Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pacific Gopher Dave

Guess who I found under the splash guard on my front porch?

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Mystery of the Body in My Crawlspace

Tonight I went into the crawlspace under our house to see if I can figure out how the mice are getting into the cupboard under our kitchen sink. While I was down there, I was greeted with this grisly visage:

Before discovering this skull, I found some bones that were too big for rodents (at least I'd hope so). I assumed they were chicken bones that some mouse had dragged in. From a distance and from a different angle, this skull looked like a wadded up sack from a fast food restaurant. As I approached I could read that the sack was Purina Dog Chow bag that had mostly rotted away and revealed the remains of this critter inside.

It's hard to tell from this picture, but the skull is about the size of a human fist. I guessed it was a cat skull (despite the dog food bag) and a search for "cat skull" on Google Images seems to confirm this:

How did it get there? I first considered the possibility that the cat got trapped under there and died. There was no entry point big enough for a cat, but perhaps while workers were installing the water heater or remodeling the bathroom, a cat sneaked in while no one was paying attention.

But how to explain the dog food bag? I saw that mice were able to drag some small bits of trash down (I found a bottle cap, a bit of tinfoil, and a sprung snap trap), but it didn't seem feasible for a mouse to drag something as big as that dog food bag through any of the tiny holes I found.

It seems more likely that the cat died, and his body was placed in a dog food bag for disposal. But did somebody think it was a good idea to dispose of it in the crawlspace? It must have smelled horrible for awhile. Perhaps it was left in the trash or elsewhere initially and some other critter (or human prankster) moved it to the crawlspace.

Whatever happened must have happened a long time ago judging from the decay and the fact that neither we nor the prior owners owned a dog. Since then, there has been work done that required going under the house (the kitchen and bathroom were remodeled and the water heater was replaced), so it's surprising that this wasn't found earlier.

I left it where I found it; I didn't want to touch it. When I go back to plug the mouse entry hole, I'll bring rubber gloves and a trash sack and clean it up then.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Meet Henri

His name is Henri. It's spelled the French way, but it's pronounced the good old American way. Of course you could call him On-Ree like it's spelled, or Hank, or Hey You, and he'll respond (or not) if he feels like it, because that's how cats are.

I'm told his full name is Henri T. Cat. I don't know what the T. stands for, but I bet it stands for The. I've never seen his full name spelled out, so maybe the last name is spelled Katt or Kat or Caedt or something, but unless I'm corrected by someone who knows better I'll just spell it Henri Th. Cat (I've opted to use the Th. abbreviation because the Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer abbreviated his middle name that way and I think he's cool).

It's been 10 years since I last had a feline roommate (aw... Chip!), and we weren't planning on taking in another one until after Chris finishes school and we were more settled, but Henri's oldest friend Arwen got married recently and moved to Australia, and the logistics of Henri going to Australia with her were prohibitively onerous, so Henri was looking for new roommates.

He's completely black - even his whiskers. He's so black that when he's rolled up on his back or contorting his body during grooming, it's hard to tell where his head is; it's like a Rorschach ink blot.

He's six years old (I don't know his actual birth date... Arwen?), and like all kids today, he's got his own facebook page. When I was a kid, we had to keep in touch with friends and family using old fashioned blogs, and we liked it!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Brielle's Quilt - The Top

I wanted to post an update on Brielle's quilt.

I've completed the top. Now I need to quilt and bind it.

I need to adjust my camera settings; the colors shown here aren't true. The purples are too blue and the greens are too gray.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Buffs and Beavs conference rivals?

I guess it's official; the CU Buffs are switching to the PAC-10 conference.

That means the CU Buffs will be in the same conference as OSU (er... that's Oregon State University).

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Chinchilla Dust Bath

Wanna see something cute?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A coffee dessert - yes, you know it's good news

I've been thinking about my dad lately since his birthday is around this time of year. If he were still alive, he'd be 76. I was remembering how we used to go over to his house on Sundays to watch the Bronco games. He would often make his specialty snack, mock chicken legs, which became an important part of football watching tradition (aside to siblings: remember?). Another tradition was his coffee mousse; this would be chilling in yogurt cups in his refrigerator.

I wanted to try to duplicate this dessert in his memory. I don't have his actual recipe, so I looked online to find any coffee mousse recipe, and found quite a variety. Most of the recipes for mousses use whipped egg whites to get the fluffy texture, but I also found some that are based on whipped cream, gelatin, custard, or even marshmallows. There were also several different ways to infuse the coffee flavor: strong brewed coffee, ground coffee beans, instant coffee crystals, or coffee liqueur. I ended up making up my own recipe by mashing up several other recipes.

Coffee Mousse

Note: Contains uncooked egg whites
Servings: 3

3 eggs separated
1/2 cup cold strong coffee (or 2 shots of espresso)
3/8 cup of sugar
1 package of unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup whipping cream

for topping:
1/4 cup whipping cream
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp sugar
3 mini Heath toffee bars

1. Beat eggs yolks until pastel yellow.

2. Mix gelatin into 1/4 cup of chilled coffee and let it soften for 1 minute. This step is important: I skipped it in my first batch and the gelatin didn't dissolve well and there were lots of gummy nuggets in the final product.

3. Mix the remaining 1/4 cup chilled coffee with the beaten egg yolks and stir it in. It might just be superstition, but I think it's important to chill the coffee first. I worry that hot coffee would cook the yolks before they're sufficiently blended in. I also think chilling it first helps dissolve the gelatin in the previous step.

4. Pour yolk/coffee batter into a small saucepan and heat it to almost boiling, stirring in sugar as it heats.

5. When hot, add coffee/gelatin mixture and stir continuously until completely dissolved (5 minutes or so).

6. Pour this mixture into glass bowl and refrigerate until the texture is custard-like when stirred (about 40 minutes). As you can see in the picture, I left it in fridge too long - way past the custard stage. It still worked okay, but it's not plan A.

7. Whip the egg whites until they are stiff peaks (this is tricky, over-whipping or under-whipping will cause the egg whites to weep out making the final product slimy at the bottom).

8. Whip cream until it has stiff peaks. Fold the egg whites into the cream, then fold in the coffee custard.

9. Make the topping by whipping cream, sugar, and vanilla until stiff. Crush Heath bars (I used a mortar and pestle).

10. Spoon mousse into dessert cups and top with whipped cream and crushed toffee.

11. Refrigerate for a couple hours. I think it will last at least a week or so in the fridge, but I doubt I would ever let it come to that.

The final product tastes remarkably similar to how I remember Dad's tasting. I think the coffee flavor is a bit harsher in my version, but not in a bad way. It's just not as mellow as his was. I don't know what he used for coffee, but I'm sure he didn't use espresso; this was almost 25 years ago - before Americans drank espresso.

Monday, January 18, 2010

How not to pre-wash fabric

I've read conflicting advice on whether or not to pre-wash fabric before piecing a quilt. I've tried it both ways and haven't noticed a significant difference. When I made the tester last week, I didn't pre-wash the fabrics, but a quilt-pro at my office told me that it was particularly important to pre-wash flannels since they shrink significantly.

I calculated that I would need about a quarter yard of each of my flannels for the quilt so I cut off 10 inch strips and put them in the washer on warm without soap. This is how it came out:

After untangling the mess and cutting off the frayed bits, I ironed out what i could salvage, but I had lost enough that I needed to wash some more fabric to have enough for the quilt. This time I washed it in the sink. That worked much better.

Now all the fabric is pre-washed, ironed, and cut. Now I'm ready to start piecing the top of the quilt.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Brielle's Quilt - The Tester

I'm new to quilting and don't quite trust my instincts or skills yet, so I like to make "testers" when I do a quilt project. Basically I make a block or four with the fabric I'm using so I can get a sense for how it will all work together in the final project. That way I can be experimental and try out some ideas without risking messing up the "real" quilt.

I decided to make a tester using four of the seven fabrics I bought, 2 dark and 2 light of each purple and green. I decided to make the blocks 10" wide, and to do a 2 block by 2 block version of the first format style I listed in the previous post (the simplest one).

I looked up online for some tips on how to piece a bento box block. I found how the 20 pieces of the block are to cut individually and sewed one by one from the middle out. It was the intuitive way I would have done it if I had no other instructions.

But then I found a really nifty shortcut on this blog.

First you make a courthouse steps block (cutting 9 pieces instead of 20):

Then you cut them into fourths:

Then you rearrange them (I thought it was fun to see what other arrangements could be made with these same blocks):

Finally, you sew them back together:

What I learned:

I got the size right. The final quilt will have blocks that are as wide as these, but I will make it 3 blocks by 4 blocks.

If I decide to use this format style (and I think I will) where the dark values make hollow squares inside the block, it is more important to line up the dark value pieces than the corners (see photo to the right).

Flannel is quite thick and I found the intersections where three or four pieces came together to have too much of a bump. I think I will have to press the seams open. This will prevent me from being able to stitch-in-the-ditch when I quilt it, so I'll have to think about that.

Also, I didn't pay attention to the shapes of adjacent pieces that were the same fabric because I didn't think it would be noticeable, but it is. The diagram below demonstrates what I mean. The block on the right is radially symmetrical through the center point, but the one on the left is only symmetrical on the horizontal axis. All four of my blocks were some variation of the one on the left. Not only do these odd seam lines look sloppy on the finished product, it also causes more 4 piece intersections when the blocks are pieced together.

The background fabrics I used in the tester were too similar in value and their checkerboard pattern is too subtle. Unfortunately the other fabrics I have are the same value or different colors, so I will have to pass on the checkerboard motif and just have a scrappy random background probably using all 5 of the background fabrics I've got.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Quilt Project #2 - Brielle's Quilt

Today my newest niece is 3 months old. So I've decided that my next quilt project is going to be a crib quilt for her. My goal is to have it completed before she's 6 months old (which is a relaxed pace, really, considering it's a small quilt).

Her colors are green and purple, so this weekend I stopped by the fabric store and got a variety of green and purple flannels.

I have the darnedest time trying to get my camera settings right, so this photo doesn't accurately represent the fabric's true colors.

I've decided to make this one a bento box quilt. A bento box block looks like this:

It looks plain, but it's surprisingly versatile. When I mess around with different colors and values (lights and darks), I get a variety of effects:

I haven't yet decided which of these layouts I'll use.

Also, I've decided to renumber my quilt projects since the last one was really the first proper quilt, and the earlier potholders were just messing around.