A Month in Review: August 2017

August was both stressful and a huge relief, because I finally did something huge that I’ve been needing to do for the sake of my health — both mental and insurance. Certain things about the company culture were seriously wearing me down, to the point where it was becoming harder to get out of bed on workdays. On top of that I’ve had some unexpected medical adventures and, given the current political crap, it’s really made me feel the urgency of finding of a job with health benefits.

So I put in my two week’s notice and my last day was on August 31st! At the same time my partner was starting a new job in a winery tasting room (I’m so proud!!!) and doing so well there while also being super supportive of my decisions. The fact that at least one of us is currently employed has, I think, helped us avoid a lot of the tensions that would have come from both of us being anxious and together literally all the time.

Freedom from my old job allows me to do a lot of new things. I’ve started volunteering at the local library. I’m going to get all my shit at home organized, throw out things I don’t need, and start cooking more. I’m going to be healthier, eat better, exercise more, lose weight. I’m going to play with the cats more often, because they’re such needy, demanding little buggers when they have a mind to be. It’s going to be a month of planning and prepping, and getting things done.

In the meantime, here’s what I am currently:

Writing

… In small quantities, but more than I have in a while. I feel like that’s going to pick up speed in the coming weeks. I keep having all these new ideas for the novel WIPs I’ve worked on in the past two Novembers, and I’m still pondering what I will do for this year’s NaNoWriMo. Start something new? Work on one or both of the things I’ve already got going?

Planning

… A trip to visit my brother in October. My partner and I are going to road trip the ten hours to his place in Nevada, in part because the nearest airport is an hour’s drive anyway. He’s already bought the three of us tickets for a haunted train ride, he’s so excited. It’s adorable.

Making

2017-09-02 20.41.35… Pies. I promised my mom an apple pie when I visited for her birthday party over Labor Day weekend, so I made the dough the night before driving down but forgot to take it with me. After I got there I made more dough and did an apple pie anyway, but I still have two discs of dough to experiment with now. Savory pie experiments, here I come! Because if I do open top pies, I can do two.

Fun fact about gluten free flours: Bob’s Red Mill baking mix produces a pie dough that, while still raw, tastes heavily of chickpea. Not a favorite flavor of mine, although it cooks out just fine. The pie pictured above looks like a hot mess partly because I baked it in a toaster oven (it was way too hot inside that house to fire up the big oven) and because I used pure brown rice flour, also Bob’s Red Mill.

I’d tried white rice flour before and thought brown rice would be different, but not really. It was better, but rice flours produce a pie dough with a very sand-like texture. The main difference between white and brown is that the former was impossible to roll out and I just had to press it into the pie dish, while the latter rolled out well enough but didn’t stay together in the transfer from rolling surface to dish. So. Let that be a warning to gluten free bakers out there!

(The pie tasted damn good though.)

Anticipating

… Getting to know my local library better. I’ve volunteered to help with shelving on Mondays, since that’s a day they need the most help right now. In the long term I hope to get a job at the library, making this a strategic move in addition to something I also find really fun. And I get to cross it off on my bucket list!

Reading

Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco. I’m really liking it and I really, really want to know what happens next. Great choice for my first new audiobook in a while.

Watching

… The new season of American Horror Story! Or I will be soon, anyway.

Feeling

… So very frickin happy. I feel happier than I’ve felt in months, and more in control of my life than I have in a long time.

Needing

… A job with vision coverage. I haven’t been to an optometrist in like four years. By this point I’m sure my prescription could use an update. I mean, health and dental are of primary importance and this is sort of secondary, but it would be really nice.

Loving

2017-09-03 11.33.58… The brave new me. Because not only did I leave my job but, despite my fear of needles and pain, I got a tattoo! My partner tells me I was very brave.

It’s a two inch turtle on my shoulder, a honu. That’s what I’ve always had in mind for “if I ever get a tattoo” because I’ve always loved turtles (from my first stuffed animal to swimming near them on family trips to Hawaii) and I love the simplicity of the design. When I was in college I fell in love with the webcomic XKCD and started drawing my own expressive stick figures, including little comic strips here and there, mostly for whatever fandom I happened to belong to at the time. My big project one year for a drawing class was a six foot wide, four foot tall mural design on paper in graphite and black light pen, consisting primarily of words and stick figures (lots of lines). I never did finish it because it was a lot of fiddly bits — writing the words in blacklight marker, filling in around them with pencil to reveal them as negative space, and that’s literally what ALL of the lines were made up of.

I guess if I ever get a second tattoo it’ll be something that I designed in the same style, although I think for a tattoo the words would be better in positive rather than negative space. Or I don’t know. Either way it would probably hurt more than this one did, soooooo we’ll see about that.

Hating

… The crazy heat wave we’ve been having. One day it was so hot that movement just wasn’t worth the effort. (It has since cooled off tremendously and even rained. Yay rain!)

Hoping

… For a job at the library. While I’ve always wanted to volunteer and never before had the time, I do have a bit of an ulterior motive. The compensation and benefits for full time library employees are good. I like books. I deeply enjoy shelving things and making everything neat and orderly. I want to use my volunteer time getting to know people and making connections that might really help me out with applying. (Of course, I will apply to other things too, but this is really what I have my fingers crossed for.)

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Recipe: Faux-Plum (Actually Apple) Crumble

Who else has heard about this rude richsplaining of why avocado toast is the reason millennials can’t afford down payments on houses?

While that is patently ridiculous, at the core of this terribly, terribly expressed thought is at least one grain of truth: food can be expensive. Not necessarily avocados… or toast… (Seriously, why?) But once any food gains enough momentum to be considered “trending” there’s this unspoken expectation that begins to come with it. If you rushed to get a Unicorn Frap before Starbucks took it off the menu, that’s the kind of thing I mean — and that’s just at the novelty end of the spectrum.

This post by Nimue Brown goes more into the economics of affording (or not) all the organic, non-GMO foods on the market these days, or even just the wares at your local farmers market. Essentially, not everyone can afford it. Not even just the food itself, but the gas to go the extra miles to the nearest Whole Foods. Nimue also raises points about the relative greenness of driving to buy organic produce vs. biking to buy non-organic.

Side note, I feel like there’s at least one country out there where it’s actually illegal for a car commercial to imply that just because a car is a hybrid, it’s “good” for the environment, because it’s not. It’s better, but it’s not good. American commercials tend to gloss over the part where it still produces pollutants, just arguably fewer. If anyone reading this lives in a place where there are laws on the books about this, please comment on driving vs biking to get groceries and if there’s any difference in attitudes towards that.

So there’s all that.

And here’s what I actually wanted to write a post about, before I got carried away: food can be expensive, so don’t let it go to waste. Actual statistics on food waste can be found here, but to be honest I only skimmed it before linking. I’m talking about letting your leftovers, or even unopened products or unused ingredients quietly going bad in a corner somewhere in your kitchen.

My reasons for caring are, admittedly, kind of small and petty. I spend money and time on food, I was looking forward to it, and suddenly I (a) don’t get to eat it, (b) have to worry about how much of the trash has to wait until next week to go out, and (c) if it’s fruit then there are going to be fruit flies. These small and petty reasons are my motivations for doing something about food waste in my own home, or even think about the larger problems of food waste by association, so don’t knock ’em.

Because I enjoy baking, I’ve recently started experimenting with using my leftovers and miscellaneous extras to test out recipes I’ve found online. (Following, among other things, this inspiring example.) Usually I have to do some scaling down or substitutions based on the ingredients I have on hand. The rule, I believe, is that if you change at least three of the ingredients and/or proportions then it’s no longer copying.


2017-05-17 14.19.46

Faux-Plum (Actually Apple) Crumble

I had two apples, a partly empty container of blueberries, and a gluten free partner who really likes stone fruit. Unintentionally, I made a crumble that worked with all of those conditions.

Serves: 2-4, depending on how you feel about portions Continue reading “Recipe: Faux-Plum (Actually Apple) Crumble”

Recipe: Nectarine & Blackberry Mini Pies

I love to bake, but it’s been a while since I truly experimented. On a whim I bought some blackberries at the store, and by the time I got home I’d decided I wanted to bake something. It didn’t happen that particular night, but there was a display of delicious looking nectarines at another grocery store a day or two later… And this was born.

2017-02-17-23-06-23Because there was always an apple tree in our back yard growing up, I started out by making apple pies. Then my parents planted sweet cherry trees in the front yard and I was faced with a new challenge. You need tart cherries for a pie, like the kind grown in states like Michigan, New York, and Utah where the air has a cold snap to it during the winter  — otherwise the pie will end up sickly sweet and weird. But tart cherries don’t grow so well in California, so we make due with cheats like adding pureed plum to the sweet cherry filling to give it that tartness.

Knowing that and adding orange juice for the tartness is what made this “cup-pie” experiment so successful, although I might do some tweaking in the future. If you try this recipe at home, let me know what you think! Continue reading “Recipe: Nectarine & Blackberry Mini Pies”

Sunday Gratitudes #45

What are you grateful for this week? I’m grateful for…

🌹- Valentine’s Day!

🌹- Remembering to get a card well in advance AND remembering I had it and where.

🌹- Getting a reservation at our favorite restaurant at the last minute.

🌹- Posting about it on Instagram and the restaurant commented and was super happy, heh.

🌹- How nice the cop that pulled us over was. He even made suggestions about the best way to approach the DMV about fixing the problem. (Which is basically that they never sent me new registration tags after I renewed.)

🌹- Sitting next to a table of guys talking about cider, and I was brave enough turn around and give them a card from the cidery I work for. (They were talking about cider and Amsterdam, we were seated with our people.)

🌹- Reaching a compromise with my boss about which half of Friday I could take off to go to the DMV. Even though she got the better end of the deal.

🌹- Finally getting all that DMV crap taken care of, including updating my address. It only took a couple hours and $20.

🌹- Experimental baking. I took lots of pictures and wrote down the recipe as I made it up, but I made the cutest little mini pies on Friday after the DMV. The crust is my go-to recipe, which is always the best, but the filling was an experiment with two nectarines, 6oz of blackberries, freshly squeezed orange juice, and whatever else I had in the kitchen. It turned out well, though it still needs some perfecting.

🌹- My new purse. I wasn’t planning on getting one so soon, but my partner saw it, ran it by me to see if I liked it, and bought it for me as a three-months-early birthday present. I love it. And it was only $45!

🌹- Meeting more of my partners family. An aunt and uncle were visiting, and we joined everyone in the city for dinner with a view of the ocean.

🌹- The opportunity to give each couple at the dinner a mini pie to take home. It made me feel like a good lil baker. ‍

🌹- Waking up covered in cats.

🌹- Tampons. Also, Tampax has changed the color design on the Supers from light green to vivid real and blue swirls. Very fetching.

🌹- Lazy sunday mornings spent reading and commenting on WordPress posts.

🌹- Rain. I mean, I hope we don’t get too flooded, but the sound is nice to wake up to.

Recipe: Orange Spice Cake (gf)

My parents have two orange trees in their backyard and had to start dripping up the branches with two by fours before Halloween to keep them from breaking under the weight of the fruit. Thus, we have a box of oranges. So this week is one big brainstorming session on how to use up oranges in stuff.

71k8umh3vsl-_sy679_Since I happened to find a Pamela’s gluten free Spice Cake Mix in the clearance bin at Raley’s, I decided this would be a prime opportunity for some experimental baking.

The recipe on the back of the bag calls for 1 cup of milk, 3 eggs, and 1/2 cup of butter. I substituted orange juice for milk (hand juiced, tra-la-la-la-la) and olive oil for butter, since I was vaguely sure the citric acid might do something unpleasant to the dairy. Then I added an “I guess this looks good” amount of cocoa powder, because who doesn’t like chocolate, and half a cup of chopped almonds for texture. Poured that in muffin tins and popped them in the oven at 350 for what ended up being about 35-40 minutes.

Instead of frosting I made an orange glaze with 3/4 cup of orange juice, one cup of sugar… and a splash of water to get the rest of the stuck-on sugar off the inside of the measuring cup. Let that simmer for a while until it seemed less runny, which I loosely defined as “kinda leaves a residue on the spatula.”

When the cakes were done, I popped them out of the pans and into a foil-lined baking dish and dumped all the glaze over them so some would soak in on the bottoms and give it some extra moisture. (I didn’t use muffin papers, and actually forgot to even grease the pans. Lol, whoops! But they popped out fine.)

End result, they are delicious little cakes of goodness. The spice of the spice cake mix comes through stronger than the chocolate and the orange, but it’s all in there, and the almonds give it a nice texture. And that glaze? Good. Good glaze. I’m not sure if it was the gluten free or the not using milk, but the cakes would have been very dry and dense without the glaze, which is both sweet and tart at the same time. Would make again.


 

Cake Ingredients:

2017-01-24-00-01-11
Not the best picture ever, but they’ve all been eaten now.
  • 1 bag of Pamela’s gluten free Spice Cake Mix
  • 1 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 3-4 tbsp cocoa powder

Orange Glaze Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • 1 cup sugar

Makes 10-12.

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  2. Combine all the cake ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly.
  3. Pour the batter into large muffin tins, each cup about 3/4 cups full.
  4. Bake according to cake mix instructions, or possibly longer until it’s done in the middle.
  5. When the cakes are done, set them out to let them cool.
  6. Combine all the glaze ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.
  7. When it starts to bubble to the top of the pan, reduce the heat to a simmer and let it go for about 15 more minutes or so, stirring occasionally.
  8. Line a baking dish or shallow pan with tin foil.
  9. Pop the cakes out of the tin into the foil-lined dish and pour the glaze over the tops of them.
  10. Let soak at least until the glaze on top has cooled to more sticky than runny, then eat at your leisure.

A to Z Challenge #7 — Gluten Free

My Grandpa is a tall, quiet man. He’s losing his hearing these days, but even before that I always knew him as a gentle giant and a good guy. Before he was diagnosed with celiac disease he was plagued by mysterious intestinal pain (which was a burden he bore quietly) and bad cholesterol. He became gaunt and pale. On medical advice he stopped singing with the tenors in the church choir, because long periods of standing left him dizzy.

Once he was finally diagnosed, Grandma had her work cut out for her. She’s alway been the matriarchal cook and hospitality expert of the family — I think it has something to do with being from Tennessee, and all that southern hospitality stuff. But this was back when I was in high school, in the mid 2000’s. At the time, there was one shelf in Whole Foods dedicated to certified gluten free foods, maybe two. There was only one GF flour blend that was easy to find (might have been Bob’s Red Mill, might not’ve been) so whenever Grandma wanted to bake she did a lot of her own blends, buying pure rice flower, chickpea flower, tapioca flour, potato starch, etc., and xanthan gum, which she once told me is like buying gold.

Continue reading “A to Z Challenge #7 — Gluten Free”