Thursday, May 28, 2009

Dress diatribe

Today should have been the day to post the Daring Bakers May recipe: an apple strudel. But I'm too swamped with work and prepping to leave for NYC on Saturday to deal with it. The recipe calls for stretching the dough out until it is paper thin on a table large enough that you can walk around it and work from all four sides. I do not have a table. There are some really impressive strudels on the Daring Bakers website and I do hope to make the thing sooner or later. With a spinach feta filling, maybe, instead of apples.

This week has been a flurry of activity and anxiety, and Jake and I are both stretched really thin. And yesterday I went to go pick up my wedding dress. I was not 100% pleased, although Martha N and Jake both tell me it looks good, even if it maybe needs a little more tweaking. The seamstress, who comes very well recommended and to her credit is constantly saying she will keep working at it until I am happy, installed these two thick, wide elastic bands inside the waistline to help hold it up. And also replaced a ribbon around the waistline that needed an upgrade. The ribbon is nice but seems a bit worn. Martha N says it looks appropriately vintage and she likes it a lot. I am inclined to believe her. But the elastic bands feel sort of like some sort of S&M device, but they don't really do the Holding It Up job. I think they need to be fastened at exactly the right spot on my ribcage, but I didn't have them on the sweet spot when I tried the dress on at the seamstress's place. So instead it felt like it would stay put through many hugs and drunken dances, but would stay put in a really awkward and uncomfortable place. It looked and felt like it needed to be yanked up, hard.

So I acted aloof and paid the lady and got the hell out of there as fast as I could, with the seamstress's assurances that I could come back when I get back to Seattle and she'd do whatever else I feel needs doing. I feel slightly bad about that. She gave me a free veil I have no intention of using, no doubt sensing my dissatisfaction. Back at home, after some unexpected tears, some assurances from Jake and some technical assistance from Martha N, I think I can be happy about it. Not in love yet, but if I can make it a bit more comfortable I think it'll grow on me .

I think the tears were disappointment that I really wanted to be able to say I have gotten this one wedding thing done and walked away happy. Frustratingly enough, I'm not really sure what I would like better than the dress I have. Just in case, I bought another one on sale from JCrew that is not scheduled to ship until June 30 as a fall back plan. Amy gave me the thumbs up on that one. But maybe I should wear the one I have for the ceremony and do a costume change into something comfortable for the reception. Something in a color I never wear. I do think that it's a lovely dress; my main issues right now are that it is pretty uncomfortable.

There is this incredible pressure associated with all things wedding-related that I wish I could say I am avoiding. There is sort of an expectation that as The Bride you will 1) know what you want and 2) enjoy it. Yet I have no idea what I want, not much energy for figuring it out, lots of baggage about marriage and weddings in general, and am not really able to have a good time with the process yet. Figuring out what you want or like takes time and energy I don't feel I have to give. I would like to say that I am not interested in traditional things, but I don't really feel interested or equipped to come up with my own particular brand of non-traditional. I just tried to grill Martha N about her sister Sarah who is ridiculously crafty and talented to see if there was ANYTHING I could maybe outsource to her. Martha N seems to think there is not. Friends offer to help (thanks Amy! poor Amy ...) but I haven't taken them up on it. I'm not good at asking for help. But I do think I might ask someone to do the invitations for us. Meaning, find a cute, simple cheap one, design it for us and just tell us how much it costs. Any takers?

I think what has been the most jarring for me about all of this is just how much I have been affected by it. I have been kind of an unexpected emotional rollercoaster ride, as they say. It is most definitely jarring for Jake. I'm not sure what to make of it. Intellectually I know that the stress and changes we are facing inevitably kind of grates every feeling to sharp point. It is hard to manage anyway.

But Rocky IV is on as I write this (the one where he takes on the cyborgish Russian who killed Apollo Creed by training exclusively with snow and lumber and rocks, and Adrian follows him to Siberia), so I am feeling encouraged. I am happy that the spurts of enthusiasm and clarity that I have had about wedding stuff do seem to be getting longer and closer together. Sort of like contractions are portrayed when women go into labor on TV. Maybe soon they will come together in a single painful crescendo--in a cab or a plane or stuck on the subway--and I will emerge flushed and smiling, with a color scheme and some new self-awareness.

In the meantime, I am doing a lot of hot Bikram yoga (Bikram is this guy, shown with his wife) and longish runs with Jake. He mapped them out on google maps so we know how long they are, and we'll miss when we leave for the summer. 4.8 is so far our farthest -- keeping in mind that about 2 miles of it is uphill. We're going to work up the distance, hopefully.

Funny aside on Bikram: a friend who moved to Seattle from LA tells me that she saw him once in an Indian video store there. He drove up in a Bentley, was wearing white snakeskin pointy shoes, and asked for the the most recent movie by the Bollywood equivalent of Chuck Norris. In the photo he is in a pose I can get nowhere close to.

Ok -- I'm off to bring Rocky the pug to his red eye flight to NYC. I feel guilty, but then again nothing that costs that much can be all that bad. I think. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Moving, wedding, cooking apple crisps and carrots

These past few days have been oddly productive on several fronts. I did my taxes. I used a lot of CSA veggies. But more importantly, I suddenly had a burst of enthusiasm about wedding planning. I am not 100% sure, but I think I might be circling in on what "owning it" might mean--aside from the undertones of consumption and debt.

Whereas a few weeks ago I was infuriated by anything having to do with weddings or wedding planning (including really pissed off at Jake for having proposed, to be honest), last night I managed to flip through almost the entire issue of Martha Stewart Weddings without getting angry. I did get annoyed by article about which cosmetic procedures you can squeeze in before your wedding at 12, 9, 6, 3 months, etc. (I am in the botox range; possibly microdermabrasion if I got on it right now). But I appreciated the pretty pictures of ridiculously expensive earrings and bracelets and very labor intensive cakes. This is a Major Milestone.

And today I talked to a coworker whose wedding is also in September and who is an admirably practical, crafty and hard wedding worker. She just finished making her own invitations, and is taking a break before starting in on thank you cards. She has done flower arrangements for other people's weddings, and knows how to decorate. She is doing all of the decorating herself. She gave me good tips: get color on the tables with linens so you don't have to bother with it elsewhere; there is such a thing as long-burning votive candles you can get cheap; and yeah, little lights and lanterns look good. It turns out she was thinking about some of the same stuff I was -- like the twiggy stuff in the photo above (I'm not wild about that one specifically, but you get the idea). She upped my website with nice earthy materials with one of her own that had similar stuff, and cheaper. Go Katie go. Jake's sister-in-law Amanda, here with the very cute Izzy, has graciously offered to help with this stuff and is also very crafty and has a great sense of style. And she is conveniently located about 1500 miles closer to Dairymen's than I am. I hope she doesn't regret the offer.

The dress thing -- two fittings down this week -- is just so-so. I am more nervous about it now than when I started. It seemed like the alterations needed were minor, but now I am starting to think they might be a bit more major. Whatever. The thing basically fits, and I might have to chemically affix it to my body to keep it up. Whatever. Th eseamstress thinks only two more fittings--it seems her assistant errs on the side of caution fittings-wise.

In the meantime, a battle rages against the CSA veggies in my fridge. Last night as Jake and I were drifting off to sleep I woke both of us up when I heard myself announce "I can steam it." I was having a sort of half-dream about a head of cauliflower I have been moving around the fridge for a week. So I am apparently battling some low-level anxiety about the vegetables. So far this week I have made an rhubarb/blueberry/apple crisp, kale salad and my brother's caramelized carrots, and I have a soup on the stove with a mound of the cauliflower waiting to go in it.

The carrots are easy and have been a staple at family dinners forever, but I can never do them like my brother can. Now I think they are a staple at his firehouse. Chop up the carrots, cook them in a heavy skillet in enough olive oil to coat them--stirring occasionally until they are soft and browned or even look a bit burnt (we call them Arnie's Burnt Carrots). If your carrots are kind of on the old side, as if they have been sitting around since the cute hippie CSA delivery guy dropped them off a week or so ago, you can add some honey or brown sugar or season them however you like. Some lemon is nice. They are nice on their own, but I tossed them in a green salad.

The crisp was marginally more involved, if only because there is more chopping, some melting, and multiple bowls.
I tossed together:
Two apples, peeled and sliced
Two cups rhubarb, roughly chopped
One cup frozen strawberries
Two tablespoons orange juice
Juice from 1/2 lemon
About 1/2 cup raisins
About 1/2 cup sugar or more to taste (I don't like it that sweet)
Cinnamon to taste (I like a lot)

For the topping:
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup oatmeal (I used the non-instant kind)
1 tsp cinnamon
A good pinch of salt
6 tablespoons melted butter

The fruit goes into a shallow baking dish, dotted with some butter. And the topping goes on top. Bake in a pre-heated 375 degree oven for about 30 minutes and then check it. The fruit should be bubbling and the topping starting to brown.
I forgot to melt the butter until I had already mushed half of it into the dry topping ingredients, so I melted what I had left and mixed it up, threw it on top and it was fine. It is really hard to go wrong with a crisp.

The soup is not really worth talking about. I had an onion, potatoes, a red pepper and cauliflower in the fridge, and about 2 cups of split peas. Now that's what is in the pot -- along with some cumin and allspice and vegetable stock. And soon to be joined by a couple of parmesan rinds. Actually, I have a can of white beans I am debating tossing in. Seems like a lot of beans. But anything immersion blended is good in my book, and gets me one step closer to a clean fridge and cabinets for Jake's cousin Court (our subletter this summer).

What a long post! Thanks for hanging in there with it. XO

Sunday, May 17, 2009

work work work

I am a blog and baking slacker these days--as evidenced by this photo-less entry.

This is in keeping with my general slacking off on just about everything. A more accurate assessment is that I am trying to cram too much into a small period of time, stressing out about it, and then making only incremental progress on any one thing as a result. And things keep popping up and sucking my time. Like Rocky's (still kind of sickly looking) eye. He has another vet appt. on Tuesday. And I called a seamstress to make alterations on the wedding dress I bought at a local consignment store (it's a bit more formal than I'd like, but I like it, and think no one will hold it against me). She--her assistant, actually--wanted to book TEN appointments. Ten! We made three for the next two weeks and I told her we'll have to regroup after that. I really don't think it's that involved. I am noticing that as soon as you say the word "wedding," people's voices drop an octave as if to sooth what they assume is a hysterical bride, they jack up the price and they start saying things like "foundational undergarments." Tomorrow morning is the first appointment. She told me to bring the Foundational Undergarments and the shoes and then seemed genuinely concerned that I have neither. And then genuinely surprised to her me say I wasn't worried about it. I'll bring some heels and we'll be fine. I am trying to strike a balance between getting done what needs to be done without getting sucked into the things that other people think you should care about. Choosing what color the napkins should be or finding favors/matchbooks/m&ms that say Jake & Martha is not a priority at this point. I have no idea if the ceremony will be indoors or out, and want my nieces and Amy to be happy and look great but have no idea or preference about what they should wear. Something they like. We'll figure it out, and the deed will get done.

But I am getting really enthusiastic feedback about my research. I was at a day-long mini-conference for all the folks who who won grants from the Poverty and Race Research Action Council, and people were into it. I also recently had some meetings with people in my field who think my sample size (just hit 208 responses on Friday!) is plenty big, and that the data will be really unique. This was a much-needed confidence booster. I for one was just pleased with myself that I managed to come up with a semi-decent paper title: "Using Section 8 in Seattle: Thriving, surviving, or falling though the cracks?" Now I just have to do the research. One thing that my committee member brought up (she's mentioned it before, but I failed to absorb it) was that I need to keep a journal or field log of notes and ideas as I continue through the data collection phase. She's right. There are things that I am thinking about and research ideas that come up that will be incredibly helpful when it finally comes time to write.

So baking and cooking has dropped off considerably, and I am instead slowly trying to make it through the contents of the freezer and keep up with CSA vegetables. This basically means giant vegetable stir-frys once a week, a lot of defrosted baked goods, and smoothies because fruit is coming back in season. I do have some rhubarb in the fridge from the CSA, and a Daring Bakers thing to deal with--along with some more freezer contents (lots of pecans and walnuts, chocolate, a pie crust, frozen berries)--so there is likely something quick and nutty and rhubarby in my future. This coffee cake recipe from the woman who provided last month's Daring Bakers cheescake recipe looks like a contender.

I did try to make my own yogurt in a crockpot the other day, inspired by both the New York Times and 101 cookbooks (she also has a great recipe for frozen yogurt), but it was a complete failure. At first I thought it was something about the temperature--you are supposed to heat the milk, then let it cool, and then add some starter yogurt and keep it warm for several hours. But I let it get too cool and then tried to reheat. Now I think it the starter yogurt may not have has many live cultures. I am determined to get it right, and possibly have a machine shipped to NYC to have fresh yogurt all summer. I vaguely remember that my parents had a yogurt machine crammed in the kitchen pantry until I finally bullied them into getting rid of it because it had been used exactly once in about 10 years. They have issues parting with broken or unused items. Now I wish it was still around. I remember it was green and yellow shades that only existed in the 70s.

Hopefully more frequent posts in the coming weeks!

Sunday, May 3, 2009


I am in the middle of writing or editing about seven documents and have no energy for writing anything else. But I do have some pictures to share. Olivia sent me a batch from her visit a few weeks ago, and I just did a practice session with the new camera while Jake was brushing Rocky out on the balcony. Here's a picture of the new camera, taken with the old camera and vice versa. They are taken in my dark office space, sitting on top of interview notes I need to transcribe and last week's to do list. As you can see, I'm going from idiot-proof beginner level to advanced intermediate in one step.

For whatever reason, I just can't focus well with the new camera and can't figure out why. The settings are not well programmed and I need to use the viewfinder instead of the screen, so I think I need to bring it to a camera shop to see if they can set it up for me and start from there. Compared to Olivia's pictures--here's her shot of butter dipped dinner rolls we baked for Easter dinner--I definitely have a ways to go. Hers are sharp even though they are taken in really low light and, I think, without flash. I have no idea how that works.

The rolls are straight from the Bread Bible. They freeze really well but don't keep long on the counter, so I have started making double batches and keeping some on hand in the freezer. We're trying to make our way through the contents of the freezer this month before heading to NYC for the summer, so there are a lot of dinner rolls in my future over the next few weeks. They're all white flour, and my attempts at whole wheat versions have been only so-so. With about 20% wheat flour is passable, but the all white version is definitely better both taste and texture-wise.

And here's we are at UW.

It was of course overcast the whole time she was here, but the cherry blossoms were blooming and all the undergrads were out doing their thing, so she got a pretty good impression of the place.

But as a hint of what may be possible with the new camera, here's a pretty decent Rocky action shot taken with the new camera. I have no idea how it happened.

A pug update: Rock's eye is much better. Still a red and buggier than usual, but definitely getting better. There is enough improvement that he is no longer in the lampshade collar and we don't feel guilty putting him through the drama of a big brushing.

I think Jake enjoys it as much as Rocky hates it.