December 2004 Archives

The summing up

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creative perspectivesFor the past few years, I've made a point to summarise my year in exactly 25 words. It's not easy to do and I end up skipping some of the main points but now that I'm gaining a collection (2003, 2002, 2001), I appreciate the effort I've made to try to get something down.

After a good deal of tinkering, this year's 25 word summation is presented below. Feel free to post your 25 words in the comments.

Did more, finished less.
Strengthened friendships and traveled.
Constructed 18 videos, knitted scarves,
Shared my pencils and my love.
Still seeking realisation of my principles.

Meat Cookies

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recipe thursdayYou never know when people are going to pop in for a holiday drink or two, so it's good to be prepared. These quick appetisers will impress them with items you probably already have in the fridge.

Tod started calling them "vesuvios" but everyone else thinks of them as meat cookies! I've seen them elsewhere called "puffs" but they are pretty much just a savory cookie or a really soft cracker; meat cookie is quite appropriate. How Tod chose "vesuvio" I'm not sure, but they are tasty regardless of what you call them.

And they take just about no time at all to make, so you can whip them up as soon as your friends call to say they're on their way over. Or be really prepared and make a bunch and freeze them.

Meat Cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened
1.5 cups cheese*, grated
2 slices deli ham, minced
1/2 tsp worchestershire sauce
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 cup flour

Mix the butter, cheese, ham and seasonings together, then add the flour in two parts. Work the dough until it forms a ball; I like to work with my hands for this. Pinch off marble-sized pieces and bake at 160/350 for about 12 minutes or until lightly brown. Serve warm of room temperature.

* Cheddar is good, or a combination of different cheeses.

Tokyo Snow

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Pretty flakes all morning long. It's such a rare event that I ran around filming it and set it to music. The snow is still falling--if it keeps this up we may see a centimeter or two on the ground by nighttime. I'll have to go out to shoot snow at night.


playicon.gif Tokyo Snow - small 711 K 0'49" MP4

playicon.gif Tokyo Snow - medium 1.7 MB 0'49" MP4

playicon.gif Tokyo Snow - large 4.8 MB 0'49" MP4

Fire Safety

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Every year around this time, neighborhood volunteers are out on the streets at night, clacking wooden sticks together and calling out to people about fire safety. It's taken us six years to figure out what they are chanting.

The other night, as we were walking home late from work, the patrol was out. It was a group of three younger men and they were doing their job with gusto.

"Are they yelling Ii yo, ii yo ji? Maybe Iroiro ii?" I wondered after listening to them.

"Um....yoyogi?" Tod suggested doubtfully. He listened again. "I think maybe it ends in shin"

"Or jin? I can't tell. Let's ask them," I suggested as we converged on their path. Of course that meant Tod was going to ask; his Japanese is much better than mine.

The patrol volunteers were happy to tell us, carefully and loudly, that they are saying hi no youjin which means "fire caution."

Have a listen for yourself. I made this recording of a different, somewhat less enthusiastic patrol this evening: Hi no youjin (0:18 mp3 429K)

Year End Disarray

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It's the time of year I feel compelled to tidy my computer world. I really ought to be scrubbing the apartment, but my online house is pretty scruffy.

One big project: I'm simplifying the website. Features have been removed, slashed away like old boots off a fishing line. I've instituted a monochromatic color scheme. Everything's pared down. I'm working towards XHTML compliance.

For the next couple of days I will continue tweaking the layout, and more importantly the content, to get things where I want them. In the meantime, pardon the stray pages and any oddities you might discover.

(P.S. If you are still using Internet Explorer, may I suggest you try Firefox instead? It's free, easy to use, a breeze to switch to, and won't make my nice website look all bizarre.)

Unboxing Day

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Our friends, Jim and Yuka, bought an apartment near us--a 22 minute walk away, to be exact. They moved in yesterday and we went over today to help them unpack. We celebrated Boxing Day by un-boxing things.

jy-desk.jpg
Tod & Jim put the desk together.

jy-yuka.jpg
Yuka put away all the CDs into the built-in cabinets in the living room.

jy-kitchen.jpg
I spent my afternoon in the kitchen with good results.

Anatomy of a slashdotting

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Last week's Gingerbread CPU post was noticed by popgadget, then engadget then Boing Boing. It's funny how these things get passed around. I even made the Daypop Top 40:

daypop.jpg

Then it got translated by a number of non-English website in Japan, Iceland, Hungary and Sweden. The number of visits increased to more than 5 times my usual daily rate. I was having a lot of fun looking at my stats, though a bit disappointed that I wasn't being recognized for something I'd done myself. Such is the trouble with reporting on things.

By Day 3, [H]ard|OCP and Blue's News picked it up and traffic went up further. I was seeing more than 10 times my usual traffic.

On December 23rd, five days into this increase in popularity, Slashdot noticed what was going on. Tod & I had just returned from stocking up on cookie-making ingredients. While the butter was softening, I checked my mail to discover a comment from the blog: "Haha! You're getting Slashdotted!"

slashdot.jpg

Hahahah! Wow!

Oh, hell! This was going to be trouble. We host my website on a server here at home.

Inventing a tree

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creative perspectivesThere are no towering tannenbaum for sale here in Tokyo, unless you are a millionaire or plan well in advance. I make our holiday tree from whatever we have in the house, plus a small stock of 100 yen shop decorations I found a few years ago.

This little burst of creative energy is one of my favorite things about the holiday. We've had trees made of paper strung from light fixtures, bamboo poles tied into a teepee shape, and rosemary plants decorated with red velvet bows.

glassTree.jpg

This year's tree was a stack of seventeen wine glasses carefully balanced, then decorated with beads and illuminated with candles. Elegant. Risky.

I was on edge throughout dinner and gifts, but the curtains did not catch fire, the beads did not melt, nor did an earthquake tumbled the arrangement. Merry Christmas!

Masala Chocolate Cookies

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recipe thursdayThese are inspired by a bar of Belgian chocolate I tasted earlier this week. They are exotically spicy and not terribly sweet.

Masala Chocolate Cookies
makes about 4 dozen

2 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp garam masala powder
1/2 tsp ginger powder
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup sliced almonds

Combine dry ingredients (except almonds) in a small bowl. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until smooth and fluffy. Whisk egg and vanilla together, then add to butter mixture. Add dry ingredients in two parts, then add almonds.

Form into a snake about 2 inches thick, wrap in plastic or waxed paper and chill until hard (or freeze).

Slice into 1/4 inch rounds and bake for 10 minutes at 160/350.

Dizzy in Ginza

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Eight and a half years ago, when Tod & I first visited Japan, we saw a building in Ginza with an unusual round upper story. "Is that thing revolving?" we wondered.

Fast forward to this evening. Answer: yes, it is revolving.

revolvingYurakucho.jpgThe Tokyo Kotsu Kaikan is home to one of Tokyo's three revolving restaurants, the Ginza Sky Lounge. (The others are at the New Otani in Akasaka and the Hotel New Tsukamoto in Makuhari, which is really in Chiba but close enough to count.)

The Sky Lounge serves French food and a 360 degree view every 40 minutes or so. We didn't take good timings, though we went around about 4 times while we were eating. We were having entirely too much fun pointing out the sights to remember to note the time and relative position.

"Oh, there's the Rainbow Bridge, peeking out between the skyscrapers."

"Look at how the tracks into Tokyo Station make a sinuous path."

"Are those red and blue elevator lights on the Dentsu Building?"

"I've never see the yellow flashing lights on the highway before."

Perhaps it was silly to be so delighted, but I was smiling all through dinner. It's highly agreeable to sit still and watch the scenery change.

I especially liked the gorgeous reflections on the Mullion building of the passing trains and people waiting on the Yurakucho platform.

Let's go there for lunch someday.

How to "iPod Your Photo"

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Over at iPod My Photo you can send in a digital picture and they'll turn it into an iPod style ad for you. It costs $20. If you have Photoshop and a little bit of time, you can do it yourself with respectable results.

The instructions that follow are for Photoshop CS on OS X. If you have a different version, ymmv. iTod.jpg

How to iPod Your Photo
FIGURES

  1. Open the photo you want to use.
  2. Set your background color to a bright color ala the iPod ads. (According to Jennifer Apple, the real ad colors are: blue #1379F9, purple #9369BF, orange #F59110, green #9FCC39, pink #EB5297)
  3. Copy your original image into a new layer
  4. On the Background layer, Cmd-A then delete to remove the photo, leaving the colored background.
  5. On the photo layer, use the eraser, magic wand, and lasso selection tools to remove the background of your original photo, leaving only the people.
    • If you have several disconnected figures in the photo, copy the original image onto new layers for each figure, then remove the background cruft so that each layer has only one figure on it. In the example below I made one layer for me, one for mom and one for my mother-in-law. When you've completed erasing the background, link the layers with the people and merge them back together.
  6. Image > Adjustments > Auto Contrast
  7. Image > Adjustments > Desaturate
  8. Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast
    • Contrast -50
    • Brightness -50
    • then adjust as desired
iPodmyMom.jpg

SHADOWS

  1. Duplicate the layer with the figures.
  2. Edit > Transform > Flip Vertical
  3. Position the shadow so it falls under the figure's feet, on the ground if the figure is jumping. If you have multiple disconnected figures, you may need to break the shadows apart to position them correctly.
  4. Image >Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast
    • Contrast -50
  5. Layer > Layer Style > Blending Options
    • Opacity 10%
  6. Filters > Blur > Gaussian Blur
    • Radius pixels depends on your original image size...good and blurry!
  7. Now you need to remove most of the shadow.
    • Set the Elliptical Marquee tool to a 20 pixel feather (you may need to adjust upwards fro downwards according to your photo size)
    • Select a small area around the feet of the figure.
    • Repeat for each separate figure.
    • Select > Inverse
    • Press Delete

iPOD

  1. Go to Apple's iPOD Gallery site.
  2. Arrange the iPod approximately how the figure will hold it.
  3. Cmd-shift-4 to take a screen shot
  4. Open the screen shot in Photoshop
  5. Use the Magic Wand to (set tolerance to 0) to select the white background, then Select > Inverse
  6. Copy the iPod and paste into your photo.
  7. Clean up any messy fringing with the Polygonal Lasso tool.
  8. Image > Adjustments > Desaturate
  9. Position and resize.
  10. Erase (or draw) fingers on the figure so it is holding the iPod.
  11. Repeat for additional iPods.
  12. Create a new layer for the earbuds and wires.
  13. Use the paintbrush tool (set to white) to draw in the wires and earbuds.
  14. Layer > Layer Style > Blending Options
    • Opacity 90%

TEXT

  1. The font in the Apple ads is Myriad.
  2. A fair substitute is Helvetica.
  3. White, of course!
There's another way to do the figure silhouettes explained over at PhotoshopSupport.com

Shack for Sale

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shackSale.jpg
At a realty office. Photo by Tod

Land for sale - includes old house!
Bunkyo-ku, Koraku 2-chome
5 minute walk from Iidabashi station
72.25 sq meters
South facing lot - zoned for industry
47,000,000 yen (that's $450,000 US)

shackSale2.jpg
A closer view of the "old house." (click to enlarge)

How to Visit the Shrine

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omairinoshikata.jpg
At a shrine next to a nursery school. Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo.

How to Visit the Shrine

  1. Straighten your posture and calm your heart.
  2. Give two deep bows.
  3. Arrange your hands at chest-height and clap twice.
  4. Make one more deep bow.

Gingerbread CPU

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gingerbreadCPU.jpg
click for larger view

This is the most clever use of holiday gingerbread ever. I love the details done in licorice and chocolates.

It was posted by "Pab" on 4channel.org. Also found on that site, a Geek-mas tree and a gingerbread laptop, though I think maybe Santa needs to consider a new OS.

UPDATE - This gingerbread computer was created in Sweden. An entire folder of photos featuring Benny, Monica, Anna-Maria and Erik and their gingerbread building party is at monixa.se. They even made a gingerbread violin.

UPDATE - The tree decorations are by Joe, aka JavaMoose. He mailed me an updated image which is now linked above. Thanks, Joe.

UPDATE - Hello, Slashdotters! We're doing our best to keep up with you. Merry Christmas. love, Kristen

Color matching

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creative perspectivesLooking out my window last night, I saw the most amazing thing. The color of the sunset sky matched the color of the lights in the stairwell of the building next door. I took a photo and checked in Photoshop: #F29D30 and #F0942F. Maybe not an exact perfect match, but difficult to tell apart.

sunsetColors2.jpg

Today I decided to open my eyes to colors in nature that match manmade articles. As I walked outside this morning, I saw fallen elm leaves that could have been mistaken for the yellow pedestrian guides on the sidewalks.

The dull red of the painted tin lamps in the park blended with the leaves still clinging to the trees ringing the oval.

A bright orange and black Daurian Redstart perched on a wire must have been the inspiration for the motorcycle parked on the street below it.

Now that I'm paying attention, there's a surprising amount of color similarity all around me.

Aussie meat pies

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recipe thursdayLast week in Australia, I was the pet American and treated to a feast of Australian foods from crayfish to lamingtons.

My favorite thing (and this probably says something about my modest palette) was the pies. Meat pies are the staple fast food, just like hamburgers are in the US. At certain times and places (Port Augusta at 9 pm comes to mind) they are the only food you can get.

So here's my take on them. These are not authentic; I doubt that real pies use Chuka-aji, but I like the flavour enhancement of the MSG.

Kristen's Aussie meat pies
serves 5

200 gr thinly sliced beef
300 gr ground beef
1 cup onion, small diced
1 Tblsp ground black pepper
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 Tblsp olive oil
2 Tblsp flour
300 ml beef stock or consomme
1/2 tsp chuka-aji or MSG
pie crust dough (2 crusts' worth)
1 and 1/4 pie sheets (puff pastry)

Mix up your favorite pie crust recipe. Thaw a pie sheet.

Sautee onion in olive oil until transluscent. Sprinkle the beef with flour. Add beef and pepper to pan. Brown beef, then pour in consomme or stock. Simmer until all liquid is reduced. Sprinkle with MSG or chuka-aji. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Allow beef mixture to cool.

Divide pie dough into five pieces. Roll out to fit individual pie tins (I use glass custard cups). Line the pie plates, then fill with beef mixture. Roll the pie sheet out, cut into squares and cover the beef filling. Pinch edges of the pies together.

Bake at 400 degrees until the pie sheet is golden brown. Serve with sauce (tomato ketchup) on top and a side dish of peas.

3 Favorite Indian Restaurants

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Tod & I often crave Indian food, even though we've never been to India. We're always scouting new restaurants, trying recommendations from Tod's Indian co-workers, and slowly building up a list of favorites. Here are three worth visiting if you are in Tokyo.

  • Darbar India, Yaesu 2-7-9 (Tokyo Sta). Lovely dosas, fabulous methi mutton curry and the best roti I've ever had.
  • Cafe Devi, Jingumae 1-15-1 (Harajuku/Meijijingumae Sta). Fresh spices and herbs make even the standards stand out.
  • Ajanta, Nibancho 3-11 (Kojimachi Sta). Excellent South Indian food including chicken chettinadu, dahi rice and masala dosa. Open 24 x 7!!!

We're also very fond of the Darjeeling branch near our house. We eat there so often, they always give us free stuff.

Book of Days

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bookofdays.jpgI hope my sister won't be too put out if I mention the publication of her third book of poetry, Book of Days.

The official introduction to the book on the FootHills Publishing's website mentions her previous poetic and playwriting accomplishments, but fails to tell of the seed of her poetry--a teenaged girl who spent her summers taking photographs of leaves and branches, roll after roll of film shot into the trees of our woodland neighborhood. It neglects to describe how poetry lives in her. She wakes every morning at the ungodly hour of 5 am to write in her journal (on paper with a pen, no less) before sending her daughter off to school and herself off to teach poetry to schoolchildren.

It is an unfair omission. Fortunately, Jenn's poem Omission does not miss the mark.

Omission

I write to you on cream paper with a watermark,
the kind that comes with lined envelopes
packaged in a box with a flat satin bow.
My script rolls in the safety of April as I tell
you about things you already know - how spring
connects the dots to form its landscape. The pages
fill quickly, the way strong women taught me.

I take an entire paragraph to describe the flowering
dogwood outside my kitchen window, how I am drawn
to the morning light of this month, the chickadees
that punctuate the feeder, that magnolia on fire.

On the third page, I stick with the comfort of the daily,
how my life is awash in Shakespeare, ninth graders
and the cruelest joy of untangling the language
of Romeo and Juliet. I say it's not quite a triumph,
fourteen is a tough age for understanding paradox,
I can tell by their gaping mouths when I say,
"in a minute there are many days" or "thou day in night."

I want to be cut out in little stars. How do I
close this letter? I sign in slow loops, seal
the envelope and place the stamp of Khalo
in its upright position. From their graves
the women of my family sigh and slip off their gloves.

-- Jennifer Hill-Kaucher

Book of Days available via FootHills Publishing for $14.00. If you're keen for a live sample, Jenn is giving readings in Pennsylvania in the upcoming weeks.

Fri, Dec 17, 7 pm
Deitrich Theatre Art Center, Tunkhannock, PA

Fri, Dec 30th, 8 pm
Test Pattern, 334 Adams Ave., Scranton, PA

Jan 15, 2005, 7 pm,
Barnes and Noble, Arena Hub Plaza Wilkes Barre, PA

Roo Roo

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rooroo.jpg
Roo Roo and me. Elliston, South Australia

This kangaroo doe lives on the edge of Elliston. She was bottle-fed by a family who found her after her mother was shot. 18 months old, she spends most of her time in the bush, but comes home for a snack of milk and popcorn every day.

Improving Wine by Decanting

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winedecanting.jpg
Decanting equipment (photo by Tod)

We had a disappointing run of wines at a recent party. There were a few bottles that were drinkable but not enjoyable. Too young. Too harsh.

One of the revelers taught us about decanting wine. I thought decanting was a process reserved for old wines full of sediment, but the aeration makes a huge difference in the flavor of the wine.

So how do you do it? It's easy and you don't even need a special decanter.

  1. Pour the wine from the bottle into a glass pitcher or wide-mouthed jar. Do it from a bit of a height so that the wine splashes into the pitcher.
  2. Allow to sit a few minutes, then swish the wine around in the pitcher. This exposes maximum surface area of the wine to the air.
  3. Pour the wine back into the bottle. A funnel is handy for this step, particularly if you've been testing previously aerated wines.
  4. Taste and repeat as desired.

Some sources suggest decanting wines hours in advance. I don't have the patience for that. The pour and swirl method works well enough for me; mediocre wines become quite decent. Even wine in screw-top bottles can be rescued with this technique.

Value of Friends

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MJ & I spent a lot of time last week talking about our extended family of friends in Japan. I think few flesh-and-blood families are as close as we are. Blood relations are irreplacable, important, and wonderful, but the family you build yourself is better in many ways.

I have friends I can count on in any predicament--different people for different situations--which I certainly did not have ten years ago in the US. I have one real sister, but enjoy sisterhood with half dozen terrific women in Tokyo. When I need jars opened, servers rejigged, or a shoulder to cry on, I turn to a handful of strong, insightful, and sympathetic men.

And my circle knows (I hope) that they can come to me for support whenever they like.

Is it the circumstance of living apart from our homeland that binds us together, or do people in their middle thirties all develop stronger networks of friends?

Kangaroo hopping

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Ah, blessed terra firma, we're back! Australia did not want MJ to leave; it took three days of travel to get home. It was a minor trial of changed plans, delayed flights, and missed connections.

We hopped across the country: Port Lincoln to Adelaide to Sydney to Cairns to Tokyo. We tallied how far we've travelled this past week. Including car travel, we went just about 19,000 kilometers. That's 11,800 miles.

And at the end of our journey, all of our friends were waiting for MJ. Flowers, condolences, food, wine, lots of hugging packed into my living room. Thanks to everyone who came, waited so long for us to arrive, and offered MJ their support.

In Transit

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MJ & I are holed up at the Adelaide Hyatt on North Terrace, whiling away the day between flights by luxuriating in hot baths, fluffy white robes, room service and a good long swim. (Sorry for next month's credit card bill, darling Tod.)

For those keeping track, we'll be back in Tokyo on Friday morning at 6 am. I'm anxious to get back, as is MJ. We miss you all.

Lesbian Coffee Walk

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Adelaide is full of rednecks.

At midnight, MJ was feeling upset and in need of a walk. We went out to find a coffee shop in Glenelg--the seaside resort area of Adelaide. There were dressed-up couples and groups of youthful friends walking the street, tiddly and having fun.

MJ started to cry and we sat for a while on a bench. I put an arm around her and held her hand. Passersby looked at us curiously. We didn't fit the mood of their evening. When she was calmer, we continued our walk, hand in hand.

There were no coffee shops open at midnight.

But we did find shocking provincial homophobia. At first, I noticed just a gesture: a dark-headed woman hung her head out the passenger window of a passing car and gave us a "hang loose" chaka. OK, whatever.

Then I started to hear people. "Lesbos!" Mutterings as we passed by. "Lesbians, go home." "Gay girls!"

Two men in a white hatchback threatened to beat us to death.

When some drunken kids on a hotel balcony demanded "Kiss! Kiss!" MJ ripped into them and they backed down.

We giggled all the way back to the hotel.

Splash in Gulf St. Vincent

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MJ & I pelted down Glenelg beach into the surf until we were knee deep in ocean water, clothes wet, giggling. Sharks be damned.

The funeral is on Monday morning; we'll drive to Mum's beach house in Elleston to scatter her ashes on Tuesday. Things are as good as you could expect. I'm glad I'm here.

Chocolate Coated Chocolate Cake

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recipe thursday This isn't just chocolate cake, it's flourless chocolate cake. And it's not just flourless chocolate cake, it's the cake you will compare all other cakes to. After you have this cake, all other cakes (chocolate and otherwise) will pale in comparison. So bake at your own risk.

This is adapted from an Epicurious recipe. It is one of the few recipes in which I will specify brands, but the chocolate matters.

Chocolate Coated Chocolate Cake
serves 1-20 depending on the people

5 100 gram Lindt Excellence 70% Coaco bars
3 75 gram Cote d'Or "Noir et Noir" chocolate bars
3/4 c butter
6 eggs
12 Tblsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 c cream
1/2 c corn syrup

Break 4 Lindt bars into pieces. Chop butter into pieces. Melt them together over low heat, stirring frequently. Allow to cool to lukewarm.

Separate the eggs. Beat the yolks with 6 Tbsp sugar until light and frothy. Add vanilla. Spoon in the melted chocolate and stir until smoothly incorporated.

Whip the egg whites into medium peaks, adding remaining sugar (6 Tblsp) gradually. Fold into chocolate mixture.

Pour into a greased spring-form or loose bottomed cake pan. Bake at 350 for about 50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out with crumbs.

Alow the cake to cool; it will fall a bit. Release sides of the pan, flatten the cake to a consistent thickness, and invert onto a serving plate.

Chocolate coating:
Chop remaining chocolate (1 Lindt bar and three Cote d'Or bars) finely. Simmer cream and corn syrup. Remove from heat. add chocolate and stir until it melts.

Spread the top and sides of the cake with about half the coating. Freeze cake for ten minutes to set the glaze, then coat with the rest of the chocolate. It's thick and makes nice swirls.

Allow to chilled for about 2 hours. Serve at room temperature.

Evaluating CMS

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Content management systems are a necessary part of website development for most organizations. They provide a platform for consistent design, interactive tools and, as the name implies, managing content of the site. They make it easy for non-technical people to contribute to a website.

But for me, a semi-skilled web worker, choosing the right CMS is a challenge. CMS Matrix can help to narrow the field of options to just the CMS that have your required features, but a checklist isn't enough to make a decision.

You really have to try them out.

I already have good knowledge of Xoops, PHPNuke and Movable Type. But none of these is right for the project I'm working on now, redeveloping the FCCJ website to make it easier for staff and club members to contribute to the site.

So I've been experimenting. Today I ruled out TYPO3. Although it was relatively easy to install and offered a good range of handy modules, the template system is horrid and the user interface for infrequent contributors is entirely too complex.

So now I'm playing with DruPal. Then I'll try out Expression Engine & WebGUI. I may have a look at WordPress, too. In a few weeks' time, I will have a good knowledge of quite a few of the free and low-cost CMSes.

And in the end, I have a feeling I'm going to cobble the site together with a bunch of mismatched pieces and a lot of SHTML.

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