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 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…

…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…

The Christmas Sweater Conundrum

Christmas will be here in only three days, and I have a confession:  Even though I hear about them all the time, I’ve never seen an ugly Christmas sweater.

Apparently everyone else has. Everybody makes fun of them.  Before COVID, there were even entire parties dedicated to the wearing of ugly Christmas sweaters. 

And I… just don’t get it.

I mean, obviously I’ve seen Christmas-themed sweaters, in all sorts of patterns and colours.  And (as I discovered when I searched “ugly Christmas sweaters” on the internet) they’re frequently *ahem* off-colour.  And educational.  For example, I never would have thought of painstakingly knitting a sweater that features reindeer having a threesome.  I learn something new every day.

But (excluding the one with Santa taking a dump down the chimney, which was just gross) I still didn’t find an ‘ugly’ sweater. 

I have a design degree (though admittedly I sucked at design) and I understand colour theory.  So, Christmas sweaters use complementary colour schemes and not-so-subtle patterns; but so what?  I still don’t see where the ‘ugly’ comes in.

They’re bright, for sure.  Sometimes literally, if you get one with built-in lights and batteries.  But since when is ‘bright’ a synonym for ‘ugly’?  Is calling them ‘ugly’ just preemptive self-deprecation by people who secretly love to wear them, but fear that some Grinch-hearted fashion guru will mock them?  Are our adult lives really so dull and sad and drab that we’re not allowed to break out some exuberant over-the-top colour just once a year?

Or… (this is a distinct possibility) is this just another example of my general lack of fashion sense?  Go ahead, lay it out there.  I can take it.  😉

But regardless of the Christmas sweater conundrum… if you celebrate Christmas, I wish you a very merry one.  If you don’t, I wish you joy in whatever tradition or ritual you do observe; or I wish you the contentment of no celebrations at all.  Sometimes the quiet moments are the most precious.

May peace, health, happiness, and prosperity be yours, now and in the New Year!

Book 17 update: I’ve just hit Chapter 6, and things are getting complicated in Aydan’s world already. Stemp has been suspended pending an official inquiry, and charming liar Agent Ian Rand has a mysterious message he insists on delivering in person. What could possibly go wrong…?

Alien Volleyballs And Other Garden Lessons

Well, another gardening season has come and (almost) gone.  I’ve been gardening for decades, but every year I learn something new.  For example:

  • Never let Hubby start the tomato plants unsupervised.  Each spring we talk it over, decide which varieties we want to grow, and figure about twenty plants should do us. Then Hubby plants the seeds in their little cells (allowing a few extra in case of germination failure).  This year we had forty-three tomato plants, up from thirty-seven last year.  ’Nuff said.
  • Chickweed is a cover crop.  I’ve finally accepted that chickweed springs up to form an impenetrable carpet in the winter here no matter how I try to stop it.  So now I’m embracing it.  Chickweed conserves nitrogen and protects the soil structure, it’s cheery bright green all winter long, its fragile leaves and stems till easily into the soil in spring; and it’s even edible.  Win!
  • We rarely eat as many beets and carrots as I think we will.  If Hubby’s weak spot is tomato plants, mine is beets and carrots.  We still have carrots in the freezer and beets in jars from last year, and four long rows of each await me in the garden.  Anybody want twenty or thirty pounds of nice fresh beets and carrots?
  • Pumpkins have a twisted sense of humour.  Last year I planted four hills of pumpkin seeds and got four pumpkins.  This year I planted two hills and got thirty pumpkins.  WTF?!?
  • “Naturalizing” tulips don’t.  They’re gorgeous the first year, smaller the second year, and they vanish without a trace in year three.  But they’re so beautiful, I just keep planting them.  Some folks never learn.  (Other folks buy botanical tulips, which do naturalize. So I planted some of those, too.  You can’t keep a good addict down.)
  • Wet cabbage leaves are SLIPPERY.  One moment I was strolling over a layer of discarded cabbage leaves; next thing I knew I was on my knees in cold soggy mud, laughing like a lunatic.  Fortunately no cabbages were harmed; and I’ve never been particularly attached to my dignity anyway.
  • No amount of spring bulbs is “enough”.  I planted another couple of hundred crocuses, tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths this fall.  That makes over 2,000 bulbs we’ve planted on our property in the four years we’ve lived here.  (I need more bulbs…)
  • I have zero ability to manage outdoor projects.  They always take three times as long as I think they will, and something “more important” always comes up. This summer I completed projects I didn’t even intend to start; and didn’t finish projects I’d sworn were top priority.  But they all need to be done, so I’m hoping it’ll even out in the end.
  • Superschmelz kohlrabi is da bomb.  I love kohlrabi even though it looks like it was conceived by a green alien with an irresistible attraction to volleyballs.  This year I grew Superschmelz for the first time:
No, this isn’t Photoshopped – that kohlrabi really *is* almost as big as my head.

Any alien veggies in your garden?

Book 17 update: I’ve started plotting, woohoo! Stay tuned for regular progress reports starting in two weeks…

This Post Doesn’t Suck

Well, I thought I was over it, but apparently my attention-deficit dyslexia is back. When I first started misreading words almost ten years ago, I figured I’d be doomed to unintentionally discover psychological vomit, lap-dancing, kiss-ass guitars, fanfarts, and killer raisins for the rest of my life.

Maybe I got used to my reading glasses, or maybe my brain finally got its shit together; but my “Wait, WHAT?” moments gradually diminished, and it’s been quite a while since I misread anything. Until last week.

I was skimming an ad for e-books when my gaze snagged on a description that began, “In this absorbing sex bot

Wait, WHAT?!?

Some of the sci-fi books I read are a little risqué, and this wasn’t the first time I’d encountered the concept of sex bots. So I eagerly re-read *ahem*… that is to say, I ‘disapprovingly revisited’… the titillating offending text. Much to my disappointment relief, I had mentally transposed the first two letters of the words. In fact, it was a ‘box set’, not a ‘sex bot’. Damn.

(I meant ‘whew’. Honest.)

But since my mind was already in the gutter, it decided to wallow around a bit. I began to wonder: Why don’t we have sex bots?

New technology frequently copies science fiction. After all, flip phones were basically Star Trek communicators; and it wasn’t too long ago that the X-Prize was awarded for a Star Trek medical tricorder. So why not sex bots?

But communicators and tricorders were pretty clearly conceptualized on the show, so maybe the scope of the sex-bot project is too vague. Or maybe the potential consumers of that technology are justifiably skittish after reading about encounters with repurposed appliances like vacuum cleaners, which necessitated awkward explanations in the emergency room.

I don’t know the true reason; but I’ll leave you with a joke that landed in my email this week and made me laugh uproariously. (Thanks, Ethel!)

Hope you all have a week that doesn’t suck… or does; whichever you prefer. I won’t judge…

So, This Happened:

Yes, this really happened. I have no idea why my brain thought it needed to throw out those two particular words this week. I don’t know anyone named Culpepper, and I can’t even remember when I last heard or read the name. I’ve never cooked brisket, or considered cooking brisket; in fact I don’t think I’ve ever eaten brisket.

But I guess if there’s a character named Culpepper in my next book who likes brisket, you’ll know why.

Please tell me I’m not the only one with a brain that wakes me by spewing random words…

Crimes Against Art

This week I’m rejoining my weekly painting group after hiding out from COVID for over a year and half.  It feels weird (and a bit scary) to be in a group again; although we’re all fully vaccinated and we’ll wear masks and stay distanced in the studio.

But, scarier still… do I even remember how to hold a paintbrush?  More to the point, should I be allowed anywhere near an innocent canvas?  I’ve committed a few crimes against art in the past, so art has good reason to be wary of me.  But then again, I’ve never really understood what constitutes Good Art, either.

I’m embarrassed to admit I took Art History (among other things) for four long years in university.  Apparently those courses were worthless, because I can’t see any artistic value in a canvas that looks as though a house-painter cleaned a used roller on it.  But the National Gallery of Canada snaps those puppies up for a cool 1.8 million apiece, and their most convincing argument that it’s Good Art is a snooty, “Well, obviously you can’t grasp the concept.”  Very true.  I can’t. But there must be something to it, because those two $1.8 million investments are now valued at over $100 million combined.

So how do I know whether I’m creating Good Art or birthing an art-monster that shouldn’t be allowed to live?  After in-depth study (and perhaps a teeny bit of hyperbole) based on the National Gallery’s purchases, I’ve come up with a foolproof formula for determining the Value of Art:  

Value Of Art = (Bullshit + Snootiness2) × Wealth of Investor × Ego of Investor

It’s important to note that bullshit comes first in the formula, and it has to be linked very early with the all-important snootiness or the whole endeavor fails.  That’s why there are millions of brilliant artists, but only a few who make seven-figure sales to the National Gallery.

If they want to hit that million-dollar price point, artists should throw around words like ‘luminous’, ‘weighty’, and ‘atmospheric’, add arcane phrases like ‘perceptualizing the human condition’, and then lay on the all-important snootiness:  “Of course, most people won’t grasp the nuanced complexity of this work.”  And they need to keep repeating that stuff, loud and proud.  Then all it takes is some rich investor eager to prove they’re more cultured than ‘most people’, and an art sensation is born.

Or maybe I’m just boorish and cynical.  (Okay, that’s not a ‘maybe’.)

But I am one hell of a bullshitter.  So… do you know any rich art investors with fragile egos?  If so, send them my way; ’cause every Friday afternoon I’ll be creating paintings that have a whole shitload of nuanced complexity.  Positively weighty, in fact.  I dunno about ‘luminous’, but with all my bullshit flying around, it’s sure to be ‘atmospheric’. Just don’t inhale too deeply…

Writing update:  You may have noticed that I haven’t posted any progress on Book 17 yet.  Here’s why:  I’m concentrating on the screenplay for Book 1: Never Say Spy.  And it’s almost finished, woohoo! So if you know anybody in, or even loosely connected to, a movie production company, I hope you’ll put in a good word for me! (Or better yet, introduce me with an enthusiastic pitch for the screenplay. Hey, I can dream, right?)