Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Inflatable nativity scenes

I like to see nativity scenes on people's lawns, but I admit I find the inflatable ones to be kinda tacky. Look, when St. Joseph immediately reminds me of Yukon Cornelius, you know something's wrong.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Time to ruin some songs for you

Update: You can sing Amazing Grace and these other poems to any of the following tunes (more or less),

Amazing Grace
Almost every poem by Emily Dickinson
The Burning Babe, by Robert Southwell
The Yellow Rose of Texas
The Gilligan's Island theme song
Peaceful Easy Feeling
I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing
The A Team theme song
House of the Rising Sun
O Susanna

Do you know of any others I can add to the list? Let me know in the comments! Now here's my original post:

Today I went out to breakfast after Mass to an excellent French-Canadian restaurant operated by Vietnamese, and there I learned that every poem by Emily Dickinson can be sung to the tune of The Yellow Rose of Texas.

Try it yourself! Here's the tune:

And here's an Emily Dickinson poem:

I felt a funeral in my brain,
And mourners, to and fro,
Kept treading, treading, till it seemed
That sense was breaking through.

And when they all were seated,
A service like a drum
Kept beating, beating, till I thought
My mind was going numb.

And then I heard them lift a box,
And creak across my soul
With those same boots of lead,
Then space began to toll

As all the heavens were a bell,
And Being but an ear,
And I and silence some strange race,
Wrecked, solitary, here.

And then a plank in reason, broke,
And I dropped down and down--
And hit a world at every plunge,
And finished knowing--then--

For more fun, here's Dickinson's most famous poem:

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.

We passed the school, where children strove
At recess, in the ring;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.

Or rather, he passed us;
The dews grew quivering and chill,
For only gossamer my gown,
My tippet only tulle.

We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.

Since then 'tis centuries, and yet
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses' heads
Were toward eternity.

Now then, do ya'll remember the Gilligan's Island theme song?

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale,
A tale of a fateful trip,
That started from this tropic port,
Aboard this tiny ship.

The mate was a mighty sailing man,
The skipper brave and sure.
Five passengers set sail that day,
For a three hour tour, a three hour tour.

The weather started getting rough,
The tiny ship was tossed,
If not for the courage of the fearless crew,
The Minnow would be lost, the Minnow would be lost.

The ship set ground on the shore of this uncharted desert isle,
With Gilligan, The Skipper too, the millionaire and his wife,
The movie star, the professor and Mary Ann,
Here on Gilligan's Isle.

Turns out you can also sing that to The Yellow Rose of Texas, and vice versa. Which means you can sing Emily Dickinson's poems to the tune of Gilligan's Island! See how seriously you can take her when you're singing "And then a plank in reason broke and I dropped down and down..." as if it was "Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip..."

Having fun yet? Now try this!

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found
Was blind, but now I see.

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!

Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
We have already come;
'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.

When we've been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise,
Than when we first begun.

It's true. Amazing Grace can be sung to the tune of The Yellow Rose of Texas, or worse yet, to the tune of Gilligan's Island. And of course you can sing Gilligan's Island to Amazing Grace, which makes it sound much more serious. It's all interchangeable!

Are there any other tunes that fit? Let me know. :)

Cat in the sun

This is why I have to clean the cat hair off my bed every day!

Update: So I posted the above picture, which I took yesterday, and then I went upstairs to my room and found... the cat on my bed again, in the sun again, looking like she hadn't moved since yesterday.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Wrapping paper and Christmas proclamation

Merry Christmas to all! I hope you're having a blessed day!

This is the wrapping paper I'm using this year:

But it's not all snarky social commentary. I also used some of this paper:

In fact I used that for the Secret Santa exchange at the lab Christmas party, and several of my co-workers gathered around my present to try to figure out the equations.

And look! I found a use for my hundreds and hundreds of free address labels! They're more colorful and fun on wrapping paper than plain ol' tape is:

Now that you, my blog readers, know my address, you may send me gifts. :)

And now let us have the Proclamation! It's traditionally chanted at the Midnight Mass. I heard it at St. Therese last night.

The Proclamation of the Birth of Christ

Today, the twenty-fifth day of December,
unknown ages from the time
when God created the heavens and the earth
and then formed man and woman in his own image.

Several thousand years after the flood,
when God made the rainbow shine forth
as a sign of the covenant.

Twenty-one centuries from the time of Abraham and Sarah;
thirteen centuries after Moses led the people of Israel
out of Egypt.
Eleven hundred years from the time of Ruth and the Judges;
one thousand years from the anointing of David as king;
in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel.

In the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;
the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome.

The forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus;
the whole world being at peace,
Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father,
desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming,
being conceived by the Holy Spirit,
and nine months having passed since his conception,
was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary.

Today is the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Crimson Devonshire Cream

Woohoo! Told you I'd post a different dessert every day till Christmas. This one I just now finished, and it happens to be...


There are so many good desserts, including a bunch I've yet to blog, but none can match this one for tasting good, looking good, and making me happy. (The happy part is probably related to the fact that I make it on Christmas.) I like fruit desserts, and I'm wild about CREAM, especially sweetened with sugar, which, come to think of it, is probably why I drink so much tea. But anyway, this dessert is a happy combination of those two loves and so it wins my devotion. Now then...

Crimson Devonshire Cream

* 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
* 3/4 cup cold water
* 1 cup heavy whipping cream
* 1/2 cup sugar
* 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
* 1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream

* 2-1/4 cups fresh or frozen cranberries, divided
* 1-1/3 cups water
* 1/4 cup orange juice
* 4 teaspoons grated orange peel
* 3/4 cup sugar


* In a saucepan, soften gelatin in water; heat over low until gelatin dissolves. Cool. In a bowl, beat cream, sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form. Combine the gelatin mixture and sour cream; mix well. Gently whisk into the cream mixture. Pour into small bowls or parfait glasses. Chill until set, about 1 hour.

* For sauce, combine 1-1/2 cups cranberries, water, orange juice and peel in a saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Sieve sauce, discarding skins. Return sauce to pan; add sugar and remaining cranberries. Cook over medium heat until berries pop, about 5 minutes. Chill until cold. Spoon over each serving of cream. Yield: 8 servings.

Nutrition Facts: omitted. You're welcome.

All right, I like to do the cranberry part first, since it takes a while to cool down. So you grate some orange zest, squeeze some orange juice, and throw that in a pot with water and cranberries like so:

Hey, check this out! My camera's flash and the reflection in the metal created a funky starburst effect.

After you cook all that for a while it looks like cranberry sauce.

But then you strain out the solid so you're left with thick unsweetened orange-cranberry syrup.

Put that back in the pan and add sugar and fresh cranberries.

Mix it up and cook some more.

If you click this picture below for the closeup, you'll see that most of the berries have just begun to split open from the heat. They've got to split so the bitter sour cranberry essence seeps out and sugar seeps in. But don't cook them any longer after that, because then they'll lose their shape and the dessert won't look as nice. It's like microwave popcorn: if you wait for the very last kernel to pop, most of the bag will be overdone.

So then you dissolve gelatin in water. I can't tell by sight when it's dissolved, so I just bring it to a simmer and then turn off the heat.


Vanilla for added deliciousness!

And of course, some sugar!

Mix it up...

Till it's whipped.

MANDATORY STEP: lick off the beaters.

Whisk together the sour cream and gelatin.

Then you have a sour cream mix and a heavy cream mix...

Whisk them together...

...for one big delicious cream mix!

Transfer the cream mix to a pitcher for pouring.

MANDATORY STEP: lick out the bowl.

Now get some pretty parfait glasses.

Pour in the cream, trying not to get any on the sides of the glasses.

MANDATORY STEP: lick out the pitcher.

OPTIONAL BUT HIGHLY RECOMMENDED STEP: have Mom make you a delicious cup of coffee with foamy cream and sugar on top, and relax with the internet for a while.

(Can you tell I'm having a nice Christmas Eve?)

After the cranberries and the cream are both well chilled... and not before!... you can pour the one on the other.

First I like to distribute the cranberries evenly with a spoon.

Then I pour out the topping slowly, trying not to splash it on the sides of the glasses.

Like so. Yum!

And that, folks, is what I'll be savoring tomorrow night. :)

I hope you're all having a merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Corn Flake Wreath

When I was growing up we always went to the Singletons' house on Christmas Eve, and they always had the same wonderful Christmas cookies, and among them was always a wreath made of corn flakes. I loved that dessert, and figured it was a Christmas institution. So when I thought of bringing one to the lab party last week, I nearly ruled it out because I was afraid it would seem cliche. But it turned out that no one else in the lab had ever seen or heard of such a thing! Most people couldn't even identify it as a dessert. They thought perhaps it was a strange vegetable presentation. I found myself explaining over and over: "It's marshmallows melted with green food coloring, like Rice Krispies treats, but with corn flakes instead..." So if you're one of those benighted souls who has not yet discovered the deliciousness that is the corn flake wreath, behold!

It's very easy to make, and frankly, tastes best while you're assembling it, when the coating is still all warm... irresistible. Try it with a bunch of friends and see if you don't eat it all before the wreath is even formed. :)

Corn Flakes Christmas Wreath

1/3 cup butter
4 cups mini marshmallows
1 teaspoon green food coloring
6 cups corn flakes
Red cinnamon candies

In a large pot over low heat, melt butter. Add marshmallows and stir until completely melted. Remove from head. Stir in food coloring. Stir in corn flakes until well coated.

On wax paper or parchment paper, dump out the corn flakes and shape them into a wreath. Decorate with cinnamon candies.

It's easiest to cut the wreath in pieces while the coating is still warm, since it hardens as it cools. I think parchment paper is best if you have it; at any rate the wreath manages to stick even to wax paper. Make sure to press in the cinnamon candies before the coating sets.

No recipe post of mine is finished until there's been a closeup:

Also, you could make a bunch of tiny wreaths instead of one big one... but I wouldn't go to all that trouble for something that's not likely to last long. :)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Red Velvet Sandwich Cookies

Bakerella put these on her site for Valentine's Day, but she needn't know that they've been Christmasized. :) Her recipe is for 12 gigantic sandwiches; I made 50 small ones instead.

Red Velvet Sandwich Cookies

1 Box red velvet cake mix
1/2 Cup butter, softened to room temperature
2 Eggs

* Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
* Mix ingredients until combined.
* Drop very small amounts of cookie batter onto baking sheet about one and a half inches apart.
* Bake for 8-9 minutes.
* Cool.

Cream Cheese Filling (Actually I only used about 2/3 of this recipe. If you make the whole thing, I bet the extra would be good on graham crackers.)
1/2 Cup butter, softened to room temperature
1 8 oz. Package cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1 1lb. Box of confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp Vanilla

* In a mixer, cream butter, cream cheese and vanilla.
* Gradually add sugar and mix until smooth.

Slap some filling on a cookie, add similarly-sized cookie on top, and press the sandwich closed to spread the filling out. You can use another cookie to scrape off the filling that squeezes out the sides, and let that cookie be the bottom half of your next sandwich. Capiche?

Makes about 50 cookie sandwiches if you make them small. Store them in the fridge; they're good cold.

So you mix up the very easy cookie dough and spoon it out on parchment paper...

If you want perfect circle cookies, you can chill the dough and roll it into balls before placing on the parchment... but c'mon, that's not worth the trouble.

Let the cookies cool down and harden while you make the filling:

Then just make a sandwich!

Taste test for quality assurance.

Mmmmm.... I thought of sprinkling green sugar on the outside of the filling to be even more Christmassy, but decided that would be overkill.

All right, one more video

If the Dominican Sisters of Social Justice and the Candy Corn Benedictines don't work out, I might give this order a try...

How to write an entertaining yet effortless post

Just slap up a bunch of YouTube clips!

I thought this was sweet. :) A father/daughter wedding dance.

When David Robinson was a star in the NBA in the early 90's, Nike did a bunch of cool (for the time) commercials with "Mister Robinson's Neighborhood". My favorite:

I like it when slam dunkers get creative for our entertainment.

One of the best parodies on YouTube. Excellent choice of subjects, making good use of the cheesiness of the original Star Trek series.

More Star Trek: worst, yet funniest fight scene ever. I'll admit it actually is a bit intense if you get into it... that part where they're grappling together... but what's with 0:55 when Kirk is pushing so hard to keep from being bitten, and then he just takes his hands away and nothing happens?

I would totally watch this movie for a while if I found it on TV. I enjoy camp now and then.

Seen this one yet? A ridiculously cute kitten.

Back to Star Trek: an excellent summary of the worst episode they ever made.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Triple-Threat Chocolate Cookies

I have a notion that if I put my mind to it, I can post a different dessert every day from now to Christmas. Let's see...

I made these for the lab Christmas party last week. Always a fun time with good food and strange gifts in the white elephant secret Santa gift exchange extravaganza. I got lottery tickets at first and was sorry when they were stolen from me. I finally ended up with Plato's Republic, briefly thought of trying to make time to read it, flipped it open and ended up at the part where Plato is proposing the abolition of marriage and the eugenic breeding of the best members of the state to produce children to be brought up in state nurseries... and I decided it can go to the bottom of my to-read list, with the other books I'll never get to.

So anyway, here's a recipe my mom cut from the L.A. Times ages ago. It's a chocolate cookie with two kinds of chocolate chips: semisweet and white chocolate. For Christmas I replaced the semisweet chips with red and green M&Ms. Behold:

3/4 cup butter - (1 1/2 sticks)
6 tablespoons shortening
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups flour, unbleached
2/3 cup cocoa, measured then sifted (I never worry about the sifting.)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup whipping cream (You can leave the cream out; I do.)
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (or 1 cup red and green M&Ms for Christmas)
1 cup white chocolate, cut into chunks (or white chocolate chips)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cream butter with shortening to blend, scraping down sides of bowl often. Blend in granulated and brown sugars and salt.

Stir in eggs and vanilla. If mixture seems curdled, stir in 1/4 cup of the flour to bind.

In another bowl, stir together flour, cocoa and baking soda. Mix into batter on low speed of mixer, scraping bowl sides often. When almost mixed, stir in cream. Fold in chocolate. Chill batter 10 minutes.

Place about 1/4 cup batter per cookie on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Flatten with wet hands, leaving 2 inches space between each cookie. (OR: spoon out very small cookies and bake about 8 or 9 minutes.) Bake at 350 degrees until cookies look barely set--middles will seem slightly wet--about 12 minutes.

Let cookies cool about 10 minutes on baking sheet before removing with metal spatula. Finish cooling on rack. Store in refrigerator.

Makes 18 huge cookies, 75 small ones, or any number in between.

So you mix up the dough and it looks like this:

Spoon out in rather small amounts onto parchment paper:

It bakes up like this!

Very Christmassy indeed. We need a Christmas plate for them.

And perhaps a closeup.

Or two.

Goodnight, all!