iPhoney Baloney

The first time I saw someone on a cell phone in the supermarket, perhaps confirming something on the shopping list, I was stunned. I was offended. I was outraged. I know. Really? But to me, it seemed to be the hallmark of the downfall of humanity. What could be so important that it had to be confirmed in the supermarket, while standing next to the meat case overlooking the chicken parts?

Bear in mind this was probably 10 or more years ago. This was before the mobile phone became an appendage to most of the civilized world. I now look back on that event which still stands out in my mind as the good old days. It was a time of innocence. I’m sure most of us have these thoughts on occasion.

What brought that day back to me was what happened to me yesterday, but started about two weeks ago on the island of Hawaii. Cue the dramatic music and the calendar pages fluttering backwards in a pile.

On our last day in Hawaii, my husband and I were on a full day tour of the Big Island, as it is called. It took us from our resort in Kailua Kona to the bubbling volcanic crater at the top of Mount Kilauea after the sun had set. We’d already driven for lots of hours; eaten lunch; toured a coffee farm; stopped to eat again at a famous bakery at the southernmost point in the US (Key West doesn’t count, it seems); been through a couple of rainstorms; saw requisite rainbows; walked through a big lava tube in what looked like Jurassic Park; witnessed a beautiful sunset; had a wine tasting at a winery not far from the Volcano National Park; ate a cowboy style bbq at that winery; and finally, returned to the park to see the volcanic activity at Kilauea’s crater, in the dark.

Throughout the day, my iPhone had been capturing photos as it was supposed to. Flowers. Coffee beans. Magnificent scenery. Rainbows. It was Hawaii. And it was all I could ask. When we approached the crater bubbling in the distance, I got a few still shots, bracing myself against the powerful wind by hanging onto my husband. Since it was bubbling, I shot a couple of videos to try to bring a little more excitement into my photo journey. The pictures jiggled around on the screen and I figured it was just the wind.

I guess that was the last video I tried to shoot until we got home. Two full days of San Francisco were captured in still pictures. You can tell we’d been there many times. Many things to see, but not so many photos to be taken.

At home, I had forgotten about the wobbly video until I tried to take one of my parrot, Fonzie, banging on her cage to get my attention. It’s pretty amusing to see her pounding her beak on the cage skirt and waiting for a response. But when I started the video, it was jumping all over the screen, just as it did at the volcano. And I was pretty sure there was no gale force wind blowing at the time. I knew the camera had a problem.

I spent an hour on the telephone with a technician at Apple, during which we did some troubleshooting. We (gasp) wiped out everything on my phone and reinstalled it all again to see if the video worked. It did not. And so the technician made an appointment for me to see a “Genius” at the Apple Store three days later. I figured I could wait that long without issue.

The appointment was yesterday, which sort of brings us back to where I started this piece. On the way to the store, the sky was magnificent, so I shot a couple of still pictures while waiting for the traffic light to change. The first was bright blue skies with ruffly white clouds. The second was more of those clouds, but the sky was a lot less blue. The third, where the sun was shining behind the clouds, looked like nighttime beneath the ocean. The camera had gone insane. At least it was before the appointment, not after.

The Genius concluded that the camera had failed, even though that last picture of the clouds was really cool. He said they would replace the camera at no cost to me because it was covered by warranty. “Come back in an hour,” he said. “Terrific,” I said.

I was adrift in a shopping mall with an hour on my hands. I was free to roam around the mall and maybe do some window shopping. I do not particularly enjoy being in shopping malls. I thought maybe I’d just sit in the food court and check my emails or look at Facebook. But I didn’t have my phone with me.

Good thing I didn’t need to call anyone. But we all know calling is the least used function of a smartphone.

I went into the Gymboree Store to take advantage of their big sale. But I didn’t have my phone. I couldn’t text my daughter to find out what Sydney needed. I couldn’t take pictures to send to check styles. Rats! So I left that store and decided to get something to drink at Dunkin’ Donuts. But I didn’t have my phone with the Dunkin’ app on it. And I darned sure wasn’t going to buy anything without getting my points for using the app.

About then, I passed the Charming Charlie store. It’s always fun to go in there and see all the gaudy, crazy, color coordinated accessories they stock. I remembered I had a coupon for $5 off that I could use. But no! That coupon was on my phone. Grrrr.

So I walked on. I figured, if nothing else, a stroll around the mall was good for some exercise. I could take advantage of this free time and get in some steps for the day. But wait! Both of my fitness trackers were on my phone, which I didn’t have.  So none of those steps was going to be recorded. Dammit! If there’s no record, it doesn’t count!

Store after store. Minute after minute. Everything I did. Everywhere I looked, I was reminded that I didn’t have my phone on me to maximize my life experiences. That is when that day in Roche Bros. Supermarket, where I scorned that person using the cell phone, came rushing back.

The only reason I ever got a smartphone was because my son said he would no longer look things up for me when I needed information while I was out. No directions. No addresses. No movie schedules. I was on my own.

And a few years later, here I am. I am that guy in the supermarket. I rely on a piece of technology way more than I could have ever imagined. Now,since I have come to this realization, would be a great time for me to promise myself to back off. Will I do it?

I wonder if there are statistics on the kind of success people have in breaking the smartphone habit. Wait! I bet I could Google it to find out.

 

 

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Adventures with Malware

You know how it is. You’re mindlessly scrolling through stuff on the web. You click on your favorite game and, before it loads, a notice pops up saying you’ve got to update your Flash Player before you can play. It happens several times a year. And so, you click on the update because you really want to play your game.

Most of the time, it goes where it’s supposed to and you’re able to download the update for the plug-in. But then there’s this one time. You get the update and then suddenly, there are pop-ups for things you didn’t click on. Things you’d never click on. And there’s another screen telling you you’ve got a new app, Megabackup. You click the window to close it, but it soon pops open again. A little window opens on the upper right side of the screen advising you to scan your system. And you’re left to wonder, WTF?

This is when I started to get worried. So I Googled “Megabackup Malware.” More important, I Googled “remove Mega Backup Malware.” (Megabackup malware) A whole page of stuff rolled down the screen. I looked for one that wasn’t attached to an ad. I hate clicking on ads. I don’t want anyone to get paid for my curiosity. I finally chose one that told me the program was, indeed, malware, launched inside my computer doing all kinds of mischief.

I immediately ran a program from my computer to uninstall the malware. Done! Mission accomplished. Whew! But no. The popups kept coming. Most of them had to do with Mcafee Security software. And how my subscription had expired just today. I looked for an Apple link on the page about the malware, and I clicked on it. The page opened and while I was reading it, a chat window opened at the bottom right of the screen.

Of course I spilled my guts to the helpful person on the chat. He offered to help me find what was wrong and how to get rid of it. And here’s where I got really stupid. He sent a link so that I could share my screen with him.

Now, I’ve been using computers for more than a couple of decades. And I think of myself, if not sort of sophisticated, at least not naive when it comes to trusting anything on the net. Except for this one time. Feel free to help me dope slap myself, because I clicked the link. And stuff started happening. I saw a screen pop up that said, “All Files” that scared the daylights out of me. So I clicked to end the sharing.

The guy on the chat said, “You terminated the sharing. Why you did that?” And I knew right there I’d made a terrific (but not in a good way) blunder. I wrote that I was not comfortable with the process. He said it was my computer and I could do what I wished, but that I still had problems with the system. Boy, did I ever! So I clicked him away, too.

The pit of my stomach was somewhere around my ears at that point. So I called family tech support, meaning my son. He was just home from a long day at work and very tired. His advice was to back up everything I cared about on my computer and nuke the thing. Then he also said he would burn down the house to make sure it was all gone.

Oy!

Failing that, he suggested I call Apple and see what they had to tell me. So I did.

I spent the better part of the next hour on the phone with the very patient and competent Vershala. She listened to my sad story and said it sounded like I had a malware situation going on. She did not make me feel like an idiot. I had taken care of that myself.  What she did was send me a link that would grant permission for her to share my screen.

Wait? Hadn’t I just been through this and ended up nauseated and sweating?  But before she did that, Vershala explained what Apple would, and would not ever do in sharing a screen with a customer. First, they’d never ask to share from a chat window. I was on the phone with her, and I had initiated the call.  And most important of all, they can’t do anything to the computer. They point things out, the owner does everything. They explain what goes on while it’s happening. It was also helpful to me that I knew I actually called Apple for help. And the real Apple answered. I was in their records as an owner and Vershala knew what kind of computer I owned.

And so, I let Vershala into my home via my screen. She and I made our way past all of the multiplying pop-ups and warnings. I was then directed to a website malwarebytes.com to download the program that would weed out the malware and help me get rid of it. I followed instructions and was soon without popups or scary stuff happening in my face. The basic program is free and is available for different operating systems.

I asked if this guy was trying to steal things from my computer, but Vershala said she was pretty sure he was just planting stuff in there that he would point out to me needed removal. Which he would help me with. For a fee. She also said I’d ended things fairly fast, so there wasn’t much damage he could have wrought.

And so here, my children, is the lesson I learned last night. Do not click on anything you cannot be totally sure is what you think it is. If you need to update anything, be sure you go to the original site. I was told to get everything from Apple’s App Store, because then it would let me know when it needed to be updated. Max suggested I get it from Adobe, using Chrome as the browser instead of Safari. Whatever you do, and you can trust me on this, don’t trust just anyone.

At this point, I feel like I’ve side-stepped the big one. At least I hope I have. Malwarebytes is installed and is supposed to be scanning for problems every day. I am humbling myself before my friends and readers so that, maybe, I can save you some potential problems and distress. Learn from my mistakes and please don’t repeat them.

 

Just Don’t Get Me Started!

Let me first say that I, like Oprah, love bread. I grew up eating awesome bread from our local New Jersey bakeries. Rye bread was my favorite. Tangy and chewy, it was by far more interesting than anything slapped between its slices could hope to be.  After a trip to San Francisco, during  what is called, “The Summer of Love” in 1967, I discovered sourdough bread. Rye had to take a step back. Something about that slightly sour taste, and chewy texture stole my heart. Really good rye bread was still a treat, but sourdough became the standard for bread nirvana.

Long ago, but not as long as the Summer of Love, back in the late 80’s, there was a craze of bread baking based on the “”Friendly Starter, or “Friendship Starter.” Evidently, it originally came from the Amish. It was a sourdough type bread, natural fermentation instead of packaged yeast gave the bread its lift. Given the promise of sourdough, of course I pursued it. I think one of my friends had some starter to share, hence the name, and I eagerly took it. The thing about the starter was that you had to give some away, or use enough of it to make room for feeding it, which you were supposed to do every week. Yes, I was warned, but I didn’t know what would really lie ahead.

When I acquired my starter, I didn’t take into account the true ramifications of life with a growing organism in a jar. I soon ran out of friends who had any interest in sharing my starter. And it became necessary to bake more things with it. We had bread, waffles, pancakes, cakes, biscuits, and heaven knows what other manner of carbs to be enriched by this starter. We also ran out of desire to eat, let alone make any more things with it.  My children ridiculed its existence and my obsession with it. Truth be told, it never lived up to my dreams of having real sourdough bread in Eastern Massachusetts.

Things got ugly when we went on vacation for an extended period, and weren’t around to feed the thing with more flour and water. It languished at the back of the fridge. And by the time it was pulled from those dark recesses, it was cold and dead. I thought I could revive it by adding a little yeast and sugar to the blob, but within days a fine layer of blue green covered its surface, and there was no choice but to dispose of it. Goodbye, old friend. You didn’t even get the traditional goldfish burial at sea, via the toilet. We’re on a septic system and I was terrified what this would do to the yin/yang balance of the tank. I was also kind of scared it might set the compost pile on fire, so I put it in a doubled up plastic bag and tossed it into the trash. It eventually made its way to the town dump with the rest of the festering refuse.

Flip calendar pages ahead almost 30 years to modern times. It is early 2017. I am subscribed to the King Arthur Flour online newsletter. Almost from the first issue, it’s been taunting me with the notion of making my own sourdough starter from scratch. In my mind, the aroma of Boudin’s famous sourdough bread wafted through my kitchen. I tried to resist, but about two weeks ago, I started to crumble. I pooh-poohed the lure of King Arthur’s packaged starter. It cost a lot and you had to pay shipping. I hate paying for shipping. Besides, I felt like this was something I had to do on my own. Eventually, my resistance eroded. I was weak. I started a new starter.

There isn’t much to starter. It’s made with flour, water and time. Micro-organisms in the air help turn them into a yeasty substance. That’s where it almost got me. I had a good supply of everything I needed, but that was also my problem. Every day for a week, you had to throw away half of the mixture, and then add more of what you just tossed out. I don’t mind throwing things out if they need to be discarded, but it was torture for me to have to throw away perfectly good, if a bit soggy, flour. I’ve never really been hungry in the way people who don’t have ever enough to eat are hungry, but I was aghast at the thought of the waste. I tried to think of people I could give this excess to to start their own starters, but I couldn’t do that to my friends.

As for time, it’s something that had to translate into patience. Time I’ve got. Patience, not really. Every day, before I had to force myself to throw away perfectly good glop, I first checked for bubbles. Bubbles meant the fermentation was starting. The more bubbles there were, the closer the starter was to being ready. I kept it on the counter with some plastic wrap draped loosely over it and a dish towel over that. I’d check it at night and in the morning. Not quite counting the bubbles, but surveying the progress. After six days, I realized it was supposed to be fed every 12 hours, not 24. This distressed me because I thought it might all have been in vain, but at the same time, I was elated that I hadn’t wasted even more flour.

By day seven, there was sufficient bubble activity to make me think it was ready to use. It gave me enormous pleasure to be able to use the starter instead of throwing it away. I put it into a big bowl, then fed what was left and scooped it into a canning jar, and put it in the fridge.

Using the starter in the bowl, I added more water and flour, and set it aside to grow and become douIMG_9112.jpggh. This took another 18 hours. Six on the counter, and then overnight in the fridge. Except, I forgot to put it in the fridge. Happily, it’s still winter and it’s chilly enough downstairs overnight, so it didn’t die, explode, or slop over the edges of the bowl.

I could have put some yeast into the sponge. The recipe said it was allowed, but I didn’t want to do that after all this effort. I did, however, take advantage of the suggestion to add a teensy bit of sour salt to boost the sourdough flavor since the starter was still young.

A few hours later, maybe six, I was ready to shape my loaves. I banged them around on the counter, as is my practice in making french bread. I used the baguette pans I bought early in my marriage, to hold and shape the loaves. After another four hours I was tired of waiting for them to poof up and completely fill the pans, so I preheated the oven. I put a pan of water beneath the rack (mimicking the steam in a real baker’s oven) and when it was all hot and ready, I put my loaves, slashed the traditional way, in to bake.

45 minutes later, the air was filled with that aroma I’d imagined. I had produced two magnificent loaves of crusty french bread. I could barely wait to get them out of the pans, let alone to allow them cool before slicing. So I didn’t wait. I sliced off the end, blew on it in an attempt to lessen the burn in my mouth and … It was delicious. It was San Francisco sour and crunchy. The texture was closer and heavier than a bread made with yeast, but it was all right with me.

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It was well worth the waste and the wait. Except that I now have a new member of the family to feed and care for. I wasn’t planning on any kind of adoption at this stage of my life, but I’m kind of stuck with it.

After my success, perhaps I can talk friends into taking portions of starter for their own, to use in a recipe, or grow into their own little blob. It’s almost Tuesday. That’s the day I have to feed the thing.  I’m not going let on that Passover is coming and it’s going to have to live in the dark for an extra week.

Hmmm. That reminds me, I’m probably going to have to come up with a name soon. Any suggestions?

Even better, you maybe want some starter?

 

 

 

 

 

You want some cheese with that whine? Funk or Malaise?

It’s snowing. I’m a little cold. My house has been under construction since the election. And speaking of that, well, let’s not. It tends to send my blood pressure up and my mood down. It’s early February with the probability of spring at least five months away. My eyes itch. My pants are tight. And there are is a long list of things I could do that would be more constructive than sulking.

Yet, here I am, at the computer. I have been for a while now. I came upstairs to do some actual, required, productive work, but since I finished that, I’ve been stuck. Instead of anything constructive, I’ve been web surfing and reading Facebook posts. Somehow, 90 minutes have gone missing, and I think I’m feeling even more sluggy. Don’t. Want. To. Do. Anything.

But it’s okay because the gym cancelled classes this morning, and is closing at noon. That’s because of the snow storm that’s in process. Schools are closed. People are being warned off the roads. The tv news has gone beyond its normal way-too-much coverage and seeped out into regular programming. Perhaps it’s my shallow personality coming to the surface, but why expend so much time, energy and resources on saying the same damn thing over, and over, for hours on end without adding any new information? Besides, it’s prevented me from seeing what the Travel Trivia question was on Live with Kelly this morning. Come on, people! Priorities!

Okay. I just made myself get up and move around. I went downstairs. Actually, I had to go downstairs because that’s where the working bathroom is. But once down there, I also went to visit the parrot. Fonzie almost always can cheer me up. And she did. We danced a little. She preened my face. I opened up a couple of pin feathers on her head. It was a nice back and forth. I even gave the cage a quick cleaning. (Score one for the to do list!) And I made it through the kitchen twice without stopping to make and consume an elaborate snack. Steps in the right direction.

The thing about a day like this is, it puts me in the mood to bake. Baking makes me happy. It keeps me busy. There’s a creative challenge involved in producing something that will ultimately make others happy. But then I’m left with delicious baked goods that I’ll probably end up eating. And you know where that will get me. Did I mention that my pants are tight?

What could I do instead? I could clean out a closet. I could clean the refrigerator (Nah, it’s not close enough to Passover.) I could shovel the driveway. I could do an exercise dvd. I could watch cooking shows! If I could only watch cooking shows while working out to an exercise dvd. Like at the gym when I walk on the treadmill and while viewing people cooking fabulous dishes.

I remember, years ago, before Paula Deen’s disgrace and forgiveness, when I was training for the Avon 39 Mile Two Day Walk. I’d been on the treadmill for a long time and had built up a pretty good sweat.There was a woman on the machine next to me doing the same thing. Sweating and watching Paula Deen on the screen above us. At some point, Paula added something to her dish that made the two of us gasp. In unison. I’m pretty sure it had something to do with butter. Now, that’s entertainment!

For the moment, the plan is to dwell on happy things. #1.Next week we’re going to visit our kids and our grandchild. That always makes me happy. #2.So far, the promised blizzard has not lived up to the media hype (kinna hora, pooh pooh.*) #3.The construction, which started out to be a little outside repair and a bathroom renovation, has been going on for over three months and is a sucking hole that has completely gobsmacked us. But, like childbirth, at the end, we will have something we will enjoy for years. If I could only remember not to be shocked when I go into my daughter’s old bedroom and find the toilet. I have to keep my eye on the prize. And be happy that all those trips downstairs show up on my Fitbit. Win?

The very act of sitting here and writing has lifted my spirits considerably. Enough, in fact, that I have lost the urge to make that fudge covered chocolate bundt cake recipe I saw on Serious Eats this morning. It’s a good thing, too. The kitchen is occupied. Bob, the builder, is up on a ladder, smearing joint compound on the ceiling.

 

*Kinna hora is a Yiddish expression spoken while pretending (if you’re in good company) to spit (pooh pooh) between your fingers to ward off evil speech (loshen hora.)

 

It followed me home. Can I keep it?

I have been cooking and baking since I was, maybe in the fourth grade. My mother was the primary cook, but, little by little, she relinquished some of the evening meals to my small, but getting capable hands. I think she’d lost whatever joy she had in cooking as she got older. She had a lot of health issues that rendered her less than enthusiastic when it came to cooking. I was the youngest child, by four years, and the only girl. And so, it fell upon me, a child of the fifties, to pick up the gauntlet.

I didn’t mind. In fact, I discovered that I liked to “potchka” (Yiddish for ‘fool around with’) with food, coming up with meals that were based more on intuition and whim, than recipes. My mom had a basic concept of what things had in them, but no real measurements. I picked up on that, and figured out how to make stuff.

The first real cookbook I encountered was a gift from my girlfriend’s mother, who was grateful to me for making a complicated Jello mold for her for a party. She gave me a B’nai Brith Cookbook from the Northern NJ Council of that charitable organization, with loads of homemade Jewish recipes. In it was the recipe that changed my life.

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It was a recipe for Challah, the sweet, eggy, braided bread eaten by Jews on the Sabbath eve. And pretty much any time there was a celebration. It was the first bread I ever attempted to make. And it turned out to be pretty good. So good, in fact, that I made it often. Not so much for use on Shabbat, but because I liked to make it. And turned it into a frequently used recipe.

As I used it, I started to potchke with it. The original recipe was made with milk and butter. I eventually changed this ‘dairy’ recipe to one that was ‘parve,’ or neutral, usable for meals that had meat or chicken, as was common on Shabbat.

In my home, as we were growing up, we did not keep strictly kosher. Rather we were, ‘kosher style,’ which kind of morphs into whatever you wanted it to be.

We did not have pork, or shellfish (prohibited) in the house. My mother shopped at the Kosher butcher for meat. We did not mix meat and milk in the same meal. (This taboo goes back to The Bible where it said you weren’t supposed to seethe a calf in its mother’s milk, out of kindness to the cow, who should not see its child cooked in its own milk.) This prohibition against mixing meat and dairy brought about the necessity of having two sets of dishes, one for meat, one for dairy. And this is where my mother drew the line. We didn’t have separate dishes, but we never had milk, or milk products, when we had a meat meal.

And so, finally getting back to the story of my challah recipe, I changed the milk in the recipe, to water. And the butter turned to vegetable oil of one’s choice. The dairy loaf was now suitable for use at any meal. I was really surprised it wasn’t this way from the start, but it was someone else’s recipe.

So how did it change my life? Because, from making challahs for my own family, I made an occasional loaf for a friend or two, for bar mitzvahs. Then I found myself making challah for a lot of the community because there just weren’t any good challahs to be found nearby. From there, I started a little catering business featuring challah and other Jewish baked goods that raised the level of Yiddishkeit at life cycle events. I sold them in a local supermarket, and the gourmet farm stand in town. I did this for over twenty years, and can state without a doubt, that I did not ever make a profit!

Finally, tiring of not of making money, as well as having to be tied to the kitchen on Friday mornings at a very early hour, I closed my business. The kinds of Jewish specialties I made were no longer a rarity in the area, so I didn’t really feel I was abandoning the Jewish community by taking away my challah and cookies.

Left over from my business were a lot of large bowls, large baking sheets, cooling racks, two wider than standard ovens built into my kitchen, and a Robot Coup food processor. This is the daddy (or momma) of food processors. Its heavy duty capabilities have been used for decades in commercial kitchens. It is the mode by which I made thousands of challah loaves, and about a ton of ruggelah and mandel brot cookies.

Because I have this wonderful machine, I have never felt the need for a heavy duty stand mixer. My hand mixer did yeoman duty mashing potatoes, and whipping egg whites and cream to fluffy perfection. I have a submersion blender that turns vegetables to silk in soup. I have a big, bad blender and a Magic Bullet to chop the hell out of whatever it is I’m trying to mix or pulverize.

But then about two years ago, maybe a little longer, I began to develop this yearning for a KitchenAid Stand Mixer. It is a workhorse for baking and other kitchen chores. It even comes in pretty colors. My mother-in-law had one. Both of my grown children have them.  Every cooking show I watch uses them in every episode, especially the Great British Bake Off. And nearly every recipe made on the Smitten Kitchen cooking blog includes the use of a KitchenAid Stand Mixer for one job or another. True. I’ve been able to duplicate those recipes using the Robot Coup or the hand mixer, but really, I’m sure they’d come out so much better if I had the real deal.

And so, the yearning grew. About six months ago, I saw that KitchenAid was now marketing a ‘compact’ version of its sturdy mixer, for those with small kitchens. “Ahh,” I thought, “that might be the answer to my prayers.” One of the biggest reasons, aside from not really needing one, that I never got one, was the fact that they are so big. I believed I would have to build an addition to my kitchen in order to house that baby while not in use. A ‘compact’ version would be easier to cram into a cabinet. Only the ‘compact’ version was only negligibly smaller, weighed the same, and cost every bit as much as the big machines. Besides, I am at a stage in life where I am trying to reduce the number of ‘things’ I have in my house, not introduce new ones.

Still, the itch for this mixer remained. And it grew. As the holiday season, in which most of the year’s baking is done, so they would have you think, ads featuring the KitchenAid Stand Mixer popped up everywhere. As I dwelt on the idea of owning one, ads for them magically appeared on my Facebook news feed and Amazon.com personalized advertisements. I think the Internet bored a hole into my brain to taunt me. Before I ever did a search for the product online.

Then one day, an ad from Kohl’s appeared in my inbox. It boasted a huge discount on the 4.5 quart version of the KitchenAid Stand Mixer. Not only that, I had one of those rare and wonderful 30% off coupons sent to Kohl’s charge customers to egg them into buying things they don’t need. They also offered Kohl’s cash ($10 for every $50 you spent). There would be no shipping charge since the cost was over $75. And if I had it sent to the Nashua store, I could save on the shipping and the sales tax. The final cost, plus after sale benefits, crushed whatever resistance I still had left.

I placed my order. For a ridiculously low price, I was about to possess my dream kitchen appliance. Of course I had to buy one or two of the somewhat expensive attachments that bumped up the usefulness of the basic machine. But I also got those at a reduced price by paying for them with the Kohl’s cash I earned from buying the machine. Almost free, actually.

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And so, now, I am the proud owner of my very own KitchenAid Stand Mixer, plus accessories. It is plain white, with a silver colored aluminum bowl. Where that irrational itch once was, I now have a warm glow in my heart. Have I been baking up a storm since I got it several weeks ago? Not so much. It’s still in the box, since I have yet to figure out where I will store it.

But once I do, boy, I will be the best baker in the whole wide world.

Next Time Someone Calls You Bird Brain, Take It As A Compliment.

I swear to you,  every word I am about to tell you here is true.

Today is July 4, 2016, the 240 birthday of our nation. We celebrated the other night with dinner out and a trip to the fireworks here in Acton. A lovely time was had. Tomorrow is my 41st wedding anniversary. I expect to be treated to dinner out, and maybe  receive something mushy and sentimental wrapped in used Sunday comics. So today is kind of a space between two happenings. I have only set foot outside twice today. Once, to cover the bbq grill I used last night. And then, to water the flowers and veggies that were drooping in the heat. Our big plans for this evening will culminate in a condolence call. Therefore, I baked to bring cookies to my grieving friend and her family.

While I was baking, as is our custom, Fonzie, my 20 year old Quaker parrot, and I, have been conversing. Though there have been a few songs, and some requests for my name, most of Fonzie’s conversation has revolved around cookies. She knows I am baking cookies although she cannot see into the kitchen. I know. I have checked every possible sight line and reflection she can see from her cage. I find it spooky that Fonzie makes her dish scraping against a plate sound every time I start to silently stir, or mix something. I am always impressed that she knows if I am making cookies, or pizza, or bread before there is a giveaway aroma wafting her way. She nails it every time when I open the oven to put something in there. I hear PIZZA! when it is pizza. CHALLAH! or BREAD! when I am making either of those things. And COOKIES!! when I slide a full tray into the oven.

While a batch of the cookies was baking, I took a break and did a little positive reinforcement training with Fonzie, rewarding her with tiny pieces of almond when she did what I asked. It’s a nice way to bond, and teaches me how very smart that bird is. She often goes off the rails and tries to get paid off for other behavior she knows.  More often than not, though, Fonzie gets it right. She’s pretty good at recognizing the color yellow after a few months of this regimen. That’s better than a lot of guys I know.

After all the cookies were baked, while I was washing the pans and bowls, Fonzie started saying, “Wanna get wet? Wanna take a bath?” She will do this when she hears running water.  I poked my head around the corner and asked, “Do you really want a bath, or are you yanking my chain again?” Fonzie fluffed up, climbed up to the top of the cage and repeated, “Wanna get wet?” We go through this a lot. She will make the proper noises about wanting to bathe, but when I approach her to take her into the kitchen for an actual bath, she runs into the cage, shuts the door, and growls at me. If I back up, she will come out and we go through this a few more times until I finally catch on.

This time, when I came closer, Fonzie stayed on top of the cage and ducked her head down, and turned around a few times. This is generally the precursor to flying to me.  So I stuck my hand out and said again, “You want to take a bath?” This was followed by wings out and a straight path to my outstretched arm. Perfect two point landing.

We walked into the kitchen, where I already had the bath pan full, and water slowly dripping into it, the way Fonzie likes it. (If I turn off the faucet, she will look at me and make dripping noises until I turn the water back on.) I had to pass by the stove top and counter where two very full cooling racks of cookies were on bold display.

Fonzie’s body language changed completely. From the big, fluffy bath-craving parrot she was, she tensed, pulled her feathers in, and tried to drag me towards the cookies by sheer force of her will.

Thinking I could bluff my way past the cookies, I put Fonzie right into the bath pan, in my very deep kitchen sink. I believe the bird stood on her tippy toes in order to poke her head over the edge of the sink to stare at the cookies.

I spritzed Fonzie with the water bottle, which usually will tip her over the edge between taking, or not taking a bath. She shook the water off and stood up higher. I turned the water off. There was no cute little imitation of dripping water from the bird. She was totally zoned in on the cookies.

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While not exactly the position Fonzie took when trying to stare at the cookies, it is a fair representation of her body language.

So I gave up on the bath. I picked her up and headed her towards her cage, saying, “fly home.” Which she did. I believe I heard cursing under the flapping of wings.

I went back into the kitchen to finish cleaning up. The first thing I did was to put the cookies into the serving tray, and covered it up. I washed and stored every trace of cookies back into its place. Within 15 minutes, the kitchen was totally free of cookie evidence.

Fonzie was back on her cage saying, “Wanna get wet? Wanna take a bath?” As I walked towards her and the cage, the little stinker ran into the cage and slammed the door behind her.

There’s no fool like an old fool.

When life gives you ruined pizza dough, make pizza bread.

I’ve been making pizza at home for years. It’s just an extension of the bread making I generally do. And, frankly, it’s better than any frozen version. Plus, I can make it sort of healthy.

A batch of my pizza dough has a cup of oat flour (long ago, my daughter named me The Oat Fairy) in it, and the toppings consist of a reasonable amount of cheese, and a whole lot of vegetables. By making, and eating, a pizza like this, I can tamp down the guilt associated with eating restaurant pizza.

That being said, recently, I’ve been fascinated by the recipe for no knead pizza dough. Since I make my pizza dough in the food processor, there’s very little kneading involved in my recipe. But these ‘no knead’ recipes are made hours; even a whole day, in advance. You dump the ingredients together. You stir them up. And you let them sit, covered, out of the fridge, until it’s just a little while before dinner.

The recipe that finally got me to try it was the one posted by Deb Perelman on her Smitten Kitchen blog (http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2013/10/lazy-pizza-dough-favorite-margarita-pizza/). I’ve made a lot of her recipes, and while they tend to take a lot more time and equipment than my lazy kind of cooking, the food is usually worth the extra effort. This pizza dough, though, couldn’t be easier to put together. Flour, salt, yeast, water. Add a lot of hours and some patience, and poof, you’ve got dough.

Patience is hard for me to come by when it comes to a new recipe, but I toughed it out from 8 am until 6 pm, when I started to make dinner. The dough had magically transformed itself from the lumpy mess it was, to a poofy, proofed dough, more than double its original size. I was happily on my way.

I prepared the wooden pizza peel with some cornmeal, to transfer the dough onto the super heated pizza stone in the oven, just like always. If I were making my standard pizza, I would roll the dough into a circle on the floured counter, place it on the peel and slip it into the oven to pre-bake for 3-4 minutes. After it’s out, I can decorate it with my toppings and slide it back into the oven for its final bake. I chose to put my regular toppings on it, rather than those suggested in the recipe.*

And that’s where, as they say, it all went south. I decided to follow the directions in the recipe, by stretching the dough by hand, putting it on the peel, adding the toppings, and slipping it onto the stone in the oven.

This dough was very soft, as promised (warned?) in the recipe. I used very little flour when I shaped the circle. I went for that rustic look that is so very charming. And all went well with that step. Then, I put the circle onto the peel already sprinkled with cornmeal,  and applied the sauce and toppings. However, when I went to slip it onto the pizza stone, it did not budge. Well, a few of the sautéed brussels sprouts skidded off the top onto the stone, but the pizza sat firmly glued to the cornmeal on the peel.

Not to be deterred by that, I pulled the peel out of the oven and set it on the counter. My plan was to dislodge it with the help of my offset spatula (a cook’s best friend.) And that, too, failed. I’d slide the offset under the edge and jiggle it around beneath the pie, but as soon as I withdrew it, the dough would get sucked right back onto the peel. Even as I worked my way slowly around the sodden ‘crust to be,’ every bit of progress slipped away.

At some point, I pretended it was all “good to go,” and attempted to shove it off the peel and onto the stone again. Mistake. Not only did a couple of brussels sprouts tumble off, I tore a huge hole in the center of the mass.

This is when my good humor started to fail me. So I yanked open my tool drawer and took out a wide spatula to bully the dough off the peel, onto the stone. If I’d thought ahead, I would have had a production assistant filming this because the results of that last move really should have been documented.

What I had was an off-center blob of vegetables, cheese, and goo, leaking off the dough, onto the very hot stone. Lots of sizzling ensued. It was time for quick action or I’d have such a mess, it would be preferable to sell the house, than to clean that oven.

I pulled the hot stone from the rack, using pot holders, and put it on the cooktop. Then, using the wide spatula, I scraped and chipped the dough from the stone and placed it back on the peel. With a quick swipe of the spatula, I slid the veggies, cheese, and some of the sauce from the pie, into a bowl. Be happy I have no pictures of that.

What next? Well, I did have the other half of the dough waiting to be used. So I did what I knew how to do. I floured the counter. Kneaded (kned?) the dough into a neat circle. Rolled it out. Put it on the newly cleaned and freshly cornmealed peel. Into the oven it went. Then I pre-baked it for 3 minutes, and removed it with the peel. Then I spread the gloppy fillings from the bowl back onto the pre-baked crust and baked it until it was done. Of course, I covered it all withPizza Girl! extra cheese in an attempt to camouflage the hideous mess. In the end, it was quite tasty. The dough was tangier and chewier than my usual. Both were good things.

What did I do with the blob of dough from the aborted pizza? I could not admit complete defeat by throwing it away. So, I did what I could to reshape it into a loaf. Talk about rustic! Then I baked it on the stone for 25 minutes while we ate the pizza pizza. Was it beautiful? Let’s say it had a lovely personality. But for the next three days, Allan and I were hacking off slices of the most delicious focaccia-like bread we’ve ever had.

Served with lemonade.

*This was probably my downfall. My toppings were way heavier than Deb’s.