Prairie Waters by Night
Chatter of birds two by two raises a night song joining a litany of running water--sheer waters showing the russet of old stones remembering many rains.
And the long willows drowse on the shoulders of the running water, and sleep from much music; joined songs of day-end, feather throats and stony waters, in a choir chanting new psalms.
It is too much for the long willows when low laughter of a red moon comes down; and the willows drowse and sleep on the shoulders of the running water.
And this one:
Hats, where do you belong?
what is under you?
On the rim of a skyscraper's forehead
I looked down and saw: hats: fifty thousand hats
Swarming with a noise of bees and sheep, cattle and waterfalls, Stopping with a silence of sea grass, a silence of prairie corn.
Hats: tell me your high hopes.
I have a stack of books about a foot high on deck for the Book Club of One, so guess what I did when we went to Belmont last weekend? Marched right into Barnes and Noble and bought another one, of course. I was feeling brain-fried, so I went to the YA section and looked for the funnest cover I could find. Here's what I ended up with. It's a light and quick read, a big change of pace from my last book, which was about the Holocaust. I'm okay with something fluffy right now. Mmm, fluff. Marshmallows.
Which reminds me, did I ever mention the Union Square Fluff Fest that we went to back in September? We missed the first two in 2006 and 2007, but finally made it this year. Wow, there were so many marshmallow-based activities to behold! There were Fluff t-shirts, Fluff posters, Fluff letterpress, Fluff magnets, Fluffernutter sandwiches, and a Fluff hairstyling contest. (Yes, that part was kind of gross.) Stephen got a Fluff comic book and I got a t-shirt that says "What the Fluff?". I like to wear it when I'm doing laundry because it seems like the ultimate laundry day shirt, all softness and laziness and comfort food. Mmm, comfort food.
attending Midnight Madness
finishing up the last PowerPoint of the semester
anticipating Taza factory tour
listening to Kate Nash (Warning: sound.)
Is it just me, or does she look a bit like the young Fred Savage at times? Something about the cheeks/chin, I think.
looking forward to sleep
We went out for brunch to celebrate (nothing says birthday like a stack of pancakes!), then saw the Drawn to Detail exhibit at DeCordova. The museum has a huge staircase flooded with natural light, and it was cozy to watch the sleet and rain run down the windows while we looked at the delicate works on paper. There were some prints, an animation project, and many intricate drawings, some so large and detailed that they made our heads spin.
I've made substantial progress in my November book, but I won't finish it tonight. I've got too much work to do before tomorrow. I'm procrastinating, as usual, but for an unusual reason: one of my assignments is to write a self-reflection essay based on a presentation I gave, which means that I need to watch and re-watch a video of myself and scrutinize my performance. You know how hearing your own voice on the answering machine can make you cringe and ask, "Do I really sound like that?" This is like that, but longer and in greater detail, and I'm being graded on my critique.
So let's talk about something else for a minute, until I absolutely have to go finish my work. How about Thanksgiving travel? I've spent a lot of time in the car over the past week (7 hours round-trip to my parents' house + 6 hours to visit my grandparents) and here are the lessons I learned:
1. Driving on the Tuesday before and the Saturday after Thanksgiving is much easier than on the Wednesday before and the Sunday after, but the Mass Pike is always crazy east of I-84.
2. The content on NPR is better on weekdays than weekends, unless you're really into opera.
3. E-Z Pass is worth its weight in gold, even if it has a silly name (actually, I think mine's a Fast Lane, since I bought it in Massachusetts).
4. If you want to travel by train between Boston and Albany on a holiday weekend, reserve early.
I wanted to take the train to New York state, but it sold out really early. I may try again at Christmas. I love the idea of traveling across the state in a comfy train car, reading and not worried about traffic or road conditions. My mom suggested the bus as an alternative, but it doesn't hold the same appeal for me. My vision of the bus = crowded, sitting in traffic, watching a movie picked out by the bus company, whereas train travel = smooth, sitting by the window, plenty of leg room, quiet, snacks. Maybe I'll take a train ride next weekend, just for the fun of it. Go to the end of the commuter line and look around, see what we find; public transportation as the doorway to adventure.
This weekend, I made marshmallows. I've wanted to try this ever since I saw a recipe in a Christmas book of my mom's when I was in high school, but the ingredients freaked me out. (Corn syrup? Can you even buy corn syrup?) Now that we've made caramels a few times, the ingredients and the candy thermometer and the weird terminology (soft ball stage, etc.) are familiar and comfortable. Well, as comfortable as things can be when boiling-hot sugar lava is involved.
But I can't say that I was prepared for how messy this stuff would be. It's all stick and no structure: too thick to flow into the pan on its own, but not substantial enough to coax along with a spatula. If you were having a bad day already, trying to wrestle the molten fluff-stuff into a neat rectangle would probably make you cry.
Luckily, I was having a good day, so it was mostly just funny. As we pried the last bits of marshmallow goo from the sugar-encrusted utensils, I told Stephen about an episode of the Muppet Show (not Muppet Babies, which I've actually never seen, but the live show with celebrity guests) where Dr. Bunsen Honeydew develops a Super Adhesive that sticks to everything in the studio. That's kind of what our kitchen looked like on Sunday afternoon. (Update: I found it on YouTube! Wow, that's a blast from my past. Gilda Radner is the guest, if you can believe it.)
Other things I've been cooking up:
Carrot almond muffins, with the last of our CSA carrots. I made these when we were going over to my boss's house for dinner one night. I really like this recipe, which can be modified to fit any combination of nuts and fruit/vegetable. (As always, I got it from here.) There's a variation in the book for pumpkin bread with hazelnuts, which sounds magnificent. We've still got some uncarved pumpkins on the windowsill--I wonder if they would be good for muffins? Or do you have to use sugar pumpkins when baking?
The recipe made a lot of batter, so I made some mini muffins, too. These were perfectly bite sized, and I got in the habit of stuffing three or four in my mouth on the walk home from the gym. I'd tell myself that they're full of beta carotene.
They're also full of molasses, which I substituted for half of the sugar. I love the smell of molasses. I first tried it when I was anemic a couple of years ago and a friend told me to try putting blackstrap molasses into oatmeal, applesauce, and anything else I cooked. I didn't like it in most of those things, but I do love it in gingerbread. Smells like Christmas to me.
I've also been making good use of these implements, which we got on our trip to the Cape last month. The honey is from Plimoth Plantation, the donut mix from a gourmet food store, and the mixing bowl and corn pan are from a fancy kitchen shop. Food and kitchen shopping is pretty much the only kind of shopping that I like to do on vacation, and luckily Stephen feels similarly. He's been making donuts (excuse me, doughnuts) from that mix, and, like most fried things, they are heavenly.
I'm kind of a sucker for most shaped pans. I don't like Bundt pans for some reason--I guess I like cakes in traditional shapes, and the ones that look like castles or flowers just seem silly to me. But I do like shaped pans for other things, like madeleine pans for cookies and corn-shaped pans for cornbread.
Our first attempt to bake cornbread in this didn't work out very well--it was tasty, but it didn't pick up any of the decorative detail from the pan. Maybe we'll have to try another recipe. Or maybe I should try baking non-corn bread in here? A sort of culinary faux bois? Tricky.
Here's what we got in a particularly colorful box a few weeks ago. The viney things with pods are edamame:
The farm share isn't cheap, but I think we'll get one again next year. I love having fresh things in the fridge. The cashiers at the grocery store must think I'm very anti-veggie, because all I buy at the store these days is pasta, rice, milk and cheese. Everything else comes out of the box.
We managed to get a winter share, so that will extend the season a bit: it consists of two big pick-ups, one before Thanksgiving and another in mid-December. We'll have to try to find a cool and dark place for a makeshift root cellar. Then it's all foreign veggies for six months or so.
One thing I really liked about the share was learning what grows well in Massachusetts, and when. We got some surprising things, like fall raspberries and a bajillion hot peppers in September. I also got to try a lot of things that I would never have bought myself. I found out that I like spinach, cabbage, and bok choy, and that I don't like radishes, turnips, or rutabagas. Kohlrabi is best when grated, salted, and fried. Winter squash is more fun than summer squash. There is such a thing as too much lettuce. Dill in large quantities is trouble. The smell of basil makes everyone smile. And small garlic cloves are almost more work than they're worth. Almost.
If we lived here, we'd have a few goats in the yard, and maybe a sheep. We would grow potatoes and chard, but no fennel. (I don't like the licorice taste.) We'd make pumpkin bread and walk along the Eel River on warm afternoons.
I visited Plimoth Plantation with my school in seventh grade, when we took a three-day trip to Boston. I feel kind of bad for the people who were there that day; I'm sure it wasn't fun to share the experience with 200 thirteen-year-olds. I don't remember much about that visit except the view from the top of the hill as we entered the town. I was surprised to find it so unchanged on this trip.
One thing I like about Plimoth is how everything is so carefully made, so necessary but beautiful in its simplicity, from the wool blankets to the handmade pottery. It reminds me of the Shaker aesthetic, which I also love. I saw an article about the Plantation in the November issue of Living a few weeks ago, which is what prompted me to plan this visit in the first place. It was a great time of year to be there. Everything looked like New England, like autumn, like Thanksgiving. I'm a little sad about the weather turning cold, but this made me excited to go home and bake carrot bread. And grateful for modern conveniences like radiators and indoor plumbing.
The first time I stayed in a yurt, or even saw a yurt or heard the word, was almost seven years ago, in my first year of college. I was in the Outdoor Association--I think that's what it was called at the time; it had several names over the years--and we went winter camping in a yurt in the Adirondacks. Our leader explained that it wasn't really winter camping, because we had a permanent shelter and a woodstove and got to lock our stuff up in the yurt during the day. I did "real" winter camping later and found out that he was right.
There weren't any bunks in the yurt on that trip, so we all slept on the floor--eight or nine of us. It got bitterly cold at night, and we took turns waking up to stoke the fire. I woke everyone up at 2am with my loud newspaper rustling as I tried to bring the embers back to life one night. Even with the fire, my face would get cold as I slept, so I would curl into a ball at the foot of my mummy bag, trying to seal up the head hole. You're not supposed to breathe into your sleeping bag, but I can't abide a cold nose.
The yurt we stayed in last weekend is in Shawme-Cromwell State Forest on Cape Cod, and you can rent it for just $40 a night. It seemed a little silly because there were 6 bunks in there, and just two of us, but I really liked it. No bugs and lots of fresh air. They even had track lighting and a little space heater inside! The things we packed were a weird mix of road trip and camping paraphernalia and housewares: a map, pillows, toothbrushes, headlamps, Smartwool socks, a table lamp, some French bread and a block of dill havarti.
The Cape was pretty quiet compared to the summer months; this was the last vacation weekend for the season. We got ice cream from The Smuggler on the day before it closed for the winter. We had dinner in Chatham one night, and in Sandwich another. There were crowds here and there, but what struck me was that almost everyone we saw was over 65. Everywhere we went, there were gangs and gangs of seniors. I don't know if that's what the Cape looks like when the tourists leave, or if they were tourists, but there were a lot of them.
We spent most of the time at the beach. It was far too cold to swim, but we sat near the water and read and talked. The beach in Dennis was incredibly shallow, and the strip of exposed sand widened spectacularly over the course of an hour as the tide went out. The sky was cloudless, and the sun was so bright that it was almost oppressive. There were other people on the beach, but as they followed the tide out, they became mere specks on the horizon. It felt quiet and bright and still, like a surrealist painting.
We visited a beach in Sandwich on Saturday night just as the sun was setting. This one was full of people starting bonfires and listening to music. The waves were quiet, and the moon was brilliant, almost as bright as the setting sun. We could see bats flying around, eating up the last of the mosquitoes, I guess. We went back to the yurt and roasted marshmallows over a campfire. It was chilly out, and I put on thick warm socks to keep warm.
Fall was in the air.
Of course, it's too cold for popsicle-making these days. I cooked up some applesauce this afternoon. The Jonamacs we had were pretty tart, so I added maple syrup along with the cinnamon and nutmeg. Mark Bittman recommended adding salt, too, so I did that and it enhanced the flavors nicely. My mom used to make applesauce in the fall when the house was chilly, so it (like so many things) makes me thing of her.
I finished my September book last night, just three days late. I ended up sticking with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and it was different than I expected. I really didn't know what to expect; I'd never heard of it before I found it on a bookshelf at my parents' house, an ancient hardcover without a dust jacket. The spine crumbled every time I opened it. Most of the books I read these days are contemporary non-fiction, so this was a nice change. I came to really like Francie and spent a while thinking about what her life would be like after the book ended. I always find it so jarring to finish a book, and since the establishment of the Book Club of One, they seem as short-lived as mayflies*. I used to read just a few each year.
* "The lifespan of an adult mayfly can vary from just 30 minutes to one day depending on the species." - The Bastion of All Credible Knowledge (c) Adam M.
The cedar was an impulse buy. I ended up putting it in the coat closet. The smell of cedar always makes me think of my parents' house, where there is a grove of red cedar in the side yard. My dad cuts down the trees that grow too close together and carves the wood into elaborate, sweet-smelling things: headboards, shelves, walking sticks. He even made me a cedar doorstop when I left for college.
I was thinking about college this weekend when I started checking electoral-vote.com again. In fall 2004, one of my co-workers at the library introduced us to the site, and we checked it first thing each day when we arrived for work. Three of us were big-time liberals, and one guy was an undecided moderate, so we tried and tried to convince him not to vote for Bush. I think we finally won that argument, but of course, we lost in the end. Maybe our candidate just wasn't compelling enough; our arguments were anti-Bush rather than pro-Kerry.
But I'm feeling different this time around. I'm really excited and hopeful about Obama, even after last week's underwhelming debate. And really looking forward to the VP debate!
Thursday was my two-year anniversary at my job. I remember that first day well. We were house/petsitting out in Harvard, Mass, and Stephen was teaching in Cambridge, so we had to get up in the dark to feed the pets and take the dog for a walk before making the slow drive toward the city on Rt. 2. Once we got to Stephen's school, I had a 45 minute walk to the office. I arrived early, and my new boss gave me a long list of stuff to do, and I felt completely lost. My predecessor had left a month earlier, and school had already been in session for two weeks, so there was a pile of mail on my desk and a sense that we were already way behind. Also, it was September 11th, which is a strange day in any place.
My first year of work was difficult. I didn't hire any interns at the beginning of the semester, so there was no one to help out when things got busy. If we were having an event, I had to hang up all the flyers and carry the food and set up the projector and chairs by myself. Everyone else in the office worked part-time, so I spent many days alone at my desk. Meanwhile, Stephen and I were moving into a new apartment, and I hardly knew anyone in Cambridge. I wasn't taking classes, I hadn't joined the gym, and I didn't know my way around. It was really lonely, and I wondered if I'd made a mistake.
It's hard to remember that now. My life feels so far from there. But it was difficult and sad, and it took a long time to get past it, and I think it's good to remember it once in a while, to think about how things change. As a kid, I used to think that adults were static. Like, once you stopped growing physically, you were also fully formed as an adult. I'm still amazed at how things continue to change, all the time. This has been a week of little milestones.
After seven years of vegetarianism, I started eating fish again on Thursday. I'm still not going to eat chicken or beef or bacon or anything, but I need more protein. For one of my classes this semester, we're assigned to undertake a Lifestyle Transformation Challenge. It has to be health-related, and it has to be difficult. Mine is to get 46 grams of protein a day, the recommended minimum for my height/weight/age. I think I've been getting about half that. It's tricky to track nutrition content, but with my handy nutrient database I'm muddling through. I'm also trying protein shakes. I thought I'd never buy those things in a million years, 'cause I'm not some kind of crazy athlete, but now I rely on them if I fall behind on any given day. Change, see?
Also, I took my first trip to the ER last night. I wasn't injured; I was with Stephen's brother, who had almost broken his arm on the slippery, rain-drenched streets of Boston. The ER was way different than I imagined it would be. It was very quiet and calm. There were worn-out New Yorkers on the end tables, and we looked at the cartoons. Some silly awards show was playing on the TV. People argued quietly with the receptionist about getting their parking tickets validated. If it hadn't been 9pm, we could just as easily have been at the dentist's office. No screaming or crying, no spurting blood. Probably it would have looked different if we'd been at the ambulance entrance, which I guess is what they show on TV, but it was nice. I'm glad it wasn't scary. I think the term "emergency room" makes it seem like there will be flashing lights and air horns going off when you get there.
So: emergency room, fish eating, and a work anniversary. How to cap off this momentous week? There's a Lebanese restaurant down the street that we've meant to try since we moved here, but never have. I hear that they have an amazing Pumpkin Kibby, whatever that is. So we're going out to lunch.
I might have to retract some of my glowing comments about yesterday's weather. The rain was really nice, but the humidity was ridiculous; the kind that makes you sweat even when you're sitting still. I ended up camping out on the living room floor last night, sleeping directly under the fan, because it was the only cool place in the house.
Here's my progress so far with the embroidery. This little patch took about three hours, but some of that was prepping the fabric and fixing mistakes. (Also, we were watching The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, so that was distracting.) I bought some more gingham with a bigger check, so maybe I'll switch to that until I get my technique down.
I can't commit to a September book. I have a huge stack of potentials on my desk, but can't decide which to start. I've begun A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, but it's really long and I'm worried that it'll stretch into October. Also, the copy I have is an ancient hardcover from my parents' library, so I can't really carry it around with me on the T. And I don't feel like I'm quite ready to give up on Willa Cather just yet, so I bought Death Comes for the Archbishop at Porter Square Books yesterday. Maybe I'll switch. When you only read one book a month, you want it to be just the right one.
Classes started this week. I know I'll soon be bogged down with homework, so I'm trying to get out and have fun before that happens. Stephen and I went to the Museum of Fine Arts out on the Green Line on Wednesday night. I haven't been there since we moved to Boston. We only had a few hours before closing, so we went straight for the best parts: the Egyptian mummies, the Japanese prints, the musical instruments, European paintings from the 19th and 20th centuries. Stephen and I each picked our favorite painting--I like Manet's Street Singer and Stephen picked Van Gogh's portrait of the Postmaster Joseph Roulin. We also saw some ceramics by Diego Romero, which reminded me of living in Santa Fe. There was a great exhibit of portraits near the stairs in the Evans wing, too. A surprising number of rooms were either packed up or empty, though. I want to go back when the new stuff is up. I think the whole museum is undergoing extensive renovations, so by the time I get back there the whole place will probably look pretty different.
I don't know if it's Summer Nostalgia or what, but my To Do list lately seems to be leaning kitschy and domestic. I want to make Rice Krispie treats and homemade marshmallows, and I want to try embroidering Chicken Scratch on gingham, and sew polka dot curtains to go with my new polka dot sheets. This weather is making me feel like sitting and reading, though, so if I get even one of those done this weekend, I'll consider it a success.
My parents' house is wood heated, so the smell is all caught up with warmth and family for me. Once, in high school, a friend of mine buried her nose in a scarf I'd knitted and said, "This smells just like your house--wood smoke!" So I guess others have noticed it, too.
If I had to distill the image of my childhood home down to two objects, they would be a wood stove and a mug of tea. I think the former represents my dad and the latter my mom. There's nothing really symbolic about these things, except the warmth of the images, I guess, and the idea of sustenance. They're just things that I encountered often growing up. In the fall and winter, my dad would get up early and stoke the stoves, and the first thing we'd do when we got home in the afternoon was start the fires up again. And my mom drinks a cup of tea, or sometimes two or three, every single day. Always Lipton. (The Brisk Tea.) Always with milk and sugar. I find the taste of this combination very comforting.
The barbecue today felt very goodbye-to-summer-esque. We made black bean burgers with cheddar, and grilled pineapple and peaches, then marshmallows. The burger buns were from Iggy's, my favorite bread company. (When I eat at a restaurant where they serve Iggy's, I always order extra and take some home in my purse.) There was pomegranate iced tea with agave nectar, and mango and coconut for dessert. I sat in a hammock and watched the sun sink, all orange and gold among the Catalpa leaves. I thought about how much I'd miss this day in a few months, when it's cold and dark in the afternoons. I'm not quite ready for summer to be over yet. I think I want another two weeks or so. But school is coming; classes start next week, and then we'll be on the roller coaster again. I had a dream last night that I was at work during a huge storm, and lightning was striking all around my office, and little brush fires were spontaneously erupting in the shrub border. That's kind of what the next month is starting to look like: utter chaos, and lots of little crises to put out. I'm going to try not to think of it like that, though. I'm trying to look forward to it.
This weekend, we hosted our own menagerie: Stephen and I pet-sat for a 15-year-old Siamese cat named after a Star Trek character, a color-changing Anole lizard who refused to eat his crickets, and a small brown tortoise named Turtle Boy. I hate the smell of cat food and Stephen can't stand the crickets, so we divided the work accordingly. Lucky for me, he also fed Turtle Boy. I don't mind crickets because they're compact and neat, but I really didn't want to have to reach into the worm jar.
I also fed a bunch of mosquitoes while canoing on the Sudbury River on Saturday. The water was kind of murky, and the mosquitoes feasted on my ankles. I found 14 bites on my legs afterward. The river was calm, though, and I saw lots of red-winged blackbirds near the shore.
Drifting downstream in a canoe reminded me of leading backcountry canoe trips in college. I led the same route a couple of summers in a row, and it was my favorite trip to lead by far. We'd spend a week passing through a circuit of lakes in the Adirondacks, sometimes loud with stories, sometimes silent. We'd swim and practice T-rescues, and my co-leaders and I dressed up as local historical figures. I miss that. I didn't like the bear-bagging or digging cat holes so much, but I did like hanging out by the campstove and talking or just listening or sitting quietly.
School's about to start again. I'm glad I work at a college, so my schedule continues to follow the academic cycle. It seems strange to see the campus fill up again, though; we've had it to ourselves for months. At lunch, everyone in my office heads outside to sit in the shade near the Quad, and it's usually deserted. Now there are gaggles of RA trainees, orientation groups, and sports teams criss-crossing the lawn. Most of the construction crews are packing up so the campus will look nice for matriculation ceremonies. It's an exciting time; it feels like change. I think late summer and early fall will always feel like change to me, which is why I sometimes feel so sad at this time of year. I have this feeling about time passing, that it's like having a glacier on either side of you. You can see a little ways forward and a little ways back, and you can move laterally in the moment, but the past and future are impenetrable walls pushing us along. Fall is definitely a time when you notice that the glaciers have shifted irrevocably.
I'm on Nantucket now with Stephen's family. There has been lots of ocean swimming, lots of Olympics watching, lots of eating, and lots of schoolworking (for me). I pulled an all-nighter yesterday, and I guess if you have to do that, it's best to do it in a beautiful setting. The sun coming up over foggy fields at 6am was breathtaking. Once I sent the paper off at 9, it was so still in the house. Everyone else was asleep, and I was completely spent but couldn't nap because of all the caffeine I'd had. I laid on the couch next to an open window and stared into space. A cool breeze was blowing. It was incredibly quiet. The dog came in and fell asleep next to me. For the first time in a month, I had no pressing obligations, and the whole day ahead of me. It was one of the most perfect moments of the summer. I thought of it again last night when I read this in My Antonia:
I sat down in the middle of the garden...The earth was warm under me, and warm as I crumbled it through my fingers. Queer little red bugs came out, and moved in slow squadrons around me. Their backs were polished vermilion, with black spots. I kept as still as I could. Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.
At least I've had the opportunity to be work-burdened in some very picturesque locales lately. I took the train to Portland, ME two weeks ago, which was really fun--when is a train ride not fun? I wish I had more opportunities to go places on trains. I need to discover some long-lost friends and relatives along the Downeaster route, then I could head out of the city every weekend in the plushy comfort of its nice quiet cabins. I'd get a lot of reading done.
I spent last week in Acadia with my family, which was chilly and foggy and lovely. It was so nice to wake up near the ocean and be far aware from mundane concerns like going to meetings and cleaning the house and blah. We hiked a little and walked around Southwest Harbor and Jordan Pond and Thuya Gardens and went out to eat a lot. A lot. I started referring to myself as Bowling Ball Belly by the end of the week.
Tomorrow I'm taking the ferry to Nantucket to go on vacation with Stephen's family. As you can imagine, I also like ferries. I'm pretty big on any kind of old-fashionedy public transpo. Unfortunately, the computer will be accompanying me on this trip, as well. Oh, grad school. How you mock my plans for escape and respite! But I can't be too unhappy in a house by the sea. A view of the ocean always exposes the triviality of my woes. I admit, they are quite trivial.
Lazy, lazy, lazy.
And I fell down the stairs yesterday, so I've got a huge purple bruise on the back of my leg. I've been dragging around a big pillow to sit on all day. And whining.
What else? Our WiFi died just when I tried to turn the paper in. The restaurant we were going to go to for dinner burned down last night. But I saw an ice cream shop with 64 flavors, including lobster! So the day wasn't a total bust. Cheers.
Tuesday morning: Once again on Christmas bus. When a passenger points out that the display is incorrect, the driver looks up for the one moment that it looks normal, and says, exasperated, "The display is working fine, madam."
Tuesday afternoon: Working on an architecture project at the office over the past few weeks, I've littered the conference room with little house models. As I'm throwing several out, I hear muffled scuffling emanating from one. Moments later, a startled cockroach scampers out. A colleague suggests I start designing roach traps.
Wednesday morning: Running for the bus, I make a mental note not to step/slip on the stick in the middle of the sidewalk. As I pass by, I realize "stick" is a 5-inch-long slug.
Wednesday morning, cont'd: Still running for the bus, I pass a man in a business suit talking loudly on the sidewalk. Assume he's on the phone until I realize he's completely drunk and offering commentary on passersby. "She's in good shape. Running. Not like that other guy. He's not running."
It's 93 degrees out, we're without air conditioning, and I'm frying eggplant. What has happened to my judgement?
I was thinking much more clearly last weekend, when I bought this awesome "cook"book at Porter Square books. I want to make all of my meals out of here until this heat wave is over (so, until September). There's an awesome variety of popsicle recipes, including a chapter on coffee- and tea-based pops, and another on alcohol-based ones, which is funny because Stephen and I had just been talking about freezing White Russians before I saw this book.
We made the Sugar Pumpkin Pops last weekend. I couldn't find molds anywhere in the area (CVS, Shaw's, Ace, Cambridge Naturals and the local toy store all knew what I was talking about, but none had them on their shelves), so I used a muffin pan. The pops turned out very short and squat, like little orange flying saucers. They weren't quite sweet enough for our taste, either. But still cool and refreshing. I think I want to try the Coconut Yogurt ones next. This is the kind of weather where I just alternate between taking showers and buying ice cream. Nothing much gets done, except sweating.
We're also house/pet-sitting. Which is awesome, because the house has air conditioning, but it also adds to the list: Did we remember to feed the cat? To humidify the lizard tank? When does the garbage have to go out? Did I just miss the bus again? How am I going to get to work?
Anyway. Last night was a bright spot in this constellation of busy-ness: We went to see the Indigo Girls play at the Lowell Summer Music Series. The setting was awesome - enthusiastic crowd, warm night, progressive snacks (the food tent had organic chips and salsa, Clif bars, and herbal tea). I was surprised at how many memories bubbled up as the Girls played through their set. I remembered putting "Get Out the Map" on a mix for Stephen when he drove cross-country in 2003. We used to sing "Closer to Fine" at campfires after our backpacking trips in the summer. I put lyrics from "Galileo" on my away messages sophomore year. Wow--it's been so long since I last signed on to AIM. Years.
I was watching the news at the gym the other day when they reported on the hostages being freed in Colombia, and the reporter talked about all the things the hostages didn't know about, from the Iraq War to Facebook. It's so hard to imagine what it's like to be taken out of the world as you know it for 5 years - your brain must become like a time capsule.
My brain right now is more like molasses. I've got three papers to write in the next few weeks. Bleh. I write so slowly. How do people write quickly? Even writing a blog post can take me an hour, easily. With a paper, I usually have to take a day off from work. No kidding. Sooo painfully slow. I don't know how books ever get written. Randy Shilts, how did you do it?
That picture is some rainbow chard from our CSA box, which I thought looked so pretty raw. I stir-fried it with vegetable stock and added some soy sauce, so it wasn't nearly this pretty on the plate, but it was delicious.
Speaking of delicious, I had two culinary revelations this week. The first was something I saw on Lidia's Italy on WGBH last weekend. There was a segment on Pecorino cheese, and Lidia made a dessert with sliced pear and Pecorino drizzled with honey. I got some cheese and pears at the grocery store on Monday so I could try it out with some raw wildflower honey we have. I loved it. Like, licked-the-last-of-the-honey-off-the-plate loved it. Stephen wasn't as impressed, unfortunately. But I grew up eating cheddar cheese with apple slices, so maybe I've acquired a taste for the sweet/salty, smooth/crisp contrast of fruit and cheese pairings.
The other delicious thing I found this week was this recipe for tomato sauce. Basically, you take a can of whole plum tomatoes, chop them, then put them in a saucepan with some butter, a yellow onion that's peeled and cut in half, and some salt. Simmer for about 45 minutes, then throw out the onion, and--ta da! The incredibly simple preparation belies the subtle and surprisingly complex flavor. Probably the best tomato sauce I've ever made. (Stephen agreed on this one.)
The bad thing about all this cooking is that it didn't involve any of our CSA veggies--and we got a lot of them on Tuesday. Our little wax box from the farm contained spinach, lettuce mix, carrots, kohlrabi, turnips, garlic scapes, scallions, chard, and a pattypan squash. To date, we've only eaten about 1/5 of the haul, so things are a little desperate. (A coworker of mine with the same farm share dilemma told me that she's been sneaking lettuce into her smoothies to use it up.) I think I'm just going to have to come to terms with throwing some of the food away at the end of each week. Half of the reason for this venture is to support local agriculture, which we're doing either way, so I'm not going to stress if a few things don't get et.
Other than a few ongoing projects--the saft; a quilt I'm working on; the record-player-holder Stephen's building--things have been quiet lately. I had a paper due last week and a 13+ hour workday that sapped my energy. I tried to get up the momentum to go to see the El Greco to Velazquez show at the MFA on Sunday, but it started raining so I napped instead. So easy to sleep when you're trying to read on a drizzly day, especially if you're doing so while lying in bed in your pajamas. In undergrad, I used to fall asleep so consistently while trying to do reading for class that I eventually started using class readings as a cure for insomnia on the rare nights when I couldn't get to sleep. That's never been much of a problem for me, though. I almost always fall asleep the second my head hits the pillow.
I've gotten much better at not falling asleep during movies, though. I used to fall asleep almost every time we watched TV or a movie at home, and sometimes in the theater, too. Maybe I'm watching better movies now? We saw The Fall last night with Stephen's dad and brother. The storytelling was so rich and the visuals so lush, it made me wish that all movies had such a strong creative vision. From IMDb:
In a hospital on the outskirts of 1920s Los Angeles, an injured stuntman begins to tell a fellow patient, a little girl with a broken arm, a fantastical story about 5 mythical heroes. Thanks to his fractured state of mind and her vivid imagination, the line between fiction and reality starts to blur as the tale advances.
It's crazy, but in a good way.
I've been watching less TV lately, now that Lost and The Office are on break. What's left but The Simpsons? Mostly I watch offbeat reality shows from Netflix. We saw 1940s House last week, which really opened my eyes about life in Britain during WWII. It's hard to imagine people coming together in the same way now, sacrificing things and growing their own food to support the troops (and to keep themselves from starving). Did you know that SPAM was invented by the US as a means of efficiently transporting meat rations to the British before America joined the war? SPAM stands for Specially Processed American Meats. Better living through chemistry, right?
The grand no-soap experiment is over, and I'm going back to regular shampoo. Although my hair felt great the first few times I used baking soda, the results proved uneven. Sometimes my hair would be silky/shiny, other times it would feel weirdly tacky/waxy. No good. I think if it's really going to work, you probably have to switch over entirely to baking soda, because the oils in your hair have to rebalance themselves or something. But I use shampoo a few times a week at the gym, so I couldn't make a clean break. (Pun!)
Now I'm looking for other low-irritant hair-cleaning solutions. I found some mild, unscented shampoo at Whole Foods last week, which I fancied up with a little coconut extract. (I figure if something's gentle enough to bake with, it's probably not too harsh for my skin.) It smells great, and the results are a lot more consistent than my kitchen-chemistry method. My skin's still not happy, but I'm starting to wonder if it's the hot water, rather than the soap, that's freaking it out.
As I was mixing up my home-scented shampoo, I read the Free Recipe! on the back of the coconut extract box. It's so laughably post-WWII/pro-chemically-enhanced food products, I'm tempted to make it to see what kind of monstrosity would result. I can't even imagine what a cake would look like topped with canned pineapple, plastered with instant pudding, then spackled over with fakey-fake whipped cream. Just check out these ingredients:
1 pkg. yellow cake mix
4 tsp. imitation coconut extract, divided
1 pkg. instant vanilla pudding mix
1 can crushed pineapple, drained
1 tub frozen whipped topping, thawed
PREPARE cake mix as directed on package, stirring 3 teaspoons of the Extract into batter before baking. Pour into greased and floured 13x9-inch baking pan.
BAKE in preheated 350°F oven 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely in pan.
PREPARE pudding mix as directed on package, stirring in remaining 1 teaspoon of Extract. Spread pineapple and pudding over cake. Frost with whipped topping. Refrigerate 1 hour or until ready to serve.
Makes 24 servings.
I was reading Sailing Alone Around the Room the other night and remembered how much I like Billy Collins. You know those statistics they occasionally release saying that 75% of Americans can't name all the continents or whatever? I know it sounds ridiculous, but I would probably get some of those questions wrong, too. For instance, if you asked me who the Federal Reserve Chairman is, I would never be able to think of anyone but Alan Greenspan. Similarly, Billy Collins will forever be the Poet Laureate as far as I'm concerned. I think he's the only Laureate I've ever been aware of.
Here's The Night House:
Every day the body works in the fields of the world
mending a stone wall
or swinging sickle through the tall grass--
the grass of civics, the grass of money--
and every night the body curls around itself
and listens for the soft bells of sleep.
But the heart is restless and rises
from the body in the middle of the night,
leaves the trapezoidal bedroom
with its thick, pictureless walls
to sit by herself at the kitchen table
and heat some milk in the pan.
And the mind gets up too, puts on a robe
and goes downstairs, lights a cigarette,
and opens a book on engineering.
Even the conscience awakens
and roams from room to room in the dark,
darting away from every mirror like a strange fish.
And the soul is up on the roof
in her nightdress, straddling the ridge,
singing a song about the wildness of the sea
until the first rip of pink appears in the sky.
Then, they all will return to the sleeping body
the way a flock of birds settles back into a tree,
resuming their daily colloquy,
talking to each other or themselves
even through the heat of the long afternoons.
Which is why the body--that house of voices--
sometimes puts down its metal tongs, its needle, or its pen
to stare into the distance,
to listen to all its names being called
before bending again to its labor.
I've got some homemade pickles pickling in the kitchen right now. These are really easy to make: dissolve kosher salt in boiling water, cool with ice, then add crushed garlic, sliced kirby cucumbers, and dill. Cover with cold water, weight with a plate to keep cukes under water, and let sit at room temp until desired level of pickleness is attained. They keep in the fridge for a week.
I've been eating like crazy these past few days. My office was closed for repairs yesterday, so Stephen and I went out for brunch at Sound Bites in Somerville, the best breakfast place I've ever been to. Then we drove out to Marblehead Neck and climbed around on the rocks by the lighthouse, and I read about the lack of cohesive food culture in America in my ex-May book*, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. When we'd worked up our appetites again, we drove to Whole Foods and bought stuff for a picnic: fresh mozzarella and baguettes, chick pea salad, black currant spritzers, romaine and Parmesan and lemons for Caesar salad. I was thinking about this passage from the chapter in The Omnivore's Dilemma where the author goes hunting for wild pigs with two guides:
Being Europeans, as well as accomplished cooks, Angelo and Jean-Pierre take lunch very seriously, even when out in the woods some distance from civilization. "So I brought with me a few little things to nibble on," Jean-Pierre mumbled. "Me, too," chimed Angelo. And out of their packs came course after course of the most astonishing picnic, which they proceeded to lay out on the hood of Angelo's SUV: a terrine of lobster and halibut en gelee, artisanal salami and prosciutto and mortadella, Angelo's homemade pate of boar and home-cured olives, cornichons, chicken salad, a generous selection of cheeses and breads, fresh strawberries and pastries, silverware and napkins, and, naturally, a bottle each of red and white wine.
Okay, so ours wasn't that fancy. But it was nice, and the weather cooperated.
Today, we picked up the first box from our CSA share. Inside there was Boston lettuce, parsnips, spinach, and what I think are turnips. (They're completely white, but turnip-shaped.) So we had mashed potatoes and parsnips for dinner. The parsnips look like pale carrots, and added a carrot-like sweetness to the mush. And we had salad. I'm not sure what we're going to do with the albino turnips yet, and we may give the spinach away. No one here is really into the bitterness.
* Yes, there's been more book-of-the-month fickleness. Lugging around the thick, hardcovered Animal, Vegetable, Miracle proved unsustainable, so I left Barbara Kingsolver for the much leaner, lighter Mrs. Dalloway. Things have been going well with the new book, except that I misplaced it last week, so now I'm bookless and the month is over. Gotta catch up!
Let me begin by saying that this is not a cost-effective way to make beverages. It took more than $20 worth of berries to create enough saft for a gallon of juice. We used blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries, but you can use any combination you want. I think an all-strawberry batch would be a lot more cost-effective at this time in the season. The recipe traditionally calls for red currants, but we couldn't find any at Shaw's. We're going to try Whole Foods next time.
It's also a relatively long process, so it would make sense to make a huge batch all at once, especially if you had berries growing in your garden and they were all ripe at once. I don't think this works with frozen berries, so you have to do it when they're ripe.
Each pound of berries yields about a cup of syrup, which is later diluted in four parts water or seltzer to create a quart of juice. You boil the berries with water in a big saucepan until they get mushy and pale, at which point all of their juices are released. Then you suspend this mixture in a cheesecloth-lined sieve over a big bowl and let it drain for an hour and a half or so. What's left in the sieve is then discarded (and believe me, you'll want to discard it: there's nothing appealing about boiled, colorless berry glop), and the strained syrup (which is a beautiful deep reddish-purple) is reheated with sugar.
We wanted the saft to be shelf-stable, so we sterilized the bottles, too: a tricky process in which you have to get the saft and the bottles to the same temperature, then fill them while hot. If ever there was a process with great low-level burn potential, this is it. Once submerged, the bottles are extremely hard to get out of the water, and it's not like you can just slap on an oven mitt and reach in, so you have to try to coax it out with tongs. Meanwhile, boiling water is splashing everywhere. Once the bottle is out, you've got to hold the hot, hot glass steady while your partner pours in boiling syrup. There was a lot of foul language involved.
The final product is pretty amazing, though. We opened one bottle immediately and finished it within two days. I don't like soda, so I had mine mixed with water and ice, but I hear that a seltzer/saft combination is delicious and refreshing, as well. We're going to try to reserve the remaining bottle for the winter, but I want to try different combinations as various berries come into season this summer. One problem we encountered with this batch is that each bottle is pretty big, and once you open it, the contents have to be finished pretty quickly or it will go bad. So next time I want to think of a smaller container for this. Maybe jelly jars? That would be cheaper, too. These bottles were almost ten bucks each, and that could easily add up if we made a lot of this stuff. Which I hope we do.
P.S. I read somewhere that you can buy saft at Ikea. I don't see it on their website, but I don't think they list any of their food there, so I'll have to check it out next time I'm there. I wonder if mass-produced saft would be any good.