Archive for July, 2009



This started out as a post about the things I’ve been making in my kitchen today–split pea soup and granola–and then it sort of turned into something else. Sort of like how I meant to make flashcards and made a chocolate cake instead.



I’ve been cooking all afternoon. It seems that I operate in extremes, from Taco Burger to homemade granola in no time. I’ve been living mostly on Greek yogurt parfaits with museli, honey, and grapes lately (you wouldn’t believe how many grapes Ricky and I go through in a week–we buy them in huge quantities at Costco). This afternoon, I ran out of museli. That led to homemade granola. The soup was mostly for Ricky, since I had my eye on the granola and managed to eat enough of it while it was cooling as to be totally un-hungry by the time the soup was done. It’s good soup–the recipe is from the California Pizza Kitchen cookbook–but I’ve never made it in the summer before. I will say, though, that the farmers’ market produce made a surprisingly big difference here, in spite of the fact that the two major ingredients–barley and split peas–are hardly seasonal. The carrots that I used–pinkie-finger-sized and green-topped–actually add a wonderful flavor of their own rather than just sinking into the background.

Anyway, I finished all of that off and then did the only sensible thing: I started a rather elaborate recipe for a chocolate zucchini bundt cake which involved–

1) melting chocolate

2) grating three cups of zucchini

3) brewing coffee

4) major and minor kitchen electrics and a lot of mixing bowls

I don’t really know who’s out there reading in cyberspace, but WordPress tells me that a number of people are. Some of you, at least, have probably never really seen my kitchen. I rarely take pictures of it because, well, I hate it. That’s maybe not entirely true–I have acquired new appliances over the last few years, including a dishwasher and an oven that can actually handle a standard cookie sheet (the Magic Chef I had for the first year was a whopping 20 inches wide). I like those, and I actually like my kitchen cabinets, too–they’ve managed to hang around for the last 60 years, and I have no plans of taking them out when I finally do get around to renovating. The hardware on the cabinets is exactly the same in my kitchen and in my mother’s Spartanette travel trailer, so I guess that if I ever want to move my house I can be well assured that the cabinets won’t spill open.

But the lighting is terrible–the glass dome fell off the ceiling fan about a year ago and smashed on the floor (quite near a cat, actually). The tiles are hideous. Maybe they don’t look so awful here, but they’re peach and blue and just way too country-clutter for me. The counter is greenishpurplishbluishgrayish–some indistinct non-color that still manages to clash with absolutely everything. Not only that, but it actually stops 24 inches short of the length of the wall and is replaced by a slab of scrap laminate that I cut to put on top of the dishwasher (it took the place of the old stove, to the right of the sink). Half the tiles are missing above the dishwasher because they had to be knocked out to gain some extra depth. Even I have to admit that the tiles are better than the black mastic and peeling yellow paint I’ve been looking at for the last two years. All of this is slated to change–hopefully soon–but these little things (and they are little, since my kitchen is itself so little) do usually keep my camera out of the various corners of my kitchen.

I took this picture of my kitchen to document the massive mess I created this afternoon. It’s had almost the opposite effect on me, though–it’s made me a little more hopeful for the outcome of my renovations. This kitchen certainly isn’t a design ideal. It’s small, and all the cooking that I do happens on the small span of counter top that you see here. But when I squint a little, and focus only on the cabinets, the window, the aluminum pitcher filled with metal spoons and the aqua shades shared between my beloved mixer and the glass bottle full of dish soap on the window sill, I think I can actually see some potential here. I know that the things I’ve been planning–a new white sink, white counter, white subway tile, and track lighting–were going to be an improvement, but I’ve never had very high hopes for this kitchen. I love to cook, and, although I’ve certainly been able to make it work, it’s a somewhat limiting space for making anything much more than toast. But I think maybe I will love it after all. We’ll see.

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There’s something pretty even about unmade beds, isn’t there?

Usually, I make my bed right when I wake up. I collect pillowcases (vintage, embroidered, white) and quilts, so it’s hardly surprising that I like to arrange these things. My aesthetic is, for the most part, pretty ordered–things folded, stacked, and sorted just-so.


But lately, my standards have been going down. My wardrobe has reached a state of dirtiness that finds me reaching into the backs of drawers for random t-shirts I never thought I’d wear again. There are drifts of fur in my living room that blow around, like tumbleweeds. Every available surface is stacked with books–read, unread, mostly-read, never-going-to-read. And just look at what I ate for dinner, after making 18 flashcards (Jane Barker, A Patch-Work Screen for the Ladies through Sir Walter Scott, Waverley):

taco burger

A Taco Burger (vegetarianized–beans instead of meat). From Taco John’s. And it was delicious.

I’m looking forward–to August 20th, perhaps–to having time again to get some of these things in order. But for now, it’s good enough.

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muffin cups

In spite of all my early training in eco-guilt at the hands of the Boulder public school system, it had never really occurred to me that I should feel guilty about using baking cup liners… until I bought these, at the Willy Street Coop. I’ve always used the ones that I remember from my childhood–from our more-bourgeois, less-crunchy home in Colorado Springs–pastel pink, blue, and yellow in a transparent plastic cup. I’ve never really understood the color choices–they take on even more sickening hues after some time in the oven, and I often end up picking through and trying to tone down the baby-shower effect of the pastels by using only one color per batch.

But I ran out of those a while ago and ended up with these: “If You Care.” Do I care?


They were comparable in price.

I didn’t have to go to either of the bigger, scarier grocery stores in town–where, instead of feeling vaguely uncomfortable for my lack of comparative crunchiness, I feel overwhelmed, impatient, and annoyed that I never seem to have one of those key card things with me and therefore either have to sign up for a new one, try to remember which of my 6,000 phone numbers I used when I signed up, or just pay 50 cents more for everything.


Damage to muffin-vanity. Because they come in a recyclable, unbleached box rather than an icky plastic cup, the liners don’t actually have much of a shape. Putting them into the pan is basically like trying to fill a post-it note with a scoop of batter. They fall over and crease unevenly, resulting in this:


I know, I know. It’s fine. But that little bump annoys me almost as much as the brand-name “If You Care.” Still, I get it. The pastel colors are gross and surely do even grosser things, via run-off, to all sorts of living things that don’t want to be turned pink or blue or yellow. The plastic cup is stupid and wasteful. Is there elegance in the brown lumpiness of this muffin? Maybe. I’m starting to like it a little more. At least it’s not pastel.

{{raisin bran muffins here}}

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There’s a new “cupcakery” down the street from my house. I haven’t been there yet, but I probably will go at some point–mostly because it’s a miracle that there’s anything on this particular block that I would even consider patronizing–previous and current occupants of the buildings in the stretch have included “Uptown Grills” (the kind for your face, not your backyard), a scooter rental shop, a gallery of religious art called “Icon,” a “rockabilly” clothing source, a place that offers $25 piercings and tattoos (not sure where or of what), and the truly inexplicable “Elves Palace,” which cropped up around Christmas in a defunct video rental place and stuck around until just a few weeks ago. They often had signs out advertising their tarot readings and sales on crystals.

I’ve gotten off-topic. The point is, there are many hip cupcakes to be found. I’ve eaten quite a few of them–red velvet, lavender with pistachio butter-cream, and so on. But the other day I just couldn’t face the semi-elaborate baking endeavor I’d been considering–chocolate zucchini cupcakes that I’ll probably get around to making someday soon–and bought a box of Betty Crocker cake mix and a tub of chocolate icing: $2.29. In about an hour–and for less that the cost of any one of those more well-dressed (and probably less trans-fat-moist) cupcakes–I turned out an almost grotesque quantity of these little fellows. And they were so delicious.

Cake mix, you are never a bad decision. Sure, I had to go to the evil grocery store to get you because the self-righteous Coop will not touch you with a stick–although they carry a range of creepy lard-laden Jiffy mixes. Sure, you have terrifying trans fat and will probably be illegal at some point. But I forgive you for clogging my arteries or whatever else you’re planning because you’re light and fluffy, and your cake-to-icing ratio is just perfect.

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grad-school athleticism

I went for a run in the rain this evening.

I’m trying not to be–in either the literal or the figurative sense of the phrase–a “fair weather” runner.

When I say “run,” though, you must remember that I really mean something more like a sustained jog for about two miles. It’s not really fair of me to mock grad school athleticism, even though I had to wear my glasses on my run and, within minutes, could barely see through the droplets of water. A surprising number of my peers really are accomplished athletes. and runners. I’m just not one of them. But I can see why they do it.

I’ve never been much–or anything–of a runner. I have very distinct memories of running the dreaded “campus mile,” a loop of road that we were frequently compelled to travel across in packs during middle school and high school PE classes. In fact, I probably owe my decisions to play (poorly) a variety of unusual sports–racquetball, badminton, water-polo, and, of course, water ballet–to that very mile. Joining a sports team brought a reprieve from the dreaded campus mile for a term. When I had to do it, I often walked and cut through playgrounds and parks, ending somewhere in the 10-15 minute range–which usually meant I got a C.

I began to really appreciate the location of my house–near bike paths, a park, and a hilly lakeshore–when I started taking long, wandering walks. I like seeing what other people do with their yards and gardens; I love the long, almost-wild views of the train tracks that run along the bike paths; I love the startling pinks and purples of prairie flowers, the fireflies, and the fishing ducks tipped upside-down in the lake.

I started running, though, last spring. Moving faster across these familiar scenes cleared my mind of all the work bearing down on me. It forced me to think about my stride and breaths rather than obsessing about what I could and couldn’t get done. I don’t run all that long or that hard, but it’s enough to indulge that sense of flight–of breaking away, if only temporarily,  from all the stuff of life that so often seems inescapable. I think while I move–and usually come home with an idea of something that I want to write or make or change.

I hope that I can keep it up.

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a look

Why are there cats on every surface in my house?

Oh, right–because I have approximately 9,000,000 of them. Cats, not surfaces.

I woke up this morning already–or still–tired. I’m not sure which. I’m wearing glasses from three years ago because my newer ones are horribly scratched, and I was wearing those because my eyes can apparently no longer handle having plasticky discs stuck in them. There’s a bookshelf in the middle of my hallway, upon which I have begun a pile of semi-clean clothing–by which I mean clothing that I have worn already, but intend to wear again tomorrow because does it really matter what’s underneath the gross hoodie that I always have to bring to these over-air-conditioned coffee shops that I hope to never-ever-ever visit again after August 19th?

When prelims is over, I’m going to lay on the couch for a week without moving. And then I will finally do some laundry.

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Disorganized–and delicious–summertime grazing:

cornbread (I left the cheese out)

warm lentil salad (this is amazing–I used tiny green French lentils from the Co-op)

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new ladies.

These ladies moved in over the weekend. They’re by an artist named Irene Gates, from the Art Fair on the Square. I went back and forth between loving her work and thinking that it might be a little too folksy for my house, but I just couldn’t get away from their strange little faces. It seemed like a healthy diversification, really–no cows here. Ok, sewing notions and birds aren’t really that much of a stretch for me, but look! humans! how novel! They seem right at home on my walls.

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a cooking narrative

second-rate Trader Joe’s Bing cherries headed for the freezer
so I can enjoy my fresh Door County ones guilt-free;
tiny sour cherries from the farmers market.

a cherry pitter is nice. but this is still a lot of work.

dinner’s main event:
pretty cherry cobbler where the tart ones ended up.

too bad I dropped Ricky’s bowl on the floor.

he was a good sport about eating floor cobbler.

and what we ate before the cobbler:
polenta with zucchini and tomatoes
recipe here.

I cheated and used prepared polenta
but the herbs were from my garden.

summer is nice.

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working from home.

a giant stack of books in various stages of read and unread,

chocolate rooibos chai in my favorite mug,

zucchini bread with cream cheese,

and a cat.

[[obviously, i can’t concentrate.]]

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