Thursday, August 30, 2012


So last night, while laying in bed about to go to sleep, Matt and I were talking about fish. Actually, we had been talking about the differing political viewpoints between conservatives and liberals, and I'm not really sure how that got segued into fish... But it did. And I'm here to tell you, I don't like fish.

No, not that kind of fish. That kind's delicious!

I don't like -live- fish. "But you HAVE a fish!" You're probably thinking. But Mr. Mage is a very small fish. I don't like big fish. When they get much bigger then a large goldfish I start to have a problem with them. They're so.... creepy.

Here's a good example- the bagel shop that Matt and I frequent for bagely breakfasts has a tank with an eel in it. I didn't notice it the first few times, but the last time we went for bagels, I realized it was a fish tank! I like fish tanks! And it has a neat fish in it! We ended up sitting at the table right in front of the tank (Because I insisted), and I was super excited. Like 'face mashed against the glass excited' about sitting next to the eel.


I liked him when we first sat down. He was kind of chilling out behind a little log in his tank. But the longer I sat there, the more unnerved I got. Fish do that, well, fish eye thing. They just stare, unblinkingly. And eels kind of look mean. Our bagels came and we were munching away at them, but the eel was staring at me. I was getting creeped out.

He was neat at first, with his weird little nose holes, and his weird skin.... Then he decided to go for a swim. And he was really big. Like, I knew he was big, but when you actually see it... I pretty much had to ignore him the rest of the meal because my stomach was getting upset about it. Wtf?

I'm really not sure what it is that bothers me so much about fish. It's really not that I'm afraid of them; it's hard to be afraid of something that is completely avoidable. But when they're very big, they're creepy and weird. Take whales for instance.

I like whales. I like the way they look. The noises they make. They're 'giant bovine of the ocean-ness' is nice. Am I afraid of them? No. Would I want to be anywhere near them? NO.

Okay, maybe I am afraid of them...

I imagine part of it is how alien fish are to us. It's a completely different animal type, you know? Why fish bother me but reptiles don't is beyond me though. It's also probably that I don't really like water (Especially when it's loud!), and large open expanses, which is where fish tend to live... You can't see what's in the water with you, you don't know how big it might be, if the water's too deep it just gets dark and black... It's disturbing!

So no, I never want to swim with whales. I'll go to the aquarium with you, but don't blame me if I get all creeped out! Fish are creepy- you jsut haven't realized it yet!


Monday, August 27, 2012

Fall is coming...

It's been a little while since my last 'life update', so I figured I ought to remedy that! So lets see.... where to start.Uhm. There's really not been much going on! 0.0;

Matt and I both purchased Tablets a while back. Asus TF300's to be precise. And we love them! They are one of the best little inventions ever.

Matt uses his all the time for work, allowing him to better keep an eye on his work emails and such, and not have to rely on the cramped little uncomfortable to use phone. For myself, I use mine in the evenings a lot after work. I like to relax on the couch and watch TV, while using the tablet to read the newspaper, play games on (I adore Sudoku and Mahjong) and browse the internet. I never thought I'd get so much use out of one, but it's really worth the investment. It's even gotten Matt to read a little bit, as he can use it to read Ebooks on, and we both have a manga reader on them as well. It was so totally worth it!

Matt and I also got a new game called Guild Wars 2. It literally just released this last weekend.

It's very similar to World of Warcraft, but there isn't a monthly fee attached. Once you've bought the game you're done with everything you have to buy. For me this works out great- the intense need I used to have to play an MMO from dawn till dusk regardless of anything else is gone. I can really only manage a couple of hours of play at a time anymore, and I get distracted from it pretty easily. I'm just too invested in my art and reading and such I guess. But with this I can hop on and off without feeling guilty over 'wasted money' and still be able to play with my friends! It's a best of both worlds situation for me, although this game lacks dwarves. :(

We had a small 'not as hot' snap a while back. I can't really call low 80's/upper 70's a 'cold snap' but the way some of my coworkers acted, you'd think it was subarctic temperatures outside! Regardless, not only was it extremely refreshing after the 112 degree days we'd been having, but it seriously kicked off my longing for Fall! 

The temperature dropping and the leaves turning is the first sign that we've finally gotten out of dreaded summer and into my favorite half of the year! Honestly, I despise summer, and I always hated the fact we had our longest break of the school year smack in the middle of it. Why would you want to take a vacation when it's hot enough to fry eggs on the sidewalk? Fall, winter, and the beginning of spring are the best times for me, however. Nice cool to cold weather, rain and snow, and lots of glorious clouds!

Fall and Winter also encompass my favorite holidays as well: Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. All the food, family and fun! Not to mention the pumpkin spice flavored things that pop up everywhere! I always get so much Starbucks coffee and Olive Garden pumpkin cheesecake because of it! And pumpkin pie! OMG!

Seriously, what's more beautiful than that?

I can't wait for all the seasonal soups and stews the restaurants will start carrying, and the fall baking entices me just as much. I intend to do a lot of baking this season, and delicious roasted and stewed things as well.... And the decorations and music and EVERYTHING!

Okay. I should probably stop gushing about fall and winter. I seriously love it! You don't even know guys.

ANYWAY- I've been working on an art piece for a contest. "A contest?" You might say. "Weren't you doing something for an art contest a while back?" Yes, I was, but I never finished or entered it. It was an art contest for a game we were playing that we quite quickly tired of, and as the prize for it was all game related, I decided not to bother. Not this time though, this time it's for this:

That's not a toy my friends. That's a hundred dollars worth of extremely detailed, hand painted sculptural figurine, right there! And I want it. BAD. Here's a preview of the entry I'm working on. All the flat colors are done, all that's left is shading and any other details I want to add. The prompt for the contest is Just Me and My Dragon.

I really wanted to try and tell a story with this, give it a little touch of whimsy. I'm hoping that's conveyed in the image.

After looking at some of the other entries in the contest, I'd like to think I maybe have a good chance of at least placing in the contest, which would mean a ton to me. It'd be nice to get that little ego boost for my artwork, you know?


Monday, August 13, 2012

Beef Stew Even a Barbarian Can Make!

I posted about some delicious Beef Stew I made a while back, the one slow braised in a dutch oven? Well, I made it again last night (Yes, it's that good!) and I thought I'd do a step-by-step for it, as I haven't done one in a while.

As before, the recipe I started with is here: Beef Stew Recipe! I modify it, taking out some of the meat, and adding in celery and mushrooms, because I like them! It's actually fairly easy to modify a stew or soup and add your own ingredients, so feel free to go for it!

Anyhoo, first things first, preheat your oven to 325 degrees, chop up your onions and mushrooms, and smash your garlic! If you haven't done it before, you can smash garlic easily by setting a clove on your cutting board, laying the flat of your blade across it and hitting it hard with the heel of your hand. Don't cut yourself, and expect your clove to occasionally shoot out from under the knife and fly across the room!

Cut up your meat into 1inch to 1-1/2 inch pieces, and season them on top and bottom with salt and pepper. Start heating your dutch oven on the stove; it will take time to heat up! Also, read the instructions for your dutch oven. If it's like mine, you can't use it on the stove over medium heat as it can damage it. But cast iron holds and distributes heat so well that medium is plenty high!

Add a tablespoon of your cooking oil to the pot, let it heat up, and start your first batch of meat! You want it to get very, very dark brown and crusty before you turn it over, and do the same to the other side.

I know what you're thinking. Omg, it's sticking! Omg, it's getting crusty stuff on the bottom! Omg, it's gonna burn, I need more oil!  NO. You WANT that brown crustyness on the bottom. That's flavor developing there, and we'll get to that later. Also, too much oil and you won't get a good sear on the meat. And those of you who think you can do all the meat at once to save time? That won't work either- instead of searing, the meat will just steam and won't ever get brown and delicious.

Like one of my favorite chef's Anne Burrell says "Brown food tastes GOOD!"

So sear your meat in batches adding another tablespoon of oil with each batch if it needs, get it good and brown and delicious, and remove it all to a pan. It'll be oozing bloody juices and still look raw on the unseared sides, that's normal. Searing the meat is the most actively time consuming part of the stew, but it's where a lot of the flavors come from, so take your time with it!

Once you've got all your meat done, next up is to toss your big ol' bowl of mushrooms, onions, and garlic into the dutch oven. This is where all your brown crustiness that's built up from searing the meat comes in! Take your balsamic vinegar and splash it in there, stirring the veggies and scraping the bottom of the dutch oven. This is called deglazing- The balsamic vinegar will loosen all that flavorfull crust up from the bottom so it can get all dissolved and mixed into the broth! This is one of those chefy techniques that builds a lot of flavor into dishes.

Also, -stand back- when you put the vinegar in, or you will get a face full of hot balsamic vinegar fumes, and it will be painful to breathe!

Cook this goodness together, making sure to scrape all those browney bits up for about 5 minutes. (You ARE using a wooden or other non-stick safe spoon right? Wouldn't want to damage the enamel on that expensive cookware!) Add in the 1-1/2 tablespoons of tomato paste, stir it in and let it cook another 5 minutes.  

Don't want to open an entire can of tomato paste just for 1 tablespoons? Look for tomato paste in a tube! You can use just what you need, and toss the tube back in the fridge until you need it again! I found it at Wal-mart and it was fairly inexpensive. 

Add the meat and juices back in, then sprinkle with the 1/4 cup of flour, stirring until it's well mixed and dissolved, about 1-2 minutes. Then pour in your wine, beef broth, and water, and add your bay leaves, thyme and sugar. Give it another good stir right up from the bottom, pop the lid on and carefully transfer it to your oven! (It is cast iron, regardless of enamel, and it will be very hot and very heavy!)

And wait. For at least two hours.

Why so long? It's braising, which means to cook low and slow in broth. Basically, it's a pot roast, just in a stewey packaging! The time and low temperature will break down the connective tissues in the meat, resulting in very tender meat and a lot of deep, rich flavors. That's why you have to get meat that's well marbled with fat- no connective tissues, no breaking down, still tough lump of muscle!

Anyway, use those 2 hours to dice up the rest of your veggies. I usually chop them right after getting the stew in the oven, that way I can toddle off and work on art or something, undisturbed. 

After two hours, your house should now smell delicious! Also, your meat should be getting good and tender. Carefully take the dutch oven out, take the lid off and after you recover from the blast of delicious smelling steam that will escape, stir in your veggies. If the handles on the dutch oven weren't hot before, they WILL be now, so seriously, be careful. 

Put the lid back on, put it back in the oven, and let it cook at least another hour until the veggies are at your preferred done-ness. Mine usually takes over an hour.

Once it fully cooked, you have two choices: Discard your bay leaves, and then either eat as is, or add in cornstarch to thicken it first. Matt despises anything soupy, so I usually add cornstarch in water to make the  broth more of a gravy.

The completed stew, ready to eat!

And there you go!, Super easy, lots of deep, rich flavors, and enough for several meals! Pair this with some fresh baked bread (Pillsbury has an italian loaf in a tube I bake while I'm thickening the stew and letting it cool to a non-magma temperature) and top with a little chopped fresh parsley for looks.

It's so easy even a barbarian can make it!