Sunday, May 13, 2012

Waiting, just anticipating...

Previously on Creamy Ranch the Next Generation...

We are awaiting the pitter patter of tiny feet. The pitter patter of tiny paws on the other hand has been delighting us since mid January. Betsy our rescued little mutt has settled in well and senses that there is another "puppy" on the way. She's very well behaved and will no doubt be a great big sister.

This has nothing to do with the awesome fuzzy rug in nursery, oh no. Yes, this is also an excuse to show off my handy work in decorating the nursery. A big shout out to Keith for helping with the design and finding the cool prints for the walls. While I wouldn't have thought of wainscoting, it looks great despite the effing and blinding I went through to get it on walls. Of course I didn't pick the colors either. The good wife managed to pick out "Rue Green" from the Martha Stewart line of Light Strokes paint. Of course she then said "can you apply if flat without the fancy after effects?". Cue more effing and blinding. But it does look good.

See how the rug sets off her fur.

A recycled Ikea dresser from our bedroom which has since been replaced with a more grown up dresser from Ikea. Crib from Ikea along with some shelves. Rocking chair from Target. Dog from Lucky Paws Shelter.

And now we wait.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Review of the year

There is a supposedly ancient Chinese curse that goes "May you live in interesting times". What many people don't know is that it is meant to be followed by two even more cunning curses "May you come to the attention of those in authority" and ultimately "May you find what you're looking for".

Thus goes the theme of this past year at Creamy Ranch. Here are some of the highlights...

  • Interesting times
Well, the Creamy Ranch is going to be welcoming the pitter patter of tiny feet. In more ways than one. Yes, the wife is pregnant and expecting in June. There is lots to do in preparation, some of which is easy some of which is hard. Baby proofing the place is probably at the easier end of the scale. Picking out colors for the nursery is seemingly much more difficult. It is pretty easy to get overwhelmed by all the stuff you supposedly need too. Strollers, cots, changing tables... Enough to make you hyperventilate in Babies R' Us.

In a circle of life kind of deal, we had to say goodbye to Cleo our cat. She had a full life perhaps longer than we all expected. After growing up on the mean streets of Chicago as a single mother, being rescued and then getting to live in Kansas and Brooklyn she enjoyed her retirement in Arizona. The house is strangely empty without her, though we think her spirit still lingers. We were both quite shocked by the number of people whose lives she had touched in such a positive way.

We had been considering getting a dog for a long time but couldn't until now. So, some time in the new year we will go and check out some of the local rescue organizations and see if we can find a mutt in need of a home.

  • The attention of those in authority
I had not originally given much thought to becoming a US citizen. Apart from the inconvenience of telling the government each time I moved and renewing my Green Card every ten years I was fairly content. Then with thoughts of starting a family, fears of what Arizona might do next and an impending general election, I decided to go for it. Compared to the rest of my immigration journey, this last part seems to have been the easiest. I passed the civics test with flying colors by naming the Chief Justice (John Roberts), the number of representatives (435), how long representatives are elected (two years), when we vote for president (November), who the father of the country is (Washington), and the name a war in the 1900s (WW1). The oath ceremony itself was actually quite moving and despite myself I did shed a tear. I am now registered to vote, have a funny blue colored passport and await my call up to do jury duty.

All in all the whole process from deciding to get married to now has taken about 5 years and cost several thousand dollars. But most definitely worth it. Just don't thank me for "doing it the right way". I was lucky and privileged that I had this opportunity.

  • Getting what I'm looking for?
Hmm more tricky this one. I do now have a "man nook" in my office, complete with cozy Poang chair from Ikea. Perhaps next year, when I am looking for a little solitude I can go and hide there.

I should probably be careful what I wish for, but I don't think I would not want to live in interesting times. That would be boring.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Diet - A four letter word

It's a loaded word, full of assumption and preconception. To say you are on a diet means losing weight. But I'm 6'2" and 180 lbs, why am I on a diet?

Let's turn the clock back a few years to when I first came to America.Yes I'm British, hence why The Wife calls me The Brit on her blog. I was overwhelmed by the choice of restaurants in NYC. Name an ethnic cuisine and it was there. However, living in NYC is not always the great experience you see on TV. It costs money to feed yourself and the expensive little grocery store on the corner was not exactly overflowing with quality merchandise. So you naturally gravitate towards eating out or ordering take out. Initially I balked at the huge portions, failing to finish my plate. But I realized recently that more often than not, I was now clearing my plate and walking away bloated and more than full. Something was going wrong.

It seems that the average American treats food like a utility. An onerous bill to pay at the end of the month. If you can get more for less and quicker, even better. And the food industry caters for that demand. Walking down the aisles of the supermarket I see this in full swing with ready meals and manufactured food products. I've also become "that guy" who now looks at the label and shouts down the aisle about how bad it is. Even the "diet food" doesn't look good when you start looking at the label. Sure, it's low fat but look at all that sugar!

Okay, time for another analogy. Have you ever put the wrong fuel in your car? It doesn't run very well does it? Is the solution to keep putting the wrong fuel in but in a smaller amount? No, it's still the wrong fuel! Eating less and exercising more may work for some, but if you are still eating the wrong food is it really fixing anything?

But what is the right food? The USDA has had their food pyramid for years and recently changed to a plate. It's a step up as it tries to visually demonstrate how much food is right. But it feels like there is a lot of lobbying going on in the background that dilutes any real science there. The recommended number of daily calories apparently has little basis in reality and was pretty much guessed at (see this link from The Wife's blog). You can look through any number of celebrity/fad diets and again find little basis in science. The reason celebrities stay slim is probably not because of their diets but because they have nothing better to do than work out all day with their expensive personal trainers.

What really seems to ruin diets is when they become popular, let me explain my stages of diet evolution:
  1. Eureka moment, someone finds out a new way of eating and it works for them
  2. They write a book or obscure pamphlet that virtually no-one reads
  3. Someone else reads the book and writes their own book changes a few things makes it more readable
  4. Suddenly, it catches on, the word spreads
  5. The businessmen arrive, give it a catchy name, a new book is written, snack products are produced
  6. The industry takes note and start making their own line of products, but you know it needs to be more shelf stable, more palatable, more colorful, this industrial byproduct will make it sweeter...
So, is our current diet a faddish unscientific whim? I really don't know yet. It is in essence a "low carb" diet. To which you say, "Atkins turned out to be a fad blah blah blah". Well, in my mind Atkins was a bit of a fad and has pretty much gone through all those stages above. In fact I feel the "low carb" movement has rebooted with a little help from the "paleo" movement (eating only things available to cavemen). People are re-examining or re-discovering those obscure pamphlets and books. Looking more closely at the science they are telling us that insulin is the key to a lot of functions in the human body. Primarily the way it regulates fuel use (glucose and fat) and how the body handles essential nutrients like cholesterol which we have been brought up to believe is just bad. In simple terms spikes in insulin cause problems and a "low carb" diet seems to smooth out the body's demand for insulin.

Our diet, therefore has three components:

1) Eating smaller portions - some of this takes a lot of will power, to sit in front of a plate at a restaurant and decide right at the start that some of that is going in a box for lunch tomorrow. Ordering less helps too.

ii) Cooking at home more - take away the temptation of restaurants and eat at home more. The key to this step is menu planning which not only helps us decide what to eat each day but cuts down on food waste and reduces our grocery bill. We still eat out but more selectively.

c) Low carb - no grains, no bread, no pasta, no potato, no sugar, no sugar alcohols (the sugar replacements in step 6 above). Okay this was tough, I grew up on carbs. The first thing you do is look for substitutes and loopholes. The big concession so far has been bran crispbreads for my breakfast peanut butter. I've cut sandwiches for lunch and now have a much more varied mix of salads and omelets and leftovers. Dinners are relatively unchanged except for more salad and veg instead of a starch which as The Wife keeps saying is just a carrier for sauce. We eat really well (see Greedy Gobbler for some examples). Dessert is the hardest bit, we're still working on that.

Has it worked? Too early to tell. The Wife is seeing some early results. We are enjoying our food and feeling very involved in the process. I'm definitely more alert in the afternoons and not having as many post lunch slumps. We'll see how things progress.

So am I on a diet? Lifestyle change and healthy eating program sound too pretentious. How about I just stop eating wrong?

A continuing mission, to boldly eat what no man has eaten before...

Saturday, July 2, 2011


Or colour, depending on your point in the Naturalization process.

It is starting to get a little warm here at the Creamy Ranch.
Yes, that's the night time temperature. But hey, it's a dry heat right? What this means is that our lovely garden is starting to feel a little parched and some of the plants are getting past their prime. As luck would have it, I took some pictures to preserve the beauty of our garden in full bloom.
The full gallery of pictures from Creamy Ranch is here.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A lament on Fish & Chips

I think I've just had the worst fish and chips ever. I drive past Pete's Fish and Chips frequently, it isn't far from the Creamy Ranch so I was really hoping for a good local chippie. Oh dear, oh dear oh dear where to start. Well, the price was okay at just a few bucks for a piece of fish and some chips. But was it fish and were those chips? Fish should not be rectangular and neither should it be breaded. What was that red sauce you get, eww! I don't know how you can ruin something that badly.

It wasn't like I was expecting "Architects Fish and Chips":

Just your simple old fashioned "Builder's Fish and Chips" would have done for me. So let's examine what that is.

  • Fish - Typically in England this should be Cod but with dwindling Atlantic cod stocks other flaky white fish are creeping in. If you grew up in Scotland the default fish is usually Haddock which has a much stronger fishy taste compared to cod. I spent a year living on the east coast of Scotland and sometimes forgot to specify cod in my order. I didn't mind, it made for a nice change. A good sized fillet is needed and none of this squared off processed rubbish. When cooked, it should have a bit of flakiness and an almost creamy texture.
  • Batter - The fillet of fish should be battered in a simple batter not breaded. If you're in a fancy sit down restaurant by all means make a beer batter but it isn't necessary. Flour, water, seasoning and baking soda is probably quite sufficient. That said, I've heard some chippies pass down secret family recipes. A rich golden color, crispy but not overly so. The end bits should have a yummy crunchiness to it. During frying some of this batter will break away to be scooped off and thrown away. In some parts of the UK they keep it and you can ask for these "scraps" to be added to your order. 
  • Chips - not french fries or shoestring fries, just chips. Big fat greasy chips. 
  • Presentation - paper wrapped. It used to be they would use actual newsprint but the busy bodies in health and safety stopped that. Now it's plain paper, sometimes printed up to look like news print. I think something magical happens when you wrap fish and chips. The steam softens the batter a little, the vinegar permeates the food, the chips stick to the small square of greaseproof paper placed on the bottom. It sends shivers down my spine just thinking about it. Oh, and don't go putting a polystyrene tray there either!
  • Condiments - doctors orders be damned, let them shake that big shaker of salt all over and smother it with malt vinegar. Ketchup for the chips of course (unless you are European and insist on Mayo but that really is quite wrong). Tartar sauce is acceptable at somewhere fancy as is a wedge of lemon.
 It's simple really, how can you muck it up. I remember at various points in my life walking to the local chippie and then either walking home with it tucked under my arm or sitting on a bench and eating it then and there despite bracing winds coming in off the North Sea. Salt, vinegar, grease, fish, all picked apart by eager fingers. Nowadays I am forced to eat over priced fish and chips served up on plates to be eaten with knife and fork in faux Irish pubs. It's not the same!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Great American Road Trips

Ah the open road, what more can you say about the quintessential American past-time (after Football, Baseball, politics etc etc). From movies like Easy Rider we get to see the gritty under belly of America and yet we also witness the beauty and wonder of nature. So it is that we saddle up and drive in order to avoid TSA groping our bodies and restricting how much liquid we can carry on board. We drive wildly inappropriate fuel guzzling vehicles a thousand miles just to buy a Twinkie (I'm sure that's a quote from a book but I can't remember where), then turn around again and drive all the way back. Dodge and weave between trucks and RVs as they slow on steep inclines. Slow suddenly as you see a white highway patrol car sit in the median waiting for unsuspecting out of towners to roar through their patch.

With that I bring you a count down of some of my favorite drives. Something has to be bottom and with that I bring you...

(Last) - I-10 Phoenix to Austin
Car - 1999 Lincoln Town Car
Highlight - Getting to the end

Look at the map of America and you see a nice grid of Interstates criss-crossing the country.  Generally speaking east-west roads are numbered as multiples of ten starting in the south, north south roads end in a five. I-10 is just one long straight road running through west Texas with nothing to do but stop occasionally to refuel. You'd be surprised but according to the trip computer, the Town Car gets an astonishing 20 mpg as you rush through Texas at 80 mph. Yeah, it was that boring I ended up playing with the trip computer.

(4) - I-5 Phoenix to Napa
Car -1999 Lincoln Town Car
Highlight - seeing how much wine you can fit in the trunk of a Town Car (hint, it's more than you can take on a plane)

Here's a pro-tip for those visiting a wine region. Take along a pregnant friend. She'll happily carry on knitting in the background while you sample wine after wine after wine, then drive your sorry ass back home. The drive along I-5 is mostly unremarkable, though you do get to see the great bulk of America's citrus farms. There are better looking routes through California such as the coast road, but when speed is of the essence and a big ugly looking storm is on your tail threatening to subsequently wash the road away you don't care for views. We got home safely at about 2 am with the storm chasing us down all the way to Phoenix.

(3) - The Road to Hana
Car - Tourist Special (Ford Mustang)
Highlight - Narrow winding roads

The guidebooks do little justice to this road that winds its way around the island of Maui. It is chock full of stunning scenery as the narrow winding road takes you past colorful beaches, hidden little waterfalls and "the real Hawaii". Unfortunately you have to contend with all the other tourists driving their Ford Mustangs or open top Jeeps. The trick is of course timing. Wake up late and avoid the rush. Wake up late and miss out on the last slice of the pie of the day and have your wife hold it over your head for ever! The guidebook also says to leave early in order to give yourself enough time to get home before nightfall. Pfft, we laugh at your lack of night vision. Ok, so the locals know the roads even in the dark and they are narrow and winding and there does seem to be a big drop over the cliffs but hey, it's dark, what you can't see and all that....

(2) Prescott to Jerome SR89A
Car - 1999 Lincoln Town Car
Highlight - Very winding

There are other ways to get to the cute little old mining cum wine town but 89A has some of the best switchbacks out there. You start off driving across the high plains from Prescott and you see some mountains loom up in the distance, seemingly vertical cliffs in front of you, you're about to pick your way through. Time it right and you can have a clear shot up the many winding corners without a silly RV getting in your way. Be careful as you get to Jerome, it arrives suddenly and you can easily miss it.

(1) Phoenix to Salt Lake City
Car - 1999 Lincoln Towncar
Highlights - Moki Dugway, SR95

There are two main ways to go north. The boring yet quick I-15 which we took on the return or the more easterly route using mostly state routes. Ah state routes, the archetypal American cross country road. Often just a single lane in each direction, no median, just a yellow line. Watch also for a complete lack of decent food stops especially as you thread your way through the reservation land. But it is just so pretty, every crest a new vista, every vista a new "oh my". SR95 winds its way through the bulk of Utah and is magnificent, winding canyon roads, cresting hills, views you just cannot match. To get to SR95 you have to pass through the Moki Dugway. It's called a Dugway not a highway, that gives you a hint to its hand made quality. In the space of a few miles driving you rise 1000ft on a narrow gravel road with really tight switchbacks. I cannot imagine driving a heavily laden ore truck up and down it. This is the sign that greets you at the bottom:

I smile, the wife doesn't. It should be noted that the Town Car does not in fact have electronic stability control, it does not have an active limited slip differential, it doesn't have adaptive suspension or much in the way of fancy gadgets. It is a big heavy rear wheel drive car with a ladder chassis basically designed in the late 70s early 80s. It slides and squirms as ruts in the gravel catch the tires. Gentle gentle pressure on the gas feeds the oversized and under powered V8 as we make our way to the top. But what a view!

They say the road to hell is really grippy and has some wicked quick left rights along the way

Saturday, December 18, 2010


We have a garden. It was a little overgrown when we moved in but had great potential. Thankfully through our Realtor, we were introduced to Anne of Wright in the Garden. With a few short hours of labor from her crew, the scrub was cleared and a herb garden installed.

So, it is my pleasure to present a panoramic vision of our garden (and some guy who got into the shot):

You'll want to click the image to see it a little bigger.