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random musings of a crazy cat lady

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Goodbye Tomatoes, Hello Fall

I pulled out half of my tomato plants today. The other plants are still producing so I left them for now.
Luna immediately took advantage of the situation by sleeping in the soft dirt where the tomatoes had been.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Recipe Geek: Glazed Butternut Squash

I'm getting my cooking mojo back slowly. It helps that I am not longer doing large chemical syntheses in lab. Anyway, I got a trial copy of "Cook's Country" magazine in the mail today. This is the sister publication to "Cook's Illustrated". In the past, the recipes tended to be very retro, down-home style stuff, but now it seems like it's more diverse, with a greater emphasis on easy recipes. (Nonetheless, there are still a lot of pork and meatloaf recipes)
After my last few Recipe Geek disasters (including a few that went un-blogged), I wanted something that would actually work as described. I've made the mistake of not trusting my instincts and then regretting it. Every recipe from the America's Test Kitchen folks gets tested and optimized multiple times, so you don't have to worry about using the wrong oven temperature, improper procedures, etc.
There was a recipe for Glazed Butternut Squash which caught my eye, since I had three butternut squash on the counter. (What can I say, I got a good deal at the farmer's market!)
Here it is, since I can't include a link

Glazed Butternut Squash
1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
Adjust the oven rack to the middle level in the oven. Heat oven to 425F. Line a cookie sheet with foil. Toss squash cubes with butter/sugar/salt/pepper until mixed thoroughly. Place on cookie sheet and bake for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Remove squash from oven and sprinkle with vinegar.

This recipe works exactly as described. I'd expect nothing less from the recipe geeks at America's Test Kitchen. The squash was tasty, tender, and not dried out, and it looked very pretty. It was a bit too sweet, so if I made it again I'd use a bit less butter and sugar. The vinegar sounds like a weird thing to add, but it did give it a nice zing and balanced the sweetness. I might try lemon juice next time - it would do the same thing but give a touch of lemon flavor.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Windows Remodel: Day 3

John put in the first set of windows today and replaced the siding. It looks really nice. I feel much less exposed when I'm sitting on the couch surfing the internet and blogging. I probably could've gotten away with wider windows but I'm ok with the way it is. I had to get the super low-e coating to qualify for the stimulus money, so the windows are somewhat darker than standard double pane windows and are slightly reflective, so that looks a bit different at first but adds to the feeling of privacy during that day.
I'm pleased with John's work so far. I know he could've worked faster, but I appreciate having the house all zipped up at the end of each day and not having too much plywood up at any given time. Also, he knows the quirks of my house and that's helpful too. So far, it hasn't attracted the attention of the woman who lives down the street and works for the permit department, or perhaps she saw it but figures it's a "don't ask, don't tell" situation. Knock on (ply)wood!
I had a crappy day today. I majorly backslid and was pissed off at T. I had to go to the gym at lunch to work off a lot of my nervous energy. That helped, but by the time I came home I had slipped into a mopey phase, so it was like a giant breath of fresh air to see the windows.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Window Remodel: Day 2

OK, so it's not really the second day of the remodel, it's the 4th. But it's the second day that John worked. Yesterday he just picked up the windows. I'm kind of used to this from the kitchen remodel, and am ok with it, for now. I know he juggles other jobs, child care issues, etc. If I wanted instant windows I would've gone with the place that quoted at nearly 3x what John is charging. Besides, I'm just happy not to be doing it myself.
Anyway, today John framed the openings for the two larger windows. He did a nice job. I am very pleased with the footprint of the new windows. It was hard to really visualize it when the other windows were still there. I was afraid they'd be a bit low, but they're just right. I'm also pleased with the two foot strip of wall in between the windows.
Structurally, I'm happy about it too. The old layout had 6 ft x 12 ft of glass with just a 4"X4" supporting it in the middle. In an earthquake, I'd be worried about the strength of the header, not to mention the glass. I've seen the headers that were used in the kitchen and bathroom and know it's not all that great, so every bit of extra support helps. Now I've got 7 full length 2"x4"s and 11 short 2" x 4" under the window frames.
My house is very creaky, as most of you know. The funny thing is that during construction, it doesn't creak at all. There's just a bit more give. Once the drywall goes up it starts creaking again. I'm curious to see if getting rid of the big windows has a more permanent effect.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Window Remodel: Day 1

The first stage of the window remodel began today. Naturally, we got the first significant rain of the fall last night. Fortunately, it had stopped raining by the time that my contractor, John, showed up this morning. He's doing the windows in two batches of two, so today he started on the large ones.
He got a bunch of plywood and then removed all the trim from the interior. He mounted the plywood on the inside and then smashed out the glass from the outside and removed the exterior trim and metal window frames, and took the trash to the dump. He also locked himself out, so the key and his check were still there when I got home. This is pretty typical for John.
John is taking classes to become a paramedic, and he has classes on Tuesday, so the construction will resume on Wednesday. In the meantime, I've got plywood where my windows used to be. It's ok - nowhere near as bad as dealing with the kitchen or bathroom remodel.

I put the old drapes on the guest bed. They're older than I am, and I'm going to throw them away. I'll have to wait, though, because Luna has decided to make a nest in them.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Fort Ord State Park

I went to Fort Ord State Park today. It's a long stretch of beach located in what used to be part of Fort Ord's firing range. Fort Ord was decommissioned in 1994 and is still in the process of being converted into civilian uses, such as the new CSU-Monterey campus. The park opened up earlier this year.
The park consists of sand dunes and about 4 miles of beaches. I was in the mood for some serious beach walking today, so it was a perfect match. It's a gorgeous beach - longstretches of wide, sandy beach. The surf zone is very dangerous there, and there are a lot of rip tides. Visitors are strongly urged to stay out of the water. I saw a few people getting their ankles wet but no one (including me) went in any deeper.
I walked for a long time I didn't quite cover the whole length, but probably walked about 6 miles. The beach was pretty empty - I walked for a long time without encountering anyone. South of the entrance, I encountered a few more people but it was still very empty. I took a break for lunch and later, I lay on the beach and read for a while. It was very pleasant and relaxing.It was slightly cloudy, but the rains had not arrived yet.
The surf was pretty high today. The beach is north of Monterey Bay, so it's less sheltered. As I walked, I couldn't help but think of T, since he spends so much time in Monterey. I wondered if he was out there in the water. But although I was still somewhat sad at times, it was ok.
I saw a sleek seal. It was lying in the sand resting. It looked at me with limpid eyes and eventually flopped off into the water.
I also found seven nice sand dollars. I was surprised to find so many, since the surf was rough and they're usually hard to find south of San Francisco. Iguess it helps that there weren't many people on the beach and a bunch had just washed in.
I'm glad I went and would recommend it for anyone who wants a nice long walk along the beach. Don't bring little kids though - the beach is still contaminated with lead. I wish I'd known that when I decided to lie down on my towel.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Window Remodel: update + musings

The parts came in for my contractor's other job, so he will be starting the windows next Wednesday.
I wish I'd been blogging during the kitchen and bath projects. Most of you got the updates from me via email, but it would've been entertaining to have them all in one place so that I could go back and read it.
For reasons that I can't quite comprehend, my brother has very vehement anti-remodeling sentiment. It certainly wasn't from being overexposed to it as a child. We're both cheap and suspicious of the bubble-induced herd mentality, so that may be part of it, and he's seen friends get burned in the real estate market. He thinks it's a waste of money and a sign of being a yuppie scumbag. "It's so 2005", he said. Perhaps it is.
While I agree that there were lots of people who took it way too far, I don't think I'm one of them. Of course, I'm biased. I've lived in my house for almost nine years. At some point I realized that I didn't want to change the location or size of my house, but just make it work better for me. If I sell it, I may not get back all of my investment, but then again, maybe I will - the kitchen, which was the big ticket project, was paid for mainly through the sale of stocks, which of course are worth a lot less now. In any case, I'm glad I did it.
My brother's other objection is that people get so wrapped up in their houses as a way of finding meaning in their lives or avoiding dealing with other stuff. I had to chew on this one a bit more. In fact, I'm still pondering it. My peak remodeling years coincided with the latter half of my relationship with T. Partly it was because I started to see my house from a new perspective, and there were things that I'd just gotten used to, even though they bothered me when I first moved in. The same could be said about T himself - I'd gotten used to things about him that had bothered me at first. He certainly encouraged me to do it, since he likes to be the armchair remodeler. (He moves a lot more slowly when it's his own project.) And, to give him credit, he had some good ideas and supported me. However, I do think that my brother has a point, and in retrospect, perhaps I was doing it to distract myself from facing reality about T while at the same time I had accepted that I would be in my house for a while longer and I'd better make it the way I wanted it to be.
Of course, my brother does like to torment me, so perhaps that explains it!