Rosemary & Sage Corn Muffins

For the sake of convenience I normally use Jiffy cornbread mix, but I don't think I've ever made cornbread or corn muffins without adding at least something. In this case, I added a handful of shredded cheddar cheese, about 1/2 tsp dried rosemary, and a pinch of dried sage. Just before dishing out the muffins I stirred in some leftover corn niblets.

I used 3 boxes of mix and made 2 dozen muffins. 6 of them became breakfast & lunch. The rest will be my healthy go-to snack food.

I intended to include sauteed peppers and onions, but in the end I decided against them. Last time I did that, the muffins spoiled quickly. I want these to stick around for a while, since I'm not sure how much cooking I'll be able to do until I get over the bug that's currently running rampant in my sinuses.

Potato Soup for the Soul

Tonight I made a rich, hearty potato soup. I'm pretty happy with the results, even if I didn't have my preferred chicken broth handy. And for the record, that's a slotted spoon you see there. This soup is so thick it barely seeps through the slots.

College Inn makes a great wine & herb flavored chicken broth. I prefer to add my own flavor to most things, but that broth was responsible for my favorite incarnation of potato soup back in July. This time I had only a pint of my usual low-sodium, low-fat chicken broth, so I used some dried sage and smoked paprika to punch up the flavor a bit. I started with a roux, which I normally don't do for potato soup. I thought the butter might add some richness that the chicken broth would've otherwise provided. I used 4 large sweet potatoes and about 5 small Russet potatoes, so the ratio was 2/3 in favor of sweet potatoes. They give the soup a buttery taste even when there's no butter in the recipe, and I like the golden color that the combination of potatoes creates.

To all of that I added some caramelized onions and sauteed carrots that were left over from Thursday. I also cubed a chicken breast that I'd pan-seared with cumin and paprika. In an effort to use up my potatoes before they have a chance to spoil, I also roasted a 13x9" pan of cubed Russet potatoes. I wound up putting a handful of the crispy potatoes in the bottom of the bowl when I ladled out my dinner. If I'd gone the vegetarian route, these roasted potatoes might provide the meaty texture I would miss.

I'm getting ahead of myself. I let the roux cook until it was dark brown, then slowly added the chicken broth. Once that was incorporated, I added my carrots, onions, & potatoes and filled the pot with filtered tap water. I brought it to a boil and then let it simmer for about 2 hours, stirring every once in a while. Toward the end of the cooking time I used my ladle to break up the big potato chunks to make the soup smoother and thicker.

I dropped a few bits of chicken on top of the roasted potatoes in my bowl before I ladled out my soup. Normally I'd drop some shredded cheddar and diced green onions on top before serving, but today I lacked those. I'm due to hit the grocery store tomorrow, so I'll stock up again.

Concerts and such

Daniel started it. He posted a list of all the shows he's attended, which got me to thinking. I've seen lots of local bands, but big names are pretty rare for me. I kept ticket stubs for most, but I'll go ahead and make a list of what I can remember. I'm sure I'm overlooking several shows.

Jerry Reed 1986?
This was my first concert ever. Grandpa Wilson got tickets, but for some reason he couldn't go. He gave the tickets to my mom, so I attended my first concert before I was in middle school. Mostly what I remember are the bleachers at Lake Mary High School because the concert was on the football field. In terms of music, the only songs I remember knowing at the time were "The Bird" and "East Bound and Down." I was excited to see the guy from Smokey and the Bandit.

They weren't famous yet. Aunt Joy dated the lead singer once upon a time, and I remember going to at least one show. They played at the UCF Arena sometime around 2002. I honestly only recognized Marty because of their music videos, but he remembered mom & grandma. He shook my hand and said, "Wow. Little Jimmy got big."

Def Leppard 1992
This is the first concert ticket I bought. I went with Teresa, one of my best friends from high school. I only know the year because Vivian Campbell was new to the band. They played all the classics and put on a great show. We were in the second row.

The Cure 1993?
I'll never forget this one. Robert Smith mumbled something. No one understood him, so we didn't respond to what was evidently a question. He said "That's why I don't talk to you," and spent the rest of the concert with his back to the audience. Teresa was quite upset by this.

Lollapalooza 1996
I worked as a security guard for a little while. It got me into the skyboxes for the 1996 World Cup, and it got me a 24-hour assignment at Lollapalooza. This is where I became a fan of Rage Against the Machine and Screaming Trees. Metallica headlined this tour, and I also got to see Soundgarden, Rancid, Violent Femmes, 311, Ben Folds Five, Soul Coughing, and Korn. I spent most of the day watching a gate with a great view of the main stage. I caught Korn (whom I knew only from the Street Fighter II soundtrack) on one of my breaks.

Lilith Fair 1998
Sarah McLachlan, Natalie Merchant, Bonnie Raitt, Queen Latifah, Meredith Brooks. I was madly in love with Sarah McLachlan back then. Had a thing for Natalie Merchant too. I know it was Teresa's idea to go to this show, but I can't remember who else was there. I do remember nearly getting heat stroke and eating an apple that Teresa gave me.

Stabbing Westward & Placebo 1999
I was very impressed by Stabbing Westward. They put on a great show. I wasn't a fan of Placebo, and their "Pure Morning" was on the radio too often at the time. I remember the opening band was Hoek, which only sticks in my head because it's the last name of Ren from Ren & Stimpy.

Percy Sledge
Sanford 1999?
I used to scan the Calendar section of the Orlando Sentinel for concerts and events. That's the only reason we knew about Percy Sledge coming to a tiny concert hall in Sanford. Mom, grandma, and I went. We got to hear all of his greatest hits plus some from other artists. He sang "Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay" and dedicated it to the memory of Otis Redding. After the concert, he came out into the lobby and spent a few hours talking to everyone. I have hugged a legend. My mind was blown. I never expected him to be so gracious.

Type O Negative & Coal Chamber
I can't remember the year, but I want to say 2000 or 2001. It was at the Hard Rock Orlando. I went with Stacie, Lori, and Charlie. We'd only known Stacie and Lori for a little while back then. The mosh pit at this show was where we first met Justice.

Neil Diamond 2002?
This one was at Megan's behest. I believe it was around her birthday, and she's a huge fan. I grew up listening to music from the 60's, so I knew all of the songs. I was definitely a fan by the time the show was over.

All I remember about this show was going with Charlie & Justice. I couldn't even tell you when or where it was.

I remember that the local ska/rap band Spitvalves opened for them. They put on a great show too. No idea what year that was.

Peter Murphy 2010
Apart from The Cure, you wouldn't know I was a goth kid by my concert history. Earlier this year I finally saw the legend that is Peter Murphy. That was a great show, though as time passes he looks more and more like Bill Nighy.

Wardrobe musings

Of late I find myself oddly fascinated by A-line skirts and dresses. I swear, girls get all the cool clothes. Sailor-stripe tops catch my eye, as do polka dots. I wonder if there's a culture shift involved, since I'm spotting old tin robots on TV more often. I've liked them for years, but they're popping up more often now. Ditto for 40's and 50's stylings.

I might be able to pull off 50's era biker stylings. I've got a couple of leather jackets, one of which is mildly appropriate. It's a little more Indiana Jones than Black Rebels Motorcycle Club. I'd really like to get a Rocketeer-style jacket. That's not 50's, but it's still a style I like. Also, that'd make one hell of a Halloween costume.

My budget hasn't included much disposable income in the past few months, so my usual thrift store wardrobe supplements haven't been coming in. I want to get back into the habit of raiding my favorite shops on off-days. Most of my favorite clothes have come from thrift stores. You can get some really unique items that way, plus I don't feel bad buying clothing that was made overseas if it's secondhand. At least that way my money goes into the local economy, instead of going toward a multi-national corporation.

Despite my normal preference, I'm looking for more long-sleeve shirts. Not sure why. I usually give in to our lovely Florida weather and rock the short sleeves. You'd think I'd want as little material as possible, now that I wear an undershirt, a back brace, and then another shirt over that. My wardrobe has a distinct lack of white shirts, in either the short- or long-sleeve variety. I've got two white shirts that are much too large but extremely comfortable. Apart from them, I have some old undershirts that have probably been with me since the end of high school. Also, I'd like to get another pair of suspenders.

I found a nice black corduroy jacket about a month ago. At $5 it was a great deal, and it fits me well. Now I just need the weather to cooperate. At work I sit in the coldest section of the building, so it wouldn't be ludicrous for me to wear a jacket. I already keep my oldest, roughest thrift store leather jacket (also a $5 find) draped over my chair. Unfortunately it smells a little funny after spending last summer in the trunk of my car.

Maybe I'm focusing on my wardrobe because my plans to become Cool Biker Guy were so thoroughly thwarted. I've had several setbacks over the past few years, but back surgery has been by far the most effective. I'm not supposed to ride a bicycle right now, let alone a motorcycle. It'll probably be another year and a half before I can even consider it. Maybe longer.

One thing I'm looking forward to is the new apartment with Andy. I think we'll co-habitate well. We're both looking forward to using the 3rd bedroom as a studio for I Am Nerd and for my occasional photo shoots. We're hashing out the living room décor, but so far Asian and retro seem to be winning. Think Blade Runner, but cleaner and with less rain. Also hopefully with fewer killer androids.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the Robo-Spine

On Sunday I went to see Scott Pilgrim vs. the World with Andy. He confirmed that it is indeed made of awesome. I, like everyone else, was undecided whether the casting of Michael Cera was perfect or entirely too predictable. Having seen the film now, I can't imagine anyone else in the role. He didn't go over the top awkward like in Superbad. He just fits. Also, the rest of the film is fantastic. Lots of little nerd-love moments and nods to classic video games. I was skeptical, but I highly recommend both the movie and the soundtrack. I've been listening to it since Sunday, and there are 5 stand-out tracks in an overall great album.

It's been about 2 weeks since I crashed into the bathroom counter. Seems like it was a long time ago, but my ribs still say otherwise. (heh) Apart from the nearly-faded bruises, I'm doing pretty well. I definitely feel it if I don't get enough sleep, which is all the more motivation for me to crash earlier. I was up until almost 10:00 last night, and with a 5:00 AM wake-up time that made for a rough day.

Gotta say I love the ridiculously early work schedule. I start at 6:30 and get out at 3:30, with plenty of time to pop by the grocery store and still beat the traffic home. It's a little weird taking lunch before 10:00, but it all works out. I wind up eating less because I'm still full from breakfast. I usually snack on something or force myself to eat a meal when I get home and quickly pop off to bed.

D-Day is fast approaching. Or M-Day, since we're talking about moving. Sept 18th is when Andy and I get the new apartment. Part of my brain says we'll brainstorm more ideas for the I Am Nerd show since we'll be around each other more often, but the pessimist in me wonders if we'll just run out of ideas and stuff to talk about.

Our best conversations (and in truth my best conversations with anyone) usually start with the sentence "Okay, I gotta go." Reach for the doorknob, and then the funny begins.

Back on the health front, I moved my follow-up appointment with the doc. I misplaced the X-ray prescription, and with the new schedule I needed to change the appointment time anyway. X-rays will be on the 18th, and then I see the doc on the 30th for a titanium robo-spine fusion progress report.

(no subject)

It's been a rough couple of days. I'm very glad to have returned to work, both because it gives me something to do (as opposed to camping in my apartment non-stop) and because I need to be earning paychecks again. Short-term disability insurance is a lifesaver, but I've been missing that extra 30% that usually represents my disposable income. Or, more responsibly, the money I can set aside for a rainy day. Usually the former.

Alas, the return to work hasn't been as smooth as I'd hoped it would be. I caught up pretty quickly on the changes that happened while I was gone, and being gone for 3 months gives you one heck of a fresh start. No stress, no burnout, etc. I just wish my spine, or more accurately my muscles, felt as fresh as my brain does. I get worn out halfway through the day, and it's been busy enough that I don't have much time to get up and change positions.

As a result, my back occasionally protests. I missed work on Thursday and Friday, and I'm not happy about that. I felt like I had to stay home, though. I woke up Thursday feeling like I'd been hit by a truck. It wasn't the same nerve pain as before the surgery, which is a blessing, but just getting out of bed was an ordeal. I felt like my legs were going to give out on me. That's been a passing feeling a few times, but it usually goes away once I move around and get my circulation going. It didn't go away, and the same goes for Friday -- at least until about mid-afternoon. Maybe I've been lacking sleep? I do my best to go to bed by 11pm, and getting up at 8:30 would seem to say I spend enough time unconscious.

I know I haven't done anything strenuous. I did have numbness in my left leg when I took out the garbage the other day, but it faded pretty quickly once I sat down. The garbage wasn't heavy. I've tried to make a point of taking it out when it's half full so I don't go over the 5lb lifting limit. I guess I did get a little careless when I was emptying the dishwasher. I had to lean in a bit to get one of the bowls from the lower rack. That's it, though, and I hate to think how delicate things must be if that's all it took. It's easier to believe it's from the stress of being upright and in one position so much at work. I feel like I should be doing some stretches to loosen things up, but that's a big no-no until the doctor says otherwise.

All things considered, I don't feel that bad. Compared to the pain before surgery, I'll happily take the occasional muscle soreness. I don't like feeling as if my legs are going to give out. That was what really prompted the surgery before. At least it hasn't really happened. I slipped once stepping out of the shower (and still have a nasty bruise to show for it), but that was the result of a sneeze, a slick bathtub, and very unfortunate timing.

Baked Rotini (alternate title: "What I had in my cupboard.")

I was feeling particularly lazy today, so instead of going to the grocery store I decided to raid my cupboard and see what I could make. This dish lacks meat, though it does have three kinds of cheese. I've got a few chicken breasts defrosting that I'll cook tomorrow, so the plan is for the chicken and this pasta to last through most of the week.

Baked Rotini

2 lbs rotini (2 boxes)
1 large sweet onion, diced
1 large green bell pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
~1.5 lbs shredded mozzarella
~8 oz parmesan
~8 oz smoked provolone slices, halved
16 oz vegetable stock
16 oz canned tomato paste
16 oz canned roasted tomatoes
8 oz canned tomato sauce
dried oregano
dried basil
dried sage
corn starch

I began by getting a very large pot of salted water on high heat. When cooking 2 lbs of pasta you need a lot of space.

Next I put the diced onions and peppers in a medium sauce pot over medium-high heat. Sautéed for 5-7 minutes until softened. I added the minced garlic and sautéed for another 3-4 minutes. Next I added the vegetable stock, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and roasted tomatoes. I also added all of my spices and a handful of parmesan cheese. I stirred to combine all of the ingredients, and then I added about 3 tsp of corn starch. Since this is a baked pasta, I wanted the sauce to be thick and stick to the pasta. I simmered the resulting sauce over medium heat, stirring occasionally.

Once the water boiled, I added my rotini and cooked it according to package instructions. It took 9 minutes for al dente, which is essential if you're going to cook the pasta further in the oven.

I strained the pasta and poured it all into my sauce pot to combine with the tomato sauce. After stirring the pasta & sauce together, I poured everything into two casserole dishes. (I have one 13"x9" and one 8"x8".)

Here's the fun part. I began by sprinkling half of the parmesan over the pasta. Then I layered on the slices of smoked provolone. I had just enough to completely cover both dishes. On top of that, I piled on all of my mozzarella cheese and the remainder of the parmesan. I baked both dishes side by side at 425 degrees for 12 minutes, until the cheese browned on top.

Upstairs Rhinoceros and the Sexual Olympics

Man, I'll be glad to leave this apartment. I like Springs Colony a lot, and I'll be getting another apartment in the same complex when Andy and I get a 3-bedroom in mid-September. The problem with this unit in particular is the couple upstairs. I've now seen the female, and she seems normal enough. The guy must be huge. I've come to refer to him as Upstairs Rhinoceros. I'm assuming the pickup truck out in the parking lot rocking the AntiBabe sticker belongs to them.

For anyone not local, the AntiBabes are a local fetish/performance art group. I know & like many of the girls involved, but I won't go to their shows after a bad experience I had at the Haven years ago. I was minding my own business, talking to my friends around our table, and one of the AntiBabes bent a dude over the table behind me. She hit me in the face with her cheerleader pom-pom flogger on the backswing. She missed major eye damage by about half an inch, and she couldn't understand why I was upset.

Aaaanyway, judging by the moans, the clinking of chains, and the obvious Sexual Olympics that rattle my ceiling and make the fire sprinklers dance, I'm gonna guess that the kinky couple are at least fans of the AntiBabes. I wouldn't complain if the roof-crashing happened at reasonable times. I was vastly amused by the sexual escapades overhead while I prepared & ate my dinner one otherwise-quiet Sunday. I object when it starts at midnight and lasts for several hours.

I really object when laundry runs from 11pm to 2am. They've done that more than once. Their washing machine is as poorly balanced as mine, so it makes all kinds of noise. And of course it's right above my bedroom. Never mind the fact that I hear every loud, stompy footstep and their ridiculously loud drawers. When I had a dresser, it was safe to say that I spent less than 60 seconds opening and then closing any given drawer. Figure one each for socks, underpants, pants, and maybe a t-shirt if it wasn't hung in the closet. We're looking at four minutes, maybe five. What the heck - let's say I'm really indecisive, and I spend 10 minutes poring over my options. That's relatively reasonable. The couple upstairs spend hours (really, hours!) opening and closing drawers that sound like they belong in the Addams Family mansion.

The countdown is on. Andy and I will get the new apartment on September 18th. Until then I've got to endure Upstairs Rhinoceros and the Sexual Olympics.

Potato Soup w/ Chicken, Kielbasa & Cheddar

Tonight I wanted to make something cheap, filling, and soothing. Mike & Tim are still in town, and they've both had a pretty rough weekend. I used 2.5 lbs of potatoes, a leftover chicken breast, 1 lb of kielbasa, and a bunch of diced peppers & onions (about 1 green bell pepper, 1 red bell pepper, 2 sweet yellow onions.)