Posted 12/19/2008 7:51:25 PM
Time for another Monster Post. Grab a drink, this is a long one.
I've lived on my own before -- In the dorms and barracks in the Air Force. I pretty much ate out or went to the chow hall. Sometimes if I was particularly motivated, I'd fire up the George Foreman "Grill" and cook a burger at my desk. I wasn't supposed to do any cooking in the Dorm, but I did it anyway.
Now I don't have a chow hall to go to, and I have to fend for myself. I went around the apartment and made mental notes of all the things that "should be here" and bought them. I missed a few. For example, the only kind of soap I thought to buy was for the Dishwasher. Those of you who know me will understand :)
Dad, you're an excellent cook. Apparently, it's not a genetic trait, or I should have paid more attention when you were preparing dinner. Given the actual meaning of "cook", I've cooked two things so far: Beef (Hamburger Helper) and Chicken (Shake 'n Bake). I got the beef right the second time, and expect to get the chicken right next time.
The Hamburger Helper was fairly simple. A few complications arose but were easily circumvented. For example, the first step reads:
Brown ground beef in 10-inch skillet; drain.
I've never been involved in a conversation in which brown was used as a verb. I know in the world of cooking it's sometimes a noun (i.e. Hash Browns), but it's generally an adjective. Wow, that's a versatile word.
Of course, by the time I had bothered to read it, the beef was already sitting in the pan and waiting for me to do something to it. So I assumed that brown meant "Begin the cooking process, stopping when it gets brown". Boy, was I wrong.
In step 2, I was to add the milk, water, pasta, and sauce mix. As many of you know, the beef stopped "cooking" at that point. I kept checking it and kept it cooking until the beef looked good on the inside, but the rest came out well-done. I'm a medium-rare kind of guy.
While I'm on the topic, how exactly does one flip tiny pieces of ground beef? The spatula is too large and clumsy; I ended up using the spatula as a wall and flipped them with a fork.
Then I got to step 3, which read:
Reduce heat; cover and simmer about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until pasta is tender.
Remove from heat and uncover (sauce will thicken as it stands).
Great, I hadn't thought to buy a "pan cover". None of my pans came with covers, and I had used the only large one to do the cooking. Nothing I had left could cover it, except the largest of three "baking pans", which I always referred to as "cookie sheets" in the past.
A brief observation of the physics involved indicated that covering the pan with a cookie sheet would cause a fair amount of sauce and/or grease to spit and subsequently fly between the pan rim and the cookie sheet "bottom", resulting in a big mess. So I just didn't cover it and reduced the temperature so it wouldn't spit as much. It took longer, but it cooked. Lesson learned.
Today was my first foray into the world of cooking chicken. I've never tried to cook chicken before, and the media would have me believe that my choices are either cooking it to charcoal levels, or contracting salmonella. The chicken's packaging didn't come with any cooking instructions, but the Shake 'n Bake did. So I followed them:
Preheat oven to 400F.
[...Assorted instructions on preparing the chicken...]
Bake at 400F in an ungreased or foil-lined 15x10x1-inch baking pan until cooked through.
Bone-in: 45 minutes
Boneless: 20 minutes
"OK, I have thawed, boneless chicken here", I pondered; "I'll cook it at 400F for 20 minutes, cut it in the thickest part and see how it looks."
Apparently the good people at Kraft failed to account for chicken thickness. These were fairly thick chicken breasts; perhaps I should have cut them in half down the middle, resulting in six smaller chicken chunks.
So after 20 minutes passed, I dutifully opened the oven and observed my work in progress. I didn't have to cut it; it was obvious that the chicken was raw. I let it continue to cook, rechecking at five minute intervals.
While the chicken was cooking, I googled for further instructions. The good people at Yahoo Answers provided my answer: 30-40 minutes, until the juices "run clear". Well, the juices don't run when the chicken's just sitting there on the cookie sheet, but I digress.
At 35 minutes, it looked semi-okay. I decided to pull it out of the oven and cut it to observe the middle, and possibly figure out how to run the juices to see if they were clear. It looked fine, and the juices dripping under it were clear, so I took it out.
Unfortunately, I hadn't thought to buy oven mitts; though I did pick up some dish towels. I grabbed the only remaining clean one and used that. No injury resulted, though I got a face full of hot air.
Looked fine inside. I let it cool, turn off the oven, and enabled the exhaust fan. I cleaned the raw oils and such off the knife I had been using and used that to transport the largest breast of all to a plate. I sat down and cut my first piece.
I cooked it nearly twice as long as suggested. It looked cooked. The excess Shake n'Bake was literally burnt. Yet somehow, the meat itself was flabbier and lighter in color than chicken I've eaten in the past. The difference in color was apparent under the amber living room light, but not under the white kitchen light. Intriguing.
Mass media had a large part in my upbringing, so I'm rightfully paranoid about getting Mad Chicken Disease or some such nonsense. So I tore off some excess breading (I applied it wrong so it caked on the exterior of the chicken) and threw it back in the oven. Rinse, wash, repeat.
Another ten minutes and I tried again, this time taking a bite. The first thought that ran through my mind as I partook in the delicacy of unknown safety levels was "Now that's fucking cooked." Not too dry, either. Okay, so when they say 20 minutes, they mean 45. Lesson learned.
Don't like my language? Does this look like a site for kids? What is this, 1850? Bah, I use it in moderation.
J and D were nice enough to give me their bed frame, but none of us thought it would be a good idea for me to take the mattress, so I've got a fully-assembled queen-size bed frame sitting in my bedroom with no mattress or box spring. I'm not sure why I didn't take the box spring since they upgraded to a King size... but I digress.
I've been sleeping on a futon fairly consistently since I left the Air Force... Which my résumé informs me was nearly half a decade ago. I didn't bring my futon with me to the new apartment, so I've been sleeping in various locations on the floors.
First I slept in the corner where the computer setup was initially going to be. The unusually-loud furnace kept me awake, but I was too lazy to move all the stuff cluttering the floor across the rest of the living room and the bedroom is too cold due to an insulation problem.
Then last weekend, the movers brought my server rack, sofa, and refrigerator. These things had to be settled in, so I cleaned up my moving mess and put them in their new homes. That night I slept on the sofa.
The sofa measures 5'6" long, with an inner seating area of 3'9". I'm 6'2" tall and tend to sprawl out when sleeping, ideally having around 7'x3' to sleep. The width of the sofa was sufficient, and the material satisfactory; but it was about half as long as I would need to call it comfortable.
So I moved the sofa cushions to the floor and tried to sleep on those as a makeshift mattress. Clearly, the under-4-feet of cusion available was insufficient; but when I added the rear pillows it was enough. Unfortunately, this wasn't very comfortable...
So I went back to sleeping on the floor, cocooned in my brand-new blanket. This time I laid between the sofa and the coffee table, which was directly aligned to the extraordinarily loud furnace but somehow the acoustics got messed up and it didn't seem as bad there.
Last night, I got bored with that position. Luckily, a blanket is easy to move, so I moved into the bedroom. I quickly remembered the insulation problem and coldness inherent to the bedroom; but I was able to pack the bottom of the exterior door with enough insulating material to compensate for the woefully deficient construction of the house.
I packed everything I wasn't planning to use up against that door. My ratty old blanket that I replaced, several old coats, and all my old Air Force BDUs (Combat and casual uniforms). Not the Blues (fancy uniforms); just the BDUs. Their construction makes for better insulation; the Blues are way too thin to have been useful. When all was done, I took my 2-ton hydraulic car jack and propped it in such a way that it prevents the insulatory clothes pile from toppling.
You see, I had bought a 2-ton hydraulic car jack because using the car jack that comes with the car is time-consuming and tedious. Unfortunately, when I got a flat tire, I realized too late that the hydraulic jack doesn't fit under the car when the nearby tire is flat. Great, there's fifty bucks I'll never see again.
Now the bedroom is warm enough to sleep in, so I moved my blanket and pillows to the area between my bedframe and dresser. There's just enough space for one person to be cozy. If I have enough money left over with my next paycheck (due in one week), I'll go buy a $250 queen-size mattress I found on Wal-Mart's website. Not sold in stores, they'll deliver it to me, but I have to take some time off work to do it because nobody delivers during convenient hours. Well, nobody except fast food places, and they don't deliver mattresses. People have jobs, ya know.
One week after I moved in, I received the opener and key to the garage I was promised six days prior. The garage is integrated into my building and can be accessed through indoor hallways, but you have to go outside and down four sets of icy, outdoor stairs to get into those indoor hallways, so it's nearly a moot point.
The garage I was assigned was the only one available in the building, and it took a week for the maintenance guys to prepare it, which is why it took so long to get it. The first time I saw it, I was taken aback by the lack of width; it was the first single-car garage I had ever seen. Having parked the Mustang inside it, I could only muster about 3' total on both sides. If I park with a rightward bias, I have enough space to open one door.
The garage is on the far side of the building, in a dead end area where all the apartment complex's maintenance people base their operations. Great, so I have to share the area outside my garage with their POV's, golf carts, and construction equipment. Also, they park in such a way that I can't successfully maneuver my way in or out of the garage between 8:30 AM and 4:00 PM without having to make a series of successive small-angle turns, just to execute a 90-degree rotation.
So I tried backing into the garage for enhanced maneuverability. Technically, I can; but it takes four times as long for reasons I can only explain as "Mirrors don't tell you as much as direct line of sight does". I've never hit the side of the garage door, but I'm sure every time I come within a few inches.
They work there, so they're not willing to park elsewhere, and there are no other attached garages available. I could raise a fuss with the management staff, but this is the only apartment complex in a decent part of town that would approve me; and I don't want to start off here being a problem maker. God knows I've made that mistake before.
So we've inadvertantly come to a de facto agreement of sorts: If I leave after the maintenance guys get there, or if I get home before they leave, I just walk over to their garage and wave. They subsequently move their vehicle(s) out of my way.
Did I mention the single-car garages the maintenance guys park in are five feet wider and farther away from their work area than mine? Gimme a break. I guess the driving area directly outside of my garage is just their "overflow lot".
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