Learning the Hard Way

I didn’t post a comic for today and that wasn’t the biggest fail that happened last night.

Tuesday afternoon I started to feel way more stressed than was called for. On the way home I lost it. I’m a fairly stable person but sometimes I push too hard and down I go. Last night I got pretty far down. I thought, after several hours of questioning all sorts of things from why to wherefore to small cog in the giant wheel of time, that I’d figured out what was bugging me.

I was about half right.

This morning, Wednesday, I got a triple shot of the cosmic cluestick and have an even better idea of what I did wrong.

I didn’t take care of myself.

I don’t mean I failed to eat right or failed basic hygiene standards or anything like that. I failed to take time for myself and got wrapped up in the deadlines and to-do lists that I created so that some They would  agree I was doing it right and some other They would acknowledge it.

And last night my mind and the Universe decided to let me know it.

Last night I was heart-sick, today I’m body-sick. Whether the one was the cause or merely a harbinger of the other is anyone’s guess. Probably a little bit of both, to be honest. But I listened, and I hope I really heard it this time because I don’t want to have another night like that.

To that end, things around Random Acts Comics-land are going to be a bit more fluid for the next month or so. I’ve got some housekeeping to do (literally and figuratively) and some shuffling of priorities and some decisions to make regarding my various projects. Nothing’s going away at this time, but I need to approach it all differently, correctly, so that I don’t hit this wall again.

Or be forced to break up with the Internet. Internet and I are BFFs and I’m not ready to give back my half of the friendship necklace.

So I’m going to spend the next few nights attempting to relax (especially the right arm, my drawing arm, it’s sorta on strike and didn’t even want to type this letter), clearing my head and considering my options. Since update days may be sporadic for the month of April, I encourage you to subscribe to the RSS feed or follow me on twitter in order not to miss anything.

Because if I don’t do this I risk true and total burnout. And no one else can tell my stories. Other people can tell other stories, but no one can tell mine. And it’s my stories that I want to tell. I draw and write because it makes me smile, it makes me happy. I need to remind myself of that and make sure I proceed with that, and my own mental and physical health, first in mind. The rest will work itself out.

Change is Afoot!

Ah, yes, as we come upon the third anniversary of Random Acts Comics it’s time for a little housekeeping.

The biggest change is that after April, 2010, the “Nibbles” and “Sips” blogs will no longer be found at this url. In fact, until the change takes full effect, the April posts will feature a ‘read more’ link to their own domains, to facilitate the change-over to their own pages. All the archives are there and have been for a few months–this change just means that I won’t have to post the same posts in 3 places every week (my two sites as well as Circle of Food).

This also means that I’ll be freer to post more on each topic as the spirit moves. It’s all for the best and I hope you’ll agree. After all, those who do not care for the food or cocktail bits can just follow the comics, while those who aren’t into comics can have the food and cocktail news a la carte! Feel free to bookmark the new domains as well as subscribe to their RSS feeds so you don’t miss anything.

For the time being, Cocktail Hour will still be hosted here but in time I will be moving it over to it’s own domain (cocktailcomic.com already redirects here) and using Random Acts as a hub for all of my comics-related sites.

Going Off-List

Week before last I did something I haven’t done in over 5 years: went shopping without my Menu Mailer grocery list.

For those not familiar with Menu Mailer, it’s the invention of Leanne Ely, the Dinner Diva, and features a set of dinner recipes, serving suggestions and an itemized, categorized shopping list each week. Even though I’ve got a culinary degree, am a veteran list-maker and perfectly capable of decided what to make for supper every night, it was nice to not have to make those decisions each week…

Find the rest over at Nibbles ‘n Bites!

50 Shots of America: New York

Oh, man, New York, the Cocktail Capital of the World (okay, so the Web tells me that Tokyo is actually the cocktail capital of the world, but Hudson, NY, was the first place that the word cocktail can be c0nfirmed in use, so :P) comes in as the 11th state of the Union having ratified the Constitution on July 26, 1788. No pressure or anything, right?

Suddenly I’m thinking in TMBG lyrics:

just like old New York was once New Amsterdam

Of course we know why they changed it. Though originally settled by the Dutch and French, the Duke of York decided that Long Island just wasn’t enough for him and he took forceful possession of New Amsterdam in 1664.

I’ve been told that there is more to New York than just the island of Manhattan though, since I’ve not actually seen it myself (only been to the island for 2 days a few winters ago), I’ll have to take their word for it. Apparently those areas are great for apple orchards, cherries and a vast wine-producing segment as well as the largest cabbage production of the US. Maybe it should be called the Big Cabbage instead of the Big Apple?

But the Big Apple it is and, try as I might to avoid an apple drink I just couldn’t help myself when the following occurred to me:

Little Big Apple Dumpling

.75 oz Apple Pucker
.5 oz Apple Juice
.5 oz Butterscotch Schnapps
.25 oz Goldschlagger

Combine all in a small cocktail shaker over ice and give it a Bronx salute or two. Strain into a chilled double shot or cordial glass and think glittery apple thoughts.

I’m…  not even going to try and paint a picture of New York’s culinary landscapes. Books, entire websites, have been devoted to the subject, I’m not going to be able to do it justice in 5oo words. What I can do is share the menu I created for my American Regional class in Culinary School. I was assigned New York, obviously, and wanted to do something to highlight some of the more dominant cultures that the area represented. I figured there were 5 boroughs so I’d pick 5 cultures and serve 5 courses. This was our first opportunity to create a menu, play executive chef to our fellow students and actually have guests come to dine. We had to set the table/decorate, time the courses,  introduce and answer questions about each and deal with whatever came up. Crazy but fun is what I remember most from the evening. That and my salad guy not pitting the Kalamata olives for the Greek Salad (my mother had to ask our dean what the etiquette was on removing said pits from one’s mouth–oops!).

Appetizer (Jewish)
Potato Latkes w/Sour Cream & Applesauce
Soup Course (Russian)
Traditional Borscht
Entree (Irish)
Dingle Pie (lamb, parsnips & turnips), Creamed Mushrooms w/Chives
Salad Course (Greek)
Traditional Greek Salad
Dessert & Coffee (American-ish*)
New York Cheesecake

I don’t need to look it up (even though it was 10 years ago)–of course I got an A. I built a paper model of the top of the Chrysler Building for the centerpiece, for crying out loud (and can’t believe I finally threw it out during the last move–what was  I thinking?!). I also happened to have gone first, thankfully, as we lost a lot of students during that module.

*Cheesecake’s origin is technically from Greek cheese pie that was introduced to the rest of Europe by the Romans but bears very little resemblance to the cottage cheese pie immigrants made in early American days. Cheesecake, as we know it, is essentially an American invention with German and Jewish influences and new-world innovations like the graham cracker crust. We’ll just call it the ultimate melting pot dessert and enjoy it 🙂

the Secret to a Great Cheesecake

Anyone can make a cheesecake if they just follow a recipe. Why, then, do some come out different (better) than others? Is it a super-secret recipe that makes the difference, or is it more?

Todd requested a cheesecake for his birthday this past Friday and I was surprised that I hadn’t shared my secrets for perfect cheesecake on the blog, yet. You might think it’s the recipe, but there’s nothing secret about it.

Basic Cheesecake

2 lb cream cheese
.5 c heavy cream
1.5 c sugar
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp vanilla

See? Pretty simple stuff.

So, if it’s not the recipe, what is it?

The 3 Commandments of Cheesecake

It all comes down to HOW you make the cheesecake. The rest is just details.

Thou shalt whip the cream cheese smooth before adding any other ingredients.

A stand mixer makes this easy because you can crank it up and let it run without tiring your arms. If you’re short of time or in a very cold kitchen, microwaving the cream cheese for 30 seconds at a time until it becomes more pliable will not harm the finished cake. Just make sure it doesn’t start to dry out.

Thou shalt never turn the mixer past low when adding other ingredients.

When the cream cheese is smooth, your beating days are through. Notice that every other ingredient is smooth in it’s own way? All you have to do is gently incorporate them, not beat them into submission.

Thou shalt never scrape the bowl.

Once that first ingredient is added there is absolutely no way to beat any future lumps out of the mixture. If you were to scrape down the sides of the bowl mid-recipe you’d be adding clumps, ruining the texture of your cheesecake. The mixture that touches the sides cools off, congeals, clumps. You do not want this in your cheesecake.

Even when you go to pour the batter into the prepared pan, do not scrape the sides of the bowl. Just let what is loose flow in and leave the rest. Don’t worry, it won’t go to waste. Grab a spoon and nosh on the batter on the sides. After all, it’s gonna be the next day before you get to eat the cheesecake, might as well get something out of it now!

The Water Bath

There’s ongoing debate on whether a water bath is truly necessary for a good cheesecake. I’ve done it both with and without and it depends more on your oven than anything else. If you know you have an uneven oven (it happens to the best of us), use a water bath and make sure to keep an eye on the water level. The cheesecake takes about 2 hours to bake (at 325F) and the water level will drop over that time. Theoretically a water bath will prevent the top crust from cracking, but it’s not 100% fool-proof and it’s not something I worry about as much as I worry about the right texture overall.

Finishing Touches

Remember when I said the rest was just details? Well, they can be pretty yummy details.

I seldom use a graham cracker crust. Instead, I prefer crushed cookies that better compliment the flavor of the cake. Our favorite variety uses crushed Oreos as a base, whole cookies ringing the sides (takes about 13 to circle my springform pan, which makes serving size easy to figure) and a few more crumbled ones stirred into the batter. I’ve used lemon cookies to go with blueberry cheesecakes and chocolate wafer cookies as the crust for my dark chocolate cherry varieties. I’ve even made a baklava cheesecake with the nut-and-phyllo layered base and a honey-syrup added to the batter.

Cheesecake is a treat. The basic ingredients are simple, the wait while it bakes and cools is considerable (including the overnight chill), the results should be absolutely sinful. Don’t let any lumps come between you and your indulgence!00

50 Shots of America–Virginia

Looking over the information available on our 10th state, Virginia, I stumbled upon the list of Food & Wine Festivals that happen throughout the year in the Old Dominion State. There are a LOT of them. But, you know, with a considerable agricultural industry and 130 wineries in the state, I suppose that should be expected.

The home of the Jamestown settlement and birthplace of about 8 presidents, I was always told that the state got it’s name in honor of Elizabeth I, the virgin queen. That’s not necessarily wrong, but I also read that there are a couple of Native American words common to the area that sound similar, so it’s a toss-up who really gets credit, there.

Still, I figure that’s as good a reason as any to offer up a non-alcoholic sipper for the umpteenth state (okay, yes, I know, we’re only up to 10 with this one) to claim milk as a state beverage.

Cheerberry Cooler

2 Blackberries
1 Strawberry, quartered
Peach nectar
Cherry soda

In a low-ball glass, muddle the berries with a healthy splash of the peach nectar until thoroughly crushed. Fill the glass half-full with crushed ice and top with cherry soda. Stir to combine the fruit with the soda and float a bit more peach nectar along the top.

Cheerwine is a very-cherry, very carbonated soda bottled in North Carolina but very popular in Virginia. If you can’t find it or another all-cherry soda, substituting Cherry 7-Up will also work. In large volumes this would make a lovely spring or summer punch and, in the absence of fresh, frozen fruit can be substituted. If served doubled in a tall glass make sure to include a spoon so the fruit doesn’t go to waste.

Review: Bonefish Grill

In celebration of Todd’s new job we went out to eat a couple of weeks ago and ended up at our local Bonefish Grill (a national chain with locations in 28 states). I say ended up because we were initially going to go to a restaurant that, in the interim, had either closed or relocated since I last thought of them. Bonefish was handy, I’d heard good things, so we went.

Of course, being 7pm on a Saturday night, there was a considerable wait. An hour, expected, but here’s where they earned a few points in my book: In addition to plentiful and comfortable seating and being able to place bar orders while we waited, every 20 minutes a waiter would circulate with a tray of appetizers, toothpicks and napkins. During our hour-and-a-bit wait three different apps came by: their Bang-Bang Shrimp, the Saucy Shrimp and some Bang-Bang Chicken (not on the menu but, according to the manager who was serving it, you could ask for it). We loved the Bang-Bang Shrimp and even ordered one to share when we got to our table. (Imagine my glee when the copycat sauce recipe was listed in the most recent issue of Food Network Magazine!)

The interior of the restaurant was amazing. We couldn’t see the bar for the crush of people still waiting inside but I’ve been told it’s a pretty impressive feature in and of itself. Instead, from our seats in the dining room I saw a fantastic back-lit cut-out mural. It complemented the dimly-lit room and sure-footed wait staff. That’s where one of my larger complaints lie: the waitstaff wear chef’s jackets. I fully admit that I’m sensitive on the use of the title Chef for every other home cook and it’s for the same reason that, having spent two years in Culinary School, I do NOT like waitstaff dressing the part of chef. I’m sure someone just thought it “looked cool” but it irritates me.

Anyway, back to dinner. We’d ordered drinks on the patio–a Mangotini that had a bit too much citrus in it for either of our tastes (but at least was made with fresh mango and not Snapple) and a rum drink whose name escapes me at the moment that was just too much booze, not enough mix. In fact, the entire cocktail menu seemed a little heavy on high-octane drinks. But that’s just one girl’s opinion based on the menu descriptions and the 2 we tried.

The menu itself focuses on a variety of fresh fish grilled and topped with your choice of sauces. For a seafood place, Bonefish Grill offers a variety of other entree options that all sound very good. It was tough to make a choice, honestly, and then we both settled on the Imperial Longfin (tilapia stuffed with seafood and topped with a buttery lemon caper sauce).

First to come out was warm bread served with olive oil and pesto; our waiter listed the ingredients for us and the surprise feature was the use of pepitas (pumpkin seeds) instead of pine nuts. I’m going to have to try that at home, next time, not to mention using pesto for the dipping sauce instead of just herbed olive oil. Next, we both opted for a cup of the corn chowder with lump crab meat. Velvety smooth. A slight crab flavor permeates it but I would guess it’s from stock or a stock base, as the crab meat itself was in the bottom of the cup as a garnish.

Entrees come with your choice of one side and the vegetable of the day. That day the vegetable was a succotash redolent with wood-smoked bacon. It was fresh, tasty and very different from the mushy amalgamation I’ve had under that name in the past. I chose the herbed Jasmine rice as my side, Todd the potatoes au gratin. Both came on the plate obviously from a portion scoop like this was some sort of cafeteria lunch. My rice was a little over minted but otherwise fine, Todd’s first bite of potatoes was raw though that did appear to be an aberration. It was also apparent that the au gratin was portioned then topped with the breadcrumbs and cheese before a moment under a broiler or some such. An… interesting way to do things.

The fish itself was very tasty–unless you tasted a bit that was without sauce or filling. The unadorned tilapia was just that: unseasoned and uninspiring. But the sauce was absolutely lovely, not too heavy on the capers, and paired nicely with the seafood stuffing. Another major point in Bonefish’s favor were the realistic portion sizes. Usually a stuffed fish dish is gargantuan, way too much food, not to mention grouper is the stuffed fish of choice for most restaurants I’ve been in. So I guess that’s two points.

Overall we enjoyed our experience. The bill came to $61 including tip (but not including the bar tab). I’ve got my eye on the Fontina Chop for a future visit and, of course, more of those Bang-Bang Shrimp.

Con Update: MegaCon Day 3

And it ended much the way it began: not exactly promising.

Ah, well, it wasn’t all bad. I got some drawing done, some work on next week’s strips, walked around the Alley and checked out some of the other artists. There was a lot that just wasn’t my thing but there were some fun finds that I’ll go through and link to later. Tonight, I’m just plum exhausted.

There will be some serious thought given as to whether I’ll return to MegaCon next year. The girls beside me? Did gangbusters all weekend. They were doing chibi art of popular manga and pop-culture properties. Talking to other artists the story was the same: MegaCon is not the place to try and sell original ideas (unless you’ve got a huge community built already). Still, there were some awesome moments and fun, but mostly with the other artists and we’re all in the same boat.

Looking forward to my first local appearance next weekend, the Bizarre Bazaar at Railroad Square. Hopefully the crowd there will be more receptive to what I have to offer. I’ve always done this for the fun, the make folks laugh and look at life a little differently. But, like most people, I’d also like to be able to make this my business, not just something I squeeze into every available moment. Until that happens I will continue to spend my time, compensated or not, on this and hope that I keep making folks laugh.

Con Update: MegaCon Day 2

A much better day.

It started with a familiar sight: a backlog of cars trying to get parking anywhere near the West Hall. Anticipating the impending hike from the back 40, Todd dropped me off out front and then went to find parking in the nearby (relatively speaking) hotel parking lot, grabbing one of the last available spots. Meanwhile, I wondered where on earth I was going to enter from the lobby (having never really seen the Con from this side) when I spotted Doug Sneyd and his lovely Booth Babe (not what you’re thinking) walking with a sense of purpose. I followed them right through the security line.

As we walked I asked how their day was, yesterday, and we chatted about his book doing very well and how accommodating the show organizers were being. All good to hear. She also mentioned that the book came with an original sketch inside and he’d even draw you’re profile and add bunny ears if you want them! Uh, sold! (For those who don’t know the name, he’s famous for his Playboy cartoons–really great stuff! One of our local bars has those sorts of cartoons plastering the walls in the ladies room. I presume the mens, as well, but I’ve never been in there to check!) I snuck over to their table during an afternoon lull and had a nice chat with the both of them. Just great people.

Unfortunately, my would-be Character Cocktail patrons didn’t make it back to the table today (maybe tomorrow?) but I did get to chat the service up to others who may order later. I sold a couple of books, a mini and a whopping 5 mini-martini glasses! We’re down to a stock of 2! I’m glad I have more blanks ready to go at home 🙂 A couple of folks from SoulGeek stopped by the table to say hi, it was good seeing them again, and I met a new reader (Hi, James!) who’d flown out from California to attend the show! Wow! (Not just to see me, of course, he was meeting up a group of Kevin Smith fans, who could be seen roaming the ailses in Mooby gear. Very cool.) I also had some nice chats with other vendors and got some random art done while manning the table.

Sales haven’t been going like gangbusters, I won’t lie, but I made people laugh today and I think that laughter is slightly more precious than dollars. Too bad my landlord doesn’t agree. As such, I’m hoping to convert a few more browsers to buyers tomorrow.

Don’t forget, tomorrow is Pi day. If we were at home I’d be baking a (preferably) square pie. Instead I’ll have to settle for some of the restaurant variety. Also, remember to set your clocks ahead or you’ll be an hour late somewhere.

Until tomorrow!

Con Update: MegaCon Day 1

Thankfully the predicted torrential rains turned out to be more of a steady drizzle when we arrived at the convention center this morning. Also thankful for the fact that we were able to back right up the loading ramp and unload the trunk in the overhang there, not getting wet in the process.

Turns out our booth neighbors are Tally girls, too. Both students at FSU, they have a webcomic as well but I neglected to get the url today. Oops! I’ll fix that tomorrow. Actually, it didn’t seem crucial because we didn’t think our hotel had wifi, seriously hampering our evening productivity. This info has been updated and I am typing from the comfort of our comfy hotel bed. (I know, I know, we’re not the post-con party types.)

Traffic today was slow. Partially because of the fact that it was Friday and los of folks were still at work/school, partially because the weather was absolutely icky the entire day. Still, for a slow day I manged to connect with a few folks, made some people laugh, helped some people out and got some folks interested in getting a Character Cocktail* done, which (hopefully!) will pan out tomorrow. It would awesome considering there were absolutely no sales today.

But it’s early days & I remain optimistic.

*What’s a Character Cocktail? It’s a custom-made cocktail recipe (alcoholic or non-) that is based solely on you! With the recipe comes a ready-to-frame piece of art with the recipe and a little drawing. Price is $30 (includes shipping the art) and the process takes about 2-3 weeks, total, to allow for recipe testing and art creation. All you have to do is fill out a fun little questionnaire so I know who I’m creating the drink for and around. Interested? Shoot me an email at randomactscomics[at]gmail[dot]com and we can get the process started!