30 May 2010

Keep it out of the landfill

Illinois actually has a state law that prohibits the dumping of lawn waste into landfills. So what to do with all this stuff? Compost.

Here's my $50, 2-hour project to stop paying to have my lawn waste hauled away.

Four cement blocks @ $1.49 ea. 8 landscape timbers @ $4.75/ea. 4 3/8" x 2' rebars @ $1.69/ea. Total cost with tax: under $50. Ok, not counting the two replacement drill batteries ($59 at Home Depot) that I had to buy to finish this job. I would have had to buy batteries anyway.

It was easy. Just drill half way through the ends of the first two timbers and lay them on the blocks. Insert the rebar in the holes. Then drill holes all the way through all remaining timbers and slide them over the rebars, Lincoln log fashion.

Stacked and ready for action!

Let's get composting!

I put in some rotted mulch I've had sitting on my garden for two years. That brought in a lot of, well, rotted organic matter and night crawlers and other creepy crawlies.

I threw in some old dog food bags I was storing in the shed that's being taken down this summer.


Scout is a good boy

Whole wheat, peanut butter-oatmeal dog treats. Simple, cheap, and easy to make. Best of all, just the right size for training an overzealous, young, whip smart Australian cattle dog.

28 May 2010


This was my breakfast.

Poached eggs a la silicone poach pods and a fresh loaf of homemade ciabatta. I got a new cookbook from America's Test Kitchen show. I've never seen the show, but apparently it's on PBS. In any event, they had far too many pork recipes for my tastes and not enough bread, but they do explain why they are doing each step and what it achieves in the way of rising. It is one of the first books that allowed me to actually understand the why behind baking.

It was damn good. I'm making more today. Did I mention that my car is in the shop and I'm stuck at home? Ok, there's that.

This is a weird bread to make because the loaves are flat. In fact, you have to overwork the dough to make them flat and not rise.

And the dough is extremely wet. Think Jabba the Hutt.

And by some miracle, it turns into these awesome, mouth-watering loaves.

That are just fun to hold.

But even better to eat. I prefer it with a bit of honey.

26 May 2010

Why I love my job

I have been watching quite a few TED videos of late. I've been giving a lot of thought on my professional tasks...specifically, teaching, and how I might do that better. I also have been reading about the world and struggling to understand how to make it better, mostly through articles posted by J on venues too numerous to track down.

All of these things have coalesced to convince me of a single truth, and it is this:

Most unhappiness is derived from outside of ourselves. We are happy beings except when we succumb to the temptation to compare ourselves to others. When we are children and we are full of ourselves, we never give a thought to whether our talents and our interests are going to lead us to fame or fortune, or whether we have aspirations similar to those of our friends and colleagues. We don't care that Johnny or Jane are smarter, better looking, or can sing better than us. What we lack in talent, we make up for in enthusiasm. Think about it. When you are a kid, it isn't your ability to carry a tune. It's how loud you sing. It is a shame that at an increasingly early age, we are forcing children into adult notions of success and failure. We teach children to compete on looks, grades, leadership, athletics, and other weird notions we have about achievement. We teach children to be embarrassed about preferring NOVA over ESPN, any visible disabilities (no matter how slight), hair type, skin color, big feet, crooked teeth, and all sorts of ridiculous things. We don't look at children as 9 year olds. We look at them as half an adult. I cannot tell you how many ads picture toddlers as divas or sports stars. We have babies at computers acting as the spokesperson for Wall Street trading firms. We have kids competing to get into the "right" kindergarten. And the kids who go to their failing public school we assume will be failures at life. We, and by we I mean our society, pigeonhole kids based on their parents' income, where they grew up, and where they matriculated.

In a presumable meritocracy, we behave more like an aristocracy.

We no longer have individual achievement, but at every step we are judged against a standardized ideal. Our inability to meet certain standards labels us a geek, a freek, a stoner, or just some middle-of-the-road loser. In such an environment, envy is the overwhelming emotion of the masses. Followed closely by depression, anger, and aggression. Only a few can make it to the top. Are the rest of us failures?

I have been luckier than most. I convinced myself at a very early age that no one was better than me. Now some people have (incorrectly) labeled this narcissism. It is not. It is an inherent sense of equality. I have a well developed sense of social justice. Not as well developed as some lower on the social ladder than myself, but I think I did alright for figuring it out on my own. So if no one is better than me, I didn't have to be afraid of anyone. And I wasn't. I wasn't afraid of teacher, or my dad's executive friends, or someone who was interviewing me for a job. The part of this equation that was missing was this. I DID think I was better than some other people. And that misperception has taken me a long time to figure out, straighten out, and make a part of my world view.

I tell you this, to get at a simple point. When I looked seriously at what created a positive, happy working experience for me, it was this: I was happy in a position where I was treated with respect and I was unhappy where I was not. I was happy in a position (no matter what it was), where I felt I was good at what I did, where my contributions were meaningful, and I felt successful. I was happy when the days things went right outnumbered the days things went wrong. And the jobs that I didn't like...well, those were the kind where bosses tried to make me feel like I'd sinned when something didn't go well. We don't hit home runs everyday. But I don't believe that we deserve to be treated as though we are personally inadequate just because we didn't hit the ball out of the park every time up to the plate. I wanted a position where I felt competent, valued, and in control of how I felt on a daily basis. I was happiest in a job where a mistake was noted and we moved on. I was unhappiest in a job where a mistake was blown out of proportion and made me fear for my job. If a job made me feel like I was inadequate, it wouldn't be long before I was looking for another job. Notice, it didn't matter whether I really WAS inadequate, but simply that I FELT inadequate. I don't like feeling that way and I don't think anyone else does either.

I had a number of positive working experiences that, when a new supervisor came along, turned into a nightmare. And perhaps it is a bit silly on my part, but I believe that the things that make me happy are the things that make other people happy. I believe that it is very possible for a janitor, a cleaning lady, a dishwasher, a garbage man, and a cashier to love the work they do. I know a woman, a professional, who treats every single service employee she encounters with a presumed air of incompetence. She expects poor treatment and she usually finds it. She then makes a massive scene that embarrassed herself more than the person she was ripping a new one. If we treat the janitor, the cleaning lady, the dishwasher, the garbage man, and the cashier as equals and with respect, we contribute meaningfully to their happiness.

And this gets to the other great lesson in life I have learned, from my Grams no less:

It cost you nothing to make someone's day.

This is not just a call to be nicer to the people we encounter everyday. This is a call to invest in our social well being. If we can adjust our behavior even the slightest and improve our nation's citizens' satisfaction with their jobs, we improve our national lot. For that, I'm ready and willing. Life is too short to judge yourself by someone else's perverted standards. What's say we do our own thing and just be happy out there?

20 May 2010

Why is Google the most frequent visitor to my blog?

You know, I was really thinking I had a fan. And honestly, I'm normally not some sort of stalker. But I don't know anyone in Mountain View, California. Hell, I barely know anyone (outside of a professional relationship) in California. And when I look at my site tracker stats and I see that a someone from Mountain View, California, has visited my site every single day....well, a D is gonna get curious.

So I copied the IP address from sitemeter and googled it. And turns out, I was googling Google. For some reason, the most frequent visitor to my blog (far more frequent a visitor than even I am) is Google. I assume they are scanning my blog for photos and key words.

That's kind of scary. That's kind of direct-link-to-the-worldwide-web that I'm not sure I'm comfortable with. It is making me think that using blogspot, gmail, and Google as my main blog host, email host, and search engine probably isn't a good idea.

So, while I love the hits I was getting, I'm not exactly sure I am ready to have the world reading everything I write. It was fun when this was a blog for just my friends and me to exchange ideas, daily thoughts and funny anecdotes. This whole scanning my blog for the outside world idea is a little creepy.

Any of you have similar things happening?

16 May 2010

Storage Solutions

Pegboard storage solution for my kitchen pantry. I am so tired of all my counter space and stove top cluttered up with all this stuff. Cheap project. Acceptable solution.

15 May 2010

Michelle Obama, Fat People, Heath Policy, and Me

I am not a big reader of our campus newspaper, but one day last February, a copy was hanging around or lunch room on campus and I read while I ate. I found this article. Overweight woman equates obesity to genetically determined eye color, or attached earlobes. It pissed me off. I remember being incensed. I thought that I should write a rebuttal. But then I thought to myself, "do I really need to attack a woman who is obviously struggling with issues of self-acceptance and self-esteem?" The answer was no. But I haven't forgotten this editorial and I haven't forgotten those things that bothered me about her article.

She argues that her size is a genetically determined given. She is angry that our society doesn't accept her genetically determined size. And to a certain extent her metabolism may be genetically determined, but at less than 5' and more than 200 lbs., this lady's weight problem is beyond the realm of something that could be blamed on a sluggish thyroid gland or a metabolism "resistant" to give up stored calories and fat. Despite her persistent claims that she is "healthy", that she doesn't eat more than the average person, that she exercises, that she is the victim of an unfair, unjust and discriminating society, that weight-loss programs don't work (and in fact are bad for you), and that fat people are actually protected from some health problems, this is about something else. This article IS about a failure to accept personal responsibility for lifestyle choices.

The crux of her complaint is that "fat" is the new racism. The panty-twist-inducing thing about her editorial was not her accurate description of the discrimination felt by large people, which I think is real. My complaint is that she attempts to derail legitimate, powerful efforts to address a growing health issue in this country. This author vilifies the First Lady personally for her much needed campaign against childhood obesity. She strikes out at a university program designed to help college students learn how to eat healthy and integrate exercise into their lifestyles. This article is about deflection. Denial. Anger. Unhappiness. This article is about a woman angry about a culture that doesn't celebrate her body shape. This is about the unfairness, and possibly even the cruelty of not fitting in.

And where do I get off making grand pronouncements about a woman I dont' know? A woman whose health history is a complete mystery to me? A woman whose life experiences I can't possibly understand? I make these statements because I'm standing in the sinking ship with her.

I am fat. Pleasingly plump. Rotund. Harboring a baroque physique. I have gained and lost significant amounts of weight at various times in my life. I can tell you with complete honesty that I ate my way into bigger sizes, exercised my way into smaller sizes, failed to change my lifestyle long-term. Lather, rinse, repeat every 5-8 years or so.

And what have I learned from this? I have learned that the human body is a remarkably efficient machine. It adapts nearly instantly to whatever demands we place on it. It will adapt muscles and tissues and metabolism to accommodate an extra 60 pounds, but should I decide to start exercising, my body also responds nearly instantaneously to build new muscle and lung capacity. My body is not my enemy. My body is a my best ammunition for a healthy lifestyle. It thrives on good care. It squeaks by when I abuse it. But in the end, I am responsible for my size and no one else. Is my body significantly different than the author of this article? Possibly, but I doubt it. Unless she is under a doctor's care for some specific disease of which obesity is a symptom, I maintain that she is fat (like me) because she made lifestyle choices that keep her that way.

I love food. I love rich foods that aren't good for me. I love large portion sizes. I love seconds, thirds, and leftovers. Sure, I know how to eat better. Sure, I realize that it can't be healthy to eat everyday like it's Thanksgiving, Easter, and Christmas all wrapped up in one. I know that I should incorporate regular exercise into my lifestyle. I wouldn't go without food, so why do I choose to go without exercise? College in general and graduate school in particular are anathema to a healthy lifestyle. I am poor. I am time constrained. I am under stress. I have limited free time and instead of choosing to work out, I generally choose to relax, hang out, eat sugary foods, sleep, or any number of other activities that fail to burn calories.

I am big. Maybe I'm not big enough to have people look at me funny when I order dessert. Or maybe I just don't order dessert enough. Or maybe I don't give a rat's ass what anyone else thinks of my menu selections. Or maybe I'm unobservant. Or maybe I don't let those people govern the way I live my life. If someone disapproves of my fashion sense, menu selections, drinking habits, carbon footprint, politics, or stance on the war in Afghanistan, I don't let it ruin my day. If some guy isn't interested in me because I'm a bit plump, I don't consider it a personal failure on my part. I don't call him a size-ist pig. I think that my looks or my personality just don't make his nether regions tingle. I'm not his cup of tea. No biggie. He might not have liked me if I looked like Christie Brinkley. And I most certainly don't take it personally when the First Lady of the United States calls the childhood obesity problem in our country the health care crisis it is and devotes her time to trying to do something about it.

I am currently trying to shed some pounds. I'd lost 22 lbs when I learned I had a cracked tibia and was put on exercise restriction for a month while it healed. I got a dog (because nothing will keep you more active than a dog under 2 full of puppy energy). I was still able to walk and we were taking daily 3-mile walks before he became very ill and we had to give up the walks as he recovers. I let my eating habits slide a bit and have struggled to keep them on track as the semester ended and I had a lot of last-minute assignments and responsibilities. Thankfully, I haven't regained any weight, but I certainly haven't lost any more. The dog is getting better, and I am nearing the end of my exercise restriction period. I am still motivated to lose weight. I guess the point here is that I don't think Michelle Obama is out to shame me. I don't think the First Lady thinks that people who look like me should be "eradicated". I don't think our society should accept that an entire generation of fat children is our destiny.

Other diseases don't get off scott free, despite this author's assertion. Case in point: lung cancer and emphysema. You smoke, you get cancer, you get a healthy dose of finger wagging. Heart disease. You eat fried eggs and bacon for breakfast everyday for decades, you have a heart attack, you get a wake-up call from the folks at Bally's Fitness. Doesn't matter if you are fat or thin. Lifestyle choices that tax our health care system deserve to be highlighted and discouraged. I smoked for 17 years. I never once felt that people who asked me not to smoke around them were assholes. I think they were expressing a legitimate desire to remain smoke free. I never asked the world to accommodate my decreased lung capacity by building elevators into three story buildings. I think that elevators should be reserved for the disabled. If you feel shame as a result of your lifestyle choices, don't ask the rest of the world to feel personal responsibility for that.

I think we have a responsibility to understand why this change in childhood obesity happened in less than a generation. I think we have a responsibility to fight back. I think we have a responsibility to move our cultural ideas about food to be more in line with our biological needs. I think we have a responsibility to fight back against things like carcinogens in our foods, hidden calories, and irresponsible advertising to children. If high fructose corn sugar (which I firmly believe is a government-produced problem by way of subsidies for Big Ag) is causing childhood obesity or adult-onset diabetes, I think we have a responsibility to educate ourselves, re-think our assumptions, and change our lifestyles, demand answers, fight back and demand more of our government. But more than anything else, we have a responsibility to STOP BUYING THE PRODUCTS CAUSING THE PROBLEM. I think Jamie Oliver is spot on. We start in the schools. We start with kids. We start and we move our culture where we want it to go. Smokers no longer have the right to subject the rest of us to their bad habits. Nor should schools be loading children up with fried chicken nuggets, sweet breads, and sugar-laden milk.

I disagree with a lot of people on a lot of things. But when someone says I have to accept a nation of fat asses because doing anything less makes me a discriminatory asshole, I cry foul. If someone attempts to wrap themselves in a shroud of victimhood for bad choices they are making and to point the finger at me instead of themselves, I do not accept that. I think that more than a diet, this author needs a good therapist. I don't think we should mock anyone for anything. Unless of course you are a hard-core Republican and then I think you should be mocked at every turn.

13 May 2010

Is "Folks" a racial slur?

I just listened to an old You Tube video of a "debate" between Dr. Lemont Hill and Bill O'Reilly. Torture as I'm sure you guessed. However, both men slung around the terms "white folks" and "black folks" to the point that we could have held a drinking game and been pounded under the table.

But it got me to thinking. Is using the term "folks" a slur? Sure, we use it in both directions, but it seems a terribly antiquated Southern colloquialism and a rather untoward vestige of a time when (especially) black people were diminutized (ok! So I made that word up) by patronizing an entire community. "Folks" was a word used in polite company to describe a people that aren't as smart as you. When people say "folks", I think of under educated, blue collar, margainalized members of our communities. "Folks" are homespun yokels, which is just a stone's throw from redneck, hillbilly, and white trash. I won't even enter the realm of synonyms that might be used to describe members of the black community if you get my drift.

So I ask. Is "folks" the polite man's racial slur?

09 May 2010

Happy Mother's Day

It's mother's day. So of course, I think you should celebrate in the traditional way: invite your mother over to your house to do your lawn. At least that's the way my neighbor sees it.

In other news, Scout isn't feeling well. He may have eaten a stick or two of sugarless gum. Sugarless gum contains xylitol, which apparently can be deadly to dogs. I'm not going to say that Scout is on death's door, but he is having some pretty substantial symptoms of some problem that may or may not be the result of having eaten some gum. He goes to the vet in the morning. He has an awful cough. He acts like he wants to throw up but never does. He rattles when he breathes. He was moaning last night, but the worst of that appears over.

Isn't it great how this stuff happens on Saturday night and the vet doesn't reopen until Monday at 8? I hope there is no permanent damage. I know that xylitol is hard on a dog's liver.

To amuse myself today since I couldn't play with a sick dog, I tried out my new food processor. Ok, first I couldn't get it to work at all. I thought it was broken. It was so weird. The lid wouldn't lock into place. So I packed it back up and took it to the store and exchanged it. When I got the second one home, it did the same thing. Finally, I realized I was trying to put the lid on backwards. D'uh.
In the end, though, I made peanut butter from peanuts. That was a lot of fun. You chop up the peanuts and wait and eventually it becomes peanut butter.

To sort of prime the process,
you drizzle a small amount of oil in the mix. I added some sesame oil Then add some salt (if you use unsalted peanuts, like I did). Wait for that to puree and you have yourself a sweet little homemade bunch of pb. Awesome.

So that was the first part of lunch!

Then I made some garlic hummus. Oh yeah, you HAVE to try this recipe that I got from some friends of mine. It's amazing!

Then I made some pico de gallo. Ok, not very happy with the consistency. I guess the key is to put the tomatoes in absolutely last and then just pulse it once or twice. In any event, the flavor is fantastic. Thanks, Emeril.

Let's see. What was next. Oh, yeah, the crustless Quiche Lorraine. I actually bought some gruyere cheese today and some half and half. Of course, I have to eat a fistful of lactose pills just to enjoy that fantastic treat.

And finally, I am still making my very first batch of French bread. Baguettes even. I sure do wish I hadn't broken my pizza stone, because this is just the sort of job for a pizza stone. So, I'm using a half sheet sprinkled with polenta to keep it from sticking. The bench proof is underway right now and I'll pop it in the oven here in a few. Photos forthcoming. Unless of course, it's a big fail.

I guess the point is, if my mother was here, I'd at least be able to feed her well. And, I wouldn't make her do the lawn for me. Although, that would be a bonus.

02 May 2010

One for the Life is Good file

So apparently last year while hiking with D-nephew Lee, I twisted my ankle thereby breaking it. Also in said accident, I created a hairline crack in my tibia. OK, forget for the moment that I had to look up what a tibia was (I have never had human anatomy), that isn't good.

However, there is an upside to this. Under specific doctor's orders, I have been told that lunges are out for a full month.

Bwahahahahahaha. Who said that doctor's only tell you bad news?

Rainy morning breakfast

I know there are those of you who are saying to yourselves after reading this, "D, haven't you had enough of the breakfast foods already?"

The answer would be "no".

I love breakfast. I love breakfast foods. I love getting up in the morning and cooking. It's all so very throwback to an earlier time before I became an academic and before life was so busy that I felt like I was on a dead run all the time. So I cook breakfast and, when I can, I take the time to sit at the table and enjoy it. Perhaps this is one of the reasons I am usually up for 5 hours before I can make it to work.

In any event, I would have blogged about the cinnamon roll instruction class I held yesterday, but I was too busy demonstrating the finer art of gaining weight to take pictures. Besides, my own personal photographer had shown up to document the whole thing. Although I think she may have overemphasized the contributions of a 3-month old baby and a brand new rescue dog. Alas, I have learned not to criticize the artsy types and just let them do their thing. It all works out in the end and micromanaging takes more energy than I have. I consider it a personal achievement that not one of the pictures she posted showed me shoving a cinnamon roll into my mouth.

The class was not my idea. One of my Colombian friends begged me to show her how to make these goodies and, because my receipe is supposed to feed 8 people (but only if those 8 people are big, fat piggies), I invited any interested grad students to join us. I thought maybe 4 people would come. Imagine my surprise when ten people arrived! Wow! Alas, this is the lure of the cinnamon roll. Because these are yeast rolls and yeast needs time to rise, I made a batch of dough ahead of time and we rolled it out to get ourselves started, and while the rolls were baking, I showed them how to make a batch of dough from the start. They had all gone home about the time THAT batch of dough was ready for rolling. In all, we made about 50 rolls. D-friend Bek made a caramel-pecan icing and I made an espresso icing. The original recipe calls for maple icing. I tried it once and it wasn't my thing. I have also made a vanilla icing and I've made the rolls with orange marmalade filling (instead of cinnamon) and used an orange icing. But just a different icing on the plain cinnamon roll creates vastly different flavors. The caramel-pecan roll was more like a sticky bun. The espresso roll was lots of flavorful fun. Both great! I think there were about 10 rolls left after we had stuffed ourselves silly, so maybe this is a recipe for 8 people or maybe the lure of the cinnamon rolls turns people into big, fat piggies!

And no, I didn't eat those 10 extra cinnamon rolls myself. I sent folks home with the baked goods that remained, and I prepared two trays and took them over to D-bro D who is fishing at the local lake this weekend. He and 10 of his Chicago-style buddies enjoyed 23 giant cinnamon rolls with espresso icing this morning. Am I a good sister or what?

Unfortunately, I still have a half a recipe of dough in my fridge. Looks like Tuesday will be cinnamon roll day in the department.

So cooking in general and cooking breakfast especially is a sort of hobby for me. And I like to experiment in the kitchen. Mostly I try to recreate great recipes I've had in restaurants or at people's houses. I think I have a rather refined sense of taste and can detect ingredients in foods fairly well. Other times I just experiment or want to try out an interesting recipe I've seen on the internet. That's how I came to make my first batch of Pioneer Woman cinnamon rolls.

Yes, the recipe I taught isn't my own. Although I hardly think that Pioneer Woman thought it up herself. The best recipes are passed down and passed along and this is part of the joy of cooking. I really don't understand people who hoard great recipes like some secret. And I actually work with one person who does this. *Massive eye roll*. Selfish people suck. But to me, it's just a challenge. I'll figure out how to do it better myself.

So when my Colombian friend asked me to show her how to make the rolls, I was pleased to oblige. And cinnamon rolls are a great breakfast food, but I'm an ovavore. I could (and do) eat eggs for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I slide eggs into salads. I add them to my soups. Yummo. Oh, I have FINALLY found a reliable source for local eggs, too. Yay! And I love eggs just about any way, but my favorite way is poached.

Have you ever tried to poach an egg? It's not as easy as it sounds. Some tell you to swirl the water like a tornado before you put in the egg. Some tell you to add vinegar. Some tell you to just drop it in and hope for the best. I've never met anyone who claims to make a perfect poached egg. Even chefs fail at poached eggs. My poached eggs generally turned out looking a whole lot like egg drop soup. Without the soup part. Yes, you can buy a fairly expensive egg poaching pan, but then you have to store that bad boy in your kitchen and who has room for a special pan just for eggs? I've tried using various glass cups but they are difficult to remove from boiling water without burning yourself.

Then, I heard about these silicone Poachpods. Silicone poached egg holders that don't require a special pan and best of all are collapsible! Yes, I could have ordered them off the internets and waited a week and saved myself a few pennies, but I don't have that kind of patience. So I went to Bed, Bath and Beyond and found them for $9.99 for a set of 2, which is like 3X the price they are on the internets, but what the heck. And they are such a lovely matching set of avocado green. Reminds me of my childhood. Deep, wistful sigh.

Ok, back to the eggs.

First you have to grease the inside of the pods with something. I chose this.

Then you put a pan of shallow water on to boil. Crack the eggs inside the pods and float them in the water.

Cover the pan and wait 4-6 minutes.

I waited 6 minutes. Now we're talking!

Then you pluck out your poachpod and slide your perfect poached egg onto your plate. Then the other. Mmmmm.

And look! They are perfect. Add a little pepper and dig in!

Goes well with grapefruit, bagel and cream cheese, and coffee.

Breakfast on a rainy, soggy Sundays is great! Even if you don't have any cellulite-producing cinnamon rolls left. And you can always count on me to SHARE my recipes and great finds!