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The Secret Ingredient is Drain Opener.

So! Today was the day of baking.

I made three things: German Christmas Pretzels, Black and Tan cookies, and merangues. The pretzels are an annual thing that my mom and I started about ten years ago; we opted for a more savory tradition because we got sugared-out with everyone we knew giving us sweets at holiday time. They’re a metric butt-ton of work, and I almost didn’t do them this year — Instead of my usual three batches, I only made one regular-sized batch, and we got maybe five dozen smallish pretzels. Paul helped immensely, rolling half the pretzels and helping me stage the pans for each baking.

Here’s the dough on its second rise, right before we started rolling:

I learned a while back to split the dough into two containers for the second rise — otherwise it’ll try for a takeover of the kitchen.

Here’re the rolled pretzels. For those of you keeping score at home, this is their third rising time:

Now, on to the sooper seekrit ingredient:

Yes, that’s right. The secret to German Christmas Pretzels is poisonous caustic drain opener! Seriously, though. A quick dip in a lye bath is what gives the pretzels that nice, shiny brown skin. Plus when you dump the stuff down your sink, it clears those pesky clogs right the heck up.

For those doubters amongst you, here’s the recipe, lovingly written in the family cookbook by my own mother, as it was passed down to her by my Gram Irwin’s cousin, Margaret Grieb, a Gute Tcherman Vuman if there ever was one.

Skipping the lye bath is not an option. We’ve tried it; without the lye, the pretzels just don’t taste right.

After their dunk in the lye bath (if you try this at home, make sure to use ONLY A NON-REACTIVE VESSEL — use corningware or an enameled butcher’s pan and stainless steel spatulas), the pretzels are then transferred to a NON-TEFLON cookie sheet that’s been heated, then lightly rubbed with a cake of beeswax. This, like the lye, is an unskippable step. Mom and I have experimented with just spraying the cookie sheets with oil, and the results were less than spectacular. The wax makes the pretzel-bottoms set up into this lovely, honey-flavored skin of goodness, and anything else is unacceptable.

Oh, a brief note on the cookie sheets — we tried this last year with cheapo teflon sheets and it appears that either the beeswax or the lye (I’m guessing the lye) dissolved the teflon and made it come off attached to the pretzels. Considering that overheating a teflon frypan can kill a parrot in an adjacent room, I must implore anyone trying this at home to use only stainless steel pans.

Anyway. Here’s how they look once we’re past the poison step:

And there you have them: German Christmas Pretzels.

Now on to some of the less lethal entries for the day, Black and Tan cookies:

How to? Make a double batch of this recipe and a double batch of this recipe, leaving out the chips and nuts. Put a bag of chocolate chips in the peanut butter cookies, and a bag of peanut butter chips in the chocolate cookies. Drop 12 half-size balls of peanut butter dough on to a sheet, then drop a half-sized ball of chocolate dough next to each one. Press them together with your fingers. Bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes.

Lastly, here are the merangues. I used this recipe. I had no piping bag, and so I used a ziploc bag instead. They’re really yummy, and look all pretty and swirly. I’m very, very glad that I didn’t opt to add cocoa to the recipe, considering their shape.

So yeah! Big Day o’ Baking here at Clockwerk Haus. Thanks again to the luvverly husband, who helped out a ton. Having him help roll cookies and pretzels made the work go about twice as fast — we got all this baking done in about five hours, start to finish.



Many moons ago, a Dominican coworker brought in the most outrageously good dish one weekend when we were pulling overtime. It was salt cod, black beans, onions and peppers in a faintly tomato base. Now, I know what you’re thinking — hot beans, tomatoes and fish — YUCK. Trust me. It’s wonderful. I don’t have the exact recipe, so I improvised today.

Salt cod’s also way-expensive, but I had an old flounder in the freezer from a previous trip to the fishmonger. Paul hates little bones, and I hadn’t felt like eating a whole flounder by myself, so it just sat there till today. I broiled Miss Flounder (it was a she-fish) until soft, then removed the skin and flaked the meat off the bones, carefully mashing the meat to check for any pin-bones. I’d had a crockpot of black beans going since the previous evening, cooking up from dry beans. In went the fish, a healthy dash of cumin, some diced onion, green bell pepper, dab of tomato paste, sage, oregano and garlic.

It’s nowhere near as good as the DR Salt cod and beans, but it’s pretty darn yummy. There’s less fish than beans, and the flavor’s mild and delish. Cheap, too — a whole flounder’s only about $4, and there’s enough here for two full meals for Paul and I. Add some rice, and we’re stylin’.

Things that make my husband cry, part one in a series.

  • “Protection” by Massive Attack
  • “The Message” episode of Firefly
  • Toy Story 2
  • And tonight,

  • Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas

For the record, the otters made me cry, too.


I found out something sad last night. One of my favorite bands ever, Barachois, broke up in 2003. No more “Coop drum kit”, no more marching sousaphone during a ticky-tack version of Paul Simon’s “The Boxer”, no more duct-taping their chairs down so they didn’t scoot them around while they did foot percussion, no more zizzing window-screen rhythm section during “Oû allez-vous ma petite femme”.

And worst of all, no more Albert balancing an axe on his head.


On the ride in to work today, the side windows fogged up a bit from all the snow that melted inside the car. On said window, the moisture gathered to reveal an oddly shaped patch of leftover stickum — the previous owner of my car was a member of the NRA. Next to the residue of the gun-toting eagle is my Trogdor sticker.

They’ll have to pry my Burninator out of my cold dead hands.

Bitchy bitch.

Apparrently, my hormones have all gone berserk today. Apologies to anyone who has to deal with me for the next 24 hours or so. Bear with me, it’ll pass. Love you all.


I got so depressed last night. I went to the session and hung out with the gang — Whiskey Before Breakfast, the Brooks Farm Band and a few assorted, very talented others — it was so much fun while we were playing, but after I left, I wanted to start crying.

I have no time left in my life for music anymore, and no way to carve out time; not with the dayjob and the comic and the marriage and the occasional sanity-saving night out. The place that Paul occupies in my life is where my music used to live, and while I wouldn’t trade him for the world, I miss the music something terrible. Worse, I miss the competency I used to have with my whistle, and to a (highly) limited degree, the mando.

I was never a gifted player, like Cara is — someone who truly connects with the heart and draiocht of the music, but I was competant player and could hold my own in a session, when busking, or even onstage. Now, unless the tunes creep along at a glacial pace, I’m all over the map. Can’t hit notes, can’t keep tempo. I miss being able to careen along with a melody, just avoiding crashing and burning from the speed. That’s long gone.

In many ways, going to the session is more depressing than it is enlivening. It serves to highlight the fact that I’ve no time to practice, and am losing my ability at a horrifying rate; this past summer I could still play a few competent tunes. I enjoy the hell out of the people at the session and their camaraderie, but I can’t stand feeling inadequate amongst them.


I need a clone.


Sunday, I went out skiing with my buddy Jane S. It was amazing; literally the best cross-country skiing I’ve ever done. We found this hidden entrance to a bunch of old trails that were once used by WMU for cross-country track, before the sport was cut from the budget. Now the university’s trying to develop the land, so we’d best get skiin’ before it’s gone. We were out for 2 1/2 hours, and wound up clambering up and down heavily wooded hills in addition to just shooshing around having fun. Jane’s a great ski-partner, and she took us around back of the mint factory (no kidding. toothpaste, candies, baking — mint extract.) where all the water in the retaining ponds are this crazy teal-green, like dilute mouthwash. We found a cool old hunting cabin, still in use (the new outhouse gave it away) but only saw one other skiier the whole time.

Jane’s suggesting we get some headlamps and try night-skiing. I’m all over that.

Onion Lurve

Cheese, Gromit!

So a few weeks ago, I ordered a book and some supplies from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. Some of their stuff was overpriced, and I wound up getting the citric acid I needed from Bell’s here in town. The rennet, cheesecloth, lipase and book arrived, and on Saturday, my buddy Becky and I set about making cheese. We started with two gallons of milk, and got three kinds cheese:

The first batch of 30-minute mozzerella was an abject failure. The curd didn’t firm up — at all. Instead, we got a runny, grainy paste that we eventually got to settle into something that resembled a mix of cream cheese and sour cream. It was delicious — but nothing even remotely resembling mozzerella. I suspected the lipase.

We had nearly a gallon of whey left over, so I set about making a batch of whey ricotta as outlined in the book. Heat the whey, add some vinegar, wait for the curds to coalesce, strain through cheesecloth. We got a full cup of ricotta out of the deal, and it tasted sweet and delicious — more tasty than any ricotta I’ve ever eaten before.

Then Becky and Paul abandoned cheesy ship and headed out to Target, so I started the last batch alone. This time I left out the lipase, and the mozzerella came together like a dream. I formed four tennis-ball-sized lumps out of the stretchy white lump of curds, and stored them in brine. DELICIOUS!

The remaining whey failed to make a good batch of ricotta, though I don’t know why. At this point, though, I’d been making cheese for close to three hours, and I was really tired of it, so I settled down to eat creamy cheese spread on toast.

Yay, cheese! This is definitely something I’ll do again.


So our good friend Mark Paulik, who was Paul’s best man in our wedding, just moved out to Portland with his lovely and talented wife Robin to persue a job with our buddy, the ubertalented Robert Lewis.

Mark’s now got his very own webcomic called Chümba and you should totally check it out. It’s beautiful, and captivating, and wordless. It’s like Miyazaki and Mobius and all sorts of other pretty things. Add this to the fact that we’ve been badgering Mark for years to get back into illustration, cartooning and animation, and you can understand how happy we are.

Now git on over there and read his comics! Tell him his work is priddy!

You don’t want carrrrrrrrrrpeting…

I bought some area rugs!

Sadly, a big oriental rug store in Ann Arbor is going out of business. I scored two rugs that each retailed for $1000 each for a total bill of $500. They’re gorgeous — one’s from India, and the other’s a folk-art lookin’ red one from Iran.

And now they’ve officially been accepted as part of the house — Brodie the cat’s already barfed on them.

Pix soon.

Happy Birthday!

Today, Paul is the answer to life, the universe, and everything. For another 364 days, anyway.

Love you so much.

La Vie Boheme

Since I spent Thanksgiving with Paul’s family (and a mighty fine Thanksgiving it was!) I kidnapped my mom today and took her out for an afternoon of coffee klatch. We had delicious Sabor Latino food, spicy mochas, and on an impulse, we saw Rent. We both liked it very much, and I was actually quite surprised how much mom related to the characters, given most of them were LGBTQ or addicted to heroin. I’ve heard some rumblings that the movie can’t stand up against the musical, and now I’m anxious to see a stage version. Still, with nothing to hold the movie against, I thought it was pretty good, though there were a few dangly subplots and some of the narration could have been clearer.

And I found out I cry way harder over Puerto Rican drag queens than I do heroin addicted dancers.

Wild weekend

So this last weekend I went to Chicago to meet the cartoonists there. My buddy Emily, whom I met through years of playing Irish Music, recently got her PhD and moved to Chicago to work for Argonne Labs where she zaps electrons with Xrays. Within a month of moving there, she met a really cool boy — who also happens to be a webcomicker.

So I finally got to meet Dirk, who really is as cool as his reputation leads us to believe. I arrived late Friday night through harrowing traffic. I’ve never actually been scared while driving before — and have driven solo to Chicago/Milwaukee many times before without incident — but this came pretty close to fear. The 80/94 interchange is a bloody mess, and between driving in the dark and Chicago traffic, it was pretty intense. When I finally got there, we went out to the northside for sushi. There is no sushi in Kalamazoo — okay , there is, but it’s behind the sneeze guard at the Chinese Buffet, so it doesn’t count — so getting actual Chicago Sushi was a wonderful thing. Then we went home and drank boozy coffee and talked till 3am. Their time.

A late start on Saturday (duh) took us past a cool Mexican bakery where we noshed on handmade pastries and great coffee from a corner coffee shop. We then trekked out to the cartoonists’ gathering at the Mitsuwa shopping center. What a cool place! There’s a huge foreign-language bookstore with a metric butt-ton of Manga, a huge asian grocery, tchotchke shops aplenty, and a food court with outrageously good food of every Asian stripe, from bibimbop to curry egg pancake. We gorged ourselves stupid, bought manga, and headed out to Gerry’s place for comics-making and videogames. I once again proved my superior suckage at Dance Dance Revolution, but I did get three pages inked.

I also got to meet Spike and her husband Matt, Bridgid and Nebojsa, Gerry and Addie and a couple other people I can’t remember, but all of them were cool and made really great comics. When we got all hungry, around 11pm, we disbanded to Dennys, ate, and retired for the evening sometime around 2am.

Sunday, there was dim sum at the Happy Chef in Chinatown. This made me very happy. We also got to walk around, looking in the cool apothecary shops (if I ever need a dried flying lizard or sea cucumber, now I know where to go) and furniture stores, and I spent the better part of an hour dragging poor Dirk and Emily up and down Wentworth looking for this really good restaurant that I’d been to several times, the last of which was in 1997. I failed my navigation roll, and we never found it, but we did get to take a ton of great reference shots of Chinatown, which was most excellent.

After dim sum, we went back to Dirk’s apartment, and I got to see his studio, and read the majority of a nw piece he’s doing for a collaborative Graphic Novel. It’s really fantastic — the art is top-notch, and Spike really did a number on the redraft of the script. Go, Spike!

So, all in all, a fantastic weekend. I’d write more about it, but I finally got a day off from work and I have to haul ass on a couple major projects. Suffice it to say, a grand time was had by all, and I’m looking forward to another trip to Chicago to visit and hang out.


Mouse Guard

Not much time to write, but I wanted to let readers know that fellow EMU grad David Peterson has his very own comic out! It’s called Mouse Guard, and is published by Archaia Press, which is the publishing house of Mark Smylie, the ubertalented creator of Artesia. It’s in full-color, too! The art was great when it was black and white, but it’s even purtier in color, and it’s easier to tell the heroes apart.

Mouse Guard even got highlighted as a Staff Pick in this month’s PREVIEWS. Good taste, Filip!

Readers of the Vögelein graphic novel may remember David as the artist who had the wonderful pinup of a smiling Vögelein holding the arm of a grumpy Duskie, surrounded by a swirling field of stars.

David’s heap-big talented, and everyone should order Mouse Guard. Now. I have a page of his art from the first issue framed and hanging in our entranceway.

Yay, Local Artists! Woo!

Promises, Promises

For those of you who haven’t yet heard, the Kalamazoo Promise is possibly the most amazing thing to happen to Kalamazoo in the last 50 years. Today I saw the first palpable proof that it’s working. Our neighbors, Joy and Tony, who were going to take their four kids and move to the country because their neighborhood (3 blocks from hours, I might add) really sucks, have done an abrupt about-face, taken down the for-sale sign, and have started funneling money into a frenzy of house repairs.

“We’re stayin'”, said Joy. “How can we not? Four kids!”

I’m thrilled.

Today, there was even better news — Western Michigan University, which has been suffering from terrifyingly low enrollment, has announced that all KPS students who attend Western under the Kalamazoo Promise program will now receive free room and board while attending WMU.

I’m speechless. These acts of kindness will probably save our entire community. Reports are already coming in that families from as far away as Indiana and Maine are sizing up a move to Kalamazoo. KPS Elementary schools, struggling to keep schools funded on an average of 18 kids per classroom, are bracing for an influx of new enrollments over the summer. There’s a palpable buzz in the air.

How nice to have our community finally known for something other than meth labs.

First of the year…

Yesterday was about the yuckiest day I’ve seen this year. Very very cold, rainy, steel-grey dark skies all day long. Around 4pm, it started to snow fitfully. At 9pm, we had about 1/2″. Miraculously, it stuck overnight, and we have 2-3 inches so far.

I also think last night, and the night before, were the first actual killing frosts we had. While it was nice to still be harvesting peppers from my garden two weeks before Thanksgiving, it’s a lot more foreboding for years to come. Smells like global warming…

Shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen

The husband has begun to complain that my hair is trying to kill him in his sleep. This is actually a valid concern. It’s fast approaching what I call “two-year-old” length — not that it’s two years’ worth of growth, but that it behaves like an obnoxious toddler. It gets into things, throws fits, demands its own way, leaves a mess behind, and sneaks its way into everything, especially food. The one save is that it doesn’t scream.

It’s gonna get a good cutting in January. Just made the appointment.

And no, it’s not all coming off. Part of the problem of being a hair factory for little bald kids is that I have to get it long enough so that removing the 10-inch minimum doesn’t leave me looking like a dork. It should be around collar-bone length when I’m done; currently, it’s navel-length.

Long as God can grow it…

Here I come, back from de dead

Hello, all.

Sorry I haven’t blogged for a while, but the last couple weeks were insane, and then I spent close to a week rediscovering the snot capacity of my head.

Lessee, quick recap:

On 10/29 , we did SNAP! As mentioned, it rocked.

On 11/2, I drove up to Owosso and gave a library talk to the most well-behaved, articulate and smart-spoken 12 and unders I’ve ever had the pleasure of speaking with. It rockity rock rocked.

On 11/5, Paul and I had a table at the Kalamazoo Art Hop, thanks to the kind proprietors of New Mind Technologies. The Art Hop is a monthly event where all the businesses stay open late and have sidewalk sales, all the galleries open up late, and there’s live music and sometimes food and vendors in the streets, depending on the weather. You come downtown and basically wander from store to store, shopping, meandering, and consuming your body weight in spinach dip, punch and boxed wine. Imagine a city turned into one gigantic gallery opening, and you’ve got the basic idea. Twice a year, they also open the Park Trades Center, which is this enormous warehouse building with great brick walls, hardwood floors and 14-foot ceilings that has been turned into art studios. Darn near every studio is open, showcasing the works of the artists — everything from photography to woodcarving to handblown glass to arc-welded metal sculpture to oil painting to live tattoo demonstrations to sumptuous hand-sewn liturgical robes — literally every kind of art you can imagine, all under one roof. It’s like a four-story Mall of Art. So, we were in there, in a computer network/design office. New Mind doesn’t have any art, per se, so they like to donate their space to underrepresented artists who don’t have a studio in the Park Trades. Paul and I drew the lucky card this time. The setup is mutually beneficial; our art draws people in to New Mind’s studio, and we get a place to sell our art. It was a ton of fun and Paul sold about a boxload of books. I had a cool little coterie of preteen girls orbiting my table all night long. They, too, were very articulate bookhounds, and reminded me eerily of myself at that age. We also found out that an old illustrator for Valiant comic books who used to work on XO Manowar has moved back to town, and old Griot artist/writer Kenjji is considering moving back to Kzoo with his wife Kito. Needless to say we are ecstatic about this, and Paul and I are looking at starting a Kalamazoo Comics Night at Rocket Star, similar to what the Hamtramck cartoonists have.

On 11/6, we hopped in the car and went to Hudson, Ohio with supalibrarian Kevin King. The following day we spoke to twenty-five librarians about comic books for seven hours, thoroughly brainwashing them all. We then drove home and collapsed.

On 11/7, We voted, and found out that Matt Feazell’s wife Karen is the new mayor of Hamtramck.

On 11/8, I came down with the creeping evil, and spent the rest of the week drugged up on pseudephedrine, which makes me loopy and shaky, and hacking horrible green stuff out of my lungs.

Yesterday and today I finally felt well enough to go to farmer’s market and do some cooking. It was bliss to finally have a day off with nothing to do, nowhere to go, and to feel un-sick enough to enjoy it, so we settled in to really make the best of it. We settled in to watch the last DVD of Firefly and came armed with sweets and alcohol. This led to our new favorite expression of happiness: “WINE AND COOKIES! COOKIES AND WINE!” To get the full effect, you must have a big delicious farmer’s market cookie in one hand and a glass full of cheap red in the other, and you must shout the words in your best Fred Sanford voice while cueing up a disc of finely aged scifi goodness. It is the height of decadence.

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