Death of the Chain Restaurant – No, I’m not a “Hipster”

I grew up in the suburbs of the Twin Cities, where typical big name chain restaurants are in abundance. These days (and for the last six years), I live less than two miles from the center of downtown St. Paul, where it’s pretty difficult to find a national chain other than fast food. I’d have to drive back into the suburbs to eat at a TGI Fridays, Chili’s or Olive Garden.

I LOVE to eat out. In fact, it’s probably what I spend more money on than anything else (well, other than cigarettes, but don’t worry. There’s an “I Quit” post not too far in the future. *sigh*). I don’t try new places often, probably because I am a creature of habit, and once I’ve found something I love it’s comfortable to keep going back. There’s a small ring of three or four places I frequent because of the good food, comfort factor and decent service… but none of them are chains. I realize that ragging on chain restaurants will make a few of you think I’m some sort of “hipster.” I assure you, that could not be further from the truth. I don’t drink PBR, own a pair of aviator glasses, or smoke American Spirits.

This weekend, I was willing to accept some adventure when my husband suggested a place he had recently checked out called Ward 6. What really caught my attention was his mention of “adult milkshakes.” Haha… no. Your dessert doesn’t come with sex toys, but this little gem on St. Paul’s east side crafts an excellent combination of ice cream and alcohol. The menu was small, but I’m ok with that when your offerings include poutine, lemon parmesan risotto, and a burger delicately placed between two grilled cheese sandwiches. In addition, they had a list of fun cocktails (not all of them were “girly”) and the service was great. If the waitress can’t give a menu recommendation, you’re in the wrong place.

And this is why I rarely find myself a patron of the following establishments:

Dennys

Nope. I don’t ever recall entering this establishment sober either. In fact, it would seem there is a prerequisite of either being drunk or elderly in order to enter the building. God forbid you end up here on a Tuesday, when kids eat free. Nothing makes an already questionable dining decision more enjoyable than having a random four-year old crawl under your table. Everything on the menu is one Grand Slam after another, or the latest gimmick advertised. Seriously, WTF is a Hobbit Meal? The last time I went in here I remember being seated, but having to wait for menus because they had run out. That was at least ten years ago. I can’t imagine a situation in which I’d find myself in a Denny’s again. Even after six beers, I know the result will be a toilet full of regret a few hours later.

OCB

Buffets are a hit or miss. OCB is ALWAYS a disaster. Last time I found myself here was during an epic hang-over midway through my college years. I recall picking over the selections, wondering if perhaps I could concoct a bloody mary out of the pickles and olives in the salad bar and the fifth of vodka in my trunk. Maybe that’s what they need to bring to the table. If OCB stayed open late and served booze, I guarantee a bunch of college kids would pack this all-you-can-eat dumpster and consume mass amounts of gelatinous mac & cheese. Instead, I keep seeing advertisements as to how they’ve “improved” their menu in an effort to bring in new clientele. I’m sure if I walked into OCB again, I’d still be confused as to whether it’s a buffet or a diabetic support group.

Ruby TuesdayApplebee'sTGI-Friday-Logo

Is there a difference between these three places? They all have the same shitty burger/salad/pasta selections. They try to revamp their menus by adding something they consider “exotic”… like putting pineapple on a burger, or strawberries in a salad. Then, they advertise the hell out of their “original” creation like it’s never been done before. The number of Applebee’s have drastically diminished in recent years, and I only know of one Ruby Tuesday within driving distance. There still seems to be a large quantity of TGI Friday’s in my area, but I’m still leery every time I order a drink… after that debacle in which they were busted for passing off low-end booze as top shelf liquor (you can read that story here).

logo_Red_Lobster

Here is where everyone makes the Cheddar Bay Biscuit argument. Did you know that you can buy those in the grocery store and make them at home? Now you don’t have to eat sub-par seafood to get your biscuit fix. I must admit, the “Endless Shrimp” promotion is a guilty pleasure of mine. What really grinds my gears is getting your check and realizing that the shitty margarita you ordered was $9, yet you somehow managed to drink three of them. The service is always slow here too (at least at the location near me). The last time I was in here, it wasn’t at all busy, yet I only saw my waitress once after someone else brought our food. Maybe she was trying to help me avoid ordering another shitty margarita.

chili-large-logo

This place has electronic devices secured to all of it’s tables. While these things allow you to play games on them (I think you have to pay, although I’m not sure), I happened to notice that the device allows you to pay your bill as well. This is probably a good thing for a place like Chili’s, since their service is almost as lacking as their boring menu. In fact, I read an article recently that focused on Chili’s and other similar establishments using tablet computers to essentially replace the wait staff. I’m sure this is in an effort to streamline their operation, but it won’t be long before a Cylon is mixing your watered down six-ounce margarita and spilling it in your lap instead of a pregnant seventeen year old. At least the margaritas are 2-for-1.

It’s not like I’m saying I hate these places (well, except for Denny’s and OCB), but I only end up at any of the above mentioned when I’m out with my suburban living family members. It won’t be long before at least one of these chains end up going the way of other failures like Don Pablo’s, Bennigan’s, and Ground Round. And when was the last time you saw one of those?

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Double Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies – Resistance is Futile

Double Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

What do you do when you have a craving, but can’t find a decent recipe to satisfy it? You make one up, cross your fingers, and hope for the best.

Thankfully, last night it did not result in disaster.

I’ve watched enough Good Eats and America’s Test Kitchen to get a fairly decent working knowledge of food science. I am by no means an expert, but I can hold my own.

Last night, I had a PB/Choco craving. These two are a perfect union. Anyone who says they don’t like peanut butter and chocolate together is either lying, or they’re a Cylon. I had some chocolate chips, some Reese’s PB Chips… and while I first considered just eating handfuls of both straight from the bags, I decided to give creativity a go. I must admit, I wanted to add either melted chocolate or cocoa powder into the cookie dough as well, but I figured the more I invite to the party, the less of a chance this will turn out edible. These turned out equivalent to a gravy so good you’ve licked your plate.

I’ve specified Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Chocolate Chips because not only are they my favorite, but you need something darker to cut through the sweetness of the cookie dough and PB chips (plus, the way this chocolate melts is amazing). I guarantee no amazing-ness should you stray from my directions. Spend the few extra pennies for the good chocolate. This recipe made about 16 cookies.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup sugar

1/3 cup creamy peanut butter (I used Skippy)

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 & 1/4 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon table salt

1/2 cup Reese’s Peanut Butter Chips

1/2 cup Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Chocolate Chips

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment beat the butter, sugars, and peanut butter until creamy and “fluffy-ish” (I say fluffy-ish, because the peanut butter is really dense, and it’s not going to look quite like things normally would when you’re just creaming butter and sugar together).
  • Add the egg and vanilla and mix until fully incorporated. (It should look much more fluffy now)
  • In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.
  • Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and stir until blended.
  • Add the PB chips and the Chocolate chips. Stir until combined.
  • Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • Drop cookies about two inches apart in rounded spoonfuls, about two tablespoons each.
  • Put the baking sheet with cookie dough on it into the freezer for 5-10 minutes (I know this might seem strange, but the dough is really soft. By doing this, it helps the cookies not overspread, which means you won’t have overdone edges before the center is baked).
  • Remove the baking sheet from the freezer and bake one sheet at a time, about 14 minutes, or until edges are light golden. Don’t forget to rotate the baking sheet halfway through to ensure your cookies bake evenly. Do not over-bake. This is a common mistake most people make.
  • Cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes, then move to a cooling rack to cool completely.

The Customer is (almost) Always a Frittata

This is completely out of character for me, as I am a fairly non-confrontational person.

Today, I couldn’t handle it.

I went into Target this morning to pick up a couple necessities. Due to the rain it was a ghost town, which was awesome cause I’m thinking, “I’ll be able to get in and out of here in no time!” Shopping in an empty Target is equivalent to running up and down my own private beach on a tropical island.

But no.

I get in line behind a woman who is clearly at the point of paying for her merchandise, and start putting my few selections on the belt. As I’m unloading my basket, I overhear the woman arguing with the cashier in front of me,

Cashier: “Yeah, but these are the same coupon. You can’t use both of them.”

Woman: “Yes I can, I’ve done it before. Sometimes they have to get a manager to do it though.” (For those of you who have never worked in retail, this is customer speak for, “I know I’m wrong, but I’m gonna keep bitching until somebody caves, and I get my way.”)

Cashier: “Well… yes, you can use more than one coupon, but not the same one for the same thing.”

Woman: “I don’t understand. I’ve used them before when I’ve bought laundry detergent and paper towels…” she proceeds to tell the cashier how to do her job.

Cashier: “Yes, I understand that. But, these coupons are for five dollars off thirty dollars of women’s clothing. If you want to use the other coupon, you would need to purchase an additional $30 worth of clothing.”

I finish unloading my items and look up, unsure of whether the woman is just stupid or trying REALLY hard to save five more dollars.

Oh, GOOD GRIEF! I recognize the lady. She is this B of a soccer mom who regularly pulled this same shit on me and my cashiers when I was working at Sears. Nothing infuriates me more than when a customer gives an entry-level employee a hard time, especially when the customer is so obviously wrong. I can’t count the number of regular assholes that would come into my store and act like complete shit-shows for no apparent reason.

Woman: “But I have two coupons, so I want to use both of them.”

Cashier: “But this is a web coupon, you can only use it for five dollars off thirty dollars of clothing. You would need to purchase another thirty dollars of clothing to use the second five dollar off coupon. Basically, if you want to use both, you need to purchase sixty dollars worth of clothing.”

At this point, I’m still not sure if she truly doesn’t get it, or if she’s just continuing to fight because she’s already balls deep in this battle. This continues between the two of them for another two or three minutes. In the meantime, the cashier has requested the presence of a manager who has yet to arrive…. and I can’t take it anymore…

Me: “If you really believe you should be able to use both of those coupons, why didn’t you print six of them? Then you could use all six and everything would be free.”

I see, for a brief moment, the lightbulb go on in her head… although I’m not sure if it was because she realized the flaw in her logic, or if she was pissed that she didn’t print six coupons. She gives me her best “stink-eye” and says,

“Well, I guess we’ll just see what the manager says,” in the snottiest, snobbiest voice she can muster. Her frustration is mounting, and I’ve clearly provoked her. I pray, and pray, and cross my fingers, hoping the manager will stick it to her.

The manager arrives. She does not appear much more intelligent than the idiot customer. The cashier and manager go back and forth discussing the situation, all while the woman interjects her worthless concerns. As per usual, the manager caves and gives her another five dollars off as a “shut-up” credit. What happens next is the kicker…

She gives me this smug look that says, “I told you so!” and THEN SHE WINKS AT ME! As if to say, “I win!”

It took every ounce of will power I had to not put my clenched fist straight into her throat. Clearly she doesn’t realize I’m capable of pulling off a homicide.

Watch out, you B. I'm coming for you.

Watch out, you B. I’m coming for you.

The B pushes her cart away, as I fantasize about tackling her to the ground, or following her outside and making a different use of the eggs I was purchasing. Instead, I look at the poor cashier and say,

“She owes me five bucks for wasting my time.”

So glad I will never have to deal with this retail bull-shit again.

Happy Humpday… WITHOUT a dryer fire, but potentially with mom jeans

Being it’s Wednesday, I have my weekly date-night/happy hour with “she who shall not be named.” (I’ve been having difficulty coming up with a character name for her that fits as well as Wizard of Oz characters did for my sisters. Any suggestions of high-maintenance, judgemental, bossy females would be appreciated. I’ve considered calling her “The Earl of Sandwich,” as she may become as historic a gambler as he (I have watched her eat at a slot machine before), but I don’t think she’ll want me referring to her as such, as I know she reads this blog).

I had these grand plans of getting up this morning and getting shit done. Shower, vacuum, a few other chores, and intended on posting last night’s dinner recipe (oh boy, is it a good one).

But once I was motivated to get moving (gotta hook the coffee drip up to my veins early so I can meet my caffeine overdose commitment by 10:00 am), I realized I had never moved my laundry from the washer (which had most of my jeans in it, including the pair I intended on wearing today) to the dryer the night before (probably because we all know how I feel about the basement after dark).

So I make my way down the stairs, thinking “I can blog while I wait for this to dry. Just gotta re-prioritize the list of tasks.”

Upon starting the dryer, it makes a “noise.”

I know you’re thinking, “Of course it makes a noise, you frittata. It’s an appliance. WTF?”

But no.

It sounded like I had added a bunch of rock salt or pennies into the thing.

I panic and stop the dryer.

Um. Ok. No pennies. No rock salt. Should I try starting it again? I mean, I really want to wear one of these pairs of jeans. My only other option would be the one pair of “mom” jeans I own, and I certainly can’t wear those tonight.

I start the dryer again. Same noise. I proceed to stand there for a moment and listen. I consider the possibility (because I ALWAYS assume the worst) that if I don’t stick around for a few minutes and make sure things are proceeding normally, the house will burn down due to a dryer fire, and I only have one carrier for two cats, and how am I going to get the animals out of the house and keep them safe? Seriously, this is the shit that goes through my head.

This is my dryer. Yes, it has a gigantic lint pile on top of it. Yes, I realize this would assist in the quick progression of a dryer fire. No, I don't know why neither myself nor my husband have addressed this situation (he says he's going to mold it into a lint bunny rabbit someday).

This is my dryer. Yes, it has a gigantic lint pile on top of it. Yes, I realize this would assist in the quick progression of a dryer fire. No, I don’t know why neither myself nor my husband have addressed this situation (he says he’s going to mold it into a lint bunny rabbit someday).

Then I hear it.

Something different.

What the f*** was that?

A strange “popping” sound comes from across the other end of the basement, in the direction of the Detective Stabler Room (this concept is explained in a previous post).

OH. MY. GOD.

Dilemma. Dryer fire or white walkers? Which would you choose? Because in my head, at that moment, those were the only two timelines my mind was willing to explore… because there’s obviously something wrong with me.

Just as in a nightmare, I freeze, paralyzed by the insane shit my brain conjures up.

And after about six seconds, the dryer is sounding slightly more normal, which is enough convincing for me to BOLT up the stairs without looking back. Not sure how I’m gonna get my laundry once it’s dry.

To top it off, the local media is doing nothing today other than covering the American Idol auditions taking place a few miles from where I live. Clearly, they don’t screen any of the folks they choose to sing on the morning news. I should have been in the shower and avoided this, but alas I am blogging and hearing the Twin Cities’ finest renditions of whale songs. I can’t believe Idol is still a thing.

So, Hermione (this seems like a better choice than Earl of Sandwich), if I show up wearing my mom jeans tonight, you’ll know why.

How to Successfully Pull Off a Homicide

Like most human beings, I am a creature of habit. We all have routines we follow, and wake up each morning with a certain expectation of how each day will progress.

Except I bring this to an entirely new level.

I am ridiculously methodical about how I plan even the simplest of tasks. Take a trip to the grocery store, for example:

  • Make a list of what I intend to purchase.
Thai Peanut Pork is on the menu tonight.

Thai Peanut Pork is on the menu tonight.

  • Re-write the list in order of my regular path through the store, ensuring there will be no double backing due to a produce item being at the end of the list.
How did donuts end up on the list?

How did donuts end up on here?

  • Plan to leave the house sometime between 9:00 am and noon. Outside of this window I have to compete with morning rush hour traffic and soccer moms who have either just dropped their kids off at school or are running their errands before picking their kids up from school. There’s also the potential for a long line of “Lottery Ticket Ladies”, “Money Order Monsters” (seriously, why don’t you have a checking account?), or “Rug Doctor Renters” at the Service Center. All I want to do is buy a pack of cigarettes before I do my shopping so I don’t have to make a second stop at the gas station and be heckled for money by the riff-raff of St. Paul’s North End. While I realize this time window puts me at the mercy of elderly shoppers who block entire aisles with their carts and don’t hear you saying “excuse me” eight times in a progressively louder and more irritated tone… I have to pick my battles. I’d rather deal with that than being run over in aisle 12 by a soccer mom pushing her cart full speed because she’s already late to pick up the kids and doesn’t have my impeccable planning skills.
  • Make minor adjustments to the previous step if it’s summer and school is not in session. This usually results in an early grocery run to avoid the addition of kids bee-bopping around the store and J-walking across Rice Street.
  • Check to make sure the blow dryer and/or hair straightener are unplugged.
  • Check to make sure the cats have water (I mean, what if I’m in a car accident and no one is home for a few hours?)
  • Check to make sure lights/TV/etc. are off.
  • Check the blow dryer/hair straightener situation a second and potentially third time.
  • Do I have everything I need? (looks in purse, says to self, “phone, smokes, lighter, wallet, keys”).
  • Check the blow dryer again.
  • Leave the house. Make sure no cats are near the door (I have this strange fear of slamming one of their tails in the door).
  • Give the door knob a jiggle and push against the back door to ensure it’s locked.
  • Get in the car, only to immediately get out and check the back door again.
  • Arrive at the grocery store. Fuck. All three of my “usual” spots are occupied by other vehicles. I park one row closer to the store than typical.
  • Enter grocery store to discover THEY’RE MOVING EVERYTHING AROUND AND MY “PERFECTLY PLANNED – NO DOUBLE BACKING” LIST IS WORTHLESS!
  • Consider laying down on the floor and dying, but know that someone has to feed your husband, and muster up the courage press on.
  • Manage to find everything you need in the store without incident.
  • Upon exiting, experience a short panic attack when you do not immediately see your car, silently curse about the punk kids that stole your car, then remember that some bastards parked in your spaces, forcing you to adapt to the circumstances.
  • Arrive home and meticulously put groceries away according to temperature (frozen, refrigerated, pantry… in that order).

Can you imagine what I was like when I was planning a wedding?

In conclusion, don’t cross me. If I can spend this inordinate amount of time planning and adapting for a simple grocery store trip, imagine what I could do if I didn’t like you?

Worm Hat, Denim Chicken

Being yesterday was Father’s Day, Neil and I ventured out to visit both sets of parents.

You never know what to expect with my family. It’s so dysfunctional, conversations can turn on a dime.

During dinner last night, the Tin Man (going forward, to avoid actual names and potential embarrassment, my sisters will be known as The Scarecrow, The Tin Man, and The Cowardly Lion) mentions a discovery she made shortly after arriving back in the States..

Me: “The Dentist-Waiter?”

My mom: “Stop. Just stop. Don’t ask. Don’t get him going.”

Tin Man: “Yeah, I found his notes.”

Me: “What do you mean, notes?

Tin Man: “Well, they weren’t exactly full sentences, but I was able to get the idea.” I imagine the Scarecrow and Tin Man snooping around and discovering something like this:

Charlie Kelly's Dream Book from "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia."

Charlie Kelly’s Dream Book from “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.”

My mom: “Oh my god. Just stop. You don’t want to ask questions.”

Me: “So you’re telling me dad wrote a play called, The Dentist-Waiter?”

My dad finally decides to interject (keep in mind he’s about 8 beers in, as per usual).

Dad: “Have you ever watched Seinfeld?”

I think to myself, “No. Don’t you remember when you put me in cryostasis for all of the 1990’s?”

Me: “Of course I know Seinfeld. Situational comedy. I get it. Did you start watching Curb Your Enthusiasm reruns or something?”

Dad: “No. You know… you always have an appointment when you go to the dentist, but have to wait. It’s like being in a restaurant and having reservations, but you don’t get seated until 20 minutes after the time your reservation was for.”

He then proceeds to quote “one-liners” from his “play,” and describes the receptionist’s dissatisfaction with the unruly patients.

Me: “So the dentist and the waiter are two different people?”

Neil: “Yeah, there was an implied hyphen in there.”

Me: “Exactly, the title gave me the impression this was going to be about a dentist down on his luck who was forced to moonlight as a waiter in the evening to make ends meet.”

Dad: “No, no no…”

Mom: “I told you not to ask.”

Me: “Who’s starring as the lead role? Leonardo DiCaprio?” It’s a known fact that my dad has an unhealthy obsession with Leo. If Titanic, Catch Me If You Can, or Blood Diamond are on TV, you can bet that’s where he’s changed the channel.

Dad (a bit sheepishly): “Maybe.”

Me: “What if he’s not available?”

Dad: “Tom Hanks.”

Neil: “What about Martin Short as The Dentist Waiter”

Me: “Or Danny DeVito?”

Laughter ensues.

We then proceed to discuss the lack of activity my dad’s Facebook account which the Tin Man created a couple years ago on his behalf. At the time, this infuriated my father, who has no idea how technology works and refuses to learn. When he discovered what the Tin Man had done, he threatened to throw her laptop into the bathtub, assuming that if he were able to destroy it, his “SpaceBook***” account would be gone forever.

I hope someday I get to see an episode of The Dentist Waiter.

***SpaceBook: What my dad thinks Facebook is called.

I’ve Made a Huge Mistake

I was warned that there would be “good days” and “bad days.” I thought to myself, “How is not working going to ever result in a bad day?” When I was employed, I LIVED for my days off. I always had grand plans of what I would do on those special days in which I didn’t have to pass out meds to the inmates, or babysit their illegitimate children (managers = inmates, children = their incompetent employees). Ultimately, I would end up spending most of the morning on Annaswasteoftimemachine, make a trip to the grocery store, maybe do some laundry, and consider cooking dinner. Fucking exciting.

Except it was fucking exciting when I was working… because all that mattered was that I WAS NOT AT THE ASYLUM.

Well, it does get boring. Free-time is great… but when all you have is free-time, it starts to lose its appeal.

I very recently had the benefit of spending some time with a friend who is in a similar situation. While his circumstances are significantly more complicated than my own, it was refreshing to chat with someone who understands the emotional part of being jobless. After hearing everything he’s has been coping with (unemployed, marriage is on the rocks, toddler to raise, finances a mess, not to mention the anxiety and bouts of depression), it made me think that I should be able to cope much better.

But I’m not.

Yes, I’m unemployed… and while my anxiety isn’t quite like this:

anxiety amy

it definitely fluctuates between this:

tired_george_michael_arrested_development

and this:

Buster

 

I think I’ve decided that what I’m truly worried about is this:

Gob's mistake

Hank's mistake

Theon's mistake

I’ve been given the opportunity to make a career change without any real consequences. I should be thrilled that I can finally do whatever I want and fulfill the saying, “If you do something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life!”

Except when presented with this challenge, the pressure mounts. I don’t want to make the wrong decision.  Most people are never afforded the chance to make the changes that I am about to. What if I screw this up? What if I choose the wrong career and hate it? What if I disappoint the people I love?

I’m truly afraid of failure. I’m afraid of hearing, “Ya blew it.” I know that even if I choose the wrong path and find myself starting over again, it will not be detrimental; no one will die and life will go on. We won’t lose the house, we won’t be financially unstable, my husband won’t divorce me… I just don’t want to FUCK THIS UP! Does that make sense? I feel like I need to navigate these waters perfectly, but I just picture myself as Ralph Wiggum doggie paddling in a kiddie pool only six inches deep with water… as if I’m going to drown in that. Then I start thinking about actually screwing it up and I get like this:

Sheldon's anxiety

Pretty sure this is how I’m going to feel during tonight’s Game of Thrones finale as well.

How do I get past my anxieties and just do this? Why do I feel like I need to be such a perfectionist about everything? I just wish I could have more of a honey badger attitude about it, but that’s just not me. Any advice you folks have to offer would be appreciated.

Caillou – Contributing to North American suicide one episode at a time

I left the TV on when I got in the shower yesterday morning. As I’m getting dressed and drying my hair, I overhear this incessant whining coming from the television. One of the cats must have stepped on the remote and changed the channel while I was getting clean; it’s not often I find myself watching PBS.

I emerged from the bathroom to investigate the sounds coming from the living room, and to my horror…

181924_167262273326775_5704398_n

Before my nephew was born, I didn’t even know Caillou existed. I just always assumed Nickleback would be the most loathable product to come out of Canada.

I was wrong.

Oh, I know there are some folks who will argue with me on this one. There is plenty of toddler programming that makes me want to dunk my fingers in my coffee and stick them into an electrical socket. Care to know what it’s like to trip acid on Sesame Street? Go watch Yo Gabba Gabba. Ever wonder what prompts an individual to drive their car off a cliff? You try getting through an entire episode of Teletubbies.

Somebody needs to find an explanation as to why Dora the Explorer is a fluent bi-lingual five-year old, yet she still needs help figuring out which shape is a rectangle.

But Caillou is the only television show that has ever had me considering the purchase of a firearm.

The theme song. I can’t help it. The tune is catchy, regardless of how awful it is. I’ve even caught co-workers with kids humming the annoying melody at times. It gets stuck in your head, and you can’t run from it. Depending on how long this lasts, you may consider checking yourself into an asylum. In addition, the stupid lyrics are something that could only have been created by a group of college kids taking bong hits while eating frosting out of a can.

Let’s not forget his pitifully neglected little sister.

But the whining. The constant whining! I can’t believe parents even let their kids watch this show! I feel as though the message being sent is, if you throw enough tantrums, whine and cry, and give up on life’s simplest tasks, you get by. I once caught an episode in which Caillou loses his shit because his friends aren’t making pizzas the way he wants them made. In another, he attempts learning to play catch with a baseball and a glove. Of course, he misses the first toss and proceeds to contemplate suicide. I bet his parents consider the same when recalling the night the condom broke.

Every episode he says he’s going to “try” or “practice.” But he never actually tries anything. He just pouts and whines until his parents get involved, give him what he wants, and then he’s all happy. There’s usually a lesson at the end of the episode, but it’s overshadowed by everything else going on.

I can’t keep going. I’ve spent way too much time thinking about Caillou already this morning, and now the damn theme song is in my head. “He’s just a kid who’s four, each day he grows some more…”

Excuse me while I take the blow dryer into the bathtub with me…

Late Night Leaky Head

Remember Malcolm in the Middle?

Oh, come on.

You know, that show Bryan Cranston was on before he started cooking up his signature blue crystals?

Yeah, that’s the one.

Every time I have a night like last, it reminds me of this scene (watch the 18 second video. I’m going for impact here, folks):

I have long coveted this ability.

Some nights, sleep just does not come easy. Concerns, worries and anxiety float to the surface, like a hot lava lake bubbling away in the volcano’s cone.

But the volcano never explodes. It just festers, continually threatening the villages below. It never spills over, just presents a constant reminder that it’s here to torture me.

Thanks, volcano brain. Thanks for "brightening" my nights!

Thanks, volcano brain. Thanks for “brightening” my nights!

When I was still working, the worries were generally work related. “Gotta get orientation folders put together first thing in the morning,” or, “I forgot to look up The Dumpster’s vacation balance,” or maybe, “Better respond to The Cylon’s unemployment claim.”

I kept a pad of post-it notes on the night stand so when these things ran through my head, I could write them down. Then, I’d bring the post-its to work the following morning and address my sleepless concerns.

These days, the magma sputters and spits for different reasons.

No, I wasn’t thinking about the demons and White Walkers waiting for me In the Basement, In the Night.

I can’t even remember all of the crap running that ran through my mind. For the first hour of insomnia I dwelled the fact that I love cigarettes need to quit smoking.

Duh. I mean, I’m 31 years old, and have been smoking for almost 13 years. Every smoker knows they should quit. I know the money is costs me (seriously, I’ve done the calculations, and I’m so embarrassed that I won’t even put a dollar figure in this post). I know what it does to my body. I don’t need any more reminders. My volcano takes care of that, thanks.

Then I moved onto my health. After finding out two years ago that I’m BRCA2 positive, I’ve been doing all of the necessary screenings. MRI’s, mammograms, ultra sounds, biopsies, blah blah blah. Reason number 487 that I want to light up need to kick the tobacco. My family history combined with BRCA2+ statistics gives me a 70-80% chance of developing breast cancer in my life (the average woman has a 12% chance of developing the disease in their life time). Clearly I’ve already invited enough shit to this luau.

I’m not trying to elicit sympathy here… just trying to pry open the curtains a bit so you understand what goes on in my head.

These thoughts, this type of thinking, doesn’t go anywhere. Unlike tasks and details that can be addressed the following morning at work, these are issues I can’t just write down and deal with at dawn. And of course, thanks to the distractions provided by “Annaswasteoftimemachine,” I hardly dabble in these thoughts during normal waking hours.

Eventually, I got out of bed. Sometimes this works, other times it doesn’t. I grabbed a drink of water, went outside and had a smoke, in an effort to get my mind out of the infinite loop it was stuck in. If I have to get up, it’s because the volcano has transformed into a hamster. He (yeah, it’s a dude hamster I guess) keeps picking up speed until he loses his footing…

This is my brain once I've passed "volcano" stage.

This is my brain once I’ve passed “volcano” stage.

And when he falls off his wheel, I can finally get some sleep.

My conclusion? While I realize there are many folks who already have one, I propose the next step in human evolution be an “off-switch” for brains.

Buttermilk Biscuits

Warm and buttery, these flaky biscuits are great with sausage gravy for breakfast or a little jam for a quick afternoon snack.

I’ve been making biscuits and sausage gravy for years, long before I was married. My old roommate’s now husband used to request this now and again when he would stay at our place. It’s taken years for me to perfect this. I’d tried using different amounts of butter, adjusting how much baking powder I added, and even fiddled with oven temperatures and baking times. For some reason, the bottoms always came out tough.

Eventually, I turned to shortening. This is the one and only recipe in which I will use the product. The flavor of butter is much better, but unfortunately did not produce the soft biscuit bottom and tender crumb I was seeking on it’s own. After much trial and error, I think I’ve adjusted the butter to shortening ratio and quantities to my satisfaction. Here’s what you need (best part is most of this will already be in your pantry and fridge):

  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 8 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 & 1/2 teaspoons table salt
  • 8 tablespoons (one stick) very cold butter cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons very cold butter flavored shortening cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 2 cups buttermilk

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt

Add your butter cubes to the flour. Once I cut the cubes, I typically put the butter and shortening into the freezer for 10 minutes to make sure it’s well chilled. This is especially true on a warm day. The key to making your biscuits flaky and tender is to have the butter very cold when it hits the hot oven.

The butter and shortening should be cut up like this.

The butter and shortening should be cut up like this.

Cut the butter into the flour. I like to use the pastry blender pictured below. Before I had one, I found the best tool for this job is two hands. Just get in there with your fingers and rub the butter and flour together until it looks like wet sand. There will still be many pea sized butter pieces, but that’s ok.

Love this pastry blender.

Love this pastry blender.

This is what the mixture looks like once the butter is cut in.

This is what the mixture looks like once the butter is cut in.

Here you can see some pea sized butter pieces. That's good. That's where you want it.

Here you can see some pea sized butter pieces. That’s good. That’s where you want it. You can click on any of these photos for a larger view.

If the room is warm, or you used your hands, it would be a good idea to put this flour-butter mixture in the freezer for 5-10 minutes. You’d be surprised how quickly the heat from your hands can soften and melt your butter.

Next, make a well in the center of the bowl, and pour in the buttermilk. Stir until it JUST  combined. Do not overmix. You will be sorry.

Overmixing will result in a tougher biscuit.

Overmixing will result in a tougher biscuit.

Turn the dough out onto a well floured work surface, dust the top with flour, and knead 4 or 5 times to bring the dough together.

There's still some dry spots here, but it'll all work out with a couple quick kneadings.

There are still some dry spots here, but it’ll all work out with a quick kneading.

Once you bring the dough together (again, work it as little as possible), pat it out into a 1 inch thick round on your work surface. You may want to re-flour your work surface to ensure the biscuits don’t stick when cut.

You may want to re-flour your work surface once you knead. This stuff is sticky.

It doesn’t need to be a perfect circle. Just try to pat it out evenly.

Begin cutting rounds with a 2 inch biscuit cutter. Re-flour the biscuit cutter between each cut and place biscuits on a parchment lined baking sheet.

I neglected to re-flour my board, and a couple biscuits were sticking. They still turned out fine!

I neglected to re-flour my board, and a couple biscuits were sticking. They still turned out fine!

Line them up about 1/4 inch apart from eachother on the sheet like this.

Line them up about 1/4 inch apart from each other on the sheet like this.

Rework the scrap dough as little as possible, and pat into a 1 inch round again. Make cuts, and place remaining biscuits on the pan. Throw away remaining scrap dough. It will be too overworked if you try to make a third cut. Today I got 14 biscuits. Sometimes I get 16. It just depends on the day I guess.

Bake the biscuits in a 425 degree oven for 15-18 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through cooking time.

When the biscuits are GB&D (golden brown and delicious), transfer to a cooling rack and cool for 5 minutes.

Let them sit for 5 minutes so you don't burn your mouth.

Let them sit for 5 minutes so you don’t burn your mouth.

You can serve them once the 5 minutes are up, or cool them completely and store in a plastic container at room temperature for a couple days.

YUM!

YUM!