“When anybody asks, 'What are you writing about now?' if I try to reply, the book-in-the-works sounds so idiotic to me that I think, 'Why am I trying to write that puerile junk?' So now I give up; if I could talk about it, I wouldn't have to write it."
- Madeleine L'Engle, A Circle of Quiet


Sherry Burgers

Monday, January 30, 2012

When My Geek was away on business last summer, I took the opportunity to do a little experimenting with cooking.  There were a couple of things that made it into our regular repertoire of dinners after he got back home.

One night I was looking around the kitchen and found that I had a bottle of sherry I had bought to make French Onion Soup a while back.  I knew I would never drink it, so I thought I'd find another use for it in cooking.

I honestly don't remember how the idea of using it with ground beef occurred to me, but it turned out to be really tasty.  This recipe makes a burger that is nice and tender and full of flavor, and the sauce you get from the reduction of sherry used to deglaze the pan is just delicious.  It sounds like it uses a lot of sherry, but it cooks down, leaving no alcohol.

A couple of notes:

1) Since the time that I first made this, we started on the South Beach Diet, so now I make it without the brown sugar.  I like it a little better with the sugar, but it is quite tasty even without it.

2) This recipe is for one burger.  Just multiply by however many burgers you want.

3) The amounts of the ingredients are really just approximations as I rarely ever actually measure anything when I'm cooking, so keep that in mind and adjust to your taste. 

4) This is great with asparagus, but other veggies will do as well.  Green beans (fresh or frozen) are quite tasty with this burger.

Ingredients (per burger)
1/3 lb ground beef (I use 86% lean.  I know.  I'm evil.)
scant 1 Tbsp plus about 1/2 cup cream sherry (will be less than this per burger if you're making more than one at a time)
dash of cayenne
dash of Cajun spice mix  (this is the only pre-mixed spice I always keep in my pantry)
1/2 Tbsp brown sugar (optional)
2 slices bacon cut in half (4 half-slices)
1/4 small onion thinly sliced
shredded gruyere cheese (amount to your taste)
asparagus (as many pieces as you want)
olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 avocado, sliced (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Mix beef, scant 1 Tbsp sherry, cayenne, Cajun spice, and brown sugar together until well incorporated.  Form into a patty(s).  Sprinkle both sides of each burger with kosher salt.  Set aside.

Arrange asparagus in baking dish, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.  Bake for about 15 minutes, until tender when poked with a fork, but not mushy.

Fry bacon in a pan over medium heat until just crispy.  Remove to plate covered in paper towel to drain.

Remove all but about 1 Tbsp of bacon grease.  (You may want a little more if you're making more than one burger.)  Add 2 Tbsp sherry into same pan to deglaze bits of browned bacon in pan.  Add sliced onion.  Simmer until onions are nicely caramelized, about 10 minutes.  If pan starts to dry out, add just enough more sherry to keep pan from getting dry.  Remove onions to separate dish and set aside.

Raise heat to high.  Place hamburger patty(s) in pan and cook for about 2-3 minutes, again adding a small amount of sherry to deglaze if the pan starts to dry out.  Flip burger.  Top with caramelized onions, bacon slices, and cheese.  Cover and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Remove to plate along with asparagus.  Cover to keep warm.  Add remaining sherry (about 2-3 Tbsp) to pan and simmer over medium heat until reduced to a syrupy glaze.  Drizzle over asparagus and burger.  Top burger with sliced avocado if desired.

Could be served on a bun if you like.  I ate mine without and it was quite tasty that way.

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A Tale of Two Tales – and One Bag – In Three Parts

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The first tale:

Once upon a time there was a girl named Geekwif who read too many blogs.  However, she was rarely disappointed in the reading of all those blogs and in fact, sometimes a gem would surface that benefited her in ways she could not have forseen.

One of the blogs she enjoyed reading was called U-handblog by Lisa Lam who lived in a land far away across the big pond.  While she loved to see all the photos Lisa posted of the lovely bags she made, she was in no way affiliated with U-handblog and in fact no one affiliated with it even knew who Geekwif was (nor do they to this very day).

Then one day, Lisa Lam completed a wonderful project which she called The Bag Making Bible and Geekwif was consumed with an unexplainable but desperate need to own this book.  So she rushed off to Amazon the market and purchased her copy without hesitation with very little hesitation (as Geekwif was a cheapskate and hardly ever made any purchase without at least some amount of hesitation).

The Bag Making Bible was a wonder to behold indeed, its photos beautiful, its pages sturdy.  She marveled at the practical instruction and advice it contained and ogled the pretty bags she could make.

But alas, it sat on her shelf for several long months before she ever did more than admire its pages.


The second tale:

In the summer of 2011, Geekwif's mother-in-law returned home after a vacation in Tennessee, and shared with Geekwif a photo of a Bible bag she had seen at a bookstore there.  How they oohed and aahed over the pretty bags.  They discussed how Geekwif could make bags like them, how she might modify them with pockets and trim, and how she could sell them on her Etsy shop.

But Geekwif saw something else that day.  She saw a twinkle in her mother-in-law's eye that said that she might like one of these bags for herself.  As Geekwif always had trouble with finding unique and thoughtful gifts that her recipients would love, she formed a plan in her mind to make one of these bags for her mother-in-law for Christmas.

But as she began to plan the design of the bag, she realized that she was missing some of the skills needed to make the bag of which she dreamed.  She imagined a nice square bottom, a pocket or partition large enough to hold a study bible, interfacing that would make it sturdy but not stiff, and when it came time to think of closures – well she had no ideas.

She measured and plotted and planned and while she knew she could make the bag, she also knew that it would not be all that it should be.


The coming together of the two tales:

As the Geekwif puzzled over her bag design, she was suddenly struck with the memory of a book purchased long ago – a book that might hold the answers to her questions.  She scoured her dusty bookshelf and was nearly distracted many times by books she had not used for a very long time; books on paper crafts, sewing and crocheting called to her, begging to be pulled off the shelf.  But she bravely pursued her goal until at long last she found the treasure she sought: The Bag Making Bible by Lisa Lam

The heavens may not have opened, nor the angels sung that night, but her sewing skills were greatly enhanced as she mined the book for the information she needed.  For that, indeed was – and is – the wonder of this book: that it not only contains patterns and detailed instructions for making beautiful bags in many shapes and sizes, but that it also gives instruction on particular skills that one might need whether making the author's patterns or one's own.

And in the end, after some modifications, Geekwif completed a beautiful bag that she was proud to give as a Christmas gift, with a big pocket for a study Bible, a small divided pocket for pens, remaining space for other trinkets so that it could serve as a purse as well as a Bible bag, a crisp square bottom, and a handy snap closure.

Unfortunately, Geekwif forgot to take completed photos of the bag, so this is the only photo she has of it, before its lining and pockets were inserted.

~~~~~~The End~~~~~~

The Bag Making Bible at Amazon

Lisa Lam's new book, A Bag for all Reasons can be pre-ordered at Amazon

Once again, Lisa Lam, her publishers, Amazon, and anyone else in any way associated with this book have no idea who I am.  I just really, really like the book.

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European Vacation – Germany – More Castles and The End

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

With just two days left of our vacation (the second of which was spent driving back to Amsterdam for our flight home), we spent one day visiting three different castles along the Castle Road.  The first was Castle Colmberg.

We walked around the grounds for a bit before finding the entrance.  This was not a problem as they were lovely and interesting.

I'm guessing the original door wasn't painted in a black and white chevron stripe, but then what do I know.

Like a lot of castles in the area, this one has been converted into a hotel and restaurant.

The view over the countryside and the adjacent town was beautiful.  You can see here that we were looking down from one wall to an outer wall.  There were actually several walls inside each other which very much interested my Geek since he's writing a fantasy novel in which that kind of detail is important.

You can read about medieval castles and even see them in movies, but seeing the real thing brings it all to life.  I could imagine the wheels turning in his head, visualizing men in armor, swords drawn defending their king's castle.

We went inside to see if they did tours, but the only public areas are the restaurant and hotel areas.  She let us go ahead and look around the restaurant since it was early enough that they were not serving yet.  It was set up for a wedding reception to be held later in the day, but with a little imagination you could picture men of ancient times sitting at large wooden tables enjoying a mug of ale after a battle.

Medieval weapons hung on the walls.  This sword in particular caught the Geek's eye.

Our next stop was Castle Steinsberg.  From this point of view you could almost imagine that you really were in the time when the castle was owned by Counts and served as an actual fortress.  Of course the illusion for us was a little tainted by the fact that we were standing in the middle of a blacktopped parking lot when snapping the photo.

The castle was surrounded by a vineyard.  Aren't those little baby grapes cute?  There were entire fields of them.  I've never seen such a thing though I suppose it's pretty commonplace there.  Okay and in California too, but I've never been there either.

The tower in the middle of the courtyard looked much taller than it does here.  I was curious about all the blackened stone – was there a fire? – but the signs were all in German and the staff only spoke German so there was no way to ask.
The Geek tried to figure out what the sign on this well said since he learned German in high school.  He got a few words, but we still weren't really sure.

This castle had also been converted into a hotel and restaurant.  It was lunch time, so we sat ourselves down in the windy courtyard and had a tasty lunch.  The waitress spoke as little English as we did German, but she was very nice and between the few words my Geek knows and pointing at things on the menu, we managed to order.

And if my face looks a little grimace-y in this photo, it's because a fly had just landed in my Chardonnay.  Seriously.  I am not joking.  It was not at all ironic, but it was a little annoying.

The vineyards.  Aren't they just lovely?

Castle Guttenberg was our last castle that day.  This one was closed for tours for the day by the time we got there, but the museum was still open so we got to spend some time there.

The grounds were very pretty.  This was a big castle with lots of walls and pathways and bridges and a gigantic square tower.

The theme at this castle seemed to be birds.  This was a stone bird on top of that ... uh ... cone-shaped roof thing.  Between us and that short round tower was an area full of big cages with birds in them, like some kind of bird zoo.  There was a guy on the other side of that bridge who seemed to be doing a show with the birds, but it was the last show for the day and I'm pretty sure it was in German anyway so we didn't watch.

The museum was a self-guided tour and took you through and up the big square tower.  This was apparently the kitchen.  I'd love to have a big stone hearth like that in my kitchen.

I think we were almost to the top of the tower here, looking down into the castle grounds.  Almost to the top, mind you.  It was a very, very tall tower.  And there was no elevator.  Can you imagine the stairs?  Can you?  Because I will never forget them.  I found out that day just how very out of shape I am.

There were a few rooms off to the sides as we climbed, but most of the landing areas inside the tower looked like this.  And those wood floors they did creak.  I was just sure that one of them was going to break under me and I would go plummeting down, smashing through each floor as I hit it, until I laid at the bottom of the tower while the entire thing came crashing down ... all because of me.

Okay, so it was a fleeting thought, but I did think it.

The Geek had to do a little time in the stocks before we left Guttenberg.

From here, we drove to Nuremberg where we had planned to see one more castle, but it was late and we were tired, and traffic was really ugly and we couldn't find our hotel and ... well, we finally did find it and the room was pretty cool, but I'll tell you, the people of Nuremberg know how to party and they did so until about 4 a.m. right outside our window.  Loudly.  Boisterously.  With great valor of force.

Oh yeah and there was the clock tower.  Did you know that Germany is really into clocks?  This was the second place we stayed where there was a clock tower right across the street from us that insisted on alerting us to the time every quarter hour all ... night ... long.  People who live there must get used to it otherwise no one would ever sleep, because just as you're starting to slip into sleep for the umpteenth time, the clock would start ding donging as if to say, "Wake up!  Wake up!  It's 3:15 a.m. and you need to know it!"

But despite clock towers and partiers, we had an absolutely wonderful vacation.  It's amazing how you can pack so much into 9 days and yet feel like there is so much more you would like to see.  I'd love to visit the Tuscan countryside and stay in an Italian villa, or see the fjords of Norway, or the castles and churches and libraries in England, but what we did see was quite satisfying and we are so happy to have had the chance to experience it all.

Thanks for coming on my little (little!!??) tour with me.  It was fun to go back and remember all that we did while we were there.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

There's not much to say about this photo.  I do believe the cuteness speaks for itself.

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The Geek Has A Blog!

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Have I mentioned that My Geek is a writer?  He started writing fantasy novels long before I ever thought seriously about writing.  He started doing NaNoWriMo with me back in 2005 and is currently working on a story about a young adventurer named Balfrith.

He started a new blog recently, called Chronicles of Aerde – Aerde being the name of the world he created.  He has a world map, has worked on languages and created multiple diverse cultures for this world.  (You can see part of the map as the background of his blog.)  Seriously cool stuff.

Please go visit him at and leave him a comment.  He's writing about his writing process and project and whether you are a writer or a reader it's sure to be a very interesting and enjoyable read!

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European Vacation – Bavaria – Castles Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein

Friday, January 06, 2012

After visiting Lichtenstein, we stayed in Bavaria and visited a pair of castles built near each other – Castles Hohenschwangau (hoe-en-shvan-gow) and Neuschwanstein (noy-schvan-stine).

The hotel where we stayed (that's our little black rental Beamer on the right) was nice, but a little weird.  The owner was also a dentist so the door behind the desk led to the dentist's office and the stairs led to the hotel rooms.  

And the decor was ... well ... odd.  Let's just say the Germans don't seem to have the hangups we Americans (some of us anyway – and I like my hangups thank you very much) have about nudity.  And also ... mirrors ... in strange places.  Yeah.  Weird.

The owner suggested that we go up and see the castles in the dark as they are apparently very romantic when they are all lit up at night.  But it was cold, and raining which made it feel even more cold, so we opted to have dinner and call it a night.  And can I just say that the Germans know something about pork that we in America simply do not know?  It was fantastic.  Not fatty and tough like it is here, but tender and juicy and ... yum.  And the bed of spaetzle it was served on ... double yum.  

And the apple fritters I had for dessert?  Oh good lord.  There is nothing like them.  Every apple fritter I've seen here in the US has looked something like this.  Bits of apple baked into a cinnamon-y dough and smothered with glaze, usually a little dry – not bad, but not great either.  But the fritters I had in Bavaria looked closer to this.  Full rings of apple deep fried in a heavenly, light dough, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar and served with vanilla ice cream, oh-dear-lord-I've-died-and-gone-to-heaven.

Sigh ...

Okay, enough about the food ... 

The next morning we drove up the mountain to the uber-touristy village where you could buy all things Castle Hohenschwangau or Neuschwanstein including tickets to tour them.  I may as well warn you right now – they, like most of the castles we saw, did not allow us to take photos inside the castles, so the only shots I have to show you are from outside.

Castle Hohenschwangau was restored in the 1800s by King Maximilian, after having been destroyed.  His son, King Ludwig, inherited it from his father when he became king.

The setting is just gorgeous – surrounded by mountains, a lake, the quaint village.  I had no idea how beautiful Bavaria was until we visited there.  It's really absolutely stunningly beautiful and I highly recommend vacationing there if you ever have the opportunity to do so.

Funny thing – I have never been much into garden art and statues, but this little guy (like the gnomes at Lichtenstein) just made me want to take him home and find a place in my own garden for him.

The "schwan" in Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein means "swan" and refers to an order of knights who used the swan as their symbol.  There are swans all over the castle (did you see them under the arms of the guy in the fountain statue above?), inside and out.  This one atop the castle is probably the most prominent one.

This is looking down on Hohenschwangau when we climbed up to Neuschwanstein which is situated higher up the mountain.  Is that not just one of the loveliest things you've ever seen?

When we first arrived that morning, the fog was quite heavy.  It gave even cheerful Neuschwanstein a kind of sinister appearance.

But the fog began to clear up eventually, though we still had to deal with drizzly rain.  And we still had no umbrellas, though you would think we would have learned our lesson after Versailles.  Fortunately, we were surrounded by a village where tourists could buy just about anything they might need or want – including a couple of umbrellas.

It was a very long trek up the mountain from Hohenschwangau to Neuschwanstein, so we chose the option of getting a ride half-way up and walking the rest of the way.  (My idea – the Geek was ready to walk the whole way, but I wanted to see the castle before my heart gave out on me.)

The day cleared up a bit and we got to see the castle from many different angles, all beautiful.  Castle Neuschwanstein, though built in the late 1800s, was actually modeled after an older style of castle.

It's hard to see in this photo, but under the arches are comical faces carved in stone.  This is the side of the castle you first see as you approach from the road coming up the mountain.

Here is a better view of the faces.  Apparently King Ludwig had a sense of humor.

I wish I could have taken photos of the interior of this castle.  It is truly amazing.  There are a few on the wikipedia page that will give you some idea of the grandness and extreme ornateness of the rooms inside.  It was designed as an homage to Wagner's operas, and King Ludwig did not hold back when decorating this castle.  Unfortunately, he only lived there for a few days before his untimely and mysterious death.  The castle, still unfinished, opened to tourists just weeks later.

Only a few more castles left to go.  Can you believe we did all this in just 9 days?

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