zoethe: (Peppahs)
2012-09-15 04:05 pm

Iron Maiden

It was inevitable, but today was the day: I realized that I need two cast iron dutch ovens. I have a pot roast simmering in my dutch oven, and I also want to bake a loaf of bread.

The thing is, I have large, heavy, stainless steel stock pots, but they simply don't serve the same function as the cast iron. The heaviness of the stainless steel doesn't come close to the slow, even heat that cast iron provides.

I grew up cooking in cast iron, until Mom got some no-stick pans. We used them for a little while, but quickly found ourselves back to using the good old cast iron pans. Food cooked more evenly, and just tasted better. When I got married, one of the first things I bought was a cast iron pan. I cooked in that pan, and the others I bought to go with it, for most of my first marriage.

When we left Alaska, I made a bad mistake. I traded the weight of my cast iron for the relatively light stainless. And for a long time I lived without cast iron. But I missed my cast iron. Then I read about the high quality bread that a dutch oven produces.

I'd say it was the thin edge of the wedge, but there's nothing thin about that dutch oven. It weights 17 pounds. Still, I have added a 15" skillet (a MONSTER - it's fabulous!), a deep 10" skillet (a lovely gift from dear friends) and a little 8-incher. I still want a 12" skillet, and of course a second dutch oven.

At this point, my regular stainless steel sees very little use, except for my really nice All-Clad 12" skillet, which I use when I'm cooking eggs. My storage for my cast iron is inconveniently placed and I have to heft it about quite a bit. For me, it's worth it.

As for today, I switched bread plans to a flatter, ciabatta-style bread. And started daydreaming about more cast iron.
zoethe: (bike)
2012-07-15 01:09 pm

A crash that almost happened

I almost hit a cyclist with my car last night in Lakewood. Why? Because he was riding on the sidewalk, and shot out into the crosswalk from behind parked cars just as I was turning right. He had the walk light, but he was in the blind spot caused by the pillar between my windshield and the passenger-side door, and I simply didn't see him. Fortunately, my passengers saw him and yelled for me to stop. We were all shaken by the close call.

Following that, we were walking on the sidewalk and almost got hit by cyclists three times. They weren't riding recklessly, they were just riding on busy sidewalks, and trying to weave around pedestrians.

This would all have been avoided if they had all been riding on the street where they belonged. It's great seeing so many more bikes out there, but the education of both motorists and cyclists needs to continue. I'm seeing more bikes, yes, but I'm seeing a lot of them on sidewalks, which is dangerous to pedestrians and dangerous to the cyclists.

Sidewalks were okay for bikes when they weighed 40 pounds, had only one gear, and traveled about 8 miles an hour. Now, I can easily be flying along at 15 miles and hour, and I'm not a very fast cyclist. I know people who regularly ride about at 20+ mph.

Do you really want that barreling down on the small children playing in your yard? On your grandma?

Additionally, cars pulling out of side streets or onto the aprons of driveways are not going to be prepared to deal with a bike shooting toward them at 15 mph. Most of my close calls have been caused by the times I foolishly rode on the sidewalk and almost collided with the side of someone pulling up to the intersection from a parking lot. Bikes simply move too fast to be safely on sidewalks.

I'm tempted to counter-program the people who honk at me and yell for me to get back on the sidewalk. I'm tempted to honk and yell at sidewalk cyclists and tell them to get in the street where they belong.
zoethe: (Bread)
2012-07-09 09:13 pm

BBA #12 English Muffins

With the Cranberry Walnut bread out of the way, I'm enthused about the next batch of breads in the book, and today I tackled English Muffins.

English muffins are different from most other yeast breads as they are initially cooked on a griddle or other flat surface. The first part of the dough was pretty standard, then after the first rise the dough is divided and the muffins are shaped. They then rest on cornmeal for their second rise.

Cornmeal is also sprinkled over the top. After another hour of rising, the muffins are carefully lifted into the skillet. They are puffed up on top, and puff up even more.

Once they are flipped, they flatten on the second side.

I had a little trouble at this point because my "medium" heat was too hot, so the muffins were getting browned too fast to cook the middle. Next time I will definitely have a cooler griddle.

Once the griddle portion is done, the muffins go into the oven to bake for another 5-8 minutes. This is when I was really glad that I have a huge skillet that could cook all six muffins at once, because the instructions were to get the ones that were done into the oven without waiting for the others, so it could have been a bit chaotic.

As my muffins were a bit underdone due to the too-hot skillet, I baked them a couple minutes extra. When they came out, the family was hovering in the kitchen, eyes gleaming in hunger. There were loud protests when I told them that they had to cool for half an hour.

After 20 minutes I couldn't hold them back any longer. I insisted on fork-splitting them, and then we dove in.

They were absolutely delicious. I could probably make them at least once a week and people would complain it wasn't often enough. They rose nicely, flattened nicely, and looked like English muffins. I am very happy with this one.

Next up: focaccia!
zoethe: (bike)
2012-07-08 04:39 pm

Cooking from the back of my bike

Today was the first true long-distance ride in my training: riding out to Vermillion, Ohio, and back, a 60-mile trip. Erin, who has now signed up for Pedal to the Point and is planning to undertake this crazy ride with me.

We chose today because the weather forecast was for cooler temperatures, and in fact the worst of the heat did break last night. We planned on a 7am departure, riding along the shore to Vermillion, where we would stop for brunch before turning around and coming back.

But before we left, I wanted to make sure that there would be something for dinner this evening. And I knew that I wasn’t going to be in the mood to start cooking something after 60 miles of biking. So last night I got a nice roast out of the freezer and this morning I got up at 6 and chopped onion and garlic, then seared the roast, sauteed the aromatics, and added broth for a potroast.

Erin and I got on the road at about 7:30. The ride out was going well, but we got a little confused in Lorain we suddenly found ourselves getting cheers and encouragement from the people along the street. I mean, Lorain is certainly a friendly town, but this seemed a bit extreme.

It turns out that we had biked right into the middle of a triathlon in which the biking segment was well underway. So well underway, in fact, that we appeared to be stragglers in dire need of encouragement. We had no choice, really, but to keep biking along, returning the smiles of our supporters as bikers in sleek jerseys, leaning heavily into their drops and also giving us a sideways glance of pity.

When we started running into cops who asked if we’d taken a wrong turn, we realized how pitiful we appeared to everyone. But when we reached the turnaround, we were only a short distance behind the last turners. We waved off the last of the helpful police, explaining that we were on our way to Vermillion.

The rest of the ride out was uneventful. What I hadn’t taken into account was how quiet Sunday morning is in Vermillion. We managed to find one little place open and got some breakfast.

Then we started back. Into a headwind. This is when the fun started draining out of the day.

We eventually made it back, tired, sweaty, legs hurting, and pretty much beyond moving. Now dinner is about done, thanks to the addition of veggies. And I am very glad I took the time to start dinner this morning!
zoethe: (bike)
2012-07-06 09:22 am

Biking to Death

How has more than a month passed since I last wrote in this journal? Time flies.

It's been kind of crazy busy, and a lot of that has to do with the biking. I'm closing in on 1,000 miles for the year--assuming this weekend goes as planned, I will surpass that mark. And now I have a riding companion. My older daughter, Erin, is living with us temporarily while she is getting resettled here in Cleveland, and she has taken to this biking thing like the proverbial merganser to a lake. We are a well-matched team, and companionably putting in the miles.

July 4 was a bit of a challenge, though. Patti's Paladin's had a breakfast training ride, for which I assumed we would ride our usual 20-mile path. This is the path that is 5 miles steadily uphill, 10 miles of rollercoaster hills, then a 5 miles cruise back to Patti and Mike's.

The predicted heat index for July 4 was 104 degrees.

So I was already steeling myself for this ride--though not really prepping myself, in that Ferrett's birthday party was the night before and I didn't actually get to bed until after 3am. And I had to get up at 6:30 in order to finish the fresh bagels I was making to take to the breakfast. (Which went over with great success, and many people being gobsmacked at the notion that anyone would make bagels at home!) So I wasn't exactly rested and refreshed for the ride.

Then Mike informed us that the ride would be to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and back. Which meant that all the downhill was at the beginning of the ride. And we would have to climb back up the cliff face that is the climb back up to Cleveland Heights. At the end of the ride. In the mounting heat.


Erin and I started out with the rest of the pack. The rest of the pack consisted of 9 men who have a combined body fat of about 12 pounds, and that crazed look that says "25 miles an hour is an okay average speed, if you're really not up to more" We were pedaling hard to keep up. On the downhill portion of the ride. Once we flattened out and headed west along the shoreway, I have to confess that I abandoned Erin to the tender mercies of one fellow rider who had stayed back to help her along. Mostly because I knew that if I slowed down to accommodate her, I would lose far too much momentum and we would just fall further and further behind. I had to just concentrate on the slowly receding rider in front of me and try to keep that distance from increasing.

By the time we pulled up under the trees at the Rock Hall, the temperature was 91, the heat index was 100, and I was vaguely nauseated. Erin pulled up behind me and said, "I think I hate you a little bit right now."

It was all right, though; I hated me a little bit just then, too.

I could not imagine biking uphill all the way back to Mike and Patti's. And I realized that we didn't have to: we were already halfway to home, where Ferrett was still waiting for us to let him know we'd finished the ride and was planning to drive over for the post-ride picnic. Our house is at a much lower elevation. There would not be a steady, uphill ride with a big cliff in the middle!

Now, my friends on either coast will laugh at me for my struggle against this relatively minor elevation change. And I fully acknowledge that back when I lived in Alaska I used to bike up and down mountains. But I have to say this in my defense: I'm old and fat! Also, humidity is a bitch, and so is heat. If it had been in the 70s, I would have attempted the ride back.

With weather that felt like 100 degrees? No. Bloody. Way.

So Erin and I continued west, accompanied briefly by this collection of bike warriors. We biked along the shoreway and through shaded neighborhoods, and that part was good.

Then we got back out into the sun, and things began to go pear-shaped. Neither of us is good with heat, and the sun was beating down on us with mid-day intensity. We were still drinking water, and still moving forward, but our pace was going off and we were starting to get leg cramps. By the time we were 3 miles from home, I was genuinely worried about heat exhaustion.

Did I mention that there was a Severe Heat Warning in effect?

Fortunately, I remembered that there was a McDonald's nearby and steered us toward those golden arches. I never imagined that I would find myself this grateful for the existence of fast food. We locked up our bikes and staggered into the blessed air conditioning. Erin was trembling. We ordered large drinks and grabbed packets of salt and sat for 20 minutes in the cool, gulping down iced beverages and eating salt straight from the packets. Recovered, we were able to finish the ride back to the house, showered, and went back for food and companionship. But it honestly took most of yesterday for us to really feel recovered. I honestly think we were on the edge of being in serious trouble. And I hope this heat breaks soon, because I can't imagine going through this for 75 miles.

Oh, and I also made the next bread in the BBA challenge, cranberry celebration bread. I was just as unimpressed with it as I expected to be, but at least it's over now!
zoethe: (bike)
2012-05-26 07:40 pm

Riding in a Critical Mass

‎Last night I attended my first Cleveland Critical Mass bike ride. Don’t feel badly that you don’t know what that means; I didn’t know about it until a few weeks ago. Critical Mass rides happen on the last Friday of the month in about 300 different cities all over the states and in some other countries. Here in Cleveland we had about 400 riders. In other places they have over 1,000.

400 riders strung out along a roadway was an incredibly impressive sight. We must have stretched out close to half a mile. I can’t even imagine 1,000.

The point of Critical Mass is not speed or getting to a destination first. The point is to raise local awareness of bicyclists and our right–nay, requirement–to share the roads. Did you know that in many states, including Ohio, it’s a misdemeanor for adult cyclists to ride on the sidewalk? This is because sidewalks are for walking, and people walking are generally traveling at 2-5 miles per hour. Whereas cyclists are generally traveling at least 8 miles an hour, and easily can be traveling 18, 20, or more. Cyclists are a hazard to walkers. They are operating vehicles, and belong on the street.

And the fact is that cyclists are safer on the street. I have been clipped by a car once on the street, it’s true. But I’ve had many near-collisions when riding on the sidewalk, because people are not looking for a bike on the sidewalk moving at 12 mph when they back out of a driveway or pull up to an intersection. They see me when I’m on the street.

Still, there are people who don’t understand the law who still honk at cyclists, yell at them to get on the sidewalk, and even assault them. A recent instance I read about was someone whose kid was pelted with a milkshake that was thrown from a car window. I’ve had people swerve at me, and someone open a passenger-side door in my face just to frighten me.

I’m not sure where this level of anger comes from. Yes, you might have to slow down and pull over to the left to get around a cyclist. But you’d have to do the same if a UPS truck was stopped there, and I don’t see anyone honking at the UPS guy. I sometimes have a sneaking suspicion that some of the resentment comes from thinking that the cyclist feels superior to people driving the car, or a guilt that the driver feels for driving along, drinking a milkshake while these cyclists are exercising.

I know that I’ve been cursed at with “fatso, get off the road!” As if my wide hips are taking up more space. My very presence offends some people.

I’ve learned to be more assertive in my biking, and also more cautious. I try to stick to roads with four lanes, and to bike toward the middle of the right lane so people don’t try the slip past me when there really isn’t enough room. I also bike at off hours or against the rush hour traffic so that I’m not frustrating tired people who just want to get home from work as soon as possible. I take my share of the road, but try to do so with respect for drivers.

And I obey traffic laws. I stop for red lights. I yield at stop signs–a full stop is incredibly wearing on the knees, so I cheat a bit, but I give up the right-of-way when it’s not mine to take. I signal my turns. I try to be a good citizen.

Still, it’s hard to be a cyclist at times. And cycling alone always seems more subject to verbal abuse than cycling with a group, or even just two.

So last night, cycling with 400 people, was a kind of empowerment. We rode through neighborhoods where kids ran to the fences, waving wildly at us, adults smiled and called out encouragement, and drivers waiting at intersections honked their horns not with impatience but in celebration. We were a novelty, this enormous group of cyclists.

We were a parade.

Maybe the people who smiled at our dinging bells and honking horns and smiling waves will remember us. Maybe when they come along a solitary cyclist pedaling down a narrow street, they will recall the crazy, happy atmosphere of last night’s ride.

And maybe they will be just a little more patient, give just a little more room, and we can all be better citizens on the road together.
zoethe: (bike)
2012-05-25 08:39 am

Pedal to the Point--so close to $2,000

This is the last day for the initial push for Pedal to the Point, so one final nagging/begging for now, and I promise not to bug you again--at least not until July ;-)

I'm getting close to raising $2,000, and I'd like to reach that number before the end of the night. To those of you who've already given, thank you SO MUCH for your generosity!

A couple people were having problems with the main page link not leading to the donation page link. I think the site has that worked out now, but here's the link directly to the donation page.

And thank you thank you thank you!
zoethe: (Bread)
2012-05-24 09:17 am

BBA Challenge #10: Cornbread

This is the only bread in the book that isn't yeast-based, and I was looking forward to it because it involved bacon. It was a very different recipe from most cornbreads that I've had because it included actual corn kernels.'

It was also a huge disappointment. So huge that it honestly sort of threw me out of the BBA challenge mood. I baked this bread in February, and haven't tackled another bread since.

Now, I can't blame that entirely on the cornbread. I did get very sick in February, and then I started biking like a madwoman at the end of the month. But I'm not excited about the next bread in the book, which is another sweet fruit bread. So I've let the project lapse, with the excuse that I hadn't written up the cornbread yet. Maybe getting this out of my system will get me going again.

So, what was wrong with the cornbread? It was too sweet for the savoriness of the bacon on top, and I would have used half the kernel corn that they recommended. It just didn't tickle our fancies.

It's not even worth a picture. But with that out of my system, maybe I'll get back to baking.
zoethe: (bike)
2012-05-23 11:26 am

Where I was; where I’m going

Ferrett just wrote a terrific entry about why you should sponsor me. But I feel compelled to explain a little more what riding in the MS Pedal to the Point 150-mile ride really means for me personally.

Long-time readers of my journal will remember that I spent the better part of 2005 writing about my experience losing weight and getting into shape. That effort eventually failed, I stopped working out, gained weight, and stopped talking about it because, frankly, I was embarrassed and ashamed of myself. It was easier to lapse into silence than to admit my failure, even though everyone who read our journals and saw the occasional picture of me could tell that I had lost my battle.

Last August I underwent a minor medical procedure. Prepping for that procedure meant stepping on a scale, something I had avoided for a couple years. During that time I had also pretty much avoided all exercise as well. But the scale was a moment of truth. And the truth was, I weighed 299 pounds. One pound short of 300. By far, the most I've ever weighed. I was shocked and dismayed, and determined not to let the scale tip over to that next number. So I started eating better, cooking more at home, staying away from junk food.

But not working out. That took another month, because it just seemed overwhelming. Oh, I took a couple short walks, but it was easy to tell myself that I'd exercise "later"--a time that never came. Then in September I realized that my size was having a negative effect, to be blunt, on my sex life. As we started moving into more kinky sex, there were things I wanted to do that I was incapable of doing.

Sex is a great motivator.

September 19 is the date on which I embarked on a campaign of seriously taking care of myself. Since then, I have gone from being someone who could barely tie her own shoes to someone who just biked 41 miles on Monday and is going to bike another 20 today. Through sensible eating--and never dieting, mind you--and exercise, I've lost 60 pounds. I've gone from barely squeezing into a pair of size 24 jeans to slithering into a size 16 dress. I have a lot further to go. But I've come a long way.

And I'm very much aware that the odds of long term success are against me. Study after study shows that almost 95% of people who lose weight gain it all back within 5 years. That's scary to me, because I've done it before, and not just back in 2005. Yoyoing is a part of my personal history since college. I don't want to fail.

So I am not focused on weightloss; I am focused on fitness and health. The weightloss has been a wonderful side effect, and one I'm quite happy to enjoy, but even more important to me is that I may still be 80 pounds overweight, but I can ride 41 miles, and by August I will be able to ride 75 miles for two days in a row. That is my victory state, not a number on a scale.

Also? The sex is awesome.
zoethe: (bike)
2012-05-22 09:26 am

Changing my life, challenging myself

When I first started this my Living Graciously blog in December of 2009, the focus was going to be on changing my life and my body far more than on things like cooking. I abandoned the blog as I abandoned that project, and it sat idle for a very long time. As did I.

I got back into blogging there about the same time that I started working out and eating in a more healthful manner, but I decided then that I didn't want to let this become a place where I obsessed about my exercise and fitness, so I've avoided those topics for a couple reasons. First of all, I've been down the "shaping up" path before and eventually lost the battle, and that's a boring thing to write about. Secondly, because I think there is too much emphasis on having the perfect body and I don't endorse the kind of crazy behaviors that such an emphasis tends to encourage.

But I can't escape that these changes have become a part of me, particularly when I am doing something like training for Pedal to the Point. It's been such a focus for me that it's kind of shut down my blog writing, because I didn't feel like I could write honestly while avoiding those topics.

So I'm outing myself. I confess that I exercise regularly these days, and that it has helped me to get in better shape. I also continue to eat rich, tasty foods, eschew all forms of "lite" foods, use butter, eggs, and sour cream, eat meat, and have still lost weight. I will probably be writing a lot more about that part of my journey going forward.

In the meantime, training for Pedal to the Point continues. Yesterday I rode 41 miles. You go a long way in 41 miles! The ride out is the worst, really: every turn of the pedal takes you further from home. When we got to the 10-mile mark--a usually turnaround spot for me, part of my mind really thought we were halfway there. But no, instead of heading downhill on the bike trail, I turned upstream. The second 10 miles started okay, but halfway through that I was flagging a bit. By the time I reached twenty, I was only pedaling about 10 miles an hour and thinking, "Man, this is going to be a LONG ride home."

Then I found myself racing along at 16mph. Turns out I'd been going uphill all this time! That was a welcome relief. In all, it took me three and a half hours to bike the distance.

I'm not biking today. I think I've earned a day off. But I'm still looking for more donations for that lighter, faster bike! Please consider sponsoring me for Pedal to the Point during this week when the bike prize is available. Thanks!
zoethe: (Default)
2012-03-24 12:21 pm

Making peace with myself

One of the things I haven't written about much here is my current efforts to get back into shape. Part of that is embarrassment: I did so well a few years back, then lost the battle, the war, and additional territory. No one likes to talk about their failures. But it's all part of me, and part of living graciously is being healthy and capable. So I guess I'm going to start talking about it.

One of the most important aspects to me about all this is that I don't believe in dieting and denial. It's the perfect setup for failure. I believe in moderation, intentional eating, and movement.

The other night, I sat in the movie theater surrounded by the delicious smell of popcorn, but didn't want any. A friend brought over home-baked cookies, and I ate only one. We bought my favorite Girl Scout cookies, and they are still in the snack drawer, leaving me untempted.

If I think about these things, the question in my head is, "Does eating this taste better than the progress I'm making feels?" And most of the time, the answer is, no.

When the answer is yes, I do indulge myself. I didn't deprive myself of one of my friend's delicious cookies. Tonight I will be attending a party where the hostess is an amazing cook, and I will definitely be eating some less-than-healthy snacks and having a couple drinks. But I am confident that I will be retaining my center and will not just go crazy at the snack table.

I am in a good place, mentally, about my progress. But I can remember that less than a year ago, the answer to the question of "Is eating this more important than my health?" Was "YES! Yes is is! I don't care about my size, I don't care how I look, all I care about is the smooth, chocolatey taste of this entire can of frosting going down my throat." That was the person I was a year ago. I can remember it vividly.

I don't understand her at all. I can't comprehend why she felt that way. I am baffled by her complete unwillingness to take a walk around the block, let alone actually work out.

But here's the thing that I have to remember: she is still inside me. She's quiet right now, but there will come a day when something triggers her to come roaring to the surface. I've made the smug assumption in the past that she was completely tamed, completely eradicated, only to wake up and find that she had taken over and a year's worth of hard work had been erased and she was completely in control.

I can't beat her by hating her. She is part of me, and self-hatred is self-defeating. I have to be vigilant for her reappearance, but when she does? I need to look at her honestly, ask her why she is here. What is it that she fears? What is is that she needs? What does she want? I have to take the time to love and understand her, and give her the things that she needs that aren't food. She is empty and aching, and food is her methadone for what she honestly needs.

She started to surface last night. I'm home alone for the weekend, I'm still not feeling very well, even though I am improving daily, and I was suddenly filled with overwhelming sadness, loneliness, and a sense of helplessness. Part of me said, "eat those leftovers you're saving for lunch tomorrow, and break open a bottle of wine; it will make you feel better."

I have to say, it was a real temptation. But I took a deep breath, centered myself, and asked, what is it that I really need? The answer was that I had been up too late the night before, gotten up too early in the morning, and was exhausted beyond the usual measure because I'm still getting over being sick. What I really needed was not to stuff my face and watch maudlin movies. What I needed was sleep. And so instead of inhaling the contents of the refrigerator in an act of defiant self-hatred, I went to sleep.

She is quieter today. Perhaps she will eventually learn that food is not the answer to pain. But she can't learn it if I treat her with disdain. She's part of me, and *all* of me deserves to be loved. Love isn't always giving yourself what you want; it's taking the time to really understand what you need.
zoethe: (Bread)
2012-03-09 02:03 pm

#9 Cinnamon Raisin Bread

A couple weeks have gone by since I baked. With Ferrett out of town, it would have been rather a lot of bread for just me. Now that he was back, and we had friends coming over for dinner, bread sounded like a great deal.

Like all breads, the first few steps looked pretty much the same: flour, yeast, water, salt. As this is an enriched bread, buttermilk and an egg. Cinnamon. Knead. No reason to clog of the intarwebs with more pictures of that.

Things only got interesting when I had to add a cup and a half of raisins:

That's a lot of raisins in a fairly small batch of dough. I used Sunkist tri-color raisins, and they were very pretty in the bread. But first I had to get them in the bread. So I started kneading.

The problem with kneading things like raisins into bread dough is that they tear up the gluten strands, which will negatively impact the rise of the dough. Therefore, it's necessary to take a slow and patient approach to folding them in. Once the bulk of the raisins had been absorbed, about half a cup of escapees were still spread all over the counter. I began rolling the dough around like I was playing Katamari Damacy and giggling like a loon.

Once the dough was ready, the instructions were to let it rise about two hours or until doubled. The recipe also has no degassing, or punching down, phase. But I refrained from adding one and did as I was told.

"Doubled" is a little hard to eyeball at times. I understand why some people use a translucent plastic bucket with measurements: the dough goes only up, instead of outward, so it's easier to see.

Next was forming loaves, and adding the cinnamon/sugar swirl. The recipe made two loaves, so I divided the bread and rolled each one out, then added the swirly, candy layer:

After that I rolled them as tightly as possible and put them into loaf pans to rise. Forgot to get a picture of them prior to rising, but here is one after:

Clearly, my "divide in half" skills need work.

The loaves took about 10 minutes longer than the recipe called for to get to what I considered "golden brown."

And the real test of cinnamon bread is how little it gaps along the swirl when sliced:

Impressive looking, n'est pas? Alas, further in the loaf it was quite gappy.

So the real real test of cinnamon bread is how it tastes. And the verdict was delicious! The bread itself was tender and tasty, and deserves to be made again. Next time, however, I think I will try the Cook's Illustrated method of braiding in the swirl. We'll see how that goes.
zoethe: (Default)
2012-03-06 09:29 am

Battle of the bed

The bed is made again this morning. That's two mornings in a row with Ferrett here, 12 days total.

I have gone back into the bedroom after he gets up and made the bed. We appear to have reached a good blanket detente: his extra quilt being sandwiched between the sheet and the top quilt is working, and makes pulling the bed together much easier than any other solution I've previously attempted.

So my bed battle is not with Ferrett. No, it is with fashion.

You see, you cannot buy a bedding set these days without the inclusion of decorative throw pillows. Decorative throw pillows are my undoing. It doesn't seem like picking up a few pillows and tossing them onto the bed would be that difficult, but it is the place where my brain rebels. They are the appendix of bedding: useless, except as a source for trouble.

Because the throw pillows end up in the corner on my side of the bed. And soft pillows on the floor are seed for a pile. The next thing I know, I'm taking off my clothes in the evening and thinking, "these pants can just lie here on the pillows instead of being hung up; I'm planning to put them on tomorrow morning" instead of hanging them in the closet. Then my workout clothes join that pile instead of being folded up and put on their little shelf until the next day, then I can't find those shorts I was going to re-wear, so I get out another pair, and then when I get undressed at night it's easier to think that I will put my underthings down the laundry chute tomorrow.

The next thing I know, I'm wading through clothing shin-deep to get to the bed.

Of course the answer of "just don't do that" is simple, but completely impossible. I've spent YEARS doing this. Every time I clean it all up, I swear it won't happen again. But it happens every time.

Clearly, tossing the pillows into the corner is unacceptable. And I know I won't put them on the bed. I am rather allergic to useless items, so that is a further mental block. If a thing has no purpose other than decoration, it better not require my attention for more than an occasional dusting. I don't do fuss.

So I've made the decision to simply throw. them. out. Of course it goes against every grain to toss out something that is "perfectly good." But they are only perfectly good for being an Achilles' Heel for me. So they are getting stuffed in a trash bag and tossed. No, I won't keep them for a garage sale or donate them: as Don Aslett says, you do no good in the world by passing on your trash to someone else. And I will make my bed in just a few minutes each morning and not worry about the frou frou that fashion has attempted to thrust upon me.

zoethe: (Bluebird)
2012-03-05 07:23 am

Warm and cuddly quilts: No one sees the blood, sweat, tears, and swearing

I owe quilts to many people. Many, many people. Some of them are partially done, some are still just gleams of ideas in my head. And part of my project to live more graciously is to get back to my fiber arts, my creative and giving side.

On Sunday, I attacked my sewing room, the last room in the house that had not been uncluttered in my "Hubby's out of town, let's spring clean" week. I got my work table and sewing table all cleaned up and found the fabric with which I intended to back a baby quilt that has been in the works since baby arrived.

He's walking now.

Go ahead and laugh, but I know crafters who are working on "baby quilts" that might be high school graduation presents. So I'm not that hopelessly behind.

No, really.

Having all the pieces in one place, and being "on a roll," I decided to sandwich and pin baste the baby quilt. For those who don't know, a quilt consists of a top, generally pieced in a pattern, a fabric backing, and between these some kind of batting that gives it loft and warmth. In order to get these three layers to stay together, they must be stitched through with a topstitch that can either be functionally placed in the seams of the pieced top or decoratively sewn in a pattern on the surface--otherwise known as "quilting."

Like the toilet paper.

In order to accomplish this permanent quilting, the layers must be temporarily basted together so that they don't shift and wrinkle. The easiest way to do this is with safety pins pinned about every six inches all over the surface. Even in a small project, it's a lot of safety pins. Generally this project is undertaken on large enough floorspace for the entire quilt to lie flat, and the quilter crawling about on her knees, trying not to wrinkle the portions she hasn't pinned yet. With a king sized quilt it can take two days and hundreds of pins.

If you want to make a quilter laugh, innocently ask her if she has a safety pin handy.

I was almost 2/3 of the way through the pin basting when I realized that I'd misaligned the quilt and half of the top row was pinned only to batting, with the backing laid out too far down. In other words, the top layer of the sandwich had slid completely out of alignment and was not over the bottom layer at all. A hundred safety pins, and all of it was out of whack and had to be redone.

I'm quite proud of myself that I dismissed my first two reactions:

  • Reaction one was, "I'll just cut off the top half of the blocks! He's a baby; he'll never know!

  • Reaction two was, "Kerosene and a match!"

But no, I took a deep breath, sighed, and unpinned all the work I'd done.

I'd like to say that I didn't even swear, but I can only say that I don't remember swearing, so it must have been minimal.

Once it was unpinned, I even realigned it and repinned it right. Tomorrow I'm hoping to actually get the machine quilting done. When it's finished, it will go to a child who will never know the headaches that it caused me.

And almost every hand-made project has at least one headache/heartache moment. You may never learn the story, but when you are gifted with a piece of craft made by a friend, take a moment to consider the soul of the gift. It's already been the source of joy and frustration to someone who cares enough about you to project their heart through their hands and make something of beauty for you.
zoethe: (Default)
2012-02-29 08:16 pm

The anatomy of dinner decisions

The 5-year-old who lives in my head: WAAAAH! You didn't feed me ALL DAY!!! I'm starving!!

Me: I'm sorry. This day didn't go anything like it was supposed to. Let's make dinner now.

5yo: WAAAAH!!!! I'm too hungry for cooking!! Let's eat the leftover Girl Scout cookies!

Me: You know that isn't going to happen. Let's see what we have in the fridge.

5yo:There's heavy cream, and butter, and a great Amish raw milk cheese. Let's make cheese sauce!

Me: And put it over...what?

5yo: What do you mean?

Me: It's sauce. It has to go over something.

5yo: I'm not getting you.

Me: Are you suggesting that we just eat cheese sauce all by itself out of the pot?!

5yo:Oh my god, if you're gonna be that way about it, just make it thinner and call it soup!

Me: ...

5yo: Oh, fine! What's your idea?

Me: We have all these wonderful greens that we got at the market the other day....

5yo: Salad?! You can't be serious! I'm hungry!!!

Me: Well, I can saute up some onions and red bell peppers and mushrooms.

5yo: MEAT!!!

Me: Okay, and some grilled steak sliced thin. Oh, and I have some avocado.

5yo: A WHOLE red pepper! A WHOLE avocado!!

Me: That's a lot of--

5yo: Whole! Whole whole WHOLE!!!!

And that is why I am currently eating a salad the size of my head. It's actually very tasty, and the 5-year-old is quieting down.

And it's certainly healthier than a pot of cheese sauce.
zoethe: (Default)
2012-02-28 08:10 am

The philosophy of an unmade bed

Every "clean up your home" book tells you to make your bed every day as soon as you get up. And it's good advice: you psychologically establish a mentality of first-thing success before moving on with the day.

Which is great. Except that I am almost always out of bed a minimum of an hour before Ferrett, and usually working out when he does get out of bed. So my mindset is definitely out of the bedroom and on to other things by the time the bed is available for making.

And we have the further problem that after I get out of bed, he grabs all the pillows and makes himself a nest of tangled blankets such that I occasionally look to see if he's laying eggs. Actually remaking the bed every morning would mean tearing everything off of it to put it all back on. Plus, he hates the topsheet and sleeps with an extra blanket, whereas I have to have the topsheet and often have a blanket only over my torso, so it's almost like we have two separate sets of covers.

While he's gone this week, it's easy for me to slip into my side of the bed then slip back out again and pull the covers up behind me--after all, I'm not trekking across the giant bed to snuggle up with my honey, so my own bed habits are even quieter than usual. His extra blanket is folded in half on his side of the bed, under the duvet. All very neat and easy.

When he gets back, I will have to make more effort to keep the bed made. But I'd rather have his cuddles and a tangle of blankets than all the neatness of a too-quiet house. Maybe the bed won't get made. But cuddles matter even more.
zoethe: (Default)
2012-02-24 04:02 pm

Digging out of the mire

A couple of things have come together to inspire me to spend the next week in spring cleaning and organization. First of all, Ferrett is out of town on his annual pilgrimage to his ancestral home, plus visits to places further east. So I have the house to myself and can tear through it without being in his way. And I can turn on whatever music I want to listen to at volume and enjoy it while I work.

Second, my friend Cat Valente has started a new Tumblr about getting herself organized called Girl Unlocked and she is inspiring me. I'm far too lazy to start a different blog for such things, so you will just have to bear with me here. It's not cooking, but it is part of living graciously, so I feel justified. And it's my blog, so I get to do what I want.

Ferrett departed this morning, and my first reaction...was to sit down and veg on the computer for a while. I was missing him terribly even as he pulled out of the driveway. Yeah, it's nice to have this time to rip things apart, get the dust bunnies out of the back corners, and generally reorganize, and yeah, it's something I do much more efficiently when I'm home alone than when I have someone around. But honestly, I'd choose living with the dust and clutter over having him gone.

I'm sappy. I know.

Anyway, after a short pout, I rousted myself off the couch and got to work. I've read several books on getting your house cleaned and organized. They universally suggest focusing on one room at a time, and for just a small part of the day.

Naturally, I attacked the living room, dining room, kitchen, bathroom, AND master bedroom.

Now admittedly, none of these rooms were in truly disastrous shape. It was clutter and dust more than anything for the living room and dining room. The bedroom had some junk, but most of it was easy to find a home for. And the bathroom just needed cleaning (don't they always?!). Still, it took about four solid hours of work. But now I have all my main living spaces looking neat and uncluttered, just the way I like them, and they will stay that way for the next 10 days!

Tomorrow the real work begins: I have to attack my office. It looks like a Tornado Alley trailer park right now. And it needs more than just cleaning up; I need to think about properly reorganizing it so it's not so prone to getting this messy. It's probably a two-day job all by itself. After that, the guest room, which will not take too long, and my sewing room, which is another two-day job at least. Then there's Ferrett's office.

I'm thinking that I might just leave that be. A girl can only push her luck so far.

As I noted at the beginning, with Ferrett gone I could put on whatever music I wanted, as loud as I wanted, while cleaning. So I did. I dug around to find my favorite music of all time: Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5. And not just any recording. I own three copies, but even after finding the other two I had to keep looking until I found the recording of the Vienna Philharmonic with Vladimir Ashkenazy at the piano and Zubin Mehta conducting. I listened to the whole thing twice, and it did my spirit good.

Now I am sneezing from the dust and a bit cobwebby. Time to reward myself with a relaxing bath. The tub's even clean!
zoethe: (Default)
2012-02-22 02:04 pm

Paean to a Pair of Shades

I wore the same sunglasses for 26 years.

Not the same kind of sunglasses. The same sunglasses.

And this was not a pair that lived in the car and were only worn while driving. I wore these glasses camping, kayaking, biking and skiing. They went with me to the neighborhood park, national parks, and amusement parks. They were perched on my nose during an Alaska river trip at the moment when I realized that I was pregnant with my first daughter.

She's getting married next spring.

Are these glasses some expensive pair of Ray-Bans that I've obsessed over? Nope. Are they such a gorgeous pair of glasses that I can't bear the thought of losing them? Uh-uh. They are a pair of Uvex tinted safety glasses that cost me a princely $9.95 at the eye shop in our local grocery store in Fairbanks, Alaska. Ferrett regards them as the ugliest sunglasses he's ever seen--he told me once that he admired my self-confidence in continuing to wear them.

So why do I keep wearing them? Because they do everything I need in a pair of sunglasses: they are large and wrap close to my face. They continue at a right angle to protect the side of my eye. They even have a brow ridge. My eyes are basically sealed away from the dust and pollen that drive me crazy and ruin my day. I love them with all my heart.

But a quarter century of wear takes its toll on a pair of shades. And it's gotten to the point where I put them on and it's like looking through fog. It's hard to give them up, but it's time to hang them up. So after shopping around, trying a few other styles, and thinking about it, I've purchased replacement glasses.

Another pair of Uvex glasses exactly like the ones I've been wearing.

Yeah, they aren't glamorous. But they do the job I want them to do. Today I wore them for the first time, riding my bike for 12 miles. I'm just as comfortable, but without the feeling that I'm squinting through haze.

The old pair? They're still in my bike bag. They got to go along with me on the ride. I will have to find a place of honor for them. They're old friends who've been with me almost half my life. That's a long, long time.
zoethe: (Bread)
2012-02-16 09:25 am

BBA Challenge #8: Cinnamon Rolls or Sticky Bun

This bread had to wait until there were going to be other people in the house. Because I cannot be entrusted with such things on my own. I chose the cinnamon rolls option. And for the first time, I used my Kitchen Aid to start a dough. Yes, that's right, I broke down and used technology. This dough started out like cookie dough, with butter and sugar being creamed, and that was something definitely best done in a mixer. Once the dough was all together and in a dough ball, though, I just couldn't get a feel for how developed it was in the mixer, so it was back to the counter and hand-kneading. Once it rose, next was rolling it out into a rectangle:

I don't use my rolling pin very often, but when I do, I'm quite happy that I splurged on a marble pin, because it rolls the dough out effortlessly. The recipe called for dusting the pin with flour to keep the dough from sticking, but I decided to just rub a bit of olive oil over it, and that worked perfectly:

The cinnamon.sugar mix is then to be sprinkled onto the dough. Several of the writeups I've seen of this bread complained that the mixture didn't stay in the roll, or that there was too much of it. I was determined not to have this problem, and solved it in the tastiest way possible: butter.

By brushing the dough with melted butter, I was able to sprinkle the cinnamon on without having any issue with it being dry and falling out. In fact, if I make them again, I will increase the cinnamon/sugar mix--I like my cinnamon rolls to be very cinnamon-filled.

The next step is rolling up the dough and then slicing into individual rolls. The instructions in the book are a bit hazy as to the size of pan these should go in. It sounds like he's talking about a jelly roll plan, but I could tell that would be too large, so I went to a baking pan:

Yeah, not so much. I moved them to a smaller baking pan:

They were probably a bit close together now, because they sprang nicely in the oven and crowded close together, which meant that they took an extra 10 minutes to bake. But they came out pretty:

For the glaze, the recipe called for a fondant made with milk, powdered sugar, and lemon extract. I was unimpressed with the suggestion, so I added sour cream and got rid of the lemon extract, making for a much tastier glaze.

The results were quite tasty, though not the best cinnamon rolls I've had. I think I would leave out the lemon flavoring in the dough if I were to make them again. The next time I make cinnamon rolls I think I will try the buttermilk biscuit recipe I made for Thanksgiving and make cinnamon rolls out it it.
zoethe: (Default)
2012-02-07 03:36 pm

Home is what you make it–one workout at a time

When we repainted and remodeled the upstairs, a lot of our stuff got moved from upstairs to downstairs. This resulted in our upstairs area looking very nice: clean and sleek, the way I like things to look.

The family room in the basement, however, was another matter:

Now, this space is not one that we use on a daily basis, and being in the basement, it was very "out of sight, out of mind" for a long time. I would go downstairs to do laundry and sort of...shut my eyes as I walked past. I don't like messes, particularly when I feel helpless in the face of them. And wow, did I feel helpless in the face of this one. I'd walk in there and just kind of flap my hands in despair. So it was easier to just pretend that half of our basement didn't exist.

But then I decided to start working out again. And my exercise equipment is in the basement. So something had to be done.

At first, I just moved all the boxes to the other end of the room, freeing up the exercise equipment. This made workouts possible, but being me quite stressful. Remember about the not liking messes?

I began lifting heavier weights, and with the heavier lifting came recovery time between sets. With a minute or two needed to catch my breath came boredom. And with boredom came the need to do a little something.

I began picking up. A little here and there. Inspired, I urged Ferrett to help me sort through the books and get rid of some--as in 8 large boxes worth. And kept picking up. When we got our new bed, we decided to put our old one into the family room for extra guest space. Day by day, I organized for just a few minutes here and there.

This is what the basement looks like now:

It's kind of hard to imagine it's the same space. Now I walk down there and just smile.