Wednesday, November 21, 2012

November 21, 2012 - Mattaroni and Cheese

Sup? How you doin'?

It's Thanksgiving tomorrow. I could get all angsty about how the traditional story of the first Thanksgiving is probably the most white-washed portrayal of an event in American history next to Columbus's arriving in the New World... but I won't. 

Instead, I give you this: step-by-step instructions for your very own monster bowl of Mattaroni and Cheese. My very own bowl will be making a pilgrimage tomorrow to be consumed by my kith and kin (as a secret offering to Flying Spaghetti Monster. Shhhh, don't tell.)

This is not the definitive recipe, because it changes as I run out of stuff and as I discover new things in the back of the fridge. The basics remain the same: take boring store-bought mac-n-cheese and add the awesome. This is an accounting of the actual monster bowl that's fermenting on the kitchen table as I type this.

One more note before the fun begins: I took the pictures for this post using my fancy-pants phone app, Retro Camera. The colors and hues aren't true to reality but I use it anyway because it was convenient and in the kitchen with me.

Get your big "four boxes of pasta so I can get fat for the winter" pot out and add water and chicken broth. I used a whole carton of broth. Not the can, the carton. That's the one. 

Toss in three individual size* tea bags. I used green tea. Why did I do this? Because John Tesh told me to, but I'll be darned if I can find link as proof. The pasta soaks up the magic that is tea and that's all you need to know. You'll never taste it, I swear so just do it. 

Shake in copious amounts of salt-free seasoning. 

Also pour in a couple of blops** of olive oil. I didn't have any E.V.O.O. (because I'm not Rachael Ray) so I used the regular stuff.

Once water/broth is boiling remove the tea bags.

Add a crazy mix of pasta. Nothing long and spaghetti-like, but don't limit yourself to elbow macaroni. Something with color is always nice. If you're going to add whole wheat pasta, put it in first and give it a head start and use less of it so the whole thing won't taste like whole wheat pasta, because nobody likes that stuff. I used two boxes of boring Kraft Deluxe Four Cheese (4 servings each) and two bags of Wacky Mac (6 servings each). 20 SERVINGS OF PASTA.

Let that stuff cook, man. Al dente is fine, just don't let it turn into a starchy soup. 

And now, on to the sauce (chicka bow wow).

Get you one seriously large serving bowl. I used one of our giant movie-night popcorn troughs that we simply refer to as the "Big Red Bowls". 

Dump in those two packs of nasty cheese goo that came with the Kraft box. Ew. 

Boring. Zzzzzz...

Add an entire 16oz container of sour cream. Yes, the whole fraking thing.

Hello, what's this?

Pour what's left of that Alfredo sauce you have in the fridge from last night. Looks like about 3/4 of a 12oz jar.

Adding cheese to mac-n-cheese = REVOLUTIONARY

Add two man-sized*** handfuls of shredded Colby-jack cheese. You know the stuff; two cheeses, one bag. Toss that blizzard of dairy shrapnel right on in there.

Yes, more cheese. Shut up.

Mix that stuff around a little because it gets kind of loony from here on. Take one of those bricks of cream cheese and add half of it (more or less) to the bowl. Gaze in awe and fear for a bit and then move to the next step. 

If you haven't checked on your pasta in a while it's probably over-cooked right about now. So go check on it. Drain the pasta, but for the love of all things sweet and tangy, DON'T RINSE IT. You want that stuff to be nice and warm for when you add it to the cheese. How else do you think that cream cheese is going to melt down and mix with all that other cheese?!?! HUH??? And all the shredded cheese? Well?

NOW BRING OUT THE SECRET SAUCE. This is Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q White Sauce. If you don't know what this is, then get out of my internet. Possibly you were born somewhere north of Nashville or west of Little Rock. If you're thinking "white bar-b-q sauce, what's that?" well then I just don't know what to say. I do not want to hear about some other white sauce produced by two syndicated radio goobers. There is only one white sauce and it's name is Bob.

You do not want to add too much of this potent twangy awesome sauce. I used about as much would fit in just the neck of the 16oz bottle. A little is good, too much and people will grimace and try to smile as they chew on Whatever the Hell Was That. (And now a word from our sponsor...)

Take that, cream cheese!
Now stir that around a little and try to distribute the Bob Gibson sauce before spooning in the still warm (it had better be!) pasta. Keep at it until all the cheesy wonderment is spread over all the pasta and there's not a single piece un-smothered. Break out the big industrial serving spoon if you have to.

Now scoop a large spoonful and take a picture for no reason.

Now let that stuff sit for a while. Let the cheese do it's thing. I'm letting this monster bowl cool off before putting it in the fridge for storage. There's a very good chance that I'll toss on another handful of shredded cheese before heading out in the morning so it will melt on top when we microwave the bowl at our destination. I'm bringing a bottle of Sriracha sauce to sprinkle on top (of everything) but I'm not putting that on the whole bowl because some of the people there are not prepared for that kind of flavor.

Human adolescent female shown for scale
I posted all the pictures, but here they are again in case you're into that sort of thing.

*Not the family size, that's just crazy.
**One blop- you tip the bottle over at a moderate rate once and it goes in- BLOP! 
***If you are not a man and you don't have one handy, you may use two and a half to three girly-sized handfuls with my permission. You're welcome.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

November 17, 2012 - Dogus Prospectus and Sandhill Cranes


City of Decatur Animal Services
Flint Creek Trail
Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center

Some of the folks around here are of the opinion that there's a shortage of scruffy dogs in the house. In the interest of remedying this dire situation we went to the Decatur Pound with the intention to meet a new scruffy dog. 

Turns out they had two. 

These two guys are either brothers or father/son. They might be schnauzer, they might be affenpinscher. They might even have a touch of mop-headed Jack weasel. These guys are great and they won't have any troubles finding a home at all- just not ours. After much sleeping-on-it we decided that there are too many projects around the house that need to be tackled. Getting little dogs in the yard again would mean upgrading our fencing and we need to spend money on the monkeys that live in the house first. 

Also, they had crazy large boy-dog penises. 

Our one boy animal, Kuma, is very discrete about his dog-dingo. It's like Punxsutawney Phil, you only see it once a year, if at all. These two guys were kind of HELLO AND DID YOU KNOW THAT I AM A MAGNIFICENT MALE CREATURE?

After rolling around in the pound dog stink we could think of nothing else to do but grab some yogurt. Decatur has one of those "do all the work to get your food and we'll ring it up for you and charge you like we brought it to your table" yogurt places that are popping up everywhere. I think it's called something like Extrude Your Own or something. I mean, yeah I ate it and I liked it, but I'm not giving them free advertising or anything.

Esther's on the left, mine on the right 
In an effort to walk off the 5,000 calories worth of frozen dairy products we took a little hike on the Flint Creek Trail. The water is down so the shallows are full of muddy bird prints.

While walking on the trail we were surprised by this little dude hopping past us. It couldn't have been over 65° and I was not expecting to see any cold-blooded animals on the trail, but there he was. 

We're probably a week past prime leaf colors for the season, but here and there were a few bright patches.

We then crossed highway 67 and spent a few minutes at the Wheeler Visitor Center and the Wildlife Observation Building were I tried a little digiscoping with my cell phone and the various field scopes and binoculars that are set up inside the building. You're probably thinking that it looks just like I put my phone up to the scope and took a picture. That's pretty much digiscoping at its most basic level, but there are adapters and other equipment available. Everything I've ever read about digiscoping has come from Sharon Stiteler, aka Birdchick, via Twitter or her website.

Sandhill cranes are currently what's going on at the Refuge. 

The sunset coming through the Atkeson Cypress Trail make the tops of the trees look like they were on fire.

Pictures here
Tracklogs here and here

Sunday, November 11, 2012

November 11, 2012 - Swan Creek Greenway, Athens

Where: Swan Creek Greenway National Recreation Trail

Last weekend’s chances for hikes and walks were put on hold for some house repair- namely adding supports to the living room floor and tearing out rotting wood in the roof and replacing it. I wasn’t able to finish the job on the roof so back up I went on Saturday resulting in a smashed thumb and some minor progress.  I’ve replaced all the 1x6 boards along one side and the 2x4 supporting the ends of those. I still have some re-shingling to do on that side and then I get to tackle the other side. There’s going to be some juggling of the large radio antenna that’s mounted to the roof on that side that I really don’t need to damage because that’s where our internet comes from. This might be an opportunity to take advantage of the just recently available DSL connection on our little piece of The Land That Time Forgot and just have the company that owns the antenna remove it permanently. It’s all going to come down to which is cheaper in regards to home/cell/net bundles.

On Sunday, having reached a stopping point in the roof job and nursing an ouchie thumb, Esther and I left the house intent on putting some trail under our feet and, if possible, seeing something new. We accomplished both by having a 6.8 mile stroll on the Swan Creek Greenway in Athens, AL. Starting at the southern terminus just off highway 72, the well-packed gravel path leads along the Swan Creek for over a mile.

Swan Creek

At this point the trail connects to the walking loop that encircles Athens-Limestone Park and Athens High School and Stadium. A second leg of the greenway splits off from that, crosses a wetlands area and winds its way to the large ball field complex that’s visible from I-65 and links to the walking loop that circumnavigates it.

Bridge crossing the wetlands

Restored covered bridge leading to the ball park

On the grounds of the ball fields we found a small out-of-place cemetery plot dating back to the 1850’s. Half or more of the markers were in poor shape and laying on the ground in pieces, but we’re suckers for this kind of thing and considered it a great find.

Kite stuck in the tree above the cemetery

Gallery of images
Tracklog of our hike