Tuesday, November 28, 2006

(Soon to be) World Famous 3-Layer (Butternut Squash/Sweet Potato/Pumpkin) Pie

As promised, allow me to provide you with some fantastic pie-blogging! The recipe below will yield two delicious pies.

Components:

Gingersnap Crust
3 cups gingersnaps
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 ground ginger
2/3 cup melted butter

Crumb the gingersnaps. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl, and mix well. Firmly press the crumb mixture evenly into 2 9-inch pie plates. Place crusts in the fridge to chill.



Crumbed gingersnaps...


...And a baked crust!


Pumpkin Filling

2/3 cups pumpkin chunks pureed (or one can of pre-pureed pumpkin)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup, 1tbsp, 1tsp half-and-half
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/6 teaspoon salt
1/6 teaspoon ground ginger
1/6 teaspoon ground allspice
1/12 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, brown sugar, eggs, half-and-half, spices, and salt until smooth. Place in the fridge to chill.

Butternut Filling

2/3 cups cooked butternut squash chunks pureed (Trader Joe's has bagged butternut squash chunks that can be microwaved...so convenient!)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup, 1tbsp, 1tsp half-and-half
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/6 teaspoon salt
1/6 teaspoon ground ginger
1/6 teaspoon ground allspice
1/12 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

In a large bowl, whisk together the squash, brown sugar, eggs, half-and-half, spices, and salt until smooth. Place in the fridge to chill.

Sweet potato Filling

1/2 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed (ditto above Trader Joe's remark)
1/2 cup, 1tbsp, 1tsp plain yogurt
1/2 cup packed, light brown sugar
1/6 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/12 teaspoon of nutmeg
2 egg yolks
Salt to taste

Steam the potatoes until fork tender, mash with potato masher and set aside.

Beat sweet potatoes, adding yogurt, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, yolks, and salt, to taste, until well combined. Place into the fridge to chill.



Clockwise from left - pumpkin, sweet potato, butternut squash, gingersnap crust!


Baking Instructions:

After the fillings are finished and chilling, allow them to stay in the fridge for about 30 mintues. Take out the pie crusts and bake them at 375°F for about 8 minutes, then set on the counter to cool. When the crusts are cooled and the fillings are sufficiently chilled, remove the butternut squash filling from the fridge. Split the filling evenly by pouring into the two pie crusts, and then bake them at 375°F for 15 minutes. Remove the pies (the first layer should be reasonably well set-up), pour in the sweet potato filling (again splitting evenly between the two pies) and bake for another 15 minutes. Repeat the process with the pumpkin filling, except this time bake for 25-30 minutes. Check to make sure the top filling has cooked through the middle, and then remove the pies from the oven. Allow to cool, slice, plate, enjoy!


You know you want it

Monday, November 27, 2006

Prelude to a Blog Post

Hello, hello! Just a quick note (while I'm on my lunch break) to say that the weekend was fabulous -- though far too short, of course -- and that I will be pie-blogging later this evening. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Three words

1) Four. Days. Off.

It's a double weekend, baby. I get to sleep in, gorge myself on fantastic eats, and not think about my job for four whole days. I am a happy camper.

2) Finally! Fall. Weather.

Well, sort of. November's nearly over, and we haven't seen a rainy day yet. At the beginning of the week, it was above 90 degrees. Hideous. Today though, it finally dropped back down to the 70s, and it's supposed to continue cooling through the weekend. I know the grass is always greener and all that, but I'm so jealous of those of you who are blessed with actual fall-type weather this time of year. 'Tis the season for scarves and hats and coats, not t-shirts.

And yet, oddly enough, I'm still very much looking forward to our warm weather Yucatan vacation next month. I think that's possibly because I'll be spending most of it in the pool and/or ocean, however. ;)

3) Three. Layer. Pie.

Tomorrow we are going to make (and bring to Thanksgiving dinner) what I anticipate to be a delicious 3-layer pie. I don't want to give too much away now, but I promise to write all about it in a couple of days. It will be legendary!

Happy Thanksgiving, folks! May your hearts be warmed and your bellies be filled with all the goodness and bounty of the season*!


*Wow, can I be any cheesier**?

**Mmm...cheese...

Saturday, November 18, 2006

License to Shill

We saw Casino Royale last night, and I have to say I was thoroughly impressed. I won't go into too many details, so as not to give anything away to those of you who haven't yet seen it (and you really ought to!), but I will say this - the first big chase/fight scene was unbelievably awesome. Completely ridiculous and astounding and awesome.

I have three small complaints. 1) The opening montage was pretty lame, but then again, aren't they all? 2) There were too many extreme close-up shots during the fight scenes. I'm not sure why directors are doing this more and more these days. I assume they want you to feel like you are immersed in the action and chaos of everything, but really you just end up not knowing what's going on because you can't see anything besides movement. 3) One of the characters had far too many expository lines. I became distracted from the drama of the scene because this guy kept saying exactly what was going on, and it made me wonder what the writers had been smoking. And then I thought that maybe the actor pitched a fit because he didn't have enough dialogue, so they were forced to write this extra drivel for him just so he had more things to say. And by that point I was completely detached from the movie and had to get back into it again. Fortunately, there were only a couple of short scenes like that. The rest was great.

There were some amusing one-liners, and as always, Bond had a sweet car and some cool gadgets. I would definitely watch this movie again, and I'm actually looking forward to the next one (and this coming from someone who was always pretty 'meh' about the previous Bond franchises). I know lots of people had their doubts about this Daniel Craig guy, but he did a damn fine job. Go see the movie, seriously. It's one of the most entertaining things I've seen in a while.

As a side note, they showed the preview for Spiderman 3, and it looks amazing. Go Spidey, go!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Friday Flickr Blogging - Hectic


It's been a crazy week. I've fallen way behind on my blog reading/writing, but hopefully things will slow down a bit this weekend, and I'll be able to catch up.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Friday Flickr Blogging - Sickly


I feel like...a joshua tree, I guess.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

I'm a lucky girl

I have the best husband ever. I seem to have caught his cold from last week, and am feeling rather craptastical at this moment, so he is tending to me and making us some tasty-looking Mediterranean-y wraps for dinner. He's a good one.

Plus, he's kind of cute. ;)

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

This, that and the other...

Sometimes I really, really, really wish I were one of those anonybloggers with a clever little nickname and the ability to do things like gripe about work without running the risk of being canned. Alas, my identity isn't cloaked well enough to afford me such luxuries, so I'll just sit here and growl nonspecifically at the monitor. Grrrr.......

In other news, my sister got a job, a new place (and state) of residence, and a fiance, all in a matter of weeks. She's been a busy kid! She's joining the ranks of you teachers (whose blogs I read and whose temperaments I admire), educating the leaders of tomorrow. Or, in her case, the leaders of a few decades from now. (They're kindergarteners.) Teach on, sista!

Last night I had my first opportunity to meet someone I'd only previously "known" from her blog. Megan of From the Archives was in town for a few days, so we met up with her and some other cool people at the home of two of her readers. (Tom had actually met with her on a previous visit of hers to town, but I was studying for a final that night and could not attend the gathering.) It's a weird thing to meet someone you kind of feel like you know but have never met, and whose voice you've never even heard. But it's a neat thing, and it makes me want to meet, face to face, more of the people whose blogs I read. You east-coasters...I don't mean to brag (really, it's more of a complaint) but we've had record-breaking high temperatures this week. Ninety-five degrees in November, I kid you not. (Personally, I'd rather have creepy fog, but perhaps that's just me.) Come on out to the (left) coast, we'll get together, have a few laughs...

Looks like it's time for bed. I'm certainly not going to stay up and watch whatever crappy Steven Segal movie this is that Tom's found on Spike TV. No thank you to that. Good night, all.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Scubaddiction (Part Trois)

Monday:
Dive number one - deep dive! Thus far, we'd been as deep as sixty feet, which is pretty deep, but today we would be going for triple digits. The "deep end" of the dive park drops down to nearly 100 feet. It would be colder and darker, with higher pressure, than we'd been before, and with depth comes the possibility of nitrogen narcosis. This last thing isn't nearly as bad as it sounds, but it can make you goofy and careless. We all had to be on our toes not to do anything dumb because we thought we were invincible. ;)

There was a long surface swim out to the site, which was way at the back corner of the dive park. We dropped down as a group, slowly descending further and further, until we settled on our knees at the bottom, 95 feet underwater. Shay brought down a racquetball to show us what the pressure can do at that depth (the thing was completely crushed) and had us do math problems to test our level of impairment (underwater sobriety test, basically). We could hear a whistling that was most likely sonar from a boat, and the kelp leaves were huge at that depth - no surprise since they like the cold. We hit a thermocline (sharp change in temperature) at about 48 feet, but while it felt like a five or ten degree difference, it was really only two degrees colder at the bottom than at the surface. Crazy!

You go through the air in your tank significantly faster the deeper you go, so we only stayed at the bottom for 13 minutes before taking a slow tour back up to the steps. It was an incredible feeling, knowing that we'd leared another hurdle toward becoming advanced open water divers. Ninety-five feet! How sweet is that?

Dive two began with underwater navigation, which involved making our way around a square. It's significantly trickier to follow a compass heading underwater, as you're being pushed around by currents, than on land. However, we managed the task and were then sent away in our buddy pairs to dive on our own, unsupervised. Technically, we could have done that already, since we'd been certified the previous day, but it was still a little scary to be going off without an instructor. For about 45 seconds. And then it was awesome. :)

We swam around, using all the skills we'd learned over the past week. I kept getting water in my mask and had to clear it repeatedly. Good thing I'd practiced it so much! We went down to about 45 feet and then swam back up along the rocks, pointing out neat things to each other and enjoying the feeling of exploring together. When we'd run our air down to nearly the specified level, we ended the dive and made our way back to the surface. And that was that. We were officially hooked.

Dive three took us back down below 80 feet again. We got cameras and made our way to the corner of the park, where we descended to the wreck of the Sujac with another buddy team and a pair of divemasters. A real shipwreck! It was huge and old and neat. As with our previous deep dive, we couldn't stay at the bottom very long, so we took some pictures and made our way to shallower waters. One of the divemasters had brought a bag of peas down with him, and when he cut it open, a feeding frenzy ensued. Fish were swarming everywhere around him. Who knew fish liked peas so much?

Too soon, it was time to go back to the surface. We packed up our gear, hailed some taxi vans, and went to dinner. All in all, a super excellent weekend! And now I can't wait to go diving in Mexico. :)

Scubaddiction (Part Deux)

Sunday:
We woke early, though with the time change, it wasn't tooooo bad. Went to breakfast with the group, set out our gear to be picked up by the local dive shop's truck, and walked over to the dock to wait. It was boat diving day.

As with every step in the process so far, there were some jitters. (What if the Dramamine doesn't work, and I get seasick? What if I have a hard time getting back on the boat after I'm in the water? What if I'm cold and miserable all day from the wind and the cold water? And won't it be even scarier out in the open ocean than in the dive park?) And, as with every step in the process so far, those jitters were quickly cast aside.

Our charter for the day was The King Neptune, a fairly sizeable dive boat with a comfortable galley and an amazing crew. Once we got all our gear set up and had our orientation, we went inside to wait for our arrival at the first dive site. We were greeted by sliced cantaloupe, veggies and dip, hot and cold drinks, and doughnut holes. The sun shone down outside, so that the wind felt refreshing, rather than bone-chillingly unpleasant. The Dramamine worked like a charm. It was going to be a good day.

Before too long, we anchored at site number one. I'm not sure why it hadn't occurred to me that we'd be following the shoreline and boating around the island, rather than away from it into the deep blue. There's more cool stuff to see at the bottom and among the reefs than just out in the middle of the water. Duh. So anyway, we anchored just offshore at a site called Italian Gardens, so named because it is usually full of kelp. This summer, the water got too warm, and the vast bulk of the kelp died off, but it's slowly coming back. Because of this, the Italian Gardens weren't very garden-like, but it was still a neat site.

We entered the water by taking a "giant stride" off the side of the boat and paddling over to the instructors. Underwater, we found that the bottom was very steeply sloping, which made it somewhat difficult for us to do our various skills without sliding backwards. Skills completed, we got to go on a little tour of the shoreline. We saw an octopus and a baby horned shark, along with the usual array of fishes and snails. Far too quickly, the dive was over and we were climbing back onto the boat.

For dive number two, we were put in smaller groups of two or three for some more specialized skills. Some people did underwater photography, some worked on navigation. Tom & I were sent out with one instructor, Shay, to work on fine-tuning our buoyancy control. There was a strong current this time, so just swimming from the back of the boat (where we entered the water) to the front (where the descent line was) was quite the workout! Nevertheless, we got there, and upon descent found that we couldn't see anything but blue water in every direction. The bottom was more than a hundred feet down, so we wouldn't be going there. The shore was visible, but somewhat far away, and we would have done a surface swim toward it instead of descending along the anchor line if that was where we were going. Shay signaled for us to follow her and began swimming out into the blue.

It wasn't too long before our dive site came into view - a big reef known as the Pinnacle. We proceeded to swim up and down, all around it, working hard to remain neutrally buoyant and not smash into the reef. We wove through big strands of kelp, sometimes single-file because it was so dense, and shone our flashlights into nooks and crannies to see all the neat things that lived there. The thing was just infested with big, purple-black sea urchins. So cool! Once again, the time elapsed well before we expected, and it was back through the blue to the boat. I was really glad that we were following Shay, who knew exactly where she was going. When we got back to the boat, we discovered that none of the other groups had even made it out to the Pinnacle! They hadn't been sure enough of its location to risk the swim out, so they'd hung around the anchor line. Thank goodness Shay knew what she was doing, or we never would have gotten to see the beautiful reef.

Back on the boat, we were all contratulated on our completion of all the requirements for PADI Open Water certification. We were certified divers! Some in the group were headed back to the mainland that night, but the rest of us would be staying on for one more day in order to obtain our Advanced Open Water certification. There was one more boat dive scheduled, but Tom & I opted to skip it. PADI rules stipulate that you can only have three training dives per day, so since we would be going on another dive that night, this third boat dive would be just for fun, and not for credit toward our certification. Since we were already quite tired, we decided to save our energy for the night dive, so after lunch (the galley crew made a delicious soup, and there was a sandwich bar) we broke our gear down and had a rest. It was amusing to me how much longer it seemed like the others were underwater for their third dive, even though I know it was the same amount of time as for the previous two. You know what they say about time flying...

Back at the dock, we loaded our gear back on the truck and sent it ahead to the point. It was still quite light out, so we decided to get some dinner before our dive. We walked to the point and made sure everything was in order with our stuff, and then we walked back to the restaurant. The city of Avalon is tiny, but it was still a lot of walking! Dinner warmed our bellies and restored our energy, and we began to dread what we knew was coming next - the re-donning of our cold, still wet wetsuits. And it had started to get breezy outside. Oh dear.

Gearing up was, as expected, a hideous experience. Fortunately, by their very nature, wetsuits are quite insulative, so while I wouldn't say we warmed up exactly, we were at least moderately comfortable in short order. Getting into the water was another tricky matter, as it was low tide, and there are huge rocks all around the entry/exit point of the dive park, and it was, you know, dark. It was nervewracking, but we made it in, and once we got underwater, we found that our enormous flashlights did a pretty good job of illuminating the immediate vicinity.

Just as there are nocturnal creatures on land, there are sea animals that prefer the dark to the light. As a result, we were eager to see some new things we hadn't yet encountered. In particular, there are little plankton-type organisms that are bioluminescent - basically underwater fireflies. If you turn your light off and wave your hand through the water, it will leave a glowing pink trail behind it. Cool! We had lots of fun playing with that. We cruised around looking at lobsters and anemones and crazy fish that were "sleeping" by sticking their heads into corners and swimming in place. Shay found a sea cucumber and passed it around for us to hold. They are weird and squishy. All in all, despite the unpleasantries of putting on our cold, wet gear and getting back out of it afterward while the breezes blew, the night dive was totally worth it.

Too late for taxis, we grabbed lockers at the point for the tanks and weight bags and hauled the rest of our stuff back to the hotel. A few of us went out to play some pool and have a couple of beers in celebration of our certification, but we didn't stay out too late. One more day of diving awaited us...

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Scubaddiction!

Sooo....looks like I finally have time to sit down and write about our awesome open-water weekend. Here goes:

Saturday
The alarm went off at o-dark thirty (four AM, really, so no thirties were actually involved). We got our stuff together, fed the cats and set out for the Long Beach Harbor. One ferry ride later, we arrived in Avalon and prepared to set out on our first open water dive.

Scuba diving is a very gear-intensive sport. The dive park at Casino Point is a good mile and a half from the ferry landing, so it was a good thing that we had taxi vans to haul our stuff to the park. Dive gear is heavy!

Before I get much further into my play-by-play, let me just admit that I was nervous at every new limit we pushed with each dive. However, I was also pleasantly surprised when it was never as bad or hard or scary as I expected it to be. And that, my friends, begets confidence, which begets joy, which begets addiction. But I am perhaps getting ahead of myself...

At Casino Point, we suited up and got ready for dive number one. This was to be just an orientation to the ocean, a short tour around that didn't involve any demonstration of our tricky scuba skills (e.g. take your mask off and then share your air with your buddy!). I was relieved that we wouldn't have to deal with any skills, and I was both excited and anxious about being outside of the confines of a swimming pool. I mean, going nine feet underwater was one thing, but forty?! That's, like, a lot.

Once we descended, however, all those doubts skipped off to wait for me on the next go-round. For one thing, there was so much more to see in the ocean! Fish and kelp and fish and urchins and fish! (So much cooler than nose plugs and band aids.) There's no way I could be nervous when there were so many neat things to distract me. Pretty soon we were cruising around, thirty-five feet underwater, comfortable as could be. The fifty or so minutes went by far too quickly, and we were soon back on land once more.

We had two more dives that day, during which we did more of our "dog and pony tricks" (as one of our instructors likes to call them). There was more waiting (it can take a little while for nine people to get through one skill) and less swimming around, so it got pretty cold sometimes, but overall, these dives continued to build my confidence in my abilities. If my regulator got kicked out of my mouth by a flailing fellow diver or if my mask were ripped off my face by a wayward sea lion, I would be able to manage, no sweat. ;)

Our first three open water qualification dives completed by four pm, we were done with day one, and ready to get some dinner and a hot shower. I think I was completely unconscious by nine that night, which was good because Sunday was to be another early morning.

(to be continued)

Friday, November 03, 2006

Friday Flickr Blogging - Sleeping


Because I'm going to get to finally catch up on my sleep this weekend! Whoo-hoo!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Catalina photos

The first few are up here. No underwater pics yet. I should be getting those back (and finding out if they're even any good!) this weekend.