Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Book-O-Holic

Every couple of days I get a hankering. Usually it's controllable... I'll go to the special places in my house where I keep them. I'll get my fill at work. But sometimes, I just can't stand it.

"Sweetie? Can I buy some books..?" I softly call. "Don't you have enough books?" Matt replies.

But there can never be enough books!

If you've read my blog at all, you'll know I'm an admitted book-o-holic. I LOVE books. If I were a dragon, I'd hoard books instead of gold. Nothing makes me happier then going into a Barnes and Noble, or Half Price Books store. I could spend hours in them browsing through fantasy, fiction, the cookbooks... anything really! It isn't just reading them that makes me happy, it's the nooks themselves. The feel, the smell, turning the pages, the first time you crack them open... It's bound perfection!

The sad thing is, I'm also easily distracted. Between my other loves of cooking fancy meals, my cat, my art, and any other new toys I have like the PS3, I also have work and chores that need doing too. Books are also a very solo activity. Matt isn't much of a reader anymore, and the time I spend reading is less time I can spend being with him. I like to read in a quiet room, curled up somewhere cushy with a cup of hot tea... But Matt's love of computery things rarely makes for a quiet room!

Yesterday, I got that hankering again, to set hoof in a bookstore. I had to resist the urge to stop at the two bookstores that were on my way to walmart yesterday evening. To quell my need to get new books, I just went to my shelves and counted up all the books I need to get too....

And there's... kind of a lot.

That's just the most handy of the ones I need to get too. But the reading life of a book-o-holic is a meandering thing. I don't just read whatever's next in the pile. I pick the one I'm in the mood for. It's why I end up reading so many books at once- sometimes I just can't wait to start a new one! 

So I'm gonna try and get through at least most of this stack by the end of the year. Dunno how far that will go... But I'm gonna give it a shot!

~~Brunn~~

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Awoken and the Preview...

Here's the latest art piece I finished about a week ago now...

Click to make bigger!

This one took quite a while. Turns out clouds are really, really hard to draw. Who knew? I wish I'd kept track of how long this took- I'd estimate ten or fifteen hours from sketch to finish? All done in Paint Tool SAI. I'm very pleased with it. If you want the full effect, listen to this while you look at it!

This is the theme music to raging bear-goats.

Anyway, I'm off working on a new piece, it's in the sketching phase now. I don't know that I've ever shown how my artwork starts off, especially with the new styles and mediums I'm working with. Here's the starting sketch for my new picture, which I've titled "Bounds and Leaps"

Click to make bigger!

I wanted to do something more lighthearted then the last few bigger pieces I've made. Keep in mind this is still in sketching phase- none of the sky or background lineworks are there, just most of the dragon's sketch and bits of the foregroundy stuff. Hopefully this one turns out as well!

~~Brunn~~


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Of Dysons and Dutch Ovens...

A week or so ago, I was spending my afternoon at home dozing on the bed. I'd been in there maybe an hour, when a strange noise half-woke me.

...Thwack! ......Thwack!

I pondered getting up, but decided against it, rolled over and went back to sleep. Sometime later I was again half woken by the closet door in the hall being opened. I vaguely remember the sound of vacuuming, and then sometime after that the sound of the closet door again being opened. Mostly awake by then, I rolled up onto my elbows and looked up as Matt came into the room.

"We're buying a new vacuum cleaner." He grumbled, then walked out.

Apparently, he killed several flies in the living room and they'd fallen behind the loveseat, but our poor vacuum cleaner flatly refused to suck them up. It wouldn't pick up flies... We gotten the thing 3 years ago for Christmas from my parents. It wasn't an expensive one, around 50 dollars or so. (My parents tend to buy more expensive quality things, rather then cheap ones, but we got a LOT of house things that year!) In fact, the thing fails to suck so badly, that I had practically given up on vacuuming altogether.Matt's alergies were going crazy and the floor was getting grimy, so off Matt and I went to Best Buy to purchase a shiny new vacuum cleaner!

... And straight home we went after getting there and looking at them- since when is there such a wide selection of vacuum cleaners? We dug around for reviews and settled on the Dyson Ball DC40.

Vroom.

I. LOVE. THIS. VACUUM. Secretly, I've always scoffed at the 'Dyson ball' vacuum. We've all seen the commercials, the swirling hurricane force vortexs inside, the easy to maneuver and turn ball for steering. Well, it's all true. Who knew? I can glide this thing around corners no problem. The bin that collects all the grime and dust has a quick release button the top, letting me dump the dust straight out the bottom of it, and it all falls right out! It never loses suction. We emptied the bin three times the first go through of the house, and it fills it up nearly every time I use it, it picks up so much stuff. Totally worth it you guys, buy one!

Oh, and those flies? I found out later that Matt had just left them all behind the loveseat, and they all got squashed flat from the cat lying on them when she sat in the sun back there. *Sigh*- Men. The Dyson picked them all right up though!

Anyway, a few days later I got a wild hair and decided to make beef stew. No, not my usual beef stew, which you can see by Clicking Me! No, I wanted real stew- Beef, slow braised with onions and mushrooms in broth and wine for hours, with tasty rich veggies to go along with it. So off I went to Walmart to buy a dutch oven! I've wanted one forever, there's so many tasty stews, soups, and briased-ey things I can make in one!


I'm always looking at the ones at Williams and Sanoma when I go in, but the ones they carry there are over $200, a little out of my price range for one piece of cooking equipment. This one however, is basically the same construction (Enameled cast iron) for about a fourth of the price at $60. I took my prize home, got it washed up and seasoned in the oven. Being cast iron, it felt like I was trying to wash a small elephant in the sink...

After it was ready to go, I started on the stew, for which you can find the recipe I used Clicking Here! It was excellent overall, although I made some tweaks to it, and one mistake. I forgot the tomato paste, though it came out fine. And I cut down on the number of potatoes, opting to add mushrooms in with the onions and garlic during the initial braising, and celery in with the added veggies. It didn't come out as thick as I'd have liked, and I did add cornstarch to it after it was done; however, I think I will be adding more the next time.

Though it was a labor of love indeed (It took about 4 hours overall, with at least 2 hours of that being active prepping/cooking time) it came out exceptionally. The flavors were rich and deep, with the flavor of the wine lingering in every bit. The meat was super tender, and by adding the vegetables in for only the last hour or so of the cooking, they retained their individuality and firmness instead of going all to mush. Served with some nice, crusty fresh bread, it'd be a meal fit for a king.

And definitely one worth buying a $60 dutch oven for!

~~Brunn~~

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Chicken Soup Part Two...

As a most of you who either know me, or read my blog will know, I LOVE soup. A lot. My header is even a picture of me making soup. I eat it nearly every day. Even with the frequency with which I eat soup, you're probably thinking "Part two? I don't remember seeing any 'part one'...". 

Well you see, part one of this story happened over a year ago before I started this blog! And it was such a disaster, I probably wouldn't have even posted about it. One of the great staples of soup is the Homemade Chicken Soup. I'd always wanted to make one, and one way to do this is with a leftover chicken carcass. With this is mind, I roasted one up, made soup the next day and- Blech. It was bland, flavorless, disgusting.


I tried to find a picture of disappointing soup to
put here, but it's surprisingly hard to find a photo
of soup that adequately expressed my
sadness....

Anyway, I've mulled over what went wrong with my first chicken soup, and came to some helpfull conclusions.

  1. I didn't break down the carcass of the chicken, so it took a  LOT of water to cover it in the pan. As an already roasted chicken has had a lot of the flavor already leached from the bones, this lead to really, really bland and flavorless broth.
  2. I went ahead and added the veggies to an already flavorless broth, expecting them to bolster the flavor. This is a huge no-no in soup- never put your main ingredients into a lackluster flavor base, you'll get lackluster results.
  3. When the soup was nearly completed, it was STILL flavorless, so I cooked it far longer then necessary trying to get more flavor out- this gave me a big pot of bland water and tasteless overcooked veggies.
I'd also left all the meat on the bones, and when you boil chicken meat, especially white meat that's cooked and partially cut apart, it gets all flaky. So there were tiny bits of chicken strings all over in there, which isn't a very pleasing texture to the tongue!

So skip forward to last night. I was sitting on the couch thinking about the two game hens I'd roasted over the weekend when Lance came down and stayed the night. (We had a full sit down dinner, with all the trimmings, something I hadn't yet gotten to do at our new kitchen table!) I really love roasted chicken when it's fresh, but I hate it left over. I've discovered I'm not real fond of chicken salad either, which is what I usually do with the leftover meat. I needed to use those game hens today, or throw them out- so I opted to try that soup ONE more time. I mean, everyone else says it's fantastic; There's gotta be something there!

I got up fairly early this morning, tidyed up the kitchen and set to work pulling meat off the bones. Matt got up and made us some coffee. "I'd give you a snuggle" I told him "But I have chicken hands."

"Aww." He said, hugging me from behind anyway, which would have been a more tender moment if this image wasn't in my head:


I tossed the torn up bones into the pot, which being game hens were already more compact, and covered it with water to simmer for a while. I was actually kind of surprised by how much meat was left on them. This is why I don't really like leftover chicken, I mean look at it!

Gross....

Anyway, I let the bones simmer with some bouillon (To help bolster the flavor) for about two hours before I strained it off. Tasting it, I discovered the broth had a delicious rich, full flavor! I sauteed some mushrooms in the pot with a little butter for flavor, added the carrots, celery and onions, topping off with the broth. Then I added some bay leaves, thyme, pepper, paprika, basil and a pinch of oregano. By this time, it smelled amazing!



I let that simmer until the veggies were done, then stirred the chicken in, and let it warm through. My mouth was watering, and I could hardly wait to try the results. I already knew it would be a marked improvement over my first dismal effort nearly two years ago!

I ladled out some in my special soup bowls (Green of course!), added some parsley for color and set about taking the most awkward photos ever...


This was the clearest, most color true I could get it to come out, but it looks like some giant, cosmic bowl of soup looming up at you out of the darkness... Oh well! I quickly sat down and dug in.

***********

Sorry, I just fainted there for a second remembering how delicious it was! Everything was perfect! The flavors were bright and robust, the veggies perfectly done, the chicken was NOT stringy and had a fantastic flavor! If but a smidge too salty, a fault on my part not accounting for the saltyness of the bouillon, it was fantastic. I'll be having it for dinner tonight, with a fresh baked loaf of bread to compliment. Can't wait!

So now I can officially say I've made some damn good Homemade Chicken Soup! I think we'll be having roast chicken more often now!

~~Brunn~~

Monday, July 2, 2012

Living Room Upgrades, Dual-Monitors, and Artsy Stuff...

We've still been slowly working on upgrading the old and decidedly cruddy furniture in the house, for nice, new, badass furniture! A few weeks ago now, I decided to strip off the upholstery on the 'coffee table' we had gotten hand-me-down from Matt's parents (Thanks guys! :D) Wade had at some point covered it with a foam pad and brown fabric as they had wanted more of a foot stool than a table. You can see a picture of it covered in this post here.

I've always wanted to strip it off, as we'd prefer to have a proper table rather then a foot rest, but I never knew what was under the fabric! Was it in good condition? Would it need refinishing? I wouldn't balk at doing that, as I'm fairly comfortable doing projects I feel I have no expertise for after my Props and Crafts class in college, but did I want to invest the time? It was the not knowing that kept me from tackling the project so long.

Seeing as we were using it as a table however, the fabric was starting to get rather grimy, and I had no way to clean it. I decided I would go ahead and strip it, and if the table top was in too bad a condition, I could always reupholster it with a more waterproof fabric! So I flipped it over and started pulling staples!

Lots of staples...

And lo and behold, it was a really nice table underneath! It's got a decorative edge around one side, which does have two holes drilled into it... I think it may have been intended to be a faux drawer, and would have had decorative knobs on it. But other then that, a few minor scuffs, and a couple staples I didn't feel like wrestling with after the first billion, it's a really nice looking table!




We also recently purchased a new TV stand as well, replacing the very shaky and decidedly ugly Wal-mart one we'd been using that Matt got when he first went to college. Funny story, we went and bought the stand, only to find out that the furniture delivery person was on vacation! It was slightly too big to fit into my Taurus, so I called my grandfather to borrow his truck. Unfortunately it was over 90 degrees outside, and the thing isn't air-conditioned. We roasted, but the TV stand is worth it! In fact, it's probably one of the nicest pieces of furniture we have now; it went together really easily, and is super sturdy. Much better then the desks!


The TV is back mounted on it, and swivels left and right. I love that it does that, as I can now sit on the loveseat to the right on the stand and turn the TV toward me when I play games! Yes, my eyesight is that bad! Oh, and I also picked up these two pictures for my kitchen which I haven't put up yet.

Super cute!!

Last night I got a wild hair and cleaned off my desk top a bit and had Matt hook up the extra computer monitor we have to my PC. I've been considering doing this for a while- with two monitors I can have reference stuff up on the smaller screen, and my art program on the other, letting me keep both windows at maximum size! 


It actually fits and works better then I thought it would! I put on the movie Labyrinth on the TV to the right, brought up references to the left and set about drawing up a little doodle of Sir Didymus while I watched!

If you haven't seen Labyrinth, I pity your poor, deprived soul!

I think this two monitor thing will be fantastic in the long run! It's going to be so nice having a full separate screen to open references on, rather than either tabbing back and forth between pages, or trying to squeeze Chrome and Paint Tool SAI together as tiny windows.

~~Brunn~~