Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017: Diagnosis--bipolar

I told someone, "This has been a trying year."

But, that wasn't quite right and I quickly amended my statement.
"This has been a bipolar year.  It held some of my most incredibly high heights and the lowest lows and greatest uncertainty I've ever known."

That's better.  That's more accurate.
Even as my paternal grandmother lay dying and my brother-in-law (the brother I never had!) was down the street in the ICU slowly and uncertainly coming back to us I knew I had a lot to be grateful for, that my life is a good one, that I am blessed.

Even when the Good Earth Market was closing shop for the last time, I knew Matt and I have a good thing going for us.

I can feel the strain, stress, and trauma of this year resonating inside me to this day.  It changed me.  I'm still coming to terms with that, too.  I just kept waiting to feel "back to normal."  But I'm starting to wonder if I ever will.  If life experiences shape and mold us I'm trying to make peace with how I've been altered.  And not just me, either.
A couple months back Matt told me that my maternal grandma had called and wanted me to call my uncle.  Immediately my brain started putting together alarming worse-case style scenarios--is Patrick okay?  Or is it about Grandpa?  Turns out, they were calling about a tie-dye order.  Be still my is all okay.   It is all okay.  It is all okay.  It is all okay.

That is what leads me to say it has been a trying year.  I'm ready for a New Year.  For a reboot.
However, I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the joy, the delight, the beauty that was bestowed upon me this year as well.  A cross-country road trip involving three women who've loved me just about the longest out of all the people I know.  A mystical overnight with Matt in the sand dunes.  A weekend musical adventure with my most favorite dancing companions at Silvercloud.  Reconnecting with Marj in LA after 15 years apart.  Digging dinosaur bones.  Sharing in love and friendship at wedding after wedding after wedding all summer long.  Jetting off for a getaway in the desert one cold February weekend.  Bicycle rides.  Sunsets.  Ginger and Johnny.  Game nights.  Family visits.  Concerts.  Teddy Roosevelt NP.  Dinner parties.  Meteor showers.  Sewing retreats.  A total eclipse.  Hot springs.
Life is good.  Even when it isn't.

Three cheers to another New Year and all the highs and lows it will bring.  Hip, hip--Hooray!  Hip, hip--Hooray!  Hip, hip--Hooray!
(But maybe a little more mellow this year, eh, Universe?)

Sunday, December 10, 2017

A Tip for Better Rice

I love rice--brown, white, basmati, jasmine, short grain, long grain.  You name it.  I make a pot every weekend to keep on hand in the fridge, always at the ready for lunch or dinner throughout the week.  I couldn't begin to tell you how many times I've been told to get a rice cooker over the years.  I resist not because I think my rice is always cooked to perfection, but because I am opposed to having one more large gadget in my small kitchen.  So, I persist in cooking our rice in a small pot on the stove top. 

I recently discovered an astonishingly easy tip for consistently better stove top rice though and thought I should share.  Or two related tips, really.
First off, I've stopped doubling the water when I make a double batch of rice.

For years I've used a 2:1 ratio of water to (dry) rice, for brown rice and 1 1/2:1 for white rice.  I used this ratio regardless of whether I was making one cup or four cups.  This year I changed my technique and I am very pleased about it.  Using those ratios  to make double or triple batches I'd sometimes end up with a portion of rice that was a little gummy or overcooked, especially at the bottom of the pan.  Turns out this is because I'd been using too much water.

See, most of the water is absorbed by the rice, sure, but some just gets lost through cooking/evaporation.  Making larger quantities does require more water so that the rice can be fully cooked and hydrated.  Cooking additional quantities does not make the pot lose more water through that evaporative process however.  As such, there is no need to fully double the water for any additional volume.   For example, if I'm making two cups of white rice I just use 2 1/2 cups water now, not three cups.

Second, I use a kitchen towel to absorb additional moisture.

I learned about this tip in regards to making pilaf rice, but I see no reason to limit it to that use.  I cook the rice as normal, but when the time is up I remove the pot from the heat and put a towel over the top.  I then replace the lid and allow the pot of rice to sit for 5 minutes before fluffing and serving it, as I always did.  The towel is a swell addition though as it absorbs excess moisture resulting in fluffier, separate grains of rice that don't stick together. 
I was never unhappy with the rice I was making before, but both these bits have noticeably improved my rice dishes this year, that's for sure.

Friday, December 8, 2017

It's Beginning to Feel a Lot Like Christmas

Growing up we always had an Advent calendar.  It was Christmas tree shaped with an ornament to snap on for the each day leading up to Christmas.  I can vividly remember the excitement, between my sisters and me, about whose turn it was to put on the ornament at dinner time.   Each ornament had a symbolic meaning or related to a bible story and we read about them--aloud--as a family.  It is a very fond recollection for me.
Once I took to running my own home though the Advent calendar became a thing of the past.  A few years back Matt's mom gave me a beautiful Advent calendar which she'd made for her mom, Matt's grandma.  I've never put anything in the little pockets though.  The candy-a-day thing is just not part of my Advent heritage, I guess, and I was never sure what else to sub in for treats.  I just use it as lovely seasonal wall decor.  It serves that purpose very well.
This year I am really feeling the holiday spirit.  I more excited about Christmas than I can remember in a long time.  I'm not even totally sure why.
The tree is up.  Most of the packages are wrapped.  The house is lit--inside AND outside.  We've never had outdoor lights before, but Matt's folks gave us a big box of them this year.  I'm getting ready for two weeks off work--and my annual hiatus from the internet.  I've been mentally composing our annual holiday letter.  I'm excited for singing carols and playing them on the flute.  I'm stoked that Christmas music is on the radio already.  I've been dreaming about certain holiday treats and Matt's even made some already.  I'm looking forward to making more lefse with Sharon.  I'm pumped to ring in the new year.  I've never looked forward to the fresh start of a new year so much before either.
So, riding this wave of excitement I came up with a tandem Advent-sort-of-tradition of my own.  I developed (with help from Matt) a list of activities that are linked with Christmas in my mind.  There is one activity per day leading up to Christmas.
Because we appreciate flexibility I opted to make it pretty freeform.  Rather than assign an activity to a specific day we just look at the list together and choose which activity we'll do that day based on our moods and time constraints.  It has been super fun so far.  We're checking Go To A Christmas Party off the list today.
I also made a Santa Advent calendar out of construction paper after stumbling across this blog.  Santa's beard will get shorter and shorter all month long.  We've got him posted up on the fridge.  He is a pretty jolly looking Santa, even if it isn't "the real deal" as my dad would say (by which he means classic Santa...not some modern, cartoonish rendering).
Johnny MUST be involved in all paper crafts, all crafts in general, actually.
He's hung on the refrigerator with care, right along with our stockings.  ;)
It is beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.  Now here is hoping it is a white Christmas, too.  Christmas just isn't the same without that beautiful blanket of white.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Next Year People: Reflections on No-Shop November 2017

A week in to December already!  Where does the time go?
A happy snowman with brocolini hair. 11/3
This was a weird year for our No Shop November.  Of course, that's how I've felt about much of this year, so I suppose that is in keeping.

The short assessment is:  We didn't buy any food and still ate really, really, really well.  But we totally bought some other stuff.
Johnny helping out with a knitting project. 11/4
Read on if you're interested in a more detailed meander through the month's spending.
Seasoned baked potato coins. 11/1
First off I should mention that I have evidently overcome my extreme resistance to spending money.  The first two weeks I was the one who repeatedly suggested things that involved spending money, at which point Matt would have to remind me that it was No Shop November.

That was highly irregular for me.  As child, playing Hide-and-Go-Seek, I would always develop the strongest urge to go to the bathroom as soon as I got into hiding.  It was like my bladder knew that I couldn't go, that I couldn't move or I'd give myself away.  So that was when the urge struck with a vengeance.  No Shop November felt like that.  I knew I wasn't going to spend money so my brain kept sabotaging me with urges to do so.  Only little things, of course, but still....little things add up.   That is at least partially the point of this endeavor.  So, yeah...that was weird and has never happened in past years.
Getting musical saw lessons from Jess. 11/11
Almost every time I just suggested spending money, but checked myself (or Matt did) before the transaction actually took place.  But, I totally bought a $.75 soda from the machine in the library on autopilot though, forgetting it was November 2nd.

Soda was a No-Shop oversight, actually.  I've gone back and forth in my relationship to soda for decades.  I am, in the end, a soda junkie--though I try to moderate my indulgence.  These days I am in a place where I usually buy one can a week from the machine in the library.  I don't keep it around the house because it is a temptation for me, but I don't beat myself up about this weekly treat anymore either.   Balance and moderation in all things, I figure.  I didn't think about this when planning for NSN though.  It never occurred to me to buy a few and dole them out over the month.  My mom is a kind, generous person though and fixed me up with soda for the remainder of the month.  I was telling her about this oversight at a sewing retreat the first weekend of November and so, as the retreat concluded, she sent me home with a partial box she'd purchased for the weekend.  I even still have one!  And it is December!  Having soda around wasn't necessary, of course, but it was sure nice.
Creamy coconut vegetable soup. 11/7
I spent $105 on said sewing weekend with my mom.   Sure, I could have sent my mom the money in October, like she asked, but oh, no....I am a procrastinator and didn't plan that far ahead.  Oops.
Sunbeam nappytime for Ginger. 11/13
We bought a bottle of champagne for a friend in exchange for a trio of free concert tickets.  This was a barter and concerts are already excepted so this one gets a pass.  We hardly even used the concert-and-drinks exemption this year--just twice.  We drove up to Bozeman for one if those concerts though so the gas exemption got used more than normal.  The universe balances out.
Hot Buttered Rum at the Filling Station in Bozeman. 11/11
Matt got some belated birthday money from both my mom and his mom which he promptly spent, justifying it as presents-not-being-shopping.  I'm not sure I agree with this logic, but he did make a pretty strong case so off to the store he went.  He bought some ingredients for a beer he wanted to brew and a couple cords for our Wii (which were missing when we were gifted the unit from a friend months ago...during a period when life was far too busy to play video games.)  I guess, we'll give this one a pass, too.
Better Burgers with sauted mushrooms and onions on a Dutch Crunch roll, Matt's newest favorite bread baking endeavor. 11/1
As the temperature dropped and the first snow started to fall we realized we still had two windows (three panes) which we'd never gotten around to replacing after they were broken by a storm last year.  We decided to just take care of it right then, while it was in our minds, since we're prone to putting off home improvement projects.  Obviously.  So $150 later our house is warmer and snugger.  We should have done it a long time ago.  Matt also went to replace the furnace filter only to discover we were out so he bought a three pack of filters for $10.
Making lefse for Thanksgiving with Matt's mom. 11/19
At the start of the month my brother-and-sister-in-law, Ryan and Bek, decided to start a tradition of bowling every Tuesday and invited us to join them.  The first week of November I agreed, again on autopilot, but since we'd forgotten that Bek owed us money for a tie-dye it all worked out and we went bowling without spending any money.  We subsequently went twice more during the month, spending $27 total.  I love spending time with Ryan and Bek and wasn't about to let NSN interfere with my family time.  Family is more important to me than my personal challenges.  I've realized that all the more this year.  I bowled the best game of my life (144) this month, too.  I even rolled a Turkey (on the day after Thanksgiving, no less).
The headless snowman.  11/13
After taking stock in the cupboards and pantry, Matt and I figure that with just a handful of exceptions (brown rice, lentils, mushrooms, carrots) we won't have to buy food again this month either.  That part was easy.  We've still got a couple cases of homebrew in the basement.  We're still munching on homegrown vegetables (onions, cabbage, peppers, tomatoes, etc) and have a stockpile of flour, oil, honey, spices, and other such staples.
My Thanksgiving plate...the first go round anyways. 11/23
So, that's that.  A imperfect showing to my self-imposed shopping moratorium, but, perfection is a unreasonable goal in most things.  I'll take it.  There is always next year.  Matt and I are "next year" people.  Happy with the now, hopeful that the future will be even better.
Tart gooseberry pie. 11/23

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A Ginger By Any Other Name

When Ginger was at the shelter she was called Goldie.  When Bill adopted her she was upgraded to Ginger.  She is totally a Ginger.
Never the less, I recently realized that I call her an awful lot of different things.  When I talk about her I usually stick with Ginger, but when I talk to her, not so much.  She has a lot of nicknames.  On any given day I run through a plentiful list of endearments for my kitty friend.
She is my...
    Ginger Poo
    The Ginga-ninja
    Pork Chop
    Kitchen Helper
    Good Kitty
    Sweet Pea
    Sweetie Pie
    Honey Pie
    Sweet Potato Pie
    Sugar Dumpling
    Angel Pie
    Cuddle Buddy
    Muddy Paws
    Bloody Paws
    The Fierce Hunter
    Ginger Muddy Paws Bloody Paws McGillicuty McGruff McGraw, III
That final item on the list is what Matt deems her "full name."  I can explain the Muddy Paws (padding around in the garden) and Bloody Paws (killing voles in the compost pile) bit, but I have no idea where the McLastName series came from, nor why she is "the third."  For obvious reasons this name isn't used a lot and mostly in the summer (and almost exclusively by Matt).
A Ginger by any other name is just as sweet.  Even when she is being little miss bossy-pants.  ;)

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Sand Dune Poetry

A Sharp Universe

Satin it seems
smooth and silken
sliding away
in an uninterrupted sheet

But She is a master of secrets and deception
Her detail work is unsurpassed

Each solitary grain is a sharp universe unto itself

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Food Love: Slowcooker Seitan and Panko

I currently have two major food crushes.  When I think, "What should we have for dinner?" they both immediately leap to mind.  I can't stop thinking about new ways to incorporate them into my daily life.  They seem to improve so many of my already favorite dishes.  I am infatuated...with seitan and panko bread crumbs.
I can't remember what prompted us to buy some panko breadcrumbs this summer.  I suspect it was that America's Test Kitchen cookbook, but I'm not certain.  Well, now I'm ruined.  My finely ground homemade breadcrumbs pale in comparison to these airy, crispy delights.  I don't know that I can ever go back.

Just tossing a couple tablespoons with roast vegetables takes the dish to a whole new level.  It makes a magical crispy topping to a casserole and don't even get me started on using if for breading and frying!

There is nothing else to it, I guess.  We're going to have to figure out how to make our own now...  I'm deep in the research phase.
Panko dusted seitan nuggets with homegrown roast veg tossed with panko.
I can vividly recall the moment I first fell in love with seitan (also known as "wheat meat").  It was a vegetarian take on chicken fried steak at Watercourse Foods in Denver.  It was humongous and so satisfying along with its mounds of mashed potatoes, gravy, and veg that Matt and I were both floored.  We went home and tried to make our own.  Even after playing around with different recipes the results were never fully satisfactory to us and it was a lot of time/work.  Store-bought seitan was either too expensive or we didn't care for it--or both.  So, we stopped eating seitan and began years' long culinary love affair with tofu.

That is until earlier this year  when I spotted a recipe for seitan from the slowcooker which looked ridiculously simple.  Mix ingredients, knead three minutes, plop in the slowcooker for several hours, boom--seitan.  After tweaking the recipe to my liking I finally have a seitan recipe that is everything we want it to be--an uncomplicated, fast and easy process which results in seitan with a very firm, chewy texture and deep savory flavor.
Shiitake mushroom and seitan stroganoff.
Slowcooker Seitan
2 cups vital wheat gluten
1/4 cup chickpea flour
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 t onion powder
1 t garlic powder
1/2 t salt
fresh pepper, to taste
1/3 cup tamari or soy sauce (divided)
1 T olive oil
1 3/4 cup vegetable broth
1 large onion, quartered
4 cups water

In a large bowl combine the dry ingredients.  Stir in 3 tablespoons of tamari, as well as the oil and broth.  Stir until well mixed.  Knead for three minutes.

Divide the seitan into four pieces and add it to the slowcooker along with the water, onion, and remaining tamari.

Cover and cook for about five hours on low.

Once cooked the seitan can be stored, submerged in some of the cooking liquid, for up to two weeks in the fridge.   The remaining cooking liquid can be used in place of vegetable broth in other recipes.

This makes about 2 1/2 pounds of seitan.
Homegrown breakfast potatoes with crumbled seitan.
Matt is a better cook than me so I must say it delights me how pleased he is with this seitan.  We basically have a batch in the fridge at all times now, in addition to a pot of cooked beans or pressed block of tofu.  We've baked it, deep-fried it, stir-fried it, and ground it into burger.  It is dang good every way you slice it.

Panko breaded seitan cutlets are basically my new favorite food.
Lightly breaded seitan with chili sauce.
I could really go for one right about now...  Or seven.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Sweater to Cardigan--At Last

This is a project I've had on the back burner of my mind for eons now it seems--turning a sweater into a cardigan.
I got this brown, soft, heavenly sweater at a clothes swap.  I've certainly worn it, but always wished it was a cardigan instead of a sweater.

I like that the top of my dress is still visible when I layer with a cardy rather than pull on a sweater.  I find it easier to maintain an ideal temperature in a cardigan, too.
After pouring over some tutorials online I decided to try a new commercial sewing product--HeatNBond--for my sweater project.  HeatNBond is sort of like double sided tape and fusible interfacing combined.  It made making the new center hems a snap.
It is impossible for me to refrain from calling things like this cheating, but...  Matt was quick to point out that its not like I grew the cotton and wove the fabric either so why not just use all the sewing tools at my disposal.  He offers such a reasonably balanced perspective when I'm getting all hung up on my relationship to the modern world.

I cut down the center front of the sweater and then made a simple folded hem using the HeatNBond to give each side a smooth, finished edge.  I then topstiched with this really cute rainbow variegated thread.  ...Which turned out basically invisible in the cozy thickness of the material, but oh well.
I considered adding a button or a hook and eye, but it already looks good, hangs well, and works to keep me warm and fashionable so I'm rolling with it.

I've already worn it way more in the past two weeks than I'd worn the sweater version during the previous year.  And it seriously only took 15 minute to make.  How cool is that?!
I did learn the hard way that it takes a lot more finesse if the original sweater is anything other than a straightforward crew or v-neck collar.  I've got one with a cute little Mandarin collar that is still not quite right...

You win some, you lose some.