Feb 28, 2007

In which Angelina gives up writing to become a scullery maid
(or anything easier than writing)

Being a writer may sound like a barrel of monkeys to a lot of people. Nothing but whiskey and laughs. It's a free life, isn't it? Writers can say whatever they want. They're our collective eyes and ears, the scribes that remember us for the future in vivid ink. They show us our weaknesses, our strengths; they celebrate what is amazing about being alive and explore all the dark corners we know are there but are afraid to look at by ourselves. Writers are there to entertain us as well as to make us look deeper than the skin of things.

I have learned a valuable and painful lessen tonight about the very thin lines that writers must constantly balance their art on. I have crossed a line with a post today that was mostly about how I don't find a lot of common ground with other parents at the school where Max attends. But in trying to illustrate the divide between myself and others, I used someone I know but have very little in common with to illustrate the point. I figured that since only one parent from Max's school has ever shopped in our store, I really didn't think I would offend anyone. No one there is particularly connected to our life outside of that school.

I feel so awful. I called the parent in question and apologized. I knew that that was the only thing I can possibly do to make the situation right. I knew that I needed to give her a chance to tell me how I had made her feel. And I needed to tell her how sorry I was. But there's no easy retreat from this hot water. I have burnt and blistered myself.

When I started this blog I told myself I would write honestly and not be afraid to say what I feel needs saying. Even if it might make me unpopular. Even if it makes me feel uncomfortable. I wasn't going to protect people. I wasn't going to protect myself. I wasn't going to walk through this world on eggshells. The only value a writer can offer is a completely authentic voice. I have stuck to this promise I made myself. I also told myself I wasn't going to remove posts that made me uncomfortable after I'd written them. Until today I have stood my ground. I can't tell you how haunted I was by the "Sex Obsession" post after publishing it. I can't tell you how madly I wanted to delete it. Because I had explored some ideas that, after deeper thought, I realized were more extremely put than I actually felt comfortable with.

But I let it be. This is part of my work. Putting thoughts out there that I may change my mind about later. I am working hard not to let myself become cowardly in my writing.

I deleted today's post. It was the only other thing I could do to make amends. Not that that has made amends.

This experience has shown me what thin ice a writer is always skating on. I can't stop having opinions just because it might hurt some one's feelings. As a writer I can't protect everyone from themselves. Or me from myself. However, even in creative non-fiction you have to nurture a certain amount of fiction if you wish to keep out of hot water. You want to tell the truth, tell what you really think, make commentaries on social issues and divides, but you have to do it in a way that doesn't point to actual specific people you know. Or use actual conversations.

In the end I think that every day I write and put it out there I will risk hurting people. Because I'm always bringing up sensitive issues. Because I care about what people are doing and how we all fit on this planet together. I care about the choices I'm making for myself and I care about the choices others are making too. Both the ones that affect their own life quality and also how their choices may affect my quality of life. I can't stop seeing and hearing. I can't stop writing.

The truth is that any writer who's writing anything worth reading is going to piss someone off. It just shouldn't be people in your home town. So what I want to know is how does Lauri Notaro, Anne Lamotte, and David Sedaris get away with it? Who have they pissed off? How often? How do they deal with it? Why can't I apprentice with each of them and ask them five hundred questions? Lead the way. Show me how to walk these lines without breaking all my bones because I can't afford a net.

I wish writing was a barrel of monkeys. At least then I would know what's up with this whole barrel of monkeys thing. I didn't choose to write because it's easy. I didn't choose it at all. I'm now going to go watch some meaningless show and pretend I won't wake up tomorrow and have to write again.
How to make pasta on a snowy afternoon

I'm not going to lie to you, making pasta fresh takes a little bit more effort than opening up a package of store bought dried pasta. But I can't think of anything more satisfying to make on a snowy day. Except for maybe bread. Or cupcakes, which have been showing up on an awful lot of blogs lately. You can't see it, thank god, but just thinking about them all is making me salivate a little.

To make pasta well you must get out of your sweats. Actually, you should get out of your sweats anyway because they are really unattractive. Notice that I have put on lipstick, done up my eyes, put on jewelry, a headscarf, and an apron. It's important to get in the proper frame of mind. I also recommend that you put on some music. Today my soundtrack was "Smart Symphonies" a CD that is supposed to stimulate your baby's brain development. Whatever. It has great classics from Grieg, Mozart, and Bach on it.

Italian opera or folk music would be inspirational played at high volumes.

See how I'm feelin' the mood? I'm working on my intense fat Italian momma in the kitchen look. (I even have an Italian name, which is fortunate. Though I haven't got a spec of Italian heritage in my family. Before Angelina Jolie came along and messed it all up, The Angelinas in this world were all fat old Italian women, and me. I heard this straight from a guy I went to FIDM with who came from Florence. I called him "Stallone Pantone" for fun. I had a huge crush on him and his impressive nose. He did not have a crush on me.) It's all about the lipstick.

Mise en place. It is very wise to get everything out that you will need before you start. It allows you to concentrate more fully on the Placido number you're cranking up.

The recipe for fresh pasta that I used is: two cups of flour, three large eggs.

I got my recipe from Jack Bishop's book "The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook". Actually, the first batch I made today was using Jamie Oliver's recipe. But it came out too dry and by the time I realized it, I had already attempted to knead it. I know Jamie is a star chef and all, but I'm sticking with Jack's recipe which works perfectly every time. Plus he probably doesn't have an annoying wife.

You put the two cups of flour in the processor. Then, while you keep the processor running, you add your three large lightly beaten eggs to the flour.* You let the processor run until the dough balls up. Or looks like it really wants to ball up but is just not moving.

The dough will look like a bunch of moist cous-cous balls. (It's a lot less disgusting than I just made it sound.) To make it into a smooth dough you must knead it for a few minutes. It will get pretty stiff. Roll it into a pretty ball. You know, the way Martha or Ina would do it. Then you wrap it up in plastic wrap and let it rest for about thirty minutes.

While the dough is "resting" is a great time to knock back a few. Not that that's what I did today. (I thought it would be better for my image if I pretended that I didn't really want to open a bottle of wine or crack open a beer. Oops. Now you know.) I watched the snow fall and got busy making a batch of spinach pasta, which is a first for me.

When the dough is ready divide it into four pieces.

Flour and then flatten one of the pieces of dough. Then put it through the pasta machine on the first setting. Once it's gone through, fold it in thirds, flour it again, and put it through on the first setting again. Do this whole folding trick a couple more times. It make the dough really smooth. If you fail to flour it enough it can gum up in the roller.

Now you can run it through each setting on the dial once, up to about number five. at this point your sheet of pasta should be thin enough to see some light through it.

Lay the sheet out on a flour sack dish towel. These are the best because they are large and have no lint or loops to get stuck in your sheets of dough. Go through the above steps with all four of your rolls of dough and lay them all out flat. Cover them with another towel and let them dry out for about fifteen minutes. This makes them much easier to cut later on.

This is what happens when you play Michael Bolton** while making pasta. Don't ever do it. This is my first, sad, attempt to make pretty spinach pasta. I spent practically an hour wringing the water out of the spinach, but apparently that wasn't enough. The dough is too sticky to go through the pasta rollers. I tried kneading extra flour into it. A lot of extra flour. It just didn't co-operate. I will deal with it when I get home. I may try rolling it out with a rolling pin. It would be such a waste if I can't use it.

When your sheets have sat for at least fifteen minutes you can cut your pasta. I first used my fettuccine cutter. Then I used my spaghetti cutter which I've never used before today. I like it.

Look how pretty! It doesn't look at all like creepy hair. I can't wait to eat the spaghetti. I sprinkled extra flour on the noodles at this point and attempted to wind them into pretty little nests. I'm not really sure about this part of the whole deal. Drying pasta in nests is something I haven't tried until today.

Hopefully these will cook up well after they've dried. If you are making fresh pasta for the first time it would be idiotic to dry it. I want to learn to dry pasta nests really well so I can use my surplus of fresh eggs and also enjoy home made pasta even when I don't have time to make it fresh. I want nests in lots of pretty shades. I guess I better work on my spinach dough.

*Our hens lay small to large sized eggs, so I use four eggs in this recipe.

**I really need to say that I NEVER listen to Michael Bolton and I think he looks like a tired lizard when his hair is long.

Feb 27, 2007

High fructose corn syrup
aka: evil incarnate

I spent a lot of time on the heating mat reading "Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan. Though my back does feel improved, I can't say I spent my morning in restfulness. As usual, Pollan's work is mesmerizing and he reports on things that absolutely every American should know. I never thought I would find the history of corn or how it has taken over our country interesting. Reading about agribusiness in this country is like watching the Titanic sink. You know the ship is going down, taking every damn one of us with it, but you can't do anything to stop it.

Except that we can. Reading Pollan's book "The Botany of Desire" convinced me to never buy non organic potatoes again. I have stuck with it. I'm not an asshole about it when I go out to eat or to other people's homes. For us here though, I will stick to it. What I've read so far today has opened my eyes further to what we eat.

I don't eat a lot of corn syrup. I don't eat fast food. That's not to say I don't like fried foods. I like to go to diners to get my fix of tater tots and french fries. But I don't go to the real supersize-me joints. I don't eat a whole lot of pre-packaged foods. But anyone who knows us knows that Max is another story. We've come in for a lot of criticism over his diet which many people think could be fixed by forcing him to eat how we want him to. "Poor kids aren't picky" everyone likes to say. We've chosen to listen to his doctor who has said that picky eating is pretty common with little kids and not to worry.

I've shed a lot more tears than anyone knows about the issue of feeding my limited palate son. In the end we've tried to accept that what Max likes is crackers. Toast and crackers. And apples. But only if we insist. He'll occasionally and surprisingly eat a spinach sandwich on wheat bread with nothing but mayonnaise, mustard, and spinach. At some point you have to decide what you want to really fight about if you have a kid who knows his mind and has the tenacity of a soldier to stick to his guns. Our doctor suggested we not make a big issue out of food with him lest we create more dangerous issues between Max and food.

Because feeding Max has been such a challenge, we make concessions that other parents might not make. Because he won't eat cheese or drink milk anymore, and will rarely eat peanut butter, we welcomed Ritz Bitz crackers into the cupboard. The long, highly suspect, ingredient list seemed less important than the fact that Max would get an extra boost of protein from the peanut butter and the "cheese" that these crackers sandwich. We let him eat a lot of protein bars for the same reason.

What Pollan makes a case for is that corn, and it's many by-products, are undermining our health in insidious ways. High fructose corn syrup has crept into almost every packaged food on the shelves of Safeway and other supermarkets. Because it's in almost everything Americans eat, we are consuming dangerous levels of sugar. Which is apparently one of the reasons why type II Diabetes is now becoming so prevalent amongst children.

This brings all the pain of my role as the provider of nutrition to Max right up under my skin. Prickling me where I can't seem to scratch it. It isn't the government who is responsible for our children getting diabetes, well-I mean- it is, but the buck stops with the parents. Ultimately, what our kids eat is our personal responsibility. One of the most important things we do for our children is feed them. We have the ability to read labels, to make decisions about what is acceptable food.

So what do you do if one of your child's main sources of nutrition lists sugar, not once, but three times on the ingredient list? Sugar, dextrose (corn derived sugar), and high fructose corn syrup. Blinded by my desperate need to get something down my son's throat I have completely compromised his health. I'm not sitting here hating myself. I've done what I can for the most part. But I can't let him eat food with corn syrup in it. He's only six. What happens if I let it slide for the next few years? How will I feel if he gets diabetes? Our genetic code doesn't happen to be predisposed for such a disease. So if he got it, his diet would be the most likely cause.

I decided today that I am going to have to work harder on his behalf. This is tricky territory. I realized that I would have to try to get him to understand what food is dangerous to him and try to inspire him to help me find alternatives. I can't push too hard though. This has to be a gradual journey through change. If he feels me pushing he'll push back. That is definitely in his genetic code.

So on our way home today I started telling him my concerns. We talked about why corn syrup is so dangerous to our health. We discussed diabetes. I told him that in the worst cases people are forced to give themselves shots of insulin every single day. Since he just had a vaccination that he didn't really enjoy getting, this hit him squarely in the cerebral cortex. He announced that he never wants to eat Ritz Bitz again.

Together we went to the cupboard to examine the label of his other beloved food: "Flavor Blasted" goldfish. I am relieved to report that while sugar does make an appearance in the ingredient list, it appeared only once, and not in the company of any corn syrup. While I'm not in love with sugar being in any crackers, it still passes muster. Even if just barely.

It's easy to declare change. Max is fine with it today, but tomorrow when he wants Ritz Bitz, I won't have anything like it for him. We've tried, and rejected, the healthier version from our local health food store. I feel a certain determination settling just under my breast-bone. I can't force Max to eat anything that is not beige and crispy, but dammit, I can make sure the quality meets a certain standard. It just means more work for me. Finding good alternatives that will also please Max. I'm already bone tired all the time. I already have so many battles to fight. This one is worth it.

I've decided to wage war on the insidious corn syrup invasion. If I have to make crackers myself, I'll do it. I love my boy and I can't let convenience blind me into sabotaging his health.

In aid of this renewed fight against the crap food in this country I have started looking for recipes for Ritz style crackers. I haven't found anything yet, but if you know of one, please pass it along. I don't want to make hard dry grainy hippie crackers. Max won't eat 'em. I need a recipe for a cracker with butter in it, that comes out flaky and golden. With no corn syrup.

It's time for another pantry sweep. Everything with corn syrup goes (not that there's much of it in there, but it's the gesture here that's important). Everything with "degermed enriched" in it's label goes. You've just got to read about the corn industry in our country and you'll understand how desperately we need to fight it. My resolve to support local small farms that don't spray has been hardened as well.

Pollan won't let me rest. But it's good. He gives me hope with his reporting. He reminds me that I can do a lot to reject the evil of the spreading monoculture. All of us can. The money is in our hands. Seriously, every single dollar we spend says what we really support. It really doesn't matter what our mouths are spouting, it's what our dollars are buying that matters. I've essentially been supporting huge agribusiness by buying products that have put a choke hold on
American farmers.

It feels good to make decisions like this. My life is going to get just one more little bit less convenient, but it's a kick in the ass to the government. I'm speaking. I'm taking this tiny little bit of power back. I'm going to take more back every day.

I'm going to make my money speak even louder than it already is. I'm going to make it shout the sky down.

But please, if you know of a buttery cracker recipe... share.
Snow/Sleet, and sunny happy aprons

My camera is finally working again, thank god. Not having it was really irritating. Like mot having a coffee pot. Which is near calamity here at the Williamson Ranch. These aprons are the newest batch from Casa de Lulu, my good friend Chelsea's budding new company.

The inspiration was Chinese New Year. There's a black one that is exactly like this, but I'm buying it for myself. Right now I would look ridiculous in it, like a hippo in a tutu, but I hold onto hope that I will return to my previous shape which was mostly human. When I do, I will wear my Chinese New Year apron all the time. Like a little girl who wears her favorite grubby princess costume every single day. Except that it really makes me want to vomit to compare myself to little girls in any way. I'm much too cantankerous to be doing that. So that's the last time I'll do that.

It's snowing/sleeting outside. Lovely. It's super wet and stormy so not a flake will stick. I just enjoy this good Pacific Northwest display. Oh my, the sun popped out just as I typed those words. How weird, as though some one up there has a special message just for me. What could it be? Ooh, maybe the message is that I can now drink all the beer I want and eat all the cheese I desire and I will miraculously become normal sized again....I don't think that's the message because that weird ray of sun instantly disappeared when I suggested that. You can't blame a gal for dreaming, can you?

Well here's a message for anyone up there who might be listening: you make that miracle happen and I will believe in God. Walking on water is a monkey's trick. Turning water into wine is pretty handy, but wine isn't beer. Turning anything into loaves is great...impregnating virgins is, is actually pretty lecherous... but if you can make it so that I can drink beer as though it was youth dew, and eat grilled cheese sandwiches as though it was the sparest spa food... a miracle like that would definitely send me to church post haste.

We'll see about miracles. I know what's what, and that is one miracle I will never see happen.

So, my favorite sunny happy word... effervescent. It rolls out just as it sounds: light, sparkling, new-shoot green, fresh and barely touching the ground, bright without blinding. How I feel when I see the first tomato fruits set. How I feel when my hens make a fuss over one of them laying an egg. How a thick layer of snow on my town makes me almost float with giddiness.

Today will be spent mostly in bed. Not in luxurious laziness, unfortunately. Cleaning the house yesterday has made my back hurt. I can't afford for it to go out. So it's Advil (I still haven't gotten myself a bottle of Alieve PKM, but I will!) and a heating pad for me. I wanted to make some pasta today, especially because I can now photograph the process, but that may not happen. I've decided to give chiropractic medicine a twirl, just as soon as I'm not laid up. I don't know whether it's all hokey quackery, or whether it really helps people. I figure it's worth a shot. I have a slight curve in my back, a periodically gimpy hip, and a bad back. I am the prime candidate for this kind of work. Philip has heard horror stories about people actually being messed up for life by chiropractors, but I think that must be pretty rare.

Philip leaves for California this Friday. Four days of just me and Max. The store will have to be closed on Sunday and for Friday and Saturday I'll do half days. It's not going to be easy to have Philip gone, but he really deserves a little break. I got to go to the trade shows in Seattle. He hasn't gone away by himself since we moved here. So it's time. He's going to take Amtrack to San Jose to see some bicycle show. Then he'll head north to Santa Rosa where he'll pick up a few barrels we left with my friend Sharon. This is a special concession Philip is making to my rare show of sentimentality. Those barrels are little eco-systems I created in our old garden. They have bulbs, a rare rose, a fig tree, some dahlias, and some really amazing volunteers. I love them. The rose, Kaiserin Freidrich, is rare and beautiful. It took me a year to get it.

I'm off to get cozy with the heating pad and "The Omnivore's Dilemma".

Feb 26, 2007

Late winter on my mind

If we never have enough money to send Max to college, these shoes will certainly be the reason. These are the Birkenstocks I bought.

For Christmas we bought Max a volcano kit and have slowly been working on it. Yesterday Philip and Max painted it. I think it looks great! I'm excited to get to the step where we mix up the stuff that makes the lava that will ooze out the top.

This pile amounts to nearly all the clothes and towels in current circulation. All right here, clean, and on the floor. Philip folded at least two thirds of it today. Happily, I cleaned the bathroom and did some cooking too. I love the evenings when my house has been freshly cleaned and it smells like good food.

I really love this time of year. In December and January everything in nature seems quieter; being deep in hibernation can have that effect. The end of February is not so quiet. Everywhere you look buds are swelling, shoots are pushing up, and I swear you can almost hear the sap beginning to run. The daffodils around town, and in my own yard, are all on the verge of unfurling. This kind of anticipation is the best kind. I already know the end of the story, so there's no anxiety about it, but I know what beauty is about to burst open in this grey wet landscape, so I'm almost holding my breath waiting for it.

I always want to write about seasons and gardening, but it's almost impossible to say anything about them that hasn't been said to death already. It's always the same words. I think it would be an incredible feat to write about gardening with a completely fresh vocabulary that says essentially the same thing but without sounding precious and annoying. Has any writer managed to do this yet?

One of the most profound, beautiful, troubling, and irresistible words I've ever encountered is entropy. The true ruler of the whole universe. Special nemesis to the Williamson family. One of the first concepts Max not only understood, but vehemently rebelled against. Where Philip speaks most eloquently with his art; with the tangible evidence of entropy.


I love words.

I eat them for breakfast.

I roll them around all day long.

A lot of the best words tell the darkest stories.

I'm going to go figure out what my favorite sunny word is.

That could take a long time.

Best to drink a beer.

Feb 25, 2007

The question of worth

I am a semantics junkie. It's a challenge to always say exactly what you mean. So many of the world's messes are made (in my opinion) by people not saying what they really mean, whether on purpose- to cause confusion or to mislead, or in ignorance-because so many people have not learned the true meaning of the words they use.

You can hang an entire debate on the meaning of one word.

A while ago, while walking to work, I saw a bumper sticker that said: "If it isn't a baby, then you're not pregnant" (Unsurprisingly, the car was also covered in Bush/Cheney stickers) I thought about this all day. It bugs me that the pro-choice people have not done something as simple as insisting on saying "It's not a baby- YET". That's what most pro-choice people mean when they say that a fetus isn't a baby. They mean it isn't a baby yet.

Though nothing will change the incredible stupidity of saying "If it isn't a baby, then you're not pregnant" which smells an awful lot like "I'm rubber and you're glue..."

It used to really annoy me when people without kids would ask me if I thought it was "worth it" to have had a kid. Worth what? Worth having my back go out every few months? Worth all the endless laundry? Worth never being at peace again in my entire life now that I am responsible for the life of another human being that I put on this earth to experience all the heart break and suffering that humans get to experience before they shuffle off this mortal coil?

What they really mean is: am I glad I had a kid? So why don't they just say what they mean? Do they think either of those questions will be easier or more politic to answer?

Both questions are impossible to answer. The required answer is already written in the air between us. Everyone knows how parents must answer that or risk getting drawn and quartered by the LEAGUE OF HAPPY PARENTS. What would someone do if I answered honestly? "No, having a kid is not worth it. There is not enough children's laughter in the world to take away the fear of a thousand nights spent watching your child's fever spike dangerously high, cleaning up the blood in their mouths just hoping it isn't coming from an internal organ, seeing them be rejected and judged by the world you put them in, and all the million times you hear your kid tell you how much they hate you. No, it's not worth all of that."

Or what would someone do if I said "There are days when I'm not glad I had a kid."? I try to be as honest as I can in this life of mine, but even I would be afraid to say that. It's the unthinkable. Which is why I hate that people even bother to ask it, knowing there is only one answer possible.

There are some things in life that aren't quantifiable. Having children is one of them. The experience of raising a child will never measure up to the hours you put in, the tears you shed, the money you spend, and the sleep you will lose. So don't even think it. Any parent who says dreamily "having kids is a lot of work, but it's worth it" is selling the company line. The part that makes it "worth it" is the love you feel for your kid. It's a thing by itself. We say it measures up because it's more important to us than all the work we put into our kids. But you can't measure love because the second you do you devalue it.

In some ways I dislike the whole discussion of whether having kids is "worth" the trouble because it implies that we have kids to get something out of it which implies that a child's worth is measured by what they give back to us. Which, if you're going to be truthful, will never measure up to what you give them. Seriously, it's not a child's job to give anything to their parents. I have already said what I think of the real reason people have children.

The question of what's worth doing isn't limited to the question of having a family. People also always want to know if starting your own business is worth it. You'd think this one is more easily answered since it doesn't involve the irrational intense love we feel for our offspring. Maybe if you asked Mrs. Field you would get a simple answer. Maybe for anyone who makes millions of dollars from their own business and gets to retire at the age of forty will answer with a resounding "YES!"

But for most people who run their own business, millions of dollars aren't floating down their chimney or clogging up their mail. Most people who start their own business work way harder than anyone who works for someone else, and generally makes a lot less money. If you try to add up all the hours, the expense, the stress of always looking failure in the face, the time and attention taken away from your kids, and the toll it can take on your other relationships, having your own business will never give back to you what you put into it. So why do it?

I think most things that are worth doing aren't worth doing for quantifiable reasons. Most people who start their own business do it because they have got the drive to create something that isn't already there. Just as having children is largely a biological imperative, starting a business is something that some people feel an urge to do. The entrepreneurial spirit is something some people are born with. They spend their whole lives imagining new ventures and there's an attraction to the adventure of realizing the potential of things. They are usually people who are willing to take risks, who are attracted to the freedom of being boss to themselves.

I will tell you the truth. There are days when I am not that glad to be a mom. There are days when I remember what it was like to not be responsible for a needy little energy-sucking human being and it makes me even more tired to remember how much more energy I used to have in those days. Would I send my boy back if I could? Hell no! Kids are totally not worth the effort you put into raising them if you insist on measuring worth in hours and effort. What you get out of having a child is absolutely impossible to measure. I may not like being a mom some days, but not having Max would be like dying.

Having my own business...is also not really worth it. I have never worked so hard in my life to not be able to pay my bills. Maybe if we start raking in the dough, maybe if we hit on something that makes Dustpan Alley a household name, maybe then I'll think differently. But really, what are the chances of that happening? It's more likely that we'll hang in there until we can pay the bills and hopefully a little extra. Maybe eventually we'll be able to afford a couple of employees so that we can have a day off, or maybe two. So why are we doing it? Partly because it's more proactive an existence than sitting around unemployed, which is what we were before we started our business, and partly it's because we have been imagining our own empire since the first year we were married; because we have the urge to do it. We have a powerful drive to create and to share those creations with others.

That's the truth as I know it. I am comfortable with it, even if no one else is.
Get your Easter Bonnet on

I have got to make one of these for myself! I'll have the perfect chance to during the Easter bonnet decorating class I'm going to give. Hopefully someone will sign up for it. I've ordered such fun embellishments for them. Tiny little bird houses, more butterflies and birds, and more flowers too.

This is my more elegant version of an Easter bonnet. One of the many things I wanted to become at some point in my life is a milliner. I love hats. All kinds of hats. Silly hats, elegant hats, useful hats, outrageous hats, and historical hats.

Look what came in the mail yesterday from Michelle Sews!!! She crocheted them herself. I have been wanting a pair of slippers and there could be no slipper more perfect for me than a mary jane style. Which I didn't know existed. How did she know what size to make them? (Maybe from reading all about my difficult feet?)

Wait, here's a better view of them. Except that my socks don't match them. Look how pretty they are! You can read about where she got the pattern from on her blog. Thank you Michelle! That was the most thoughtful surprise ever!

We don't have any decaf coffee left this morning which means I'm drinking the fully loaded cuppa. You may have already surmised that I am not exactly the cleanest living health nut, what with all the beer I drink. So it may surprise you to know that I have pretty faithfully followed at least one of my cardiologist's strictures: no more than one cup of caffeinated beverage a day. I like to drink many cups of coffee every day. But it's true that when I drink more than one cup, the palpitations really become obnoxious. So we make a 2/3 decaf, 1/3 cafeinated brew every morning so that I can drink three cups of coffee yet only get the impact of roughly one cup of caffeine. Before you get all scientific on me and tell me how decaf has some caffeine in it, therefore making my math wrong: DON'T. It works.

Don't you love coming to some one's blog just to hear them drone on and on about what their cardiologist has told them not to do?

Here's a question I've been mulling over: what is the best material to make my raised beds out of? I am mulling over this. I love wood, but living in the Pacific North West means that it will decompose within a couple of years. I thought about "Trex",the synthetic wood that lasts forever, but I think it's even more expensive than wood. It's actually a better environmental choice because they recycle plastics to make it. I've thought about cinder blocks, but that seems like it also might be more expensive than I'd like. (But with the cinder blocks I'd get to use mortar which would be lots of fun.) The reason why expense is a big concern is that I am going to be making MANY beds.

If anyone has a favorite material for their raised beds, please tell me about it and why you like it. Also, if anyone has had luck planting potatoes in barrels, please tell me what your tricks are.

Here's another fun question for you all on this marvellous Sunday morning: If you had to choose between getting killed by a bear, or killed by a shark, which would you choose, and why?

That question makes me think of my friend Cam who is one of the funniest loveliest people I know. We worked together at Mulberry Neckwear as design assistants and spent a lot of time asking each other these macabre questions. We are Capricorn sisters. Capricorns ROCK, in case you didn't already know that.

I would choose to get killed by the shark because you would drown and bleed to death so fast you probably wouldn't have time to feel too much. If you didn't naturally drown, you could make yourself drown if there didn't seem like a chance to escape.

That's kind of cheating though since I don't swim in the ocean, ever, my chances of getting killed by a bear are actually much greater.

Happy Sunday!

Feb 24, 2007

Powell Books in Portland
(And how Portland tried to swallow us whole)

On the trip my mom and I made to Portland last week we were driving around the downtown area looking for a bookstore from which to buy some maps so we could explore Portland without getting lost. The downtown area offers endless opportunities to die in head on collisions. It's not as though we've never experienced one way streets, after all, San Francisco is famous for their labyrinth of one way corridors of death. It's just that there were so damn many of them and we forgot how cities plan themselves that way to trap the unwary.

So we got lost looking for a bookstore from which to buy maps so that we wouldn't get lost. We ended up at the Children's Museum where I sheepishly asked for a map, or help, or a ride, or a merciful shot of Vodka, whatever they could spare to end the torment of getting hijacked by the roads that suddenly turn into highways with no way off for several miles. A very nice young man gave me comprehensive directions which I wrote down meticulously. He must have thought that anyone idiotic enough to accidentally end up at the Children's museum couldn't be trusted to write down some simple directions, so he snatched my notebook and wrote them down himself. Just to be sure.

There's no telling about people. Maybe he likes girls to be lost, desperate, and porky and had an instant crush on me. His directions were great and we ended up in the Pearl District at Powell Books. After driving around the vicinity for several hours minutes, we parked in their own parking garage. A book store with it's own parking garage? Wow. We got to park free because my mom is handicapped (for now). I have never been to Powell Books. Most people besides my mom don't know that if it weren't for my zen-like self discipline I would have become a world class bibliophile. I no longer collect ALL books. I don't collect novels, I check them out of the library during those times that I'm not on their most wanted list. The only books I have a lot of are reference books.

Cookbooks mostly. I have quite a few craft and clip art books too. Surprisingly, I have very few garden books. Something I must remedy. Powell Books has already begun to fill this painful gap in my bookshelves. I don't like just any garden books. I like very specific garden subjects. I can do without books about making my garden into an outdoor living room, water feature books are not interesting to me, and forget about "landscaping" books. Any kind of garden design is landscaping, but books that have "landscaping" in their title are usually helping you to design a garden with institutionally bland perennials in a very middle class balance.

I like kitchen garden books. Herb growing books. Herb encyclopedias, vegetable gardens, roses, flowers and any combination of those. Powell Books has four floors of books, so naturally it's a Mecca for ex-bibliophiles. Also a dangerous playground for us. I didn't even have time to graze in the craft book isles (there were at least two isles of floor to ceiling titles. holy Jesus! That's enough to make me pass out with anticipation.) Right next to this is the garden section which is the largest I have ever seen. I found four titles that were used and/or on sale.

You know what makes my mouth actually water? I hear there's another Powell Books on the East side of town that features MOSTLY home and garden titles. That's where I will go to die.

My seeds from Territorial came this week. When I look at these packets, I don't see seeds, I see all the meals I'm going to make this late spring, summer, and fall. I see the pickles I'm going to be canning and then enjoying this time next year. Pure potential. Potential is such a hopeful word, I love it. It can become anything.

I don't like long hair on the male of our species. Not ever. Not even on gorgeous American Indian men who I'm told are supposed to have the longest most luxuriant hair. I can't stand shaggy locks on guys. I seriously dislike a head of bouncy curls, or straggly strands hanging in their faces. Long hair on men, especially big proud manes of it, make me think of vain peacocks strutting around bathing in their own pool of gloriousness. Sometimes when I see a man with really long hair, or a big fluffy crown of it, I get the feeling that that man would be more satisfied if he could just sleep with himself than with some paltry representative of the females of our species. In my case, I'm just as happy to let them love themselves too.

Luckily for men who are fans of their own big hair, I seem to be an anomaly. Many women think it's really sexy. So no fears to any of you out there with lots of swing to your mane.

Knowing this, you will not be surprised that I love it when Max gets a fresh haircut. It's so crisp and handsome.

For quite a while he was growing out his hair so he could coif it a la Jimmy Neutron. I didn't try to stop him, because that would have been a useless and stupid fight. I waited for months. Eventually I convinced him to cut it. I used some sly method of convincing him.

It's pouring outside. I tried to get a ride to work in the car but our car battery is dead. I don't mind riding in the rain that much, but I was running late and since we're going to our friends' house tonight right after work, it made sense. While riding down here I remembered my friend Chelsea talking about how when she sees a grown man on a bicycle, especially the kind that they obviously borrowed from their ten year old, she thinks "Yep, there's a DUI". She has a point. So I was wondering if anyone driving past me in the pouring rain assumed that I was on my bike because my car was taken away because of a DUI. You would never think that if I was on a ten speed instead of an old cruiser, and if I was wearing some sporty spandex arrangement on my ass.

I ride my bike all over. I love my Vespa, and I really miss riding it*. But aside from my feet, my bicycle is my preferred method of transportation. It makes me think of World War II when a lot of people didn't have cars. They rode jaunty cruisers like mine. They did everything on them. Now a lot of people think they can't do their shopping on their bikes. I understand the usefulness of cars, I'm glad Philip drives one. But I can fit at least five full grocery bags on my bike with the use of a bungee cord. Once I made a huge shopping trip to JC Penny on my bike and I admit it was a curious ride home, with all those bags piled high behind me somewhat precariously. The point is, it's easy to do your shopping on a bicycle. I hate it when people say it's impossible. You just think a little differently about it. You don't buy the hundred pack of toilet paper from Costco. Maybe you make two trips in the week where you would have made one in the car.

It isn't easy to do things like that with multiple children. I wouldn't dream of suggesting that moms with multiple children should all get their asses on their bicycles. And for people who live in icy snowy areas in the winter are seriously limited to car travel as bicycles and ice don't mix.

But everyone ought to try it every now and then. It's a bit of an adventure. Not to mention you get good exercise. Parking is a BREEZE on a bike.

I am just thinking about this because I was riding my bike in really cold wet rain. And it though that is far from my favorite weather to ride in, it really isn't that bad when it's just the best way to get to work.

My eyebrows are unpleasantly hairy today. I didn't have time to pluck. So all day long I'm going to wonder if people are asking themselves why I would let one eyebrow become so awfully apish?

And now I have a ton of work to do. I hope you all have a great Saturday!

*I will definitely get it fixed. Just as soon as I cross off everything from the forty five point list I spoke of yesterday, and plant the garden, and clean the house, and lay the road to hell with all my good intentions.

Feb 23, 2007

Blogger trying to kill me

It all started with a simple desire to add a site meter. To do that I had to upgrade my blogger account to the new version. Which I thought I had done. Not so. Doing that made it instantly easy to add the site meter. However, the next time I went back to my blog a post from over a week ago was on the front page. HUH? Now I can't fix it. Don't be surprised if you come into my store and find me passed out on the floor. Panic can do that to me. I liked Blogger before. Except for all the other times it made me want to kill myself.

Has this happened to anyone else? Got any idea how to fix it?

Feb 22, 2007

My apologies for being lame

Missy of Glitter and Grunge sent me a really lovely package for our pot holder swap. I forgot that when doing a swap it is always de rigueur to send more than the swap called for. Generosity is the hallmark of swapping. Shit. I'M SO SORRY MISSY. (Because I only sent the swap item.)

I'm not ashamed of the pot holder I made for her. Except I kind of am. Because look at this fancy pocket she made. (And she says it's her first pot holder!)

How cute is this one?! Now I just have to figure out how to post it on the flicker swap page that Happy Zombie set up. I'm terrified of trying new things like that. Which is truly ridiculous because I'm fine once I get it. See all my links? I don't even have to look at my notes anymore because I have the code memorized and can link to things absolutely any time I want to. I could link all day long if I felt like it.

Justify Full
These are the Keens I bought. They might actually be more comfortable than the Birkenstocks. Which is good because they only cost ten rubies instead of an entire treasure chest. However, they still look like Hippie shoes. Lucky for me that I don't have time to spend looking at my feet.

Philip and I have had a meeting about all the things we need to get done. We've prioritized the forty five point list. We also came up with a super brilliant plan for some kits and patterns that I'm not going to discuss right now. Because what if someone was reading this and realized that we are on the verge of something really profitable and stole our ideas? Aside from the fact that we are still an unfortunately well kept secret, you know we're going to have an empire someday. Just like Mary Jane's Farm. Did any of you realize what an empire that is? I confess that it has been slightly disappointing to realize that her farm and all it's components are beginning to smell a little Martha Stewartish. But if I ask myself honestly whether I'd rather be wondering if I'll still be in business in six months, or raking in the dough on about five zillion products and services, what do you think I'd choose?

I can't afford to sit here and say I don't care if we make money or not. I would love to be doing all this for no other noble purpose than to make cool shit. But the truth is, if I didn't have to make money, I would be farming for myself. I would be homesteading. I would be doing all this cool stuff for myself. I am making table cloths to sell, cocktail napkins, and key chains. How much have I made for our own home in the past year? Nothing. Seriously. I don't have time. My house looks like total generic crap. I've painted just one room so far. The rest of the house is antiseptic white.

I'm very excited about what we have to offer and the plans we've been making. I really am. This is so much better than working at JoAnne's fabrics. What we need is a marketing tool that will actually work for us. Do you all think I ignored you the last time I asked for ideas? Ha! If you thought that, you couldn't be more wrong.

Here's what we've been up to and what we're working on:
  • Contacted Mary Jane's Farm to see about being featured in her magazine. Which I have a feeling is going to go absolutely no where. However, I did get to talk to their book keeper who was really enjoyable to talk to and she passed along my information to Mary Jane herself. Plus, last night I wrote the first draft of an article I will submit to them.

  • Last night I sent off a submission to Bust Magazine which I am assured will be looked at and if they like it they'll get back to me at some indefinable point. If they don't, I will probably never know for sure until my chin hairs have doubled in length. The point is: I did it. I worked on a piece that I thought would actually be interesting to them. However, I've never been published and the chance that I will catch their eye is pretty slim. I'm not a hopeful fool. I'm just determined to try every angle.

  • I am ordering supplies for an Easter Bonnet decorating class. We are (today) deciding what information will be on the poster for it which will go in our window and I believe we will distribute some copies in other places. Philip will be designing it. I will also be decorating sample hats for the window. I will be doing this today.

  • We will be working on an article to submit to Ready Made as well as finding out what it costs to advertise in their publication. I'm pretty sure we can't afford it. But we'll find out for sure.

  • I am also researching who the current costumer is for Desperate Housewives. My friend Lucille from Forest Whimsy suggested I send one of my aprons to the set and see if they might use it in their show. You won't believe how hard it is to find out who is the costumer RIGHT NOW. There have been several. A show I would really love one of my aprons to appear on is Gilmore Girls. I would love to make one for Melissa McCarthy who plays the character Sookie St. James. But even though she plays a chef, she doesn't wear cute aprons. Besides, I'd have to adjust the size and no knowing her actual size could lead to insult, if it lead to anything at all. Who else could I send one to? Oprah? You think she's take an interest in a tiny company struggling to get noticed? She already champions my competition.

  • I sent off a letter of inquiry to Whole Foods with pictures and swatches.

  • I will check out the price of advertising in Craft Magazine. Maybe submit an article to them as well.

You see how busy I've been listening to all my well wishers? When I ask for suggestions, I may not follow all of them, but I do them all the credit of a good think. I have pursued the ones that seemed most practical and appropriate.

I also contacted SCORE and it keeps coming to an apparent halt and then someone will call and pick up the thread. I've asked for help with marketing. By the time I get help I will have already figured out what works or I will be liquidating.

I received word back from the sewing contractors I'm interested in using. They are willing to take the next step. I have to put together a formidable package of information, patterns, and contracts to get to the next step. It will be a long time and some money later before I find out if we can afford their services. I'm going to be putting in a lot of late nights again. SOON.

So if you don't hear from me on your blogs in the next couple of weeks as often as I usually do, don't feel abandoned. I'll be back. I'll still be writing everyday here. Because if I don't, well, you know...MY HEAD WILL IMPLODE.

Bottle cap Connoisseur

Max has well over two hundred bottle caps which he has collected, not from our kitchen as you might have imagined, but from everywhere he goes; parks, downtown, the ocean, and industrial parking lots. I have not exactly encouraged him in this collection. It's good that he is doing everyone a service by picking up trash, it's just not wonderful that my house has become his landfill.

However, for a school math project he was supposed to count one hundred of the same objects, such as pennies, that could fit in a Ziploc bag and be brought to school to share. I thought about what we could conjure up and since just about every kid will bring a bag of pennies or stickers, I thought about his immense bottle cap collection. When we laid them all out for counting I was able to see the beauty in them, the way he does. The way Philip would.

I will certainly cement my popularity amongst the other parents by sending my son to school with one hundred filthy, sharp, rusty, beer bottle caps. They will probably get all Macbeth on their children and make them wash their hands a thousand times when they find out what the kids have been touching. Truth be told, I would be willing to bet that pennies are at least as filthy. Worse even because of all the sweaty palms they've travelled through.

While my mom was here she spoiled Max a little. She doesn't have a lot of money to do it, but it's super sweet because he really doesn't get spoiled by any of his other relatives. Sometimes it's nice for a kid to get lavished on. This is the Aqua-something-or-other set which is super cool. Normally, we build all the sets for him. He is a master at building things from his imagination. But he has never before built a set by following the instructions. Here is the first one he did by himself! I'm sorry if my pride is a little obvious...but these sets are full of tiny pieces and I don't always find them easy to build myself. So naturally I'm impressed.

He doesn't look happy here, but he is.

Last night he read two stories to me. All the ones he's been reading so far have been barely books. They're just learning key words. Which has been exciting...but these books he's reading now are real stories. I don't really imagine my boy is going to be a great reader, but he's doing really well so far. He complains about reading, says he doesn't like it, but he is doing very well. This is the kind of stuff that makes all the crappy, stressful, heart crushing parts of parenting worth while. Seeing your kid's mind expand, explore, and GET IT. I love this part.

His teacher has them working with a lot of math concepts and I was worried that Max was going to be like me and immediately decide that math will make his brain explode. I have been very careful not to expose him to this fear of mine. Instead I have been employing some stealth psychology. I have talked to him casually about how cool math is*. I have mentioned how it can seem really hard at times but that if you stick with it, it gets clear. I've also been telling him how useful it is. But understand, these are tidbits I throw his way. Off hand comments while we do homework. It's useless to say these things to him while he's rebelling against an assignment. By that time his ears are closed. You also can't belabor a point with him or he gets a whiff of something suspicious, like stealth psychology being used to control his mind.

My stealth approach is working. I get excited about how good he is at math, but not too excited lest that make him want to fight it. You see, the guy is exactly like his parents who are very contrary people. We tend to going against the grain. It's a compulsion, like so many factors in our personalities. I don't enjoy swimming against the tide, but if I feel that I'm being pushed mindlessly into the current, I will fight it. Max is like that. He'll go along with things if he feels like he has some choice in it. If he feels like no one really cares. Which I totally respect. He always resists pressure.

I am actually really happy about this quality, though it makes being his parent super challenging, because I can be confident that he's not going to be pressured into doing things he doesn't want to. That's not to say he won't get into trouble, but at least he isn't particularly bendable to other people's wills. Which means that whatever trouble he gets in will be totally his own deal. We won't be able to blame heavy metal music for his transgressions.

Yeah, I know. We're a bunch of difficult pieces of work.

So last night while we were snuggling (the bedtime ritual where most of our important discussions take place) I told him how impressed I was with how good he's becoming at math. He asked me why. So I told him that learning math opens up the whole world to you. I told him that if you can really grasp math, you can do almost anything with your life. I actually believe this is true. So, of course, he asked what he could do with his life if he's good at math. So I told him he could be: a scientist, an inventor, an astronaut, a stunt man, a genius**, or a designer of almost anything.

He got all bright eyed and said "Then I want to be a genius so I can make myself fairy-god-parents so they can make it so I can go back in time when I'm a grown up and see what it was like to be a baby because I don't really remember what it was like and then they could show me what a time machine really looks like and I could go into the future when I'm old but I don't think I'd want to do that because then I would probably be dead and then they would have to push a button to bring me back and then they'd have to somehow make my skin come back which kind of goes away when you're dead."

That's actually the simplified version. There were actually some more complicated twists and turns in his plans for his fairy-god-parents and time travel that I couldn't follow because I'm not a genius.

*It helps that I actually think math is cool. Max can sniff out a lie like a blood hound. I actually get a little excited about math. My abilities are humble, but I have no math fear anymore.

**He still thinks that being a genius is something you choose, like a profession. I don't have the heart to tell him that's it's something you're either born as or not. I also have not told him how much I genuinely hope he doesn't turn out to be one since most of them are very ill-socialized lonely individuals who have bats in the belfry.

Feb 21, 2007

The orthopedic age
(Because being crazy just isn't enough)

Do I look like a Birkenstock babe? Do you imagine that a person who wears a tiara for fun is the kind of person who would waltz through life wearing negative heel sandals that aren't even as pretty as the ancient Romans probably wore? I can't deny that there are sunny pictures of me as a naked "flower child". Proof of my initiation into a life of carob treats and endless bowls of granola with apple juice and adults sitting around in mushroom clouds touching base with the "cosmos".

I'm pretty sure I remember saying at least once in my life: "I WILL NEVER WEAR SHOES AS HIDEOUS AS BIRKENSTOCKS. NEVAH!"

I wasn't accounting for the nature of my feet. As far as feet go, they aren't unattractive. They have a pretty nice shape. The toes are well formed, not too long, not too stumpy. I have an elegant high arch. All in all: pretty good feet. Except for the fact that they are a DD width and though they are a size 9 in length, I have had to wear mostly size ten shoes to accommodate the width. Which means my shoes are almost always too long for me. And even when I wear size 10's, usually they still aren't wide enough. I've experienced an extraordinary amount of foot pain and blisters. Not to mention, that "elegant" arch of mine, never gets support. Shoes have not been my friends.

Which is why I think it's understandable that I loathe the expression "If the shoe fits..."


To top things off, I have been experiencing, in the last few months, a periodic sharp pulsing pain in the ball of my left foot. Completely random. Impossible to ignore. It's been getting progressively worse. I haven't gone to the doctor because this is the type of thing they typically can't figure out, or if they do it results in amputation. I don't like going to the doctor because it makes me feel like a hypochondriac.

My mom has exactly the same problem with her feet. Wanna know what is the matter with hers? She has calcium deposits on her big toe joints. Yeah, and they can't do anything to help her. You know what eases the pain considerably? Wearing Birkenstocks. Or any shoe with a negative heel which takes the pressure off of the ball of your foot. Except that almost no one besides Birkenstock makes such shoes.

Now, it's true that Birkenstock has worked hard to come up with less hideous designs for their product. But I still hate them. I hate them because in order to make my feet feel better I have to spend a fortune on their shoes. I feel like I'm being punished for having special shoe needs. I feel like they are taking advantage of people like me. I bought a pair yesterday at my local "comfort" shoe store. I had to spend $160.00*. You know what kills me about spending such money on a pair of shoes? I have a very special talent that few people know about:

I can ruin the highest quality sturdiest shoes in a matter of months. Without even trying. I know, I'm amazing aren't I? I've got all this daintiness without losing my ability to crush good shoes in superhero time. Some of us are just born with more gifts than others. I try to remain humble.

I like to say (often) how aging doesn't bother me. Which I think annoys people who find aging upsetting. While I'm going to stick to my stance that getting older doesn't worry me, I will admit that while I don't care about my grey hair or my wrinkles, I'm pretty worried about the fact that I managed to break my hip at thirty five years of age, and have reached the orthopedic shoe stage at thirty seven years old. You can tell me that all I need is to limber up with a steady regimen of yoga because it's the panacea of our time, but I always injure myself doing it. Oh yeah, the back problems don't make me feel invincible either.

With all this foot pain, back pain, and recurring hip pain, I limp around like an eighty year old. So no, being thirty seven is not exactly old, but with the way my body is aging I seriously wonder if I'm going to have to use a cane permanently by the time I'm forty. How am I going to make that look cool?

Not that I'm obsessed with looking cool or anything that shallow. My cool factor is at an all time low. You know what I'll probably have to get next, to really cement my cool factor? I will probably be getting a pair of those "Crocs" for gardening in. Yeah, rubber clogs are just about the height of hippie chic. (I'm a boot chick. Always have been. I love work boots. Really tough ones. My favorite boots of all time were my Justin's. Oh boy, those babies were expensive too. But at least they came in my width.) I've been longing for a good pair of boots again. Now I'm not sure they will be good for my feet. The nice thing about garden clogs is that you can just rinse them off when you're done. A plus if you manage to get as dirty as I always do. I wonder if there's a way I could make them look like Dutch peasant-wear? If I don't mind looking like a huge potato I'm sure I could pull that off.

So I suppose I will now spend a tremendous amount of time looking for discounted Birkenstocks and Keens online. As if I have nothing better to do with my time.

On another subject... I have been thinking about the merits of starting a second blog to dedicate to weight issues. Lots of people have second blogs and they don't seem that appropriate for me because I like randomly jumping from subject to subject right here in one place. The only reason why I am considering it is because I won't stop needing to talk about that issue until it is no longer an issue in my life. This could be a long time from now. I feel a little self conscious about it though because for many people this is just a tired tedious subject. I need a place to give myself pep talks and to record progress. I could always start one and not tell anyone. I don't know. (By the way, I'm not considering this because of Oprah. I was considering this BEFORE she mentioned it in this month's issue of O.)

Speaking of magazines... I finally got a copy of Romantic Homes magazine. The one with the article about Alicia Paulson's house. I think we can all agree that is a great sign of my endless maturity that all I will say about it is: what a pretty house she has. All that sweetness didn't make me want to rip my own arm off at all. I will definitely not be writing scathing poems about it either. Because I am a very mature human being. Quite advanced, really. You know, evolved to the max.

*See, how can a person be thrifty when even your feet demand the most expensive shoes? That's not fair.

Feb 20, 2007

The fresh pasta pledge
(There are no excuses left not to make it fresh.)

We replaced the battery for my camera but found that my charger is also dead. I had just enough juice to take a couple of pictures yesterday. Hopefully the local camera store will also be able to replace that for me. Soon. This is a picture of my pasta dough. I was going to take more pictures of the whole process. Making pasta fresh is really easy when you have the right equipment. It's actually easy to do completely by hand, it just takes a lot longer. If you have a food processor and a pasta machine, there's really no excuse not to indulge in the best pasta you'll ever eat. My pasta machine is an attachment for my Kitchenaide mixer. It makes rolling and cutting the pasta super fast and easy. Not to mention really fun. I highly recommend this attachment. It costs about a hundred dollars and comes with the roller, a spaghetti cutter, and a fettuccine cutter.

If this is the kind of thing you'll do once a year it's hardly worth spending that kind of money. I worried about that a little which is why I didn't buy it for myself. Philip, being the super sweet guy he is, (and also being the main recipient of everything I make in the kitchen), bought it for me because he knew I wouldn't buy it for myself. I have used this attachment a lot. So it ended up being really worth the money for us.

We are now getting lots of eggs from our industrious girls: Henna, Pinny, Pearl, Flower Bud, and Dot. Anywhere from two to five a day. With the average being four. Which means we have plenty to share with friends, which we've started doing. With close to an extra dozen a week more than we need, I was also trying to think what I could make that would make use of so many eggs that I could store for later. Next winter I don't expect to get eggs for a while, so it makes sense to use them in something that can be preserved when there's tons of them. I've come up with two ideas:

The first is to work out a recipe for a quiche that will freeze well. One of my favorite things from Trader Joe's are their frozen quiches. They are wonderful to whip out when you need something fast. Just make up a salad and you've got a great fast meal.

The other idea is to make lots of pasta and dry it in nests. I could make herb pasta which would be a great way to preserve fresh herbs from the garden. I could make spinach pasta, beet pasta, and squid ink pasta. Wait, did I just say that? There is no way in hell I'm going to make squid ink pasta. Anyway, the pasta will keep for many months if kept dry. The difficulty with this plan is that I have got to get the knack for making the nests. I tried once and the pasta all stuck together too much.

Experimentation is in order. Pasta nests are so pretty. I have a book called "Lorenza's Pasta" by Lorenza De'Medici which is the most beautiful cook book I may have ever seen. There is a picture of dried pasta nests for sale at an Italian grocer's and the variety is incredible. Not only that, it looks gorgeous, I want to inhale the colors and I would like my pantry to look that colorful and inspired. In the picture, on the bottom shelf, beneath the freshly dried pasta, are a bunch of packages of the conventionally packaged pastas. The contrast is startling. The packages do not look like food. It is hard to imagine choosing the packaged pasta over the colorful sweet nests. Unless you are forced to for purposes of economy. Which I've been forced to consider at times.

It's cheap to make your own pasta. It's cheap to make it fresh. You can have that gourmet treat for the same price as the cheap packaged kind at trader Joe's. Two cups of flower, two eggs*. That's it. With the proper equipment it's also easy. The best part of making it yourself, though? If you've already tried fresh pasta I don't have to answer this for you. Do I really need to convince anyone out there that the taste is so superior that you will not even understand how far we've come from the true exquisiteness of pasta?

*This is the basic ratio of eggs to flour. Recipes vary, of course. You can also make pasta using no eggs, but why would you want to do that? Using eggs adds to the nutritional and protein content as well as contributing considerable flavor.

Obviously there are some people out there for whom gluten is like poison, so obviously this whole talk of pasta must seem tiresome. You can actually make pasta using quinoi and other flours too. It would be super cool if those who can't eat gluten could experiment to come up with a great recipe for home made pasta with NO gluten. Some people who are allergic to it are writing cookbooks. I'll bet those people could come up with something really great. Not that I'm trying to get pushy or anything.

Feb 19, 2007

Pantry of plenty

This is one of those glorious Oregon rainy winter days that everyone is always complaining about. Philip is in Portland with my mom and Max and I stayed home. I placed my seed orders, I cleaned the kitchen, and I gallantly played legos with Max for over an hour. All day I've been thinking about making fresh pasta. I planned on Max and I bicycling down to the grocery store to get some extra provisions, but I just couldn't drag us out in that wet cold world when everything is so cozy in here. Besides, Max is still in his pajamas and would like to remain in them.

So I'm baking two old yams and a butternut squash. Meanwhile I made a batch of fresh pasta from my new "Naked Chef" book, which is now "resting" in the fridge. It never ceases to amuse me that dough needs so many rests to work well. Like a singer who must not speak a word for the whole day leading up to her performance. It's no wonder so many people shy away from making their own breads and pastas. Anyway, the question is: what the heck am I going to do with my pasta without much fresh stuff in the fridge. I've been examining the contents of my pantry for two hours now.

This isn't tedious to me. Few things please me as much as hanging out in my pantry looking at all the potential. However, there really wasn't a lot on offer in there that sounded inspired. I really had my mind set on making a ravioli with a butternut-herb sauce. But without ricotta or spinach, the ravioli would have been kind of empty inside. I could put the squash inside the ravioli and do a butter and herb sauce, but I'm not that crazy for buttered pasta. After examining the possibilities I realized that there were actually quite a few options, just not what I had originally had in mind. But I've been working on my attitude about things a little lately.

I'm not a thrifty person. And even if I could get into the spirit of trying to save money, I don't see myself being any less annoyed by people whose main obsession in life is spending as little money as possible. There's a weird kind of conceit in that that I find unattractive. Never the less, I believe in finding middle ground whenever possible. I don't have to start chewing on shoe leathers instead of licorice to save money. What I'm trying to get myself to do is to think in terms of using what I have on hand and not always rushing off to supplement my supplies. I'm trying to get into the whole crafty spirit of recycling*, and also developing a greater ability to live with slightly less specific needs.

I am a very specific kind of person.

Which is why I am always running to the store. If I have walnut pasta sauce in mind but I don't have any Parmesan I will run out to the store and get it rather than eating the pasta without it, or thinking up something different to make. I am trying to get myself to be more creative with less on hand. Like my friend Chelsea does. She could make a stellar dinner out of the most meager ingredients. I am endlessly impressed with her creativity. I want some of that.

So the result of today's pasta quandary is that I am going to make pasta with sun dried tomatoes, marinated artichoke hearts, fresh minced herbs (from the garden), and feta cheese. We'll also have a salad with pears, pine nuts, and red onion.

I was really pleased to pull out this jar of sage I dried this summer, and the jar of cayenne that I dried. I am going to use the sage for the butternut squash (which I will make into a soup that can double as a sauce) and I am going to crush the red pepper into the pasta.

Ahhhh. Other than the fact that Max is now pestering me to play more legos with him, which may escalate into a battle royale, this is a good day. Why on earth do so many people hate the rain? Maybe they just aren't putting squash in the oven often enough. Or maybe their homes aren't welcoming enough. Because even if you have to go out in the rain, day after day, the joy of rain is always in the whole coming back part. Always so delicious!

*I am already on board with actual recycling, and I reuse things that have obvious re-uses. What I'm not doing is knitting my plastic bags into sweaters. I haven't learned to re-evaluate items on such creative terms, and that is what I'm striving for. It's not as much about not spending money as it is about not wasting resources.