Nov 30, 2007

A giddy moment is upon me...

You can now read my article called "Be Your Own Apothecary" on Whip Up. Go check it out!

(Thanks Pam for letting me know it was up already!)

"Be Your Own Apothecary"

Thank you, Whip up, for publishing it!
When Pasta Can Only Be Homemade
(very small Eat Local Challenge update)
(plus a whole lotta other business)

We love pasta like some people love beef. We don't love beef at all. Back in the days before we took on this food challenge thing (a whole two months ago) we ate pasta several times a week. It was the easy "go-to" option for a quick dinner- you just grab a package out of the pantry and either whip up a quick sauce or pop some out of a jar. Now, when I want pasta I have to make it from scratch. So when I think about how this challenge has changed the way we eat I have to say that pasta is something I have to think about ahead of time and therefore, is not on the menu nearly as often as it used to be.

However, this doesn't really bother me as much as I might have imagined. Making pasta is a semi spiritual experience and is also breathtakingly simple. It just takes planning. I have been craving it for the last week but have had no time to make any. I am a woman on the run. How any woman would willingly choose such a stressful jam packed life is a huge mystery to me. Lots of women don't have a choice and apparently I am going to be one of them, but millions of women out there could choose to slow down their lives if they wanted to. Millions of women could stay home and make better food than they can ever get out, take care of their home and enrich their spirit with endless homesteading activities and they can choose that whether they have children or not. They could choose it not to please some stupid man, but to please themselves.

I am a firm believer in all of us following the paths that suit us best. That is what I view as true feminism. So while I have a hard time imagining any woman actually wanting to go out and have a fast paced demanding and stressful career away from home, I actually do realize that for some women that is the ultimate in fulfilling their own potential. I suppose what seems unfair is that so many of the women who would (if they could) choose to stay home, can't because either they are the only breadwinner for themselves or their family, or because they're dirt poor, while there are many women out there who have plenty of money pouring in from their spouses and who could (if they wanted to) stay home but don't because that's not the lifestyle they want. Why do things endlessly arrange themselves in this unfair manner?

Incidentally, I mostly refer to women staying home because in my practical experience, most of the men I've known suck at being house husbands. This is not universally true though and a man can be a great stay at home Dad or house husband without being gay. However, these amazing men are in the minority and I'm willing to bet my house on the reality that the reason women have traditionally been the ones to stay home is because they ARE BETTER AT IT not because we have been the thousand year victims of male domination.

I can just imagine some woman in biblical times deciding to go be a carpenter like that interesting neighbor of hers with the unlikely name of Jesus, and discovering that her husband can make a fabulous flat bread, but not simultaneously with all the other household things he should also be doing like teaching the kids that cobras are not good play mates and scrubbing their three extra garments clean in the one stream in town where everyone washes everything. I imagine her coming to the conclusion that her man is not very capable of multitasking and life is just better when she's doing it all.

What I've observed is that men can be superb cooks, they can be extraordinarily good at gardening, which may explain why so many men go into these professions, but when it comes to having to manage their own time and juggle three or four activities at once, they really don't shine.

This working part time (for other people) thing is killing me. If I can't somehow find a way to stay home I will get very deeply entrenched in depression and I do believe that my nerves will knot themselves in an impressive mess. It's not the working that does me in. I would characterize myself as an extremely hard worker. It's being away from the center of my universe which is my home and garden that really messes me up. It's vacating the heart of my family and just visiting it on the run that is so unraveling to my mental health.

The ideal life would be to stay home, make homemade pasta frequently, make quilts, make my own bath products, and get paid to tell everyone else how to do it too. To get paid to write about the things I do for myself and my family that are fun and rewarding. To get paid to inspire others to explore their own potential to be more self sufficient. In truth, I would happily just do it for free, as I do now. I would just keep on going down this path but I would remove the financial strain and constant worry. I actually dreamed last night that Philip got a six digit paycheck. (Not going to happen, EVER). So, my only hope is to get paid to do what I already do.

Sometimes I feel like we're on the cusp of everything getting a little easier. As though the great unfolding of our lives is about to reveal a modest pocket of fortune in which I am not forced to give up my health insurance.

Working at the Holiday Market (which is a six week long craft fair being run like a retail shop so that vendors don't have to be in their booths all the time, or very often at all in most cases) is a mixed bag. They've done a really shiny job of making it look great and choosing really good quality products. The mixed bag of it all for me is that I am committed to spending so much time there that I have plenty of time to examine all the goods and I spend so much time at the cash register that I can tell who is doing a smashing good business and who is not. I, am not. So of course I have lots of opportunity to wonder (as usual) where I am going wrong.

So who's doing well? Bumblebee Hill Farm is a wonderful booth full of pretty soaps, mostly lavender wreaths and pretty potpourri arrangements, sweet sachets, some lovely ceramics, and pretty gift baskets. She's doing a brisk business and has to frequently restock. Lavender=money. She has the touch though, there's another mostly lavender company that isn't doing quite such a brisk business and I would say that it's because the packaging is too antiseptic. The soap prices are too high. And it isn't creating an imaginary world in which we are all seeing ourselves taking long baths in the afternoon and arranging bouquets throughout our homes...

Who else is doing well? The Free Trade booth run by a church. I don't personally care for what they have but what they have (ornaments, doo-dads, coffee, chocolate, and more doo-dads...) is stuff that everyone else loves and there is an endless stream of people going through their booth buying them out. This is a very religious community I live in and so it helps that the proceeds from this booth are for sending their church people on missions. (This is what I've heard, but I don't know this information first hand and it's possible it's incorrect)

Warren the honey man is doing very well. He has a huge selection of beautiful beeswax candles, bottles of local honey, and that's it. But the quality is great and his booth is very well supported by the community.

There are others doing quite well, but the main point is that I find it both inspiring and also deflating to be there first hand to see what sells and what doesn't and plenty of time to ask myself once again, what the hell am I doing trying to sell anything in the first place?! Mostly people in this community don't get me. I have sold all three of my "Vim and Vigor" DIY bath salt kits but none of my "Melancholia" or "Anxiety and Hysteria" ones. I think people don't get that it's meant to be kind of funny. I need (probably) to use words like "Uplifting", "Happy", "Relaxing", and "Luxurious" know, gentle words that float you on a dream.

Always I am jumping around the mouth of hell and wondering why people aren't flocking to get their piece of it. I should do some word changing and see what happens. I should do the "Melancholia" one with two separate labels. One with the original label and then one that says "Get Happy" and see which one sells, if either of them do. If I was to cater to the gentle dream I'd just be another company doing it. I'd probably still not do well with it. What would be different about me? I like the gentle dream too, I find myself wanting to hang around in the Bumblebee Hill Farm booth all day because it's so pretty. But I always want to bring something more to the world-the bite of truth with the dose of satire.

The other thing that happens to me there, a more positive result of spending time not cleaning my house or making my own pasta, is that I've had time and the opportunity to see a whole lot of things I'd like to try doing myself. Making rosemary wreaths, for example. Making my own soap. Making new accessories out of old broken vintage costume jewelry.

A special note for my sister Tara who has at times suggested that I make and sell my pickles and preserves professionally: I have been endlessly fascinated with the Zook family's booth full of homemade preserves and candies and have had a chance to chat with Loila, the main lady behind it all, and I've also had a chance to chat with the cookie lady...apparently it isn't that difficult to go into the food business here. Just thought I'd tell you. I hear your voice echoing in my head all the time.

In other news-the kid is recovered. After more than 14 hours of vomiting he was able to keep down two Popsicles, slept all night, and woke up perky and with an appetite. Truly a 24 hour stomach flu. There is always the chance that he could be sent home. But I am hopeful that he's mended. I think it was the two and a half hour nap we took together yesterday that really helped. Max and I are two people who don't nap. We don't go in for all the rest in the middle of the day crap. So when we do, our bodies are on a desperate recall mission. I have not really gotten queasy but I have not felt 100% for over a week now. Oh, well... since I started working actually. Interesting.

It is now time to get dressed and go to work and not get my laundry done.

Nov 29, 2007


I got up at about 5:25 in the morning with Max who has been throwing up since then. Poor not so wee guy. It's been four years since the last time he got the stomach flu. I have to say that a seven year old makes much less mess vomiting than a three year old. I made him drink a little water which he promptly threw up. I have been reading about the stomach flu online and now know that the biggest danger is dehydration. I'd make him sip a little more water right now but he just fell asleep on the couch. I'm going to just hope that he'll feel better after a little rest.

When it comes to vomiting I am a huge wimp. I mean, a wimp about ME vomiting. I have the instinct to run for the hills whenever someone around me has hurled in an effort to be very far away from whatever made them sick. Is there an actual word for vomit-phobia? Because I have it. Most people hate it but I will go to some extreme lengths not to do it. Which you don't want to hear about.

I like to see the bright side of hell so I've always appreciated that bulimia nervosa is not going to ever be a problem for me. Whew! One medical situation I don't have to worry about for myself. (And for anyone ready to harp on me about taking this illness seriously-trust me, I am not joking. I do take it seriously and am seriously glad that I won't ever have it.) (I know that someone out there is ready to assure me that even with vomit-phobia I could end up having a problem with bulimia. If anyone has that in their head right now-all I can do is assure you that no power on earth will make me voluntarily hurl.)

You know what I really want to do? Clean my house. Nothing like contagion to make you want to clean. I have to work again today so I'd better get something done before I go. I can't bail on work so Philip has to bail on his for half a day.

I'm going to go clean some toilets. So what are you all up to today?

Nov 28, 2007

Night Of The Dressmaker

Just when you thought I couldn't find something else to be tortured about... I have been tired of making my flower pin apron for quite a while now. I've been making it steadily for three years. Lots of them. Sometimes I feel like I've made so many of them I don't understand how come I'm not richer than I am. I really like my Peace Apron but I've been longing for something a little different. Because of my booth and my low inventory of cute women's bib aprons (I have really great cocktail aprons made by my very talented friend Chelsea!) I need to make some more. I wasn't in a mood to cut out Peace aprons and besides, the Peace Aprons only look good with limited fabric combinations. I want, oh...what is it I've been looking for in an apron?

It has to be a design that will look pretty good on a large variety of figures. I always drape on Headless Helen who is approximately a size 16. This isn't a style that I would look good in right now. The majority of women need to look good in it; not every single person. No dressmaker is capable of that. Anyway, it basically came down to: make a new pattern right now or cut out more flower aprons.

So I started draping. This is not a fast process. Even when you have something specific in mind (which I didn't exactly) it takes a lot of playing around with how the fabric is working around the curves of a three dimensional form. The reason most fashion designers like to work with flat chested skinny shapeless chicks is because they're LAZY ASSES. That's right, it's easy to drape and draft over a hipless, buttless, breastless sack of bones. To drape or draft over uncooperative curves? Not so easy.

Do you know why even the larger sizes of most clothes don't fit the curvy figure? Because they were draped or drafted on the sample size which is generally a size six or smaller. Grading patterns (making them bigger) preserves scale, so if the garment was drafted for a woman with no breasts- when it's enlarged it will still be drafted for a woman with no breasts. You know something I've observed about larger women? Even if you didn't have a whole lotta boob before you became a larger lady (me) you will have a lot more of them afterwards.

So I stayed up late draping, snipping, pinning, and shaping. I'm not sure how it will work in real fabric until I take down the muslin, trace all the pieces onto dot paper, true the lines, add seam allowance, and then sew up a sample in muslin. That's when you find out all the problems with your garment. Then you go back to the drafting table and you make corrections, then make a new improved copy of the pattern, and make a new sample but this time in real fabric.

It's a process I really enjoy. The problem is my general lack of time and there's always the risk that you'll get to the sample in real fabric and find that the design itself is infelicitous. By this time you have already invested many hours into the design. So it can be tedious too.

I have high hopes for this design. I want it to have a slight dirndl effect. I also wanted it to be a fairly full coverage apron. My charming flower detail apron does not offer particularly full coverage.

I got to bed quite late. I've been doing that quite a lot lately and it's not so good for me. But this working part time away from home is really messing with me. I can't get anything done. Ever. I remember this is how it was before I stayed home to be a housewife and it sucked. Now is the time for my million dollar book deal or for a rotted dinosaur to be discovered on my property. This working away from home thing is not a good life for me.

How do people take care of themselves when they're always on the run? They don't. Also, now that I am working right through lunch time I have had to resort to buying sandwiches at the health food store which include no local ingredients. Not only that, they raised their prices so that now my sandwich costs six dollars and I have to say that it's a pretty mediocre sandwich and that's a lot of money to a person who doesn't have much. So I am going to have to bring something but there's no microwave so it has to be something I can eat cold. Sandwiches from home aren't a great choice because there's not much to put in them. I planned on making a potato salad last night but as you can see I got sidetracked.

Here's a vote update:
Right now the number one choice is Coffee Liqueur, the number two choice is Spice Blends and Rubs, and the third choice is a tie between Custom tea Blends and the Farmer's Market Tote. But there's still three days to vote so if you haven't already voted go visit the Food Related Gifts post and be entered to win one of the gifts I make.

I cannot believe it's already time for me to be getting ready to go to work.

(Is there a way to Feng Shui my person to attract good fortune? You know how you are supposed to put some red somewhere in a corner of your house or something like that? Can it work on your actual person? Does wearing red attract wealth or just angry bulls?)

Nov 27, 2007

A Pickle Pantry Winter Salad

One of my all time favorite salads is a truly fattening one that includes: three bean marinated salad, pickled beets, lettuce, a liberal application of some sort of cheese, and vinaigrette. This is it. What's great about this winter salad is that all of the ingredients are local (OK, hair splitters, not the oil or spices...) and I made all the pickles myself.

This was the first jar of pickled beets I've opened. When you're canning pickles you have to give them time to develop their flavor and texture. Sometimes they don't turn out very well. The suspense is up: the beets are FABULOUS!!!! Oh yeah. You may also notice how pretty they are? The two bean salad from the pantry also turned out really well. I would make it with more herbs next time, but the reduced sugar and the complete lack of green peppers made it very satisfying. (Why do people put green bell peppers in EVERYTHING?!)

Also new out of the pickle pantry are the dilly beans I made. They are so good! I made some with hot peppers for my family and friends who like spicy, and some without for me. They are so delicious. I'm really happy they turned out well because I have A LOT of jars of them.

My sister Tara: The Pickle Connoisseur. We also tasted the bread and butter pickles I made with Lisa E.. Tara and I did not care for them. The good news is that Philip likes them so much he's already inhaled two jars of them. He says they remind him of the deli pickles from his youth. I think it's funny that we're now at the age where we refer to our "youth" as a very distant memory of a fading time gone by.

A gorgeous turnip. I am not a fan of turnips by themselves. I am a big fan of "nips and tatties" though, a Scottish dish of mashed potatoes and turnips with butter, salt, and pepper. This turnip reminds me of a turnip I once bought at the little farm store in Abberfoyle, Scotland. The turnip was the size of my head and made about three meals. We always travel in winter so there wasn't a lot of produce in the tiny store. Just the one giant turnip, some potatoes, and a few carrots. That's all a person needs anyway, isn't it? With a lot little bit of ale?

Such a sad sight. Empty jars with a forlorn little bit of juice left at the bottom to remind us that our supplies are dwindling already and it's only the end of November. (That sounds dangerously like the talk of a hoarder.)

Now, don't forget to vote on the Food Related Gift tutorials from the previous post. You have until Friday to participate and be entered in the drawing for one of the food related gifts I end up making. Go vote!!

Nov 26, 2007

Food Related Gifts
(That you can make or put together yourself)

Plus three chances to win one of three prizes!!!!

I've given this a little thought today and I am going to list here ten homemade gifts you can give that are food related, because, what is more important than food? It doesn't actually have to be edible (there being some concern about giving people fattening foods they don't want to feel obligated to eat) but I think there are a whole lot of choices that range from easy to challenging, and from inexpensive to more costly.

What I want is for everyone who reads this post to tell me which three projects they would most like to see become tutorials? Whichever three gift ideas get the most votes I will source the supplies, make the projects, and write instructions. Then I will draw three names from the people who voted in this post and I will send each one of them a package with one of the gifts I made from the tutorials. Got it?

1. Bread baking gift basket.

2. Dinner napkin sets from your fabric stash.

3. Dish towels with mushroom appliques.

4. How to put together a gift basket with your own preserves.

5. Homemade coffee liqueur.

6. Custom tea blends in tins or jars.

7. Round pot holders.

8. Pancake mix gift basket.

9. Farmer's market tote.

10. Custom spice blends and spice rubs.

Voting must be swift so that I have time to source and prepare these tutorials. You have until Friday the 30th. That's this Friday in case you're so dazed right now that you didn't know that. Obviously you will need to include a way for me to contact you.

I'm not going to tell you which ones I'm hoping will win the vote. If you tell me it's snowing where you are right now you will be automatically disqualified for the drawing because that's just mean*.

*I'm kidding. I won't hold it against you. I actually just saw the first warning for a chance of snow on my local weather update for next week.
Christmas Is Coming
(walk, don't run)
(or vomit)

Once upon a time I was like a combination Scrooge/Grinch. I hated Christmas. But don't worry, this isn't going to be yet another thinly veiled version of "A Christmas Carol". A story I can't even get a quarter of the way through without wanting to strangle all the characters. No, this won't be a story like that because I really still am a grump* about Christmas and if there were any rotten tomatoes available in December I would be tempted to throw them at any carolers that dare come to my door. Which, by the way, it totally freaks me out that people still try to keep up this tradition as though it will transform our modern-hybrid-dark world back into the Rockwellian fantasy that people like to imagine it used to be.

I did hear of one instance of caroling that actually seems pretty sweet- I guess some people go sing them in old folks homes. Well, you know that I would be the grousing old hag in the corner of the TV room screeching for the god damned rosy-cheeked do-gooders to keep their voices down so I can hear the episode of Friends where Ross is doing lots of "Karah-tay" for the one millionth time... but I think a lot of older folks would enjoy that kind of cheer being brought to them from the outside world.

Anyway, over the years my feelings about Christmas have changed quite a lot. Why? How? When I married Philip back 1993 I let him know that I hated Christmas. Like...put my head in the toilet for a month hated it. He didn't care. He was the first person who didn't care if I didn't get all excited about Christmas. In his family it was always celebrated late anyway, and also? He just didn't care. It was the mellowest holiday ever. By the second year together I kind of unwound a little. Not having the pressure to love the stupid bloated holiday released some of my venom around it and I found myself, oddly, wanting to decorate.

But isn't life funny? We had no money for a tree of any kind so I went to Walgreens and bought two branches of a tree for two dollars and stuck it in one of those two feet tall coffee canisters that coffee gets shipped in to roasting facilities. We spray painted it gold and we had these really stupid glow in the dark angels and some little toy goldfish, which is what we decorated the tree with. It was more charming than you would imagine.

Over the years we've dropped giving presents to friends, which means we have only to think about presents for each other and for family. I have a very small family. Sometimes it seems a little sad, our tiny little groups of us with our nontraditional methods of celebrating everything, but at others it seems that we are really blessed to have such a small number of people to worry about. Philip's family mostly just exchange cards anyway so the pressure on us to give gifts is pretty small.

Right now, all of you people with those giant families and the thousand gift giving obligations are really feeling the sweat accumulate. I think it's time you took things in hand and learn to have Christmases like we do. Actually, I can only speak for myself, my family still really sweats the holidays, and I'm not sure why. OK, so I think my family should read this too:

  • It is absolutely alright to cut down the number of people you exchange gifts with. Anyone in your life who would be offended at you suggesting the exchange of cards only is someone who doesn't deserve to get presents in the first place. "But we've always exchanged gifts with Uncle Larry and his nine children, I can't break tradition..." Oh hell yes you can!!! Be brave, keep your gift giving to your immediate family circle. Cousins and second cousins and third cousins can all get cards. That's enough. Aunts and Uncles should give gifts to young nieces and nephews but when they are not kids anymore I think they should feel free to just send a nice card with a thoughtful note.

  • Don't exchange gifts with friends. Ditto everything I said above. We stopped doing it years ago. Getting a card, especially with a nice note, from friends is quite enough. When you aren't tripping over an over sized gift giving obligation, sending out a bunch of cards is not very hard or time consuming. My policy with friends is- if they have a home made preserve or cookies or anything they made themselves that they are dying to give me I will accept. No bought gifts. I will often give out some jars of preserves with the caveat that no one needs reciprocate.

  • Give everyone on your list the same thing. We do this in my family sometimes. My sister and mom just did some secret herbal gift project while she was visiting. So whatever they made, we will all get some. And by "herbal" I am not referring to pot. I don't think anyone in my family is still smokin' it. There is a tremendous amount of pressure on everyone to give unique gifts to each family member, as though it is only in the amount of trouble you went to for each individual that makes a gift count. That's RUBBISH. If you make a big batch of something home made that you made well and worthy of giving as a gift, it will be good enough for most of the people in your family.

  • Give the same thing each year. You can make a tradition out of the things you give people. If you make bath salts this year for everyone on your list, then you could make them every year and only change the scents you use, just make little changes. Everyone may know what they're getting but there will always be a little surprise and they'll come to look forward to receiving your homemade goods each year. Some people think that they can't get away with repeating their gift repertoire but you know what? THAT IS RIDICULOUS. You can do whatever you want. The point of a gift isn't to strap you with some great responsibility to be original and spend all your money. That is a total myth.

  • You are in charge of your holidays, not corporate America. Maybe not everyone on your (now shortened) gift giving list likes the same things, but I think it's not hard to find great handmade things that suit most family members. Your family may be used to you shopping for them at Macy's and hurting your brain to figure out what they've always wanted and if you're worried that you'll disappoint them with homemade candles...banish the thought. You have to retrain yourself first, then you retrain your family to appreciate useful handmade gifts. And if they are disappointed? SO FUCKING WHAT? Let go of it. Just let go of other people's expectations of you.

  • You don't have to like Christmas. I know you think that the sky will fall down if you don't love seeing freaks dressing up as a big fat pedophile red-suited rosy cheeked men who live for delivering gifts to mostly bratty children. But it won't fall down, I promise. I am an expert on this. I suggest you just let go of other people's expectations of you. Oh, did I already say that? Well I don't think it's possible to say it enough. LET GO OF OTHER PEOPLE'S EXPECTATIONS OF YOU AROUND THIS HOLIDAY. Let other people grapple with their own demons. When you just let go of expectations people have of you, you are free to make of this holiday what you want.

I never feel the holiday pressure anymore. It's true. I try to get cards out to all of my friends, but I don't always get around to it. Is it the end of the world? No. I don't get cards from a lot of my friends and do I judge them for it? No, actually, I don't. I figure they just couldn't get around to it and I don't take it personally because my enjoyment of this holiday is not dependent on anyone else. I make most of my gifts for my family and since there aren't a lot of people to please it really isn't that hard to think up cool gifts. They might not ever use what I make them but I get pleasure out of making things and I know that even if they haven't always wanted a pot holder, a pot holder is always handy.

I am going to compile a list of handmade gift ideas today to post. If I can get around to it I will actually try to give either a tutorial or at least some specifics on how the ideas may be accomplished. You should all really tune into Whip Up this coming month too because their theme for December is holiday crafts so there should be a lot of ideas there too. (And don't forget that they are posting my tutorial on scenting bath salts on December 1)

I think this post actually needs a little recap:




If you follow my suggestions you may feel a little withdrawal from the release of stress. That is normal. You may experience a little shaking and nervousness because you don't believe that your family could possibly still love you for making your holidays less stressful, believe me, they won't even notice that you're making changes because they'll be so busy stressing out themselves. Just be strong and you may find that Christmas no longer holds any terrors for you.

*I'm not a grump because of all the holiday stress, because I don't have any of that anymore. It's more about the fact that I think Santa is a crock, I hate all Christmas music that has the words "Santa", "Merry", "Snowy", "Cheer" or any other tunes that reference Christmas, I don't like wearing little tokens of Christmas on my person (though I don't object to everyone else doing it), and I loathe all movies (old and new) that are Christmas themed. Plus, I'm not religious so the whole Christ's birthday thing seems silly too. I also retchingly hate eggnog. And yes, I've tried it. And no, I won't like your special version of it.

Nov 25, 2007

Sour Cherry Tart
(A culinary quest)

This is a sour cherry tart with a vanilla custard.
I will choose this as my last dessert.

Cooking, for me, isn't just about meeting the needs of the body. It's about artistry, science, and the pursuit of perfection. Not a toxic perfection that eats away at my self esteem, nor an impossible perfection such as sculpting the best ass is. I feel a great deal of pleasure in being able to do things well and cooking offers everyone the chance to make something well because of the enormous range of possibilities. If bread baking sounds like as much fun as walking across the Mohave desert barefoot and with no sunscreen, one doesn't need to bake bread. You can make soup instead.

About seven years ago I decided that I was going to master the art of baking tarts. When I say "master" I mean that I wanted to be able to make tarts consistently well, but not just well, I wanted people to eat my tarts and then not be able to stop thinking about it for long after the last crumb was pressed into a fork. There's more though, a tart should be a thing of beauty.

Tarts really aren't difficult to make. But making them well requires that you refine your skills at achieving each step. The first step is making a really good crust. Some people have trouble with this but I follow Martha Stewart's recipe, using my food processor to mix it, and the only trick I've found works well is to completely freeze the rolled out pastry dough before prebaking it. This usually prevents the crust from bubbling up. Two things, I've found, can really mess up a tart dough: adding too much water to the dough will make it hard where the dough is extra wet, and only using half the amount of butter is not recommended.

This is a vanilla custard tart with my canned peaches and my own Silvanberry sauce on top.

The vanilla custard* is the next part to master. I have found making a good vanilla custard challenging because the first time I made it it was perfect (and easy) but I could never remember which recipe I followed and I ended up trying a string of recipes that I had no difficulty messing up. A good recipe is really important. I don't like a rich custard with tons of egg yolks and heavy cream. I have finally found a recipe for a lighter custard that reliably turns out well from the book "Tartine". I used 2% milk (even though it calls for whole milk) and it turned out really well. The biggest challenge is preventing it from being lumpy and my only advice on this challenge is to stir frequently and use a whisk.

Once you have a great crust and a great pastry cream all you have to do is figure out what you want to put on top. My favorite desert of all time (OF ALL TIME) is a fresh fruit tart with vanilla custard, but this is winter, I can't buy kiwis from New Zealand, so I had to think about alternatives from the pantry. I'm misleading you there, I didn't have to think about it at all. All summer I was thinking about how my fruit preserves might be used in the winter to crown some lovely tarts. I was just waiting for the right opportunity.

Luckily I am usually the only one in my family who puts up a fight to preserve traditions like having yams every year with Thanksgiving dinner. It was not difficult to convince my mom, my sister, and Philip to let me bypass the whole pumpkin deal in favor of these tarts.

The result? My mom and my sister think that I have achieved my goal of mastery over the tart. We talked about those tarts for a full half hour after eating them. My family even indulged me in my favorite game of trying to figure out how they might be made even more perfect.

Now all I have to do is keep making them for the next thirty years (if I live that long) until I achieve fame among my friends and family for my tart making abilities. How will I know I've gotten there? I'll know when people start always asking me brightly if I am going to bring one of my tarts to the potluck? I'll know when I hear people talking about tarts past.

I think everyone should settle on one thing to master in the kitchen. Maybe you can master almost everything but you should aim to be known for making something in particular better than all else-it's great for your self esteem and it increases your pleasure in preparing food for others. It's fun to follow a food quest anyway. It's kind of like being a culinary knight only you're less likely to be impaled by a jousting stick.

Just as a side note, I can't make pie worth a damn.

Yesterday my mom, sister, and I went to the Portland farmer's market and I was impressed with the variety still available. This particular farmer's market continues through December 22. I've been meaning to buy some locally grown wild rice and was very pleased to find it there-so I bought a couple of packages of it. I also found (to my great excitement) that one stall had some gorgeous cilantro. I bought four bunches and plan to freeze it in ice cube size portions. I will report on how well it freezes as soon as I know. Cilantro isn't known to retain it's flavor well when dried. I'm sure those farmers are thinking I must be some kind of freak getting inordinately excited to have found fresh cilantro. Who cares? I thought I wouldn't find any more until mid-spring. I plan to make some black bean chili!

By the way, for those of you waiting on packages from Dustpan Alley, they are all ready to go and will be mailed early tomorrow morning. Thank you for your patience! The bath bombs are doing so well I've had to make new batches and am now in need of new supplies which I better get soon. I've gotten much better at making them and if people would like a tutorial I will put one together. Though, I did find some good ones out there already (my previous searches did not yield great directions. Sometimes a single word in a search makes ALL the difference.) I think the bombs would make excellent stocking stuffers and although they can be tricky (I ruined three batches last week), I think they are still easy enough for anyone to try. Each bath bomb costs about fifty cents each to make which makes it really an affordable homemade project.

I'm off to work at the Holiday Market downtown. I hope you all have a great Sunday!

*Technically this is a pastry cream.

Nov 23, 2007

Shall I Fall Down On My Knife
Or Yours?

I wish the leaves would finish falling already. I'm impatient for the full blow of winter. Sometimes, no, not sometimes, a lot of the time I would like to crawl under a rock and never speak to another person again. I could hide in my house and not come out again until I'm a six hundred pound freak the police and paramedics have to come and pry out of my narrow hallway. I can definitely imagine never leaving the house again. I also think my access to the Internet should go away. I would never give it up willingly, which means it will have to be pried from my vice grip. I should not be allowed to communicate with other people. I also kind of think other people shouldn't be allowed to communicate with anyone either, especially me. We might all be better off if we hadn't come up with language.

I am sitting here at my desk with a hundredth beer because the only way I know to sooth my spirit is to write. My blog is the best place I know to do it. Yet there are a thousand things I can't say. What I want to do is lash out right now and make a list of every opinion and thought I have that I know will alienate someone and just get it over with. I'm going to alienate everyone eventually anyway. You don't think I am? Just talk to the right people and you will find out.

I'm being a little unfair to myself because other people have words too and I don't force anyone to use them unwisely or hurtfully to me. I have feelings and right now they are pretty crushed.

What I want to do is to curl up with my seven year old heart- my kid who is no longer interested in curling up with me because he's seven for god's sake which is practically grown up, and I want to protect him from a lot of people in my life. I feel that primal flush of tiger love and I have realized too late that I have exposed him in ways I didn't realize were unfair to him. Where was my tiger love when he really needed it? And Lord knows, he's going to need a lot of it still.

Even a mother who gives birth to the Devil's spawn, as I have, has to love and protect the evil she's created.

Life was so much more simple when I was just a housewife with no child. When I hung out with people who did or didn't have children but didn't have to care what their views on parenting and education were.

You can't always be looking back though.

Besides, you know what? Max is a wonderful kid and when he's had a chance to mature he will surprise a lot of people. He's got a good heart but he's 100% testosterone and that's not a quality much appreciated by a lot of my peers. I promised myself recently that I was going to stop mentioning how hard he is to parent and instead I'm going to tell people how proud I am of his intelligence, curiosity, his deep understanding of life and the universe and the incredible questions he asks me that blow my mind away.

I promised that I would stop putting him and myself down. I don't see other children who are better than him. He hasn't developed a filter for his thoughts which means that what comes out of his mouth is always truly what he is feeling. 100% honest. Which more often than not is hurtful. I am trying to teach him to think before he speaks and to not share everything. But I can't entirely malign him for his honesty, which is inconvenient for sure and pretty antisocial, but he's just saying the kind of stuff everyone would say if you asked them for total honesty. Which I don't recommend you do.

He's only doing what I always end up doing at some point in time-saying what I really think. He's going to have to find out, as I am, that people don't like honesty unless it's them that's dishing it out. I find that I don't care for it either. Highly over rated in my opinion.

My boy is an amazing kid and I wouldn't want any other kid in his place.

I am in a very bitter place at the moment and I want to say terrible blasphemous things about God to piss off pretty much everyone, but what's the point anyway? I don't even believe in God and I do believe I'm responsible for the life I'm living, for both the good and the bad in it. So let me just vent a little of this bitterness off so that I can move on with it and find my better, kinder words again.

So let me recap my life where it's at right now:

We aren't making enough money to pay for anything but the mortgage.

Even after I get myself a minimum wage job I will have to give up my health care.

Once I give up my health care I will break something.

Or get cancer.

Or a lobotomy.

Which I think I might actually like. Can one get an elective lobotomy?

I can't get family assistance because there is a waiting list.

I had to cut one friend loose already this year.

I am pretty sure I've just lost another one.

I won't be able to afford my psyche meds soon.

Some people will rejoice over that because they don't believe in psyche meds.

Those people can go shove a metal pole through their ears.

I'm pretty sure I'm a lousy excuse for a human.

But I'm also pretty sure that that opinion is made stronger by the fact that this month
I have continually been forgetting to take my meds.

My kid deserves a better parent than I've been.

Which other circumstances have made clearer than I wanted to see it.

I'm a maintenance alcoholic and I'm not open to anyone's opinions on that.

I only mention it so that anyone who thinks I don't know it will know I know it.

I'm fat and gross.

I'm not funny.

My cat is getting so mean I think he's going to kill me in my sleep.

There are some things I can't talk about with a single other human being on earth and it really really hurts to keep it inside.

On the plus side, my sister is visiting.

And I am really amazed by the things she's doing and the person she is continually becoming.

Plus she gave me, like, ten zillion compliments on my dill pickles and my food.

I loved her before she complimented me though.

My mom also gave me lots of warm compliments and helped my Thanksgiving be so good in spite of the awfulness I set in motion that same day.

My husband loves me even when no one else does.

He's crazy too.

(Yes, that's on the plus side)

I haven't lost all my friends.

My friend Chelsea called me up to make me feel better.

I feel a little better now.

Even though I've still had to cry a lot today and yesterday.

And I don't cry easily or often.

My friend Sharon apparently still loves me too and called.

Unfortunately I missed the call.

I have considered closing down this blog. I have considered not writing ever again (which amounts to deciding to never breath again). When things go wrong in my life I have always had an unfortunate tendency to turn the knife inwards. Even when I have a righteous anger at someone else. (And what anger doesn't imagine itself as righteous?) When I was thirteen I would bite myself until I bled. Then a couple of years later I would cut myself which has had a never-ending effect on me because I wear and see the deep scars every single day of my life. Then it became just a mental exercise of self-castigation. Mental knives I twist into my own gut whenever I make a false step in life or whenever anyone else hurts me. My fault, my fault, my fault. If I had a leach I'm sure I'd bleed myself.

I take that back. That's like a tick and is one of the most disgusting things I can think of.

If you ask my friend Chelsea she will tell you that I'm a baby about ticks. Although I would like to argue that because it puts me in a poor's true. Damn it.

My fault, my fault, my fault, my fault...

As I have become mentally healthier this tendency has become less vitriolic. Yet it still persists. If you throw a dart at me I will twist it deeper in my gut. Or my heart. Or whatever you were aiming for. I'll make sure it gets there. Sometimes, without being asked, I will just take the stupid knife from your hand and I will do the whole thing myself because, truthfully, you'll probably do it wrong anyway.

Life doesn't live itself.

That just in from planet Angelina.

Which I think is much too small to be a "planet".

You know what? Everything isn't always my fault. Just like everything isn't always Max's fault.

If I just keep typing here and never go to sleep and therefor never have to wake up, then I will never have to deal with anything again except these fucking annoying tears that I don't want anyway because I'm super tough and I don't let my heart break over the little stuff right? Right. Fucking life.

Fucking stupid complicated life. I think it's the things that I can never ever say out loud or in print or even whisper to another human being, even Philip, that are going to kill me in the end. Maybe sooner than I expect. Is that why people write fiction? To tell the things you can never really tell without absolutely cutting yourself off from every other human being?

I lose friends when I open my mouth with questionable stuff, what would I lose if I open my mouth with the unquestionable impossible words that no one is ever allowed to say because if they do they betray every human being on earth and break our trust in the unknown and the trust we all have that it will remain unknowable?

Maybe if I don't let my fingers leave this keyboard they will not find some other weapon to turn. A knife would be cleaner, but cheating. If you think I'm talking literally at this moment, then you are your own sick bastard. I shouldn't even bother reassuring you that I would never leave my wee bairn in this world with the legacy of a suicidal mom. I have not been truly suicidal in over twenty years. I know this week, better than ever before, how much my bairn needs me to be his champion, his PR company, and his mother. His loving imperfect crazy mother.

My child says to me "Are you CRAZY?!"
I say "As a matter of fact, I am. And not ashamed."

If I wasn't on a seven year campaign not to swear in front of him I would have said "Totally BAT-SHIT FUCKING CRAZY."*

So I say to my kid "Are YOU crazy?!"
and my kid says "Yes. Yes I am. So who cares?"

Who indeed.

*An assertion that annoys everyone I know who is in the Therapy profession who feels that this only applies to people who have psychotic episodes. I think I know who I am and my own diagnosis so I'll appreciate not hearing anyone deny my clinical diagnosis which entitles me to call myself crazy if I want. After all, there are thousands of degrees of crazy and I'm not claiming to be non-functioning. Just leave me the fuck alone already!

Nov 22, 2007

Speech Impairment

Ten ways to prevent oneself from speaking:

  • Duct tape mouth shut.

  • Remove tongue.

  • Take a lifelong vow of silence.

  • Always have so much food in mouth that speech is unintelligible.

  • Commit a crime bad enough that solitary confinement is mandatory.

  • Always remain asleep.

  • Have self cryogenically frozen until speech is considered unnecessary.

  • Install bark collar on self.

  • Use a whip stitch to keep lips closed.

  • Live in a silent film with no subtitles.

Nov 21, 2007

A Vegetarian Local Thanksgiving

A noble side. The much maligned Brussels sprouts.

Our turkey, caught off guard.

A sizable beast weighing in at over 10 pounds. This baby could feed a family of eight. Pure, organic, non GMO, and guaranteed to be hormone free...turkey doesn't get any better than this. Oh, except that you also don't have to worry about poisoning your family with weird meat related diseases or use a thermometer to cook it. It doesn't require basting or four hours to cook. It will be moist no matter what you do with it and it won't make everyone want to take a nap.

Wait, but the benefits of having a winter squash for a turkey just keep coming to me...another great thing about it is that removing the seeds from the squash is not nearly as disturbing as sticking your hand up a birds ass to remove its internal organs.

By now you're probably thinking that I object to people killing and eating birds to celebrate abundance? Actually I don't. I know that a lot of people really look forward to the turkey fuss and in spite of the fact that I was raised as a vegetarian and have preferred to remain one in my adult life, I do actually believe it's ethical to eat animals, though I think humans should insist on eating healthy ones that were raised in a respectful manner. Animals eat animals, it's all part of this circle of life we're a part of. So I don't object to any of you eating animals.

However, I'm really happy it isn't me putting my hands in dark creepy places to remove sacks of internal organs. I'll leave that to you who nosh the birds.

Here's our Thanksgiving menu:

Winter squash (Pink Banana Squash) stuffed with bread stuffing and dried sour cherries.
Brussels sprout gratin.
Salad with pears and walnuts
mashed potatoes and celery root with tons of butter.

Pumpkin pie (made from freshly baked sugar pie pumpkins)
Walnut pie (made the same as pecan pie, but with walnuts which are local)
Or-as a substitute- meringues with whipped cream and sour cherry preserves.

We have to let my sister decide on the non-pumpkin pie dessert because she has always hated pumpkin pie. She gets to choose the other dessert. Normally we have pecan pie, but I don't know if she'll like having walnuts substituted. It also depends on whether I still have some corn syrup in the cupboard.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, bar none. In my family, most holidays seemed to come prepackaged with lots of extra stress and bickering and angst and unhappiness. Thanksgiving, though, seemed much more peaceful. What can go wrong? We never lived around a million relatives so our Thanksgivings were either celebrated by just the five of us, or sometimes with good friends. My mom was an excellent cook and I loved the preparations that went on in the kitchen. We would play music, drink hot tea, and steam up the kitchen.

And the pie...the pie...oh the pie was so good! My mom's pumpkin pie is simply the best I've ever had. It isn't for everyone. She makes it spicy and from real pumpkins (I didn't know there was any other way until I was seventeen years old and saw a friend's mom decant her pumpkin from a can, which was a shock.). I've since had the kind you can buy at the store and am really not surprised at how many people I've met who don't care for pumpkin pie. My mom uses honey in hers which adds a richness to it that can't be beat. I follow my mom's recipe every year. Perhaps later today I will do a post with her recipe. The only thing I do differently now is that I make a crust using regular all purpose flour instead of barley flour.

It's ironic that I gave birth to a child who has ZERO appreciation for Thanksgiving since he doesn't eat a single Thanksgiving related item. People ask him if he's excited about Thanksgiving and he says "No. All it is is a bunch of food and I don't eat food." To be fair, before he got extremely picky, he used to eat the pumpkin pie and loved it. At some point though it started to make him gag.

I'm happy to say though that Max's recent "healthy food" choice has been a whole spinach sandwich. Which consists of: two slices of whole wheat bread, natural yellow mustard on one side, mayonnaise on the other, and filled with baby spinach leaves. The kid won't eat most fruit, he won't eat hot dogs or chicken nuggets, nor pizza, but he'll eat spinach in wheat bread. This will be short lived and then he'll go back to apples and peanut butter, or corn dogs, or cucumber with ranch dressing. But he's had a spinach sandwich every day for seven days now. I'm not complaining.

As for the question of buying from local companies that may not get their raw materials from local sources...Philip helped me come to some sort of guideline for making this decision. He pointed out that one of the huge benefits of eating locally is that your food takes a lot less energy to get to your plate. So he pointed out that companies that make salsa have raw materials that, out of season, must be shipped from far away and use refrigeration to get here, which takes more power. Produce is much costlier to transport than grains. So he suggested that it is probably against the spirit of the challenge to buy salsa or other fresh or produce related products, even from local sources, though buying products like tortillas is more within the scope of what we're trying to do here, which is to help make positive change.

So: local companies that make produce related products are not allowed. No sauces or salsas or frozen produce. What we can allow are: products that use grains such as locally made breads, chips, tortillas, locally milled grains, or (if we could find any) crackers.

This feels right to me. I can make different decisions when my challenge is up, I can ease the rules a little. Though, I do believe I would like to keep up many of these choices long term. I will probably eat ketchup again when my year is up.

The question of grains is certainly proving challenging. Most people's health really benefits from including a variety of grains in their diet (even if you can't eat some because of allergies, having some source of grains tends to be important in human diets). I have allowed locally milled flours and I feel good with that decision. I figured I would also allow a couple of grains that my local mill carries that they get from Washington and Utah- barley and, well, what else? I imagined I would allow myself oats. But now that I think about it I am not at all sure where they get their oats from. I know I'll still buy polenta because I use corn grits to make cornbread with which Max eats.

Is that enough? Corn, oats, barley. Plus various wheat flours. What if I can get my hands on Bob's Red Mill multi-grain flour for bread making? Will all of that combined be enough variety of grains? I was thinking it was pretty slim, but now that I'm writing it all out, I think it sounds pretty good. I can also get my hands on some locally grown wild rice. So maybe that's good enough. However, amongst them there isn't anything that makes a nice fluffy bed of grains on which steamed vegetables can rest nobly. Wild rice isn't what I would call fluffy.

Who needs fluffy anyway? All I can say is that cous-cous is missed.

I had better get my butt in gear because today is my boy's seventh birthday. Wow. He's showing his "mature" age by not allowing any more mom kisses. While this kind of breaks my heart just a tiny bit, I understand what it's like to be seven years old and wanting to maintain a certain air of dignity. He has also decided he's had enough of me calling him "monkey" and has informed me that if I have to use a nickname for him I can either call him "shadow dude" or "raptor". So I proceeded to call him those names in place of monkey and he let me know that using them all the time was also not acceptable. Sheesh.

We already had his birthday party and I'm happy to report that it was the least stressful kid's birthday party I've ever been to or put on myself. He had a great time and the treasure hunt went well and the home-made cupcakes, though not standard looking, were really good. Strangely, I got no pictures of the party. Not a one. Two things were happily missing from the celebration: mass present opening (he opened presents as they arrived and then the kids played with them) and no one sang "Happy Birthday" which I loath. Loath. I don't sing it myself and I do not allow people to sing it to me on my birthday. (Though I would never prevent Max from having it sung to him, I'm not a total Ogre. No one suggested it and he didn't even notice.)

I hope you all have a wonderful wonderful Thanksgiving. I will end this post with a little list of things I am personally thankful for. That will free me up to discuss something totally off topic tomorrow on the actual day...

I'm thankful that my phone is working again
I'm thankful that my boy has made it to his seventh year in good health
I'm thankful to still have my house
I'm thankful for the great support I have from friends
I'm thankful that hazelnuts aren't the only nuts on the planet
I'm thankful I'm not schizophrenic
I'm thankful to have food on the table
I'm thankful I haven't yet lost any fingers
I'm thankful I'm married to such a great guy
I'm thankful my great guy values my craziness
I'm thankful to not be dead yet
I'm thankful we don't get tornadoes here
I'm thankful I'm allowed to have my hens
I'm thankful to still have food on the table (Oh, did I already say that? Well, you can't be too thankful for that one.)
I'm thankful I don't have a wart on the end of my nose
I'm thankful not to have any STDs
I'm thankful the wind blows cold in the north
I'm thankful my cat isn't attacking me right now
I'm thankful I live in such a beautiful area
I'm thankful that some day I'll be eating ketchup again
I'm thankful I had the time to preserve so much food this year
I'm thankful I have no ties to the mob
I'm just thankful.

Nov 20, 2007

Hello all. I have been forcibly cut off from the world by my phone company. We have been without phone or Internet service for over 48 hours now.

This is where all the people dying to get me and Philip to join the cell phone nation are nodding their heads and muttering unattractive comments under their breath. Yes, a cell phone sure would come in handy right about now. I still don't want one.

Anyway, so my apologies to anyone trying to e-mail me or phone me or buy something from Etsy. I am writing this little post from a friend's house. Now I have to go call my mother. And the phone company who shall most certainly be named:


Two attempts have been made now to deal with this situation. Don't know what will happen but I think my head might explode.

So in the meantime, know that I am wishing all of my Internet friends a really wonderful Thanksgiving!!

If you never hear from me again, assume the worst.

Update: OK, I have to take back my slur on Verizon just a little bit. It turns out that the reason we lost our phone and Internet service was because Philip, in a flurry of home improvement excitement, detached the alarm system that had been on our wall for two years. We hate alarms. Alarms of all kinds. They make loud piercing noises and that's something that gives us heart palpitations. So we disconnected the existing alarm system when we bought this house. But we left the unit on the wall. (We were afraid of it.) When Philip finally removed the unit from the wall almost three days ago, he tucked in a little phone jack that the unit had been connected to. When he did that, he broke a complete circuit that the alarm and the phone were both a part of. So the Verizon man bypassed the alarm wires and-POOF- we were back in service. I still say that it should never take a phone company three fucking days to come see what the problem was. Anyway, I kind of forgive them because the actual fault was ours and the Verizon man said they should have immediately sent someone out since we pay for repair services every luckily there will be no billing for his time.

In other electronic news...remember how all our smoke alarms were needing battery changes and were beeping and driving us nuts? You wanna know how long it took us to resolve the problem? One week. One week of having to listen to incessant little beeps. You may guess, from clues I've dropped about what kind of people we are, that this made the tensions in our house rise to boiling. I think we came dangerously close to sending Max to foster care and admitting ourselves to an asylum. We would have too if there were such a thing as asylums anymore. Anyway, with all of the smoke alarms accounted for and all of their batteries removed, there should have been a beep-free silence, right? But the beeping kept on going. Finally, Philip found a rogue smoke alarm shoved in one of our bathroom drawers. If he hadn't have found it, I wouldn't be talking to you right now. Electronics have not been kind to us in the past two weeks.

Nov 16, 2007

Bath Bombs
(plus some philosophy on one's life calling and how dense humans are as a group)

These bath bombs look like confections. I'm very happy with them. So pretty and they smell wonderful too! I have finally listed them in my Etsy shop:

Dustpan Alley at Etsy

Thank you Pam and Kelly for making my day and buying all of my bath bombs in my Etsy shop!!! I have just relisted more of them and I'm off to make a second batch.

Here are Lisa and Lisa shaping the mixture into balls. You have to work quickly or the substance starts to get crusty and hard.

This is how they look when they are done well- meaning that you didn't get the baking soda compound too wet or too dry before forming the balls. On our first try we didn't get it wet enough and even though we could form balls with it, they spread out and the exterior cracked so that right now they look like cracked meringues. They will still fizz in the bath, they just don't look as nice.

This one is grapefruit-ginger. It smells really good and refreshing. It has more grapefruit oil in it than ginger so it is predominately citrusy but with a warm spicy finish.

It becomes obvious that we favor citrus around here. Bergamot is the main flavoring ingredient in Earl Grey tea and I never would have thought of it as being in the citrus family, yet it is. It smells sprightly and fresh and mixed with a small amount of rose it is heavenly! More romantic and sensual than the grapefruit-ginger, but not heavy and cloying at all.

The bergamot-rose is perfect for helping to alleviate depression (but don't stop taking your medications, OK?, because it isn't strong enough to do what your meds do) it is cheering and soothing and how can you go wrong combining it in a bath? Unless your bath sucks like mine. In which case we need to make a pact together to get better bath tubs. In all the years I didn't get therapy or take medication to help with my brain issues I managed to get through life with a heavy regimen of cognitive behavioral therapy (which I thought were pep talks to self, but I found out in therapy that I'd been self administering CBV all along...very cool) and a lot of bath taking.

I took baths at least every other night. Baths with a glass of wine or a cup of tea, a book, and (of course) some essential oils dropped in or some kind of bath salts or herbs. I'm not kidding when I say that taking baths, the kind where you read a book or magazine in, are really good for your mental health.

I was lucky enough to have had lots of wonderful bathtubs in San Francisco. Claw foots that were meant for soaking in. With the backs curved just right and deep enough to fill with hot water. Bathing has been an important ritual for people even when getting clean wasn't.

I've finished putting together the bath salt kits as well but have yet to photograph them or get them up on my Etsy shop. We stayed up very late working on them the night before last. I know that many of you who come here have done lots of work putting products together, and many of you have put together tutorials and patterns for crafts of various kinds, so you will appreciate how much work goes into them! I hope the salt kits sell because I really love them.

Did you hear that? That is not the talk of a good businesswoman. I've been thinking about this lately and even though I've mentioned it before I think it becomes ever clearer to me as I go along my mostly-merry way: I am a lousy businesswoman. It is fascinating to me to be finding out things about myself that I never expected. I mean, finding out I was crazy wasn't really like finding anything out-more like corroborating evidence. But finding out that I suck at spacial arrangements is a revelation. I really assumed all my life that I was pretty good at it because I have such a very distinct style (which I feel good about) and I have an eye for beautiful things. But that is not the same as being able to arrange things in a room in a way that is both functional and pretty.

I kind of knew all my life that I wasn't cut out for a life of business, but I see it now in a new and brighter light. I'm not trying to put myself down here, just looking at the facts and hearing my own words come endlessly tumbling back at me as though someone else said them and hearing how strongly I don't identify with sales and business.

whoa-random thought just in: I couldn't sell hotcakes for the Devil to save my life.

That just totally cracks me up. Where do these thoughts originate from? What weird vortex in my brain sits around formulating these thoughts?

It's funny how life will continually send you clear messages and how easy it is for us dense humans to continually ignore the writing on the wall, in the sky, on the counter tops, in the fire, and on our own foreheads. What would my life have been like if I had, early on, committed myself to a life of writing which I knew at ten years of age was what I was meant to do? What if I had stuck to the obvious screaming purpose? I'm not one to sit around all the time asking "what if" or "if I could only redo my life...". I mean, we make the choices we make and a lot of times going off the track means we enrich ourselves with adventure (or misadventure as the case often is) which can only help to deepen our wisdom.

(Or the gashes on our foreheads where we've been banging it against the brick wall of our own decisions.)

I wouldn't change anything I've done. Well, except for one thing. But we're not going to talk about that at the moment. I just can't help but see that I have continually gone off course and then asked the Universe "Why didn't that work out?!!!". I wonder how long I'll retain this little bit of clarity before I find myself off the track again? As I was making all these wonderful bath products in the last couple of weeks I started romancing the possibilities there...which is what I always do. "I could build a soapy empire!" or "I've always wanted to be an's like my true calling!"

How is it that a person can have a strongly entrepreneurial spirit but not the business acumen to carry out any of their brilliant ideas? It's like being born with the spirit of a ballerina but the body of Polish grandmother. I should be used to finding new contradictions in myself, lord knows it's one of those things I've always been well equipped with. What's one more?

I'm not sorry about it. Just like getting my psychological assessment didn't disturb me, it's comforting to acknowledge my own limitations. I've always been happiest when working within known boundaries. The trick is to always have this in mind as I go on my little adventures. I need to remember that I can do anything I want, so long as I remember that it's my job in this small life to report what I find, share what I see, and record the adventure. That is my calling.

I am very good at product development as I love to research things that interest me. I am creative enough to be good at visualizing how a product can look good. I am skilled enough to design things that are quality, that are purposeful, and that are stylish. But it isn't my calling to make a business out of that. Where's the company who wants to hire me for that? Has anyone ever come knocking for these skills of mine? No.

Besides, what I want most, is to stay home, continue to be an urban homesteader and to inspire others to do the same.

Ultimately, there's only ever been one calling for me and it's been written on the wall in my own blood for twenty seven years. I'm very excited about all these bath products, but mostly I can't wait to get you to make some of your own. I have the words. The words to tell you that you can do it. The words to tell you why you want to.

Note: it must be said that if my current endeavors can help keep me at home (writing and homesteading), then I hope that my previous life as T.H.M.R.* is on hold for a while. I'm not holding my breath, but who knows?

*The Human Money Repellent. (I suspect this is the affliction that has ailed most writers, with special preference for poets.)

Nov 15, 2007

Eat Local Challenge
Day 46

You know how they say boy scouts are always prepared? Well, I am too, and I'm not homophobic which is a bonus! As some of you may have guessed, I haven't had a lot of time for cooking in the past week what with getting ready for the Holiday Market downtown and transforming my living room into one we want to live in. I have to admit that when you're doing an eat local challenge, you really better have some quick meals in your freezer to fall back on because most convenience food is not made here in the Portland area. I'm not sure why it is, but most snacky items seem to be manufactured in the Midwest.

The really amazing thing about vacuum sealers is how well they preserve the quality of the food you freeze. This homemade chili (vegetarian, of course) was really good. I didn't make nearly enough of it. My concern with vacuum sealers (or any sealers for that matter) is the amount of plastic you must use and generally speaking, I can't get the bags clean enough to reuse. It's also very expensive. I'm wondering if I can freeze most of my food in glass jars and how sensitive to freezer burn are things frozen in glass?

The biggest question burning a hole in my brain with my eat local challenge right now is: how much of a difference does it make to buy food products from local companies if you don't know where they're getting their raw materials? I need to hear from everyone who has participated in local eating challenges before. The one local meal a week summer challenge...if you found locally made tortillas would you count that as a legitimate "local" product, even if they probably get their corn from nonlocal sources? How deep did you all examine this issue? I have found out that there are a couple of companies that make salsa locally, so I could get salsa all year round from a local source. But obviously they aren't getting their tomatoes from local sources at this time of year. So, is that still within the definition of local?

I'm having a really difficult time deciding this one for myself. On the one hand I think it's a huge step in the right direction for all of us to support companies that are local to us and if that means buying salsa from Emerald Valley instead of Pace, that means I'm putting money into my local economy. But any large company cannot rely on only local sources to make goods. So in most cases you aren't going to be supporting local agriculture by buying that salsa. Maybe during the months that tomatoes are in season here they use local tomatoes, but production doesn't stop for Emerald Valley at the end of the local tomato season, so they have to be getting their tomatoes from further afield.

This issue must be resolved because I need to figure out what fits into my challenge. It's about making a distinction between local raw materials and companies that make products locally. Not the same thing. What does the eat local challenge mean to most people? It wasn't as important to answer this question a month ago because there was still locally grown cilantro at the grocery store. Now it's from California. Now that there is less produce available I am looking for alternatives.

I haven't bought feta in a month and a half. Do you realize how foreign that is to me? I'm relieved to have decided to make Parmesan an exception, but if you were to examine my cells, I'm 99% sure you would find that they have the same DNA as feta cheese, which would explain how come I normally buy large quantities of it. Not buying it doesn't worry me the way not buying Parmesan did. Parmesan is much more difficult to make as it needs at least 10 months to age. It seems I will be needing to make some feta soon. I've never done this before. But I do know it's a lot easier than making hard aged cheeses. I have a lot of crafting and sewing to do before I can tackle this project.

I will admit that I am really missing ketchup on my eggs. My friend Nicole gave me a bottle of her homemade ketchup and I am saving it for a special occasion, like if I'm having a really bad week and not having ketchup on my eggs is the last straw standing between me and going postal. I am aware that loving ketchup is not very haute cuisine of me and is, in fact, rather similar to committing a food crime. My friend Chelsea would say that putting it on eggs is one of the most HEINOUS food crimes of the century. I think she may be sleeping better at night knowing that I can no longer commit this crime against good taste. Whatever. I miss ketchup.

The next challenging moment: facing Thanksgiving without yams. I have eaten yams on Thanksgiving for 36 consecutive years. A year without them is hard enough, but not having them on my favorite day of the year seems like a spiritual sacrifice. I am resolved to get through this though. A huge mound of steaming hot buttery mashed potatoes might do the trick.