Monday, January 31, 2011

On travel and writing about travel

Writing about the Canada trip is something I've planned to do since it happened. I think it's finally happening now because, while I'm not planning another cross-country move (no, I'm quite content in my beautiful new apartment!) I have that itch to travel, not necessarily for a long time or far away. Just to get out of town. That should be in all caps: GET OUT OF TOWN. So, in an echo of ten months ago, I'm going to Cannon Beach. Just for one day and one night.

A break from Canada

Ralph Waldo Emerson writes, in Self-Reliance, the following words on travel:

Travelling is a fool's paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go.

I often think about this, the "giant" in particular. I think about this with respect to my own travels and especially to my own cross-country move.

To keep this brief, I'll just say that I have found benefits to travel and to the move, as far as regaining (or not regaining, but initially acquiring, so, "gaining") perspective that I would simply not have gotten if I'd stayed in one place. But after a point, I'd agree with Emerson, that you can't escape your "giant."

A physical escape doesn't bring with it a complete mental escape. Your giant follows you because you are still you. However, I'd argue that a change of scenery could help you confront that giant and learn more about it. Bringing your giant to a new place with a new culture is a way to introduce your giant to different people and norms and see how it reacts. Leaving your home is also a way for you and your giant to leave the people that construct your everyday life and the expectations for who you should be and what you should do. It forces you and your giant to spend some time alone together, get to know each other, and learn how to work together. (Ideally, at least.)

---

When I went back to NJ for Christmas and came back to Portland a month ago, I was feeling a little down about some things that are different about the two places. As much as I love some of the differences, there are others that I don't like and there are things I miss. When I made the decision to move out of NJ and chose Portland, it was partially because I felt I didn't fit in; I felt like an alien and I felt like the things that made me an alien in NJ would be better accepted in Portland. I didn't want to (and didn't expect to) find a place where everyone was like me, but I hoped to find a place where it was easier to live like I wanted to and where I wouldn't be an oddball.

What I've found is that in some ways, I still am an oddball, and surprise surprise, it's for reasons I was totally normal in NJ. A month ago, this was really getting to me, much more than it is today. I never expected to find a place where I'd 100% "fit in,"
where everyone would like me and agree with me and where I'd never feel out of place, but I did find myself wondering which sort of alien was worse to be. Was it better to be in a place where my hobbies were considered weird, or in a place where my personality is considered weird?

At some point in all of this thinking a month ago, I concluded that the realization that I am an alien in either place (and really, who isn't? who really fits in anywhere?) could actually be liberating. You see, if I am going to be an oddball no matter what, then I have the freedom to be an oddball. I have the freedom to opt out of trying to fit in, to opt out of caring, and to be me, whoever I want that to be. And that also means I can go wherever I want to go.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Canadian Adventure, Part 0: The Reasons I Went Crazy and Drove to Another Country On a Whim

It was Wednesday, February 11, 2008. I had been on jury duty for more than a month, which means that for nearly a month, I was banned from telling people the details of my day, worrying about slipping up and accidentally telling someone about my day, and under pressure from the job where some people were making their displeasure with me and my absence very clear. Every day that I was in court, a juror on this case (that was the first article that came up in a Google search), I felt like a spectator in someone else's life. My own life was on hold, since I wasn't going to work and I was staying at my parents' house instead of my own apartment. At this time, the ideas that turned into a move to Oregon were starting to form in my head. Discontent with most aspects of my life was beginning to grow, but daily it would get hidden behind my blank face as I sat in the courtroom, watching the events of someone else's life unfold. I constantly thought of the situation as bizarre, like I was watching a movie that was real, a novel being acted out, like my life and the lives of the other seven jurors didn't matter to anyone else in the room-- we mattered to everyone there, but the events of our lives did not. Those were things we had put on hold. Even personal relationships that we'd go home to were altered, since we couldn't talk about what we'd done that day and we certainly couldn't reveal how we felt about it. The whole experience was pretty surreal.

On February 11th, the time when we'd stop being spectators of these people's lives and be asked to intervene, to judge, to make a statement that had the potential to change their lives, was approaching. Both the plaintiff and the defendant were seeking validation. Even though we weren't sending anyone to jail, it felt like a big deal to those of us who'd been sitting there, an audience to the distress of both of them. The defendant's career probably depended on our judgment; on the other hand, though the plaintiff's life and career might not be altered by our judgment, her peace of mind might. She'd been accused of dishonesty, daydreaming, and delusion, and our judgment would either validate those claims or hers.

So, by February 11th, I was going a little nuts. When the judge dismissed us that day, he announced that Thursday and Monday were government holidays, so there'd be no trial, and that Friday there was something else happening, so we wouldn't return to the courthouse until the following Tuesday. (Frequently, there was something happening on Friday so that we had no court.) I didn't have to work on government holidays; mine were the same as the court's, and since I'd worked on the weekend, I didn't have to go in on Friday or I'd be working overtime. So, I suddenly found myself with a five day weekend.

Where would I go? It was the dead of a Northeast winter. I checked the forecast for any snowstorms that could make driving dangerous. None. Could I take a train anywhere and have enough time to enjoy the place before turning around and coming back to New Jersey? I studied Amtrak's website. I studied HI-USA's listings of cheap hostels. All of the trains had left or would be leaving soon from New York, so I'd have to wait until the following night to go anywhere and oh! those trains were already full. Other people were taking advantage of the holiday weekend. Wednesday's sun had set, so the chance to get a head start on travel was gone.

I could have returned to my apartment, started a big therapeutic cleaning project, pre-packed a little for the out-of-state move I was dreaming of making, applied for some jobs, visited my friends, worked on craft projects, cooked in my kitchen, rented some movies--all of the homebody things I liked. But I needed a break from the things I liked to do. I wanted to go away, as far as possible!

If I drove nine hours, I could get to Quebec City. Montreal was six hours away. Trois Rivieres, a small, old city I'd never heard of until I found the hostel listing for it from HI-USA (well, I guess Canada, not USA), was halfway between them. It sounded beautiful and interesting, full of history, and it sounded quiet, like a good place to retreat to. Also, parking was reported to be free and easy to find, which was not the case for Montreal and Quebec City. (Perhaps too many of my life's decisions are based on ease of finding a parking spot.)

My college roommate, JS, was a graduate student at Williams College in Williamstown, MA, and when she heard of my traveling plans, she invited me her home for at least the first two days. I invited her to continue with me to Canada; Montreal was only three hours from her house. We could leave in the morning, explore until dinnertime, and get home without having to go to bed late! I believe at this point, she didn't say no or yes.

So, on Thursday, February 12th, I set out for my journey north. I stopped at my apartment to grab some travel essentials, or at least that's what I said. In truth, I was looking for my passport. I don't remember why exactly, and it's probably really boring, but I have this image of my apartment being a disastrous mess that day. I imagine myself wading through piles of STUFF looking for that passport. I told myself that if I could find my passport by noon, then it was meant to be. At noon, I would stop looking and just go to Massachusetts; maybe I'd come home from there or maybe I'd go to Vermont, where I knew there was an inexpensive youth hostel, and explore New England some more.

I found my passport in a pretty normal place - my desk, where it belonged. Before I left, I checked my e-mail and found that a job I'd applied to in Portland had been filled before I'd even sent in my application; they'd just forgotten to take down the announcement. With this news on my mind, I got in the car and onto I-287 northbound.

I Tawk Funny/Becoming Oregonian

I have notes and drafts of posts that have never really grown up, about things that stood out to me about living out here/the culture out here that are different from what I'm used to. One of them is about the vocabulary people use here that was new to me, some of which I find quaint, some of which I find silly, and some of which has found its way into my speech. "I Tawk Funny" refers to my accent, and the fact that the word "talk" itself is one of the things I say in a way that entertains everyone out here.

Anyway.

So, last night, I made my first ever Left On Red. Making a left turn against a red light is so novel to me that Left On Red needs to be capitalized, all of it perhaps, like LEFT ON RED. LEFT ON RED is definitely how I saw it until last night; once I'd done it, I felt so free, and also like I'd done something a little dangerous and bad, so now it's just Left On Red and perhaps when I've lived here and driven here long enough, it will become left on red, just like right on red.

You see, in Oregon, it's legal to turn left when there's a red light (and no one coming, of course) if you're turning onto a one-way street. I'd sat through long lights at empty intersections in the middle of the night just because it felt too strange to me to make a turn. I've lived here almost two years, and I still sometimes think, "HEY!" when I see someone make a Left On Red. I think, "Why did they RUN THAT LIGHT?"

This morning, I made my second Left On Red.

It's kind of exciting, and life is nice when little things feel exciting, fun, beautiful, or interesting.

Also, some Oregonian words and phrases are creeping into my dialect. "Freeway" and referring to interstates as "The [Number, such as 5 or 84]" moved into my speech nearly a year ago; they've been living there ever since and show no signs of terminating their lease.

Something I read about in my Let's Go book on my road trip, before even arriving in Oregon, is that instead of putting your groceries in a "bag," like we do in NJ, Oregonians put their groceries in a "sack." If you go to a very long meeting that stretches over the middle of the day, or if you go on a bus trip, you may be told to bring a "sack lunch," which is the same thing as the "brown bag lunch" people bring to meetings, bus trips, work, and school, in New Jersey.

On long days like today, on which I have an eight-hour weekend intensive class (with a 45-minute lunch break), I have found myself calling the sandwiches or grain salads I'm bringing with me "sack lunch."

Friday, January 28, 2011

Coming soon...

I'm on break from class right now (not only is it a Friday night class, but it's also ALL DAY Saturday) and probably will not get to post later, as when I get home it will be night and at night is when the Internet tends to go out.

This month in which I've pledged to post every day is almost over. I don't know if I'll keep it up in February, but it's at least gotten me in the habit of writing here when I have something to say or a story to tell.

I think the next thing I should tell you all about is the trip to Quebec I took two years ago. This will give me motivation to organize the pictures, divided between digital and film.

Class is starting! Bye!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Never say "no drama" - Part Two

(Because the Internet is working again. For now at least.)

Picking up where I left off yesterday:

The time that the oven was preheating to bake the khachapuri seemed like an appropriate time to use the oven's heat to reheat the chakhohbili. It had been made in a large, red, enameled cast iron Lodge Logic Dutch oven. Laden with chicken and tomato-wine sauce and rice, it was quite heavy. I pulled it out of the fridge without incident and placed it on the oven rack, which I had slid out of the oven and toward me only about an inch. That inch was enough. Without the full support of the oven's walls, the rack could not support the heavy, chicken-laden Dutch oven for long. When I turned around to attend to something else, probably to change the song on my music player, I heard a CRASH!!!!!!

When I turned back to the oven, the following sight greeted me.

From Big-Haired Jersey Girl

What do you mean, "What is that?"

Clearly, that's the rack in my oven tipped over, with the bottom of my red Dutch oven facing me and the lid pushed off. As in the picture, in real life, the chicken and rice and their whereabouts were hidden by the pot and the lid and the rack. Cautiously, I approached the oven, oven mitts at the ready, and with relief saw that most of our dinner remained in the pot; only a few chunks of rice and chicken stew had fallen onto the oven. We still had dinner and I didn't have a mess to clean up. At this point, I'd had an evening full of things falling off of shelves and things spilling, so I just laughed. I moved the Dutch oven to the stovetop, a wiser place to reheat dinner.

I put the khachapuri in the oven. All looked as it should; everything was steady and everything was heating, but not burning. After a few minutes, however, I heard another CRASH! from within the oven.

What could that possibly be?! I thought. Cautiously, I opened the oven. The following sight greeted me.

From Big-Haired Jersey Girl

Not much amiss there. I puzzled over the source of the loud noise. The chicken stew was calmly seated on the stovetop, warming. The khachapuri was turning golden brown in the oven. It had not shifted from its pan, and the rack seemed to be holding still. Then I noticed the object sitting on the bottom of the oven. My oven thermometer, my stupid stupid oven thermometer, which is designed to be so top-heavy it won't sit steadily on a shelf but the hook for hanging it on racks is angled so that it doesn't easily hang in place, had fallen and crashed, landing face first on the bottom of the oven. Its glass face had cracked. The metal hook of the thermometer is made of the kind of metal that doesn't stay hot, so that even if it's been in a hot oven, you can grab it to move it without wearing mitts and without burning your hand. I assumed this was the case for the bottom of the thermometer.

It was not.

And that was how, ten minutes later, when my boyfriend arrived at my apartment for dinner, I greeted him at the door looking like this:

From Big-Haired Jersey Girl

I burned the tips of my right thumb and forefinger so badly that I had to keep my hand wrapped around an icepack the entire night. After that happened, I decided I deserved lots and lots of wine.

The khachapuri, I'm happy to report, looked like this:

From Drop Box

Filled with delicious melty cheese!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Never say "no drama" - the Kitchen Kalamity

Something on Sunday, I don't know exactly what, made me look up the Georgian recipe section on Nami-Nami, an Estonian (English language) food blog I follow on Google Reader. The recipes that Pille posts on her blog are either things I completely love or things I will never in a million years make. I like that she highlights cuisines that I don't find mentioned much elsewhere, at least not in English, such as Georgian, Finnish, and Estonian.

I could go on and on about how ever since I read somewhere (I can't even remember where) when I was in high school, how complex and interesting and amazing Georgian food is, I've wanted to try it. There was a Georgian restaurant in Warwick, NY, which was in another state but actually not far from where I lived. But every time I tried to call them to find out when they were open or to make a reservation (because you don't want to leave the state only to find a "CLOSED" sign) I would get nothing but ringing, and then a disconnected number, and then I concluded that the restaurant must have closed.

So I would make my own Georgian food, and whenever I found a Georgian recipe, just one in a large cookbook or one every now and then on the Internet, I'd file it away, but it was always something very complicated that I'd have to really think about making. Georgian food seems to involve ingredients I might readily have combined in ways I'm not used to (for example, it's not unusual that I'd have cilantro and tarragon, but I don't usually put them together. The same goes for pomegranate and walnuts, which seems to be a common theme in Georgian recipes.) All of the recipes I've found don't seem to be a regular Georgian person's weeknight recipe, but rather a very complicated, time-intensive meal fit for special occasions.

Between Pille and the book Please to the Table and moving to a city with a large population of former-USSR-immigrants, this has changed slightly.

So, somehow I ended up with a pound of suluguni, a mozzarella-ish cheese that Pille insists is worth finding to make khachapuri, a Georgian cheese bread. And somehow, this Sunday seemed like the day to use that suluguni. And while I was at it, why not make the chicken recipe that was recommended to serve with khachapuri? Of course! Why not make chakhohbili, something I don't even know how to pronounce?

Trying to make too many things at once turned into some kitchen near-disasters that aren't interesting enough to write about. This is why, on Monday night, when I invited my boyfriend to dinner, I had to add a text message reassurance that, since I was just reheating chicken stew I'd made the night before (in the same pot it was refrigerated in and going to be served in) and just going to bake bread that was already made, layered with suluguni cheese, and on a parchment-lined pan, "Dinner is already made so there will be no dishes and no drama."

Famous last words.

The time that the oven was preheating to bake the khachapuri seemed like an appropriate time to use the oven's heat to reheat the chakhohbili. It had been made in a large, red, enameled cast iron Lodge Logic Dutch oven. Laden with chicken and tomato-wine sauce and rice, it was quite heavy. I pulled it out of the fridge without incident and placed it on the oven rack, which I had slid out of the oven and toward me only about an inch. That inch was enough. Without the full support of the oven's walls, the rack could not support the heavy, chicken-laden Dutch oven for long. When I turned around to attend to something else, probably to change the song on my music player, I heard a CRASH!!!!!!

When I turned back to the oven, the following sight greeted me.

And that is where I have to leave you, because my stupid Internet is now being too slow for me to upload pictures to Blogger! Until tomorrow!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Kitchen Kalamities

My kitchen kalamities from the past two nights are a good representation of my life right now. Things that should work keep falling victim to a slight mishap, like something falling off a shelf and knocking everything over in a chain reaction of breakage and mess and ruined meals. Nothing important gets damaged beyond repair, and at the end there's still something to eat for dinner and bring to work for lunch the next day. But it takes a lot of time, more time than I'd budgeted for. That is why you are not getting a full post today, unless I write when I'm taking breaks from my homework. My life is like my kitchen - functioning, but a little messy, working, but not the way I'd planned, messy in ways that don't matter and still cheerful.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Never say never, nor "no drama'

I am typing q\with my lwft hand only because I have bruned my eright hand too badly trying to make dinner. Rea story vcoming soon, when my hand stops hutrting.

It is about more kitchen kalamities, which occurred right after I assured my boyfriend thT IT was safe to come over for dinner tonight because I was just reheating something I made last night and sticking a loaf of bread in the oven. Famous last words,. He is not part of the kalamity. he is not here yet and doesn't know about any of it.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Reflecting

Most of my posts this past week had to do with food. I looked back at the previous week and saw that this was not the case. Maybe you don't mind, but I was a little relieved to find that I don't always write about food. I wonder why the weeks were so different.

I like cooking, thinking about cooking, reading cookbooks, and going to new restaurants. This is news to no one. I like to do this not because of the simple reason that food tastes good, but because of two other interests of mine - creating things and learning about new ways of thinking. I could have said, "learning about new cultures," but I see it as a way to learn about different individuals, not just new cultures. Different people have different ways of chopping, measuring, and substituting ingredients.

As for the "creative" aspect, well, I've always like creative things. Since I was little, I've jumped around to different creative fixations. When I was really young, before I realized that my drawings were terrible, I wanted to be an artist. What I wanted to be when I grew up was someone who traveled the world painting, and I'd finance my travels by selling art. I think I was eight when I said this. My pragmatic parents had no trouble telling me that artists usually don't make enough money selling paintings to finance world travel, that not everyone would like my art (since art is a matter of taste), and besides, my drawings usually inspired...well, not in the traditional sense of the word "inspiration." They inspired questions. In particular, one question - "Sarah, what is that?

This advice didn't squash my dreams. I focused my energies on other creative pursuits. The one that lasts the longest and that I most often return to is writing. I was probably in high school or college when I decided that I most certainly did not want a career as a writer, at least not exclusively. I wanted to do something else and write, either as part of that something else, or write things on the side. For example, while I was a doctor or scientist, I could also gather experience for my semi-autobiographical novel, The Sidekick's Guide to Suburban Survival. Or maybe I'd write nature poetry. Maybe these lives would be totally separate; I'd publish under a pen name and not tell anyone from either life who I also was, besides the Sarah they knew.

I'm not sure when I decided that writing was something I just wanted to do for fun, that I might never try to get published, but I would keep writing because I liked it. I think it was when I was taking creative writing classes in college, taught by career writers who included lectures on the publication process and the trials and tribulations of a published writer. To some people, it's worth it to be able to do what you love full time. For me, well, I like too many things to want to struggle to write full time. Lucky me.

Anyway, cooking has become a creative outlet for me, and sometimes it is my only creative outlet. This is when you might find me a little...let's be honest...obsessive about it. Reading cookbooks, reading food blogs, reorganizing my pantry, and spending hours cooking. Spending several weeknights making what most people consider "weekend" recipes. Trying to find creative ways to repurpose the leftovers. Having so many leftovers that I am begging friends to take them.

I find myself turning to this creative outlet so much because it has an element of utility. Everyone needs to eat. Everyone does not need to look at photographs of plants; everyone does not need personalized ribbon-embroidered linens. Sometimes, it's a function of stress, a way to escape just like re-reading Anne of Green Gables. In normal weeks, there's no unhealthy stress as a factor; it's just a way to be creative that I can justify spending time on; I'll do weekend cooking on some weeknights because it's fun for me and at the end, people get fed.

Weeks like this past one, where there is an awful lot of food-related blogging going on, are either stressful weeks, weeks where something is happening that I can't write about, or weeks when the rest of my life is too commonplace and boring to write about. My walks this week (on good days, a mile and a half running morning errands) have been beautiful, relaxing, and inspiring, but I don't see much to write about. I've been wearing my dream hat on these walks (the dream hat is a dream for bad hair days) and it's been great, but without a good picture, my dream hat isn't something to devote a whole blog post to. The weather has been uncharacteristically nice for January in Portland, and I'm too busy out enjoying it to write very much about it. When it's cloudy, I sit down, and all I can think of is a blur of sunshine and happiness, nothing specific to write about.

Hmm, this post went in a different direction from what I thought it would take. Well, I'm going to leave it unedited and hit "Publish" now. Sundays have been designated, "Clean, Cook, Relax and Reorganize, Catch Up On Homework" Days, so now it's time to sweep the floor. I read a good line in this blog a few days ago: "Cleaning is a reward saved for the weekend." There are plenty of times where I'd retort, "A clean house is a sign of a wasted life!", but some days, like today, I agree wholeheartedly!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Whoops!

I know that masthead is blurry. But I was so sick of that other one, with my GIANT FACE, that I don't even want to change it back. I will fix the blur sometime this week!

Magical

From Drop Box

We had a rare sunny January day in Portland today. The witch hazel trees planted along the Winter Interest trail at Leach Botanical Garden in SE were giving their all, a firework show of red, yellow, and a mix of the two (which I think is a representative of my favorite cultivar, 'Diane.' I used to tell a story about 'Diane' when I gave tours at the last place I worked in New Jersey.)

The most magical moment of the day was coming down Still Hill at the garden and noticing some tall Mahonia in full bloom being visited by two green hummingbirds. They went about their business for several minutes, not as though they didn't see the humans watching them, but more like they could have cared less. We soon became aware that there were more than two hummingbirds. There were more than I could count and, I'm sure, more than I saw. I think I saw about a dozen. They were in all of the blooming trees. They were perched on leafless, flowerless trees taking a break. They were zipping through the air, not far from my face, so I could hear loud and clear the sound of their wings, like a buzz and a flap at the same time. Their movement was like a dance in the air surrounding me, and I felt like I understood where people got the idea that fairies exist.

Unfortunately, such magic happens whether or not anyone has a camera. Fortunately, my cell phone didn't do such a bad job.

From Drop Box

Do you see the hummingbird? He/she is flying by the flowers of the large plant with leaves that look somewhat like holly leaves. (That is Oregon grape, our state flower!)

From Drop Box

Now do you see the hummingbird? Now picture a dozen of these flying and visiting flowers and perching on trees all around you.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A side note

It just occurred to me that all I've written about school so far is that a professor runs class too late and that I felt overwhelmed and dropped down to 6 credits. I've forgotten to write that I got a good grade on my first paper and that, even though I do find the new-to-me vocabulary and discourse overwhelming, I'm excited about the program and the things I will become competent in. I see the parallels between what I'm studying and what I do at work (and have done at work since graduating college). I'm excited at having some academic relationship with it, excited to understand it better. As much as the system, both government and nonprofit, seems flawed to me, I'm fascinated by it and can't wait to learn how to work within it to get things done!

(It's a Homework Friday.)

Answering and Asking Questions

I lost a little bit of steam yesterday when I realized I had caught the bug that seems to be going around among at least some of my acquaintances here in Portland. For me at least, it was the kind of bug where, if I'd been sitting still for a long time, I thought I was fine, but as soon as I tried to do anything, I'd feel sick. I hate those kind of bugs because I always feel really lazy. Anyway, today I haven't felt sick at all, so perhaps all the indolence and napping of yesterday fixed it.

I've been meaning to answer the questions people ask in the comments on the blog itself, on the Google Buzz feed, and on Facebook (in response to a blog post.)

Brittany asked about the Yancey's Fancy wasabi cheddar. It is very good, so good that I seek it out in New Jersey and stuff it in my suitcase. Since I started writing this, however, I found out that Market of Choice supposedly carries it. I think the closest Market of Choice is in Lake Oswego, so I guess the next time I find myself at Tryon Creek or...I don't know what would take me to Lake Oswego...I'll have to make a stop.

But then! At QFC (which, for some reason, I always drove past but never stopped in) I found (in addition to ten pounds of potatoes for $1.68!!!!) Yancey's Fancy! The Wasabi Cheddar I've written about, in addition to one I'd never heard of before (so it had to be bought!), Smoked Bacon and Horseradish Cheddar. Hmm. Their website is here; the Recipes section in particular is interesting. It seems to be "melt cheese and put it on stuff!" for the most part.

There was a question about my shade and cold tolerant herbs. Now, I'm not 100% sure these herbs will survive. In the summer, I got a stem of mint from my boyfriend. He also has giant rosemary plants in his yard, from which I frequently am taking pieces. I had them in water and found that not only had a piece of each herb sprouted roots, but they'd also survived the move and two weeks in my north-facing window. If they could survive the window, could they survive the windowbox? I put them outside for a couple hours a day, increasing the length of time each day, and after they'd had a few overnight stays on the porch, planted them in the windowboxes that happily run along the entire length of my apartment (except for the part that is the balcony.) So far, they seem to be doing okay. According to this article, lemon balm and chives will also do okay in shade, so I plan on trying them soon.

Several people have asked me for the recipe for the spicy carrot pickles. We used my boyfriend's computer, and he claims that the recipe is lost, that we'll have to use a different one next time. This recipe looks pretty similar, except we definitely did not use Splenda, we used dill seed (which we found at Whole Foods in the bulk section), we used red pepper flakes instead of peppercorns in the brine, and we added a whole garlic clove and pieces of real chile peppers to each jar. We used jalapeno in some jars, serrano in others, habanero in a few, and a dried ghost chile one. We cut the carrots into matchsticks instead of coins, and I have no idea why. We could have fit a lot more carrots into the jars as coins! If you don't feel like processing jars, we made fridge pickles with some leftover brine and they were fine. We've both been reusing the brine to fridge-pickle all kinds of vegetables.

I think I want to make and can ajvar this year. Mmm.

Now, here's my question for my readers. Does anyone know anything about e-Readers? I am thinking of getting one. The only one that's ruled out is the Kindle, because if I am going to get one, it's going to be one that supports ePub. (Many of my textbooks are available as Google Books, which is cheaper and potentially more convenient than getting real books. I'm leaning toward the Nook, but really, I don't know what I am talking about. Do any of you? I'm interested in what you have to say!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Finished Challah

The challah turned out just fine.

From Drop Box

It's not braided because this recipe was for Tunisian challah, which you roll into nine balls and bake in a triangle. For some reason, I couldn't get the triangle shaped properly, and baked mine in more of an oval. I would have taken a picture of the whole thing, except I ate some first.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

While the Challah Rises...

is as good a time as any to write up something from the List of Things to Write About jotted down as merely, "The Jewish Princess Post."

There's not much of a story, or rather, I didn't know how to write up this thing that was funny in real life as a story that is funny in written word, so it lingered on my list. Let me detour to tell you about the challah.

My last year of college (the second time around - I got two different bachelors' degrees from two different colleges at the same university between 2002 and 2008) I lived with one of my all-time favorite roommates, AZ. (Another side note - two of my all-time favorite roommates actually have the initials AZ. And both are scientists. We'll call this one AZPlantz and the other AZBrainz. [ed note much later: because AZBrainz studied neuroscience.]) One side of AZPlantz's family is Jewish and the other side is not. AZPlantz was what I would have, in elementary school, referred to as "half Jewish." I have no idea if people still say that. I think, in elementary school, everyone's parents told them to stop saying that and that it made no sense. Anyway, it was with AZPlantz that I celebrated my first Chanukah; on the day of our other roommate's choral concert (which was all 100% CHRISTMAS) she became very upset and went on at length that she had forgotten the menorah and candles she had intended to bring to our apartment. There was a huge latke-making setup already occupying a third of our tiny kitchen (I think it was stored in the fridge during the concert) But there was no menorah. Her gentile boyfriend and myself both tried to console her, but to no avail, especially since we didn't really know what we were talking about. I don't know whose idea it was, but there was the rind of an acorn squash half, overripe and orange and drying on the table. What was it doing there? Was it actually a squash that we eyed and halved and scooped only upon realizing its menoric potential?

Anyway, there was a partially-used box of birthday candles in one of our kitchen drawers, a box left there by some former tenant of the apartment. There just happened to be nine and only nine candles in that box - eight for the night of Chanukah and one to light them all.

Nine little holes were carved into the rind of the acorn squash half. Nine little candles were placed in the holes. And that is The Story of the Acorn Squash Menorah, the Chanukah Miracle of Suydam Street.

So. It was AZPlantz who brought me my first Chanukah with the acorn squash menorah, who made me my first latkes, who introduced me to that thing I don't know how to even begin spelling with apples and pomegranate and I think wine? that is for ???? Passover ???, and it was AZPlantz who taught me how to make challah. [ed note: The thing with apples and wine (and I guess AZPlantz made it with pomegranate, too, is haroset. It is for Passover. I was confused because it was autumn when AZPlantz first made haroset in our apartment.] Even after college when we no longer lived together, we've made challah together. When I visited her this Christmas Eve, she was making challah. I told her that her house smelled like my memories of our apartment, and it did. I realized I'd never made the challah without her and that it's something I'd like to take back to Portland with me. That challah, her challah that's made with honey and whole wheat flour. She e-mailed me this recipe with the note, "I substitute honey for the sugar, and omit the salt." That's what I did, and I used about half whole wheat flour and half all purpose bread flour, because that is what I had. I also used 2 tbsp of yeast because I intended to use all whole wheat flour and because I forgot how much "a package" is. I am now out of all normal flours, left with just Corn Flour and Quinoa Flour and who knows what else from Gee Creek Farm. The dough is rising, so I'll have to let you know later how it turns out.

Anyway, the original story I was supposed to tell you was "The Jewish Princess Story." So, this is a story about my boyfriend and his friends in Colorado, whom I met during my September visit. One night, he went out to see his guy friends while I did something else, so I wasn't there. I had met all of these friends earlier in the trip. Individually, my boyfriend asked his friends what they thought of me. They all had nice things to say about me, except there was one strange theme. All of them commented to him on his Jewish girlfriend. But I'm not Jewish.

One friend just said something about me looking Jewish or being pretty and also Jewish, or something unremarkable that neither of us can remember. But another friend said odder. He said, "I like her, she's cool. She's got that Jewish Princess thing going on."

Reader, do you know what Jewish Princess means? My boyfriend did not, so Urban Dictionary and I filled him in, defining "Jewish Princess" as the following:
n. A woman of Jewish faith and/or descent who displays at least two of the following criteria:
a) viciousness
b) greed
c) arrogance
d) vanity
e) social-dominance
f) inability to do minor tasks (i.e. cooking, cleaning, laundry) [ed note: I guess she wouldn't make challah!]
g) fragility
h) dishonesty

"Oh no!" said my boyfriend. "That can't be what he meant! Everything else he said about you was nice. He must not have known what that means!"

Back in Colorado at Christmastime, my boyfriend was confronted with the situation again. Again, his friends commented on his pretty Jewish girlfriend. He had to tell them that not only is his girlfriend not Jewish but--but then, the Jewish Princess phrase was used again. My boyfriend asked his friend if he knew what Jewish Princess meant!? The friend did not.

My boyfriend and Urban Dictionary filled him in.

"Oh no!" the friend exclaimed. "That's not what I meant at all!"

And now everyone is filled in; I'm not Jewish, but they all like me anyway, and now they all know that "Jewish Princess" is not a nice thing to call someone.

I'm surprised; I thought they'd all think I was a Guidette.

Anyway, I'll let you know how that challah turns out. Right now it's just a covered bowl of glop.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Food to Forget: My perfect skillet potatoes

This was actually written two days ago, but I couldn't get the pictures off my phone. It was easier to plug pictures into an old post than to write something new today. (Tuesday is my busy day.)

Recently, someone to whom I served breakfast commented that I make perfect potatoes. How do I do it?

"The secret is thyme," I said mysteriously.

"Yeah, I think my problem is that I am too impatient."

"No, I meant thyme the herb. Ha ha ha! But the secret is that kind of time, too."

The way I make these potatoes perfect is to forget about them. For real!

What makes these potatoes perfect? They stay soft on the inside, but develop a crisp crust on the outside, yet magically do not stick to the pan. This actually took some practice.

Sunday, I was out of potatoes and wanted something healthier, so I decided, for the sake of this blog, to try the beans I was going to eat prepared in the style of my skillet potatoes. In these pictures, pretend the beans you are seeing are really wedges of potato. I'm happy to say that the technique, when applied to beans, worked! I had crispy-yet-soft-on-the-inside beans. Delicious!

Step 1. This is one dish in which an enameled cast iron skillet is inferior to the original. The enamel is too non-stick and the crispy crust will not form. So, first get out a cast iron skillet. Heat it to "2" on the stove, and add olive oil and butter. (This is not a recipe, since I'm not including amounts.) I'm not sure if olive oil and butter is essential, but I'm afraid to change my process and spoil perfection!

Add garlic, however you want it. Chopped, sliced, or minced is fine. I like peeling it and mashing it with the flat part of a knife.

Add herbs. This is optional, but one time I made hash browns with Herbes de Provence and smoked paprika and the roommate who ate them said, "These are the best hash browns I've ever tasted in my entire life." So I stick with that blend. I ran out of Herbes de Provence a long time ago, so I use a pinch of dried thyme, a pinch of dried rosemary, and a pinch of dried lavender. I call this, "Herbes de Faux-vence." You should use whatever seasonings you want in your skillet potatoes/beans/starch of choice.

Next I add chopped onions, but that is optional, too. I stir them a little and cook them until just translucent.

Step 2. The potatoes can be washed and chopped while everything else is heating up or starting to cook. I find that one potato per person eating tends to be enough, but this reheats well and is also good cold. Cut them into slices or wedges, whichever you prefer and whichever size you prefer. The size will affect the cooking time; very large pieces might take a ridiculously long time to cook. I usually aim for pieces the size of the first joint of my thumb. I'd like to try this with grated potatoes someday.


These beans and greens are obviously not potatoes.

Let this cook a little with the lid off and the heat on 2. When you feel ready, put a lid on the skillet and lower the heat to 3.

Step 3. Forget about that skillet! While you walk out of the kitchen, allow another task to distract you, and forget you ever started to make these potatoes, let me explain to you the numbers I am using in reference to my stove. I'm sure you think, "Why is changing the heat from 2 to 3 considered lowering?"



The stove in my new place is retro. It is clearly ancient, yet it works. It looks cool, too, so I'm really not complaining. The dials you see are for the oven part. The buttons are for the burners. They correspond to burners in a way unlike any stove I've ever used, and that is how I almost set a carton of eggs on fire at the beginning of the month. Anyway, those little buttons, from hottest to coldest, say, "HI," "2," "3," "LO," and "WM." There's no in between option - no way to hit both buttons at once for "3-LO" or "HI-2." I'm sure stove snobs, especially gas stove snobs, would shudder at this, but it's been working just fine.

Every once in awhile, the delightful smell of garlic will waft toward you, and you'll remember that you are making breakfast. Go lift the lid and give the potatoes a stir. Do they look done yet? Can you smush a potato wedge with the thin edge of a wooden spoon, or is the potato still underdone in the middle? Depending on the answer to this question, you may serve your potatoes or you may put the lid back and walk away again. Better eat one, just to make sure.

When the potatoes are done, add salt if you didn't before. I like adding salt at this point, but if you were in a hurry and did it already, that's okay. You can put the lid back and turn the heat to "WM" or even off while you make the rest of breakfast, set the table, or get called out of the room to answer the phone. The potatoes will be fine.

I'm happy to report that this worked well with beans and greens, too!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Nice Day After All [Updated]

From Drop Box

Updated at 6:25 with this unfortunately blurry phone photograph of the apartment's first homemade (aka machinemade) sandwich bread. It's a Mark Bittman recipe modified - did you know that when you run out of milk, you can use yogurt instead? I didn't either, but it was a successful experiment.

When I write a post that is nothing but a rant, I tend to worry that readers will perceive this sort of crankiness is a large part of my personality or at least my mood for that particular day. But after laughing at Verizon and writing them a very rational e-mail that thanked them at the end for their time, I went about my business and had a nice day.

Note: I intended to include a picture with this post, but when I got up to find my phone and send the picture I had taken to the Verizon website so that I could e-mail it to myself and then to Picasa and then add it to this blog...well, I remembered that my phone is in the car, where it is charging. Due to the loss/theft of my phone charger, I am borrowing a friend's car charger. It's daytime and I am writing from the balcony, with my car in full view, so I am not concerned about theft from my car. Oh, and while we're on the subject of appending photos to finished posts, I added a photo to this post of the pre-housewarming non cake-tastropic lemon cake a few days later.

Anyway, yesterday was set to be my Big Day of Cleaning, the day to not only complete routine tasks such as washing dishes and putting things away, but also the day to sweep and mop the floors, to take out the trash, and the day to take on an organizational project. This week's project was to use the boxes from moving and furniture purchases that I still haven't put out for the recycling to divide up my drawers. Tyler teased me the first time he saw my drawer dividers, not because they were repurposed garbage but because they were drawer dividers, and that is dorky. I don't care what anyone says. They have changed my life. I do not recommend spending $14.99 or whatever on those spring-loaded drawer dividers; it's rarely a good idea to buy stuff to deal with a problem of "too much stuff." But more than that, they are a waste of money when cardboard works just fine. Perhaps I will deal with the ugly factor by covering them with wrapping paper or maps or something some day. (This reminded me to write "Mod Podge" on the shopping list on my whiteboard, and then I got distracted.)

Anyway, Big Cleaning Day would be the day to vacuum the living room, if I owned a vacuum, which I do not. When I started to obsess over this fact and profess that the pieces of schmutz on the floor were driving me crazy, I realized it was time to stop cleaning and go outside.

It didn't happen quite like that, as in between sunny spells, we had periodic downpours -- not the usual Portland drizzle, but truly pouring rain. So there were a lot of boring things that happened in between me going vacuum-crazy and really leaving the house, such as eating soup, putting my coat on, seeing it rain and taking my coat off...you get the idea.

By the time I went out, the downpours were done for the day. At some point, I did get spat on by some light rain, but it was okay. For the most part, I walked through sunlit streets. I walked to the library to pick up some holds. On this walk, I recalled that I had wanted to go to the co-op to pick up bulk baking yeast. The thought of walking back to my car to drive to the co-op seemed heartily unappealing. The thought of continuing another mile to the co-op seemed extremely appealing. So I continued up what turned out to be kind of a big hill to the co-op.

I think it was the first time I went to the co-op when I wasn't in a hurry. So I took some time studying the shelves, debating buying a $5 brownie (I didn't), scanning the produce (taking note of $6/pound Brussels sprouts from California, no thanks), and doing the math in my head to determine that bulk whole wheat flour was in fact cheaper than that in bags. For something like $6, I was able to get what felt like a lot of flour, rolled oats, and baking yeast, plus two candles for the apartment.

The light was fading, but some sun was still in the sky, so I kept walking.

Does this hat look silly? I thought, trying to catch my reflection in a store window. I wonder if that boutique on this street is still selling those hats that I like. What was that boutique's name? What was the cross-street? I decided to just keep heading east until a store looked familiar from the day I went to all of the boutiques on that side of the street. It was a store with a wall and the hats were on the east wall...

I found it. It was Tumbleweed. I found the hat of my dreams by Muluk. I've linked to her Etsy, but the style of hat I got isn't on that page. The Bluebell hat looks really stupid on me, but she makes these other hats that look kind of like the turbans women wore a hundred or so years ago. It is the perfect hat for bad hair days. It's made of cotton (or something equally light) so it can be worn indoors without getting too hot.

Then, I walked home. Later I found that I'd walked about three and a half miles! Not bad for winter!

Back at home, the un-vacuumed floors looked strangely devoid of the schmutz I'd imagined a few hours previously. In a clean kitchen under the wreath I'd just made, I made rustic cabbage soup and bread machine whole wheat sandwich bread. In a newly-organized closet, I picked out some outfits for the work week. It was a pleasantly uneventful evening.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

In place of a recipe, a little rant

Since I posted three times yesterday (it seemed like it wouldn't be genuine to set all of those posts to auto-publish today and tomorrow) I wondered what to write about today. Should I write about the incident that occurred at the craft store yesterday, since it's still bugging me a little bit? Should I write about something from the "to write about" list? Should I just post a picture? I decided to type up the "recipe" or set of instructions for my skillet potatoes, as they have been getting a lot of compliments recently. These are the same skillet potatoes I have decided I am banned from eating on weekdays (well, just no more than twice a week) because they are making my jeans too small. I'm out of potatoes, so I made a variation with chickpeas and navy beans this morning, and it worked! I had the whole thing planned, the cute phrases I would use such as "Herbes de Faux-vence" for what I use when I'm out of herbes de Provence, and I had even taken cute pictures with my camera phone.

I logged into my Verizon page to access the photos I had taken from my phone. I hate the Verizon webpage. There are several steps required for simple tasks, such as searching for products, e-mailing Verizon, or viewing one's photos. For example, to access the photos I've taken with my phone and sent to their website so that I can post them to this blog, first one has must go to http://www.verizonwireless.com. Okay, easy enough. Then one must log in. Pretty standard. [Now, perhaps as a result of iPhone-related traffic, this either takes a very long time or takes me to a page that requires me to enter my password AGAIN.] It's the next step that has the potential to stump the website user. Where could My Pictures be? Under the [Media] tab? That seems like a logical place for pictures. In the menu of my actual phone, that is where My Pictures are. Instead, from the [Media] tab appears a drop-down menu listing the following: "Media Store," "Ringtones," "Ringback Tones," "Music," "Games," "Apps," "Wallpapers," "Mobile TV," "Video On Demand," "V CAST Media Manager." Nope!

Eventually, I figured out (and remembered) that the menu option to see my pictures is, "Manage Your Photo Albums" under the [Messaging] tab. This is not intuitive. Web design, especially for a company that sells technology, should be intuitive.

From here, I can't just download My Pictures onto My Computer. I have to Send a Message to my e-mail first. Then, from G-mail, I have to download them, from the e-mail attachment, one by one. At least I figured out how to forward pictures from G-mail to my Picasa account, saving me the step of downloading the pictures, one by one, and then uploading them, one by one, to either Picasa or Blogger.

What has made this routine so irritating to me this morning is that, since the iPhone excitement began, many of these links direct me to a nearly identical website that requires me to click the same link, or enter the same information, again. For example, when I click, "Manage Your Photo Albums" from the Messaging tab, it takes me to a Messaging-themed page from which I must click a link that reads, "Manage Your Photo Albums." But Verizon, I already told you that's what I wanted to do!

I decided to tell Verizon, once and for all, that they have the worst web page in the world.

Naturally, they didn't make this easy for me. There's a [Support] tab, but the option I wanted was the "Contact Us" link, not part of any drop-down menu. This took me to a website listing help topics and FAQs, with a section at the bottom labeled, "Send an E-mail." Perfect! But it wasn't so easy. Rather than space to write my e-mail, I was given a drop-down menu from which I had to select the type of account I have. Ok, that's not so bad.

Except that this took me to a second website with the headline, "Find Assistance." This was nearly identical to the first, with a list of help topics and FAQs. The option to "Send an E-mail" is at the bottom of this page. After going through this process, I was so frustrated that I knew that anything I wrote would be completely looney tunes. I would sound like the person who writes the one lengthy, negative Yelp! post on a page full of 4- and 5-star reviews.

I did end up sending them what I hope was a sane message, detailing the lengthy process to access my photos and to send them an e-mail. Trying to separate myself from angry loons, I thanked them at the end for reading.

I guess I'll tell the craft store story later or not at all; I'm ready to think about pleasant things now. I did eventually get to Manage Your Online Album and e-mail myself pictures of my skillet potato process, so you'll get that how-to soon, perhaps tomorrow, Herbes de Faux-vence and all.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Breakfast in a warmed house

The fading beauty of my Fred Meyer tulips. The irises from Trader Joe's haven't even begun to bloom. The teapot was my grandmother's; she collected them.

From Drop Box

Breakfast mess. Inspired by one of Kalin's posts, I'm going to try to start saving scraps (on the right) for soup stock.

From Drop Box

The mess isn't tooooo ba--look at all those dishes! Party=neverending dishes. I'm still finding wine glasses in the living room.

From Drop Box

Something about the light through the kitchen window convinces me that everything on that table would look good in a picture taken by a camera phone. Breakfast was my own perfect skillet potatoes (acceptable breakfast on a weekend), Molly Wizenberg's Kale and Cheddar Frittata made with collard greens and Yancey's Fancy wasabi cheddar (every time I go to NJ, I come back with this New York treat), Cara Cara oranges, "breakfast salad" (Trader Joe's wild arugula - I like it so much I can eat an entire bowl of it without any dressing), and homemade spicy pickled carrots.

From Drop Box

My dining companion recommended I try taking one from this angle instead.

The house was warmed, Part 2

I didn't mean to leave you with nothing but a picture of a groundhog and an empty Framboise bottle seated so elegantly atop one of my most recent purchases, that vintage laundry hamper from Village Merchants, a secondhand store in SE Portland that I could go on and on and on about how much I love. It feels almost magical the way I always find just what I wanted when I go there, and it's not in crummy condition and it's totally affordable.

My friends Julianna and Rebecca had told me about it several times, but I pictured a sea of thrift store junk in dubious condition or a collection of nice secondhand goods marketed as "vintage" with frighteningly high prices. Village Merchants is neither of those things.

Also, the first time I went was the morning, after measuring water for coffee in a 1-cup measuring cup--four times--and boiling the water in a saucepan, I decided I really needed a kettle. What would be perfect, I thought, would be a red kettle. Then it would match all of my other kitchen things. I promise you, Reader, that I am not exaggerating for the sake of the story. The very first thing Rebecca and I saw when we walked in the door of Village Merchants was a red kettle. I think it was $12. Later, I'd see the same kettle (new of course) for $30 at Fred Meyer.

Whoops, now I've gotten distracted and just gone on and on about this store! Anyway, I guess the relation to the housewarming party is that I went there, even though the cake I promised guests was still only an idea in my head and the apartment was unquestionably a mess (and the thing about studios is that there's no room to hide all your junk in and put a bookshelf in front of the door to hide the entire room from nosy guests). This was because I found myself in possession of only three spoons and not many more forks, and also, of the three chairs I have, two are kind of broken and one is a camping chair. Fortunately, that laundry hamper, as you can tell, matches my apartment walls perfectly! and functions as a place to hide junk.

By 7:30, every room (by which I mean "room-like section") was totally in order except for the kitchen, which was neat enough for a place where a cake was being made; the fire was lit (by my boyfriend, the helpful guest); the cake was in the oven; and a pre-cake spread was laid out of various pickles, spreads, crackers, and cheeses.

It was then that I noticed that a lot of my entertaining supplies come from the Russian market near work. Later, I was listing some of the spreads contents out loud and a guest said, "That sounds made up. If you were to list that on Facebook right now, people would think you it was just nonsense." I suppose it does resemble word salad: "Apple pie cheese, chocolate cheese, and five-dollar caviar!" However, it wouldn't be a party without some kind of caketastrophe.

The planned cake was this Flourless Orange and Ginger Cake from Chocolate and Zucchini. I first made this cake three years ago, the winter of Wednesday Night Dinners in which some lady scientists and I met up for potluck-style weekly dinners which gradually became Wednesday Night Gluttonous Feast; all of us liked to cook and therefore, even though we'd each claim only one course, each guest would arrive at the dinner with something to offer for all three courses. The cake was such a hit and I kept finding myself with excesses of citrus, that I kept making the cake. I can't remember when I started swapping out the sugar for honey and agave nectar, making it even more decadent. A couple of months later, I made a taxonomic, even more decadent version for my birthday party. The Anacardiace-a-cake was flourless mango cake made with ground pistachios. Admittedly straying from the Anacardiaceae family, the cake had a lime glaze. Sometime last year, I started using ground flax seeds in place of the eggs.

I make this cake every winter, usually more than once. Everyone likes it. Even people who hate oranges, almonds, or ginger.

I used to buy whole almonds and turn them into meal myself. But Trader Joe's sells almond meal for $1/pound less than they sell whole almonds, for some inexplicable reason. Part 1 of the Caketastrophe was this valuable lesson: Maybe you shouldn't put a full bag of almond meal into the freezer. The almond meal froze to itself and to the bag and was very hard to pour into the mixing bowl.

Part 2 of the Caketastrophe was the discovery that my food scale is totally broken. Everything was in the bowl - the orange puree and the honey and the ground flax seeds beaten with water into something like beaten eggs. So, when the food scale started measuring the weight of my almond meal as "60 g" and then "-275 g" and then "300 g," there was no way to get the almond meal out of the bowl to measure it separately. I ended up just guessing based on "what looks like a little more than half of the bag."

Part 3 of the Caketastrophe is still a mystery to me. Last year, I made this cake in a tarte tatin pan, which is wrong. In previous years, I don't recall what I used; perhaps it was a Pyrex rectangle. Also wrong. This time, I used a parchment-lined springfom pan, which is correct. And this time, the cake burned on top while staying liquid-y and pudding-like on the inside.

Back in the oven it went. The cake is now a slightly burnt (but still good) shell with regular orange-almond cake on the inside.

And so, everything was great. Friends came and met other friends. Neighbors came, met each other, informed me that this is the first time anyone in the house has invited everyone else over. I learned the name of the cat that hangs out on our front porch. I couldn't have asked for a better housewarming party.

The house was warmed.

It was a successful party.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Some thoughts

I have a note to myself from Wednesday saying, "Write about the nightmares (violent discourse)." I mentioned in my grumpy post that I had nightmares about being chased or trapped the other night, and I wanted to elaborate on that because it's so strange and potentially disturbing. I don't know if I've been having these dreams every night, but I have been having them a lot the past two weeks. I tend to just wake up, realize it was a dream, and go back to sleep, not lie awake thinking about it. I know why I am having these dreams, and maybe you do, too. It started with learning on New Year's Eve about the murder of one of my childhood friends. Then, my car got broken into, and even though it was just my stuff and my car that got violated and not me personally, it compounded a feeling of unsafety, or the uncertainness of safety. The thing is, I think I saw the person, the night that it happened, who would later break into my car, idling in his or her or their own car across the street. Earlier in the week, I'd think about that person watching me wait in my car, put my iPod unsafely away in the center console, and walk into my apartment (by far the creepiest part.)

The "violent discourse" part about my note has to do with something I heard on NPR, which I am hearing a lot of now that I am sans iPod. My information and understanding on this matter might be incomplete, but one of the things that stood out to me was a report on violent discourse used in political speeches, discussions, whatever, of late, and people asking if that had a role in the shooting.

I think, probably not much of a role, because a crazy person is just that - crazy - and any number of things can drive them to act crazily. But I do think such discourse is in poor taste after the events, and in fact, now that I think of it, it's always in poor taste. Or at least, it's always unnecessary. But I am a little hypersensitive right now. I never noticed before how often people say, "I want to kill Soandso" when Soandso has merely annoyed them. It will probably come to no surprise to anyone who's been reading my blog this year that I've been hypersensitive to phrases, in reference to an annoying person, such as, "I'm going to strangle them!" (This actually happened last week, and I was kind of squirming in my chair, because the conversation kept on going, but I didn't want to say anything because I didn't want to be that person who makes everyone uncomfortable.

Boy, this is a depressing post.

When I was a little kid, my mom told me not to say, "I want to kill Soandso," when Soandso is annoying, and she lectured me in such a way, that it made such a strong impression that I still don't say it. It was a boy in my Kindergarten class named Kyle. We were friends that teased each other in that weird five-year-old way. When he had really, really annoyed me, my mother made the concession that I could say, "I hate Kyle so much, I hope he gets pneumonia!" This was so he could stay home from school and I wouldn't have to sit by him on the bus and be teased for singing the "Ahh-ahh-ahhh" song from The Little Mermaid.

(I hope that was a happier note to end with.)

Looking for Spring

FH010020.jpg

That was taken almost a year ago, at the beginning of February to be exact, at Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden in SE Portland. I used to live within walking distance, so I would go almost every day in February, when it was free. Later, I'd try to go to once a week, when it was free on certain days and every day before 10am and after 6pm. Once I just squeaked in at 9:48am, and I detected a bit of a glare from the woman setting up to collect admission money in just twelve minutes.

That green, green moss all over everything is what I see now, every day. Between the Japanese Garden and the garden where I work and even the old trees in Irvington, which are so big and moss-covered that ferns have sprouted from the moss, that thick green shag carpet on everything is something I've started to take for granted. Only yesterday, walking down to teach a class at work, with moisture moving through warm air that had been dry and ice cold the day before, with strong gusts of warm wind hitting my face and making my unzipped jacket try to dance away from me, did I observe that this green is something fairly new to me, something I would not have seen in my East Coast life and something I found fascinating when I first visited the Pacific Northwest three years ago.

Hmm, I got sidetracked. The title of this, Looking for Spring, refers to the sun we had here in Portland in early February, and how I wonder if at that time year, we will see not ice cold dry days with snowy Mount Hood visible, and not wet gray days somewhere between warm and cool (like the shower in my apartment!), but this:

FH010021.jpg

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Giving in to Grumpy

Sometimes, it's okay to take a break from looking on the bright side to just admit things are crummy. Yesterday evening was crummy, and it's leaking into today. Today has plenty of time to recover and go well, it's just that the events of last night are impacting my morning. While I'm waiting for breakfast to heat up, this seems like a good time to write about it.

Well, first you heard from me posting pictures of flowers and responding to comments from a computer lab that is open to graduate students only (and faculty and staff, but still! a nice quiet computer lab!) Everything was fine! Then I went to class, and when I walked over to sit on the floor outside of the room, to wait for the previous class to leave, a kind classmate informed me that my pants were very nice, but the zipper in the back had split open.

That zipper has always been a problem. There's no hook and eye at the top to secure it and I don't even see why it's necessary when the pants have a front closure. I think I am going to fix those pants once and for all by removing the zipper and closing the seam.

Fortunately, we sit in chairs in class and few people had to learn what color my underwear was.

Then, the professor ended class ten minutes late. He ended class late last week, too. I like him, but I am not sure what I am going to do if this lateness turns out to be a habit. I don't want to miss any important announcements, but I don't want to walk home in the dark at 10:30pm anymore, either.

The bus is timed so that it leaves right after my class is supposed to end. Since we have gotten out late both weeks, we have gotten out in time to see the bus zoom past the stop (which is on the other side of the street) and this week it was just me, alone (my classmate must have brought her car) waiting half an hour for the next bus. By the time I got to my stop, it was an hour after class had gotten out. It was very cold. It was sleeting. The sidewalks were slippery. There was no one on the streets save me and a disheveled-looking man leading a bicycle heavily laden with stuffed, clinking garbage bags (I imagine that they were full of other people's recycling), occasionally shouting out, "It's icy! HEY! DO YOU HEAR ME! THE ROADS ARE ICY!" to no one in particular.

I really wanted to take a hot shower, but there's something wacky going on with my shower where it's running warm, but not hot. Sometimes it's just barely warm, just a step away from COLD. I am waiting to see if it rights itself or if there's a trick to getting it to work before I e-mail the landlord.

Anyway, this impacts today because I am tired and also I have that feeling of being behind. I meant to do a lot of things last night, had I gotten home at 9:45 or 10 like I planned, but instead I went to bed, had lots of bad dreams about being pursued or trapped, woke up tired, and took my barely warm shower. I have to teach a class for children today, so I wish I could be more alert.

My hope (and prediction) is that the class will be fun, it will energize me, and it will turn my day around.)

Well, now that that's out of my system, I'm going to hit the road, the road which rarely has traffic and never has traffic like in New Jersey, and plan for a good day!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Springtime Before the Snowstorm

From Drop Box

I couldn't resist these when I went to Fred Meyer last week. I hope to have inexpensive plants and flowers in my apartment at all times. It really brightens things up!

We are supposed to have snow and/or freezing rain tonight in Portland. I hope I don't get stuck on campus, or that the children's class I am teaching tomorrow doesn't need to be canceled. Otherwise, I'm okay with snow!

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Bright Side

Throughout the weekend, I'd discover or remember some new thing that had been in my car and was no longer there and was therefore stolen. Also, with the onset of the week, the reality of how much time was going to be eaten up by some of these stolen items' absence and the time it would take to replace them set in. For example, I bought a printer to print the paper that's due for my class tomorrow and to print out a form to mail to the DMV to report my registration stolen. (I thought that would save more time than actually going to the DMV.) The printer is not working, and when I called HP, I was put on hold. I quickly hung up, remembering that I can't afford to sit on hold when my cell phone charger has been stolen.

I was pretty grouchy this morning.

I set a timer for fifteen minutes, and I resolved to focus my attention on nothing but washing dishes. When that was done, I set out some beans to soak; I don't know what I'm going to do with them exactly, but I plan to eat plenty of beans this week, the week that begins my new Plan of Moderation. (Beans are cheap; I have recently bought a lot of things for my apartment such as a table and a trash can. My jeans aren't fitting so well,and though I don't like to diet or criminalize food, but maybe hash browns for breakfast every day is a bit excessive. Beans, on the other hand, are not!) When I was done cleaning the kitchen, I abandoned the cobweb of cables of laptop chargers and printers for the living room, where I dumped my purse on the floor and put back in it only the items I needed for today. Then, I left for work, where I knew I could relax in some way, as I'd be able to focus only on the challenges and tasks of that one part of my life. I would procrastinate worrying.

When I got home, I finally made the wise decision to go for a long walk, even though the same excuses were there (I have homework, it's cold, it's windy, it gets dark so early. We are in a rare high pressure system, which means that it's not a typical rainy, 40-50 degree winter day. It's a winter day like I'm used to, sunny and dry and bitter cold. Days like this are a reminder that we are north of the 45th parallel).

This weekend, I felt a bit of relief at not having to account for my iPod both when leaving my home and when leaving my car. I'm not glad it's been stolen, but I wonder why I always felt the need to have it with me!

This weekend, NPR was always broadcasting something interesting during the times I was driving, such as a long segment on poor foods of the world that have now become delicacies. This morning, however, was repetitive nonstop coverage of the shooting in Tucson. It's news, but I only need to hear the details once to know what happened! This was occasionally punctuated by commentary on the Ducks game that would take place this evening. I missed my iPod. If I had it, I could have been listening to a recording of my next book club book.

But then, as sharp sunlight cut across the cloudless blue sky, as my car followed a curve on I-84 which brought Mount Hood into view, I smiled. Things could be much, much worse.

I could have had my iPod stolen during Pledge Week.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Pre-housewarming Cake

It isn't quite Housewarming Cake, because the first get-together at my new apartment wasn't really a housewarming. I decided to host something (four guests) at the last minute, once I saw room in my schedule to bake a cake.

From Drop Box, taken by Julianna

Around the time I read A Homemade Life and discovered Molly Wizenberg (much later than the rest of the recipe-blog-reading world did, I think), she had opened a restaurant and stopped posting more than once a month or so on Orangette. I copied several recipes from the book before discovering that many of them are available on her blog. I especially like her cake recipes. I have very specific taste in these things because I don't love most sweet foods, I like using multigrain flours and other "healthy" ingredients, and I'm not as good at baking as I am at cooking. Baking requires a precision and focus that goes against my nature; there is always danger that I will misread, mismeasure, or overcook. Generally, my baked goods burn because I have a bad habit of walking out of the kitchen and getting distracted somewhere between that room and the bathroom or to wherever the ringing phone is, and then it is not until I smell smoke that I recall that I once placed something in a hot oven. For more proof, see here and here and here.

But I'm getting better.

The cake recipes in A Homemade Life are the kind I like -- not too complicated and not too sweet. Many are paired with, or can be paired with, some form of in-season fruit. Which is healthy! I have made them successfully using whole wheat pastry flour or other non-white flours.

My pre-housewarming cake was the book version of this French-Style Yogurt Cake with Lemon, which I believe is the cake recipe that led to the e-mail that led to Molly meeting the man she eventually married. If that's true, then it is a good cake to make at the beginning of something. The book version, unlike the blog version, includes an optional lemon glaze and lemon syrup, instead of just one topping.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

At Least They Left My Jersey Plate

Where I'm from, if you tell someone your car was broken into in Irvington*, they aren't surprised. But when I moved to this Irvington I thought the one thing I was guaranteed was the safety of my car and its contents.

I guess it makes sense that a smart car prowler would target the nice neighborhood, where people's guards are down and there are nicer things to steal.

This morning, I unlocked the passenger door first so that I could put my purse, my second purse, my lunch, and my shopping bag on the seat. I noticed that something felt funny about the lock. As I circled the car, I noticed that there were some items on my driver's seat, specifically a yellow highlighter, a tampon, and this metal pokey thing that you can use to break the window if your car somehow ends up underwater with you trapped in it. (I don't know what it's called.) These things are typically kept in my center console.

"How did those get there?" I thought. I proceeded to open the door, put my coffee in the cup holder, and sit on the items. I opened the center console and saw that it was strangely empty. Just a few sticky pennies and nickels sat at the bottom. The papers, pens, snacks, parking meter change, and other miscellaneous junk I store there were gone.

I don't remember cleaning that out, I thought.

Foggily, I started my car and reached to turn on my iPod. I grabbed air at the same moment I observed that my iPod charger was not dangling from its plug.

It's not in the center console because I just looked there for something else and saw nothing. I don't remember taking my iPod in the house last night, and why would I take the charger, too? It was taking some time to register. My eyes began to travel around the car. It looked different. It looked so...clean.

My eyes traveled to the passenger side door. I remembered how strange the key felt turning the lock.

Someone broke into my car! From where I was seated, I did a quick assessment. No more iPod. No more iPod charger. No more universal car charger. No more of anything that was plugged into that charger. My car had been broken into! But no windows were broken, and I remember locking both doors and checking both locks. I am a little OCD about that. Apparently what I should be OCD about is taking things out of the car. Apparently, it doesn't matter if you lock your car; some car prowlers have, as the nice policeman who came to my house told me today, something called a "jiggle key" that unlocks any car lock. Now I understand why cars with remote-controlled locks have an alarm set to go off if you try to open the door with a key.

I noticed a car idling outside my neighbor's house for quite some time when I got home last night. I was sitting in my car for awhile, too, waiting for a guest. We were only a few minutes apart, so it didn't make sense to go up to my apartment and back down again. I thought the idling car was odd, but I'd noticed that almost every night in our block, so even though it seemed odd, it seemed like normal routine - my block's special kind of odd. Now I think I can guess why the driver of that car was sitting there. The dispatcher said that probably a lot of cars got hit besides mine.

Oh well. It could have been a lot worse! I have insurance. Nothing irreplaceable, like my laptop with all my data on it, was stolen. I have my old Jersey plate displayed by the back windshield; I'm happy to say that the car prowler left the old license plate behind.

* From Wikipedia's entry on Irvington, New Jersey: Irvington experienced the crack epidemic of the 1980s and the city still struggles with the aftermath today. The city still has a violent crime rate six times higher than New Jersey overall and a murder rate eight times higher than statewide statistics. As of 2007, the New Jersey State Police reported that Irvington had a violent crime rate of 22.4 incidents per 1,000 population, the highest of all 15 major urban areas in the state.[9] Irvington is more dangerous than Camden, but since it has a population less than 75,000, Irvington wasn't eligible to rank as one of the most dangerous cities in the country.

Friday, January 07, 2011

A Successful Day

[Once again, the Internet was down last night.]

Today, Friday, was designated this week's free day. I had no classes, no work, and I scheduled no appointments aside from picking up friends at the train station. The long list of things I wished to accomplish included all household, academic, correspondence, and creative pursuits that I hadn't gotten to for the entire week. Rather than make a schedule or even an itemized list, I decided to just be content with whatever happened. It worked out pretty well! I did the following:
Washed Thursday's dishes
Readjusted the height of my kitchen cabinet shelves; organized and resorted the cabinets
Dropped one of my classes and updated my status with financial aid
Completely organized my closet so that there is no longer a pile of un-hung-up clothes on the floor - anything still unsorted is out of sight in a suitcase covered with "decorative fabric" (a curtain that I don't have the right size curtain rod for.)
Went grocery shopping
Got a broom and dustpan, finally! and lightbulbs
Replaced the lightbulb in one of my overhead lights
Put all unorganized junk in boxes that close
Put junk boxes into an unclaimed kitchen cabinet
Planted some cold and shade tolerant herbs in my windowbox
Made a delicious meal from 5 Spices, 50 Dishes.

I didn't make any progress on the paper that's due on Tuesday, but I have all weekend!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Phone Pictures for Thursday

This makes me miss summer. This was taken in the summer in Portland. Remember the sun?

From Drop Box

Acer circinatum (or Vine Maple to most people) in Portland

From Drop Box

Pink Apple. I think I took this on my break at work. I was trying to figure out where I was, that the background would show my laptop (the white keyboard) AND a random other keyboard (the black one; it goes to my work desktop.)

From Drop Box

Le cidre en France à Fort Collins

From Drop Box

My lovely Christmas present

From Drop Box

Instead of Christmas cookies, Christmas Pickles. Spicy carrots, to be exact.

From Drop Box

In Sussex County, NJ. Locally spun yarn from local sheep from a local farm. Dyed with plants.

From Drop Box

Tour de Fat in Fort Collins.

From Drop Box

And another...

From Drop Box

A friend's birthday present - the month of September

From Drop Box

The tree with early fall color and the cyclamen on the ground are things you would see in September in many places...yes, in Portland, but in other places, too. The colorful mushrooms are just made up.