I can has cookie nao?

In spite of waking up so congested I could hardly breathe. I ended up taking a Mucinex because I’ve had such bad allergies for so long that my bronchial tubes are feeling tight and burny. It really did the trick. I even managed to do a few minutes on the treadmill yesterday afternoon while waiting for a load of wash to run.

I also finally unpacked all the stuff from the chemical supply place and threw together a five gallon tub of laundry detergent. It’s just plain castile soap, some borax, some washing soda and water. The effect of adding the soda and borax to castile soap is rather startling. It turns into a gelatinous, near-solid. With the addition of plenty of water I created a slurry which is perfect for use in our washing machine. I also added some tea tree oil and some oil of lavender for scent and for their anti-bacterial properties, so it’s a good-smelling slurry. I did two loads of wash with it, and my hydrogen peroxide and water bleach substitute, and they look and smell wonderful. Even the whites! The initial outlay of money is fairly high, but I have enough washing soda to last for years, I think, and enough borax for at least one year. The castile soap will have to be bought new each time. The hydrogen peroxide I mix @ half and half, and use no more than 2/3rds of a cup at a time, so two gallons of peroxide should last us quite a while, too. It’s more economical and it’s far greener than most things on the market. I find it sort of exciting to be doing stuff like that. On Monday we did some yard work, and I sprinkled kosher salt on the weeds and then sprinkled white vinegar on them. I forgot to check when I went out, but I’m hoping they’ve all pretty much bit the big one. I’m not big on weed killer, but pulling or trimming them is madness. If the two-part application doesn’t work, I’ll go to a strong mix of the two.

The kitchen still looks like a disaster area, but I can see a huge difference. It’s starting to be more usable. All the food is on the stove wall, and my basic dishes are now in the kitchen as well. Cooking and baking pans are in one cabinet and in the drawer in the stove, and prep stuff is on the other side of the stove. Baking ingredients are now in the island so that they’ll be convenient wherever I choose to work. They’re labeled with peel-and-stick chalkboard vinyl so that I know what I’ve got now. A major necessity for someone who not only just lost about two pounds of rye flour, but who also baked a whole batch of cookies with some unidentified flour, not of the all purpose variety.

My small appliances are on the bottom shelf of the cookbook nook, and all the coffee stuff — cups, beans, grinder, etc. — are on the sun porch so it’ll be convenient for our Sunday morning coffee hour. I also moved my liquor out there so that it serves as an all purpose sort of bar, except for the tea which remains in the kitchen because I have so damn much of it. I may relent and move it out to the porch, too, but not tonight. Tonight I’m going to feed the cat, get a cold drink and go to bed to read for a while.

Tomorrow I want to finish arranging and cleaning the kitchen, a massive job since the floor is filthy (I was down there last night, I saw it close up. I was, however, pleased to find that getting up and down has become easier for me, a sign that I’m not in as horrible shape as I was.) I plan to finish that, and mop the bathroom floor as well, get all the garbage out. I really ought to get to the library, too since I have two books on hold for me there: Myths, rites, symbols : a Mircea Eliade Reader, and The Perfect Summer : England 1911, Just Before the Storm. We’ll see what happens. I have so much to do tomorrow, I may just wait until next week. I have until Thursday before they send the books back and by next week, the third one — Uncommon Aarrangements : Seven Portraits of Married Life in London Literary Circles, 1910-1939 — should be in. Besides, I have books from Dawn (Holy Cow) and Karen (The Hobbit, a book I have never been able to get into.) to finish and two books from Amazon’s Vine program to read and review, The Whiskey Rebels and What Happened to Anna K., and two more on their way to me: Belle Weather: Mostly Sunny with a Chance of Scattered Hissy Fits and The Brimstone Network I also have a piece of software — CorelDraw Graphics Suite X4 — to review, but that’s a lot harder than it seems. It takes a good deal of time to evaluate a complex program like this one

I’m hoping the Chicago Public Library site, which has improved greatly in the last year, will offer a wishlist function. Right now I’m keeping my library list over on Amazon’s wishlists. It’s cumbersome.

I took a Zyrtek about an hour ago, figuring it’d put me right to sleep and I’d rest easier all night being non-congested and drugged to the teeth, but no joy there. One of the few decongestants that doesn’t make me sleepy.

I deserve a cookie. Only I’ll have to make them. Oh well, over the weekend I hope to make a batch of breakfast cookies, a bread pudding, several loaves of herb bread, and home-made chocolate syrup because I’m tired of paying a fortune for Hershey’s high fructose corn syrup laden stuff. I also want to work on the mosaic, and maybe get a start on the little nightstand that’s sitting here looking forlorn. It needs sanding, and then a nice coat of paint before I do the mosaic top. This one is for me. The bar I wrote about longingly in a previous post I’ll be selling. I can’t afford not to.

More pics anon.

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Home is where…

I’ve been contemplating the notion of “home” since I moved this spring. I said, quite truthfully, that I felt at home as soon as I came here, but I understand now that it was not an all-encompassing feeling. I felt at peace here from the beginning, understanding that it was a place where I could rest, and rest easy.

Later I said to Dawn: “I won’t feel truly at home here until all the dirt is my dirt.” She understood what I meant. You never feel a place is yours until you’ve cleaned it top to bottom, until you run your hand across a dusty surface and can think “I forgot that” instead of “Oh god,what is this?” I can feel at home in the homes of friends because I know them. I know their dirt is part of them and therefore something I am familiar with in some way. I am more comfortable drinking a glass of water from their taps than I was drinking from mine when I moved here. Not to imply that the people who lived here were dirty, they were most certainly not. But all homes have dust, grime, forgotten spots, things that just don’t get cleaned enough. And, not knowing them, I am not comfortable thinking about what may have been left behind.

I won’t feel at home here until I know the change of seasons. On Keystone, I knew every fall of light, every sound and smell of the seasons. I could look out the back window and almost tell you what month it was just by the angle of the shadows and color of the sunshine. But here I am not seeing the signs as clearly. I am confused by the rush of new sensations. I judge time by calendars and clocks these days, not by a scent on the wind, or the color of the shadow of leaves.

But the other day I was taking out my garbage, and when I looked up at the garage I saw it, I saw autumn creeping across the brickwork in a mellower golden light. The sun is no longer white with heat here and that means the seasons are shifting. I see it and I’m satisfied that I begin to understand this new place. It’s becoming home.

I won’t feel entirely at home here until I feel as if I can go outside in the middle of the night, and not feel threatened. I don’t mean taking a walk or even leaving my property, but taking the garbage out at midnight, choosing to sit outside in my garden at three in the morning, or standing out on the front porch, listening to the night. It’s true that I’d done these things at the Keystone building, and also true that I didn’t often do them because it wasn’t entirely safe. But that’s the thing I truly mean. I will feel at home when I know when and how it’s safe to do those things.

I didn’t realize, before I moved, that there were so many nuances to living in a new place, but if I had to be honest, I’d say that I’m glad there are. It keeps me learning, keeps me questioning. Mostly it keeps me mindful of how lucky I am.

Accomplishments, hard lessons, and a Ranty McRanterson

Yesterday Dawn was off work, so we decided to get some stuff done around here. The most pressing job was my garbage so I hauled it out, and while I was out there I noticed that Carlos had put two big dressers in the alley. They’d had a weekend yard sale, and I guess these were part of the stuff they didn’t want to bother trying to sell. I gave a shout to Dawn to come see and we decided that one of them was certainly useable. Then I took good look at the other and realized that we could use the drawers if nothing else. So we started pulling it apart and discovered a bunch of old tools in the drawers and a big, honkin’ vise attached to the top. Obviously these two pieces had been used in a work space. So I suggested to Dawn that we could do the same with the second one and salvage all the parts for the first. We pulled them over in front of the garage and then went to paint the front door. The painting went very well, though by the time we finished we were both pretty darn sore. However, we grabbed the garage key and went out to pull the dressers into the garage.

And all that was left were the two dresser shells. Everything else was gone. Drawers, tools, even the vise… all gone. See I forgot the cardinal rule of dumpster diving: If it’s in the alley by the garbage, it’s fair game. We should have pulled them into the garage right away. So, we put one dresser back because it was virtually useless with the vise gone, and the other is in there awaiting some sort of transformation. It’s narrow enough that I may end up fixing it for myself as a liquor cabinet. I can put the bottles on either side and use the center for glasses of all sorts. The space where the drawers should go could be covered with frosted plexiglass, and I can put lights behind that to illuminate outward and downward. It may work out for the best after all, but honestly, it still chaps my hide to think about what we lost because I didn’t think.

Yesterday my book about Windows Vista arrived and none too early, IMO. If you use Vista and love it, please avert your eyes because what I have to say about it is not going to make you happy.

**********************************************
Vista is the worst operating system ever foisted upon the public. I say that as a survivor of Windows ME and that hideous mutant, Windows for Workgroups. It is not fast; it is, in fact, as slow as the seven-year itch. But the worst thing is that while it’s set up to ask you for permissions for everything you do, it will still take it upon itself to “help” you by moving things around, write-protecting things you never wanted write-protected, hiding things, and god only knows what else because I’ve only had it for eight months and I’m certain it’s got a lot more ugly surprises in store for me. It is the ultimate OS for idiots who should never be using a computer to begin with because it pats you on the head and says “There, there, darling, I’ll take care of all this for you.” It is a nanny OS, and I hate it.

It’s also a mean nanny OS because you cannot, literally cannot, remove it from your system unless you sell your soul to the devil. If I find that I cannot live with Vista, I will have to buy a whole new hard drive, and hunt down drivers for all my hardware so they’ll work under XP.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I’ve used Windows pretty uncomplainingly for many years now. I have been a Microsoft apologist in the past. No more. Microsoft screwed the pooch with this OS. It gave us something so badly developed, so badly considered, that it feels as if they’ve done it because they want, finally, to show their contempt for all of us. If they had an ounce of decency in them, they’d release something that would allow us to downgrade to XP instead of making us suffer through fix after fix that does nothing but fubar our systems even more.

If I can’t bring this OS to its knees, my next laptop will be a Mac.
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Okay you can look again.

I promised photos, so there they are.

The red door! The first coat didn’t get finished because it got too damn hot and humid. The paint wasn’t drying properly.

Red Door

My fern with the hanger I found at Home Depot

Boston Fern

A not very good photo of the mosaic so far

Mosaic, sun porch

The current work space

DSCF1448

A much better (and larger) photo of the finished piece.

Mosaic: Start

My fish from Target. Isn’t he cute?

Mosaic: Fish

Slice of life: The corner of the sun porch. Fern, ripening tomatoes, and my painted chair. And the sun, of course.

Sun Porch Corner

There’s something immensely satisfying about looking at your hands and seeing them marked by the work you’re doing. My fingertips are coated with Wellbond and Thinset tonight. There is a 3-inch gap between the left side of the sill and the middle where I have laid out some tiles but not glued them down. I’ll do them tomorrow. Once I do, the mosaic will be about 2/3rds finished, at least with the tiling part. Then comes the grouting. I’m so happy I found those Talavera tiles to set into the piece; they really anchor it. Once the mosaid is finished, I think I’ll get some paint and start painting the window a beautiful gloss white. While I doubt I’ll often pull curtains over the windows, I may put up filmy white ones just to give it a more finished look.

The place of honor on the sill will go to the Meyer lemon tree when it comes indoors for the winter, but right now I have a beautiful little scheffeleria looking quite happy in the center window. I’ve missed having plants. I want to get more.

Yesterday I fished a vase out of our garbage can. I don’t know who put it in there, and it’s just a cheap pink one, but broken up it’ll make nice mosaic pieces. My next project is a nightstand. Before I moved I’d planned to do a mosaic on the top, and bought a lot of tiles hand cut from vintage china. There aren’t nearly enough but it’s a start. And since I have to get up to the library this week, I think I’ll stop in the resale shop on the way and see if I can’t find more. I need to scope out the second hand businesses in the area.

Kitchen is better but not finished. All the canned goods are moved and the dishes and glasses are mostly put away. It’s sorting out where the cooking and baking pans should go that’s stumping me because I have the r
oom, but much of it is very hard to access. I think I may have hit upon a solution, though, but I’m not going to bother tonight. Tomorrow is soon enough. And the laundry is screaming for attention, too. Oh, and cookies. I’ve promised Dawn cookies for days now. I think I’d better actually make them this week.

If you are what you eat, I must have been put together by a committee.

Here is the “Omnivore’s Hundred” as compiled by Very Good Taste. I guess they’re just things he thinks you should experience if you consider yourself a good omnivore. Anyway, he says:

Here’s what I want you to do:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at http://www.verygoodtaste.co.uk linking to your results.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred: (Note: On the VGT site, about half of these have links to pages explaining what they are. I’m not going to take the time to copy those links. If you don’t know what something is, Google it or check his site.)

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare

5. Crocodile — I’ve had ‘gator. I wonder how close they are.
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue

8. Carp — I’d spend too much time thinking of pet goldfish.
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari

12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart

16. Epoisses — I understand that this cheese reeks. I’ve tried to try pultost which is the mild younger brother to gammelost, and couldn’t even get it within three inches of my face. I’m guessing I’ll never try Epoisses.
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries

23. Foie gras — I’m ashamed to admit to eating fois gras, but I was young. Now that I know how it’s made I’d never have touched the stuff.
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
— Do I look crazy?
27. Dulce de leche — Can’t abide it.
28. Oysters — ZOMG, I adore them.
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float

36. Cognac with a fat cigar — I’ve had the cognac part many times. I’m not so sanguine about cigars, though I was known to smoke them occasionally in my youth, along with a little clay pipe decorated with roses. I may try this before I die, who knows?
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O — I’m past the age where Jell-o shots hold any allure, thanks.
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail

41. Curried goat — I love goats, I think they’re sweet. I could never eat one.
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more — Ahhh, the MacAllan! I just priced it the other day and was stunned by the steep rise in price. My friend, Denise, once gave me a bottle of 18 y.o. MacAllan, just out of the goodness of her heart. That was a regal gift.
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin

51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
— One of my favorite foods.
57. Dirty gin martini — Martinis and I do not get along. I discovered the joys of gin late in life, and tend to stick to G&T.
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores

62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin — “What this child needs is a bait o clay!” Guy Davenport in his essay on Geophagy.
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain

70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
— I can’t say I care for it, and I get where the louche comes from. That’s the sort of face I made when I drank it. I’d prefer louche Pernod.
74. Gjetost, or brunost — Adore Gjetost. Must find some.
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail

79. Lapsang souchong — Of all the things I’ve ever tasted and loathed, this is right up near the top of the list. I can’t even imagine why anyone would drink anything so foul, but I guess it takes all kinds.
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky

84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers

89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate — I have a bag of the chocolate powder sitting in my cabinet but haven’t yet used it. How odd.
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab

93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish — It was awfully greasy and I didn’t care for it, but I’d try it again.
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta — I grew up on polenta, but we called it “mush.”
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee — I don’t see what the fuss is about. Sumatra is much tastier IMO.
100. Snake

Yet another compilation of a week’s mishaps and adventures

August 13th — There’s nothing so attractive as folding clean laundry in a place so humid that sweat starts to drip down onto the sheets and towels as you work.

I do laundry about once a week, and there’s usually a lot of towels, especially with the way the weather had been. So today I started a load and did some yardwork (It was lovely out, not hot at all, though a bit humid.) came back in and because there was about half an hour left on both machines I decided to stay down there and break down boxes for Patsy. I did about a dozen and then went back to the machines which is when I realized that the biggest problem is that there appears to be virtually no air circulation in the back of the basement. This is not a huge problem for us except when we need to work near the machines, or if we want company to stay the night. The work area in front does actually cool down pretty well. Now if we could just get the boxes emptied and stuff put away.

But it has to be fixed. The back area is so hot with no air coming out of the vents, all the mechanicals, and four large appliances that even on a nice day it’s possible to break a sweat just sitting down and folding. I need to talk to Charles. In fact I need to start a list of things that need doing. But none of it can be done until mid-March when my money frees up again.

Speaking of which, I cleaned out all my cooking and baking stuff this week. I’m going to be selling it all, and while Patsy’s daughter and daughter-in-law get first crack because they’re family, I thought I’d make it available to my flist before I put it on Craig’s List or wherever. The cookware is almost all Calphalon, bakeware is kind of mixed. I think I also have some small appliances,though theyr’e still packed. I hope to poke around in the boxes a bit and see if I can’t find it all.

If you’re local (Chicago) and interested, just leave a comment to that effect. No comments means that whatever is left after Ann-Marie and Jackie go through the stuff will go either straight to Craig’s list or into a bin for a garage sale. I don’t want to mail this stuff out, which is why I’m limiting it to local sale.

I’ll be posting photos of other stuff I’m selling from time to time. I’m tired of having so much crap to deal with, so a lot of it is going. Worse comes to worse, I put it in my plastic bins and store it in the garage for a spring garage sale.

Moving. The great leveler.

August 15 — I went out with Charles this morning, and couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. It was this perfect summer day and I actually got out to enjoy it. Unheard of! ANd in fact, because I was asleep on the couch when he arrived, and made the mistake of telling him I wasn’t feeling 100%, he kept on saying that he could come back another time. He wanted to take me to the doctor, I could tell. But I refused to tell him her name or location. So we went to the bank and I stopped at Walgreens and got some Claritin, which really has helped a lot. Then, on the way back we stopped at a roadside stand and bought fruit and veggies. I bought five huge peaches because they actually smelled like peaches. Not as sweet as I would have hoped but juicy and so fresh-tasting that it didn’t matter. Also, four tiny orange plums, two small pears, two huge tomatoes and two huge potatoes. I love the James Beard baked potato — scrub well and bake @ 400 degrees for 1.5 to 2 hours — and these looked like they’d bake up nicely. They said they’d be there every day through November, so I plan to get to them again.

So tonight I made corned beef with roasted potatoes and carrots. Alas, Taylor can’t come, being a worn down by a combo of family stuff and physical icks. I felt bad because I won’t see her again for two more weeks. But we’ll get together in September. Dawn and I want to go up to Devon to shop at some of the Indian stores, have Indian food for lunch, and then hit Marrakech Treasures in Andersonville afterwards. Sounds like a heavenly day, doesn’t it? Don’t you envy us? *g*

So now I’m waiting for Dawn who is on her way home from work. The CB is good (not great, but good) and the veggies are wonderful. A handful of parsley, and some mustard will make everything come together.

Still no idea where the tomatoes came from. Charles swears he didn’t pick ours and put them on the table. The one was good, but I cut the other one before it was ripe. And I rescued a big ol’ stripey centipede from my kitchen sink. It was a very full day.

August 17th — I’m oddly wired tonight. Dawn and Jim left about an hour ago after I finished baking a loaf of bread for Jim to take home with him. I also taught him the 6-3-3-13 recipe for no-knead bread so he went home a happy camper.

I didn’t do much of anything this morning, but this afternoon we motored on out to Nadeau more to check out what was in stock than actually buy anything. I found half a dozen chairs I loved, and several tables, all of which would make up a fantastic dining room set. I’m thinking I’d like one bench, but we’ll see if that’s feasible. The staff was amazingly helpful and kind and the prices were really good.

After that we drove down to Hyde Park to have supper at Dixie Kitchen and Bait Shop. It’s a favorite of Jim and Dawn, but I’d never been there before. And we took surface streets all the way down so we ended up seeing a LOT of the city, including Old Town. Dawn and I had just been talking about OT a couple of days ago. She’d told me that there was no point in being nostalgic about it because it’s utterly changed. Which it is, I admit. And yet, I also found that I still liked it somehow. It didn’t occur to me until just a bit ago that it’s because the energy is still there. Not in every place, but in general, and in some areas quite strongly no matter how different it’s become. I found it oddly comforting.

Down in Bronzeville we were heartened to see how much the area has come back in the last twenty years. People are starting to renovate those magnificent old homes the way they’re doing in Logal Square. Hyde Park is, we agreed, like Chicago’s Cambridge. It’s a university town and it shows. Everywhere you go there are perfectly gorgeous buildings attached to the university. Of course it has its share of hideous contemporary boxes (Mies van der Rohe, you have a LOT to answer for!) but for the most part it’s a graceful and gracious area. Dixie Kitchen is in Harper Court. It’s not very big, but the food is amazingly good. We started with fried green tomatoes that made me want to weep with happiness, and then I had the sampler plate — gumbo, jumbalaya, red beans and rice, and a corn muffin — and a side of greens. I brought at least half of it home with me. And the peach cobbler and bread pudding were both irresistible. So we didn’t resist. I also had an Abita Purple Haze, and I’m of the opinon that Abita is some of the best beer ever.

We took LSD back up into the city. For you non-locals, that’s Lake Shore Drive. You might recall an old song by Aliotta, Haynes and Jeremiah by that name. Yes, it’s famous. And for good reason. It frames much of our lake shore, so that as you approach the city from the north or south, the view is breathtaking, lake on one side, skyline on the other. I adore Chicago even on bad days and this was a great day, blue of sky, brisk of breeze, and filled with people using the city the way it should be used.

We went all the way back up to Old Town and past it to go to the big Sam’s down on Marcy St. We were looking for good prices on Ménage à Trois wines, and some Bell’s beers, now that they’re being shipped back to Chicago (long, rancorous story, apparently.) I also looked, as I always do, for Champagne Charles Ellner, which is the best champagne I’ve ever had. And, mirabile dictu, I found it! They had two sorts of champagne and a sparkling rosé. No Seduction, but I didn’t think to push my luck. I picked up two bottles, which I must say were very well priced. I also found a bottle of Lillet, which I’ve a
lways longed to try and Orgeat syrup which I haven’t used in at least 30 years. I found a gift for Molerat which I think she’ll appreciate, a couple of bottles of Italian red, one German white, and some Bell’s Oberon beer as well as a six pack of Purple Haze. Also a bottle of Dead Guys Ale, which I’ll be keeping on my desk as I write. And I just noticed that I have Dawn’s wine down here. I need to give that to her tomorrow.

We got back and hung out here for a while. Jim and I got to talking about bread and I told him how spectacularly simple this no-knead stuff is. He was curious so I pulled out my dough pail and broke off a big hunk, shaped it and then suggested we go out for ice cream. Once we got back, I baked it, and he clutched it to his chest as he left. It’s fun doing stuff like that for friends. Dawn and I decided that I’m going to be Bernard from Black Books for Halloween. I need a long black coat, a cigarette to dangle from my lips and cheap wine in a smudged glass. The hair and the attitude are already right.

I really had the best time today. I’m so lucky.

August 17th — This morning I made two loaves of bread which used up the old batch, so I used the lazy woman’s sourdough trick and just mixed a new batch in the unwashed bucket. Then Dawn came down and I cut up a couple of the peaches I bought on Friday, one of the fresh loaves, and we made coffee. It was a nice breakfast in spite of the bread having a bit of an underdone center. The one issue I do have with the large batches is that it’s hard to mix it all. You get pockets of imperfectly blended ingredients which don’t bake up well. We chatted about ideas for our business and the garden, and planned what we needed to do today. And then I walked out into the kitchen and saw this:

Eek, bread dough escaping!
Eek, bread dough escaping!

It was like something out of a 1950s science fiction film. Only instead of “The Blob” it’d be called “The Bread.”

Eek, it's alive!
Eek, it’s alive!

When it started heading towards Caddy, making a “nomnomnom” noise, I decided it was time to bake this sucker, so I threw a loaf into the oven. It came out a bit ago and looks quite good. I also took two stale loaves and made seasoned croutons which are drying out in the oven as it cools down. I’ve got to juice my citrus today and cut up my veggies for snacks. I also have to pit those cherries and use them or lose them. Ditto the plums.

We’re thinking of taking shares in a CSA or something similar. Timber Creek Farms looks most promising with a huge variety of organic fruit and veggies plus organic dairy, including milk in glass bottles that’s not Oberweis.

It’s hard to believe it’ll be September soon, but the early apples are starting to come in at the farmers markets, and that means fall is on its way. I haven’t done half of what I meant to do in terms of setting up a greener, more sustainable household, but I guess there’s no point in expecting to be able to do it all at once.

Later: That Urgent QR, or whatever it’s called, the stuff that’s supposed to stop bleeding immediately? It works. I just sliced a piece of my thumb off. Just skin, and off one side — please to not be thinking amputation — but it was bleeding like a mutha, to the point where I had to wipe the blood off the bathroom wall because I shook my hand while trying to get the package open.

The culprit: My new Wusthof chef’s knife and a carrot. It pays to have super sharp knives as I barely felt it.

Even later, doing the math: 1 big damn flesh wound + 1.5 C freshly squeezed lemon juice = 1 change of bandage and five minutes of colorful cussing.

Because it’s my thumb I’ve put one bandaid over the top and then wrapped one around that. My thumb looks like someone’s bubbie, wearing a brown babushka. I think I’ll draw some eyes on the thumbnail.

August 18th — Yes, I have been a total slug. I’ve done nothing more strenuous than note that my thumb was still attached. It hasn’t even really been hurting at all which is kind of weird considering how big the cut was. Well okay it sort of hurts if I press on it, but since I prefer it to not hurt, I don’t press.

Nothing much to report either. It’s 81 here and I’m not happy. Dawn likes warm weather so she thinks this is all just fine, but for me it’s way too hot. This winter the roles will be reversed.

Charles sent his yard guy over to talk to me and we’re going to be transplanting stuff in mid-October. Barbara, I asked him about wrapping up the trees for you and he said no problem. He also said that in spite of having nearly no soil at all along our fence, he thinks grapes would probably do well there, so we’ll be putting in a bunch of vines. Dawn and I have been discussing what to do with the area where the wisteria is now, and I think we’ll be doing peas, tomatoes and other veggies that grow well on the vertical along that wall, with rows of root veggies between them. Apple tree, bush cherries, kitchen garden with lettuces and herbs, maybe a peach or apricot tree, or a plum, and scads of bright flowers. Ahhhhh, and a fountain or waterfall. It’ll be pretty, I think.

Can anyone possibly explain why Caddy will try to drink my La Croix but if I put it in his water bowl, I’d never hear the end of how I was trying to poison him?

Later: A recipe for Fruit Sludge Cake, or Bruise Cake (because it looks like a great big bruise on the plate.

  1. Gather the fruit you’ve been planning to use for at least a week now. In this case, plums of varying degrees of ripeness from just right, to OMG what’s that? Is it dangerous?
  2. Do whatever it is you have to do to prepare fruit for use in cake. For plums, wash, pit and slice. Discard any that have innards which look distressingly like what you might find at the bottom of your current garbage bag.
  3. Sprinkle with some sort of sugar to bring out the juices, assuming they’re not all soaked into whatever you’re wearing. Let stand for about fifteen minutes or until you finish watching The Closer.
  4. Prepare boxed cake mix because by now it’s kind of late for a scratch cake and anyway you’re curious about how the lemon cake will taste with the plums.
  5. Arrange plums in the bottom of a tart pan.
  6. Realize that there’s no way to fit any cake batter in on top of them, so dump them back into bowl.
  7. Search through baking pans and settle on a highly inappropriate but somewhat larger pan. In this case, springform. Spray with oil.
  8. Throw plums into pan. Pour batter over it. When batter reaches top of pan wonder if this isn’t a monumental mistake.
  9. Shrug. Place in oven that turns out to be 50 degrees too cool. Bake for requiste amount of time.
  10. Test. Discover that cake is still completely liquid.
  11. Bake for 20 more minutes. Test. Discover that cake is still completely liquid in spite of the fact that the top is now dark brown.
  12. Note temperature issue. Crank up the heat. Bake for 20 more minutes until the smell begins to be rather frightening.
  13. Test. When you realize that center is still liquid, curse with feeling, then remove cake from oven anyway and put on cooling rack.
  14. Allow to cool thoroughly, or at least until your need to know the worst gets the better of you.
  15. Turn cake over onto a large plate and release spring.
  16. When pan and cake cling together like something out of Italian opera, reach for knife to run around edges of pan.
  17. Lift pan. Watch as cake innards slide out leaving flaps of ove
    r-baked top stuck to the pan.
  18. Stare at cake. Reflect that it may not be pretty but it smells good. Note that center is in fact still liquid, but most of rest of cake is solid. Feel accomplished.
  19. Set cake on table. Fetch spoon and carton of milk. Taste test. Discover it’s quite good when you close your eyes.
  20. Eat too much. Stir plums and juice into liquid batter and drizzle over properly baked cake bits. Eat a bit more.
  21. Put cake in fridge. Decide that it would do for a group of people who don’t mind eating out of the same dish. Reflect that individual milk cartons would be edgy accompaniment.
  22. Wonder how plum juice and sugar syrup will ever come off of pan.

Today, August 19th — Thumb still attached? Check. House riddled with workmen? Check. Paint and primer bought? Check

Okay I’m on top of things.

Abe got here bright and early to finally fix the front door trim. Then he pulled out all the nails that weren’t accomplishing anything, and is now sanding the door so I can paint it a gorgeous bright blue called “Chicago Blues.” It’s a Benny Moore Aura paint so, y’know, low VOC. Also got the paint for the back door. “Smouldering Red.” Hot-cha! And I picked up two sample cans of stain to test them on the cabinets in the kitchen. I’ve decided to darken the stain, which will give me the look I want w/o having to swap out all the cabinets. That and a change of hardware should put me right where I need to be. Then I’m replacing the sink and faucet, and doing something, anything! to the counterop because it couldn’t get much worse. Everything stains it. I wanted to tile over the laminate, but Charles thinks I can get a good granite top for about $1000 through one of his contacts, so I’m going to see what can be done before I make any decisions.

Finally we stopped at Mosaico on Pulaski and the gal who worked there was fantastic! She knew exactly what I meant when I said I was looking for tiles for a pique aisette mosaic, and she rustled up about twenty discontinued tiles for me which I got for free. Then she showed me the Talaveras which were $1.99 per tile and I picked up six to use on the window sill on the sun porch. That gives me a really good focal point to build around. I’m thinking seriously of tiling the front porch, and I saw some wonderful porcelain tile in bright yellow and blue that would be perfect. I’ll have to do some measuring and then decide how I want to approach it. It pretty much has to be something other than ceramic because it can get pretty cold here and the freeze-thaw cycle will break clay tiles. The other option is to paint a design on the porch, which might also be fun to do.

She gave me a couple of brochures, too. Artisan tiles and Oceanside glass tiles. And I came home to a White Flower Farm catalog. The house, she will become a diva.

And as for today…

I can’t sleep. I’ve been up watching the umpty-gazillionth broadcast of “Showgirls” on E!, and if there’s a more awesomely awful film in existence I have yet to encounter it. It’s one of those movies where you simply can’t look away. And the censorship of language and nudity by the network just boosts the delicious cheese factor exponentially.

But all good things come to an end, so I came out to the kitchen and heated up a little leftover mac and cheese, and sat down to play on the internets for a while. As it turned out the Amazon.com one-day sale had kicked in already so I got my shopping done before sunrise. Now that’s a kick. How much do I love the internets?

It’s cooled off here quite a bit, so it’s not unpleasant to work around the house now. I’m hoping that tomorrow will be as nice so I can work in the office and get stuff sorted and put away. One day this week I want to get to Home Despot, and pick up a bunch of things I’m needing to start work on the following:

  • Shrine in front hall. I mentioned this months ago, but we haven’t done much about it. It’s the old mailbox. Mike took the old box out and now we have this big, square hole in the wall of the hallway, framed by a very nice piece of wood. We’re going to mosaic the interior of the hole, and then copper leaf the framing wood. Because of the shape of the frame it’s going to have a kind of iconic look to it. But I need fiberglass tape, and drywall mud, and then some thinset, I think, because it’ll set the tiles better than Well-Bond. And I have to find the copper leaf, or buy some more. I pretty much know where the size is.
  • Bathroom Vanity — To be painted white as are the walls. All in preparation for more tiling including a two-layer effect in the bath. Also must find stencils for low relief work on door.
  • Office Desk — Wood is old and funky. Must be black.

Dawn and I were watching House Hunters International tonight and we saw a door we both thought was gorgeous. It was stained two different colors, a dark stain on the raised parts and a reddish one on the low areas. Then it was heavily varnished. We’re thinking about trying that on the basement door. If it looks awful we have about 25 extra doors in the garage; surely one of them will fit. We’ve also discussed the painting in the halls. I’m going to pay someone to do the back for us because there is no way in hell we’re getting up on a ladder to do the high spots. And also to do the upper areas of the front hall. But on the bottom we’re fine, and we want to preserve the delicious raspberry puree color there now. I’d like to spiff it up a bit, though and do stripes, but they’d be in the same color, only a different sheen. It’s a subtle, beautiful effect. And we really aren’t going to do a thing until we decide on a color for the top. Nothing has quite grabbed us yet. The two-tone stripes are going to be a feature of either my bedroom or the dining room, too. Who knows, maybe both.

Caveat: Looooong post

Being a compendium of my Live Journal posts on life at the Villa for the last few weeks.

July 17th — I’m hanging out in the sunroom, playing on the computer and doing a bit of cooking-type stuff. I zested six lemons, then froze the zest in little ice cubes for future use. I’ll probably do some orange zest later. Then I juiced the lemons and made a lemonade syrup which is now in the fridge. I made a glass of lemonade right away since I couldn’t wait, and it’s pretty good. There’s a bit of zest in it which intensifies the lemon flavor. I’m thinking of juicing the other ten lemons and freezing part of the juice for later. For sure I’m going to juice my oranges because I totally forgot to order any orange juice this week. I may do the grapefruits too, though I won’t save any of that zest.

Today’s shuffle has been very much World’s-Best-Jukebox material. Currently listening to the Kronos Quartet and some Tuvan throat-singers from the Lachrymae Antiqua album. I’ve also heard some Gabrielle Roth, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Beethoven and Alan Stivell.

July 18th — I was just about to take out my garbage and water the garden when it started to rain. So I thought, “Good, that’s one less thing I need to do today and I’ll do the garbage later.” Then I sat down and started to play on the laptop only to discover that apparently Vista’s service pack 1 now prevents me from changing my user pic. Well that sucks, thinks I, and then I notice that not only is it no longer raining, the sun is back out.

Rather than sit here and be annoyed, I schlep out the garbage and start watering. Let me tell you, that sun is HOT. And then, I notice that my Meyer lemon tree which is supposed to set flowers in winter is now getting ready to bloom. Okay. The sunflowers, which a couple of days ago were just squirrel-chewed knobs, are now in bloom as are the day lilies and the foxtail lilies. Tomatoes getting bigger, basil everywhere as are the weeds, the most invasive of which of which I’ve finally identified as common pigweed.

Then I decided to go water in front and wrestle the new composter to the back. And lo, what did I find out front? We not only have no sidewalk from the main walk to the curb, we are now missing the segment directly in front of the stairs, which means that there would be no large box wrestling today, at least not in that direction. Every day it’s something new. Just one thing, and never enough to actually finish the job. Just one more inconvenience.

Finally I filled the bird feeders. The McTwittersons all flocked to them as if they hadn’t eaten in days, which I know isn’t true because we have the fattest birds on the block hanging around here.

July 23rd — It’s been coolish for the last couple of days. Not that I’ve accomplished much, though I have had a couple of energy bursts. Mostly the last couple of days I’ve managed to clean up the kitchen and dirty it again with my fledgeling attempts at no-knead bread. The first one is a basic recipe very much like the raisin pecan one given to me by Barbara. It’s currently sitting in the oven getting all bubbly. I’ll bake it tomorrow. The second batch is the basic recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day This last one is a big batch, four loaves worth. It stores well in the fridge from what I gather, getting a sourdough-like quality as it ages. We shall see. The two batches used up the bulk of my flour so I need to order some more. But if this works, I can make bread just about every damn day and not really work very hard at it. If that isn’t cool, I don’t know what is.

I’ve also been transcribing recipes from stacks of torn-out magazine pages. I keep a digital recipe book which I shall add to my Kindle as soon as I invest in one. Since they take SD cards, and I just bought three 2Gb ones on Woot for almost no money, I can store a ton of recipes on one tiny card and plug it in only when I want to cook. Someone suggested sealing the Kindle in a plastic bag in the kitchen and I think that’s a great idea.

Friday night was Girls’ Night as usual, but I didn’t feel like cooking since it was so hot, so we ordered out again. Alas, nothing tasted good to me, a side effect of too much heat and humidity, and I ended up throwing a lot of food away. I’ve also gotten turned off to meat to the point where even thinking about cooking it makes me want to urp. I’ve discovered an organic produce delivery service I want to try out, too. It’s substantially cheaper than the last one I was using, and I can get dairy and other groceries, including milk in glass bottles. I think I’ll sign up next week and see how it works out.

On Saturday we (Dawn, Taylor, Christ, Karen and I) went to Can’t Stop the Serenity over at the Portage. I’ve been to two of the three events and have enjoyed them both, so I really recommend them to locals. Yeah, the whole thing is pretty loosely run, and there are a couple of things I think they need to address (I’ll be making some suggestions.) but hey, it’s a great excuse to sit and watch Serenity with a bunch of fans. We also had dinner at Meisa Cafe, and it’s definitely a keeper. Nice people, good food, very reasonable prices, and close to the theater. The only problem is that the six corners area is pretty much a pit right now. Businesses are just hanging on and derelicts are starting to camp out around the empty stores. It’s all sort of sad when I think of what that area was like when I was a kid. I do think, though, that if the economy improves the area will boom. It’s a great location. Of course then there’s the inevitable push-pull between gentrification and maintaining the old neighborhoods. I hope it doesn’t end up like Lincoln Square, which, though I love shopping there, is not a place I really want to live. I realized that when we were property shopping.

Adventures in Bread-Making — My bread makin’ mojo? Not at the top of its form. The first batch looked great when I pulled the paper off the bowl. Just exactly the way it was supposed to look. And then I turned it out onto my floured work surface and discovered that I had bread dough soup spreading across the counter. I added as much flour as I dared, and managed to scoop it back into a clean, oiled bowl where it’s getting bubbly again, and looking surprisingly sinister.

The second batch more than doubled in size, and looked drier, so I decided to make one loaf of each in spite of not having any cornmeal to dust the bread stone with. I’ll find an alternative. I don’t think I pulled off enough dough though since the loaf is kind of teensy, and was difficult to work with. Not so bad as the bread dough soup, but not simple. It’s risen a bit so far, and since I have about half an hour more to go before I throw everything in the oven, that’s a good sign. I think.

Later: Batch 2 has a superbly crispy crust and a soft, almost creamy crumb. I’m watching butter melt into it even as I type. It does, however, point up the single biggest problem with baking bread: Trying not to eat it all within minutes of removing it from the oven.

Batch 1 tastes great in spite of its awkward beginning. Crust is very hard and not particularly flaky. Interior crumb is very creamy. Flavor slightly better than batch 2. Both well worth eating. Go me.

After baking the bread, I stemmed and pitted between 4 and 6 pounds of cherries, freezing half and dividing up the other half for eating and baking. I’m having my own Firefly marathon this week, so it wasn’t really much of a chore. Then I made a slap-up cherry galette which is now cooling on the stovetop. I say slap-up because I lacked anything to thicken the juices and so was baking with all fingers crossed. So far so good, but I don’t know how the crust will do once it’s been standing for a while.

I just fin
ished cleaning out the fridge and freezer. It’s been needing some attention for a while, especially the drawers. The ice tray had a build-up where water had apparently dripped out of the glasses that were being filled. And I threw away a lot of stuff. If I looked at it and thought, “Oh God, I’m going to puke.” it went out. Now I have a refrigerator and freezer filled with fruit, veggies, cheese and a bit of fish. I feel healthier already.

What I really want to do is take a nap, but I have to finish the laundry first, and the kitchen looks like God came along and shook it. That’s never the best look for a kitchen.

July 25th — I think I have fleabites. Dawn and I did a couple of hours of yard work this evening and now I have three itchy red bumps on my left leg. I just hope that if it’s fleas I didn’t bring them inside. I know, I know, but I can hope.

We did a lot of trimming of the verge, dead heading and weed pulling, and then we watered and refilled the bird feeders. While we were sitting on the bench, musing about life, a mourning dove came and sat on the feeder post, not more than five feet from us. I said “Wow, aren’t you brave?” and it was like he suddenly thought “OMG, what am I DOING?” and took off. After that, three or four others flew towards the post with the clear intention of landing, and then peeled off at the last minute. One big fat pigeon watched us from the electric line and a whole flock of McTwittersons were gathered on the roof of the garage next door, hopping around and looking anxious. It was like “The Birds” but funny. Dawn and I laughed ourselves sick over the show, but finally came in because it was getting late after all, and they were on the clock. It was a nice way to end a day which had been, up to that point, pretty rotten. Since Tuesday I’ve had several computer problems and at least three pieces of mail that reduced me to tears, mostly of frustration and anger, but one which made me downright despair. Fortunately there’s an upside to being moody, the moods don’t last long.

I’ve been cleaning out my bookshelves. I’m going to give stacks of books to the senior center at Portage Park for their September sale. Alas, I have to wait until next spring before I can get myself that Kindle I covet so madly. I’m trying hard to adjust to the downsizing (By about half) of my apartment. It’s true there’s a lot of stuff in the basement now, but most of the rooms are smaller than what I’m used to. The biggest issue has been kitchen and bathroom storage, and of course downsizing on the book front won’t make a huge difference there unless I replace some of my cookbooks with Kindle editions, which I don’t particularly want to do.

I can’t get Charles to send someone to fix the damn roof, which means that we may be getting mold growing inside that back wall. Not good.

Later: I have a house full of workers, a fridge full of fruit and vegetables, and a rope just snaked past my back window. Yes indeedy, all is right with the world. Dawn’s boys are in the office. They wouldn’t get off the cat tree so I moved it in there with them on it. Then they got off one at a time and ran out of the room. Goofballs.

July 26th — Moving things around and around until you get it right, that is. It’s all part of moving into a new place, at least one you plan to stay in for a while. Yesterday I moved all the stuff off the kitchen island, and today I used it as workspace for shaping my bread loaf instead of getting flour and cornmeal all over my counters. And it was good. So now my coffee maker is in the sun room and the water heater is back on the counter where it was. Much more efficient use of space, methinks. And yeah, all part of the process.

And suddenly there’s this intense garlic scent wafting into the house on the breeze. WTF? It actually smells like someone just burned some garlic.

So last night the girls were over and we had salad and baked potatoes which were awesome. Dawn made baked peaches with chocolate and walnuts for dessert and they were awesome, too. A really nice combo of sweet, tart and slightly bitter from the walnuts. We watched Buffy and Angel, and the last ep of Firefly because Taylor got here a bit early. It was a Joss sort of evening. Relatively simple cleanup, too, which is of the good.

And then I slept like the dead. I don’t remember even getting up to use the bathroom in the night. I went to bed about one and didn’t wake up until I heard someone bashing around outside. Turns out it was Charles and Abe come to finish the work upstairs. Charles brought me a big bag of plums because I’ve asked him not to bring whole cakes anymore. The problem is that I eat them. When I make baked goods, I tend to give all or part of them away and so never get quite the concentrated effect. Besides, he always brings the best chocolate-whipped cream cakes ever, and those are just deadly. When I took Abe upstairs Dawn gave me one of the peaches she’d bought at a downtown farmer’s market so I’m having a plum and a peach for breakfast. I am totally going to that Farmer’s Market this week to get more peaches. And the plums are excellent, too. Charles told me he got them at Sam’s club. Now I don’t shop at the outposts of the Evil Empire, but as I have nothing to say about where other people buy their food, I have no problem with the plums. But now I have so many plums I really do need to make a cake. I have to look for a good recipe.

Charles also picked our first tomato, which is still sort of orangey, so it’s on one of the shelves in the sunroom — currently all but overtaken by ripening produce; mangos, heirloom and campari tomatoes, avocados and bananas — getting nice and ripe. It’s really heavy for its size so I expect it to be an excellent tomato. Once it’s fully ripe, Dawn and I will share it as a tribute to our gardening skills. *g*

My next door neighbor is outside doing some yard work. He’s a nice man if a bit taciturn. The ones on the other side are big talkers, great laughers. I have the Beatles to keep me company, and I’m about to put the bread in the oven and mix a new batch or two. And then I’ve set myself to cleaning out the bathroom. I have too much stuff. I need to carve it all down to manageable levels.

The next block is having their block party today and I must say they really do it up. About noon, the fire department showed up and let the kids run under the spray from their hoses for about an hour. There was some crazy, over-the-top dance music playing and I half expected a big mirror ball and a rain of colored balloons. The music has barely let up since then — pretty much only during a drawing for raffle/door prizes — but it has gone from techno to what I fondly think of as “Pepe’s Bierstube” music. When I worked at the bead store the people upstairs loved that stuff, but all you could hear through the ceiling was a beat and the accordion, which made it sound vaguely Bavarian.

Anyway, it’s still going strong with a wild mambo, though there does appear to be a neighborhood rule about music ending about ten. The partying may go on longer, but I’ve never known it to go on past midnight. And other than the screaming kids this afternoon, it’s been pretty darn quiet. People from other blocks have migrated down there with their beer coolers but nobody has gotten sloppy or nasty drunk that I’ve seen. Someone has strung a lot of colored lights at the far end of the street and there are a few people dancing, a bunch of kids playing basketball, and toddlers pedaling their little cars furiously up and down the street, safely blocked by the cars parked across the intersection. And lo, there are disco lights where the DJ has set up. People are sprawled on lawns and porches, seemingly having lost the rest of their energy. Our block party was nothing by comparison. If I had the money, I’d hire a DJ and serve grilled hot dogs at a future block party. Not because I wan
t people to like me because lord knows I haven’t gone out of my way to get to know more than my immediate neighbors, but because it seems like a nice thing to do. Who knows? Maybe next year or the year after.

I’ve sorted a bunch of books and searched for public domain replacements online. I hope to fill up a bunch of boxes, but am rethinking my notion of giving them all to the senior center. We’re supposed to be having a garage/yard sale on this block next month, and I would dearly love to get a bit of money out of what I’ve got sitting here. But that means I really have to put on some speed and get things sorted and stored well before then. I don’t think it’s going to be possible. I think the sale is too soon.

I’ve also been reading more in the current book-for-review, “The Black Tower” by Bayard. It’s good, though so far not what I’d call great. Interesting, not riveting. And well written. Kind of fun. I want to finish this weekend so I can get that review out of the way.

The loaf of bread was somewhat underdone at one end, but it tasted good enough. I’ll get better at this. I made myself some black bean soup for supper (out of a can; I’m not that ambitious) and it tasted wonderful. It’s been a very long time since I had any. I ate and watched “Reaper” which Dawn got me hooked on, and marked up a couple of catalogs with notes about what I could use here to make life a bit simpler. Mostly cleaning or organizational stuff. Also watched “Midnight” a wonderful screwball comedy with Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche, John Barrymore and Mary Astor.

Hee, the DJ just started playing “YMCA.” I have the wild desire to dash out and go dancing. LOL. The very end of the party turned into a medley of every song I ever heard at a gay bar from YMCA to Dancing Queen to I Will Survive, and all points in between.

July 29th — Two days ago I mixed up another batch of no-knead bread based on the Bittman recipe, which is baked in a Dutch oven. All went well until Dawn and I got invited to our next door neighbor’s birthday barbeque, and our evening plans had to be pushed back by a couple of hours. (Totally worth it since Grace makes the best rice with pigeon peas ever and they’re super nice people.) We did finish the yardwork, but by the time we got indoors, it was late and we were both tired. We collapsed in front of the TV with bottles of fizzy water and the last Design Star challenge (Yes, I hate reality TV, but honestly this thing is like crack. I start watching because I just loathe one or two of the challengers from their commercials, and want to see them eliminated, and then I get hooked.) So rather than leave the dough out for another night, I threw it in the fridge. I figured it doesn’t do any harm to the Hertzberg/François bread dough.

Well…I went from a nicely raised mass of herb/garlic dough to a wet herb/garlic pancake. So I took it out of the fridge and warmed it up. It remained deliberately flat. I turned it out onto a floured work surface and shaped it, but it stubbornly refused to hold the shape. I kneaded more flour into it because it was still really wet, and it vindictively spread out and stuck to the unfloured areas. “Evil bread!” I shouted. “You will pay for the misery you have brought upon this house.” And I flung it into my Dutch oven now heated to 450 degrees. “aaAAHAHAHAHAHAHA!” I said, feeling a bit like the witch from Hansel and Gretel. “Bake or perish; I care not.” Then, turning my back upon the carnage, I strode resolutely into the living room to watch “The Closer.”

45 minutes later I had a nice, high herb/garlic loaf with a crust that could be used as building material. I don’t much mind a hard crust myself, but it was hellish to cut. However, the crumb was really nice, proving once again that in spite of any mistakes you might make, and whatever abuse you wish to heap upon it, this no-knead bread recipe is a pretty darn good one. I hesitate to say it’s fool-proof because as we all know, fools are particularly inventive. But it’s darn close, IMO.

And the Bread Gods seem to have smiled on me today because I got my Amazon Associates payment today in the form of an Amazon gift certificate, so I treated myself to a banneton (those beehive-shaped baskets used for raising bread) a pastry scraper, a good bread knife, a pastry brush (how can I not have a pastry brush???) and a baguette pan. Between the gift cert and the 4 -for3 promotion on household stuff over there, I made out like a bandit! I essentially got everything but the banneton for free, and then only paid about half price for that.

But hell, it was deserved. Not only do I intend to devote (part of) my life to the Church of Bread, last night at the very stroke of midnight we had a big damn power outage. One minute I was getting ready to turn off the TV and go take a bath (I’d just watched my DVR’d “Barefoot Contessa” and “House Hunters International”) and the next, I was plunged into darkness so deep I could not find my glasses. Well, okay it turned out that I’d left them in the bathroom, but the point was that it was really, really dark. I did find my cell phone and using its light I got to the front door and went outside. I met Jesse, another of my neighbors, who seems to always be prowling around at night, and he said “Power out in your place?” which was exactly what I wanted to hear. There were people all over our block and the next wandering around. It was sort of zombieish, truth be told. People walking slowly in the dark, me trying to see the cell phone without my glasses so I could report the outage. Apart from Jesse, who I recognized because I know him, I could probably not identify anyone else I spoke to last night, more because of the weirdness of the situation than absolute darkness since the streetlights were still on. It was only the south side of the block that was out.

I made the call and was told that they expected to restore power in two hours. Then I went back in, figuring I could sleep on the sofa, and when the power came back on, and all the lights woke me up, I’d phone Dawn and get her to reset her clock so she wouldn’t be late for work. Then I lay there, listening resentfully to the sounds of someone else’s a/c unit. Fortunately it was resolved in about 45 minutes, so I alerted Dawn, got my bath and went to bed. This is what passes for adventure in my life.

July 30th — I just finished rearranging the desk area in my office. The original arrangement had been bugging me for some time now, but I’m the sort of person who has to think about stuff for a while before she can wade in and start shifting the furniture. My desk now faces the bookcases, and I can see most of the room from where I sit instead of seeing mostly one rather dull wall. I’ve also fixed it so I can put the laptop on the desk to use in tandem with the desktop if I want. One of these days I’ll figure out how to network the two, but right now it’s enough that I’ve got the wireless internet access working.

The desktop is currently all tied up with an installation. Before I moved I got a review copy of CorelDraw Graphics Suite X4, and have been meaning to install it ever since I got here. Once I finish, and work with it for a while, I can do the review and then be all caught up on my Amazon Vine requests. I did request another book today, and will probably ask for more soon. It’s kind of fun, especially since it’s not all books or media. I got a tea infuser the other day. I guess there are perks to being the sort of person who obsessively offers her opinions.

Speaking of which, my opinion of the latest loaf of bread is that it’s gorgeous. It has a chewy crust and a creamy crumb. I can’t wait to try different flours, and I just got a bag of light rye, one of multi-grain and one of hazelnut flour which is actually more for pastries, but you never know; I could throw half a cup of it into the mix just to see how it turns out. I also got some tart cherries for snacking, as well
as two kinds of edamame snacks. And in the “Gee thanks, FedEx” dept., apparently they delivered my package to the right number on the wrong street today. *headdesk*

I made melon balls this afternoon, and have four mangoes that need to be peeled, cut and frozen because they’re starting to look funky. Also a huge mixed berry compote to throw together and freeze, cherries to pit for a clafouti (how long has it been?) and more rice to soak. Maybe some quinoa, too. Supper looks like it’s going to be grilled veggie tartines. Mmmmm.

Oh, and some new tee shirts that I got on sale. Now I can get rid of some of the old ones. Wheee!

Still much too hot out there. Too hot even to go out and chase the ice cream guy.

August 1st — Those of you who were surprised, even stunned that I was making bread in this weather can relax. Today I’m making ice cream. This new ice cream maker is damn noisy, though. On the menu for today: Lemon ice cream. Mostly because it’s the easiest recipe I know. Sweetened condensed milk mixed with lemon juice until you’re happy with the flavor. Then freeze. Nobody tell Dawn, though. I want it to be a surprise. *g*

I’m nearly finished rearranging my kitchen cabinets. I just have the spices left for later. Also on the list for today: Get rid of the garbage, clean kitchen and bathroom. Melt.

Listening to my Old Dead Guys soundtrack on my iPod; makes me want to write more about them. I love those boys. Come to think of it, I’d rather be writing about them than schlepping garbage or mopping floors. Hmmmm…

We ordered out from a new Chinese place last night and it was a winner. Lots of bang for the buck, and good food. Amazing egg foo yung, to which I am a late convert, so a bad batch could toss me right back into the I-HATE-egg-foo-yung camp. The gravy with this was just delish. Since Taylor won’t be coming in tonight — It’s her birthday and she wants to spend it with her husband. Hmph, the nerve! — I’m thinking leftovers and a movie will have to serve for girls’ night this week. It’s too freakin’ hot for much else. And of course, lemon ice cream.

August 2nd — I mopped myself out onto the sun porch. Yes, it was deliberate. I’m tired now, having vacuumed several rooms, wet mopped two, and cleaned the whole bathroom. I also got down under the bathroom sink to see if I could possibly swap out the faucet myself. I think I could, but from what I saw under there, it’d probably take most of the day and I’d end up looking like a pretzel. I also noted that a lot of the… what are they called? In jewelry-making it’s “findings.” Fittings? You know, the stuff that holds stuff to other stuff? Gizmos. Freebistats. Connector Fribble. Anyway, a lot of it is very old and much is rusty, as are some of the pipes. I’m thinking that I’d much rather just get the whole thing taken care of at once. New sink, storage, faucet, etc. For some reason — we say that a lot around here because so many of the things about this place seem to have been put together by a committee of fractious gnomes — for some reason, though, the sink and vanity, like the toilet, have been moved off the most logical spots. The sink has been moved about eight inches to the right, which seems kind of pointless to me because there was more than enough room for it in the right place. And the toilet is about six inches away from the wall. I realize that there had to be some adjustment for the baseboard heating, but that only comes out an inch, and is nowhere near the base of the toilet.

I said to Dawn the other day that I’m not really minding that I have far less space in there than in my old bathroom, but I do sort of mind that it’s so weirdly put together. The floor tile is badly spaced and everything in here is on some sort of strange angle, like Hill House. Only it’s not an evil, crazy house, it’s just sort of amiable and goofy. Honestly, I think I could’ve done a better job of laying the floor tile. And the grout has dropped completely out of the spaces between several of the wall tiles. The shower shucks back and forth into and out of the wall. *headdesk*

However, I have accomplished a lot thanks to cooler, drier weather. I baked the other two loaves of bread this morning, and mixed up a new batch. Then I let it rise and made a third loaf. Like the first two, it’s got regular, unbleached white and European artisan flour. But it also has a good, healthy dose of 10 grain flour. It’s good, though I like the last batch a bit better. But it’s exactly the sort of bread that would be fantastic with jam.

Dawn is out at Ikea with Jim, getting some furniture, and good on her, sez I. She needs more. Jim also brought a stack of old frames, and a wonderful old mahogany (he thinks) secretary which has seen far better days. We’re guessing it’s over 100 years, but lots of it has been broken, and the whole thing has been painted a nightmarish shade of green. He figured we could practice on it, but I think that if we put it back together again, and decorate it as beautifully as I think we can, we may well be able to realize enough of a profit on it to pay for a goodly chunk of what the front windows will cost us.

I had an unexpected guest today. I was out in the back hall, getting the mop and bucket when a big, orange fluffball raced past me into the apartment. It was Dawn’s Tommy who had somehow managed to get the back door of Dawn’s apartment open and had gone exploring. Thank goodness he didn’t choose to hang a left once he came inside because if Caddy had seen him, things might’ve gotten interesting. He was very insistent upon exploring but I propelled him back out through the door, and yelled “YOU GET UPSTAIRS NOW!” at which point he seemed to think it was time to take me seriously. By the time I got up there, he was lying on the floor, cleaning his feet, and Buckaroo was standing in the doorway looking like “Why U yellin at mah brudder?” Tommy’s response was “I know nothing about this.”

August 4th — The rain has been coming down on and off since at least 7 this morning. I know this because when I stumbled out of my bedroom I hit the wind tunnel that is the hallway between the front and back parts of the house. It was fierce! It was also almost nighttime black outside. I ran around and closed or lowered my windows, then fetched the keys and ran upstairs to do the same for Dawn’s windows. It really had been my intention to stay in the apartment until the weather got too oppresive and then run for the basement where, even if the a/c isn’t doing the job it should do, it’d be better working down there then up here. Only marginally, but still. Well it’s 2 pm and I’m quite happy to be sitting here on the sun porch, watching the rain, eating pancakes, and doing research for my fantasy universe. I was, in fact, up until three this morning doing much the same thing, minus rain and pancakes.

Yesterday was also surprisingly pleasant in spite of the forecasts — was spent in our usual Sunday way. Dawn and I have brunch together between ten and eleven, talk about what needs doing, and then about noon or so we actually get up and start doing it. Yesterday it was putting together a Hemnes chest that Dawn and Jim bought at Ikea on Saturday. The chest itself took us about three hours to put together during which time we cursed cam bolts unto the seventh generation of bolts. Then we schlepped the drawer stuff over to her couch and watched this week’s Reaper, and the “Blink” episode of Dr. Who as we worked. I have to admit that by the time we finished with Blink, I was wanting to see more Who.

Then we went outside to do a bit of work in the front, and buy ice cream from one of the guys who cruises the neighborhood every evening. Unfortunately my back is acting up like mad, and it’s hard for me to stand or walk for very long so I fear that I let Dawn do most of the work and buy me the ice cream. I do pitiful pretty well.
Saturday was pretty quiet since Dawn and Jim were out shopping, but they showed up in late afternoon with beer and wine as well as furniture and the spray bottles and storage jars I’d asked them to find for me. Karen and Gene showed up about eight and we went to McNamara’s for supper because Gene was jonesing for shepherd’s pie. I really wasn’t very hungry and knowing that ice cream was inevitable, I stuck to a dinner salad and one of their stuffed baked potatoes. Then we went to Borders where I made out like a bandit with a coupon for 30% off any item plus the money I’d earned for past purchases. I snagged “Barefoot in Paris” which is a compilation of Ina Garten’s French recipes which I just adore. Also scored a handful of great magazines including a copy of Dirty Linen which I haven’t seen in years. It was up at the checkout area, obviously dropped by someone who thought better of how much s/he was spending, and I chose to take it as an omen. DL was one of the seminal resources for what I wrote about in White Rabbit. Yup, it was an omen. I came home and sat right down at the computer, and started making notes.

And yes, ice cream was gotten. We pulled right up to the Chocolate Shoppe and discovered Dawn and Jim sitting there, finishing their ice cream. This place has started to loom large with my crowd, apparently. I took Barbara there last time we were together, and suspect we’ll do the same whenever we have visitors (with cars.) But there’s a good reason for that, and it’s not all the Zanzibar chocolate.

Later: Huge storm! Sitting here watching it, I’m reminded of the scene in Lawrence of Arabia, post-Derra, when Ali and Lawrence are seeing the sky light up from all the artillery fire, and Ali says “God help the men who lay beneath that.” That’s just what it looks like here. The sky lights up every few seconds, bright as day. Brighter, even. And the patches of near white are framed by banks of black clouds. The wind is picking up now, and a fork of lightning arced down just to the southwest.

Aaaaand the storm sirens went off just as I was typing, so Dawn and I packed our boys up and took them all down to the basement. They were not amused, but to their considerable credit, they did not fuss at each other at all. I think they were more concerned with why they were in the Carriers of Calamity that routinely take them to Dr. Doom’s House of Horrors. We spent about fifteen or twenty minutes down there. Things have calmed down considerably though it’s raining like a son-of-a-bitch and there’s still a lot of electrical activity going on, but it’s not a Big Damn Storm the way it was when we headed on down. Now it’s just an occasionally quite loud storm worth watching.

August 7th — I’m sitting here with sheets of unbaked cookies waiting their turn to be baked into great big, scrumptious breakfast cookies. Some of you may recall the last time I made these, though I barely do. The first batch has spread out into cookies about four inches across, which isn’t exactly what I’d had in mind, but hell, there are still going to be 28 of them, so it’s not like I’m putting half a batch in each cookie. This batch includes: Tart cherries, semi- and bittersweet chocolate chips, walnuts, almonds, coconut and lemon zest along with all the other good flavorings and stuff. I forgot that I had rolled oats in the freezer so I just used steel cut. I’m sure it’ll be fine, although rather crunchy. And this could also explain why they spread so far instead of puffing up more.

I hesitate to say it’s been a DAY because I have accomplished a lot. I put a shelf and a pair of hooks up in the bath area so I can keep my shampoo, conditioner and scrubbies close at hand. And the cookies, of course. And I did a bit of cleaning. But I’ve got the bronchial crud again, and nothing, NOTHING worked right for a while. In fact, I was reduced to tears by my corded drill because the chuck was stuck so hard I couldn’t get the bit out. And of course the cordless was out of juice, and anyway wouldn’t have had enough torque to drill tile. That, and the fact that every time I try to sleep I end up coughing and choking. You can imagine my fury at life.

But I got the new Ikea catalog, and a copy of Mother Earth News. And I’ve been reading a wonderful book called “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.” I recommend it unreservedly to anyone who loves to read.

First batch of cookies are out. They’re sort of flaccid, but they taste good, which is the important thing. The thing I like best about them is that they’re not particularly sweet. Just nice, flavorful cookies filled with things that are actually sort of good for you.

I just want to straighten up the kitchen and run a load of dishes before I go take my bath. That’ll give me a head start on tomorrow. After I finished the up-putting of shelf and hooks in bath, I put my coat hooks up in the front hallway, but I did it with industrial strength Velcro because I was out of screws and screw anchors. It worked just fine so I put the stuff on the back of my Cocteau plates and will probably get them up on the wall tonight, too. Dawn came by and had a cookie, and we agreed to meet outside after Olbermann and do a bit of yard work. I’d mixed up a bottle of my green weed killer, and used the whole thing on the masses of pigweed growing all over. She cut down the sunflowers that had been decimated by the squirrels, and watered. I filled the bird/squirrel feeders and took out a whole lot of garbage and let her cut back the wisteria because ewww, that’s a nasty job.

We have a lot of tomatos approaching ripeness, so we agreed to use them on Saturday when, whether Jim comes by or not, we will barbeque burgers for ourselves. I’m also thinking of making a bowl of Mildred’s mac & cheese to go with it, and a lovely salad. And we have beer! Lots and lots of beer. There will be much enjoyment. And if Jim would rather do yard work than hang with us, well… his loss is all I can say.

Did I mention the beer?

Why is there always so much to do?

August 9th — I’ve spent the last three hours working on the bathroom. My day so far:

Remove old, ugly, polished brass doorknob. Replace it with new, pretty, rubbed bronze one.
Strip screw installing it. Cannot now fix problems with plate.
Install strike.
Discover that door will shut but not catch, so that it can be pushed open from outside. Thank goodness it sticks.
Install door pulls on vanity cabinet.
Install first new knob on vanity drawers. Discover bolt provided not long enough.
Rescue old bolt from garbage. Threade new knob onto old bolt.
Hide thoroughly chapped by turn of events.
Install second drawer pull. Have sudden horrible realization.
Try to close bathroom door. Door hits new knobs and will not close.
Uninstall new knobs.
Think.
Think some more. Figure out two places to put knobs where they should not interfere with closing of door. Choose more symetrical one which will also allow use of new bolts.
Try to drill hole. Discover that drill bit sticks while chuck revolves madly.
Try several times to adjust bit and tighten chuck. Finally succeed in drilling hole.
Put bolt through old and thread knob onto it.
Discover that because of new position, bolt is now too LONG instead of too short.
Curse colorfully.
Try to drill second hole in drawer. Same problem with drill bit.
Curse colorfully.
Try to put old bolt through hole. Hole not big enough.
Curse very colorfully.
Change drill bit. Bit sticks, chuck revolves.
Place very potent curse on Black and Decker and wish I’d had the foresight to charge my cordless which never gave me this much trouble.
Finally enlarge hole. Put bolt through it. Thread knob onto it.
Test with door. Door will close.
Call Dawn and suggest that she might not want me and my power tools work
ing on her new furniture today.
Dawn laughs. The gods do not love hubris. I fear for her bookcase.

I need cake or a drink, I don’t care which.

Later — Knobs are installed on bathroom vanity. No fingers lost.
Ikea shelf assembled in Dawn’s office. No fingers lost. There were a couple of close calls, though.
Mac and cheese made. Results so-so. Burgers not made as Charles arrived bearing barbeque. He admired my handiwork before he left, which is what a friend does when things are a bit, well, off. We gave him a tomato from our vine and a bouquet of slightly long-in-the-tooth flowers for his wife. I observed that she deserved a gift, too, but that she did get a terrific husband. Charles agreed far too quickly and was gently chided for lack of humility.
Peach lambic quaffed.
The Fugitive watched with Dawn
Ice cream eaten
Long, leisurely bath taken during which I finished The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I have to say that I am wholly in love with all the characters, even the awful ones, and the only criticism I can level is that we never do get Juliet’s opinion of Potato Peel Pie. I, for one, would have enjoyed knowing how it tasted with its festive topping of cocoa and marshmallow.
Have begun writing like Juliet.

There is a party going on a few yards down. Much hilarity amongst both adults and children. Makes me smile to listen to them.

As soon as I locate my colored pencils, I’m going to start sketching out the mosaic I’m going to overlay on the bathroom tile. This is reason enough to get back to emptying boxes.

August 10th — And a busy one. Dawn is outside firing up the grill so we can have burgers. She’s done her laundry and gone to Petco already today. I was a slug and slept until about 10:30 but I needed it I think. Once up though, I made us coffee and we talked about what needed doing. The upshot was that while she was gone I hung pictures and more pictures. Then she helped me with the front windows which needed cleaning and tweaking to make sure all the screens were down properly and all the storms up properly. She also took down the hideous vertical blinds in the hallway, and we hung up some crystals and beads on the door. I also moved the bigger cat tree to the living room.

Now I have to go make some onions for the burgers, slice a tomato (from our vine!) and reheat the mac and cheese.