i woke up early this saturday morning because my heat turned on at 8:30am because i set it back last weekend and forgot to readjust the heating schedule. i lounged in bed for a bit before finally getting up.

i did a bit of blog maintenance this morning. i noticed a while back it was no longer displaying asian characters (e.g. chinese, korean) when it used to be able to do that. i thought maybe it was a setting in the HTML so i explicitly set the charset, but it didn't fix anything. foreign characters display fine when i hard code the characters, but disappears once it gets saved in the database. so i figured this was an mysql error. sure enough, i noticed my data was set to latin1_swedish_ci collation (whatever that is). i looked up what that was and found out it was an easy fix in phpmyadmin. i set my database to utf8_general_ci collection, which seemed to have fixed the problem. this error most likely occured when my webhost did a database transfer recently.

my mother called me at 10:30am. since it was raining outside, i needed a ride, and i told her i was already ready to go. my father came by in 15 minutes. it wasn't just raining, but freezing rain, and coating everything in a clear slippery glaze. when i got to belmont, i had a bowl of leftover yukgaejang for lunch, mixed with some thin noodles.

i went out into the backyard to refill the suet feeder after seeing a carolina wren trying to find something to eat. it ended up pecking for scraps on the ground along with a song sparrow who was overly aggressive and kept chasing off the wren, only for it to come right back. finally both birds were chased away when i squirrel ran by looking for seeds to eat. later i saw a male downy woodpecker feeding at the suet feeder.

in the early afternoon i started making my pasta salad. i don't know if i made it this summer, but it seems like the last time i made it was back in 2020. it's easy to make but calls for a lot of different ingredients.

pasta salad
(4-6 serving)

1 lbs. tri-color rotini

4 medium tomatoes, chopped
6 oz. feta cheese
8 oz. ham steak, cubed

1 cup olives, chopped
1 cup fresh arugula
1 cup pepperoncini, chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 cup cilantro, chopped

cook pasta. let cool. mix with remaining ingredients including dressing. serve cold.

instead of 4 medium tomatoes i only used 2 because it seemed like too much. i used a whole can (3.8 oz) of pearls sliced black olives.

pasta salad italian dressing

1-1/2 cups olive oil
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp kosher salt
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp italian seasoning

mix all ingredients in food processor.

1-1/2 cups of olive oil seems like a lot, but it's totally necessary for the amount of salad ingredients. i accidentally brought red wine vinegar instead of apple cider vinegar, i don't think it made that much of a difference. in the past i'd use 2 tsp of basil and 2 tsp of oregano, but i have a large container of italian seasoning so i just used 1 tbsp of that.

i mixed everything together and put it in the cold sunroom. that's one benefit of wintertime, using the sunroom as a temporary refrigerator.

my sister came at 3pm, to make her portion of tonight's dinner, which she only said was something italian and sounded like pasta. i was a little bit confused that my mother asked me to make pasta salad when we were already having pasta. i think they got confused, thought i was just going to make a simple salad (which i've never made for my family before) when they said pasta salad, not realizing that my pasta salad is super hearty and is a meal in itself. my sister brought some appetizers - eggplant spread and pate with crackers - but my mother didn't like any of that stuff. instead she was clamoring for the pasta salad, so we ended up having that before the italian dish was ready.

so the pasta salad turned out to be very salty. i don't mind, but in the future, it's probably healthier to curb back on the sodium. for one thing, the cheese, the olives, and the ham, were all salty. the salad needed more neutral vegetable ingredients to balance out the salt, that's why i should've put in 4 tomatoes, not just 2. and a whole onion, not just half. and more arugula, not just 1 cup, which is really nothing when compared to the other ingredients. i also put in cilantro but it disappears in the salad and you can't really taste it, so i might skip that next time, just add 3-4 cups of arugula. on top of that, i added 2 tbsp of salt into the dressing. i think the dressing does need salt, but maybe cut it back to just 1 tbsp next time. but i love the strong salty sour spicy taste of the salad. if i was making it for myself, i wouldn't hold back on anything.

immediately after we finished the pasta salad, my sister's italian dish was ready to serve. she made some kind of manicotti, but instead of stuffing the pasta with cheese and sausages, she just layered them on top. i do know a little something about italian food, and that was a cheat, even if my parents weren't aware of it. when you just layer the ingredients, it's more lasagna than anything else, and you don't need special pasta for that.

my sister gave me a ride back to cambridge after dinner. the streets were still very empty on christmas evening, and there were plenty of parking on my street. my upstairs neighbors were blaring their stereo, but thankfully in the kitchen, which is on the opposite side of the house, away from my living room, so i didn't hear it as much.