Cooking with Diane

I love creating new recipes, but experiments always carry a certain risk of failure. And sometimes my failures are *ahem* …notable. (Don’t worry, it’s still safe to eat at our place — I don’t experiment when I’ve invited company to dinner.)

Recently, I’ve been wrangling with brownies. I’ve used Hubby’s mum’s recipe for years, but one day Hubby said, “You know, these are great; but they’d be even better if they weren’t quite so sweet.”

“Easy,” said I in a burst of delusional optimism. “I’ll just reduce the sugar a bit.”

So I did. And instead of brownies, I got dense cake. It was tasty; but the texture was meh. Over the next several weeks I churned out more variations, but none of them achieved the fabulously chewy texture of the original recipe.

By then we were (much to our own surprise) sick of eating brownies, so I shelved the project. But a few months ago I was researching ways to make my homemade ice cream softer, and I discovered maltodextrin. It’s used in myriad foods, but particularly in beer and ice cream to provide a good mouthfeel without adding a lot of sweetness.

Inspiration struck: Texture. Without sweetness. Aha! The brownie project was revived.

Our local winemaking store carried maltodextrin, so I got some and mixed up my ingredients in a burst of misplaced confidence. This would be the perfect batch of chewy, delicious, not-too-sweet brownies!

Except

It turns out maltodextrin isn’t particularly soluble. It’ll dissolve in water, but the only moisture in this recipe is provided by eggs. Not the same thing at all.

Unaware of the impending disaster, I beat the butter and eggs, added the sugar and maltodextrin and stared in horror as the mixture curdled into pea-sized lumps.

I cranked up the mixer to its highest setting, but the lumps had the texture of finely-grated leather mixed with half-solidified glue. I could break one apart if I rubbed it between my fingers, but I didn’t feel like doing that for hours. So I got out my blender and set it to Turbo.

No dice. The lumps were impervious.

But I hated to waste half a pound of butter, four eggs, and two cups of sugar. As I was staring at the pox-riddled batter, Hubby passed through the kitchen. After considerable discussion and some hilarity, we decided to strain out the lumps and carry on. I’ll spare you a description of the mess that resulted; but in the end we did get tasty chewy brownies.

The only problem is, I have no idea how much maltodextrin actually got mixed in; and a considerable amount of butter and eggs got subtracted during the straining process. So I had to reduce the flour to compensate and well, let’s just say that I still haven’t perfected that brownie recipe. But if I ever need leather glue, I’m all set! (Sorry, couldn’t resist the pun.) 😉

Any other creative cooks out there? What’s your most notable culinary ‘oops’?

Book 17 update: I’m on Chapter 39 and Aydan’s evidence trail has just hit a dead end. But the killers keep coming, so she’d better figure it out soon!

Electronic Drama Queens

’Way back in 2011 I speculated that my electronic devices might be alive, and maybe even moderately sentient. Today I’m here to tell you: Not only are my electronic devices alive; they’re also drama queens.

At first I thought they were merely minor chaotic evil. Imps, if you will. Not smart enough to develop an organized attack; only aware enough to grind to a halt when they sensed I really needed them to work.

But I was wrong. Lately my electronic devices have undertaken a passive-aggressive campaign to demand all my attention while making it clear that they’re the ones in charge. (’Scuse the electronic pun.)

First my laptop’s CD drive started whining at me: Making that small annoying “rrr-EEE-rr” sound that indicates it’s spinning up a CD. But there was no CD in the drive. And it wouldn’t stop. I finally gave up on fixing it and left the CD tray permanently unlatched.

Thwarted, the laptop began its next micro-aggression: Randomly jumping around in my document when scrolling. It would work fine for a while; and then I’d scroll down in Chapter 22 and suddenly find myself in Chapter 3. Or 10. Or…?

Fine. I started using the Page Up/Page Down keys instead of scrolling on the touchpad.

I could practically hear its thoughts: “What?!? Well, I’ll fix you.”

So it started flipping to battery power without warning, even though it’s plugged in. I wiggle the cord and it goes back to wall power. Then it switches back to battery for no apparent reason. Wiggle the cord: Wall power. Then battery again. I reach for the cord again, but this time it coyly switches back to wall power before I can touch it. It’s a relatively minor annoyance; but it gets my attention, which was apparently the goal.

The laptop is old, so I’ve been putting up with its quirks; but in retrospect that may have been a mistake. Now it’s infecting my other devices with its bad attitude.

My Kindle has developed a similar intermittent issue with its charging cord. And sometimes it stalls in the middle of a book and reboots, only to reopen the book in a completely different place. The Kindle is supposed to remember how far you’ve read, but mine doesn’t. Profanity ensues.

Sometimes, the Kindle won’t start at all; it just shows me an obstinate lock screen. It takes at least five minutes to recover and reboot from that; and it won’t always do it on the first try. (Because why would it pass up an opportunity to show me who’s really the boss?)

Clearly I should have disciplined the laptop before it could become a bad influence, because lately my desktop computer has been getting into the act with random reboot errors, too.

I don’t know where all this will end, but the escalation is making me nervous. If you see headlines about a woman who died in a bizarre mishap caused by simultaneous electric shocks from three separate devices, you’ll know what happened.

Meanwhile, I’ll be over here trying to placate my laptop…

Book 17 update: I’m on Chapter 37, and things are getting explosive… literally!

A Ferry Tale

Last week we had a big adventure: We took the ferry over to Denman Island!

Why are you laughing?

Okay, fine; you’re right. Before COVID, a ten-minute ferry ride would have been a mere footnote in our lives. But we’ve been cooped up for so long that it felt like an exotic vacation. It was a glorious sunny day with a fresh breeze, and it was a joy to be out on the water. Heart-palpitating excitement, I tell you!

I admit, though, some of the heart palpitations were due to unresolved trauma left over from my last trip to Denman Island. That was the time Hubby marooned me, sailing off into the sunset (or at least to the opposite shore) without me.

I’ve never let him forget it; but to be fair, it wasn’t really his fault. We were new to ferry travel then. We didn’t realize that when the operators load cars onto a small ferry, it means they’re going to depart within minutes. We also didn’t realize that schedules for the smaller ferries change without notice if there’s a mechanical problem or any other hiccup.

So we went over to Denman and spent a few hours roaming around, taking in some spectacular views and some ever-so-tasty food. After a lovely day, we took our place in the ferry lineup with forty-five minutes to spare.

That meant there was enough time for me to hike over and check out a nearby artisan’s studio, so Hubby waited with the car while I headed out. I kept an eye on my wristwatch, planning to be back at the car fifteen minutes before the ferry was due to sail. I was right on time.

But our car was gone.

In fact, all the cars were gone. I was nonplussed, but not overly concerned. I hiked down the hill to the ferry terminal, expecting Hubby to be waiting for me there. He wasn’t.

He didn’t have his cell phone, but I had mine with me. Against logic, I checked to see if I’d missed any calls. Nope.

“Okay…” I thought. “Maybe he’s driving around looking for me.”

He wasn’t. I retraced my steps, but there was no sign of our car.

I knew that if he’d been on the ferry he would have reached the other shore by then. There was a ferry terminal, gas station, and restaurant there; and they all had phones.

But he didn’t call me. I began to wonder if he was not-so-subtly trying to tell me something.

With no other choices available, I waited an hour until the next ferry came. When I disembarked on the opposite shore, Hubby was waiting for me. “I didn’t realize they were going leave right after we loaded,” he explained. “I thought it was like air travel, where you just sit there until your flight is scheduled to leave.”

“Why didn’t you phone me?” I demanded.

He rolled out some Husband Logic: “I knew you’d be on the next ferry. Where else would you go?”

I didn’t kill him.

But this trip, I stayed in the driver’s seat. Just in case.

Please tell me I’m not the only one whose spouse has marooned them on an island…

Book 17 update: I’m on Chapter 33, and a man wearing nothing but tighty-whiteys and a blanket has just given Aydan some vital information. Will Captain Underpants save the day?

Denman Island shoreline

Warm Fuzzies Too

The last couple of weeks have been… interesting. I’m still having trouble sitting because of my spinal problems, so I’ve applied to my insurance company for partial disability until I’m back on my feet (or, more accurately, back on my butt).

Let’s just say it’s *ahem* ironic (this is the most tactful word I can summon) that, in order to be compensated for a disability that prevents me from sitting and working at the computer, they require me to submit personal and corporate documentation that takes over forty hours of computer time to produce.

I’m reminded of the joke about corporate policy for sick days: “You may only be absent from work on medical grounds if you submit a valid death certificate signed by your doctor and witnessed by you.”

I’ll say no more, lest I tumble into a bottomless well of snark and cynicism. Instead, I’m choosing to focus on some more warm fuzzies this week. Here are some bright moments that can make us all smile whenever we remember them (or, better still, when they happen again):

  • The crisp ‘ping’ of your one perfect golf swing in an otherwise abysmal game. (Okay, that’s probably just me — most people get more than one good swing in a game.)
  • The first cold, crisp mouthful of beer (or your beverage of choice) on the Friday night after a tough week.
  • That last-minute substitution in a recipe where you didn’t have all the ingredients, and the dish turns out even better than the original.
  • After practicing for days, the first time that fast intricate passage flows from your fingers and out of your musical instrument without a mistake.
  • The once-in-a-lifetime euphoria of successfully choosing the shortest grocery store lineup.
  • The glorious synergy when you’re charging down the basketball court and your teammate throws the ball exactly where you need it to make the layup.
  • The pure satisfaction of standing in your lush veggie garden and knowing you’re surrounded by a year’s worth of delicious and nutritious food.
  • The lucky brushstroke that creates exactly the look you wanted in your painting, even though you didn’t plan it.
  • And the heart-lifting joy of spring flowers peeking out after a long winter:

What are your warm fuzzies for this week?

Book 17 update: Despite my insurance company’s appropriation of my writing time, I still managed to make it to Chapter 28. The Department is in disarray, and Aydan’s murder suspect got released before she could finish questioning him. Now she’s lost her only lead, and an(other) assassin is on the loose.

Feeding My Inner Brat

I usually try to eat a healthy diet (except for a once-a-week indulgence in beer and deep-fried food on Friday evenings). But I adore all types of food, and I especially love that glorious full-tummy feeling after a big luxurious meal.

So my food intake has always been a balancing act. I’m lucky to have a forgiving metabolism, so I rarely gain more than a few pounds before realizing it’s time to (re)adjust. But I have a definite cycle:

  1. Healthy food in healthy portions
  2. Healthy food in portions that slowly increase until the plate looks comfortably full
  3. Generous portions of mostly-healthy food with frequent treats
  4. Big satisfying portions, with unlimited snacks and treats, woohoo!
  5. *sound of squealing brakes* …and back to healthy food in healthy portions

Unfortunately, there’s a big ‘culture shock’ between steps 4 and 5. When my portions are suddenly reduced to normal, the plate looks sadly empty; and it takes a while for my brain to adjust to how ‘normal’ looks.

Part of the problem is that I don’t actually want to adjust. My inner spoiled brat is perfectly happy with lots and lots of food and treats, so she constantly tries to undermine the efforts of my inner (and rarely-displayed) adult. Last week I thought I had everything under control, but then this happened:

My inner brat is definitely getting trickier, but I think I’ve got her subdued… this time. Please tell me I’m not the only one with an inner spoiled brat!

Book 17 update: I’m on Chapter 26 — over half finished the book, hooray! Bullets are flying, and the guy Aydan just saved might turn out to be an enemy. There’s always something…

A Few Warm Fuzzies

Good news and good feelings have been pretty scarce lately. So for just a little while, I’m going to focus on some feel-good stuff. Here, in no particular order, are some memories I revisit when I want some warm fuzzies.

Disclaimer: I have the world’s shittiest memory. The feelings and experiences I report here are true. The dates and times? Your guess is as good as mine.

One glorious autumn (or maybe spring) a couple of decades ago (maybe more): My sister came to visit me in Calgary, and we decided to hike in the Alberta Rockies. At the time, there was still public access to the trail up Mount Indefatigable in Kananaskis Country. (The trail is permanently closed now to protect grizzly bear habitat.) The steep rocky path started at an elevation of about 7,250 feet and went all the way up to the 8,750 foot summit, but our goal was the midpoint around 8,000 feet. We panted up there and collapsed on the bench only a few feet from the edge of a cliff, overlooking a sheer drop to Upper Kananaskis Lake nearly 1,000 feet below. The sky was flawless blue, and the sparkling lake mirrored it. The breeze gently lifted our hair and sang the soft eternal song of wind through conifers, and the clean scent of spruce and jackpine surrounded us. As we watched, a cloud drifted below us, then dissipated. I’ll never forget that moment of peace, awe, and sheer happiness.

Spring 2017: Hubby and I had just moved to Vancouver Island, and we were renting a creaky little place on the beach while our house was under construction. One night an extra-low tide was predicted, and I couldn’t resist. The sky was clear and the moon was full when I slipped out onto the beach and followed the sound of surf rolling up on the rocky shore. The moon struck bright silver off the crest of every ripple, and the fresh briny air was intoxicating. I stood for a very long time in the coolness and solitude, just listening to the heartbeat of the earth.

Spring 2020: Our irrigation pond had been in place for a year, and every night the chorus of frog-song was so loud that we could even hear it indoors. One crisp black-velvet night I stepped out onto the porch to listen for a while, then gave in to the temptation. Grabbing a flashlight, I sneaked out to the pond. Footstep by cautious footstep, I crept closer, triangulating the location of the loudest croaking. A quick flick of the flashlight, and there he was: A leopard frog with his translucent throat inflated, singing his little heart out. He seemed transfixed by the light, and I watched him for long seconds before he went silent and ducked under a branch. By the time I got back to the house the chorus was back to full volume, and I spent the evening wearing a smile.

Care to share some of your own ‘warm fuzzy’ moments?

Book 17 update: I’m on Chapter 23, and Aydan just got caught sneaking out of her Director’s house in the middle of the night. This doesn’t look good…

Tom Clancy’s Polter-Ghost

I’ve never believed in the occult before, but I may have to change my tune. Because I’m pretty sure I’m being haunted by Tom Clancy’s ghost.

Actually, not just haunted. Poltergeisted. (Poltergeised?)

It started simply enough: Hubby is a Tom Clancy fan. And Hubby’s favourite reading spot is on our bed.

About a month ago I was blissfully asleep when a sudden loud noise catapulted me to wild-eyed wakefulness. It sounded as though somebody had smashed in our bedroom door with an axe. This is not a sound one wants to hear at three o’clock in the morning.

Hubby roused, too; although not as dramatically as I did. “It’s just my book.” He retrieved Clancy’s gigantic tome from the floor. “It fell off the night table.”

He promptly went back to sleep. I took about ten minutes to gradually disengage my fingernails from the ceiling before dropping back into bed and lying awake for the next hour, waiting for my heart rate to stabilize.

Several nights later, it happened again. This time it wasn’t quite so traumatic because I was pretty sure what had happened; but nevertheless I had a serious conversation with Hubby about stabilizing the damn book before we went to sleep. A few days later he finished it, so I assumed that would be the end of its nocturnal antics.

Fast-forward to a few nights ago. I was blissfully asleep when… BANG! I bolted upright and switched on the lamp, my heart jackhammering my ribs.

No crazed axe-murderer. Hubby didn’t even wake up, despite my violent thrashing and subsequent flooding of the bedroom with light.

After staring around the silent bedroom for a few minutes, I eased myself back onto the pillow and switched off the light. Hubby slept on. Maybe I’d dreamed the loud noise? Was I losing what little sanity I still retained? Eventually, I managed to ease back into a fitful doze.

In the morning, Hubby woke bright-eyed and bushy-tailed while I dragged my carcass out of bed, groaning. When he asked why I was so tired, I explained about the loud noise.

“I can’t figure out what it was,” I complained. “Sometimes the heating ducts click and bang, but this seemed so much louder.”

Hubby picked up the giant Tom Clancy book from the floor. “I guess this must have fallen again.”

Nobody had touched that damn book for weeks. I know we didn’t have an earthquake, and it’s highly suspicious that the sound woke me, but not Hubby. There’s only one explanation: Tom Clancy has returned from beyond the grave to mess with me.

What did I ever do to him? More to the point, what can I do to make him move on? Should I start reading frothy romances until his shade flees screaming?

Any suggestions?

Book 17 update: I made it Chapter 20 this week! Aydan’s cover has been irreparably blown, and now she has to find out who spilled the beans and how many assassins are coming for her.

Customer Service Zombies

I’ve always thought zombies were entirely fictional, but last week I encountered a real one for the very first time. It was hilarious… in a disturbing sort of way. Then again, I didn’t actually see the zombie; I only spoke with him on the phone. An in-person encounter might have been scarier.

Here’s how it happened:

I’m hoping I won’t have to make a disability claim for my back problems, but I had to comply with the insurance company’s 30-day reporting deadline. So I made the initial call. And a zombie answered.

It was a deep, sepulchral voice; utterly without expression. For a moment I thought I’d been connected to a computerized AI system, but then I realized that AI voices are a lot more expressive than the guy (I’m assuming, perhaps incorrectly, that it was a man) on the other end of the line.

After I explained what had happened, he replied, “I’m sorry to hear about your back injury.”

I had to stifle a burst of laughter. I can’t fathom how anybody could pronounce those ‘sympathetic’ words while keeping their voice so completely devoid of emotion. This guy could make good money hiring himself out as a drone for bagpipes — he was that toneless.

Actually, y’know what? Even bagpipe drones are more expressive. (I don’t know what’s in this recording; so if you listen all the way to the end, let me know. I couldn’t make it past the first 10 seconds):

That was the zombie’s tone for the entire conversation. Maybe the guy was desperately depressed or vastly over-medicated; or maybe that’s just the latest innovation in customer ‘service’: Detachment so profound that even that crankiest complainer gets dragged down and smothered in a black hole created by the total absence of human emotion.

But the soul-suck didn’t work on me — I’m still giggling. And I’m wondering: Do they have to hire extra cleaning staff to sweep up all the fingers and toes that drop off the customer service team throughout the day? How long do zombie employees last before too many bits fall off and they have to be shovelled into a bin and replaced with a fresher corpse? And where do they get fresh zombies, anyway? Zombies R Us? ZombieZon?

Or maybe they create their own zombies by forcing new employees to read every weasel-word in the policies over and over, eight hours a day for a month. Only the strongest survive and become managers; the rest gradually lose the will to live. At the end of the month the HR team swoops in, jams an IV drip of downers and stale coffee into their victims’ deflated veins, and then rolls the zombies (still in their office chairs) to the Customer Service Call Centre. There they remain until they’re in such an advanced state of decomposition that they’re no longer capable of answering the phone.

That would explain a lot…

Book 17 update: I’m on Chapter 16 and Aydan can’t decide which of her friends to protect. It seems like they’re all in danger… and so is she.

…And I Missed It.

Update Jan. 23/22: Just a heads-up — I didn’t mean to scare anybody off the booster shot, and I’m sorry if I did. I’m just a freak, and I’ve reacted hard to ALL the shots, including the booster. Meanwhile, Hubby and all my friends just breezed through it. So don’t be afraid — if your first two shots went fine, your booster should, too. 🙂

*

Well, it’s been an interesting couple of weeks… as far as I know. To be honest, I was stoned and I missed it.

I knew in advance that I wasn’t going to enjoy my COVID booster shot. My second shot had made me feel as though somebody had thumped me in the back for a day, and my arm hurt for three days. So when I woke up at midnight feeling like I’d been repeatedly kicked in the armpit with a pointy-toed shoe, I wasn’t surprised. I took an acetaminophen and went back to bed to tough it out. Next came pain in every joint. Then fever. For the next twenty-four hours, I watched the clock and gulped acetaminophen at the exact minute my next dose was allowed.

I almost never take acetaminophen, and I was surprised at how dopey it made me. I guess it wasn’t a bad thing in retrospect: I was miserable, but at least I was stoned. I didn’t even bother trying to work that day; just lay around and binge-read. After four books and most of the day, the fever subsided and I went to bed knowing the worst was over.

The next day I was fine, except that somebody had apparently sneaked into our bedroom overnight and replaced my armpit lymph nodes with red-hot pebbles. Painful, but an improvement overall.

Until the insanely itchy rash appeared.

No good ever came from a conversation that begins with “Let me tell you about my rash”, so I won’t. But it turns out that antihistamines make me even dopier than acetaminophen. For most of the day, I stayed in the kitchen baking because I had to stay on my feet. If I stopped moving, my eyelids dropped shut. And I read the recipes VERY CAREFULLY. Over and over. Even though I’ve been making them at least once a month for the past couple of decades. Yes, I was that stoned.

But I’m pretty sure I was doing it wrong, because these guys look like they were having ’way more fun than me:

(I’ll have what they’re having, please.)

Anyhow, I’m finally back to normal; or as normal as I ever get. So, hmmm… I wonder what I should do for a high this week?

Marijuana is legal here, so I guess I could try that; but I’ve heard it causes the munchies. I have a permanent case of the munchies even when I’m stone-cold sober, so that could get scary. If my next post contains nothing but a photo of me nesting in a pile of empty Doritos bags with a beatific smile and crumbs all over my face, you’ll know what happened.

Actually, y’know what? Maybe I’ll skip the weed and go straight to guacamole corn chips. And Cheezies. And sour-and-cream-and-onion potato chips… Mmmm… now that’s my kind of high!

What’s your “food drug” of choice?

Book 17 update: Despite my ongoing back problems and my chemically-altered downtime, I still managed to make a bit of writing progress. I’m on Chapter 12, and charming liar Ian Rand has just messed with Aydan… again.

Happy 2022

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you made it into 2022 unscathed by weather, viruses, or discomfort from overindulging in holiday goodies.

Well, maybe a bit of discomfort is okay. As the saying goes, “Everything in moderation, including moderation”. 😉

Hubby and I had a quiet Christmas and New Years for two, but we stuffed ourselves with turkey and trimmings like a pair of champs. And my pastry recipe makes enough for two pies; so I kinda had to make a pumpkin pie and a cherry pie. Two people = two pies, right?

Unlike the rest of the country, we haven’t been plunged into -30°C and -40°C weather, so we’re counting our blessings. But we have been blanketed by snow since mid-December, so don’t get me started about all the times we were told ‘it never snows here’. It’s beautiful, though!

My “holiday” time got a little messed up when my back demanded attention with a loud crack and some crazy nerve sensations. The ensuing trips to doctors and an MRI ate into my writing time as well as my ability to focus on anything other than ‘Why does my spine hate me?’, but I managed to make some progress on Book 17 nonetheless. I don’t know how the back issues will turn out; but for now I’m moving cautiously and not hurting, so I’ll take what I can get.

I hope you all had a happy holiday, and I wish you all the best in the new year!

Book 17 update: I’m on Chapter 9 and Aydan is flying across the country with a man she doesn’t quite trust, to meet another man she definitely doesn’t trust. Let the games begin…