November 9, 2010

Dessert is better than dinner

..which is why I made SK’s apple cheddar scones again today and Joy of Cooking‘s awesome scotch shortbread a few days ago.

This evening I put away a trunk full of groceries and started some chicken stock.  It’s simmering away, looking (I’m pretty sure) like chicken stock should look…

Hopefully, this stock will become a delicious chicken soup; if it’s not good enough to be soup, it will become a more flavorful substitute for water in things like rice. :)

Here’s a short and sweet summary of what we’ll eat this week: chicken noodle soup, garlic and gruyere sausage links, steak salad, and quinoa salad.  This will be my first time cooking quinoa.  I’m pretty excited!

Want to know the awesome reason this post is rushed?  It’s because I’m going to write 2,000 words tonight as soon as I post this and boil some water for tea, which I will enjoy with my third scone of the day.  Yep.

November 7, 2010

How’s that novel coming?

Oh, you know……

If anyone has checked out my NaNoWriMo profile lately, you’ll know that I’m seriously behind in terms of word count. I’ll be honest – I’m a little stuck.  You see, first I learned that people actually plan these novels.  Months in advance.  They have plot outlines, titles ready to go, even book cover designs (?!).  I don’t know how you could possibly settle on a “cover” for an unwritten and unpublished novel, but then again most of the covers are horrendously bad anyway. I’m mean.   I’ve also discovered several flaws in the NaNo system.  One of these is that 50,000 words actually amounts to a novella at best.  So although I still hope to hit a point one of these days when I just can’t stop because my characters are so believable and my plot is so riveting, my goals have become (only slightly) smaller:  write a whole lot, try to do it every day, and don’t feel bad about stopping to plan sometimes instead of ending up writing things like, “She went into the kitchen.  She thought about how her dad really wasn’t who he said he was.”  (Don’t worry, those sentences are not in my novel.  But I’d be lying if I said the quality of my content thus far is much more interesting…).

Please don’t think I’m making excuses.  I’m my worst critic (this I promise you) and yet despite my measly word count I feel like I have accomplished a slew of intangibles that have set me well on my way to learning more about this evasive novel-writing business. And, as with most hard things worth doing, the more I learn, the more I realize I do not know a single thing.  Really, I have no business even starting down this road.

But silly me, here I go.

Three things I’ve learned so far (of many):

1. Goodness gracious, first drafts are bad when I refuse to let my inner editor out of its cage.  I’m talking bad.  Like, can’t even explain.  I somehow summoned the guts to let Sara read my first few pages, which were horrible, and I can honestly say nothing I’ve written since those first couple days has been even as good as that mess.  But, first drafts are first drafts.  I might throw away 80% of it, but hopefully what I keep is worth keeping.  Look at me being optimistic.

2. I’ve learned that to write a novel you have to have a plot. Sounds obvious, right? Ha. I’ve learned how to create a snowflake plot, which sounds pretty cute.  Cuter than it is.  Although I haven’t completed my snowflake plot diagram, I imagine this to be fairly close to the way my brain works.  I’ve also tried some backwards design — working backward from a scene or line of dialogue I know I want to include to find out how my character got there.

3. Sometimes writing makes me feel like kicking and screaming, but it feels pretty good to be able to honestly say, “I’m working on a novel.”  No one needs to know how bad it is, or that it’s in its totally helpless infant stage and that it wakes up crying every few hours and I don’t know what to do with it.  If that sense of satisfaction is any indication of how utterly satisfying it would be to actually finish the thing, I’ll take it.  It just might take a while.

I don’t want to tell you how many times Eric has had to force me write this week.  So I won’t.

[photo]

November 3, 2010

Ethics of yoga.

Am I crazy?  Not only did I just sign up to write thousands of words of a novel every day (I’m currently stuck on word 644, by the way), but I just purchased a 20x pass to a Bikram yoga studio for use in the next 60 days.  Yes, Bikram is the type of yoga you do in 105 degree heat. On top of that, I have my first writing group meeting tonight with the lovely Sara, and Eric and I hope to start attending a mid-week church service in the near future.  (As a side note, Sara holds the distinguished position of being the very best “group project” partner I ever worked with in my undergraduate career.  Boy, did we wrangle The Awakening into submission…)

Life slowed for Eric and me, pleasantly, a few months ago, when my summer job from hell ended and at the same time God opened the door for us to visit and grow to love a new body of believers.  Jobless and ministry-less for the time being, I am now part of what I suspect is a tiny minority of people who literally have no regular commitments whatsoever.  Except church on Sunday.   All that is about to change.

The decision to do Yoga is quite timely, as an online debate has been heating up (haha get it? Bikram?…) about whether or not Christians should practice Yoga.  Mark Driscoll’s July 2010 commentary, found here, sparked quite the conversation.  Keep in mind if you watch this or have seen it that Driscoll loves controversy.  If you stop the video ten seconds in you will write him off as a crazy man.  I almost did.  If you watch the whole thing you realize that all he’s saying is that Christians should be careful.  And yes, he could have said it in a much less contentious way.  The Village Church’s Geoff Ashley address the topic in this article in what I think is a much more responsible way.  He is careful to address concerns of parties on both sides of the debate while calming the discussion. Here are my observations, along with some reasons I am fine with doing Yoga myself.

Continue reading

November 2, 2010

National Novel Writing Month

Although I’m an aspiring writer, I’m very out of the loop as far as writing community and the writing industry.  Therefore, although it has been going on for a long time, I have just been informed of a little project called National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo.  By little project I mean HUGE project — the goal is to write a 175-ish-page novel in the month of November by writing every day — that amounts to a LOT every day.  Since it’s the 2nd already, in order to participate I have to write 1,724 words every day.  Should I go for it?!…..  You can track my progress here to see if I actually try this out.  If you want to participate, make sure you make me your writing buddy!  Who’s with me?


November 2, 2010

Cooking with books.

I’ve grown used to meal planning by scouring a few favorite websites:  Cooking Light, Epicurious, the Food Network, Smitten Kitchen, and some others.  But last week my lovely Nana blessed me with a new Alaskan cookbook and I gained a renewed appreciation for the talented Ina Garten (of Barefoot Contessa fame), whose cookbooks (2 of them!) I happen to own thanks to gracious bridal shower attendees.  Ina, like Deb at Smitten Kitchen, often focuses on making basic-sounding foods really good.  Yesterday my sister-in-law Rebecca gave me another great book as a birthday gift — The $7 A Meal Healthy Cookbook.  Thus, this week, I’m going to focus on a) cooking food from books, and b) cooking healthy food.  We’ve had a little too much Halloween candy and a few too many baked goods this week.  Here it goes:

Monday: Instead of cooking and planning I hung out with Kristen, and we bought a rotisserie chicken at the store.  But we also made baked sweet potato “fries” from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics and garlicky green beans sans recipe.  The fries did not turn out crispy like we hoped. :(

Tuesday: Dinner Spanakopitas from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics, with salad.

Wednesday: Parmesan Shrimp & Vegetables with Fettuccine from Alaskan Cooking.

Thursday: Flat Iron Enchiladas from The $7 A Meal Healthy Cookbook.

Friday: Pizza!

Weekend: Leftovers/easy.

Have a lovely Tuesday.  I’ll pick the thanks back up next Monday or Tuesday.

[photo]

October 28, 2010

New things.

In case you haven’t noticed, my series are getting a little bit wimpy lately.  My love hate relationship with running is still a love hate relationship; my garden is frozen and was hauled away by the garbage truck last week.  I’m still a fledgling foodie, but this blog cannot live by zucchini bread alone!  So here I am to introduce a couple of exciting new series ideas I’m hoping to introduce, shortly (I originally typo’d “shorty,” and believe me when I say I was SO tempted to leave it…):

On dwelling. I like the word dwell and all its connotations.  I’m hung up on it because I want my home to be a place where we thrive and feel at home, that’s comfortable and inviting and pleasant and peaceful.  This series will be about the little things I do to make my apartment homey.  My next large home project is my office room, which I’m really hoping to transform into some sort of creativity center.  Its major flaw is that it lacks any sort of functional furniture, so it has become a file and storage catch-all — and my poor, neglected piano hides behind all of it.  Unacceptable.

On writing, or reading, or both. I look over the myriad blogs online about decorating and design and fashion and photography and all those beautiful things, and the truth is, folks, that I just don’t know as much about painting pretty pictures with images as I do with words.  Not that I’m not visual, or that I’m not trying to be better at photography, and so many etceteras, but if I truly want to write about my passions, my passion is writing.  Unfortunately, lately I’ve been one of those writing posers there are so many of.  You know, the kind that say “I’m a writer” and/or “I love to write,” and then don’t write.  Ever.  I aim to change that, and hopefully I’ll like what I do enough to subject it to your collective scrutiny.

On teaching and kids. This is perhaps premature/wishful thinking, but I’m in the active process of finding a job, and I’m most qualified to teach.  That means that the job I do hopefully find will involve kids, and the funny things they do or the brilliant things I find out (ha) will inevitably make their ways here.  I am on two substitute lists now, although I have yet to get a call… so we’ll see.

In the mean time, I do have a question for you.  Who are you? I know people read this thing, because my dashboard tool thing tells me so.  But it’s not smart enough to tell me who you are.  I’m posting these entries as Facebook statuses for the whole world to see, and I don’t consider you a “stalker” for clicking a link in your news feed…. so come forth.  Leave a comment. Say hey.  I’m really, truly glad you’re here.  And maybe I’ll be able to “consider my audience” more that way as I post.  Just a suggestion. ;)

[photo credit]

October 26, 2010

What we’re eating this week.

Last week’s meal plan was…. not really a meal plan now, was it?  But I promised pictures of anything fun, so here are the meals I made an effort with:

Grilled teriyaki shrimp kabobs:

Goat cheese, caramelized onion and artichoke heart pizza (thin, whole-wheat crust):

And the actual reason this became a thin crust pizza…. my utter failure at pizza dough:

The story is…. I created this lovely dough (which really was lovely) the morning of, not sure if I’d be rolling it out that night or the next day.  I suspected we’d be waiting, so instead of letting it rise on the warm counter top, I put it in the fridge to rise slowly.  Only we did end up wanting it that night, and it didn’t rise.  I read some articles online that told me I could speed up the process by microwaving at a very very low power.  Well, that definitely didn’t work, and I ended up with a mostly cooked dough ball aka GIANT, tough yeast roll.  So, so sad.  So I thought quickly and prayed vigorously and made Smitten Kitchen’s Really Simple Pizza Dough, subbing half whole wheat flour and adding a little squeeze of honey, and skipped the rising, which turned out a really tasty thin crust with a great texture.  Definitely recommended for quick pizza in a bind.  If this is even more awesome with rise time, it will be my go-to pizza crust recipe.

I also tried out her zucchini bread recipe this week, and it was killer.

For the shrimp kabobs (above), I marinated shrimp with some variation on this recipe from Bobby Flay (I think) — I added pineapple juice, didn’t use peanut oil, and changed some other stuff, so I can’t even say I used his recipe. Just a guideline. I cut up onions and a green pepper and skewered them with some canned pineapple chunks (so much cheaper I couldn’t resist).  Since I didn’t count out pieces per skewer I wasn’t sure about proportions, and I just went ahead and grilled all the shrimp together and the veggies together.

Today I’m trying out a different teriyaki recipe: oven-baked basted teriyaki chicken, using Ellie Krieger’s highly-rated teriyaki chicken thighs recipe.  I am following reviewers’ recommendations and doubling marinade, boiling and basting the chicken with it as it cooks.  Hopefully this turns out okay since we’re feeding it to people other than our family!

This week, my meal plan isn’t exciting, other than learning how to make teriyaki sauce from scratch and hoping it’s as good as I think it will be (review later!).  But it’s not because I’m lazy — it’s because dinner food just doesn’t sound that good.  Why make a well-rounded meal when I could make Rosemary and Thyme Candied Pecans, and Easy Pumpkin Cheese Danishes, and Apple and Cheddar Scones??  Why??  Expect some baking to go down this week in between my bottled marinara sauce and very Americanized “Mexican” food.  (For sure on the agenda:  Mrs. Fields Peanut Butter Dream Bars, secret recipe from my mother-in-law!)

Monday: Teriyaki chicken thighs, brown/white rice, broccoli

Tuesday: Butternut squash soup (using up half a squash… this might end up being a side dish.)

Wednesday: Chicken Parmesan

Thursday: Soft tacos.  Because refried beans make me happy.

Friday: Pizza! (Because we must have this at least once a week. Maybe I’ll make it fancy for you.)

Weekend: Leftovers, simple pasta, Halloween candy.

 

Happy eating this week.  And please leave comments with any awesome recipes I should try. :)

October 25, 2010

1000 Gifts: Birthday

I lucked out this year — my birthday was on a Saturday, so I was blessed to be able to spend the whole day doing whatever I wanted!

I’m so thankful for….

181. Birthday boots!! (Sorry for the camera pictures… my real camera is in the car and it’s raining.  Hard.)

182. Farmers market samples — who knew there was so much free delicious stuff?!

183. Lavender-infused blueberry jam from the farmers market.

184. Getting to see the Kings for coffee.

185. Getting to talk to all my siblings in a row yesterday!

186. The ability to earn a little money on the side with odd jobs. (Currently writing, sorting photos for a photographer friend, and hopefully subbing in the near future….)

187. My dishwasher.

188. My power drill.

189. A reliable tool kit.

190. Discovering new, inspiring design websites.

191. That we’re not doing the “cash system” anymore.. ha.

192. Birthday dinner at Wildwood. <3

193. People (like our awesome waiter) who know everything there is to know about food and wine and are happy to force delicious things on you.

194. Zucchini bread.

195. The new wooden fence in our back yard that is not yet defiled with the sickly grey-blue paint our apartment managers cover everything with.

196. Foot massages.

197. Sunglasses.

298. Phases of life in which showering often is not at all necessary.  Yep, I said it.

199. The sound of pouring rain outside.

200. My hardcore husband who bikes 5 miles uphill to work in said pouring rain.

Switched things up this week — meal plan tomorrow, friends! :)

October 22, 2010

Wall art extravaganza!

G’day.  Today we are going to talk about wall art.

For the last several months (read: 8) our walls have been suffering from serious nudity.  I’ve had grand ideas of putting up all sorts of various chic and artsy and unique huge art and sconces, etc., but well…. when you’re on a budget you work with what you have. :)  Thus, I present my various nearly free latest creations and finds.

First, a little project I took on a month or two ago in my dining room.  Although my new grey wall is a vast improvement over sickly ivory, I got tired of looking at such a long bare wall. When I came across a blog post that told me I could put spray starch on paper and stick it directly to my wall the day after discovering random cool tissue-thin papers in a scrapbook I brought home (*which I’m assuming I inadvertently stole from my mother, but which have been missing for such a long time I’m sure she doesn’t mind), I decided to take said papers and stick them to my wall.  But not before I took a few of them and printed some line drawings from the intranets.

The splotchiness is because they were still wet when I took the photo, so just imagine those two on the bottom right looking less soggy!

To tell you the truth I’m not as crazy about it as I hoped… This is partly because when the papers dried a couple of them got wrinkled (only a couple specific colors — the yellow stuck perfectly).  But I do still like it, and I think I’ll keep it until I come up with something more awesome.  Anyway, it’s nice for fall/winter because of the tree theme.

Today I went less crafty and more frame and hang route.  I’ve been collecting a couple frames here and there.  So today a clip frame from Goodwill became the new home of this truly cool ad from a pamphlet for Wordstock, a local writing and lit festival.


I’ve been waiting to find a floating glass frame for a papyrus print I bought in Egypt.  I finally found one at a discount frame store — it was still more than I wanted to pay but seriously, I needed it to finally be out of its tube and on my naked wall!!  (p.s. Sorry for the truly ghetto photo staging here…. carpet?? Refrigerator?  I’m waiting for Eric’s opinion — and help — before I put them permanently on the wall.)

Eric acquired this cool hand-painted skateboard deck a while ago from a friend who knew he liked Elliott Smith.  You can’t see the details very well, but at the very top and very bottom it says “Live Fast / Die Young.”  Uplifting, eh? ;)  Not quite our philosophy in life, but we still think it’s pretty cool.  Don’t mind the very noticeable Dan Brown book — it’s not mine.  Pay attention instead to the quality literature beneath it — Crime and Punishment, 1984, The Sun Also Rises…  (I love you anyway, Eric.)  And to his credit, he hasn’t even read that book yet, but he did read the totally huge Anna Karenina directly beneath it.  As yet another disclaimer, yes we need new candles on that thing.  Badly.

I had bought a 16×20 frame at IKEA for my papyrus print, all the while truly wanting a float frame, but it turns out it it fits a Jubelale 2009 poster we picked up from the Deschutes Brewery for hella free last year.  Because I’m very adult and not so much frat boy, I’m opposed to putting beer posters on my walls — unless, of course, they’re framed.  Totally different, right?  I think so. (This might go in the “office” anyway…)

That’s that.  Not perfect and still lots of work to do, but hopefully our home will be looking way less boring in the near future.  If I actually get to the point where a room looks “finished” (ha…) I’ll post entire pictures.

Have a great weekend! :)  It’s someone’s birthday tomorrow, so she probably won’t be posting until Monday.

October 21, 2010

Gumshoe Gardening: Season finale

On Tuesday I put on my little close-toed shoes and ventured onto my chilly back porch to do the tragic, necessary task I’ve been putting off:  ruthlessly trashing my dead garden (with the exception of my basil, which is still living(!) and which I am going to attempt to bring inside).  I’m positively shocked my plants held on as long as it did, and even more shocked that a couple of tomatoes apparently continued to ripen this week, although one of them had a weird bug-looking thing on it (yes, bug-looking, but not a bug) so I was afraid to pick it and just said oh well, it is late October after all.  A little life in the foreground, a little death in the background makes the situation seem slightly less grim when I toss entire plants into a dumpster, anyway.  Um, I mean, I composted everything…..

[The bug-looking thing is on the other side of the big tomato… I purposefully did not capture it.]

Yellowy browny leaves, smushy falling fruit, and (oh yeah), the spinach/fuchsia/pepper that died ages ago, all into the trash.  There must be a more environmentally friendly way to dispose of plants — i.e. not taking totally compostable material, shrouding it in white plastic, and putting it in a landfill — but I’ll tackle that when it doesn’t involve putting large, shedding, buggy plants into my sedan and driving them to who knows where.  Let me tell you, it was cumbersome enough walking this through muddy, slurping lawn to the dumpster across the parking lot.

Goodbye, garden.

And now, the Most Important Things I Learned about gardening this summer:

1.  Gardening is a frivolous, mercurial thing.  The weather matters.  The season matters.  The experience of the gardener seems like it should matter (and does) but when I look back on what I did, I think my spinach could have been saved, but the fuchsia and the pepper were kind of duds to begin with.  I’ve spoken with plenty of experienced gardeners whose _________ did not grow for whatever reason, and I can’t help but think that sometimes gardens just do what they want to.  There’s probably a very good reason that you see so much cat paraphernalia in garden stores.  Gardeners are just masochists who enjoy being held at the whim of various fickle creatures they hope to coax into making it worth their while.

2. Eating what I grow, even in small quantities, is extremely rewarding.  Of course my summer yield left something to be desired in the way of peppers (0), spinach (6 leaves) and tomatoes (about 18 total).  But having a stead flow of cilantro for a couple months and not buying basil all summerAwesome. I like flowers, but if I continue down this garden path I think food is definitely the way to go.  (Not to mention my first flower experience was an utter failure.)  I get happy imagining myself as one of those people with horrible problems like what am I going to do with all this zucchini? (*While I’m on the subject, I sincerely hope canning never interests me, because that sounds awful.)

3. I’m not as bad at caring for plants as I thought I would be.  Is this the same girl who killed a cactus and a bamboo plant?  Remembering to water the plants actually wasn’t that difficult once I got into a little rhythm to avoid over and under-watering. Actually, the hardest part was keeping Kieran inside while I did so.

4. This is learn-as-you-go stuff.  I let my cilantro go irreparably to flower, almost did not catch my basil before it suffered the same demise, had no clue how to pinch basil or prune spinach, possibly gave up too early on reviving my flowers, transplanted stuff too much, bought pots that were too small, etc.  But now I know how to do all those things.  And in addition, I totally destroyed a mean hoard of killer slugs and revived my tomato plant after it completely fell over from dehydration.

Thanks for reading my gardening adventures.  You can bet that if there was a promotion from gumshoe that started with a G, I’d be it.  ;)