Month: May 2013

  • Stargate Pie


    I've got a bit of a meringue obsession going this year, since I've had so many eggs coming in from the new hens. Organic eggs around here easily cost $6 a dozen, and at first I hoarded my eggs like gold, but after they piled up and took over the refrigerator last fall, I found lots of ways to play with them. We don't eat a lot of sweets in this house, but we do like chocolate pie. There is only one cup of sugar in the whole pie, and meringue is really good for protein, so why not? About once a month I have a little fun with it.
    This post isn't about chocolate pie itself, but in case it makes you hungry for one, here's the recipe I use. I just buy premade piecrust, cook and cool it ahead of time. The pie part is a very thick pudding, for which I use a stainless steel saucepan and a wooden spoon. It's quick and easy, but you can mess it up. I've thrown out puddings and started over a few times because I'm so easy to distract, but it's a cinch to start over.
    First thing you do after you bake the crust is separate your eggs, yolks into a small bowl, whites into a bigger bowl to use with a mixer. Be prepared to waste a few eggs if you're not very good at separating eggs, perhaps keep a third bowl nearby for scrambled eggs later. I like using my hands, and it's messy, so put paper towel down on the counter to set the shells on and hold the drippies at bay, scoops up so easy when you're done. Cream pie recipes call for different amounts of eggs, this one originally only called for 3, but I find it holds better with 5, and also bumps up the protein value in your pie. Try not to get any yolk in the whites bowl, and keep the yolk bowl as free of whites as possible. If a yolk breaks and everything goes wrong, that's what your third bowl is for if you can't bear to throw away eggs, you can use those later for breakfast.
    In your saucepan put 1 cup of sugar, 1/3 cup of flour, 4 T of cocoa, and 1/4 t salt, stir all that up till it looks sifted. Slowly stir in 1 cup of milk, doesn't have to be perfect, just make sure it's all wet and there aren't any big dry lumps lurking at the bottom. Turn the heat on medium. This bit is important. Don't go higher than medium (tempting if you feel impatient) because milk scalds so easily. Stir, keep stirring, keep the bottom from turning into a super thick sludge while the top stays runny. The key is to keep it all the same consistency while it cooks, keep the thickening up as homogenized as possible.
    It really doesn't take long for that to thicken up and start to 'glop' in a weird thick 'boil', at which point remove it from the heat and keep stirring for another 30 seconds till it settles down so it doesn't burn at the bottom. I'm right handed, so with a fork over my yolk bowl on my right and the spoon over the pudding pan on my left, I drizzle little bits of pudding into the yolks while I quickly whisk them with the fork. It's like walking and chewing gum at the same time, you get the hang of it. You have to keep the yolks moving so they don't have a chance to 'cook' and lump up like scrambled eggs. Heat denatures protein, breaks the molecular bonds and makes them change shape and get stiffer, so to keep the yolks more liquidy, keep them moving. All the chefs on the food channels will tell you this is tempering the yolks, and that only means bringing up the heat slowly so you can control their texture, so next time you hear that word, you'll know what it means. Whisk in several spoonfuls of the pudding till the yolks are all chocolaty looking, then pour the bowl of eggs into the pudding pan while stirring quickly with the wooden spoon. If you get egg lumps, either get them out or throw this all away and start over. Cream pie with scrambled egg lump texture is kinda gross.
    Put the pan back on the heat and keep stirring. The gloppy boil will happen a lot faster this time, and you don't want it happening very long at all, just make sure it gets good and hot for about a minute or so while you stir, then take it back off the heat and stir in a T of butter and a splash of vanilla. Pour it all into the baked pie crust and set aside.
    All this just to get to the meringue.  
    Meringue is very temperamental, especially if you live in an area that is the least bit humid, but so what, it's still fun to eat and pretty on a pie. They say meringue works best if the whites are room temperature to start, but I haven't found any difference. Most recipes call for 1/4 t of cream of tartar in the whites before you start mixing, some use a dash of vinegar, some don't use either, but if you want to delve into experimentation-  How to make the perfect meringue | Life and style | But back to having fun! I use cream of tartar, I think it's more reliable and doesn't make it taste funny. Also I splash in a little vanilla, yum! So 5 egg whites, 1/4 t cream of tarter, 1 t vanilla, and set your mixer on a pretty decent speed. You'll be standing there a few minutes, and it will seem like forever because you're not doing anything else, but it still goes fairly quickly. Since I've been playing with meringue so much, I also add food coloring gel at the start, this time I squirted a gob of blue gel in. For those of you who have never made meringue, the rest is in pictures so you'll know you're not epic failing if you don't get that pretty fluff right away. Most recipes don't mention the nerves you get wondering if you're doing it right when it doesn't look at all like a picture in a book.
    Starting out it looks kinda like jello, doesn't it? When you don't put food coloring in, you still get this pretty froth going, that that is what you watch, the froth. It changes as you go, and once you've done this a few times, you can get pretty good at gauging how far into the whipping process you are as the froth changes. Right here it's very liquidy. 

     It doesn't take long to look very bubbly, the way coke does when you first pour it into a glass over ice. As you work more air into the froth, the color will lighten up. 

    This has become almost pure foam, but will quickly fall apart and melt back into a more liquidy form if you stop and leave it alone. 

    Notice how we're getting 'waves' now that have the illusion of looking thicker. 

    And thicker. When the waves start holding their shape, you've almost reached the 'soft peak' stage. 

    Which looks like this, soft peaks that hold their shape when you stop. You'll see why they're called soft when you reach the stiff peak stage. At this point stop and get your sugar and then stir whipping it in a tablespoon at a time. You don't need to add extra sugar when you use a couple more whites.  

    The sugar helps the froth smooth out into a glossy fluff. Keep going for a bit. 

    These are stiff peaks. When your froth has finally turned into something that looks like marshmallow creme and holds a really good shape when you stop whipping, you've finally made meringue.  

    There are many things you can do with meringue, but this one is going onto a pie.
    I get so bored with the same old meringue, I started playing with shapes and colors this year. Maybe in a few months I can make something really super cool. But for now, I've got the basics down well enough to play with shaping waves. This seems to be turning into an activated Stargate portal.

    Bake your meringue in a preheated 350 degree oven for *about* 15 minutes, you really need to keep an eye on it because once it starts to brown, it can go black kinda fast, just like a marshmallow over a campfire.  

    Sometimes your meringue will 'weep' back into the pie. Not to fear. It's liquid sugar and doesn't spoil a thing. 


  • the coolest LEXX t-shirt in the world


    So many people talk about their bucket list. I really didn't pay attention until this last year, when the opportunity came up to ask myself- what would I like to do before I die? Even if I live another twenty years or more, those years could fly by pretty fast with all the continual distractions that demand our attention until that time is eaten out from under us, because the last twenty sure seem to have done that.
    Top of the list is a trip to Ireland, but my list was still only one item long. What do I *want*? Something really, really ~cool~.... I want something unique, something only I have in all the world. I want something meaningful only to me, something rare and precious that will inspire awe and envy in everyone who knows what that meaning is all about.
    The Lexx movies and tv series is a somewhat rare thing (especially in the U.S. until streaming tv picked it up) that has had significant impact on me personally, as I've written about at Why Lexx Is Personal. I really don't get very involved in fandoms any more, but I know there are plenty of other Lexx fans out there still creating their own Lexx art for love of the show and lack of other merchandise to be had. Why not make this a thing? MY thing. I'm not much of a collector between not having that kind of dough and literally giving the cool stuff I did have to other fans at one point, but that doesn't mean I can't find a way to help bring more Lexx into this world.
    Too many words already! Get to the point! Well, there's this cool airbrush stall at the mall, why not start there, right? You can click that to get to their website.

    I'd never commissioned artwork before, but they were cool and patient and let me hand them a cash down payment (I was pretty serious about pushing the project), and provided them links to screen grabs because they'd never seen Lexx, although they said Star Wars was a popular commission theme, along with Call of Duty, and several other fandom and gamer themes.
    I'm not an artist. At all. Ok, a very little. Basically, it was pure trust. I had no idea if what I would get would be caricatured (I've seen a lot of t-shirt work come out of comic cons) or stylized or a basic copy off a screen grab. I don't have the kind of brain that can envision art, so I just figured the more cash I handed them, the better it would look, and walked away with my fingers crossed, assuring them it was ok to take their time because, yes, other projects are lined up.
    Three months later.  I KNOW!!! *thud*

    And that was just the back. Here is the front.


    There were originally going to be two artists working on this, but Noel grabbed it and totally owned it. After I fell over, Noel told me a little about how he constructs t-shirt art. He started by spraying bleach on it to create a galaxy effect- star fields, nebulae, and lens flares, got some awesome highlight flares around the Lexx, which you can see in these closeups. The 'orange' spotting inside the shirt is bleedthrough from the bleach, which looks cool, too.


    After the bleaching is done comes laying the background with color fill, and then detailing the ship. I asked about how long it took to do just the Lexx itself on the front side, and Noel said 5-7 hours. I was tickled to see he'd worked the Cluster symbol in, and of course the first thing a true Lexx fan does is count the segments, and there were 7, just like in the show. He said 8 would have been easier, but stayed true to the screen grabs, and that right there made the t-shirt worth it for me.

    I was also very pleased to see that Noel had incorporated the original font. I don't think I had specified that level of detail. Lexx fans know how difficult that font is to find. Impossible, actually. I'm betting it's not a real font at all but a creation by a graphic artist specifically for the show. I doubt a whole alphabet exists for this font, unless a Lexx fan obsessed with fonts carried out the mission to completion.

    I was also really impressed with the level of detail on the Lexx that Noel could get onto a t-shirt.


    That curve in the tail is the shirt being wavy.


    This t-shirt turned out to be a real piece of art, and even though Noel assures me will wash and wear well, I'm probably going to reserve it for very special occasions, like when I travel to cool places. Noel says he tricks out everything he wears, so it's probably safe to say he's got one of the most unique and collectible wardrobes on the planet.
    Noel McEwen is a freelance airbrush artist who does only strictly commissioned one-off projects. He can custom paint about anything, as you can see in his gallery on facebook, including motorcycles and helmets, instruments, denim and leather, and even town murals. Personally, if I ever get the kind of cash for this, I'd love to put Lexx on a car. I have always thought that would be the coolest thing a fan could do, and if that happens, it's gonna be Noel. Here are a few of my favorite projects from his gallery. These thumbnails will NOT click bigger here. If you want to see more, there are about 300 currently in his gallery at McEwen Airbrush.



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    This is NOT an ad for Noel to sell Lexx art. This is me being nice and spreading the word because I was so stunned by how awesome this shirt is. If you think this is awesome and would like some work done (keeping in mind there is a wait period), you can message through facebook. You can also find other airbrush artists through Branson Airbrush, or in your local business pages. These are NOT bulk t-shirt sales, there is no more than one of anything they do because they don't reproduce their art for a production line, and expect the work to be fairly pricey because it's unique and high quality.
    Showing off again...  I have this and you don't, nyah nyah.  


    Don't know if you can see how much that says.  I offered it. It was definitely worth it.


  • in which I thought T'Pol was a goner

    So spring has sprung and it's a lovely time to be a chicken with all the spiders sneaking around, baby grasshoppers showing up, snails lurking around the rocks, and piles of little earthworms under the old leaves, besides all the fresh salad spread out for the grazing. (Imagine walking around in your food because there is just so much of it...) Sometimes you get lucky and find a little patch of wild strawberries or tiny little baby snakes as skinny and fun to slurp down as spaghetti! But we live in a scary neighborhood full of big dogs, plus being on the edge of Mirkwood is actually quite dangerous. We've lost several chickens and two ducks in broad daylight within feet of us in the backyard to foxes and hawks (what I'd give for a slo-mo recording from a webcam!), so we don't dare stay out more than 20 minutes at a time. Especially when the woods suddenly get really quiet...

    I've got mine trained to come in for special treats. Today it was a can of corn and a piece of bread, yummy!

    Still, it's really hard to stop stuffing your face and move along when you're surrounded by paradise after such a long dull boring winter.

    Oopsie, T'Pol doesn't seem to be around anywhere. Well, when one goes missing, you get the others put up and then go looking. I went back to where I saw them last before I came in the house and looked for feathers. Nothing.

    She could just be out there in a happy bubble gobbling up a motherlode of worms, right? Not the first time I've had to trench into the deeper woods and brave the chiggers, ticks, copperheads, tree spiders (big webs you walk into face first- yeah, Mirkwood), and poison ivy and poison oak. I'd almost rather sacrifice a chicken back to nature than go round another tick disease (I'm a Lymie) or wind up on prednisone and extra benadryl. I can handle snakes, but I really hate spiders, and we have some as big as your hand around here.

    In woods like these, you keep your eyes peeled for color changes and movement (especially as T'Pol has excellent camo!), and listen for someone kicking leaves around. Chickens have a distinctive kick pattern. Usually you also hear squirrels or rabbits making a racket bounding through the old leaves embedding the forest floor, but at the moment it was so very quiet, I could only imagine a hawk must have stealth bombed my poor chicken and all the critters and birds froze till the coast was clear. That's happened before without the other chickens even noticing. The crunchy sounds you hear are me walking, and I didn't call out because I was listening. Halfway through you can see the other chickens really watching me from the pen.

    I finally gave up and went back to the pen, where all the other chickens were still gathered at the pen door wondering what in the world I was doing. I told them it was too bad they couldn't tell me where they saw her last, and suddenly I was all face palm going OH, she's on a nest! (This is where I have to wonder sometimes if animals are much more aware than we think and could probably communicate in visuals telepathically if we just knew how to shut up our minds and let them, because the timing was incredible.) T'Pol isn't the most reliable layer in the world, being a heritage breed (Speckled Sussex), and since it had been so long since we'd gotten an egg from her (she lays the smallest ones, easy to spot), I assumed she'd stopped laying altogether like a Sussex we'd had previously that laid only one month and stopped forever. And sure enough, there she was.

    The only experience I have with Speckled Sussex are Bean (former flock) and T'Pol (I've otherwise been around chickens all my life), and they both seem to be the most intelligent I've had as far as interspecies interaction goes. Kinda dumb for chicken survival because they're so laid back and the opposite of my flightier hens that you sometimes wish something would pounce on and carry off because they're so aggravating when their nerves go off. But they literally walk around our feet like cats to the point where we nearly stumble over them, and you can see T'Pol was fine with eating out of my hand. She is also my talker, the first one to come get me and complain that she's bored or to tell on someone or ask me what I'm doing or look all around me for snacks. If you are thinking about getting chickens and don't have any experience, toss a Speckled Sussex into the mix and make a pet of it. Other people claim their Sussex are pretty good layers, but their average ranges from 180-240 eggs a year, depending on environment, health, and stress levels. I think Bean suffered a shock from jumping right on top of a 6 foot black snake when she flew up to a nest one day, because she stopped laying cold turkey, laid one egg inside out a week later, and then literally went hermaphrodite on us. Her comb suddenly poofed up bigger, her tail feathers got longer and curved more, and then she started trying to crow, so she became truly transgendered. This isn't terribly uncommon in the chicken world, so we found it pretty amusing. Here is the snake.


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My first tracker was installed in 2004 and broke several times before moving to a new server, which lost a few months of stats, and then Xanga moved to new servers and I lost more stats for more months before the page came back up, so I've lost a total of about two years' worth of stats. The second was installed 2-22-14 and is considered very conservative by business owners who use analytics, which itself is very conservative, estimates being that roughly one third to one half of hits by real live people aren't even counted, most likely due to javascript discrepancies. Actual hits on several posts here are in the thousands now, and the Lexx Index in the ten thousands. I've got pingbacks turned off, so spam isn't counted at all within the Xanga internal tracker, and most direct post hits can be correlated to my real time linking activity on twitter and other social media. When I did Google Analytics beta testing I got to see how search engine performance compares to tracking. I believe live feed linking sources to various social medias are key to a future where search engines are more about performance than cataloging, which has been confirmed to me by coders who create bot algorithms as I was beta testing I've fought hard through redundant age-old stacks to make my way to the google front lines again, so my Lexx work shows up faster on Chrome searches now. This has been a really interesting ride. At any rate, my point is, I can still go back 6 years on my original tracker and I can still see that in 2013 just before the last big blog server move, I was getting traffic like this (and since then, the tracker may have been abandoned, we can't tell). Click the thumbnail to see full size.

My original tracker also still lets me see the latest 500 visitors on a map. I once counted over 80 countries among the total visits. You guys are not alone. Click the map to see it better.

Besides Lexx, the most common search phrases that bring new visitors here are variations on 'huge spaceship'. The most seen post from a phrase search is How Big is the Lexx? My biggest Lexx referrer is Lexx Domain. Most of page views per person count comes from the Lexx tag on Tumblr. Visitors who stay the longest come through URLOpener and are pinged through the Google translator server in Mountain View, CA.

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