I heard a radio reporter say, “…the most moderate Republican in the House.”  Can someone be the “most moderate?”  Is that an oxymoronic phrase?  Does being the “most moderate” make you an extremist?

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Miranda

Not quite a chef's hat...yet.

The other night, I put Miranda to bed at 7:20.  At 8 p.m.,  I hear her door open and close.  I go check on her.  “Sweetie, what’s the matter?”
“”Nothing.” From the back of the bed.
“What are you doing?”
“Just lying here,” she says
“Why did you get up?” I ask
“I need to write something down.”  She declares with so much assurance you’d think she could write unassisted.
“What do you want to write down?”
“Yogurt. Cinnamon. Xylitol. And a protein drink.”  I have to think about this.
“Do you mean protein powder in the yogurt?” I ask.
“No.  Protein drink for the drink with the yogurt.”  Once again she’s so sure.  I realize this is a recipe.
“I’ll write it down for you and put it at your place at the table.”
“O.k., I’m going to make you breakfast.” I pause.  That could be messy…and inedible.
“No, that’s o.k..  Breakfast is already in the fridge. We can make the cinnamon yogurt another time.”  We go around about this a few more time and she relents.
The next morning, she gets up quietly and I find her in the kitchen stirring something in one of her school thermoses–one of the only bowl-like things she can reach. –She asks for xylitol.  I see cinnamon in yogurt in the thermos.  I add xylitol and thank god she didn’t try to get it herself from the very heavy glass jar.
She announces that she’s made my breakfast and takes a taste.  It’s apparently good because she won’t stop eating it.  I try it…awesome.  The child is a savante.

English is a really hard language.  I tried teaching it to English-as-a-second-language learners and this was really brought home.  Now, I am listening to kindergartners read for two hours a week.  They are doing great with hard material!  Ever tried to sound out “was?”  How about “you?” And forget about “folk” and “palm.”  Luckily, they won’t get that till first grade.

So, I see this ad for a Cervical Pillow.  I am a woman.  I think of my cervix.  I wonder…  Then I realize that a part of my spine is a cervix.  Oh.

I looked it up (thanks, dictionary.com).  “Cervix” is “neck” in Latin.  Some of us have “the neck of the uterus.”  I feel alot better now.  Except about English.

This morning I walked out to see three Western Blue Birds in the front yard.  They saw me and we all regarded each other briefly.  When they determined that I would neither eat them nor feed them, they went about the business of being blue birds in winter; they foraged for what they could find in the dead grass.  So delicate and pretty.  Yet so hardy.

I turned on the random iTunes and “Where Rivers Meet,” came on.  William Eaton Ensemble.  Glorious.  There can be no sitting still in the presence of such wonderful music.  I was suddenly a blue bird.

In our age of specialization, we buy most of the things we need to be comfortable and trade our hard-earned cash to other specialists.  After I got fired from my job four years ago, I wasn’t a specialist anymore so I worked at  becoming more of a generalist.  I did this for two reasons; I had time and needed to keep busy and I needed to save money.  Paying specialists can cost alot more than DIY.

Yogurt:  This is easy.  Get a crockpot and follow these simple instructions.  http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/2008/10/you-can-make-yogurt-in-your-crockpot.html I like to use Stoneyfield Farms’ yogurt as my starter because it contains a culture other American yogurts don’t have.  That culture is supposed to boost the immune system.  We’ve been very healthy since we started eating it.  Any culture in your starter will continue in your homemade yogurt.  I use organic milk which ups the cost but also ups the nutrition and sustainability of the yogurt.

Bread:  I started to bake my own for several reasons:  less expensive than my local artisan bakery–which I LOVE–it’s a good workout and I needed to eat less gluten.  I really enjoy kneading bread, when I have the time. Time has been more precious lately so I started baking a no-knead loaf.  Go to Youtube and search for no-knead bread for some video tips on  this.  It’s easy.  Especially with wheat flours.

Now I bake a gluten-free loaf since Miranda and I have gone completely gluten-free at home.  Still perfecting this loaf but the experiments are mostly edible and usually make good chocolate bread pudding even if the bread is a bomb.

Laundry soap:  This is fun science in the kitchen.  Check out this recipe and try it.  You’ll save alot of money over the course of a year.  http://www.thesimpledollar.com/2007/03/15/how-to-make-your-own-laundry-detergent-and-save-big-money/

Lunch:  For years I’ve brought lunch to work most days. This saves ALOT of money.  I usually plan dinner to get leftovers for at least one more meal and often that’s lunch.  If you spend $50 a week eating lunch out, times 52 weeks…I prefer to spend my entertainment budget with my family.

Cookies: Let’s face it, there are few things better than homemade cookies.  And NO, Pillsbury slice-and-bake don’t count.  Cookies just aren’t that hard to make.  And they smell great baking.  And everyone who eats them loves you with a love that is true and will never die.  I have three standard recipes I use over and over;  classic chocolate chips cookies, peanut butter cookies, chocolate cookies from Guittard’s bittersweet chocolate chip bag.  They are all simple and tasty.  For holidays I make a mean gingersnap and usually experiment with a new recipe or two.  I keep some in the freezer for emergency potlucks or emotional solace.  It’s hard to beat a homemade cookie for solace.

Cakes:  As I mentioned above on bread, Miranda and I are gluten-free these days.  That really makes the baking cakes from scratch a necessity (sidebar:  Betty Crocker recently introduced a line of gluten-free cake and brownie mixes.  I haven’t tried them yet but I’m sure they’re good and easy. If you need gluten-free and have no culinary chops, do try these.  If you love to cook, don’t bother. Just go to the http://www.epicurious.com and start looking for recipes.)  I love baking cakes.  It’s just not as hard as kitchen lore would have you believe.  And the mistakes are usually delicious–“mistakes” in the cake department usually crack or fall.– Neither is life or death and rarely affects the taste.  It’s just cosmetic.  Not a problem unless you promised a hostess a dessert and it’s 4 p.m. already. –So practice cakes, eat the mistakes and be a BIG hit with your friends.

Frosting:  Do not buy frosting in a can or a mix.  Frosting is powdered sugar and flavoring.  That goes for cookies and cakes.  Make your own.  It’s fun, easy and cheap.  Betty Crocker is a rich woman because it’s so cheap to make.

Facial toner:  I was buying a really nice toner at the health food store when I got fired.  It was almost a dollar an ounce.  Now I buy bulk herbs at the same healthfood store, make a strong herbal tea and use that.  Lavendar and chamomile.  It smells pleasant and does the trick.  I keep it in the bottle that the expensive one came in.  $.50 worth lasts a few months.  Wow, it’s a budget toner too!

Soda:  O.k., I don’t really make soda.  I add fruit juice to sparkling water.  It’s yummy, less sweet and so much better for you.  Did you know that some recent studies have found high fructose corn-syrup to cause brain damage much like Alzhiemer’s?  Really.  So I avoid it at every turn.  Soda is the easiest place to start.  Besides, there is nothing in soda your body needs that water can’t provide better.  Whoa, where’d that soapbox come from?

Granola:  Commercial granola is loaded with sugar and fat.  LOADED.  And they sell it as health food.  I make mine with a tiny amount of maple syrup–which has a low glycemic index–and tiny amount of canola oil.  It’s never quite the same thing twice but it gets eaten pretty fast every time!  Here’s a ballpark version: 6 cups rolled oats, (I like thick cut) 1 cup spelt or barley flakes, 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut, 1 cup slivered almonds, 1/2 oat bran, 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, 1/4 cup maple syrup and 1/3 cup canola oil.  Mix dry ingredients, adding anything else you might think sounds good (i.e. sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, bakers’ bran, etc.).  In a small sauce pan, ideally with a pour spout, heat syrup and oil.  Pour this mixture over dry ingredients while stirring to mix thoroughly.  Spread about 4 cups on a baking sheet and bake at 325 degrees for about 25 minutes.  Use spatula to stir if edges get too brown too fast.  I brown one batch and put the rest in the freezer to brown as needed.

t-shirts: Actually, I paint existing t-shirts; I don’t make t-shirts.  I like to call my t-shirt company “ReVisions” because all my shirts are getting a second life.  It’s recycling at it’s finest.  You could do this but you don’t have time.  SO you could buy one of mine.

Sunflower painted on hand-dyed t-shirt

I also make a fuss, make mistakes, make a mess and make waves.  All of which I’m sure you’ve never done. c. 😉

(For a while I tried to write a quarterly update instead of the annual update.  It seemed more manageable.  I just found one from from July, 2001.  It contains some deep thoughts and a snapshot of a period of my life which is mostly a blur.  Read on and you’ll see why.  It seemed a shame to let such a nice encapsulation of that adventure disappear, so I post it here for me and all eternity.  c. ;))

There are alot of things I’ve been curious about for a long time.  Like, why
are people only famous people in past lives? But, more importantly, why
would someone accept a challenge to duel?  Why was it considered noble and
honorable to stand in a field at dawn and let a guy shoot at you while you
shot at him? Where is the honor in that?

I recently had some insight into this question that I thought I’d share with
you, in case you’ve been wondering the same thing.  You see, I have a new
job.  It’s a monster of a job, in fact, last week I worked fifty-two hours.
And when I say, “work,” I mean run at high speed for most of the day. I come
home at night exhausted.  Brent fixes dinner, we walk the dog and get ready
for bed.  “Grueling” begins to get to describe my days.

My boss is a classic Type A personality; hard-charging, over-achiever with a
rolodex numbering into the thousands.  If he doesn’t have a phone in his ear
it’s because he’s dictating letters (for me to type) to respond to the day’s
calls.  The volume of information that flows across his desk is truly
amazing.  The out-box is stacked six-inches high everyday and dealing with
its contents is my job.  His job is trying to turn the Four Seasons attempt
at timeshare into a viable business after a less-than-hoped-for beginning.
So he’s the turn-around guy.  A tough position to be in.  But he likes to
clean up messes.

As I write that sentence, I realize that I am the turn-around guy at the
administrative level. The previous assistant was standing with her finger in
the dike but the crack was expanding faster than her finger grew. So I
inherited a river where there should be–to stretch this metaphor to the
breaking point–a road.  Or, an information superhighway, if you will.
Information isn’t information if it isn’t in a form that you can use so
there were lots of words on pages floating in the river.

I do not blame the previous assistant; I completely understand how things
got the way they are.  She wanted a life after work so she only worked 10
hours a day.  Not unreasonable by most people’s standards. But the boss
works 12. And he doesn’t eat. (Side note:  One day a noontime conference
call was canceled. He decided to drive to the local deli and get a sandwich.
He brought it back and sat at his desk and ate his lunch at a leisurely
pace.  “This is very human. I should do this more often,” he said to me. I
couldn’t agree more.) What is needed in the office is two assistants, or at
least one-and-a-half, to keep up with him.

So what does this have to do with dueling?  I should have known better. I
did the job as a temporary for 6 weeks.  I saw exactly what the situation
was.  I knew how much work was needed to get things in shape.  When I was
temping, people would ask me if I wanted the job permanently and I said,
honestly, “No.” But somewhere along the way, the challenge became
tantalizing. Could I do it?  Could I fix the problems and develop systems
that would make it manageable?  Am I really the hotshot assistant I think I
am or just another administrator shuffling paper? Maybe it’s time to test my
mettle.  We’ll just step into the clearing at dawn, point that gun and see
who flinches…

So here I am.  Only it may be that the gun is to my head and I’m the one
holding it.  I admit that this behavior may be indicative of a form of
mental illness.  I think maybe the difference between me and Hamilton is
that (legend tells us) he didn’t fire.  I intend to fire with both barrels.
Hell, I’m using a cannon.  And, I have a time limit. It is my intention to
stand in the clearing for not more than three months.  At that time, I send
up the white flag and ask for my own assistant. I should have everything
ship-shape by then so I can more easily manage the help too.  That’s my
theory.  You may not hear from me for a while but I’ll let you know how it
turns out.  Hamilton died after thirty-one hours of excruciating pain from a
bullet wound to the abdomen with the bullet lodged against his spine.  That
was three years after his son was killed in a duel.  Will some people ever
learn?
7/10/01

9/27/01 Passed my three-month probationary period on 9/25.  Worked 12 hours today.  Obviously not out of the woods yet.  But getting there. c. 😉

(The cake was a big hit with gluten-free and gluten eaters!)

Since we were going to a party today, Miranda wanted to wear what I call a “party dress.” –This is different from a “dress-up dress” which is play clothing which is not normally worn out of the house.  “Costumes” one might say if one were a native English speaker.–  Party dresses live on the upper bar of the closet so they cannot be accessed too readily by fashion-conscious five-year-olds. Since this party was a one-year-old’s birthday, I couldn’t see the point of wearing a fancy dress.  She couldn’t see the point of not wearing a fancy dress.

M pointed to several dresses on the upper bar in an attempt to wear me down. I, being an Aries mom, did not yield.  “Fine.  Then I’ll go naked.”  Not what I was expecting.  She’s getting remarkably savvy for one so young.  But hey, she’s five, what harm is there?

“O.K.”  I said. Pause.

“Alright.  I’ll wear clothes.”  I wonder if this technique will still work when she’s sixteen?

She ended up crawling on the floor with the babies and chasing a five-year-old boy around the house.  I feel vindicated in my clothing dictatorship.

Today’s energy was devoted to baking a cake for my special boy’s first birthday tomorrow. (He’s my special boy because I attended at his birth.)  His mom will bake a traditional cake but I made a gluten-free one for those of us who don’t eat gluten.  Mostly that would be Miranda.  Here’s an interesting recipe from epicurious.com that worked quite well, with my variations in parenthesis.  I used a mocha glaze for frosting.

Cake!

For coconut layer cake

* 1 3/4 cup almond flour (not almond meal)
* 2 tablespoons coconut flour (I used three heaping tablespoons)
* 10 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
* 1 tablespoon coconut or golden rum (I used vanilla extract)
* 2 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
* 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar (I used a heaping 1/4 tsp and added a tsp of baking powder)
* 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

Preparation

Cake
Preheat oven to 350F. Line bottoms of cake pans with parchment paper.

In large bowl, whisk together almond and coconut flours.

In bowl of electric mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat egg yolks at high speed until pale yellow and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce speed to moderately low and beat in rum and all but 1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar. Scrape down bowl, then increase speed to high and beat until pale and thick, about 1 minute. Reduce speed to low and gradually add almond and coconut flour mixture, scraping down bowl and folding in last of flour by hand. Set aside.

In clean dry bowl of electric mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat egg whites on moderate speed until very foamy, about 1 minute. Beat in cream of tartar, salt, and remaining 1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar. Increase speed to moderately high and beat until whites hold stiff peaks, about 2 minutes. (My peaks didn’t stiffen but cake came out fine.) Fold 1 cup beaten egg whites into yolk mixture to lighten, then gently fold in remaining whites. Divide batter between pans, smoothing tops, and bake until layers are golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Invert pans onto wire racks and cool completely, at least 1 hour. Run knife around cake layers to loosen, invert onto rack, and peel off the parchment.

This made two 9-inch layers.

Chef’s notes: To keep the plate clean while frosting the cake, tuck 4 (3-inch-wide) strips of parchment paper under the edge of the cake. Pull the parchment off just before serving.

Have you noticed the smell which even “fresh” chicken exudes these days?  Rather putrid, to say the least.  I read somewhere that they are now flushing the packages with something like carbon dioxide.–I could be so wrong about what the gas is.–It’s supposed to keep the chicken fresher, longer.  O.K., food scientists, whatever you say.  It still smells bad.

So when the chicken in my fridge, purchased, on sale, at least 5 days before the ‘sell by’ date started to smell stronger two to three days before the ‘sell by’ date, I didn’t think much of it.  I was going to roast it on the ‘sell by’ date of January 17, but life got in the way.  I pulled it out to prep today (January 20) and it was really strong.  Thinking this is the new science, I forged ahead.

Cut off excess fat and skin; plop into nice shallow bath of olive oil and a splash of white wine; throw in oven at 300 degrees and run out door to retrieve daughter from school… Return an hour and a half later, after various errands TO HOUSE THAT REEEKS OF I can’t actually say what…dead animal maybe?  LONG dead animal?  You get the idea.  Putrid.

So I call the market where I got it and nobody there is very helpful because the manager is out to lunch.  I crank up the oven to 400 degrees and remove the lid because that’s what the recipe calls for.  I light incense and wait to see what happens.  The smell seems to dissipate.  I confess, I was wondering if I would kill any bacteria at the higher temperature and then everything would be edible.  I call the butcher department back.  I explain what happened and he says best advice is, “When in doubt, throw it out.”  So I did.

This story reveals something my spouse has long accused me of; fearlessness in the face of potential food poisoning.  Not necessarily something I’m proud of.  I might have even tried to eat it myself but I could not inflict such a nasty consequence of frugality on Miranda.  Unfortunately, the day was cold and it was not ideal for airing the house out.  Five hours later the house still smells of…whatever.

You don’t want a photo on this one.

Organic squash...now with plastic sticker!

Does anyone else see the irony of a plastic sticker on organic fruit?