Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Honey Wheat Bread

It was on a day, not too far ago, that I fell down one of those infamous Internet rabbit holes. Through a series of twists and turns, I found myself looking at a defense of kneading bread. Having tried no-knead bread making with so-so success, I was curious as to how different a kneaded bread could be. I printed the recipe, ensured I had the needed ingredients (more on that in a sentence) and got started.

A challenge immediately presented itself - I did not have enough whole wheat flour. Hmm. Covering the remaining balance of whole wheat flour with all-purpose would not make that much of a difference, would it? In confidence, I mixed my flours, melted my butter and honey mixture and got to kneading for the requisite 10 minutes. Problems immediately arose. The dough was stuck to the counter and, more importantly, to my hands. I feared the dough was sentient and I would slowly be subsumed into the yeast borg or something. A lot of "dustings" of flour later (read: 1-2 cups more), the dough was mostly contained and had that elastic, non-Blob look to it. Rise time! (Note: photo below shows about 1/5 the amount of dough that was stuck on hand prior to cleaning.)

And boy how it rose. The dough's sentience was once again considered. I quickly squashed that idea by punching down the dough and placing it into the loaf pan to rise again. One hour later and I think my dough was about to have little loaf babies. It was huge. I named it mega-bread. I probably should have split the dough in two, but why have two loaves when you can have one loaf of mega-bread, right? 

Thankfully, the baking solidified the ever-expanding bread and we ate. Very good, if a little dry. I wonder why...

Cut to this week. Honey Wheat Bread, attempt #2. This time with the proper amount of whole wheat flour, and a quick prayer that Aaron would not find a dough wife when he returned home. I began to smile when I started kneading. No dough hands! I could move it on the counter and, you know, knead! I love kneading when my hands are free from the yeast borg! Kneading was this great intuitive moment when I had to use my senses to figure out if and when my dough was ready - when tacky turns to sticky and I need flour, when elasticity is perfect and I should step away from the dough. 

A rest, a punch down, and another rest, and the dough was luxuriating in the oven, transforming into bread. I found every ounce of self control in my body and did not tear into the loaf the moment it came out of the oven. I may have snagged a slice and buttered it, though. This time yielded a normal-sized loaf, better crumb, less dense, and a recipe Aaron demands be made weekly. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Little Grand Canyon

In April, Aaron's friends and their wives converged in Atlanta for the Group Stupid 2013 trip. Yes, that is the name of the group. I believe the reasoning is something like this: all these guys are smart, but it seems the more of them there are in a room, the dumber they get. One of the guys lives in Florida and enjoys hiking, so we (Aaron and I) figured it would be easy enough to meet up with him on a weekend for a day hike. Cut to a month later, and my super jealousy.

Has someone ever introduced you to something - a movie, musician, restaurant - and you are so impressed that you are a little jealous you did not find it first to show them? That is how it was for the hiking site Aaron's friend found for us. Providence Canyon is located in southern Georgia and boasts the well-deserved nickname "The Little Grand Canyon." The canyon was formed due to farmers' poor irrigation practices. Their disaster was our incredible fortune on a rainy Saturday in May.

When we arrived, it was pouring rain. We scurried along with our lunches to a picnic shelter in hopes of waiting out the storm. After eating some sandwiches and enjoying some great conversation, the rain had let up and we were off on our hike. The trail is such that you can walk through the middle of the canyon and then loop around the top, or follow the little streams to the edges of the canyon walls for some spectacular geology. I am not sure how long we roamed around the streams and canyon walls, but it was time well spent. Very well spent. 

After getting our fill (almost) of the neat geology from the ground, it was time to hit the trail again and see it from the top of the canyon. Better panoramas of the canyon, but not as amazing as being up close to the different layers and colors of the walls. The loop did, however, have some old cars from 1950s and 1960s, we guessed. There was not a sign indicating how the cars got there, so we made up stories of moonshiners, squatters, and gypsies. All too soon, sadly, our time at the canyon was at a close. We said our "see you later"s and we hit the road back home. In the car, Aaron and I talked about when would be the next time we visit this cool gem in Georgia.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Catching Up with Books

No, I have not abandoned this place or dropped off the face of the earth. In all honesty, I am not sure why I have not spoken in this space for some time. I thought of posts, but nothing went from thought to typing action. Whatever the reasons may have been, I am here now writing, so here it goes!

People, I read Les Miserables, and I am pretty proud I finished it. I went into the book having never seen any of the movie or musical adaptations, so I had a pretty clean palate aside from the multitudinous Les Miserables movie previews from earlier this year. It has a great storyline that Victor Hugo weaves exceptionally well during the mid-1800s. However, somehow all my history education seems to have skipped this key moment in French history - never learned about Napoleon, and the only things I know about the French Revolution I learned from A Tale of Two Cities. Hugo does take asides throughout the book to explain the history around what is occurring or has occurred that concerns his characters, but they were so tedious to read! It was like watching Die Hard only to have a 30-minute aside on the history of the LAPD, then 20 minutes later an aside on Russian terrorism, then 45 minutes later one on the history of firearms. I skimmed/skipped over some of it -I know, sacrilege! The political commentary Hugo provided seemed incredible, but I had nothing to base what he was saying off of. However, the story compelled me to keep reading, and I am glad I did. Fantastic imagery, phenomenal characters, and morals and truths that are universal. So, read this book, but it is okay if you read an abridged version. All the plot is there, just not all the "history of..." Also, I would suggest taking a break midway and reading something easier over a weekend. I personally read Amsterdam by Ian McEwan.

In keeping with a history theme, another book I read since last we met was Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. Fortunately for me, I am quite well-versed in Henry VIII and English happenings during this time period. I sort of accidentally majored in it, both the history and English literature side of it. Most of what I know of this time is from the perspective of Henry VIII and his various wives. Wolf Hall, however, takes the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, who served as chief minister to Henry VIII and strongly advocated English Reformation. Cromwell knows how tenuous a position with the king is, and knows to keep it he has to be a step ahead of everyone, or at least know enough dirt about key players to "encourage" them to agree with him, if need be. There are plenty of underhanded dealings, betrayals, and sacrifices throughout the book to keep one interested. I am looking forward to reading the next novel in the series, Bring Up the Bodies, which picks up the story as Anne Boleyn falls from the king's grace.

Now, to take a sharp left turn to baseball! The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach is a book I all but devoured. The story follows Henry Skrimshander, a college freshman and shortstop wunderkind, who had never missed a throw...until he does. His life, and the lives of those around him, are thrown into disorder in part due to this missed throw. If this is sounding too sports-centric for you, do not worry, this is not a book about baseball. Well, at least not solely about baseball. The Art of Fielding is about growing up, following your passion, and learning to be okay with who you are. How good is this novel? When I finished the last page, I was ready to start again at page one. 

A second book I may have actually devoured a little was Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson. Oh my goodness, what can I say about this book?! This book is extremely twisty and shocking, so do not go spoiling it for yourself by reading too many synopses or reviews. You will be sorry. What can I tell you about the book? It is the story of Christine who, due to an accident years ago, cannot form new memories. She awakes every day wondering where she is, who is in the bed beside her, how she was injured, and can she get her memory back. The novel is set up as her diary, something a doctor interested in her case told her to keep. Each day, as she reads what she wrote previously, she begins to learn more about her lost life. Or does she? Is what she is writing truth, or is it a fiction she made for herself? From one entry to the next, I had a new theory on who the "big bad" was, what happened to her, and what the conspiracy could be; but when the reveal came, I was shocked! After I read it, mouth agape half the time, Aaron read it while on a business trip. He stayed up until about 3 am finishing it. It is that awesome.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Atlanta Adventures

Aaron and I will be hanging out in Atlanta for at least two years and, after somewhat missing out in some of the usual Raleigh visitor fare, I did not want this new city and its opportunities to pass me by. So, as I said in an earlier post, I am forgoing my 32 Before 32 goal list to make a list of things I would like to do while in Atlanta. Some of them can only be done while in Atlanta, while others are things I would like to do in the next two years. As I learn more about Atlanta and get connected in the city, this list will evolve. It should be a fun ride!

1. Visit Stone Mountain. I visited with my family in 1995 (?) and now that I hear it has expanded beyond checking out a big rock with a bas-relief, I would like to see it again.

2. Visit World of Coca-Cola. Saw this with the family in 1995, however it has relocated since then, so it will be almost new for me.

3. Go to a Braves game. Something else I did with the family on our visit. My extended family are Braves fans. Back in the 90s I think they each had their favorite player - Tom Glavine, Chipper Jones, John Smoltz, Greg Maddux, and Javy Lopez were the ones I recall best. It's Atlanta, you have to go to a Braves game!

4. Go to a Falcons game and finally see a professional football game. And a pretty good football team as they stand now 7-0!

5. Go to the Georgia Aquarium. I have already done this! Aaron took me there for my birthday after I gave numerous obvious hints and it was so fun and so crowded. We opted for a membership, so I would like to go back on a less crowded weekday. I need to learn about all the fish I see!

6. Master a peach-based dessert. What better plan to try?

7. Reread Gone with the Wind  and visit Margaret Mitchell's home.

8. Visit Savannah. Another leg of the family trip in '95. I think I will appreciate it more as an adult. Though I do remember liking the salt water taffy.

9. Actually run a 5K. For real.

10. Meet Alton Brown. And not after standing in line for a book signing. I want a real, unexpected, turn the corner and, "Oh, hi Alton Brown." A girl can dream, can't she? 

11. Eat at The Varsity. It's a Georgia Tech thing.

12. Go to a Georgia Tech sports game.

13. Visit a Civil War battle site. The little history nerd in me squeals with delight about living in Atlanta.

14. Go on Atlanta Botanical Garden's Canopy Walk

15. Visit the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum

16. Visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Site

17. Visit the Atlanta History Center

18. Go to the original Chick-fil-A restaurant, Dwarf House, for dinner

19. Go to Andersonville Prison in Macon County

Thursday, October 18, 2012

31 Before 31: A Year in Review

I did not do so great at accomplishing the goals on my 31 Before 31 List. Not outstanding at all. However, I would say that some of these list items were accomplished in a more abstract or unexpected way. Therefore, here are my reasons and justifications for not doing more of the things on my list.

Overall reasons: I/Aaron and I had a lot less free time than I assumed. And, as many of these involved him to some degree, it was harder to accomplish. Also, first year of marriage was not a walk in the park. With Aaron finishing his dissertation, us up-in-the-air regarding where/if/when we will move, and other things going on in our lives and those of our friends, life was stressed and strained. So, generally on the weekends we were happy just to be in the same room and not going anywhere. 

The List (how ominous!)
1. Ride a Roller Coaster - Not accomplished, unless you count this roller coaster of a year.

2. Go to a professional football or basketball game - Not accomplished, though I hope to do both while we are in Atlanta (more on that in a later post). I did go to a Carolina Railhawks soccer game, so I was not without live sporting events.

3. Go camping with Aaron for two nights - Not accomplished, but I did sleep on an air mattress for a bit during our move. Still does not count, does it?

4. Make Creme Brulee - like I would not do this one - accomplished!  I have my torch and am ready to make creme brulee whenever I please!

5. Read three books from my compilation "100 Best Books" list - I read two - Atonement and The War of the Worlds - but could not get that last one in. Admittedly, Anna Karenina  and Atlas Shrugged still frighten me with their heft.

6. Visit a state I have never been to - I can now cross Kentucky off the list, thanks to my cousin Katie getting married there. 

7. Take the Amtrak with Aaron for a weekend getaway - Not accomplished, but I did send Aaron off on his first Amtrak journey to Washington, D.C.

8. Train and then run in a 5K - not accomplished...again. One day, I will put my running shoes on and do this! 

9. Make my grandmother's rump roast for friends - not accomplished, the making it for friends or anyone.  I have lived a year without rump roast, how sad.

10. Throw a movie-themed party - not accomplished due to embarrassment about the perpetual state of moving in/moving out in our apartment. Have I mentioned that between Aaron and I we moved three times in a year? Yeah, not recommended.

11. Figure out how to play Wii Golf - accomplished! The Wii Golf demons are exorcised and, while I am not good, I am less frustrated when playing now, which was the point of this item.

12. Watch four movies from AFI's 100 Best Movies List - half accomplished? I think I watched two - Bringing Up Baby and Doctor Strangelove - but there is a chance another snuck in there and I forgot to take note of it. Not too worried, especially since I am further along in this list than my books list.

13. Go to the Outer Banks - not accomplished. Aaron and I decided to revisit Asheville instead of the Outer Banks. I still would like to go there, but it is a little farther to drive now.

14. Read the Old Testament in a year - dead in the water. I got way behind on this from the start. Since my goal in doing this was to read all the books I have not yet, maybe I will skip the first few books and jump to major and minor prophets, the ones I know I have not read.

15. Read the biographies of George Washington and John Adams - not accomplished. I barely finished His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph Ellis before the cutoff date. Largely due to the fact that the book was a little dry and I found I knew more about Washington than I realized.

16. Spend Christmas and Aaron's birthday with Aaron for the first time - accomplished! Yes, it took me seven years, but I finally saw him over the holidays. I think the fact we are married now helped a little.

17. Eat dessert at Hayes-Barton Cafe - not accomplish, but I think I found a better dessert place in Raleigh - PieBird!!  If you are ever in the Raleigh area, eat there. Great dinners (shepherd's pie is astoundingly good) and excellent desserts.  Salted Honey Pie for me and Bananas in Pajamas for Aaron!

18. Try one new recipe or dish a month - done! I found that I do this monthly anyway, so it was an easy list item to cross off. Group Favorite: Cowboy Caviar, Dinner fav: Fried Chicken Saltimboca, Dessert Favs: Oatmeal Pie and Salty Honey Pie

19. Read 26 Books - so very accomplished. I read more than I thought, so my 2012 reading goal is 30 books. I am currently five books ahead of my goal. I think I may need to increase it for 2013. Best Reads: Atonement by Ian McEwan, Zone One by Colson Whitehead, and Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.

20. Have people over for dinner four times - total fail. Although I did bring dinner over to other people's homes. Not the goal, though. Hopefully I will do better at this in the new place.

21. Floss regularly - nope. I do not like flossing. I know I need to do it, but nothing about it appeals to me...except the whole thing about fewer cavities and keeping my teeth. New place, new routines? Fingers crossed!

22. Reach 75 geocaches found - not accomplished. I think I went from 45 to 50 over the course of the year, and that is only because we went geocaching with a friend while in Indiana over Christmas. It was cold but fun.

23. Make different homemade breads six times - Well, I think I made four: quick breads, rolls, and muffins. Bread making is hard! Things don't rise correctly, are sticky or too dry, too dense, not cooked through. It is frustrating at times to bake bread.

24. Figure out a working monthly budget for groceries - done! I am still working on making a meal for dinner on a regular basis and not relying on sandwiches or (homemade) chicken nuggets, but I am getting there. Refrigerator pies (a more gender neutral way of saying quiche) have been a lifesaver.

25. Put together a jigsaw of over 1000 pieces - argh! Double argh! Over Thanksgiving, my parents set up a card table with a 1500 piece puzzle for Aaron and I to do. We worked on that thing day and night. However, we had to leave it with probably 100-150 pieces left. My parents said I should count it, the purist in me says no, so I will leave it up to your discretion as to whether I accomplished this goal or not.

26. Give blood - seriously, you thought I would actually do this? Ha! I get tunnel vision when I see someone with the colorful arm wrap after giving blood. It is not the blood, it is the needle. I am going to stop writing about this now before I faint or something.

27. Go to the Farmers Market once a month - nope. Did not go there at all!

28. Make a dish with mussels - Yes, I made a dish with mussels. Yes, it was the mussels you buy frozen in their own sauce and only have to reheat. Yes, I counted it.

29. Aaron's choice: Write a 6,000 word short story where the key plot point involves a chair - Sorry, bud, but I did not write it. I think I scared myself after making a list of chairs. Do you realize how many plot points there are involving a chair?! 

30. Make paella - I did not do this, but I am going to one day. I have the saffron and everything.  

31. Create an Easter Egg Hunt for Aaron - This was awesome to watch. I wound string around the apartment leading to the first Easter Egg that had a little treat (candy or Target dollar bin thing) and a clue to where the next egg was hidden. A dozen eggs later and Aaron received the grand prize - The Muppets movie! 

There is my list of mostly unaccomplished things. I have found over the past two years I have done this that goal-setting is great, but it is also okay not to have done them all. Some goals should be easy to do and some aspirational. Because, if you only set goals for yourself you knew you could easily accomplish, how would you grow? With that said, I am not doing a 32 Before 32 list. Instead, I am making a list of things I want to do while I live in Atlanta. Some will be about seeing and doing Atlanta-centric things (Coke Museum, Braves games, etc) while others will be about my own personal growth (books to read, 5K's to run, etc). And I am going to allow the list to flex and grow as I find out more about this city I am living in. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Books, Reviewed

I recently finished reading Watership Down by Richard Adams. It was selected from a stack of books I was interested in but no one jumped out to me. Process of elimination and spousal input eventually narrowed the field to this novel. And I am quite happy that it did. For those, like me, who do not know what Watership Down is about, it followed a group of rabbits who decide to leave their warren (home) to find a new place to live that one of the rabbits saw in a vision. I know, it sounds strange, but it is really good! I explained it to Aaron as something of The Once and Future King, where Merlins turns Wart into various animals so he can learn about different societies. There is something of this in Watership Down, as the rabbits encounter different warrens along the way, each of which take something important to rabbits, like safety from predators, and skew it just enough so they lose something of their rabbit-ness. Another book I used to compare it to with Aaron was The Lord of the Rings, only in that it is an adventure story with dangers and strange lands. This is a book someone could read to their child, read as a teen, and again as an adult, and enjoy it at each stage. 

The other recent read that was a true surprise was one I picked from my Penguin Classics, which I now have the complete collection of - yay! The book was one of only a couple I had not heard of before, so it was high time I figured out what it was about. The book is Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell and, my goodness, is it a riot. This book is not a novel so much as a series of vignettes revolving around the lives of a group of older ladies in Cranford, a town with no men, as Gaskell writes. These women, widows or unmarried daughters of the town's "aristocracy" have, over their 60+ years, created an unwritten rule book of how long a  neighborly visit should last (15 minutes); that a dress in a fashion 30 years ago is acceptable, but the latest fashion in hat must be worn (at least they are led to believe they wear the latest hat trend); and that it may not be reasonable, but must not be spoken of, if one of the ladies decides to make a flannel jacket for her cow after it loses its hair. These ladies, in other words, are simply ridiculous, but they do it with the sweetest of intentions...mostly. It may take reading a sentence twice to understand the humor, but Gaskell ensures the pages are rife with subtle, and not so subtle, moments of delight. Aaron must have thought me mad with my random laughter throughout this book. If a gal wants to read something around Charles Dickens' time, with something like Jane Austen's more hilarious characters living next door to one another, this is an excellent book.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

On the Road Again

In order to keep up my family's recently added tradition of constant relocation, Aaron and I are moving...again. It feels like we just moved into our apartment, but we are pulling up our stakes, loading up our wagons, and heading south. Watch out world, we are going to Atlanta! 
Aaron has completed his dissertation, been approved to graduate, and I can now boast that I married a doctor.  Woohoo!  Unfortunately, graduation and a PhD mean a new job, which for us means a move. Aaron has accepted a position at Georgia Tech to be a postdoctoral research fellow in the School of Interactive Computing (I think I got all those words correct). We are excited to mess around in a new city, but a little nervous about the upcoming change. However, this does keep up our tradition of living in state capitals. Three down, 47 to go!  

We have found an apartment that we hope will work out well for us in the couple years we know we will be in Atlanta, but we still are looking for many of the other basics in a new town. Church, grocery store, Target, Trader Joe's, gas station, book store... In our visit there a few weeks ago for home hunting, we did stumble upon what could prove to be our local restaurant (Shorty's!) and our local library, so those are two things we can check off our list. And our apartment is right next to a park, so walking trails and green places are taken care of, too. 

I am excited to take advantage of all Atlanta has to offer in the way of museums, theater, food, sports, and historical sites. Stay tuned for our adventures as we try to be visitors in our new home.

Update pre-post: We are here, along with what we hope are all our worldly possessions. Boxes are still lurking waiting to be unpacked, but all in all life is settling into a nice rhythm. I have found the grocery stores, Target, Ikea (swoon!), Trader Joe's, ice cream, and a local book shop. I still have no idea where the closest/cheapest gas station is, church searching begins in earnest this weekend, and I think, if my not-so-subtle hints worked, that we will have our first outing as visitors in our new town. Which I am too excited for words about - I feel like a kid going to Disney with what I hope is planned for this weekend.