This Space Intentionally Left Blank

I’m not writing a blog post today. I don’t have time.

It’s been a productive week so far, in a solidly on routine sort of way. Daily blog posts, daily running, making salsa before the tomatoes went bad, and that sort of thing.

I got caught up on dishes this week, and have been able to use the time normally allocated for ‘frantically working on the back log of dishes’ for such exciting things as dusting and wiping under things on my kitchen counters.

Sometimes when I get caught up dishes I blow it by thinking this means I can plan an extravagant baking day, because spending more time on baking than I would on dishes plus creating tons of extra dishes somehow comes out even at that point, right?

So, it’s Friday, there’s flour soaking for pizza dough this evening, leftovers are heating up in the oven for lunch, I washed all the morning dishes (instead of leaving them with the excuse that there weren’t that many, so how bad could it get?), and have done all the Sunday preparations I can do ahead of time.

This afternoon will be taken up by important hanging out with Moriah time, and I have already warned Colton that it’s the sort of day where dinner will almost undoubtedly be late despite my best efforts. Trying to fit a blog post in there would be recipe for disaster of proportions similar to scheduling a baking day without leaving time for extra dish washing.

But, since I still had fifteen minutes before it was time to eat lunch, it seemed like a good time to warn you all: Don’t expect a blog post from me today. I won’t be writing one. I don’t have time.

I’m not sure how this happened. I’m not a morning person. I don’t feel much compulsion to exercise, other than a general mental assent that it’s a really good idea. And I’m definitely not a runner.

So how is that given the choice between grabbing thirty more minutes of sleep and dragging myself out of bed so I can slowly, painfully, run panting through the forest, I’ve been consistently choosing the latter?

I can run up a hill now. I pretty much feel like I’m going to die when I get to the top, but that’s how I used to feel after running thirty seconds on flat ground.

I can run half a mile in about three spurts, with another half mile of walking interspersed between the spurts. Some mornings I even feel good afterward. Okay, that’s not really true. Some mornings I feel good as I finish running. After running pretty much always just feels gross and sweaty and overheated.

And for the record, I’m still really, really slow. Some people would call what I do jogging, but jogging is weird and bad for your joints, and might require some sort of union approved spandex suit, so I definitely don’t do that. I just run really slowly.

So if I run, does that make me a runner?

I’m five foot two and overweight by, um, let’s just say more than ten pounds. At my most fit I’m still built more like a Clydesdale than a greyhound, and I’m about as athletically coordinated as a walrus falling down stairs.

But for a couple months now I’ve been running at least a couple times a week. So far this week I’ve gotten up to run every morning. One more day without major shin splints, or getting sick, or having an early morning emotional breakdown, it will be a full week of running.

Weird.

An Ode to Gluten

 Technically, this is not an ode, which would be a lyrical stanza. Technically, as a writing in praise of a thing, it’s more of a eulogy, which is kind of funny if you think about it.

I’ve always been fascinated by bread dough. It starts off as a conglomeration of basic ingredients, but the more you push and poke and prod it, the springier and more resilient it gets. It goes from soft and goopy to more fun than playdough in the course of (several, very long) minutes.

I used to disdain bread makers and even stand mixers as getting in way of my ability to play with the bread dough. Now that I have a mixer I greatly appreciate the time and energy it saves me, but I have to be careful not to spend all the time I save on just watching it work. It starts by just swirling a twisted hook in a bowl of goop, but quickly the strands of gluten develop, stretching and bending as the dough thickens and swirls with the hook.

Then suddenly, like waiting for a plane to take off from the ground, knowing it will happen any second, but still being surprised when it tilts drastically toward the sky, the dough ceases to be a formless mass and becomes a cohesive ball contained by the bowl but no longer shaped by it.

After the dough has been twisted and thrown around for a while, it’s time to test it by stretching out a small piece as thin as it will go. If it’s not ready, it quickly tears into separate lumps, or even pulls fairly thin before developing large holes. But if it’s ready to rise, if the gluten has reached it’s peak of strength and resilience, it stretches to translucency  before it breaks . The heavy mass of dough, shortly to be a chewy loaf of bread, stretches to the gossamer delicacy of a dragonfly wing.

At this point, the gluten is strong and elastic enough to trap air bubbles, which, yes, means that it makes good, fluffy bread, but also means that when left alone for a while… it poofs up! The dough starts out sitting densely in the bottom of the bowl and grows until it’s nearly spilling out the sides in its expanding exuberance.

Then comes one of my favorite parts. I punch the dough. The air leaves again with a woosh and all the tiny bubble structures collapse down to density once again.

With some recipes, I get to do this twice.

Shaping the dough once again brings into stark contrast the springy dough and the formless goop it was not so long ago. In the oven, the gluten hardens, but not into a solid, dense mass, but into that exuberant expansion of poofing it displayed while rising earlier. Sometimes when it comes out of the oven, small strands of gluten are still distinct and visible on the surface, the thread that holds the loaf together.

I don’t really know how gluten does what it does, but I have to say, it’s pretty cool to watch it work.

Watermelon Relish

The other day I made some watermelon juice. Watermelon juices pretty thoroughly, but I did have some pulp left from running the rind through the juicer along with the flesh. (I peeled off the green part pre-juicing, but left on the white part.)

Sometimes juice pulp baffles me, as you can end up with odd mixtures, and even I rarely think, “Hey, I’ve been wanting a blend of mango, carrot and celery for this recipe I wanted to try!” But juicing a single kind of produce for once? No brainer.

I based this recipe on Paula Dean’s pickled watermelon rind, and it turned out to be some pretty good sweet relish. (If you don’t happen to have juiced any watermelon recently, you could save and peel the rind after you eat your watermelon and run it through a food processor to achieve the needed watermelon rind pulp.)

 

Watermelon Relish

1 ¾ cups watermelon rind pulp

1 tsp salt

Pinch ground mustard

Dash black pepper

¼ cup apple cider vinegar

¾ cup sugar

¾ cup water

Simmer until all ingredients are blended and watermelon pulp has softened to your preferred relish consistency.

Alternatively, you should be able to ferment this, as both apple cider vinegar and salt are used as fermentation kickstarters, but I can’t vouch for the definitive success of this option.

Freezer cooking with meat!

It was good shopping week last week–I found meat on clearance. I’d gone to a store not on my usual route, because they had chuck roast and pork steaks on sale for less than $2 a pound.

Less than $2 a pound is a good deal for meat, but not as good as less than $1 a pound.  When I found ground pork and ground beef on manager’s special for 99 cents a pound I changed my meat buying plans, cut back on on the roast and skipped the pork steaks entirely. Instead I bought 27 pounds of ground meat.

Yes, 27 pounds.

We like our protein around here, can you tell?

Plus, I have this chest freezer sitting our living room, and really, what’s the point of even having a chest freezer if you can’t buy 27 pounds of meat when you find an amazing deal?

Now, I could have just divided all the meat up into one pound portions and frozen them in sandwich bags like I normally do when I buy a three pound roll of ground beef… but that is entirely prosaic way to react to the meat explosion that is 27 pounds of meat.

(Okay, I’m breaking into my raptures for a moment to admit that to those of you who buy half a cow at a time, 27 pounds doesn’t sound like that much. But there are only two of us, and while I like the idea of buying entire sections of dead animal to eat, our grocery budget tends more toward the three pound roll of ground beef at Aldi.  Just imagine how much more I’d rhapsodize over half a cow worth of meat, and be glad it was only 27 pounds.)

I planned a freezer cooking afternoon. As  freezer cooking sessions go, it was low key, but I believe I did justice to my meat deal.

First, I put six pounds of ground beef in my large saucepot to brown. (In my head it will forever be the ‘oatmeal sized pot’ despite the fact that currently one batch of oatmeal in that pot would last us about two weeks, even if Colton liked oatmeal.) I’m glad I started with that, because it takes a long time to brown six pounds of ground beef. I stirred it every so often between other tasks, and by the time it cooked and then cooled, it was one of the last things I put away in the freezer.

Then, in my largest metal mixing bowl, I mixed six pounds of ground beef with four pounds of ground pork, plus eggs, oatmeal, onions and other meatloaf ingredients, and discovered that my very largest metal mixing bowl is not really (or is just barely, depending on how you look at it) big enough for making ten pounds of meatloaf mixture.

I only had two foil loaf pans, so I made five more small meatloaves on sheets of parchment paper, meant for cooking on baking sheets after thawing. Somehow I managed to pour ketchup topping over them, wrap them in slightly too small sheets of parchment paper, and stuff them two or three at a time in gallon freezer bags without making a huge mess.

With the rest of the meatloaf mixture I made over three dozen meatballs. I discovered that making meatballs and oven cooking them isn’t nearly as time consuming as I’d always somehow assumed making meatballs would be. But then, that might have just been in comparison to a full afternoon of freezer cooking…

I ran out of time that afternoon, so it wasn’t until the next day that I put five pounds of ground pork in the freezer for future testing of recipes such as this wonton soup with homemade wonton wrappers. I would say that will happen someday when I’m feeling ambitious, but really it will just happen someday after I borrow a pasta machine.

My last five pounds of ground pork (because you were counting and knew how many pounds were left, right?) I turned into sausage. Not sausages, though that would be really cool too, but just pork seasoned up without having to wonder what weird stuff was added for flavor. It turned out having a very mild italian sausage type flavor, and since I liked it, I’ll document the spice blend here for future reference.

2 TBSP sea salt

2 TBSP garlic powder

2TBSP onion powder

2 tsp black pepper

1 TBSP dried parsely

1 TBSP paprika

2 tsp turmeric

1 tsp cayenne

1 tsp cumin

2 tsp basil

1 tsp oregano

2 tsp thyme

Days the Remaining of Staycation, which I didn’t get around to posting in a timely manner

So, we finished our staycation, I relaxed enough to not bother blogging every day, and then I spent most of this week trying to catch up on dishes, housework and shopping. (And then did a freezer cooking afternoon because I got an amazing deal on ground meat and had to do something with it.)

I don’t remember everything we did on staycation at this point, but here are some of the highlights:

Tuesday we hit the library book sale room at the main branch in Peoria. We spent less than ten dollars and got three big bags full of used books, including some picture books by James Stevenson, some sci-fi in the extended Dune series, an Orson Scott Card and an Anne McCaffery, and a variety of, “huh, this could be interesting” finds. I think the find of the day was Cory Doctorow’s For the Win for twenty cents.

I think that was the day we got lunch at Panda Express, which is one of our favorite restaurants, especially for quick and cheap food. If you fill out a five minute survey online within two days of  your visit, you get a coupon code for a free entree with purchase of two entree plate. Whenever we go back (there’s no expiration date) we use the coupon to get free egg rolls, split the two entree plate and egg rolls, and pay less than $8 for dinner for the two of us.

Wednesday, which happened to be Colton’s birthday, we spent most of the day lounging at his grandmother’s house, in and out of her pool. I even put my face underwater a couple of times.

Thursday was our complete crash at home day. We watched movies and played games and filled all my ideas of staycation.

Friday was supposed to be our energetic, go play sports until we drop day, to fill Colton’s idea of a staycation, but after getting all ready to go play frisbee golf, we walked out the door to discover it was raining. After a flurry of research to find indoor alternatives (mostly discovering that it was a bad time to go ice skating or bowling and determining that neither of us played racquetball) we went to see the movie RIPD. It was over the top and ridiculous, but fun. I’d say it was comparable to the Men in Black movies, but somewhat less crude, and in my opinion, with better story. (Not any better plot mind you, but a little better story.)

For lunch on Friday we went to Jim’s Bistro, which lived up to it’s title of ‘the best burger in Peoria’.

Friday evening Sam and Laura came over and we spent most of the evening discussing unusual things we could with the evening, like running into a store, asking what year it was and running out again yelling ‘We did it!’. In the end we went up on the Peoria Heights tower, which is probably the best $2 tourist attraction in the area. Oh, and then we accidentally created a variant of Apples to Apples that involves writing a murder mystery or other story using the red cards as hashtags.

Saturday we finally did get out and play frisbee golf. We both played better than we had before on that course, and I threw the frisbee so hard I had sore muscles for days. 🙂

The rest of the day was spent attending a graduation party and housewarming open house, so we had a very social end to our staycation.

So there you have it, the most fun that can be had in Peoria in a week. 🙂 We didn’t do as much visiting of area attractions on this staycation as last time, but it was a really good break from everyday life.

Maybe soon I’ll write a blog post about all the normal everyday life I’ve been doing since the staycation. 🙂