Whalechaser's Musings

No Matter Where You Go...
There You Are
Make the Best of It

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Cockatiel Grooming

Since I will be away from the Chicago area for a while, I took KC Bird for grooming yesterday. He got his wings and nails done...and looks like a totally different bird. PLUS...he is not so independent anymore! Yeah! More Birdie kisses for me.

Here he is all done. It is so funny when he tries to fly for the first time after a wing-clipping. He NEVER gets cranky though, he just keeps plugging along.

See, first you hold him in the towel and spread the wing out

On to the nails...I have never seen done this way. Look, she is not even holding him! Yes he is in there...somewhere
Chuck and I got the same idea at the same time...

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


This is the craziest thing I've seen in a long time.
For those of you in the 21st century (e.g. blackberry
owners), you'll need to look at this on a pc. You also
have to get out of your seat and walk away from
your computer. People may think you're crazy.
But it's well worth it.

When you look at this picture in a
closer look you see its Albert Einstein.
But if you stand 15 feet away,
It will become Marilyn Monroe.

You probably should NOT try this on New Years Eve...

Monday, December 29, 2008

Word Fun

Just a little play on words to get us into the new year... have fun.

I wondered why the baseball was getting bigger. Then it hit me.

Police were called to a day care where a 3-yr-old was resisting a rest.

Did you hear about the guy whose whole left side was cut off? He's all right now.

The roundest knight at King Arthur's round table was Sir Cumference.

To write with a broken pencil is pointless.

When fish are in schools, they sometimes take debate.

The short fortune teller who escaped from prison was a small medium at large.

A thief who stole a calendar got 12 months.

A thief fell & broke his leg in wet cement. He became a hardened criminal.

When the smog lifts in Los Angeles, U.C.L.A.

The dead batteries were given out free of charge.

A dentist and a manicurist fought tooth and nail.

A bicycle can't stand alone; it is two tired.

A will is a dead giveaway.

Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.

A backward poet writes inverse.

In a democracy it's your vote that counts; in feudalism, it's your Count that votes.

A chicken crossing the road: poultry in motion.

If you don't pay your exorcist you can get repossessed.

Show me a piano falling down a mine shaft & I'll show you A-flat miner.

The guy who fell onto an upholstery machine was fully recovered.

A grenade fell onto a kitchen floor in France, resulted in Linoleum Blownapart.

You are stuck with your debt if you can't budge it.

A calendar's days are numbered.

A lot of money is tainted: 'Taint yours, and 'taint mine. ('Taint none of it mine lately!!)

A boiled egg is hard to beat.

He had a photographic memory which was never developed.

Those who get too big for their britches will be exposed in the end.

When you've seen one shopping center, you've seen a mall.

When she saw her first strands of gray hair, she thought she'd dye.

Bakers trade bread recipes on a knead to know basis.

Santa's helpers are subordinate clauses.

Acupuncture: a jab well done

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Ever wonder about bacon and why it tastes so good? I subscribe to America's Test Kitchen and got this information that I found very interesting...

All bacon, with the exception of turkey- and tofu-based products, is made from pork belly. One fresh belly can weigh from ten pounds to 25 pounds, though most fall between 12 and 18 pounds. The spare ribs are removed from the belly's interior, the skin is taken off the exterior, and the remaining slab is trimmed for further processing into bacon.

The next step is curing, which is generally done in one of two ways. Many small producers of artisan (aka smokehouse or premium) bacon choose to dry-cure by rubbing the slab with a dry mixture of seasonings (which always includes salt and sugar). Large producers usually inject the slabs with a liquid brine containing salt, sugar, and sometimes liquid smoke for flavor; sodium phosphate for moisture retention during processing and cooking; sodium ascorbate or sodium erythorbate to accelerate the curing process and promote color retention; and a curing salt that includes sodium nitrite to stave off bacteria and set flavor and color characteristics. Once the cure has been applied or injected, the slabs are hung. If a dry cure has been applied, this process could stretch up to one week. Curing with an injected brine can be completed in a mere one to three hours and so is quite cost-efficient.

The final step is thermal processing, which can take as few as four to five hours or as many as 24, depending on the processor. During thermal processing, the cured pork bellies are smoked and partially cooked to an internal temperature of roughly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, after which they finally merit the term bacon. The bacon is chilled to approximately 24 degrees, pressed to square it off for uniform slicing, sliced to the processor's specifications, and packaged. A package of regular-cut bacon usually contains between eighteen and twenty-two 1/16-inch-thick slices per pound, whereas a package of thick-cut bacon, sometimes called country style, contains twelve to sixteen 1/8-inch-thick slices per pound.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

M&M Celebrates Christmas Early

M&M found her Christmas present early and refused to wait any longer to open it...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Finally Done with Christmas Cookies

I've been baking on the installment plan but today I have finished my holiday cookie baking. Take a look and see what you think:

Thumbprints stuffed with apricot, raspberry, strawberry and cherry...some with nuts some without

Almond paste cherry topped butter cookies...these are close to my personal favorites
BUT THESE are hands down the best! I have been practicing for several years to match the cookies that my grandmother used to send us kids at Christmas time and up 'til now was generally unsuccessful. Understand that I was trying to match a professional bakers product without the benefit of the private recipe. This time I have come pretty close, these cookies are absolutely divine!

First, here's how they are formed

Here's the finished product

Cookie cutter chocolate-orange Christmas cookies

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Friday we finally got the opportunity to get out and try my new snow shoes. I got them in October for my birthday and just opened them up Friday morning. I suspected that we would be getting enough snow when I was out running errands on Thursday and so...picked up some thermal underwear. The weather is SO cold here; my thighs have been getting freezer burn lately!

So what do you think...are they color coordinated enough? I could not find red to match the shoes so got the next best thing

We met with Len and Marlene as well as Patti and Dave and got out there in the woods and snow-shoed. You may think we are crazy, but I tell you no fewer than two separate individuals we met along the way told us (and I quote) "Now that is the way to go!"

Here is Chuck enjoying the wooded area...See the new blue scarf that I made him?
Everybody got ahead of me so I thought I would get their pictures

Here I am christening my new snow shoes

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Our long awaited plan to get together and "cook up a batch of pierogi" finally materialized yesterday. Kasia (is she Polish or what?) and I have been planning a cook date for several months and we finally succeeded. I was stunned when she walked in with a huge canvas tote bag full of all sorts of gadgets and cookery items but I am glad she did 'cause we needed every one of them along with some good old fashioned muscle. I suspected that we would be up to our elbows in flour for the better part of the day, so I started dinner at 9 AM...country spare ribs with sauerkraut slow-cooked in beer and caraway seeds for the better part of the day.

I had the counters cleared for the pierogi process; she promised we would be at it for a while, so figured we would need all the space I could muster. I was right! She whipped out the recipe and was asking if I had the ingredients at hand..potatoes (yes, peeled, cut into 1" pieces and ready for boiling), onions, flour, oil, eggs and shredded cheddar cheese...check, check and check. I saw the recipe laying on the end of the counter and hurried to check it out...What's oliwa I asked. Oil, she said. Ok, what's maka? Flour...I KNEW she was enjoying this! I had never seen a Polish recipe before; she explained while it was in Polish, it was not exact in measurement or direction. It still had the old standard quips, mix the dough to the right consistency and cook till done. How are we supposed to know the answer to either of these directions? I told her to look at the recipe that I had printed out from the Internet and see if the process was about the same. She glanced it over and said "really the secret is in the dough and dough scares me." I said, not to worry I love dough...you get the ingredients and I will see to it that the dough-part comes out right. We dove in.

They are not difficult to make but we both agree that it is better to have two people making them simultaneously since the shear volume requires company and morale support. We had a ball rolling and stuffing as you can see by the pictures. I promise when I get the English version of the recipe, I will post it here. Here are some shots of the process

Kasia is mixing the dough, I recently picked up this really cool dough gadget. It makes the mixing as easy as it can be and does a very nice job incorporating the ingredients without overworking it
We rolled out little chunks of dough and began the cutting and stuffing process. I did not have a 2.5 inch cookie cutter so we used a small plastic storage container...it was about the right size. Kasia said they always used a teacup.

See? You make the circle and put the small rounded bit of potato-cheese filling into it, squeeze a bit and bring the edges together, press to seal and remove any air pockets. But the real secret is in getting the dough REALLY thin.
Stack them on a cookie sheet and cover with a clean cotton dish towel. This keeps them from drying out.
/>Then when ready to cook, just boil them in water until they float. drain and eat them with sour cream. IF you have any leftovers, they can be fried in butter with onions and or bacon bits the next day. They are even better then, than the first time! We made a total of 97 pierogi! I thought it was a lot, but now I am already sad that there are so few left and WHEN will I do this again!?

Here it is...as promised.
the pierogi recipe
Pierogi Dough (for approx 80-100 pierogi)

4 cups flour
2 oz salted butter,
2 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups warm water
pinch of salt
dash of veg/olive oil

Place the dough on a large wooden cutting board. Make a well in the center and place into it the butter and egg yolks, oil and salt. With a dull knife or spatula, start to manipulate the eggs and butter, incorporating some flour. Knead the dough, alternating flour and water until the dough reaches a finished consistency. If dough is too moist, add some flour; if too dry, add water.

While rolling out and forming pierogi, keep the remaining dough covered by a pot or bowl to keep it from drying out.

Potato and Cheese Filling (this filling is traditionally called Ruskie pierogi)

Potatoes (3-4 lbs?)
Grated cheese

Cook up potatoes and mash. Dice onion finely and brown. Combine all ingredients to taste.

Form filling into small balls and use it to stuff the dough.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas Cookie Rules

Christmas Cookie Rules...

1. If you eat a Christmas cookie fresh out of the oven, it has no calories because everyone knows that the first cookie is the test and thus calorie free.

2. If you drink a diet soda after eating your second cookie, it also has no calories because the diet soda cancels out the cookie calories.

3. If a friend comes over while you're making your Christmas cookies and needs to sample, you must sample with your friend. Because your friend's first cookie is calories free, rule #1 is yours also. It would be rude to let your friend sample alone and, being the friend that you are, that makes your cookie calorie free.

4. Any cookie calories consumed while walking around will fall to your feet and eventually fall off as you move. This is due to gravity and the density of the caloric mass.

5. Any calories consumed during the frosting of the Christmas cookies will be used up because it takes many calories to lick excess frosting from a knife without cutting your tongue.

6. Cookies colored red or green have very few calories. Red ones have three and green ones have five - one calorie for each letter. Make more red ones!

7. Cookies eaten while watching "Miracle on 34th Street" have no calories because they are part of the entertainment package and not part of one's personal fuel.

8. As always, cookie pieces contain no calories because the process of breaking causes calorie leakage.

9. Any cookies consumed from someone else's plate have no calories since the calories rightfully belong to the other person and will cling to their plate. We all know how calories like to CLING!

10. Any cookies consumed while feeling stressed have no calories because cookies used for medicinal purposes NEVER have calories. It's a rule!

Monday, December 15, 2008

They call it The Windy City...

And now I know why

it was a little breezy last night. Now that I think of it; I have NEVER seen laundry on a line to dry here in Chicago...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Dyson Hand Dryer

I discovered a new hand dryer. This is nothing like the usual ones found in public restrooms where you have to hit the start button two or three times and still end up with a spot or two that are still wet. No-siree, this one works!

You dip your hands into it,holding them straight with the palms toward you; then slowly raise them up and out of the dryer. The force is rather strong and not too warm. When you reach the top; your hands are dry...all over.

Here's what it looks like

Monday, December 8, 2008

Biaggi's Italian Ristorante after-concert Celebration

We got together with Steve and Kashia for a great dinner at Biaggi's after the concert. This is hands down one of the best Italian restaurants in the area (surprisingly it is a chain and is found in several states)
Here are the pictures of our selections

Shrimp and Crab Cannelloni
Spinach pasta filled with crabmeat, shrimp, ricotta cheese and fresh spinach; baked in rich lobster tomato cream sauce. It was divine!

Crusted Tilapia over linguine with a light tomato sauce
Ravioli Quattro Formaggi
Homemade ravioli filled with a lend of ricotta, parmasan, romano, and blue cheese; tossed in a four cheese cream sauce touched with basil and pine nut pesto over fresh tomato sauce
Capellini Del Mare
Angel hair pasta, large shrimp. scallops, and calamari sauteed in a spicy tomato-vegetable sauce; topped with mussels and little neck clams

Christmas in the Village Concert

Today was another 'first' to add to my list of "wow I never thought I'd being doing that!" I joined a choral group in October, a first. It was not without its scary moments either. I was always pretty darn proud of the way I could sing...usually in the shower and a bucket nearby to carry that tune...
Anyway, it was always in the privacy of my own mind and as such it gave me pleasure. But this was different; one has to be in tune with the (I can't believe I had to look it up!) voice in this four part chorus. Mine is the second highest...alto. That is when I found out the 'voice' I had been using was much lower than it should have been. My first night of practice garnered several looks with raised eyebrows, but what the heck, this is supposed to be fun. I was fortunate enough to get some private lessons from the choir director, she helped me "find my voice" and today we gave the Christmas concert that we had all been practicing for so hard.

It was a wonderful performance...no, I did not get it right all the time, yes I made many mistakes, but I think no one knew (except the few around me!) and a good time was had by all. Here are a couple of shots of the event:

Friday, December 5, 2008

Cookies again!

I tried again to make Polish Kolatchkies...they still oozed out all over the pan but this time it was a little less messy. I asked a friend about it and she said she stopped pinching them; she just makes them like a thumbprint cookie and has no mess. Well, I guess I will have to try that on my next attempt!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Crunchy Orange Roughy

So, I stumbled upon this really great recipe for crunchy fish that is not all greasy and really bad for you; I tucked it away in my little pile of "I'll get to these one of these days". Yesterday I was in Trader Joes, this is a great place to get frozen fish because you can SEE what you are getting...all the packages are clear plastic and all fillets are visible. (I would NEVER buy frozen fish when I lived in New Jersey but here in the Midwest fresh fish is significantly more expensive than the best steaks...so, now I buy frozen)I found some good sized fillets of Orange Roughy and thought I would try that new recipe.

It starts with four slices of bread run through the processor (I used a blender) to get pea sized chunks or smaller, put them in a bowl and stir in about 2 tablespoons of butter/margarine (I have been using Smart Balance lately; tastes great and is 50% healthy for you ;-) )I also added some of my favorite herbs Oregano, Basil and Garlic Powder. Then spread them on a baking sheet and pop into a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes or so. I guess I should add that since I had made bread over the weekend, I used that and the crumbs were fantastic!

Once the crumbs are ready, it is time to prepare the batter for the fish. I did not get the exact measurements for this, but here's what I used and it was very, very good:
2 eggs
2-3 tablespoons of mayonnaise
2 tablespoons of horseradish
various spices --paprika, cayenne pepper, black pepper
whisk all this together and then add about a tablespoon or more of flour until you have a nice pancake-like batter.

OK, you are now ready to prepare the best fish EVER!

Take the 1 inch thick fillets, blot them dry with a paper towel...this is important to keep the results crunchy but moist.

Then dust in flour and shake off the excess, dip into the batter and then place on the crumbs and pile them on top with your hands. When the fish is coated place the fillets in an oiled ridged oven roasting pan and into a 425 degree oven for 10 to 20 minutes. The internal temperature should reach 140 degrees.

I apologize for the mediocre picture...I had already started eating it before I knew how good it was so the picture is nowhere as good looking as the whole plated fillet.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Follow-up on Gift

Well, I finally finished the gift that I was making for a very special person. I wanted to make a scarf (if you recall) before M&M took off with my project after I had already sunk at least ten hours into it and rendering it trash. I went on the hunt for a simpler pattern and found one. It was so simple that I was afraid that it wouldn't have any "personality" when I was finished but it did.

I found some really nice alpaca and cashmere wool and made the scarf. It was a muted shade of blue; nice but something inside was saying: "This will not look great" on my intended recipient. Here is the first one

It is a very nice scarf but it just doesn't work for who I want to give it to. She wears a lot of black and I saw her the other day in a salt and pepper sweatshirt and that's when I knew I needed to make a black and white scarf. I found just the right angora feeling wool and went to work.

Here's the final product all wrapped up. Leave it to me to wrap it up BEFORE I took a picture of it.

Here it is on intended recipient I think it was a good choice!

Chuck became the proud owner of my first success!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Quality time with KC bird

Ah...the joys of pet-ownership...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The First Pilgrim Thanksgiving

I found this very informative piece at Thanksgiving on the Net and thought I would share it with you.

The Pilgrims, who celebrated the first thanksgiving in America, were fleeing religious persecution in their native England. In 1609 a group of Pilgrims left England for the religious freedom in Holland where they lived and prospered. After a few years their children were speaking Dutch and had become attached to the dutch way of life. This worried the Pilgrims. They considered the Dutch frivolous and their ideas a threat to their children's education and morality.

So they decided to leave Holland and travel to the New World. Their trip was financed by a group of English investors, the Merchant Adventurers. It was agreed that the Pilgrims would be given passage and supplies in exchange for their working for their backers for 7 years.

On Sept. 6, 1620 the Pilgrims set sail for the New World on a ship called the Mayflower. They sailed from Plymouth, England and aboard were 44 Pilgrims, who called themselves the "Saints", and 66 others ,whom the Pilgrims called the "Strangers."

The long trip was cold and damp and took 65 days. Since there was the danger of fire on the wooden ship, the food had to be eaten cold. Many passengers became sick and one person died by the time land was sighted on November 10th.

The long trip led to many disagreements between the "Saints" and the "Strangers". After land was sighted a meeting was held and an agreement was worked out, called the Mayflower Compact, which guaranteed equality and unified the two groups. They joined together and named themselves the "Pilgrims."Although they had first sighted land off Cape Cod they did not settle until they arrived at Plymouth, which had been named by Captain John Smith in 1614. It was there that the Pilgrims decide to settle. Plymouth offered an excellent harbor. A large brook offered a resource for fish. The Pilgrims biggest concern was attack by the local Native American Indians. But the Patuxets were a peaceful group and did not prove to be a threat.

The first winter was devastating to the Pilgrims. The cold, snow and sleet was exceptionally heavy, interfering with the workers as they tried to construct their settlement. March brought warmer weather and the health of the Pilgrims improved, but many had died during the long winter. Of the 110 Pilgrims and crew who left England, less that 50 survived the first winter.

On March 16, 1621 , what was to become an important event took place, an Indian brave walked into the Plymouth settlement. The Pilgrims were frightened until the Indian called out "Welcome" (in English!).

His name was Samoset and he was an Abnaki Indian. He had learned English from the captains of fishing boats that had sailed off the coast. After staying the night Samoset left the next day. He soon returned with another Indian named Squanto who spoke better English than Samoset. Squanto told the Pilgrims of his voyages across the ocean and his visits to England and Spain. It was in England where he had learned English.

Squanto's importance to the Pilgrims was enormous and it can be said that they would not have survived without his help. It was Squanto who taught the Pilgrims how to tap the maple trees for sap. He taught them which plants were poisonous and which had medicinal powers. He taught them how to plant the Indian corn by heaping the earth into low mounds with several seeds and fish in each mound. The decaying fish fertilized the corn. He also taught them to plant other crops with the corn.

The harvest in October was very successful and the Pilgrims found themselves with enough food to put away for the winter. There was corn, fruits and vegetables, fish to be packed in salt, and meat to be cured over smoky fires.

The Pilgrims had much to celebrate, they had built homes in the wilderness, they had raised enough crops to keep them alive during the long coming winter, they were at peace with their Indian neighbors. They had beaten the odds and it was time to celebrate.

The Pilgrim Governor William Bradford proclaimed a day of thanksgiving to be shared by all the colonists and the neighboring Native Americans. They invited Squanto and the other Indians to join them in their celebration. Their chief, Massasoit, and 90 braves came to the celebration which lasted for 3 days. They played games, ran races, marched and played drums. The Indians demonstrated their skills with the bow and arrow and the Pilgrims demonstrated their musket skills. Exactly when the festival took place is uncertain, but it is believed the celebration took place in mid-October.

The following year the Pilgrims harvest was not as bountiful, as they were still unused to growing the corn. During the year they had also shared their stored food with newcomers and the Pilgrims ran short of food.

The 3rd year brought a spring and summer that was hot and dry with the crops dying in the fields. Governor Bradford ordered a day of fasting and prayer, and it was soon thereafter that the rain came. To celebrate - November 29th of that year was proclaimed a day of thanksgiving.

This date is believed to be the real true beginning of the present day Thanksgiving Day

The custom of an annually celebrated thanksgiving, held after the harvest, continued through the years. During the American Revolution (late 1770's) a day of national thanksgiving was suggested by the Continental Congress.

In 1817 New York State had adopted Thanksgiving Day as an annual custom. By the middle of the 19th century many other states also celebrated a Thanksgiving Day. In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln appointed a national day of thanksgiving. Since then each president has issued a Thanksgiving Day proclamation, usually designating the fourth Thursday of each November as the holiday.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Polish Kolatchkies

I still have the baking and cooking bug; since taking that really great three day course last week. So I decided to try Polish Kolatchkies today.

I suppose I should preface this discussion with a comment or two. First, I am a better cook than I am a baker; second, I love baked cookies and my favorites are butter cookies half-dipped in chocolate...but that is definitely for another day.

So the recipe for Kolatchkies is almost astoundingly simple:

8 oz cream cheese
1/2 lb butter unsalted
2 cups flour
jelly, jam or other fruit for filling

mix the cheese, butter and flour to a smooth consistency, then refrigerate till firm.

Roll the dough to 1/8 inch thickness and cut into 2" squares (I would go with 3" squares if I had it to do over)

Place the dough on a cookie sheet place a 1/2 teaspoon of filling in the center, pinch at least 2 opposite corners, or all 4 if you like..also for real easy clean up, line the pan with parchment paper..no mess at all.

Bake at 350 for 18 - 20 minutes.

Yes, it is just that simple.

Here are the photos of my first efforts...like I said, I would do 3 x 3 squares since the jelly oozes out of smaller sizes and they tend to come undone.

Here I am cutting the dough into three separate sections for rolling out. I put the unused portion back in the fridge until I was ready for the next batch. Keep the dough cold always.

Rolling out the dough to 1/8 inch thickness happens pretty quickly, again parchment paper helps to keep the mess to a minium. Also, I found using a pizza wheel makes cutting them a breeze
Placing the dough on the baking sheet with enough space so they don;t touch each other...they get smaller once you start pinching the edges
Here is where you have to be careful, if the jelly smears to the edges, you can't pinch it closed. Most of these cookies came open, so next time I will make a bigger square and pinch harder..I was very gentle with these.
If you take the cookies off the tray right out of the oven, any spillage will easily be left behind and the cookie will look much better for it

I'll try another batch next week for bringing to the Village Singers concert...it will be nice for the people who come to hear us sing to have some good home-made cookies. By then I should be able to make a pretty good looking and tasting cookie!