97 – rainy days, fall and uncontroversiality

One of the best things about moving back to my most-loved state of being, better known as Texas, is that rain has, once again, become a good thing. Three years in Oregon left me ready for sunshine, but a West Texas summer has me back to my old rain-loving self. Waking up to the sound of the rain on the roof is pretty amazing when you live in the desert.

rain-roadThis morning is the biggest sign to date of the season changing, as well: When I woke, the temperature outside the house was lower than the temperature inside the house.

I began my morning as I usually do… padding around the kitchen in my sock feet making a cup of tea–and Corey began this weekend morning as he usually does, by not beginning it yet. He is sleeping the sleep of the justly tired.

It’s 6:30 a.m. as I type this, dark and chilly outside. The house is only barely warm-ish at 66 degrees inside, but I won’t turn the central heat on yet.

First reason is that smell of burning dust that you get the first time you turn a heater on after long inactivity. Second reason is that, due to the peculiarities with the way this old house is arranged, our bedroom becomes a preview of hell when you have the heater on.

Last winter, we closed the vents in the bedroom completely and left the windows open in the bathrooms to keep air moving through there. Did I mention this house has two bedrooms and four bathrooms? It was a bunkhouse for cowboys once upon a time… We love it, but one of the oddities is that our bedroom is literally in the center of the house, no outside walls or windows.

So, to keep from frying my beloved like a pig on a spit, I’ve left the heat off and am wearing a fleece jacket while I type this.

When I get cold, I go in the kitchen, open the oven door and warm my hands–I’ve got the oven on 200 to create a warm environment for bread to rise. One of the hazards of the cool night was that the bread dough that I put in a bowl to thaw and rise overnight did thaw, but hasn’t gotten warm enough to rise yet.

When the dough has doubled in size, I’ll portion it out into sandwich rolls and cover it to let it rise again. If you want the recipe, you can go to my post #37. I have made one addition since I wrote that up–I throw in a couple of generous handfuls of whole wheat bran at the flour stage. Makes the rolls a little sweet, a little nutty-tasting, and seems to keep them more moist.

In between warming my hands, I spent the first hour of my day as I usually do, strolling around the Internet. It replaced my newspaper habit–no paper boys come this far out from town, and the nearest towns with newspapers only publish once a week anyway, so I had to replace my daily paper habit with something.

I follow pig-trails of information through all the little twisty turns, following up on whatever interests me. For some reason, this morning’s peregrinations had me questioning myself about why I don’t write about the controversial topics–religion, politics, Oscar Pistorious, the abuse headlines coming out of the NFL, and so on.

That self-questioning follows hard on the heels of a book I’m reading on my Kindle–Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator. Reading it was informative as all get-out, but it also left me a little sick to my stomach. Mostly it described how one guy used the blogging world, among other things, to create both negative and positive publicity for his clients.

But, this blog is is not exactly in danger of becoming a Drudge Report or anything like it. I have no ambition to even try to make it that popular, which is a very good thing since most days I get something like two hits. Not two million, two hundred or two thousand. Two. My highest hit day was something like 27.

So, if you’re reading this, you are definitely one of the select few. I kind of like it that way.

I write because I don’t know how not to. You read this because… I don’t know. Why do you read what I write? Inquiring minds want to know!

73 – making it

Just ordered some minor quilting equipment from Amazon – a specific plate to make my sewing machine able to do something more than sew straight lines, and a free-motion foot.  Because I actually have time to think about all this stuff, I’ve realized that I’m reluctant to write–all I really want to do is make things.  I know it sounds silly, since you’re reading this blog, which means of course that I’m writing.  But, if you do read the blog, you’ve seen many of them goKels-MakingBread5-risenonce by here:  making bread, making crackers, making quilts, making afghans, making furniture. Creating things that I’ve been buying for years. I take great satisfaction in the fact that I’ve incorporated breadmaking into our daily lives.  It’s become easy for me.  Shocks me as much as anyone else.

Would I be doing this if I was working?  No, absolutely not.  One of the things I’ve found over the years is that I’m actually NOT a multi-tasker. If you read the research, you’ll find that humans (or at least, humans of my generation and prior) actually are not capable of doing more than one task at once and doing both of them well. I am really good at what I do when I work–but a large part of that is the focus I bring to bear, and that focus demands that I conserve my energy elsewhere.

Since I have the freedom to do so (and since I have to wait on the quilting stuff to be shipped in), I went out and gathered up yucca yesterday, getting more than one puncture for my pains. I want to make a basket or two–I learned how years ago, but never followed it up.  It was a very structured thing – bleached reeds, flat, oval, round, half-round, round.  All the same, all… sterile. While I was intrigued by the idea of it, there was just no time, no energy. And, bluntly, no budget at the time for the materials.  But I want to know if I’m good at it.  I want to know if that “flow” space that I get into when I’m creating other things is possible with making baskets.  I want to find out the same thing with free motion quilting–I want to know if I’m good at it.quilt-van

It’s so different to be able to follow the pigtrails of my thought process past the “I have to,” and on to “I want to.” I cannot even express how grateful I am for the chance I’ve been given to do so. Few of the things I’m doing are actually saving us money, I can promise you.  Most of what I’ve tried to make are things which are honestly cheaper, if in nothing but time, to buy. The amount it costs me to make bread, to make crackers, etc., these are pretty much a wash. When a one-pound loaf of bread is 99 cents, it’s hard to beat, pricewise, at least. But, in moving to convenience, to the manufacture of the food and other things that make up the warp and weft of our daily lives, we may have lost more than we know.  We’ve certainly lost a lot in terms of taste, as my husband pointed out the only time I’ve actually purchased bread in the last few months. 😀

halltreepictureThe exception, of course, is the furniture.  The massive hall tree we constructed probably would have cost in the thousands of dollars, seriously.  The biggest one we found was up in the $1200 range, and was less than half the size.  The entertainment center, bed frame, and closet organizer were probably a couple thousand in savings, as well. Plus, of course, the dining table cost us $30 and the chairs were free.

The other thing all this making has brought back to my life is music. I’ve never been able to listen to music and write. Anything with words affects the words that are coming through my fingers.  And yes, I’ve tried classical music.  Puts me to sleep.  When you look at what you’ve just typed, and it’s: lakkafaehf we’aq3=s lsl.kkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk, you know you went to sleep mid-sentence.  Unless you have a cat, and then it’s the cat’s fault.

All things considered, even with the savings through the furniture building, I’m not allowed to be smug.  I have found that there are things that I’m not good at as I wander through each of these “I want to learn how to” processes. Such as the fact that I’m not good at cooking.  Oh, I’m very good at baking.  Just the whole cooking dinner thing is mind-numbing and annoying. Fortunately, Corey’s quite good at it. So, whenever possible, I just leave it to him. I’ll do the prep work, potatoes and such, and leave the dinner itself to him. Makes us both happy…

Now to get the man off to work, and to start figuring out how to turn green spiky stuff into a basket…

63 – continu-ums, continu-rabbits

According to one of my favorite sites, the word polarization, “suggests the tendency to be located close to, or attracted towards, one of the two opposite poles of a continuum.” In our increasingly polarized world, the more important word in that definition is actually “continuum.” Wikipedia defines it as: “anything that goes through a gradual transition from one condition, to a different condition, without any abrupt changes” (emphasis added).

polarizationCome with me into the absurdity of the public thought process on one subject that comes to mind…

To give myself something to point to in this discussion, I assembled  the lovely diagram above. The point that I’m about to hit you over the head with is that in politics, religion, and now science, we are starting to lose sight of what is important in our urge to push each other through the gaping holes in the arguments at hand.

For instance, let’s tackle global warming, now often called “climate change” to soften the implications. The continuum (pronounced, just for this post, kon-tin-you-UM) of thought that contains the theory of global warming is able to slide gently to the left and right along the set of theories that underlie the concept. In other words, the end at the left blames humanity, the end at the right pins the change on the earth’s natural cycles, but neither end of the continuum debates whether or not it’s actually happening.  The continuum line is that global warming is happening…and the gradual transition from one thought to the other gives the ability to discuss it rationally (mostly) and the arguments end up being around what the next steps are. The steps that are proposed, of course, depend on which end you occupy.  But it’s a non-confrontational argument where the sentences begin with “um,” as in “Um, I happen to think the glaciers are melting because the earth is cycling into a warming period, probably to be followed by another ice age, and I don’t think there’s a dang thing we can do.  They’re glaciers. They’re ice. Ice melts. Get over it.”

On the second polarization, we have ends that debate whether global warming, as a concept, is true.The denizens at each of the continu-rabbit line bounce around like a bunny, trying not to fall into the holes in their own argument. And by the way, trying to end an argument with “because God said so,” doesn’t end an argument, it just begins a sermon. Stop that. You didn’t like it when your mother used “because I said so,” so stop channeling her argument tactics. Oddly enough, both tend to use the exact same argument, only the relied-upon source changes from “God” to “science.” Those who land at one end or the other of the continu-rabbit are polarized in the sense that they are shouting down the other participant, and have no intention of budging one inch.  Arguing with either side is much like trying to nail Jell-O® to the wall.

And then, as you knew I would, we get to the continu-roo, with giant conceptual leaps, and holes in the arguments that are big enough to drive a truck through them (mixing my metaphors again).  This is where you get bald proclamations like “The Earth is only 4,000 years old,” and at the other end of the continue-roo, a series of statements that make it plain the true believer is rooting for a mass die-off of human beings in order to let the animals get on with it. Whatever “it” is. As long as no animals were harmed in the process of getting rid of the humans. To them, we are a cancer, a sickness upon the earth. To the other side, we are simply waiting on the rapture. Both sides are true believers. Both, oddly enough, are hoping that humanity takes a long walk–one believes that will be the faithful walking into the arms of whatever Maker they identify with most strongly. The rest of us will be going straight to hell, do not pass go, do not collect absolution. The other side of the continu-roo believes that we’ll be so much worm food–but both believe we will be gone.

Do I personally have a solution to any of this polarization? No. Sorry. I’m not trying to stay out of the fray, I’ve just not found a single argument that has ever convinced me to be a fanatic. About anything. I think most of all, I’m trying to get the arguments to stop.  You’re not going to convince someone the earth is ancient, even when the evidence for it is… well, I was going to say “undeniable,” but everything’s deniable–you can’t dent that armor of faith, so stop trying. You’re making me tired.

We are becoming increasingly dismissive of each other’s opinions, another outcome of polarization, and that would probably be my biggest request. Stop listening only to the people you think are right. Stop shooting people you believe are wrong.  Accept that a differing opinion is not an abomination–it’s just an opinion.  Shut UP, for God’s sake. Or Mohammed’s, or Buddha’s, or Joseph Smith’s sake, pick a prophet, any prophet, or none at all, whatever floats your boat, trips your trigger, shines your egg.  OK, I made that last one up.

Just stahhhhppppp.

I am going to go make some bread for the week to come.  Bread makes sense. People often do not. And, bonus, you can punch bread dough, throttle it, even shout at it, get all your aggression resolved, and you end up with an awesome end product.

Word to the wise, unlike bread, if you do that with a person, the cops just get all kinds of tacky about it. And the end product is you paying a lot of dough to the justice system. Hee. Pun!

60 – silence of the yams

Did you know that sweet potatoes and yams are not the same thing?  Oddly enough, I did.  Never actually cooked a yam, but I love sweet potatoes, and seriously, there are things made from sweet potatoes that should be banned in every state. The worst offender is the candied sweet potatoes (often mistakenly called “candied yams,”) that so many people serve at Thanksgiving and/or Christmas.  Throwing mini-marshmallows on top of canned and chunked sweet potatoes that have added brown sugar compounds the sticky sweetness in every layer.  It’s also texturally challenging, the final straw  for me.  Not sure why, but it always felt like eating a boneless finger.  Ish.

Half sweet potato, half russet/white potato, mashed with butter, milk, parmesan, salt and pepper.  Oh yes, and some steak.
Half sweet potato, half russet/white potato, mashed with butter, milk, parmesan, salt and pepper. Oh yes, and some steak.

The absolute best way to cook a sweet potato is to wash it and put it on the top rack of a gas grill with the cover closed.  Leave it there about 30 to 45 minutes before you begin to grill your meat or other vegetables. Smaller ones will cook faster, bigger ones need more time.  When it’s done, you can wrap it in foil to keep it hot while everything else gets cooked.  To eat, cut a slit in the peel, or completely remove the peel and add butter and salt to the bright orange flesh, to taste.  That’s all.  Nothing else.

Please raise your right hand and solemnly swear to never candy a sweet potato again.  Ever.  Under pain of having to eat the buggerty things. Yuck.

If it’s too blustery or rainy to grill, you can  also add sweet potatoes to your white potatoes to make mashed.  Peel both kinds, and cut into cubes that are one or two inches on a side.  Add them to a pot of boiling water.  Turn down to a simmer, cook until a fork goes into a chunk of white potato very easily.  Drain the water off the potatoes, then add a little milk, a lot of parmesan cheese, butter, salt, pepper and anything else that you like in your mashed potatoes. Gives mashed potatoes an amazing richness, depth of flavor, and slight sweetness. Very yummy.

I honestly did not start this blog to be a recipe fest–this is just where my mind has been of late.

My layoff in October from my high-pressure, high-stakes job came with a severance pay that enabled us to be finally debt-free. Yesterday, we received the title to the truck, our last debt finally paid. It’s quite an accomplishment.  Both of us have lived with debt our entire adult lives. This job of his, coming with a house, all expenses paid, and a company truck, now gives me the time and the space to decide what’s next for me, with zero pressure to do so. I don’t even know how to act without debt AND without a job.

I’ve found that, for me, the highest purpose of my days has been the care and feeding of my entirely amazing husband.  After a 12- hour day yesterday, he is also working today, Saturday.  Watched him drive off an hour ago, hauling a bulldozer on a flatbed semi-trailer through these single-lane dirt roads, with precipices galore. He’s headed to a site about 30 miles south of the house (and still on the ranch we live on, which always boggles me).  Nothing worthwhile is ever easy–but he loves his job, not least because he has great respect for his boss. It’s something we both have found to be quite rare.

As for me, when I’m not baking bread, sewing, cleaning, cooking, or doing laundry, I’m writing, as you can tell by this blog.  I am also working out, and losing weight (six pounds in the last three weeks) and thinking a lot while I’m getting sweaty.

I’ll let you know how it turns out.

59 – solitude, Sundays, serenity and pizza

oil change
changing her oil

Enjoying my Sunday morning peace, with husband, daughter and grandson snoozing away… it will be the only quiet in my day, unless I get a chance to crash for a bit this afternoon.  We’ve got a busy day planned – Kels plans to change the oil in her car up at her dad’s shop, as he’s got an oil change bay where she can walk under it instead of crawling under the car. While she’s doing that, her dad and I will be working on furniture–got one more end table to create, and an entertainment center.  If we have any lumber left over, we’ll probably make a bookcase. Love working at these things with my family.  All that’s missing is John… and he is missed!

But before we go up to the shop, we’re going to make some bread. This time, we’re going to split the recipe in half… Find the halved recipe here.  One half recipe will be done like we did it last time, for sandwich rolls.  When we’re mixing up the second half, though, we’re going to add Italian spices with a liberal hand.  Then we’re going to roll them out for pizza crusts, and if there’s enough left over, for a loaf of Italian herb bread… which makes the best garlic bread EVER.

Tyler and Grandpa headed to the shop
Tyler and Grandpa headed to the shop

After your first rise, punch the dough down and split into three pieces.  For the first one, just spray a loaf pan with cooking spray, shape the dough so it fits in the pan, cover it with plastic, and put it in a warm place to rise.  When it’s doubled in size, put it into a 425 degree oven on the top rack, and bake for 45 to 55 minutes.

The remaining two pieces should be rolled out to fit your pizza pan(s).  I usually make one rectangular, the size of my smallest cookie sheet, and then one round for my pizza pan.  If you want thinner crust, don’t let it rise again, just roll it out very thin and place on your pizza pan (which you’ve sprayed with cooking spray) and put into a 425 degree oven, on the top rack. Keep an eye on it after five minutes, and pull it out when the top is dry, but not brown. The bottom of the crust should be light brown.

pizza crusts
pizza crusts

For a thicker crust, you should allow it to rise after shaping, up to about a half-inch thick. The timing for baking the thicker crust is about 10 minutes.  Again, just bake it on the top rack until it’s dry on the top and light brown on the bottom. After the crusts have cooled, wrap them well in plastic wrap–you can store them in the refrigerator for up to a week, or the freezer if it’s going to be longer.

When you want garlic bread with your Italian meal, whether it’s pizza, spaghetti, fettucine alfredo, lasagna, whatever, take that loaf of herb bread out of the freezer or refrigerator and split it in half horizontally.  Mix together 4 tablespoons of softened butter, a couple of teaspoons of garlic powder and a quarter cup of ground Parmesan cheese. Spread the mixture on both sides of the split loaf, and broil until the buttered side is the desired brown. Broiling times vary from one stove to another, just keep an eye on it! Broilers are chancy, and will burn your bread in a hot minute if you’re not careful.

DSCN4841
Tyler chillin’ while his mama and grandma get some bread made.

I do love these moments before the day begins for everyone else… I hear a dove outside talking to her mate, and can hear it because we slept with the windows open last night.  It’s so nice to feel that safe again.  I’m off to get the bread going for the sandwich rolls, and will save the pizza dough for Kels to make. Will add pictures when we’re done… 😀

58 – missing Mama, loving Kels, baking bread

When I headed for Texas at 48, separating from my husband of 27 years, I felt like a monstrous failure because I couldn’t make my marriage work. There were no kids involved, and I had lived with the knowledge that I couldn’t have children since 1985. Honestly, as I was leaving him, I acknowledged that I would seriously be willing to die alone if it meant that I didn’t have to live with my ex anymore. Ever. Seriously.

I began a new job a week after I got to my sister’s in West Texas.  I worked with Kelsey’s dad, and some months later, ended up falling in love with him–there was just something inevitable and irresistible about the whole thing.  When he asked if I’d be willing to tutor 17-year-old Kelsey, I said yes without a second thought. She had only the one algebra test to pass in order to graduate from high school. I sat down with her, and found that she knew the subject, but her teachers had damaged her confidence… she didn’t need tutoring, she just needed to be know that she was smart, and capable.

Six weeks later, I moved in with them… and Kels had no idea what to call me, so she would just say, “Hey,” when she needed to get my attention.The test was still looming large in Kelsey’s life, and she finally took it in December. That afternoon, she came flying into my office, over the moon, “Mom, I passed the test, I passed it!” With that one little throw-away word, I was done. I had a daughter, self-nominated, unanimously elected, forever my child.

I’ll tell her brother’s story in another post–you have to be fair with these things… 🙂 I learned as I lived with Kelsey that she needed family more than most–and she was so pleased to see her dad happily married to me.  But, she had already signed up to go in the Army before I ever met her, and by September, just three short months after we married, she was off to Basic Training.

She came home on leave a few times, but it was never, ever long enough… We flew to Texas for a short week with her and Tyler on his first birthday. He was just at the stage where he was pulling up on furniture, yet to take his first step. As I write this, however, the two-and-a-half-year-old Tyler is yowling like a scalded cat ’cause his mama is making him take a shower… the easiest way to get him clean, apparently. And these days, he’s not just walking, he lives most of his life at a dead run. Before the water torture began, Kels and I had talked over how long she can stay, and when she must show up at her next base in Missouri… and I so hate to let her go.

We are finally that family that she wanted and needed so badly, but she must leave soon to see her aunt, uncle and cousins near Corpus Christi. When she leaves there, Tyler won’t be with her; he’ll be staying with his dad for three months. I do not want to see either of their faces at that parting.

If you’ve read my prior posts, many have revolved around bread, and recipes, and this is no exception. The pictures below show Kelsey learning to make bread with my mother’s recipe… One joyful morning spent passing on the knowledge that I thought would die with me. Now it’s going to live on, transferred to her children when they’re ready. Because she’s the mom, that’s why. And so am I.

Kels adding more flour to the bread dough in progress...
Kels adding more flour to the bread dough in progress…

Kneading the bread dough
Kneading the bread dough

First rise is complete...
First rise is complete…

Shaping the sandwich rolls.
Shaping the sandwich rolls.

Rolling out the cinnamon rolls
Rolling out the cinnamon rolls

Rolls, cinnamon rolls and one loaf of bread from the same recipe.
Rolls, cinnamon rolls and one loaf of bread from the same recipe.

Tasting the first fruits of her labor while everything else bakes.
Tasting the first fruits of her labor while everything else bakes.

54 – highly divisible

I’ve been enjoying myself so much writing out the recipes in these blog pages that I decided to purchase a couple of domain names to give myself a place to post them.  I’m now the proud owner of reluctantcook.com and reluctantrecipes.com.  With these and my book review site, and of course, this site, I will be able to write to my heart’s content.

When I went to purchase the first of the domains, I ran across a site called reluctantgourmet.com, and that’s exactly the opposite of what I want to post.  It appears to be a place for the foodies to go to learn how to be a gourmand. My idea is a blog that has recipes for the non-pretentious.  It will be for those who don’t subscribe to the foodie outlook, but are tired of eating fast food.  People who want to eat and to make for their friends or significant other some regular people food… like tuna casserole, taco bake, enchiladas, fresh bread, home made pizza, spaghetti sauce.

The last post I put up was number 53, a prime number.  Have I mentioned that I’m kind of a numbers freak? Prime numbers always seem to set off a cascading set of changes, directions, movement.  Or maybe I’m just a geek.  Once I’ve put together a set of recipes, I’ll link the new site to this one. Such fun!