A letter to Mary Boulton

March 8th, 2012 § 2

Today I write a letter to Mary Boulton — my favourite fictional character. Not of all time, but for the past couple of years. Mary is my favourite because of her unlikely locavoire heroism. Mary deemed herself an inept housewife, and yet , this witch-like, maybe even mad character, is my favourite because of her authenticism in making stews, in using cinnamon, in inspiring me to be a better cook.

Today I write a letter. Mary Boulton, this one is addressed to you.

Today I write a letter to Mary Boulton, because if you’ve been following this blog for some time you’ve probably noticed many posts where Mary and the heaviness of her black skirts and her use of cinnamon and her seemingly un-tasty stews made me stock up my pantry with spices. I consistently attended farmer’s markets. I tried to eat locally. I dreamed of rabbit stew. I decided I should become a hunter (this is something I’m seriously pursuing now). I looked at cooking not just to produce a meal but as a way of living. I desperately tried to create a woodland feel in my kitchen.

I read about Mary and I roasted hazelnuts. I roasted hazelnuts so that my home would feel warm. I became a nutmeg advocate, because well, it really does deserve to regain its indispensable spot in the kitchen.

Today I write to Mary and I roast hazelnuts.

Well, I actually can’t mail this letter to a fictional character. So I address this one to Mary and I mail it to Gil Adamson. To House of Anansi Press. I feel both embarrassed and excited at the same time. This is my first fan mail. Will Gil think I’m crazy when she reads a letter addressed to Mary? Oh gosh, I hope not. I roast hazelnuts.

And I make pie. Mary was resourceful. She fled to the mountains and she set on surviving. I make pie. I tell my story to dough. I survive.

I roll out dough. And I think about what Mel said: we read fiction so we know we are not alone. Mary Boulton, this one is addressed to you.

This is the pie crust recipe I use. It never fails me. I keep all ingredients cold. COLD. And I work quickly. I talk to the dough and it cooperates. I think we’ve formed a special relationship. It comes out flaky. It comes out buttery. I like this pie crust recipe.

This one will be an apple pie. I think Mary would approve. I make sure to add  a lot of cinnamon and nutmeg. This one is for you Mary.

Pie goes in the oven.

I look at the ball of dough left-over on my counter and I think of Mary.

Dear Mary Boulton, 

This one is addressed to you and your stews. I wonder what Gil Adamson would think about you inspiring my cookery. Mary, this one is addressed to you. Now, here is a slice of pie!

Side note:

Melly and Mojgan’s Mail Marathon. That’s what we’d called it.

Day 6 is pie day and I’ve used this Smitten Kitchen apple pie recipe — with the addition of a lot more nutmeg of course.

The Deal: To each write one letter a day in March (Monday to Friday)
The Rules: Letters to be hand-written and documented on our blogs
The Inspiration: Mary Robinette Kowal and her Challenge: “A Month of Letters”

You can read about letters 1-5 here. And follow Melly’s letter writing here.

 

Someday we’ll all be found.

March 7th, 2012 § 0

Today I made a purchase.

I bought a mini-Frank.

A micro-moosehead.

A laser-cut cardboard moosehead.

Today I bought a moosehead. And I bought it for Donkey Kong Junior.

 

Today I bought a moosehead and I wrote a letter.

This one is addressed to Donkey Kong Junior.

It feels strange to write a letter to someone you have yet to meet. To someone who hasn’t even been born yet. But I write anyway. Donkey Kong Junior (DKJ for short is what we call the recipient of this letter until mom and dad come up with a name) is set to be born soon. And as I write this letter I think: I should give DKJ some advice here. I should provide some insight into growing up. Into life. Into surviving life.

I scratch that thought.

I think maybe I should be witty. But then again, who am I kidding!? By the time DKJ is old enough to be able to read my letter, based on our relationship and interactions, it will become apparent that I just don’t get sarcasm. I fail at quick-witted dialogue. The letter will just become silly.


I write to DKJ. I write about not having any advice for growing up. I write about having a mongrel heart. I write about my struggle in life — to be good. I write to DKJ about lost hearts, about home, and about being found. Someday we will all be found.

DKJ, one day we’ll all be found. We’ll be found amongst friends. In reading books. One day we’ll all be found. For now, I look up to your parents for advice on living life good.

I write to DKJ about the Saba wind (this northernly wind that is most often the bearer of good news in Iranian literature). The Saba wind arrives and it brings news of spring. It arrives and dandelions do the dance they do. Donkey Kong Junior, one day we’ll go and pick up dandelions. We’ll make wishes and we’ll blow the dandelions into the Saba wind.

One day we’ll read together. We’ll eat cookies. And we’ll look at our matching cardboard trophies and we’ll laugh.

Dear Donkey Kong Junior, 

This one is addressed to you. Spring is near and soon you’ll be here too.
I can’t wait to meet you.  

Side note:

Melly and Mojgan’s Mail Marathon. That’s what we’d called it. And on Day 5 I write a letter to you, Donkey Kong Junior. I write a letter to you and I hope you’ll like your moosehead.

The Deal: To each write one letter a day in March (Monday to Friday)
The Rules: Letters to be hand-written and documented on our blogs
The Inspiration: Mary Robinette Kowal and her Challenge: “A Month of Letters”

You can read about letters 1-4 here. And follow Melly’s letter writing here.

It’s all about the stories.

March 6th, 2012 § 3

Whiskey is many things to many people, but at the very root of its popularity lies the story. That’s what Kate Hopkins says.

She says whiskey could be a tale told at the bar in which the drink plays a supporting role. Maybe it’s an anecdote about the drink itself. Maybe it’s sharing the story of the distillery.

It’s all about the stories when it comes to whiskey. This is what I read in a book my friend recently sent me. 99 Drams of Whiskey: The Accidental Hedonist’s Quest for the Perfect Shot AND the History of the Drink.

I am writing 7 letters today. I’m writing letters to my urban family. The family we’ve put together of friends. The urban family which has food as the protagonist of its story. It was a member of my urban family who actually sent me a copy 99 Drams. I learn a lot from her when it comes to writing; she tells the story of whiskey and all things sweet and smoky at her blog: smokysweet.com.

I set to writing. It’s too early in the day to be drinking whisky or else that’s what I would have done when writing to my urban family. It just would have been befitting.

I write a letter. This one is addressed to Dear Urban Family.

 Dear Urban Family,
Thank you for continuously inspiring me. For keeping me focused. For being there. Thank you for being the nicest group of people I know. I wish I could mail a lemon tart with each letter. 

Dear Urban Family, I will think of you, of our food stories, when I think of whisky. When I drink whisky. It’s all about the stories. 

I miss you.

Dear Urban Family, this one is addressed to you.  

Side note:

Melly and Mojgan’s Mail Marathon. That’s what we’d called it.

The Deal: To each write one letter a day in March (Monday to Friday)
The Rules: Letters to be hand-written and documented on our blogs
The Inspiration: Mary Robinette Kowal and her Challenge: “A Month of Letters”

Today is Day 4. Letter 4. You can read about letters 1-3 here.

You can also follow Melly’s letter writing here.

One in, One out

March 5th, 2012 § 1

It was early in the morning and we were sitting over donuts and it was shortly after decided: March will be Melly and Mojgan’s Mail Marathon.

The Deal: To each write one letter a day in March (Monday to Friday)
The Rules: Letters to be hand-written and documented on our blogs
The Inspiration: Mary Robinette Kowal and her Challenge: “A Month of Letters”

Today I received mail. Today I received the letter Melly mailed me! It is funny Melly should write to me about her pen when I was just pondering the meanings I’ve instilled in this object — in this pen I define home in.

My fountain pen

It is made out of clear plastic and when it’s resting on my table, I like the way the plastic looks against the rustic feel of the wood. Floor and dancer. That’s how I see the pen on the table. Pen as dancer, gliding ever so smoothly, dancing its way between finger, paper, and wood.

I like the way my pen looks against the wood.

I also like that I can see when it needs to be re-filled.

It is a sturdy pen this pen. It’s been thrown around in my bag. It’s been sat on. It’s been lost and found. It’s survived it all. Though I really do try my best to keep it safe.

This pen is my very first fountain pen. I bought it with my friend Dan and have since used it to write letters to him. In fact, every time that I use this pen, I think of Dan. I like that about my pen. I like that it reminds me of my friends.

Next letter I’ll write will be to my urban family: the friends I hold so dear, they’re family. And I will use fountain pen to do the writing.

Today Melly’s letter arrived.

Today, I mailed a letter addressed to Dear N. And I made cookies. And I boxed cookies. And I really thought about my pen.

Today. One letter  in. One letter out. Fountain pen is resting. On table.

The Meaning of Things

March 5th, 2012 § 2

Of all the things that we use and surround ourselves with, the home contains the most special objects: those that were selected by the person to attend to. Or to have close at hand. “They create permanence in the intimate life of a person. They are involved in the making of our identity.”

After following Mel’s journey in finding a home, a sense of belonging, in Swing Low: A Life, I’ve become more attuned to the meaning I am instilling in the objects around me. And I read The Meaning of Things: Domestic Symbols and the Self. This book draws on a survey of eighty families in Chicago who were interviewed on the subject of their feelings about common household objects.

That’s what the authors say. They say objects, specially domestic objects, create permanence in the intimate life of a person. They are involved in the making of our identity. If we understand this relationship we can learn about who we are. We can grow as people.

In the end, the authors suggest that this human capacity of the creation and redirection of meaning offers hope for survival. I like this.

I look at Frank the Cardboard Deer. He is not amused.

I think he is just jealous of all the care I’ve given my fountain pen lately. He thinks we’ve bonded now. I tell Frank don’t be ridiculous. I say, “Pen and I have always had a special relationship. I like the way he knows just how I like to swing my Y’s and how much pressure I like to put on the paper”. I like how Pen knows how to move within my hand. It dances it’s way between paper and finger and glides smoothly. It is a pen only for me to use and I take care of it.

I take out Pen and I set to writing. This one is addressed to Dear N.

I write and I think about the meaning I’ve instilled in all the objects in my world. It wasn’t too long ago that Pear and Strangers and I finally used that spelt flour. The Meaning of Things is a beautiful book. And it reminds us that if we look real hard, we just might be surprised by how we use our objects, what they mean to us, and who we are as a result of this relationship.

If we look real hard, we just mind find home where the pen is. Or in the pantry where the flour lives. Or on the wall where a cardboard deer repeatedly tries to breakaway from the wall, unsuccessfully.

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I put Pen down and set to making cookies. Not just any cookies though. I’m going to re-attempt my relationship with sugar-less, wheat-less cookie dough. I’m going to make cookies out of walnut and brown rice flour.

Dear N, 

I’m writing you a letter and I’m making you cookies. And I’m hoping you will find in this envelope a captured moment of home. 

Walnut Cinnamon Rounds
Recipe adapted from Sweet Freedom by Ricki Heller

Ingredients

2 cups (230 g) raw walnut halves
1/4 cup (30 g) finely ground flax seeds
Grated zest of one lemon
1/4 cup (35 g) brown rice flour
1-1/2 tsp (7.5 ml) cinnamon
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) baking soda
1/4 tsp (1 ml) fine sea salt
1/4 cup (60 ml) agave nectar, light or dark

Although since baking these cookies I’ve come across articles (one of which is here) which point out agave nectar falls short of the health benefits it’s awarded with, I think using it once in awhile in moderation is okay if you like the taste. And I found in these cookies, the taste of agave nectar did make a difference. I liked it.

Direction

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and lince a large cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a food processor, whir the walnuts and flax seeds until you have a very fine meal. There should be no chunks of walnut visible but at the same time you shouldn’t overmix or you’ll end up with walnut butter which is very delicious and a great spread, but not a cookie. No, it’s not a cookie. So don’t overmix.

Mix lemon zest, rice flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Add walnut mixture. Blend all together.

Add the agave nectar and mix until the mixture begins to leave the sides of the bowl. It should look like a moist dough that holds together when squeezed between your fingers.

You could mix everything in the food processor, but I like mixing by hand. It makes me feel like I’m working hard and so should be able to eat all the cookies afterwards.

Using a small ice cream scoop or tablespoon (15 ml) roll dough into balls and place about 2 inches apart on cookie sheet.

Flatten each ball into about 1/4 inch thickness with your fingers.

I baked cookies in the oven for about 8 to 10 minutes, rotating halfway through.

I set to writing.

I write to Dear N.

It’s my first time making this recipe and so I don’t have the same connection with the dough as I would with other cookies. I kept on peaking. I keep looking in the oven. I keeping checking on the cookies.

They’re done.

I write a letter to Dear N. And I make cookies. And I find meaning in my home through writing. I find home in Pen.

Side note:

Melly and Mojgan’s Mail Marathon. That’s what we’ve called it.

The Deal: To each write one letter a day in March (Monday to Friday)
The Rules: Letters to be hand-written and documented on our blogs
The Inspiration: Mary Robinette Kowal and her Challenge: “A Month of Letters”

You can follow Melly’s letter writing here.

If you’d like to receive a hand-written note from me, send me your address at mojganfay at gmail dot com. I’d be happy to send you a letter, or a cookie. Or both.

Addressed to Dear E

March 2nd, 2012 § 4

It’s March 2nd.

March 2nd and also the 2nd day to mail a hand-written letter. And this one is addressed to E.

It’s addressed to E because she is the first person I would message when coffee table arrives.  She is the first person I would think of when I’m planning my menu for the week. She is the first person I would tell that at last my copy of Rememberer is here. I place Rememberer on coffee table. And I set to plan my menu for the week. Also, she bakes cupcakes and delicious eats, and brings them to work for me to eat. Need I say more? Letter is addressed to Dear E.

You may have noticed already that I’m a list maker. I make lists of lists. I also studied Computer Science and so sometimes I make little charts and diagrams of my lists. I create relations between the lists. Sometimes it just gets out of hand.

On a given day I probably refer to several goal sheets and consult multiple accountability coaches. E is also a coach for me. She runs. I run. She eats good. I eat good. We keep each other in check.

Rememberer is a fun planner that interweaves micro-fiction, interesting illustrations, and interactive imagery and text in the midst of your weekly planning. It is part planner, part art book, with the theme of (dis)organization and information overload spanning through it. To see the beautiful imagery and text that is the Rememberer watch this video of Julie Wilson talking about her favourite hands-on books of 2011.

I place Rememberer on new coffee table.

I place Rememberer on coffee table. I set to letter writing. And then I plan my menu for the week.

Dear E, 

In addition to your letter, I’m also sharing with you my tomato soup recipe, because you asked for it. And because we keep each other in check. Here is to a great week of running and delicious eats. 

Tomato Soup

Ingredients

1 large leek, sliced
3 stalks of celery, chopped
6 carrots, medium sized (if carrots come with greens then I like to add those to the soup too)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cans of 28-ounce crushed tomato
3 cups vegetable stock
cinnamon, salt, pepper and lemon juice all to taste
nutmeg, well, just add some nutmeg

Direction

1. Cook leeks, celery and carrots with vegetable oil in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add salt, pepper, and cinnamon until tender (approximately 15-20 minutes).

2. Add tomatos and vegetable stock.

3. Reduce heat to low.

4. Puree all ingredients with a hand blender once it’s reached your preferred level of cookery.

You can add a bit of half&half if you like, but these days I’m all about adding a bit of vinaigrette to my soup. I like the sharpness it adds to it. Also, a bit of olive oil.

Yes, serve with a bit of vinaigrette and olive oil.

But most importantly serve alongside Pumpkin Pecan Scones.

Yes, definitely serve with pumpkin scones.

Pumpkin Pecan Scones
Recipe from chef Bobbie Jo Robertson

Ingredients

2 cups flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
12 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp ginger
1/2 cup cold butter
1/4 cup toasted pecans
2 tbsp finely chopped candied ginger (Australian ginger)
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1/4 cup half and half
1 egg

Direction

1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

3. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and spices. Grate in butter (I have a large grater and I like that the butter gets into my mixture already pea sized). If you don’t have a large grater then you can use a food processor too. Until butter is pea-sized. Stir in ginger and nuts.

4. In a separate bowl, whisk together pumpkin and half & half, and egg. Fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Form the dough gently into a ball.

5. Put out dough on floured surface and roll into 1″ thick. Using 3″ cookie cutters, cut out scones.

6. Place on baking sheet. Place into oven. Bake for 14-16 minutes.

7. Let cool.

I usually don’t add a glaze to this scone since I always serve it with tomato soup. But if you like to enjoy it with an afternoon tea then Bobbie Jo recommends drizzling the scones with a white chocolate glaze with cream cheese.

Simply combine 1/2 cup of cream cheese (at room temperature) with 4 tablespoons of melted white chocolate and 2 tablespoons of half & half. Mix until smooth. Drizzle over scones.

Run. Run. Runaway!

March 1st, 2012 § 0

I finished reading Swing Low: A Life and it’s stayed with me. I’ve decided the struggle of my life will be the struggle to be good.

Then I saw this. Then I instituted March as Letter Writing Month. Melly and Mojgan’s Mail Marathon. That’s what we’ll call it. We are going to write one letter a day (Monday to Friday) during the month of March. The letters must be handwritten. I’m going to take a picture of the letter prior to it being put in an envelope and post the picture on this blog.

Frank rolls his eyes.

He says, “how many times do we have go through this? Goal setting. Then run. Run. Runaway!”

Frank rolls his eyes.

And Ampersand just tries not to make eye contact.

And I write.

And all the while I’m thinking: this time it is different. This time I have accountability coach. This time I’m not running away but instead running on a treadmill. Running 10K. Running to gain focus. Running determined. This time I have a support system of people who keep me in check!

Frank continues to roll his eyes. He says, “but what about your February to-do list?”

I’ve crossed off items. That’s what I tell him. Besides one of my goals for February was to post more frequently on this blog. One of the goals was to take better pictures with my camera. The Mail Marathon will help with those goals. And so I set to writing.

I remind Frank that my struggle as per Swing Low is no longer to be as productive as possible but to be as good as possible. I’ll still continue to cross things off my list, but in the mean time, I like to mail letters to friends. To my coaches. I want to be good by being thankful. By sending happy surprises in the mail.

I want to mail letters. I want to mail a letter to a friend I miss. And a friend who is always there even when we don’t see each other or talk.

I write a letter on March 1st and it’s addressed to Dear M. I make sure my fountain pen is full of ink. I lay a couple of little surprises on my table and I set on writing.

I write a letter to Dear M. Surprises go in envelope. Melly and Mojgan’s Mail Marathon begins.

Want to join us in writing hand-written letters for March?

If you just want to receive a hand-written note, then send an e-mail to mojganfay at gmail dot com and I will mail you one! Happy writing!

Side note:

March to-do:

+ Mail a hand written letter a day in March.
+ Post about each letter on this blog.
+ Buy curing salts.
+ Make bacon.
+ Put up new deerhead on wall.
+ Figure out what frame sizes are needed for Ampersand wall and maybe even buy some frames.
+ Buy rubber boot tray.
+ Put up wine rack. (waiting for dot coat rack to arrive)
+ Put up dot coat rack. (hasn’t arrived yet)
+ Write post about The Show That Smells.
+ Read We Have Always Lived in The Castle.
+ Finish reading All That is Solid Melts into Air.
+ Read The Black Prince.
+ Continue reading Me++: The cyborg self and the network city. Continue working on thesis.
Again, attempt to make live active yeast.
+ Try to keep yeast alive. (it died again last time)
+ Make cinnamon bons. (on hold)
+ Make marshmallow. (on hold)
+ Make hot cocoa. Drink with homemade marshmallow. (on hold)
+ Order cheese making kit.
+ Make Dylan 10 playlist. (in progress)
+ Wear oven gloves. Don’t burn yourself. (ongoing)
+ Buy a gold fish. Name it Wi-Fi. Keep it alive.
+ Take pictures.
+ Re-design this blog.
+ Run. Run. Run. Run with focus. Run determined.

I look at to-do list.

I listen to this.

This time I just run focused though.

I run to mail a letter.

Apartment. Home.

February 25th, 2012 § 5

Miriam’s voice, as she speaks from her father’s point of view, is heart-breaking and filled with love. Miriam’s voice in Swing Low: A Life is one telling the story of her father as he struggles with depression. As he struggles with life. With eggs.

She tells this story from his point of view.

Melvin Toews took his life. Miriam Toews wrote this book as a way to make sense of it. Melvin had a low opinion of eggs.

“I had always associated them with weakness and pain”. That’s what Mel said about eggs. It is true that Mel used to be an egg-delivery boy and thus developed yolk-y thoughts, envisioning an embryonic rooster in his head, flapping wings and flying away.

Mel was depressed. And Mel didn’t like eggs.

Even though a certain chiffon cake and the 8 egg whites that were beaten non-cooperatively might suggest that after reading Swing Low I would start beating eggs and baking, pavlova is not what I was thinking about. Though am not going to lie — sometimes when I’m baking late at night and somehow I can’t separate egg yolks and nothing is working and I’m having a breakdown on my kitchen floor, well, it does feel like I have a rooster in my head, flapping his wings!

But I wasn’t thinking about eggs when I was reading Swing Low. I was thinking about home.

I was reading Swing Low and I was glancing at the helvetica we all call Ampersand.

Mel’s story ended with him taking his life. Mel struggled with life. He struggled with eggs. But for me what stood out the most was his struggle to be good. Mel felt that the struggle to be good was the purpose of life. Certainly of his life.

I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to read Swing Low. I think for me, my struggle in life is also to be good. For the past year I’ve been pre-occupied with not getting by. With being happy. But it just makes sense to struggle for goodness. I wake up everyday and I ask myself: how can I be more genuinely good? Yes. My struggle is also one for goodness.

I think Frank the Cardboard Deer thinks I’m going crazy. He says, “you think too much!”

I say, “Frank! Mel goes on to say, as per one of his favourite writers, C.S. Lewis, that we read to know we’re not alone.” I read Swing Low and it is nice to know I am not alone in my struggle for goodness.

Swing Low is a beautiful book and as I read Mel’s struggles with life, with eggs, with being good, I can’t escape the thought that he is searching for belonging. He is searching for a home.

I look at Ampersand. I too still wake up with a mongrel heart some days. I wake up with a mongrel heart and I glance at Ampersand. And I think: I and love and you. I am happy to be home.

We read to know we’re not alone. So the next time you’re having difficulty separating egg yolks late at night, maybe instead of having a breakdown on your kitchen floor, you’d reach for Swing Low.

I finished reading Swing Low, and I was happy to be home, and I didn’t think about eggs. I made Zeitoon Parvardeh. I made this olive-based spread because if I close my eyes and think of home this is what comes to my mind. It doesn’t just come to my imaginary, I can actually taste it. Yes, if home tasted like anything for me it would taste like Zeitoon Parvardeh — this olive, pomegranate, walnut concoction from the northern region of Iran. Food and the imaginery. Food and home. Zeitoon Parvardeh.

Zeitoon Parvardeh
Recipe from Kitchen of Serendip

One 6.5 ounce package of pitted green olives (about 36 large olives), drained and rinsed
1.5 cups shelled walnuts
1/4 to 1/2 cup of concentrated pomegranate juice or syrup, available in Middle Eastern stores
1/4 to 1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground golpar, available in Middle Eastern stores
Salt and pepper to taste

Direction:

Grind walnuts in food processor until fine and add to a medium-sized bowl. Add olives, either whole or chopped depending on preference. I personally think that they should be more wholesome.

Add 1/4 cup of pomegranate syrup. Combine using a spoon or spatula and taste. If you can handle a more sour spread, continue to add the remaining 1/4 cup, tasting as you go. Repeat with the lemon juice, mixing and tasting as you add.

Add the golpar, combine and taste, and add salt and pepper to taste.

Note: The spread can be eaten immediately, but will reach its peak flavor in about 3 days. It can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for about a week, if it lasts that long.

Side note:

Clearly I am still not taking good pictures. Not sure if the struggle for being good will include struggle for being a better photographer along the way too.

Run. Run. Run.

January 31st, 2012 § 4

Quickly and quietly. That’s how I eat cake late at night.

Quickly and quietly.

I eat cake quickly. And I worry about just getting by. Happiness research says  if you are not challenging yourself and learning to do new things at home, that satisfaction with your life will be elusive. I don’t want to just get by. And so I run.

I run, but this time it’s not because I’m panicked and trying to get un-lost in life. Or that I’m baking pies late at night and just can’t separate eggs even though I should. This time I’m not running because I’ve tried polyphasic sleeping in an attempt to achieve all the goals I’ve set for myself and then set a goal to un-commit from some of the things I had signed up for because even with polyphasic sleeping I couldn’t finish them all andandandandand…

I run.

This time I run because running brings out the best in me. And because research also says that exercise is no longer optional. We used to think it was. But today, it is overwhelmingly clear that exercise changes your life and makes you perform better at work. So I run.

I’ve been running 3 to 4 times a week for the past 6 months, aiming to run 10K each time. I run and I worry about getting by and I make lists. I run. And then late at night, I eat cake. Quickly. Quietly.

I’ve set some goals for this year too, but this time I don’t need to run away from them because I’ve had to start polyphasic sleeping. This time I have an accountability coach. She keeps me in check. For two weeks I categorized my goals and charted them and architected how to achieve them. I used this goal setting technique and documented goals in a spreadsheet. I ran and I made lists.

I sent goals to accountability coach. One of my goals is to publish at least two posts per month on this blog. And to re-design my blog too.

I run and I think about my lists.

February to-do:

+ Buy curing salts.
+ Make bacon.
+ Put up new deerhead on wall.
+ Figure out what frame sizes are needed for Ampersand wall and maybe even buy some frames.
+ Buy rubber boot tray.
+ Figure out a better budgeting system. Don’t spend any money system is not working.
+ Put up wine rack. Waiting for dot coat rack to arrive. 
+ Put up dot coat rack. Hasn’t arrived yet. 
Create a calendar for blog posts. Write real blog posts with better pictures of food.
Read The Boys in the Trees.
+ Read We Have Always Lived in The Castle.
Host reading group.
+ Write book review of Swing Low: A Life.
+ Get involved with Ladies Learning Code.
+ Finish reading All That is Solid Melts into Air.
Hand in school assignment.
+ Continue reading Me++: The cyborg self and the network city. Continue working on thesis.
Again, attempt to make live active yeast.
+ Try to keep yeast alive. It died. Again. 
+ Make cinnamon bons.
+ Make marshmallow.
+ Make hot cocoa. Drink with homemade marshmallow.
+ Make Valentine’s Day cards
+ Mail out Valentine’s Day cards. I so didn’t do this. But I am mailing out a letter a day in March? Can I replace goals?
+ Bake cookies. Decorate cookies.
+ See friends. Give them cookies.
+ Order cheese making kit.
+ Make Dylan 10 playlist. In progress.
+ Wear oven gloves. Don’t burn yourself. (ongoing)
+ Buy a gold fish. Name it Wi-Fi. Keep it alive.
+ Take pictures.
+ Re-design this blog.
+ Have birthday. Get older. Don’t lose perspective on life. I am now older. Also maybe more crazy? 
+ Learn to swim. Swim once a week? Registered for lessons. Had disasterous outcomes. Found new teacher. 
+ Run. Run. Run.

OK, so I have a month to get things done. Accountability coach reminds me I also have a full time job. I want to be a top performer. And so I work. Work. Work. I start losing sleeping hours. I run. I contemplate list. Then I eat cake late at night.

I think if I cross just a couple of things off this list I’ll be happy. Accountability coach keeps me in check about my goals. Real life perspective coach keeps me going on the daily runs and list making craziness.

Happiness research says  if you are not challenging yourself and learning to do new things at home, that satisfaction with your life will be elusive. It also says happiness is connected to meaningful relationships. I am happy to be surrounded by great friends. And friends who become my coaches. And friends who keep me in check. And friends who create new memories and connections for me as far as Dylan is concerned (oh, I think I can cross the Dylan 10 off of my list soon). And friends who encourage me to be bold. And friends who create running plans for me. And friends who motivate me to continue running.

But now it’s 3:31am and I’m eating cake.

Photo credit: The Kitchn by Laure Joliet

Root Beer Chocolate Bundt Cake
Recipe from Apartment Therapy’s The Kitchn

Ingredients

For cake:
2 cups root beer (we suggest Trader Joe’s Old Fashioned Root Beer, or any root beer made with cane sugar)
1 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs

For frosting:
2 ounces dark chocolate melted and cooled slightly
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup root beer
2/3 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

Direction

For the cake:
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter and flour the bundt pan.

2. In a small saucepan, heat the root beer, cocoa powder, and butter over medium heat until the butter is melted. Add the sugars and whisk until dissolved. Remove from the heat and let cool.

3. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together.

4. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs until just beaten, then whisk them into the cooled cocoa mixture until combined. Gently fold the flour mixture into the cocoa mixture. The batter will be slightly lumpy–do not overbeat, as it could cause the cake to be tough.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until a small sharp knife inserted into the cake comes out clean.

For the frosting:

1. Melt the chocolate over low heat on the stove. Add the rest of the ingedients and stir.

2. Take the mixture off the heat and allow to cool. (We put it in the fridge for about 2 minutes).

3. Whisk the cooled mixture to make sure it’s mixed well and stiff enough to frost.

You Got to Lose

January 25th, 2012 § 3

It’s said that if we tell our story over and over again, the story would have less power over us. And so I tell my story. I tell my story to friends. I tell my story to colleagues. And to neighbours.

I tell my story to bread.

Maybe it’s that I’m consumed by Lauren Berlant‘s writings and her thoughts on intimacy lately, but I knead my dough and face the contradictions of intimacy. “I didn’t think it would turn out this way.” This is the secret commemoration on intimacy. Berlant alludes to the history behind intimacy as a public mode of identification and self-development, and that the constant energy of public self-protectiveness can be sublimated into personal relations of passion, care, and good intention. There are good reasons for this aspiration Berlant says.

She says domestic privacy can feel like a controllable space of potential unconflictedness.

But intimacy only rarely makes sense of things. Intimacy is the zone where contradictions meet. I knead my dough. And I tell it my story.

I knead my dough and I tell it my story. Water, flour, and Salt. Making bread is more than just oven temperature and kneading. Making bread is about listening to your dough. It’s about poking it. Feeling its texture. It’s about letting it rest. Yeast, flour, water, and salt. Making bread is about moving with the rhythm of the dough. So I knead and I feel the dough under my hand. Smooth texture. That’s good. I knead and I tell this dough my story.

The bread at San Francisco’s Tartine Bakery sells out within an hour almost every day. Chad says that his strongest inspiration for being a baker came not from real bread but from images of bread. Images of a time and place when bread was the foundation of a meal and at the centre of daily life.

Thus he began his search for a certain loaf with an old soul. Bread is intimate. It’s also about managing fermentation. Chad starts our bread making journey with a basic country bread that uses active live yeast. Yes. A vigorous starter. We learn about managing wild yeasts and bacteria.

Developing a starter begins with making culture. I’ve attempted to make my own starter several times now. Each to no avail. First I broke the unspoken rule and named my starter before it had passed its maturation period. Then I failed at maintaining it consistently. Now I just look at it and wonder if it’s going to turn into some sort of monsterosity. I eye it cautiously and work it into the dough.

Yes, I knead my dough and I think about intimacy and I tell it my story. I was a heavy heart to carry. I reach for red lipstick. Well, red-lipsed you can face anything, no? I reached for red lipstick hoping this dough would rest and rise and make a loaf of bread filled with little wholes of intimacy. I reached for red lipstick but then grabbed One Bloody Thing After Another. Ann and her sister Margaret don’t have much of a choice but to feed their mother (she won’t eat anything that’s already dead). It’s not easy. But then it’s family. It’s not supposed to be easy.

I eye my yeast. It needs to be fed everyday too. I worry it’s not going to make it like the other starters I attempted. Red-lipsed or not, I worry that this living organism on my counter might actually turn into something more than I can handle. But then again, when it comes to matters of intimacy, it’s not supposed to be easy, right? I knead my dough.

One Bloody Thing After Another was heartwarming and beautiful. With a mixture of humour and horror, short and powerful sentences simply made me want to hug someone. That’s why I’ve put it on top of my Tartine Bread book.

I read One Bloody Thing After Another and I knew I was going to be okay. Just not today. Today I wear red lipstick and I knead dough.

I read One Bloody Thing After Another though and I think: if there ever was a feel good book, this just might be mine. Intimacy is a complicated thing. It shapes the narrative we want to have for our life and it disrupts that narrative just as easily. I let this dough rest on my counter. I try not to make eye contact with the starter. Even red-lipsed I can’t handle losing another starter again.

Even red-lipsed I can’t.

Photo credit: Flickr: Scrambldmeggs

To make starter
(recipe from Tartine Bread

Mix 5 pounds of bread flour — half white and half whole wheat flour. Fill a small, clear bowl halfway with lukewarm water. Add a handful of the 50/50 flour blend to the water and mix with your hands to achieve the consistency of a thick batter with no lumps.

Use a dough spatula to clean the clumps off your hands and tidy the inside of the bowl. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and place in a cool, shaded spot for 2 to 3 days.

Check to see if any bubbles have formed around the sides and on the surface.

To feed the culture, discard about 80 perfect of it, and replace with equal amounts of water and flour blend. Repeat this process everyday. The starter needs to be fed once a day. Everyday.

The book says that training your starter is a forgiving process. It says: don’t worry if you forget to feed the starter one day; just make sure to feed it the next. The only way to mess up a starter is to neglect it for too long or subject it to extreme temperatures. That’s what the book says.

I disagree.

I’ve messed up my starter every time I’ve attempted it. Where is that red lipstick? Or a glass of scotch? Single Malt. I need to tend to this starter. Oh god, I hope it doesn’t die.

Side note:

I’ve told my story over and over again. I’ve told my story to friends. And I’ve told my story to bread.

I make bread and I eye my starter. I think about One Bloody Thing After Another and I hope my starter won’t become a monster. I also realize that I’m going to be okay. Sometimes you got to lose love to find love.

I’m happy I’ve found bread.