Monthly Archives: March 2016

Repurpose

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Despite the cookie-cutter set-up of each show, (which is true of all of the reality shows on television) I find I have been completely sucked in by “Fixer Upper” on HGTV. Joanna and Chip make me laugh, and the houses they re-do are just beautiful when completed. If Larry and I ever win the lottery, I’m going to see if I can convince them to come renovate our garage.

One of the things I like so much about the show is how they try to repurpose as many materials as they can. The table in the picture is from a shop I was in with friends this past Saturday, and I loved the use of old doors. I’m not 100% sure what’s going on with the two doors against the wall, but I think turning lovely old doors and table legs into new pieces always looks so pretty.

I wish I had more confidence about my ability to do those kinds of things. If I could just get the mind-set of, “If it doesn’t work, take it apart and start over,” it would help.  It’s funny, because that’s how I approach gardening and cooking, and I approached lesson-planning that way. I just haven’t been able to extend that to things that require a hammer, nails, and paint.  Maybe I need to add it to the list of things to tackle.

The more things change…

I just finished reading Vanity Fair by William Thackeray for the first time. I waver between feeling like I enjoyed it and feeling like I’ll never get those hours back. It’s rare that I read a book and find nothing to like about any of the characters, but this one succeeds in that dubious distinction. The thing is, given that its a satire of the behaviors and psychology of people during the Regency period in England, and that the subtitle is “a novel without a hero,” I don’t think I was supposed to particularly like any of the characters. While a good plot is probably the most important thing for my enjoyment of a novel, liking even one character is also pretty important. (I’m also a sucker for “good writing,” which certainly existed in this novel, even though his sentences were sometimes tortuously long and winding…and then kind of irrelevant to the main plot.) The plot of Vanity Fair is well-woven and held my interest, but the characters fought against that and sometimes made picking up the book feel more like a duty.

I couldn’t help making comparisons of the world Thackeray is satirizing with modern times in America, and I was rather amazed that the follies and faults of his characters didn’t feel dated at all. Greed, a longing for power, a shallow fascination with being entertained above other matters, hypocritical piety, adultery…it sounds like a selection of articles in the Sunday paper. It seems to support the idea that human psychology is pretty strongly wired in certain ways (which I think is probably the case for the good in humanity, as well, but that doesn’t really show up in the novel, so…).

Oddly enough, as these things so often work, in the final episode of “Downton Abbey” on Sunday night, Mary alludes to Becky Sharp, the female antagonist of Vanity Fair. If I hadn’t been reading it, I would have missed the allusion entirely. It wouldn’t have made my enjoyment of the show any less, I think, to have missed it; however, knowing the reference did add a layer of understanding of the scene that would have been lacking. It’s this, I think, that leads so many educators to call for a canon of works that students read in school, and it helps me sympathize somewhat with their cause. When we read many of the same books, we have a common language that helps add layers of understanding to our communications through our allusions, connections, and references.

What should be in that canon, however, is not something easily agreed upon, and I don’t think I’m going there in this post.

Anticipation

I’m sitting in the living room, and the smell of the Meyer lemon and Key lime plants that are fruiting and in bloom behind me make it smell like a tropical garden. They’ve been blooming off and on all winter, and inhaling the scent is an instant pick-me-up on gray days.

Now that the forecast is predicting lots of warming, I’ll start moving them outside for a few hours of fresh air each day. I’m rubbish at transitioning plants to new conditions in spring and fall, but I’d be devastated to lose these two, so I’ll have to be careful.

Walking the dogs today, there were signs everywhere that we’ll probably see an early spring. Mother Nature is unpredictable, but the early daffodils are three inches tall, the cherry buds are growing, and the ground had a little more give to it today than it has. I’ll start seeds this week for onions, celeriac, and Brussels sprouts, and hope that my sprouts actually do something this year. I had a bumper crop last year, but they were from the starts I bought as a hedge fund against my continued inability to get my own to thrive.

I have a love-hate relationship with winter. When fall roles around, I’m ready. I’m tired of the work in the garden and the break is welcome. Then there’s Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the new year to keep me occupied. And then…three (if we’re lucky) or four months until the cold lets go and the flowers come back. This winter was incredibly mild, so the longing for spring didn’t start as early as it sometimes does. I was harvestingkale and escarole from the garden into December, and I’ve been able to get out hiking with the dogs quite a bit. Last winter was so cold, any time spent outside felt like a punishment. Mild or no, I’m ready for green leaves, flowers, and food from the garden instead of the freezer and pantry. Welcome back, sun.

Daily play

I catered a dinner party last night, and it turned out that many on the guest list were teachers. It was the first time I had been in a roomful of teachers since I left a year and a half ago, and it was an odd feeling. Kind of like being stuck between two ex-boyfriends, one of whom you’re still friends with, and the other of whom you had hoped to never see again. In between plucking pin bones from nine pounds of salmon (motherflowersonofabiscuitwhatapainintheass) and cutting vegetables for stir-fry, I caught snippets of conversations that both reminded me why I left and reinforced why I still miss the classroom so much.

There was the usual griping about paper-grading, parents, and testing. There were the usual “funny things kids say and do” stories. I overheard conversations about school sports, math assignments, and not having enough time to go to the bathroom between classes. It was nice to hear what seemed to be a genuine camaraderie between all of these teachers, regardless of the grades or subjects taught. A few times, I had to resist the urge to chime in, but with all those pin bones to take care of, chatting wasn’t really an option, anyway. (Note to self: only do salmon for small groups.)

I do miss “talking teaching” with people who are passionate about the classroom, and I miss talking books and writing with students. I get a little bit of a fix during the book group I work with every other week, but that daily play of talking about the importance of words is definitely missing.

And I’m pretty sure this means I should be committed, but I miss working with teenagers. The kids were always the best part of the job, and as insane as they made me, they also brought a lot of joy into my life. Meeting new people at dinner parties does that a bit, but I find salmon to be lacking in the conversation department.

None of this is new, of course. I knew when I left that it would be like this, and often there are days (usually when the dogs let me sleep past the time I would have gotten up for work) that I think, “Ahhh, this isn’t so bad.” But to continue with the sleeping theme, we have to lie in the beds we make, and sometimes, the sleep is not as awesome as other times.

Today, or bust

Last week, with a fridge full of vegetables staring at me and saying, “Today, or bust,” I decided I wanted Indian food. I don’t know much–if anything–about the regional cooking of the country, and there is nothing particularly authentic about what I made, but riffing on things I love at our local Indian restaurant (where I had just eaten two days prior), I came up with this.

I added about half a pound of roasted shrimp, but it didn’t need it {shelled and deveined, rinsed, patted dry, sprinkled with salt and pepper, plopped (separated) on a foil-lined baking sheet, and into a 350 oven for about five minutes}. That said, if you want the protein, chickpeas (rinsed and drained) and pre-cooked chunks of chicken (hello, grocery store rotisserie chicken that makes life easier) would be great. I had it with the leftover rice and naan from the restaurant. What do they do that makes their basmati rice a thousand times better than mine…? I need to ask.

I’m writing it up here because I just finished the leftovers, and want to remember what I did. There are no pictures, because I scarfed it down.  Maybe next time. There will definitely be a next time.

Vegetable Curry

1 tbsp oil (I used extra virgin olive oil)

½ cup chopped onion

1 ½ jalapenos, (seeded if desired) and chopped small

2 cloves garlic, minced

½ head of cauliflower, florets separated and halved (about 3- 4 cups)

2-3 cups chopped frozen kale, defrosted (I had it in the freezer from last year’s gardening season; you could definitely use fresh, but boil or steam it first so that it’s already tender)

¼- ¾ cup water

1-15 oz can coconut milk

½ of a 15 oz can of diced tomatoes (more, if desired)

1 ½ tsp curry powder (I love Penzey’s and Simply Organic.)

¼- ½ tsp cumin seed (I didn’t toast it, because I forgot, and it was still great)

Kosher salt and pepper to taste

¼ cup dried currants (golden or regular raisins would also be great here)

 

  1. Warm the oil in a large skillet with a lid (could also use a Dutch oven) over medium heat, and add the onion and jalapeno. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables start to soften, about 3-4 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for one minute.
  2. Add the cauliflower, kale, ¼ tsp salt, a pinch of black pepper, and ¼ cup of water. Stir, cover with a lid, and cook until cauliflower starts to soften, about 8-10 minutes. Stir occasionally to make sure the pan doesn’t dry out. You don’t want the cooked vegetables swimming in liquid, just a little lingering in the pan.
  3. Once the cauliflower is softened, add the coconut milk, tomatoes, curry powder, and cumin seed. Lower the heat to medium-low and stir until the coconut milk is fully incorporated. Don’t let the mixture boil at any point.
  4. Let the mixture simmer for 5 minutes and stir in the currants. Taste for seasoning at this point, and add additional salt and pepper, if desired. Simmer another 5 minutes, or until the cauliflower is completely soft but not falling apart. Serve.

Getting out of my own way

I made bread this morning. It is absolutely delicious, and I think it’s going to be the “house sandwich bread” recipe*.

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I’m going to have to work on the whole “getting it out of the pan” thing, though.

No matter. I’ve already eaten three slices…or whatever you want to call the pieces I’m cutting off. Is there a word for a slice of bread that isn’t fully attached to itself?

It’s funny; I’m a pretty confident cook, and that includes most baking. But bread-baking, the kind with yeast, is something with which I haven’t become quite comfortable. Most of the breads I’ve made have been edible. Heck, sometimes they’re wonderful. And when they aren’t edible as toast or for sandwiches, I use them as breadcrumbs or in a strata, so they aren’t a waste. But I don’t often rush to make a yeast bread recipe like I might with another recipe that has caught my attention.

I’m pretty sure this is psychological. The whole “bread is the staff of life” thing is pretty engraved on my psyche, and the thought that every week people have been making bread at home, by the dozens of loaves if the family is large, since time immemorial should be a comforting one. Instead, it turns me into this timid mouse. I tend to mentally over-complicate the whole thing, building up the time required into this mountain I can’t possibly cross in a day, never mind a morning of baking. Ridiculous, but there we have it.

I think people do this with tasks/plans/dreams a lot (or maybe I’m hoping it’s not just me…). We build them up in our heads until they become these insurmountable, unattainable things (that’s the technical term). I did it with starting a business. I assumed that getting a business certificate that would allow me to open a business in my county would be a months-long, millions of papers to fill out odyssey.

It took ten minutes.

I was so tickled, I went and got one in the neighboring county, too. (Okay, I had to have it because my business will operate there, as well. But really, it was so easy. In both counties.) I’m embarrassed to admit that I put it off for a few months because I couldn’t mentally deal with what I had built it up to be in my imagination.

It was a good lesson.  Unfortunately, it was not the first time I learned it. And it won’t be the last. Sometimes, getting out of my own way is the most important thing I can do. And the hardest.

*This is the recipe, if you’re interested: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/classic-100-whole-wheat-bread-recipe  I used the maple syrup option. It really is delicious. But use a well-oiled pan.

Things that matter

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This morning’s Facebook feed had one of those “your memories” photos from a year ago today. I’m wrapped in a blanket, one eye and part of my nose showing, and wishing it would be warm. Last winter was brutal, no doubt about it. Today is very different, with blue sky and sunshine currently holding out against the encroaching clouds that are pushing in over the mountain. According to the weather channels, the gray skies are going to win, but right now the sun glinting on last night’s very crunchy snow is beautiful.

When I pulled into our driveway last night, I had to brake hard. Standing in about fifteen feet from the road and grazing on the grass at the edge of the pavement were two deer. One spooked instantly and ran off to the north, but the other stared at me as if to say, “Oh, is this your driveway?” It sauntered off into the yard about 75 feet away, stopped, and looked back at me. I’m pretty sure it said, “Could you drive on now? That patch of grass is pretty tasty, and you’re in my way.”

I peeked out at it once I was in the house and it was right back where it had been, and stayed there for about fifteen minutes. The gardener in me kind of wanted to shoo it away, since the rotten animals have been nibbling the tips off of all my young trees in that field, but I’m still always so amazed to see them, and feel kind of honored that they stop in our yard.

Moments like these–sparkly snow, deer so close you feel like you could walk up and pet them–are good reminders of what matters in the world.

Clutching at mental straws

I am sitting at our kitchen table clutching a gigantic mug of tea with milk and sugar, and clutching at mental straws, both for comfort. I made the mistake of looking at preliminary poll results for Super Tuesday (a name we’ll have to change now, I think) and I’m reeling. I keep hoping some reporter is going to pop up and say, “You’re on Candid Camera, America!”

I zig-zag between thinking, “Oh my god, what has happened to this country?” and, “It will be okay. It’s only four years. America has had terrible presidents before, and survived.” And I know I’m jumping to conclusions that are by no means predetermined, but I am fighting down a panic attack over thoughts of what might happen to this country if Donald Trump is elected.

What kind of message is America sending when a large percentage of voters are choosing a man with the kinds of values Trump seems to have? What kind of message does Trump’s success send to Black people, hard-working immigrants, and non-Christians who are citizens of this country? Equally important, what kind of message is America sending to the world? It is naive to think that how the world views us is irrelevant; 9/11 taught us that very clearly.

Many articles I’ve read espouse the theory that it is disenfranchised white males, terrified of losing their majority, who respond to Trump’s antics (what else should I call them?). But poll numbers across the nation would indicate that it is not simply those white males who are supporting him. If it is, then they are the only Republicans showing up to the polls.

How does a citizen who lives in a country founded on the principals of freedom, justice, and equality (even if the birthing has been a long, tough one and is still not quite over) give any credence to a man who spews hatred at his worst and tomfoolery at his best, every time he opens his mouth? Why are the racist, bigoted, uneducated, half-formed ideas of a man with no consistent platform or ideas for running our country resonating with so many citizens? A man interviewed about his support for Trump said it was like voting with his middle finger. Really? This should be considered an admirable way to make a decision?

What happened to voting as an act of thoughtfulness, or of hopeful defiance, instead of an act of rage? I am disgusted with our current two-party system, and with the utter disregard our politicians seem to have for the ordinary men and women who make up this nation. But when I choose my candidates, I do it with the idea that voting is an act of hope, not a “fuck you” to the people of this country with whom I don’t agree.  I’m all for change, attained by radical means if necessary, but the idea that a president who thinks, “saying it like it is,” is an acceptable excuse for hate-mongering goes against everything decent for which our founders strove.

And we haven’t even gotten into whether or not the man has any capability to handle the president’s duties in foreign policy.

I am truly frightened for the future of this country if Trump is elected president. It feels like it will be a reversal of everything we have achieved in the last 150 years, both on the “freedom and justice for all” stage at home, which is pretty wobbly, and on the stage of world opinion, also wobbly. The slog toward November is going to be a long one.