Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Torte Tort

I like tortes.


A torte is multi-layer cake made with little or no flour, usually substituting ground nuts. I have a recipe for a hazelnut chocolate torte that takes about 8 hours to make and 8 minutes to eat, assuming you stare at it for 7 minutes.

An e-less torte, on the other hand, is a legal term for a civil wrong. A tort can result from an intentional injury such as smacking someone in the head with a hazelnut chocolate torte, but is more likely the result of an unintentional injury such as a person banging their head on your table after passing out from ecstasy having just eaten your hazelnut chocolate torte.

In either case, an injury suffered.

In my case, Your Honor, the Torte Tort was self-inflicted.

You see, it's like this. In my house I'm known as Dr. Devious when it comes to Scrabble. That's because I have a sneaky, crafty little mind full of rats and snakes who are always looking for nooks and crannies to crawl into. Sneaky little words that I can drop into tight places to garner both horizontal and vertical scores. Those are my speciality.

Consequently, if a double-word or triple-word box is even remotely exposed, I'll find a way to claim it.

Except for last night.

Last night I played the word "tort" for a few points, hoping to pick up some better letters. I picked up H, V and E. I already had O, L, R and I.

As the other players took their turns I scanned the board for a tricky play, but none were to be had. It was near the end of the game and there would only be another round or so; I plotted my end game, how to use up my remaining letters.

The word TORT dangled near the triple-word box. One letter off.

An S, an S! My kingdom for an S. If I had an S, I could play VISOR across, thus, claiming the triple and TORTS down. But, I had no S. NO SSSSSSSSS!


I played my backup to use the V, attaching to a hanging E to make VOLE.

There was an audible sigh of relief to my left.

"I thought you were going to play TORTE and claim the triple."

Not understanding the significance of that statement I said, "I didn't have an S."

There was a pause. Crickets chirped. In the distance a dog howled.

"S? You needed an E, like this."

My opponent laid down W I R E D to claim the horizontal triple word, and TORTE on the vertical.

"TORTE?" I said, "What's a TORTE?" And, even as the words left my mouth I realized my blunder. I was so focused on needing an S for TORTS that I completely overlooked TORTE. Adding insult to injury, salt in the wound and a fork in the eye, I had an E to play in the word HOVEL.

That was the defining move and in another round the game was over even though I unloaded all but one letter. It was not enough and Dr. Devious fell to Dr. Obvious.

In our house the Scrabble Vanquished must do the bidding of the Scrabble Conqueror. It had been a while since I had been in this position, but I accepted my fate and asked what task I was to perform.

"Hmmmmm," mused the Conqueror, "I'm thinking of a dessert for tomorrow night's dinner. Something sweet, chocolaty and rare. I know! How 'bout you whip up your famous Hazelnut Chocolate Torte? Yes, that would hit the spot."

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

From Kink, the Christmas Cat.

Kink and Sandy had a great time playing in the wrapping paper, chasing each other around, stuffing themselves with turkey and sleeping. Much like the rest of the family.

I worked on my plating technique focusing on "less is more" and saved room for seconds. Or was it thirds?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Fondue IV - The Story

Now I remember why I have a fondue party once a year. It's exhausting!

Although the preparations started early in the day, the actual party didn't start until 7 pm and ran until 3:30 am the following day. That's eight hours of fonduing. We got through a lot of food, libations and had a great time.

With the house tidied up, Christmas decorations in place and the dining room laden with food and drink, the party quickly moved into the kitchen where it remained throughout the evening. That's the way it usually goes. The kitchen is the heart of our house and what better place for our friends to gather.

As a special diversion I brought down my venerable 21-year old Macintosh Plus, fired it up, and we played the old games that are still a lot of fun: Brickles, Shuffle Puck, Cairo Duck Hunt and my favorite, Daleks. Despite its age the old Mac held its own against players of Brickles defeating all opponents with it's little 1 MHz processor that is over 2000 times slower than today's machines. Lots of fun was had by all.

Later in the evening we set up a local area gaming network and engaged in a Battlefield 2142 tournament. While T-Mart and Colester battled to the bitter end, Kink was nonplussed walking through No Man's Land between the warring factions.

Josh provided entertainment on the base guitar while T-Mart streamed what I think was music over the wireless network to the stereo. All this to the constant background sound of cell phone ringtones made for an interesting, if noisy, evening.

Time flies when you're having fun but all good things come to an end, and such it was with Twelve Two Two Fondue IV. Kink slinked off to find a warm place to sleep, Sandy the Cat was already asleep on the couch, a cold front had blown in bringing a chill to the air and the last of the guests bid their fond farewells and made their way home. I surveyed the wreckage with satisfaction: bottles, plates, glasses, trays of crumbs, bits and pieces. It was all good.

It was the best fondue party ever, but we said that last year, too. That means that next years party will be even better than the Best Ever.

I can hardly wait! I'll start planning right away. Let's see, that will be Monday, December 22, 2008. OK, the date's set, I'm ready!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Fondue IV

Today is the day! Check this site for updates on the festivities as they unfold today!

Worldwide fondue! Yeah, baby!

Preparations Under Way!


Helen Commits Party Foul with Red Wine!

The Fun Continues

Cole Meets the Mac Plus

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Great Hippo Calamity

The Great Hippo Calamity

With just a few minutes remaining until 12-22 rolls across Texas I am reminded of a spectacle I witnessed many years ago at the zoo in Chester, England.

It was a warm summer’s day in Chester, about as warm as it is here in Houston only a few days before Christmas, nearly 80 degrees warm. Unlike Houston where 80 degrees is nearly considered a cool spell, in Chester it seemed downright hot.

We decided to take a day trip to see the zoo partly because of the weather, and we’re always looking for something educational (cheap) to entertain the kids for a few microseconds. The zoo met all criteria.

Once in the zoo we noticed that all the animals were on break. I guess it was the lunch hour because all the critters were either asleep in the shade or moseying to the shade to go to sleep.

Not much was happening at the zoo.

The other patrons were also pretty lethargic and we chalked it up to the unseasonably warm, although not by Houston standards, weather.

Then we rounded a bend and joined a huge throng of people gathered around a large, round pit surrounded by a tall, wrought iron fence.

What’s that, we thought? Let’s go see!

It was the hippopotamus pit, oh, and what a pit it was. The pit was about 50 feet across and 10 feet deep. There was a muddy pond in the middle inhabited by a couple of dirty, bored-looking hippos, a large trough of food, a couple of scraggly trees and about an acre of mud. I guess it was a penthouse to a hippo, but it looked pretty disgusting and smelled even worse. We joined the crowd huddled under a nearby tree for shade and we were immediately assaulted by the smell blowing downwind towards us. The stench was gaggingly strong. We were so surprised by the sudden blast of Eau d’Hippo that we nearly fainted.

Beating a hasty retreat to the sunny, upwind, side of the pit seemed the best course of action. Thus, we did and found ourselves alone in the sun but at least not having to cover our noses with handkerchiefs as were the folks opposite us.

No sooner had we taken up our observation post, the largest hippo in the pond hauled himself out, shook himself a bit which caused all the children to squeal with delight, and sauntered over to one of the scraggly trees nearest the crowd.

The crowd cheered as the hippo moved closer, they got out their cameras and snapped photos and, we thought, the hippo was enjoying all the attention.
When the hippo reached the wall directly under the great crowd, he turned around as if to return to the pond, but backed up into the wall and started to rub his rear end back and forth.

The crowd went wild.

Children squealed. Parents snapped photos and it was all glorious.

Then the hippo closed his eyes very tightly. We could see this because he was facing us but the crowd was unaware. The hippo squeeze his eyes and squeezed and squeezed and we thought we could see tears dropping out when suddenly

It. Let. Loose.

If you have a mental image of a fire hydrant that has been knocked over where a large stream of water is shooting upwards...

If you have a mental image of a waterfall, falling up...

If you can take those two images and replace the clear, white water spray with GREEN...

Then you have some idea of what we saw occur.

Looking back, we think the hippo had been eating All Day Long and was possibly plugged up, if you get my drift.

He was ready to go.

He wanted to go.


And he went. With a vengeance and lots of pressure.

The spray of liquid hippo poop propelled out of his rear end hit the wall with such force that it shot upwards about 20 feet. The crowd watching this spectacle went quiet instantly and was in awe of the green fountain shooting upwards.

However, awe soon became horror as the realization set in that What goes Up, Comes Down.

Alas, it was too late to do anything about it.

Within a second or so a great arcing sheet of green liquid hippo poo rained down upon the crowd with a thunderous splatter that was terrible to behold, much less hear. Unfortunately for the crowd the instinct was to scream which left the mouth open and during a hippo poo shower that’s probably the last thing you want to do.

The panic was short lived, though, as people fled in all directions, screaming, wiping hippo poo out of their eyes and mouths, slipping and falling; all covered in green slime. Children in strollers were either horrified and crying or gleeful and laughing at the debacle. Parents scurried for refuge.

After the screams subsided and the zoo crew showed up to hose down the walkway and tend to the distressed I turned to the family and asked the obvious question,

“Who’s ready for lunch?”

Monday, December 03, 2007

Storm’s a-comin’

Here in Houston we get storms all the time. Well, that’s not exactly true. Mostly it’s very calm here. We can get storms at any time of the year which is more accurate.

Tonight a front is rolling through. We’ve had some wind, some rain and now it’s windy again.

There’s something different about winter wind than summer wind. Maybe it’s the dry leaves on the trees or maybe it’s just the way the wind comes in gusts. It’s definitely different from spring and summer winds.

Spring winds are steady and can be fierce and they can blow all day long.

Summer winds are more gentle and somewhat surprising and definitely welcomed. Ah, nothing like sitting under a live oak tree with a summer’s breeze cooling the air.

Back to tonight, the wind is coming in large gusts. Great exhales from the northwest starting off quietly and building to a great roar that suddenly loses intensity as if to say, “Sorry! Was that too loud?” The wind sounds cold but the outside temperature is 81!

Winter wannabe.

Years ago I lived in Indiana and there the winter storms would come through with gusto and purpose. Yep, no mistaking a winter storm. You’d get sleet, snow, sleet and snow and snow with sleet. Great stuff. Lots of it.

My most memorable weather experience in Indiana was in April. Spring had sprung and we had shed our winter clothes for the more traditional graduate student garb of t-shirts, shorts and sandals. I walked to lab that day dressed appropriately for April.

By 4 PM nearly six inches of snow had fallen. I remember the long walk home, barefoot except for my sandals, trying not to step in the deep snow, but unable to avoid it. At least I can tell the story of walking someplace in the snow barefoot (nearly). I was quite cold when I arrived back at my apartment and that was one of the few times I filled the tub with hot water to ensure my survival.

That’s not going to be a problem tonight. Already the wind is dying down and tomorrow will be another warm, sunny day here in Houston. Sorry, all you guys north of the snow line, but I’ll be wearing shorts and a Hawaiian shirt tomorrow.

After all, it’s only December!