Friday, March 30, 2007

And The Winner Was Not Robin Sparkles

Okay, so TV trivia isn't until next week, which is okay, because it gives us time to come up with costumes. This was an easy week - too easy, as it turned out, because we missed three questions and were tied for second going into the final question, then didn't know that one and ended up fourth. We could have been second, but wagered three points on two of our misses. To think I could have attended my fantasy baseball draft instead.
I would like to take a moment to acknowledge our server, Meg (at, least, I think her name was Meg. That's what I called her all night, and I'd like to think she would correct me, though perhaps she was just too polite), who we had not seen before, and was just an absolute ray of sunshine all night (which is not, I must point out, out of the ordinary at this establishment, but Meg went above and beyond). It makes me sad to think that customer service will eventually erode her joy and charm.

1. What iconic rock frontman sang backing vocals on Carly Simon's "You're So Vain?"
2. What drug was originally developed to detoxify morphine addicts?
3. When was the last Miss Canada pageant held?
And the final:
4. Whose last words (just prior to his execution) were, "How's this for a headline: 'French Fries!'"

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

I Hereby Announce My Candidacy

I've been incognito for a few days, consciously avoiding the Internets so I could prepare for my "fourth exam" - basically a presentation in which I introduce my dissertation topic. As of just after noon, I can go back to slacking.
I'm still a year or two from being called "Doctor." But at least now I can get a little sleep. TV trivia tomorrow!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

The next episode of Battlestar Galactica is in 2008? Two Thousand Fracking EIGHT?!
I am so cancelling the cable.

So Much For My Atkins Diet

I love pasta. I could eat it for every meal, and some days I do. I've grown a bit from my teenage days of pouring cold Prego right over hot noodles, but when I don't feel like spending a lot of time cooking, nothing beats a quick bowl of spaghetti with some olive oil and parmesan.
Anyone can boil noodles, so the key to good pasta is the sauce. My personal favorite is garlic oil, a can of diced tomatoes, and spices, but tonight I was in the mood for something different. After a couple of minutes of staring at everything in my refrigerator and pantry that I had ever considered putting on pasta, I had this week's recipe.

Rotini with Roasted Tomato Pesto
10-12 oven roasted tomatoes (slice roma tomatoes in half, toss with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and sugar, bake at 350° F for 3 hours)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup artichoke hearts
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup fresh basil (I was out, so I used a tablespoon of dried basil)
1 teaspoon sweet curry powder
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pound rotini pasta
1/2 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper

Place first tomatoes, garlic, artichoke hearts, pine nuts, spices, and parmesan in food processor, adding salt and pepper to taste. Puree to a thick paste. While running the food processor, drizzle in olive oil.

Bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil. Add the noodles and cook until al dente. Drain the noodles, reserving up to 1 cup of the pasta water.

Heat the cream over medium heat. Add the pesto to the cream and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Toss the pasta and pesto cream in a large serving bowl, adding pasta water if the mixture is too dry. Serves 6.

Nash Ramblings

I'm in the running in two NCAA pools right now, a standard bracket pool and my seed pool. The interesting thing about being in two pools is that, occasionally, I'm actually rooting against myself in one pool because it will help me in the other one. Or, more to the point, it maximizes my chances of winning both pools.
Today is the case in point. Florida is my #1 seed in the seed pool, and I have them repeating as champs in my bracket pool (beating Georgetown in the final). However, almost everyone in the seed pool has picked Florida as their #1, so if they win, I gain no ground on the pack. On the other hand, Oregon is my #3 seed, and I'm the only one with them picked, so if Oregon wins I jump up several places; in fact, the only way I can even place in the seed pool is if Oregon wins today. I'm convinced this doesn't hurt me in the brackets; my bracket is currently the best out of the people who picked Florida to win, and no one has Oregon in the Final Four, so a loss by Florida doesn't allow anyone to gain ground on me. In fact, if Oregon continues to win, after that, it can only hurt the entries that picked the likes of UCLA to win. I think if Oregon meets Georgetown in the title game, I will win both pools.
Of course, that probably won't actually happen, but it's what I'll be rooting for today. Go Ducks!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Up All Night

Couldn't sleep tonight. I'd hate to tell you why.
Fortunately, a local station was showing one of my favorite late-night films: The Mighty Quinn. I first caught this on, yes, late-night TV at my friend Kyle's house during one of those nights when we stayed up all night for no reason other than we were sixteen and didn't really need sleep. It's a reasonably entertaining detective story, Denzel Washington looks exactly the same as he does now, and we can all hearken back to a time when Mimi Rogers was hot.
Wait a second. Mimi Rogers is still hot. But she hadn't been married to Tom Cruise yet. I think.
Also, Toon Disney shows The Tick at 5:00 on Saturday mornings! And it's the "Decency Squad" episode! The pause when the puppet has to explain his "Oedipal moment" joke is priceless.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Law Of Small Numbers

I guess I shouldn't have gone to bed.
When a team that normally shoots a little over 36% on its three-pointers hits 60% in the first half, the expectation is that they'll have a big drought in the second half to bring them back down to the right level. That's mathematically incorrect, of course, but even that's beside the point; after shooting 9 of 15 from behind the arc in the first half, Tennessee went on to hit 7 of 16 threes in the second half, not exactly a big letdown (and still better than their season average).
So how does a team shoot better than 50% on their threes and still lose? Well, Ohio State got 18 more free throws, that might have something to do with it (however, having watched UT's game against Virginia on Saturday, I can't say I'm surprised by that disparity). But check out their field-goal percentage: when you're hitting more threes than twos, that indicates a problem finding open shots. And 47% on free throws? Ouch.
For the sake of my bracket (really, for the sake of destroying the brackets of those ahead of me in the office pool), I'll be rooting for USC tonight, but I get the feeling we're going to be watching three 1-vs.-2 games and a 1-vs.-3 game this weekend.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Liveblogging Andy Barker!

Trivia night is cancelled for Spring Break, so I'm trying to watch Scrubs and basketball at the same time. It's not going well, particularly because Dr. Cox is really going too far. And now I've missed the end of the Kansas game.
9:35: Hey, it's that woman from the Hughes Satellite commercial! And about a dozen other commercials! She makes me want to purchase things I have no need for.
9:36: One of my earliest memories of watching sports with my dad was his pointing out Dick Vitale's (this was back when Dick was still doing in-game color commentary) ability to go from criticism to praise in a heartbeat - "Don't pull up there! No! No--nice shot!" I often find myself doing the same thing, but with the sense of irony.
9:39: What the heck is Memphis doing? You're down ONE POINT. Why take a shot from two steps behind the three-point line? And why, when you get the rebound, do you kick it out and try it again? Drive, for Pete's sake!
9:42: And now I've missed important plot points on Andy Barker. But gosh, I find his conversations with his wife so darling.
9:46: That was the most anticlimactic ending to a basketball game I've seen in a long time.
9:47: And I've gotta say, based on the way Memphis played here, Ohio State is looking very good for the Final Four.
9:51: "What is this, a hoof?"
I saw that coming, but it was still funny.
9:54: Ginny is a drooler. Who knew?
9:58: I like this show. But, just the same, bring back 30 Rock.
10:02: I'm running a 'seed pool' for this tournament. The idea is simple, just pick the team at each seeding that will advance the farthest in the tournament (e.g., Florida is my #1, Georgetown is my #2, ..., Eastern Kentucky was my #16). The reason I bring this up is that I am the only person in this pool who did not pick Texas A&M as my #3 seed (I picked Oregon). I really enjoyed crossing that off of everyone's entry but mine.
10:19: I just had to toss my first comment spam. The other is at least tangentially related to things I post here, but you're walking a fine line, kiddo.
10:22: I'm beginning to believe that there will not be a 2-point shot in the Ohio State - Tennessee game.
10:23: Well, at least not by Tennessee.
10:24: Dang.
10:39: Here's a trivia question. We all know (well, we're about to) that the lowest seed to win an NCAA championship in the expanded format is #8 (Villanova, 1985). But what is the highest seed such that no team with that seeding has won a title?
10:48: Tennesee is up 14 and Oden is in foul trouble. What was it I was saying about Ohio State and the Final Four?
10:55: The lead is 17. I can't believe I'm skipping Ninja Warrior for this.
11:07: I'm going to bed. Someone call me if anything exciting happens.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Can I Just Use Grand Marnier?

In my cooking travels, I have occasionally run across ingredients that I never knew existed, but suddenly cannot live without, because it's in every recipe I want to make.
When I first started cooking for myself, it was Mexican Oregano. I had no idea there were different kinds of oregano, but if you want to make chili, it's the only way to go (chili, by the way, won't be a ROTW until football season). Fortunately, that's pretty easy to find. In fact, when I lived in Boston, just about everything was easy to find.
Two years ago, though, the ingredient du jour was lemongrass, and try finding that in Richland, Michigan. My usual solution was to buy some noodles with a lemongrass flavor packet, and to then throw out the noodles.
This week, while leafing through my new favorite cookbook, I suddenly noticed every third recipe mentioned orange flower water. It is my new food obsession, and it looks like it's going to be difficult to locate in the Clemson area. Amazon has it, if I feel like doubling the price for shipping (which reminds me of my absolute favorite Amazon item), but this isn't going to be available at Bi-Lo. Any ideas where I should look, campers? Does anyone even remotely local read this blog?

Monday, March 19, 2007

21 is the new 20

Today is my cousin Erica's birthday. I forget whether she's 20 or 21 this year, but if you happen to know my cousin, stop and wish her a happy birthday.

Edited to add: It's also Bruce Willis's 52nd birthday. Happy birthday, Bruce, and remember, 52 is the new 33.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Milk's Best Friend (No, Not Cheese)

During my summer of unemployment, I kept myself in movie money by selling cookies to friends and acquaintances. The peanut butter cookies were my biggest seller (the bartenders at a local watering hole had a standing order for three dozen every Friday), but I preferred to make Grandma Light's Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies, my first favorite food, and the first thing I learned how to bake.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tablespoons warm water
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups oatmeal
2 cups (one 12-ounce package) chocolate chips
1/2 - 1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350° F. Sift together flower, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
Cream together shortening, butter, and sugars. Beat in eggs, water, and vanilla. Stir in dry ingredients, oatmeal, chocolate chips, and walnuts.
Line baking sheets with parchment paper, and drop scant two-tablespoon balls of dough onto the sheets. Bake each batch 10-12 minutes, and cool on wire racks. Makes approximately 60 cookies.

33 Is The New 25

Today, I celebrate the end of my 33rd trip around the Sun. It is sobering to think that when my parents were my age, I was seven years old.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Race Is Not Always To the Swift, But That Is the Way To Bet

After two days of the NCAA basketball tournament, the Tournament Selection Committee ought to be thinking two things:
1. Giving Stanford a bid might have been an error.
2. Other than that, we did a great job.

Okay, Duke was overrated as a #6, and it's telling that nearly everybody called Winthrop's "upset" of Notre Dame. But seriously, two upsets in the first round? (For those of you about to point out that three #9 seeds won: Since 1985, #9 seeds are now 50-42 in the first round. I guess we could consider Kentucky's win an upset.) Tournaments just don't follow form like this.
Are there big upsets ahead in the second round? Well, Louisville gets what is essentially a home game against Texas A&M, so that's a good bet. Wisconsin didn't look terribly impressive in their opener, and could fall to an underrated UNLV. And I don't really see this happening, but I suppose you can't count out Michigan State against UNC. I think Monday, we'll be reading about a fairly surprise-free second round.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

In Australia, It's the Easter Bilby

I was back to my solo status at Trivia Night tonight. Coincidentally, I was back to winning tonight.
So here's how trivia night works at this particular establishment: six rounds of three questions each, plus a three-question 'halftime' and a final question. In each round, you get a 1-, 3-, and 5-point question; you get to decide which question gets which value. The halftime questions are each worth three points. There's no penalty for missing, until the final question, which is worth fifteen points if you get it right, -15 if you get it wrong, and nothing if you elect not to answer. There is some strategy to the final question, but the real key to winning at trivia night is: don't blow your 5-pointers.
A tough night, but thanks to the advent of Spring Break and early St. Patrick's Day celebrations at other local watering holes, the competition was light. Tonight's misses:

1. What is the first name shared by the Hungarian actors who played Pontius Pilate and John in The Passion of the Christ?
2. In Switzerland, what animal brings eggs on Easter?
3. What is the longest a total eclipse of the Sun can last?
4. What was Astroturf called before it was installed in the Astrodome in 1966?
5. What is IRS form 211?
6. What comedian's experiences in the Navy were the inspiration for M*A*S*H's Corporal Max Klinger?
7. What is most of the ocean floor made of? (in other words, what mineral?)
8. How many buttons are on a U.S. soldier's bell-bottom pants?

I'm Not Dead Yet

If you're wondering why I haven't posted since Sunday, no, I haven't abandoned my blog already. It's been kind of a busy week. I could have blogged about our intramural softball team's opening day victory on Monday, but I was out all night celebrating. Tuesday, I could have talked about the kind of position I'm likely to get with a PhD from Clemson, or relationship fun, but I think those can wait until I'm a little more objective. Wednesday was Exam Night for my students, and that's a bit of a time-sink. So, here it is, Thursday already. Trivia questions are coming later tonight, and I'm hoping to join tens of thousands of other men (and twelve women) blathering about the basketball tourney. Until then, keep the faith!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Genetically Modified Super-Rice

I've eaten well this weekend. Friday was leftovers (rotini and sweet sausage), because I was busy preparing Saturday's dry-rubbed, slow-cooked carnitas feast. Saturday, the carnitas for lunch (with spicy rice and fresh-made guacamole), and dinner at a local Greek place. Today, the leftover pork went into some hashbrowns, and now I have a new batch of tomatoes roasting in the oven.
So, which of these is your Recipe Of The Week? Well, the pork roast is cribbed in large part from a cookbook. Not that the Velvet Elvis is something no one's ever seen before, but I feel like I should at least be able to make a dish without having a book open on the counter before I call it my own. With that in mind, you get my Southwestern Rice, which I've been making for years, and heretofore has existed only on a post-it stuck in another cookbook. The post title is the way one of my friends described it the first time I served it to other people.

Southwestern Rice
2 T. olive oil or butter
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. cumin powder
1 tsp. Mexican oregano (Mexican oregano is less sweet and more piquant than the Mediterranean version)
2 cups long-grain white rice
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup jalepeƱos, diced
1/2 cup diced red vegetables (my favorite is roasted peppers, but unroasted peppers and tomatoes are also extremely good)
1 16-ounce bag frozen whole kernel corn
1/2 cup milk
4 ounces grated monterey jack cheese

Heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, cumin, and oregano, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the rice and stir until well-coated. Add the stock and vegetables and increase heat to high. When the pot begins to boil, stir for a few seconds, then turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let stand for 25-30 minutes. Stir in the milk and cheese. Serve with sour cream, guacamole, and cilantro. Serves, oh, let's call it 12.

My only real problem with this recipe is that it makes a lot of rice, which means I'm eating this all week. Fortunately, it's pretty versatile stuff, and tasty besides.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

I may have misspoken...

...when I declared last week's Trivia Night the Worst Ever, because this week was a dreaded Theme Week. Theme Weeks are generally bad, because the themes tend to be narrow enough that you're testing depth of knowledge about a specific subject, which is pretty much the opposite of trivia. This week's theme, though, was "Trains, Planes, Ships, and Automobiles," which could have been okay, except the questions were absurdly specific, asked for too many details, and were technical in the sense of, "yes, that's technically right, but not what we were looking for." I like hard questions, but, judging by the number of teams that up and left halfway through the game, this one was bad for everyone.
I will not further dignify this particular night by repeating the questions. Instead, I'll use questions from a week last month, which I forgot to send to my old trivia list. I won that particular week, so there aren't many.

1. What is the diameter (in inches) of a hockey puck?
2. Who was the original drummer of the Beatles?
3. Who is referred to as the "King of Country Music?"

The Halftime category was "Famous Jameses." What are the better-known names of
4. James Douglas Muir?
5. James Joseph?
6. James Marshall?

7. In the book "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," what is Wonka's rival brand? (there are two, and they only gave credit for one, but I misspelled that one anyway)
8. What is the emergency phone number in Australia (i.e., the Australian equivalent of 9-1-1)?

But "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" Is Okay?

A local school board has removed the book "Fat Kid Rules The World" from its libraries, citing the naughty words and references to drug use. Interestingly, the article's only dissenting viewpoint is from the author of the book.
I am, in principle, against censorship, and I find the arguments of the 'concerned parents' a little bit naive, to be honest. (No, I don't have kids, and no, I haven't read the book.) But the more I've thought about this, the more I side with the school in this case. They're not the Library of Congress; they can decide what goes in the library and what doesn't. And it's not like they're preventing kids from reading the book; the county library has at least four copies at its various branches (all of which, shockingly, are checked out). If they start actively taking the book from students, then the line has been crossed. Otherwise, it's $6.99 on Amazon, kids.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Bad Dog No Biscuit

On yesterday's walk, we saw the dreaded UPS truck. Ginny saw it before I did, so I had to be reactive in getting her to calm down. Actual transcript of events:
Me: Okay, settle down. Sit.
Ginny: Howl!
M: Sit...
G: Howl!
M: Sit!
G: Howl!
(repeat 6x)
M: That's enough! Sit!
G: (stares blankly)
M: Sit. Down. Now.
G: (does not sit)
M: Do as you're told! Sit down!
(I push on the dog's hindquarters, forcing her to sit)
M: Good g-
G: (ceases sitting)
M: No! Sit!
G: (blank stare)
(I repeat the attempt to force her to sit. Ginny splays her back legs and pushes back, foiling me)
(I attempt an old trick Mom taught me, putting my arm behind her back legs and sweeping it forward. Ginny is apparently familiar with this trick)
M: Ginny, sit down.
G: (attempts to wander off)
M: We're not going anywhere until you sit.
G: (stares, having apparently not learned English. Willful ignorance, if you ask me)
M: Sit down...
(repeat for 5 minutes)
M: Sit.
G: (sits)
M: Thank you. Good dog.
(We sit for a few seconds, then resume our walk, my goal of calming the dog having been achieved in spite of me)


Life's Too Short To Drink Cheap Wine...

...unless you happen to be Ernest Gallo, who passed away yesterday at 97.
Stores everywhere can expect a run on Dixie cups as Gallo fans plan tastings in his honor.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Thankya, thankya very much

It's time for the Recipe Of The Week. Tonight's dinner was asparagus milanese with a fried egg (I found recipes in both of my recent cookbook acquisitions), a surprisingly easy and tasty dish. But that's not the recipe you're getting tonight. Tonight, you get an old favorite, inspired by last week's suggestion that I be more family-friendly (by including peanut butter).

Velvet Elvises

8 slices sandwich bread
peanut butter (I prefer creamy here)
two ripe bananas, sliced
12 strips bacon (about 1 pound)

heat a skillet and begin frying the bacon. Meanwhile, lightly toast the bread. Spread peanut butter on each slice, then top 4 of the pieces with the sliced bananas. When the bacon is done, place three strips each on the other 4 pieces of bread, and make sandwiches. For additional flavor, fry each sandwich in the bacon grease, about 1 minute each side. Serve with Lipitor.

These were, reputedly, the King's favorite snack. One taste and you'll know why. You'll also have a fairly good idea why he's dead. But one won't kill you, right?

Thursday, March 1, 2007

That Eddie Gets Around

Worst. Trivia Night. Ever.
Things actually went pretty well, until we (I was on a team of two this week) got to halftime. We missed two out of three, then blew the entire round after that. By the time we got to the final question, we were long gone. Anyway, here's what we missed, and it's quite a list this week. I'll skip the Myrtle Beach-specific question.

1. In 2006, what was the #1 occupation of employed women? (Hint: it's not "teacher.")
2. Who, in 1987, became the first woman to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated?
3. What is the name of Beyonce and her mother Tina's clothing line?
4. What are the first names of Michael and Janet Jackson's parents? (presumably, the parents of the other Jacksons as well)
5. Who is Cuba Gooding, Jr.'s Nickelodeon-star brother?
6. Where was the first movie theater opened, in 1905?
7. What film became the highest-grossing animated film ever in 2003, only to lose the title a year later?
8. Jay-Z just released his new design for what?
9. What was the first team to win five Super Bowls? (and yes, I am truly embarrassed to have missed this one)
10. Eddie Murphy is rumored to be dating Tracy Edmonds, who is the ex-wife of what music mogul?

Help Me, Cesar Milan, You're My Only Hope

Sharp-eyed surfers may have already noticed that the photo to the right contains a fuzzy blob with its head in a dish. That blob is Ginny, and she wants little more from life than to be fed, and walked, and to occasionally chase squirrels, and maybe sing a little Biz Markie. She tries very hard to be a good dog, and for the most part, she succeeds. However, we run into two problems on our twice-daily walks:

1. The Train. The road where we normally walk runs near train tracks, and we get a lot of railroad traffic. Ginny is not a fan of loud noises, so when we hear the train approaching, she begins to pull at the leash (an apparent attempt to move faster, though she's never concerned about whether or not we're actually moving away from the train). When the train goes by, she begins to howl, and really starts fighting the leash. Telling her "no" just leads to more howling. Usually, she settles down after the train is gone, but it's near-impossible to avoid the train traffic in this area.

2. The UPS Truck. Ginny's reaction to the train is a nuisance, but her reaction to Big Brown is... kind of scary. She'll bark at lots of large vehicles (the garbage truck, the school bus, the neighbor's F-350) from the safety of the yard, but on our walks, they don't even get a second glance. Not so the UPS truck, which transforms mild-mannered Ginny into the Fourth Head of Cerberus. She tries to tear the leash out of my hand, alternately lowering her body to get more levarage, and then leaping into the air. Meanwhile, she howls and snarls in a show of anger usually reserved for my mom's dog. Scolding is useless at this point - the ears have been turned off. I'm not worried that she'll hurt me, or even the UPS guy (she lets him scratch her behind the ears, as long as she can keep barking at his truck), but she has on several occasions pulled her collar so tight or gotten so tangled in the leash that she starts choking, and if she does manages to get away from me, she will chase the truck heedlessly into traffic (as she did once when the gate to the backyard was left open).

So, dog whisperers, any ideas? Let's assume that beating the dog is not an option.
Trivia questions later tonight...