Saturday, November 15, 2008

Stand By Me

A video from the film Playing For Change: Peace Through Music(^), about the Playing for Change Foundation,(^) established to build music and art schools worldwide.

I saw this originally on Bill Moyers Journal(^), where the director talked about uniting people through music.

The cynical part of me wonders if programs like this help. The hopeful part of me wants very much for it to be so.

Tangentially, it makes me miss my dad and New Orleans, where some of it was filmed, as you can see in the video.

Stand By Me

Have a wonderful, peace-filled weekend.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Can You Picture That?

This is the retaining wall in front of my dentist's office. I went in yesterday to have my teeth cleaned. It took an hour and a half. Part II is in two weeks, when the left side heals.

I can hardly wait.

I'm used to it, actually, and don't think anything about getting eight shots in the jaw It's like water off a duck's back. Agonizing water, but water nonetheless. Honestly, the most tortuous thing about the whole event was that the regular hygienist was out sick with the flu, and the fill-in, (who really was super nice/competent/cheery/quick/good) had changed the radio station to a grotty country station. I really like classic country, which this wasn't.


So, I noticed this on the way in, and asked the receptionist. Apparently, the day before, a 13-year-old had stolen a truck from a local funeral home and wrecked it, flying through the steel polls that one might hope would prevent this sort of thing, destroying a huge chunk of retaining wall, and coming to rest on someone's car.

Do you think becoming airborne, Bo & Luke Duke style, in a real vehicle feels like it does in MarioCart, or much, much worse?

Based on nothing except the most basic understanding of physics, I'm guessing "much, much worse".
That could be my sense of schadenfreude kicking in, though.

Q: If your patient is in the dentist's office, getting their teeth cleaned or whatever, and a funeral parlour truck and large chunks of a retaining wall lands on his or her car, do you stop the proceedure and tell them? Should you wait till they are done?

A: I dunno. Do they teach that sort of thing in dental school? I'm sure whatever the answer is, the staff did the right thing. They're awesome, and I really like the doctor.

All I know is that my 90 minutes with nu-country and a chipper hygienist couldn't't have been anywhere near as bad as all that.

In honor of all things dental, here is Dr. Teeth & the Electric Mayhem performing Can You Picture That?, from The Muppet Movie(^) (1979)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Colfax Avenue

After our meal at Casa Bonita, and as part of my "1000 photos in one day" exercise (I decided to take 1000 images in one day to break in my new camera), I took these on Colfax Avenue.

Right next to Casa Bonita, there's a magic shop. In all the times I've been there, I've never seen it open, but I'm assuming it does open occasionally. It has a creepy (translation: I would love to own it) stuffed rabbit in the window, along with a beyond-creepy (translation: I HATE CLOWNS) mannequin and other fascinating things.

One day I hope to visit the shop itself. In the meantime, here's their window:

awesome old stuffed magician's bunny. My husband added a filter to this picture because I asked him to. Here's what he looks like "unfiltered":

From Outside Casa Bonita

hideously awesome

From Outside Casa Bonita

more bunny love...

From Outside Casa Bonita

a magician's costume, I think...

From Outside Casa Bonita

pirate costume... ok...

From Outside Casa Bonita

long shot of the window...

From Outside Casa Bonita

another shot of the entire window...

From Outside Casa Bonita

a prop skull and a snake? cool.

From Outside Casa Bonita


As you can see, it is right and good to fear clowns.

Back to Casa Bonita, before we depart for Colfax. Here's the fountain right outside:

From Outside Casa Bonita

The fountain with Daniel sitting on the ledge. As I was shooting this, I noticed the rainbow behind him:

From Outside Casa Bonita

They're always after his Lucky Charms!

From Outside Casa Bonita

The bell tower on Casa Bonita; it really looks out of place in the shopping center, but is still really pretty.

From Outside Casa Bonita

a close up of the bell tower (or as close as its gonna get until I get another camera lens)

Then, finally, into the car, waving bye-bye till next year:

From Colfax Avenue
well, not so much waving as looking at me as if to say, When are you gonna stop with the camera?

From Colfax Avenue

I wish all the neon on this sign worked; old neon is neat, and it seems to be quickly fading from the landscape, which is a real shame.


neat brickwork and I like the reflection in the window (filtered)

liquor store (filtered)

My other favorite, besides the Bunny motel.
There is so much going on here, and the brick work is so pretty.

the same view, filtered.

Sidewok cafe. They deliver... bad puns.

Do you have to have a valid passport to go to Car Land? Are special vaccinations required, like when you go to exotic foreign locales? Is Andy the president, or the king, or what? So many questions, so few answers.

More neat brick work, as the sun sets slowly behind us over the Rockies. So many buildings now look as though they were made from a cookie cutter; it's nice to see these old buildings with character. Even though this was probably never a fancy address, whoever built it took pride in their work.

Whoa! All of a sudden you crest a little hill on Colfax and you can see all of downtown Denver straight ahead.
To the left we have...

Mile High Stadium.
It's really named "Invesco Field at Mile High", but no one calls it that.
Everyone calls it "Mile High Stadium", which is what the old stadium was called. Except sportscasters, who are compelled to call it "Invesco Field at Mile High". They probably hate doing it, though, because they know they sound like total tools.

This is where President-elect Barack Obama accepted the Democratic Party nomination in August.

Finally, merging south onto the interstate, headed home...


More Sopapias, Please

We are expecting snow today. Right now it's cold and rainy. I spent part of the morning trying to persuade SuperCat to let me read to her. Today, for whatever reason, she wants to play on the computer. Mean mommy (me) has other ideas, though, so we've been having a tug-of-war over what we're going to do. While she was working on her computer, I was arranging photos on Picassa(^), labeling photos of Casa Bonita.

Every time we go to Casa Bonita(^), I feel as though I should be taking more pictures.

Casa Bonita, known to many people because of the South Park episode(^) of the same name, is a real place. A huge, cavernous Mexican-themed restaurant with cliff divers, rampaging gorillas, Black Bart's Cave, a volcano and all the other stuff Eric Cartman schemes to go see.

The food is, at best, so-so. But you don't really go for the food; you go for everything else.

Casa Bonita is a few minutes west of downtown Denver, but is actually in Lakewood, Colorado. It's on Colfax Avenue, not the best part of town, in a shopping center. So, you're driving along one motel after the next, gas stations, liquor stores, and so on, until all of a sudden, on your left, is the garish, bright pink facade in the corner of a half-empty shopping center.

After our last visit, it was still bright outside when we were done with dinner, and I took a lot of pictures of Colfax itself, which will be in my next post.

We make a point of taking the kids once a year, or when someone from out of town wants to visit. I always take tons of pictures; the colors are bright and garish, there is a vintage puppet theatre and old gaming devices (think: tall wooden love tester and the Zoltar Speaks fortune telling machine in Big(^)). Between the vintage artifacts, the colors, the lights, the people in costumes, and the rest, there is the sense of stepping into a freaky perpetual carnival.

I take a lot of photos in Casa Bonita. It doesn't matter how many times I've been, I take tons of photos and have a special fascination for the puppet theatre. It's wooden, carved with angels and jesters and strange little faces with a zillion layers of paint.

Here is a photo of the jester on the puppet theatre:
From Casa Bonita Interior
That was taken with flash. I don't like photos taken in the dark with an unfiltered flash, and this is no different. The room is normally dark, lit only by tiny light bulbs and some neon, and this not how it looks in real life. Standing in front of the puppet theatre, you notice the dark shadows and the blinking marquee lights that briefly illuminate features on the face of the center jester.
Like this:
From Casa Bonita Interior

Or this:
From Casa Bonita Interior

or this:
From Casa Bonita Interior

or this:
From Casa Bonita Interior

or this:
From Casa Bonita Interior

They aren't perfect... I guess that 'perfect' would be to be able to photograph what I see. Does anyone ever happy with their photographs? I am rarely, unless they are photos of my children or my husband. Those are always perfect.

More of the puppet theatre:
From Casa Bonita Interior

Angels positioned on the side. I am guessing that these were added later, since the jester and the grimacing faces seem a bit more sinister and mean than the angels.
From Casa Bonita Interior

Never wonder why I have a clown phobia (which is called Coulrophobia(^), in case you were wondering. Which you probably weren't. But still.


From Casa Bonita Interior

If you've seen the South Park episode, Black Bart's Cave is mentioned (Cartman: Come on, you guys! Black Bart's Cave!). This skull is carved into the outside of the cave. Inside is a narrow, dark passageway that winds its way around and around.
From Casa Bonita Interior

I don't know why the following few came out the way they did. They look almost double-exposed, but that's not possible on my camera, as far as I know. Even setting the camera on a hard surface didn't fix them, so the camera wasn't shaking.
From Casa Bonita Interior

From Casa Bonita Interior

Close up of a skull on a tree:
From Casa Bonita Interior

I was really disappointed with the next photo. It's of the "Love Tester" machine, which is really cool. All wood and glass and metal. Proto-video game, I guess. Anyway, it's spiffy and deserved a lot better than the out-of-focus blur I ended up with.
From Casa Bonita Interior

Next summer on our annual trek, or sooner if someone visiting who wants to go, I'll take more to add to the hundreds I already have. There is a neat jail cell I'd like to photograph, other old machines, lots of things.

By the way, if you'd like to see the Casa Bonita episode of South Park, here it is at South Park Studios(^). It is South Park, so here's your naughty language warning.


Sunday, November 09, 2008

Attack of the Domo-Kun! (Birthday Party, Part II)

In addition to making Totoro cupcakes (see post below), we made Domo-kun brownies for the combined SuperCat/Daniel's dad's birthday/Halloween party. Who doesn't like brownies? Who doesn't like Domo-kun? I looked around the web and didn't see any food that was Domo-Kun related, so I created these. The brownies were a natural for Domo-kun's body, and the rest was easy to figure out.

When I was diagnosed with Celiac and could no longer eat wheat, I stopped baking for a while. I could no longer just "make" our favorites because it isn't possible to simply substitute any one type of flour for wheat flour. Wheat flour gives food a unique flavor, texture, and taste to food that nothing else really has.

When I started baking again, I started with mixes. My favorites are Bob's Red Mill(^), and Whole Foods' 365 private label(^) gluten-free products.

I am a pretty accomplished baker with wheat flour, but still resort to "mixes" once in a while as I learn to navigate gluten-free waters. One great thing about eating a gluten-free diet is that many of the mixes I've used have fewer processed ingredients. This is because who really wants high fructose corn syrup in everything?

The brownies we had for our party were gluten-free from a mix. We added some extra high-quality semi-sweet chocolate, and used real butter, both of which made them taste a lot closer to "homemade".

Gluten free brownies taste at least as good as "regular" brownies. I like to serve mine about 8 hours after they've cooled, to reduce any chance of them having a grainy texture. After about 8 hours, though, no one I have ever served them to could tell the difference.

If gluten-free isn't a concern and you'd like to make these, use your favorite brownie recipe, or the boxed mix of your choice.

About Domo-kun: Domo-kun is sort of short for "dōmo, konnichiwa!" which means "hello, there!" in Japanese, but can also mean "Hello, Domo!" "Kun" in Japanese is an honorific used for young men. So, sort of a pun, and a play on words.

Domo-kun is the mascot of Japan's NHK television station(^), sort of the way NBC has the peacock. We get stuck with a peacock and that goofy CBS eye; the Japanese have this happy fuzzy monster who lives in an underground cave with a rabbit named Mr. Usaji (a play on the Japan words for rabbit "usagi" and old man "jii").

The TV-watching public in Japan get the better deal, I think.

If you decide to go to their website and see Domo-kun at the link provided above, click through his world. At the end, the fine folks at NHK have a bunch of cool Domo-kun wallpaper and Java widgets.

Recently, the US department store chain Target brought Domo-kun to the US in the form of Halloween toys. I was happy to see Domo-kun, but a bit miffed that there were only a limited number of toys, and that almost all of the items used in their advertising (a Domo-kun Halloween pumpkin, for example) were never available in stores.

Not to worry - I'm already working on my own Dono-kun pumpkin for next year. We tend to theme our pumpkins, so next year will be Japanese icons. You'll have to wait to see what else we come up with :)

Yay that Target had anything Domo-kun related.
Phooey that they didn't even have the stuff in their own in-store pictures, though.

Back to the brownies.

After the brownies were cool, we cut them into blocks roughly 1½ by 3 inches.

We placed the cut brownies on a platter and used mini-Tootsie rolls for arms and legs, attaching them by pushing them gently into place on each brownie.

Next, we placed a rectangle of cut strawberry fruit leather where the mouth would be. I cut the fruit leather using clean scissors. Fruit leather or "fruit rollups" are available in pretty much every grocery store on the planet.

Then, we placed two rows of teeth, made from a flattened bit of roled fondant left over from the Totoro cupcakes onto the top and bottom of each mouth. To make the teeth with fondant, thinly roll out the fondant, then use a sharp knife point to cut the teeth. We allowed the fondant to set up lightly covered with paper toweling overnight before we used it to decorate the Domo-kuns.

If you would like to make these but don't want to purchase or make fondant, a rolled out piece of white taffy cut to size would be a fine substitute.

After that, we pushed semi-sweet chocolate chips into his "head" for eyes, and that was it. Done. The one thing I would have done differently is that I would have used brown M&Ms for eyes if I had had them. They are slightly larger and shinier, and would have looking a bit better in my opinion.

Here they are (click each for the larger size)

This was our menu:

Wild antelope burgers (from my hunting husband)
Organic uncured buffalo dogs
All sorts of condiments
Wheat buns (I just skip the bun if I want a burger and use a fork)
Hash brown casserole
Twice-baked stuffed potato
Tossed salad greens with veggies

Chocolate cupcakes with fondant Totoros

Domo-kun double-chocolate brownies

Several different delicious ice creams.

Everything was wonderful, and we had great company. Dan and his dad did the grilling, his mom made the salad, the hash brown casserole and the twice-baked double-stuffed potato (made after she noticed gluten in one of the casserole ingredients).

We were joined by the SuperCat's grandparents, her aunt and uncle, her two cousins, some dear friends. It was a lovely day to celebrate.

I have to say, these were so incredibly easy that I will certainly make these the next time I bake brownies because they add only a few short minutes to the process, but were so much fun to make and eat.


My Neighbor Totoro

Two of the last three weeks have been... I'll settle for "interesting", since "pitifully sad" sounds so... pitifully sad.

My husband got sick on the day of our 5th anniversary. By the end of the day, (Saturday, October 18th), he was yearning for the sweet release that only Ibuprofen and a swig of NyQuil can bring. What followed were two weeks of flu-ishness in everyone. I had it three different times. SuperCat had it once. Yuck.

Thankfully, the next week, the week leading up to Halloween, we were all given some sort of Get Out Of Jail Free card by the Universe. We were healthy, we were happy, and we got everything accomplished that we'd planned. We carved pumpkins (my husband and I each carved n owls and the SuperCat helped with her Blue pumpkin, from Blue's Clues). This year, her grandfather grew pumpkins for all of the grandkids, and shortly before Halloween, led Supercat out to the pumpkin patch to harvest her very own, home-grown pumpkin!

On Halloween night, we went Trick or Treating with the SuperCat. Or, we did after she finished giving out candy, because as soon as the doorbell rang, she ran to the door with a tin pail of candy, ready to dispense treats to all of the other kids in the neighborhood. None of them scared her, either, even though this seemed to be the Year of the Zombie, costume-wise. Because Halloween is her birthday, we started early, when SuperCat was about eleven months old, telling her that none of the scary stuff was real. As a result, she calls everything scary-looking "not reals". Skeletons, zombies, witches, goblins and the like are all "not reals" and she isn't the least bit afraid.

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday both because of the good memories I have of it as a kid, and because of the memories I have of my own children's Halloweens. The costumes I've worn, the costumes I've sewn, the pumpkins we've picked out and carved, the candy. I don't think I have any bad memories of Halloween at all, just happy thoughts.

So, I was happy when the SuperCat was born on Halloween. She'll always have a national dress-up party on her birthday with special foods, decorations and games. How much fun is that?

With her actual birthday being Halloween, we've decided that at least while she's young, it really is too much to ask for everyone else to miss their Halloween, and besides: SuperCat's grandfather's birthday is 4 days later, and postponing the party two days allows us to all gather for a combined party, which is so much fun!

The menu included a double-baked and stuffed potato for me (gluten free), delicious hash brown casserole for everyone else, a salad, and cake and brownies for dessert.

This year, when I asked SuperCat what sort of cake she'd like, she told me, "ponies... no... kitties...", then quickly changed her mind and blurted out, "Totoro!"

Totoro is from a Japanese animated film titled Tonari no Totoro (My Neighbor Totoro) by director Hayao Miyazaki. It's about a giant forest sprite (Totoro) who befriends and helps two little sisters in post-World War Two Japan. It has been a part of the childhoods of all three of my children, and if you haven't seen it, check it out. The children in the film are smart, able, and they are respectful of adults. The adults in the film are smart, help and comfort the children, and are competent and caring. In short, it's everything a lot of children's films aren't.

My Neighbor Totoro is a wonderful film, one of our favorites. The story is winsome, sometimes sad, always touching and beautiful. It's on DVD, so if you get a chance, check it out.

This is a Totoro:

So, how to make a Totoro cake? I don't live in Japan, where products with Totoro are sold, so buying a Totoro thing for the top of the cake was right out.

I don't do Wilton-type decorating (although learning how to is on my list for 2009), so that was out as well.

I do craft in polymer clay, and I'd made a Totoro before, but it's best not to touch polymer clay to food, and besides, a Totoro that would be appropriately sized would weigh several pounds and would take a ton of (expensive) clay. I finally settled on fondant. And instead of a cake, I'd make cupcakes. Our wedding cake was covered with rolled fondant, and although I didn't make it, I had always wanted to work with fondant.

Fondant is a mixture of sugar, water, gelatin, glucose (or white corn syrup), a bit of glycerin, and some flavoring and/or coloring, if desired. You mix all these things, bring it to temperature, take it off the heat, and knead it till it is a soft, smooth dough.

Fondant can be modeled, rolled flat to cover entire cakes, made into bows, any sort of shape you can think of; in short fondant is like edible candy modeling clay.

Fondant doesn't really taste like much except "sweet", so it's a good idea to frost the cake before the fondant is applied, since most people don't eat it.

But I didn't want to make it because I've never made it. For one thing, I live more than 6000 above sea level. Water boils at a lower temperature where I live than where most other people live. It's drier and it's cooler, both of which affect candy making. I didn't want to risk making it for the first time, so, I went with Wilton's pre-made. Five pounds is about $22.00 at Hobby Lobby; around $13.00 or so with a 40% off coupon, and is enough to cover a 3-tiered cake or make probably 3 dozen Totoros. I've promised to add "making fondant from scratch" on my list of things to do in 2009, right below learnng Wilton-style design.

I only needed about a dozen Totoros, so I saved the rest of the fondant for Thanksgiving (squirrels for decorating a gluten-free cake ) and my husband's birthday (within a few days of Thanksgiving). He's getting Tux the penguin cupcakes (Tux is the mascot of the operating system Linux & my husband is a Unix/Linux systems administrator).

Last Saturday night found my fabulous husband and myself standing in the kitchen, molding about a dozen Totoros. We followed a picture and were done in about 90 minutes. He's basically a flat-bottomed egg shape, with pinched tubes for arms, cones for ears, a ball for a tail, ovals for eyes, a thinly rolled oval of white for the bib, and that's it! Stick the parts on with water if they start to dry out, and try to keep the yet-to-be used "clay" covered with a moist paper towel while you work.

Sky blue Wilton's paste food coloring was used to dye the fondant to make the body, ears, arms, and tail; I left it plain white for the eyes and the chest; and used the blue paste food coloring watered down and applied with a sharp toothpick for the pupils, fur, and noses. Before I tinted it, I flavored the fondant with vanilla and a bit of orange oil so that if anyone decided to eat it, it wouldn't taste really icky.

The flowers are Smarties candies. The grass is coconut dyed with green Wilton's paste coloring.

Here are the results. You can click on the pictures for bigger versions.

We were happy with them, but SuperCat was thrilled.
Happy 3rd Birthday, sweetheart!