team player.

I learned the importance of restocking early and often when I was waiting tables. I also learned the importance of balance, charm, and efficiency, and all of these skills have helped me in my post-server life. But who knew that restocking had anything to do with being a software engineer?

As a waitress, restocking is important as a part of a team. If you have a second to refill the creamers or cut more lemons, you should do it. Period. Because later, there won't be time for silly things like refilling creamers, because there's not even time for important things like taking orders or delivering food to increasingly hungry and angry customers. You will appreciate yourself later. What's more, your coworkers will appreciate it. They will think that you are a Team Player, and they will be more likely to do their own restocking in an effort to help you out. I know I'm getting all pre-game pep talk on you, but you should always restock. Also give 110%.

Restocking is not important as a software engineer per-se. In fact, it only comes into play in the kitchen of my company, where the free soft drinks live. Some of them live in the refrigerator, and some of them are on the refrigerator waiting list, living on the floor off to the side, huddled together in groups of six. Obviously, when someone wants a drink, they take it from the fridge. Drinks taste better when they're cold, or at least the cold covers up their flaws.

When a software engineer takes the last Dr. Pepper from the fridge, what should he do? Would would he do, if he were a Team Player?

Sadly, I do not work with Team Players. Well, not in terms of the fridge. They're actually great Team Players when it comes to getting software done, but not in keeping a steady supply of frosty beverages. I probably shouldn't complain about the far less important matter. Maybe it's all those years of restocking creamers, but an empty fridge drives me nuts.

For a while, I would faithfully restock the fridge every afternoon. It was lovely. There were always plenty of drinks for any taste. I didn't just refill the Dr. Peppers, I would refill the Diet Cokes and the Sunkists and the root beers, because I am a Team Player. But I gave up, because I was obviously the only one who gave a crap. No one else bothered to even refill the drinks they liked, much less the drinks they didn't care for. So I quit my daily restocking ritual to leave them to their lukewarm sodas. That'll teach 'em.

It didn't. Rather than someone else becoming conscientious, the fridge became something you might see in a bachelor pad. Occasionally someone would restock, but he would do so by taking an entire 24 pack of Coke and shoving them wherever they fit. That is called Looking Out For #1, and it is the antithesis of being a Team Player.

Yesterday afternoon, I sighed and gave in. The constant disarray of the refrigerator was driving me even more nuts and I realized that restocking was a pretty stupid thing to get worked up over in software. Fine, you win. You shall have a well-stocked fridge. There will be cold beverages for everyone. No one will appreciate or help me or even notice that someone had to put the cherished Diet Mountain Dew in the fridge for it to be cold in their hot little hands. But I will do it anyway, because I am a Team Player.


gong for god.

All the churches in New York City look lost to me. It's probably because I'm just a small town girl, but I don't expect to turn a busy street corner and find myself starring at a gothic cathedral. I wonder where this church meant to be, and how it got so lost that it just sat down here between a Hungarian bakery and a cobbler's shop.

We stumbled upon this massive Episcopalian church, The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine. Going inside a place like this, all marble and domed ceilings and stained glass, I do start to think that if I were God, I'd hang out in the expensive churches. It's really a lucky thing that I'm not God, for a lot of other unrelated reasons.

Anyway, behind the pulpit in this cathedral, there was something hanging from the ceiling. It was huge. I took a poor quality picture of it, and I post that picture here, not because it is a good picture, but because it is fascinating.

It's a gong. A giant, probably six feet high, gong. In a church. I have no idea why, except that if I were God, I would be pleased.


slow cooker love: chicken and dumplings.

It all started with a slow cooker.

I used to call it a "crock pot," which is the genericized trademark name. However, out of respect for my new and beloved appliance, which is not made by Rival (who makes the "Crock Pot" line), but by Hamilton Beach, I call it a slow cooker. Slow cookers are tortoises in the cooking world, the culinary equivalent of slow and steady wins the race. The best part of using a slow cooker is coming home. You've had a rough day, no one understands you, traffic was crappy, and then, your house smells like someone loves you. Someone does love you. It was you, eight hours ago.

So it all started with a slow cooker because that's how I really started getting into cooking. As a novice, the idea of throwing a bunch of raw ingredients in a container and going away for hours appealed to me. That is my kind of cooking. While I have since advanced to recipes that require occasional stirring (and one ca-razy one where I had to flip something), I still have a deep appreciation for the negligent method of dinner preparation.

I see my slow cooker as a friend and ally in this confusing food world, a trusted confederate, a kitchen gadget with a Protestant work ethic. "Go on to work," she cries, for why shouldn't she be a she? "Go earn more money to buy more raw ingredients! I'll stay here and make sure that you have a warm meal to come home to, so that you'll have energy to go out and do it again tomorrow! And leftovers! There will be leftovers!" The more I think about it, the more my slow cooker and I are starting to sound like a married couple in the 50s. She did ask me to balance her checkbook once.

So if you haven't done it lately, give your slow cooker a little love. Along with some chicken and spices.

Note this recipe is a convenience recipe, meaning it's only one step removed from buying a can of chicken and dumplings soup. There are ways to make your cream of whatever soup, and I do know them. But I'm not telling, because, honestly, I'm not quite there yet in terms of my culinary devotion to "made from scratch." So even though it's a long ways from your Amish grandmother's soup, it doesn't taste that way. Feel free to add your own spices and whatnot. Also, I shred the chicken after it's been cooking for a while, though you could cube it before cooking.

Slow Cooker Chicken and Dumplings
ripped shamelessly and modified only slightly from Allrecipes

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

  • 2 T butter

  • 1 (10.75 oz) condensed cream of chicken soup

  • 1 (10.75 oz) condensed cream of celery soup

  • 1 onion, chopped

  • 2 (10 oz) package refrigerated biscuit dough, torn into pieces

  1. Place the chicken, butter, soup, and onion in a slow cooker, and fill with enough water to cover.

  2. Cover, and cook for 7 to 8 hours on low. About an hour before serving, place the torn biscuit dough in the slow cooker. Shred chicken. Cook until the dough is no longer raw in the center.


the jackie o. sump.

I went to New York City over a December weekend with another Big Apple Virgin. I get very self-conscious about being seen as a tourist. And so it was always a small thrill to me when some other out-of-towner asked us what to do. Of course, those other people were the fanny pack and freshly-bought "I (heart) NY" t-shirt crowd, but it was still nice to think that we could pass for natives, provided you weren't very hip yourself.

One morning we were on our way to Central Park. We had consulted the map and knew the general direction, if not how many blocks we needed to take, figuring we would know it when we saw it. We saw the sidewalk turn to grass, with picturesque running trails and a small soccer field. As we waited on the corner across the street for our turn to cross, a lady came up to us and asked, "Excuse me, do you know of any cafes or bakeries near the park?" We shook our heads sadly and explained that we were not from around here. We congratulated ourselves, both on our navigation and on our masquerading as city folk, and started along one of the picturesque running trails to enjoy the nation's most famous city park.

We'd walked about half a block into the park, consulting our little map as discreetly as possible, when we started to think that something was awry. For one thing the Jackie O. Reservoir looked like a sump (a fun word to say, but really more of an insult if it's named after you). Also, the park appeared to be only a block or so wide. I was a newbie to this whole New York thing, but I was pretty sure that Central Park was supposed to be bigger than the park at my middle school. Finally, we saw a sign saying Morningside Park. We felt a little silly, but we felt worse for the woman wandering around looking for bagels.

We did find Central Park. It's much nicer than the park at my middle school, or really anything in my home town. It might be bigger than my home town. And Jackie O. will be relieved that her reservoir is worth photographing, which is what I did.


the chef did it.

My sister-in-law suggested that I blog about cooking, but I am hesitant about the idea. The trouble is taking what is essentially just a recipe and turning it into a good blog entry. If you're not interested in cooking, there should be something for you to enjoy as well. I suppose I should see it as a challenge.

Perhaps I feel this way because it's only recently that reading a recipe on a blog or anywhere would interest me. Recipes are all about the same, right? There's some ingredients, some directions, some notes, but never any plot twists, intrigue, or thoughtful commentary on the human condition.

But lately, I've been reading a lot of recipes, because I've discovered what makes a recipe worth studying - trying to figure out if you can actually make the thing. Out of nowhere, I discovered that I like to cook. Actually, I discovered that I was not totally inept at cooking, which was really what was keeping me from enjoying it. Who likes to do things they suck at? Not me. I approached the kitchen with apprehension, and more than one dish was flavored with the salt of my frustrated tears. But somehow, quite magically, I found some easy recipes that yielded delicious results and my confidence started growing. I am not afraid anymore.

I'm excited about my new hobby. I bought a new slow cooker, loaf pans, pie plates, and even dropped some major cash on a food processor (which has already paid $2 for itself in grated cheese savings). I bring my lunch to work every day and secretly hope someone will ask me what I'm having so that I can proudly tell them that I made every bit of it. I want to cook two or three new dishes every evening, despite the fact that my fridge is already full of what I cooked on past evenings. I look at recipes online, marking things that sound good and within my skill level. In restaurants, if I find something I like, I go home and look it up, to see if it can be prepared at home. I feel like I'm unravelling the mystery of food - I'm discovering that many fantastic dishes just aren't that hard to make.

I found a can of soup in my pantry the other day, a pop-top lid number with 'Select' or 'Fancy' or 'Choice' in the name that I'd bought months ago on sale. I scowled at it. What was I going to do with this? Since then, I've learned to make about four kinds of soup myself that can show this silly can what it can do with its pop-top. I suppose I'll have to donate it to a food drive to go to someone who doesn't have a slow cooker.

So what I'm saying in all this is that I'm going to at least give my sister-in-law's (sister's-in-law?) suggestion a whirl. I may decide that it's not in me to make recipes interesting to those who are still in their pop-top lid stage. Or maybe I'll write a brilliant murder mystery, where the important clue is a teaspoon of allspice.


nodding donkey.

Josh had never before been to Kansas before I took him there, which is surprising, since surely all American children visit this tourist hotspot at least once. Before we went, he told me that he wanted to be sure to get a picture of a pumpjack (also known as a nodding donkey or a thirsty bird). "Don't worry," I told him. He kept bringing it up, as if I would forget or there weren't more of them than trees in Kansas.

Once we got to the farm, he seemed to be satisfied that we would indeed be able to photograph one, as he finally understood what I meant by saying they were "freakin' everywhere." One evening, at about dusk, we finally snuck off into someone's field and made out took some pictures of a pumpjack.

I remember being fascinated by the things when I was a kid, the way they tirelessly seesaw up and down, up and down, slow and steady wins the race. But I'd never gotten really close to one. It's sort of like going to a natural history museum where they have dinosaur skeletons. It's massive and seems to be part of a different time, an composition of simple machines, not circuits. They are beautiful, in a Kansas sort of way.