Oct 31, 2007

My Own Small Spy

There are few things my boy likes more than being loaded down with fake weapons and tools for spying. What does it say about him? What does it say about me as a parent that I indulge him in his fantasy of violence and secret agent activity? Why don't I insist that he dress up in some gentle fashion such as pretending to be a cluster of grapes, or a bible figure (you know, one of the bible characters that didn't kill, rape, sodomize, or steal other people's babies), or insist that he dress up as an age appropriate Barney?

Because I'm a bad mommy. That's why. It is, of course, deeply ironic that I should land myself with a child who loves weapons and video games and dare-devil activities seeing as I would like to level the human fighting field by removing all automatic weapons, bombs, and missiles from the planet. While my son thinks it would be so cool to fight an opponent of some kind with a deathly quick weapon in some crazy design, I think guns and bombs and missiles are cowardly.

Violence is not something I celebrate. Never the less, my kid wants to be a spy.

They are gone. I have put a note on my door to not ring the bell. Take some candy and go. I am having palpitations. I loath this holiday. Please forgive me Amanda! I have been completely stressed out over Max's costume for days, first because he wanted me to make something I wasn't capable of making, and then because I didn't have enough time to make the costume he settled for when I convinced him I couldn't make him a suit of cyber-armor. Right as they were going out the door, the plastic keys to his new plastic FBI agent handcuffs broke and he decided that come hell or high water, he was not going to go trick or treating.

I insisted that he go. Firstly because I know that once he gets down town where half the children in McMinnville are going to go trick or treating, he will unbend and have a good time. Unlike me, he enjoys romping around with a million other hyped up immature souls. Secondly, I had just finished sewing the black spy outfit that I'd been frantically not getting anywhere with for twenty four hours.

What I want to do right now is hide under a thousand blankets and watch old episodes of "Friends". I want to drink beer and not think about all the craziness out there. I want a serene evening of curmudgeonly pursuits. I don't want to see all the kids in their costumes. I went to Max's classroom to their "harvest party" which consists of doing a bunch of really cheesy artsy projects like making spiders out of pipe cleaners and lolly pops. I didn't know I was going to be a volunteer, by the way. It's not like I had a terrible time or anything. In a weird kind of way I think I get kids more than most adults. I like them and view them as immature people, which is what they are. I see them and I recognize in them a hundred different paths their life may take them down. I don't see them as innocent little bugs of fun.

Children are not carefree little beings. There are a million agonies each of them is experiencing. Figuring out your place in the social strata is a constant shuffling activity full of mortification, pride, hope, fear, camaraderie, and also loneliness. Adults often gloss over those little childish skirmishes and play down those experiences as though they are just funny little things kids go through. In reality, a child's mortification over not being picked first for a classroom group is really no less than an adult experiences when their partner breaks up with them in a bar. Adults like to think their problems are so much bigger than a child's could ever be. You have to consider scope. You have to consider the scale of a child's life.

Anyway, I tend to get along with most kids because I can see on their level and I don't treat them like sweet little angels of light and airy goodness. I talk to them like they're people and treat them like they're people. Most kids like that. I enjoyed interacting with the kids but it didn't ameliorate the stress I feel about this holiday.

There was a time, long, long ago, when Halloween was my second favorite holiday. (Thanksgiving was always my first favorite) There was a time when thinking up and executing costumes gave me an intense joy. I actually won a couple of school costume contests,which was great since I failed to distinguish myself in any other way. But those days are gone. Maybe I did too much dressing up? Maybe I invested too much too soon and I burnt out young.

Here I am, thirty seven years old, and I dread Halloween. I hate having to answer my door all night long to complete strangers and "ooh" and "aaaah" to all the kids and glare at the teen-agers who have come with their pillow cases open and have not bothered to dress up at all. I hate the noise, the commotion, the whole to-doing. It always stresses me out to have strangers knock on my door. On Halloween they come in droves. Or they don't, but you have to be ready in case they do. There's the whole candy thing- do you give each kid a handful, two pieces, or just one? I like to be generous, but if a shitload of kids come to my door how will I be sure not to run out of candy? Or what if I have enough to give several pieces to each child but only two kids come (that happened once) and I'm left with enough candy to make an effigy of Jesus with?

You think my worries end there? What if the kids don't like the candy I'm handing out and are disappointed? Or what if I run out of candy and don't get a note on the door fast enough... the door keeps ringing and ringing and ringing? What if some creepy posse of teen boys decides my candy isn't what they're looking for and they'd like my wallet instead? What if a pedophile comes to the door with his niece and I don't notice? What if I have to talk to people I don't like?

Yeah. I know I have problems. Have I ever tried to deny it?

It's quiet out there right now, but that's because it is only just now getting dark. My boy is out there in that crazy world. I would actually prefer him here, where we can all take part in our usual comfortable routine, but at the same time, I don't want my boy to be like me. I don't want him hiding out and missing the "fun". He's not even quite seven years old yet. I don't want him to get heart palpitations from anxiety.

Most of you people I know are out there right now too. Romping joyfully with your kids. Loving the magic that is childhood*. You are laughing at the cute antics of your miniature selves and relishing the family time that is the hallmark of life with children. You aren't wishing your medication could be doubled up on nights like this. You aren't baking potatoes and desperately looking forward to when all people are in bed and asleep again. Because that's when I'll be at ease again.

Incidentally, this is the only time of year when I eat candy bars. I don't tend to eat a lot of candy. I don't crave it. Except on Halloween. I would feel that Armageddon had arrived if I passed a Halloween without eating those bite sized candy bars en mass. They're kind of nasty, actually. But I can't not have them. So I have broken with my new local eating ways to accommodate a tradition that I'm pretty sure is written in stone.

I have failed so royally today. I didn't get any pumpkins carved. I made a lame-ass costume for my boy that I finished up a half an hour after he should have already started walking downtown. I didn't make dinner. I didn't do any housework.

Oh boy. Now the damn dog is all riled up. The people are coming. This is in real time, by the way. Kind of like reporting in the trenches. Only I'm hiding in the sand-bag. How surly of me that I don't want to see kids dressed up like ridiculous Disney characters. Seriously, the dog is nuts with the interesting noise out there, barking nonstop.

It's almost seven. I guess I should check on the candy supply? But what if I run into people coming up the path? I'd like to slip out there invisibly. I have Friends on. I have beer. My potatoes are almost done baking. When the kid comes home it will take almost an hour to wind him down from the evening's excitement. During which time I will be desperately watching the clock for that inevitable time when he must be tucked in.

Ah, my starchy goodness is all ready for me. Back to my television and my bed where I await the end of the evening where-in I will revel in the gloomy quiet that always follows a fevered holiday. Good night all. In spite of my own personal feelings about this holiday-I really do hope you all have a good evening free of palpitations and barking madness!

*Not my view, obviously.
The Carpet Is Up, The Gloves Are Off

Have you ever tried to convince a chicken to sit still? Have you ever tried to bribe one with food? Have you ever tried to convince one that being a cover-hen is a prestigious line of work? They are a lot less gullible than you would imagine. Not only that? They are totally flighty! Pearl (pictured above) will never win a Nobel prize for being an ill-socialized genius, yet I can't help but admire her natural reticence concerning interactions with humans and her total feminist-like disinterest in modeling. For all that, she did well. Angela and I must have taken about fifty shots of her and it took some real animal-trainer savvy on my part.

Several times I had to soothe her with reminders that I do not eat the flesh of animals nor do I eat my family pets. I think she believed me.

There is a very specific person out there in the world (most likely still in California) who HATES the sounds chickens make. It's kind of sad that this person, who was ultimately evil*, continues to live in my head after making me get rid of my first beloved flock of hens over two years ago. I think about her every time I listen to my girls cooing, clucking, and squawking, sounds that I find deeply therapeutic. (Even the loud squawking they do while laying.) This person had two vacations ruined by the noise that chickens make. I mean, how is that even possible?

I wonder if there will be a time when her name and her chicken hate will stop ringing in my ears? You know what gives me joy, though? The knowledge that if she moved next door to me now, she could not make me get rid of my girls. And if she complained too much? I could legally get seven more of them!!!! Ha ha ha ha ha!!!!!!

The carpet came up and what was revealed underneath was a gorgeous wood floor in great condition. There are three or four deep divots in it that will need filling and fixing, but the rest of it is just perfect! Angela, who weirdly seems to know everything, says that my floors have a wax finish on them (because if I drop water on them they will temporarily discolor) which means I can buff them to make them shine again. I don't think my knee will allow me to do this by hand on all fours. Did I not tell you about my injury?

Let's just put it this way: after a number of years reprogramming myself to stop referring to myself as a klutzomaniac, it appears I used to call myself that for good reason. I have a talent for falling and scraping my knees, breaking my hips, and destroying what little strength I have left in my joints. Not to mention the constant deterioration of my dignity. Last week I fell down and scraped off all seven layers of skin on my right knee. It has a very painful scab on it right now.

So I must go on a search for a good tool for buffing my floors that won't cost a small fortune. Look at that wood! You know, I am beginning to like my house. We ended up choosing a Martha Stewart color for the walls called "Fern Shoot". It's very similar to the brighter green paint chip shown in the last post. Philip has done the detail work and I'm so excited for the room to be done already. It's so much prettier than it was before.

A lesson that almost everyone who buys a house learns is to not wait to make small changes that will increase your happiness and house satisfaction. What happens to so many of us is that we get busy and stressed so we go ahead and fill our brand new living room with our huge load of crap and then months go by and we realize that we still don't have time to paint the walls so we may as well hang pictures up. The job just gets more and more insurmountable. Then you do these things right before you have to sell it and you kick yourself because your house is suddenly the house you always wished it was and now you're preparing to hand it over to someone else. Someone else who is probably going to paint all your pretty walls stark white again right after you hand them the keys.

In spite of learning this lesson repeatedly, I continue to make the same choices, the same mistakes. Time is not actually on my side. I should have done these things right away. Do you know how much dust came clouding up out of that carpet as I yanked it up? Dust my vacuum couldn't suck up, apparently. (And I have a great vacuum.) Dust we've been breathing. Is this why Philip's asthma has gotten worse? Carpets really are filth traps. Yes, I know, I know I always start sounding like Howard Hughes when I talk about wall to wall carpeting. Area rugs can be rolled up and sent to the deep cleaners. Wall to wall sits on it's padding for fifteen years hanging onto every stain, every disgusting particle of cat vomit that reaches the inner sanctum. You can pour as much enzyme solution as you want on your carpet, it just sinks in like the dog pee did. True, it may not smell anymore, but I know it never truly goes away. Dogs can still smell it.

Grossed out now? On top of the filth factor, it strikes me as really awful that now I have to throw this ENORMOUS roll of synthetic disgusting mess in the land fill. I know that synthetics have revolutionized our lives, but maybe it would have been better if all wall to wall had continued to be made out of wool. I didn't choose to install the carpet in the first place, so I shouldn't feel guilty, but I do.

The lesson? Make time to paint the walls. Make time to rip up the carpet. Cause lord knows no one is going to make time for you to do these things. Also? Maybe wall to wall is a health hazard. Can you imagine what would happen if oil supplies really did just suddenly dry up and none of us had solar panels installed against this bleak possibility and we couldn't run our vacuums? People with area rugs would simply take them outside and beat the crap out of them to remove the dust and other debris, but for those with wall to wall? Oh my god. The thought boggles the mind and impresses the fear glands.

*Alright, she's not evil. There are people I adore who don't like chickens. But none of them would have tried to use their newlywed status as a reason why chicken noise is intolerable (it's not "romantic" don't you know). Oh yes, let me get rid of my beloved family pets who make noise for twenty minutes between 1 and 2 pm because that's when you crazy newlyweds would like to have sex and it just isn't working with the noise of those damn chickens which makes things go limp. Jesus.

Oct 30, 2007

We Hate White

(on walls)

I have been in homes with white walls where I didn't hate it. Our friend Misa has a very different decorating aesthetic than we do and her white walls seem totally appropriate for her. In my own house they make me depressed. Everything feels cold and flat. So why haven't we painted our walls yet? Shall I recap the last year and a half for you?

Nah. Let's stick to the present. These are my before shots. I want you all to notice the oatmeal colored carpet too, because in just a little while I'm going to rip it out. There is always a little risk in pulling carpet up. We don't know if the hardwood floors underneath are hiding some terrible secret, like maybe there's some crazy hole in the middle of the floor that's been filled in with plywood.

The risk is worth it. Every dog that's come in my house has peed on it in all the same spots Chick peed on it when she was a puppy and we were trying to potty train her. I loath wall to wall carpeting in my own house. I know, you've all heard me say it before. Is all this repetition and the use of the word "hate" making your ears bleed? How about I spread some love? I LOVE hardwood floors with throw rugs. I LOVE color!

Ah, but the agony of choice!

My hunger for color on the walls is clouding my judgment. We tend to love green. So I think we're going to go with the green on the far left in the picture. We've painted every living room we've ever had green. We've always been so happy with it. It's warm and cozy, calm and pretty. Philip is going to do the actual painting tonight. I'm the pro carpet ripper and carpet tacking remover. Philip is the pro painter.

You know what else I have to do today? Make Max's costume and take pictures for a new header for my website redesign. Plus feed the chickens. Oh, and buy paint. And carve pumpkins with Max when he gets home.

I have found out that our Downtown Association is definitely putting on their Holiday Craft Fair this year. It runs for six weeks. What this means is that I have a chance to sell some of my things-make a little money, perhaps? Does anyone have a spell that can conceal from the public my MONEY-REPELLING-AURA? I just got a call back from the Health Food Store too. Isn't that ironic? The chance to sell my own goods is important and I'm not going to miss out on that which means I can't actually get a job until after the holidays. To be honest (and I doubt you'll be surprised) this has lifted some depression from my shoulders.

I also got a booth at the Crafty Wonderland craft show in December that I'm going to be sharing with Lisa E. The booth is tiny, so tiny that we can't both sit in it at the same time, but it's a great event to be included in.

All of a sudden I need to get busy making things to sell. I do have some merchandise all ready to go, but not enough. I'm not sad about it, just wondering how to fit it all in.

I knew that the first thing to do was to ignore everything to fix up the living room. Actually, this living room project is important because it's a good spot to photograph my aprons in, if only the walls were painted. I need a good spot for this because my studio is too cramped for taking pictures of anything but the small items.

So, I had better get my lazy ass moving, huh?! I hope to be able to show some "After" pictures tomorrow. At least of the wood floor. Hopefully of the walls too. We'll see.

Oct 29, 2007

Eat Local Challenge
Day 29

A Summation Of The First Month

We have now been following the Eat Local Challenge for one month. Has it been hard? I want to tell you that it has been, because then you will admire my ability to stick to it even though it has meant total deprivation and culinary hardship....the truth is that it hasn't been that hard. The parameters that I set for us aren't extreme. I think if anyone is thinking about taking on the eat local challenge for themselves they should set realistic goals. I think it's enough for most people to just decide to only eat local produce. That is a big challenge but in most places in this country, completely possible.

The biggest change this challenge has brought to us is the necessity to think about everything we buy to put in our mouths. I have put in many hours on researching who is growing what in my valley. I have become knowledgeable on the kinds of cheeses you can and cannot find within a 100 mile radius. I know what grains are grown in my state and that most of them are exported rather than supplying locals. Which says a lot about how the food economy has shifted for the worse in modern times. I know now that my state produces a ton of beet sugar, but we send almost all of it back east. So those of you in New York will not find it difficult to buy Oregon made sugar, but those of us in Oregon may not be able to find it anywhere.

One thing I already knew is that most of us live our lives without looking very far for things, if it isn't already under our nose then it doesn't exist. My aunt in Wisconsin used to tell me that they just don't sell heirloom varieties of vegetables in Wisconsin. I knew that wasn't true because in garden forums I had encountered a lot of gardeners in Wisconsin who bought almost only heirloom varieties from their nurseries. They weren't being offered at the nurseries she was going to, but that didn't mean they weren't being offered elsewhere in her area, she just never looked for them.

I had to go out of my way to find out what's being made locally. Once you put in time researching these things the whole local world opens up and eating local gets a lot easier. What I had to let go of is expecting that I will cook in exactly the same manner as always.

Although the produce man at my local health food store assured me that nothing local was available by November, I have found that he has not been looking very hard for it. It's everywhere. It is three days to November and at the Hillsdale farmer's market here's what was still on offer:

potatoes, shallots, onions, celery, the last of the tomatoes, the last of the peppers, green beans, broccoli, zucchini, cauliflower, collards, swiss chard, kale, garlic, celeriac, rutabagas, parsnips, sun-chokes, Brussels sprouts, apples, pears, carrots, salsify, turnips, lettuce, a shit-load of winter squash in a myriad of colors and types, dried beans, meats, cheeses, fresh herbs, beets, and nuts.

If any cook finds that variety limiting, I have no respect for them. In fact, I found it difficult to limit myself to what I might actually be able to cook this week or freeze. I am taking celery off of my exceptions list as I have found local growers of celery. I bought about four giant bunches of them and will saute and freeze it. Next week I will buy even more and do the same. In this way I can buy only local celery and just pull it out of the freezer in pre-measured amounts for soups and casseroles until I can get it fresh again. So that was a real victory. Which, by the way, was brought about by Nicole, who found it for me.

The Hillsdale farmer's market goes all year but will only be open twice a month starting this month. The offerings will obviously get sparser, yet many of the items I listed above are long storing vegetables and will likely be available for a while yet.

One major change has been not snacking on Max's Cheetos. I think I may have mentioned before how I don't particularly like them-they basically taste like salty grease but their crispiness makes them a satisfying midnight snack. You'd think I would have lost weight not eating the Cheetos, but sadly, this is not the case. To replace Cheetos I have taken to snacking on evil itself: Tillamook cheddar cheese. Philip at some Cheetos yesterday because he forgot he was doing this whole eat local thing. Max told on him. Tattle-tale!!!

The best finds were two brands of tortilla chips made right in Salem. One of those brands is "Kettle Chips" who also make really good potato chips, and the other one is "Don Pancho" who also makes corn tortillas and flour tortillas.

Right now I am contemplating my exceptions list. This is not, in my opinion, a rigid list that must never change. I like to think of it as a dynamic list that things can be removed from or added to, so long as a certain integrity remains. As I get into this challenge it is really making me realize what foods I can live without, and which ones I find indispensable. The main thing, for myself, is for my exceptions list to maintain a certain brevity. Otherwise I ruin the spirit of the challenge. My goal is to keep that list under ten items.

Yet, even though I say this to myself, that my list can be adjusted, I have some inner conflict over it. Read, and see for yourself...

I am seriously considering taking chocolate off the exceptions list and adding Parmesan in it's place. Why would I do something SO DAMN CRAZY? Because I don't actually care that much for chocolate but I care a lot about not being able to have Parmesan. My very dear friend Chelsea, a steadfast supporter of all my craziness, has predicted that I will DIE if I try to go a year without Parmesan cheese. What do you all think? Chocolate or Parmesan? Or neither? Check out my exceptions list as it stands right now and tell me your thoughts on my approach to this challenge.

Chocolate was only on my list of exceptions because Max likes to make chocolate chip cookies with me and I'm not passing up my one cooking activity with my kid. If I make cookies, I eat them. However, I think I can take the trauma of not adding another roll to my stomach from eating cookies we make. Besides, Max has recently decided that he HATES brown chocolate and only likes white chocolate and peanut butter chips. I don't like white chocolate so that's no trouble. We won't talk about peanut butter chips, OK? Because that's a painful subject.

Will I respect myself more in a year if I keep to my resolution to not eat any Parmesan?* Will I impress myself more in a year if I don't alter my exceptions list again? Should it be something that is set in stone? Is a local challenge only worthy if it involves a ton of deprivation? Does an Eat Local Challenge only count if it is pure? These are important questions. I would love it if everyone who reads this weighs in with their thoughts.

Worst of all questions to ask is: do I need to be impressing other people? Would the couple who wrote the book "Plenty" and inspired this whole 100 mile diet find my efforts paltry in comparison to their Herculean efforts in which they consumed no flour for seven months and insisted on finding and using local salt? And since when have I ever cared what other people think of me or whether or not they're impressed? Would you care if you were taking this challenge? If you are taking this challenge-does it matter to you what others think?

How would you approach this challenge?

Now is not the time to keep your opinions to yourself. OK?

*In some puritanical way it feels like this whole challenge will be meaningless unless I have to give up something I love. How American-religious is that of me?! It feels like a person can't be taken seriously in making big changes unless they are suffering in some way. I tend to think this is bogus, but a part of me thinks it might be sinful to let myself add Parmesan cheese to my exceptions list because it's giving in to desire. True, it isn't exactly a CARNAL desire, and I'm pretty sure that culinary desire does not invoke the same promise of hellfire...and it's also true that I don't actually believe in sins seeing as I am not religious...still, these thoughts persist.

Oct 27, 2007

Diamonds In The Dirt

BBQ Sue is my style icon.

You know what I'm really tired of? Women being obsessed with bigger boobs. Seriously, either you have them or you don't. A couple of my friends who were "blessed" with naturally large breasts desperately wanted smaller ones, you know why? Because big boobs can give you back aches. They get in the way of activities like jogging. Well, real ones do anyway. Maybe the surgical kind are made of cotton candy?

You know what else I'm tired of? White women tanning their skin until they either reach a kind of opus in orange, or achieve a dried tobacco hue. I understand wanting to have a healthy "sun-kissed" glow, but all that means is a little color in your cheeks, your forehead, and perhaps a slight golden cast to your normally pale skin. Maybe if you're very outdoorsy you get a little more golden, get some freckles, but this isn't the tan I'm talking about. The kind I'm talking about is the kind you either have to get under the beam of a tanning bed, or dedicate lots of time cultivating on lawn chairs.

I think brown skin is beautiful on those who were born wearing it.

There is a woman in this town who I will be careful not to describe here, seeing as I have a tendency to get myself in trouble, who has achieved the most intense dark orange opus. I don't know how she can look in the mirror and not see how scary she looks. Combined with her amazingly stiff coiffure, I find it impossible not to stare at her when she crosses my path.

This all further emphasizes my earthiness. My careless approach to hippiesville. (I was just about to offer proof that I'm not actually a hippie by declaring my lack of Birkenstocks...oops. I do have a pair of them. Damn. But not the traditional hideous ones that so many old hippies pair with droopy thick socks.) I do believe in make-up. It's not as though I am into people being naked of charms and fun adornment and I've used almost as much hair dye as Cyndi Lauper which is just as fake as getting a dark tan when you start off looking like moonlight.

It's just a question of personal taste. I'm expressing mine here. I'm completely aware of how much people hated my brightly colored hair when I was a teen. The green hue invoked a lot of ire out of the big boobed tanned girl crowd.

I just drifted off on a mental trip. I was thinking about all the styles that I think make women and men attractive. Taking a kind of inventory of what that grouping of style might make others think. What opinions they might have about what I think makes people attractive. Well, this is what makes the world so fascinating, isn't it? I don't like fake tans, but I do think kohl rimmed eyes are wonderful. Even on older women. I like people to wear the skin they were born in and just love it. I feel like, generally speaking, their natural skin color will make them most attractive.

I loathe Jimmy Chou shoes. Seriously-I think they are awful. I hate strappy shoes with six inch heels. I love almost all 1930's shoe styles. I love men's shoes. I love boots. But not sexy strappy spike-heeled boots. I like work boots. Yep. And you know something you won't believe? I think work boots are sexy. Indeed I do. I like mary-janes. I love platform shoes in the 1940's style.

I love it when people mix work boot style with diamonds. Throw a little plaid in there and I might actually get a little faint with excitement.

This all makes me think of the Olsen twins trying to be taken seriously in the fashion world. A whole lot of sycophants have already declared them to be style icons. I look at them and all I can think is: will these girls ever stop looking infantile? Will their faces ever look grown up? I can't take them seriously. Not only because their sense of style is amorphous, but because the eyes that look out of their baby faces look so empty.

OK, so I'm thinking about how one could sum up my sense of style and the first thing that comes to mind is: diamonds in the dirt. I like rustic food that has been given a little bit of glamor. I like utilitarian clothes: knickers, knit tops, boots, tights, and berets. An outfit that can travel anywhere. An outfit in which you could dig up bulbs in the garden and then go out in later. I like my interiors to be functional and sturdy but to have grace and good lines as embodied in Deco furniture. Furniture that is well designed for living that is also sleek and beautiful.

In my garden I like to see flowers everywhere, I like an abundance overflowing my property line. But it all must be useful: flowers that can be cut and brought inside, vegetables, fruits, and medicines. A purple cone flower is not only beautiful to look at, loved by beneficial insects, but if you cultivate it for long enough it can yield powerful medicine. That, to me, is perfect natural design.

In my dining room there are no dishes that I save for special occasions. I believe in having things that are useful and beautiful at the same time. If they are useful and beautiful they should be used and admired in every day life.

You could say that a person's sense of style is a frivolous part of their life, but I say it informs a person's whole life. It informs how they live. It goes so much deeper than just decorating and personal adornment. I have always objected to rabid over-zealous feminists declaring that clothes are much too trivial for them to care about. As though it makes them superior to not care about these things. As though caring about the clothes you wear or the make-up you apply automatically means you can't simultaneously care about other things. When a woman declares too strongly that she couldn't care less what people think of her and that she's not going to wear make-up just to please a stupid man, she is actually saying a lot more about herself than she realizes. And it isn't all pointing to personal strength of character either.

My entire life is colored by my belief in the perfect mixing of function and form. I don't buy clothes I won't clean my house in. That doesn't mean I only wear sweats. I wear APRONS to cover my good clothes while I cook and clean. Although, admittedly, my apron wearing was really curtailed by getting super heavy. I used to wear them all the time, every day. I dressed up to garden, perhaps I wore some chinos and boots, but I would also wear lipstick, jaunty caps, and pretty jewelry. There's no reason to separate glamor from dirt. We are living our lives every single minute we aren't dead, why waste most of that time saving the "good stuff" for the special occasions that never come?

This philosophy informs every aspect of my life. The heavy parts as well as the airy bits. This is how I can see beauty and charm in work boots. Boots you can wear anywhere, do anything in, there's such charm in that versatility. It's very working class of me, I suppose, but I'm alright with that. I have no desire to be anything other than what I am. Being able to see the beauty in ordinary objects makes the whole world more engaging. And when ordinary objects are designed with exquisite care, it makes life easier to live. It makes cleaning house more satisfying. Crushing garlic with a perfectly designed garlic press gives me an extra frisson of pleasure while cooking.

There's room for us all, luckily. Even Dita Von Tease who I am not going to slam because I'm sure someone I know is friends with her. Dita: do you ever wear work boots? (And I don't mean in lingerie, either.)

Oct 25, 2007

Vegetarian Pot Pie

I was going to try to make a smaller batch of pot pies so that I could give you a recipe for a normal amount of food. By normal I mean the amount of food you might make for one meal. Then I got to thinking about the reasons I never cook just enough food for one meal. It's because I like to maximize my time in the kitchen, I have to provide lunches too and most of our lunches consist of left-overs, (not to be confused with my Dad's famous MYSTERY MEALS). I always make enough of a recipe to freeze some, or save for lunches in the fridge. That is, in my opinion, a hallmark of an urban homesteader's method of cooking.

So I have decided to give you the recipe in it's large form. If people comment about how they don't know how to cut a recipe in half and wish this recipe was smaller, I may oblige. But I offer this one to all the people out there who are trying to make as much home cooked food as possible and who want to avoid leaning on fast food options by making food ahead of time. Who wouldn't want to pull out a few homemade pot pies on those busy tired week-nights when no one has time to cook?

This recipe is not difficult, but it has many steps and is time consuming. Do it on a day when you have time to hang out in your kitchen and enjoy yourself.

You will need:

For the dough:

2 recipes Martha Stewart Pate Brisee (or enough pie dough for four 9" pies)
1 egg, beaten to a pulp for brushing purposes

For the gravy:

4 tbsp white or wheat flour
4 tbsp butter
1 tsp salt
as many turns of the pepper grinder as you see fit
2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 lb mushrooms, finely chopped
3 cups vegetable broth

For the filling:

3 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, diced (any similar potato will do)
2 large carrots (or 3 medium, you be the judge), diced
1 whole onion, diced
1/2 lb mushrooms, chopped chunky
1 large head of broccoli, cut into small florets, use stem if not too woody (diced)
1 cup of frozen (or fresh if you're lucky!) peas
2 tbsp olive oil

To prepare the vegetables:

Parboil the carrots, potatoes, and broccoli separately (but use the same water each time), for three minutes each. Seriously, trust the three minutes to cook it enough. If you cook your veggies too long they will become an unpalatable mush. If you don't cook them enough, they will have an unpleasant crunch. Whatever you do, don't dunk them in ice water after you remove them from the boiling water. Letting them continue to cook a little as they cool down is essential. Plus it's simpler.

In a large saute pan, heat your olive oil on medium high heat, then add your onion and let it cook for about five minutes. Just as it's beginning to soften, add your chunky mushrooms. Saute for about five more minutes, or until the mushrooms are thoroughly cooked. Put all the vegetables together in a really big bowl.

To make the gravy:

Add vegetable broth powder or a bouillon cube to three cups of the water you used to parboil your vegetables in. Set aside.

In a large saute pan on medium heat, combine the finely chopped mushrooms and 1 tbsp of the butter and cook for about five minutes. Transfer them to a bowl. Mix the 3 tbsp flour with the salt, pepper, and cayenne in a small dish. Melt the remaining butter in the saute pan and when it's just beginning to bubble, add the flour to it and whisk it into the butter. At this point the consistency should be like a paste. If it's looser than that, add a little more flour. Constantly stir it in the pan for about two or three minutes and then add 1 and 1/2 cups of the vegetable broth constantly whisking as you pour it into the flour.

This would be a terrible moment to answer your cell phone.

The broth will thicken quickly, when it has thickened and it is mixed smoothly, add the remaining broth. Now it will take longer to thicken up again. Stir frequently. Once the gravy has thickened, add the finely chopped cooked mushrooms back into the pan. Then add the thyme. It is helpful to rub the thyme in the palm of your hands as you add it to the gravy because it smells heavenly and it will release more of it's flavor this way. Turn the stove down to low and let it cook for another five or ten minutes periodically stirring to prevent sticking. If it gets too thick, add more broth or hot water, but only a little at a time.

Now pour the gravy over the vegetables and mix really well so that all the vegetables are well coated with the gravy.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

To assemble:

Divide each roll of pie dough into four pieces and roll each one out to about 1/8" thick. Line either Pyrex single serving oven dishes, or foil mini pie pans with dough, smoothing out any wrinkles and trimming off the dough at the edge of the dish. You will need those trimmings.

Spoon the filling into the pies, just slightly heaping.

Roll out tops. Place over the pie dish. Trim the excess.

Crimp or roll the edges and slash a couple of holes in the tops of the pies to let the steam out while cooking.

Doesn't this look just like the frozen pot pies of your youth? Yet it will taste better and be healthier too.

Any pies you plan to bake right away you can brush with the beaten egg which will result in the prettiest pie ever. If you are freezing some of your pies I would leave them plain. Put the pies you want to bake right now in the oven for about 45 minutes, or until the crust is golden.

These are the pies I made to freeze. You can buy the tin pie dishes in most grocery stores. I am looking for a paper version because I prefer to cook with aluminum as little as possible. The paper ones are also easier on the environment when they reach the trash heap.

Any pies you would like to freeze should be put directly in the freezer. Once they have frozen, wrap them really well in plastic wrap to prevent freezer burn.

The yield for this recipe will vary depending on a couple of factors. The size of the pie dishes you use and how thinly you roll out your dough. My Pyrex dishes will hold 1.5 cups of filling, and use more pie dough to cover. The mini pie tins hold just about 1 cup of filling and use less dough. I made 8 pies in the Pyrex, and 4 pies in the tins: total of 12 pot pies. I barely had enough dough for all of those. In fact, two of them had top dough only. Philip felt cheated by the lack of a bottom crust.

Now, will someone please make some and tell me what they think?
100% Local Grocery Haul
Eat Local Challenge: day 25

100% local grocery store haul. What's even better is that it only cost me $15.00 for one loaf of bread, one half gallon milk, two Danish squashes, one cabbage, two stalks of Brussels sprouts and one sugar pie pumpkin.

Note: I just talked to Casey and Katie from Oakhill Organics and they said that they can fill my requested order for produce-which means I'm going to have to cook a whole bunch in the next week because my fridge will not fit so much and a lot of them will wilt if left out. Their CSA is currently full but if you let them know what you want they may be able to sell you some produce if they have enough after filling their CSA orders.

This is the best pot pie in the whole world.*

I have homemade pot pie on the brain right now and while pulling one out of the microwave yesterday, this is the thought that jumped into my head:

Stick a hampster in a pie!

It is early morning here at the Williamson ranch. I've been up since 5:30 am which is when I stepped in some Chick vomit after feeding her and the mean kitty beast. I sat with her a while making soothing noises and after cleaning up the disturbing mess I just couldn't go back to sleep. It has been my dream for many years to be able to get up at 5:30 am to write. Before the kid is up, before the world is up. I love this time. Unfortunately, my childish resistance to going to bed early-ish makes it very challenging to get up before 7:30am.

I have chocolate burps. I'll bet you didn't expect me to say that, huh? I stayed up too late last night watching ER episodes and "needed" a midnight snack. I had been eating lots of Cheetos for late night snacks before I started my eat local challenge. I don't actually like Cheetos, I think they taste like greasy orange salt, but that's just what the mouth wants in the evening hours-crunchy convenient vessels for salt. Anyway, I have been a good girl and nary a Cheeto has crossed my lips since October first. So if I can't eat Max's snacks, then there isn't much to nosh on. I don't stock snack foods for myself. All I had that was quick and tasty and on my exceptions list was chocolate. Chocolate chips to be exact.

I'm not actually a huge chocolate fan. That didn't stop me from eating a big little bowl of them. My body is making its objections known. chocolate burps are more pleasant than green pepper burps though.

Just as my fridge was getting dangerously low on vegetables, as in: I have two carrots left, my local health food store came through with a few great locally grown items. The best of which are these great sticks of brussels sprouts-still on their stems. There's something rather silly about them, and charming. They are unwieldy and won't fit in anyone's fridge. At two stems for $5.00 it was also pretty inexpensive. The bonus for me is that the stems will make wonderful scraps for the hens who LOVE cruciferous snacks.

They also have some gigantic cabbages. I found a moderately sized one. I'm not sure what to do with it yet. I don't eat a lot of cabbage, though I like it. I'm thinking a Russian cabbage pie is in order.

Finding locally grown grains is proving problematic. Although I have decided to buy flour and grains from Bob's Red Mill, and I stand by that decision, I feel like it isn't in keeping with the spirit of the challenge to partake in all of their products when so many of them aren't even grown nearby. They have Teff, and Frikeh, and buckwheat, for example, none of which are grown in this region. I had decided that barley is alright because they get it from Washington (though they won't say where in the state) and I would like to find a grain that I can eat steamed vegetables with instead of with cous-cous which is not made anywhere locally. I grew up eating buckwheat and really like it...but if I allow buckwheat I'm beginning to get too far out of the parameters I set for myself.

So I have put in considerable hours of research for locally grown grains and, surprisingly, I found two sources of locally grown wild rice: Oregon Jewel, and Oregon Wild Rice. I have to admit here that I don't actually like wild rice. I'm not a huge rice fan to begin with (which amongst my acquaintances has always been a HUGE FOOD CRIME). I especially don't like rice that remains densely chewy even after cooking. Wild rice is the ultimate in toughly chewy grains. It's good for you though. So I am going to buy some for grain variety and dammit-I'm going to learn to like it!!

So here's what I have so far: flour from local mills, barley, and wild rice.

A big question mark hanging in the air right now is whether or not any corn meal is made locally. I can say with 100% confidence that a lot of corn is grown locally. But is any of it for drying and making into meal for humans? This bloodhound wants to know!

Researching local grains has got me thinking a lot about what people used to eat when they didn't have their fingertips glued to a keyboard with the whole world virtually at their feet for the price of credit card debt. What were Oregonians using for bread back when they were first settling it? Were they, in fact, growing hard white or red wheat? Is it easy to grow it on a small scale? Or did Oregonians not eat much bread? If they weren't eating a lot of wheat, what grains were they eating and growing? Barley? Were they importing it from traveling salesmen even back then?

What would my diet be like if I could only get soft wheat and barley and a little bit of wild rice? What if I didn't have access to pressed oils? I know that people used to use a lot of animal fat for frying and cooking, which I'll never do. Why? BECAUSE IT'S UNBELIEVABLY DISGUSTING AND I'M A VEGETARIAN. However, not being vegan, I suppose I would be eating a lot more butter than I am now. I would not be eating a lot of risen breads because soft wheat isn't good for that, so I would probably be eating a lot of pancakes, flat breads, and pies. Surely Oregonians were planting corn for both fresh eating, feeding their livestock, and for drying and grinding into flour for themselves, right?

This is just making me think about the pot pies I just made. I have been on a pot pie quest for years now. When I was a kid, one of the few convenience foods that made it into our house were frozen pot pies. These were only pulled out on nights when my parents were going out and we had a babysitter. They didn't have any vegetarian options so we would pick out the chunks of "chicken" and eat the rest. I loved them. I loved the gravy covered vegetables all mixing in with golden crust. Recipes for vegetarian versions of these pot pies are pretty thin on the ground. Most of them are highly unsatisfactory.

Frozen commercial vegetarian pot pies are always so disappointing to me that I am nearly driven to tears. Tofu is an unacceptable ingredient. So I have been on a quest. I have arrived at greatness, and you are all the first to know it. I had a similar success a few years ago but didn't know if I could repeat it. Oh yes.

Oh yes I can. The two key ingredients are: mushrooms and thyme. I only make food in enormous quantities so it's hard to come up with a recipe that feeds less than ten people. I am going to freeze some pot pies, and then I'm going to make them again, trying for a smaller batch that I can then write down for posterity's sake, and also for you, and my dear friend Sid who is a vegetarian on a similar quest.

Pot pies are the ultimate in comfort food (aside from macaroni and cheese, obviously) and perfect for making when the weather turns chilly and you are only allowed to buy local vegetables and are left with potatoes, carrots, and broccoli.

*Well, I'm not modest, am I?

Oct 24, 2007

Never Alone In The Quiet

This guy is the last to leave the garden party. There isn't much for him to eat but he's still hangin' around.

I got two six packs of rainbow chard planted.

Looks pretty messy out there. It's an Obsessive Compulsive's nightmare.

I adore the optimism of seeds. Tiny dill seedlings are volunteering in the bed. Frost will probably kill them all before they mature enough to harvest.

Sunshine streamed into the chicken run and the girls fought over some cucumber I brought them. Non-local cucumber that Max has been eating.

There were quite a few bees trying to gather the last bit of pollen for the season. My roses obliged.

I made it outside yesterday just as I promised myself I would. I want to describe the warmth of the light as malty though I know it's a stretch to smell it and feel it as I did-sweet and sluggish, rich and mature. Unlike the weaker colder sun of winter, it was like a day from summer accidentally popped into our fall week and it shook itself all over the place; all over me. It even sounded like a summer afternoon; lawnmowers were busy in the distance; bees lending a lazy humming to the quiet; the hens clucking and shuffling in their run.

I planted my baby chard in the bed that grew my cucumbers and dill this summer. Everywhere in that bed were tiny dill seedlings, bright slender green notes of ever-hopeful life. I shook weeds out of the way and as I removed them they released the scent of the dirt into the warm air. I had to sit down and just listen and breath. I actually forgot how the garden can be such a great place to be at peace. I'm always so busy planning, plotting, and trying to get things done in minus time, I rarely go out there and just sit in the quiet.

Or the peaceful unquiet. Perhaps what I find so soothing about it is the great industry of organisms that undulates all around you in happy accord with the fact that their lives are short and they are driven by instinct, light, and hunger, to do what they need to do in order to complete their own cycle. The tiny worms curled up in the dirt don't ever ask "what is the meaning of life?" nor question the fairness of having to die in a few days or a few months or one year. It seems so greedy the way humans suck up life and feel entitled to a long one, feel cheated when someone gets only a few years, or worse, when someone gets seventy long ones and still-it's never enough for us.

Who are we to say that a fetus that lives only a month in it's mother's womb didn't live the perfect cycle of life? Who are we to know what that spirit wanted or what it should have had? Who are we to declare that the spirit of a man who's lived for eighty years and then packs it in in violent crash wasn't relieved to have left this mortal coil?

I once inspired great ire in a man I worked with by suggesting that humans aren't superior to ants. In fact, I think I asked "how do we know that we are 'more intelligent' than ants?" I had been reading a nonfiction book about ants and it occurred to me that a human measure of intelligence cannot be used to measure an insect's intelligence. Some ants milk aphids. They herd them like we do cows, to plants the aphids like, and then they harvest the "dew" that the aphids exude from their skin. Nutritious substance that the ants feed on. Hello!!! We are not the only beings on this earth who have figured out how to use other creatures for our benefit.

The man I worked with was deeply offended that I could even question such a thing. I was surprised, actually, because I really didn't see my questions and my curiosity as a threat to human existence. So what if we are not necessarily the most superior beings on earth? We're still pretty high on the food chain and have got the whole world in our destructive grips- are we so insecure?

If humans are too afraid to even ask these questions then our belief in our own superiority must be pretty weak.

Out in my garden I don't count myself as the superior being. I don't really count myself at all. I just move in it. Building. Planting. Smelling the air. Watching as the insects live their lives and wondering at their view of the same world. I sat on the edge of one of my raised beds and listened and felt the warmth of the light heat up the fibers in my shirt. I could almost hear the soil moving.

When you are that aware of the universe of small life around you it is impossible to consider unloading a jug full of Round Up. When you are aware of the universe of small life around you, you also become aware of the universe of small life that makes up your own body. There is no real difference between your own flesh and the soil. All of us made up of molecules of matter; all of us made up of colonies of smaller beings than ourselves. When you pour killing concentrations of any substance into the ground you are disrespecting yourself most of all.

I don't go around preaching to people about using chemicals in their yards. I'm not even trying to do that here. I'm merely saying that when you stop all the talking in your brain, when you shut up and listen, you will find that your place in the world is not separate from the dirt but right smack in the middle of it. And when you realize how connected you are to soil, the ultimate source of all of life on earth: dirt and water, you just can't knowingly pump it full of toxic matter. Because it's like pouring bleach down your own throat.

This is all very earth-mama and the part of me that rebelled against pot smoking earthy women with long arm pit hairs would like to whip out a gin and tonic and put on some Frank Sinatra REALLY loud so I can pretend I didn't say all the things I just said. I do NOT wear patchouli. (anymore.)

It's interesting how talking about my jaunt in the garden yesterday I am making it sound like it was so serious, dark and grim...yet I just meant to tell you how good it felt. How hopeful. How peaceful. How wonderfully loud with life it was.

Oct 23, 2007


Plum liqueur I made two years ago. Unlike my hips, it has been aging gracefully.

It has an intense plummy flavor and although I think it could use a little more alcoholic bite, it is a wonderful drink. The color, of course, mesmerizes me. But then, baskets of dirty potatoes have also been known to mesmerize me.

I have been moving as fast as cold molasses these days. It seems to take a Herculean effort to do the simplest things such as write the bills, pick up the laundry off of the floor, or attend to any of the thousand things that need attending to. This is often a truer indication of depression than a moping mind is. I don't actually feel depressed though. I have just been longing to be able to sit down and read a little, or putter around the house, without great purpose or ambition. In short: I want my life to slow down.

Today I fill out an application for a job. I was going to wait. But if I wait, then we will have a lot less of a cushion in the bank should we need it. I have been busy poring over garden books and it occurs to me that if we can't even afford health care for me* then I also can't afford anything for the garden this year. If I get a job now then I can spend a little on the garden. There is much fruit and flowers (such as roses) to establish in my working garden. So I am going to see if the local health food store will hire me as a cashier.

Things have been becoming clearer. Is it the sharpness in the autumn air? It's certainly true that I do all my best thinking in the fall and winter. I am going to shut down my Dustpan Alley website store for a bit. I don't want to sew for anyone anymore. I am much more interested in developing patterns and DIY instructions for people. My studio has become a place I kind of dread. For three years I have been making aprons for commerce and in that time have barely had a chance to squeak out a few for myself. If I had been making a living doing all that hard work I wouldn't be setting it aside right now. Unfortunately I have spent way more than I have earned and at the end of all that hard work I am looking for minimum wage work as a cashier.**

All of that work did lead me to this blog though. I am so happy here! If I'm going to not make a living doing something, I think it should be something I love, something I wake up to every morning excited to work on, excited to put time and energy into it. I want time to develop projects here at home, projects that I can then tell you about. I will be putting together some kits and patterns which I will list in my Etsy store and when my website and my blog are united, I will list them on my official website too. However, I'm not going to worry about whether anyone buys them or not. I am not a salesperson. I've known this since I was playing Barbies and couldn't sell anything to my own dolls. I am not a retailer. Duh, Angelina. My mom and dad have always known this.

What I want.

I've been thinking so much about wanting lately. Wanting. The things I want right now are so different than the things I have been wanting for the past few years. I want some pretty basic things which are now frighteningly out of my reach. I want to be covered by health care in case something happens to me, which it will because I'm 37 years old and already have a creaky body. I want to be able to buy my kid the things he needs. I want to be able to stay home. I want to have time to tend my garden, my home, my family, and the animals in my care.

I want to become healthy and fit again.

These are not crazy wants.

Do you know what you want? Is what you want now different than what you wanted a year ago? Five years ago?

I used to want more pretty things for my home. I used to want grown up furniture. I used to want to move north, I used to want a bigger garden, I used to want to be a successful business woman. I used to want lots of shoes. I used to want more books. I used to want my own store.

Now I just want to keep what I have. To be honest, I really have gotten a lot of what I wanted. I have some beautiful furniture (that my dog is busy eating), I have some really pretty dishes, I have a bigger yard, I did move north. I think you become much more aware of what you already have when circumstances threaten to take everything you have away.

What's satisfying to me now is opening up a bottle of two year old liqueur that I made myself and having the taste of summer plums burst open in my mouth like I had just picked them yesterday. Still warm from the sun.

Yesterday was one of those mild fall days when the sun warms the air and tranquilizes the spirit. I wanted to get out there and do a little yard work. I have three six packs of swiss chard that I should have planted three weeks ago. I really want to have it growing in my garden. Yesterday would have been perfect. Somehow I ended up pilfering my time away. Squandering it on a lot of nothing because my mind was in disorder. Today, however, is another gorgeous day out. I plan to get out of my pyjamas and into the garden. I have to take it easy though because my back is still troubling me. I am going to enjoy those warm rays saturating the shirt on my back as I plant up a bed of chard.

I'm going to enjoy the great simplification of my life.

*We would certainly qualify for state help in covering our health insurance based on our income, but there is a six month waiting list and you also have to be without health insurance for six months in order to qualify. I can't afford to keep my health insurance and neither Philip's job nor the job I'm hoping to get offer it as a benefit. I will just have to go without. I certainly am not willing to allow Max to be without it and Philip needs to be covered because his asthma needs monitoring. Anyway, that's life in the "land of the free", where we are all free to be too poor to have health care.

**If my prospective employers are reading this, please note that I will be grateful to earn whatever you pay as long as it helps my family pay the bills. Not only that? I will be a great employee!! Seriously. Hire me!

Oct 22, 2007

Roses For The Pantry

Anyone who aims for even a small measure of self sufficiency must turn their attention, eventually, to what nature has to offer to the medicine cabinet. Although I have been working on planting medicinal herbs, one thing that is missing from my garden is a good rose for rose hip production. Although I have over twenty roses in my garden, they are all hybrid teas and floribundas and none of them are particularly known for producing reliable crops of hips.

Rose hips are higher in vitamin C than citrus and can be dried and then made into a tea to fend off colds. A lot of people make other interesting things out of them like jams, jellies, syrups, and apparently some people in Sweden make a soup out of them. I'll pass on the soup. Roses are used for many other medicinal purpose as well such as an astringent agent for skin, a mild laxative, and also for healing minor cuts and bruises.

My yard is filled with these fat bastards right now. I just called him a fat bastard because it's the first thing that leaped to my mind. However, in spite of the fact that suddenly running into one of these guys' webs can make me scream like a little girl, I am thankful for all the hard work they do in my garden. Thank you, meaty beastie. (I took this picture for M. Sinclair Stevens.)

Now is the time to start planning your bare root orders for things like roses, fruit trees, and bushes. I have come up with this small list of types of roses known to be good for hip production (also known to produce good tasting hips):

Rosa Rugosa
Rosa Canina
Rosa Eglanteria
Rosa Californica

Philip likes the single roses like the dog rose so I may choose one variety from the "Rosa Canina" group. (I admit I like the way "dog rose" sounds rolling off the tongue like a pithy bark). Unfortunately, "Rosa Canina" is proving to be very difficult to find in catalogs. I am not as partial to single roses, I prefer the exuberance and excesses of the fully double roses.

Here are a few specific roses I have my eye on:

Rosarie De L'Hay
Blanc Double De Coubert
Catherine Seytan

Many people believe roses are a fussy flower to grow. Those many people would be terribly misinformed. In spite of roses being susceptible to a few diseases such as black spot, giving the plants a healthy environment to grow in (good air circulation, healthy soil, plenty of nutrients) they will be healthy and able to withstand bouts of black spot and mildew, another famous rose ailment. If you're growing hybrid teas you will have more difficulty with these issues and also will have to prune them back in the winter quite a bit.

Have you ever been interested in growing roses that require almost no pruning, that are exceptionally disease resistant (and don't like being sprayed with chemicals), have good fragrance, and produce hips for you? Rugosas are the roses for you! Those first three roses on the above list are all rugosas. Another bonus? They are very hardy so do well in colder regions.

I suppose I'm beginning to sound like a smarmy salesperson, eh? I have nothing to gain from trying to convince you to grow roses, or to grow MORE roses except the satisfaction that your enjoyment of your garden will be enhanced by them. We once had a misogynistic-idiot neighbor who objected to his wife planting any more roses in their garden because he regarded them as frivolous. (They only had two of them. He thought he could get Philip to agree with him and Philip disappointed him by asking "what's not to like about roses?". He automatically thought that our overabundance of them was because of me and my frivolity, it never occurred to him that Philip loved our roses as much as I did.)

I can tell you I won't be sharing my scurvy-syrup* with anyone who damns themselves by calling roses "frivolous".

*Not a syrup that GIVES you scurvy, smart ass.

Oct 21, 2007

Make Your Own Mustard

These are instructions for making a basic yellow style mild mustard.

You will need:

3/4 cups yellow mustard seeds (aka: white)
2 to 2.5 cups white distilled vinegar
1/4 to 1/2 tsp turmeric

  • First put your whole mustard seeds in a nonreactive bowl.

  • Pour 1.5 cups of the vinegar into the bowl. If that doesn't cover your seeds by about an inch, then add more.

  • Stir the seeds around to make sure they all get submerged. This is probably an unnecessary step because surely the seeds will sink on their own after a while. But why keep things simple when you can live inside all the tiny details?

  • Now you will leave the seeds sitting out to soak for two days. Don't be squeamish. There is no ingredient that can go bad when submerged in vinegar.
You could probably preserve corpses in it.

I really don't understand why we must use toxic chemicals like formaldehyde to preserve the dead when all we really need to do is saturate them with vinegar for the same result (make sure it's 5% acidity to be SAFE?) Maybe we have never taken to this method because then we would have to put our dead in huge vats of vinegar and wait for a couple of weeks to have the funeral. Then we'd have to tell people that Uncle Bob is pickling in the bathroom which would be pretty unseemly and also inconvenient.

  • After two days the seeds will have soaked up quite a lot of the vinegar and they will actually smell like yellow mustard. Dry mustard seeds are odorless.

  • Pour all the seeds and remaining liquid into the bowl of your food processor (a blender would probably work just as well).

  • Don't bother pulsing it. Just put that baby on "ON" and let it go.

This part will take a while. You may as well have your own personal Barista prepare a latte for you while you wait for those seeds to process.

Six hours later...

It takes a long time for the processor to puree those little seeds. I like a pretty smooth mustard. If you like yours with lots of mustard seed texture it won't take nearly as long. I think I may actually benefit from using the already powdered dry mustard next time. The more you break down the seeds the more vinegar you will need. Mustard will continue to thicken as it soaks up the vinegar when you've set it by so don't make it too thick to start off with.

  • Turmeric is the magic ingredient that colors mustard. I was going for a slightly earthy yellow as opposed to the bright yellow of the ballpark variety. If you want a natural hued mustard you can leave the turmeric out.

Put The Turmeric down, lady...nice and slow...

I have indicated that the amount of turmeric that you should use is 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. That isn't the amount I used. I put a little too much turmeric in this batch*. I think it's lovely**, but not quite the earthier look I was intending.

Although it looks just like ballpark mustard it has some grainy texture to it. It's also quite hot. The mustard seeds I used are the mild ones. When mustard is freshly made it will start off spicy and as it sits and ages a little it will mellow out. I don't like hot mustard so I'm going to let mine sit for a while. I did have it on my eggs and toast and the flavor is FANTASTIC. It is exactly as I hoped it would be. (Except for the too spicy part) Classic yellow mustard; tangy and zesty.

  • To store mustard you should put it in hot sterilized jars, cap it and refrigerate it.

That's what most sources recommend. However, I have also read that it can be stored for months in a cool dark place and, to be honest, if you don't have any fresh ingredients such as shallots and herbs in it, I don't see what bacteria could possibly make a happy home of such an acidic environment. I will probably store one jar in the fridge and the rest in my pantry.

The yield on this recipe is about 2 cups mustard.

*Total understatement
**I think the color of my homemade mustard is lovely in the same manner in which i think all neon hues are lovely and not at all reminiscent of the 80's.
Driving In My Sleep

I am just including this picture as a kind of distraction from the crazy talk that follows.

I've been driving in my dreams again.* I actually own a car in my dreams. It's a vintage tomato colored convertible of uncertain make. It shows up periodically. Usually I'll be desperately in need of a way to get to some of those classes I'm always taking and missing and I suddenly remember that I have this car.

Last night I didn't have that car. I was in a giant house having a birthday party to which most of the cast of friends were talking to me as though we were old buddies. I was embarrassed to be the center of attention in a huge group of people, as I am in real life. At some point we all went across the street to sit around and watch a kid's soccer game. One of our actual neighbor's children was playing in it. But not Max.

Philip and I had to go get something so we left in a van. At some point I realized that no one was driving it and in a panic tried to climb over the back seat to get at the brakes and gas. So it was a stressful car dream. I managed to get control of the van but later on after some weirdness walking through a stranger's house deep in mourning Philip went to run an errand. He ended up crashing on his bicycle and couldn't walk.

Often times, the best part of my dreams, which are nearly always nightmares, is when I curl up in a ball and sleep or rest during which time the whole dream is permeated with static comfort, a kind of quiet state. Strangely enough I am usually curled up comfortably against complete strangers to my real life self but who I recognize from some other place and time. When I am forced to action in my dream there is almost always a point at which my dream self, with total dream awareness, wishes desperately to rewind the dream to the static place where I was in a non-state.

What I find most curious is that those moments in the midst of nightmares, those perfect moments of peace and calm and comfort are never something I experience in real life, and when it happens in dreams it feeds my corporeal self. It stays with me all day as though it was a real memory and I revisit it again and again until the realness of it begins to fade. Whatever stranger I happened to cozy up to is like a protective barrier against a scene of violence or anxiety, like a windbreak. I am not a cuddly person in real life. I can't sleep with an arm around me, it breaks into the sense of quiet I need in order to sleep. When sitting too still and too close to someone, even someone I love more than anyone else in the world like Philip, I become unnaturally aware of their breathing, their heartbeats, their warmth, their hair, their smell, and it is all too close and I feel suffocated and suppressed.

Which leads me to tell you something very personal: I cannot sleep facing anyone. I cannot sleep with some one's breath blowing against my face. Even if that breath was the sweetest smelling on earth. The sensation of warm breath against my face feels like a tribal drumbeat pounding in my ears preventing me from being aware of anything else.

Sometimes I wonder if death is nothing more than permanently joining our own subconscious existence. I wonder if our dreams are less like a playground for our subconscious and more like a parallel universe in which our subconscious actually exists. How is it possible to dream of a spacecraft moving through my body and have it feel so real that it wakes me up with liquefied insides, organs still being pushed aside as solid matter moves through my body? Awake and feeling exactly as I did in my dream is enough to make a person feel like they are going mad.

Although, as it turns out, I was going mad.

I would prefer that death be completely still. I would prefer that it is an unconscious state in which my matter is transformed into different matter without my being at all aware of the metamorphosis from corpse to fertilizer or ash. I don't want to be permanently retired to my nightmare world which is filled with all the horrors of this living world, only worse, because they never stop. They never die. The wars are never over. The homework is never finished. The bus is always gone before I get there.

Those brief moments of total safety that allow me to, at last, really sleep are rare and those guardians of my peace and comfort are fleeting beacons of light in a dark so morbid that I often carry it around with me for hours after waking; the bleak war torn landscapes, the bodies in bags, the guns, the dying, the screams, the sorrow that develops into a shroud so thick it's like being buried alive; it is hard to believe that such a well developed hell is just a figment of my imagination.

It does explain why I am never very still in real life. Except for when I settle down with beer and watch reruns of favorite movies and sitcoms until I am so tired I can no longer hold a beer in my hand anymore. Any other time in my waking life I am a restless spirit. Before I quit smoking cigarettes I would read and smoke and that would settle me down. But without the cigarettes the books don't quiet my body or my mind. I find myself unable to concentrate. I need to tranquilize my head into a forced quietude.

This past week we have cut our beer drinking in half and both of us are feeling relieved to be finally easing up on the beer. Physically we feel cleaner and better. But in the last week my dream life has become more vivid again, harder to shake. My sleep has not been as good. Drinking a lot of beer has a very soporific effect not just on my body but on my subconscious as well. My sleep is less conscious. I don't remember my dreams as much, I sleep more deeply.

The only other remedy for my peculiar problem is sleeping pills I suppose. Yet I would prefer not to take them. I wonder if there are any psyche meds out there that can medicate the sleeping self? It's as though my subconscious needs it's own therapist and it's own particular medications. Wouldn't that be funny if I called a therapist and asked to make an appointment for my subconscious? Hearing such a request, I am sure, would inspire any therapist to rush me in for a consultation.

Having the dream life that I have has made me feel like an outsider for much of my life. It's like constantly existing in two worlds and at the same time not completely living in either. When you've just been crawling across war torn border lines in a nightmare the previous night, covered in bodies where no clean sunlight ever shines and you're in a social situation during the day time where you're supposed to make small talk it's difficult to transition. It's like trying to have an amiable insipid conversation over the constant haranguing of machine gun fire, only the person you're talking to doesn't hear the other noise.

Which makes me sound completely crazy. I can't tell people I didn't actually hear their comment about how much fun eating celery is because I was busy trying to shut out the noise from my previous nightmare, because that is like lighting up a neon sign on my forehead that reads: "STRAIGHT-JACKET ME NOW".

Am I the only one who thinks old fashioned straight-jackets are kind of chic?

*For anyone who doesn't know it already, I have never had a license to drive a car. I have a motorcycle license to drive my Vespa, but I can't drive a car.