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.