Joe Abbott's Weblog

Letters home to mom

  • Stuff posted on these days

    April 2017
    M T W T F S S
    « Mar    
     12
    3456789
    10111213141516
    17181920212223
    24252627282930
  • Meta

  • Joe Abbott Musings

  • RSS Cat Cartoon w/o the Cartoon

    • Coda
      Posting these cat-cartoons-without-the-cartoon was a long journey that I don’t know if I’ll repeat soon again. A daily blog is tough … even when you have your material handed to you! But, I couldn’t have done it without the artwork … Continue reading →
    • December 31, 2011
      Father Time is riding out his last few minutes of being the temporal keeper for 2011; he sits in an easy chair with a calendar showing “Dec 31” behind him and a grandfather clock pointing to the time of 11:53. … Continue reading →
    • December 30, 2011
      A happy young lady shares a table at a tony restaurant with her cat; they both wear festive, cone-shaped party hats. The woman gaily says to the tuxedoed server, “One martini and one glass of milk.” The cat does not … Continue reading →

Archive for the ‘Suzy’ Category

Speaking of books …

Posted by joeabbott on March 10, 2017

WP_20170305_14_45_21_ProFor about 10 years now, Suzy has been compiling our annual photographs into a “best of” printed volume. The books are 100-ish color pages of glorious us. Yup, we have all these images digitally; yup, we lived that life so there’s nothing new here; and, yup, it’s just a photo album … but I look forward to paging through these every time I find one on a coffee table or on the bookshelf.

I’m not sure what makes these books special; as I noted, we have the digital images. But, there’s something about the tactile quality you can get paging forward, dropping back, and seeing the various instances of our lives in a curated fashion. And it’s not the many thousands of pictures you might get clicking through something on a computer or flicking through them on your phone: they’re just the select, best-of moments that are special in so many ways.

Take for instance last year. Suzy chose a picture of me in the bed of my new-ish truck, arms wide, grinning madly at a tilted rhododendron we were about to plant in our new property. New truck, new property, a plant that a buddy gave me that will grace our new home for years … and that smile that says, “I’m enjoying life!” It’s hard to beat seeing that printed on the cover of a hardback book!

And so, sure, we lived that life so there’s nothing new or truly surprising that we’ll bump into in the pages, but she was a little late on the 2015 book and as we sat side-by-side paging through it when it arrived, we continued to say, “was it that long ago that happened?” or “I thought we had that <insert name of thing here> a lot longer than that!” It’s just fun to relive the very best moments of your life with a quick flip-flip-flip. Even those photos that won’t be meaningful to anyone else.

So, that’s it. If you keep scrapbooks, you’re probably ahead on this score but if you’re use to just cataloging your vacations and days by snapping digital pics and saving them on a hard drive somewhere, I strongly recommend spending some time making your own best-of.

Thanks for dropping in.

WP_20170305_14_46_00_Pro

WP_20170305_14_46_19_Pro

Posted in Home projects, Me, Suzy | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Happy St. Patrick’s Day and Suzy

Posted by joeabbott on March 5, 2017

imageMy wife does many things well but in one of her many exemplary qualities, she shares of herself; and as St. Patrick’s Day approaches, she handed me an envelope to get into the mail to her father in a distant town. Yup, good old USPS mail for a family member who lives farther away than is easy to share our day-to-day events with.

In addition to a newsy letter and some pics from recent gatherings and to-do events here in Seattle, she had created a St. Patrick’s Day greeting card for him. While the original art is based on the Farmville game, she spent the time making a quick recreation rather than just cut-and-paste from a web search. The clever design gave me a bit smile (perhaps you have to be a chicken owner), but I really liked that she continued to keep family in the loop and put time and effort into that connection.

So, for those of my family members who aren’t receiving a St. Patrick’s Day greeting in the mail, this post is for you!

Smile

Thanks for dropping by!

Posted in Me, Suzy | Leave a Comment »

There’s a lot going on in this part of town

Posted by joeabbott on March 5, 2017

Image may contain: tree and outdoorOK, maybe not so much going on but I’m feeling chatty. And, rather than try to ram it all into one post, I’ll drop a couple to make things a bit more digestible.

The first order of business is recognizing that I’m pretty tired and sore. Yesterday Suzanne and I spent 7-hours putting up fencing but, sadly, it wasn’t on our property. The good news is that it was for a charity so an organization in need benefited from our time and efforts; and that’s always nice.

Suzy volunteers at the Puget Sound Goat Rescue (PSGR) and I’m very supportive. Supportive to the point of thinking we have an obligation to contribute some of our time to a worthy cause; and, as it’s easier to think someone else should be volunteering their time, I make a point of committing some of my time when I’m able. So, when Suzy mentioned the PSGR was having a “fencing party” … and it didn’t have anything to do with swordplay … I signed up. Hearing that a fellow co-worker of mine had signed up helped!

Aaron and I worked together ages ago and as he’s one of the Nicest Guys in the World™ (and, really, he is), I was happy to drop in if only to catch up. So, at 7AM on our Saturday morning, Suzy and I drove across the valley to Aaron’s home and, along with his lovely wife Jane, they showed up their setup on 15-acres in Maple Valley. After a half hour of seeing their goat runs, deluxe chicken coop, barn and the beautiful outdoor setup of their home, we headed into the bramble-covered PSGR area we were going to fence … which, conveniently, was right next door!

If you’re a “Facebook person” you can read about the project here, but the post talks more about the many events of the day … and while I think I had a busy day, the Goat Rescue had it going on!

While we took a half hour break at noon for pizza, chips, fruit, and water, the rest of the time was doing heavy manual labor. Aaron and Jane were in charge of using his tractor to dig ~2’ deep holes, insert a 6×6 timber, and shore it up with crushed rock. Suzy and I would follow ensuring the posts were plumb and then laying in cross bracing. For all sections we’d lay in two horizontal members; one high and one low. For the corners we’d install a single diagonal beam; and for other sections that would be in the middle of the fencing, we’d put in two diagonal members.

The corners were the trickiest because the field failed to follow a strictly rectangular shape, leaving us making cuts that had several angles to them. A couple sections gave us problems trying to get the right fit but most of them went into place relatively nicely.

The Seattle weather held off until the end but we eventually took a few splashes of rain and by 4PM we were done. The fencing wasn’t completed but we were DONE. Lots of hours stumbling over roots, carrying heavy loads, and trying to figure out how to look competent doing something for the first time. Tiring though it was, we really enjoyed the experience.

I will note that while I was asking questions and learning how to install a fence (Aaron and Jane were old hands at this by now), Suzy was scouring the understory for decades-old barbwire and various other metal accoutrements that were used in a fence long-since neglected. It was rusty and vicious but a pair of thick gloves and some bolt-cutters took care of the problem

While I’m looking forward to today and my light-duty garage projects and some sitting about, I’m happy to have had a chance, to be physically able, and give back a bit to a world that’s if not better, at least tidier and with the prospects of a bigger pasture to roam in.

Thanks for dropping by.

Posted in General stuff, Suzy | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Love this pic, love this fam

Posted by joeabbott on August 13, 2016

A great snap from our recent gathering in North Carolina. This wasn’t all of us, but a goodly number. Those not present were missed; those who attended … well, we enjoyed our time with you.

Emerald Isle Family 2016

See you all again in three years or so!

Posted in Me, Suzy | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Long road, good company

Posted by joeabbott on April 10, 2016

We erected the shed on our new property this past weekend and it was a bit more work than I thought it would be. The first day was muddy and dirty, as we put in the base, and the second day we got some good sun (meaning a stinging burn) because it took long enough to assemble. While I very much wanted to build my own shed, I have to admit this one went together in a short afternoon and that wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t bought a kit.

The base design

We knew that we weren’t sure where our house will be built, so we didn’t know if the shed will ultimately need to be moved; so we we opted to build it on runners. This way, when we do have a final spot the shed will be in, we can tow it to that location. It won’t be easy, but it will be possible.

Then I worked with combinations of various interlacings of pressure treated 4x4s to get a based that was solid, but not too massive. The following design is what we went with:

image

Initially I didn’t have the center beam (the center one perpendicular to the runners) but without it, the center parts of the floor seemed fairly squishy. It would absolutely hold up, but just felt less robust than something I would built. So, we added the other support and I was much happier at the rigidity that it added.

And, after we had the lattice of 4x4s, we’d add some half-inch chip board plywood on top.

Installing of the base

At the property, we started by building the base … which I thought would be easier than it was. Getting the base right is always harder than it looks and the first parts, making sure you’re building on something level, always takes the longest. And that proved to be true in this case, as well.

We found some relatively flat ground, laid out the base to get an idea where we’d need the runners, and then started leveling. It took a LOT of work and I wish we’d started this when I was a younger man! Phew!

The only place we deviated from the original plan was that I used a number of the cut-off ends of the 4x4s to rest the runners on. This way, when we go to move the shed, it won’t have been able to sink into the earth. Or, that’s the hope. We still dug down a bit farther than I’d like, but, in the end, it was flat and level.

2016-04-08 11.42.262016-04-08 11.42.162016-04-08 11.52.002016-04-08 11.51.31

2016-04-08 12.28.272016-04-08 12.27.252016-04-08 12.26.492016-04-08 12.57.26

image

Putting up the shed

One of the hardest parts of putting up the shed was hauling the stuff to our property. We couldn’t lift either of the two boxes the shed came in into our truck so we pulled the pieces from the box and packed the truck. To keep all the parts in, we wrapped the back in a tarp. I felt like we were driving the Beverly Hills Hillbilly truck the way that thing was packed up. Happily, and with ample use of the many straps I carry in the car, we got to the lot without a single piece moving out of place!

Now, the bottom line is that it’s a plastic shed, and while there are a very few things I’d like to have done differently, it went together smashingly and looks respectable. The instructions were clear, we had all the parts, and nothing was broken or defective. While I will opt to build my own in the future, if I have to … or if someone else is looking for a recommendation … I’d gladly point out the Keter product as a fine choice.

Here are a few shots from putting it together:

WP_20160409_10_35_02_Rich_LIWP_20160409_10_38_45_Rich_LI

WP_20160409_11_11_34_Rich_LIWP_20160409_12_08_00_Rich_LIWP_20160409_11_14_06_Rich_LIWP_20160409_11_55_39_Rich_LI

In short, you screw the two bottom panels together that have a channel in them for the walls; slide a wall in, connect it to another wall part, and repeat! There’s a window on one side that asks for a few extra steps but it all pretty much just butts together and is held in place with screws. A few times there are reinforcing steel members added, but they all fit together surprisingly well and with more precision than you’d think!

And here’s the final product!

WP_20160409_14_39_53_Rich_LI

Just a bit more

We had a few more steps before we called it done: we added the smallest of “ramps” to the front and Suzy painted the base a nice black that tied in well with the shed floor color. Not a bad weekend’s work and now we can get on with working on the lot itself!

Thanks for dropping in!

Posted in Suzy | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

2014–all over but for a lot of yawning and a good-night kiss

Posted by joeabbott on December 31, 2014

P1070153Well, I woke up today knowing it was the last day of 2014 but hard pressed to account for the time. It’s gone like a whirlwind. And yet, there have been some standout moments, both good and less so, that have become part of the fabric of the year. Time to reflect and not necessarily in the order of the year … just as they occur to me.

Suzy retires

We’re not sure if this “retirement” is a forever deal, but it could be. We have enough going around the house and in our lives that we shelve and have said “when we get time” that we decided it was time to free up some of our day to attend to these things.

As we looked at our options, freeing up Suzy from the 9-5 routine made best sense and so we did that. It was a many-year plan but I’m delighted for it: for the tidy yard, the clean house, the good meals, and someone who can plan trips and entertainment without squeezing it in during lunch hour.

Uncle Joe passes away

Uncle Joe and I shared monthly letters, each trip back to MN included a trip to see him, and he was an inspiration in so many ways: a generous heart, a sharp intellect, and a patient soul. He embodied so many good qualities and was so approachable and pleasant, it’s hard to believe this is a description of a real person, and not some fiction. But that was him. He liked fishing in his youth, sports his entire life, and while you sat with him, he listened, shared, and left you feeling good.

Over the past few months I’ve missed our correspondences and thought of him often and, in that small way, he’s not really gone. Not completely.

Trips to MN

Getting back home so many times this year was great, but there was sadness in that one of the trips was for UJ’s funeral. While all of the events were special, I liked our road trip back. We got to spend some great time together, listened to a wonderful book on CD, and saw some fantastic National Parks and scenery. It was a wonderful trip and made for a lot of grand memories.

I’ve been busy

Work this past year has been a blur of change and intensely focused; more so in the last six months but it feels like it’s colored the entire year. It means I’m feeling a bit more stress (and wearing my night-guard to avoid problems from grinding my teeth at night), it means I escape into video games a bit more (like now), and that I’m gaining a bit more weight (I’m a stress-eater), but I have to say that I like being on a project that matters and I understand its relevance to the marketplace. I just wish we weren’t coming in so hot!

I’m getting older

When I hit 40 years old, I didn’t notice a thing different from when I was 39 … at least in terms of physical capabilities. About the time I hit 44 years old I did notice a few things that were harder or took me longer or more committed effort to accomplish. This past year I’ve seen more instances of “this is new” that I chalk up to aging than I have in the past … I have to face facts: I’m getting older.

Some of it is weight-related … the pains after the 5K race, the discomfort when tying one’s shoes … and some is just getting old: the dizzy spells, the “man I don’t feel great this morning”, and the naps that feel so delicious on a weekend afternoon. I’ll do what I can to hold the forces of nature at bay but as the year ended, I submitted to eating a bit more than I should, sleeping in more than I used to, and generally being OK with not applying myself to stuff that should be getting done. I better bring my A-game to 2015!

And some other stuff

We had a leak in our roof, we spent an entire day watching the three Hobbit movies back-to-back in a theater, we rode a lot of miles on the stationary bikes at the Y, we got some new furniture, and I got some great books (and read a few, too!). There were stand-out meals both at home (Suzy cooks a wonderful steak sous vide) and at some five-star restaurants (Copper Leaf), there were fun times with family and friends.

I didn’t climb any mountains this year but did get in some good hikes. My car died but I got a new truck. I built very few things in my shop but I got some new tools.

The year was a bit of a seesaw with fewer true highlights to offset some of the pains and troubles; and yet there’s hope, harmony, and happiness to take us with confidence into the new year.

Best wishes to you and yours this holiday season and throughout the New Year.

Posted in Me, Suzy | 2 Comments »

Christmas Greetings – 2013

Posted by joeabbott on December 27, 2013

imageEvery year Suzy and I create our own holiday greeting cards. In the past we’ve done elaborate designs but find our time these days at a premium so we’re not able to put as much time into crafting our annual cards. However, there are still many hours of effort that goes into these and this year was no different. Let’s take a look at what putting together a card requires.

Conception

Sometime in early November we start to get serious about needing a plan. As with other years, we’ll have talked about it in September, then October, but as we hit November, we start to count off the days and realize we need to get on it ASAP.

This year we kicked around a few ideas that have been bubbling about, tossed in a couple others, and then Suzy suggested something that I liked a lot: let’s decorate the coop. I think she said something about putting a deer by the coop and I liked it a lot: what if all Santa’s deer took up residence in our coop?

Initial shots

We have something like 18 lighted deer, so I thought we could pull this off. Something along the lines of: we put up a wreath and a few decorations on the coop and, before you knew it, we had a flock of reindeer in residence. So, one day I pulled out all our deer, a couple lighted trees, and anything else that looked “Christmasy” and set it up by the coop. Suzy didn’t seem 100% onboard but she entertained me and continued to ask what the words would be that tied it together.

Sometimes we write a fanciful story, sometimes let our pets (the cats and chickens) star equally as mischievous pests or heroes that save Christmas for Santa. For this one we didn’t have anything solid yet. Which made it hard for Suzy to get behind. I was far more willing to wing it and see what came. I just liked the idea of Santa’s deer taking over our coop.

So we spent a couple hours snapping pictures, moving deer about, and trying to get a shot that looked good. Suzy was far more critical of the execution; at one time I’d pushed a white deer atop the coop but against a grey sky it just wasn’t showing up, so we moved the deer about. It took longer than I thought and, at the end, I believe I was delighted but Suzy was still dubious on a clutter of outdoor decorations in a chicken coop being able to pull off our annual (and in some cases, only) written greeting to friends and family.

imageRefining things

Over the years we have come to the assigned roles of Suzy doing the visual stuff and I do the written stuff. Being supportive and super-cool, even without understanding the direction, Suzy took the pictures and started pushing around bits on her Mac: sorting the various shots, adjusting color, and ensuring composition would hold up to printed cards.

I’d make suggestions and talk in abstract and vague terms about what we could say and how we’d use the space inside to send a card. As we continued to hone the various greetings and messages, she’d make different proofs.

Lighting strikes

In one proof she inserted our two cats, Trimble and Trasper, as larger-than-life cats looking over the fence. Brilliant! With that, things just seemed to snowball into a grand card! I liked how it looked a bit crazy or nutty. She also had a shot of me from our May skydiving outing coming down in the background.

As we’d talked about what we’d say in this year’s card, we centered on a few of the fun things we did. While climbing is a major focus for my life, we wanted to focus on stuff we did together and the fun times we shared with family and friends.

Suddenly it seemed perfect for the picture to reflect the words we were starting to build: our year was a manic rush of fun, from skydiving, to go-kart racing, to the carnival-themed family gathering we hosted in summer.

Final execution

The final card is shown above: it keeps the deer-around-the-coop bones, but includes a few highlights from the year for a nutty/fun air. It turned out good, mostly from Suzy putting in dozens of hours at the computer to perfect the visuals, pulling in the words, and putting a polish on it that reflected our year: just a lot of fun.

Wait, there’s more!

Suzy has kept a catalog of our cards from the many years out here: Joe and Suz Christmas Cards. Take a look if you have some time and want to enjoy some of the fun we’ve shared with our close friends and family in the form of our annual card.

Posted in Me, Suzy | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

A day to play

Posted by joeabbott on December 14, 2013

Yesterday was grand in many many small ways, but mostly because Suzy took the day off and we enjoyed one of my favorite sort of days: a day doing little things.

Sunbreak cafeWe started by deciding to have breakfast out. That’s usually a hard decision as we’ve found recipes for homemade buttermilk pancakes that we love, found bacon that’s so good we fly it in, and with eggs coming from the backyard, well, it doesn’t get any fresher! Just to be clear, the “fly in the bacon” comment simply means we mail order it from a place in Wisconsin and it comes frozen. <g>

But, we were feeling like we wanted an easy day, so we let someone else prep the meal and do the dishes: Suzy got a spinach, mushroom, and bacon omelet and I got the Eggs Benedict. Both served with shredded red potatoes and hot tea and we were sated. Delish!

From there we headed to Del’s to get a few items we needed for the chickens and backyard, and then to the grocery store for the makings for weekend meals. Looks like pulled pork sandwiches are back on the menu, boys! I’m looking forward to that!

A while back Suzy and I took a walking tour of our own creation around a place called Black Diamond, WA. One of the features we ran into was a cemetery that was so old we had a hard time reading many of the markers. But, we reverently strolled the plots, examining stones laid many dozens of years prior, and wondered at the stories behind those who have gone before us. Black Diamond was a coal-producing area in Washington and so many sites were reserved for miner’s and their families.

And so started a modest interest in old cemeteries. We don’t often seek them out but do find them quietly interesting when we come upon them. And so we decided to take a look at St. Patrick’s Cemetery located a couple miles from our home in the Kent valley.

imageimageWe don’t have pictures from that walk (we didn’t even get the walk!) as a service was going on and we didn’t get out of the car. It felt intrusive and gauche to gad about the stones playing the role of morbid tourists while a family bids farewell to a loved lost member. We’ll save that trip for another day; what we ended up doing was taking a small driving tour of some quiet back streets in the soggy and low roads of the Kent valley. We’ve lived here about 20 years and had never seen some of these places. It was a nice way to spend a short hour.

After that we got home, let the cats run around, and then headed out again; this time we drove to the Tukwila Heritage and Cultural Center. We’d seen this appear in a search for “local museums” and as neither of us knew there was such a place, we thought to visit. While we found the tidy old schoolhouse, the doors were locked and a sign indicated it was open only in the late morning. Alas, we won’t be touring this one together anytime soon, but we did walk the (very) small Macadam Hazelnut park where I snapped Suzy with a concrete cougar statue.

From there we again drove about, looking at various architecture and stopping when a view caught our eye. It was doodling about in this way that we happened upon the Macadam Winter Garden. And what a gorgeous little garden it was! It has a small looping stream, a bridge over a little pool, and many many plants. In addition, they’ve placed a wonderful map complete with description of all the trees, shrubs, and plants in the park.

Over the next 45 minutes or so, we found ourselves espying an interesting specimen, consulting the map, retracing our steps to give it a critical eye and nod knowingly. Admittedly I was doing it for show, Suzy was actually storing away plant-knowledge for later use and ruminating with intent and purpose. So goes most of our trips to parks and gardens.

After this we dropped by a furniture store to talk about reupholstering a couch we have that’s seeing a bit of wear. We bought the sofa from Foster’s Furniture some 15 years ago and they still had us on record … prices have changed but they still have excellent customer service and we left with a number of options and our heads full or numbers.

Upon returning home we took a nap. Yup, right then and there in the waning hours of a beautiful (rainy) day, we dozed off for a time. It was grand.

image

imageOur timing was perfect, however: we arose at just the right time to get a bite to eat before heading to a local concert hall to see the Rainier Symphony’s Christmas concert. Led by our favorite conductor, David Waltman, we enjoyed an evening of fun music and wonderful entertainment. A special guest soprano, Carly Hebert, knocked our socks off!

While I cringed at a minor gaffe in Hebert’s telling of The Night Before Christmas, she came back with a Silent Night that was hauntingly gorgeous. Waltman will regularly talk about the different pieces being performed but he was a bit more reticent this time, saving up for playing the role of a Father Guido Sarducci-esque Santa Claus. His shtick was family-friendly and laugh-out-loud funny, and while timing played less a strength in his over-the-top monologue, his steady stream of one-liners kept us all entertained until he took up the baton again and played one last Christmas tune before sending us home for the night.

But did we go home? No indeed.

Suzy noted that The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug opened that day and there was a 10:20PM showing at the local cinema. Judging me to be game, she suggested we go … and I can’t imagine anyone gamlier! I was in, baby!

imageimage

I’ve been reservedly looking forward to Desolation since last year’s Hobbit concluded; reservedly because I know the story well and didn’t NEED MOAR!! I just enjoyed the first installment and could wait.

But I did read some of the reviews about this piece and thought I’d love it. Why would I love it? Well, because I didn’t read any reviews that were negative in ways I cared about.

A few griped that the movie was long, that is had “a lot of dwarves in it”, and that there was “insufficient moral justification for the quest”. None of those issues are matters I care about (insufficient moral justification?!?!) but I was more concerned that for our movie showing, not only were tickets readily available, but for the show of a new film starting in 40 minutes, there were only a dozen folks in front of us in line. Oooo … that might foreshadow a stinker.

But, upon getting out of what ended up being a reasonably full theater at 1:30AM, I can unreservedly say it was a blast. I think I’m getting a bit older as the action sequences (of which there were many) were so fast I wasn’t sure who was doing what to whom, but I did see a lot of spiders and orcs die at the speedy hands of elven weapons. As a younger man reading the books, I thought an orc raiding party might number in the 15-20 orc range; after seeing the carnage left by heroes in the Peter Jackson version of his Middle-earth spectaculars, I have since adjusted the orc raiding party numbers up by an order of magnitude … and I’m wondering if I’m still short.

Go ahead and read a few reviews online, pull out the parts that reviewers liked, and know that I wholeheartedly agree. The stuff they didn’t like are inconsequential to me and as we drove home last night to a well-needed sleep, I looked to Suzy and said, “you know I’ll need to see that again”; to which she answered, “of course”.

Yesterday was a grand day of little things spent with someone I like the most. A good way to spend any day.

And here my time with you ends and I thank you for dropping in. Hope to see you again soon.

Posted in Me, Suzy, Travel | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

This and that

Posted by joeabbott on December 9, 2013

Today is my first full week off from work and guess what I’m doing today and tomorrow: going back in to work.

What?!

A fair response but extenuating circumstances will explain all: today I get to enjoy a “talk” from someone I wouldn’t normally get to see talk, and tomorrow I have a class. First up today is Nathan Myhrvold.

imageMyhrvold may not be a household name but he’s rather well known in wider circles than, say, I am. A visionary technology and business leader, Myhrvold worked for Microsoft for 13 years and established MSR, our massive Research business. He left Microsoft to pursue venture capitalism, date Martha Stewart (or so I heard) and pursue cooking. It’s the cooking part that will be the focus of today’s talk. Or more specifically, discussing the photography behind the cooking.

Probably another what?! coming from a few of you.

In 2011 Myhrvold published Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking that my wife grabbed onto. While not actually, the book retails for a lofty sum around $450, she cleaved to the ideals and philosophy and we’ve had nary a box of mac&cheese since. While the ideals behind cooking were almost revolutionary for the average kitchen, the photography accompanying the cookbook were equally impactful.

Novel techniques, exquisite composition, and perfect execution made for tremendous results. A quick taste (pun intended) of the talk is here in the TED talk clip: Nathan Myhrvold: Cooking as never seen before. And so that’s why I’m going into work today: to hear Myhrvold talk for an hour and a half on cooking, learn about the exceptional techniques required to capture the images, and to see beautiful pictures. I’m happy to return to campus for that!

Tomorrow I’m heading back to campus to take a class. Yup, a few months back I signed up for a class and while I tried to get an earlier timeslot than 12/10, it was all they had. Alas. I shall be smarter for it and while I’m happy to return, I wish I didn’t have to. To sweeten the deal, I plan on dropping by my sister-in-law’s home to pay a social visit, drop off a few goodies, and perhaps help them with a computer problem.

imageA quick recap on yesterday is in order!

Rather than attend our local Y for another cycling workout, Suzy and I walked to the train which dropped us off in Seattle. From there we took a short mile walk to our downtown REI (the flagship store) and I talked skis and skiing with folks, read a few pages from various books, and realized I don’t know enough about what sort of skiing I want to do to make any sort of purchase. And so I have settled on the idea of renting some backcountry skis and will find a few days for doing that sort of exercise some day in the next few weeks.

imageFrom there we walked back into downtown proper, visited a glassblowing shop to see if they might have something for a holiday present ($150 glass snowmen were out of our budget), and then we dropped by a Top Pot doughnut shop for a quick bite. We then dropped by the West Lake Center carousel to enjoy some holiday cheer (as observers, not riders) before grabbing the train back to our neck of the woods.

The train was packed but we had seats and so I dozed a bit, jostled by the undulating train ride, wearied by a day of walking in the chill air. It was nice.

At home we tag-teamed to print out our holiday address labels and then enjoyed a pasta dinner before finishing off the last of the Lord of the Rings: Return of the King movie. A rather grand tradition but that’s a lot of movie watching for us.

I hope you’re getting out or staying in as your holidays and interest allow. Stay warm and thanks for dropping by!

Posted in Me, Suzy, Travel | Leave a Comment »

Had I ever told you about the time I made marshmallows?

Posted by joeabbott on August 24, 2013

WP_20130713_003WP_20130713_006Suzy and I enjoy taking classes together and like to learn new stuff. When we took our first class at our local Eat Local shop, we learned how to make pasta, we took another class in July to learn how to make marshmallows. Why marshmallows? No idea but it sounded intriguing.

I’m neither a marshmallow aficionado nor a marshmallow fiend, but I will admit to being very curious about how to make a marshmallow. These confection staples have been around whatever place I’d call home for as long as I could remember: an ingredient in fruit salad, wedged between a square of chocolate and a graham cracker, sprinkled on hot chocolate, or simply popped into one’s mouth. It’s a versatile thing, the marshmallow, but how would I go about making one?

Didn’t know so I thought I’d find out.

WP_20130713_007WP_20130713_015 

It turns out the marshmallows are fairly simple foods that have a trick or two to making, but even that isn’t above beginners. The basic ingredients are sugar (no surprise there), gelatin (again, in a pinch I could have teased that out), and flavoring. So, with a formula that’s the basis for many confections, it comes down to preparation and the processes one uses.

We started by special-treating our gelatin. Learning from an Eat Local class, they didn’t pull a grocery store box of Knox Gelatin from the shelf, but instead used organic, locally sourced product that wasn’t as processed and required a bit of “treatment” to, let’s say, limber it up. It amounted to gently stirring it into a small amount of water and letting it “bloom” or some other such word. Once the gelatin was ready we poured it directly into a pureed strawberry mixture. And while I use the word “mixture”, I believe the bowl was just pure strawberries. Organic and locally sourced, or course!

With that done, we took a copper pot full of granulated cane sugar, added only enough water to get it marginally soupy, and then put that baby to flame! There were a couple tricks Chef Tracy taught us: ensure the sides of the pan didn’t have sugar on them (they’d crystalize, fall into the mix, and start the entire batch to crystalizing), don’t stir the mixture (again, it would encourage crystallization), and watch that temperature! It seemed a fussy part of the making but the intent is to get the entire mixture up to temperature without it starting to form crystals … which would ruin the texture of your marshmallows.

P1030693WP_20130713_026WP_20130713_019With that done, the strawberry gelatin soup was transferred to an industrial mixer and we slowly poured in the just-right-temperature molten sugar. At this point we stood back and let the mixer earn its keep in the kitchen.

Over, say, a short 10 minutes we talked as the mixer was doing its thing. The process above was all done by Chef Tracy as she explained the steps, answered questions from the lot of us, and tolerated my nosier than normal picture-taking. We then started prepping batches of our own marshmallows, which would be a plain vanilla variety.

Before getting into the vanilla marshmallows we made, let’s finish up the strawberry marshmallows, first! Don’t worry … the remaining steps were few and short!

P1030704 P1030705

After the bowl of whipped strawberry marshmallow mix had been fluffed, we prepared a couple of foil pans … enough so that each couple could get one to take home. To prep them we simply coated the inside of the pan with a light vegetable oil, making sure to get it completely covered. Then we spooned fluffy blobs of the marshmallow mix into the pan, smoothed the top, and dusted it over with a powder sugar-corn starch mixture. Add lid, set aside, and we were done!

Oh, we did have a bit of the mixture left, so we dropped dolloped spoonfuls into the powder sugar mix, rolled them about, and ate them from the pan!

WP_20130713_021As I’d said, deceptively simple. And it was now our turn.

WP_20130713_038The process for vanilla marshmallows was similar but our gelatin mixture was mostly water with a tablespoon of vanilla extract added; a “scraping” of vanilla beans themselves were added to the copper pot of sugar that was heated over the stove. To get the vanilla beans themselves, we took a long bean, slit it from one end to the other, and then used the knife to scrape out the tiny, sticky seeds from inside the pod, transferring them into our sugar. As a vanilla lover, I thought it a starkly poor amount of vanilla but I can’t argue the mixture suffered for that quantity.

Each couple then heated their sugar, added it to the gelatin, but rather than let the industrial mixer do its thing, we used a hand-mixer to whip up our batches of vanilla marshmallows. After that we transferred our warm and fluffy treats into a pan and we were done.

Chef Tracy sent each couple home with their pans of strawberry and vanilla marshmallows, a small container of the powdered sugar/corn starch mix, and instructions to let the marshmallows set for an hour or so before we sliced them into cubes, coated with the powder, and then enjoyed. Almost too easy.

xP1030718P1030722P1030733

And how were they? While I’d like to break into superlatives, honesty requires that I say: about middling. They certainly weren’t bad, but our marshmallows were “damper” than store-bought marshmallows (my gold standard, as it’s the only thing I know) and were the sort of thing you’d hold gingerly between two fingers before carefully popping into your mouth and downing. The flavors were excellent and ultra-fresh, but again, it was that “less firm” texture that kept me from stating that from here on out, we’d only be a homemade marshmallow family. I’m sure we could tinker with the quantity of water, add more gelatin, or whip longer, but I’ll save those experiments for another day.

P1030737

In all, it was fun to see how marshmallows are made and to chalk up another outing with Suzy and time snacking on goodies. Thanks for dropping by!

Posted in Suzy, Travel | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »