped slices on the unlined jelly roll pan. 
  • Repeat with filling the dish, dipping the slices and placing them on the pan. 
  • When all of the slices have been dipped once, repeat the process starting with the first piece. 
    • Handle the already wet slices carefully, the Texas Toast is hearty, but it will still fall apart
  • Pre-heat the griddle/skillet
  • Sprinkle the tops of each slice with more cinnamon. 
  • Brown slices in the skillet until they are browned on both sides. 
  • Arrange the browned slices on the lined jelly roll pan side by side, with the edges touching. 
  • When the pan is full, put it in the pre-heated and cook it for 30min. 
Final step: Cover it in butter and maple syrup (don't cheat with the HFCS crap). Eat it while it's hot!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Photolog: Roses

Yesterday, at the end of a day where being a corporate cog made me feel more robot than human, I took the dog for a ball-chase in the park and then stopped by my local discount grocer to procure the basis for dinner. Like candy for kids in the check-out aisle, they had a display of cheap flowers next to the "Line Starts Here" sign. I caved.

There is something pop culture romantic about carrying out a paper bag of groceries that has a bunch of flowers sticking out of the top. I snapped this picture when I put the bag down and I laughed at myself a little. For a split second I got to pretend I was the dreamy ingenue headed home in some Capote story and it made me feel much more human than robot.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Cooking Is Not Always Cooking

I love to cook. I might have mentioned that before. Cooking is a process for me, a kind of yummy meditation. When I am in the zone I love to open a nearly bare fridge and make magic happen with the limited ingredients I have. Or, taking things that seem, intuitively, that they would be a good taste match and then figure out how to make it tasty.

There are some nights when my intuition completely fails me.

I am a Professional Corporate Cog. My job has it's interesting moments and it's so rapidly paced that it keeps my ferret brain active and focused, but it's also a 5o+ hour a week gig. Mondays and Tuesdays, I usually can eek out the drive and desire to make a meal when I get home, nothing super fancy, but something good. Cooking clears my head, it gets me out of Corporate Llama and helps me feel more like myself.

There are some weeks, like this one, where I leave for work in the dark and get home in the dark and the idea of having to do more than turn on the oven makes me want to cry. We don't own a microwave. I hate them. Other than for boiling water, there is nothing good or tasty about what a microwave does for food. It also keeps me from buying boxed food-flavored cardboard meals for those nights when food is a very far second in my list of priorities behind sleep or bourbon, not necessarily in that order.

My solution is to keep some oven-ready frozen food in the house, along with go-to comfort staples like Top Ramen and blue-box mac and cheese.

Last night, after getting home after 8pm, having left the house at 6am, I was starved but didn't even have the energy to abuse my bank account for the Zifty privilege. Popped a polish sausage out of the freezer, grabbed a box of mini frozen perogies (I'm a sucker for tiny foods) and a bag of spinach.

Perogies in the oven, sausage in a pan, to be followed by a little olive oil and the spinach and TA-DA foods. This is the difference for me between 'cooking' - which is a process and a joy - and "I made food hot" which is applying heat to food, most of which was created by a machine in some factory somewhere so that I injest enough calories to not starve myself.

These  two endeavors should not be mixed. If I am 'making food hot' then trying to 'cook' should be outlawed. The results are typically terrible. As is evidenced by the story below.

Perogies went in the oven. Sausage got cut up and browned on both sides. Then I made a terrible mistake. I stopped just making the spinach hot and started trying to make something that required 'cooking'.

I'm not going to go through the steps, it's really not worth it. What I put into the pan you see to your left -
raw spinach, a pan deglazed with cheap white wine, 4 cloves of roasted garlic and a whole egg chopped up. If I would have stopped at the wine and the garlic and the spinach, it would have been at least palatable.

It looked like dog food and had the visual appeal of snot. Upon tasting it also had the mouth feel of snot and tasted exactly what you think those ingredients sauteed together would. Not good is an understatement, it was absolutely inedible.

RIP perfectly good spinach and garlic and egg. I'm sorry I tried to force a relationship with you. It was never going to work for anyone.

Today, I expect that I will have a similar work day as tomorrow I have a vacation day scheduled. I make a firm promise that I will go get take out from Delia's before I torture any more perfectly unsuspecting food.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Stuff For Your Eyeballs : "The LEGO Movie" Review

"The LEGO Movie" is a kid's movie in the same way that the first "Toy Story" kid's movie - full of double entendres and references no "kid" under the age of 30 is likely to get. It's a winner, even if you don't have kids, if you ever loved LEGOs, go see this film. 

We went on a busy Saturday afternoon, the first warm weekend after Atlanta had been brought to a frozen standstill for more than a week- to say it was a full theater was an understatement. Kid-focused movies are the only ones I love to go to in full theaters. The kids get so excited, mine included, and make the best kinds of utterances. There is a, let's call it 'catchy' song (it's also in the trailer) that you will unlikely ever get out of your head, but all the kids were singing along. 

I had seen the trailer and figured, like other kid's movie trailers, that the best adult focused jokes were part of the trailer. I could not have been more wrong. We all laughed and laughed from beginning to end. The tone set in the trailer is the same throughout the movie. 

One part of it was certainly the expert animation. One part of it was certainly the writing. The best part, overall, was the cast. .... I mean really do you get a better comic cast? They do a great job of timing the well-written script. 

There is also the part that is you have to love LEGOs. In my house, they are a way of life. Robert and D'mitri both love LEGOs and always have. This movie does an excellent (and at times, heart-tugging) job of reminding youngest and the oldest in the theater why these tiny little bits of fit-together plastic are the foundation of some of the best family memories. 

From My Kitchen: Happy Pig Balls

Get your minds out of the gutter.... these are my signature finger foods. Pork meatballs meant to be eaten with your fingers or a toothpick it you are afraid of licking your fingers.

I call them "happy pig" because the pork we have gotten in the last couple of years has been from friends who farm hogs in Tennessee. Not only was the hog humanely raised, but the processor ground a high amount of fat into the ground pork and that higher fat content is keep to keeping these balls moist and adds a ton of flavor.

Tools to Use. 

Stand Mixer, with a Dough Hook
Saute pan
Oven, pre-heated to 375
Muffin tin, lined with foil (trust me, this saved a ton of clean up on the other end of the process)
Mixing bowls
Chef's Knife
Cutting Board
Small bowls for your mise

Your Shopping List. 

4 lbs. ground pork, high fat content (no less than 75/25) - if you can't find it, you can add raw bacon that has been put through a food processor)
1 medium apple, something dense and food for cooking - Ambrosia, Red Delicious or if you can find them, Arkansas Black
2 shallots
2 stalks celery
2 cloves garlic, roasted
Potato flour (this keeps it gluten free, but AP flour will work, so will rice flour)
Black Pepper
Ground Fennel
Ground Sage
Lard (or EVOO or butter, whatever you prefer to use to saute)

The Mise. 

  • Thaw the pork and mix with the dough hook until the fat is well incorporated. Leave this out while you complete the rest of your mise so that the meat is warmer than fridge temp. 
  • Chop the (peeled) apple, shallots, celery into small pieces. Put them each in separate small bowls. 
  • Mash the roasted garlic and mix with a little fat (lard, olive oil) to make a paste. 
  • Measure out a tsp each of the sage and the fennel seed. Grind them together in a mortar and pestle of food processor. 
  • Measure out a tsp of whole black pepper and grind course 
  • Measure out 3/4 cup of whatever binder you use (potato flour, AP flour) 
  • Measure out 2 Tblsp. salt and set aside, you might need more, but you don't want to unintentionally contaminate the rest of your salt. 

The Pre-Assembly. 

  • Heat the fat in your saute pan. 
  • Add the shallot, celery, roasted garlic paste and a pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper over medium heat until the shallots are transparent. 
  • Add the apples and cook for 3 minutes until the apples start to soften. 
  • Take it all out of the pan and put it in a bowl, set it aside so it can cool. 
  • Once the apple shallot mix has cooled to at least room temp (I might use the freezer for this sometimes) mix the apple shallot mix with the pork and add the rest of the salt, the pepper, the fennel and the sage and the binder -- use the dough hook and the mixer. 
  • Cover it in plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge for at least half an hour. The longer you let it sit, the better it's going to taste. 

The Assembly. 

  • Pre-heat the oven to 375
  • Using a tablespoon or a scale, roll about 1oz meatballs and put them in the foil lined muffin tins. 
  • Bake until they are golden brown on the top. There will be a ton of fat in the muffin tins (which is why you want the foil in there.
  • Take them out of the oven and transfer them to another plate. 
  • Heat a saute pan, and put the meat balls, brown side up in the pan to brown the part that was on the bottom on the muffin pan.
Eat these hot with some spicy mustard, or, make a gravy with the fat from the muffin tin and put them with some egg noodle and cover in gravy. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Revamping the War Room - How A Kitchen Gets Organized

My cleaning habits are a lot more Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and a lot less Suzie Homemaker. When I decide a space is completely unkempt, I tear it all apart and reset it based on how I am using the space, not how I thought I wanted to use the space the last time I freaked out and tore it all apart. Thankfully, all that personal mayhem happens without the aid of highly trained military-style assassins.

There is some method to my madness... 

5 Point Organizational Strategy:


1. Everything in plain sight. I don't do well with closed cabinets, drawers, closets. If I put things behind an opaque barrier I forget I own them unless it's something I use every day. Occasionally, opening a drawer or closet is like some weird version of Christmas morning. This results in my use of open shelves, clear plastic drawers, curtains that are easily tied back.

2. Everything should have a place and should be used regularly. I play a game with my son when we clean up his room. I pick up an object and say "What is this?" "Where does it go?" "Do you still play with it?". I do the same thing when I clean up my own areas. If I haven't used it, worn it or thought about it in 6 months, it goes to Goodwill, or, to someone else who will use it.

3. Abhorrence of tchotchkes. The only things I own that don't adhere to the form follows function rule if they hold some emotional or beautiful significance. 

4. No single use tools. As much as I hate Alton Brown's fat shaming, I do go in on his theories that no kitchen item should serve some single, specific purpose. The only single purpose item I have in my home is my bread machine. I make no apologies. 

5. Things with lids are stored with the lids attached. Years of baskets of lids, boxes of lids, falling lids, misplaced lids... no more. If a container has a lid, it's stored with that lid on it. If a container loses it's lid and is still useful, keep it. If a lid doesn't have a container, it's a useless bit of plastic. Toss it. This gets applied to other things with parts- my rice cooker, my stand-mixer, 

Okay, so maybe the process looks like military-style assassins came in and tore my kitchen apart, but I swear it's my own insanity that created this mess. 

The Process: 

1. Start from the top and wipe your way down. The mess above is a result of pulling all the shelving off the opposite wall from the one in the photo and wiping down the ceilings with a broom, the walls and the floor boards. Then spot mop that part of the floor, move the shelving back into place and wipe it down. Then, I figured out what I wanted to go on the shelving and put it all back in order. 

2. Take everything off every flat surface and wipe it all down. Counter tops, cabinet fronts, containers, pot holders, spoon holders, all of it. Just with a little warm water with a small amount of dish soap. 

3. Put it all back where it makes the most sense. Don't get caught in the trap of making things 'organized', make them 'functional'. For instance, I have liquid measure cups and small fingers bowls in a couple of places so if I need them while cooking I don't have to think about it, they are in all the places I will need them. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Photo Post: Walkabout Art

One of the things I love about living in Atlanta is that the weather is usually warm and there are sidewalks almost everywhere. There is also a lot of random street art to be found.

I'm sitting in my office today, watching the sleet come down, trying to stay warm in my drafty old craftsman and decided to look at some of the photos I have taken in my walkabouts around Atlanta.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

New About Page

Look up... see that nifty bar up there. See where it says "About A Nerd Who Loves A Llama". That's the new About page, you should check it out!

Monday, February 10, 2014

From My Kitchen : Instant Gratification Gourmet Hot Chocolate

This recipe came out of a sudden, immediate, and undenyable desire for hot chocolate after I was warm and comfortably in my fleece pants and fuzzy socks. 

Sadly, when I opened my pantry the only raw coco I had was frighteningly out of date. I did locate a bag of jumbo semi-sweet chocolate chips. Cookies crossed my mind, but there are way more steps and dirty dishses involved in cookies. I wanted to sate the sweet tooth right then.

What resulted was a lovely cup of thick, sweet, decadant, spicy hot chocolate that is a dessert all by itself. A thickness somewhere in between pudding and a cup of the old faithful Swiss Miss.

Just the dreges left
The addition of salt, cinnamon and cayenne cuts the sweetness of the melted chocolate chips, but it would have been better with a little whipped heavy cream with a little vanilla and almost no added sugar. Next time, I'm also going to try a dark chocolate chip, like the Special Dark ones that Hersey's makes.

Tools to Use.
2 Quart Saucepan
4 Cup Measuring Cup
Your Favorite Mug

Your Shopping List

1 bag semi-sweet or dark choclate chips (keeping in mind that the darker the chip the less sweet your end product)
4 cups of whole milk. (Don't skimp on your milk fat, it's what makes it smooth and rich. Using dark chocolate almond milk would probably be tasty, if you want a non-dairy alternative)
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cayenne
1 tsp vanilla extract

  • Put the milk in the saucepan, on medium heat. 
  • Add the chocolate chips and start whisking. Don't stop. 
  • Once the chips have mostly melted, add the salt, cinnamon, cayenne and vanila. 
  • Heat the whole pan, whisking continously, until it's a little hotter than you might want to drink. 
  • Ladel into your mug and try to not making yummy noises at every sip.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

In Atlanta, Racism > Gridlock

I have my own story from the total gridlock on January 29th and it has very little to do with snow and everything to do with living in a city that is determined to keep racism alive, even if it means sitting on a highway for 26 hours or sleeping in the aisles of a drugstore. 

Near the MLK Memorial, before the snow
We live downtown, but like most Atlantians we work north of the actual city. My one-way commute is 30 miles, out of the city and into one of the north suburbs. On a great morning, it takes me 40 minutes door-to-door, but I'm going against the main flow of traffic. On a bad day, in the afternoon, it has taken me 2 hours to make my way home. Did I mention that's all multiple lane highway? 

I spent my formative years in Berlin, Germany which, like many cities in Europe, is fully supported by a robust public transportation system. Travelling to places like Portland and NYC, I know the U.S. has cities where owning a car isn't the norm. Public transport shortens commutes, lowers stress levels and is better for the environment. Except if you live in Atlanta. 

My house downtown is a short walk away from a train station, but the train will only take me about half way. I make a transfer to a bus and then it's a quarter mile walk to my office. It should be a shorter, less stressful way to get from home to work. Except, I live in Atlanta. 

Using public transportation, on a good day, takes me just shy of 2 hours - the same as sitting in gridlock, except waiting on a bus or a train means waiting in the cold, or the rain or the heat. Most bus stops don't have benches or shelters. Buses don't run on time. And the fare for a system that isn't shorter or useful - $2.50 per trip. (for comparison, that's the same base amount you pay for the MTA in NYC, except that that system gets everywhere in the whole city) 

MARTA, Atlanta's underfunded public transportation, fails as a reasonable commute tool for most of Atlanta commuters. Why? Because racism and an inherent distrust of a fragmented system of city and country governments is more important to Atlanta voters than giving up hours and hours in their cars. In 2012, a 7.2 billion dollar referendum was voted down that would have started to bring rail service to areas currently not served or grossly under-served and would have made using the bus systems outside of the ITP (inside the perimeter) area reasonable. Articles reference concerns about government graft, which is warranted given Atlanta's long history of only electing officials who suck. 

This week’s weather fiasco in Atlanta, which stranded thousands of commuters on glassy-slick roads and gridlocked the entire metro region for the better part of 24 hours, was caused by a freak snowstorm, they say. And this is true, in the same way it’s true to say the Civil War started because some guys in Charleston, S.C., started lobbing cannon balls at Fort Sumter. But the real problem in Atlanta isn’t snow; the real problem is history. ( Slate, "What Does Racism Have To Do With Gridlock" )

What you know if you live in Atlanta, if you work in an office in the burbs and share water cooler gossip in a mostly white office like me - white people moved out to the suburbs in droves all through the 60's and 70's reaching a fevered pace in the 80's and they still desire 40 years later to keep their white, middle class enclaves as white and affluent as possible. Bringing MARTA to outlying areas of the metro-Atlanta area means easy access of the 'unwanted' (read: poor and minority) out to areas where they are quietly feared.

After the 26 hour gridlock brought on by a populous who freaks out at the mention of snow but doesn't support a government who would actually take preparing for it seriously, I was in a group of mostly strangers at an event in one of those far out suburbs. This is only days after many of them, including me, spent more than 6 hours, some as many as 20,  in their cars trying to get home and so it was the time to share horror stories. At the conclusion of the group share, I overhear two of the men talking about MARTA. The final comment, "I still won't vote for the rail, it will just bring our property values down." 

This kind of sentiment isn't surprising. "Bringing property values down" is a common euphemism for "MARTA means black people/brown people/poor people and *those* people bring crime because they are all criminals". There is an undercurrent of accepted racism and classism in Atlanta in a form that may be unique to Atlanta. It's the kind of racism that wrapped in the warm, slow drawl of the "Bless Your Heart" culture and hiding behind education and household income. 

Atlanta is different from other parts of Georgia, we consider ourselves metropolitan, diverse, cultured. It's really mostly the bullshit language of our privilege talking. We enclave inside the city in our mixed use communities and half million dollar McMansions. We are better educated, so we consider racism something of the past that isn't part of our self-aware intellect. We are wealthy, so we assuage our guilt by giving to the food bank, but cross quickly to walk around the growing population of homeless or impoverished. We have cars so public transportation doesn't register as a need. We don't use it now because we fear interaction with people who are visually different from us and because it's functionally useless unless you live and work near a rail line. 

As for my story, I spent 4 hours trying to get the 13 miles between my office and my partner's office. I watched the gridlock rapidly grow as the snow fell and all the offices in a city of 4 million workers closed all at once. We made the decision to leave the car in the parking deck of my partner's office and walk the half mile to the train station and hope to get a south bound train to the station near our house. 
GA400 less than an hour after the snow started.

We walked through intersections where no one had moved in so long that people had just turned off their cars. Folks standing on their door frames trying to see up ahead. I didn't have the heart to tell them that there was no end in sight. It was cold, I wasn't dress appropriately, even though I knew what the weather report had said. I've been in Atlanta almost half my life and it never would have occurred to me that it could get this bad. 

The train platform was nearly empty. Above us thousands and thousands of people sat in there precious, convenient cars with nowhere to go and no plan for what to do in a situation like this. Help wouldn't be coming for hours and hours. 15 min later, we were on a southbound train. 30 min after that we were huddled together at the Five Points station waiting on the last train to take us the 3 stops home. 45 min later we were walking up the hill on Moreland Ave towards our house, watching cars slip and slide an honk. My commute took me 6 hours and that was short compared to some. 
The best part of the whole experience was watching people at the terminals and on the train, people I would guess would otherwise sat stone faced and uninterested, interact and converse. Sharing stores of how things were where they had come from, asking about loved ones. Finding camaraderie in the knowledge that we were moving towards our homes when the rest of the city sat for hours. 

There are organizations within Atlanta who are working to provide basic transportation to Atlanta's residents. The website for Citizens for Progressive Transit isn't frequently updated, but there is a side bar on the left with some local organizations that are actively trying to make public transportation a reality in Atlanta. 
The view from my front yard just before they shut Moreland down.