Wednesday, October 21, 2009

My new interest in baking really cheap bread (yeast is the most expensive thing about bread, for real) lives symbiotically with my continued visits to the gym. Back when I wasn't working out, I really felt like I had to limit my intake of delicious, thick, buttered slices of bread, all chewy and toothsome... because eating too much bread made my pants tight. I don't know how the bread actually altered the fabric of my clothes, but there it is. Anyway, yeah, I've been working out, still, plus we now use the rock-climbing wall once a week. I think we've gone four times, maybe? It's pretty fun, and scary, and hard. But mostly fun. Even though I know I won't plummet to my death, I definitely get some adrenaline flowing when I'm near the top and I have to lunge upwards to try to grab a hand-hold. My arms give out after about three climbs, which is just pathetic. It's not even that I'm "feeling the burn" or whatever, but my arms just won't hold me anymore. Which sucks. But whatever.

Anyway, I've made two more loaves of sourdough since the first one. The second was a more traditional bread, with short-ish rises and lots of kneading, and it was fine. It rose well, the crumb is nice and even. Like a regular loaf of bread, with a bit of a sour taste. Nothing to write home about.

Here it is sliced open.

Pretty much just regular bread.

It was not really what I was going for, so I went back to the no-knead recipe, and this time I, you know, actually followed the directions. And it came out great!

Beautiful crusty sourdough!

Unfortunately, I ignored one of the crucial parts of the recipe, because a couple of blogs said I could: the preheating-the-pot part. So I put my dough in the dutch oven, cold, and then put it in a cold oven before turning it up to 425. As a result, the bread became one with the bottom of the pan. Here's what it looked like once I managed to scrape and pry most of the loaf from it.


I had to do two rounds of soaking to get the pan clean. I did some further googling, and it sounds like you can use parchment paper to avoid the problem. There's a "local foods" potluck this Saturday as part of, and I plan on bringing a loaf of local-yeast bread. And it will be perfect! Or the greenhouse gases will have won!

Monday, October 05, 2009

My new thing is making sourdough from scratch. I've been working on the starter for a couple of weeks now -- at one point it seemed to have stalled out at the "very stinky" phase, but I added some rye flour and it got right on track -- and tonight I am finally baking my first actual loaf of bread. I put together the "recipe" based on about 10 different sources online. Due to having started this right before a work day, I decided to do a "no knead" dough, which is meant to sit for longer than a regular dough. Anyway, in about 20 minutes, I should find out if I made a lovely, crispy-crust, tender-chewy-inside loaf, or a hard little shitbrick.

I got a cold last week. The past few times I've gotten sick, I've followed the advice of cold medicine advertisements on the television: I took Advil and Sudafed and made my ass go to the office. And lo and behold, I would end up feeling terrible and sick for days -- weeks, even. This time, I started feeling cold-ish on Thursday, I took Friday off (though I felt guilty about it), slept all day Saturday (I didn't even get dressed), and felt well enough by Sunday afternoon to attend an afternoon mulled-wine soiree. I'm still a bit phleghmy but otherwise I feel pretty ok. Staying home and resting a lot did me a lot of good. Is it possible that the cold medicine companies do not have my best interests at heart?

Edited: Ok, here's the bread:

Looks like an actual loaf of bread, right? But no, let me open it up to get the side view:

As you can see, it's way too flat. I think I should have let it rise more once I had loaded it up with the extra flour today. Regardless, it tastes fine (needs more salt), is not too terribly dense, and the crust is impressively crusty. The bottom is nearly burned, though, and I'm not sure what's up with that. I just scraped it off, like you might with some burnt toast.
Anyway, I learned a lot for next time. And now I have a small amount of hearty bread to eat!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Alright, I am slowly catching up. Go to my Flickr account to see the (annotated) highlights of my trip to Brooklyn last weekend (Sept. 4-7).

Thursday, September 03, 2009

So, I turned 37 on Monday. Today I went to the gym and it was the first time I had to put my new age into the workout machine computer -- looks like my heart rate goal has slipped a beat: 146, down from 147. Just another step downward towards the grave!

I went to that weekend, and there were indeed some hippies. I made sauerkraut and kim chee (both are in my fridge, uneaten -- I never eat that stuff normally, so it's going to take some effort to eat these), I got some sourdough starter (also chilling in the fridge), and I learned how to make yogurt. We did not get innoculated mushroom logs, but that's ok, as it takes like a year to grow a mushroom from it, and you have to leave it undisturbed in the woods during that time. I did not get to swim in the pond because the mosquitoes were voracious and it was not very warm out.

More later!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

What I will be doing this weekend (Friday evening until Sunday mid-afternoon, that is):

HEALING THE EARTH, NOURISHING OURSELVES: Growing, Eating & Preparing Food Locally

Come join Andrew Faust, one of the premier Permaculture teachers in North America, from The Center For Bioregional Living in New York City and Ellenville, NY.
This course will cover how to design abundant and productive local food systems using Permaculture and offer a series of fun, hands-on, food-oriented activities.
Topics include: Local and seasonal foods and their preparation; Extending and over-wintering your backyard or container garden; Growing indoors and fermented foods; Eating right for your region, season and vitality.
Demonstration and hands-on activities will include:
-Lacto-fermention -- kim chee, sauerkraut, etc.
-Water-bath canning of seasonal local tomatoes *
-Root cellaring
-Solar drying
-Culturing raw dairy*
-Inoculating and baking sour dough bread!*
-Designs and techniques of mushroom cultivation: return home with an inoculated log!

Come and learn how to live well and in harmony with the earth while boosting immunity and increasing longevity!

*Bring a wide mouth pint jar if you would like to take home some sourdough starter. Please also bring a few 1 qt. glass mason jars if you would like bring home some fermented foods.

(It's happening here.) I am not sure I am brave enough for homemade yogurt, but I am totally up for canning tomatoes and making pickles and sourdough. If I liked mushrooms, I'd be psyched about growing them, too. Does anyone want my inoculated log?

Monday, August 17, 2009

I am alive, I have just been doing things on Facebook (under my real name) and Twitter (under chowflap) and not here. I was sick, and now I'm still a little sick. My house has been being sanded/prepped for painting for weeks now. I finally chose a color, though, so that's progress! (it's a nice golden yellow.)

I have also become addicted to a game on my deactivated iPhone: Bookworm. I used to play this online, but playing on the iPhone is just so, so much nicer. Not only do you just have to touch the letters to spell a word, but since it's on the iPhone, I can play it in bed. In the dark. While CJ smartly falls asleep (at a decent hour) beside me. And suddenly it's 1 a.m. and I have work in the morning. Whoops.

The iPhone version of Bookworm has a few major flaws, however: Occasionally there will be a word that it does not think is a word. Sure, I grumble that it doesn't recognize "shit" or "cunt," but I don't mean those words. I'm talking about "seriously, that is a word, no freakin' question" words like "rut" or "went" or "was." I've actually developed a completely-unfounded theory that the game's dictionary was built by Brits, because "lorry" is in there (except that I'm pretty sure that the English say those words too...). I have screwed myself into losing by expecting to make a word with a burning tile, just to have the word to not show up in the dictionary, leaving me totally hosed. Can't they do an update adding these EXTREMELY COMMON words?

Anyway, besides that problem, it's a good game. Very addictive. Don't download it, though. Save yourselves.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

My goodness, it has been a while! I can account for the past two weeks: first I went to my Quakery retreat thing in the Adirondacks, where my nephew infected me with one of his various viruses, and then (this past week) I was sick with a cold. I was just barely not-sick enough to have to come to work, though I probably would have taken a day or two off if we weren't on deadline. And then yesterday was the big-deal event my neighborhood association puts on. The association of which I am president. However, I had been away, and then sick (see above), and didn't end up contributing nearly as much pre-event work as I thought I would. Yet it still came out okay! Not super-well attended, but whatever, right? Right. Sure.

The event was a few hours of speakers and then a couple of bands, and I emceed the whole dealie. Mainly I said "here's who's coming up to talk" and then "thanks to the person who just talked; the bathrooms are there and there, and there's an art show over there, next speaker is in 10 minutes." Besides getting the title of the author's book wrong, I did a respectable job and did not stress too much about it. I am mainly happy that got to announce, "Ladies and gentlemen... THE FAWNS!"

To our collective knowledge, this is the first time ever that actual rock bands have played here; usually this event features a gospel singer or a barbershop quartet, which excites our elderly residents but doesn't do that much to bring in the under-65 crowd. At another neighborhood event today (one that drew more of the 'established' residents than yesterday's), a few of the older people said that they liked the bands, though they were quite loud. "I guess this rock and roll music is here to stay," they did not say while sighing heavily. (I'm actually surprised at how "edgy" they seemed to think the music choices were -- these people are just a bit older than my parents, who spent their teen years with the Beatles and the Stones and everything.)

Anyway, we are all glad it is over and are already thinking of ways to make it better next time.

Meanwhile, my house is getting painted, at great expense to me. It has been getting scraped and sanded for the past 2 weeks, and they seem to be almost done. The house looks terrible, with trampled plants, muddy holes (where they pulled up the fence that hides the propane tanks), and big ladders lying everywhere -- plus they are re-doing my porch screens, so we are screen-less right now (which means we are porch-less, too, since the mosquitoes are unbearable). I should be picking the color of my house any day now, really... I have the main color choices down to "pear green" and "sherwood forest" and the trim will either be some kind of blue or some kind of yellow ("nacho cheese" is the name of a color in the mix). Pics will be posted once all is shiny and new.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Pictures, I have pictures!
First are some photos of the epic, 2.5-hour hike CJ and I took last weekend in the Mohawk Trail State Park. Epic only because we had not planned to be hiking for more than an hour or so, but the map we were given was terrible and the paths pretty much not marked at all. Anyway, it was a gorgeous day! See several photos here. My favorite one:

More recently, I did another bike ride to Hatfield, which I do as a nice-weather substitute for the gym, so I try to bike pretty hard (for me) and far (again, for me). This time I finally found a non-tresspassy way to the dyke and the Connecticut River. Photo set is here, and here's a nice representative shot:

Those two photos are pretty similar. Huh. (Armchair analysts, what does it mean? Don't tell me unless it's something good.)

I have been trying to spend plenty of time outside, now that it's stopped being 60 degrees and raining. I am actually typing this on my screened in porch, surrounded by ecstatic cats, a lovely breeze, and the sounds of birds, windchimes, and motorcycles on the highway.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

I have not Zumba'd again, though I did consider it. I was very sore afterwards and that made me feel productive. No pain no gain, right? Do they still say that, or have people gotten soft now that it's no longer the 80s?

Last night we had some new friends over for badminton and dinner. They brought over all of the food, which was both awesome and necessary because our cupboard is nearly bare. I took over the grilling portion because that is what I do. The guy who brought the food was Dutch and apparently they don't really "grill" over there - they just use those ridged pans on the stove, because nobody has a yard, or something. We ate on the porch and once we realized there were fireflies about, we turned out the lights. Then a thunderstorm started, almost immediately. It was very nice sitting there in the near-dark, chatting and watching the pine grove get illuminated in flashes. Yay, summer!

Now in my neighborhood there's some plant blooming -- maybe a tree -- whose perfume is so sweet and heady that you want to go, Hey, maybe take it a little easier with the eau de toilette, grandma. My garden is growing in starts and fits. The eggplant and bell peppers have hardly budged. I think they don't like all of the rain. However, my sweet peas look great, and my bean vines are much taller than me. The peas are almost ready to eat. I took one pod on Monday and shared the peas with CJ. They were the sweetest things ever. This is my first time with shelling peas. I grew up with a scoop of frozen green peas (usually seasoned with margarine) on my dinner plate almost every night because it's an easy way to square up a meal. Real peas, that you can eat raw? It's like a completely different vegetable.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Friends, two firsts happened to me at the gym today.
1. They ran out of towels twice, so for my shower I had to use one of the tiny towels stacked up in the weight room for the lifters to use to clean their sweat off the bench, and
2. I Zumba'd.
I actually rearranged my appointment with my therapist so I could try this Zumba class because I had heard it was so fun. It's so popular at my gym that you need to pick up a pass at the desk before the class starts, because otherwise the room would fill up. I made sure to situate myself in the far back. The instructor was tiny and tan and wiry and apparently spine-free, so frenetically and effortlessly did her hips swivel and shake independently from the rest of her body.
I am relieved to say I was not the only one having trouble following the moves. I did ok, all things considered. I am fairly uncoordinated — I sometimes have trouble remembering to alternate my legs as I walk down the stairs, seriously. But I kept up, mostly. Though my neighbor complained of burning thighs from all the squats and such, my legs felt fine. I did start feeling it in a bad way in my knees, however, which made me feel old. (The multiple girls with words printed on their asses also made me feel old, but also a little superior.) At one point I got a bad stitch in my side and had to just stand there while everyone else hip-swiveled and did the salsa step back and forth. By the end of it my face was flushed, in the weird way it gets sometimes when it's like the blood has filled every single capillary. My face was super-hot, so red as to be purple. It's not a good feeling. After my shower with the ratty, tiny towel (which tore as I inadequately dried myself), I drove home with the air conditioning directed directly into my face. But only a chocolate eclair bar got me completely back to normal.

I can see why people like Zumba, but I think I need a class that's more about proper form and less about dance steps, since my knobby, inward-facing knees are prone to being messed up.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Hey, my little village is in the Boston Globe! The main house in the photo belongs to my good friend Kandy. I don't love the article's emphasis on the "low prices" to be found here, since my house was not exactly a steal, price-wise. However, it is one of the biggest houses in the park, so there's that. I need to get it painted this summer, and I want a nice yellow-green that's not too bright. CJ claims the color I've picked is "neon" which is most certainly is not. I've been sitting on two quotes from two painters in the park and god help me, I think I might go with the more expensive one, mainly because I know him better. It's such a huge chunk of change that I haven't been able to bring myself to make the call saying "Do it."

My garden is looking well, though I have an aphid problem. And the peony plant I bought last fall gave me three big blossoms this year! Exciting. I tenderly staked them up so their heads wouldn't droop over. Here are two of them:

That's all for now.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

My overburdened Primary Care Physician's office now does this computerized appointment reminder phone call thing. They called me last week and the recording said I had an appointment for Tuesday, and to press "1" to confirm that I'd be there. That's all it said -- no "press 2 to speak to a receptionist" or "press 5 if you need to cancel" or whatnot; just, press "1" to confirm. Dudes, if you aren't going to give me a choice, why bother make me press anything at all? I didn't press anything, because I had no idea what the appointment was for, so I just hung up. A few hours later I remembered that I still needed a booster shot for an immunization I got right before traveling to Belize, and that I had probably made this appointment way back in January, so I called back and spoke with an actual human to make sure I still had the appointment, which I did (see? I didn't press anything, and it didn't cancel the appointment. So stupid).

Anyway, the booster shot appointment was for this morning, so I hauled ass over to Easthampton, where the receptionist (who looked to be about 16 years old) told me she was sorry, that someone tried calling me but I didn't answer (I was in the shower, duh), but that they actually shouldn't give me the booster for another month and a half. Huh. If only an actual human had called me instead of a computer, or I had been given the option of speaking to a human last week, we could have cleared this up then and saved me some gas and time. Sigh. I made an appointment for the end of July and that was that.

[This post has been #385 in the series "Things that could be greatly improved if only people listened to me, the expert on everything."]

It's pollen time down at the 'park. My "back yard" (really a common area) looks like it's been shot in sepia tone. Pale yellow covers everything. We need a stiff rain to wash it away. Amazingly, this particular sort of pollen doesn't bother my allergies, though the sheer amount of it makes me sneeze (as it would if it were regular dust) so I wear a mask whenever I futilely try to sweep off my porches. The little particles are so tiny, you really can't get them all off the porch floor. And though I have considered it, I think using a vacuum cleaner in what is technically an outside space is a little too close to have-to-scrub-my-hands-100-times-a-day town for my liking.

I've sort of finished an art piece that's been sitting on my desk for months, and I'm in the middle of converting an XL men's buttondown shirt into a shirtdress. The sleeves are tripping me up, big time. I'll try to post a picture of it when it's finished. (I should have taken a "before" shot... oh well.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Hey! The event happened. And it went ok! We somehow bought just the right number of hot dogs, ending up with just 3 veggie dogs (and selling out of the beef and turkey ones). And everyone seemed happy with everything. A couple of people even congratulated us on the success, which was nice. I still wish we had had a couple more people on the ball with us, since I needed to be in two places at once for most of the time. But whatever, it worked out.

And the work situation has improved since I met an important deadline yesterday, though some details have yet to be determined and could easily come back and bite me in the ass. (Is this post just full of metaphors? Like, more that you could shake a stick at?)

In other news, my cutie 5-year-old niece apparently thinks my phone number is 4, since that's my speed dial number on her mom's cell phone. CUTE. She keeps calling me to talk about (or leave messages about) the video game Katamari Damacy, with which she is obsessed (like she was with Wall-E, and to a smaller extent, Spongebob Squarepants). She's a pretty cool kid.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Helloooooooooo! Is anybody in here? *taps door*


Well, here I am. Why haven't I written? Because I keep having to write how-to lists like this (actual list; all items need to be completed by noon Saturday, only two or three are done):

Find people who will let us borrow their barbecue grills
Make sample paper kite, procure all ingredients to make multiple kites, make template for kite
Figure out how much food we should buy for an unknown number of people (could be 10, could be 50)
Then, find someone with a CostCo membership who wouldn't mind driving down to West Springfield with us and letting us use their card (I actually found one! A total angel. We are going right after work tomorrow.)
Dust and swab down large screened-in patio, tables, and chairs
Wash two loads of drinking glasses and melamine plates
Find/borrow/purchase Bingo set
Set up parking signs
Send multiple emails and make multiple calls to multiple people arranging help and promoting the event

This is all so dumb. It's for a neighborhood picnic/party thing that my neighbor/coworker K and I are hosting as part of the association we're heading up, and not many people have told us they're coming, so we have no idea what the reception will be. K and I want to live in a place full of interesting, open, and friendly people, but we sure do seem to live amongst a fair share of complainers. And when a person works full time and is giving up big chunks of free time to make something like this happen, and some retiree has some minor complaint about this or that, it can be hard to not say, "Hey you know what? We're just trying to do something fun, for neighbors to get to know each other and have fun. It's taken us hours to put it all together. YOU'RE WELCOME."

Not that I know anyone in a position like that personally. *cough*

Whatever; our goal is to keep the event relatively simple so that we can have fun at it, even if nobody else shows up beyond the few people who promised to help us. Fun is our goal.

I haven't even mentioned the crap going on at work, which I won't, because I do not want to get fired. My job is not in jeopardy or anything -- not today, at least -- but let's just say I have had more than usual to drink the past two nights (which means having two drinks instead of the usual one. Don't freak out, mom). And CJ's motherfucking cat now meows loudly and non-stop from the first dawn's light onward. It's like having a newborn baby, what with the sleep disruption, though at least if it WERE a baby I could breastfeed the fucking thing to get it to fall back asleep.

Time for bed, more later. Thanks for still reading.