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Have I mentioned how much I love being out of school?  Since I moved right after I graduated, it’s like I made a clean break with that school part of my life.  When other people talk about tests or homework, it seems so long ago and far away.   Being out of school feels “normal” – which is to say that I haven’t gone all hog-wild with my free time.  Instead, I’m just trying to find new habits and patterns and enjoy my freedom until the day when I might have to show up for work at 8:30 (yawn) am.

Instead of thinking about things like projects and deadlines and the intricacies of the library catalog (although I still think about that sometimes), I can contemplate life’s big questions:

  • Should I have coffee or tea?  Coffee is more satisfying and creamy (when I add cream, which is always), and it involves more elaborate preparation rituals.  Tea gets honey, which is lovely, and it’s simple and never makes me jittery when I drink too many cups.
  • What should I read next?  Right now I have out Looking for Anne of Green Gables, Well Witched, Pippi Longstocking, Crossing to Paradise, Tales from Outer Suburbia, Wintergirls, The Home-Maker, The Surrender Tree, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, and some cooking and gardening books that I keep forgetting about.  I’m listening to The Ghost in Love in the car and enjoying it although it’s pretty off-beat.  It’s one of those books that talks about food a lot, which I love, and it has these occasional brilliant observations that you would never have made but recognize as being true.  Actually, the same is true of The Air We Breathe, which I’m also reading, although the observations have a different feel and the food is described with less reverence, and it’s not off-beat – just compelling in a 19th century novel way.
  • What shoes should I wear for Bronwen’s wedding?  This one needs research.
  • Why am I incapable of finishing bananas before they turn brown?  And how many loaves of banana bread can I bake before I cut myself off?
  • Will my balcony get enough sun to keep my plants alive?  And will the sun ever stay out for more than two minutes at a time?

In the meantime, though, I’ve answered the “what to bake?” question (chocolate chip cookies) and the “what to eat for lunch?” question (tuna on sourdough with a pickle – and yes, I eat lunch at 3 pm – and you would, too, if dinner was at 10).

I think I’m finally getting my shelf of library books under control (although I suspect it won’t stay that way for long).  Now, if I could just get my pile of “currently reading” books down to a manageable size, I’d be in business.  There are a few that I’ve been “reading” for quite a while, like The Forsyte Saga, which is too big to lug around and sits next to my bed.  Or The Long Winter, which I started reading back during Artic Blast ’08 and never finished.  Then there are the ones that I started but had to return to the library, since they were on hold, and which I’m still waiting to get back – The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey and the newish edition of Pippi Longstocking illustrated by Lauren Child.

I’m actively reading just a few books – I have the third Maisie Dobbs, Pardonable Lies, on audio in the car, and I just picked up Sandra Gulland’s Mistress of the Sun.  There might be something else lying around.  I just finished Marcelo in the Real World last night – one of those YA books that could be marketed just as easily to adults as teens.  I definitely recommend it, and I’m trying to digest it a bit more before I review it.  It’s early in the year for predictions, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it popping up on awards lists later.

In food news, I’m roasting a chicken – my first.  I’ve done a few whole chickens in the crock-pot, which is pretty failproof, so this is a fun adventure.  Just thinking about it is making me hungry – it hasn’t even started smelling good yet.  I’m really enjoying this whole post-Lent, eat whatever you please phase – a few weeks of rice and beans makes a fried egg or a roast chicken or a slice of cheese just heavenly.  Sometimes, it’s actually hard to remember what I like to eat – it’s easier to just incorporate a few foods at a time.  Last week was homemade pizza (with spicy Italian sausage, red pepper, mushrooms, and sauted onions) and this week is the chicken.  I’d like to try baking some new things – I’ve made lemon bars (for Easter dinner), brownies (for a fundraiser) and banana bread, but none are all old favorites.

Ooh, the chicken is starting to sizzle and smell good.  Time to go drool over it.

Whenever I have a day-long baking project, or bake multiple things, I always (okay, often) think of Ma – Caroline – and her baking days. And washing days. And ironing days. I can’t remember all of them, and I still haven’t gotten around to stealing the boxed set of Little House books from my parents’ house, but you get the idea. Each domestic activity has its day.

Most chores aren’t so time consuming these days, which I’m certainly grateful for, but every once in a while it’s nice to do something which requires a time commitment. Ten minutes of kneading by hand. An hour to rise. Another hour to rise. Baking time. I wouldn’t necessarily want to go through that for every loaf of bread I consume, but I want to do it more often. I want to be a person who bakes bread. Today I’m using it to fight the blahs, and it’s working pretty well, along with a quick walk during one of the risings. It’s about to go into the oven, and now I feel like I’ll have something to show for my day – two loaves of Oatmeal Maple-Honey Bread.  It’s also a good excuse for cranking up the heat – it’s not for me, it’s for the bread!

From the King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion:

Vermont Oatmeal Maple-Honey Bread

makes two sandwich loaves

  • 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups (18-20 ounces) boiling water
  • 1 cup (3 1/2 oz) rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup (2 3/4 oz) maple sugar or brown sugar (4 oz)
  • 1/2 teaspoon maple flavor (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 4 tablespoons (2 oz) butter (I used canola margarine)
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon instant or active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups (7 3/4 oz) whole wheat flour
  • 4 cups (17 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour

In a large mixing bowl, combine the water, oats, maple sugar, maple flavor, honey, butter, salt, and cinnamon. Let cool to lukewarm.

Add the yeast and flours, stirring to form a rough dough. Knead (about 10 minutes by hand, 5-7 by machine) until the dough is smooth and satiny. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover the bowl with lightly greased plastic wrap, and let the dough rise for 1 hour; it should double in bulk.

Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a loaf. Place the loaves in two greased 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch bread pans. Cover the pans with lightly greased plastic wrap and allow the loaves to rise until they’ve crowned about 1 inch over the rim of the pan, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Bake the loaves for 35-40 minutes. Remove them from the oven when they’re golden brown and the interior registers 190 F on an instant-read thermometer. (I don’t have a thermometer – I’ll have to use the old-fashioned tap method – should sound hollow when tapped.)

We’ve officially entered the rainy season.  Yes, true, the rainy season never really stops here, but we’ve had some monsoon quality rainstorms lately.  Last night I was falling asleep, listening to the nice gentle drip of rain when a global faucet was turned all full force and it went drop “plop plop plop” to “CHHHHHHHH.”  It would dwindle for a moment, and then it would start back up.  It was so loud that I felt like I ought to be outside, experiencing this extremity.  It was movie-quality rain, the kind where romantic characters are suddenly drenched while having a tender moment after running after each other when they suddenly realize they must confess their undying affection.

I’ve been thinking about Thanksgiving dinner and it’s gotten me awfully hungry, a situation that might be improved by eating lunch.  Or, you know, more pumpkin waffles.  Or I could bake more pumpkin muffins.  Or try this recipe for pumpkin bread pudding.  All pumpkin, all the time.

I’ve been reading Emma, rather slowly, ever since I got back from California.  Occasional breaks for children’s books, because I don’t want those library books to gather dust on my shelf.  Last night I picked up Touching Snow, which I’d checked out because it was on the list of National Book Award finalists (the “young people’s” list, what else?  Because last year I read all the finalists and thoroughly approved of their choice of winner) (I put all of them on hold, except for 1) Story of a Girl which I already read and liked – and was just telling Bronwen about!  Because we drove through the town where it was set!  2) The Invention of Hugo Cabret which I also already read and liked, but did not drive through the town where it was set because I didn’t have enough gas to make it to Paris.)  Anyway, I started reading it and was pulled in…but it turned out I was not in the mood to read about an abusive step-father (they call him “the Daddy,” which really creeped me out for some reason).  So instead I turned to something I knew I would enjoy (it was Friday night, after all) and started the third Oracle Prophesies book, Day of the Scarab.  Oh yeah.

In the car right now I’ve got The Namesake – I have no idea where the story is going, but I’m sold and along for the ride.  Too bad it’s overdue…bad wanna-be librarian.

*”Jason, the Ice Capades are an extravaganza” – Ms. Allegretto

Last week, when I chose Chicken Soup with Rice as the next Monday recipe, I was a little trepidatious that it would turn out to be a blazing hot day on which I would loathe keeping the stove on for hours while the soup simmered.  Never fear!  I live in Oregon.  It poured all day.   Poured while I had to go buy a new tire.  Poured while I picked up rice and chicken and celery and carrots (and more figs).  Poured while I set my broth a simmering.

I loosely followed this recipe – the main alteration was cooking up a pound of chicken thighs instead of using a rotisserie chicken.   The broth simmered – mostly organic chicken broth plus a veggie bullion cube – the Rapunzel brand has a very nice herb/sea salt thing going on.  A handful of chopped parsely.  A rib of celery.  Part of a giant Walla Walla onion.

That simmered for about an hour, and in the meantime I chopped up another celery rib and 3 carrots and pulled apart the chicken.  I left all the fat on, because shouldn’t chicken soup have a nice portion of chicken fat?  Hence the thighs instead of breasts, also because they were cheaper.

Then it poured while I took a break and went to donate blood.  It was at the hospital, and let me tell you, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been to a hospital.  And never, if I remember correctly, as the patient.  Anyway, so I gave blood and ate my juice and cookies and drove home.  In the rain – did I mention it was still pouring?

Then into the pot went the chicken, veggies, and half a cup of rice.  Since I was starting from cold again, it took 45 minutes for the rice to cook through.

Then I enjoyed.

Delicious.  Last time I made chicken soup, I used my mom’s homemade broth, which was to die for.  Next time, I’m stealing her broth again.  Still, this was tasty and reasonably hearty with the big chunks of chicken.  Today I’ll have to go get a good loaf of bread to eat with the leftovers.

Yesterday I zipped through The Oracle Betrayed, and now I’m doing my best to work on other books from my library pile before I snap up the sequel and devour it, too.   It was indeed pleasantly like Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief,
minus Eugenides.  But it has the setting that feels historical, a blend of ancient Greece and ancient Egypt, but with an imagined mythology and culture.  It has intrigue and betrayal and hidden motives.  It has characters who are shocked to discover that the gods they pay lip service to are, in fact, real and present.  It feels complex without being too cpmplex.  There are elements of the culture that are distasteful – and the characters often find them distasteful along with the reader – but the masks must stay on, the tombs must be sealed, and the inevitability of the last page hits you across the face.

Which is why I’m itching for the sequel – because things are by no means tidily wrapped up.  Instead, I’m moving on to MiddlemarchSophie mentioned wanting to read it, and I have such fond memories of watching the Masterpiece Theater version on a cold January night with her and Bronwen, that we seized upon a vague plan of reading it together.  So I dove in, and had to adjust my brain to 19th century prose, but now things are going along nicely.  I’d forgotten how funny it is – or rather, I wasn’t sure if the funny was from the process of adapting it to screen or if it really was that funny.  And it is.  I already loathe Casaubon from the depths of my being, and he’s barely done anything yet.  Eliot’s tone with Dorothea (“Dodo”) has me cracking up.

Riding was an indulgence which she allowed herself in spite of conscientious qualms; she felt that she enjoyed it in a pagan sensuous way, and always looked forward to renouncing it.

Oh boy.  If she keeps that up, I’ll be sailing through this 799 page puppy.

I’m supposed to make chicken soup with rice today.  Appropriately, it’s raining.

Nothing says Holy Saturday like…

a priest in a boat.

Or…

ringing bells with ear protection.

Or…

a god-daughter in her poodle sweater.

Or…

a return to pond baptisms (YES!  The rumor was true!)

Many many more photos on flickr.

Holy Week seems to be a good time to catch up on all those craft projects sitting around.   In previous years I’ve tended towards knitting, but this year I bring you the 2007 Holy Week Handicraft:

You don’t really want it, do you Di?  Because it sure looks nice on my couch.  And on me.

In other news, the weather this week is such that if Pascha and the Other Easter weren’t on the same day this year, I would so be judging them for their weather.  Oh ho, sunny on Holy Friday?  That’s because you’re on the wrong calendar, suckers.  Rain predicted for Sunday?  Oh, boo hoo.  And so on.  In my head.

But, the calendars are the same this year.  And it was indeed glaringly hot on Holy Friday.  And it is indeed dripping right now.  And probably the procession will get rained on.  And our candles will go out.  So I suppose…I can’t really judge.

Yesterday I did the customary Holy Friday grocery store run.  You know, the one where you stock up on all manner of dairy products.  I bought: fresh mozzarella, parmesan, ricotta, sour cream, whipping cream, Greek style yogurt, buttermilk, eggs, and Italian sausage.  And some other boring things like pasta and tomato sauce (most of that cheese is going into a potluck baked ziti).  The sour cream and whipping cream shall be put to use in a chocolate bundt cake.

I suppose I ought to get up and shower and go see people baptized.  The getting up is the hardest part.

Oregon has a reputation for rain.  What a lot of people outside the state don’t realize is, Oregon gets a lot of drizzle.  A lot of low clouds.  A high chance of precipitation.  There’s a lot of not bothering to wear a raincoat or bring an umbrella, because rain never melted anyone.

But today is different.  Today is make a detour through the yard and around the Asian pear tree to avoid the small pond now stretching from the door to the car.  Today is stay in the left lane because it’s higher ground.  Today is expect to hydroplane at any moment, and feel shocked when you make it home in one piece.   Today is wish your windshield wipers had a higher setting.  Today is actually using the hood on your raincoat.

But it’s warm, like everything is about to mold.  The steering wheel is sticky with perspiration.  Instead of bundling up for warehouse work, using every available uniform layer, today is strip down to your shirtsleeves.  Some of my coworkers got stuck at the coast because of mudslides.  With only their uniforms to wear.

The horror.

Last night I sang myself to sleep (in my head, not out loud – I don’t want Kitri to move out before our lease is up) with another delightful song from my childhood – “Hurry, Hurry.”  Otherwise known as the “fat and furry song.”  Except I kept wanting to change the lyrics to “hurry, hurry, scurry, scurry” instead of four hurry’s in a row.  Um, yeah.  Breaking news, here!  Although I don’t particularly want to get fat & furry, especially since I’m not allowed to hibernate.  Would you like a piece of bacon?

I pulled myself out of bed this morning thinking, “I’ll get some school reading done before I go babysit.”  HA.  Instead I’ve emptied the dishwasher, tidied the kitchen, and made coffee, bacon & eggs.  And now I have a whole half hour to study…and instead I’m reading blogs.  And drinking coffee.

I’m actually not really babysitting.  Not in the “don’t hit your brother,” “yes, we can go to the park,” “no, you must wear a helmet” kind of way.   More in the “take four kids downtown to a ballet demonstration for kids while their moms stay home with the babies” kind of way.  Should be fun.

Or a total nightmare.

I was saying “no, sorry, I’m busy” until she mentioned it involved taking the older kids to the ballet.  And as Kitri received discovered, to her shock, I’m a sucker for the ballet.  I took lessons for almost ten years, for crying out loud.  (In exchange, I learned that Kitri once played in a bluegrass jam band.)

…jessmonster scurry scurries to get another cup of coffee…

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