Writing, Cooking, and a $5 Guitar

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

 Life has kind of mellowed out this last month or so. I’m not complaining—I like it. It just leaves me without much of interest to write about. In spite of the fuller schedule with my new cleaning clients, I’ve managed to get more writing done, mostly thanks to my accountability group. Just a few days ago I discovered that if I sit at my kitchen table while I drink my morning pot of tea, I can get about 5-7 pages written in my notebook. This has been especially useful for fleshing character backgrounds, relationships, and the impact of character motivations, etc. on plot. I’m optimistic that I’ll be able to get enough of my ducks in a row before November this year and actually be able to get another novel in my series drafted and/or revised (fingers crossed).

I also did some beta reading/critique work for another friend, which was a lot of fun. I’ve been writing with the same group of gals for over a year and a half now, and I finally got the chance to see someone else’s writing! I’d love to share my work for critique (if I ever get anything semi-doneish). I’d also like to do more critique work in the future, so if you’re a friend of mine and need some constructive criticism, I’m game. Just be warned that I might give you too much to think about at once.

With that fuller work schedule, I’ve also been more intentional about relaxation. Bubble baths, scented candles…you get the idea. My newest client actually asked me what Will and I do after dinner since we don’t have a T.V.! I had to think about it for a little while before I could respond, because my first reaction was something like “Hmmmmmm…what do we do after dinner?” Usually Will plays video games. I clean up the kitchen (this doesn’t take long since I usually work on cleaning up as dinner is cooking), and then I might dink around on the Internet (Facebook, Youtube, email, Amazon, making lists of things to do the next day in Google Keep, entering recipes into Cron-O-Meter, researching random questions I’ve thought of during the day, like “How to make hard candy with erythritol,”), or take a bath, read, or write…and I spend quite a bit of time working on things that I couldn’t quite fit in earlier in the day, like restocking my jars of bread mix or cleaning my new guitar. Rather than doing our random separate activities every evening, Will and I have been taking a lot of walks recently. Rather than doing things on our computers, phones, tablets, etc. right before bed, we’ve been trying to spend some time reading, just to try to get our brains ready for sleep.

A new thing hanging in a tree at one of the local parks.
Found it on one of our walks.
 Anyone know what it is? 
 My Bible study has taken an interesting turn. I’m taking a break from memorizing and reviewing the book of John, because I also want to make use of my study Bible as I’m going through it. So I took a couple of days to read the study notes for the first 8 chapters of John, and now I’m using the online ESV Bible to look up all of the cross references. That’s one of those things that’s kind of a pain in the butt with a paper Bible since you have to flip to every single verse referenced, and half of the time it’s something random that has little to no bearing on what you just read anyway. It’s way easier to just click and have all of the cross referenced verses for a given point pop up—highly recommended. As I’m getting caught up with the cross references, I’m trying to take time to catch up on reviewing the verses I've fallen behind on at my Learnscripture.net. Theoretically, I’ll get to a point where every week I’ll read a short passage and the study notes that go with it, read the cross referenced verses for the passage, and then begin memorizing it. I’ll get there…eventually.

This last tea party was much more mellow than the previous one. Tami wasn’t feeling well, so she and Isabel (her baby) stayed home. On top of that, everyone else was tired from lack of sleep, long days at work, etc. Jamye liked the whole drawing-prize thing I had going on last time and brought a prize to give away. We didn’t draw for the prize, however, since Jessica was able to make it to this one and she was the only one present (besides myself) who didn’t win a prize last time…so we just awarded it to her. Some pics:

We look so much more awake than we actually were! And yes, I am wearing cat ears.
The remains of the Pumpkin Spice Oreos, other store bought cookies, and homemade  GF Double Chocolate Scones.
Super healthy mini apple pies. I'll have to post the recipe eventually.
Jessica and her prize.

The buns were a huge success.
If I break this ice cream scoop, I have issues.
Jamye also brought me a very sturdy-looking ice cream scoop and a house plant. We’ll see how the houseplant does. The only houseplants I’ve ever been able to keep alive for any length of time were aloe vera. After several years I got rid of those because it was just one more thing to do, and they weren’t much practical use to me because aloe irritates my skin.

My canning experiments are done for now. In addition to the apple butter, I got a few jars of apple pie filling and a bunch of applesauce done.

It came to my attention this week just how dull my knives have gotten since I’ve been married. My former youth pastors bought us a tri-stone sharpening system for our wedding, but I suck at holding knives at a steady angle. This was, admittedly, one of those things that seemed like a great idea at the time and has largely been left unused. A better choice would have been something like this that you don’t have to focus to get the angle right on. So after much frustration, watching many Youtube videos, and failing several times to sharpen my knives over the last couple of years, I kind of gave up…and then I discovered this gizmo and realized that, at least in the short term, my clippy refrigerator magnets could stand in as angle guides.

My knives aren’t super sharp—they won’t slice through a piece of paper without resistance or shave the hair off your arm—but this week when I was cooking, I didn’t blister my fingers from having to force a dull knife through a bunch of vegetables! Indeed, they are much sharper than they were.

 On the topic of vegetables, I’ve been cooking a lot of them recently. Usually I take the lazy route and just steam some frozen veggies or throw some salad mix on a plate or just make entrees (especially soups) with vegetables in them. This month I’m trying out a bunch of the recipes for stir-fried greens and such that I’ve copied out of recipe books. Thus far I’ve thrown away every vegetable recipe I’ve tried except one (and I didn’t exactly follow the recipe there). Most have been palatable, but not worth making again.

One of many vegetable dishes whose recipes I discarded.
I’ve also been trying to use my Instant Pot more for soups, curries, etc. just to get dinner together quickly and with as little food babysitting time as possible. That has been wonderful. I’m really enjoying having a second pot insert and lids. If I make a batch of  rice or unfried mashed lentils, I don’t have to empty and wash the pot right away just to get on to making something else. I’m also really enjoying that stove cutting board thing that I mentioned in my previous post. Not only does it get the IP under the vent fan, but it also frees up a lot of counter space and makes it much easier to get other things done in my kitchen while the IP is doing its thing. I haven’t started using the new cookbook I got, but from a glance through some of the recipes, it looks like it’s going to be amazing. You know how some vegan cookbooks rely on a lot of packaged faux meats and cheeses and other weird things that are hard to find? This doesn’t. It also doesn’t load a ton of recipes up with oil, sugar, etc. which I appreciate. It also looks like there aren’t a ton of “no duh” recipes that I could have figured out on my own. I’m definitely looking forward to using it when I do my meal planning for October.

I’m also changing up the way I do my meal planning. I usually do a month-long meal plan with 1-2 dinner options for each night of the week (then repeated 2-4 times) and freeze the food in portions for each night’s dinner. My freezers are pretty jam-packed with berries and frozen vegetables at the moment, and I’m finding that I have convenient opportunities to go to the grocery store about every 2 weeks now, so I’m moving to a 2 week meal plan, with immediate repeats the next week. This keeps me from having to freeze a ton of entrees and there’s still sufficient variety of meals (not eating the same thing for 3-4 days in a row). I think it’ll also help me resist the temptation to buy too much produce at once. I’m still planning on doing the bulk of my shopping once a month, just to keep my jars of beans and stuff well-stocked, but produce and any other little things that I forgot the first time or ran out of in the meantime will benefit from the second trip. I used to use this one-week meal plan thing from Money Saving Mom, but I think I’m moving to a model that includes something like 2-3 soups/curries, 1 homemade mock meat, 1-2 other entrees, and 1-2 side dishes/salads. I’m still debating whether I want to assign certain foods to certain days or not.  Soup season is on it’s way! In case you can’t tell from that last sentence, just know that I’ve been waiting with great anticipation.

The quest for the perfect hot and sour soup continues!
In other news, the 9th of September was apparently National Blame Gideon Day. That’s my little brother. If anything went wrong on that day, blame it on him. It’s the one day of the year where even if I’m having a totally crappy day, I can’t stop laughing, because I’m just like “Dang it, Gideon!” This holiday was invented by either my former youth pastor or my former pastor’s son, waaaaay back when we were in middle school and/or high school. I’m not sure that anyone has really celebrated it in the last few years, but Dale remembered this year, and the rest of us who used to celebrate it jumped on the bandwagon and started blaming Gideon for everything.

This weekend Will and I went to the Aumsville Saturday market for the first time. It was kind of underwhelming. A lot of the stuff for sale was jewelry, Pampered Chef, Tupperware, Scentsy, etc. There were maybe one or two fruit and vegetable sellers, and the remaining booths were advertising for the hospital, the Aumsville corn festival, a photographer…nothing that we found all that interesting. We also went to several garage sales. I picked up some Ziploc containers and a couple of moderately-sized kitchen knives, but our major finds were an American flag rotary phone from 1973....
Will's find. This will probably  be a
Christmas gift for one of our dads.
...and a $5 beater guitar. The sad thing is, that even with the hole in the side and the missing pick guard and stuff, this guitar is nicer than any of the guitars I owned when I was a kid and semi-seriously learning to play. The strings are decent. There’s no fret buzz. Intonation is acceptable…and it’s the right size for my midget self. It was pretty ugly when I first got it, but I’ve since removed the scuff marks, black sticky gunk, and paint splatters. Okay, it’s still ugly, but that means I can decorate it however I want…and someday if I get a nicer guitar, this can be the one that I take camping, etc. And if I don’t progress and buy another guitar? Well, at least it was only $5.

Before cleaning.

After cleaning.

Whoever had this before cut a hole in the side. Maybe they planned to put a cheap pickup in it or something?

After cleaning. Wish I'd gotten a picture of the back before! I had a ton of paint splatters and even some globs of wax on it.

 I’ve also been trying to develop a recipe for yogurt scones. I have a bunch of homemade soy yogurt that’s been in my fridge for awhile and needs to be used up, and it seems like a logical alternative to buttermilk in a vegan scone. My first attempt was a plain sweet scone.  The dough was a smidge too wet. I also think that it could have benefited from baking longer at a lower temperature, since the outside was super crispy and the inside was too moist…and a bit tough because I over-handled them. Unlike other gluten free goodies, with scones it seems to matter whether you over-mix them. The dough needs to be on the dry side and lightly handled, otherwise it’s tough and not crumbly like I want it.

Italian herb and nutritional yeast scones.
The second batch had Italian herbs and some nutritional yeast. I changed up the flours in it as well, and don’t like what I ended up with. They needed to be baked longer or at a higher temperature or something, because I can definitely taste the bean flours from the Bob’s Red Mill gluten free all-purpose baking blend. They also had pretty much all of the same problems as the other batch of yogurt scones, so I’m going to have to work on the flour:yogurt ratio.

That’s about it. The only audio book I’ve finished since last posting is The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo. Overall I enjoyed it, and there were a lot of moments where I burst into uncontrollable laughter, but there were also some horribly boring chapters, which I ended up skipping. Seriously. There are a couple of places where Hugo goes off on random rants about how true art in architecture has been destroyed by subsequent generations and blah blah blah. A Gertrude Stein quote seems appropriate here: “Remarks are not literature.” Those chapters broke up the actual story portion of the book in awkward ways and did not help with the pacing at all.

All right, done harping on classics that people smarter than me adore. I finally finished The Bait of Satan by John Bevere, which I recommend. I dislike some of his proof-texting, but overall I think that the principles he outlines are solid and will benefit your relationships with God, yourself, and other people. I also finally finished the Sgt. Frog manga.  It’s not really my style—not enough plot—but good for a laugh. I also read Having Tea: Recipes and Table Settings by Tricia Foley. As usual with tea recipe books, there wasn’t a whole lot that I could apply directly—I don’t think I copied down a single recipe—but I liked the book a lot. It had a lot of little sections of reading on tea history,  preparation methods, nostalgia, etc. that made me smile. It was like climbing into an overstuffed chair with a cup of tea, a book, some knitting, and watching children playing in front of the fireplace. Nice and cozy. Now I’m reading Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Kushman. I loved The Midwife’s Apprentice, so I’m hoping this is at least almost as good.

Another tea party coming up this weekend. Wish me luck in the baking department, or my hairless ghost lemur will haunt you in your dreams!

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