Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tech Hopes for 2009

Another 9 hours and we will have survived 2008. As the clock ticks down, here are a few of my tech hopes for 2009.

1. Microsoft gets their act together and releases an operating system for those of us with a clue. Unlike many of my friends I have not abandoned windows altogether, and I won't because I'm a gamer and windows is still the biggest computer platform for gaming. I am however avoiding Vista like the plague. I'm still using XP, and my plan is to stick with it until Microsoft comes out with a viable alternative. My wants are simple: I want a stable OS, which runs quietly in the background. I don't need flashy menus. I don't want my computer to warn me every time I run an executable file. And I certainly don't want the OS to be a resource hog. Rumors are that Microsoft is going to push out the next version of windows sooner rather than later. I'm not convinced that they're going to get it right this time though.

2. We want Wii! More awesome Wii games. More Wii balance board games. Nintendo was struggled with the N64 and the GameCube. They're making a raging comeback with the Wii, and I would love to see them keep up the good work.

3. Do you think maybe it's time to do something about the energy problems? I'm not saying this is an easy problem. I would bet though that there are some great green energy solutions just waiting to be discovered. Something that would let us drive our cars, heat and cool our homes, and run our computers without using up every bit of fossil fuel on our planet. We need to think green energy. We need to think renewable energy.

4. Long Live Geeks! Long Live Geeks! This one's all on me. I want to continue to build a web presence for Long Live Geeks :)

Happy New Years, everybody! :)

Monday, December 29, 2008

Top 5 Geek Moments of 2008

As the year winds down, here are my five most favorite geek moments from 2008. Please feel free to share some of your favorite geek moments in the comments!

5. Playing Hellgate: London. I usually play a lot of "nice girl" games. This is the first time in I don't know how long that I spent all my time with a gun in my virtual hand running around shooting things, and I had a blast! So much fun in fact that it inspired me to get Fallout 3, where I'm once again a tough chick with a gun.

4. Watching Quantum of Solace and realizing that I still know the Bond cliches. I am a huge Bond geek. When I was in grad school TBS did a two week event they called Cyber Bond. They showed the Bond movies on TV, two a night, while running an online trivia game. I can remember rushing through my homework (I was still taking classes at the time) so I would have time for Cyber Bond each night. I was pretty good too! I made it to the high score leader board a few times :) I was not a huge fan of Casino Royale. I did not find the Bond character to be very believable as a hopeless romantic. Quantum of Solace on the other hand was much more the Bond I know and love. I loved the movie for itself, and for all of the Bond cliches.

3. Gaming nights with my friends. Game nights this year were dominated by Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and Guitar Hero World Tour. Totally not a problem! All three are great party games. As I've posted before, I always have a lot of fun when I get together for a little video game jamming with my friends :)

2. Going to Dragon*Con for the first time. That was truly an experience I will never forget. Everything from the cosplayers, to the panels, to the dealer rooms, screamed "geek immersion". I got to go with my husband and my two bestest friends ever. I could not have asked for better companions. And Atlanta isn't that far from Pittsburgh, so there's a very real chance we can go back in 2009.

1. Launching Long Live Geeks! longlivegeeks.com was born on October 14, 2008. I added SiteMeter in November, and since then we have had 526 visitors and 896 page views. Long Live Geeks has given me some great moments to be geeky. It has sparked some wonderful discussions with my geek friends IRL. I am excited to continue the blog in 2009 and see what happens next :)

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Twelve Days of Christmas

I promise this is my last Christmas post of 2008 :)

Today is Boxing Day, the second day of Christmas. I need to find some turtle doves! If you don't get the reference, then clearly you have not been listening to enough Christmas music :)

The first place I ever heard of the Twelve Days of Christmas was in the Christmas Carol by that name. When I was younger, I speculated what the 12 days could possibly be. Of course I thought they ended with Christmas Day, after all that was the best day of the season. I was wrong however, Christmas Day is the first day of Christmas. The last day is January 6, the Epiphany.

Notable days during the Twelve Days of Christmas include the aforementioned Boxing Day, St. Stephen's Day, New Year's Eve, New Year's Day, and Twelfth Night. In the times of yore, Boxing Day was the day that food was boxed up and passed out to those less fortunate. Some countries also celebrated St. Stephen's Day on December 26. Others note it on December 27. St. Stephen's Day has also made its way into a Christmas Carol. Remember Good King Wencelas? What feast did he look out on again? :)

In modern times it seems as if only Christmas Day and New Year's have survived as celebrated holidays. Boxing day has turned into the day to get after Christmas bargains at the mall. If I mention Twelfth Night, most people assume I'm taking about the Shakespeare play. I think that's a little bit of a shame. Holidays are days to be savored. Instead Christmas day often feels like a day in which people must do as much as possible in a short amount of time, so we can all return to our normal lives as soon as life demands it of us.

If you have the time and the inkling to do so, take a few moments during the remaining twelve days to remember that we are still in a holiday season. Take the opportunity to do something that you just didn't have time for on Christmas Day. Spend some time geeking out with the new toys Santa brought you. Don't let life get a firm grasp on you until well into January, and then we can all say we've kept Christmas well :)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Things to do on the Longest Day of the Year

As far as I'm concerned, the summer solstice can't touch Christmas Eve when it comes to being the longest day of the year. After all, we're not sitting around in the middle of June waiting for Santa to come down our chimneys (or heating vents!) to deliver presents. We are not waiting for that magical moment on Christmas morning when all of us locally based Santas get to see the joy on the faces of our friends and family. So what's a geek to do? How about keeping busy with these videos, websites, and games!

My favorite source for Christmas videos online is this list of 101 classic Christmas videos. The list contains everything from classic Christmas cartoons, to Christmas episodes of a number of sitcoms, to Christmas music videos. I think I will watch the Seinfeld Festivus episode later today. If you can't find what you want there, try Hulu. They have 138 full episodes of TV shows which are tagged Christmas. If you missed A Muppets Christmas Special: Letters to Santa last week, Hulu's your chance to watch it.

If gaming is more your thing, check out Christmasville at Big Fish Games. Big Fish's claim to fame is that they release a new game each day. Some are winners, some are not so great. The thing I love about the site is that almost all games offer a 1 hour free trial. So for no money at all you can spend an hour helping private detective Arthur Knight search for Santa. If you do decide to buy the game, be sure to use their coupon code HOLIDAY2008 (good through 2008) for half off the price.

"The Night Before Christmas" is my favorite piece of short Christmas reading. I don't actually have a paper copy of the story. That's no problem at all though, as it is featured on a number of websites. I particularly like this one, as the ending has been preserved. In modern versions of the poem, the last line is often changed from "Happy Christmas to all..." to "Merry Christmas to all...". I like the original one best. This would also be a great time to read more about "The Night Before Christmas" on its Wikipedia page.

Don't forget to keep an eye on the big guy in the red coat on Norad Tracks Santa! As I type this, he is in Wulumunqi, China. It looks like it's going to be quite a while before he gets to my house! Don't forget to check out their "How We Track Santa" page.

As I leave you with these holiday offerings, I would like to wish everyone a very merry Christmas. May all of your Christmases be merry and bright, happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Monday, December 22, 2008

A little web surfing, if you please.

Apparently even in this time of economic cutbacks, more companies are going green with their technology. One of the main motivations is cutting energy costs. Increasing regulations also play a part.

I think it is very cool that green tech is still getting attention in the midst of all of the economic chaos. I suspect some people out there are thinking that companies should have done this a long time ago, before higher energy costs motivated them into it. I agree, however, I'm not at all unhappy to see money as a motivating factor. Money is probably the biggest motivation for any commercial business in this country. If anything is going to start a movement towards greener tech, that will be it. I think we're in a great position to have a motivation that all companies can get behind, before we run the planet into the ground.

Switching gears a little, you may remember from my previous post that searching for deals online is one of my favorite pastimes. I was pleased to see Lifehacker's recent Hive Five, the five best sites for finding deals online. The number one site, Slickdeals.net, is one I had heard of, but not visited regularly.

Slickdeals.net's main feature is its collection of current deals. The main page has a list of coupons and deals, both online and offline. The list is updated daily with new deals. Deals which have expired are marked as expired. Slickdeals also has forums, a blog, and several shopping tools.

I'm not sure Slickdeals is the best site for finding a deal on an item I need or want to buy right away. It would basically be random luck in terms of if there is a deal available for it or not, where as sites like Fatwallet offer more consistent deals. On the other hand, sometimes I want something and wait to buy it until I do find a great deal. My guess is that will be when Slickdeals comes in the most useful. I'll try it out sometime and find out! :)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Wii Wishlist: Winter 2008

Last Wednesday I blogged about how I evaluate Wii games which interest me. Today I'll share my Wii wishlist, along with a few notes about the fun I hope to have with these games.

Animal Crossing: City Folk is a game I've been waiting for ever since the Wii was announced. Metacritic gave it a 73, a pretty good score. The main criticism of the game seems to be that is is mostly a remake of the Game Cube version. That doesn't bother me at all. I was a fan of both that one and the DS Animal Crossings. What makes Animal Crossings so attractive? Well the main premise is that you live in a town and interact with the other townspeople, er, make that towns-animals. There are also opportunities to go fishing, dig for buried treasure, and harvest local fruit. What makes the game special though is that it exists in "real time". That is, the game uses the Wii's internal clock to determine if it is morning, afternoon, or night. Different things happen at different times of day. The game also changes over time. New animals come to the town. If you neglect the game for a few weeks, someone you've made friends with might get tired and leave. The Animal Crossings world is rich with detail, it takes many hours of gameplay to explore it fully. As you can imagine, the game is rather low key. I play a lot of intense games, spending time in Animal Crossings is a welcome change of pace.

Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon is the first Wii offering from Square Enix, the makers of the well known Final Fantasy series. (The first disk-based offering. Square Enix released the WiiWare game Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as King in May of 2008.) Metacritic gave Chocobo's Dungeon a respectible 77. While I admit to being a bit of a Final Fantasy junkie, I've had more fun with some of their games than others. After doing a bit of reading, I'm expecting this to be one of the more fun FF games. IGN describes the story as "a mix of intriguing concepts and eye-rolling ridiculousness". That sounds right up my alley! Game play is said to be a combination of strategy and traditional RPG style gaming, and to keep a player on her toes. That sounds good too. Graphics are described as retro. That won't bother me. Particularly if they did a cute job with it. I'm a sucker for cute graphics :)

Mario Kart Wii is the next game I hope to add to our party stash. Metacritic gave it an 82. I almost don't need to read anything else at this point. The Mario Kart series has been a lot of fun since the beginning. It got a good rating, which means there are no glaring problems with the game. I'd love to have it around so I can thrash my husband in go-kart races. (Princess power!)

DeBlob is a great example of the reviews making me want a game. I saw the box in the store and I couldn't really determine what to make of the game. Later when I noticed DeBlob has a score of 81 on Metacritic, I looked deeper into it. The main character is de Blob. His job is to roll through the city and crush any and all Leech Bots. The Leech Bots suck color out of the city. As de Blob crushes them, he absorbs the color, and uses it to paint the city. Reviews state that completing each level requires a mixture of strategy and action, which is how I like em. The controls are natural and highly responsive, another good thing. And the DeBlob has both a single player campaign and multiplayer modes. I'll have to get a hold of a copy of this one and try out some Leech squashing myself :)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Wii Games: the Choosing

Today's post is part of a 2 part series on choosing Wii games. Today I'm going to talk about how I pick games I think I would like. On Friday I'll share my Wii wish list.

Game reviews are a gamer's best friend when it comes to choosing games to buy. In the olden days before the Internet, I was a regular reader of GamePro magazine. In more recent times I've turned to Gamespot's reviews, and I enjoy watching X-Play when the opportunity presents itself. My very favorite site for video game reviews however is Metacritic.com. Metacritic earns my top prize by combining ratings from many other sources into a composite ratings score. I regularly visit Metacritic's Wii page and check out the ratings of recent Wii games.

Metacritic uses a 0-100 point ratings scale. Higher scores mean more critics liked the game. Lower scores mean the game did not get favorable reviews. They also color code the scores for quick interpretation. Games getting a score of 75 or better are green, 50 or better is denoted by yellow, and any score under 50 is red. When I'm browsing, I will stick to the yellow and green scored games. I only venture into the red zone when I am curious about a specific game.

Traditionally games are reviewed on elements such as game play, graphics, controls, sound, and story. Your own review experience will be significantly enhanced if you can determine which of those elements are important to you. One way to do that is by reading reviews of some games which you already play and enjoy. Look for things in the reviews that remind you of how much you enjoy the game. That will give you some hints at to what to look for in future reviews. I focus on game play most of all. I love it when a game I'm playing looks spectacular, but I wouldn't play a spectacular looking game if I didn't also enjoy the game play. Controls can also make or break a game playing experience for me. I look for controls which are intuitive and highly responsive.

Another important point is game genre. My first love is RPGs. I grew up devouring every RPG I could get my hands on. I don't have quite as much gaming time now, but I still love a good RPG. I also play action games (Super Mario Galaxy), and keep a party game or two hanging around (Mario Party 8) hanging around for our Wii parties.

Once you have some idea of what kinds of games you like and what kinds of review information to look for, there are two great ways to use Metacritic. The first is to look up specific games you have seen in the store or on TV. I was looking at the game Baroque in a store one day. On the surface it looked like a game I would enjoy, an RPG variant. I decided to wait until I'd checked out Metacritic before pulling the trigger, and I'm very glad that I did. Metacritic gave it a score of 50, pretty low. Reviews suggested that the strength of Baroque is in the story. The game play is repetitive and difficult. Story is never enough to keep me interested in a game. I decided to pass on this one.

The second way to use Metacritic is to go down the list and read reviews of various games. That's how I found out about Zack & Wiki Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure. Zack and Wiki got an 87 on Metacritic. That puts it in the top 10 games today, but it was top 3 at the time I read the review. Reviewers describe it as a puzzle game, which makes excellent use of the Wiimote. At a time when game publishers were struggling to do anything new and inventive with the Wiimote, here comes this little known game which did all sorts of interesting things with it. Most other comments were favorable as well. I was intrigued and got a copy of the game. I have had a blast with it! The puzzles are challenging enough to make the game interesting, but not impossible. The story is cute. And the reviewers were right about the Wiimote usage: it really makes the game! I never would've found that one without Metacritic. It did not get much publicity, and the title/box was not one that made me pick it up in the store.

If reading reviews still leaves you on the fence, then try to rent the game before buying it. Just make sure when you do the rental that you'll have time during the rental period to spend at least a few hours with a game. I always like to get past the "intro" period before I decide if I like a game or not. Intros keep getting longer though, so that could be a couple of hours of game play. If a game is complicated, it could also take me that long to learn the basics and get comfortable with it.

On Friday I'll be back with my Wii game wishlist, the games I'm interested in but haven't gotten to play yet! :)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

King's Bounty Revisited: the Chest of Rage

My King's Bounty: The Legend post is getting the vast majority of my Google search hits. Most of those hits are searching for the chest of rage. So I'm going to write a post on the chest itself which will hopefully answer the questions people might have about it. The remainder of this post contains spoilers about unlocking and using the spirits inside the chest.

First off, what is rage? Rage points are similar to magic points, only you get them by killing monsters and taking damage. Rage points grow during the course of a battle. You can spend them once you have the Chest of Rage to cast spirits of rage spells. (And you need to have unlocked at least one of the spirits to use rage points, but we'll get to that in a minute.) Rage points do not disappear after a fight, but they do fade quickly over time.

Rage spells are what gives the hero (particularly for non-mage heroes) a big advantage over the NPCs in the game. They allow us to cast extra powerful spells. The rage spells do not appear to be related to the hero's intelligence the way normal spells are. Instead the rage spirits grow in level as you use their spells.

The Chest of Rage is obtained by following the main quest line. After you've gone to the king's brother and come back, he will tell you to go fetch something from the Magic Academy. That something is the Chest of Rage. The academy itself is in Verlon Forest. It's not far into the forest. As soon as you zone in, take the right path. At the fork in the road turn left. The academy is just ahead on the left.

At the academy Master Trigius will (after a lengthy dialogue) hand over the chest. The chest immediately bonds to you. The king won't be too happy about that, but it's great for us! Once you have the chest, look at your character screen. The spirits appear on the bottom left. You can talk to each spirit and get hints about what it takes to unlock the spirit. I got the chest around level 7, and quickly unlocked 2 of the 4 spirits.

Sleem is the first spirit I unlocked. He casts poison damage spells. To unlock this spirit, go to the Menagerie of Stephan Hall in Greenwort and see if he has any royal snakes. If so, buy some and add them to your army. Then talk to Sleem again, and he will eat the snakes. Keep repeating this process until you have sufficiently fed Sleem, and he is free. If the menagerie did not have snakes, you'll have to get them from Marshan Swamp. When you zone into the swamp, take an immediate right into the bog. There are a couple of place in the bog that sell royal snakes. Remember that they have to be royal snakes, not just ordinary snakes.

I unlocked Zerock, the fire spirit, next. To unlock Zerock you have to fight his army. This fight is challenging, but not impossible. Make sure you have a full army and are full of magic points, and you should be okay. If not, well that's why they made save points :)

The third spirit, Lina, speaks of a battery which needs to be recharged. This cannot be done until you reach the dwarf land. I got there at level 13. Just after you get above ground in the dwarf land, you will see a big machine. That can recharge the battery of that spirit. Once you unlock Lina start using her spells immediately. She will level quicker than the others, but you do still need to make an effort to give her some exercise and get those levels.

The last spirit, Reaper, speaks of stopping time. I have not unlocked Reaper yet. I believe I need to get a bit further in the game to unlock him. I can't stay that I'm in a hurry ;)

I use my rage spells as much as possible. I can't think of a good reason not to. I get the immediate benefit of doing extra damage to the mobs, and the spirits level up with use. As the spirits level up they learn new spells (upto 4 per spirit), and their existing spells get more powerful or more efficient. When spells get more powerful they also take more rage points. Be careful not to allow a spell to take more rage points than your maximum rage. I couldn't use one of my rage spells for a while due to making that mistake. When spells get more efficient the spirit needs less rest time between casting spells.

I hope this answers some of the questions people have about the Chest of Rage. If you have additional questions about King's Bounty, leave me a comment and I'll respond accordingly. People are also welcome to leave their own King's Bounty tips and tricks :)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Geek-wear

I think the quintessential article of geek clothing is the t-shirt. T-shirts are low maintenance: the ultimate wash and wear garment. They are appropriate for all sorts of geeky activities such as Wii gaming sessions, shopping excursions at Best Buy, and even running Ethernet cable. And most importantly, t-shirts give us a way to express our geekiness!

I myself have a number of geeky t-shirts. Some are from events I attended such as the 2004 Everquest Fan Faire, and Dragon*Con 2008. I have several t-shirts from Think Geek with a variety of geeky themes. My favorites are the binary people shirt and the +20 shirt of smiting. And I have others from concerts, shows, M&M World in Las Vegas, and of course Hershey's Chocolate World. As you can see, t-shirts are one of my favorite souvenirs! :)

Recently though I became dissatisfied with my geeky t-shirt offerings. It seems that Thing Geek and other geeky t-shirt specialists tend to favor the color black. I don't mind wearing black, but I am not particularly a dark sort sort of geek. I'm more of a pink geek! With the occasional red and violet thrown in for good measure. So I sought out additional t-shirt sources, ones with more possibilities. I landed on Zazzle, a site which will let you put virtually anything on a t-shirt.

The first time I used Zazzle I was making t-shirts to give to some of my geek friends. I translated their names into ASCII. Then I translated the ASCII numbers into binary, and put the binary text on a shirt. I surprised my friends with their shirts a couple of years ago at Christmas. Now anyone who knows the "secret code" can address my friends by their names when they are wearing their shirts.

The next shirt I made was for me! It says (appropriately) "got blog?", in black letters on a pink shirt. In the future I plan on skipping the "white text, black shirt" look for more colorful options on Zazzle. It may take a little more work than just ordering the shirts from Think Geek, but they will be more personal as well :)

The best part of wearing geeky t-shirts is when I share a moment of camaraderie with a fellow geek. Someone will read my shirt and smile or laugh, and I get to return the favor when I see someone else wearing a geek shirt. So wear your geek shirts and share your geekiness with the world :)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Oh Christmas Tree


This evening my husband and I decided to have a pizza and tree trimming party. It was an impromptu occasion, so the guest list was small (just us). We still had a lot of fun, and a beautiful tree to show for our work. Here's a picture of it. What do you think?

Christmas trees are one of my favorite traditions of Christmas. Of course, many people believe that Christmas trees are not originally part of Christian traditions at all. In 16th century Germany, people decorated trees as part of their Yule celebrations. People have argued that they have no place in a true Christmas. Given that Christmas trees are a part of celebrations every where from Rockafeller Center to the White House, it appears the anti-tree proponents are not winning their argument. I personally don't care what started the tradition. I just dig putting a big decorated plant in my living room :)

Christmas trees come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. I'm partial to real trees at home. This year we got a Balsam Fir. I have a shiny silver fiber optic tree in my office though (you can see it in this post). Artificial trees tend to look more perfectly Christmas tree shaped. Live trees on the other hand have their own beauty. I don't worry about getting the perfect live tree, I look for one with character. Some years we've gotten smallish "Charlie Brown" trees. Some years we have majestic trees. This years is slender with squirrelly branches. If you do get a live tree, here are a few of my favorite tree tips:

1. Pull gently on the needles. If they fall off, the tree is dried out and won't live long in the house.
2. Look at the trunk at the base of the tree. Trees with crooked or misshapen trunks are harder to get into the stand.
3. Immediately before putting the tree in the stand, cut an inch off of the bottom of the trunk. This will help the tree drink water and make it last longer.

My husband and I got our tree at a local big box home store, but someday I would love to make a trip to a Christmas tree farm. Christmas tree farming got big during the 1950s. Christmas trees must be cared for like any plants. In addition they get pruned yearly to coax them into a desirable shape. I'd be curious to try to grow my own trees, if I lived in place that was suitable for it. (We're renters at the moment.) Maybe it would turn out great. Maybe not so well. But I think it would be an awesome way to use some yard space :)

Monday, December 8, 2008

They're baaaaack

Over the weekend my husband and I got to see Walking with Dinosaurs the Live Experience. I am now convinced that dinosaurs still roam the Earth. Okay, at least totally awesome reproductions of them do :)

The show is based off of the BBC series Walking with Dinosaurs. I had hopes that it would be closer to edutainment than a dinosaur free for all (Which also might be fun!), and that turned out to be the case. The only human participant is a paleontologist, who guided us through a tour of the Mesozoic Era. Along the way we got to meet a variety of dinosaurs in their natural environments, or at least simulations thereof.

My favorite dinosaur was the Brachiosaurus. First we got to meet Brachiosaurus junior. He had become separated from his herd, and was being threatened by an Allosaurus. The situation was looking grim when the mommy Brachiosaurus came to save the day! The Allosaurus was no match for such magnificent creature, and was soon scared away.

I found the dialog of the performance to be easy to understand and clearly spoken. The teacher in me particularly appreciated that the dialog contained proper terminology. I make an effort to do the same thing when I'm teaching. It's often easier to be lazy and use whatever words come to mind. However the learner gets far more benefit by hearing the correct and appropriate terminology as much as possible. It lays down a basis for communication on the subject, and for further study.

Walking with Dinosaurs gets a big thumbs up in my "if I knew what it was going to be like, would I still by the tickets" meter. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. If you like dinosaurs, then this one is a must see experience :)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Lunch Recipes, part 1

Continuing my lunch series, in this post I'll describe a few of my favorite lunch recipes. These are also delicious meals for anytime. The thing that makes them particularly good lunch recipes is that they cook well in quantity, and freeze well. Usually I double most of these, divide them up into individual portions, and freeze. Then I can go to my freezer stock and have an easy lunch. Now onto the recipes!

When I moved to Greensburg, I made it a mission to learn to cook Thai food. Many of those recipes I still struggle with, but two that I've found to be easy, dependable, and delicious are gaeng phed gai (red curry chicken) and tom kha gai (chicken soup with coconut milk). Both are great alone or with jasmine rice. I get the curry paste, fish sauce, and other Thai ingredients from importfood.com. The rest I can get locally. I am not particular about using authentic veggies, so my curry often has carrots and zucchini in it, not peas or eggplant. I just at my last chicken curry today. Time to restock the freezer! :)

Another of my favorites is this crustless quiche recipe. I love quiche. I just don't love pie crusts. I've never been that impressed with store bought pie crusts. I do know how to make them myself, but that takes time. This crustless quiche recipe uses breadcrumbs instead of the pie crust. I make bread on a regular basis, so I pretty much always have the end of a loaf hanging around. It's no big deal for me to toast a couple of pieces, smash them to bits, and throw them into the bottom of the cooking dish. The rest of the quiche assembly is quick and easy.

Quiche is another recipe that's easy to customize. The first time I made this I did ham and cheese, but cheddar instead of Swiss. The second time I did shrimp (cooked), and a mixture of cheddar and mozzarella cheese. Both were delicious. The thing to remember is that all ingredients need to be cooked ahead of time. The 20 minutes the quiche cooks in the oven is not long enough for shrimp to cook, so I sauteed them on the stove first. Veggies can be raw so long as you don't expect them to fully cook. I always cook onions before I put them into quiche because I strongly dislike partially cooked onions. I wouldn't bother with tomatoes or mushrooms though.

A couple of times a year I make Alton Brown's chili recipe. It's very meaty, just how my husband and I like chili. I don't have a pressure cooker, but it turns out just fine on the stove or in the crock pot. It just takes longer that way. I particularly like that he uses salsa for the vegetables. It adds dimension to the taste, as well as being quick and easy. For lunch I can eat this as a meal, or as an awesome salad topping.

I also keep some individual items in the freezer. I'm nearing the end of the the pork carnitas I've got in there. I have some sliced flank steak in individual packets. I didn't do anything exciting to that - just cooked it to medium rare, sliced thinly against the grain, and divided into servings. You can find lots of marinade and sauce recipes online if that floats your boat though. I froze left over mashed potatoes after our Thanksgiving dinner. And just as soon as I get around to cooking the rather large butternut squash that's in the kitchen, I'll be adding that to the freezer.

The best thing about cooking is that it gives us the chance to play around with recipes and tweak them to our individual tastes. I often try out a new recipe in small batches, sticking close to the recipe at first. Each time I repeat a recipe I'll tweak it a little until it's as delicious as I think I can make it. Then when it has become a great recipe I'll add it to the list of things I cook in larger quantities for the freezer.

I'll end this post with one important hint for tweaking recipes: Write down the adjustments you make every time. There's nothing more annoying than finally getting a recipe down perfect and not knowing how the heck it got there! :)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Christmas Reading - Mystery Edition

I should preface this post by saying that the books highlighted here will probably appeal more to the female geeks in the audience than the males. I am not into hard core mysteries. I prefer the ones where the person can both solve mysteries and bake cakes at the same time! :)

If you are drawn more towards the science fiction genre, don't miss my earlier post on holiday sci-fi books!

The Sugar Cookie Murder was my introduction to Joanne Fluke's Hannah Swenson mystery series. The protagonist of these books, Hannah Swenson owns the Cookie Jar bakery, and just happens to run into dead bodies far more often then your average baker. These books are fairly lighthearted, despite the death and mayhem. I particularly enjoy Hannah's interactions with everyone in the town. It turns out fresh cookies go a long way towards loosening tongues. Hannah makes another holiday appearance in the mystery compendium Candy Cane Murder, which is also a fun read.

Keeping in the area of food, I just finished The Chocolate Snowman Murders, by JoAnna Carl. This one's also part of a series, the Chocoholic Mysteries. I have not read any of her other books, but I probably will after this one. I particularly enjoyed how the spunky main character dealt with the situations before her. (Let me say, best way ever of handling the attentions of an unwanted car passenger!) Plus reading all the talk about chocolate was almost as good as eating it!

The next book is by Janet Evanovich, the author of the Stephanie Plum series. If you've never read any of these books, you are missing out! These are by far some of the funniest books I've read. Stephanie gets herself into all sorts of mischief, yet always comes back fighting. The dynamics between the various characters are also quite amusing. The Christmas offering in this series is Visions of Sugar Plums. It is one of a handful of "Between-the-Numbers" novels, which take place amongst the other books. This one falls between the 8th and 9th books in the regular series. If you have not read the others, this one is still by far a great read. However it has a couple of spoilers in it for the from the first eight books. If you're particular about preferring to read books in order, read the first eight over the next year, and save this one for next Christmas.

A somewhat different offering is Kate Kingsbury's novel Ringing In Murder. This is Kingsbury's fourth Christmas offering in her Pennyfoot Hotel mystery series. The setting of these books is the Pennyfoot Hotel, in the Edwardian era (early 1900s). Cecily Sinclair Baxter runs the Pennyfoot Hotel, where an unfortunate number of guests don't survive their stay. These books are not quite as vivacious as the more modern holiday mysteries. They do however have their charm, and I am always excited to see the next Christmas book in the series.

This is only a sampling of the Christmas books I've read. If you want more suggestions, leave me a comment and let me know! I'm also happy to discuss particular books in the comments, both those listed here any any others I might have read. Once again, happy holiday reading! :)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Christmas Reading - Sci-fi/Fantasy Edition


It's beginning to look at lot like Christmas! At least in my office. The shiny silver tree is currently in my office. And yes, those are big Space Invaders on the wall behind it. The tree only lives there during the holidays. The Space Invaders are a permanent attraction. Lucky for me they don't seem to multiply!

I *heart* this time of the year. I tend to treat the month of December as a month-long celebration, with occasional breaks for work in between. One of my favorite holiday activities is reading Christmas themed books. I'll read just about any book if it's got Christmas in the title, but some of my favorites are in the sci-fi/fantasy arena. These also happen to be some of the geekiest :) Here's a few of my favorites.

Miracle and Other Christmas Stories is a collection of short stories by the sci-fi author Connie Willis. This was my introduction to sci-fi holiday stories, and I was immediately enamored of the sub-genre. I love the blend of our current traditions and Christmas cliches, with the science fiction elements. Willis' parting remarks are not to be missed either. Among them she suggests a number of Christmas movies and additional Christmas reading. It was through that list that I discovered the wonders of P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster stories, and Michael Moorcock's Behold the Man.

The books Christmas Stars and A Yuletide Universe: Sixteen Fantastical Tales are also collections of short stories. This time, by a variety of authors. Christmas Stars contains Christmas stories mostly dating from the 1950s through the 1980s, with a few from more recent times. A Yuletide Universe is more modern, with most of its stories coming from the 1990s and up. Either way both of these contain reprints, so if you read a lot of sci-fi short stories, you may have seen these before.

Wolfsbane and Mistletoe is new this year. This one has a theme, all of the stories combine werewolves with Christmas. Besides being a great read, this book sparked my interest in a number of current authors I was unfamiliar with. When the holiday season is over, I'll look up some of their other reads. As if I need more books... :)

Last but not least, is the comical Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. When I saw this book in the bookstore I was determined to read it by the title alone! This one is the adaptation of an apparently very bad movie by the same name. I can't say if the movie is worth watching or not, but the book is pretty funny.

For the mystery lovers out there, I'll be back on Wednesday with the mystery books edition of Christmas reading. Until then, happy holiday reading! :)