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Chez Naranek's year-end newsletter

Life After Work be taking a blogging break until 2010 rolls around.

2010 by ilco
In the meantime, here is chez Naranek's first-ever year-end newsletter that we just sent out to those on our snail mail list, so *SPOILER ALERT* for those who (think they) are going to be receiving something from us, because I'm sharing it with my dear blog readers (including those who read this via Facebook!) ... just please excuse the [revised / redacted parts], k?

Names and locations have been changed to protect the not-too-innocent :)

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Seasons Greetings from Springfield, IL!

The past several years have been quite tumultuous for [chez Naranek], and we have sorta lost touch with many of you – so we are caving-in and sending out our first attempt at a “year-end newsletter” to bring y’all up to speed and (re-) establish contact.

As many of you know, we have recently relocated after about three years in Chicago. [Kosh] had begun surgery residency at [a hospital in Chicago], while Lynne jumped…

Springfield, IL: Land of the Horseshoe!

MS Office clip art The weekend after Thanksgiving, a friend from college (you may remember some references to a KTN?) and her bf visited us here in Springfield. She had indicated they'd like to take us out for dinner, to a place that was typical of or uniquely Springfield.

I tapped the power of Twitter for ideas, and received a few great suggestions, which you can see in Springfield, IL: What's for dinner?; in the end we decided to go to D'Arcy's Pint for the horseshoe.

No, not the u-shaped metal that gets nailed to a horse's foot... the specialty of Springfield:
Above is what Kosh ordered: The Supreme Seasoned ground beef on Texas Toast, covered in french fries, smothered in spicy cheese sauce, with a sprinkling of tomatoes and scallions, and spicy tabasco-like dipping sauce on the side. I thought it was okay, but missing something (probably the bacon!). I totally loved mine, tho, which you can see below:
They all look the same, don't they? So take my word for …

Custom Header & Button Giveaway!

So on Monday I highlighted my efforts in revamping (for the better!) my friend's new business blog. In a similar vein, today's post is about @taraSG's Custom Header & Button Giveaway I'm eying: did you know that the first blogiversary of a malaysian abroad passed by recently with a barely a whimper?

To kinda make up for it, I'm itching to revamp the site for the new year, and I wonder if winning Tara's giveaway will help fast-track this goal :D After all, I'm also itching to revamp two other sites of mine, and to give Life After Work itself a much-needed finalisation: that's a lot to be tackling, especially when I might be away for the last 10 days of the year!

So here's hoping I'll win Tara's giveaway, that'll be half of one site tackled, LoL!

But if you want to throw your hat into the ring, go right ahead! You have until midnight (I assume it's CST, about -6 GMT) on 31st December 2009 to enter, via a comment on Tara's …

My first blog make-over!

Yes, yes, yes, I've made-over my own blog many times, but today I spent almost all day helping out a friend of mine, Rima Rashidi, who, together with her buddy Siti Hajar, has started her own business: Studio Vocal Siti Hajar!

You see, they had established a blog for the business, but had chosen the cookie-cutter harbor template which pained me so to look at for a business site, and me being me, I offered to jazz it up a bit to the best of my limited abilities...

I had all these fancy ideas for the header, but have very basic photoediting software and skills, so decided to go with black plus basic colors. Blue is a color associated with communication, so I decided to make that the main color. The rest of the day was spent tweaking all those friggin' colors... here's what I handed over to them:


... if you notice, this blog has yet to be properly "completed" in terms of color-tweaking, precisely because I'd get fed up trying to figure out the best combo! But hey,…

21 days to 2010: Foody Friday: turkey/soy flaxseed meatloaf!

I've shared my meatloaf adventures before (not to be confused with my Meat Loaf adventures, LoL!), but today I'd like to highlight my most recent experiment: turkey/soy flaxseed meatloaf.  Yeah try saying that three times fast:

. . turkey/soy flaxseed meatloaf!
. . . turkey/soy flaxseed meatloaf!
. . . . turkey/soy flaxseed meatloaf!

The soy part was, as usual, a pack of fake ground beef soy crumbles from MorningStar Farms.

The turkey was a roll of 97/3 Honeysuckle White.

But I was out of breadcrumbs!! fyi, breadcrumbs are used to add bulk and moisture, and to kinda hold things together, so I couldn't just leave it out... So I looked for a substitute ... Found a suggestion to use oatmeal instead of breadcrumbs, and another suggested flaxseed.


Seeing as I had recently bought us a box of Milled Flax Seed, I figured this would be a good way to sneak in some Omega-3 oils into the dish, especially considering the previous box took years to get finished!

But precisely because fla…

25 days to 2010: Rachel Guerzo is "Just Friends"

I'm so proud of, and for, Rachel Guerzo! My junior from high school, Rachel always did have a great set of pipes and lungs on her, and over time has established herself as pretty much the female jazz vocalist in Kuala Lumpur. And now, Rachel is finally releasing her debut album entitled Just Friends.



Here's her official biography:
Born into Malaysia’s most influential music family the Solianos, pianist and singer Guerzo has emerged as one of the most exciting and innovative jazz musician in her own right, honing her craft and playing to discerning live audiences over the past two decades. Influenced by consummate performers such as Shirley Horn, Tania Maria, Diana Krall and Eliane Elias, she both learned from them and gradually discovered her own unique voice.

In addition to playing regularly with her father, saxophonist Salvador Guerzo, and her uncle, drummer Rizal Soliano, Rachel has worked with some very fine musicians such as Michael Veerapen, Steve Thornton, Valtinho Anast…

28 days to 2010: Foody Friday Lamb Shanks!

This week's edition of Foody Friday started a few weeks ago, actually, when I moaned on Facebook that all of a sudden I was craving the lamb shank at Secret Recipe, and wondered if I should attempt to experiment with that, especially considering I'd never ever noticed lamb shanks being sold in the supermarkets before. To my surprise I had quite a few responses from a wide spectrum of pals who essentially said "mmMmmMmmmm lamb!" and "Yes! Experiment and blog about it!"

So on Monday, I happened to pass the correct place in the dead animal section of Wal-Mart and hey whaddayaknow they had lamb shanks for sale! Each individually wrapped, going for about $7 a pop. Yes, you read that right: SEVEN bucks! That's like TWENTY-TWO RINGGIT! Each. Can you say "Ouch!"?

Lamb shanks - before the "fun" begins

Dahlah mahal... then you realise maybe a quarter of the weight is all bone, and another eighth all fat. See all that white on the "back&…

29 days to 2010: What's in my freezer?

Yes, I'm going to continue with the Food/Health topic a little while longer... today how's about a peek into my freezer?

Here's what's in the freezer door:



You may recognise a few Morningstar Farms products there: I have indicated I am trying to move Kosh and I away from dead animals, so I always have some sort of soy-substitute product at hand. Here you might see three packages of fake ground beef (one of which will probably be used in making meatloaf tonight!).

I'm not impressed with their fake breakfast sausage patties tho, and the fake italian sausage links are crumbly and meh: you might spot one open box each in there.

There's also half a box of Banquet's Heat n Serve turkey sausage links (majorly high in sodium tho, beware!), and maybe one more serving left of Tater Tots (will not be replacing this, since they aren't organic and therefore probably chockful of bad chemicals - bummer!).

And now for the main part of the freezer:
.. a little crammed, ain…

30 days to 2010: 7 foods experts won't eat

So yesterday I rambled a bit about vegetarianism vs being just plain responsible/aware about what goes on to put all those dead animals on your table, and why I'd like to win me a signed copy of Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals. Today, I'd like to go over one of those many lists that appear on the Yahoo! homepage: this recent one gave me pause in a few places (marked in red): 7 foods experts won't eat.

The first advised against canned tomatoes. It seems that the acidity of the tomatoes causes bisphenol-A in the can's resin lining to leach into the contents, thus causing ingestion of dangerous amounts of the chemical when consumed. Yeah, BPA's not been getting a good rep, and I'd rather not ingest more than I already have. Of course, I happen to have like 6 cans of diced tomatoes in the cupboard: I've found them extremely handy in the kitchen, they add flavour and body to almost any dish.


The second warned against corn-fed beef. Cows are grass-ea…

31 days to 2010: Eating Animals

As 2010 approaches, my thoughts are moving more and more towards eating better, making better choices when it comes to providing the body with fuel vs satisfying the emotional side to eating.

This is why I am looking forward to Kilax's giveaway of Jonathan Safran Foer's non-fiction book on starting an informed discussion about what is being done in the name of putting food on our tables. Entitled Eating Animals, it's not a call for vegetarianism per se, but seems to nudge folks in that direction. While I wasn't impressed with his works of fiction (read one, saw the movie adaptation of another), I am quietly curious about what he has to say, and how he says it.

For those who have known me over a long period of time, you might recall I used to be a (lenient) vegetarian, sticking to fried noodles or rice with curry-without-chicken, eating eggs and cheese but consuming bits of an actual dead animal once a week or so. This came about from reading Fit for Life: it was extre…

Gobble gobble gobble!

Here's wishing everyone in -- or of -- the USA a HAPPY THANKSGIVING!




Gobble gobble gobble!

Oes tsetnoc?

Heehe I had to chip in and help fellow expat blogger Hospitalera with this: Oes tsetnoc. Can you figure out what it's all about?

Actually thanks to my mad Scrabble(TM) and Scramble/Boggle skills, I can tell you that Oes does have a definition: the winds that blow on the Faroe Isles, if I'm not mistaken... you'll find it in the Scrabble dictionary, but not in regular 'normal' ones :D A quick search online returns a few hits for Oes: Occupational Employment Statistics; Order of the Eastern Star; Open Enterprise Server. But if you go in this direction, you're on the wrong track.

... but if you were to search for tsetnoc you might start to see the light. ... Remember that episode of (Family Guy?) where Alex Trebeck was vanquished when a contestant used "kcebert xela" (or was it "xela kcebert"?) when called upon during Jeopardy!? This is something similar.

"Oes tsetnoc" is just SEO Contest spelled backwards. If you want to know…

Cat Tales: I cheated on her!

Today I cheated on our cat.

It was maybe 6:15am, and she had started up another round of hissy fits - looking out, I saw that it wasn't the scrappy ginger tom with flappy ears that was bothering her -- it was another ginger cat, this one belonging to our neighbors.


The neighbor's cat in better days

I suspect our neighbors recently decided to make the cat an outdoor one. About two weeks ago, all of a sudden, the cat's carrier and litterbox appeared on their back porch. With a green collar with a bell, and a white flea collar, it's easy to differentiate this one from the scrappy tomcat that also hangs out here. For a while, the both of them together would be harassing our poor cat!

This morning, I felt sorry for the cat outside, it had given a meek meow at me as I shooed it off the window sill... so with our psycho kitty hissing and yowling away, I carefully made my way outside, careful not to let either cat in/out... shut the screen door behind me, and beckoned at the g…

"we've met!" list continues to grow!

I am certainly no social butterfly... though I can do pretty well in small groups... which is why my fortnightly Bloody Mary Mafia sessions work so much better for me than, say, that rather overwhelming Tweet-Up we had last week! But hey, the bottom line is I'm meeting people here in Springfield, and slowly but surely feeling like I have a social life. Yay?


Here are some folk I'd like to add to the "We've Met!" blogroll:
@bluefox864 A lifesaver at the Tweet-Up, a regular Bloody Mary Mafioso, and I'm pretty sure he has a (neglected) blog...
@delami713 one of the first persons & familiar face I ran to (almost literally) at the Tweet-Up, and a regular Bloody Mary Mafioso.
@inkedgiff A lifesaver at the Tweet-Up@JSpaghetti blogs at Jeannette Eats Spaghetti
@lilbarmes A lifesaver at the Tweet-Up@lisawhelpley blog at Lisa's By The Book Blog and is a member of Springfield Moms@matthew_ryan A lifesaver at the Tweet-Up, and blogs at The Horseshoe
@mochamomma well…

Long lost pals - found!

A *wave* to SG aka SnglGuy and Omni!!

These are two bloggers from my early years in the blogosphere.
SG was someone you could reply on to leave a comment on almost every post you had, it was so heartening, encouraging and gratifying! He had moved from blogspot to his own domain, then pleaded burnout, if I remember correctly, then... nothing. A while ago I checked his site and saw it was no longer his. I have wondered how SG was doing, how life was treating him, and how he was channeling his observations / rants / moved to The Incurable Pessimist. It's great to "see" you again, SG! Glad you've been visiting me, even if silently! :)
Omni wrote very long treatises on deep spiritual perspectives, the nature of karma, and the like at Every Topic in the Universe(s?). I admit that many times I would end up skimming her posts, because, this woman could write for many many many page downs worth! :D She called it quits a long time ago, and when I decided to take down th…

Foody Friday: Tandoori and Enchiladas!

Chicken!!! :) Here are two dishes I produced over the past two weeks:

1. Chicken Tandoori
For some reason I wanted to play with yogurt last week, so using this recipe as a guide, I embarked on my first ever tandoori chicken experiment.



Not having all the ingredients, I made do with what I had: click the above picture you might to see the variety of spices I mixed in with the yogurt and lemon juice, and compare that to the "guide" :D

The chicken was then refrigerated for a day and a half, marinating.

Next came a big lesson: when the recipe calls for grilling/roasting, it might be a good idea to do the same... For some reason, I decided to just use a skillet instead. Hmmm... there's A LOT of water that emerges, the chicken looked to be pathetically drowning! In the end I kinda scooped out as much of the water as I could, and then let the "gravy" thicken. Of course, because it had been so wet, I let it thicken for too long, and burned the bottoms of the sauc…

Music Monday #22 (my #2): Meat Loaf

I've been knocked out by a nasty cold since last Wednesday, resulting in this blog being just a wee bit neglected. I did participate in the third World Blog Surf Day with my take on Holidays & Festivals over at a malaysian abroad, you are invited to drop by and surf around the world :) I've only made my way through half the entries myself, no worries!

Today marks my second entry in Music Monday (#22), and this time around it's my pleasure to introduce perhaps my favouritest singer EVAH, Meat Loaf!

Depending on your age and/or exposure, you may have first heard of him due to Paradise by the Dashboard Light (from Bat out of Hell), or from the mid-90s I would do Anything for Love (But I won't do That) (from Bat out of Hell II). Today's featured song is the title track of the 2003 album Couldn't Have Said it Better, a very special album to me in so many ways. Ironically, this album might have totally escaped my attention if I hadn't stumbled across thi…

it's kapgar's fault...

... that my neighbours might think I'm crazy. I was laughing out loud at 6:45am! Many times!!

Here's what started it:


Then I moved to the Food Court version:


"He's the most singingest janitor I've ever seen!"


So what's this all about? These two are among the nearly 100 "missions" carried out by Improv Everythere -- with a tagline of We Cause Scenes, you will find they are not limited to musicals - they've had a 5-minute Frozen Grand Central Station, and hold an annual No Pants Subway Ride, for example. While usually occurring only in the New York area, there was a North America tour of the mp3 experiment (see Toronto & Chicago editions).

Very cool.

Here's another. I roared with laughter at around the 1:00 mark (getting pulled by the "dog") and 1:30 mark (walking a whole bunch of them!). Be prepared!


Hope this got ya laughing!

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Music Monday #20 (my #1)

I was prompted to participate in Music Monday today, thanks to a tweet by Miracle Laurie (you may know her as Mellie / November in Dollhouse) that pointed me in the direction of the song used as the theme for Dollhouse. ... it's kinda weird to be hearing words instead la-la-la-laaas (and they are eerie lyrics!)! Anyways, so here is Jonatha Brooke with What You Don't Know featuring the unofficial Dollhouse video. Enjoy!




I'm hoping Joss Whedon will at least be able to finish off Season 2 before FOX cancels the show (yes, it's just a matter of when, not if) ... to help, please watch Dollhouse on hulu or at Fox.com.

(I think I'm supposed to get some code from MckLinky, but don't know how... in the meantime, do drop me a line in your comments to point me in your Music Monday direction, kthnks!)


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Foody Friday: Cornbread!

Inspired by Kim's Chili and Cornbread post, I gave in to the call of carbs and fixed us some cornbread this week. (Chili is also in the works, maybe I'll do & write it up next week -- this cold weather is pretty much demanding for chili to be made and consumed!).


It was left a bit too long - we were too caught up reattaching the oven handle to its door!


Me being me, I experimented a bit, using Kim's vegan recipe and other variations I found at about.com as guidelines, not instructions. The main variation was the addition of two heaping tablespoons of a hot giardiniera relish and what was probably 1+ cup of shredded 4-type mexican-style cheese.


It was steaming hot and yummy good!

The bread certainly had some zing to it thanks to the aforementioned hot giardiniera relish, but the only viewable proof of its presence was the occasional red strip of pepper. No sign of its green counterpart. Weird.

I couldn't identify the presence of cheese: perhaps if I'd used sharp c…

Pssst! Spread the Word!!

. . . . . .

I have three great causes I'd like to do my small part in spreading the word about. Please read on!!

First: Help a PhD student!
Who: Adam at ah ok lah and Adam Ok Dot Net
What: needs A LOT of respondents to answer his survey thus providing vital and valuable information for his PhD research looking at consumers' perception of blogs.
Where: click on the link at the top of his My Research Methodology post
What's in it for you: for every survey completed, Adam donates 50p to Cancer Research UK. He also has a £100 cash prize and some amazon.com certificates to give away to lucky respondents.

Adam is one of my early blog buddies, and I really like that he's pursuing an advanced degree studying the blogosphere and its perceptions. You don't have to be a blogger to help -- you just need to have been reading blogs for more than a year. So please swing by and answer his questionnaire, k?


Next: Help purse-less students in Springfield!
Who:MochaMomma
What: Calling f…

R2D2 in Springfield!

Back in May 2007, in conjunction with the 30th anniversary of the debut of Star Wars, the United States Postal Service had a stroke of major creative genius and converted a select few of their mailboxes into R2D2.

I was reminded of these nifty mailboxes last week when I scoured sxc and flickr for images of Malaysian, Swiss and US mailboxes to complement a post about World Post Day, and was pretty geeked out by how cool these R2D2 mailboxes were.

Way back when, I had heard rumour that one such mailbox was somewhere in Chicagoland: seeing as we're at the end of 2009, I figured all R2D2 mailboxes had since been transformed back into their 'usual' colors, and I kicked myself for not having looked for one when I had the opportunity.

... so imagine how overjoyed I was to stumble upon R2D2 here in Springfield!!

Pity about the graffiti, though.

Have they no respect?!!

If you want to see this for yourself, head on over to downtown Springfield: R2D2 will be waiting for you on the south …