Saturday, January 24, 2015

Returned from Convention

I am just back from Diocesan Council, soon to officially be Convention, and I have Thoughts.

First: the bread from the other day does work well as a loaf.  I want to try adding some gluten to see if that lifts the rise at all.  But the combo of a little bit of oat flour with the wheat flour plus plenty of liquid for a slightly wet dough seems to make for a beautifully tender loaf, if a somewhat small one.  A puffier rise will give me perfect size bread.

Now.  I am back from Diocesan council and mellowing out at our place, where a lovely building engineer has mounted several things on the wall for us.  We can hang up our keys at last!  And our TV is finally on the wall.  Oddly, even though it's at exactly the height I was expected it to be, it FEELS very high up.  As long as it's been on the small cabinet that was its temporary base, I complained it was too LOW.  It is now about 6-8 inches higher than the base, which we said was TOO LOW.  Now it just feels SO HIGH.  Maybe it'll be better once I hide the cords and put up bookcases...

Overall, I'm grateful to be home in our wee little apartment in the Cathedral district.  Something about being up high and able to see is so relaxing.  It's what I loved about my house in the hills of Oregon- looking out on the city below.  I love the sparkles of light in the distance, and being able to look out at the landmarks.

Ahhhhhhhhh.

Now for my Council highs and lows.

High/low of the Council:  I didn't exactly spend the weekend at Diocesan Council.  I returned to DC Friday AM for a funeral at Arlington National Cemetery for a family friend.  Truly tragic situation, but I have to give the military kudos for a beautifully run event.  I hope that in years to come, my friends will be able to look back on this and take some comfort from the perfection of the pageantry.  The military does the full honors funeral so well, and I appreciated the honor they extended to the soldier.  I felt that the soldiers who served together truly cared for each other, and that those performing the honors respected the tragedy the family faced and honored the soldier who had died.

That's a low because the situation is truly tragic and immensely sad, and I wish we weren't meeting at Arlington for a funeral.  But a high because of family was cared for by some truly excellent human beings, and because they are fine human beings themselves.  And that gives me hope for humanity.

Council low (and perhaps a petty one?):  It was not a great eating week. The food I bought myself was pretty decent: a nice fish dish at a cuban place, an off-menu portobello burger and a cider at a pub... but the food provided by the Marriott?  None of the desserts and only three options at the breakfast buffet were dairy free.  (The breakfast options were sausage, bacon, and fruit.  I do not kid.  Croissants, pastry, and scrambled eggs made with cream rounded out everyone else's meal.)

I was actually kind of mad.  I mention the dairy thing when I register, and I am just accustomed by now to showing up at events with an actual pack of rations: anything from snack bars to entire extra meals, depending on the venue.

I understand it is not reasonable to expect to have a variety of options, as I do at home.  But wouldn't it be reasonable to provide 5-10 servings of a special dessert, or one small tray of special breakfast options for people like me?  It would not break the bank to go get a $6 set of cupcakes from Ellwood Thompson's (Richmond's Whole Foods But Better type store), or to make a small platter of dairy free scrambled eggs. Add a sign indicating that the "special food" is for those on a restricted diet.  Give me a stinkin' cupcake, for heaven's sake, when everyone else gets cookies, cakes, brownies, and ice cream!

That is the middle child sense of fairness right there.

It's more than frustrating.  It felt dramatically unwelcoming to stand around at a "dessert reception" when everyone else had a plate loaded with food, and I had zero options.   It sends me the message that that's not where I want to spend my time.  A jazz band, and a bunch of food I can't eat?  As it was, I did a tour of the reception to say a few hellos, then retired to the bar for some conversation with my bestie.  I just told people I "wasn't hungry".  And honestly, I wasn't.  I didn't NEED food.  I just WANTED some damn chocolate!

Give me dairy free cupcakes!  Or give me 45 minutes in a zipcar so I can go provide my own damn dessert.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Loaf #2 of Bread

Yesterday's loaf of bread was successful.  So successful, in fact, that M ate most of it in one day.  Scarfed it right down.  

I used a recipe called "Swiss Braid" from The Complete Book of Bread & Bread Machines. It's a charming tome by Christine Ingram and Jennie Shapter that I've been using for years.  I believe it's British thanks to the spellings and the fact that most measurements are given in metrics, but it works.  And I really appreciate that most of the recipes include weights.  It is much more accurate. 

I change the Swiss loaf for my own needs.  Specifically, I eliminate the sour cream and subbed in goat milk yogurt.  I did the math, and the amount of dairy in each serving was well below my threshhold, and the goat yogurt only comes in large containers and I had to use it up.  

I do need to stand guard over the stand mixer as it kneads.  Yesterday, the dough was way too dry and needed lots of extra liquid.  Today, I did a better job of adding in the ingredients in the order specified, and the dough turned out to need a lot of extra flour.  Of course, I also experimented with grinding oatmeal and wheat together for a lighter flour.  Yesterday, I used oat flour to dust my boards for the final knead, and it worked out really well.  So we will see if this works even better. 

I am going to put the flour into my new IKEA loaf pans.  I packed all my loaf pans into long term storage and just can't bear to go through all those unlabeled boxes to find them.  $5.99 each, and I have two new loaf pans.  They are long and skinny, and I think, if I'm lucky, I will get loaves that are just the right size for sandwiches out of them.  

So far, the Swiss Braid recipe seems to make enough for one long loaf.  If it works, I might double recipes in the future.  I'm supposed to braid the swiss braid, and while that worked well, it does not make for a good sandwich.  

I have 26 minutes more of rising.  I really want a nap.  But I shall power through and not go to bed until I have a loaf made!  Hopefully, that'll be around midnight.  


The 17.5 Item List of How My Brilliant Plans Unraveled

It is Monday evening.  My plan for today was to wake up, have a smoothie while driving to Ikea in College Park, buy a few items for the apartment, price out a few options for bookshelves, be home by 11:30, have bread rising by noon, cook the remaining items for the bowls, bake the risen bread, change into running clothes, run down to the Mall to meet M (who was at his volunteer Mall guide gig), go with him to buy some new clothes for his swanky new job, and be home by seven for a nice relaxed dinner.  

It sounds like a lot but it is totally doable, in exactly that order, in precisely the proper amounts of time. 

Meanwhile, that roaring noise you hear is everyone I've ever known, laughing at me.  

This is how my day ACTUALLY went. 

The waking up and making a smoothie part went fine.  We are experimenting with spirulina, which is supposedly a good source for vegetarian protein and filled with vitamins.  Some people called it "Nature's multivitamin".  I just call it funny looking.  It's a dark, blue green powder that adds a dark blue green color to smoothies and a very faint taste that I can't quite pinpoint. I will gladly keep experimenting with it.  Smoothie drunk, and morning conversation had, I climbed into the Beetle and went on my way. 

1. Decided to stop for gas on the way home. Had I stopped for gas on the way OUT, it is likely that I would have saved buttloads of time.  Le sigh.  

2. Arrived by 9:40.  In I go.  Yay!  Free breakfast today!  But since the store was open, I decided to get breakfast a little later.  I really shouldn't have deviated from what I've always done every other time I've ever been to IKEA.  Le sigh, again.

3. I found what I needed at good prices, and before heading downstairs to finish my list, I went for my coffee.  That was where I discovered... no wallet in my purse.  

4. Dammitall.  I had changed bags that very morning, and I was quite sure I had left it in the other bag.  So dammit.  Very, very much dammit. 

5.  Headed back home... now on a dangerously low gas level that totally didn't bother me an hour ago but now knowing that I couldn't fill it up if I needed to... naturally DOOM AWAITED!!!  You know Skeletor, from the old He-man cartoon?  I'm pretty sure that is what doom looks like.  He-man is pretty creepy too... the blond bob just doesn't do it for me.  Never has.  Arrived home, found miracle parking spot in front of door.  

6. 30 seconds later, wallet in hand, I'm back on the road... with the gas nearly out. Smart people will notice that this is being written, and will surmise that gas was found while my Beetle still had two lines left in the tank.  You could also delve into anxiety and agony, as I did, fearing that I would run out of gas and have to fight maurauding hordes and walk six miles to a gas station. I've never run out of gas in my entire life.  So naturally, I fear it SO MUCH.

7.  Back to IKEA. It was now, of course, mobbed.  I HATE parking!! Circling for the parking?  Makes me want to set things on fire. I park about ½ mile from the store entrance, cheerful to get my extra steps in. Cheerfulness is overrated... because...

8.  PSA: Some parents have sleeping infants or rowdy toddlers in tow.  A few have both.  More power to you, parentals.  You are braver people than I.  I especially like the parents who plunk their child down in the bed and say, "stretch out so you can save mommy the measuring."  

9.  Items in hand, I stand in the longest line in the universe, which was about three people long.  

10. And then... the cashier holds up the bolt of fabric I had selected for a small house project, which turns out to be discontinued and doesn't ring up.  15 minutes later, after consulting other IKEA agents, the floor manager, the product manager, the store manager, the regional manager, the district manager, and the President of the United States, they give me a price.  $4.99.  Seriously, folks?  

11. There is no debit card in my wallet.  The cashier says, "It's ok.  Take your time."  I do not reply with shrieky high pitched hysteria voice.  I return to car, now one mile away.  

11.5.  It is now 12:55.  I had intended to be in and out of IKEA by 11.  I was supposed to be home.  Baking bread.  

12.  In purse, I have located the gas reciept.  I turn car inside out.  No debit card.  In hysterical moment, consider just giving up and leaving IKEA.  Except I had left my shopping bag inside. Return to store, which is now 2 miles away.  Phone tells me I have reached ½ my steps goal.  Yay?

13.  I retrace my steps.  Zilch.  My options are now: card was left at gas station, card was dropped, or I've been robbed, pickpocketed and mugged.  Despite my natural anxiety, I'm at least confident it's not option #3.  I think I'd remember a mugging. 

13.5. Returning to the checkout lane, I collect my bag and have moment of inspiration to ask for Lost and Found.  Directions are given. 

14.  I locate Lost and Found, which involved going through a door marked for employees only, climbing about 7 flights of stairs, and decoding a puzzle to open the correct option of three doors. 

15. Tell the Lost and Found man sitting there that I'd like to report a lost Oregon debit card.  He lights up and smiles, and holds up paperwork in one hand... and the card in the other.  It had literally been turned in one minute prior.  

16. Card back in hand, I head downstairs to long-suffering cashier and purchase items.  It is now nearly 2PM.  I buy the 2 hotdog deal and snarf them down.  Stress eating, much?  Don't judge.  Give me my delicious, delicious stressdog.  

17.  Back home, my spoils include two loaf pans (because for some wacky reason, I did not put my loaf pans into my "unpack now" box and all my loaf pans went into long term storage), two magnetic knife racks, a wall mount for the TV, and fabric to make the kitties a privacy shield for their litter box.  Yes, that's right.  The litter box is in the bottom of a hall closet and they are super bashful.  Given Origami's recent history of bladder stones, we can't afford to give him any reason to not pee to his little furry heart's content. 

17.5  You're welcome, kitties.  Who are extremely happy tonight because they figured out how to open the sealed, airtight box where we keep their dry food.  The dry food that is just a snack.  



So that was my day.  

It is now 10 PM, and I finally have flour ground and dough rising.  I am determined to make a freakin' sandwich loaf for tomorrow so I can have a freakin' sandwich with my freakin' soup, which is damn delicious.  

I am excited, though, that we got one fun chore done.  M has recently scored a swanky exciting new job with the Federal Government, which he starts next week.  After spending the last few years in uniforms or jeans, his workaday wardrobe was pretty much nonexistent.  So we went to buy him a few pairs of trousers and I got to buy him some ties, so he can tie a tiny little noose around his neck and head off in to the wild, wild world of defending our artifacts against the scourges of time.  

And yes, his lunches will be amazing.  












 

Bread Baking

There's this book, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter.  The author did all the cost breakdowns and time involved for all sorts of food.  She determined, for example, that in terms of quality of food and time spent, you can make completely awesome and way better bread at home than in a store.  However, butter, while tasty, is a waste of time and good cream.

We love bread in this house.  But we also love healthier carbs.  Which means we are kind of bread snobs.  I don't recall the last time I bought a loaf of bread in the long rectangular shape that most of the world uses to make sandwiches.  We usually go for crusty bread.  And, friend, that gets expensive.  ($$$$$!)  

So once we settled into our new place and life was feeling manageable, we decided to make our own bread. 

Oh, I couldn't just leave it there and make it simple, could I?

Course not. 

Last spring, we got the dry blade container for our Vitamix, and were desperate to try grinding flour.  SO FUN.  I made a LOT of types of flour.  And yes, it makes small batches, but it's still fun.  I've been learning a lot about home ground flour.  

But baking with it?  Another story entirely.  

The first few batches of goods came out with an unpleasant grainy texture.  It turns out that when using home ground flour, you should really sift it first to get the excess bran out.  You can save the bran, if you want, but you want the finest, softest flour possible. 

Then I tried a no-knead bread.  I left it percolating for 12 hours.  It was... ok.  Not life changing.  So I started doing research. 

It could be that I might have used hard red wheat.  Which turns out to be the only type available at two stores I checked.  Can I find a soft white wheat berry?  Would that change anything?  

It could be that home ground flour seems quite dry.  Actually, of the recipes I've used, I find I usually have to add extra liquid here in Virginia.  Today's bread took as much as a ¼ cup extra water, and a generous splash of olive oil to really come together as a bread dough.  

It might be that a full wheat flour (as opposed to a half white, half wheat blend) doesn't do well in a no-knead recipe, or it might need a longer rise, or it might need more liquid.  I even saw recipes for soaking your flour- a technique that involves a 24 hour soak BEFORE you even start your bread recipe.  Ain't this girl got time for that.  

It might be that home ground flour just needs to be kneaded.  So today, in addition to all the extra liquid, I used my stand mixer to do the lion's share of the kneading.  I finished up the kneading with a few minutes of hand kneading, and could feel the dough was nice and elastic.  It's baking right now, so we shall see how it comes out.  

So the bread baking using homegrown flour is not the same animal as baking with store-bought flours.  It's a little bit of a puzzle.  I'll keep checking in.  

Sunday, January 18, 2015

First 2015 Workout

Today we went for a swim at the Wilson Aquatic Center, which marks my first workout for 2015.  It was slow, short, and included a lot of breaks, but I got out there, and that is important.  After being down with that huge coughing bug for so long, it's nice to finally feel like I can breathe again.  (Heck, I think today was perhaps the first day in nearly 6 weeks that I haven't taken medicine for a cough!)

The Wilson center is about a mile down the road from us, and as DC residents, we get free admission!  After a year of very difficult swim practice (either taking the metro for an hour and paying a fee, or putting up with a 3' deep apartment pool and dodging playing families IF the apartment pool was open), it is super cool to have a full competition pool at hand!  It has 50 meter lanes and a real deep end!  So you are working 100% of the time.

In the shallow end, on breaks I was doing some pool stretches (feet and hamstrings) and realizing just how stiff I am.  But that comes back pretty quickly.

I think for this month my goal should be simple: start working towards a baseline.  I'm considering if I want to do a gym membership for a few months to really force myself out of my comfort zone to regain my good habits and some strength training.  I did pretty well with club workouts the last few years... but I'm really feeling the strength loss after last year's HUGE layoff and this year's slow comeback.  I am not the hills queen I was getting to be in Eugene!

The last time I was in such a rut, I joined a gym while in Seminary.  It was $50 a month, but it was a reason to get off campus and go hang out with other people for a while.  Hm.  Maybe I'm just convincing myself that I might need the gym membership for a few months!


New Style of Meal Plans

While M and I were in pretty, pretty Seattle being tourists, we talked a lot about our grocery shopping, food budget, and meal planning.  I'm a planner, and over the last few years, I've subscribed to The Fresh 20, tried countless meal plans out of books, experimented with different cuisines such as raw, vegan, vegan athlete, and meat-eater athlete.  I've bought apps and downloaded recipes.

But I do admit that I get frustrated with every plan I try.  The biggest problem is that there are just two of us.  No matter how hard I try, it is next to impossible to scale down for just two.  It's just not the way food is sold in our country.  If we buy enough ingredients to make the dishes, we end up with left overs for days on end.  And while we both love leftovers, we'd have all this other food in the fridge waiting for ITS turn to be cooked.

The arguments would go like this:
me:  What's for dinner?
M: I dunno.  I'm going to make soup. (Meaning he's going to make spicy Korean ramen out of a package.)
me:  But I planned it already.  That's not what's planned.
M: Then just tell me what's for dinner.
me: (looking at meal plan) Well, it looks like it's a vegan octopus sushi roll with a faux Yumm sauce topping and curled lemon zests swooped across the rims.  Don't forget the curled lemons.
M: Ohmigawd, have you looked at this recipe?  It's going to take 4 hours to make this.  And you didn't put lemons on the grocery list!
me:  Yes, I did.  (I look in the fruit bowl).  But then I cut them up to put in the water glasses.
M: I have to go get lemons.

7 hours later, we would either be sitting down to eat after 9PM, or I would discover that M had snuck out to get fried chicken to keep alive while I starved.  This wasn't ideal.  But because we care, many times, the argument resolved like this:

me:  Well, if you're tired, I'm tired.  Wanna have omelets?

Or:

M: I'm tired.  Let's go out.
me: As long as it's not fried chicken.

Well, it's been fun, meal-plans.  And I do believe that meal plans have the potential to save lots of money and planning energy for families of a larger size.  And I enjoy having one signature dish a week to look forward to.  But M revealed that all the meal-planning and the elaborate menus in the name of time saving was just making him not want to cook.

M: All the planning makes me want to curl into a fetal position under the table and only come out for ramen.  (May not be an exact quote)

I really like to cook and I will do almost anything to eat at home.  I guess I'm sort of a dinner homebody.  And a breakfast homebody.  Ohgawd, please don't make me get up, get dressed, and go out for an early breakfast for fun.  I love diners, but I'm really more of a brunch girl.  For love of all that's holy, just make me coffee in my house.  (based on actual conversations in our house on Saturday mornings.)

So we had several goals:

1) Have lots of healthy, already cooked food on hand in the house so that when we got hungry or wanted to make a lunch, we just had to reach into the fridge to heat it up.
2) Have lots of food at home so that we are more likely to eat our home food or to bring it for lunches instead of relying on restaurants.
3) Keep it simple.

This is what my meal plan looks like now.  We've given up on planning by days of the week.  (Which involved a complicated schedule of who was home when and when to cook which element ahead so it would be easy to assemble on the day of... and hey, spreadsheets!)

SOUP

BOWL

SANDWICH

BREAKFAST

SOUP: We make a huge batch of soup.  The last two weeks, we've done a pea soup and a curried vegetable bisque.  Both are loaded with veggies, beans, natural proteins, and spices that get in the news for their natural antioxidant properties, and are the type of soups that keep well.  It took about 9 days to eat the batch of pea soup. We just made the bisque.  So far, bonus points for soups we can make in the crockpot.

BOWL: I'm a little addicted to Yumm Bowls.  They are basically bowls of rice and veggies with protein options.  So I suggested, for our easy dinners, that we just do bowls.  It breaks down like this:
Base
Veg
Protein
Sauce

Last week, the base was quinoa, the veg was roasted sweet potatoes and roasted squash.  The protein was roasted tofu.  The sauce was a miso gravy.  We cook all the elements ahead and pack them into large rubbermaid containers in the fridge.  A serving for me is ⅓ quinoa, a cup of veg, a ½ cup of protein, and sauce.  I'm seeing if this keeps me full.  M is generally double that, often triple for a long day.  For love of Pete, work with your own nutritionist to make sure you are eating enough.  I'm not working out very much right now, but during the height of the season, this would likely not be enough for hungry athletes!  I've found out the hard way that eating too little or too few carbs makes you cry.  Literally.

SANDWICH: We like sandwiches.  So we make a bread and some fillings- so far, spinach, roasted red peppers, and tofu.  This week will have tuna salad.  Stay tuned for posts on the bread baking.

BREAKFAST: This part is a work in progress.  M is currently obsessed with Irish oatmeal.  He makes a big batch, and eats it with raisins and almond milk.  Yech.  I'm just not a breakfast person.  I'm a lot better off if I can take something with me and eat midmorning, but I just have to get it in gear and make a bunch of bars or muffins ahead of time.

So that's our simplified meal plan.  Four main areas, and we just eat this all week.  It'll take some time to see how our food bills are working out.  But after this week's shop, I bet all I will need to buy for the rest of the month is just some plain, raw fruit for snacking.  (Gotta love how I need to clarify that fruit is plain and raw these days!)


PS: About the almond milk.  Yes, I have seen all the latest media about just drinking normal dairy and how almond milk is not the powerhouse it's cracked up to be.  I am going to keep making my homemade almond milk because A) it's easy, and it's cheap, and I know exactly what is in it, and B) I'm lactose intolerant and ain't nobody wanna sit next to me on the Metro if I start eating lots of dairy again.  


Thursday, January 8, 2015

New Years Plans

So this year, I have noticed lots of bloggers doing New Year's resolution posts.

Er.... (crickets from me.)

Well, I have a lot of plans.

This year, as things settle down, I have goals both personal and physical and work-related.

Financially:

  • I want to pay off our Beetle early.  Before we had to buy this car, our old Beetle was all paid off.  I like the feeling of driving around a paid-off clunker!  
  • I want to finish paying my undergrad loans.  They are pretty close to gone, at last!  Paying extra in the beginning, in the years when I had extra money, has really paid off!  
  • I want to put as much into our savings as possible- hopefully, 2-3 months of INCOME.  We had that once, and it saved our butts during the hard times.  And I want that back.  It makes me feel calm to have a deep financial cushion.  
Physically:
  • I want to build strength- my core has gotten squishy, and I can't do pushups.  I want this to be the year I learn to do a pushup!  I know that my shoulder strength lacks, so I bet I'll be doing lots of planks! 
  • I want to go swimming with my new cochlear implant wetsuit and experience swimming with sound!  While on vacation, we bought a book of swim drills.  So I'll be doing some drilling in our nearby giant pool. 
  • I want to run a half-marathon, and if I can, do another half-Iron distance race.  I really like distance.  But this year, I want my running to be up to snuff.  
  • Oh, yeah, and make sure I stay healthy!  After the whole e.Coli debacle, my gut is healing away.  I hope to get some decent lactose tolerance back, and to have a year where I'm not dealing with wacky illnesses for once!  
Work related:
  • Well, we all know that an interim gig comes to an end.  And it looks like Holy Cross will come to a very successful end soon.  Hurray!  They've been a blast to serve. 
  • Next?  Hm... I'm really debating between options.  One is an awesome position that's part time and underpaid, but I LOVE the community and the people and the person I'd be working with.  And it's a place I could imagine being long term, building communities and teaching people to ask questions of their faith.  Other options are full time, interim gigs... and the idea of a year of being well-paid so I can knock out the financial goals I have sounds like a relaxing year.  I'm really torn...
  • BUT THIS IS THE BIG ONE...
  • I'm planning to take some courses in math and science to bone up on my knowledge in that area so I can.... (DRUM ROLL)...
  • take the GREs this summer, and apply for grad school. 
After a long, long time (several years?) of conversation and discernment, I've realized that my next stage in life is going to include grad school.  I debated for a long, long time between Social Worker programs and PhDs in clinical psych.  SW programs have the advantage of being much shorter, and you get down to the nitty gritty work of helping people that much faster.  But the PhDs often included a research component... and I realize that I get jazzed up by the notion of research.  The idea of books and clinical trials really excites me.  And when I realized I was doing things like staying up reading psychological studies and getting up early to read about psych programs and reading books written by the professors I admire for fun... I realized that I want to try for the PhD.  So this next year will be about getting some math and science muscles so I can play more nicely with the real scientists if I get into a program with the strong research components.  

This will be a loooooong process! On one hand, I'm a little bummed I'm not exploring PhDs for this year.  But on the other hand, we didn't know for sure where we'd end up until just recently.  So while I've been reading goofy math books for a while, nothing felt real.  Nothing felt like it was about to happen.  And when I read more deeply, I really do feel that a year to do some boning-up work will benefit me in the long run.  So I'm aiming for the Fall of 2016!  I'll be 37... the same age M was when he went to grad school!  

Some people have asked if this means I'm giving up orders.  That's a post for another time.  The short answer is No.  I intend to remain serving as a priest.  But this feels like the right way forward to develop where my call really is.  

And now it is time to get my head out of the dreamy PhD plan clouds, and get back to the work I'm supposed to be doing... planning a menu for this week!