December 20, 2013

Cape May meanderings

I usually go to Cape May with my family, so I never get to do what I want.  We do what they want.  That's fine, but we go to the same places all the time.  This time I went by myself.  I found some areas that I hadn't seen before.  I explored Cape May Point State Park.  In addition to the lighthouse, the park consists of marshes, ponds, and a series of trails.  It is remarkable.  I was surprised to find a beautiful wilderness hidden away in Cape May.

That's a swan floating through the marsh.
Since it was off-season, the place was deserted.  It was just me and the wildlife.  The only sounds were reeds rustling in the wind, the ocean, and bird calls.  It was great.  Me being me, I almost fell in the marshes more than once.  I tend to get in a zone when I'm taking photos and not pay attention to anything outside of what I see through the lens.  This can be annoying to people who are with me, but when I'm alone, it can get me into trouble.  While some of the trails were dirt paths through woods, others were planks over swampy wetlands.  That's what it was like where I took the above photo- planks over swamp.  This was just one of the places where I almost plopped myself right in the water.

Cape May Light
From the park, I went to Cape May's main beach area.  I parked near the arcade because I wanted to play skeeball.  ALAS, the arcade was closed for the winter.  I love the ocean.  Watching the waves, listening to them crash on the shore- these things are very soothing to me.  Almost immediately upon stepping foot on the beach, a seagull landed near me.

my seagull friend
He became disgusted with me when I had no food for him, so he left soon after.  I walked up and down the beach.  I watched a few birds perched on giant rocks that kept being pounded by waves.  The tiny birds refused to move.  I left this beach and headed over to the bay side of Cape May.  It being a peninsula, one side borders the Atlantic Ocean, while the other side borders the Delaware Bay.  Higbee Beach was empty.  It's part of a huge wildlife refuge, and I walked through some of the trails before hitting the beach itself.

Higbee Beach
It was nice to be in Cape May during the winter.  The Jersey shore is a madhouse in the summer.  It's harder to appreciate the beauty of the place when it is overrun with people.  I had a peaceful day of solitude.  I needed it.  

December 15, 2013

The Whoathon begins!

The Great Whoathon begins!  January of 2014 will see the start of the Whoathon.  Long talked about but never begun, the Whoathon will see me watch every episode of Doctor Who in order, starting at the very beginning.  Sure, it will take years to accomplish, but it will be fun.

I will try to include those episodes of the first two Doctors that are lost.  For those unaware, many of the episodes of the 1st and 2nd Doctors are no longer in existence as videos.  The BBC used to wipe videotapes to reuse them.  However, all of the audios exist, so fans have remade the episodes, either by matching up the audio with photos or by animating the action.  There are also a few official BBC releases with animation of lost episodes.

If I stick with this, it will take years.  Even if I stay with my goal of one episode each week, which is unlikely, there are over 150 episodes of Classic Who alone.  Keep in mind, what I call Classic Who episodes are really multi-episode affairs.  Most stories are an hour and a half or more, combining four or more episodes to make one story.  Let the Great Whoathon commence!

December 14, 2013

The gentleman beagle

I haven't blogged about the gentleman beagle lately.  He has not been appreciating the snow.

If I close my eyes, I can will away the snow.
The beagle heads right for the blankets after being outside in the winter.  He prefers to make his own beagle nests.

This is my nest.
Kenobi does not like when I disturb him in his nests, even though he usually uses MY blankets to make them.

Ah, lovely nest.
He often makes nests on my bed, which means that when it's time to wash the sheets and the blankets, he gets slightly annoyed.

Give me back the blankets.  Now.
Most often, I find him lost in a lump of blankets.

No beagles here.  Go away.
I don't mind.  He knows he gets whatever he wants.  I can't resist the power of the cuteness.

I felt a great disturbance in the Force...when you wouldn't give me any bean dip.

November 24, 2013

Doctor Who is 50

My favorite television show has turned fifty.  On November 23, 1963, Doctor Who aired for the first time.  There has been a borderline obnoxious amount of media coverage about this (at least in British media, which is admittedly what I read more than American media), so I wasn't going to blog about it.  However, I watched the anniversary special this weekend, and it reminded me of how deeply I love this show.  And so, on a blog named Reversing the Polarity, at least some mention should be made of the big 50th anniversary.  

the first opening credits

I have watched and loved Doctor Who for as long as I remember watching television.  When I was a kid, two local PBS stations aired the show.  This was long before the days when everything was accessible via the internet.  I could see Doctor Who twice a week, and I was lucky to get that.  I have vivid memories of Saturday nights spent in front of the tv, watching NJN, seeing the Prydonians of Princeton man the phones during pledge drives.  I wanted to BE a Prydonian of Princeton, dammit.  I doubt they admitted ten-year-olds to their ranks.  I remember bonding with friends over Doctor Who, like being a Whovian was belonging to a secret club.  We had found this special show that no one else knew about.  I still bond with my friends over Doctor Who!  

four Doctors; from left- 1st, 5th, 3rd, 2nd

What makes the Doctor resonate with me is that he is a thinking hero.  He uses his intelligence to solve problems and get out of trouble.  He very rarely fights or uses a gun (except the 3rd Doctor, who did sometimes use Venusian karate).  He prefers diplomacy to battle.  He is good, in the truest sense of the word.  He helps those who need it.  The Doctor cares.  He does what is right.  The Doctor made my younger self want to be a Time Lord.  I still want to be a Time Lord, but it's probably not as acceptable to admit that when you are in your thirties.  

the Doctor in formal Gallifreyan garb

When I discovered the episodes with Romana, a female Time Lord just as clever as the Doctor, I grew even more enamored of the show.  Being a fan of science fiction when you are a woman means you get used to reading books and watching tv shows and movies without women in them.  If women are present, they are there to be saved, not do the saving.  Princess Leias and Wonder Women are rare.  Here was my favorite show giving me exactly what I yearned for- Romana was the Doctor's equal.  She didn't run around screaming in fear at everything.  She wasn't there for the sole purpose of being rescued.  She was a hero, too.  

the 4th Doctor and Romana

Sometimes I grumble that I like old Who better than the new version.  Well, of course I do.  I grew up with Classic Who.  The wobbly sets, bad special effects, and endless running through corridors and quarries don't bother me one bit.  The stories and characters are still great.  I dare anyone to watch the episode "City of Death" and not love it, even if the part with Scaroth's ship looks like it could have been me filming my Star Wars toys.  

Scaroth's Jaggaroth ship

Truthfully, I wasn't especially excited for the anniversary episode, "The Day of the Doctor."  From what I had heard in advance, I didn't think it was going to be anything special.  Was I ever wrong.  It was wonderful.  It had little references to Classic Who, it was funny, and it made me excited for the future direction of the show.  It had all the goodness of the previous multiple-Doctor episodes.  

10th and 11th Doctors (r to l); David Tennant = still cute

Doctor Who has been with me my whole life.  It's my go-to show when I'm down or bored or don't know what to watch.  Here's to fifty more years!  

November 20, 2013

Let's go to Europa

Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, has said that he wants to go ice fishing on Europa.  I do, too.  I started thinking about this again recently after watching a stupid movie.  I thought it was going to be a good space flick, and it ended up being a lame found-footage movie.  The surprising thing about this movie was that it got a lot of the science right.  There was even a clip of Neil deGrasse Tyson and his ice fishing comment.  Europa is one of the moons of the planet Jupiter.  It's slightly smaller than Earth's Moon, but it's big enough so that when looking at Jupiter through my small telescope, I can see it along with Jupiter's three other large moons.  Pretty cool.

Europa (top right) with her sister Galilean moons; image courtesy NASA/JPL

I am an insane astronomy junkie and got completely sidetracked while looking for NASA images of Europa.  I could look at NASA photos for hours.  I'm mesmerized by the planets and their moons.  Anyway, the above is a composite photo showing Jupiter's four largest moons, called the Galilean moons because they were discovered by Galileo.  Clockwise from the top left, they are Io, Europa, Callisto, and Ganymede.  They're beautiful.

So, Europa.  Why is Europa so interesting?  Europa is one of the two top candidates for finding life outside of Earth in our solar system.  (Enceladus, moon of Saturn, is the other.)  Europa is covered in ice.  The same extreme tidal forces from Jupiter that make Io the most volcanically active piece of real estate in the solar system generate enough heat in Europa to melt the ice and create an ocean of water under the surface.  Every place on Earth in which people have found water, no matter how hostile the environment, people have found life.  The ice on the surface of Europa is several miles thick, which should be thick enough to shield living things from the massive amount of radiation emitted by Jupiter.  Microbial life.  Possibly multicellular life.  In my wildest dreams, the Europan equivalent of fish.  I'm not talking about intelligent life that could communicate with us.

Europa's cracked ice surface; image courtesy NASA/JPL

The premise of this bad movie I saw was that astronauts were sent from Earth to land on Europa and seek out life.  I wish!  We don't have the technology right now to do that, and NASA has become so risk-adverse that they wouldn't even if we did.  We could send a robotic lander, though.  Several missions like this have been proposed only to be shot down in favor of yet more Mars missions.  Once MAVEN reaches Mars, NASA will have two rovers on the surface and three satellites in orbit.  NASA has become fixated on Mars to the detriment of the rest of the solar system.  There is not one mission in preparation with funding that would visit the outer planets.  New Horizons is on its way to Pluto, and Juno is on its way to Jupiter, but nothing is in the pipeline to follow them.  I was disappointed that in the latest round of approvals, a mission to Uranus was shelved.  It takes a long time to plan and execute these missions because of the vast amount of time it takes to travel so far away.  They need to get on this before I die!  I'm serious.  If they approved a mission to Neptune or Uranus this year, it probably wouldn't get there until I was retirement age.  I'm already never going to see people walk on Mars or even the Moon.  I'd like to see more photos of Neptune and Uranus and find out more about these mysterious ice giants.  The only mission to visit them was Voyager 2 in the 80s.  We have a couple of photos and a little bit of data from flybys of each planet.  That's it.  So many questions!  No answers.  No way to get answers without going there.  

I digress.  Europa.  I firmly believe there is some kind of life there.  Those ruddy stains on the surface- scientists believe that they come from the subsurface ocean bursting out through the cracks in the ice.  What is making it that color??  As Carl Sagan said, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."  A mission to Europa could find it.  I came across something interesting- Objective Europa.  It looks like this group wants to make the bad movie come true, as a one-way trip.  Go for it, Objective Europa!  There's no way people could survive the intense radiation that deep in the Jovian magnetosphere, but since they aren't planning on coming back, I suppose that's not an issue.  Not that I think Objective Europa will happen, but we need something to inspire people.  The current generation of astronauts and engineers saw Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the Moon.  That was supposed to be our first step out into space.  We need to get out there if our species is to survive.  Low Earth orbit isn't good enough.  There's a reason the Drake Equation has a spot for how long civilizations last.  Odds are, they don't.  Ah, nothing like pessimism to end a blog post.  So, here is a random astronomy factoid that rattles around my brain.

The Moon is far away.  

Yeah, Jen, of course the Moon is far away, you say.  No, but it really is far.  Let's say that a basketball is the Earth and a tennis ball is the Moon.  That's to scale.  How far away would they have to be to accurately represent the distance between the Moon and the Earth?  Stop and think about your answer before you read on.  Most people would probably hold them one to two feet apart.  Not even close.  Think of your average classroom.  I'll hold the basketball and stand at the front.  You take the tennis ball and walk to the back.  That's about right- almost twenty-five feet away.  See, the Moon is far away.  So the next time the media is freaking out because an asteroid is passing between the Earth and the Moon, don't worry.  The Moon is 238,900 miles away.  That's a lot of space.  

I love photos like this.  Image courtesy NASA/JPL

November 6, 2013

The road to Rhode Island

A few friends of mine went to the Rhode Island Comic Con last weekend and invited me along.  One of my friends has already written two posts on his blog about our trip, which can be found here and here.  Josh is a great writer and a much better blogger than me, so if you want a better account of the trip, follow the links to his blog!

We went to the con on Saturday.  I hadn't been to any sci-fi or comic convention since high school, so I wasn't sure what to expect.  It was fantastic!  There were lots of talented artists there, as well as vendors selling interesting, geeky things.  I also saw Lando Calrissian.  I thought it would be creepy/stalkery to take a photo of Billy Dee Williams from a few feet away, so I don't have one.  Sorry.  Still, it was kind of cool to see Lando in person.  I was already familiar with one of the artists I met there.  Her name was Karen Hallion, and I have a few t-shirts with her work on it.

I have this on a blue tee.
Another artist I met was Chrissie Zullo.  She was very friendly, and I loved her work so much that it was hard to pick just one print.  So I got two.

A lot of people were dressed up in amazing costumes that obviously took a lot of effort.  My friends' daughter wanted photos of quite a few of them.  People were always very nice about having their picture taken.  Sometimes they'd strike a pose.  I know I'd think it was neat if I dressed up and people thought it was so cool that they wanted a photo.  The con had a great atmosphere.  It's wonderful that people can celebrate stuff that they love with other people who love the same.  Ray Bradbury once advised, "Love what YOU love."  That sentiment was in abundance.  Now that I'm addicted to Neil Gaiman's Sandman series, maybe one day I'll be able to convince my friends to cosplay as the Endless with me- as long as I get to be Death.

On Sunday, we went to Swan Point Cemetery to visit the grave of H.P. Lovecraft.  The cemetery is enormous.  We had to drive around a bit before we found him.

"I am Providence."
One friend did several gravestone rubbings and was kind enough to let me have a green one.  My friends' daughter did a couple of them, too.  Hers were multicolored.

Leaving the cemetery, we drove past Brown's stadium.  I had never seen it before.  I think this amused my friends a great deal.  IN MY DEFENSE...the stadium isn't very close to campus, and I was always competing on Saturdays when they held football games.  Truthfully, I don't like college football, so I never would have gone, anyway.  It was nice to be back in my old stomping ground.  I miss the area very much.

Some other highlights from the weekend?  My friends came up with my ultimate Jeopardy board- Jane Austen, photography, and bars in New England.  My friends' daughter does great high fives.  One time she told me to put my hand higher.  She jumped up to reach it, yelling "SKYSCRAPER FIVE!"  She's awesome like that.  It was a fun weekend.

October 27, 2013

Visiting Poe and Pembleton

A friend of mine had been wanting to visit Edgar Allan Poe's grave in Baltimore.  I wanted to see it, too, so he took me along with him on the trip.  It was a sunny afternoon when we drove down to Maryland.  Poe is buried in a surprisingly small cemetery, in which he has two different grave markers.  There is a large marble monument at his current burial site.

His original grave, hidden away at the back of the cemetery, is commemorated with an interesting tombstone.

That's a Poe tee I'm wearing.
After hanging out with Poe for a bit, my friend noticed a sign outside the cemetery pointing to Poe's house, only half a mile away.  We decided to walk there.  When we got there, it was closed.  It was neat to see the house, even if we couldn't go in.

My interest in going to Baltimore was twofold.  Poe was not the only draw.  One of my favorite tv shows of all time was filmed there.  Let's just go ahead and say it's one of the best police procedural shows ever made- Homicide: Life on the Street.  It was a nice walk through the Inner Harbor area to the Fells Point section of Baltimore.  Then I saw it.  The police headquarters building from Homicide is on Thames Street.

Bayliss:  You never say please. You never say thank you.
Pembleton:  Please don't be an idiot. Thank you.
I was incredibly tempted to stand in front of the doors and reenact Pembleton's salute from the episode "Crosetti," but I held back.  Across the street is the Waterfront.  In Homicide, the Waterfront is a bar owned by three of the detectives- Tim Bayliss, Meldrick Lewis, and John Munch.  In reality, it's a hotel and its attached bar.  How great it was to kick back and have a few beers in Bayliss, Lewis, and Munch's bar!  I was thrilled to see the Homicide locations.  I have watched the show over and over again through the years.  To see it in person was fantastic.

October 24, 2013

Hyperbole and a Half and depression

I like the blog Hyperbole and a Half.  It's funny.  It's creative.  It's brilliant.  The author of that blog, Allie Brosh, has a book coming out this month, and I'm looking forward to reading it.  Two of her posts really resonated with me.  They were more serious posts than usual.  The topic was depression.  The thing is, when you have depression (Suffer from depression?  Struggle with depression?  Those seem like clich├ęs.), sometimes it helps to know that someone else knows exactly what you are going though.  It's not that I want other people to feel like this, but seeing that you aren't alone in your suffering (okay, I said it) and seeing that they can keep going, that helps.  Depression is so isolating, even a "wow, I do that, too" moment, a connection with a complete stranger, is something.  It's important that talented, creative people with a voice, like Allie Brosh and Stephen Fry, speak out about depression.  I think it's hard for people who have never had it to understand what it's like- how it's more than feeling sad.  People have told me to "snap out of it."  If only it were that easy.  Anyway, these two posts do a great job of relaying what it's like.  They are worth a read:  Adventures in Depression and Depression Part Two.

Since this subject is such a departure from my usual blogging, I will punctuate this post with photos of the gentleman beagle.

He wrapped himself in my TARDIS blanket. I did not do this.
I think one of the reasons I admire Allie Brosh's posts about depression so much is that it's so hard to write about this.  Where does one begin?  It's something that's all-encompassing.  It's not always the same.  It's feeling black depths of sadness or feeling nothing- like being in a numb fog.  A character in a book I read years ago said how at least bi-polars got to experience the highs; the best we depressives get is approaching normal.  Alas, that line stuck with me, but the book's title did not.

The beagle wants belly rubs.
My depression has been with me so long, I can't say when it began.  It has certainly been all of my adult life.  There are times when it is worse than others.  There are times when I feel almost normal.  It has been particularly bad of late.  That's the kind of bad that sucks the joy out of things you normally enjoy, that makes you not want to get out of bed because there is no point.

He likes to eat stuff outside and pretend that he didn't.
It has been worse.  Thoughts of suicide often accompany the worst periods of depression, and I have not been immune to that.  When the pain and the self-loathing and the feelings of worthlessness are overwhelming, you get to thinking, well, I just want it to be over.  I just want peace.  I don't have a good answer as to why I haven't done it.  I never had the guts?  I couldn't be bothered because of the enormous apathy that accompanies my depression?  Because I'm an atheist, so I know this is the only shot I get at life?  Because my friends send me top ten lists of why I am awesome?  (Yes, that has happened.  I have some great friends.)  Those are all factors, but I think that the real reason is that because as hopeless as I feel sometimes, there is a nagging in the back of my brain- you can't do it because things might get better one day.  It's like that grain of sand at the end of The Neverending Story.  It's all that's left of Fantasia, but it's enough.

Find the beagle.  He is in there.
What else does depression make me do when it's at its worst?  I hibernate in my bedroom.  I turn down offers to do things with friends or family just so that I won't have to see people or go outside.  I curl up under the covers with my dog and want to be left alone.  I don't have the energy to do anything.  It's not always like this, mind you.  And sometimes even when it is, I force myself to go out and do things, and it makes me feel a little better.  Seeing my friends helps.  Traveling helps.  Taking photos helps.  Watching the Red Sox win helps.  Okay, I threw that last one in because they won game one of the World Series tonight.  GO SOX!

Again, he did this himself.  He likes my blankets.
Shall I end on an optimistic note?  That would be so unlike me, but I'll try.  I have been letting depression dominate my life lately, and that's going to stop.  I have a plan as to how I'm going to accomplish my goals.  Hell, I HAVE goals.  Now is the time for me to fangirl a little more over Hyperbole and a Half.  Here are two of my favorite posts.

The Year Kenny Loggins Ruined Christmas

The Alot is Better Than You at Everything

They're funny!  Read them!

September 25, 2013

Yellow cake with fluffy chocolate frosting

A good friend of mine recommended Flour, Joanne Chang's cookbook.  The recipes aren't basic, but the instructions are excellent.  The results are delicious.

I don't have this cookbook, but I found its recipe for yellow cake with fluffy chocolate frosting on the Serious Eats website.  It's a yellow cake with a buttercream frosting.

I am picky about icing on cake.  I don't like it too sweet.  Most of the time, a large portion of cake frosting stays on my otherwise empty plate.  This frosting was perfect.  It was chocolately and not too sweet, flavored by adding a chocolate ganache to the buttercream base.

The cake itself was moist and tasty.  My friend was right.  This is probably the best yellow cake I've ever had.

September 21, 2013

Bushkill weekend

I recently went up to Bushkill with my cousin for the weekend.  Bushkill is in the Delaware Water Gap.  It's a beautiful area where the Delaware River cuts through the mountains on the border between Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  We drove up on Saturday and headed to Childs Park to hike.  My cousin and I are both photographers, so we brought along cameras and tripods to capture the waterfalls.  Hiking up and down steep slopes, rocky terrain, and endless stairs over two days with both a camera bag and a tripod bag slung across my body was certainly motivation to work out more.  

At the entrance to Childs Park was this sign:

Try to look large??
I had laughed off the bear warnings said to me before I left, so I was amused that there was a big bear warning sign right at the front of the trail.  My cousin suggested taking the above photo.  We hit the restrooms before going out on the trails.  I say restrooms, but they were more like giant, permanent porta potties.  I had never seen bathrooms like these.  I looked down into the toilet, and it was like looking into the abyss.  It was deep, like the oubliette from Labyrinth.  Weird.  We didn't have all that much time before it got dark, but we managed to see the three waterfalls of Childs Park with time to photograph Deer Leap Falls, the farthest of the waterfalls from the entrance, before having to leave.  

We had dinner at a pub and headed back to the house.  By this time, the temperature had dropped.  It was a nice, chilly evening.  It was the kind of night that makes me want to sit outside by a fire.  There weren't many lights, so the sky was filled with stars.  It was beautiful.  Arriving at the house, we frightened a deer and her fawn who were hanging out in the front yard.  My cousin and I are also both equestrians, so she had to show me that the cable at the house had a horse channel.  A HORSE CHANNEL.  Our local cable company doesn't have this channel.  We stayed up late watching eventing.  It was the cross country phase, and it was fantastic.  

The next day we got up early because we wanted to pack in a lot of stuff.  We ended up only getting a few hours of sleep because we had stayed up so late watching eventing.  My cousin and I went to Childs Park again to explore different trails from the day before and take more photos.  We climbed out on some rocks and took photos of Factory Falls, the biggest waterfall of the park.  

Factory Falls
Photographing waterfalls can be tricky because they reflect a lot of light, especially when it is sunny.  Also, the best time of year to shoot them is really in the spring, when the snow melt off of the mountains makes them gush with more water.  

It was time to leave Childs Park and go to the stable, where my cousin had scheduled a lunchtime ride for the two of us.  Although I used to ride all the time, it had been quite some time since I had been on a horse.  I rode Johnny.  The trail was hilly and rocky, and we crossed through a couple of streams.  

Riding a horse is like riding a bike- it all comes back once you're in the saddle.  How could I forget that riding is the greatest thing in the world?  How could I forget that being on a horse makes me happier than just about anything else possibly could?  Riding is pure bliss.  It goes without saying that I had a great time on this trail ride, right?  

After our ride, it was time to hike Bushkill Falls.  Bushkill Falls is a huge park with a handful of waterfalls and several trails.  The trails are rated by intensity, so of course we chose the most difficult trail that had warning signs about how difficult it was.  However, going on the most difficult trail meant that we were rewarded with sights like this:

Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls was my favorite of all the waterfalls I saw that weekend, and it could only be seen from the "Red Trail."  My cousin pointed out that they sell shirts in the gift shop that say "I survived the Red Trail at Bushkill Falls."  Truthfully, it wasn't that bad, but with all the hiking we had done the previous day as well as that morning plus the additional weight of camera bag and tripod, we were beat once we got back to the entrance.  We were there until the park closed that evening.  The Red Trail had the advantage of being far less crowded than the other trails.  A strange thing happens when you have a nice camera and there are groups of people around.  They ask you to use their cameras or phones to take pictures of their group.  I took at least five pictures for different groups of people.  My cousin was asked to take photos, too.  I don't mind at all, I just think it's funny.  

Bushkill Falls was gorgeous- not just the waterfalls, but the streams and the woods and all of the scenery.  I could have stayed longer.  My cousin wants us to go back soon.  I'm in.  

September 12, 2013

Tea biscuit attempt number four - they finally taste delicious

It is time to chronicle attempt number four in the continuing saga of finding a recipe for tea biscuits similar to those made by Termini's in Philadelphia.  I'm happy to say, attempt number four's tea biscuits are good!  They are the first I've made that I'm going to eat more than one.  Okay, I'm going to have several.  The taste is excellent.  The texture is good.  There is still something missing, but I can't figure out what it is yet.

To recap, Termini's tea biscuits are sweet, not savory.  I've never had anything like them outside of the Philadelphia/South Jersey area.  I made up the recipe myself, building on the recipe I invented for tea biscuit attempt number three.  This time the dough was much easier to work with.  It was a little sticky, but I could still work it with my floured hands.  I could cut it easily with the biscuit cutter, too.  I upped the amount of sugar and vanilla extract.  I cut the amount of whole eggs and substituted egg yolks.  I think these factors made a huge difference.  I left out the raisins again, but those would be an easy addition at the end.

I'm very pleased with how these turned out.  They may not be Termini's tea biscuits exactly, but they are good in their own right.  I'd make them again.  Don't just take my word for it.  I gave them to my father, for whom I've been on this quest to find the recipe.  He ate one.  He said what a great job I did.  Then he immediately ate a second one.

I got about a dozen tea biscuits out of this recipe.  Yes, those are tablespoons of baking powder and vanilla extract; that is not a typo.  I usually only put one cookie sheet in the oven at a time.  After the first one went in the oven, I balled up the dough and wrapped it in wax paper to throw in the refrigerator until it was time to reroll it for the second sheet's biscuits.

5 cups flour
a large pinch of salt
1 stick butter, cut into small pieces and chilled
1 whole egg (plus an additional egg for the egg wash)
4 egg yolks
1 cup milk
1 1/2 tbs baking powder
1 cup sugar
2 tbs vanilla extract

1.  Preheat oven to 475 degrees.
2.  Combine flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse to mix together.  Add the chilled butter and pulse to cut the butter into the flour mixture.
3.  In a medium bowl, whisk milk with one whole egg and four egg yolks.  Make sure the eggs are thoroughly mixed with the milk.  Stir in the vanilla extract.
4.  Transfer the flour mixture to a large bowl.  Make a well in the center and pour the milk mixture into the well.  Use a fork to bring the dough together.
5.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it together.  Roll it out or pat it out with floured hands to about 3/4 of an inch thick.  Use a three inch biscuit cutter to cut out biscuits and transfer to baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
6.  Beat the final egg for an egg wash.  Brush the top of the biscuits with the egg wash and bake for 12 minutes, until the tops are browned and the biscuits are baked through.  Transfer biscuits to a wire rack to cool.

September 5, 2013

Jim Thorpe

I recently drove up to Jim Thorpe, a small town in the Pocono Mountains.  I hadn't been there in years, but I always enjoyed it when my aunt lived near there and I visited.

looking down over Jim Thorpe
The town is nestled in a valley and sits next to the Lehigh River.  I parked by the river and walked around for a couple of hours.  

the Lehigh
It was a nice day- surprisingly warm for the Poconos in September.  I wandered in and out of the little shops on the main street of the town.  Me being me, I had to hit the used bookstore, in which I met the used bookstore cat.  This cat was content to lie sleepily on a chair while I pet him.  He did not have any book recommendations.  I also had to stop in a coffee shop while I was there.  This one was filled with Beatles art. 

I would have spent more time walking around, but half the shops were closed.  I drove up to a lookout point on a mountain near Jim Thorpe.  There I met two nice, retired gentlemen who were quite chatty.  One of them used to be a history teacher, so he gladly shared all the local history with me- Asa Packer, Mauch Chunk, Jim Thorpe (the person), and various other tidbits about things like zinc mining.  I like history, so it was interesting to me.  I'm glad I met them.  The view was fantastic from up there, too.  

The area around Jim Thorpe is beautiful.  There is something very soothing to me about being in the mountains.  Mountains make me happy, be they tiny mountains like the Poconos or giant mountains like the Rockies.  

September 2, 2013

Chocolate mint thumbprints

I made chocolate mint thumbprints last night.  I did this because I lost one of my cookbooks.  Let me explain.  At one time in my life, I had the cookbook Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito.  They have a bakery in Brooklyn named Baked.  I thought I knew the location of all of my cookbooks, but I couldn't find this one.  (I live out of boxes right now.  It can be a pain.)  I still can't find it, so I think I need to write it off as lost forever.  Anyway, I was googling Baked and its two sequel cookbooks, and I came across this recipe from Baked Explorations.  I like mint and chocolate together, so I thought I'd give it a go.

YUM.  They turned out much better than I thought they would.  They are absolutely delicious.  I did change one thing in the recipe.  It originally called for a white chocolate ganache filling.  I switched it to dark chocolate.  My technique for making the indentations in the cookies got better as I went along, so next time should be much easier.  

The cookie and the ganache both have chocolate and mint.  The mint in the cookie part is subtle, while the mint in the ganache is strong.  This was the first time I've used peppermint extract.  I found an interesting warning on the bottle.  

Avoid direct contact with mouth?
The cookies were good last night, but they were even better after chilling overnight in the fridge.  Yes, I did have cookies for breakfast this morning.  There is nothing wrong with that.  

August 23, 2013

Tea biscuit attempt number three - inventing a recipe and closing in

UPDATE! 9/12/2013 Tea biscuit attempt number four

The search continues for the recipe for Termini's tea biscuits.  This time I invented a recipe of my own.  While I have made up my own recipes for cooking, the is the first time I've invented a recipe for baking.  This is tea biscuit attempt number three, and these are much closer than both previous attempts.

These tea biscuits are still bordering on savory, rather than sweet.  They need more sugar.  There is definitely vanilla extract in the tea biscuits.  I suspected it before, but having baked a batch with it in there, I'm sure now.  There needs to be more.  A tablespoon may already seem like a lot, but it's going into a dough with five cups of flour.  The dough is a mess.  Next time, I'll try chilling it, like I do with any other sticky, messy dough.  It usually makes it easier to work with.  I need to find a way to make the dough more workable.  Adjustments will be made.  I may cut back on the milk.  Oh, and Termini's tea biscuits have raisins in them.  I have to add those in a future attempt as well.  These aren't right, but I feel like I'm moving in the right direction.  I got eleven biscuits out of this recipe.  

5 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
pinch salt
1 1/2 tbs. baking powder
1 stick butter, cut into small pieces and chilled
1 1/3 cups milk
4 eggs
1 tbs. vanilla extract

1.  Preheat oven to 475 degrees.
2.  Combine flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse to mix together.  Add the chilled butter and pulse to cut the butter into the flour mixture.
3.  In a medium bowl, mix milk with three eggs.  Make sure the eggs are thoroughly mixed with the milk.  Then add the vanilla extract.  (I do all this in a liquid measuring cup instead of a bowl.)  
4.  Transfer the flour mixture to a large bowl.  Make a well in the center and pour the milk mixture into the well.  Use a fork to bring the dough together.
5.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and kneed it together.  Pat it out to about an inch thick.  (It's too sticky to roll.)  Use a three inch biscuit cutter to cut out biscuits and transfer to baking sheets lined with parchment paper.  
6.  Beat the final egg for an egg wash.  Brush the top of the biscuits with the egg wash and bake for 14 minutes, until the tops are browned and the biscuits are baked through.  Transfer biscuits to a wire rack to cool.  

August 21, 2013

Sweet white scones - tea biscuit attempt number two

UPDATE! 9/12/2013 Tea biscuit attempt number four

I still need to figure out how to make Termini's tea biscuits.  These weren't good.

I would say that making these helped, in that it helped me get closer to the actual recipe.  The texture of these was closer, but the taste was bad.  These had way too much butter, but the wetter batter from extra milk/cream was good.  I think the texture of these is closer to the texture of Termini's tea biscuits than those from attempt number one.  I think the next attempt will have more sugar.  I'll add vanilla, too.  Attempt number three will be a recipe completely invented by me, so it may turn out to be the worst yet.  Onward!

August 20, 2013

Huzzah, New England!

A couple of weekends ago I made a trip up to New England to visit some friends.  In fact, I have two friends in New England whose names are Tim.  Henceforth, they shall be known as Boston Tim and NH Tim to differentiate between them.  I headed up on Thursday to Boston to see Boston Tim and his wife and daughter.  I got there early enough so that I had a few hours to kill before they got home from work.  Cambridge is awesomely walkable, so I parked at their place and headed to Harvard Square.  Of course I went to the Harvard Book Store.  I can't resist bookstores, and this one is pretty great.  It's huge, and the basement is all used books.  I didn't get to go to BerryLine last time I was up there, so I walked around the corner from the bookstore and got a smoothie.  YUM.

I spent some time wandering around a bit.  I popped into two different comic book stores looking for The Thrilling Adventure Hour graphic novel.  Success!  I was excited to find it.  The Thrilling Adventure Hour is, I will quote from their website, "A staged production in the style of old-time radio."  I listen to the podcast.  Many thanks to NH Tim for recommending it.  I can't mention The Thrilling Adventure Hour without pointing out my favorite bit, "Beyond Belief."  This part focuses on a pair of married mediums, played by Paul F. Tompkins and Paget Brewster, who drink too much and are always having a good time.  I'm determined for some future Halloween to find someone to be a Frank Doyle to my Sadie.  Anyway, I bought The Thrilling Adventure Hour's first graphic novel and set out to find a place to read it.  This is when I came across Peet's Coffee.  I had only ever seen Peet's in the supermarket.  I was surprised to stumble upon an actual Peet's Cafe in Cambridge.  I got myself some coffee and sat outside.  I started reading the book and realized that I must have looked like an insane person, sitting there laughing out loud.  It was time to head to Boston Tim's place, anyway, so I put the book away and walked back.  For those familiar with Frank and Sadie Doyle:  CLINK!  

When I got to Boston Tim's, his daughter gave me a big hug.  I didn't think she would remember me.  It has been a few months since I've been there, and she is fairly young, but maybe she did.  Boston Tim had a contraption called Yonanas on his kitchen counter.  When I asked him about it, he wouldn't tell me what it did.  Instead, he got out some frozen fruit and made us mushed frozen fruit.  Okay, it tasted like sorbet.  I liked it.

Boston Tim and I both like to bake, although he is a much better baker than I am.  Hanging out with him usually leads to us discussing recipes and techniques.  This time was no exception.  He tried to give me some advice on my blueberry pie disaster.  He also made hot chocolate for me.  He did this because he knew I was going to Burdick's with NH Tim, and he insisted that he could make hot chocolate that was better than theirs.  Boston Tim's hot chocolate was excellent, but was it the best?  Keep reading.  Most of my friends don't like sports, so I had to get in lots of sports talk with Boston Tim while I was there.  Who doesn't want to talk about soccer?!  I don't know.  We played a soccer video game, too- FIFA '10.  Needless to say, Boston Tim kicked my ass.  He always does.  It reminded me of when we would play NHL '99 in college.  Tim was the master of NHL '99.  In FIFA '10, I played as Liverpool; Tim played as Arsenal.  Liverpool didn't humiliate themselves too badly at Anfield.  I lost by fewer goals each successive game.  I'm pleased that in the final game, I only lost 2-0!  Believe me, that's good against Tim.

Visiting Boston Tim also means that Boston Tim and his wife stuff me full of food.  We had some good stuff- lahmajun (Armenian pizza), mouhamara, Indian food, and the previously mentioned hot chocolate and Yonanas.  We also had some chocolate chip cookies that I had brought with me.  I'd like to point out that Tim didn't drink any of the hot chocolate himself.  He said it was crazy to drink hot chocolate in the summer.  I think it's crazy not to drink hot chocolate any time.

I got to spend some quality time with Tim's daughter, too.  There were lots of hugs.  I had stickers put on me.  I read to her, and we played catch.  She is a great kid.

I've known Boston Tim for almost twenty years.  It was great to be able to see him in person.  It was nice to be able to talk to an old friend.  Sometimes you need to talk in person instead of through texts and emails.

On Saturday morning, I left Boston and drove to New Hampshire to see NH Tim.  NH Tim packed lots of goodness into my visit.  We went to the fabled Burdick Chocolate for the previously mentioned hot chocolate.  They have several choices of hot chocolate.  I got a mix of milk and dark.  So, how was it?  It was amazing.  It was the best hot chocolate of all time.  That's right.  It was better than Boston Tim's.  I could drink this hot chocolate every day.  I want to try all of their hot chocolates!

NH Tim drove us around his section of New Hampshire.  It is incredibly beautiful there.  We went to an orchard on top of a huge hill, from which the view was spectacular.  We drove through a few local towns.  We stopped at a cool flea market.  Oh, and I saw the house where Ken Burns puts together his documentaries.  I thought that was neat, although I think NH Tim thought I was just humoring him when I said that.

Tim had some family stuff to do, so I snuggled with his kitties and watched a Too Cute! marathon at his place while he was out.  (NH Tim has an awesome dog and several awesome cats.)  That night, we played Cards Against Humanity with some of his friends.  After that, we watched some Rifftrax before calling it a night.

Sunday morning, I left the magical land of New England and drove home.  I had a great weekend.  Hooray to Boston Tim and his wife and NH Tim for having me stay with them.

August 4, 2013

Super fun weekend

Last month, I went to stay with my friends Josh and Jen for the weekend.  Our friend Tim was also there visiting.  It was a great weekend all around.


The Mutter Museum - Josh, Tim, and I went to Philadelphia to go to the Mutter Museum.  It's a museum of medical oddities.  We had talked about going together for some time, and this weekend, we finally got there.  Josh blogged about this himself, so I won't add much.  We saw the MEGACOLON.  It was cool.  I think I may have liked the dog and cat brains more, though.  Their brains were smaller than I would have thought, but their eyes were very large in comparison.

Capogiro - We got gelato at Capogiro.  It's only the best gelato ever.  I think my raving about it is the reason we ended up there.  Tim took a photo of his in which the gelato looked just as delicious as it tasted.  He posted it online somewhere, but I don't have the link for that.  Oops.

Cards Against Humanity - Cards Against Humanity is a card game that we played more than once over the weekend.  It's a lot of fun.  You play cards to make funny answers to questions or to fill in the blank sentences.  I can't explain it- follow the link to the website.

Adventure Time - I had never seen the cartoon Adventure Time before this weekend, but Tim changed that.  It's fantastic!  Josh may disagree with me on this.  I don't understand how anyone could not enjoy the adventures of Jake the dog and Finn the human.  Ahem.

MST3k - We are all fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000.  We had a mini-marathon of episodes late into the night.  Both Mike and Joel were represented.  I can always watch MST3k.

I had an awesome weekend.  My friends are the greatest.

July 21, 2013

Fort Mott

A couple of weeks ago I went to Fort Mott State Park with a cousin of mine.  I had never heard of it, but my cousin had been there before and suggested we go.  My cousin is awesome, by the way.  I don't just love her because she is family; I love hanging out with her, too.  This is the same cousin whose horse shows I've attended and with whom I went to New Bolton when her horse was having problems.  We go to the barn together fairly often, but this was the first non-horse related thing we've done together for a long time.

This is my cousin's horse. He's a cutie.
A cafe near Fort Mott allows members of a local photo club to hang photos there for sale.  My cousin belongs to the club, so we stopped at the cafe, The Graystone Cafe, on the way to the fort so that she could drop off a couple of framed prints.  We also picked up some food there and brought it to the park to eat before walking around.  I had a Caprese panini- tomato, mozzarella, basil, balsamic vinaigrette.  It's pretty much my ideal sandwich, and this one was delicious.

Time to walk around Fort Mott.  It's right on the Delaware River, south enough in New Jersey so that when looking across the river, it's Delaware and not Pennsylvania that's across the way.  We walked a path along the river and the sea wall.

An old watchtower presented itself as a subject for our cameras.

I liked the broken stairway and the keep off sign.

It was a little eerie.

It was kind of cool.

It was getting dark at this point, so the mosquitoes were in full-on attack mode.  Time to leave!  I had a lot of fun.  Fort Mott is a neat little place.
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