Sunday, May 31, 2015

End of May Catch-Up

I started a post last weekend (or possibly the weekend before) that was called "Weekend Catch Up."  I thought, if I don't have a specific, focused topic, I'll just write about a few things that are happening and an update on some of my creative projects and maybe it will be boring, who cares, just write and and actual catch-up on what's going on.  A few weeks ago, I started something.  But like so many posts on this blog, it never really got finished.  The following will be a collection of those fragments


Monarda hybrida 'Lambada' started from seed this year; Asclepias tuberosa 'Hello Yellow' in the background



From the draft post - some thoughts about projects and law school and time management and life:

Now that the school year is over, I should be able to catch up on some projects.  What will most likely happen instead, what always happens, is that I jump into every project I've been wanting to work on for the last ten months, and then get overwhelmed, and then choose just a few to focus on.  Maybe I'll come up with a better organizational and prioritizing system, as one of my first projects, and avoid the usual chaos.

Plus, I no longer have that feeling like the next ten weeks are MY LAST CHANCE to work on projects for awhile.  First, projects got put off because I was studying for the LSAT.  Then applying to law school.  Then packing up my life and planning to move across the country for law school.  Then 1L year, supposedly the hardest.  Whoops, actually 2L year is busier.  Well, it sounds like even if I pile on extra coursework and volunteer work and academic projects, 3L year still won't be as bad as 2L year.  People talk about "having weekends" during 3L year.  So, I don't have that rushed feeling, that this summer is MY LAST CHANCE to do all the things I want to do.  Now I have the rest of my life...unless I decide to get another degree.  (No.  Do not let me.)

This is still true.  Part of what influenced that, I think, was that I hadn't started (okay, hadn't found) a summer position yet, and while I am very good at filling my time productively and I think I have above average time management skills, I was starting to get a little stir crazy being home all day.  While I am good at working from home and making my own schedule, I have learned that I do best with at least a little bit of structure.  I will be working from home today, incidentally, and am thrilled to have that balance of sometimes working from home but also having a flexible schedule and an office to go to.  (I also have an aversion to writing about my current work or school on my blog, always have, except in vague terms or code.  Some people can do it; it's not my style, and I'm not going to try anymore!)

The projects catch-up I started then is slightly out of date.  I was working on a secret baby project, which is now finished (but still not given to the parents; I'm afraid of it getting lost in the mail, and may try to either deliver it in person or give it to my parents if/when they come to visit.)  I had written:  I would love to work on something for myself.  I'll write a longer post about that sometime.  The second half of 2L year became a time when I could only handle easy knitting projects, because so much of my capacity to think was being directed toward other projects, and now I'd like to get my brain working on some lace or something.  Oh, every once in awhile I work on a rag rug, too, made of unwearable garments torn into strips.  It's been over a week since I finished that baby project, and I have made very little progress toward working on something for myself.  [Here is where I will deviate into territory that only my knitting readers will find interesting.  Non-knitters, scroll down.]  My summer goal is to work on the things I've been putting off, but wanted to do.  Things that will make me happy and also not involve buying anything new (other than needles/tools), things that I already own the yarn and pattern for and have had on my queue and been dreaming about making.  In 2013, I went to the Rose City Yarn Crawl and, because I was having a really shitty February, I treated myself to a lot of potential projects.  It is now 2015, and I am making slow progress on even starting those projects, but the yarn for each is in its own Ziploc bag that is LABELED with the pattern.  (Yes, I occasionally tell myself I'm allowed to change my mind and use it for something else.)  I think I've only completed two of my RCYC13 projects, both of them shawlettes.  If you are curious, here is one shawlette and another shawlette.  I was wrong, I actually completed a cardigan from my yarn crawl haul shortly after the crawl - it's here (don't mind the awkward pose - it was to show the sleeve detail but still fit in the frame.)
From my two-week old draft:
I have some sewing projects in mind, particularly a carrying case for my tiffin made out of old pant legs (but somehow in a way that it looks chic, and NOT like it is made out of pants) and lined with insulating fabric that I got months ago.  There are some embroidered gifts I'd like to make as well.  No progress on this yet, but I do have an office to which I can carry that tiffin.  Although I'm not taking MARTA, so the carrying case isn't necessary - just the insulated part (because the fridge in the office is currently not working.)

 
Sunset over Scottdale after a stormy day

Next, I started a Kitchen Projects update, but it became clear that this would become a long post.  The shorter version is that I have rediscovered a series of cookbooks that I really loved in college, about ten years ago.  In college, I was really interested in ethnic food, in going to restaurants to try new things and in learning to make things, both to replicate something from a restaurant and to make something I could only try by making at home.  It's funny how much has changed in ten years; things that weren't available at stores or restaurants then are much more common now.  If I was staying with my parents for a summer, it was much easier to find a cookbook and try to teach myself to make Vietnamese food than to go get it at a restaurant, because the Vietnamese restaurants were a long drive away.
But the cookbooks and even recipe websites (because there weren't even as many food blogs!) weren't very helpful.  It was my impression that they were giving instructions on how to make complicated stuff you would get at a restaurant, not just a regular Thai dish someone could make on a weeknight.  If I got an interesting ingredient at a grocery store, such as tamarind paste or galangal root, and tried to Google what to do with it, instead of finding simple preparation or ideas or just "tamarind goes well with ____", I was finding crazy complicated recipes that sometimes involved buying more things that were hard to find in rural Sussex County, or my least favorite--recipes nested within recipes.  Where one of the steps incorporates by reference a recipe and it's not a simple one like a five-ingredient hot sauce--no, it's some complicated thing that might involve overnight steeping or weeks of fermentation.
I'm so happy with the way things are now.  When I had a surplus of galangal (I bought large amount that was 50% off) two weeks ago, Google, as well as common sense, told me that I could just make a simple syrup out of it, which would go well with fruit and ice cream and soda water and cake.  If I were unfamiliar with how to use, say, tamarind, the Internet would now tell me that you can just use it in place of lemon or lime as a twist on a recipe.  Try it in a vinaigrette!  Try it in a smoothie!  Try adding it to a barbecue marinade!
But ten years ago, when it was not so easy, what came to my rescue were the books of Eng Tie Ang.  Sadly, they are out of print.  Ms. Ang wrote the Delightful Cookbooks series; I owned Delightful Thai Cooking and Delightful Brazilian Cooking in college, and at some point in Portland I found Delightful Tofu Cooking for practically nothing at Powell's.  I just completed the collection by getting Delightful Vietnamese Cooking and Delightful Chinese Cooking with Amazon rewards points.  The purpose of these books, which are about twenty years old, was to provide people with what someone in Thailand or Vietnam or China or Brazil would make on a normal day.  Some recipes are more complicated, weekend fare, but many recipes in the book are simple things one can throw together on a weeknight after work and school.  The recipes were designed to be somewhat healthy--with oil content cut down to what was necessary, not crazy restaurant levels.  (Although I did just make a recipe over the weekend that included deep-frying tapioca-flour-battered pieces of beef.  I had never deep fried anything before that!  A new kitchen world has opened up for me--although this may not be a good thing!)  They were also written based on what ingredients people could actually find either in a Western supermarket or mail order.  So one thing I noticed was that all of the recipes using galangal call for dried, powdered galangal.  Since the market I go to only sells fresh galangal, I've had to adapt the recipes a little bit!
I'm not sure what made me pull the book off the shelf and start looking at it again, but once I did, I found myself bookmarking many recipes to try.  As a result, we have eaten homemade Thai food at least three times a week since classes ended (because even with finals studying, I do projects like this to unwind--a thing I like about the finals period is having lots of flexible time and scheduling myself the way I want to), because I like trying these recipes and because my husband is still saying that he doesn't think he'll ever get tired of Thai food.
Since everyone I have told about these cookbooks seems interested in it, I will post later about what we've actually made, but that's a post for another time.  Tonight we are having green curry with shrimp for dinner.  A surplus of cilantro led to me making green curry paste last week, and we found Alabama shrimp (yes, semi-local seafood) at our local market for $4.99 a pound!!!!!  $4.99 a pound!!!!!
In other kitchen projects, I started some experiments with honeysuckle blossoms (inspired by the existence of Cathead honseysuckle vodka, mostly, a bunch of honeysuckle vines along the backyard fence) and I learned to make tortillas from scratch.  This was to make the breakfast tacos from Heidi Swanson's Healthy Breakfast Ideas, which were trending (was trending?) about a month ago.  Those breakfast tacos were how I got through the last part of final exams and seven days of Trial Techniques class.  When I have an update on the honeysuckle experiments, I'll post something, and if I can find a way for it to be not boring, I'll post about making tortillas.

The last thing I wrote about in my May catch-up was about the Myers-Briggs test.  I will save that for another time.


Another picture of the same stormy Scottdale sunset.

P.S. This was posted on May 31, but was written a few days earlier.  The delay was in remembering to upload some pictures. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Clafoutis Made Vegan, The Actual Recipe

One of the most common ways that people come across this blog is by searching for vegan clafoutis recipes.  Unfortunately, the four-year-old post that Google takes them to, Clafoutis Made Vegan, describes how I changed a family recipe, without including the actual recipe.  The actual recipe--not vegan--is one post earlier, as an example illustrating my Thoughts on French Cuisine.  The recipe is missing important details.  My mother provided those details in the comments.  To help out those Googlers, to save you the trouble of having to combine the text of two blog posts and some blog comments, here's my family clafoutis recipe, the original, and my vegan-ized family clafoutis recipe.

CLAFOUTI-MIMA'S
Updated
NOTE: This is not the vegan recipe.  This is the regular one, updated to include important information for some reason left out of the family recipe.  For the vegan version, scroll down past the picture of an unbaked clafoutis.


10 TBSP FLOUR
8 TBSP SUGAR
6 TBSP MILK
4 TSP OIL
2-3 EGGS
1 TBSP BAKING POWDER
VANILLA
a pinch of salt

MIX AND ADD FRUIT.  Fruit can be sour cherries (also known as "pie cherries," and purists insist you DO NOT pit the cherries), sliced pears, bananas, strawberries, or pretty much any fruit you want.)  This recipe does not tell you how much fruit to use, and for that I apologize.  As my Thoughts on French Cuisine have shown, my French family recipes are vague on important details.
COOK IN A PIE PLATE AT I don't have that. oops. 450F for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 325F and continue baking for 45min-1hour, or when cooked.  Again, this is vague, but I have provided a picture of the clafoutis cooked and uncooked, which might help.


Uncooked clafoutis.  Perhaps this will give you an idea of how much fruit to use?

Picture of cooked clafoutis goes here.

Now, the vegan version.  You only need to replace the eggs and milk.  Soy milk might have too strong of a flavor.  Almond milk is ideal, in my opinion, because almonds and cherries are closely related taxonomically and their flavors complement each other.  If you try this with soy milk or other non-dairy milk, please share the results in the comments--I'd love to know how it worked out!

CLAFOUTI-MIMA's Made Vegan by Sarah


10 TBSP FLOUR
8 TBSP SUGAR
6 TBSP ALMOND MILK
4 TSP OIL
2-3 FLAX SEED EGG REPLACEMENTS (see recipe below)
1 TBSP BAKING POWDER
VANILLA
a pinch of salt

Recipe for 2-3 Flax Seed Egg Replacements
2-3 tbsp of flax seed meal (or flax seeds, freshly ground.)
6-9 tbsp of water

Put the flax seeds in a bowl.  Slowly add the water and beat it into the flax seed meal.  Keep whisking until the mixture gets gelatinous and starts to resemble egg whites.  See (3:1 ratio of water and flax seed meal--whisked until it gets a gelatinous texture, like egg whites.  See The Post Punk Kitchen for clearer instructions.

Vegan Clafoutis Directions
Mix all ingredients, and then add fruit of your choice.  Fruit can be sour cherries (also known as "pie cherries," and purists insist you DO NOT pit the cherries), sliced pears, bananas, strawberries, or pretty much any fruit you want.)  This recipe does not tell you how much fruit to use, and for that I apologize.  As my Thoughts on French Cuisine have shown, my French family recipes are vague on important details.
COOK IN A PIE PLATE AT I don't have that. oops. 450F for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 325F and continue baking for 45min-1hour, or when cooked.  Veganizing does not change the baking instructions for this recipe.

To Make Gluten Free
Clafoutis is not like bread.  It's a pancake-like batter poured over fruit.  I have never made it gluten-free, but I imagine it would be easy, that most gluten-free flours would work.  Almond flour would certainly complement the cherries.  Teff flour would be lovely with peaches or fall fruits, and I imagine buckwheat flour, with the right fruits, would be nice, too.  I'll update this if and when I actually bake a gluten-free clafoutis.

This is what a vegan clafoutis looks like when it is baked.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Garden Crazy

At this time of year, my garden occupies a large part of my mind.  I always want to spend more time in it than I am able to, and I wonder if I would ever get tired of being out there.
I hope that this summer, by June or so, I will be able to spend less time out being in the garden just because I feel like I have to.  I hope that the work of last summer and fall and this spring will have laid some kind of foundation, that that was high startup energy that will result in just maintenance work and optional projects for the rest of the summer.  Last summer, my husband and I turned most of front lawn into plantable space.  He built three raised beds, we built a hugelkultur-style bed (experiment), and the two of us spent a great deal of time digging up the weeds and grass on the front hill so that it could instead be planted with flowers.  This was because I wanted more space to grow things from my endless garden wish list, and because both my husband and landlord (that's right, we are doing all this work and change to a rental) opined that mowing the lawn on a hill sucks.
By the end of last summer, we had a (zany) colorful paradise of sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos, one very aggressive yellow summer squash plant, and a few perennials concentrated in areas like the space around the front walk and a little border garden by the front of the house, under some hedges.  Nearly everything that was on the hills died out with the first frost, leaving our hills totally bare, susceptible to erosion, weeds, and repopulation by the lawn.  In the fall (and into the winter and almost spring, it took us so long) we mulched that hill with oak leaves shredded by our lawnmower.
Spring returned, and while our neighbors had daffodils and azaleas blooming, we had a lot of bare, golden-brown leaf-mulched hill.  And with heavy rains and wind of Atlanta springtime, leaves and mud washed down the hill and away, revealing dirt and making room for weeds.  Something had to be done.
So, this summer's project, in addition to trying to grow some vegetables in the raised beds and continuing to turn our deep shade backyard into a "woodland garden," is to get some attractive things with sturdy roots onto that hill.  I want to cover the hill with things that are beautiful and strong--plants whose roots will keep the hill from washing away; perennials to hold onto that hill all winter and return, bigger and stronger, next spring; annuals to fill in the gaps; flowers to attract pollinators and beneficial insects that will defend the vegetable garden; plants that are tough enough to live on a hill of rocky, red, clay-y, nutrient poor Atlanta soil; color to make passersby happy; and habitat to support wildlife.  I have planted (actually transplanted as well as encouraged the spread of) wild clover both for its roots' adaptability to poor soil and its nitrogen-fixing qualities, to help make the soil better for next year's plants.  I have planted a buckwheat cover crop which will theoretically do the same thing, but I've never planted it before so I don't really know what I'm doing.  It has nice white flowers, though!  I have planted flowers and herbs and even vegetables on the hill; I am testing to see what survives despite the odds.  I am happy to see that the leaf mulch has attracted worms to help aerate and fertilize the soil.  I am happy that when I dig a hole to plant something new on the hill, the first several inches of soil are brown, not red, which makes me think that even in just one season, a period of less than a full year, our work has managed to improve the soil.  Even though it is a rental, I want to leave this place neater than I found it (even when you drop out at the Brownie level, this Girl Scout lesson remains embedded in your mind).  I want to leave the soil healthier and the little outdoor space over which we have control a healthier place for wildlife and people.
Perhaps most of all, what I enjoy about my garden is hearing neighbors and strangers (because people driving through our neighborhood, sightseeing, often stop their cars to talk to me in my garden) say that seeing our garden makes them happy.  It makes me happy, but it was an unexpected reward to learn that it makes others happy, too.

Buckwheat cover crop with white flowers.

Butterfly weed aka Asclepias tuberosa, started from seed last year.  It died back completely, as did a happy yellow cultivar Asclepias in another part of the garden.  It died back to the point that there was no trace of these plants aboveground, and having never grown Asclepias before, I didn't know if they were coming back.  I was pleasantly surprised to see them return bigger than ever.  This one looks like it's getting ready to flower.  It will have orange flowers and attract monarch caterpillars and butterflies.
 One side of the front hill, with a few perennials and a lot of seeds planted.
 The other side of the front hill.  Last summer, my husband built a stone staircase and an arbor (on top of the hill, on the left, partially in the picture).  At the top of the staircase, on the right, is a lavender plant that overwintered successfully.

More pictures and specific plants planted will be in a follow-up post at some point this spring/summer.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Mid-2000's Blog Nostalgia

     Hello again, after yet another long hiatus.
     I have spent the last couple of weeks reading all of the archives of this blog. This was one of my procrastination projects (the thing you do when you just don't feel mentally ready to study for finals, when your brain shuts down the second you look at words like "hearsay" or "market definition.") The reason I read every single post on this blog from 2005 to 2014 was to make sure there was nothing objectionable or overly embarrassing on here, things I wouldn't want legal employers to read. For example, when I dreamt only of being a botanist and imagined that therefore, no one would care what I had to say on the Internet (unless it was climate change denying or that I spray glyphosate on windy days), I became very angry at one of my state representatives for his stance on marriage equality, and I wrote something rude about it on this here blog. (It's depublished now.) It was not well-reasoned or well-written, no legal argument, just rude words. A law school friend told me that the presence of this post on the Internet would not hurt me, that employers might admire my early passion for the law, but I think that would only be the case if I had made an argument and also not used rude words. So, that was hastily de-published.
     Another sort of thing I edited (so much for authenticity) and de-published were the multitude of mentions of my dating and drinking life. I kept thinking, "Why did Sarah of the mid-to-late-2000's write this?" First of all, it was no one's business. Second, it was worse than the truth! It was hyperbolic--I wasn't some lush stumbling around day drinking and tripping and laughing about it. Why was I writing these exaggerated accounts that made me look ridiculous and imprudent?
Because I was going through my chick lit phase! The blog originally started as practice for writing a semi-autobiographical semi-fictional account of early 20's life, sort of like the chick lit I read at the time, but with also a literary bent and penetrating satire like maybe I could also be a modern-day George Eliot or Jane Austen (if Maggie Tulliver had access to jello shots???? Jane Eyre on OKCupid?????) and as a result, this was the life material from which I was drawing, and it also made sense to exaggerate it for comedic effect. I was making fun of myself, and I had different concerns then.
     I left up quite a few silly posts, such as the The Dollar Word Chronicles and the time I accidentally flirted with a homeless man that I thought was my now-husband. (In my defense, he was in front of my at-the-time boyfriend's house and they had the same jacket! In my non-defense, he was going through the recycling. Well, there, now you know the whole story.)  And as much as they embarrass me now, I didn't de-publish some of the unfunny, non-narrative stuff I wrote over the years about feelings.  Whenever I was changing jobs or moving, these sorts of things would come up.  Even though they give me a bit of a shame hangover, I left them up.  Ditto for things I wrote where I can see I was trying to be funny, but now I read them and think, "What a lame person."  Other things like that, things that show my faults, but not any particular imprudence or poor decision-making.  These things I left in place, because at some point it occurred to me that I'm probably among my harsher critics.  These things that I see and think, "What a loser," might be the things that my friends see and think, these are the flaws and quirks that make this person relatable and likeable.
      This whole process felt, at times, like too much navel-gazing.  It was weirdly self-absorbed.  On the bright side, I think it helped me write some cover letters!  Remembering things like, that's right, I was always interested in ______My concern for (____ social issue) goes back a long way!  Another benefit was getting reminded of recipes I meant to try and never did as well as recipes I made years ago, loved, and forgot about (why don't I make mujadara anymore?); interesting articles that were still interesting upon rereading; and blogs I used to follow and love and stopped following with both the death of Google Reader and my law school-era switch from blogs to podcasts.
     A side note on that: at some point, probably in 2013, I stopped reading so many blogs, just completely fell behind on the blogs I'd been following some of them since college, and began listening to podcasts the way I used to read blogs.  It started because I could listen to them when I went running or walking, and then I liked them so much, the same way I liked blogs, that I began finding ways to listen to them whenever I could, like while doing chores.  At some point I realized that podcasts had completely replaced blogs in my life, and at least in the first year of law school (when even the best time managers are faced with an overwhelming time management challenge) this was just because I had less time to read blogs, or so I thought--any sitting time where I could read would be for textbooks--leaving only the time where I was doing things I must do (such as walk to class) and could not possibly read a textbook, that was the time I had for podcasts.
     One of the results of this project is that I have resolved to once again make time for blogs, my favorite kind--the literary, narrative kind, the ones with stories--and to do what I always intended to do which is go way back to the very beginning of their archives and read from start to finish!  Instead of mindlessly scrolling through Facebook in the mornings, this is what I will do!  I started today!  Would you like to know what I am reading?  Vespa Vagabond, Remember (a blog that was something else, like Domestic PDX, when I first started reading), and Orangette (a food blog, but one that tells stories.  I listen to the Spilled Milk podcast every week, and now it's time to start reading her blog again.)
     Why was I doing this?  Why did I embark on this long introspective project?  Because with two other law students, I've started a constitutional law blog.  Well, "started" is open to interpretation.  We have had a name picked out for over a year.   It came to me one day, a flash of inspiration in the first row of Classroom 1E while my Constitutional Law professor was lecturing.  I think it may have been one of the two days I said anything in class, the day I for some reason asked a statement-question as to why we have intermediate scrutiny (when in my opinion, it's subject to stereotypes being dressed up as "scientific facts of biological differences") or strict scrutiny or any scrutiny, why not equality all around, blah blah blah blah blah rant rant rant with an insincere question mark at the end?  The gender and law blog I'd had in mind for quite some time, something that would address the same issues as the feminist blogs I used to love and stopped loving, but in a different (and let's face it, possibly boring) way.  In my dream, this blog would present the facts, just the facts, or any facts that were unclear but with a statement that they were unclear, and then the law behind whatever was happening (instead of leaving it at, "this law sucks, these legislators want to control my uterus," some background in constitutional law and whatever else was applicable, explaining why and how this law was being proposed, and if it's unconstitutional, why it is, not just that it sucks because men don't have uteruses and there are too many white males in charge of us, their misogyny a rebuttable presumption but a presumption nonetheless, and also, religious people, their intolerance a rebuttable presumption but a presumption nonetheless.)  (That parenthetical is possibly more opinionated than I expect the blog to be.  But we'll see; I think my opinions will come out despite my best efforts.  I just hope to present them in a tolerant and open-minded way.)   The idea is to provide readers with information, not just opinion, and enough information to make up their own mind, not just fill them with righteous indignation.  This will give them the tools to, if they wish, do something about the issue.  I hoped to get behind the issues, to scrutinize them.  Since I intended to focus on gender issues, the name for this blog would be the standard of scrutiny applied to gender discrimination in constitutional law.  The name for this blog is Intermediate Scrutiny.
     (Another side note:  As this blog materializes, we may not be entirely limited to the application of constitutional law to gender issues.  There are three writers, and all three of us are interested in a multitude of constitutional and legal issues.  Sometimes, a narrow focus is better than being all over the place, but at this point, I don't see a reason to limit ourselves.)
     Shortly after, I excitedly announced my plans to a classmate with whom I often discussed constitutional law.  At some point, it was agreed upon that we would do this project together.  We talked about it on and off for an entire year.  It never materialized.  We were too busy!  Then one day this spring, in a different constitutional law class, I decided NOW IS THE TIME.  WE ARE MAKING THAT BLOG.  It will stop being just an idea.  It needs to be real RIGHT NOW.
     At this point, there were only two writers.  We resolved that we would tell our favorite professors, but that we would also wait until after we had some actual content on the blog.  We both broke that resolution, I believe the same afternoon that we made it.  Now that we had told our professors, we were locked in.  We had to follow through.  I set up a Blogger account.  I set up a Gmail account.  We drafted some posts.  Finally, this weekend, my husband designed our masthead and layout, and I threw up a temporary "Coming soon, we have finals" post.  The third writer joined us this weekend, too.
     Since Google no longer shows me posting as "botanylicious," but as Sarah Kelsey, and since we told our professors and others about Intermediate Scrutiny, it occurred to me that my personal blog would be linked to this account, all the dumb stuff I wrote in college and beyond linked for all my law school world to see.  That is why I went through the entries on this blog.  It seemed more likely now that someone might actually find this blog and the more imprudent posts, and not only did I not want that affecting my reputation, but I also didn't want that affecting the reputation or credibility of our new blog project!
     (It really wasn't that scandalous.  It can mostly be summed up as, "Omg, I'm 21, my friends and I went to a bar!  Someone said something silly and someone else tripped! HAHAHAHAHAHA!  Everything is funny and fun!  Someone spilled a drink!  HAHAHAHA!  There was a dog at the bar!  What was he doing there? HAHAHAHAHA!" and that little diversion where I got angry at a state representative.  Since these posts weren't even that funny, I took a "better safe than sorry" approach to de-publishing.)
     Another realization that came out of this project, in addition to how much I like reading narrative blogs, was how much I sometimes liked writing one.  There are a few golden periods in the archives, in 2010 and 2011 and a little of 2012, and many of my best posts were written while I was also overwhelmed with graduate school (not law school, an unfinished MPA program) and balancing graduate school with work and adult life.  The point is, I was busy then, too, but I made time to write, and at some point I observed that it was making me a better writer of things I had to write.  Writing "for myself," as some people call it, made writing for others easier.  I spent less time staring at blank screens while writing for school or work.  It was easier to get started, easier to find the words I needed, and easier to convey complicated ideas clearly.  What may have seemed like a self-indulgent hobby had some productive value.  So maybe I should try it again.
     I jotted down a few ideas, before starting this post (okay, okay, it was an outline), but this post has gotten long enough.  Plus, I have to study for my Evidence final.  They were "people might want to know what podcasts, so list them," "law school thoughts--the inevitable 'should I really be here?' crisis and its resolution (answer: yes)", and "green mango and green papaya."  The latter is about, along with this mid-2000's blog nostalgia, rediscovering my mid-2000's cookbook collection.  I've started making things out of an out-of-print cookbook series I discovered in college, Delightful Cookbooks by Eng Tie Ang.  If you can find cheap copies of these on Amazon, I highly recommend it, but that's a post for another time.  I won't promise "more on that later," because as I learned from reading ten years' worth of my own blogging, most of the time when I make that promise, the "more later" never materializes.  I will tell you about my first foray into cooking with green papaya and green mango later...I hope.
     And please check out our new blog, Intermediate Scrutiny!  You don't have to like con law to like it!  If you have a suggested topic for us, please send us an e-mail, or if there is a topic that you'd like us to illuminate (why is ___ constitutional issue the way it is?), e-mail us about that too!  Although we do have some ideas for post topics, I'd love to get ideas from readers as to what they really want to hear about.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Back again. And I made caviar.

It has been so long since I have written, that I get stuck trying to write a new post, torn between the kind of thing I'd write if I was writing regularly (a detailed account of a small thing in my life at the moment, or a small thing I'm remembering and think is interesting), and some kind of grand feelings-filled catch-up. A few days ago, I tried to write some kind of hybrid. It was terrible, a failure, and unfinished. I didn't want it to take up any more of my life, to finish it and then edit it, and I wanted to do some things off of the computer. It was some kind of summary of feelings and things having to do with just finishing a very busy and stressful semester (fortunately one person warned me about the first half of 2L year, that it can be more work that 1L year and that's all I'll say on that topic for now) and with a very veiled reference to current events in America, what sort of little things are making me happy. I meant to say, "For example, turkey stock!" It became a long story, with multiple nested stories, about this particular turkey, why I'm talking about a Thanksgiving weekend tradition now (we froze the turkey), how we once brought a frozen turkey carcass home to Portland from Hawaii to make stock with it, and all of the details of what we did this Thanksgiving weekend.

It might not have been a bad post, but as the first post in months, and possibly the only post for another several month!? Who is going to come here to read about turkey stock!?

And it was all to make the point that I like waking up on the morning that the turkey is still in the crock pot, and the stock is ready, and filling a mug not with coffee or tea but with turkey stock, and drinking a mug of it, sometimes two, and before starting the work that's weighing on my mind; before contemplating current events that make me sad, I have a brief moment to enjoy something small and nice in my life.

My technique to preserve sanity right now is to focus on small things and moments like that, sort of like looking at a photograph for awhile, and not contemplating what is outside of the frame, except for a memory of something similar to what is in the photograph. What a lovely cup of coffee I am drinking! And this mug, it was given to me by a dear friend. Remember that time dear friend and I had coffee together? rather than, What a lovely cup of coffee! I'm so glad it's fair trade! I hope it's fair trade, anyway. Remember the story that professor told about every drop of coffee representing a drop of peasants' blood?! My, the world is so horrible! Unfair labor practices! Environmental destruction!

Well, I can't do it--the latter. I need to take breaks, breaks that are breaks. Thinking only about the happy things in my small world, ignoring for a moment the ways in which I benefit from some injustice elsewhere, doesn't mean I don't care, that I'm ignoring it, that I'm going to forget why I went to law school in the first place (and government school before that) (and botany school before that even). I just need some calm time and space.

This is why I get so darn mad about Facebook. I wouldn't be active on Facebook at all if I hadn't moved around so much in my twenties. It's the fastest way to stay in touch with people, to see the content they want to share. My study break is seeing the new pictures my friends posted of their families, and exchanging some words with them. But this is not easy to do! I've managed to screen out what was distracting me a year ago--all the clickbait, all the news and "news" and random poorly written blog post rants. I managed to filter a lot of the sources out of my feed and just get better at recognizing them so that I didn't click on them anymore and get annoyed and distracted and waste time that I could be (as I wrote a few posts ago) reading Little Dorrit or knitting a sweater. Or doing my homework.

The first thing I did was start using Instagram instead, to share picture updates with my friends and family. Pictures of the garden, pictures of the cats, pictures of food we made, pictures of sunsets in Scottdale. (and that's pretty much my whole Instagram feed.) I'd share to Facebook from Instagram. But even then, if I wanted to respond to comments, I still have to go on Facebook and I can't find a way to get rid of that awful "Trending" tab. It's always got some bad, violent news headline! I'm not going on Facebook to consider societal problems! I want fifteen minutes to NOT think about them. I really don't want to hear about recent grisly murders! There's nothing I can do about them! Maybe I'm not that good at compartmentalizing, because seeing a headline can ruin my mood for awhile; it stays on my mind.

So, now when I want to share a moment or story with my friends and family far away, I've started to think, "But is it really worth signing onto Facebook?"

It's not.

A few days ago, I posted the following picture to Instagram:

And here's a link to it on Instagram, should you wish to see it there.

Between various forms of social media and some Googling, I tried to figure out what I was going to do with these salmon eggs. I made caviar at 5am today, and I wanted to share this information!

But was it worth going on Facebook?

NO.

And so, My Caviar Adventure. It was after I got home from the supermarket that I discovered that I had not purchased a container of salmon eggs, but rather a "skein" of them, and that before I could do anything, I had to separate the eggs from the "skein."

Something woke me up at 3:00 this morning, and at 4:30 I decided to just start my day. I made my husband's lunch, and at 5:00 thought, "Why not try to make that caviar now?"

The technique I used to separate the eggs from the skein was to put a cooling rack over a bowl and run the skeins across the wide mesh of the cooling rack, so that the eggs would fall into the bowl. "You'll break a few eggs this way," said the Internet. "You should remove all the little bits of membrane," said the Internet. Well, Internet, I broke most of the eggs, and how do I remove all those tiny bits of membrane? I don't see how I can without breaking EVERY egg!

I rinsed them with cold water, and then brined them in heavily salted water for about half an hour. I rinsed them again, hoping that would get the membrane off, and put the resulting caviar in a jar. At one point, I did take a picture of the brined eggs in the mesh strainer, a beautiful pink color, reflecting the light of the range hood like little gems.

Perhaps you can already tell from the picture what I am about to say--after all that effort, a fish-egg covered cooling rack, and all but two of my mixing bowls used and dirty--I have made about a tablespoon of caviar.

A dollar well spent!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Village and its Surroundings

Our Georgia home is in a village that seems to be both hidden and secret. On a hill, visible from my living room window, is the best supermarket in the Atlanta area. Especially on weekends, when the staff parks on our neighborhood streets, hundreds of people visit the market, yet when I tell people where I live, most have never heard of Scottdale at all, let alone the Scottdale Mill Village. Many have been to our market and even those who shop their regularly have no idea, until I tell them, that down the hill from the market is a secret historic neighborhood.

(Maybe I should stop giving away the secret!)

The neighborhood was once a company town for a cotton mill that existed from the turn of the twentieth century until the 1980's, if the information I've been given is correct. When I looked up the public record for our house, it said that the house was built in 1915, the same year as the mansion in which our Portland apartment was located. I mentioned this to a neighbor who told me no, 1915 is just when the houses got entered into the tax records, but they are much older. I think she said some were built in the 1890's! but I could be wrong. In any case, our house is about a hundred years old. The owner of the mill built the homes for employees and their families. Ours was a "three-room" house, and if you don't count the bathroom, it is three rooms--a kitchen, a living room, and a bedroom. The three-room house, my neighbor told me, was for a family of four.

Many of our neighbors were born in one of the houses in the neighborhood, although they live in different houses now. These are the neighbors who are able to tell us stories and history.

Between our neighborhood and the market is a barrier of forest. The forest was much larger until a few months ago, when seemingly overnight, it was cut down to make way for an expansion of the market. Opinion on this issue throughout the village is varied and in some cases, passionate. I am just glad that the little forest barrier we have still exists, and I hope it stays. It makes my daily walks varied and interesting. There are always new birds and flowers to see.

Besides a collection of historic homes, trees and birds, and an amazing place to buy food, our neighborhood has some less idyllic surroundings.

Our neighborhood sits between the market and a busy street, one of the main roads of the Atlanta/Decatur area. The road bends, forming a semi-circle (sort of), and our neighborhood sits in that sort-of-semi-circle. The hill keeps out most highway noise. However, very, very close, just on the other side of that main road, are train tracks, so occasionally, a train will come by with its loud, blaring horn. Near the train tracks is the steel mill, from which the smell of varnish occasionally drifts into the neighborhood, but usually, it causes no disturbance other than some strange noises. Late at night, the high-pitched mechanical noises sound like something from a science-fiction movie. HM can't hear as high of pitches or as distant of sounds as I can, and so until I met someone else who'd heard them, I questioned my sanity.

Driving to our neighborhood from the Emory area or from downtown Decatur, an industrial area is all there is to see, making the existence of a quaint neighborhood seem even more unlikely. If one were to leave downtown Decatur, for example, and head in our direction, the sights would include a lot of car repair places with old cars out front, a huge strip club, some large lots shielded by chain-link fences, some secondhand stores, more car-related businesses, some property owned by MARTA, a bus depot, and finally, the market.

On our first day in the neighborhood, HM and I went for a few walks to explore and to buy food. Most of our belongings, including cookware, were still on a moving truck, so we didn't have much to do besides walk around; this was partly also because we needed to find something to eat. In one direction we walked, with no sidewalks and mostly dirt paths very close to the road, to Kroger and to the Last Chance Thrift Store. (I think this might have been the day I found a suit there for $18!) In the other direction, we walked up the hill, most likely with a plan to go to the market. We saw a sign that piqued our interest, however. It said Scottdale Bakery Outlet. I don't think we noticed that in the lot behind the building were large Egyptian-style statues, unceremoniously stored next to some unglamorous trailers. We turned toward the small strip mall where we hoped to find a bakery outlet. In my experience growing up, a bakery outlet was a store that had stuff that food companies for some reason didn't want to or couldn't sell at regular grocery stores and the outlets would sell them for really cheap. When I was a kid, I'd get brownies and blondies and discontinued Celestial Seasonings tea at an Arnold Bakery Outlet.

We may not have noticed the Egyptian statues in the back, but as we approached the store, we noticed the Egyptian statues decorating the front of it. "Maybe it's an Egyptian bakery outlet! Maybe they'll have pita!!!!!!" I exclaimed happily.

But as we continued, the storefront facing us looked nothing like a bakery. I'm writing this from a memory that could be inaccurate, and I won't be going back to confirm these details for reasons I'll explain further down. Behind the big glass window was a velvet curtain, I think dark red or dark purple, and a paper-and-Sharpie'd sign about a bookstore, or something. The building looked closed. We may have even tried the door, so determined to find discounted pita. It was locked. As we later learned, despite the misleading bakery sign, it is actually a religious building, a meeting place or a temple or something for the Nuwaupians.

The neighborhood suits us perfectly. It is secluded, not isolated, but downtown and the law school are easily accessible. We have the benefits of being near a city, but we have a large yard that we are converting into a microfarm. Everyone is friendly, yet everyone also seems to maintain a healthy level of privacy; everyone waves at whomever they see (even contractors and strangers) on the street, but unlike in other places I've lived, no one's ever looking in or knocking on my window. The neighborhood has many impressive gardens, but the attitude is tolerant of works-in-progress, bug-eaten or weedy chaos, and gardens decorated with yard art that is made out of garbage. For example, when we tore up much of the lawn to put in raised beds with vegetables, everyone had kind things to say. No one has commented on the in-progress patches that I'm working on, and before my perennials and sunflowers started to get established, it was either bare dirt or sale papers I could barely keep covered by mulch. In progress is a post about our garden. Or probably a series of posts. I have been documenting it with pictures pretty regularly. I've also been documenting the forest barrier and how it's been changing. When I started my walks in the winter, I took a lot of pictures of sunsets. After awhile, I started capturing the land, as it was being cleared, and sometimes the construction equipment in the pictures. So now I have a purpose, to target the market expansion as it happens, especially at sunset, from the point of view of the village.

Overlap of past and present

When I was little, my family would drive to Florida about once a year. It was not until I was a teenager that I traveled by plane. A 21-hour drive, not a 2-hour flight, was my normal.

This was how I saw so much of the South. Many hours and many miles, but much of it only from I-95. Cars with different license plates, gas stations, Shoney's breakfast buffets, South of the Border billboards, and rest areas distinguished by something special in the vending machines (strawberry soda, mostly like Crush, or once, an event so special I sought to recreate it for much of the 90's--a Milkshake candy bar) or palm trees (which I might later learn were actually palmettos) planted near the Welcome sign.

Very often, we wouldn't get a hotel between New Jersey and Florida; we would drive straight through the night. My mom would sleep, my dad would drive, and sometimes, I would be awake, too, listening to music and talking with Dad. I loved the car ride, if not as much as Disney World, at least as a part of the vacation, an event without which the yearly vacation just wouldn't seem right. I loved being awake in the middle of the night, in a place I didn't live, looking out the window and staring at what seemed like thousands of stars. I felt like an explorer. And I especially loved being awake in the last hours of night and the first hours of morning, and that little bit of time in between when the sky would start to lighten and change colors.

When I began looking at and applying to law schools based on my advisor's suggestions, I noticed that many of them--Vanderbilt, Duke, UVA, and Emory, where I am now--were in the Southeast. The Southeast wasn't where I'd immediately planned the Jersey-to-Portland-to-???? path to take me, but I thought about these road trips and it seemed alright. Those road trips created most of my frame of reference for the Southeast as a place to move and live for my first year of law school and marriage; when I thought the place to which I'd be uprooting my husband, a place and possibly a region where he'd never been, I pictured Shoney's breakfast buffets, palmettos at rest areas, and misty sunrises over I-95. Even the day we drove from New Jersey to Atlanta, that image comprised much of my vision of our new life.

New images have filled my mind since we moved to Georgia. Also, here in the Piedmont*, with Appalachian geology, botany, and ecology, my surroundings more closely resemble the rural northwest New Jersey where I grew up than the Coastal Plain stretches of I-95 I saw as a kid in a car on the way to Disney World.

Over winter break, I started a routine where, if I didn't get exercise in some other way, I'd walk around my neighborhood four times. According to my smartphone, it's half a mile around, so four laps is two miles. At first I felt self-conscious about it, like people might be thinking, "Why is that woman passing our house for a fourth time?" but then I noticed that I wasn't the only person in the neighborhood walking in circles every day. Now that it's summer and it's hot and humid by 9am, I'm trying to walk in circles in the morning. Unless it's just rained, evenings are still hot and humid. One night last week, it was so hot that just the first half-mile lap made me tired! So, I try to get out before 8am. There's enough to see here that even walking the same route four times, I notice something new at every turn. It is in these early mornings that I've started to see something that reminds me my I-95 road trips in the South. Just one corner of my route looks out to the main road, and there, across the main road, by the train tracks and the traffic light, over the trucks and 7-11, is the sky, fringed with mimosa trees. The trees are now bedecked with sunrise-colored blooms. Mist hangs over the scene; the pink mimosa-colored sky and the pink sunrise-colored flowers above the trucks and the train tracks and the traffic light and the 7-11 behind a thin screen of mist are the image that merges this moment right now, the life I live today, with middle-of-the-night watching stars over the highway fade and brighten into a sunrise over I-95.

So far, I haven't been able to get a camera-phone picture to capture it successfully.


Albizia julibrissin, Persian silk tree, in the Fabaceae family, like mimosa, but apparently technically not a true mimosa.**

*Some geology, based on Wikipedia, Google searching, and what I remember from a land use planning internship in 2007: Atlanta and therefore, my home in unincorporated DeKalb County, lies in the Piedmont physiographic province, which is part of a larger Appalachian geologic something (region? I don't know the proper terminology!). Much of New Jersey also lies in the Piedmont region, but the part where I grew up lies in the Appalachian Ridge and Valley physiographic province. The parts of North Georgia where I've (so far) gone apple picking and hiking are either also in that Ridge and Valley province or they are in the Blue Ridge province. North Georgia especially feels familiar; when we are there, I am constantly exclaiming that some view from a hill looks IDENTICAL to suchandsuch in soandso place in Sussex County, NJ. Picking apples at Mercier Orchards is like picking apples at Pochuck Valley Farms, etc etc.

**I only buried this in the footnotes because it makes me a little sad; Albizia julibrissin is now classified as an invasive species in Georgia.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A cat story


sulking.

Artemisia the cat chases her tail. She catches it with her claws and teeth, and almost immediately becomes angry at whatever has made her hurt. Not understanding that it is her own face that did it, she resumes chasing that monster, her tail, with enhanced fervor. She attacks it with enthusiasm, and, shocked, she stops. She looks up, surprised at the pain, and in that time the tail monster has escaped. Artemisia regards it with renewed hatred and chases it again. She catches her tail and attacks it again, chases and attacks it again and again, with increasing savagery each time.

I intervene! I worry what will be the outcome of this series; I picture a trip to the vet, a bandaged tail, and a cone collar.

But sometimes I'm not quick enough, and I've been able to see the end of Artemisia's chase-bite-chase cycle.

Artemisia will jump up and tear across the house, bouncing off walls, running from room to room, eyes filled with terror.

Artemisia will run away from her tail.