Sunday, January 12, 2020

Farewell to the King - Neil Peart

I have a lot of feelings. And news flash, there are a lot of bands that mean the world to me that are not Guster. Believe it or not.

This week, drummer extraordinaire and lyricist for the band Rush passed away. Neil Peart was 67.

Glioblastoma is listed in some articles as the cause. A colleague of mine was taken by that particular form of cancer a couple of years ago. Talent removed from this earth too soon by the same horrible disease.

The irony of the kind of cancer is not loss to me. Both of these men were of incredible intellect, amazing thinkers. My colleague was a web designer and always trying to figure out ways to game our CMS so they could make better more wonderful web presentations, and he would call me and ask "Can we test this. I have an idea..."  Neil? Well. I never met him, but listened to and loved his music, and his books, and the way the man could play the drums.

I don't think I've shared this ever, but it was 1987 and Doug and I had not been dating long. Our Christian College had certain rules about members of the opposite sex being "on the floor" at any time, and doors had to be open and feet had to be on the floor.

Doug had arranged his modular bedroom set to fit a dumpy assed recliner under it, putting the desk on the outside of the setup. We had to climb over things to get into this little cubby where we'd kind of go nuts making out whenever we had the chance. Doug would pull his bedsheets down off the bed up high, and we'd hide. And have some private time. He had a small record player and speakers set up, and we'd cuddle up and listen to a lot of music.

Doug's favorites were Bob Dylan and Rush. Mine were Genesis and Yes. We mixed it all up. And at certain points in our early relationship, there was some very passionate time spent making out to "Fly By Night." Especially fitting in all this budding prog rock romance was the song "In the End."

You can take me for a little while, you can take me you can make me smile in the end.

As far as Neil Peart's songwriting goes, it is not the deepest or most insightful song. I'm sure it is based on personal experience with someone, a private conversation that turned into a song, a story unknown to us at age 18 and 19 on a beat up piece of crap recliner hiding from the RA in Wood Hall. It's no "Dreamline" (one of my very favorites). No 2112, no Anthem, no Free Will, no Witch Hunt, no Roll the Bones, and certainly no Red Sector A.

We were young, and super hot for each other. We had to be just as sneaky as the protagonist of the song Red Barchetta, who sneaks away from the prying eyes of laws and technology (ie: the college RA and the rules) to go drive a car very fast and then hang out and laugh about it with his Uncle.

The whole album builds up to this sweet ending, and in a lot of ways, such the perfect song to put at the end of the album, and the perfect song for us. Rush was a soundtrack to our not-quite-lovemaking, as we didn't get to that point for a while (after all, we were good Christian College kids).

Here we are, all these years later and I get goosebumps when I hear songs off Fly By Night. We both probably couldn't fit in a recliner together like that anymore, and I chuckle just thinking about it.

Neil's songwriting and his books are a wonderful legacy he's left behind. I'm absolutely devastated that we lost him.  But in his own words from Dreamline, our lives are where we are "learning that we're only immortal for a limited time."

Here are some videos. Watch and listen.

By-Tor/In the End


And, because Rush is often named as the band most loved by young suburban men, I want you to remember that there are girls (like yours truly) who love and loved Rush. Girls who felt just as disenfranchised by the expectations of society and parents. Girls who were spoken to by Neil's songwriting. Girls who read the same books, thought the same thoughts, and though we were few and far between, we found the partners we needed in life, and now over 30 years later, we're still listening to Rush with those boys, recliner optional. That is a whole blog entry in and of itself, I'd say.

Nerf Herder - The Girl Who Listened to Rush

Sunday, January 05, 2020


Note, this isn't a food blog. But once in a while I make things and actually write the process up.
See the Caribbean Black Cake, and how Bread Bowls should not be feared.

I really like cheesecake. I love to bake. But I've never baked a cheesecake.

I borrowed a set of springform pans from a coworker recently. I wanted to bake with Jess while they were here but it didn't work out timing wise. I also wanted to give this a try before I actually buy pans, or a pan, because I don't like the idea of buying things I may use just once and never again.

Figured it was time to give it a go. After making some epic french onion soup earlier in the day on Saturday,  I kept the cooking ball rolling.

I did my preparation.

I watched an Alton Brown cheesecake recipe video. I looked at a number of different cheesecake recipes from plain to berry mix to oreo. I read arguments pro and con for water baths. I was ready.

Decided to make an Oreo cheesecake because I thought Geoff would like that for his birthday week. I planned poorly, using in my memory for Alton's recipe which called for 2 boxes or so of cream cheese, and this one called for 4 blocks, so I had to go to the market. Got a very late start in the preparations so we could not enjoy this last night.

For the first time ever, I wish I had a food processor. I crushed and used a rolling pin and mashed and squished oreos to make the crust. No matter what, the cookies didn't get crumb-like enough for my liking. They were large clods, and that disappointed me. 

Kind of feel it was a failure but after baking the crust it holds together nicely and looks alright. Good enough to put some mix in. 

Making the mix was easy enough, I crushed 6 extra oreos to put in the cake mix, and it all spread nicely into the baked crust in the springform pan.

One of the things I opted not to do was  something Alton does -  a water bath on the bake. Several people said not to do that, but instead to put a pan of water into the oven on the shelf below the cake, to keep moisture in, but prevent any moisture from leaking into the springform pan. 

Because I didn't think I had a really solid foil wrapping job, I wanted to go for the moisture but not the soaking of the pan. 

I put a baking sheet on the lower shelf with a 9x9 glass pan on it, filled with water. Set the cake in the oven on the shelf directly above it, and let it bake!

The cake bakes for 90 minutes and then you open the oven door a crack and turn the heat off.  Several people wrote about how they opened the oven all the way and that ruined the cake. I figured that would be bad, and was happy to discover our new oven has the ability to stay open a crack, instead of full half way.

The center of the cake is supposed to be jiggly a bit, but mine was pretty solid upon finish, and the cake was brown on top, appearing slightly over cooked to me. I was rather worried about it at this point. Would this be a fail?

Instructions said to put the cake in the fridge for an hour, or, cool overnight. I wrapped the tin foil from the bottom over the top and set it out in our back porch as it is cold enough overnight (and the fridge is super full so now is the time of year to use our natural surroundings.

This morning, not able to wait until say dinner time (or even lunch) I made whipped cream from scratch (why put cool whip or spray can whipped cream on top of something so carefully homemade!).

I always use very little confectioners' sugar, far less than the recipe calls for, and a lot more vanilla. I love making whipped cream, and love how it comes out! I wished that I had some powdered cocoa to toss in to make for a nice contrast to the cake, if the top of the cake had come out white. As is, the white whipped cream ended up looking fine against the finished product.

I was worried about taking the springform pan side off, worried that the cake would be completely stuck and all would be ruined, but everything came off nicely, with just a little pull off the cake in the end. Nothing major!

Cutting the cheesecake open, it was dense and heavy, the crust a lot thicker than I expected.  The cake part was not as thick as I'd expected, but it all held together beautifully and the extra Oreos in the mix looked wonderful. Broke them up into the just right size!

I suppose if I'd made an attempt to smoosh the crust  up the side of the pan a little bit it may have been a nice side lip of crust. But all told, this was alright in the end.

The pan that I used was rather huge I think, partly how the mix was so "short" in the pan. The slices are gigantic. But. Look at that cake.

A few other notes... The non-water bath approach seemed to work fine. I will butter the sides of the springform pan before filling the the pan with the mix. Next time, I'm going to make graham crackers and use Alton's recipe  (it calls for 20 oz of cream cheese and heavy cream, instead of the 4 boxes of cream cheese that the Oreo recipe called for). I'll mix in a little strawberry cream cheese to the mix and see how that goes, and make a strawberry reduction sauce to drizzle on top.

And, here is the boy, turning 23 this week. The one I made this all for. Should have cleaned the lens on my phone a little because this looks blurry to me... and he does look a little ... messy. But Sunday Geoff sleeps in and eats cheesecake for breakfast!

Verdict: It's a success! 

Saturday, January 04, 2020

Woke up today to everything grey

We tend to have a lot of milky colored skies here in the DC area. Lately, the weather has been very warm, it was in the 60s earlier this week. I'll say that weather-wise, DC in the summer is the pits. DC this time of year when I can drink mimosas on the porch while talking to my sister and not be shivering and whining, well, I'll take it.

But the grey. No matter the temperature, the grey is a lot.

Today was another grey morning. I didn't feel well last night when I got home from wor, so I pretty much fell onto the bed, played a game on my phone and fell asleep. I woke up when Doug came to bed at 9:30. I had no problem falling back asleep and stayed that way until the dog woke me at 6 to go out.

Doug decided it was a good day for french onion soup. So he volunteered to chop the onions for me (what a lad!) and I think he cut about 2x what Alton Brown's recipe calls for.

We'll make due. I'll double the stock and wine and everything and it'll be FOS for days. Sorry Amy. Thinking of you.

Jess was here for Christmas.

They flew down on the day of my sister's 50th birthday and I wish I'd been smart and planned another day for the arrival. Linda had quite a fun celebration, and I would have loved to have been there. While Jess was here, we did some fun stuff. We went to the Aquarium in Baltimore and out to Jimmy's Seafood for dinner.

We went to the horse farm / brewery up north of us a bit. That's always a great thing to do. Unfortunately none of the horses were out running in the back but it was still a beautiful day to sit outside, have some beer, dog and people watch. Again, DC December, I'll take it.

Before the horse farm, we went out to lunch at Brew Belly Kitchen & Sudhaus.  Doug took me here for my birthday and we figured both kids would like it.  I am sure some of you ask why on earth would Doug not take me somewhere lovely, romantic, fancy, but he knows me.

Beer. Cheesesteaks. I'm a happy person.

As you can see, Geoff fit right in with the branding. Wonderfully, the kids got along, no name calling, no fighting or insulting. This is kind of a first and I was pleasantly surprised at how they actually got along.

Jess and Doug went to the National Cathedral and took a tour, and they both really enjoyed it. Doug has been saying he'd like to attend a service there, so this may spur us in. They also went to Dumbarton Oaks even though the gardens are done for the year, had a nice walk, and spent good time together.

We then went out to Right Proper Brewing for dinner, and Jess really enjoyed it. We've been a couple times, and it was a good choice. The beers are great, the food is great. And the waitress bonded with us over Pokémon Go.

Jess hates having pictures taken but agreed to this. And I'm thankful for it. I know how they feel - I also hate having my picture taken, but sometimes you gotta just make the memory official and forever.

And look at that mural.

On the one day that both Doug and I were at work, Jess took a trip down to the Folger Shakespeare Library, which wasn't as exciting as Doug impressed upon them. They met me at the newest brewery in DC, which is right by my office. We had a nice sit and spent time with one of my colleagues from another department, and had a good visit.

The one thing we didn't get to do was head over to Annapolis, which was on Jess' things to do list. I asked why they had so many things they wanted to do because usually Jess comes to visit and does not really care about going places. They said that they usually are only here for a couple of days, and this time it was more than a week so why not do fun things.

So next time, whether or not we have three days or one full week, Annapolis is on the list. Grey skies or not.

At work we are gearing up to launch a new product, everyone will be moving onto it over the next year. A lot of work has gone into it and now I'm getting trained on what it will be like to use, so we can train the trainers. I'm desperately trying to be positive about this. I want to be positive about this. It has been a long time in coming getting here, and I'm hopeful.

But it has been a total stress for everyone. I just hope we can keep our wits about us. There is going to be a lot to do. We have a new boss starting in February, someone I'm already friendly with from outside our HQ. It will be interesting to see how their leadership works out, and how we do bringing someone into a team that has not had a direct supervisor for 9 months.

The only other kind of interesting thing to report right now is I borrowed some springform pans from a co-worker recently to make cheesecake, and so I've been gearing myself up to get that started for a week or so now.

Today may be the day.

I may take pictures of the process as it will be my first time ever doing this. It's been a long time since I've thoroughly blogged a cooking adventure. Visit the Caribbean Black Cake adventure of 2014. You've been forewarned, all four of you.