Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Short Story that was brought to Nana's mind by a video clip that Papa found on the Purina Website

(But which now, alas and alack, cannot be found again, or at least not by yours truly. But the story is still worth telling.)

Nana's mother-- who is my only living Grandmother, so I'll call her Grandmother here-- was born in 1926, and grew up during the depths of the depression. They ate a lot of inexpensive foods, including what her older brother could shoot with his '22*.

One day, Harry shot a squirrel, but he didn't realize that it was a mama squirrel and that there was a baby still in the nest. When he realized what he had done, he brought the baby squirrel home to take care of it. The only trouble was, they had a cat, and baby squirrels are enough like mice that they were sure that the cat would eat it. They tried and tried to keep the cat and the baby squirrel separated, but finally they gave up. It was just too hard.

Well, the cat had had kittens recently, and she was still nursing them; and she let that baby squirrel come up and nurse right along side them!

The video in question was of a bunch of different odd animal adoptions, including a mama cat nursing a couple of squirrels. If anyone finds it and wants to put it in the comments, please have at!

*Evidently, Grandmother still has that gun. But, if you know Grandmother's attitudes about getting rid of things, you will be 100% not surprised by this fact. I almost wonder if it's the one that my uncle used to shoot that rattlesnake that one night, but that's a different story...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Pumpkin Soup

First, the backstory for why this pumpkin--er, I mean, recipe-- had to be done today. I mean, why I had to blog about it today.

A few years ago, I moved in to a house that my Dad had just moved out of, and to my continually increasing gratitude, I inherited the garden he had planted. Besides discovering that I LOVED Juliet tomatoes (the kind he had planted), I also discovered the joys of fresh-baked home-grown pumpkin. That fall was when I came up with this recipe, which is darn quick and easy, and eminently edible.

Which is just the kind of recipe one needs when one's mother gets a 60-lb supposed-to-be-decorative (and it was, in its past life) pumpkin from freecycle with the intent of processing and, over the course of time, consuming said pumpkin.

"I'm going to get a very big pumpkin from freecycle," she says. "I'm bringing your dad along to help carry it."

I deeply regret to tell you that I didn't get a shot of this thing when it was whole. In fact, I was thinking of calling this posting "The Slaughter of the Great Pumpkin: A Photo Essay," but that seemed to be over-promising without the "before" pictures; I hope that the ones I have here will give at least some sense of the scale of the thing.

When I came downstairs this morning, these four pieces were all that was left of the once-great pumpkin; three similarly sized pieces had already been chopped even smaller and then distributed in such a way as to take advantage of every large cooking apparatus available in our teensy kitchen: two baking trays in the oven, both two-quart cooking pots simmering on the stove, and the one-and-a-half quart crockpot on "hi" on the counter. Needless to say, the house was suffused with the smell of baking-and-boiling hard winter squash. Which, I am very thankful to report, is a very happy smell for me.

You aren't getting tired of this yet, are you?

We had discussed whether or not Dad might have to use a chainsaw or, since he doesn't personally own one (a chain saw), perhaps he might use an axe (which he does own). In the end, a trusty kitchen knife worked out just fine. The pumpkin was surprisingly soft, which isn't necessarily a good sign-- Mom ended up cutting out bits which she felt were too dodgy for non-starving humans to eat.

This last shot is for the sheer pleasure of showing off my mother's beautiful, strong, capable hand(s-- not much of the second one showing). When I was growing up, she was always the one who opened stuck jars. She had been a pianist and a clarinetist before she married, and hadn't given either of them up yet when I was small; even now, the fact that she types so much in her job means that she hasn't lost much strength. I also love the fact that her palms are slightly plump, like Yo-Yo Ma's. Being a cellist-- specifically, going to many concerts and paying close attention to where the action was-- has made me a bit of a hand conniseur. Aren't hers beautiful?

And now for the recipe section:

Pumpkin Soup (makes approximately 1/2 gallon?)

Ingredients and instructions:
1 T or so fresh slivered ginger (if you hate the recipe because you used powdered, don't blame me)
1 T or so fresh chopped OR bottled garlic
1 T or so olive oil or other preferred cooking oil
Get the oil spitting hot in a skillet, then fry the garlic and ginger until the garlic is getting brown. Remove these from the skillet and put them in the big pot you're planning to cook the soup in.
1 c (more or less, depending on taste) sliced onion
2 T or so oil
Fry the onion until it is both soft and brown; when these have been achieved, put it in the soup pot, too.
5-6 cups cooked pumpkin
1 can coconut milk
1 1/2 t nutmeg, if desired (adjust according to taste)
2 t salt (yes, you can definitely add more-- I tend to cook low sodium)
2 T sugar, according to taste
garnish of cashews or peanut butter, if desired
Dump these in the pot; heat everything through. If you have an immersion blender, you can use it, but if I were you I definitely wouldn't put it, in batches, through a regular blender. Maybe use a potato masher if you have one handy. I just used a spatula tonight. The goal of blending/mashing/sorta-chopping-with-a-spatula is to get the pumpkin in to small enough chunks that the other ingredients/flavorings have a chance to do their jobs.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Good Halloween Costume

My sister Klari called me this morning to tell me about her seven-year-old's Halloween costume. His first choice was to be a vampire cow. I told her that a couple of his cousins, the youngest two Weathercolour boys, wanted to be a vampire cat and a vampire wolf (I think) respectively. She wondered if maybe he had been talking to them (my alternative theories include possible exposure to the Bunnicula series or else that vampires in general are so popular in our wider culture that both households have picked up on it and then simply combined it with the general young-person love of being an animal for Halloween). I thought that it was a great idea, but Klari said that she didn't have the resources to pull together a vampire cow costume in the time available. (Mrs. Weathercolour happens to have fake blood at the ready, so it was relatively easy for her.)

Klari offered her son a choice of costumes which were within her power to create. He picked to be a stoplight, just like our mother (his Nana) had years before: black garbage bag with a hole in it for your head, three construction-paper circles, and some tape to hold the circles on will do it. He walked around all day feeling very pleased with his costume, and expressed his happiness by saying numerous times that he was dee-liiigh-ted.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Little Translation

I've noticed how the translation stage in a child's life, unlike the unrolling stage (which can strain familial relationships) can bring closeness as families work through it together. The moment of translation is an ah-hah moment, the magical event of: someone really understands me. Even if it was only for a single word, if that word was very difficult to remember or pronounce, then the understanding becomes precious.

The first time I visited Germany, a little more than a year and a half ago, was the first time I had ever set foot in any country in which English was not the primary language. I was a little bit afraid to go in to town by myself-- not that I was afraid for my safety at all, but I was afraid that no one would understand my High School German, or that I would commit some sort of huge cultural faux paux, or something would happen that was so horrible or embarrassing that I hadn't even thought to worry about it. But I took a deep breath and went in to the old town on a tram, and I sketched a little at the gate to the old town, and then I wandered around window-shopping until dusk-- it was quite pretty. I hardly talked at all, and hardly needed to, and it was just right.

Right about the time I decided to head back to my friend's apartment, I heard a small child's voice behind me. "Licht," it said. ("Light," in German.) I glanced behind me.

"Ja, Licht," said the man who was holding the child. (Yes, [that's right,] light.)

In that moment, I was pulled in to the warmth of the interaction-- and, let's be honest, it was also that time of day when the light of the setting sun makes everything glow in that certain way and (this is strange but true) I somehow find it easier to believe in the Innate Goodness of Human Nature in such a light-- but suddenly I knew, rather than just believing, that even Germans who only spoke German were as completely human as I.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Almost made me cry

Just a couple, from my ol' favorite, the BBC website:

The first is about a British minister who was in Russia, doing a call-in show, when this old lady calls and says that she is a long-lost relative. The folks running the show cut her off, because they thought she was probably a crackpot, but he ran off right after the show was over to find her-- turns out that they're relatives after all, and she had thought she was the last one in their family.

The full article doesn't tell you much more than that, but here's the link to it anyway:

And here's a link to another article about the same thing, but this one has a picture of his grandfather, who was the relative's father's cousin. I think.

OK. Next one was titled "Youngest Headmaster in the World," and I thought it was going to be about a kid who was super-smart-- but it turned out not quite how I had expected. Turns out that this young man, from India, began to teach some of his friends school lessons, as a game when he was nine; but over time, the game grew more serious, and now every day after school he runs a free school for the kids in his village who can't afford to come to regular school. He's sixteen now. Eight hundred kids show up every day. He has nine fellow teachers, all of whom are also volunteers and also either high school or college students.

Anyway, in this case you really should read the whole article, and yes, it really did make me cry. So there.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Scouting at Bear Lake and Tell Gubler

I mentioned before that my dad has told me that one of the funnest things he had ever done was be a camp commissioner at a Boy Scout camp at Bear Lake, which straddles the Utah-Idaho border. I asked him the other day about how he got involved in this job, and here is some of the story he told me. I am assuming that Tell Gubler has long since gone the way of all the earth, so I am using his real name here.

During Papa's freshman year at BYU, he worked at the Cannon Center Cafeteria, where, because at that time they did not wear earplugs, he believes (and who will disagree?) that he got a good start on his adult hearing loss. After his mission, he worked for the BYU press, which was a job he enjoyed because he wasn't stuck all the time in one place; he got to go all around campus, delivering printing jobs. One day towards the end of the school year, he delivered a job down at the Richards Building--one of two P.E. buildings on campus, and the one that housed (and still houses) what is now the RMYL major-- Recreation Management/Youth Leadership. On one of the bulletin boards, he saw an advertisement for a job as a truck driver and canoe guide for a boy scout camp, the following summer. He thought that sounded pretty interesting, so he went up to Salt Lake City, where the Great Salt Lake Council Boy Scout Offices were, in order to apply. While he was talking to the guy who was in charge of the canoe job, he heard an old voice behind him. "You don't want to do that. You want to come down to Bear Lake and work for me."

[This begins the part of the story where I typed almost as fast as Papa talked, making him wait every couple of sentences while I caught up. I have rearranged and added bits at will, but I read the finished product to Papa and had him approve it. The italicized parts are where I was talking.]

The voice belonged to a man named Tell Gubler. He was slow of speech. That may have been his last year-- he was just a couple of years before retirement. There was nothing about him that would make him seem exciting, I guess would be the word. He really came across as dull. He just kind of emanated a feeling of-- what's the word?-- I guess old school? Do you know what I'm saying?


It was almost like he came out of a previous generation-- well, he WAS out a previous generation, he very much was. Part of this was colored by what I learned about him later. He didn't tell me that he knew my parents, that he had made a life of Boy Scouting.

Of course, you couldn't get more Swiss than Tell Gubler (name-wise-- William Tell and all). He hired me as camp commissioner.

What did that mean?

Hmm. It sorta meant I did oddball jobs. I taught rope-tying, and orienteering, and helped with the canoe trek sometimes, kind of. I guess it was quite a help when that storm came in. [Another story for another day...] Killed rattlesnakes. Played Risk.

So, if you were the camp commissioner, what was Tell Gubler?

Camp director. And there was B---- -- can't remember his last name-- and, oh, what was the other guy's name? His wife was D----... can't remember. They were the assistant directors. The assistants were also professional scouters.

I did tell you what Mom said when she found out?

Your mom?


When I went home between that time that I signed on with him and when camp began, my mother, finding out where I was going to work and who I was going to work with, said "Your dad and I don't know anybody we love and respect more than Tell Gubler." You don't get anything more shiny than that. [Dear siblings and relatives, I must tell you: Papa got a little choked up at this point in the story.] Before the year was out, I understood. And agreed. That was what was so profound about Tell. There was nothing immediately impressive about him, that I could see.

Tell was the professional scouter of the Teton Peaks council when Lloyd and C------ and Grandpa Cox got their Eagle Scouts (and G---- got his Life Scout that night). It was our last Sunday in Shelly, before we moved to Moreland. I think it may have been in sacrament meeting that they did the court of honor. So, Tell knew Grandpa Cox, and I think that the family connection gave him a lot of confidence in me, at least in the scout camp. He had no idea that I had never gotten past tenderfoot.

But you did hold up your end of the deal.

Yeah, there was one day at the end of the camp when he and his two assistants cornered me-- all three professional scouters-- and tried to talk me in to going in to professional scouting. I thought about it, but I knew that when you're a professional scout, you spend at least two thirds of your life fundraising, and it just didn't seem worth it to me. Well, not all of your life is fundraising, but only a couple of months of it would be at camp, and overall it just didn't seem that fun to me.

I suppose that part of the reason why the camp was so good was because I felt so successful at what I was doing.

Did I tell you that the thing that impressed me the most was digging the trench? It was a couple of weeks before camp actually began, and we had a two-day retreat for all of the scout camps, all of the professionals and all of the staff for the scout camps, at the Bear Lake camp.

So what area did this encompass? How many camps did they come from?

I imagine that there were at least three, if not six, camps in the Bear Lake region.

So, yours wasn't THE Bear Lake scout camp, it was one of them.

Yes. There were at least a couple of others on the other side of the lake. Our side was on the west side, and it was very barren. They had planted trees, and I was in charge of moving the water lines. I think that the trees eventually died, which is really sad, because I think it would have been really nice to have had them there.

Oh! the thing that impressed me. They needed a trench built for a water line. I remember Tell didn't say anything about it. I mean, he was old enough that he looked kinda fragile. So, he went out without saying anything to anybody, and started digging this trench line. Here's a couple of dozen scouters, maybe more, and it's pretty clear that he's the oldest of anybody. And within, oh, I'd say fifteen minutes, there were at least half a dozen, maybe a dozen scouters, that were manning pick and shovel on the line, because it made us feel guilty to see him working without anybody to help him.

It reminds me of something he said at one of our campfires to the scouts. He talked about when he was younger, he worked on a Turkey farm, and he could tell when he fed the turkeys and took care of them, their chirp was a little different. It was a sort of an idealistic thing, that even turkeys can tell when they're being taken care of.

[Note on how I have told this story: the first paragraph is my retelling of what I remembered of a coversation about how this all went down; much of the rest came from a conversation which started as me trying to verify the details of what I had written, but ended up being a recollection session about Tell Gubler, with Papa mostly talking and me interspersing questions. In the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you that the one piece of dialogue with quotation marks around it is made up-- it happened mostly like that, but not exactly.]

Monday, September 28, 2009

Nonfiction Books For Grownups

These are books which have stood the test of time for me. They are books which I wish I had had when I first started to set up housekeeping for myself, when I moved away from home at eighteen years old. Actually, no, I wish I had started reading them when I was twelve, because by eighteen I would (hopefully) have been able to absorb the necessary lessons, and have some idea of what I was trying to do when I started in. Although, come to think of it, one of these books wasn't even written until I was in my mid-twenties (but it late is WAY better than never, in books as well as Bachelor's degrees).

As I wrote this post, I realized that the common thread among these books is that they make me feel like doing things that I know I should do, but which seem so boring and/or awful that I never quite find the time to get to them. For this reason, I consider the first two to be sort of like oatmeal pancakes of the nonfiction book world: difficult to get people to try, but most people are glad to come back for more once they've had a sample. The third has such an intriguing title that most people will read it with a little less "selling" on my part.

Organizing From the Inside Out, by Julie Morgenstern-- Ms. Morgenstern has a pretty good handle on the reasons why people have a hard time keeping their stuff organized, and she spends the first little chunk of the book helping you figure out where, exactly, your difficulty might lie. Examples might be that you grew up feeling a lack of abundance and can't stand to give/throw anything away (no reference to present company), or that you are simply living in a space that is too small for your stuff (REALLY no reference to present company). She then goes on to explain that organizing is a teachable skill, and proceeds to teach it.

She has a seven-step process for getting your stuff organized; the most valuable thing I got from this is that you sort first, THEN purge, so that you have a clear picture of what you're doing when you purge. She tells you to keep the parts of your current system that are working, even if they seem illogical. (Logic, in its perfect Platonic Form, does not live at your house. Or, if He or She does, then you can tell Logic to lay off so that you can actually organize, whether it makes Logical sense or not. The person it has to make sense for is the person who has to use the system.) The last part of the book is devoted to various spaces in your house and ideas on how to organize them.

I liked this book so much that not only have I read it several times, I have actually bought the thing, thus giving up some of my precious, hard-won space for it.

There is also a set of videos she did for PBS, which so far is available at all libraries I have ever checked at (two of 'em, but still, two for two isn't bad, right?).

You Don't Have to be Rich, by Joan Chatsky

I didn't actually get the premise of this book (meaning, the question she set out to answer in writing it) the first time that I read it, but the book itself was so great that I read it a second time. Which premise is: Joan Chatsky wanted to know about the relationship of money to happiness. Rather than pontificating about her own ideas (she is, after all, a professional and nationally known financial consultant) she actually went out and did research about how money and happiness go together (or not).

Most interesting/useful for me: we get most happiness from things we experience, rather than things we own; and there are ten financial habits which, when a family has at least seven of them, make a $25,000 a year difference in the financial happiness of the family. The three habits that come to mind off the top of my head are that you keep track of your cash; you pay your bills as they come in rather than all at once; and you keep a budget. And, yes, the answer to her original question is that you don't have to be rich to be financially happy, but it's a lot more interesting ans slightly more complicated than just that. And, again, she has research to back her up. Short of prophetic insight, I trust research a heck of a lot more than most other ways of getting to knowledge, so I really like this book. I also own it, because not only does it make me feel like keeping a budget, it just plain cheers me up to read it.

How to Hug a Porcupine: Dealing With Toxic and Difficult to Love Personalities, by John Lund

Disclaimer: John Lund was my very first Institute teacher that I had, my freshman year of college. He taught Isaiah. I loved that class. And I loved Brother Lund, who was both funny and kind and never once acted like I was too young to participate in a serious discussion about what Isaiah might mean. (But really, I mostly listened. The stories he told were quite wonderful.)

The basic premise of this book (according to me) is that you really aren't crazy: there really do exist people who are emotionally toxic to be around, and Dr. Lund gives you extremely practical tools for dealing with these people. What makes this OK (and not an excuse for a blame-fest) is his very matter-of-fact way of pointing out that toxicity rubs off easily, so a major part of dealing with toxic people has to do with becoming non-toxic yourself. Of course he's not dead on about how to deal with every single problem, but I do find that, similar to how You Don't Have to Be Rich makes me feel happy and excited about taking control of my financial life, How To Hug a Porcupine helps me feel happy and excited about becoming a more emotionally healthy, firm-yet-kind-boundaries kind of woman. I also LOVE For All Eternity, which Dr. Lund also wrote; I think that it may actually be better, but I haven't sat down and done a direct comparison.

I don't own this one yet. I would, indeed, like to. (Just letting you, the approximately half of my reading audience who might think about getting me a Christmas present (because you are close blood relatives), know.)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Nana on the Train, Part I: The Cornflakes Episode

Edit: I realized that the first draft of this post violated my privacy policy, which is that NO ONE (except my Aunt Joyce and cousin Becky, who post under their real names anyway-- hi, guys!) gets called by their correct names on my blog unless I have their express permission. I have now edited out the name of the friend that Mom(/Nana) tried to drive to California with.

Nana was born in California and she grew up there, but about a year after she joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, she moved to Utah to go to school at BYU. Once she married Papa, they lived in Utah for a little while, but after that they moved up to Idaho, where most of Papa's family lived. Nana and Papa were pretty poor, so it was difficult for her to go to see her family as often as she wanted to.

One day, Nana was excited to find out that a friend of hers, Johanna Red, was planning to drive to California in her Volkswagen Beetle. Nana asked if she could come along. Sister Red said that of course she could! On the day they planned to leave, they started to drive from Blackfoot, where they lived, towards California. Unfortunately, just before they reached Pocatello (which was the first big city along the way--about 25 or 30 miles from Blackfoot), Sister Red forgot to shift in to high gear when she needed to, and the transmission in her car was damaged. Sister Red had a friend in Pocatello, so they drove to the friend's house; Sister Red was afraid to drive any further before the Beetle was checked out by a mechanic. (Remember, this was in the days before cell phones, so going somewhere in a maybe-broken car was a bigger deal than it would be now; you couldn't just call someone if you broke down at the side of the road.)

Sister Red called her husband, Ben, from the friend's house in Pocatello, to come get her. He came down from Blackfoot to get her and arrange to have the car fixed. Nana, however, still wanted to go see her family. She remembered that there was a special deal going on with Amtrak (the train company) and Kellog's Cornflakes. She called Amtrak from Sister Red's friend's house to find out what the details were. The deal was for reduced price tickets for children if you had a certain number of cupons from cornflakes boxes. Nana can't remember for sure, but she thinks that Auntie Weathercolour was about two years old at that time and that I, Auntie Cornelia, was a babe in arms (meaning, a baby small enough that she had to carry me everywhere). Nana found out from Amtrak that there was only one train per day that left from Pocatello to Salt Lake City, which was where she needed to go in order to get to California. That train was leaving in about an hour and a half from when Nana called, so Nana decided to hurry to get the things she needed to done in time!

Sister Red's friend drove Nana to the grocery store. Nana remembers buying six boxes of cornflakes and carefully cutting the coupons off the backs of the boxes. She didn't want to tear the inner liner that contained the cornflakes. She couldn't afford to just throw the boxes of cornflakes away, and she didn't want them to be stale when our family ate them. The friend loaned her some scissors (or it might have been a razor blade) so that she could do the job. Nana sent the cornflakes back to Blackfoot with Sister Red and her husband, who dropped them off at the Oak Street Apartments, which is where Nana and Papa lived. Nana says that they ate cornflakes from boxes that had holes in the backs of them for about a year after this happened.

By the time Nana was done getting the cornflakes boxes and cutting the coupons from them, there was only a little time left, so Sister Red's friend drove her over to the train station. Nana isn't sure how she juggled her luggage and two children, but she figures that she couldn't have had very much luggage, because they had been traveling in a Bug to start with.

I asked Nana: was it a good visit? And she said, Oh, yeah. The only trip she remembers that wasn't a good visit was right after Auntie Day was born, when she wanted to visit her grandmother. I will write that story another time.

This story somehow illustrates a kind of quintessential my-mom-ness, though I'm not quite sure exactly how. Maybe my siblings can help me track it down as they comment.

(When I asked her, Mom said that she thinks it's because she really wanted this thing, and she figured out how to do it in a way that they could afford. She thinks that she's probably pretty good at logistics.)

(To me, this story illustrates two things about my mom. First, she is very ingenious when it comes to finding ways to see her family, and particularly when she doesn't have a lot of money to accomplish her task. Second, Nana really likes coupons.)

What does it say to you about Nana?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Three things I've liked in the last couple of days

First, just for Sroon (who is always begging for vampire jellyfish stories), a jellyfish slide show over at BBC news. They really are quite lovely:

Next, a story about when things just work out (involving a Christmas card and potentially dishonest Polish postal workers):

And finally, a talk about creative genius and finding a little bit of mental space apart from creative work (it's a video, just so that you are prepared):

Monday, August 31, 2009

It's just a stage

The last time I moved within Provo, my sister, Mrs. Weathercolour, came over with her children to help. At one point, she left to run an errand, but left her youngest sons, Sroon and Quarto, with me. I thought about how I might entertain the boys while I kept packing. I remembered recent incidents in which Quarto had engaged in toilet-paper-roll-unrolling (in to the household toilet). I had comforted my sister at the time by reminding her that this is a normal stage for kids to go through, and wasn't she lucky that she hadn't had to call a plumber? I remembered that I had a roll of athletic tape lying around which was about ten years old, which was getting a bit un-sticky. I said, "would you like to unroll this roll of tape?" and the boys enthusiastically agreed. The only hitch in this plan happened after my sister got back with her older two children; they were very disappointed to have missed out on such a treat as being allowed to deliberately unroll an entire half-roll of tape.

(My grandfather, on the other hand, would not have made this mistake. Grandma once left him to watch their four kids-- I take it that this wasn't a terribly common arrangement for them, but he was willing enough in this instance-- and he sat calmly reading the newspaper while the kids (all ages) unrolled an entire four-pack of toilet paper around the inside walls of the house. You know how you can sometimes walk an entire circuit inside of a house, almost like a track? They just walked around the track, unrolling toilet paper as they went. And every time Grandma tells this story, she mentions in tones of amazement that they never once broke the toilet paper. And then she chuckles.)

Or, there is also the butter-or-margarine-eating stage, which actually comes around the same time as the unrolling stage. When my oldest nephew ate an entire cube of margarine by himself while his mother wasn't looking, my sister, who wasn't yet aware that this was a stage, called her neighbor-friend who already had several children. "Oh, yes, it's just a stage. I still remember when my younger brother's hands were so covered with butter that he couldn't get the bedroom door open. He'll grow out of it." And he did.

Another stage I've been thinking about lately is the must-be-translated stage. One of the reasons why kids with perfectly good pronunciation sometimes ask repeatedly for confirmation that you have heard what they have said is because not so long ago, their pronunciation was anything but perfect, and a grownup's wild guess as to the kid's meaning was that kid's only pathway to communication.

Such as: the other day, the youngest Weathercolour child was trying to pull her sister's hair clip out of her sister's hair. I suggested to Mrs. Weathercolour that she offer a hair clip to the child who was trying to take one.

"Would you like a hair clip?" she asked.


"Strawberry?" Clearly there had been a breakdown in communication. My sister tried again: "Would you like a hair clip?"



Vigorous nodding confirmed that my sister's second guess had, indeed, been correct. The kid got a hair clip.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

What's the funnest thing you've ever done?

For me: learning Arabic. I had a teacher who was SO not a micro-manager; he told us to just work on what we knew we needed to work on, and that was exactly what I did. And it turns out that I'm pretty good at it-- or, at least, I thought that I was for long enough to get me off the ground. Think of it this way: if there is something that many, many people view as insanely difficult, but you just find it to be hard but enjoyable work, wouldn't that make it really, really fun?

For Mom: the summers she was a fire lookout in California. She had a dog named "Cat" for a companion and a '22 for taking care of rattlers and other intruders, and she was in radio contact with headquarters; but she was physically alone for most of the time, in charge of watching for smoke which would indicate a forest fire in the making. I'll try to blog some of her fire lookout stories soon.

For Dad: the summers he was a boy scout camp counselor up at Camp Bear Lake, on the Utah-Idaho border. One of his younger brothers (six years younger) was also working there, and the kids would ask all the time if they were twins-- the grownups knew that they weren't, but they would mix them up anyway. The camp had a great spirit of camaraderie, respect, and competence, not to mention that they got to be outdoors a lot.

Is it any wonder that my parents' preferred summer vacation activity for our family was camping? Or that I became a language teacher?

That title was also a genuine question: I would really like to know. What IS the funnest thing you've ever done? (Or, since this question is really just a conversation starter and I'm not going to hold you to your answers at any rate: what would the top three contenders be?)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Three reasons why I feel loved

First: My sister Klari called to tell me that she isn't ignoring me; it's just that school is starting this week, and she is crazy-busy getting ready to teach, on top of coordinating her kids' schedules, and so on.

Second: My mom usually does the grocery shopping for our household at this point. I've requested that we get not just tomatoes, but good tomatoes. Yesterday she got some particularly delicious ones, and today I was thanking her for them. She told me that she had not only gone by sight and feel, but she had smelled the tomatoes to pick them out. I had never even thought of smelling tomatoes to pick them, but maybe that is because my sniffer isn't so good. I shall, however, change my methods henceforth. Every time I bite in to tomato goodness, I get a taste of Mother-love.

Third: And then this evening, Patent Office Babe (though I'm considering renaming her The Evil Plot-tress, because she really is the greatest person in the world to discuss up-and-coming novel plots with-- and, you know, Evil is the new "bad," or at least with me it is) out of the blue asked me if I get to the bank very often. I have gone exactly twice since coming to this state. She said that she had a check from an online survey company that needed to be cashed, and the last one had been for three dollars and she never did get around to cashing it before it expired, and how would I feel about getting an extra fifteen dollars?

"It would be a fortune to me," I said, smiling brilliantly and straightening up. (This offer meant more to me than I would like it to, given my current employment situation). I considered. "But I'm not sure how I feel about you randomly giving me fifteen dollars." I try not to be a leech.

"Well, you randomly cook totally delicious things for me," she said.

I thought about the fact that on Monday, the dinner I fixed was completely edible but definitely nothing more, but that on Tuesday it was snarfable and on Wednesday darn good. "You're right," I said. "I would like for it to be non-random, but it is sort of random, isn't it?"

She laughed. A little later in the conversation, she told me that seeing my happy reaction was worth more than anything else she could have bought with the fifteen dollars.

What's not to feel loved?

Saturday, August 15, 2009


I really do try to have quality control. Really. Truly. Even though no one's going to believe me after this post.

Did anyone who tried that oatmeal pancake recipe find the batter to be a bit... dry?


Please, for the love of yumminess, do not give up on oatmeal pancakes because of the flakiness of she who introduced you to them. Just add an extra half-cup of water (or milk) to the batter. Or more, as needed, to make it the proper consistency (which is what I had to do tonight, and I'm in ever-humid Summertime Maryland).

I've now fixed the original recipe.

So sorry. I'll try really hard not to do that again. Stay tuned for Samosas. Oh, wait, but we have to talk about fried onions first. We'll get there.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A sign I have been thinking about putting up in the bathroom


I had thought about putting in something about "your fellow bathers would appreciate," but that would seem to imply that my family employs a Roman-style bathing arrangement, which we most certainly do not. Come to think of it, our distaste for such an arrangement would be one of the main reasons for why we kill our unwelcome six-legged visitors in the first place. The other reason being that some day (? I hope?) the ants will figure out that all of their friends die when they come in here, and thus decide that coming here is a bad idea. The problem with this, of course, is that they don't all die, since our bathroom is not continuously inhabited with ant-killing humans.

Diatomaceous earth, my friend, diatomaceous earth. We will be spreading it soon over the surmised inbound path of our exoskeleton-possessing visitors, and very shortly thereafter my killing-ants-in-the-bathtub days will be over.

On the bright side, these are not biting ants. It could be way worse.

How My Dad Proposed to My Mom

They told me this story in May, though I have been picking their brains for extra details ever since then.

Dad was living with Uncle Lloyd at the time. Lloyd and Leona were in the upper part of this house, and Dad was living in the basement. Dad said the other day that he was not as close to Charlie, but he had spent some time with Lloyd when Lloyd was living in California, and when they came out to Utah, they invited him to live in their basement-- so he did, and that's where he was living when he proposed to Nana.

First of all, Mom remembered that Grandma (my dad's mom) had come down from Idaho and had given Dad this ring which was in a ring box, inside of a sock. Mom remembers Grandma handing it to Dad. It was a ring which had belonged to Grandma, on to which Grandma's dad (my dad's Grandpa Taylor) had superglued a beautiful polished rock which they called an apache tear. Grandpa Taylor had collected rocks like that for years, and polished them, and Mom has several now which she got when Grandma died and which she plans to pass on to the kids and grandkids sometime.

So, Mom knew that Dad had this heirloom ring which had belonged to his mom, and they were in the kitchen at that house that he and Lloyd were sharing-- no wait, Dad thought it was on the steps outside. Mom was sure it was in the kitchen. At any rate, it was in the place he was sharing with Lloyd at the time, and he handed her the ring box...

"Did you take it out of the sock?" I asked. And they both had to think about it.

Yes. They did both stop to think about it, but they were both sure. He definitely took it out of the sock. And he asked her if she would keep it for him, and she knew that this was his way of asking her to marry him.

And that was the end of the story. "Did you say yes?" I asked her. Of course she agreed to, but she didn't know the exact words she used. She said that she didn't wear that ring much, because the setting was a little loose and she didn't want the other stones in it to fall out.

Later, I asked them about the "real" engagement ring. I knew that there was a diamond ring involved somewhere. They said that there were a couple of brothers in their ward (literally, these guys were brothers, not just in the "in the ward" sense) who had gone to Belgium on their missions, and they had decided to start up a diamond business. They had a guy in Belgium who could send them diamonds, and they had a diamond safe in their apartment. My parents went and picked out the stone they wanted (my parents being, like, their third customer ever), and then sent the stone to Salt Lake, to the O.C. Tanner Company, to be set in to a ring.

And the name of the brothers? They were the Wilsons, of Wilson Diamond (as far as I can tell, as prosperous a diamond company as any in the Provo area).

Since the time when my parents became engaged, my family has become much more aware of the issue of how much blood is on the hands of diamond companies, and several of us are just fine with dispensing with the "tradition" of diamond-giving which has been carefully built by advertising; but it is kind of nice to know that we were part of the beginning of a local company.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Oatmeal Pancakes

About all the food these days: I'm trying to finish up a wedding present for my brother and his bride-to-be. Also, if you really mind, you could comment! Or, you could comment anyway, because I love comments.

ON to oatmeal pancakes, which I wrote up a few weeks ago and hadn't gotten around to posting yet.

No thank you, you say. I like regular pancakes quite well enough (or not) without gussying them up with a nearly tasteless food like oatmeal, you say. And I will not stop you from saying it; I have gotten many such reactions from many roommates and other persons who were observing me in the process of oatmeal pancake production, and I am well aware of the futility of trying to talk people out of their right to such a reaction.


I will point out that many-- definitely more than half-- of the people who have had the "meh" reaction to the idea of oatmeal pancakes have actually liked the pancakes themselves, enough that they expressed interest in my making them again. I will point out that a fair number of those persons have asked for the recipe at some point. I will point out that I, myself, being without my little cookbook with all of my handwritten recipes in it for several months, finally just got around to figuring out the recipe again, because I needed it that much.

This recipe meets all of my basic requirements for a really good recipe: cheap, nourishing/healthy, reasonably high on the deliciousness scale, and pretty fast to make. It is also fairly environmentally friendly, if you care about that sort of thing. I have lived on this recipe for-- ok, it probably won't help my cause to admit how long at a time this has constituted a major part of my diet, but I will say that it's a poor graduate student's best friend. Also, when I would get those rare phone calls from my sister-with-five-children, saying that they had a family member who needed to go to the emergency room, and could I come watch everyone else for a few hours? I would always whip up a quadruple batch of these to take along to the house (to be cooked once I got there), and they were always well-received.

The following is a "one person" batch. I find that it works for a couple of meals for me, or a meal for me and one other person, sometimes with leftovers.

The Recipe:

  • 3/4 c. oatmeal
  • 1 1/2 c. milk

Let these soak for half an hour.

{Mom asked me: do you have to soak them? And I said, when I tried it without the soaking time, at the beginning of the frying process the batter was too liquid, so I added more flour, and then by the time I was cooking the last pancake, a lot more of the liquid had been absorbed by the dry oatmeal and the batter was not liquid enough. So I soak my oatmeal now.}

You can mix the dry ingredients at the same time as the oatmeal (I usually do this), and that will mean that when it comes time to cook them, you just combine the contents of the two bowls, and then add your egg and your oil, and you are set to go. I sometimes put the oatmeal on the night before, and then breakfast is lovely-easy.

Dry Ingredients
  • 1 c. flour (you can substitute whole wheat for white for all of this without too much consequence, though I prefer half and half, because it gives a little lighter texture)
  • 1/2 T sugar
  • 1/2 T baking powder (Heh, heh, almost spelled that "baking power;" be sure to reduce this to 1 t in high altitude regions)
  • 1/4 t salt

Last of the wet ingredients:
  • 1 egg
  • 1 T oil (or, of course, melted polysaturated fat product of your choice)

Mix well, but don't overmix. I like to crack the egg into a separate bowl before dumping it in the main bowl. I do this to make sure that I don't inadvertently let in any shell bits; it's also really nice to be able to beat the egg in its own space, because then I know there aren't going to be large glommy bits of egg which are not evenly distributed through the batter. Not that it's the end of the world if that happens; but I think I sort of overbeat the batter when I forget to beat my egg separately first.

I also never over-explain anything. Nor do I indulge in sarcasm.

Fry 'em up! They're delicious! (Especially hot off the griddle.)


Being poor, and also having various undesirable reactions to milk products, so that I often end up using the more expensive soymilk, I have discovered by trial and error that you can replace up to about half of the milk with water; more than that, and the texture of the batter gets funny-- the pancakes stop holding together very well, and that is difficult on the flipping side of things.

If you want to use already-cooked oatmeal (and I suspect that this may be the original form of this recipe; there is almost no other edible use for cold, already-cooked oatmeal) then cut the milk/water in half (so, for this size of batch, use half a cup); and then use one whole cup of cooked oatmeal per batch. You can fudge on the amounts here, especially if you are good at eyeballing the consistency of the batter. The upshot of this is that if you are REALLY craving oatmeal pancakes (and trust me, sometimes I do), and you have pancake mix on hand, then you can just mix up a batch of pancake mix and then add wet oatmeal until the consistency looks right. Doesn't that sound nice? (But it really is, once the pancakes have finished cooking.)

Egg substitution-- this could, and probably should, be a posting all its own, but who wants to read an entire post about that? Anyway, I have a bro-in-law who is allergic to eggs, SO here is what works: a tablespoon of cornstarch per egg, if you are just trying to replace its binding power. I have also used garbonzo bean powder with some success (1 T per replaced egg, plus maybe a third of a cup of water); I don't care for the taste, personally, but my younger sister and her children prefer it to the regular kind. I use GB powder on the theory that the egg also gives some protein, which I will want to replace. Using the same logic, I have also used the GB powder to substitute for soymilk, on occasion; if I remember right, about 1 T per cup of water made the texture come out OK when I was out of soymilk on a Sunday or whatever.

Oh, yes, and there is also the Classic Mayo Replacement for when you aren't allergic to but just out of eggs, but I try to avoid that one, since I think it tastes funny. I'd put in about 2 T of Mayo per missing egg, personally, because even though you aren't replacing the whole egg, it will get the job done and keep your pancakes from tasting just too much like pasta salad.

Funny/ Cross Cultural Recipe-Related Story:
I'm not quite sure what it is about me and cultural differences, but so far in my life I tend not to find as many as I am expecting. Is it just that I expect the rest of the world to be exotically different, and they are only mildly different? Is it the McDonald's effect, wherein everything really is how I expect it, because my country's culture has taken over everyone else's? Or is it that I just put things down to different personalities or in other ways don't notice them, when they are really cultural differences? Possibly it's a combination of all three. In Germany, I found the food to be, um, pretty normal. Some of it was darn fantastic, and I collected a couple of recipes, but the Ferrars and I did a great job of not shocking each other over food issues.

When it came to pancakes, however, it was different! I was really craving them about three weeks in, so I tried to make them. When I asked for baking powder (which, by the way, is "Backpulver" in German, in case you ever need to know), Elinor gave me a funny look. "You put baking powder? in something you cook on top of the stove?!" I was able to assure her that while there are plenty of idiosyncratic things about me which may not apply to all Americans, there is no doubt in my mind that the vast majority of my countrymen are familiar with the concept of baking powder being used for pancakes. Which are cooked in a skillet, on top of a stove.

Ta-da! Genuine cultural difference! I was so proud.

Since I didn't have the recipe with me and also I hear that European flour is quite different from what I'm used to, my results that time round were not spectacular, but at least I got a good story out of it.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Beauty as a Gift of the Spirit

I have been thinking about this for a while.

I used to pray that I would be beautiful.

I believe that my prayers were answered (in the affirmative).

I am the same height that I used to be. I am, come to think of it, about seven pounds heavier than I used to be. I don't spend a whole lot more time, effort, or worry than I used to. In fact, I spend a LOT less worry on it.

I am thinking about how that happened. Part of it is that I kept my eyes peeled: what do I think is beautiful? (I still do this.) Part of it is that I developed a wonderful friendship with a best friend who was utterly confident of her own fashion sense, and who was willing to share some of her knowledge with me. Part of it was being careful about what I buy: I only get things that I feel really pretty in. I am a pain to shop with, because I am darn picky. But that means that I don't have to worry about whether or not I'm going to wear my "ugly shirt" today, because I don't have any of those, and I feel that it's worth a lot more effort at the store (which I don't go to that often anyway) and a lot less in the morning when I'm getting dressed.

Part of it is that I realized that a certain amount of being beautiful is confidence. Confidence that you are as good as other people, confidence that you are worth talking to, confidence that you have done your best to look your best on a given day. And all this, despite having current pimples, many scars from past pimple wars, a chin I don't like, and a figure that doesn't always fit tidily in to store-bought clothes (which, I keep telling myself, no one has anyway).

But there is also confidence in the fact that most people are so self-absorbed that they aren't going to notice me anyway, and confidence that as I do my best to bring out the best in them, it wouldn't really matter if I looked like Gollum; they would think I was wonderful, and they might even think I was pretty. And despite the fact that I have just insulted the rest of the human race by calling them self-absorbed, the fact of the matter is that self-absorbed is exactly what I am on those days when I am not able to pull myself together enough to get out of my own shell, and I am always deeply grateful to the people around me who are willing and able to help me out.

I realize that not everyone feels this way about beauty. I realize that there will always be biddy-gossips who walk around judging the rest of the world as too fat, too saggy, too wrinkly, too dark or too light. I don't like that fact, but it is a fact. I do feel, however, that the beauty I contribute to the world-- yes, with my physical appearance, but also in every other way I have to contribute it-- is my gift to them, and they can take it or leave it as they please. It was God's gift to me first, and I choose to pass it on, and the ungracious receiver hurts only herself.

I am always looking for God in others. I am looking for the mark of the master's hand, the miracle which is the human being He created. OK, well, maybe I am not ALWAYS looking, but it is one of my major goals in life, a goal which I always have even when I forget it for a brief while. I find human minds to be amazing and spectacular and beautiful, even when their owners think that they are insignificant and not worth being interested in. I think that this is not an uncommon trait in teachers, and even for people who are not teachers, it is not difficult to imagine a person who is intersted in others in this way. Could we not begin doing this with our physical bodies? Not to say: oh, yes, you are perfect, no more work to be done! But to say: Wow! that's an amazing machine you've got there! Even to smile, to walk, to breathe, are spectacular and incredible and not insignificant.

I think we can do this, but it seems, lately, like the cultural pressure to do the opposite (to notice only the disgusting and broken parts of ourselves) is getting more intense. But we can do it-- can't we?

Friday, July 31, 2009

How I Decide What To Cook For Dinner, Part II: Nutritional Categories

So sorry. I am still in the process of learning to be on time and so on. I do have other accomplishments under my belt; I can read and write, for example; but the basic skill of being dependable is one I'm still working with myself to develop more fully.

All right. Simplified nutrition next. How simplified? Umm, well, for starters, I only have three food groups.

When I am trying to decide what to fix for dinner, I want to have something starchy, something vegetable-y, and something protein-y.

Why no fruits? Because I love fruit so much and eat so much of it during the rest of the day that I don't worry about it when I'm planning for dinner. (And I KNOW that that is an example not everyone would be well-advised to follow, but I already wrote my disclaimer for that.) Oh, yes, and dairy: I will just say that I and various family members have various non-lovely reactions to dairy, so it gets lumped with "protein-y" and those of us who worry about osteoporosis try to get our calcium in other ways. The nutritional level is the one I think about on a day-to-day basis (versus a "recipe repertoire" or "when I'm going shopping" basis, though of course it comes in to play there, too, mostly in trying hard to help my yummy vegetable recipes keep up with my delumptious dessert recipes). I (theoretically) already have my pantry stocked with pretty healthy stuff, so I just try to figure out what strikes my fancy on a given day and then build a balanced meal from that point.

So, this is what my pantry and recipe book think like (I mean, how they appear to my brain) from a nutritional standpoint (yes, I really do have my recipe book divided out this way-- you can come over and check):

  • potatoes: (cheap and nourishing, not everyone loves)
  • rice: (same as potatoes)
  • bread: (takes a long time, but home-made bread makes a meal Fancy)
  • pasta: best if you can make this whole-wheat pasta
  • corn or corn-on-the-cob
  • tortillas
  • Stir-fry (also encompasses protein-y, depending on how you fix it)
  • baked spinach with cheese on it (not a centerpiece, but fills out a meal nicely)
  • green salad with yummies in it (you know, almonds, cheese, craisins, mandarin oranges, etc.)
  • a baked winter squash
  • ratatoullie (for a Mediterranean-inspired meal)
  • green beans with fried onions (SOO yummy-- but then, it's French)
  • stir-fried broccoli
Protein-y (you don't really need my help in this area since it seems like every cookbook from The Dawn of Time is divided in to "fish, veal, beef, pork, chicken, other forms of dead animal you've never heard of or thought of eating, etc." but for what it's worth, here's my partial list):
  • curried chicken
  • curried chicken salad
  • store-bought rotisserie chicken
  • pork chops
  • pork roast
  • beef roast
  • hummus
  • refried beans, burritos, enchiladas
  • lentils
  • tofu! (I will share a yummy recipe... soon... relatively soon...)
Mixed Category:
  • Pizza
  • Soup
  • Stir Fry
  • Tacos
  • Hawaiian Haystacks
  • Sandwiches
Absolutely you are not getting my help on this one. You and I both know that our recipe boxes have at least ten times as many excellent dessert recipes as we could ever, ever healthily make in a hundred years. My main defense against getting fat from eating desserts is a combination of laziness and cheapness: I don't buy them at the store because I figure that mine taste so much better that I'd rather make them myself, but once I'm home, I am too lazy to make them except on very rare occasions. I do not count fruit as dessert. That's cheating. Fruit is food, and I treat it as such. (But if it works for you, go for it.)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

An extra note on shooting for delicious

(This is a footnote to the last post, as opposed to its sequel, which I have half-typed in preparedness for Thursday.)

I find it helpful to remember what so few food critics, professional and otherwise, seem to forget: taste is individual. If I make something that not everyone likes, well, that doesn't mean I am a bad cook or that it is a bad recipe. I TRY to find recipes that everyone likes-- I spend significant amounts of time in this endeavor-- but in the end, my "eaters" also have responsibilities: if they want to like their dinner, they should at least know what they like (you would be surprised...) and then they need to let me know their prefrences, not assuming that any decent cook is going to be able to mind-read. Also, if I like something and you don't (grapefruit, anyone?) I am truly not sad: that really does mean that there is more for me, which does make me happy.

Going back to the French Toast story: my current policy is that I do not knowingly fix any food that a person who will be eating it actively dislikes. (No, I have never had to cook for a picky four-year-old on a regular basis, so there is no way that I would put judgment on someone who did.) I often ask what people think of dinner-- yes, because I'm fishing for compliments (sometimes), but also because I want to know how a given recipe has gone over for a particular crowd. I am always looking for more recipes that have universal appeal, that are easy, cheap, and healthy, and also recipes which appeal to me personally. Most of the recipes I post on this blog are "universal appeal" recipes, though I also post recipes which have gotten a strong enough good reaction from a large enough number of people that I feel they will have high value to others.

I do NOT think that someone who doesn't take my approach (food=love) is a bad person, a bad mother (fathers tend not to worry about that sort of thing so much), or a bad cook. If one of my recipes flops, I don't feel like a bad person or a bad cook. Well, except for that time when I melted a hot pad so bad that it stank up the house for weeks and the soup turned out inedible, and then the very next night a pyrex pan exploded in my (hot-pad protected) hand because I stupidly tilted some water from one spot to another, extra-heated spot, but then I was worrying that it was my brain itself that was going bad on me, rather than that I as a whole was bad. But I didn't fret too much. A little failure is good for you: it keeps you humble and lets you know that you are pushing the boundaries of your abilities, which is generally a good thing.

How I decide what to cook for dinner, Part I: Basic Principles

I have mentioned that I started learning to cook when I was ten. Those times were pretty fun. When you are ten, basically you make what you want to make, like a zigguraut-shaped cake on which may be used not one but two whole cans of chocolate frosting. From my vantage point now, I'm not even sure how we fit that much frosting ON to the cake, let alone ate it afterwards. Like I say, good times.

When I was fifteen, however, I graduated to cooking for the entire family on a regular basis, and it suddenly got a lot harder. I remember the first time I plunked some French Toast in front of one of my younger sisters: she said, "but I don't LIKE French Toast," and I started in to the well-known "you WILL eat what is set before you" speech, but luckily my dad saved me from it. Meaning, my sister and I quite possibly have a much better relationship today because I was never allowed to make that speech. I do still try to balance the needs of the cook with the needs of the eaters, but I have also come to feel that cooking something to the best of your ability, with an eye to both nourishing and delighting the person(s) who consume the food, is truly and deeply an act of love. It's all a matter of balance.

As with all advice at all times, please take what you need from the following and huck the rest. But, especially, really-- you will see that my methods are particularly particularized for me especially, which I am well aware of, so I'm saying--well, I said it.

The first thing I figured out was which principles I wanted/needed to balance. I tend to apply these to individual recipes which are auditioning for my recipe reperitoire. A good/great recipe maximizes deliciousness and nutritiousness, while minimizing the time and expense involved in making it. Basically, I want recipes which give me good output for what I put in to them.

I am, believe me, WELL aware of how difficult it is to get all of these things in one recipe, but think of it this way: it isn't that hard to imagine a recipe from a mediocre cookbook which takes forever to make, has expensive ingredients, doesn't taste that great once it's done, and isn't even good for you. If THAT is possible, why not the reverse? Well, OK, so lots of reasons, but I'm digressing here.

When I am fixing dinner, I try to average out which categories my recipes fall in to. Here are a couple of examples:

If I am fixing stir-fry, which is mildly expensive (fresh produce) and tends to take forever (chopping-- I just don't have those mad knife skills, but Mom is talking about buying a food processor) but is very healthy and delicious to boot, then I take it easy for the rest of the meal and fix just plain rice for the starch. Or, on days when I fix home-made bread or rolls, the stuff that goes in them is likely to be leftover meat and maybe some lettuce and tomatoes; the bread took long enough to make, already.

The principles of balance also come in to play when I am planning menus and going shopping. Only one example here: at Thanksgiving, when deliciousness is at a premium, I figure out which dishes I want to invest some time in (like curried chicken and lemon meringue pie) and which ones I want to not spend as much time on, but may spend more money on (pre-washed spinach salad with Craisins, or basmati rice).

Whew! Got that? If you don't, I hereby forbid you from reading the next post (coming on Thursday) until your brain has had a chance to absorb. It only took mine about five years.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Snarfable (grown local)

(The picture: blueberries; my feet; one-half of my summer garden (a potted parsley plant-- the other one is basil); and parts of two Pothos plants, all hanging out on the balcony at my parents' house, because inside there isn't enough light for my camera to want to take a picture without a flash, and fruit this gorgeous deserves to be photographed in 100% natural light anyway.)

Today, a meditation on the snarfable fruits of summer.

You know how to pick a watermelon, right? You go around thunking on them (some people flip them with their fingers, but that hurts my fingers, so I just knock and it works fine for me) and listen for one with a nice, low tone. I personally feel that my success in the field of watermelon picking is partially due to my years playing cello under a strict teacher who made me listen carefully to the pitch I was making; it isn't so hard to transfer the skill to a pitch played on melons instead of strings.

Then you take it home and wash it off and cut it in half and then cut off an entire circular slice and cut off the rind and snarf it. Then, unless you were foolish and already ate some other kind of lunch, you eat another entire slice. (Also, please forgive the junior-high-ness of this, but part of the joy of this experience comes from the fact that watermelon burps are some of the best.)

This sort of event (specifically, melon-snarfing) has been repeated throughout my childhood, teenager-hood, and adulthood. I have also experienced heaven in the form of peaches the size of grapefruit, grown on the tree next to our front door, with skin so thick and sturdy and unattached that you just peel it off with a knife. Also, of course, are the lazy summer days when you wake up and think, "I'm starving and I just don't feel like fixing breakfast," and then you remember that the apricots are on, so you stumble out to the apricot tree (it's between the front and back yards, so it's a little further than the peach tree) and pick four or five ripe ones, and take them inside and rinse them off (just in case of-- um, diseased ants walking on them, or something) and by the time you are done eating them, you feel quite human.

And what has put me in mind of all these things? Well, a few weeks ago a woman from church emailed people at church and said that her family gets fresh blueberries from an Amish farm nearby every year-- $35 for a 20 pound box-- and if anyone wanted the same deal, she would be happy to pick them up for us. Long story short, the process ended up being more frustrating than I was expecting, and by the end of it I felt like it just wasn't worth the trouble. Not that I'm going to even be in the area next year.

However. I then TRIED the blueberries. Now, I knew that I liked blueberries, because I am willing to pay exorbitant prices for them (frozen, usually-- fresh are too expensive to be worth it) in Utah now and again. However. These blueberries turn out to be on a different existential plane than any I had ever tried in Utah, or even out here for that matter. They were picked-- all of them-- at the peak of ripeness. The first few seem perfectly normal, but then after a bit you realize that there aren't any sour or moldy surprises; they are ALL delicious, and that is when you end up snarfing two colanderfuls of blueberries within the space of half an hour. And this is also when you start thinking to yourself: maybe there really is something to this "eat local" schtick. I realized as I thought about it that probably all of the watermelons I have snarfed in Utah were grown in Utah, and that most of the blueberries I have eaten before now have traveled hundreds, if not thousands of miles to get to me.

The funny part about all this is that my parents-- and I can say this with absolute certainty-- did not intend to raise me as a food snob. When they grew their own tomatoes and ground their whole wheat as they needed the flour and planted fruit trees, they were following the teachings of the latter-day prophets to be self-sufficient-- they weren't even thinking about how things tasted. I have been a student for so long, SO long, that I only daydream about having hundreds of pounds of wheat in storage and being able to grow a little garden patch, let alone being in one spot long enough to plant a fruit tree (or bush) and being around to harvest it the next year. But as I look forward to a new, slightly more stable, slightly less poor phase of my life, I have motivation for doing as my parents did from two sources: one, my devotion to following the teachings of the prophets; and, two, my ever-growing epicurean streak. Well, that, and blueberry burps.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

And That's What We Think of Them

Last night for Family Home Evening, my younger sister, Patent Office Babe, volunteered to teach us how to use Access, a computer program for managing databases. For the opening song we sang "For Thy Bounteous Blessings," which is nice and slow and easy to follow for my not-as-musically-trained father. It also happens to be in a minor key.

My sister commented, as she was starting in on the lesson, that "I guess it's appropriate to start a lesson about a Microsoft product with a dirge-like song of thanks."

P.S.: My younger sister, Patent Office Babe, has told me that she is "not sure about" being called Patent Office Babe. Quite frankly, I'm not sure how I would feel about it if I were in her place. However, we are both fresh out of ideas. Suggestions?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

List of ESL classes I've taught

I had to do this for a job application. I thought it was interesting and informative-- a little more detailed than my resume about what kind of professional work I've done. OK, well, it was interesting and informative for ME, anyway, to have to write it out like this. Of course, the resume lists the tutoring job and the TA job and the test-question-writing job, but my main Chosen Profession at the moment is being a classroom teacher, so here is the list (just in case you wanted to know):

All courses were taught at Brigham Young University’s English Language Center.

TTTC (TESOL Teacher Training Class, also called student teaching)—community-based, team-taught English class. After four weeks teaching one class, teachers were switched so that they could have experience teaching at two different levels. The students remained in the classes in which they had been assigned; it was just the teachers who changed. During the first half, I taught BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills), or “survival English” (e.g. how to do job interviews; how to write checks; how to make reservations). For the second half, I was assigned to the highest-proficiency-level class and we focused more on CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency); in particular, on developing writing skills and cultural understanding of more academic subjects, such as American History and Economics.

After student teaching, I was invited to teach at the ELC proper, where there were five levels. Level 1 was the very lowest level, though it was rare for us to get any true beginners; level 5 was the highest level, in which courses paralleled University courses and were taught in a specially supported ESL environment. Students sometimes left for University studies straight from Level 4; other students decided to study at level 5 before going on to University. Each of these courses ran for 13 weeks.

Grammar 4—Students learned skills from the text Grammar Dimensions 3, by Stephen H. Thewlis and supervised by Diane Larson Freeman. At this level, many students mostly know the rules, but need help remembering to apply them consistently. Because of this, after a skill had been introduced or reviewed, we spent a lot of class time practicing in pairs or small groups and discussing student-generated questions.

Reading 4— Class time was divided evenly between working on intensive and extensive reading skills. For intensive reading skills, we relied largely on Neil Anderson’s ACTIVE Skills for Reading. For extensive reading, we read the campus newspaper during class time, then discussed it; and we read, then discussed novels written mainly for children or young adults. These novels were: Amos Fortune Free Man, by Elizabeth Yates; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis; Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech; The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho; and one book which the students got to choose themselves from a list of acceptable alternatives.

Grammar 1— Taught skills from Focus on Grammar, by Irene E. Schoenberg. Because of the limited vocabulary of these students, as well as their newness to the city we lived in, I linked our lessons as much as possible to what was immediately relevant to their lives. For instance, in teaching and testing about place prepositions and giving directions, I used a map of the city we were in. When we needed to learn about count and non-count nouns, I brought in many pictures of individual food items, and the next week when we were learning about asking for things, I used the same pictures.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I LOVE lentilburgers!

Truth be told, I'm not really sure why. I used to hate lentils, and I think I kept that one up a lot longer than I kept up the hatred of onions.

So. Normally I try to only blog about recipes that I have tried on multiple people, on multiple occasions, which said people on said occasions liked well enough that I had confidence that my culinary offering would be at least palatable to the general public. Lentilburgers, however, I just made up (my version of) last week-- but I love them so much that I just had to share. I'll try to blog something better soon, but meanwhile you can just shake your head and chuckle at my craziness, and, if you've lost your job recently and are living on food storage, TRY them. Or even if you haven't and aren't, you could do it so that you can call me up and tell me you loved me so much that you tried this recipe, despite the fact that its main ingredient is lentils.

1/4 cup of dehydrated onions, covered with
1/4 cup of water (let it soak while you measure the other stuff)
1/2 cup of cooked lentils (I forgot to mention their "cooked-ness" to my sister the first time I gave her the recipe, and about the time I said to put the burgers in the skillet, she asked, "Uh, is there a point at which we soften these lentils up with some water? And I said, "Oh, yes. Before you begin.")
1/4 cup of bread crumbs or cracker crumbs
1 squirt (about a tablespoon?) of ketchup
a few drops of Worstchestershire sauce (not sure how much of a difference for taste this makes, but it makes me feel fancy and we have it on hand, so I do it)
1 egg

Put everything in a bowl. Mix it up. It will sort of be like super gloppy pancake mixture, or like Haroset with egg in it, if you've ever made Haroset. (I'll get around to blogging that recipe some time). Heat up your skillet, put a little bit of oil or butter or nonstick spray in it-- whatever you fancy-- and cook up some LENTILBURGERS! Yum!

For whatever weird reason, lentilburger on a toasted sandwich with a thin slice of tomato and some dijon mustard fills the spot in my cravings which used to be reserved for McDonald's Hamburgers. Of course, you may be thinking, the very fact that I even HAD a spot reserved for McDonald's Hamburgers might explain why I would like something as weird as lentilburgers, and I may agree with you. However, I will be that much richer, or at least less poor, because while McDonald's Hamburgers cost 89 cents a pop, lentils, UNcooked, are about $2.00 a pound (I just looked it up online and saw some that were organic for $2.51), and the rest of the ingredients aren't exactly expensive either.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Few Good Books (For Grownups and Mostly-Grownups)

You have heard of L.M. Montgomery because of Anne of Green Gables, and I admit that the work everyone knows her for is perfectly fine; however, Anne's House of Dreams is the best book she ever wrote. It is, incidentally, the fifth book of the Anne series (which series L. M. Montgomery had not wanted to write even book two of, but had to because of popular demand). My theory is that maybe she had learned her craft well by the time she got to book five? I dunno. But it is truly her best, in my opinion and that of my old cello teacher, and you believe us, don't you?

For very nice romantic comedy fiction, you don't get much better than The Blue Castle, also by the esteemed Ms. Montgomery. I warn you that the romance doesn't start until literally half way through the book, but it is still very rewarding.

The Chosen, by Chaim Potok, had a profound influence on me when I was in high school, and even now I think about its themes a lot. Set in 1940's Brooklyn, it's about a friendship between an orthodox Jewish boy and an ultra-orthodox one. The ultra-orthodox kid is not super easy to be friends with, but the other kid's dad encourages the friendship, so he tries, but he doesn't really get why it's so important at the time. But who does, in high school? Or even later, sometimes. The time period this book covers includes the end of WWII and the holocaust, and a major question which crops up is about what it means to be "chosen" and how much pain can be involved with that. Along with some possibilities for redemption. I can't say that I have read almost all of Dr. Potok's other work, as I have with L.M. Montgomery's, but so far in my opinion The Chosen was his best (which is a little scary to me as an aspiring writer, since it was also his first).

A brief warning about Terry Pratchett: PLEASE beware of picking up stray British swear words that seem oh-so-innocent to you as an American but which really are deeply offensive in a number of principalities (which speak British English). But. Mr. Pratchett is really, really good at writing fiction which is: 1) deeply, profoundly silly; and 2) deeply profound. I may have higher needs for zaniness in my intellectual diet than other people do; I haven't done a comparative study; but I really do think that these books are lovely and worth trying.

Reaper Man-- perhaps my favorite Terry Pratchett of all time. About when Death (the anthropomorphic personification; the guy who is a skeleton and walks around with a scythe) looses his job.

Night Watch-- about good police work versus bad, and about-- oh, sheesh. I don't know how to describe it. Also about how to be true to what is true when it is for sure going to cost you your job and might just cost you your life. Also, just to drive the point home, it is profoundly silly, at least in spots.

The Tiffany Aching Series: Wee Free Men; A Hat Full of Sky; and Wintersmith. These combine a coming-of-age story with a very clear explication of what Relief Society is all about (if we were witches, living on Discworld). Also, as with the other Terry Pratchett books that I like so much, about death in one way or another.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Stir Fried Broccoli: A More Than Completely Edible Vegetable

Note: I got this technique from one of my favorite cookbooks of all time, called The Complete Illustrated Step-by-Step Cookbook, by Judith Ferguson. My copy came from a thrift store, years ago; I bought it because it has full-color, full-page pictures EVERY OTHER PAGE (which I was impressed with because I had long since given in to the Alice-in-wonderland philosophy: '...what is the use of a book,' thought Alice 'without pictures or conversation?'), but I soon began to appreciate it for its other qualities. These include extremely clear directions, not too expensive ingredients (er, at least, not for the recipes I choose to cook), and of course consistently yummy end results. The sort of book, in short, that I would like to write some day.

The recipe is part of a larger recipe for Broccoli-Beef stir fry, but several years ago I realized that it could be fixed, with satisfyingly delicious results, on its own. It is not a knock-you-socks-off, people-beg-you-for-the-recipe, fix-for-Thanksgiving-for-sure kind of food, which in my personal rating system would count as "quite good;" it is, however, the sort of recipe that makes people say, "Gosh, I didn't know that I liked stir-fried broccoli this much," and that counts as "More than Completely Edible." In fact, I myself do not normally fix broccoli in any other way, and when I am fixing dinner and think to myself: crud! I forgot to plan a vegetable! this recipe often comes to my rescue. Try it. You'll like it. Really.

One head of broccoli
Some vegetable oil (a tablespoon or so)

Wash the broccoli and cut it in to "even sized pieces." They should be the size of pieces that you would normally see in stir-fry.

Heat the oil in the skillet. For various reasons, I normally use a nine-or-ten-inch cast iron skillet, so I put the skillet on to heat (medium high heat) approximately ten minutes before I put the broccoli in to it. I think it's ten minutes. I'll check this week and get back to you, because even though I am sure our stoves will be different, it is good to know this sort of thing. Five minutes definitely works when you have a gas stove, but I'm working with an electric these days, which heats more slowly. The reason why I am going on and on about this, besides the fact that I have difficulty ceasing speech in general, is that the hotness of the skillet when the broccoli hits it so happens to be the only thing which is fiddly about this recipe, and if you get it wrong, you may incorrectly believe that there was something wrong with the recipe itself. (Just below, I'll tell you how I use the oil in the skillet to tell how hot it is.)

So. Put a tablespoon or two of oil in to the skillet. I always use olive oil, but corn oil or canola oil or whatever it is you like to use are also perfectly acceptable. Now, for judging hotness: if, when you pour it in, it sort of spreads out slowly, then the skillet isn't hot enough; if this is the case, then do something else for a minute or so, then come back and tilt the skillet to see how things are coming along. If it spreads out quickly/ runs quickly, it is probably just right. A very little smoke is OK (but throw in the broccoli IMMEDIATELY), but a lot of smoke means that the skillet is too hot, and you should let it cool down a bit and clean it out so that you don't get the carcinogenic (=cancer causing) effect of burnt oil in your diet. This on top of the fact that it doesn't taste great. N.B.: different oils spread in different ways, but I'm not familiar with all of the variations (nor did you really want to read about them this very moment, did you?), so I'll just have to say get to know your skillet, your stove, and your preferred oil well enough to gauge this accurately. The basic principles remain the same.

Once the skillet is hot enough but not too hot, throw in your broccoli and start stirring. Especially if the broccoli hasn't drained all the way from when you washed it, the oil has the potential to spatter, so be careful. I either use a wooden spoon or a spatula to push the broccoli around. You can leave the skillet for long enough to go set a timer for two minutes, but you probably shouldn't be gone much longer; you should keep stirring pretty much constantly until it is done. Once it is bright green, which may take as long as two and a half minutes, it is ready. Sometimes you will get a little bit of browning on the edges, which is PERFECT. Serve hot, if you can.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Birthday Celebration

I was born the day my mom graduated from college with her Bachelor's degree. Not the week or the month, but the day. (Luckily-- for her, I guess, since I evidently didn't care so much about inconveniencing people-- not the hour.)

I once asked her about how she decided, at nine months and three days pregnant, to drive the then-at-least-six hour drive from Blackfoot, Idaho, to Provo, Utah so that she could participate in her graduation ceremony. Her reply was typical Mom: "I worked hard for that degree; I wasn't going to miss it!"

So she drove down, and she went through the first day of graduation, and then on the second day of the graduation, there was a big snowstorm and I started to come. Mom claims that there are home movies of her in labor and walking across the Madsen Recital Hall stage to receive her diploma, though I've never seen them. 56 babies were born in the Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, including me. She said that a couple of women didn't even make it out of their caps and gowns, though she did. She also said once that I was her easiest labor, because she was distracted during it. I am unreasonably proud of that.

I found it particularly appropriate that this last birthday, I was back in Provo for my own graduation. I spent much of the morning of my birthday and some of the afternoon standing in line for my cap and gown, with two nephews and a niece in tow. After the second hour in line, I let them each go get a second cookie from the spread which The Powers That Be had laid out, but even without the cookies to sustain them, they were being as good as gold. After that, we walked to the park and met their mother and had a picnic. It seemed like a peculiarly fitting way to mark my coming in to the world.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Neefling Stories

E (age 6; has just walked in from outside): I just made an octopus with two legs!

In his hand he is holding a dandelion with the stem split in to two relatively even pieces, still attached to the head.

H (age 10, given to smart remarks): That's a du-pus (pronounced "dew-puss")

M (age 8, also quite clever): Or a bi-pus.

Earlier, my sister had told me about how they took the children up to the School District place where they test the kids to see if they are extra-smart. (Hers are, which none of us are terribly surprised about.) As they were leaving the building, H stopped and said, in his monotone robot-voice: "Kinetic energy overload imminent," and then ran to the doors and burst through them. But not literally.

Nine-year-old niece, who is using a puppet-clad hand to open the office door (she is talking for the puppet): "I sure hope that this tastes good."

And finally, for Family Home Evening last night, my sister got out Behold Your Little Ones, the new church manual for one-and-a-half-to-four-year-old children, and asked my youngest nephew to talk about a picture he liked. That was the lesson. He liked this so much that he said, "Now another lesson!" and flipped to another picture, and did it all over again.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Cream Cheese Won Tons

They used to serve these at a restauraunt in Provo called The Red Lantern (which is now defunct, but this was one of the best parts of eating there anyway). My entire family loves them, as did the Arabic house when I decided to try to figure out the recipe and served them for dessert one day when I was living there. I have always winged this recipe, and it has always turned out well, and that is the kind of recipe I like, so I'm sharing.

I am completely sure that you will want to make a larger batch of these at some point, but I’m giving the recipe as I made it yesterday, and that means a super-tiny batch.

1 scallion (green onion)

2-3 oz. cream cheese (between a quarter of a package and 3/8 of a package) OR Neufchatel cheese

1 t sugar

9 wonton skins

oil for frying

Chop the scallion into little teeny slices (about 1/4 inch thick). Mix the scallion, the cream cheese, and the sugar together with a fork in a small bowl (like, the size you would eat breakfast cereal out of).

Pour some water in to a saucer. Dip one edge of the first won ton skin in to the water, as though you were dunking a piece of paper in a pool of ink so that one edge of the paper would be black. Now dip the other edges, the same way. Holding the won ton wrapper in one hand, use a spoon to put somewhere between a half tablespoon and a whole tablespoon of filling in to the wrapper. Now, fold it in half kitty-corner so that it makes a 45 degree right triangle. Finish all of the rest of the won tons the same way.

Heat your oil in your skillet. I do not deep-fat-fry mine, but if you are up for it, go for it. Fry the won tons until they are golden-brown on each side.

Do not, I repeat not, become so excited to eat your won tons that you burn your mouth on the hot filling. Not that I have personally experienced a burnt tongue recently. About five minutes seems to be long enough to wait.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Miss Forgiveness

I have been reading a bit of Miss Manners lately, and what I have been realizing is that she gives people permission to be offended sometimes. I often like her advice, but I choose to live my life in such a way that when I get a chance to be offended, I choose to fight that chance off. I read Miss Manners partly to give me tools in my arsenal for not giving offense (I realize what a horribly mangled metaphor that is, but I’m not going back to fix it, lest I get hurt), but if I take everything she says as Gospel Truth, I am going to be offended more often than I want to.

Which got me thinking. What if everyone (or at least enough people) recognized that when you are offended, you need to forgive? And since I was in advice-columnist mode, (and as you have undoubtedly already guessed from the title of this posting), I thought: we should have a column called “Dear Miss Forgiveness”.

Then I started thinking of all kinds of other advice columns you could have: Dear Miss Frugal, for example. But then I was thinking about how hard it can sometimes be to be frugal without cutting yourself off from the joy of living (for some of us, anyway), so then I thought maybe it should be: Dear Miss Frugal But Not Miserly. But then I realized that this is already (kind of) covered by the Tightwad Gazette and like publications, and who wants a name that long anyway? Also, what about “Dear Miss Neat and Comely But Not Obsessed With Her Looks”? but that breaks the long-name rule by a mile, so never mind. I would also personally love to see something along the lines of “Dear Miss Loving And Kind But Not A Doormat,” but perhaps that was what I was looking for in “Miss Forgiveness” in the first place.

Perhaps this Miss mania has been sparked not just by Miss Manners, but by my thinking about moral philosophical writing in general, lately. What I have been thinking, specifically, is that I personally need less rules and more examples. I mean, we all know the Golden Rule, but we all know about misapplications of every rule, such as the time when my then-two-year-old nephew tried to put shoes on the feet of a visiting baby because HE loved wearing shoes so much. Letters about particular situations provide an over-time-and-many-different-circumstances type of instruction. I feel pleased, as I think about this, to notice that Jesus himself used stories quite frequently to teach, and answed questions on a very frequent basis.

Just Watch

JUST in case you haven't seen it.

My dad emailed me this link:

I apologize if you go to BYU and can't get Youtube on campus and can't see it.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Notes on the last posting (i.e. the one below this)

I believe that the pickled peppers are my mom's.

For my non-native-English-speaking readers, the following "tongue twister" (which I, and just about everyone I knew as a child, learned as children) may help illuminate why my last posting makes any sense at all:

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where are the pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?

(A peck is an amount, or in other words a volume you can pick, like a cup or a bushel or a liter. No, you can't really pick pickled peppers; the whole point of the sentence is that it's hard to say fast, and makes little children giggle when they try to do so.)

Peter Piper has Paid a visit to our fridge

When I was cleaning it out yesterday, I found four jars of pickled peppers.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How I make Bread (French, 2/3 whole wheat; my standard recipe)

I am not explaining why, mostly. It would take too long. But this is my basic bread recipe at the moment.

For one batch (but I always make a double, even if it's only for one person):

1 t yeast (For most beginners, I recommend starting with 1 T; I explain this below)
1 c. water
1 T sugar
3/4 t salt
1-2 T olive oil

Combine the above ingredients. I usually use cold water. Let them sit for anywhere from ten minutes to a couple of hours (but you might want to make closer to ten minutes if you're using a whole tablespoon of yeast).


2 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. white flour

and knead it in. You don't have to knead it for any longer than it takes to get the flour in. Pour a little (one tablespoon or less) oil in the bottom of the bowl, roll the whole lump around in it, and then cover it with plastic wrap so that it doesn't get nasty-crusty while it rises. Let it sit for oh, about five or six or eight hours, maybe overnight. Punch it down. Let it rise again (covered, again, though oiling isn't usually necessary the second time), and punch it down again (or, you can skip this if you only want to take two days instead of three to make bread). At this point, form it into either one loaf or two, depending on your fancy.

Oil a cookie sheet or pan, or else use parchment paper (my preferred method) as your bottom layer instead of oil. Sprinkle it with a grainy product which in the U.S. is known by the brand name of Cream of Wheat, but in Australia is known as Farina or Semolina. Put the loaf on the prepared surface. Cover it with plastic wrap again and let it rise one last time.

When it is time to cook it: put one rack on the bottom position in the oven, and another in the middle. Put an empty Pyrex or other casserole-type pan on the bottom rack as the oven is preheating to 350 Celsius and then put a pot of water on to boil on top of the stove (today when I did this, the water boiled just as the oven finished preheating, so it worked out perfect). Pour the boiling water into the pan by pouring it through the higher rack (easier and safer than sliding the rack out and then back in again), and then immediately put the bread on the upper rack and close the oven. The steam gives the bread an AMAZING crusty French-bread texture. Cook it for approximately forty minutes, or until the crust looks the right shade of golden-brown.


In Utah, I keep all of the proportions the same except the flour, which I put less in of because the climate there is much drier, and therefore the flour there is much drier, and as it absorbs the water the bread itself becomes more dry and not as tasty.

I always eyeball the salt amount. As long as there is less than a whole teaspoon and more than half a teaspoon, it works out fine. Please, do not let me ever find you fiddling with a half teaspoon measure and a quarter-teaspoon measure on this, when there are better ways you could be using your time, such as doing practically anything else.

The yeast amount kind of doesn't matter so much. The original recipe called for a whole tablespoon, and if you choose to do that, your bread will be completely edible and even tasty, and will also probably take less than three days to be done. On the other hand, slower rising bread does taste better, to me, and that is why I do it the way I do it. I just wait for as many hours as it takes for the bread to be risen as much as it needs to be.

Another way to speed up the rising of your bread, if you want it to be ready to bake in, say, six hours from the time you started it: turn the oven on warm. Get the steam ready as directed for when you are actually going to bake it. When all is preheated and steamy, turn the oven off, put the bread dough in, and leave the oven door slightly ajar. Check it after a couple of hours, and then, say, every half hour after that (depending on how fast it seems to be rising).

This steaming method is 100% taken from the back of the Rhodes Rolls frozen bread dough package, except that they don't specify to use a pyrex pan and to preheat it with the oven. I like the pyrex because it is much less likely to tip than, say, a cake pan or a pie pan, and it is also much easier to clean hard water spots off of with some vinegar and/or scrubbie. In the past I tried other methods, but after discovering this one I have not gone back.

Julia Child's husband, Paul, used to put a red-hot brick in to a pan of water in her oven for her, and I once had a bishop who was teaching himself to make fancy French bread who tried using a regular rock, heated up on the stovetop; when one of his daughter's friends walked by and saw it, he shouted, "Emily, you dad's cookin' granite!" They also have extra-fancy steam injection ovens made specifically for this very purpose, but I don't even daydream about those. I'd like my own oven, first.

Also, you can pop loaves of not-quite-risen bread into the oven as it is preheating for baking, and let that heat finish rising (raising?) the bread at the same time it gets hot enough to bake it. I don't do this unless I have to, though, because the results are somewhat unreliable.

There are lots of random factors which influence how fast bread rises, so I have learned to just enjoy the time it takes. Bread, like washing machines and dishwashers, should be started and then left to work its magic on its own (if at all possible).

Fastest way to form loaves
(if you even care, since you already waited two days to get to this point):

set the lump on the table. Use a sharp knife to slash it lengthwise, top to bottom, with two parallel slashes, but only have the knife penetrate to about half of the thickness of the lump. Roll it out until the slashes are just interesting lines, rather than forming dramatic peaks and valleys. Leave it at least an inch thick, maybe more. Make sure that at least one measurement (I try to make it the top-to-bottom, but side-to-side or diagonal is fine) is as long as you want the finished loaf to be. Now, roll it up, starting with a side which is parallel to your desired-measurement side. For instance, if I've met my goal and made the top-to-bottom measurement the one which is the ideal length, I start rolling from one of the sides, so that my top-to-bottom measurement comes out as the longest one after I have finished rolling. Gosh, but this is complicated to explain. Let me know if you have any trouble or if (I hope) you come up with a better way to explain it.

At any rate, do not take too much trouble with the whole process, since the point in the first place is to save yourself trouble. When you are done rolling, you can turn the loaf right side up, meaning the seam is down, and you can tuck the ends under, and, if you are like me, it is one of the evenest-looking loaves you have formed in your entire life, AND it took less than 45 seconds to do (that is, if you didn't have to walk to the knife block and back to fetch the aforementioned sharp knife).

YUMMINESS ALERT: butter, applied as though the butter were sidewalk chalk and the bread were sidewalk and you were coloring the whole thing solid, is most delicious. Wait-- less pressure should be applied than if the butter were sidewalk chalk, but I think you'll be able to figure it out. Oil isn't bad either (use a pastry brush for this). I would do this after it finishes baking, because that is when it melts in nicely.

Health: This kind of bread is, as far as I can tell, one of the healthiest things possible to make, even if you do add the oil on top at the end, and this is because it is made with two-thirds whole wheat. By the way, I have experimented with 3/4 whole wheat, and while this is only a 1/12 proportion of difference, that much more whole wheat totally changes the texture of the bread; at that point, you need to start adding gluten back in (which you can buy at a grocery store or natural food store, but I have never bothered). Also, as no doubt most of my readers are aware, if you go from a mostly refined-starch diet to a more whole-grain-based diet, and especially if the change is sudden, the digestive system can rebel. These are my personal reasons for sticking to this particular proportion set (and besides which, it is pretty easy, since the original recipe measures the flour in exactly three cups).

There is only one problem with this. If anyone remembers my "food snob" posting, they will remember that I hate any but the freshest-ground whole wheat flour. Store bought pre-ground flour is often old enough that the oil is off-- or, that is my diagnosis; at any rate, it is awful-tasting, and it gives whole wheat in general an undeserved name for disgustingness. Therefore, when I am living in a household without a wheat grinder, I usually make my bread with two and a half cups of white flour, but put in a cup of overcooked brown basmati rice (organic, of course), and it adds a nice texture as well as being a whole grain. (Overcooked, because when it isn't then the grains that end up on the outside get hard enough that you worry your teeth are going to crack on them when you bite down). I reduce the water by half a cup as well, because the rice already has water in it. I think that's what I do. I am feeling unsure of my proportions. Sheesh! I will seek to clarify. Sometime. That's why I blogged this recipe today, with the whole wheat, because I made it (baked it) today and it was fresh in my memory, and I knew I wouldn't mess this version up. But at least you have this much for now, which is not inconsiderable.

Bon Appetit! Or, as they would say in Germany (where this recipe would not work, as far as I know, because their flour is different) Guten Appetit! If anyone makes this, please give me feedback so that may I know what I left out or garbled in the instructions. It is one thing to make bread that is darn good; it is another to describe what you have done in such a way that others can actually repeat what you do.