Thursday, January 29, 2009

Look!

Update

I have been pretty stressed out lately. I mean, there are a lot of things happening right now that come with stress. As far as I can tell, this has been manifesting itself as me being tired more than usual, biting my nails a lot, and eating a lot. Especially things like chocolate. However, I don't feel unhappy right now. There are natural stressors in my life, but I am not letting them get to me completely. It's interesting because I was unhappy a lot in the fall (though I didn't write about it much), and now when I have more reason to be unhappy--or at least, things that would explain being unhappy--I feel better. I think it's because knowing what's making me unhappy makes me feel like I have more control of the situation. It's empowering in a way. Even though I fret, fret, fret about the obstacles to changing and fixing my situation, I still am thinking of possibilities.
I'm trying not to let all this talk of a bad economy get to me. The reality is that there are problems, but that it's also not the end of the world (yet.) It's not impossible to do what I want. I worry about things happening that are beyond my control--which means I shouldn't worry about them to some extent--but I worry that there's some level of preparation I should take. What do I sacrifice in order to be able to do that?
Sometimes, I feel so empowered by the possibilities there are to change my life for the better. I think about what I can do and I make a list of ways to do it. And then I get so worried about the "what if"'s that I become crippled by anxiety. I don't do the positive things--I just shut it out of my mind as much as possible and focus my attention and energy on doing something else. Or escaping by reading a book or watching DVDs.
Today I had some time to drive on 206 while it was still light out and beautiful. It was sad to see signs for a planned outlet center on what is now open space, and to see a billboard for a new retirement community. The least they could do is make the new buildings look something like the old ones--somehow fit with the character of historic North Jersey. Sometimes I think I'd be happier not going up there and visiting the places I love, so I won't be reminded of how it's changing.
I ended up in Hampton, in an area that is mostly farmland. The landscape was rolling hills--that's how I've seen it described and that is exactly what it looked like--covered in snow. The rain that fell last night had turned to ice, leaving the snow with a shiny, glassy sheen. Thin, glassy ice coated all of the trees in the woodland I drove through so that it, too, shone in the sunlight. More congested parts of New Jersey that still have nice parkland--I think those are attractive, but then I go to places like upper Sussex County and am reminded what is really beautiful. Being up there reminds me, strangely, of places I visited this summer. 206 near Stokes State Forest, with its little delis, lack of chain stores or restaurants, farm stands, motels where no one I know has ever stayed, and "Lakeside" or "Mountain" eateries - "tavern" or "pub" or "family restaurant" - reminds me of the Flathead Lake region of Montana. Except without the towering Rocky Mountains. Just the small, lumpy Appalachians. (This section, Kittatinny Mountain, is actually part of the Appalachian Mountains.) Sometimes I think I like cities, or places where you live where you can walk to anything you need (library, grocery store, train station) but when I am up here, I find myself wishing for more open space, dreaming about living in some cabin in Sandyston Township.
I wished I had hiking boots and proper clothing so that I could stop at Stokes and explore.
I thought about goals I've had, such as attempting to hike in all of the preserved open space in New Jersey (or at least Northwestern NJ). State Parks, National Parks/Recreation Areas, County Parks (of which there are none worth mentioning in Sussex County), Audubon Society Preserves, Wildlife Management Areas, etc.
Sometimes I want to go someplace that is more like Sussex County--or rather, Sussex County Plus. Some place that is more of what I love about Sussex County. But sometimes I'm afraid that if I leave, it won't be here when I come back.

Anyway, I had all these thoughts about possibilities and, as I drove through the farmland and woodland, all this energy, but as soon as I got home I wanted to sit on the couch and just crash.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Parting with stuff

I'm staying at my parents' house and whenever I go to the basement to do laundry, I contemplate things I have stored there that I could give away. I have, for example a lot of old textbooks. One of the problems with the way stupid textbook companies make a new edition each year is not only that students have to spend way too much money on textbooks, but that the rest of us are left with these books. I mean, what a waste of paper and resources. These books are full of knowledge, yet are useless to students. The only people who could use them are rare people who want to read textbooks for fun. Where do I find those people!?
It just seems like too much effort for me to set up an Amazon.com Marketplace account to sell, for $13, a book for which I once paid $170.

So I put them on BookMooch. I know it will cost a lot to ship some of these books, but I'd rather give them to someone who wants them than dump them off at a thrift store or worse, in the recycling.

Anyway, within seconds, someone requested the book I was least willing to part with--the Norton Anthology of African American Literature. In 2005, I took a class called Harlem Renaissance with Abena Busia, who is a really interesting lady. (I mean, she's on Wikipedia!) (OK, it's in German, but there's an English entry about her sister! I could have sworn there was an English entry at some point; I thought my classmates and I read it.) Anyway, it was one of my favorite classes. The kind of class where I liked the readings and also felt like I was just learning so much, like my mind was being opened up or something. It was in this class that I first heard Bessie Smith, and I still listen to her music and regularly get other people hooked on her by playing records at parties.

But I realized that I need to pare down--that book is like 3,000 pages and as much as I loved what I read from it, the chances of me sitting down some day and picking up the Norton Anthology of African American Literature for light reading are kinda slim. Especially when I have access to so much through libraries, it just seems silly to hold on to every book that I might read. I don't need to own it.

So...siiiiiiiiiiiigggggggggggghhhhhhhhhh as a big lesson is not hoarding things or holding on to things with excessive sentimentality, the first big that will be given away in my Giant Textbook Purge is my favorite, the Norton Anthology of African American Literature.

I'm also giving away the Northon Anthology of Poetry. The textbook of the first English class I ever took in college.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A PS to what I wrote this morning

On the way to work, I passed a billboard that must be fairly new--I've never noticed it before--that said, "YOU DESERVE BETTER."

Maybe that, too, is a sign.
Someone sent me the following from the Post Secret blog today, and I am linking to it here for anyone who needs a similar message:
Maybe you need this too

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Once again, Google is being a little too involved in my life.





I would like to point out that there is NOTHING in my Google Reader subscription list that has ANYTHING to do with Portland or Oregon or the Pacific Northwest. I subscribe to some food blogs (from Paris, San Francisco, Estonia, and the New York Times), Passive Aggressive Notes, No Impact Man, and Free in NYC. Has Google Reader gone from a great organizational tool to a good friend giving me life advice!? Are you trying to tell me something, Google!?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Grounds for Divorce

That is the title of a song by "Wolf Parade," which has an upbeat sound considering the title. I got a bunch of new music all at once, but the one album from that period that I listen to the most is Wolf Parade. Musically, it is my favorite. But sometimes I listen to it for nostalgia.
I got their debut album about ten days before I moved into my current apartment. It was one of those CDs you hear and fall in love with instantly--torn between hitting Back and listening to the same great songs AGAIN or going ahead to hear new ones. Songs I felt "eh" about, like Dinner Bells, quickly became just as loved as the others. The CD has everything in it that I like about music, and lyrics like "This heart's on fire" just fit with all the confusion and passion I felt at the time, for so many things. So much was happening that fits into the realm of things I don't blog about. But also, I knew even as I was listening to it, that it was dangerous to attach this music to such a transitional time period. I am bad with transitions, this one in particular. Now, I listen to this CD when I find myself thinking about or missing my old apartment and my old life. Sometimes, I find myself thinking with such intensity about one aspect of my old apartment. I find myself paralyzed by memories of what my bedroom looked like, the wall against which my record player leaned, or (this is a big one) the view outside my bedroom window. I can spend a lot of time seeing just that image in my mind's eye, without directly thinking about things that happened in that room. Somehow, these memories are more powerful than memories of friendships I had there, parties we had, etc.
It was a place I didn't expect to be transitional. It was, despite all of its flaws, more home to me than anyplace else I can think of.
As much as I want to feel at home where I am now, I don't want to get complacent and trapped. (Or boring.)
Anyway, I can listen to this Wolf Parade CD and think about days when mornings were cold, but everything else was swelteringly hot. I hear that music and I am in a car that is like an oven, driving down 287 and hoping not to hit traffic, hot air pouring through an open window, pretending I don't miss air conditioning. I am anxious and a little sad. I miss a past that is never coming back, that I didn't expect to be gone so quickly and to which I never got to say goodbye.
Other random memories flood back, everyday life events that I now associate with being incredibly happy. Driving around Franklin Township, lost, trying to find a specific store and a specific type of beer with my old roommate. Sitting in traffic on Easton Ave and complaining about it--but having a happy, loud, crowded home to go to at the end of that road. The way I'd count traffic lights on Suydam Street and the way pedestrians would randomly, dangerously dart out into traffic. After crossing French Street, after going through that dreaded traffic light where Louis Street ended, El Costeno (my favorite Mexican restaurant and nine blocks to go) on the right. The first old church on the left. The fruit delivery truck that was ALWAYS parked half-blocking my lane--eight blocks to go. Livingston Avenue--my favorite house (red, with a big, wisteria-covered porch) on the left. Crossing that and going back into a depressing part of the city--all immigrant housing and dangerous-looking, dilapidated buildings and convenience stores except....on the left! Behind a chain link fence, with an old car parked to one side and an old bathtub bizarrely parked in the middle, a surprising, beautiful garden. In June, there were strawberries. In the springtime, tulips. Tons of tulips. All throughout the garden season, flowers--many varieties and colors, scattered, as though wild and almost as though untended, among the bathtub and the car that never seemed to move. Not too far down, on the right, a community garden with signs in Spanish.
And finally, the red church with the green (like an old penny) roof came looming, giant, in sight. It was coming up on the left and then it was gone, left behind, with its playground on the left and that one final traffic light approaching and !!!!! It turned red and I'd sit, grinding my teeth, annoyed, staring at the white house--my house!--which was so close but I couldn't go there yet. The white house with the steep concrete steps (and the homemade wreath on the door) and the steep driveway.

I guess listening to this music reminds me of how I felt in high school, listening to music to which I had some emotional connection. The 24-year-old version of emo!
In other news, I may be losing my mind (or I was just really stressed out) because last week I had a nightmare about turning 25. My birthday isn't for three months. I had a nightmare in which some rather unpleasant things happened, but part of it took place during a fictional 25th birthday celebration (at the New Jersey shore...um...why would I go to the shore for my birthday in APRIL!?) in which I was worried about getting old BECAUSE I WAS 25!?!?!?!?! "Every day, I'm one day closer to thirty than I am to twenty!" Oh, please.
I think I was just stressed about other things.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Review of Newton, NJ lunchtime destinations, Part I

This week, my days have been mostly eat, sleep, and stuff I'm not allowed to talk about (aka the trial.) So, may as well write about the eating.
We can bring our lunches to jury duty, but I have not yet found a microwave we could use. Mistakenly believing we would have access to such a machine, I pre-made a bunch of delicious, filling, unfortunately microwaveable lunches. Nothing that would be so good cold. Plus, it's been so cold outside, once 12:30 rolls around, the temptation for hot food is too great. Hot food and a nice, welcoming environment in which to eat it. A place that is neither my car nor the courthouse. Serving a six-week trial, we jurors will all, I presume, become connoisseurs of the Spring Street area restaurants which serve lunch.
So far, I have eaten lunch at The Blue Iris Cafe three (or was it four?) times. I have eaten at JC's (formerly the Spring House) once, and today, I ate alone at Cheddar Alley. I have yet to try Hayek's (which is like a fixture--it has been in Newton for as long as I can remember and somehow, after being a Sussex County resident for 24 years, I have failed to go there once), Croutons Cafe, Narin Thai, a Chinese place whose name I forgot, and a Mexican place further down the street. I'd have to drive, but there's also a kebab place on Route 206.
These lunches out are not helping with my 2009 goal of cutting out most non-essential, non-sustainable meat. Sigh. I find it difficult to get vegetarian meals that are also filling, unless I make them myself. What I mean is, I don't feel that most vegetarian food that I get when I'm out has the right (if any) protein! I also think that being back in Sussex County, for some reason, is making me want all-American food like hamburgers. I wonder what that's about.

Also, there is great shopping on Spring Street. Newton just has such charm. It always had good qualities, but right now (despite the many empty storefronts and For Rent signs) seems to be a high point. It has a lot to offer tourists without selling out. It's gotten more diverse without losing its culture. When I am looking out one of the large courthouse windows from an upper floor, I see a variety of shapes and sizes and colors in the roofs--it seems like most of Newton is historic buildings. If the buildings are new, they were built in the style of the rest of the town, which is how historic towns should be, I think. (Unlike my hometown of Sparta, for example.)

So far, my impression of the area is that it's growing with the times, but not losing its history. I am thrilled. I am pleasantly surprised to find that the narrow-minded and, to be frank, racist, sexist, homophobic, and just about any other kind of prejudiced you can think of, attitudes that, in my sixteen-year-old eyes, overwhelmed the place back in the early 2000's, all seem to be gone. Was it always this way and I just didn't see it?

Anyway, going "home" has reminded me of things I've missed and things I want in my life. The first day I arrived at the Newton courthouse and spent a two-hour lunch break wandering about the town, all of its rural, small-town qualities brought to my mind overwhelming nostalgia not just for the area in which I grew up, but for places I had seen this summer on my road trip. I thought of rural, relaxed, wonderful places I had seen down South and out West. I missed them terribly.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Recipe reviews

Well, all the stuff that's going on in my life right now is stuff I can't write about on the Internet, so here is the first of what will probably be many boring posts about cooking, computers, and knitting.
lentilalmondstirfry.jpg
This looked a lot better in real life. Note the mason jar in the top left corner, which contains "cherry vinegar."

A week ago I listed three recipes I wanted to try.
Lentil Almond Stir-Fry from 101cookbooks.com - This was a recipe that sounded intriguing, with a mix of things I'd never think to try together but sounded like they would, nonetheless, go together. Lentils and dates!? Brussel sprouts and dates!? With mint dressing and yogurt!? Also, I had all the stuff to make this aside from Brussel sprouts! Rather, I had stuff that was close enough. I made a lot of substitutions, but I think they were all pretty minor.
New potatoes: I have a ton of potatoes and did not feel the need to go out and buy more. I chopped up some regular purple potatoes small, and added a little water to the pan when they were cooking.
Fresh mint: I hate buying mint this time of year, when I have an overabundance of it in the summer. Finally, I dried it this year. Unfortunately, I forgot to separate a bunch of mint and lemon balm. Since lemon juice goes into the dressing, I used the lemon balmy mint bunch. I used 1/3 cup. This was too much mint. I also tried crinkling it with my hands instead of using a food processor. Next time I will use a food processor.
Serrano chili pepper - 1 or 2 crushed dried bird's eye chili peppers
Greek yogurt - Stonyfield farms yogurt, with 2 tbsp water stirred in
Anyway, it was great. I meant to just try a little bit, and put the rest away to eat throughout the week, but I kept taking pieces of it. Lentils are like my secret weapon in the winter--they are filling, they warm you up, they are inexpensive, and they are low fat. It's a way to keep off winter weight, have energy, and save money. So I'm always looking for new ways to cook them. This will probably be a winter staple in Sarah's kitchen.
saffroncauliflower.jpg
Un-photogenic cauliflower in the oven

Saffron Roasted Cauliflower from ChocolateandZucchini.com- Yum. I don't have sherry vinegar yet, and every time a recipe calls for sherry vinegar I use "cherry vinegar." As though the fact that they rhyme makes them similar. Awhile ago, I pickled some cherries in cheapo white vinegar. Even after the cherries were gone, I saved the mason jar of vinegar (and even moved it from New Brunswick to my new apartment!) and use it in place of red wine, apple cider, or sherry vinegar.
I'm sure you could make this without expensive saffron or any special kind of vinegar. The point is, Clotilde is right--winter vegetables like cauliflower really are great roasted. Oh, and every time I roast vegetables, I tend to use WAY more liquid. I followed the recipe and my vegetables came out fine, despite my anxieties that they would be too dry.


pomegranate pasta.jpg

Forbidden Love Pasta - This I just had to try, because the mix of ingredients sounded so unusual (pomegranate, squash, and chipotle!?) and because I did have an acorn squash to use up and half a pomegranate.
So, I only halved this recipe. As far as substitutions go, I didn't have chipotle con adobo or walnuts. In place of walnuts, I used half almonds and half pecans. In place of chipotle con adobo, I used 3 dried chipotles, smacked around in a mortar and pestle, half of which I mixed with the nuts, and half of which I added to the sauce, with some roasted tomatoes I was trying to use up and a splash of that cherry vinegar. (This was my "adobo sauce.") Oh, and cheap Swiss cheese was used in place of Gruyere.
Conclusions: Wow! Squash with chipotle and pomegranate is a great combination! Who knew! My fake adobo sauce worked out well, too.
More importantly, toasted pepitas, or any nuts for that matter, with crushed dried chipotle, would be a great, easy party snack.
mess.jpg
My messy kitchen

In other news, I still love Linux. I figured out how to set everything up that I need, just about. The Internet works. My SD card reader works. Hulu.com works. (Therefore, Flash works.) It works with my iPod. It plays MP3s and M4A's and now, with SoundConverter, I can rip CDs and put them in a format that my iPod will play. Encrypted DVDs will now play. Everything I use my computer for now works. Next, I'm going to try to set up my printer/scanner combination with it. If it doesn't work, well, I barely used it anyway, but if it does, great! Also, I learned how to customize the computer, and now the desktop looks pretty, there are useful icons on the top panel, and I have become obsessed with Sticky Notes. I got some great plugins for Firefox. Ok, this nerdiness has got to stop.

Tomorrow I'm going to Stitch and Bitch for what might be the last time until jury duty is over. I'm working on Annie Modessitt's Backyard Leaves and pretending to work on the Nereid fingerless gloves. These will probably become known as my Courthouse Projects. (Yes, we can bring knitting into the courthouse. Hooray.)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Local government

I have jury duty for at least a month. I started writing some things about what's new in my life, but I am going to go back and edit it later to make sure there's nothing in there that could faintly be considered something I'm not allowed to write about while the case is going on.

So, that's it. I may have a lot of free time to read and write for the next few weeks. Also, don't talk to me about any local news stories or judges or trials or things that are against the law or ANYTHING, please. :) World news is OK to talk about. I am still allowed to listen to NPR and read the Times. And watch The Daily Show.

I wonder if we will get a break to watch the inauguration...

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Recipe file

That is a dumb title. Wow, I bet that really caught your attention!
Now that holiday madness is over, I can finally start cooking for myself. At most, for a few select (as in, as many people will fit in my tiny apartment) guests. A year ago, some friends and I had Wednesday Night Dinners, which I sometimes called Women in Science Dinners as all four of us happened to be lady scientists. For those dinners, since they happened with such frequency, we could just heat up some leftovers or try out a new, unusual yet unimpressive recipe (such as Egg Lemon soup or lentils with dried apricot). Things I'm not sure if I would make for a Grown Up Dinner Party. I mean, lentil and apricot soup is tasty, but maybe too weird for most guests and also, it's not exactly pretty. In fact, is lentil anything dinner party appropriate?
Anyway, I may as well use this as a space to file and comment on recipes I try. Assuming I don't have to go to Sussex County this week, I can pick up where I left off in late November with my weekly to do lists (Wednesday is sort-through-papers-day; Thursday is go-through-and-organize-closet-day) and recipes. I have ingredients sitting around, hopefully still good, for things I wanted to make in November. I have pomegranates, acorn squash, tons of potatoes, different types of nuts, and my usual stash of dried legumes.
The one thing I like about the seasonal food trend is that whereas I used to find eye-catching recipes and have to run out and buy a million things to try them, now it's like me and the bloggers are all in sync and what they are making includes things I happen to have. Or can easily pick up at the produce market on my way home.
Another 2009 resolution was to continue cooking with seasonal foods and eating healthy. As far as eating healthier/eco-friendlier, I'm going to try to be more aggressive with cutting non-free-range-organic-whatever meat and eggs out of my diet. And no unsustainable seafood!

If I have a normal schedule this week, here are the things I plan on trying:
Pasta with Acorn Squash, Pomegranate, and a million other things

Lentil Almond Stir Fry

I promise my next post will be more interesting!