Friday, December 19, 2008

'Macdown' practice | Onions are no fun at all

My onion-soiled disaster.

I'm posting this only to prove that I can cook, despite a post in which I questioned my own sanity partially because of what I eat.

Yes, I'm weird. But that doesn't mean I can't use an oven. Crackers are a staple of my diet, but I enjoy other things, too. Like cereal.

A sort of "Macdown" in which co-workers bring in their take on the American favorite, macaroni and cheese, has taken place over the past month at FLORIDA TODAY. All of the dishes were great. And I did take a liking to one in particular, but I can't publicly side with any one co-worker; it would surely add awkwardness to the workplace. Copy desks are awkward by nature, and they don't need mac and cheese to exacerbate the situation. Commas and hyphens do that job well.

My first oven-cooked (and over-cooked) attempt at mac and cheese - not counting those times in a dorm room nuking Easy Mac - followed a recipe by my favorite Food Network personality, Alton Brown. The formula called for a cup of diced onions. And that's where it all went wrong.

Not the preparation of them, that is.

I sliced and diced the onion until I thought I had enough for a half cup. I put the bits into the measuring container, and - BINGO - I nailed it. Exactly a half cup. I can measure!

I could get good at this real-people-food thing, I thought.

I burned the sauce, which I thought would foreshadow my undoing. The paprika-colored milk bubbled over the pot: The lava spewed from the volcano and cooled into a black mess on my stove top. I live in Florida, but my kitchen was Hawaii. The unburned portion seemed edible, though. So I went with it.

And that reminds me: The scum-bottomed pot is still in the sink, uncleaned.


The result was a pile of hot pasta topped with panko bread crumbs and one-quarter of the 12 ounces of cheddar cheese (that's 5 ounces, right?). I sprinkled on some oregano leaves to dress it up for a photo. It was the most beautiful - and only - thing I had ever made.

The taste? A bit off. What was it? The stupid, yellow onions. That perfect measurement was all for nothing. And bad breath.

It wasn't Macdown material.

So, now I seek an onion-less mac and cheese recipe to show my co-workers what's what and who's who. Or at least, to prove that I'm not crazy.

Anyone got a mint? On a cracker?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Shootin' | The closest we've been to the moon in 15 years

Taken with my 200mm lens.

Unfortunately, I didn't hear about this occasion until it was too late, but the follow-up was quite spectacular nonetheless.

vert_house_moon_0120Friday's full moon, the last of the year 2008, was the closest the satellite has been to Earth in 15 years. And it won't get closer until 2016.

I noticed something was out of the ordinary when I peaked outside my window Friday night. I heard something, and light was bursting through the seems around the curtain. A spaceship was landing, I dreamed. It was probably the brightest I had ever seen it during night.

Of course, I didn't know what was causing the daylight night until I looked into it more.

Saturday's moon wasn't full, as you can see in these photos. But the fast-moving cloud cover made the moon a giant disco ball and the earth a giant dance floor.

Photographing the moon was challenging because it was practically directly above, an impossible angle for my tripod. So, many of these are taken sans stabilization.

This exposure was made while zooming the lens.

The clouds created interesting hues of red and blue.

A wider shot of the moon shining through the dense cover.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Shuttle-747 landing | Good thing I'm not lazy

Shuttle Endeavour and its NASA transport, a 747, turns toward Cape Canaveral as it reaches the open ocean.

I knew it was supposed to happen, but my laziness was getting the better of me.

I woke up today, and The Flame Trench, FLORIDA TODAY's space team blog, said shuttle Endeavour was due back at Kennedy Space Center around 2:15 p.m. Weather forced the orbiter to land Nov. 30 in California on its return trip from the International Space Station. It had been riding on a 747 for the last few days en route to KSC.

The Flame Trench said low-level clouds could hinder the view as the piggybacking shuttle came in for a landing. I didn't want to take the chance of driving to the coast and coming up empty.

So, rather seeing a tremendous site, I wanted to drink my coffee. It was 2 p.m. when I got a text message from the space reporters saying that the shuttle would take a route along the beach, giving spectators the best view possible. And the clouds had cleared. But still, I didn't want to give up my coffee.


Then I thought, TRAVEL MUG!

It was perfect. I dumped the coffee into its new container, grabbed my camera and sped for the beach near Patrick Air Force Base.

I arrived, and cars were everywhere. I had not foreseen the popularity of the occasion. Most of the people who made it were old; everyone else was working (except the losers, like me, who work nights).

Some old people saw a plane and said, "Look, there it is." False alarm.

Some younger people saw a plane and said, "Look, there it is." False alarm.

Some other people saw a plane and said, "Look, there it is." Third time's a charm.

The 747 and Endeavour crossed perpendicular to the beach. I couldn't have picked a more perfect spot. It then turned and paralleled the shoreline the rest of the way to the three-mile landing strip at the space center.

Paralleling the beach.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The sun of the South, in a can

Sun Drop must be enjoyed with Southern style.

Six years of journalism school can prepare you for covering a fatal accident. It can prepare you for covering a dull news conference. It can prepare you for designing the front page, shooting a video and editing lots of horribly written stories.

It cannot prepare you for layoffs. And, unfortunately, it's a big part of the newspaper industry.

On Tuesday, I saw a co-worker, Beth, who had been on vacation for a week. She gave me a can of Sun Drop, a soft drink that, by looking at it, would remind you of Mountain Dew or Mello Yello. She did this after I - on Jan. 29, the day of primary elections in Florida - brought in Maine's official soft drink, Moxie. It was greeted with wrinkled noses.

Sun Drop is the Moxie of the South. It was developed in Missouri, and I know for sure you can't find it up in the Northeast, just as you can't find Moxie down here in Florida. The Sun Drop Web site says it's popular in the Southeast and that it's known as a "community drink." Pockets of popularity are scattered throughout the region.

The can was somewhat warm, and Beth warned that it had been shaken as it rode with her on her bike. Yes, she commutes with two wheels. I put it into the refrigerator.

"Sun Drop is best when chilled," Beth said in a Facebook message later.

By now, you're wondering what a sweet drink has to do with bitter newspaper layoffs. Beth was laid off a matter of minutes after she gave me the can, and I never had a chance to taste the soda before she left.

The least I owe her is a critique.

Sun Drop is packed with caffeine, but it doesn't taste like caffeine, as Mountain Dew does. Instead, it has a natural citrus flavor from the orange juice concentrate listed in its ingredients. Other components include high fructose corn syrup, which gets an undeserved bad rap, and glycerol of ester wood rosin, which pulls all the citrus flavors together. Mmm mmm.

It's incredibly sweet - unlike the bitter Moxie - but the impressive orange flavor comes through boisterously. In the exclusive Facebook message, Beth said, "It also complements any Southern cuisine."

In the end, though, Sun Drop is deficient because it cannot dull the sting of losing a co-worker and a friend, as well as a boss. Employees throughout Gannett have the same sense of loss this week after thousands were laid off. It's consuming. It's hard to shake.

So, I will keep this can. It will remind me of good times with co-workers before the Great Layoff.