Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Chilly Running

My 2010k training is nearing the end. Just two more weeks until the race--but I'm really excited. I feel pretty good about my running, and I'm looking forward to continuing to run through the winter to get ready for a half-marathon!

The problem with running in the winter is that it's dark and cold. I would probably be in on the treadmill sporadically if I weren't training with a group, so I'm glad I joined up. I own one good cold weather outfit: my running tights and two Patagonia Capilene layers. I don't like to wash them every time I run because it'll decrease the wicking fabric efficacy, so I just wash them once a week or so. After running three or four days outside, they get pretty stinky, so I'm hoping to get a few more tops for Christmas.

Another cold running problem is that my nose runs along with me. You can't exactly stop to blow your nose when you're charging up a hill, so you have to make due the best you can, using a sleeve in a pinch. Ever hear of snot rockets? You have to get that out of your nose somehow, else you can't breathe and can't run! I generally avoid those because I can't bring myself to be that gross, even as I'm coughing and hacking.

Last night we did hill repeats, which were tough, and my chest felt the cold, dry air I tried to suck in all evening. I kept coughing all night until finally I drank some hot tea. Hopefully that won't be a repeat occurrence.

It's going to be tough training through the cold and dark, but if I can stick with it, I'll be in great shape come spring.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

It Begins

The holiday season approaches, which means my mad dash to make lots of handmade things also grows near. Last night, my pal AW hosted a craft night, and I worked on knitting washclothes and making the cutest ornament ever. Here, let me show them to you:
The half-eaten gingerbread man! Deliciously morbid, and morbidly cute!

Now, the not so exciting washcloths (to be paired with nice soaps for a good gift):


Really, though, the whole post was to show you the cuteness of my gingerbread man. I'm going to make like 17 more of them--so very cute!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Cupcake Review

I dressed up as a Cupcake Queen (or fairy, depending on how you look at my costume) for Halloween this year. The cupcakes in the photo are ones that I made especially for Halloween--Caramel Apple Cupcakes.

Imagine: an apple cupcake, frosted with a caramel cream cheese icing, and topped with a mini caramel apple (with tiny toothpick sticking out of it). They were brilliant and tasted really, really good. Next year I might take a stab at making my own caramel or putting caramel in the middle of the cupcakes.

My point is, of course, that I make really tasty cupcakes (I promise I have testimonies to back me up!). And there aren't really tasty cupcakes to be found commercially in Fayetteville. So when I heard that Bliss Cupcake Cafe was opening in our small town, I got excited. Cupcake shops are something that one usually finds in places like New York City or Washington D.C.

Bliss opened yesterday afternoon; since I was at work, I did not get to experience it directly, so I will only be giving a partial review based on the cupcake that was brought to me. (I plan to go experience for myself and post another review in a week or two.) I got the Pumpkin Maple cupcake: a pumpkin cupcake topped with a maple buttercream and a few toasted pecans. Lance got the Cinnamon Toast, and JH got the Chocolate Marshmallow. They told me that it was a long wait because it was busy, but I'll blame that on opening day problems--I'm sure they'll get it figured out.

Lance tells me that both the Cinnamon Toast and Chocolate Marshmallow were a bit crumbly on the cake--he wanted a moister, denser cupcake. Some folks like the crumby cake, but I prefer a tender, moister crumb myself. The marshmallow topping was really, really good, but the chocolate cake itself was fairly standard. The cupcakes were a bit small but definitely fresh.

My own cupcake--the Pumpkin Maple--was pretty tasty, but while I was eating it, I kept thinking of how my own cupcake would be better. I've made pumpkin cupcakes before, and the ones I've made are full of flavor while still being moist and a little more substantial. The cake was very moist and tender and light as a cloud--but I felt it could have offered more on the flavor end. It disappeared too quickly and didn't encourage careful, contemplative bites. I've made pumpkin cupcakes before, and the ones I've made are full of flavor while still being moist and a little more substantial. I like a cupcake that you can savor, and the cake was too airy and not flavorful enough to do that.

The maple frosting was good in concept--but I'm not a huge fan of buttercream (all sweet, not much flavor); I think a maple cream cheese frosting would have actually been better on this particular cupcake. Since the cake itself was so airy and insubstantial, a heavier and creamier frosting would have balanced it out. The pecans on top was a nice touch, though cinnamon candied pecans would have taken it up to the next notch. My overall impression of this cupcake was that the flavor was too subtle, the sweet was the major note, and it disappeared far too quickly.

Lance, JH, and I think that Bliss definitely has some potential--but they need to work out their kinks. Apparently some of the cupcakes overflowed their cups a bit or were flat--signs that the bakers didn't vary how much they filled the cups based on which recipe there were using. If we're paying roughly $3 for a cupcake, we want something special. And I want something that would inspire me to play around in my own kitchen. I look to the Cupcake Bakeshop blog for inspiration for the kinds of cupcakes I would pay good money for (I'd probably pay $4 or more for one of hers!), and I just don't know if Bliss is at that level. I will, of course, be trying again in a week or so after some of the opening kinks have (hopefully) been worked out.

Any readers try out Bliss Cupcakes? What are your thoughts?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Winning Day

At the beginning of November, I ran a race--the Veterans Memorial 5k. It was fairly close to the beginning of my 10k training, but after I had discovered that I could run a bit faster than I thought. I recruited my friend to run the race with me, since he'd never run a 5k before.

This was my first 5k in a long time, so I was pretty excited about it. I decided that since I'd been running so strongly lately, that I would try to run it in about 28 minutes, which I had done before.

Not only did I accomplish my goal--I smashed it to smithereens by finishing in under 27 minutes--I believe a PR (personal record) for me. I knew that the last bit of the race was downhill (the first 2 miles were pretty hilly), so I budgeted my energy and ran the last mile at a good pace. I was so happy and proud with my finishing time, but since I knew that there are lots of women much faster than that--Lance told me about the winner who came in under 20--I didn't dream that I would win anything.

Well, I did. I won my age group (25-29). And not only that, but I came in 11th overall. I'm so happy with the results, and I'm also determined to keep running--and keep running faster. I'm running a 5k on Thanksgiving with my brother, so I'm setting my goal to run between 26-26:30, provided the race course is flat (this one was pretty hilly).

Yay for running!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Hills!

Have you ever had the feeling where something just clicks? Where everything lines up, and what you're going after (or have been pursuing), just falls into place?

I feel like that with my running.

I took a six month break from running (March to August) because of a mild injury. The less I ran, the less I felt inclined to run. The less I ran, the more depressed I became. It was obviously a mild depression, but when I put my running shoes back on in August, I became keenly aware of what I'd been missing. And I began to run regularly again, with far more dedication and motivation than before my injury.

At the end of October, I started running with a group: Tuesday nights we run drill, hills, and intervals; Thursday is a "fun run"; Sunday is our long endurance run. I'm going into my fourth week of training, and I'm feeling stronger and faster.

The Tuesday night runs have been both challenging and enjoyable. This Tuesday was a hills run: we sprint up a hill, then run down it and repeat three more times. It's hard. I was able to run at a good pace and not feel completely whipped, so I know that I'm getting better.

Running has been clicking. I've been keeping up with the training plan, and I'm going to sign up for a half-marathon group to run in the spring. I just hope that I find a Ph.D. program that clicks as well as my training has...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

So Many Words, So Little Time

In approximately three weeks, I will be sitting down to take the GRE. Again. When asked why I would torture myself again with this obnoxious test, my reply is that I would like a good stipend/fellowship/shot at admission to an awesome PhD program.

You see, my scores were good but not stellar. I'm close to the minimum score needed to get a better fellowship should I remain at the University of Arkansas (not my top choice, though not a bad one), and I want to do whatever I can to improve my chances at getting into a top program.

So, for the next three weeks, I'm going to be memorizing vocabulary words and taking practice tests in addition to gathering up my application materials, obtaining letters of reference, and editing my writing sample and statement of intent.

Why do I put myself through all this torture? Why am I not just done with school already? Because I belong in a PhD program. The GRE studying has been, well, fun in one sense because I'm studying something. I'm learning and absorbing and filing information away, and I love how that feels. I know in my bones that I'm meant to be in the classroom, both to learn and to teach, and the only way I'm going to get there is to take a jump. And there's certainly no time like the present.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Which Witch is Which?

Today I was reading papers for the "grammar" side of things, and one of the writers kept using "witch" instead of "which".

The first time it popped up, I underlined it and said "ooh, witch!" and drew a picture of a witch's hat and broom.

The second time, I underlined it and said "a witch! scary". Then in the margin I wrote "witch/which" and using arrows to indicate the word to which I was referring "This one is a noun" and "This one is a subordinating conjunction". I'm sure you can guess where the arrows went.

I circled a few more misuses. The last instance of "witch" in the paper, I drew another witch's hat and broom. I almost drew a black cat, but then I thought maybe it was going over the line.

I wonder if the writer ever confuse the two again...

(PS: Rory returned tonight! Yay for returned kitties).

Monday, November 02, 2009

Have You Seen My Cat?

LOST:

One adorably fat tabby named Rory, aged 3 years:


She went missing sometime Saturday, October 31st, after 7pm. She had a collar but lost it earlier that afternoon, so she'll have distinct collar marks. If you've seen this kitty, please let me know!

Poor thing--she's very attached to me and rarely strays too far from home. I just hope someone didn't cat-nap her or pick her up to be their new pet...

Friday, October 30, 2009

What Am I Reading?

Besides my Women's Health, Runner's World, and GRE study book, I am reading a Very Good Book. It's a long book, but the pacing is so well done that I'm not at all sad that I'm only half way through with the story.

What does make me sad is that it's supposed to be the first in a trilogy, and the author is a little...um, particular about the book. The second in the series was supposed to be released in April 2009; however, he has yet to turn in a draft to the publisher, so...

With that warning out of the way for those who dislike waiting for the next book in a series, the book I am discussing is Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind.

Again, I'm only half-way through the book, so I'm unsure of how it ends, but so far I LOVE THIS BOOK. I WANT TO READ IT ALL THE TIME BUT CAN'T BECAUSE I...*ahem* I don't have time to plow through it in the manner to which I am accustomed, but I'm also content to savor it. It's a finely constructed novel, with layers and good storytelling. I'm obsessed with a good narrative, and I'm even more obsessed with framed narratives, which this is.

What is it about a framed narrative that I just can't put down? It's one reason I love The Arabian Nights' Entertainments and The Princess Bride (just to name a few off the top of my head). I think it's the intricate levels, the feeling of holding two (or more) stories in my hands. The frame gives the story some purpose or point toward which it moves, which means that I don't feel as lost if the threads don't make sense.

Anyway, I feel that I can recommend The Name of the Wind to any fantasy lover, or anyone who loves books that play with the idea of storytelling. Hopefully the rest of the series comes out within the next couple of years AND is as good as this one.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Running Fast(ish)

The rain had finally stopped by the time I pulled into the high school parking lot, next to the school track. The ground was still damp from the persistent mist that had fallen for most of the day, but I was relieved that it let up enough to allow for the run development training.

I was early, so I sat in my car and read a book for a few minutes. Then I went to meet my fellow 10k runners on the track, dressed in cold weather gear. I was perhaps a bit overdressed, but I like my running top with the thumb holes that I found at a thrift store for cheap.

First, for a warm-up, we ran up and down a hill twice. Then we did drills that are meant to train us to think about our strides differently and to strengthen our running muscles. We then headed back to the track to do 4x400 meter intervals.

Intervals are a training trick that I almost never do on my own. Basically, you run at a moderate pace, enough to get your breathing up to where you can only talk in short answers, but not so much that you can't talk at all. Basically, a pace that you can sustain over the course of the repeats, since the idea is to try to run them at roughly the same pace.

It turns out that I really enjoy intervals. Maybe I'm just weird, or maybe it's because I love to run fast, and the break between repeats lets me catch my breath and build up for the next. I found myself running each repeat faster than the one before, and I think I could even pick up the pace a tad more earlier. My time for each quarter mile interval was 2:07, 2:05, 2:00, and 1:55, which means I was averaging about an 8-minute mile. The last two I managed to run faster than all of the other women in our training group, and one of the men. (Since I thrive on a little competition, this was an encouraging occurrence). Our coach called out "good!" every time my times got faster, making me smile.

Before we started, I would have placed myself in the middle of the pack. I think of myself as slow. But I guess my weeks of running up and down the roads around my house and setting the treadmill on a 1% incline makes track running...well, easy. I ran fast and loved it.

Now I just want to run even faster. Maybe enough to beat out those other guys.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Marathoning

I have aspirations to one day complete a marathon. Not because I'm some great athlete, but because I'm a runner. I enjoy running, and the challenge of training and finishing a marathon appeals to me greatly.

However, if someone told me that since I'm not an elite athlete, I wouldn't be allowed to register for the event, I would be sad. There's no way I can ever be fast enough to compete with the elites--even if I trained for years, I might barely make it to the middle of the pack.

The New York Times has an article about those rail against "plodders" in marathons: folks who finish in six hours. They laugh at that finish time being a joke and demeaning to the challenge of the marathon. Most individuals in a marathon event are, however, these so-called plodders. As the article points out, they are who funds the events through their entry fees.

John Bingham, a runner who is known as the Penguin, is often credited with starting the slow-running movement, in the 1990s. “I have had people say that I’ve ruined the sport of running, but what I’ve been trying to do is promote the activity of running to an entire generation of people,” he said. “What’s wrong with that?”

Bingham added: “The complainers are just a bunch of ornery, grumpy people who want the marathon all to themselves and don’t want the slower runners. But too bad. The sport is fueled and funded by people like me.”

That's how I interpreted those against slow runners: they are just complaining. There are essentially two runners in each marathon: the one who is competing against others, and the one who is competing against herself. And I feel that there's nothing wrong with either type.

People have different motivations for running the marathon. The most important thing is that they're running. They have to train to be able to go the distance, and even if they accomplish the 26.2 slowly, they still did it. I find attitudes like the following horribly elitist:

“If you’re wearing a marathon T-shirt, that doesn’t mean much anymore,” Given said on the eve of this month’s Baltimore Marathon, where vendors were selling products that celebrate slower runners. One sticker said: “I’m slow. I know. Get over it.”

“I always ask those people, ‘What was your time?’ If it’s six hours or more, I say, ‘Oh great, that’s fine, but you didn’t really run it,’ ” said Given, who finished the Baltimore race in 4:05:52. “The mystique of the marathon still exists. It’s the mystique of the fast marathon.”

If you ran/walked 26.2 miles, you ran a marathon. And with elite athletes running 26.2 in almost half Given's time, who is she to say that she really "ran" the marathon while someone two hours slower did not?

I suppose I'm an inclusive runner because I'm not very fast. But I can admire someone for taking up the challenge to run 26.2, to dedicating to the training to be able to accomplish that goal, and to achieving it no matter their final time.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Being a Daughter

I am one of five children. Out of those five children, I am the only daughter. I grew up with two older brothers and two younger brothers, and although our teenage years weren't particularly pleasant, we all made it out relatively healthy and happy. I talk to my brothers regularly, and I enjoy visiting them when I'm able to. They would probably like to loom protectively over me as I move through my life, but they mostly keep that to themselves. We have learned to be adults with one another, and I have to say I really like it.

There's a scene in the last season of Gilmore Girls where Rory is lamenting having to act like "a grown-up," and Lorelei comments, "You know, real grown-ups don't call themselves that. They say adults and pronounce it aw-dult." I feel, sometimes, that I'm in that intermediary space where I'm a grown-up who hasn't quite figured out how to act like an adult.

The hardest part of it is how to deal with parents now that I'm, well, grown-up. The relationship shifts--parents can offer advice or comment on their child's life and actions, but in reality, they have no say. All they can do is comment, smile or shake their heads, and realize that they can no longer control what goes on. Or at least this is what I think.

There comes a point when the child (now an adult) gets to examine the values and belief-systems that she was brought up in, and she gets to discard bits, keep bits, add new bits; in other words, she forges a new system that she uses to live her life. Sometimes it resembles that of the parents, but sometimes it doesn't.

I'm in that situation now: I'm living my life as I see fit, with my own beliefs and values. I make my own decisions and don't feel any compunction about not doing the things my parents think I ought. I am twenty-seven, and I have worked hard to get to a place of happiness and contentment in my life and with the way I'm living.

My parents, however, seem to think that I still need to live by their rules. And since I broke a major one by living with my boyfriend, they have seen fit to attempt to punish me for my "misbehavior".

Here's the thing: I'm not thirteen; I haven't officially lived under their roof since I was twenty-two (when I graduated), and unofficially since I was nineteen. I paid my own way through school, bought my own clothes and food and glasses, paid for my own healthcare, and bought my own car and paid to insure it. By living with Lance, however, I have made it clear that I no longer follow the rules that they wanted us to live by. I'm sure they suspected it as I grew increasingly vocal about my political leanings, but Lance and I moving in together was concrete proof. And now I'm struggling in that place where I know I'm an adult and am responsible for myself, and craving my parents' respect and acceptance (and approval).

I have no problem with them disagreeing with how I live. No parent will ever fully agree with all of their daughter's choices. All I really want is them to respect my decisions and let me live my life in the way that I have decided is best. Yet, they can't seem to let go. My father to the point where he won't talk to me. It's cruel and harsh, but it's reality. Hopefully they'll get over it because I have no plans of changing who I am and how I live to gain their approval.

Until then, I'll be the black sheep and the prodigal daughter.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

A Driving Adventure

A couple of months ago, I got an e-mail from my favorite band adding tour dates--and, lo and behold! they would be in Tulsa. Though I had already seen the Hazards of Love concert once in Kansas City, I was eager to go again and to go with friends.

Tulsa isn't far from Fayetteville, definitely doable. And since the concert was on a Sunday, making it to work on Monday was feasible. So I discussed the trip with fellow fans and we purchased tickets and made plans to go eat Indian food (since there's not a bite to be found in Fayetteville).

A couple of weeks ago, two friends commented that they had, perhaps, maybe, lost their tickets. Oh noes! They decided to simply replace them, but it was portentous of the nature of our trip. Nevertheless, we set out to Tulsa on Sunday afternoon in high spirits. I had booked a hotel room for Lance and A and I, since the other three folks were staying with a friend.

We ate delicious Indian food (aloo parathi, saag panneer, biranyi, and dishes I don't remember the names of but consumed with great gusto), then set out to find our hotel. According to Google Maps, it was supposedly near the concert venue. When the navigator followed the GPS directions, however, we found ourselves at a hotel far away from downtown Tulsa. I popped in quickly to check that my reservation wasn't for that location, and the front desk clerk told me that I didn't have a room booked there.

We went to the concert, puzzling about where it could be, and enjoyed the show immensely. It was great--the Decemberists give a fantastic show. We happily poured out of the venue and headed to the car, confident we'd find our beds for the night.

One hour, a frustrated driver (Lance), several phone calls to area hotels, and too many U-turns later, we ended up at the hotel we had stopped at initially, which was NO WHERE NEAR the concert venue.

I was furious, since I had been told that my reservations weren't there. We get into our room, and the stench of stale cigarettes wafts into my nostrils. Apparently, when I exclaimed, "Oh, NONSMOKING, please!" the guy booking my room heard "smoking". Huh.

Since I had to sleep in a room filled with the residue of past cigarettes, I woke up with a horrible headache and a stuffy head, since I'm allergic to cigarettes. And my two compatriots were not much happier. The lessons? Jenn is not allowed to book hotel rooms; you get what you pay for; Google Maps is a LIAR.

We got to go see the Decemberists (again) and had fun, however, and our trip concluded with lunch at a charming Mennonite restaurant in a tiny town near the Oklahoma border. That bread pudding was worth all the trouble of the night before--their food was simple and divine. A good end to our driving adventure.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Dear Bus Driver

I'm generally a fan of buses. I think that you drivers are probably underpaid and have to deal with the tedium of driving the same route over and over again with little thanks from those who ride the buses. Buses are also often harried by impatient folk who don't want to get stuck behind them. But does that give you the right to mistreat a poor cyclist?

Yes, I realize you have a schedule to keep. And I know that bicyclists are slow, especially when grinding up a Fayetteville hill. And it's not so much that I mind being passed, especially given that most drivers wait until they can give me a wide berth before they pass me. But did you really have to scare me half to death?

Pushing up a steep hill is a lot of work when you're using your leg power. Often, that is distracting enough, since all my attention is focused on urging my body to keep pedaling and keep up a decent speed. I do try to pay attention to the cars on the road, and I stay to one side so they can easily pass me, especially since it's both foolish and dangerous to ride a bicycle on the sidewalks, especially Fayetteville's poorly maintained sidewalks. And no cyclist likes to feel that there is a line of impatient cars silently cursing her.

How would you like to be focusing on climbing the hill and suddenly feel and hear the swoooosh as a bus comes rolling by? How would you like to feel your heart stop as you realize that the bus is no more than a foot away, so close that the startling noise of a large vehicle passing you could possibly make you, say, fall down underneath that bus? How would you like to feel that while you did not fall and your stomach is flipping and your heart won't quit racing that you narrowly avoided a very messy end? All while trying to be environmentally-conscious and save money by not parking on campus?

You probably wouldn't like it much.

So, dear bus driver, please be kind to the cyclists out there. We will try to be kind to you when we're in our cars and stuck behind you or forced to make every stop along with you.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Experiments in Meatless Eating

My new commitment to being a vegetarian has led me to explore various meatless recipes. I've never had a problem cooking without meat--I actually think it's pretty easy--but lately I've wanted to experiment with homemade meat substitutes.

I'm not fond of the idea of fake meat products. Most of them seem little better than processed junk food; they are simply vegetarian and marginally healthier. The high level of processing makes them undesirable in my opinion--the general idea being that foods with fewer ingredients are better, and one of the easiest ways to make sure something has few ingredients is to make it myself. My favorite vegetarian meatless products tend to be ones that don't have aspirations to be like meat, but are instead like the Gardenburger veggie patties: stuffed full of vegetables, mushrooms, rice, oats, and a little cheese.

This recipe for meatless BBQ balls popped up on Have Cake, Will Travel, a great little vegan cooking blog. Tonight, I came home feeling a little sick and a little tired, so I decided to try them out*.

I didn't have garlic powder or onion powder or panko bread crumbs, so I made some simple substitutions, and I think they worked pretty well. They don't taste like meat--which I didn't really want them to--but they are savory and rich and would make a good "meat" part of a meal (served with grains or on a sandwich). I used Ginger People Ginger Jerk Marinade instead of regular barbecue sauce, and I liked the flavor.

Here's the recipe as I made it:

Meatless BBQ Balls
adapted from Have Cake, Will Travel
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1/4 cup vital wheat gluten
  • 1/3 medium onion, finely chopped (or to taste)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs--I toasted some stale wheat bread and whirred it in the food processor until crumby
  • about 1/4 cup barbecue sauce (or other sauce/marinade)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prep a baking sheet by placing a length of parchment paper. Mix all ingredients in a bowl--the mixture will be very thick. Shape into balls (I made about 9, using a small cookie scoop) and place in the center of the parchment.

Fold edges of parchment to seal the balls, and flip packet so that the seam side is down. (Don't do what I did, which is flip it quickly and make the balls roll all around in the packet. Let me know if you find a better technique.) Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown--you should be able to see through the parchment. Unwrap and coat in sauce and allow to bake uncovered for 8 minutes. Slather the sauce on if you think it needs more after you bake it a bit longer--I did, and let it bake another minute or two, and it was good. Serve on a sandwich or with some veggies and pasta.


*I often cook when I don't feel well. It distracts me and occupies my mind in healthy ways.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Return of the Apples

It's an event I look forward to each fall: which Saturday will I arrive at the market to find them waiting? It's always unexpected, but delightful when it occurs. Apple season has begun!

A freshly picked apple is a thing of joy. Crisp and sweet with a hint of tart, these apples are delightful. Most of them I eat straight, or with some peanut butter, but they do make great apple butter and pies. I plan on buying vats of apples to make Christmas gifts (along with all of the pickles I've been making).

I've always thought an apple was the perfect travel food; they are sturdy, don't require peeling, easy to eat, and make a great (and filling!) snack. I toss a couple in my bag for work so that I'm assured of having a healthy snack on hand. This morning, I needed something more than the watermelon I had before I left home, so I whipped up a quick dip of peanut butter and Greek yogurt, and ate my apple with that.

Before I give you the recipe for the peanut butter yogurt dip, I wanted to clarify some reasons behind my switch to vegetarian. For the most part, I had been avoiding animal products that came from the factory farm system and opting instead for locally-raised meat, or at very least pasture-raised, organic. I found myself slipping into eating meat more often, however, that was not raised sustainably or ethically. I felt that removing meat would help me get back into that mindset of thinking about where my food comes from and eating a diet that is more sustainable for the earth and good for the animals. The animal products that I do buy (eggs and milk) come from local farms or are organic. Luckily, it's easy to find local eggs from pastured hens around here!

Anyway, now for a recipe. If you're looking for a healthy dip, this one's pretty good--it has lots of good protein from both the peanuts and the Greek yogurt, and adding Greek yogurt to the peanut butter cuts down on the amount of fat (especially if you're using low fat or fat-free yogurt), and the peanut butter flavors the Greek yogurt.

Peanut Butter Yogurt Dip
makes 2 servings
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 tbsp natural, unsweetened peanut butter
Honey (optional)

Mix together and try not to eat with a spoon.

I like a little less peanut butter, but the original recipe uses a one to one ratio, so feel free to increase the amount of peanut butter. I also like mine unsweetened, especially if I'm eating it with an apple, but it is very, very good with a bit of honey added in, especially if you're feeding the dip to small children or people not used to unsweetened yogurt and peanut butter. This makes about 2 servings for a light snack.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Taking the Plunge

Earlier last week, I decided I was going to be a vegetarian. At least for a while.

Most reactions have been along the lines of "Oh, I thought you were already one." Lance's reaction is "Sure, until I cook you lamb." He has been, so far, taking me seriously, so that's been nice. I think I'll still eat fish occasionally because if I'm in a sushi restaurant there's no way I'm not getting some sort of tasty raw fishes. No way.

Why did I decide to take the vegetarian plunge? Most of my friends know that I don't eat much meat to begin with, but I do eat it on occasion. With moving and various other social activities, I've been finding myself eating more meat than I like. Monday was the last straw--I ate chicken and dumplings because it was what was available for dinner, and it was so...unappealing. The thought of eating meat became unpleasant, and I figured I needed to cut down on eating meat anyway, so...

Vegetarian.

Luckily, it's an easy lifestyle change for me, since I'm usually about 90% vegetarian anyway. And to make life easy for Lance, I'll probably still eat food he makes that is cooked with turkey stock or lard because we make that stuff ourselves and we have it in our pantry/freezer as it is. So, really it's not that much of a change except that I won't be eating meat when I eat out, and I'll avoid it when I go to my parents' or Lance's parents'...but I'm perfectly willing to prepare my own food, or simply eat the vegetable parts of the meals. Yay for vegetarian experimentation!

Friday, September 04, 2009

My New Friend

Today, I found the best piece of exercise equipment that I have purchased, to date. This little device is my new friend--it releases tight muscles, helps relieve any residual knee pain, and feels amazing. It is a foam roller.

While oh-so-simple in theory, the foam roller works wonders. I have been fighting off illiotibial band syndrome (ITBS) since March, and I found a new ally in that fight. A few minutes with my newly purchased roller, and the pain in my knee vanished. It felt loose and stretched as though I didn't even run this morning.

A quick Google search turns up sites, videos, and vendors all focused on promoting this handy little tool. You can use it to release connective tissues and tight muscles (key to helping ITBS), or you can use it to create more challenging workouts. These videos show some of the varied uses of the foam roller--especially to help relieve ITBS.

I bought the damn thing this afternoon, and I'm already wondering why it took me so long to purchase one. The benefits to both my running and plans to increase my strength training are unfolding before my eyes. I look forward to enjoying the benefits in years to come. If you are someone who hates sore muscles or longs for a way to manage little pains associated with working out, the foam roller is for you.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Pie! Jam! Relish! Run!

Hello, my peanut butter chocolate banana cream pie. Aren't you lovely, with your layer of chocolate, honeyed peanut butter, homemade banana pudding, and freshly whipped cream. The chocolate shavings on top are just too much.

You were coveted by many, and there's even a bit left for Lance's mom and grandma. You were a good pie, and totally over the top.

If you need a crazy decadent pie that will win you friends and influence others, this is the pie for you.
********
My running success last week meant that I was back out there today, running leisurely around my neighborhood. (The pie made have helped push me out the door, but that's another story). So I ran, the air cool from the front that threatened (but never delivered) a rainstorm. It was a beautiful summer night, and a perfect night for a run. As I ran, I realized that I was at fifteen minutes, which is where I was supposed to stop, but I didn't want to. My legs felt great, so I decided to run another minute. Suddenly, I was at twenty minutes, and I could not in good conscience run any more; I would risk Lance's ire should I hurt myself again and mope around the house.

Upon returning from my longer-than-expected run, I made jam. Rhubarb-carrot jam, to be exact. We used rhubarb from Lance's garden, added lemon and orange zest/juice and grated carrots and less sugar than called for in the recipe, but still more than Lance wanted. As I cooked it, I stirred intermittently and washed dishes. I used the cold plate test to check the gel (since my candy thermometer was broken), and it turned out beautifully. An unusual, yet tasty, jam.

I also prepped for another batch of pickle relish. I think I've caught the canning bug, what do you think? If you too desire to preserve, pickle, and jam things, check out this book--it has many beautiful recipes and is a great resource for the budding domestic.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Lack of Fire

Last night, I went to see Julia & Julia while Lance watched District 9. As good as District 9 may be, I am actually not too big a fan of alien movies. And I wasn't really in the mood for an action movie with aliens, so I gathered a couple of ladies, and we went to Julie & Julia instead.

The film was just what I was looking for, though the Julia Child (played dazzlingly by Meryl Streep) far outshone the bits about Julie Powell. Powell's book was far more amusing than her portrayal in the film, perhaps because the Julie in the film was almost too sticky-sweet and doe-eyed for all her claims to bitchiness and perhaps because the Julie in the book swore frequently while drinking gimlets and destroying her kitchen.

All the viewing of cooking got me in the mood to cook, so I decided to make this pie for potluck tomorrow. Go on, click the link. I'll wait.

That's right: a peanut butter, chocolate, banana cream pie. Yum. I expect folks will enjoy it, at least if Lance doesn't try to eat it all with a spoon while simulaneously brandishing that spoon as a weapon to keep others away. I haven't topped it yet, but I'll try to post a photo of how mine turns out.

Anyway, this pie requires a minimal amount of stove and oven use: I did need to bake the pie crust and make the pudding. Our stove, however, has been causing me grief since we moved in, and I haven't even cooked very much.

The pilot lights WON'T STAY LIT.

This lack of fire when I turn the gas to "on" is both disturbing and stressful--and it has led to a few minor meltdowns vaguely reminiscent of Powell's. At first it was because I didn't know how to light the pilots, and now that I do, it is because I want FIRE when I turn the knob to ON. Is that so much to ask, stove? Is it?

Needless to say, I managed to get everything lit (the pilots went out immediately after I lit them the first time). They go out if I use the oven; they go out if I look at them funny; and they go out whenever I want to cook. I've decided that the stove despises me.

Lance plans to e-mail our landlady and spook her with the fact that the stove is GAS and OHMYGOD the pilots won't stay LIT, which means that GAS will be POURING into our house if she doesn't replace the stove IMMEDIATELY. But of course, it'll be way less dramatic and much more subtle. In fact, he'll probably word it such that the terror will come from her own fear of gas and not anything that Lance tells her. He's crafty like that.

Until then, I get to anticipate lighting the damn thing whenever I want to cook, which will be a lot because I need to pickle (or otherwise process) things:

Thursday, August 13, 2009

You Better Run

The air was pleasantly cool as I slipped on my running shoes and walked out the door. A short run, I told myself, just to see if the knee will continue to be all right. After stretching and walking to the corner, I took off at a slow pace, carefully monitoring my footstrikes and stride, careful to not go too fast.

My new neighborhood is lovely and quaint, and running around the little streets was a great way for me to explore the environment. It's an older neighborhood, full of shady trees and low traffic. The streets are reasonably flat for hilly Fayetteville, and the mild weather (for August! in Arkansas!) filled me with pleasure as I slowly ran along, looking, feeling, enjoying.

Yesterday, I ran for the second time this week. It's the first time I've run twice within a week since March, when I hurt my illiotibial band training for the half-marathon I didn't get to run. My knee bothered me off and on since then, making me too afraid to start running. When I was in Portland, however, I ran for fifteen minutes (five minutes running followed by five walking), and my knee didn't twinge.

Running feels good. It feels really good. It's a time for me to meditate, take in the outside world, feel my body getting stronger and faster. I find it almost more meditative than yoga in many ways because it comes so easily: the rhythm of footfalls, the comforting routes, the familiar songs on my iPod. Yoga is calming, but it's also something that doesn't come easily. Running isn't difficult for me, though it is sometimes challenging.

I've been cautious with how long I run, and I've been monitoring my knee for pain. So far, it only feels tired after I finish, a feeling that is gone a few hours after my run is over. When I set out Monday, I ran for five minutes, walked for a few, then ran for ten. I wanted to keep going because it felt so right, but I stopped myself, afraid of setting back any progress.

I'm happy to be running again. Right now, I'm going to try to run every other day for fifteen minutes, slowly increasing until I'm running three miles/thirty minutes consistently again. After I get to that point, I figure I can begin increasing my mileage and speed, but for now it's great to just be out running again.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Whirlwind Weekend/Week

What, it's already Wednesday? Why, where is this week getting to!

Saturday was a birthday celebration. Mine, in fact. My wonderful pal AW offered to throw me a birthday party at her house, and I took her up on it. My brother B and sister-in-law M even came to town to hang out and attend. There were grilled foods. There was Nutella Cake. There were friends and gifts and hugs and drinks and general partying. Fun was had by all, I daresay.

I slept in on Sunday, and waited around for our visitor to arrive. I then realized that he was leaving later than anticipated, which worked out perfectly, since B and M wanted to take us out to lunch. We went and had brunch at Greenhouse Grille (yum!), where I ordered blue corn pancakes--Lance, of course, got buffalo sausage biscuits and gravy. Zoe, the little girl of B and M's friends, cried when she realized her pancake was not standard, though she liked it when she finally tried it.

Our guest finally made it, so we bummed around the house for a bit, then walked down to eat some dinner. It was nice and relaxing--and hopefully he enjoyed it, though it wasn't very exciting! Since he was leaving on Tuesday, I took a half-day on Monday, and we strolled around some more. We had every intention to go to a yarn shop, but they are closed on Mondays (sad!), so instead we spent some time at our huge used bookstore. We also took him to our weekly Monday beer night, which was also enjoyable.

And last night? Last night was for yoga. Oh, yoga. I really enjoy it, but since I am recovering from either poison ivy or poison oak, the heat and subsequent sweat made it sting and burn quite a bit. I had to excuse myself to go run it under cold water. Kathryn is continuing to be good encouragement for me to go to class, and to practice more outside of class.

I pushed myself a little harder on my backbends last night, and that felt pretty good. Last week, I didn't stand to do dropbacks because I was tired, but I decided to do them this week even though I was worn out. And they were good. My teacher even complimented me! Backbends are the one thing that I find easy in yoga--everything else is a struggle--so I look forward to them at the end of primary.

There are two ways to do them: starting on your back or from standing. The standing ones are more difficult, since you "drop back" into the position, which is scary when you've never done it. To help build up the strength and coordination to drop back, the instructor allows time for students to receive assistance: he (or she) supports your back as you lower slowly down and helps you to stand back up. I cannot explain how thrilling it is to drop back and to stand back up, even with assistance, and I look forward to being at the point in my practice to be able to do them without.

Tonight will be a bumming around the house night. I want to go for a short run and do more yoga, and then I might read! Or clean! Either way, it's time to slow down the pace of things. I love having lots to do, but I also need to balance the hectic periods with periods of quiet--something I know Lance wants too.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Basil-y Drink

I met up with my friend C and her boyfriend (who also has an August 5th birthday!) for drinks on Wednesday at a fancy bar/restaurant that normally sell very expensive cocktails and food that I can't afford. However, we selected this place because of their happy hour specials--four dollar food plates and much more affordable prices on cocktails.

Perusing the drink list, I spied the Basil Gimlet. Interesting, I thought to myself. After asking the waitress to cut the sugar down in the drink--I always regret sweet drinks--I found myself sipping a delightfully delicious and herbal drink.

Now, since I'm a bad birthday chronicler, I completely forgot to take a picture of this drink, but I did decide to research it and create it at home. The menu said it was made of basil syrup, lime juice (probably Rose's or equivalent), and vodka.

Gimlets are a cocktail made of either gin or vodka and lime juice. Depending on how much you like your booze, the proportion of spirits to lime can range from 1:1 to 4:1. Pretty stout indeed.

I wanted to recreate the basil gimlet at home, and serve it at my bookclub tonight. Since I'm a bigger fan of using fresh ingredients and not a fan of using Rose's lime juice (likely too sweet), I planned to make a basil-infused simple syrup to add to my unsweetened lime juice and and vodka. Then I remembered that I had some good organic limeade. This couldn't be easier!

I picked some fresh basil from our garden, threw it in a pitcher with vodka, and muddled the leaves. Muddling, for the uninitiated is pretty simple--use a wooden spoon (or the handle of a wooden spoon) and crush the herbs until the oils are released and are, well, muddled into the liquid. (Mojitos are made the same way, but with mint.) I then added an equal portion of limeade, added ice, and served. What I got was a delightfully lime and basil infused drink that I enjoyed quite a lot.

I think the gimlet is going to be my drink for the rest of the summer, both because of name and flavor. Incidentally, the gimlet was named after a naval doctor who wanted a way for sailors to get their vitamin C and avoid scurvy. So it's a drink with health benefits!

Basil Gimlet
  • Fresh basil leaves
  • 2 oz. Vodka
  • 2 oz. good quality limeade
If making one serving, throw the basil leaves into a glass, add the vodka, and muddle. Add an equal portion of limeade (or less, if you want it a more classic gimlet) and stir. Add ice, and garnish with a basil leaf or lime wedge or both.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

No. 27

When I was younger, birthdays were always a day I looked forward to so much that I could never sleep the night before. I'd be so excited that I would just lay awake waiting to fall asleep so that tomorrow could come SO MUCH SOONER. Of course, it never worked, and I'd lie awake until finally my tired self would succumb.

I would leap out of bed early, rush to living room, and see what my parents had set out for me. It was usually a package wrapped not in store-bought paper, but newspaper--usually the funny pages--and a bow stuck to it. Sometimes the package would appear later, but there were cards placed on our entertainment center that I could look at. My grandparents always mailed a card with a crisp five-dollar bill tucked inside, and the constancy of that card was wonderful.

With five children, it would be easy to gloss over birthdays, but my parents never did. August 5th was always MY day to do what I wanted. I got to pick out my flavor of birthday cake (I loved the confetti cakes when I was young; my brothers favored chocolate cake made with mayonnaise) and ice cream. I always went for Rocky Road or mint chocolate chip--when I got older to think about flavor pairings, I would try to pick something that went with the cake I wanted.

And we always got to pick what we got to eat for dinner. Early childhood meant favorites like macaroni and cheese or burgers with my mom's macaroni salad. We all love that macaroni salad, probably to the point of irrationality. I don't even like mayonnaise, and I still LOVE that salad.

No one questioned the supremacy of the individual whose birthday it was. I wouldn't have to do chores, like wash dishes or put them away. It was my birthday.

I love my birthday, and I always have. I've been mildly mocked for making a big deal about my birthday, but I really love it. I still feel like it's my day, and I try to treat my friends' birthdays the same way. Thinking about all those childhood birthdays helps me to see why I feel the way I do about birthdays.

Today was my birthday. After believing for a week or so that it would shape up to be a subdued, somewhat ignored day, I was proved dead wrong. My Facebook wall is covered with birthday wishes, and attentions from friends and family alike have been wonderful. I got to eat dinner with three lovely ladies, and have drinks with another and her fantastic boyfriend (whose birthday is also today). I even chronicled the day's happenings in pictures, which I will share tomorrow. And, AND! I have a birthday party this weekend to anticipate.

So, remember. Birthdays are wonderful days. You should use the day to appreciate that many people love you and are happy that you are in the world--because that's how my day went.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Yoga is Hot

Tuesdays are ashtanga yoga days. Kathryn (who is generally amazing and awesome) has been encouraging me to attend class more often, and now that I've moved, she's been picking me (and my heavy yoga mat) up so that I don't have an excuse not to go.

I love yoga--I love how good I feel, even if I'm terrible at the poses. But I'm also really good at making excuses for myself. Today, it would have been "I'm too hot!" or "I'm so tired". If your friend is expecting you, however, it's harder to make up an excuse, especially if the excuse is lame. So to yoga I went.

Kathryn's practice notes from today summarize how class was. Mysore, for yoga neophytes, is self-paced practice in a group setting. Mysore style allows one to focus on her own pacing and not try to keep up with the class. I've found that I get a little sloppy with some of the poses and transitions when I'm trying to follow along with the rest of the group. Today I tried to concentrate on not letting my back bow down when I jump back. I think I need to build up my abs more. I also tried the modifications for some of the poses I'm learning instead of skipping them, and that was pretty cool.

Usually my thoughts during yoga go something like this: "Wow, it's great to be doing sun salutations. Oh, now I'm sweating pretty good. Uggh, it's really hot. Now I'm really dripping--time to lay out the towel. I'm glad I have this towel to wipe off my sweaty, nasty face. This is hard. I want to quit. Oh look, backbends--yay! Wow, I feel awesome. Yoga is great". Basically, toward the beginning of the primary sequence, I get really tired and discouraged, but slog through it. Then I hit the point where it feels easier and everything is great, and when it's done, I'm very happy.

Today, that didn't happen. I was hot. I was tired. My limbs didn't have the same strength--the heat and lack of sleep had zapped my energy. But I continued through, and lay exhausted in the final pose for 10 minutes. I was happy that I had gone to yoga, but it definitely didn't feel easy at any point.

Our teacher kept telling us to take it easy, to listen to our selves, and to not feel distressed if the pose is not coming as easily. We are to not let our ego exist when we're doing the poses. I had to constantly remind myself that today, this asana is simply this way. I can only exist in how it is; I should not worry about how I'm failing. I'm not failing--by showing up and practicing, I'm doing something good for my body and my mind, and that's what yoga is about.

Monday, August 03, 2009

First Dinner

Tonight, I cooked my first dinner in the new house.

Yes, I know I love to cook, but I haven't been home much. And Lance was there to cook. And sometimes we just ate stuff and didn't worry about an actual meal.

I decided to make this Lasagna Tart. For one, I had some cheese I needed to use up because it was about to go bad. Also I had been eyeballing that recipe since Heidi posted it, and our zucchini is threatening to take over the refrigerator (so are cucumbers, so we're converting them into relish and probably some pickles).

Unfortunately, it was hot. And since it was hot (and we're not really running the air conditioner when we can help it), running the oven was probably not the best idea. I started making the tart, then, after examining the instructions, realized it was going to take FOREVER to bake. It'd be well after 8pm before I'd be able to eat, so I decided to alter my dinner plans.

The tart is basically crust, cheese, zucchini, and sauce. I sauteed some of the thinly sliced zucchini, boiled some spaghetti noodles, and layered noodles, cheese, zucchini, and sauce to make myself a bowl of lasagna, essentially. It was all right--definitely edible, but not fantastic.

Another problem I ran into was my stove. It's an older stove, and I can already tell we're going to wrangle. The pilot lights on the cooktop don't like to stay lit, so when I turned on the oven, one side went out. I thought both sides were out, but one half just likes to take its sweet time lighting.

The tart finished cooking, so I'll have it for lunch tomorrow. I'm afraid that it's a bit of a dud, however, since the crust didn't do what I wanted, and the sauce is a little acidic for my tastes. Luckily, it'll still be very edible, and it'll keep me from having to cook lunch or dinner for the next couple of days.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

A Walk in the Woods

AW and I headed out to Lake Fayetteville this morning to hike. And why not? It was a beautiful day, and we've obviously been having crazy and unseasonably cool temperatures. I'd be crazy NOT to take advantage of such a lovely day.

Out we went, AW, me, and AW's dog. Lake Fayetteville is a fairly easy hike--it's partially paved--and the trail is well established and reasonably flat. I run out there occasionally because it's such a nice loop.

While we were out there, I started wondering how the woods looked right after the big ice storm last January. If you recall, the world looked something like this for a while:

Every tree in Fayetteville had lost limbs. Our city looked like a warzone for months. While the city had cleared out the brush from all of the more busy zones, our parks and trails took a lower priorty, and they were shut down throughout the rest of the winter and early spring.

Anyway, there were definitely signs of the work that had been done out on the Lake Fayetteville loop. We saw branches and hewn logs that had been tossed to the sides of the path. We saw tree stumps where trees used to stand in the middle of the trail. And one path--an usused portion that passes by the lake and then loops to the main path--still had many tree branches crossing it and making it difficult to pass.

The thinking about how the trails and woods around the trail used to look led me to think about how people cleared up the debris. This process then led me to think about how people can actually improve our environment.

We are used to thinking about ourselves as a very destructive species. We pollute, we damage, we kill rain forests, we are responsible for the deaths of many species, even our own. Thinking of human beings as an agent for growth and improvement is not something we're used to.

We are, however, capable of leaving the world off better than we found it. I was first introduced to this philosophy--being a Caretaker--through Lance, and also through Tom Brown's book, Grandfather. Brown tells his readers a story of how the forests tended by people who cared about the land were actually healthier than forests that were left to nature. The trees were more vigorous, the land more green, the animals happier because they had more to eat. People were agents in making the world better.

Michael Pollan talks about the same idea in his book about gardening, Second Nature. He looks at the case of a city dealing with the destruction of many trees, and how there was resistance to removing the debris and replanting. Pollan's thought was that humans could improve the land by planting more trees and essentially gardening the area, yet some were resistant to the idea of taking "control" of the land in such a way.

It's not about controlling, but about helping out where our talents and resources allow us to. Gardening is not really about controlling nature, but about guiding what we're given and creating something productive from it. Cultivated land doesn't mean destroyed land; when tended properly, the soil and the environment actually benefits from human involvement.

The woods looked better for having some of the debris cleared out, and the tree damage was hard to spot with the luscious green growth all around. I was glad to have the reminder that we are capable as a species of leaving the world better off.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Home Again, Home Again

I had lived at my new residence for approximately one week before I left for five days. Thus, my return felt a little odd in many ways, as though it was not quite my home I was returning to, but a place with home-potential.

For one, my new house is not yet completely in order. Lance just finished moving all of his belongings in, so there were new items to contend with and to think about placing. On the other hand, my belongings were all here. My cats greeted me as I walked through the door. I knew where I could comfortably drop my bags, and where I wanted to go first. My bed was comforting and cozy. It's a familiar place tinged with strangeness. It's not quite home--not yet, anyway.

Tonight, I went to celebrate the conclusion of the teacher training institute for a group of English teachers from Mexico. I was a teacher buddy, a person who was to provide social interactions for the teachers apart from their class lessons.

The dinner was interesting. In the past, the teachers were told not to speak Spanish. They are here to practice their English, after all. But tonight, the teachers chatted merrily away in a mixture of Spanish and English, which I and another American joined right in. Of course, my Spanish is a little rusty, but it's encouraging to think that I can still understand a great deal and speak a significant amount, enough for a reasonable conversation.

I wonder what it will be like for those teachers to return home tomorrow. Will they hug their husbands, children, or other family members? Will the collapse in a pile, exhausted from the long journey home? Will they immediately feel different?

Journeys change us, yet we don't always know how. I feel that I've been journeying a lot lately, and not just geographically. I traveled to Portland, but I've also be journeying from one home to the next. This time, my journey toward a new home is not solitary, but with a wonderful person. We're moving toward making our first home together, and while I don't yet feel changed by this journey, I look forward to what the path we're treading has in store for us.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Moved, In So Many Ways

I have so much I want to blog about, but I haven't had time! First there was the packing. And painting and other prep work. Then the moving. And now? The unpacking. Oh, the unpacking seems like it will never end, though it was satisfying to put all of our empty boxes out in the recycling the other day. Other satisfying moments have been moving furniture to places where it looks good, unpacking most boxes, being able to find all of my clothes, and enjoying the new space.

The Good
I realized that we may actually be able to successfully integrate all of our stuff--and that it would look homey. (Lance hasn't brought his piles of wood and various random objects over yet, so this may yet me tested).

K and M left us a lovely entertainment center, and it holds all of our cookbooks (4 shelves, M, 4!!), our various bottles of homebrew and liquor, DVDs, and other detrius that I haven't found a place for yet.

M also left me a *drumroll* KitchenAid. Now, you all know that I'm a baker. And I've been obsessed about the KitchenAid (as has Lance) for a long time. After using a different brand of stand mixer, I can tell you that it's really a well-designed machine, meant to last and really be used. And if you cook a lot, it's totally worth the investment. I honestly thought I'd have to wait until I got it as a wedding gift in 300 years or was rich or something.

We also have a huge front yard and back yard! When I came over from the apartment, I found all the friends who helped us move sitting out front, happy. I anticipate having parties in which people hang out in the back yard.

Problems
We have a ceiling fan and light fixture, and his name is Shocky. Shocky doesn't like it when you touch the chains to turn on and off the light, and he will let you know by transmitting an electrical current through your body. Luckily, Lance discovered this and not me. Unluckily, I touched Shocky's cords with a metal shelf and got a nice jolt.

The new place also has no closets, which means I can't hide all of my craft/hobby stuff away neatly. It also means that our kitchen is woefully lacking in storage. This will be remedied by putting up shelving and purging excess belongings. Of course, I love clothes and own lots of them, so closet-sharing should be...interesting.

******************

I have lots of pictures, so many pictures. And I will take more once the dust has settled. But for now I'll leave you with a picture of the newest addition to our family, Neko.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

That Was Quick

This morning, I was asked to serve on my university's Staff Senate. I had been nominated for a position a few months ago, but I didn't win the election. Today, the chair needed to replace a senator, and as first runner up in the election, I was asked to serve.

I had reservations about being on a campus governing body. They can get things done, but usually only after innumerable meetings, committees, and resolutions. I really hate having to go through a convoluted system to get tasks accomplished.

At the same time, however, I recognize that government at this level is useful. It provides a voice for the staff, helps to shape policies and procedures, and keeps an eye on state legislation that affects staff pay and benefits. The good they do far outweighs the hassle of attending meetings and serving on committees. Even though I feel like those meetings and committees often waste my time, I also believe that what they can accomplish overcomes that waste.

So I accepted the position, feeling both excitement for the chance to participate and dread for what I'll have to put up with for a year.

This afternoon I got a call apologizing that I was in fact not needed for the position. Oops, sorry, no longer a senator! Well, it was fun for the four hours it lasted...

Thursday, July 02, 2009

July! July!

July is shaping up to be a hectic month. Or eventful, at the very least. I gave myself June to relax and recharge after finishing up my degree, but now it's time to start looking ahead to PhD programs or new jobs.

The largest event on the horizon is our impending move. We found a wonderful duplex through a friend that's still within biking distance of work for me. It has a yard. I can paint. Best of all, we'll only have one shared wall and won't have to listen to the sounds of construction when they work on the burned-out apartment complex.

Moving--or at least how I like to move--requires time, organization, and dedication. I like to sort through my belongings and cast off the things I don't have a use for anymore. The new house is kind of small, so it becomes even more important to get rid of useless stuff and creatively use the space we have.

Other July events include a trip to Portland later this month. I get to go for work, which is really exciting, so when I'm not doing conference stuff, I'll be checking out Portland sights. Best of all, I get to travel with a good friend. Conveniently, we'll be moved right before the trip, so hopefully it'll be a good break from sorting and unpacking!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Staff of Life

I want to talk about something important today. I want to talk about bread.

When you're trying to eat healthy, mainstream thought tells us we should avoid bread. Bread is full of carbs! diet gurus shout at us. Don't eat bread--it'll make you fat!

I call bullshit.

The problem with bread is not bread itself. Humans have been eating bread since they started cultivating grain thousands of years ago. How can something that we've subsisted on for so long suddenly be the source of the obesity epidemic?

The answer is that commercially produced bread is...well, less than healthy. Or less than bread. It's an engineered product pumped full of sugar and chemicals to appeal to our desire for soft, ultra-palatable food. There's a reason why white bread is so popular and why really good wheat bread--if full of whole-grain goodness--is difficult to find outside of a natural food store. And commercially produced wheat bread is nothing but brown white bread with a deceptive "made with whole grains" label slapped on it.

Now, I haven't bought that kind of bread in a very long time. I normally go for a sprouted grain bread made by Ozark Natural Breads that is dense and well made. In my opinion, it has a good texture and can in no way be confused with the soft, cakey bread that many folks identify as "bread".

Remember yesterday when I said something about eating peas on a piece of toasted homemade bread? Well, recently I made a 100% whole wheat bread (with Lance's assistance and guidance). And while time consuming, it was reasonably easy. I'd never really made bread before, and my loaves turned out perfectly--and I knew what was in them.

The secret to a good, airy whole wheat bread--many people don't like whole wheat bread because it's so dense or dry--is to first make a sponge and to include a bit of sweetener. You mix together warm water, yeast, some flour, and honey and let it sit for an hour. The sugars give the yeast something to get it going, and it digests the whole wheat flour a little faster than it might without it. I ended up using part agave syrup because I didn't have quite enough honey, and the yeast really liked it.

After the sponge ferments for a bit, you mix in the rest of the ingredients: salt, oil (also key for a moister loaf) and more whole wheat flour. Knead until elastic, which gets the gluten forming--you have to knead and knead, but it's kind of fun and totally pays off.

A 1.5-2 hour rising, and then the loaves are ready to be shaped and let sit for another 45 minutes for the final rising. Here they are with their tops slashed, ready for the oven. If you don't want to make traditional loaves, you can also shape them into other formats, such as Lance's happy little boule:

The point is that bread does take time to make, but it's totally worth it. And most of that time is just waiting for the yeast to do its work! You get the satisfaction of knowing you aren't supporting companies that offer up little more than bread-flavored swill, and it's far more satisfying to slice into your own loaf then to pull pre-sliced bread from a bag.

Spread it with a little jam (homemade strawberry-rhubarb preserves are pretty good on it, which you see in the picture), slice it up for sandwiches, or eat a chunk with a fresh garden salad, and you'll understand why bread is considered vital to human meals throughout history.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"Crap I Like to Eat"

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a quick meal idea: smashed peas on toast. I thought: I'll have to try that, and I went home and did, though with a fried egg instead of poached. While I was eating it, Lance wandered over and took a bite. Then another bite. To save the rest of my meal, I had to make him his own, and our current favorite dish was born.

Molly of Orangette writes about making a list called CRAP I LIKE TO EAT (CILTE). Whenever you're tired and can't think of something to make, you refer to the list to grab an idea that will be immediately appealing and get you excited about cooking. Smashed peas on toast with a fried egg has gone on my CILTE list.

Last night, I needed a light bite to eat for dinner, so I immediately thought of smashed peas on toast. It may not sound that appealing, but believe me--it's delicious, especially if you leave the yolk a little runny. Quality ingredients are best for such a simple dish, since all of the flavors come through: I used homemade whole wheat bread and fresh free-range eggs purchased at our farmers' market.

It hit the spot perfectly so that I could muster up my energy to help complete a painting project, and it will continue to be a favorite quick, simple dish that Lance and I will go to when we're feeling uninspired by the prospect of dinner.

Smashed Peas on Toast with a Fried Egg
(Note: All measurements are approximate because I just throw this together, which is part of why it's a perfect dish.)
  • frozen peas (~1/2 cup or more)
  • 1 slice good quality bread
  • 1 egg
  • seasonings ( such as garlic powder, salt and pepper, cayenne, onion powder, nutritional yeast, or anything else you think might taste good. I like my peas really garlicky.)
In the microwave (or on the stove top), heat the frozen peas until hot. Smash with a fork and add seasonings to taste*. It shouldn't be a paste, just smash them up for a minute or so and until the spices are incorporated.

Meanwhile, toast the piece of bread and cook the fried egg. I salt and pepper my egg at this point.

To assemble: place the toast on a plate. Put peas on top of toast. Place fried egg on top of peas and eat with a fork because the peas and egg yolk are likely to get a little messy.

*Lance likes to add a touch of half-and-half or cream to make the peas a little creamier.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Pie War

I'm trying to start a pie crust war with Lance. I have doubts that it will actually work--those who have met him know that he's generally unflappable--but it's still fun to try.

You see, Lance is a improvational, free-style cook except for two recipes: cornbread and pie crust. He uses the same recipes (or ratios, really, since he has been known to substitute different types of flour in the pie crust) that his grandmother taught his mother, who in turn taught him. Anyway, these two recipes border on the sacred for Lance, and I agreed to follow them as well. I've made other cornbread recipes, but he always complains about them.

Pie crust, however, is fairly standard: butter, flour, salt, and ice water. Technique is actually the most difficult part of pie crusts. We have been experimenting with our mixing and rolling techniques with great success.

Yesterday, I decided to bake a pie for his grandmother. I was reading Molly Wizenberg's (of Orangette, a fantastic cooking blog) book A Homemade Life*, and I told Lance's grandma about Molly's Hoosier pie, which contains chocolate, bourbon, and pecans. Lance's grandmother proceeded to hint about it throughout the evening, so I showed up with one yesterday, and we had it for dinner. It was delicious.

What got me going about the pie crusts, however, was Molly's pie crust recipe for the Hoosier pie was significantly different from our standard crust. It had apple cider vinegar in it! Also sugar! I was intrigued, to say the least. So I diverted from our recipe--and I really liked the results. The crust was tender and flaky, with a nice crispness. I think Molly is onto something with the vinegar. Lance's grandma also declared it delicious, and she really knows her pies**.

Both crusts are good--dont' get me wrong--but I think I'm now interested in experimenting with crust recipes. I think I'll leave the cornbread alone. It really is an excellent recipe, which I will share with you when next we make it. For now, here are the warring pie crusts:

Lance's Grandmother's Pie Crust
  • 1 cup flour (I like a mix of 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry and 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose)
  • 1/3 cup cold butter, cut up
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3-4 tablespoons ice water
Blend flour and salt in a bowl. Add butter and mash up with a fork or a pastry cutter until the butter is the size of peas. (Alternately, use your food processor--but the hand method does work a bit better. But everyone can be a little lazy sometimes.)

Add 3 tablespoons of ice water and stir. Add a bit more if your dough is dry--it should hold together but not be sticky. I usually use all 4 tablespoons and maybe a bit more if I'm using whole wheat pastry, since it can take a bit more moisture.

Roll out or wrap in plastic and chill in refrigerator until ready for use--you can make pie crust a little ahead of time since it does well when chilled (it is important not too handle it too much or the butter will begin to melt).

Molly Wizenburg's Pie Crust
From A Homemade Life's Hooiser Pie recipe

  • 4 tablespoons ice water, or more as needed
  • 3/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I used 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry and 1 cup all-purpose with great results)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 1 tablespoon cold butter, cut up
Mix together ice water and apple cider vinegar and set aside.

Mix together flour(s), sugar, and salt. Add in butter and cut into flour (using fork, pastry cutter, or food processor) until the butter is the size of peas. Mix in water, adding more if needed--you are looking for the pie crust to hold together, but not be too damp. Shape into disc, wrap in plastic, and place in the refrigerator until ready for use.

*Much more about this book later. I'm really, really enjoying it.
**When I make a pie, and it meets with his grandparents' approval, I know that I've succeeded. They have eaten/made a lot of pie in their lifetime, and they know good pie when they taste it.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Photo Ops

Often, I'm convinced that I'm not photogenic. I'll look at a picture of myself, and all I see is that I'm not wearing make-up (makes my eyes look tired), or my head is at a funny angle, making me look like I have an extra chin.

My graduation pictures were both terrible. Well, one was pretty terrible and the other was okay. I ordered the okay one because I wanted an "official" picture to give to family. The graduation action-shot--photo taken as I'm being handed my diploma-cover--was the worst of the two. I was confused as I was walking across the stage, and I looked at the camera instead of the person handing me the diploma. I look like a deer caught in headlights. The second photo is okay, except that my bangs covered one eye and my mortarboard slid back on my head. It was definitely the winner.

People tell me that I'm crazy for thinking I'm not photogenic, but I've seen lots of bad pictures of myself. Then one like this pops up:












And I'm convinced that I'm capable of having good pictures of myself. Thanks to the ever-lovely J. for making a decent photograph of graduation exist.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Kindle Lesson #1

My Twitter followers will know that I recently purchased a Kindle 2--it has been mine-oh-mine for about two weeks now, and I use it everyday. I love it.

Today, I contacted customer service because I was having some issues with finding my New Yorker subscription (the new one wasn't showing up on my device!) and a PDF file I had converted and uploaded vanished without a trace, even after I'd read a bit of it and examined how well the conversion worked. I discovered that the PDF file was still on the device when I attempted to re-add it, but somehow I couldn't find it when I searched my items.

Enamored as I was with my Kindle, I did not react with anger. Perhaps something was merely awry, I thought. Maybe the device wasn't accessing the information, or maybe I uploaded it wrong. I e-mailed Amazon; they promptly replied that I should call their customer service number. I did; after about a minute I was greeted by a helpful gentleman who attempted to re-send my New Yorker issue to the Kindle. He then had me restart the device and transferred me to tech support for assistance with my PDF file.

By the time the Kindle restarted, I was chatting with a friendly woman. I described my problem--I can't find my converted PDF document! Oh, and I still can't find my New Yorker current issue!--and she quickly directed me to the top of the screen. If I press the navigation key to the left, I suddenly see that I can display "all items". Somehow, somewhat inexplicably, I had changed my selection to display only books.

"I feel stupid," I told the tech support woman. She expressed satisfaction that she was able to so quickly solve my problem, and I hung up pleased that the Kindle was working perfectly (and armed with new knowledge about display settings).

I blame the folks who played with my Kindle the weekend before last (you know who you are*).

So, Lesson #1: be careful how many individuals fiddle with Kindle's settings unsupervised. Also, Kindle has many, many hidden menus that I'm still locating, despite the ease and intuition with which I have so far operated my beloved device. More Kindle gushing soon!

*Don't worry--I don't actually blame you. Either way, I now know a new, nifty feature!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Rain Everlasting

Last spring, Arkansas experienced incredible flooding and torrents of rain.  If I remember correctly, the rain caused the dirt supporting a storm drain near where I live to get washed away, causing the city to shut down a stretch of road until they could repair it.  The farmers sighed and offered what produce could grow is such soggy weather, since crops need both sun and water to grow properly.  Too much rain, after all, delays their production. A funny paradox of farming, I suppose--too much of a good thing and all.

Anyway, I'm not really wanting to talk about farming so much as weather and my life events.  I did participate in commencement last week, but that's for another post, with pictures! What I'm inspired to write about today is rain.

It has been raining almost non-stop for the last three weeks (or maybe not three weeks, but it's been going for a while).  We'll get a day or two--or even a partial day--where there is sunshine, but other than that, it's been raining. And raining. And raining.  Hard, torrential rains (with the threat of tornado), light spring rains, mist, sprinkles--we've had all the flavors of rain one could experience with a dash of thunder and lightning.  I feel like perhaps our weather patterns are changing to make our state a damper one.

The weather pairs up strangely with graduating. For me, this was a huge event, three years in the making. I surmounted a thesis and course work while working full-time, and the ceremony signaled the close of that phase of my life.  And then it was raining, though it didn't really rain during the ceremony, which was a relief since I had lots of family and kids who probably didn't need to get wet on their way to the venue.

The rain marked not so much the lack of sunshine for a celebration, but something rather more complex.  Two major members of my family were voluntarily absent from commencement, so in some way the rain signified that the celebration was marked with clouds.  The weather couldn't be perfect for a day that was missing someone(s).  While I had a wonderful time, and while I really enjoyed being able to participate in commencement, there was still a hole because of their absence.

More importantly, however, the rain has come to mean that something new is coming.  Something that I can't see yet, but a something that is working on sprouting, wriggling through damp earth, and waiting for the sun to shine so that it can burst forth.  I can feel it--this phase of my life is over, a phase that began four years ago when I graduated with my BA.  I can see how much I've learned, both academically and personally, and I feel good about the future.  I may not know what's coming, but I'm excited to see what happens.  And so our rain, while preventing us from camping, hiking, biking, and generally enjoying the Arkansas spring before it becomes muggy summer, helps me to wait hopefully for what's to come.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

YA Lit: The Mysterious Benedict Society

If you look at my bookshelves, you will quickly realize I enjoy a range of literature--and I really like good "young adult" literature. I have everything from Anne of Green Gables to the series to Harry Potter. I frequently reread books from my childhood, The Secret Garden being a perennial favorite.

When I was last in Barnes and Noble, I wandered through the children's section to see what I could possibly pick up for my nieces. One book caught my eye because of its cover art: The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart*. I picked it up and read the first two chapters, and was instantly hooked--A is begging to borrow it because she did the same thing the other night at my apartment.

Without going into too much detail on the plot (A, after all, reads this blog), the story is compelling and empowering for young adult readers. Adults can also take delight in a story well told, as well as identify with the characters, who could contain shadows of our younger selves.

The Mysterious Benedict Society (the first in a series) has all the elements of a good narrative: compelling characters, a villain, mystery, secret agents, and a satisfying conclusion. I even teared up a couple of times. I definitely recommend it for adult readers who enjoy a good story and for older kids who want an adventure read.

*Who, incidentally, lives in Little Rock.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hamlet--But With Dogs

As soon as I concluded my thesis writing and defense, I snatched up the nearest book I could find. That book was The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski, one I had purchased with Christmas money based on Donna's recommendation*.

I had heard the book was a sort of modern Hamlet. The book certainly contains similar elements to Shakespeare's play, but it also extends those themes into the relationships between humans and their dogs. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle tells of the boy Edgar, who was born without a voice and whose parents breed and train dogs. These dogs are special, special because of the vision that Edgar's grandfather had to breed a dog who is a true companion, not merely a useful work animal.

The book plays on themes of love, of soul-mates, and of revenge. The novel too focuses on language: since Edgar cannot speak out loud, he must communicate via different avenues, including his beloved dog, Almondine. Yet he is obsessed with words and language, and he is given the responsibility of naming all the pups in the Sawtelle kennel. His relationship with language is entirely physical, enacted through written and signed forms, embodied by his well-worn dictionary. His inability to communicate verbally underscores the ways other characters in the novel are unable to speak, even though they have the power of speech.

I don't really want to give too much away of the plot, but Wroblewski was able to get me to really care about the characters in deep and complex ways. I wasn't completely repulsed by the story's villian because Wroblewski didn't completely villainize him, writing a complex character that a reader could be drawn to in spite of herself. The writing was vivid and well-paced; though long, the novel read quickly and concluded well.

I'm glad I read this book, and I look forward to loaning it out. My next book is The Mysterious Benedict Society, which I picked up this weekend on a lark because I liked the cover art** and thoroughly enjoyed the first two chapters. I do enjoy being able to read for pleasure again!

*I like knowing that I have people who can really recommend good books and movies to me. I've liked nearly everything that Donna has recommended. Thanks to her, I purchased Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
**The book was illustrated by Carson Ellis, who is also the artist responsible for The Decemberists' albums and is married to Colin Meloy, their lead singer.