Home - is where I want to be / But I guess I'm already there /I come home -
she lifted up her wings /
Guess that this must be the place...
- Talking Heads, "Naive Melody"

Monday, February 27, 2012

Goal Round-up: February 2012

It's a little early, but I doubt much more progress will be made in the next few days.

"Unfucking" appears to be The Thing to Do right now. I ran across the word first in one of Chuck Wendig's brilliant posts, then in a marvelous writer's Girl Unlocked tumblog, the inspiration for which appears to have come from Unfuck Your Habitat.

As a word, I like it. It says that things are messed up right now, but we will do this thing and then it will be better. Not perfect--better. Whatever else the world has going on, at least my bed is made. Perhaps someday we will all graduate to unfucking bigger things. I suppose my annual goals and these accountability posts are in much the same vein. So what did we unfuck this month?
  • Things to Do: We did some entertaining. I went to the Museum of Science with some friends who were in town for the weekend (I visited the gecko exhibit and instantly was OMG I WANT ONE. Wonder if we could do that instead of rabbit, which is Eldest's current pet request). I took Eldest ice skating. I sent in my Taos payment, and the check was cashed, so I am going. This is a Real Thing. Maybe Tuesdays with Dorie fits in here, too? I did the first two recipes successfully. I finally filled out Eldest's Girl Scout registration form, which has been on my desk for two weeks.

  • Better Me: Gym has been great. I actually did a four mile run last week--slow, of course, but the last time I did that was probably before Middle Kid was born. I have been tracking my workouts and seeing steady improvement.

    One thing I am not doing is keeping a close eye on my weight. The stated goal of this endeavor is to feel better. Which is not to say that I am not thrilled at being able to fit back into my old jeans, but I don't want to make weight the focus. This is about not getting out of breath when I have to run for the bus, not about vanity... right? The one time this month I did weigh myself, the scale claimed I had gained three pounds. I suppose it could be muscle. Whatever.

    Also on the Better Me front, I have been making more of an effort to read. It's not a fast thing, but it's getting me through a few more books than was the case for a while. So, of course, I bought some more. This is a tough thing for me to fit into my day; the only slot available is right before putting Eldest to bed. It's enormously tempting to sit there and read the internet instead of a book--or doze off on the couch--while she does her school reading. Must Improve.

  • Money: The Taos payment aside, it's been a good month. I even went over to Fidelity and had one of those Real Grownup Conversations about what I should be doing with my investments for our hypothetical retirement and the kids' college funds. 

  • Writing: Up to chapter 6 of FF revision. I spent a very long time going back and forth over one early scene. It's better now, but I am still not entirely happy with it. However, I have a new thing I can tell myself: Maybe they can tell me how to fix it at Taos. I have been told that the only prep I need to do is to write the best book I can, and I am trying to do that, but I am in keen anticipation of learning how to do it better.

    On a related note, I have come to a new inner place lately, one strangely free of anxiety. I am going to do this thing; I am a writer. Maybe I won't be a success at it, but it's a real thing to me now. Is this a passing sensation, or an enormous new self-unfucking, this confidence? Time will tell.

  • Job Stuff: The Scrum thing is out of my hands, and there's been no motion on it. I've got my eye on some online classes to look into next month. No job openings to apply for.
  • Birthday Observance: Keeping up.

  • Household Stuff: Nothing doing, but one of the last remaining kitchen chairs in our set has started falling apart, so I think that will be the next thing that gets crossed off the list. Must search Craigslist now.
 Pretty good, overall.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

TWD: Choclate Truffle Tart(s)

Making sweets for other people is a bit of a tricky thing. More so than simply cooking for them, I think. A meal is sustenance, after all, a basic thing. Dessert is the extra mile. You want to make something they will like. You want them to like you for it. You want them to feel both appreciated (look at what she did! for me!) and appreciative (look at what she did!) without it being, well, all about you because you are, after all, doing it for them.

Sometimes I wonder how humans manage to do anything at all.

This is a surprisingly easy recipe. It does take time, what with making and prebaking the dough, but there was nothing particularly tricky about any of the steps (she said, fresh off a cake that required making two different sorts of caramel). That, too, makes it a good dinner party recipe, assuming that you have most of the day to fuss around with things; at least you'll know that dessert is done.

I made one error and two deliberate changes in this one. The error was adding a whole egg, not just the yolk, to the tart crust. I'm pleased to say that it didn't seem to be a problem.

The first change was that I made one 9-inch tart instead of 6 tartlets, because much as I adore Dorie and Julia, and much as I love an excuse to buy cooking gear, I couldn't really justify going out to buy a bunch of tiny tart rings. I had to bake it somewhat longer than the recipe stated before the center firmed up.

The second change was that I skipped chilling the rolled dough before baking it, because I have a side-by-side refrigerator that does not have room for a sheet pan full of tart. This, again, did not appear to harm the result.

I suggest making this for people you love, as soon as possible. Not a person, mind you. It's just as well that this post comes too late for Valentine's Day, because you need a lot of friends to help you eat it, and they should be good friends, because this is a very good dessert. This is serious chocolate. Six servings? I think we got ten.

For the recipe, see Good Eats and Sweet Treats, one of the hosts this week.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

TWD: White Loaves

Is it strange that I can't remember what first moved me to make bread? I remember the kitchen I made it in, on the 1800 block of Commonwealth Avenue, a wretched little space with one balky window that looked into an airshaft. The refrigerator was older than I was, and needed frequent defrosting -- something I often did with a hair dryer, in defiance of all common sense. Our kitchen table was a folding card table I ordered from a Spiegel catalog (I had no idea how to shop back then); it had a green checked tablecloth, and was not by any means an ideal surface on which to knead bread. It would be years before I acquired a stand mixer, or a decent table.

It's not as if I grew up with memories of fresh bread wafting through my mind. We bought cheap, square supermarket loaves, and I ate them with peanut butter or salami. An unvarying menu met some need in me that is probably not all that obscure.

Still, one day in that unpromising kitchen, I put yeast and flour and water together and made the first recipe in Bernard Clayton's landmark tome. If I knew who Julia Child was, it was a vague awareness of her on television, and I had never heard of Dorie Greenspan. The Internet was in its infancy. The bread was underkneaded and overfloured, but I eventually made more of it.

That is one of the things about bread. It is almost impossible to make it, or to eat it, without thinking of all of the breads that have gone before. It gets its hooks into you deeper than just about anything else, in my experience, however casual your baking. Yeast, flour, and water are a time machine. You can look through your own kitchen window into ancient Mesopotamia, where the yeast (probably) made its way into bread via beer, into colonial America, into ovens around the world.

The simplest of animals and an accident of its biology link your hands with thousands before. I can't imagine a better choice for the inaugural recipe of the new Tuesdays with Dorie project.

I am not particularly good at these setup shots, but here are the ingredients.

The dough ready to rise.

First rise. (Elapsed time: sufficient to bathe a toddler and clean up the kitchen.)


Second rise. (Elapsed time: sufficient to try feeding toddler three different things in hopes she will eat something.)

Baking. (Elapsed time: sufficient to wipe toddler's nose approximately two hundred times.)

The verdict? Perfectly pleasant, smooth, and scrumptious, but a bit saltier than I would prefer in a perfect world. I could probably have let it enjoy a longer second rise, but I thought we had somewhere to go in the afternoon. Still, an auspicious beginning for the new project!

The recipe is posted with one of this week's hosts, Someone's in the Kitchen