Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Virginia Kreeper

I’m currently rereading The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde. The story has a mix of characters, some of which are characters from nursery rhymes. The main character is Jack Sprat (who changed his name from Jack Spratt to hide his origins); he not only lost his first wife due to her unhealthy eating habits but also has killed several giants in his job as a detective sergeant.

In this book, Jack is sent to a psychologist who will determine whether or not he is fit to return to his job. Her name is Virginia Kreeper. During the course of the session, Jack realizes that Virginia Kreeper is not a real, fleshed-out character. She’s one-dimensional, and her only purpose is to further along the plot that is his life. Once he realizes that, he is able to steer the session much more effectively.

That bit of the book was in my mind earlier this week at work. Something Very Bad happened on Friday afternoon, and there was a considerable amount of freaking out. On Monday, things were calming down as we realized that the potential backlack wasn’t really materializing and perhaps perhaps this was going to blow over with a minimum of fuss.

Except.

Except one person—we’ll call her Virginia—was still very upset. She took an admittedly bad situation and kept escalating it. We didn’t just make a mistake: Our reputations were ruined, the sky was going to turn red and the sand purple, the earth was going to reverse its path and we were going to suffer a cataclysmic apocalypse of our own making.

I realized that if I were inside one of Jasper Fforde’s books, Virginia would be a cautionary tale for me. She would exist to show me that this was the way I could go if I don’t take heed.

When I was in first grade, I cried because I missed a word on my spelling test. With that one mistake, I knew I couldn’t get an A+ on my report card for the term. My perfection was ruined, and I could never get it back.

It’s really a wonder I’m not perpetually on medication.

If I’m not careful, I can take situations and make them so. much. bigger. than they really are. I can take a mistake and turn it into the event that will ruin my life. I can expect so much from myself and others that nobody has a chance of ever meeting my expectations.

I can, and I have.

Virginia is a reminder, and I bow to the ground to her.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Soy Sad

This evening I went out to visit my garden. I pulled out the old pea plants, tried to get the tomatoes to stretch toward the garden netting, marveled at the monstrosity that is the spaghetti squash.

Then I stopped cold.

That used to be okra. And prepare yourself before you look at this next one.


Ready?



Those were four beautiful soybean plants. They were leafy and tall and beautiful.

There were two ducks in the backyard when I made the discovery, and they pleaded ignorance. They blame a rabbit, and I have no way of knowing.*

The okra was an experiment. It's something I don't really know if I like or not, but it seemed like a good thing to try.

But the soybeans. Oh, I had such high hopes for the soybeans. To me, they were simultaneously a connection to my Midwestern farming roots and the giver of the exotic-sounding edamame. They were part of my past and part of the person I have become.**

I'm soy sad.


*I would like to state for the record that what came out of my mouth upon seeing the horror was simply, "Wow." What I was thinking, of course, was, "SON OF A BITCH." but what I actually said was, "Wow."

**Yes, I attribute a lot of symbolism to my little 48 sq. ft. You garden your way, and I'll garden mine.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Swirly Mittens 2.0

Back in January, I knit a pair of mittens. I had problems with them.

Quite a few problems, actually.

When they were finally finished, they were beautiful. They also were too small. They eventually went to live with a friend's mom, who has super small hands. I decided that I loved the mittens enough to try to reknit them-- y'know, once the sting wore off.

It took five months, but the sting has worn off, and I have a new pair of mittens.

Look at that sexy peasant thumb!

Estonian braids!
Swirly Mittens, Knit Picks Palette yarn in Silver and Ash

A friend told me I could sell mittens like this. I explained that I would charge $100 for a pair of mittens, and that quite possibly still would have my hourly rate below minimum wage. I'm guessing there wouldn't be many takers.

They are beautiful, and I love them. They were so much easier to knit the second time around, and they fit much better. It feels good.

It is around 90 degrees where I live.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Recipe #23 and a Failed Recipe #24

Good news first. I made kale chips.

Easy, easy, easy to do. Cut main center stem out of kale leaves and rip them into medium to large-size pieces. Wash and pat dry. Put on parchment-paper lined cookie sheet, sprinkle with kosher salt and mist with extra virgin olive oil. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes.

I have no experience with kale, so I didn't know what to expect. When I put one of these chips into my mouth, my thoughts were (in this order):

Bloody hell, what have I put in my mouth?

Fragile--like dried leaves.

Salty.

Bitter.

I need another.

There was a disaster with the main dish I was making, and Andrew and I ate the entire batch of kale chips while we were trying to figure out how to salvage something edible for dinner.*

Dinner was supposed to be a pizza with a polenta crust. I was using the crust recipe from a Polenta-Goat Cheese Skillet Pizza recipe from Vegetarian Times.

Things did not go well, as is evident in this picture:

The polenta never got as thick as I thought it should, and I finally gave up and put it in the oven anyway. This is after another half an hour of baking, and it was still liquid-y in the middle. I had to scoop it into the trash.

The next day, I researched what I might have done wrong. Turns out, instant polenta is different from the only polenta I've ever seen. The polenta I've purchased comes in a tube and is in the refrigerated section near the tofu. Instant polenta is a dry, ground product. It's like cornmeal. Hell, it may be cornmeal. I'm still a little unclear.

So, this went into the trash, and we filled wheat minisub buns with a mixture of cooked zucchini, portabellas, kale, garlic, and pasta sauce. We added some reduced-fat cheese, wrapped them in aluminum foil and baked them for 15 minutes. They were delicious, but it was a dish I've made before, so it can't count as recipe #24.

I think I'm going to try to find another recipe to use the second half of that tube of polenta. I'm not ready to admit defeat yet.

*By "Andrew and I," I really mean that I ate nearly all the kale chips and Andrew had perhaps three.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dysfunction Junction


Someone I love is doing something that is bad for her: She wants to move to Dysfunction Junction. I've been fighting it for a couple of years, trying to remind her how traveling by rail always makes her sick and how much she hated it when she last lived there.

Yesterday I got a call. She not only has bought tickets to Dysfunction Junction, she’s already packed her bags and made plans to take the kids along.

In the past as she’s talked about how I should give Dysfunction Junction another chance and how it has improved since the last time I was there, I've become incredulous and angry. How can she move back there when it was horrible? Does she remember that the bad roads and ridiculous housing prices and lack of Qdobas made her cry? Sure, her parents lived there, but doesn't she remember growing up in that shitty little town? Doesn't she want better for her kids?

Last night, as she told me about her preparations for her trip to crazy, I just let her talk.

Then I took a deep breath and told her I’d drive her to the station if she needed it.

At some point, you just can’t fight it anymore. You have to sit by and watch people you love take trains to places that are bad for them. You have to watch them take their kids with them. You have to swallow the fear and panic in your throat and accept that there isn't anything you can do to stop them that you haven't already tried--multiple times.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was arrested, imprisoned in a concentration camp, and eventually killed because he was part of a failed assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler. He said that if there is a madman driving a car toward a group of pedestrians, you are morally obligated to jam a stick in the spokes of his tires, causing him to wreck and possibly die in order to save the innocents.

That story has been going through my head for the past couple of years. Today I accept the truth: I don’t have a big enough stick.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Dye Job

Saturday morning my mom and I went to a handpainted yarn class at Sheep Street Fibers. She agreed to go to this class with me, and I'm going to a weaving class with her in August.

I loved it.

Nancy, the owner/teacher, called each of us the day before and asked us how much yarn we wanted to dye. Since I had no helpful answer, she asked what project I planned to do. I wasn't much help with that either. I'd never done any dyeing, so I was there for the experience, not because I was desperate to get a specific yarn. We decided on about 1000 yards of fingering weight. Mom chose sport weight yarn.

Mom dyed her yarn with red, deep yellow, and little hints of olive green. After it finished steaming, it looked like it had 5-6 shades of orange in addition to those colors. It was really stunning.

I think mine is also gorgeous.

I used green, blue, purple, yellow, and a touch of pink. It reminds me of an Impressionist watercolor. Well, the yarn version of it, anyway.

It took me over two hours to get the yarn into balls. I'd prefer not to say any more about that, except to note that I only threw a ball of yarn across the room once and there was no alcohol involved, which I think is admirable.

I'm not sure how deep this rabbit hole is going to go.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Sock Yarn Revisited

I found a pattern to use for the sock yarn that didn't want to be socks.


Strangling Vine Lace Scarf (Ravelry link), Blue Moon Fiber Arts STR lightweight yarn in Sweet Pea

The yarn has subtle light green and blush pink in it, although you can't tell that from the picture.

I love the way it blocked. This pattern has a lot of visual interest for a pretty easy four-row lace pattern. I plan to give it to Mom for her August birthday. I hope she likes it!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Happy Anniversary to Us!

Today is Andrew and my 10th anniversary.

I thought about what to say about that.
  • I adore him.
  • He's smart.
  • And funny.
  • And quirky in freakishly similar ways to me.
  • And kind.
  • And the kind of person I'd want to be with at the end of the world. Sure, we'd both die, but we'd go out together.
  • And sexy.
  • And my best friend.
  • And steady as a rock.
  • And I'm keenly aware of how amazing our relationship is and how rare it is to find someone you actually want to spend your life with.
  • And I can honestly say I've never once doubted that this marriage thing was worth it because I was married to Andrew. This is pretty damn shocking considering some of the marriage role models I've had.
  • And I'm the luckiest person ever.
All of that is true, and it all sounds like Hallmark crap. So, I'll just leave it at this:

Andrew, you are my very favorite person in the world. I have no idea how we got this lucky, but I'm guessing we had some really bad stuff happen to us in a previous life and the universe is trying to make it up to us. Let's not dwell on it. Thanks for loving me even though we've both changed a lot in the past ten years. There's no one I'd rather do life with than you.

I love you. Happy anniversary to us.

Oh, and I'm really looking forward to fried vegetables and a crock of gooey cheese. Thanks for helping us find a restaurant that has more than one vegetarian option for our anniversary dinner.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Monday, June 14, 2010

In Which I Admit Defeat... For Now

I can grow some things. I can even grow some things from seed. Here are two very healthy spaghetti squash plants. This is the Hasta la Pasta variety, and I admit to buying it mostly for the name.

I'm going to have to find someone who wants a Hasta la Pasta, and probably some other squash varieties as well.

However, the seedlings that I faithfully started inside in March never took off.

Seriously, that's a picture of a seedling that I planted THREE MONTHS AGO. It's as if they're all stuck in some bizarre stasis. I think it's a good possibility that there's some sort of temporal wormhole in my backyard. Shouldn't they have either grown or died by now?

I gave up, and on Sunday I purchased pepper and tomato plants.



It saddened me because I had been babying these seedlings for three months, and I had pored over the Burpee catalogue and picked the specific varieties I wanted. I was committed to these particular varieties, and I couldn't get those plants at the nursery. Now I'll have to wait a whole year (at least) to see if the Fourth of July tomato really is ready on July 4 and if the Red October variety really does last for sixteen weeks off the vine.*

I'm trying to console myself with the fact that I'll try again next year, probably with a grow light. Also, I did buy a tomato plant called Mr. Stripey, and that eases the heartache a bit.

This morning there were nine ducks in my backyard. I admit to worrying about the health of my plants. Send positive energy their way.

*Of course I don't really believe them. July 4th? Sixteen weeks? That's crazytalk. Still, I have to wait another year to prove them wrong.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Recipe #22: Deep Dish Pizza

This is another recipe unearthed during the recipe reorganization project. It's deep dish pizza, and it. is. brilliant.

The recipe is another Vegetarian Times recipe... sort of. The crust is from that recipe, but I redid the toppings to make it tastier and less healthy. I used pizza sauce, fake sausage, fresh basil, portobellos, and topped it all with shredded cheese and pizza spice.

So very good. The crust was a mixture of whole wheat and all-purpose flour with a bit of flax seed. It rose beautifully and didn't stick to the pan. We slid it out onto a pizza stone after it cooled a bit because I was nervous about scratching this skillet.

I loved this and would consider eating it every day if I had time to make the crust.


Friday, June 11, 2010

Yarny Growth

My May sock club shipment was a departure. The company takes dyeing yarn very seriously. In addition to many multicolored yarns, they have primarily black yarn and primarily white yarn. These skeins still have colors other than black and white, but they are very subtle. Last year we received a Raven clan (black) yarn, and I made the socks recommended (second pair) and love them.

This shipment contained a Spirits (white) yarn.

It's called Sweet Pea, and indeed, there are small hints of blush pink and light green. Hints.

Joining a club where someone else picks what you receive means you're open to receiving stuff you wouldn't normally buy. Because of that, I've made socks with beads, socks with &$*%) tricky rosebuds, and socks with chart after chart after chart.

I didn't like either of the two patterns that came with this yarn. That was unexpected. Before, I've always either liked the yarn, one of the patterns, or both. Okay, no problem. I picked a pattern from a book by a designer I really like and cast on.



Rick pattern by Cookie A. from this book, Blue Moon Fiber Arts STR yarn in Sweet Pea

Gorgeous pattern, yes? Yes. Very pretty.

I kept knitting and admiring the pattern. Knitting. Knitting.

Today while knitting at lunch, I paused to take stock of this project. And I decided to tell myself the truth.

I don't like this yarn. I'm not going to wear cream socks. Boring white cotton socks? Yes. Brightly-colored socks that don't match anything I own? Yes. Cream socks? No.

I'm on the search for something to knit with this yarn, and I am confident I will find it through the wonders of Ravelry.

In the meantime, I would like us all to pause a moment and congratulate me that I did not spend sixteen hours of my life making a pair of socks I will never wear.

Growth.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Hedera Socks

After I finished March's sock club socks, I had some time before May's arrived. I decided to pull some everyday yarn out of the stash and use a pattern I haven't used before.

This is a Cookie A pattern, and she's startlingly brilliant. This sock is supposed to be an introduction into both lace and sock-ity* patterns, so it's a pretty simple four-row lace repeat. It looks much more complicated than it is, and I love that. It also looks great in a solid colorway; I think a variegated colorway would have detracted from the pattern.


I have considered that my pictures would look better if they weren't taken a) late at night, and b) on my bathroom floor. I haven't decided how much I care though.

When I tried on these socks, I told Andrew that I felt like one was slightly smaller than the other. This happens to me a lot, and it makes me nutty. It's not a huge problem, and the difference isn't noticeable once they've been washed and blocked, but I always feel disappointed by it. It seems to always be true that the second sock is slightly smaller than the first sock knitted, which makes me think I just get impatient and want to be finished sooner than I should. ** Andrew looked at me and said, "Do you think it's possible one foot is slightly larger than the other?"

Blink, blink.

Yes, that is a possibility. I had never considered it. It wouldn't have to be a big difference--a quarter of an inch might be noticeable if you're as OCD as I am. Now I have to decide which I choose to believe, that my feet are mismatched or that I can't knit socks the same size. I haven't decided yet.

*Yes, it's a made up word. But I bet Merriam-Webster will love it. It's much catchier than sockness, which I also considered.

**Most sock patterns won't have row-by-row directions for the entire foot. They'll just say something like, "Continue in pattern until sock is 2" shorter than you want it to ultimately be. Then begin toe."

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Recipe #21: Chimichangas

Recipe #21 is vegetarian chimichangas from Vegetarian Times. I used bell pepper strips instead of onion and plain jalapeƱos instead of roasted, but the rest of the recipe is the same.

The filling is bell peppers, soy crumbles, chili powder, cumin, jalapeƱos, and diced tomatoes. While that cooks, the tortillas are wrapped in aluminum foil and baked in the oven to make them pliable. The tortillas are filled, rolled, and baked for half an hour.


This recipe was... fine. I have never had chimichangas in a cheeseless, non-fried form. I like cheese and friedness. Since I also like fitting into my pants, I'm trying to lower my standards.

I recognize that I'm too hard on my own cooking. It's a flaw. Andrew said this had nice flavor, and he's right. It was spicy, and the tortillas had a nice texture out of the oven.

But all I could think was, "It tastes like home cooking." This is not a compliment for me. Even when I ate meat, I never wanted to eat meatloaf, sloppy joes, green beans with bacon, mashed potatoes, or anything with gravy. I do enjoy biscuits and macaroni & cheese, so I'm not sure what the factor(s) is (are) that impacts whether I like something or not.

Sigh. This resolution is not working out as I had hoped, and I admit to being discouraged. I didn't sleep well last night, so perhaps that is impacting my outlook.

I'm going to go eat dark chocolate-covered espresso beans now.


Saturday, June 5, 2010

Nocturne

After chatting about Dexter, I wanted you to meet Nocturne. (Well, meet her in a nondrugged state, unlike here.)

This is sober, honest.

Andrew is a cat person, and I am a dog person. Luckily, we both like both species, we just tend to gravitate toward different ones. I don't despise cats. I actually enjoy them quite a lot. Given the choice, however, I'm always going to pick a dog, and Andrew will always pick a cat.

Dexter is a little crazy, as I've mentioned, so we were nervous about how he'd react when we adopted a cat. We shouldn't have worried. They play together. Nocturne still has her claws--read about what declawing really is and it will change the way you view it--and she's never used them on him. When she gets tired of playing, she goes into the utility room where Dexter cannot follow and takes a break.
She's been known to wait at the bottom of the stairs and pounce on Dexter as he comes down. They also tear around the house after one another, Dexter lunging at her tummy while she bats him around with her front paws.

What are you looking at?

Nocturne was a year old when we adopted her, so she's spent most of her life with Dexter as her only non-human companionship. Andrew thinks she sometimes acts more like a dog than a cat. She'll sit at the window and bark at the birds. When we get home, she'll walk in front of us, then throw herself down with her paws in the air so we'll rub her tummy.


She's also a princess. She will wait until we walk into the door to use the litter box. She'll wait until we clean it, and then use it again. If we didn't come home, she'd probably explode. She drinks out of the back of the fish tank despite the availability of fresh, albeit non-fish-flavored water. She walks across our kitchen table even though she knows she's not supposed to and will get squirted with water.

It's difficult to stay mad at someone so cute though.

I am really grateful for our little family of Andrew, me, Dexter, and Nocturne. Sure, our house is covered in pet hair and we spend as much on their medical care and grooming as our own. It's absolutely worth it. Adopt a pet. Adopt two.

Recipe #20: No Knead Bread

While working on recipe #20, I also made a new coffee drink:


I've decided it doesn't count as a new recipe since the point of this resolution is to make things I can eat for dinner. Although coffee is a necessary part of my life, it doesn't fit the spirit of the challenge.


It was pretty tasty, and I'm already thinking of ways to make it better. It involves a blender.


Recipe #20 was no knead bread. Apparently this took the cooking world by storm a few years ago, but since I'm not plugged into the cooking world I did not know. I read about it first in Cathy Erway's book The Art of Eating In.


I used this recipe. I have a standard bread recipe, and it uses a packet of active dry yeast for one loaf. This recipe calls for one-fourth of a teaspoon. A packet of yeast has about two and a half teaspoons. I was so stunned I looked up another recipe to make sure it wasn't a typo.


I mixed water, salt, flour (I used half bread flour and half whole wheat flour), and yeast, covered with plastic wrap and let it sit on my counter to ferment. Because of my schedule, I was forced to leave it on my counter for nearly two days, but from what I read in that book, I'm not the first to do this and nobody died.


Here's what it looked like after being mixed:


And here's what it looked like after sitting around for a couple of days:

It rests for 15 minutes, then I shaped it into a ball and stuck it between floured kitchen towels (non-fuzzy types) to rise. The rising didn't go as well as I expected. I waited around three hours, and the last half an hour I put it in a slightly warm oven to try to encourage it. I don't know how it's supposed to look, but I was expecting it to be taller.


The bread is baked in a very, very hot oven inside a cast iron dutch oven that has been preheated as well. The dutch oven ensures that it gets a good crust on the loaf. It cooks for a total of 45 minutes.

This is the texture of the interior:


It's... much more yeasty than I expected. It's not bad, but it's different than any other bread I've made. If anyone has any experience with this kind of recipe, I'd greatly appreciate advice. Did I do this right? Is this how it's supposed to look? How should it taste?
This was an interesting experiment. I'm a bit relieved I didn't fall in love with it. It would be dangerous to have freshly-baked bread around the house all the time!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Two Days Left

My modified VT challenge ends tomorrow. I have two more lunches to eat in, two more days with scheduled meditation, and two more days of doing something active at least 30 minutes a day.

Yesterday Dexter and I walked for about 45 minutes after I got home from work.

What? You haven't met Dexter? Sorry about that.

Blog, meet Dexter.

That picture is from his very first day at our house. He's much less shaggy now, and he weighs about seven pounds less. Borrowing from an episode of As Time Goes By, I like to say that Dexter's breed is a secret known only to his mother and father. The vet says he's spaniel with a bit of chow (black tongue, long swoopy tail). I think he's perfect.*

We adopted Dexter in 2006. We think he was five years old then, but that's based on cobbled-together information and guesswork. I pretend he was born in August 2001, and perhaps that is true.

We think he was abused, and he's got a little bit of crazy.

Also, stuffed toys are not safe around him. His favorite place to be is on my lap, which is convenient as that is my favorite place for him to be as well.

I adore my dog.


Anyway, Dexter and I went for a walk yesterday. It was humid, but breezy. I was sweating when I got home, but it wasn't horrible at all. I am a delicate flower when it comes to... well, many things, but especially when it comes to temperature. I keep threatening to move to Maine to live beside Jessica Fletcher; in my mind Maine is not humid and is full of interesting characters. I blame the Hallmark Channel.

I've been kicking around a few thoughts with regard to this challenge.
  • It's been good to save a bit of money by eating lunch at work every day instead of going out once a week... although spending under $5.50 at Subway doesn't seem like that big of a deal.
  • Meditating hasn't taken hold of me as I had hoped. This is a bummer.
  • Requiring myself to do something active for 30 minutes each work day has been very good. Last night, I would have plunked myself onto the couch if I didn't have this goal. Walking is good for lowering my stress.

Most interestingly:
  • I think I'm getting tired of setting goals.
I'm not sure what to make of that.

Tune in tomorrow for Recipe #20! It's fermenting on my counter as I type. For real.

*Insert plug for adopting pets from rescues here.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

It's Little, But It's All Mine...

Last week, I lamented that recipes I'd printed were a pocket of chaos in my life. Saturday was a quiet day at home, and while Andrew worked on his comic collection, I decided to tackle the recipes.

I started by putting in season one of Clatterford that I'd checked out of the library. Proper mood is important.

Then I gathered plastic sheet protectors and the pile of recipes and spread out on the floor. I put all the recipes I thought I might use in a sheet protector... and then I ran out of sheet protectors.

Many of the recipes are only 1 side of a page, so I knew I could double up on a lot of the sheet protectors. That meant that I had to figure out how to organize them so I didn't have a spicy black bean salad in the same sheet protector as a fruit trifle recipe.*

I made a few piles, became overwhelmed, left the mess all over the floor and enjoyed Clatterford for awhile from the couch. This process repeated itself a few times. It's tricky to organize recipes, perhaps especially so when they're all vegetarian.** Is poached pears a side dish or a dessert? Is fake chicken salad a salad or a sandwich? I found that nearly everything was an entree in my mind. I don't cook that often, and I certainly don't make cohesive meals. If I make a new recipe, it gets the place of honor (perhaps beside something we pulled out of the freezer) regardless of what it is.


In the end, I decided that having them stuck in binders made them easily flippable, and two 1.5" binders were manageable even if the organization within them was imperfect. I have them roughly divided: salads, soups, sandwiches, desserts, entrees.

My hope is that I will flip through these to admire their tidiness and be inspired to make something that I thought looked good enough that I bothered to print it off in the first place.

If not, at least they're organized.

*Those of you who know me know that this is the kind of thing that keeps me up at night.

**I asked Andrew if he wanted to go through the recipes I was planning to throw away, and I would add any he thought he might make. He declined, and as I am slowly beginning to accept that he has even less interest in cooking than I do, I threw meat recipes away unless I was particularly interested in making them vegetarian. (There were two of those, I think.) I decided if it had meat in it, I would never make it and it didn't earn a sheet protector.