Monday, December 31, 2007

The year's last anecdote:

Last night I made Rice Krispie treats with Michelle. She complained they didn't look as nice as the ones in the wrappers. She changed her mind when she tasted one, though. (We made a second batch for her to bring home.) "They're so good! Is this an Alton Brown recipe?" she asked. We made Alton Brown cookies before I left for her and her mother to ice, and she liked watching his Thanksgiving episodes we had on at Thanksgiving, so I guess he's present in her mind lately.

"No, it's an old recipe from the people who make the Rice Krispies," I said, though that may not be exactly true, come to think of it; but that's where I always got the recipe except we added a half-cup more marshmallows.

"Oh. Is this what the ones in the wrappers used to taste like?" she said. I did not laugh; I only pitied her.
Eric just called to tell me that our water has been shut off. There's a leak on our side, they said. We have to get a plumber. We don't know where this leak is, or whether they'll be able to turn on the water tonight if we do get a plumber in time. We were planning on having a New Year's party, but a party without water will be problematic.

Aside from that, the Christmas break has been lovely. The trip to Seattle was great; we met some online friends, I saw M for the first time in years and Eric met her for the first time ever, we ate lots, we saw family, we delivered presents, it snowed on Christmas for the third time in sixty years; good times all around. I also checked out an apartment rental brochure. Rent isn't too bad. We're thinking Lake City or Bremerton might be good places to try for if we're going to move to the Seattle area rather than Portland (or somewhere in between). Eric says it's starting to feel more familiar, which is a good step. And he enjoyed his two Jamba Juices very much.

When we got back, we exchanged presents with Eric's family, which was a bigger to-do since they like to give lots of presents. I got a rolling pin (good-bye wine bottle rolling pin), knitting needles, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, an "Ove-Glove," the non-indie Regina Spektor CD, and a greenhouse. A plastic greenhouse on wheels. I love it very much. I can't decide what to do with it, though--put it outside now and protect my strawberries and sage with it, or keep it inside for extra seed-starting room in February and March.

I gave Mom her quilt and she loved it, and Eric his astrolabe (from the Michigan Renaissance festival) and he loved that, and we gave Michelle The Daring Book for Girls and she loved that. We made friendship bracelets yesterday for her to give to her best friend. We still have a few presents to give out, but overall I think we've done very well on the gift-giving this year.

I spent an entire day in Seattle making Christmas cookies: honey-lemon cutouts, Christmas bells, gingerbread people, lemon bars, and fudge (well, James actually did that one, from a box kit). I intended to make plain chocolate chip as well, but got tired out. "Jenny always makes cookies like that," Bev commented at some point during the family party, and I was slightly concerned about being so predictable before realizing that was ludicrous since this was Christmas, wherein every little thing you do can become a tradition if you're not careful, and everyone loves the cookies. Mom requested a double batch of the bells, most of which James took home with him; Dad assisted in eliminating the cutouts with imperfect icing; Eric enjoyed making mutant gingerbread people (two heads, a peg leg and hook, a third arm, that kind of thing).

I think I need a different gingerbread recipe for next year, but otherwise I was quite pleased--even more so when Mom gave me the cookie cutters and her old Betty Crocker Cooky Book, which used to belong to Grandma, to take home with me. We're having Christmas here next year--Mom became mostly reconciled over our stay--so I'll be making the cookies here, plus Mom and Dad don't bake really anyway. They didn't even have a full set of measuring cups, and only one enormous mixing bowl.

Today I'm making cranberry-and-orange spiral cookies, for the party if we have water, for the mothers to buy the use of their bathroom if we don't. We're mostly ready for the party except for the water. I think we're ready for the new year, too.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

We're off to Seattle! If all goes well, that is. I mean, we'll be off no matter what (we already are, I hear people pointing out), but if all goes well we'll arrive on time and with everything we intended to bring. We're not packed yet, though the important stuff--the Christmas presents and my knitting--are on the spare bed waiting. Eric gets off early-ish today and will be working on it, including finishing the last of the laundry so we have enough clean underwear. This has not been the most organized vacation run-up ever.

I kind of feel like this is the cutoff for my Christmas season. That isn't true; one of the first things we'll be doing in Seattle tomorrow is go buy supplies for making Christmas cookies, and one of the next things we'll (or I'll) be doing is wrapping the presents I didn't trust to stay wrapped in the luggage. There will be music and food and presents and evergreens and fun. But today is the last day I can look at my decorated home with innocent eyes (after Christmas the guilt sets in). I don't have all the presents that are staying wrapped and under the tree, and that disappoints me. I won't be able to make the cookies from my own Christmas cookie book before Christmas (unless I bring it, and I won't; I love Mom's cookie book too). My poinsettia will live or die without me.

Which is not to say I won't enjoy Christmas with my family, because I will (even with the recently-acquired knowledge that my brother is more of an idiot than I thought). I admit I'm getting tired of split holidays, though, and I've only been at them for a couple of years. My cousin Bev said recently that she wants to have Christmas at home every year, for her son. Now, they're traveling this Christmas anyway, because her son is the only grandchild around and there's much demand for him, plus she's coming up to see me at the family party on Sunday. But the concept is good. However, that'll be much easier to sustain if and when I'm settled within driving distance of my family. Until then, there will be more traveling and more dividing of Christmas.

However, it also divides up the present opening. Which is a good thing, especially considering my mother-in-law's love of giving lots of presents. (We audited our present stash last night and removed a few things to save for people's birthdays. I suspect my mother-in-law would consider us paltry givers, but I really think we did well this year; we just went slightly overboard in a couple of cases.) And to be honest, that's still one of my favorite parts of the holiday...though making Christmas cookies is also a top contender. Part of my time on the plane will be spent making a list of what to get. Flour, sugar, honey, cinnamon, lemon extract, powdered sugar...happy holidays!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I woke up yesterday morning with the phrase "A recipe is an emotional deficit" in my head. In my dreams it had meant that people were supposed to learn to cook from other people, and following some stranger's recipe was a cold way to cook. Once I woke up, I rejected it almost completely. Recipes can excite great emotion, especially when they're for something you love and couldn't get any other way and they turn out well. Who is my subconscious to say that oral tradition is superior to the written word? But it is true, I think, that learning to cook from someone is more engaging and emotionally involving than learning from a cookbook. Though that doesn't explain why I like bread baking. The garlic bread turned out well--the dough was a little too wet, so it didn't rise very high, but it was soft and yummy and garlicky. It needs a little something other than the actual garlic, but I'm not sure what. I'll figure it out as I go through the loaf.

Last night was fairly productive--I felted the koala and finished the quilting, and Eric did some dishes. Tonight must be more productive, though--I must get at least halfway through the binding, do laundry and more dishes, wrap presents, and preferably vacuum. Ugh. Why must I feel so rushed? At least my Christmas shoppign is done. Except for the family shopping. But Eric suggested Amazon, and I think that's an excellent idea. Amazon has definitely been our friend this shopping season.

Monday, December 17, 2007

It is the beginning of the Week in Which We Leave. This would be a great thing if I weren't feeling so behind on things. I'm only really behind on the quilt, and not disastrously so. I should have finished the quilt top and done all the quilting by yesterday, and I finished about half the quilting. I've got a felted koala to finish, but it's on schedule. We've got wedding pictures to put into frames and family exchange presents to (suddenly) buy, but that's just a matter of a couple of trips to Target. I've got presents to wrap and possibly cookies to make (and some roasted garlic sourdough in the fridge, because I suddenly realized I would either have to bake this week or refresh the starter and throw some out, and I've started baking every couple of weeks partly to avoid throwing starter out), but it's really not that bad.

And the weekend was quite productive. Saturday we helped some friends move, getting some much-needed exercise for the both of us. Then we decorated the Christmas tree at last, including our first tree topper (we only got one, a red one, from Andersons because Eric saw them and had to have one). It looks like the tree has a great idea. Sunday it was snowing and snowing, and we stayed inside, doing laundry and dishes and quilting until Eric's mom came over to try out her new toy, a snowblower. I told Eric I was going to yell at her for depriving Eric of the exercise he would have gotten shoveling the driveway (everyone, including him, assumed he would be doing the entire long driveway while I stayed inside, presumably warming up the cocoa and mending his shirts while his slippers waited by his easy chair), but he got such a kick out of the new toy as well that he went to help her clean off the driveway and the cars at her house, so it worked out.

Today, the work is not slowing down as my coworker has repeatedly promised. I suppose I've only got until Thursday to worry about it anyway. After that, I don’t think about work at all; instead, I will be baking Christmas cookies, meeting old friends and online friends, and unloading the heavy presents that I foolishly bought to tote 2500 miles across the country.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Eric and I get ever closer to having an actual fight. By 'fight' I mean 'both of us are mad at the other at the same time for more than five seconds and express it.' (Was it Anne or Gilbert who said, "That's a pleasure all the greater for being deferred"? Whoever it was quoted it from something else, too. I'm going to have to get those books for any daughters we might have, mainly so I can read them again myself.) In our case, it's mostly deferred by Eric's not really getting mad at me. Unfortunately for him, I've inherited my mom's disposition rather than my dad's, so the converse isn't true--but it's also usually over quickly and tinged by guilt. (Dunno whether that's really helpful, or at least healthy, but there it is.)

Last night it was sparked by the Christmas decorations--the tree, the garlands, their not-doneness; and was really caused by our mutual weariness from this semester and what I called the energy imbalance--that is, that I have more energy to do things than he does (partly because of the medication he's on, probably--but it's hard to say). Also, I care more about domestic things--having a clean kitchen, putting up decorations--than he does, and so I feel bad asking him to help, but I also feel resentful doing it myself. This is an older issue, and one we've been working on already, but it's by no means conquered. This marriage thing, it can be exhausting.

Tonight, he's got grading and I've got quilting, and we're putting this tree up but probably not decorating it. This is a problem with leaving town early for Christmas: we're both feeling very rushed. As I told him, once we have a kid we'll start having Christmases at home all the time and people can travel to us if they wish--another reason to get started on the having kids as soon as we might. Dad's already offered to come out to us next Christmas--now it's just a matter of convincing Mom. Considering the huge snowstorm they flew into the last time they visited me in Ohio, that may take some doing, but we have a year for it.

Monday, December 10, 2007

And the final tally is:
  • We had to get up to the alarm on Saturday to get to the bank and the salon. I didn't find any shoes during Eric's haircut, which was disappointing. Stores are scary this time of year.
  • I got about as much done on the quilt top as I projected--flower blocks finished. I also worked on the tree skirt; I shouldn't have used white as the main color but decided I don't care enough to put a backing on it, so all I need to do is apply the binding. This is fine, because:
  • We didn’t get the Christmas tree because there was an ice storm warning and we decided driving was not something we wanted to do. We will today, if the weather doesn't dump more ice on us. Eric's school is closed today (and it's his last week of the classes he's taking! Hurrah!) so he should be able to finish his homework during the day and we can go as soon as I get home.
  • The bread is baked. The sourdough was disappointing; I threw some rye and some whole wheat flour in and it's okay, but too dense, and not sour. Apparently it was just the extra-long ferment that brought out the sourness. The rye was very good structurally but the flavor wasn't as good as the previous version, and the crust is still a tad tough for Eric's liking (though much softer).
  • PV is finished. Final count: 105,375. Final count of the "cut scenes" file: 119,999. Eric asked if he could be my reader and give me feedback, and I said he could read it but couldn't tell me I needed to change anything, and I think he was annoyed.
  • I helped Michelle make two batches of Christmas cookie dough and bake one (cutouts). She loves my Kitchenaid stand mixer. She also loves Alton Brown, which is where the recipe came from.
  • The kitchen is slightly cleaner than it started. Slightly. I asked Eric to put the dishes away and he said he'd definitely consider it.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Here's my weekend list:
  • Finish the quilt top. Estimated likelihood: middling. I'm behind as usual. I'll get the flower block borders done and cut out the sashing at least.
  • Finish PV ONCE AND FOR ALL. Estimated likelihood: good. I only have the final go-through to accomplish and this writing-at-nine-o'-clock thing is working well for me.
  • Bake more sourdough and a different rye bread. Estimated likelihood: excellent. The sourdough starter was fed this morning and is waiting on my kitchen. (Contingent item: dry some sourdough starter as a back-up if the bread turns out well.)
  • Bake Christmas cookies and/or make peppermint patties. Estimated likelihood: fair. I'm looking forward to it but it's a lower priority than most of the others.
  • Clean the kitchen. Estimated likelihood: so-so. I'll clean, but will I clean again after I do all this baking? And if net cleaning is zero I don't think it counts. Like the physics concept of work, don't you know.
  • Get our Christmas tree. Estimated likelihood: extremely high. Unless we are completely snowed in and/or one of us falls ill, we are getting our Christmas tree this weekend. Because there are less than two weeks before we leave for Seattle, and after we come back there are only a few days until New Year to enjoy it, and I wish to maximize my Christmas tree enjoyment.
  • Sleep late. Estimated likelihood: 99.9999999%.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The rye is marvelous. Eric's only concern is whether the crust will soften, after a night in a plastic bag, enough to make him happy for sandwich bread--that and that the loaf could have been a little taller. If he's happy with the bread tomorrow I'll look at tweaking the recipe to increase it by just a fraction, maybe an eighth or so. There's also another recipe in the book to try; I'll try that one next week and see if it's better, worse, or just about the same.

My teeth and gums hurt. It started a couple of days ago with my gums hurting after flossing and continuing to do so for about ten minutes; now they're hurting when I eat things like an apple, or a crusty piece of bread. Dammit. I'll call the dentist Monday. What do they do to treat gingivitis, anyway? And where did this come from? I floss every day.
Woohoo! My sourdough is starting to taste sour! I made a No-Knead sourdough bread based on a recipe I found somewhere on The Fresh Loaf, but with more flour because I think my starter is more hydrated than it's supposed to be. I've been feeding it equal volumes of flour and water, not weight, and it's been fine, but I think I'll switch to weight from now on. Anyway, it was an extremely slack dough, kind of like a ciabatta, I think, so I baked it in a loaf pan, and it turned out golden and crusty and it's got a sour taste to it! Hooray!

In other news, we're one Christmas present away from done, and I have the task today of testing Christmas lights. Happily there aren't very many of them. I also need to go grocery shopping (tomorrow), finish some piecing, do the laundry, clean the kitchen, send Mom's tree skirt to her, finish my tree skirt, and make peppermint patties. Oh, and bake another loaf, this one of sourdough rye. December's starting well as far as I'm concerned.