The Amazing (Name Still Undetermined) Pie!


I've already thanked her for this both on Facebook and on her blog, but I used Ali's recipe for banana cake for Jack's birthday weekend before last.  It was a huge success!  The problem?  (Aside from not following her advice and not sharing it with anybody outside of our immediate blood-related family, that is.)  One of the ingredients in that recipe is buttermilk, which is fine as part of a recipe but is disgusting slime otherwise.

You can only buy it by the quart, and when your recipe only calls for one and a half cups, you can either let the rest go bad in the fridge or find something else to make with it.  So, following Ali's lead, I turned to AllRecipes.com to see what to do with leftover buttermilk.

Biscuits?  Done it already.  Fried chicken?  Too time-consuming.  A-ha!  Buttermilk pie!  And a super-easy recipe with all of the other ingredients already in my fridge and pantry, to boot.

Impossible Buttermilk Pie Recipe from AllRecipe.com
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup baking mix
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 eggs

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 inch pie plate.
Beat together white sugar, buttermilk, baking mix, melted butter or margarine, vanilla, and eggs until smooth. Pour filling into pie plate.
Bake until knife inserted in center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool and serve.

This pie was awesome.  You don't even need a crust because it kind of makes its own.  I dusted it with some powdered sugar, and we took some over to my parents last night when we took them some of the photos from our weekend photo session.  My dad even said it reminded him of something my grandmother used to make for him!  I would make only three changes next time I make it:
  1. Put some fresh berries on top of it before serving.
  2. Set the oven timer for 40 minutes instead of 30.  I ended up having to add 10 minutes to the cook time to get it firm enough.
  3. Find a better name than "Buttermilk Pie," because people (or at least the ones in my family) instantly assume that things with "buttermilk" in the name are gross.

March Madness


Lots of pictures to share today!  You may remember about two weeks ago when I posted my kids' NCAA tournament picks.  At the time, I picked on them for favoring underdogs so heavily, and yet here we are with Butler and VCU playing in the Final Four.  More amazingly, Ava actually picked one of the Final Four teams correctly!  Sure, it's UConn, and they aren't exactly a shocker, but she doesn't know that.  Blake, on the other hand, is out.  His bracket is busted.  Here they are again (click them to view full-size).
Ava's bracket
Blake's bracket

This weekend was too busy with other things for us to watch much basketball, though.  We decided to take the kids to get some photos done in their Easter outfits.  Now, the last time we did studio portraits was almost two years ago.  The experience left us so battle-scarred that it's taken us this long to try it again.  This time, though, nobody was in tears until after the shoot, which was progress, and I think the photos speak for themselves!  (I'm going to put more of them up on my Facebook page later, if you're interested.)

After being so great for the pictures, the kids needed to air out some.  Swords have always been one of Blake's favorite things to play, as I imagine they are for lots of boys, but what cracks me up lately is how much the terms of the game have changed for him.  Three years ago, he was all about pirates, but now he spends the whole time talking about how if you get hit like *this*, you lose one heart, but if you get hit like *that*, you'll lose two hearts.  Yep, my boy has become a videogamer like dad.  Look at the intensity on that face - he's bracing himself for a boss battle, scanning me for weaknesses.

Jack busied himself with the sandbox.  We have a chiminea on the back porch which has never actually been used, and which is full of sand that Blake has shoveled in there over the years.  Jack decided to move it back to the sandbox... with a sieve.  Then he just got sidetracked and dumped it into my lap.  He's special, that one.

Ava supervised.

One Hat, Two Holwerdas


With spring here, and a few warm days to go along with it, we realized that Ava has grown a lot since this time last year.  The poor girl had only one pair of shorts that fit her, so we went to Target last night to get her some warm weather clothes.  Of course, she's my daughter so she looks great in everything, so this post isn't really about her.

Blake saw a hat and tried it on, and just lit up.  He likes shopping for clothes about as much as any other six year-old boy, which is to say not at all.  So when he liked this hat that much, we decided to get it for him.

Jack has one main interest in life, and that is "whatever Blake is interested in."  This morning when he found the hat unattended for a second, he grabbed it and put it on.  I just had to put a side-by-side photo of them both on here, because sometimes I'm still amazed by what very different people my two sons are, even at such an early age.

Blake looks like a little hipster, about to jump on his fixed-gear bike and go to a Decemberists show or something.  Jack is just a popped collar and fist pump away from looking like he should be picking a bar fight on "Jersey Shore."

Oh, OK.  Here's Ava in a hat, too.


My Favorite St. Patrick's Day Story Ever


On St. Patrick's Day 2004, Courtney and I were on vacation in New York.  We hadn't intentionally planned our trip to coincide with St. Patrick's, but this was when Courtney was still teaching Head Start, so it was her spring break.  The morning that we left Lubbock, we found out that Courtney was pregnant with Blake (although of course at that point we had no idea if it was a boy or girl, let alone that he would be named Blake).

(As an aside, this also led to one of our best friends in the world knowing about the pregnancy before either my parents or Courtney's did - something I have never told any of them.  We had decided to wait until after our trip to tell them.  Chris Blake was living in NYC at the time, and we met him and some other friends for dinner, a dinner at which Courtney was conspicuously the only one not drinking wine, which led to questions, which led to us spilling the beans because we couldn't hold it in any longer.)

Knowing a baby was on the way made us much less interested in souvenirs for ourselves - there was a baby to shop for!  I even went a little overboard and bought a silver rattle/teething ring from Tiffany & Co.  On St. Patrick's Day we watched part of the parade, since the route went right past our hotel, and then tried to spend the rest of the day away from all of the tumult.  That evening found us in the Toys R Us in Times Square, where we decided to get a Statue of Liberty teddy bear for the baby.

Now, I don't know if you know this, but thousands of Irish citizens travel to NYC for St. Patrick's Day.  That doesn't entirely make sense to me.  I mean, the parade and surrounding celebrations are a lot of fun, but it seems like leaving Ireland for St. Patrick's Day is akin to celebrating Mardi Gras by leaving New Orleans or observing the Hajj by leaving Mecca.  Anyway, we were at Toys R Us, second in line at the Build-A-Bear workshop, right behind a couple from Ireland.  The man was very drunk.  A friendly, charming drunk, but still: very drunk.  (For the next part of the story to be funnier, please imagine everything he says in a big Irish brogue with heavily rolled R's.)

At the Build-A-Bear workshop, there are these little felt tokens with words like "Love" or "Courage" on them.  The man picked one up, moved it back and forth a bit until his eyes could focus on it, and then asked the girl who worked there, "What's this all about, then?"  She told him, "You choose one to put inside of your bear, so that it will be filled with Love or Courage!"

Without missing a beat, he tossed the token back into the bin, leaned forward and roared, "CAN'T I JUST GET ME BEAR FILLED WITH RRRRRAGE?!?"

Time to Call My Bookie

If you have ever known my brother Mark, you know that we are entering into his holy season, his favorite time of the year - the NCAA basketball tournament.  I usually tune in for the Final Four, although A&M's presence in this year's tourney will probably draw me in earlier.

There are probably only two people in the world who know less about the teams in the tournament than I do, and I live with both of them.  I decided to print out a couple of brackets and get Blake and Ava's picks.  I know that by the time I've posted this, several games will have been played already, but that's just because I didn't have a chance to get this up earlier.  Here you go...
Ava's Bracket - click for full size

Blake's Bracket - click for full size

As you can see,both of my children are fans of the underdogs to an extreme degree.  No #16 seed has ever beaten a #1 seed (something which both of them predict at least once), and the lowest seed ever to win the whole shebang was #8 Villanova in 1985.  Of course, nobody expected Morehouse to win in the first round this year, and Blake picked that one, so who knows...

I'll give an update on their accuracy when the tournament is finished!

Everybody's a Critic

I was too beat to go to the gym last night, especially knowing that Courtney is working, and wouldn't be here to help me get the kids into bed when we got back.  Instead, I got the kids into pajamas and let them choose a DVD to watch.  When I turned on the TV, it was on Boomerang and was showing an episode of Scooby Doo where Shaggy poorly sings "Swanee River" until he is pelted with rotten tomatoes.

The children thought this was HILARIOUS.

We started the DVD and, as is usually the case, Blake was the only one watching after about 15 minutes while Ava and Jack had wandered off to play.  Ava came back into the living room and said, "Daddy, sing Shaggy's song!"  Guys, this was a guaranteed sure thing - not just an easy laugh, but a laugh from my daughter, whose laugh is the most infectious sound in the world.

I didn't notice that her hands were behind her back when she asked me to sing.  Why would I?  It was only once I'd launched into my best Shaggy impersonation that I saw her hands whip around to the front, go into an overhand pitch, and throw something straight at my face.  A tomato.  More specifically, a wooden tomato from her play kitchen.

As I quickly ducked to the side and listened to it whoosh past my head, I still couldn't be angry at Ava.  I mean, she still laughed, and it was still infectious.  But I do have a newfound fear for the effects of cartoon violence...

Thursday Miscellanea


Sometimes the best you can do is a list entry, and today I'm OK with that.  Here's what's up.

1. My wife Courtney has been promoted!  She is now one of the charge nurses in the surgical ICU at UMC.  I'm really proud of the recognition she's getting.

2. My friend Kyle gets double props in this entry.  First, because he has completed a very funny spec script for the TV show "Parks and Recreation," which I think you ought to read.  Second, because he forwarded me this, which is pretty much the perfect union of Projects Valentine and Horror.  (If you can't read it, click the picture for a bigger size.)

3. Do you ever buy stuff on Craigslist?  I've sold some things (although my business has dropped off ever since they dropped their Adult Services listings [which I shouldn't have to clarify is a joke, but I will anyway]), but never bought anything.  My friend Misty's husband has created a very fun to use program called Net Notifier which I downloaded tonight; it lets you set up notifications whenever items that match your search criteria are found.  That's really a small description of it, though, because it's got some other tools that make the whole process of Craigslisting easier.  The trial is free - check it out!

4. If you have been reading the blog for a couple of months, you know that I don't shy away from sharing my gross medical issues with you.  Today I had a medical experience which I will spare you the embarrassing details of, except to say that if you had looked what Danny made, it would have scarred your brain.  But I will share with you what my doctor said: "Congratulations, Danny.  You have reached the age where your body will start doing things that can best be described as 'alarming.'"

5. I'm actively planning the next Look What Danny Made! project, but I have a little bit of shopping ahead of me first.  I'm hoping to unveil the project in April.  Stay tuned to this space and to Facebook, because I'm planning the first Look What Danny Made! live event as a part of it, and you may just be one of the lucky participants!

Warning: Having Children May Impair Mobility


Woke up at 7.  Wanted to go to the gym.
Had to feed the kids.  Wanted to go to the gym.
Had to get the kids dressed.  Wanted to go to the gym
Tried to get self dressed.  Had to interrupt self three times because I can't leave the room for more than 10 seconds without the kids provoking each other to tears.  Wanted to go to the gym.
Finally got the kids in the car.  Drove to the gym.

Forgot the freaking diaper bag.

Back to the car.  Finally got to the gym at 9:30.  Some days it seems like a long, long time ago that I measured the time between deciding to go to a place and starting to drive to that place in seconds instead of hours.

Be Mine: A Look Back at Project Valentine


Another viewing project completed!  Before I get to my closing thoughts, here's a scorecard of everything I watched this month.

2/1ClassicGentlemen Prefer Blondes
2/2ClassicHis Girl Friday
2/3ClassicOn a Clear Day You
Can See Forever
2/4ClassicFrom Here to Eternity
2/5Manic Pixie Dream Girls(500) Days of Summer
2/6Manic Pixie Dream GirlsGarden State
2/7Manic Pixie Dream GirlsHarold and Maude
2/8Manic Pixie Dream GirlsAnnie Hall
2/9My Creepy ValentineTwilight
2/10My Creepy ValentineNew Moon
2/11My Creepy ValentineEclipse
2/12My Creepy ValentineWuthering Heights
2/13Dude, That's So GayBrokeback Mountain
2/14Dude, That's So GayThe Wedding Banquet
2/15Dude, That's So GayThe Incredibly True
Adventure of 2 Girls in Love
2/16Dude, That's So GayKissing Jessica Stein
2/17Ugh, Let's Watch Julia RobertsSomething to Talk About
2/18Ugh, Let's Watch Julia RobertsNotting Hill
2/19Ugh, Let's Watch Julia RobertsRunaway Bride
2/20Ugh, Let's Watch Julia RobertsEat Pray Love
2/22SexytimeLast Tango in Paris
2/23Sexytime9 1/2 Weeks
2/25HeavyweightsLove Story
2/26HeavyweightsBeauty and the Beast
2/27HeavyweightsA Walk to Remember
2/28HeavyweightsThe Notebook

Like all nerds, I like to see what the numbers tell us.  My top category in terms of ratings, was the Dude, That's So Gay block, with a 4.25.  That was followed closely by Heavyweights (4), and Sexytime (3.75).  A fondness for the gays and kinkiness - why yes, I am a Democrat, why do you ask?

As a sidenote, I saw in yesterday's news that Jane Russell died.  I started out my month watching her in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and ended the month hearing about her passing away.  I feel like there's a certain poetic symmetry in that.  I say this with all possible respect for her memory - she was easily the hottest woman I watched this month.  That's not a light statement, considering that I saw Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway, Nicole Ari Parker, Kim Basinger, and Taylor Lautner topless this month.

I also saw that An Affair to Remember just became available to watch instantly today, and I probably would have included it in the project had it been available sooner.  Oh well, next year, right?

Now, on to the movies.  As I did with Project Horror, I'm going to leave you with a few recommendations.  My top picks to pass along would be The Notebook, (500) Days of Summer, and The Wedding Banquet.  Under no circumstances should anybody ever watch Runaway Bride, but I suppose I'm several years too late with that recommendation.  Part of the fun with this project was watching movies that I would probably never have bothered with otherwise.  Of course, I'm talking about the Twilight movies here.  You know, they're still not really for me, and I'm probably not ever going to read the books (except as possible future blog fodder...), but I can see the appeal.  I still reject the notion put forth by Twilight and other movies that high school is the best setting for finding love.  Think of the high schoolers you know.  Is there anything more insufferable than listening to them talking about their relationships?  (I'm sorry to any high schoolers who may be reading this.  I'm sure your relationship is different!)

Although it was three days shorter than Project Horror, I actually found Project Valentine to be more of a challenge.  I think there's a couple of reasons for that.  One is just because of what I'm accustomed to watching.  When a horror movie is bad, you can still enjoy it as a Bad Horror Movie.  When a romance is bad, it just eats your soul.  Second was the requirement that I put on myself to find a lesson in each movie.  This proved to be much harder than I had originally thought.  There were days when I took it more seriously than others, but what I found as the month progressed is that some movies just did not apply to my marriage except through a real stretch of the imagination.  Either that, or they all contained very similar lessons and I had to keep thinking of new ways to word them.  The overall lesson ended up not being one I saw in a movie at all, but was rather the result of the watching.  Courtney works nights, so I watched many of these on my own.  On the nights when she was home, we would watch together, side by side on the couch.  My lesson is that I am very fortunate to have a wife who not only puts up with my silly projects, but who I really love spending time with.

To close, thank you very much to everybody who came along for Project Valentine!  I was amazed at the amount of response this one got.  I had friends telling me about showing it to their whole offices.  My sister overheard a couple in a restaurant talking about it.  A woman at the gym who I've never met before told me she'd been reading it!  For an attention seeker like me, this was like heroin.  Getting to do something fun and having so many folks enjoy taking part in it, too, has been a great reward, and I'm thankful to all of you who read my posts.

Stay tuned.  I'm working out the details for a future project to start soon if I can get everything ironed out.  If you're interested in keeping up, please feel free to use that RSS Feed icon, or the e-mail subscription box or Follow button over there on the right side of the screen, and I always welcome comments or messages!

Project Valentine, Day 28: The Notebook

As I mentioned yesterday, there were two very clear standouts when I asked my friends for movie recommendations for Project Valentine, and the winner by far was the one that I've saved for last, The Notebook.  Going into this movie, I knew literally only one thing about it, that it was referenced in the SNL Digital Short Lazy Sunday ("I love those cupcakes like McAdams loves Gosling!").

Shit, you guys - this movie was so good.  I'm really glad that I saved it for last.  I know I made fun of a lot of movies this month, even some good ones, but I'm not made of stone.  This movie got me.  When my friend Kelley suggested it, she said, "Well, The Notebook is the 800 pound gorilla of all love movies. And, you are a damn liar if you watch it and say you don't cry."  She was right, and I won't lie to you - it did make me cry.  No other movie this month has done that.  This movie was different from the others I've watched this month for a couple of reasons, but more on that in a moment.

The Notebook switches timeframes between two stories.  It opens with an elderly man (played by James Garner) going to spend the day reading to an elderly woman, a fellow resident of his nursing home (Gena Rowlands).  She's in a state of advanced senile dementia.  He begins to read to her from a love story, which takes us back in time to the other timeframe - the 1940s.  Noah, a young man who works at a lumber mill, meets Allie, a rich girl who is only in town with her family for the summer.  Despite her parents' disapproval, the two share an emotionally intense summer romance which comes to an abrupt end when her family leaves town early.  Noah writes her each day for a year, but never receives a response because her mother intercepts the letters.

They each move on, Noah fighting in WW2, and Allie attending college and volunteering as a nurse for wounded soldiers.  Allie meets a charming, wealthy soldier and gets engaged to him. Noah returns from the war, buys the dilapidated mansion he had once promised her he'd restore, and rebuilds it from the ground up.  The restoration is so impressive that a story about it runs in the newspapers, and Allie sees it while she is trying on wedding dresses.  She goes to pay him a visit, and the two tenuously reconnect, with her eventually asking why he never wrote.  He tells her about the 365 letters, they kiss passionately, and make love.  When her family and fiance don't hear from her, they come looking to make sure she's OK, and her mother finds her at Noah's home.

This is where the movie really started to surprise me.  Up until now I had enjoyed it, but not been caught off guard by it.  Allie's mother takes her to a worksite where they watch a worker from afar, and the mother tells of her own summer romance with that man years earlier.  She convinces Allie that what she wants is for her to make the choice that will bring her happiness, and gives her the stack of letters.  Allie faces a difficult choice, but goes back to Noah.

Over the course of the movie, it becomes clear that the elderly couple is Noah and Allie.  She briefly becomes lucid long enough to reconnect with him.  I've already spoiled so much of this movie, I won't tell you the very brief rest of the movie, and the ending of it.  I'll tell you, though, that it wrecked me.  It was really beautifully done.

Phew... long plot summary this time!

Full disclosure: I am extra-inclined to like movies with James Garner in them, as he is a distant relation of mine.  Here is how my mom has passed the story along to me.  Garner's last name at birth was Bumgarner.  My mom's maiden name was Bumgardner.  Apparently, the difference in names is explained by one of those "sloppy-clerk-at-Eliis-Island" incidents.  Anyway, he's like my umpteenth cousin or something.  Wassup, Jim?  See you at the reunion?  (Additional disclosure: he has never shown up at any reunion.)

Like I mentioned, this movie was different from the rest of my Project Valentine entries.  A handful had "happily ever afters," but this was the only one that not only had that, but followed it up with a "till death do us part."  Several had main characters caught in a love triangle situation, but this was definitely the only one that treated it in a real and honest way.  Lon, the man who Allie is engaged to, isn't a jerk or a villain.  He's not a guy who's clearly wrong for her (a la His Girl Friday or Runaway Bride).  He's an honorable, loving person, and the two of them truly do love each other.  When she has to choose between the two men, even though you know how it's going to turn out, you feel her turmoil.  It's not an easy moment for her.  And lastly, I've pointed out a few times this month my annoyance with the "I hate you until the moment I decide that I love you" cliche in romance movies.  This movie, had it been more careless, could have lapsed into that, because the two leads do have an occasionally fiery relationship.  The Notebook manages to make their relationship seem very real, though, and lets you know that the characters recognize things won't always be easy, but will be worth fighting for.

Rachel McAdams is turning into an actress whose movies I'll see just because she's in them.  I haven't seen all of her filmography, but she really brings something good to her roles, and I especially enjoyed her in this.  Ooh, and also in Sherlock Holmes - Courtney and I are both looking forward to the sequel to that one.

RATING - I was surprised to learn that this was based on a book by the same author who wrote A Walk to Remember.  I thought this story was far better.  I give it five notebooks out of five.

LESSON -  Like I said yesterday, every minute with the one you love is special, even if they add up to a lifetime full of minutes.

That's it!  28 days of romance movies in a row!  I'll have some concluding thoughts tomorrow, and I'm hoping to share my next project in the next few weeks.  This time it has nothing to do with movies...