Tuesday, September 29, 2009

an everyday night

Evenings are different since we've moved. We no longer have tv. Gabe doesn't bring his work home and rarely works past dinner. It's the best. It's also the best to live with someone who you genuinely love being with. The combination is great. Since we moved Gabe and I are having so much fun in the evenings just hanging out... usually he is fixing his bicycle, or drawing schematics for some invention or taking pictures of the cats. I am taking pictures, or cooking or trying to do something crafty. Tonight we printed out a picture of Ookpik that I took earlier today. We printed it 13 x 19. That is scary big for a close-up of a cat face. Gabe put it on the mantle and it's super weird. So weird we thought about getting rid of it, selling it on craigslist. Who would buy that, I said. Then we discussed if it's less weird to have a giant picture of your own cat or someone else's. It may be time to have children, because it is much more socially acceptable to have people pictures all over the house, not cats.

I've been playing last.fm radio lately in the evening and Joan Baez came on tonight. Here was the conversation:

Me: Ugh, Joan Baez. I know she's supposed to be all that, but seriously. Ugh.

Gabe: It's an acquired taste.

Me: Really??

Gabe: Yeah, like stabbing yourself in the eyeballs.

Then later we had an argument about whether Gabe was really dancing (she says) or whether he was just stretching his neck (he says). Silly string of non-events all the night through, but lovely.

the evolution of a sweet potato

At the farmer's market last week a farmer told another customer how he had just pulled up sweet potatoes from the ground that morning in the rain. Of course I had to buy a couple. The man held one I had picked out and exclaimed 'what a beauty!' which instilled in me a very odd pride. Here's the beauty:

Here they are after some scrubbing and cutting - what a difference! He wasn't kidding about pulling them from the ground.

I then boiled them and peeled them, and I was stumped. I realized I haven't really cooked sweet potatoes in years. The past couple times we've had sushi I had a craving for sweet potato maki or tempura but forgot to order both times! I did not have seaweed or wasabi, and didn't want something sweet so I made a fried sweet potato patty. I want to tell you what's in it but my synapses in that area don't seem to be firing. My best guess: chipotle hot sauce, cayenne, salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregano, cinnamon.

Here's the finished product in the background, hanging out with some arugula, spicy broiled cod, and canteloupe salsa. The canteloupe salsa was this: one diced canteloupe, some vidalia onion, chopped red chili pepper, cilantro, lime juice, olive oil and red wine vinegar. It was a great dinner, especially the sweet potatoes!

Monday, September 28, 2009

i interrupt this blog to ask a logistical question

I detest the photo uploading on Blogger, and just realized there are some other options: putting pictures in Picasa/Flickr and then uploading to the blog from there. Does anyone do this? Is it easier?

Root canal was today and went as well as it possibly could have. The dentist complimented me on my ability to disassociate. The novacaine hasn't yet worn off and it's forecast to hurt for 7-10 days after. But I can do scuba (yay!)...tooth definitively isn't fractured (yay!), and I can get it internally bleached before the wedding (yay!). As much as we glorify the past, it is so great to live in an era in which my front tooth does not fall out after an injury, and one in which I can pick which Direct TV channel I want to watch in the dentist's chair (Food Network).

Saturday, September 26, 2009

a country drive

Today was grey and we decided to go hiking in one of the ple-thor-a (say it slowly, like three amigos) of trails around here. We meandered in the countryside, and it started to drizzle. Gabe drove while I snapped pictures out of the passenger windows (so excuse the quality).

Chatham County is reached by making a right outside our subdivision and driving a mile or two. There are rolling hills, lots of farms, and an atmosphere that puts me at ease immediately. Apparently there is also a fair.

These are two views of Jordan Lake, a man-made body of water 14,000 acres big. If you fish or kayak it's da bomb.

Country road...usually there are a lot of cyclists in the area but we didn't see many today, probably due to the rain.

An interesting little store - stupid windshield wiper is in the way. The sign says there is porch music on Friday nights!


Turn the corner and you never know if you'll see a mobile home or a mansion...

This is the shirt I wore as camouflage in the woods. To further the effect, here is me posing as an owl. A charging bear would be super confused.

We ended up not hiking, as the need to pee and eat something eventually overrode the desire to muddy ourselves in the rain. We got bbq here and I felt like I was sitting in a grandparents' home. A grandparents' home with REALLY good bbq. I also hit a little cultural barrier, when I had no idea what 'stew' meant, nor 'brunswick stew' when it was further explained. And then I asked for vinegar for hushpuppies, forgetting that's what the barbecue sauce is here and it was sitting right in front of me.

What I love love love about where we live is this. If I leave home and turn right, it is peaceful country living (see above). If I leave home and turn left, there is a town that resembles a little San Francisco, sans hills. It's small compared to Boston, but everything is there: great food, fun nightlife, friendly people, lots of shopping. Also city construction:

It's the perfect place to please the City and Country Mouse that I am.

hold on to your hats, people....

now that I have a new camera, you are in for A LOT of cat pictures.

(this is my mom's cat, getting that hard to reach spot behind the ears)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

DMV and root canals, happy days are here again

I'm not going to elaborate too much on the title, to spare you vicarious pain. But my root canal is scheduled for Monday. Last week I went to the DMV for a new license. I arrived a couple minutes past appointed time (I had to make this appt. 3 weeks in advance). I waited 25 more for someone to notice me standing there at the front desk. When they decided to saunter over they informed me I was too late for my appt. I politely explained the situation and was told 'you are not telling the truth'. Several times. Then I not so politely explained the situation, and waited another 15 minutes to see the old guy supervisor that ignored me in the first place. Later I was informed I couldn't get my license anyway because I need a social security card, which I can get in the 'building that looks like a penis'. I am not a customer service expert, but I don't think any of the aforementioned practices are acceptable.

In funner news I'm making progress on the wedding front. My mom and I went veil shopping in NJ on Saturday, and I got a fabulous accidentally custom made one. The lady wound around some tulle over my head, made a cut, and POOF - the funkiest veil creation was formed. It's definitely different, and that suits me much more than a traditional veil for sure. Gabe and I also stocked up on some bling - a new engagement ring for me and a wedding band for him. We are ordering the rest of the decorations and some other things tonight... and voila, somehow a wedding will happen in five weeks' time.

In other funner news I am having the burst of creativity that inevitably follows my existential crises. (Hey, it's only bipolar if it affects your ability to function in society, right?) Our new camera is amazing, and once my computer is all set up and connected to the internet again (yes, I break and everything around me lately) then I will post some new pictures. I also ventured into the paint department at Home Depot today and got some things for projects. Between camera, fabric, polyurethane and some finds at the thrift store, I will be keeping myself happily creative for a while.

I am trying to enjoy my leisure time for the next month, because after the wedding/honeymoon it's back to business. The question is what business. I've been brainstorming ideas, born out of my total unmotivation for a 9-5 job. Or worse, an 8-5 :( I'm also looking at some upcoming small business seminars and networking groups to attend. Trying on my entrepreneurial hat. It will most likely be too big, expensive, or detonate after a while, exploding to bits our meager finances. But nothing ventured...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

entropy, or, why i am marrying the man i am marrying.

I believe it must be part of my soul's work to understand the value of maintenance, and the balance within domesticity. When stars align, I am so content to cook, wash dishes, vacuum, put everything in its place. But when anything in my life shifts towards the negative, even slightly, its first reverberation is felt in my domestic life. When before I could notice the charm of our clothes lying tangled together on the living room floor, or the sunlight casting shadows behind a half empty glass of milk, I suddenly see the mess, the carelessness, the disrespect towards our environment. The joy of creating a meal dissolves into a bitter sense of obligation, and the monotony of loading the dishwasher AGAIN sends me into mute rages.

I had one of these moments a couple days ago. I had just cleaned the house, and the surprising entropy of a two-person household had ruined my good work. Gabriel had come home and was in the direct line of fire. Since I would be the one to clean, and since I am the one who is a woman, I put all sort of meaning and history into this not-necessarily-causal set of two facts. But Gabe is patient with me as I ask him if it's too much to ask to live in a clean house. He has learned not to take it personally because he knows what comes next. My rant inevitably turns inward, as I am predisposed to self-recrimination. I'm not even working, I don't have children, I should be able to at least keep a house clean. How could it be so hard? And then to a deeper level. I'm not even working, I should have extra time now. I should be able to do all the things I want to do, why haven't I? And further. It's so weird not to work. I just cook and clean and I don't even get anywhere. What is the point? And I make a mistake asking that last question. Because that is the death spiral released. What IS the point, even if I work? What should I do? Making money obviously isn't the point. I think it's ridiculous and condescending when people say they want to work to help other people. So what's the reason to do anything? Etc.

I will spare you all the ugly et ceteras. But picture me sunk in my chair, whining softly, hands hanging in the air, which, to me, is heavy with lack of inspiration, motivation or purpose. Gabe meanwhile has been listening, asking a question or two, and once making an exploding sound to simulate my brain's well worn path towards masochistic, over-analyzing self-destruction.

I finish my half hour rant with a sigh. And he sighs back. Oh honey. I don't have the answers either, but I'll be right here with you as you try to figure it out.

Now that is a man I can spend my life with.

there are malevolent spirits afoot

or at least that is how it feels lately. this evening i had just cut my nails, put toner on my face and plucked my eyebrows so felt like a new woman, finally putting behind me the accident a week and a half ago. as i started cooking dinner, i was enjoying the peace that comes with having a clean house. all was right with the world.

until i reached in a bottom drawer for a wooden spoon. all i knew was i was reeling from pain and i saw shards on the floor. after i got my bearings i realized that as i had bent down a plate fell from above my cabinets. these cabinets are much higher than me, right next to the ceiling. the drawer i was in and those cabinets are not connected in any way. how could this have happened? here is the malicious plate, and i feel this snowman is mocking me:

Plus, now I have to blog about the most ridiculous object I own in the kitchen. It was on sale, and I needed a serving tray and it was winter, okay? It is made out of thick, hard plastic. Do you realize how much momentum it must have had to shatter on my head?!

My head is fine, but I've got a massive bump developing right on the top of it. My eyesight is fine so no concussion. The very scary thing is the snowman plate sits on top of a massively heavy ceramic roaster and a griddle. Again, I should be thankful.

God help me if I get a Darwin Award when I die. Death by violent snowmen.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

fabric fix

I love fabric. I love the colors, the feel, the possibilities. Being around fabric makes me feel inspired and creative. Being in front of the sewing machine, however, make me feel like I want to throw it out the window. I feel spatially challenged, sloooowwww, and impatient. I become like a 3 year old when I have a vision in my head and no skills to execute it.

But the blank wall in the living room has been calling me. An empty 120" wide curtain rod has had me up at 3 a.m. browsing remnants online. Many a night. I finally decided to hang three panels of canvas and paint on it, like a mural. I had an idea of something to commemorate our wedding. So I went to a three fabric stores (that's a lot of threes already) and I found muslin and canvas and a silly lady at JoAnn's who told me too much useless information about puffy paint no thank you very much. The third store was grand and vast and I lost track of time. I happened upon beautiful fabric, in wedding colors no less, that I thought would go perfect with the red couches but not be dark... Here it is:

Gorgeous, no? And we have a crappy coffee table that I want to try to cover in fabric (you and I both will have to trust me on this one). I found a different pattern, matching colors, and garnered HIGH PRAISE from all the little sewing lady helpers working there today. It's bad lighting, but you can get the idea:

I'll be sure to show you the finished products unless they suck. At worst, I got the whole bolt, so the inside part will make a fine cat scratcher.

I found myself doing something uncharacteristic in the fabric store. There were all women in the store and perhaps it was the collective hormones. But as I was searching drapery remnants I heard a gaggle of women cooing over a baby. Without even thinking, I turned, headed toward the stroller and introduced myself as someone who just had to see what all the fuss was about. And I cooed over the baby, too, her eyes and hair, and how she was almost walking now, and asked her name, and my voice raised an octave or two when I repeated it back to her. What?! The power of babies has now overridden my social guardedness. Code red!

I also heard the most charming thing. Near the section I was browsing sat a girl and boy, probably about 8. They were trying to amuse each other in the corner as their mom or aunt shopped. As I got closer, I could tell they were trying to amuse me, too, because their stories to each other got more elaborate and loud and started including a string of words like pee and poop and puke and 'whale sushi'. I successfully quelled a fleeting urge to join in the story, too. The charming part came later - probably an hour later, near the end of my time there, when I saw the girl flash by me, chasing the boy, saying: "listen, listen, I will tell you a story no one has ever told before!" That warms my heart, to hear her want to tell her story, and to know that each of us always tells a story never told before.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Ratio Baking Experiment #3

This is sage and rosemary with brown butter bread.

Very good. I read that if you add steam in the beginning of the cooking process it makes the crust very crispy. So I put a cast iron skillet in the oven as it pre-heated, then added some water when I put the bread in. But now my skillet is peeling - is there a maximum amount of degrees it can withstand?

I may have to pause the baking experiments due to bad timing. Gabe is trying to get his abs showing again before the wedding and the baked goodies are not helping. I pointed out to him that HE was the one who bought me this book so he must suffer the consequences, but to no avail. We'll load up on carbs in november as the god of winter intended!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ratio Baking Experiment #2

As I said, I had leftover egg whites and attempted angel food cake. Since I have no appropriate pan to cook that in I just folded it into the aforementioned heart molds I am slightly embarrassed to say I bought on impulse. Blame love. The cake poofed up, overflowed, and of course got stuck to the molds since there's no fat in the ingredients. I tried greasing it all, but to no avail. I took the following picture because I was sure it'd be destroyed when I cut it out:

I managed to get it out and flipped it over. And look at this - how cute!

So I served it like this, upside down, but really it was just for show. The cake was gross. I apparently didn't put enough flour so it tasted like a marshmallow with a crispy sugary outer layer. I also hate angel food cake anyway. But it was an experiment.

I did get some decent photographs of the beautiful texture of these cakes:

Usually I am disappointed at how this little point and shoot captures food. But big news! Gabe and I ordered the Canon Rebel T1i today - should be here on Wednesday. An absolute splurge, no doubt about it. But we know we'll get good use out of it...and with so many upcoming wonderful memories to capture, it was easy to rationalize.

Ratio Baking Experiment #1

I don't know if it's beginner's luck but this was one of the yummiest desserts I've eaten. It's pie dough, improvised from the basic ratio, with a pear-ginger filling I made up. I suppose it's a tart..but no custard. Maybe an open-face pie?

The crust was perfectly flaky, and the bits of crystallized ginger brought out the pear but weren't overpowering. So fun to make!

I had egg whites leftover, so tonight I made up an angel food cake without a recipe - picture to follow. I'm like a liberated woman in the kitchen now! (And yes, I do realize how funny that sounds.)

what a difference a week makes..

You can't even tell I smashed my face in a week ago! Unless you electric-shocked my front tooth and realized it had no sensation. It's great to be looking better, and my tooth hurts not nearly as much.

Friday, September 11, 2009

pop quiz, hotshot:

Q: How do ingredients differ between a pound cake and a sponge cake?

(tick tock tick tock tick tock, time's up!)

A: They don't! They both have equal parts butter, sugar, egg and flour. The absolute only difference is the mixing method. Use the creaming method - whipping the butter and sugar together first, produces little air bubbles and therefore denser pound cake. Using the foaming method, whipping the eggs and sugar together first, produces lots of big bubbles and therefore the airy sponge cake. There are lots of variations, and I'm learning what happens when you add more eggs, other leavening agents (baking powder/baking soda), reduce butter, use different flours, etc.

I'm starting to see how it's all a continuum - that pasta, bread, cookies, cakes, muffins, pancakes, fritters, etc. are all a few basic ingredients in different ratios. (See previous posts for how awesome this book Ratio is.) I find it so liberating to walk into the kitchen and say to myself - hmm..perhaps I will make a sponge cake, or a pear-ginger bread (that's my plan for later today), or heart-shaped pancakes (yes I actually got heart-shaped molds, I was feeling in love) and I can just DO it, without sifting through recipes. I can be creative with cooking, but alas, finally, I can do the same with baking!

If you think I'M excited about this stuff, you should hear the author. He usually keeps his passion in check enough so that people won't commit him somewhere, but once in a while it escapes. An example:

And I think that people who are gifted pastry chefs have simply seen the crepe-cake continuum more clearly for longer, rather than seeing crepe equaling one set of instructions, cake another, and so have been able to improvise; they understand how small adjustments in fat, flour, egg, and sugar can result in satisfying nuances of lightness and delicacy or richness in flavor and texture. It's all one thing.

Which is why I love cooking. It's all one thing. Which is the ultimate comfort in a life fraught with uncertainty and questions. Which is why I don't fear dying. Which is what I'd put on my headstone if I thought being buried in the ground mattered: "It's all one thing." Which is why I love batters.

Michael Ruhlman

Thursday, September 10, 2009

so amazingly good!

assuming you eat beef, you have got to try this. it was after 6 and i realized i was starving and gabe was coming home soon. not the time to throw a roast in the oven. but since he's worked late this week i thought maybe i have a bit of time. i googled 'beef round roast', opened the first entry and found a 'recipe' 3 lines long. perfect! set the oven to 450, cook 20 minutes, turn off heat and let it sit in there another 20 minutes for each pound. don't open oven door. ok.

i had an idea that maybe i'd slice the meat thinly and put together some interesting tacos. so i took the 2 lb. roast, put some olive oil/salt/pepper on it and seared it in a brand-new all-clad stainless steel pan (thanks mom!). PERFECT SEAR. those pans are awesome. while searing i decided to add some oil to a square roasting pan and some spices: oregano, ancho chili powder, cumin and adobo seasoning. stirred it up to make a little sauce that i swirled the roast in after it was done searing. added garlic and onion and voila! add it to the oven uncovered.

i think it was the best cooked piece of meat i've ever made. just perfect. while it was in the oven i made a horseradish mayo and added some chipotle hot sauce to it. i found some sourdough bread so nixed the taco idea. i served it like this: toasted sourdough, smoky horseradish mayo, thinly sliced beef and some tomato slices on the side. oh, and in the roasting pan the roasted garlic, onion and spices made this sauce that i spooned onto the open face sandwich.

it was one of the best things i've made in a while. it way topped the fancy pate a choux gnocchi with sage, bacon and butternut squash i made last night. anybody visiting my house soon may find this on their plates...

sorry no pics - getting a camera soon!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

taking the bad with the good..

I did not break my neck, or die. I didn't even break my tooth. In the grand scheme of things killing a tooth nerve and getting a root canal isn't a big thing. I threw a little pity party this morning, lamenting facts and costs and inconvenience and non-scuba-ing. Then Gabe came home for lunch and brought me yummy soup and a present wrapped in foil.

It's called Ratio. It's the sort of cookbook I've been looking for over the past few years. Sure, I can read a recipe and say I cook, but that's not really cooking. So I do a lot of experimenting, but always wanted to have a better understanding of fundamentals so I could play in the kitchen and not feel like it's a TOTAL experiment-surprise. I wanted to understand the chemistry, the whys, the basic formulas so I can master it and let my creativity out.

Aha! If you've ever felt the same way, I recommend this book. I'm only a couple chapters in (for once, a cookbook to read, not just bookmark with cookie-doughed fingers) - but it's great. He gives you the ratios (duh) for lots of baked items, and now I finally understand the real difference between muffins and cakes, breads and pasta dough, and the surprisingly very slim difference between sponge cake and crepe batter. There are also chapters on sauces, sausages, soups and custards. (Why he'd choose to describe homemade sausage over rice or tomato sauce I have no idea.)

I'm excited to experiment, but not quite ready for the public display involved in grocery shopping. The FedEx guy knocked on the door today, saw my face, his eyes widened, he literally looked me up and down, then past me into my apartment to see if there was anything amiss. After I took the package he took another look inside, met my eyes, and gave me this look of grave concern. I'm okay!

Monday, September 7, 2009

so you want to see my bad side?

ok, here you go.

by the way, when your face is a mess, and you smile for a picture it looks positively ghastly. i won't post that.

my face had an unfortunate encounter with the ocean floor two days ago (picture above is two days after). it was the last wave (of course, poetic) that i was going to ride in. instead of coasting me horizontally into the shore as nature intended, it swept me up and crushed me into the ground. it was a slow-motion, horrific trauma. i got up quickly and yelled 'am i ok?' to gabe. i was prepared, really, for the side of my face to be a bloody dripping mess, and half my teeth knocked out. i saw blood on my hand but only a little. i walked shakily onto the beach, feeling my face swell with each step. i sat, put an ice pack on my face, and then gabe proceeded to take pictures. (in his defense, i was freaking out a bit because i didn't have a mirror to assess damages.)

(note boogie board of death to the right - it has skull and crossbones on it - i should have known!)

it seemed that damages were not structural - big scrapes around my eyes, swollen cheekbone, giantly swollen upper and lower lip. my front tooth hurt, the one that went through the lip, and didn't subside the next day. i absolutely could not bite anything, and even touching it with my tongue hurt. sunday night i noticed a crack in it, and googled way too much about it. i was away from home and it was sunday, then a holiday, so i'm in an anxious holding pattern until tomorrow morning. i am also anxious because i've had dental insurance my whole life until this past august 1st. gabe gets benefits three months into his job, and we bet we could go three months with no medical needs. we didn't figure in my accident prone nature, i suppose.

so hopefully the tooth is easily reparable, and i am thankful it was nothing more major. but jeez, a month before the wedding?! we also have scuba classes this weekend, and if there are any air spaces within the teeth they can explode in the pressure. so must fix asap!

besides this incident, we had a nice stay on the south carolina coast. our camera died or we would have more pictures. gabe and i agreed to get a nice digital slr, so hopefully this blog will get some decent pictures in the near future. quick story: we stopped in best buy yesterday to try out different cameras. i asked someone for help, and remembering the state of my face, explained that no, my fiance, did not in fact beat me up. it looks so much like i got punched a few times in the face that i felt the need to protect him. gabe, by the way, has been absolutely awesome in my recovery process, assuring me he'll marry me and love me even if i have a full set of dentures in tulum :)


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