Making truffles

In town, there is a business called “Uncork and Create“.  I’ll make up some of the history but mostly, it started as a place where an artist walks a group of people through doing a painting…everyone does the same painting with their own unique touches.  Wine and snacks are welcome and it’s a fairly social gathering.  They have since branched out from painting into all sorts of cooking/food classes.

Uncork and Create
Uncork and Create

Uncork and Create

Emily got me a gift certificate to go to one of their classes for Christmas.  I am no cook, but I do like wine and sweets, so when I saw that they were offering a class on making chocolate truffles, I decided it was a perfect opportunity to give the place a try!

Truffle making supplies
Truffle making supplies

My class was offered on Valentine’s Day so taking it was either a really good idea or a really bad idea.  I figured that if I arrived home with a pile of homemade truffles for my Valentine, I would be off the hook.

Making truffles
Making truffles

Making truffles

They have a local chef prepare a few easy recipes and we dug in with ingredients and kitcheny tools and stuff needed to make our recipes.  The chef was a fun woman who was easy going and clearly enjoyed what she was doing.  She teased and played and taught us some tricks for proper chocolate coating.  There were a number of ingredients she brought so we could customize our truffles also.  Several couples attended so I was at the “singles table”.  We all agreed to customize our truffles with Grand Marnier orange liqueur.  We tasted it and decided it wasn’t flavorful enough so we added more…and more.  Well, you get the idea.

Making truffles

Making truffles

Once the truffle ganache is mixed, we had to refrigerate it so it would set up…chef came to our table after a bit and asked us how much hooch we had added to our mix…it turns out our mix was slow to set up…ooops!  It wasn’t that much was it?

Finished truffles
The finished product
Finished truffles
My doggie bag!

We finally got everything pulled together and made some really delicious truffles.  I guess they aren’t as beautiful as I had hoped but for my first go at it, I was pleased.  I had a lot of fun and really enjoyed my time at the event.  I won’t be able to make these things too often though or I’ll either be three sheets to the wind or overweight!

Our new driver

We are pleased to introduce the newest driver in our house!  Isaac passed his learner’s permit test yesterday.   As soon as I got home from work, he bounced into the kitchen, license in hand.  Of course, I knew he wanted to go drive.  I suspect he had planned on my tossing him the keys and saying “let’s go.”

New Driver

Although he has driven many times out at the executive deer stand, he had not driven at any real speed with opposing 2 ton hunks of rolling metal coming at him.  Instead, I drove him to a nearby neighborhood with flat straight streets.  He was a mix of excited and nervous…and so was I honestly.

He got into the driver’s seat and we went over the “make it go forward” checklist.  Isaac tended to hug the white line as we drove house, cars, and mailboxes.    Of course, he was still a little jerky with the gas pedal and the steering but he was very cautious and seemed to take it seriously enough to satisfy my nerves a little.  I guess we drove for 40 minutes and had a lot of fun.

Probably my favorite part of the trip happened at the end of our drive.  There is a church near our house where I asked Isaac to pull in so I could take us home.  Our road is steep and windy and has a blind crest.  We weren’t ready for that yet.  Anyhow, we pulled into the parking lot and miscommunicated where we were going to park.  Isaac got it between the parking lines so all was fine, but I suppose it looked funny to the older couple sitting in the car across the parking bumper from us.  The look on their face was, at first, one of slight confusion with our antics.  As soon as Isaac and I got out and switched seats, they got big goofy grins on their faces.  It was obvious…we were practicing driving.  In response to their big goofy grins, I grinned right back and nodded my head.  I suspect they said a quick prayer for both me and them as, that night, a new driver was unleashed on the road!

Squeak Stick

It seems like we have been involved with a lot of musical stuff lately in our house.  The kids have had band stuff pretty regularly since Christmas.  They played holiday concerts and, this week, are trying out for “All-County” band which is a band comprised of the best players in the county as determined during a blind audition.

Scaredy cat
Scaredy cat

All of that involves a good bit of practicing pieces and trying new things.  What has been especially fun is when Abigail (flute), Isaac (tenor sax) and I (clarinet) all get to playing at the same time, we can make a powerful lot of noise in the house.  It might be a pleasing noise if we played the same song, or even complementary songs, but that is never the case.

Scaredy cat

Isaac is the most experienced player and has the loudest instrument, by far.  He plays complex pieces and often plays them very loudly.  Abigail is playing very well also and her range is fairly high pitched.  Finally, on my “squeak stick”, I have a good range between high and low but I am not a great player yet.  I just changed reeds so I actually squeak a lot trying to get used to the new feel.  All three of us together makes for quite a…performance I am sure.

Another Scaredy cat
Another Scaredy cat

We practice every evening (or at least 5/7 days) for 30-60 minutes.  During that time, Emily holes up in the bedroom where the cats take cover.  They literally tremble in fear under the bed covers or wrapped up in Emily’s robe.  I don’t think of myself as a particularly cruel person, but there is some sort of special pleasure in seeing the cats respond as they do.  I do not know if it is the volume or the tone, or just the squeaks, but the mere sight of our instruments, especially my clarinet, sends them running for cover!

Solo and Ensemble

It seems like things have been pretty slow around our place lately but we remain busy with stuff…some of the stuff I can identify, while other things are less clearly identified.  Anyhow, last weekend, we had the pleasure of hearing Isaac and a small group of his fellow band members play at the Solo and Ensemble ratings at WV State University.

Ensemble Performance #1

Ensemble Performance #1 (lower quality)

This ratings event is not a head-to-head competition per se, but the bands compete for highest ratings.  It is possible for multiple bands to have the highest ratings so no one gets trophies or certificates exactly although I suspect there is a good opportunity for bragging rights involved.  Individual students can perform solos and small groups can perform as ensembles.  Isaac’s school had a representation in both areas.

Ensemble Performance #2

Ensemble Performance #2 (lower quality)

We took videos of the two performances in which Isaac was involved.  We didn’t have an opportunity to hear other performances as a lot of people shuffle in and out, but I am so proud of these shows and am certain that there was much greatness to be heard from the other groups from our school as well as other schools in the region.  I don’t know how many groups played exactly, but I would guess around 50!  That’s a beautiful thing, I think, for the arts to be so well represented!  Yeah band!

An apple a day…well…

An apple a day keeps the doctor away, right? I have literally been eating an apple a day for awhile now. I also eat a couple of other pieces of fruit every day so I am fully fruited. I typically have 2-4 pieces of fresh fruit a day and mostly I have remained healthy for months. Unfortunately, I must have been one banana short this weekend as I ended up with the flu.

hGinger brandy for what ails you!

I am a big baby when it comes to sore throats and fevers. So, the flu, having both components, really knocks me out. I can usually whiskey-away a sore throat but coupled with a fever, I was down and out. Probably the worst part is that I didn’t get to go to work on the most important of all holidays, Groundhog Day! My coworkers were not properly evangelized. Alas, I was stuck in bed moaning like a dying brontosaurus. Of course, Phil predicted 6 more weeks of winter. I know it’s hard for people to hear that, but Phil doesn’t just preach what people want to hear…he predicts weather accurately regardless of our wants!

Abigail had the flu a few weeks ago, and, like her, I got tamiflu early and it knocked it out pretty quickly.  I drank lots of water and slept some until the tamiflu perked me up saved me from the misery. Finally, my fever broke early Monday and I am mostly back to normal now. I’ll keep on eating apples, but dear friends, it must take more than one apple a day to keep the flu away!

A midwinter break

For many creatures out in the great wild, winter is a potentially life-threatening period.  Heck, for me it sometimes feels that way.  Anyhow, many mammals hibernate and some creatures otherwise adapt their behavior to just make it through.  Honeybees are like that.  Winter is a time to just survive.  Honeybees are cold blooded so cannot self-regulate their temperature.  Individually, they would freeze to death quickly if exposed to the cold of winter.  Luckily bees live in community and work together to keep the inside of their hive warm through the winter.

Honeybees in winter

Honeybees progress through various job functions between hatching and becoming field workers that collect pollen and nectar.  Some bees clean honeycomb cells, others guard the hive from intruders and others take care of the queen.  Researchers have discovered a previously unknown job in the hive.  There are “heater bees” whose job it is to keep the hive warm in fall, winter and spring when temperatures are low.  Basically, they can vibrate their abdomen or…get this…decouple their wings from their wing muscles so they can vibrate those muscles without having fluttering wings flying around all over the place in a cramped hive.  Muscular vibrations cause friction which causes heat.  Beekeepers have always known that bees somehow vibrate in a hive to keep warm, but the discovery that there is a class of workers who can detach their wing muscles to manage heat is new.

Honeybees in winter

So, last week we had a few nice days.  As I have mentioned before, bees don’t poop inside the hive (as long as it is a healthy hive and they don’t have nosema…bee dysentery).  They still eat honey through the winter as they need the energy to keep warm…food in means they still make waste…but they hold it…until nice days like last week.  I wandered down to the apiary to see how the bees were faring….to see if they were surviving the winter.  If things aren’t just right, bees can starve to death, freeze to death, or otherwise disease to death.  On nice days, I like to take a look to see how many colonies are flying…warm sunny days guarantee the bees will head out to poop!  I love to see them out on these kinds of days as they are generally pretty docile and seem to enjoy landing on me to gain a little warmth.  Sure, they can sting, but they rarely do.

Honeybees in winter

So, friends, the bees look pretty good so far this winter.  We are nowhere done with winter and many hard days are yet ahead, but this is a good sign for the midpoint of winter in the apiary!

More bee stuff

Rubik’s Cube…Solved

Most people have touched a Rubik’s Cube at some point or another and most probably tossed it aside after awhile, the blocks approximately as disordered as when they received the cube.  Of course, plenty of people know an algorithm to solve the cube and some can even do it behind their backs in a matter of seconds.  I am not either of those…I can usually solve one side and part of another, but I have never solved one out-right…I don’t know the algorithm.

Working a Rubik's Cube

I remember when I went to the Knoxville World’s Fair in 1982…the Hungary Pavilion had a large Rubik’s cube as a major focal point of its display.  I think 1982 was probably at the height of the Rubik’s cube craze, and it’s inventor, Ernő Rubik is Hungarian.  I am pretty sure that’s about the time that I got my first cube.  Some people knew the tricks to solve it, but I was 10 or so and without the Internet, there were no real shortcuts.  Many of my friends had Rubik’s Cubes and none of us, as far as I know, ever solved them on our own when we were in school.  A few people peeled the stickers to solve their cubes and a few people threw them in the river I suppose.  Mrs. Donato, one of our elementary lunch ladies knew how to solve the cube so some kids let her solve them during lunch.  I am sure my old cube is at my parents’ house somewhere, still unsolved.

Working a Rubik's Cube

Anyhow, back to now…Isaac and some of his buddies are into cool stuff…ciphering and figuring and, of course, puzzles and games and stuff like that.  The other night, Isaac brought a Rubik’s Cube home to solve.  One of his buddies learned one of the algorithms to solve it and Isaac was busy learning as well.  Of course, being into things like that, he dedicated a fair amount of brain time to learning the tricks that night and can solve it on his own now.  Honestly, as a kid stuck in 1982 (apparently), I was amazed that someone in my own house could solve the Rubik’s cube!

The flu…one down, three to go

All four of us dutifully got our flu shots in October or November…whenever they came in at our doctor’s office.  We usually get them every year and have mostly been well served.  Both kids and Emily are exposed to a lot of potential flu-people though so it’s always a bit of a gamble as to whether or not someone will end up with the flu at our house.

This year, of course, the flu shot is apparently not as effective as the CDC had hoped…and sure enough, Abigail was diagnosed with the flu last night.  I didn’t realize they had a quick-swab test thingy that could positively identify the flu in a matter of a few minutes…thankfully they do and she and Emily were on their way a few minutes later.  Of course, the flu isn’t gone in a few minutes and tamiflu apparently only knocks it down a day earlier than it would have been,  I guess a day is a day so that helps.

I went to the pharmacy last night to pick up her meds and was helped by the parent of one of the boys on my soccer team.  She knew why I was there based on my prescription for tamiflu.  I think it also was clear what the 4 bottles of wine were for as well…my medicine!  Wine, you see, is prophylactic for all illnesses.  I should be good with the wine only, but if I come down with anything, I’ll kick it up a notch like my Grandpa used to do…ginger brandy cures all!  Time will tell, dear friends!

So, right before lunch time, I called Abigail to check on her and see what she wanted for lunch today.  Her throat and snot-maker are so congested/screwed up that she couldn’t speak clearly enough for me to determine what she wanted.  We hung up and 10 seconds later I got a text, “Donuts”  As a donut connoisseur myself, I certainly appreciated her need.  I popped into Krispy Kreme, which, incidentally, I think makes the weakest of all chain-donuts, to buy a cool dozen for Abigail to eat at lunch.  I mean, one needs energy and comfort when fighting an illness, right?  Hopefully the other 3 of us can remain healthy.  We’ve broken out the disinfecting wipes and gas masks and flame throwers and stuff we use to kill germs in the house.  Hopefully we can stay ahead of it!

Wish us luck dear friends…today is also the one year anniversary of Aquapocalypse 2014…the mess where some chemical storage tanks leaked a bunch of crap into our water system which resulted in 300,000 local folks not having safe water to drink.

A Christmas to Remember

Christmas is such a nice time of year.  Like most people who celebrate Christmas, we enjoy the time with family, the great food, and the fun we share exchanging gifts, baking cookies and listening to holiday music.  It’s always a special time and a real joy for me.

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This year (actually just a few weeks ago), my parents have bought a house nearby and came to their new place (into which they have not yet really moved).  My elderly aunt and uncle and my brother and sister-in-law came and stayed with my parents in their new house.  My gang hung around the new place too and it was setting up to be a really fun time.  My brother and I planned to do a few projects to “tighten up” the new place and then just goof around for fun.

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The house had been empty for a good period of time so there are always kinks that need to be worked out.  The kitchen and bathrooms were remodeled and had never been used so we figured there might be a few little things as is common with new construction.  Little did we know…

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As people started using the plumbing, we discovered that the shower drain leaked, the installers had cracked the tub spigot, the door was not sealed in and the water control valve was not installed correctly.  My brother and I set about remedying all of those issues by basically yanking out all of the things and re-installing the tub/shower correctly.  Meanwhile, we found that the wax ring on one of the toilets was leaking.  It turns out that the plumbers had not tightened the hold-down bolts at all…it’s a wonder the toilet didn’t just topple over when used.

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Meanwhile, my Mom was cooking in the kitchen and ran some peels down the disposal.  I think there was a drainage problem beforehand with a clogged pipe, but the peels made it very apparent and stopped up the kitchen drain completely.  We had a snake and ran a good bit into the drain to clear it but it was a job for a plumber…after-hours on a weekend.  The guy came out and was great and ran 50 feet of snake into the drain and made it better but definitely not clear.  He’s coming back to finish later this week when regular rates apply.  Hopefully that will be a simple fix!

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My aunt became very ill during the shower fix and we were concerned that she was in very bad shape during all of this…it came to the point where we called an ambulance to take her to the ER.  Since my brother and I had the shower apart, Emily volunteered to go along to the hospital with my aunt and uncle.  About 5 hours later, we found she had both kidney and gall stones and all was basically ok (the wonders of medicine!)

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Around 8 or 9 that evening, when everything seemed to be winding down and it seemed like nothing else could go wrong…you guessed it…more went wrong!  The hot water heater started leaking water pretty badly…it turns out there was a faulty pressure relief valve that didn’t really need any pressure before it decided to relieve itself.  No hardware stores were open when we figured out what was going on so I got a new one the next morning.  We were back in business in 20 minutes or so and everyone could get hot showers!

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As bad as all of this sounds, for some reason, it just wasn’t a stressful weekend for me.  LOTS of stuff went wrong, but it all had fairly clear solutions.  I knew everything was going to be ok and that I’d have a good story to tell.  I doubt it is necessary to document this entire weekend here as I doubt I’ll ever forget it, but just in case, this was definitely a Christmas unlike any other!