The old switcheroo

It has recently come to my attention that I haven’t posted anything here for a long time. Which I technically knew, but hesitated to do anything about because I had something else in mind. I have recently started posting things here instead because, well, sometimes starting over from scratch is the only thing that makes any sense.

July 9, 2011 at 7:10 pm Leave a comment

Things worth remembering

Collecting pinecones from the yard to make bird feeders with peanut butter and birdseed. Learning to dye muslin with Kool-aid and sew a patchwork pillow. Pitting cherries for pie. Falling in love with the joy of making.

Going to ballet class while she watched from the side. Trying to learn new dance steps as she helped my best friend and me choreograph a dance routine to audition for the elementary school variety show — and the pride of making the cut. Inventing skits to perform in the living room. Making my Alice in Wonderland costume for my school’s spring musical. Realizing the delight of making people smile.

Playing with a houseful of dogs and cousins. Talking about school. Surprise family reunions. A wedding. Christmas presents. Phone calls. Hugs. The playful look of her handwriting. The ringing sound of her laugh.

The searing heartbreak of saying goodbye after her first visit to us in Maryland, our new home state.

The secret joy I felt when her van broke down and she had to stay a few days more.

Knowing that Grandma lived for doing what she loved. Crying alone in a hotel room, missing her.

October 6, 2010 at 10:08 am Leave a comment

On waterskis

Way back in 2008, Keith and I took a trip north with my parents. There were many pieces and parts, lots of places we stopped, people we saw, and things we did. I mentioned that I’d write more about it later.

It’s finally later!

Now, if there’s one thing that doesn’t come to mind when I think about Michigan, other than iguanas, it’s waterskiing. Silly, considering the state is almost completely surrounded by water and is dotted with thousands of lakes.

That misconception is why I didn’t bring my bathing suit when we visited my relatives at their lake house. That and because I couldn’t find the top half while we were packing at the last minute, which is kind of important.

Though even if I’d had it, I’m not sure I would have been brave enough to attempt waterskiing for the first time ever in broad daylight on the tiny lake completely surrounded by houses and Michiganders enjoying the beautiful late summer weather. I’m a little neurotic about those kinds of things.

But not Keith! He just fearlessly jumps in and does it. He’s determined to do things. He’s determined to have fun.

Even when the driver of the boat deviously decides to throw in a few navigational challenges.

Even when his feet want to go two different directions.

Even when gravity says, “Thanks! I’ll take it from here.”

Keith always comes out smiling.

May 11, 2010 at 9:39 am 2 comments

The oatmeal that changed my life

The quality of breakfast, being my favorite meal, usually foreshadows the quality of my day: good breakfast, good day.

Yesterday was a very, very good day. A very good day. As in I ate breakfast again for lunch good. As in I’ve renounced my dislike of oatmeal good. As in Snowstorm? What snowstorm? good.

I found the recipe on Tasty Kitchen, while anticipating round two (three? 4.6? I’ve lost count) of the Mid-Atlantic’s Blizzardpalooza. Knowing that we wouldn’t be heading into work, and would be (once again) trapped inside, it seemed that the most important thing to do was deliver a substantial, comforting breakfast to eat while watching the snow.

Fruit-on-the-Bottom Baked Oatmeal just sounds right, doesn’t it? It tastes right too. I went with the fruit recommendations and put peaches on the bottom. Keith and I agree it’s as good as peach cobbler — if not better. Next time, we’ll try strawberries. And then blueberries. And then raspberries. And then–

In other areas though, I deviated a bit from the original recipe by Erica of Cooking for Seven; for one, I used Bob’s Red Mill Scottish Oatmeal instead of rolled oats. I’ve been dying to use them for something other than the Scottish oatcakes (really good with tea and jam) that I originally bought them for. However, having a handful of gummy, chewy, icky experiences with oatmeal in the past, I hadn’t quite worked up the courage to try it as just plain, hot cereal. Baked oatmeal seemed to be a happy middle. Obviously, I can’t compare it with rolled oats in this recipe, but the texture of the Scottish oatmeal here is crumbly and soft — very much like a light, nutty quickbread with an open crumb. But, unlike a quickbread, there’s no flour in this recipe and that is enough to make my middle happy.

The recipe also calls for sugar sprinkled on top of the batter after it’s been poured in the baking dish, along with some sliced almonds. I didn’t have sliced almonds. And I didn’t read the recipe carefully, and ended up mixing the sugar in with the other dry ingredients. This hurt absolutely nothing in my opinion and I’ll probably continue doing it that way. I like to buck the status quo. I’m a status quo bucker.

Of course, I adapted the recipe with dairy and egg allergy-friendly substitutions for Keith. I usually start off substituting cup-for-cup, though sometimes the results of doing so can be unpredictable (even after doing it for years and years and years…). But this — oh this — baked up perfectly. Beautifully. Heavenly. Yummily.

The final touch was the suggested vanilla sauce — trickier to make substitutions and it didn’t turn out perfect, but was still quite good. It added a nice bit of creamy moisture to the oatmeal. Besides, the luxurious, warm vanilla flavor goes so well with nutty oatmeal and the sweet peaches, the sauce seemed to be the thing that really tied it all together to make a perfect warm hug of a breakfast: comforting, hearty, and soul-completing.

Keith’s inital review: “Wow.” And for all my talk, I think he pretty much said it all.

Here’s my DF/EF version:

Fruit-on-the-Bottom Baked Oatmeal
(adapted from the original recipe by Erica of Cooking for Seven)

  • 1-½ cup thinly sliced fruit (I used peaches)
  • ½ cups soy milk
  • ⅔ cups pure maple syrup
  • 2 Tablespoons Ener-G Egg Replacer mixed with 4 Tablespoons warm water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¾ cups dairy-free margarine, divided (I use Fleischmann’s Unsalted Margarine)
  • 2 cups Bob’s Red Mill Scottish Oatmeal*
  • 2-½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoons baking soda
  • ½ teaspoons salt
  • 4 Tablespoons demerara sugar or Sucanat, divided
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Preheat oven to 350° F.

    1. Pour 1/4 cup melted butter into the bottom of a 9-inch square baking dish (UPDATE: or, if you’re lazy like me, place 1/4 c of unmelted butter in a 9-inch square baking dish and stick in the preheating oven until the butter is melted). Arrange sliced fruit on top of the butter and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons demerara mixed with 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Set aside.

    2. In a large bowl, whisk together oatmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and remaining sugar.

    3. In a medium bowl, mix together soy milk, maple syrup, egg replacer, remaining butter and vanilla. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix well. Pour over the fruit and smooth the top.

    4. Bake at 350°F for 40 to 50 minutes, or until browned on top and fruit is bubbly. Allow to cool slightly. Serve with milk, cream, yogurt or vanilla sauce (DF/EF recipe below).

    * For a delicious gluten-free adaptation, Bob’s Red Mill Mighty Tasty GF Hot Cereal is a perfect cup-for-cup substitution for oatmeal.

    Vanilla Sauce
    (adapted from the original recipe by Erica of Cooking for Seven)

    • 2 Tablespoons maple syrup
    • 1 1/2 Tablespoons cornstarch
    • 1/8 teaspoon salt
    • 2 cups soy milk
    • 1 Tablespoon Ener-G Egg Replacer (don’t mix with water)
    • 2 Tablespoons butter, softened
    • Scrapings from 1 vanilla bean (or 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract)

    1. Combine maple syrup, cornstarch, and salt in a medium saucepan. Whisk together milk and egg replacer. Pour milk mixture in a thin stream into syrup mixture, while whisking gently until well combined. If using vanilla bean, stir in the scrapings.

    2. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir 1 minute. Remove from heat; stir in butter (and vanilla extract, if using). Serve warm.

    February 11, 2010 at 4:17 pm 3 comments

    A to-read list

    Last year, I began to think more about reading — in the traditional, curled up on the couch with a novel and a cup of tea sense — and feeling as though I don’t read enough — in the traditional, curled up on the couch with a novel and a cup of tea sense.

    I probably read more books than I actually remember or give myself credit for. But, unlike some people, I’m not the kind of person who can devour book after book after book. The Harry Potter and His Dark Materials series…es may be the rare exceptions to this rule, although it’s probable that if I had not been reading them out loud to my husband and he had not been begging to continue on with the next book, I would still be trudging my way through Goblet of Fire, and speculating about the purpose of the Subtle Knife.*

    The truth is that I love books; I love stories. I love the idea of reading them. But given a choice between reading or creating, more often than not I’m inclined to create,** and so I have ended up in a terrible cycle of buying a book, ready to dive into it after being spurred on by a thrilling description or positive recommendation — but never following through. I have maybe a dozen or two half-read or never-read books. So I’ve resolved to start working through them.

    I’ve scoured my shelves and picked out seven books — a somewhat eclectic mix of titles — to read this year:

    • Life, the Universe and Everything, by Douglas Adams. This is the third book in The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, which I admit, I started last year — in August. I’ve been picking it up in fits and spurts, but thus far have barely made it one-quarter of the way through.
    • Candide, by Voltaire. My brother recommended this to me as one of the great works of comedy. I admit, I don’t know much about it, but my brother’s taste in books is more parallel to my own than anyone else I know, and I trust his judgment in this case. Perhaps paired with a bit of background research beforehand, it ought to be a promising February read.
    • Life of Pi, by Yann Martel. I received this book two Christmases ago. I’d added it to my Amazon wish list after reading a review, probably in The Washington Post — where I was introduced to a few other books that have since become favorites, and some unread ones that may very well become favorites. Amazon.com Review calls it “an endless blue expanse of storytelling about adventure, survival, and ultimately, faith.” I’m looking forward to checking it off the list this spring.
    • Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates. I already know this is an unhappy one. Which is why I’m saving it for the summer, when the emotional carryover I’ll inevitably experience won’t be exacerbated by short daylight hours and cold temperatures.
    • Measuring the World, by Daniel Kehlmann. This was a Washington Post recommendation from several years ago that I found personally enticing (I have a soft spot for historical fiction) and thought Keith might be interested in too, even though it falls beyond his regular literary realm of fantasy fiction. The Enlightenment-era setting should be a nice follow-up to Candide. From the review by Ron Charles: “[…] 31-year-old Daniel Kehlmann is entertaining his countrymen with a story about Enlightenment-era scientists and references to isothermal lines and modular arithmetic. This sounds like something to be printed on graph paper, but it’s actually more zany than brainy, and laughter almost drowns out the strains of despair running beneath the story.” Another road trip novel?
    • Founding Mothers, by Cokie Roberts. Yet another Post recommendation. I’m not often drawn to nonfiction, biography, or history books, but occasionally a nonfiction author with a penchant for storytelling (I like dry facts, but not a whole book full of them) is thrust in my path. The Good Women of China by Xinran was one — a book that provided (melancholy) entertainment and a fresh perspective on my historical knowledge. And after getting sucked into a few pages of Founding Mothers when I pulled it off the shelf to add to this year’s reading stack, I fully expect it to be another.
    • Catch-22, by Joseph Heller. Okay. I admit that I’ve already read half of this one for a graduate course — about two years ago. I enjoyed it immensely — but never was able to finish it, and even though I’d always vowed to, I never have. So it’s on the list.

    I know it’s not as ambitious a list as many other reading enthusiasts, but for me to finish it is a goal both challenging and obtainable. Which is what New Year’s resolutions are all about, right?

    What’s on your 2010 to-do list?

    * Incidentally, while I enjoyed Harry Potter, I found His Dark Materials to be far less prosaic and less adverb-laden, with the story wrapping up in a way that was generally expected — but with unexpected twists — and neat as a pin. The story pace was even, I never got bored with the main characters (sorry, Harry), and the overarching meaning was expertly complex and original, yet understandable. And even though Pullman’s series is further removed from our world than Rowling’s, I found Pullman’s work to be more relatable in a philosophical sense: The difference between good and not-good is usually ambiguous, grayish, and a little fuzzy.

    ** Not to mention I need absolute quiet, and my husband…well, let’s just say quiet is hard to come by.

    January 10, 2010 at 12:49 pm 1 comment

    Oh, serendipity

    It’s very tempting and somewhat obvious to write not only a year in review post, but a decade in review. I can’t say I haven’t thought about it. But I think for me to fully reflect upon my life in the past year (plus nine), to analyze and assess, connect and conclude, and then have it all make sense to anyone else would take me until sometime well into March, at which point the novelty of it will have all worn off, and you’d be going, “Ah — it’s March; where have you been?” And given my obsession with analyzing my obsession with over-analyzing, it’s probably best if I skip it altogether. Instead, I’ll tell you a short story.

    I was at work last night later than I’d planned. I was tired, exhausted, anxious to go home and stay there forever. Very often, when I feel my thoughts beating chaotically against the inside of my skull, I’ll stop everything and stare out a window. It’s not to stare at anything in particular, and usually I see nothing of interest; it’s just to look out there, into infinity. Like searching for a stronger cellular signal, it seems to give my thoughts farther reach and clearer focus. More bars for my cerebrum.

    But there, right outside my window at the end of my thought stream, the full moon was rising in the middle of the wintry sunset. He was just peeking over top of a thin streak of cloud, and as I sat for just a minute or two gazing at the glory of it, the moon had already risen a distance equivalent to the length of my thumbnail on my outstretched arm. With one eye closed and the other squinting, naturally.

    It might as well have been that the sky had opened up and the voice of God himself had thundered down upon my ears saying, “Don’t just sit there, stupid!” So I grabbed my camera and dashed outside. I zoomed in and set my aperture. Framed. Focused. Click! Click! Click! I was happy to capture the full moon, large in the dusky sky. Still, looking at the image in my frame, it seemed half-empty. Pretty, but vacant. Which is when, as if on cue, I noticed an object gliding into the picture: a flock of geese, slipping steadily and silently across the sky, like a rowboat across a pond. Click! Click! And they were gone.

    I smiled, giddy, at the moon. A few minutes too early or too late and I would have missed it entirely. Glee is the only word to describe it. Pure, unabashed glee.

    I recently wrote about an obstacle that’s been challenging me for much of the past year. I’m often too fearful of failure or something else equally idiotic to be able to live in a moment or seize opportunties. Last night I did both, albeit in a small way, but I was rewarded nevertheless. And I’d say that even a small, serendipitous reward is a very good way to sign off on the twenty-ohs.

    Here’s to a happy, happy new year full of courage, hope, accomplishment, and serendipity.

    (And thinner thighs.)

    Update: As it turns out, it’s a blue moon! (A day early?)

    December 31, 2009 at 10:58 am Leave a comment

    Mailbox Owners Against Drunk Driving

    *BANG!*

    That was the sound late last night that came from outside. It was a sound both unusual and familiar — a car accident? Keith went outside to investigate and discovered that the mailboxes for our set of townhouses were missing from their regular post and lying some thirty feet down the road.

    As it turns out, after some police investigation, our mailboxes had been struck by a drunk driver. *Warning: the following image may be disturbing for some audiences.

    And even though the mailboxes have been restored and justice is being served, let this be a lesson to us all this holiday season: Mailboxes are precious. Don’t drink and drive.

    This message has been brought to you by Mailbox Owners Against Drunk Driving.

    December 29, 2009 at 8:37 pm Leave a comment

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