Friday, October 30, 2009

Urban Fairy Tale

Nothing makes you feel older than seeing the incoming rain and immediately thinking about its effects on your arthritis. I nearly checked myself in at the Sunrise Assisted Living Center up the street after work. Mmmm, pudding...

And then I started to wonder, will I be able to do crafts when I'm really living in one of those places? Crafts seem to be big there. And I can't do them now.

Since my doctor's office is too swine flu'ed up to work me in (and I don't much care to bring my otherwise-healthy self into a lobby-sized petri dish of flu germs, anyway) I turned to the Knower of All (Google) to see how I could help myself out. The anti-inflammatory diet helps (even more so when I stay on it), the yoga and swimming help, but it's time for a new arrow in the quiver.

Know what the first piece of specialized equipment to pop up was? I shit you not, it was a gun with a palm trigger instead of a regular, finger-pulled trigger.

Yup. Think on that for a minute.

So now I'm imagining some sort of terrifyingly simple and deadly Fisher Price-like contraption with a little button that says "shoot" or "fire" or whatever. I don't have issues with mature, responsible gun ownership. But if you're unsteady with the hands, I've got to wonder why why WHY you'd be shooting a gun, and who thinks that's a market that really needs to be tapped.

I mean, I wanted something along the lines of scissors and paintbrushes and a way to get the !@#$!ing gas cap off without pliers. But I guess "everyday activity" means different things to different people.

And the corollary to this, of course, is that I work with the disability community and I know people who do the most amazing things despite significant physical barriers. And I'm all "WAAAAAH, my hands are crampy!" They really are. OY, the rain!

Like today, for instance. A woman at the train station, in a wheelchair, was having a rough time of it - including her shoe falling off. Her upper body movements were not easily controlled, and she was going to need some help.

So I walked over and asked if she'd like a hand. Even with the hat and the new haircut and the scarf, I knew that smile. "K____? Is that you?" I asked. She said yes and we had a few minutes to chat.

Then I put her shoe back on her foot and we both left to start our weekends.

So even in the heart of downtown at rush hour, it's possible to play Cinderella and recover a lost shoe. These crappy hands are good for something after all.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The $25 Oatmeal Cooker

Giving in to peer pressure usually ends badly for me. And by "badly" I mean it involves painful and expensive (but trendy!) footwear, a hair color not found in nature (at least not outside the exotic bird kingdom), an insufferable concert or a wildly creative explanation/apology.

And so it goes again, if with a little less drama since I'm Old Enough To Know Better.

"I couldn't live without mine," they said. And "Don't know what I'd do without one." And "Really? You don't have one? And you said you.... cook?"

So I bought a slow cooker, formerly known as a crock pot (Crockpot?). For years I resisted - it seemed like such a throwback, such a Grandma thing to have, such an Add-A-Can-Of-Campbells'-Cream-of-Anything. My friend Black Sabbath Kevin (not either of the other Kevins) once said, "My Mom said I should get one of those. For what? I can turn it on in the morning and, when I come home from work, the water is boiling?" Exactly.

But there are cool and sassy-looking slow cooker recipes these days, and even the crockery looks better and less Community College Art Class. More expensive models have high-tech looking settings besides "plugged in" and "not."

But alas... almost everything I've made has tasted like watered-down crap (which, I guess, is better than full strength). The most recent disaster was Tortilla Soup. I had thought that maybe, maybe, MAYBE a recipe with a processed sauce would help. Possibly that was putting too much of a burden on ten ounces of enchilada sauce, I don't know.

Sweetie reduced the soup some to concentrate the flavor, and I'm going to make sweet potatoes, halve them lengthwise, and top them with the fetched-with-a-slotted-spoon soup solids - black beans, corn, shredded chicken, and diced tomatoes WHICH SHOULD HAVE MADE A VERY TASTY SOUP. So at least it's salvageable, possibly even better news for my ego than my pitiful food budget.
I'll give it this, though, the slow cooker makes terrific, creamy steel-cut oats. So easy, so inexpensive, and one batch lasts for several days. Steel cut oats look a little gravelly when raw, but cook down beautifully - and as a whole grain, they are tremendously healthful. Even more so since there's no sugar added to this recipe. The original recipe called for 1 full cup of dried fruit, which would be way too sweet for me.

Let's get interactive, Stinkycheesers. The slow cooker and I are at a non-breakfast impasse at the moment, but perhaps we can find some common ground. What do you make in your slow cooker that you LOVE? What tricks and tips can you offer? Does it maybe sense my reluctance to commit? In the name of Suze Orman, please tell me there's something else I can do with this contraption besides make a wonderful breakfast!

It doesn't get easier than this, y'all.

1 Cup of steel cut oats (most inexpensively purchased out of a bulk bin at a healthfood store or even Whole Foods)
4 cups water (or one quart of unsweetened vanilla almond milk - I tried it in this week's batch and it's really good, although I'd never drink almond milk)
1 cup (or less) dried fruit
Combine all in slow cooker. Cook on low for 4 hours. Serve or keep in refrigerator.
Some good combinations -
Dried apples, cinnamon, and top with walnuts before serving
Dried blueberries and/or chopped dried apricots, ginger
Dried cherries and/or dried blueberries, and top with almonds before serving

I have my doubts about using dried mango or pineapple - if you use either, consider going down to 1/3 cup since they're both high-sugar.

Stay tuned - my domestic endeavor that's going better than slowcooking is refinishing. Two projects in progress - a $3 Goodwill chair, and these $ Goodwill vases. The "before" shots below, taken outside in our Spray Painting Field.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Tat, as I mentioned, does not consider herself to be domestic.

Know what? I'm not, either. Outside the kitchen I take a museum approach to the domestic arts, both visual (decorating) and performing (!#$!@ing ironing!). And by museum approach, I mean I look and appreciate others' advanced skills but don't actually participate.

Not that I haven't tried. And in a remedial way I can pull some of it off - assuming, of course, that getting paint color right on the fourth or fifth try counts as "pulling it off." In fact, it really was a museum approach when it came to painting our living room. We were at a party at the home of an interior designer, agreed that we loved her paint, and asked her for the details. Done.

After that I'm a little lost. We visited another friend recently who did AMAZING things with her new house. It's bold and creative and it all works perfectly together. I'm envious of people who can look at an empty space and immediately know that it needs columns, a vintage telephone, and a big-ass bird cage.

For some reason I'm nesting in a huge way and I'm tearing this house up with an orbital sander, drill, screwdriver, and multiple cans of spray paint. Things are definitely looking different and - hopefully - better. Heaven knows I'm trying.

So I've been thinking about gifts lately; the talents we're given with the intent to share. Cooking is one of my gifts. On occasion it is truly shared as a gift, as when I made six or seven sour cream poundcakes for my poundcake-loving friend's 40th birthday party. He recently married a wonderful girl who is blessed with an artistic eye, excellent taste, and the ability to make a house a home.

Chef Nancy once said, when I invited her over for lunch, that she rarely gets invited to anyone's home for a meal because people are intimidated by the idea of cooking for someone who cooks professionally. "How surprising!" I said as I ladled soup and sliced cornbread.

Know what? I'm terrified to have my friend and his wife over, even though she has become a good friend, too. They like us just fine, friend has certainly seen our home at its low points, and my lack of window treatments (how do people DO that???) will not change her opinion of us one iota. I need to get over it. Just as soon as I do something about these windows... and the garage sale coffee table... and....

Sour Cream Poundcake

This is a classic poundcake. It's wonderful served with fresh fruit and/or fruit syrup... or on its own.

1/2 cup butter
3 eggs
1/2 cup dairy sour cream
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1. Allow butter, eggs, and sour cream to stand at room temperature 30 minutes. Really. Have I yet made you jump through hoops? No. This is an important part of good poundcake prep.

2. Grease and lightly flour an 8x4/x-inch or 9x5x3inch loaf pan; set aside. FYI, keeping an old-fashioned powder puff in the flour canister makes this a breeze.

3. Combine flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Set aside.

4. In a mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Gradually add sugar, beating about 10 minutes or until very light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time, beating 1 minute after each addition and scraping bowl frequently.

5. Add dry mixture and sour cream alternately to beaten mixture, beating on low to medium speed after each addition, just until combined. Over-mixing will lead to a less tender poundcake. Pour batter into prepared pan.

6. Bake in a 325-degree oven for 60 to 75 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick comes out clean.