Category Archives: Domesticity

Daily Bread

Not exactly perfect, but definitely much more successful than other recipes I've tried at 6k feet!

My attempts at baking bread at 6000 feet have produced mixed results. All along, my goal has been to create a healthy, hearty sandwich bread that toasts well and doesn’t have the consistency of lead. While I’m not there yet, I think I’ve found a new path to pursue with this book: Artisan Bread In Five Minutes A Day.

Their premise is simple: wet dough keeps well in the refrigerator and, if you make a large batch, you can have it handy for baking fresh loaves every other day or so. I started yesterday with their basic recipe for a French boule. I only made a half-batch, enough for two small loaves, because of my deeply ingrained fear of failure. (No use in wasting even MORE flour.) Though I followed their directions perfectly, I was disappointed by how little rise I saw in the dough after three hours. But, trusting that my husband will eat anything I make for him, I kept going.

The baking process is a tiny bit more complicated than for regular loaf bread: it requires a pizza stone (finally giving this under-used wedding gift a job!) and a broiler rack with water (? I don’t know what this is, but I filled a cookie sheet with hot water and that seemed to work.) The book gives clear step-by-step instructions–including frequent reminders NOT TO WORRY, which I appreciate–and I was pleasantly surprised by how much it rose in the oven. The steam from the broiler rack (or cookie tray)  creates a great crisp crust, too.

The book includes recipes for sandwich breads and whole wheat breads, which I plan to try next. Colorado friends, check out these high altitude baking tips before you start–I wish I had! (By the way, the Colorado Springs public library has multiple copies of the book) Overall, the process is SIGNIFICANTLY easier than other yeast breads I’ve tried. Plus, the satisfaction of smelling your own bread baking is, of course, priceless.

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Filed under Domesticity, Uncategorized

How-To

How to Make Cake Pops  Balls in 25 Steps

(Only 10 of which are actually necessary)

1) Begin on a day when you have fifteen other more pressing things to do. Attempt to do three other things in between each step below.

2) Bake a cake according to the directions on the box, burning it only slightly when your infant creates an untimely diaper situation.

3) Unfairly curse the altitude, but take comfort in the fact that no one will see how the cake actually turned out.

Blame it on the a-a-a-a-a-a-altitude.

4) Crumble the cake into a big bowl with your bare hands. (Do not leave the cake crumbles unattended, as your husband is likely to find it upon coming home and assume that you’ve finally gone insane.)

5) Wash hands thoroughly if you’ve recently applied lotion or changed a diaper, then mix half a can of icing into the cake crumbles. (Remove your wedding ring half-way through)

6) Form sticky cake crumb/icing mixture into balls, set on wax paper-covered baking sheet and place in the freezer.

Ready to freeze!

7) While the balls chill, prepare the candy coating in a double-boiler, or a pyrex inside of a pot of water, if that’s the best you can do.

SOME people just use a microwave, but we know that a double-boiler is best.

8 ) When the candy chips have melted in a smooth, even-colored liquid, remove cake balls from freezer.

9) Dip a lollipop stick into the melted candy, then immediately plunge it into the center of a cake ball. Take a moment to admire your work.

10) Artfully twirl the cake pop in the melted candy. Try not to panic when you notice that the candy coating is AWFULLY thick.

11) Definitely panic when you realize that you’ve forgotten a styrofoam block for holding the cake pops upright while they dry.

12) Sit there despairing for 45 seconds with a lumpy cake pop in hand while your baby cries and your phone rings and your sense of self-worth plummets like a 401k.

13) Put the cake pop back on the wax paper, upside down, and try to regain a healthy perspective on life while attending to various other crises.

14) Try dipping another cake pop, insanely expecting better results the second time. Realize that half your candy coating has been used up on two cake pops that could each constitute an entire meal.

Overgrown Cake Pop Monster

15) Weep a little, and eat one of the elephantine cake pops to make yourself feel better. Grudgingly admit that they taste okay.

15) Whine about your failure on Facebook.

16) Make your husband eat the other ugly cake pop and cry some more while shoving everything in the fridge or freezer when he tells you–as you already know–that the candy coating is much too thick.

17) Take a couple of days off. Torture yourself by browsing through Bakerella’s archive of fondant-covered miracles. Buy three different kinds of candy coating. Seek advice from professionals/friends on Facebook.

18) Return to your project with renew inspiration, determination! Fortify yourself by eating one of the frozen cake balls.

19) Realize that all of your materials have absorbed an awful onion and garlic flavor from the chili that you put in the fridge yesterday.

20) THROW EVERYTHING AWAY.

21) Repeat steps 1-8.

22) Only, THIS time, make the cake balls much smaller and  accidentally splash a SINGLE DROP OF WATER into your candy melts, thereby irrevocably ruining the entire batch.

23) THROW IT ALL AWAY AGAIN! Blast Abba’s “Dancing Queen” from itunes as you hobble from stove to trashcan, alternately singing along and sobbing.

24) Give the microwave thing a try. Admit that it’s much, much better.

25) Spend the next hour sniffling, snuffling, dipping and twirling until you end up with THIS:

Finally, a decent little pumpkin.

 Congratulations! You may be emotionally crippled and two pounds heavier, but you’ve made CAKE POPS BALLS!

Take some more pictures to document your success.

Throw a party.

Serve cake balls.

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Filed under Domesticity, Whimsey

Adventure in Renting

So I come home today from running errands.
(You can tell that this is going to be an awesome story because  of the killer opening line.)
After unloading the car, I change Sam’s diaper and get him settled in his high chair to play while I get ready for lunch. As I’m warming up his spinach puree in the microwave, I hear a toilet flush. Our toilet. From the bathroom three feet away.
With characteristic elegance, I gasp and  lunge for the knife block on the counter. In the split second during which I deliberate between a bread knife and a chopper, the bathroom door opens to reveal my elderly landlord. He has just come by to investigate a recent issue with our kitchen sink. Finding no one at home, he went ahead and checked the plumbing…and then decided to “check the plumbing”.
I was home for almost 10 minutes before he made an appearance.
In fairness, I should note that my landlord  is, like me, quite hard of hearing. There are times when this affliction is a blessing (such as all night, when I don’t have to listen to Sam fuss when he wakes), but occasions like this make me wonder if I will someday endanger us all out of sheer ignorance. For instance, I sometimes don’t hear the front doorbell if I’m upstairs, and sometimes people mistake our front door for the entry way into the whole building. Half a dozen times I’ve come downstairs to find a pizza delivery boy in my dining room, looking around for apartment number six. So I’m somewhat accustomed to these mild shocks. But today’s was just worse. On so many levels.
At least he fixed the sink.

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Filed under Domesticity

Best Readers Ever

You know, it’s funny. Just when I think I’ve gone and alienated pretty much everyone who reads this blog (because, really, who browses the internet searching for a litany of domestic woes?), you overwhelm me with empathetic responses. I’m grateful for those of you who took the time to write encouraging notes and remind me that it’s okay to be a mess sometimes, and acknowledging that working, parenting, and keeping house are often difficult to balance.

My favorite response, though, came from my best friend of 12 years, Miss Meghan Clark, who said,

“All those people that we admire? The Samuel Johnsons and the Ben Franklins who spent their lives writing prolifically, contriving new inventions and changing the world? Yeah, they had SERVANTS. Think about that.”

I HAVE thought about it, frequently, and it’s an excellent point. Thanks, Meg.

And in case you were wondering, things are going better today. I’m making pumpkin chocolate chip oatmeal cookies while the baby naps. They’ll be ready in a few minutes, so come on over if you want one…. 🙂

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Filed under Domesticity, Friendship

A Penitent Post

The next time I post anything akin to yesterday’s despairing drivel, you have full permission to deliver my well-deserved slap. As penance for my pettiness, I’ve collected a variety of inspirational/illuminating quotations about the vice of whining.
These are for me, not you.
 
“He never complained. He seemed to have no instinct for the making much of oneself that complaining requires.”
― Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow
“Complaining does not work as a strategy. We all have finite time and energy. Any time we spend whining is unlikely to help us achieve our goals. And it won’t make us happier.”
― Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

“When any fit of gloominess, or perversion of mind, lays hold upon you, make it a rule not to publish it by complaints.” 
— Samuel Johnson
“Learn to accept in silence the minor aggravations, cultivate the gift of taciturnity, and consume your own smoke with an extra draft of hard work, so that those about you may not be annoyed with the dust and soot of your complaints.”
—William Osler
 
“The tendency to whining and complaining may be taken as the surest sign symptom of little souls and inferior intellects.” 
—Lord Jeffrey“Don’t find fault, find a remedy; anybody can complain.”

– Henry Ford
 
“You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.”
 – Shirley Hufstedler
“When a person finds themselves predisposed to complaining about how little they are regarded by others, let them reflect how little they have contributed to the happiness of others.”
– Samuel Johnson
“The usual fortune of complaint is to excite contempt more than pity.”
– Samuel Johnson
 
Ouch.  Dr. Johnson has such an honest, scathing way with words.
 
Please accept my apologies. Let us go, and whine no more.

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Filed under Courage, Domesticity, Reading

Unprofundity

I feel like life consists of constantly shifting objects from one place to another.

Pick up a plate, and put it on the table. Pick it up again,  and put it in the sink.

Pick up a toy, and put it in front of the baby. Pick it up again, and rinse it off. Put it back in front of the baby.

Pick up the sweater, put it in the closet. Pick up the socks, put them in the laundry. Move the laundry upstairs, take other laundry downstairs.

Pick up the stack of tests, place it in fifteen different places before actually grading one.

I can’t bear to tidy up any more. I can’t bear to live in a mess. I can’t win.

Is this one of those deeply spiritual quotidian mysteries? Is it a metaphor for the endless conversion of our souls?

Will someone please pick ME up?

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Filed under Domesticity, Marriage, Mothering

“Oh, good, let’s talk about money!”

I’ve only seen the first episode of Downton Abbey, but Maggie Smith’s money line and her sincere query as to what is a “weekend” have already sold me on the series. The last time I checked, we were number 49 on the library’s wait list for the first season DVDs.  You’ll know when it comes.

Her awkward dinner party sentiment struck me as quite apt, though, as I feel like I’m thinking and talking about money all the time these days. And while our culture clearly no longer considers money an impolite topic of conversation, per se, I still feel a bit awkward writing about it. The topic of personal finance is labeled “personal” for good reason: no one really wants to know what other people earn and spend, and nor do they really want to share their own statistics. This hesitation arises from a deeply rooted association between self-worth and salary that, in my opinion, betrays a decidedly un-Christian perspective on how we value our own lives.

Nevertheless, we’re talking about money today because everyone needs to know that I have, for the very first time in my life, successfully tracked my spending for an entire month!

*SMACK*

(Wait, what was that? Was that…? Did my dad just face-palm? Hey! I know you’ve been suggesting this for the past ten years, okay? Better late twenties than never! How about celebrating this minor success? Gosh.)

ANYway. I’m serious: Zach and I made a budget and, generally, kept to it. It would perhaps be overly dramatic to call the process excruciating, but I can honestly say it was difficult. Though I love individual deals as much as the next saavy shopper, persistent coupon clipping and denying myself impulse items was really tough at first. I can do the (simple, basic) math (with a calculator), but forcing myself to actually think about cash flow was uncomfortable. Maybe it chaffed because I don’t like to acknowledge my limits. Maybe I was battling my personal entitlement demon, who clawed in protest whenever it was denied instant gratification. Or maybe I just needed to break my habit of fuzzy math- budgeting from my single days. (In this delightful system, one $200 tax refund can be used to justify over $600 worth of purchases! Best when not combined with credit cards). Whatever it was: I broke through.

By the end of September, I could think about money without despairing. What’s more, I actually developed a positive attitude toward frugality: instead of seeing it as a horrible prison of self-denial and rules, I came to appreciate the  freedom it gave me to plan for the future without anxiety.

As a result, we’ve found that we’re able to save more than ever before, despite me working part time and the addition of baby-related expenses. It’s a good feeling.

I’ve discovered that–for me, at least–the key to managing a budget is a generous allotment of wiggle-room. For example, we’ve based our utilities budget on our average bill from the winter months, even though we barely spend a 1/3 of that during the summer. So if one of us happens to maybe go over his/her allowance at an Ann Taylor Loft sale, he/she might be able to find room to categorize that expense without endangering the ultimate savings goal for the month. I realize that this is not, strictly speaking, an example of best practices when it comes to responsible budgeting, but let’s return to the larger picture and the cause for general celebration: I Have A Budget!!

The Good family started a budget

And found that they couldn’t make much fit

But then the wife got a glint

In her eye, went to Mint

And figured out how she could fudge it.

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Filed under Consumerism, Domesticity, Money