Mark ruins August

6 09 2007

Benchmarks are always good. It’s good to know “Ick, I ruined dinner, but it wasn’t as bad as last week’s Jerk chicken.” or “This pizza isn’t very good but it’s not the shape of Wisconsin.” Our family (and by that I mean Mark) has a new benchmark for success, or more specifically, failure.

In life we all make mistakes. We all make bad decisions, errors in judgment. And in these mistakes there are varying degrees of disaster associated with them. And in our house we now know that there are bad ideas, horrible ideas, and then there’s Wal-Mart.

Do I ever have any good ideas?

It seemed like a good idea at the time. If I’m still home to watch the boys during the day I can work two or three nights a week third shift, right? Right? Perhaps not. Had I been working just weekends I still would have failed, but it certainly didn’t help that I was on four nights a week – in a row. By the morning following night #4, the boys were on their own, playing video games all day in their pajamas and eating candy for lunch. And it would take three days off for me to start feeling normal again. Well, as normal as I can be.

I’d been working nights for two weeks when I gave my notice. I told them I’d work the existing schedule and then be done. Problem was, there was three weeks of schedule already done, and two of them were jammed together – four days on, one day off, four days on. Ugh.

It’s amazing just how neurotic you become with sleep deprivation. Do you know how confusing it is to start your shift on Monday and finish it Tuesday? Halfway through the night today turns into yesterday and tomorrow turns into today. And somewhere along the line (I’m not sure the exact time) tonight turns into this morning. People start talking about “tonight” and they really mean “tomorrow.” Then I get to go home and sleep all day watch the kids. Is it any wonder that my love affair with coffee became an addiction? After working those eight nights during a nine day period I actually said to the boys “If you don’t eat your dinner tonight I’m selling the Wii on ebay!”

I once had a college professor who told me “You can’t fail if you never try.” This is something you never want to hear from a college professor. He was trying to make me feel better, knowing that at least I’d had the courage to pluck up and do something stupid. And I suppose it’s true. Adding something to the list of my stupid ideas is better than sitting around wondering what would’ve happened if I’d tried this or that. And boy, I set my sights really high on this one, didn’t I?

Oh, and a guy made a pass at me while working the cheese wall at 2:00am on a Saturday night. Or was it a Sunday morning?

I never miss an opportunity to do something wrong

26 07 2007

Timing is everything. Take the previous owners of our house, for instance. They split (and left town) shortly before just about everything in this house self-destructed. Here’s the range that came with the house:

stupid oven

We’ve been having intermittent problems with this range since we moved in three years ago, but with the cost involved we’ve been putting it off. Recently it we’ve had to re-categorize our oven from “temperamental” to “broken” since it will preheat then shut off.

Now I’m not sure when this range was built, but the manual was printed in 1991. It started giving us problems in 2004. That’s thirteen years, folks. We’ve had ranges in our first two apartments that were older than me and they still worked fine. I’m not sure what you’re paying for when you buy Jenn-Air, but it’s certainly not durability.

Pop quiz:  Given the picture above, which of these two replacements would you purchase?

drop-in range slide in range

Me too. Guess what. I was wrong.  What I ordered was a drop-in range that is apparently built into the cabinets, and you have to build a box to put it on.  What I needed was a slide-in range that stands up on its own.  That’s pretty evident from the pictures, right?  Yeah well Jenn-Air has to go make things difficult for me.  Apparently I had a slide-in range with no drawer because of the downdraft fan.  So after 3 weeks of backorder the delivery guys rip open the box and I say “That doesn’t have legs.”  Oops.  Here’s my new range:

i wonder what I can ruin with this…

Oh yeah, and apparently my kitchen floor is not level.  It was very interesting to level my oven on that floor.

Goodbye, cruel world!

19 07 2007

I’m disappearing for a few days, going offline.  If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s spoilers. Spoilers are evil.  A radio station morning show spoiled The Sixth Sense for me years ago and I’ve never forgiven them.

So I will talk to you all after I have finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Did I say I’m going offline? No computer, no television, no radio, no newspaper, no NOTHING until I’m done reading that book. I won’t even be answering my phone. Don’t call and leave a message, the machine is turned off.  In fact I’m not even going to the store to get it. Amazon is delivering it tomorrow. Crazy, you say? You bet. The only place I’m guaranteed to be safe is at church on Sunday.

But I won’t be able to just sit and read after it arrives. You see, today is Isaac’s birthday. He turns lucky 7 and tomorrow is his pirate birthday party, AAAARRRRRGGG! We’ll be having a whopping 5 friends over so there should be at least 1 pound of candy for each of them in the pinata. Do they sell pirate toothbrushes?

In honor of this auspicious occasion I’m posting a slide show of some of the sillier pictures we’ve taken of Isaac. He can’t have thought I’d keep them to myself. Happy birthday dude, you totally rock!

And yes, I tagged this post “Harry Potter” as a cheap way to increase my hit count. I’m a shameless sellout.  Syndication here I come!

My greatest enemy

12 07 2007

Karen’s been after me for weeks to post this.

You’ve heard me rant against my oven. It preheats and then shuts off. It’s sabotaged my creme brulee, cinnamon rolls, and pizza. But it’s never beaten me. All three of those projects came out great. So what could be worse than an oven that shuts off?

It even looks evil, doesn’t it?

A gas grill.

Not just any gas grill, though, an EVIL gas grill. Okay, so perhaps all gas grills are evil.

I just don’t get it. I was great with charcoal. Those were the best burgers I’ve ever had. Come to think of it, I still make pretty good burgers on the grill. I make pretty good steaks on the grill too. I’ve even cooked veggies on the grill. But there’s one thing I’ve never gotten right since I started with this stupid thing.

Well it is called Mark Ruins Dinner


In the picture above you see my latest batch of Jerk Chicken, from July 4th. It was actually pretty funny. We had a guest, and he very graciously said nothing while politely avoiding the chicken altogether. I’ve made chicken at least half a dozen times this year, and every time they end up looking like this. Perhaps I get impatient and that’s why I close the lid, but as soon as I do I turn BBQ into something that’s becoming legendary in our house.

Chernobyl Chicken.

Last week Karen made an unwelcome comment to me, “Why doesn’t Bobby Flay burn his chicken like this?” Because Bobby Flay never cooks chicken on a gas grill. And it’s dead easy with charcoal. You put the coals in the middle and put the chicken around the outside of the grill. He doesn’t even close the lid, ever. The Jerk gets this great blackened skin (not burned) that’s delicious. Cooking on a gas grill with indirect heat is like washing my minivan with a toothbrush. That’s why I’m good with burgers and steaks. When God made cows he said “Thou shalt be cooked over an open flame.”

I used to be a proud non-owner of a gas grill. Now I’m a shamed owner of a gas grill that has truly beaten me. And since my Weber kettle grill died a grisly death last year I’m doomed for at least two summers to tinker, fiddle, and experiment, ultimately burning the chicken anyway.

Like my dad always said “They’re brown when they’re cookin’, and they’re black when they’re done.”

My oven is evil

20 05 2007

I had this great idea for Mother’s day. I was watching Essence of Emeril a while ago and he made creme brulee. “Wow” I thought to myself. “That’s supposed to be one of the best desserts ever! I should surprise Karen!” and there was one picture in my head:

It’s French!

There aren’t a whole lot of movies that we can watch an infinite number of times and still be entertained, but Amelie is one of them. I like films with subtitles. You can have loud kids and still understand the dialogue. But wait. I was talking about food, wasn’t I?

The first mistake I made was trusting Emeril.  As with watching all cooking shows I thought “I can do that. That’s easy.” But I did’t have those straight sided souflee dishes that I needed. So I went and got some, but they were a bit bigger than he said to use. That was my second mistake, and I’ll explain why later. Oh well, I’ll just have to bake it a little longer, right? My third mistake was purchasing a vanilla bean from the grocery store. Where do you buy your ingredients? I got serious sticker shock paying $13 for two vanilla beans. I would later find out that the local Asian food store sells them for $3 each.

The day before Mother’s day comes I set to work while Karen was out, and everything was going just as planned (you don’t believe me do you?) until I put them in the oven. The recipe said to turn the pan after 15 minutes so everything cooks evenly. Fine, except they’re not done after 30 minutes, 35, 40, 45, 50 minutes. After an hour has elapsed they’re still not set. Not only that but the oven isn’t really hot any more. The oven was still saying “350” but it was nowhere near that. Apparently once it got up to temperature it never bothered switching on again. I’d hear it click on, then off again immediately. And every time I’d open it to check it or turn it the oven would lose more heat. My fourth mistake was trusting my oven. Here’s a picture of my desserts not baking:

Stupid oven

So there are my half-baked desserts sitting in the oven and I’ve got to open the door and let it cool all the way down so I can restart it. I’m now very worried about ruining my desserts (wouldn’t you be?) so I do the one thing I know will save them. I call Karen down from upstairs. I like surprising her, but I’m not willing to risk ruining a dessert made with a $6.50 vanilla bean.   In Trinidad they would adress the vanilla bean with respect due such an expensive ingredient as “Mr. Vanilla Bean.”

With Karen’s help I finish two off in the toaster oven and two in the newly reheated stupid oven.  I’m still skeptical when they come out, and for good reason.   Emeril is no longer my friend.  He showed me everything in great detail until he put them in the oven, then later in the show he showed me the finished product.  But he never showed what it’s supposed to look like when it comes out of the oven.  I’ve heard “Jiggle the pan to see if they’re set” but I’ve never seen it done.  Alton Brown made creme brulee on Good Eats and I’m sure he would never leave out such crucial information. I wish I’d recorded that show.

I had also bought this uselessly tiny blowtorch at Lowe’s the day before. Mistake #5:

Hi!! I’m useless!!!

I’m not really sure what it’s purpose is, but it’s certainly not to make things hot. It took about 5 minutes to caramelize the sugar on two desserts. Fun, huh?

does it always take this long?

Well, after all this drama the finished product turned out great. And it even cracked just like on Amelie.

wow, that was actually pretty cool

Remember when I said about the size of the souflees being a mistake?  Well, the recipe was supposed to make six servings but my dishes were so big it only made four.  The recipe called for two cups of heavy cream and a cup of milk, and also six egg yolks.  That’s right, with each serving you’re consuming half a cup of heavy cream and one and a half egg yolks.   That’s why it’s so good, people.

My final gift to Karen on Mother’s Day was the assurance that I’m hopeless in the kitchen without her. Thanks to Karen and no thanks to Emeril. The most important words on a cooking show are “You’ll know when it’s done when…...”

Stupid oven.

Arguments for $1 ticket prices

17 05 2007

Shrek the Third opens this weekend and that means lots of money for Katzenberg. It also means that we will be taking a Saturday afternoon sometime soon and seeing it. But it also brings to my mind a question. Has anyone else noticed the disturbing trend of Disney/Pixar and Dreamworks making identical movies? Here’s what I mean:

Insect Movies:

Dreamworks: Antz 1998
Pixar: A Bug’s Life 1998

Ants by PixarAntz by Dreamworks

This one started it for me. This was back when we were all enamored with the idea of computer animation, and it didn’t really matter whether the movies were any good or not. I remember thinking “Do we really need two ant movies in the same summer?”  Were we really supposed to tell these two apart?  A co-worker actually told me “No, I saw Antz, because in real life ants have six legs.” Engineers are so stupid. What kind of freakish logic is that? You’re not smarter than me just because you can count to six.

Fish Movies:

Pixar: Finding Nemo 2003
Dreamworks: Shark Tale 2004

fish by Pixarfish by Dreamworks

When Jonathan was born and Karen was still in the hospital I took Isaac to see Finding Nemo. Isaac was three. Can you say five bathroom breaks? Who makes a kid’s movie set in the water, anyway? This movie has the highest gross ticket sales of any Pixar movie, and it’s no wonder. You got kids, you’re only seeing half this movie at a time thanks to potty breaks. There were some scary moments in that movie, too.  There were scary sharks, scary jellyfish, a scary angler fish, but the part that scared Isaac the most was when Nemo’s daddy was yelling at him.  Reminded him too much of his own abusive father I suppose. Shark Tale sucked, although the scene of that shark coming out of the closet dressed like the Village People was pretty darn funny.

Movies about zoo animals who are accidentally sent back to the wild:

Dreamworks: Madagascar 2005
Disney: The Wild 2006

who really needs two movies like this, anyway?Hello?  Anybody seen this?  No? me neither

In this case Dreamworks and Disney released, in consecutive years, two bad movies with exactly the same plot, setting, and most of the same characters.   I’ll be honest, I never saw The Wild, and I only saw a tiny bit of Madagascar because it was boring. How can a movie with Chris Rock in it not be funny? Ask Dreamworks, they did it. Bad timing for Disney, though, because when The Wild was released everybody had already seen it the year before, when it was called Madagascar.

Rat Movies:

Dreamworks: Flushed Away 2006
Pixar: Ratatouille 2007

singing slugs are funny.  New law of comedy.A rat chef in a 4 star french restaurant.  Not much of a stretch, actually.

Two movies about a rat who likes living the high life. In Flushed Away, he was the high society pet rat in a wealthy house, and in Ratatouille he’s a master chef in Paris. Maybe he should’ve been voiced by Gordon Ramsay. I’m siding with Dreamworks on this one even though Ratatouille isn’t out yet and it looks very funny. Hey! A food movie! Maybe I can write a review! I wonder if I can claim the ticket price as a tax deduction. But Flushed Away wasn’t really done by Dreamworks, it was done by Aardman. I’ve been a Wallace & Gromit fan for a long time now and anything with Nick Park’s name on it wins in our house. And who doesn’t like singing slugs?

That isn’t rice, it’s maggots you’re eating!

Bird Movies:

Dreamworks: Chicken Run 2000
Disney: Valiant 2005

yes, these chickens are made out of claySquab!  Quick, suck their brains out!!

As stated before, anything from Nick Park wins in our house, and Chicken Run was his first full length movie. Since these movies take 2-3 years to write, direct, and produce this is perhaps the only set capable of being a true copycat in the list.  I never saw Valiant, but seriously, did anyone see Valiant? Anyone? Valiant it proof positive that Disney has lost their magic completely. My only consolation is that Disney lost $20 million on it.  Almost immediately following this flop Disney bought Pixar.

Monster Movies:

Pixar: Monsters, Inc. 2001
Dreamworks: Shrek 2001

monsters who aren’t scary trying to scare kidsan ogre trying to prove he’s really a nice guy

This one’s a bit of a stretch, I know, especially since I loved both movies. I can’t say anything really bad about these two except that the make-believe creatures weren’t made as scary or ugly as they could’ve been because they’re marketed towards kids. Is it me or are those monsters cute?  For those of you who’ve never read Shrek!, the book by William Steig, you must. It is hilarious and I guarantee you’ll love it. Shrek is far more repulsive in this book than he is in the movie. That being said, both these movies are winners in my opinion, and are actually fairly original stories, which is hard to find in one movie a year, let alone two. Shrek was pretty good but it was nothing compared to Shrek II. Dare we dream that Shrek the Third is better still?

Superhero Movies

Pixar: The Incredibles 2004
Disney: Sky High 2005 (Live Action)

these heroes kick ass…these don’t

This is perhaps the real surprise of the bunch because they’re both from Disney. Disney has long been known for beating lots of dead horses, and I won’t even get into movies like Cinderella II, Cinderella III, Pocahontas II, The Lion King II, The Fox & the Hound II, Little Mermaid II, Bambi II, Lady & the Tramp II, The Hunchback of Notre Dame II, Brother Bear II, The Return of Jafar, and all the other cheap-ass sequels that went straight to video. Did anyone actually pay money to see Sky High, when you knew it would be on the Disney Channel in a month or two?

Now that I think about it, maybe Sky High is more of a copy of the X-Men franchise. Either way, boo to Disney for producing some cheesy knockoff of a real movie. I must say I really liked The Incredibles, and for months Isaac ran around the house at top speed like Dash.

Is it me or has Fiona lost weight?

I’m not sure if I’m imagining things but it seems as though Fiona the ogre has hit the gym since we saw her three years ago.  You decide:

Fiona in Shrek 2Fiona in Shrek 3

I understand that ogre obesity is on the rise, but so are ogre eating disorders so I’m a bit surprised at the decision.  At this rate Fiona will be a size 2 ogre in a little ogre miniskirt and haltertop in Shrek 4.

Wallpaper is evil

25 03 2007

I’m making slow progress on the dining room.  After about 12 hours of steaming the wallpaper is finally off, and on Saturday a very good friend with a lot of tools came by to help me put up the crown moulding.  I asked for his help because he has the tools, and he’s also quite a perfectionist.  It took longer than expected because I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been, but I gotta admit it looks great.


This is why wallpaper is evil.  Tearing off the wallpaper did expose a crack in the wall behind it.  I think I can patch that.


I’ve now got the cold Karen had last weekend, so I suppose I’ll be bedridden tomorrow.  I’m such a pansy when I’m sick.  So I’m taking this opportunity to sponge off the last of the wallpaper glue so I can patch some holes, and finally get to painting.  That’s the fun part.  I’m also very good at it.  For those of you who don’t know about my last painting project, here’s a picture:


Yes, a full gallon of primer fell on the floor, upside down.  Karen had just said “You shouldn’t put the paint can on the rung of that stepladder.”  What does she know?