That Funny Feeling Has Me

Topaz, perturbed by air conditioner-related water damage.

Last night, Pete and I registered for a motorcycle safety course. A friend told me about it over a decade ago. Took me awhile to get to it, so sue me. Anyway, Pete’s confirmation email arrived in a hot New York minute but mine didn’t. First thing this morning, I called the safety course people and left a message. Shortly thereafter, a very nice young woman called.

Tata: His confirmation arrived, but mine didn’t.
Lady: Sometimes they take time.
Tata: This morning, I still don’t have it. I may pout.
Lady: It’s probably in your spam folder.
Tata: Nope. I have another address. Could I persuade you to send it there?
Lady: Will do.

The confirmation arrived, in all its glory, but two hours later, the nice young woman, who is a pistol by the way, called back.

Lady: In the medical section, where the form asks if you have any medical conditions, you wrote I AM A MIDDLE AGED WOMAN. That’s not really an answer.
Tata: The question is “Do you have any medical conditions that would prohibit you from participating in a fast-paced physical program?” And I am a middle aged woman. I will do nothing quickly.
Lady: It does say that, doesn’t it?
Tata: Yup.
Lady: What it means is do you have vision impairment, a heart condition, balance problems, anything like that?
Tata: Nope, but we’ve established that I’m a middle aged woman, and middle aged women have arthritis. I can’t stand for very long, and sometimes walk with a cane.
Lady: …You sometimes walk with a cane… Can you ride a bike?
Tata: Oh yes. I commute to work on a bicycle and ride a lot for fun.
Lady: Okay, then we’re in business. You can’t stand. Can you pace?
Tata: Sure. And watusi, but I’d be happy to bring a lawn chair.
Lady: Believe it or not, that’d be hazardous, but if you can pace through a 3-5 minute demonstration, we’re a go.
Tata: Excellent. Will you be calling me again when you notice I heard about your program from a Magic 8 Ball?

Throw It Into Shape

Last week, we had a lightning-quick torrential downpour that turned this lettuce into soup.

View through Topaz's favorite window at Topaz's favorite lettuce-filled window box.

Today, storms passed to the north and south of us, but not here, where temperatures in the nineties were complimented by nearly 100% humidity.

All day, I’ve looked skyward and hoped for gazpacho.

In the Wild West End Sometime

Last year, one of our most successful preserves was caponata. It was easily cooked, handily jarred and the flavor improved with time in jars. When opened and served with whole grain crackers, caponata can serve as a light, filling meal. Another measure of success: my sister Anya asked how she could have jars of this tasty concoction extracted from my pantry, perhaps by stealth, and placed gently in hers. I appreciated that she didn’t just break into my house and steal stuff she liked, but even more, I really dug the vegetarian’s confirmation that jarring caponata is a brilliant idea. Yay!

This happy accident opens up a new frontier for us: meals in a jar. I’m not talking abut Beefaroni, but I am interested in jarring things that when we open the jar require nothing more than crackers or – even better – just a spoon. It’s got to be nutritious, so 8 oz. jars of chocolate and marshmallows is right out. Do you have any wild ideas? Have you done this? Braintrust: ignite your rockets!

I Hope You Don’t Explode

A $5 case of soft peaches and $8 of firm golden plums, cleverly disguised as stackable objects.

On Wednesday, Pete and I barged into Motor Vehicle Services with stacks of documents and bad attitudes. We paid $5 each for learners permits, but Pete hadn’t cracked the motorcycle manual by then, so this morning, we got up at the crack of 7 and found ourselves standing in the MVS parking lot at 7:50 with about fifty of our closest friends who also thought the place opened at 7:30. The woman minding line 11 didn’t smile, didn’t explain much, but pointed me at station 5. Last time I took a license test we did it on paper. Now, you press a touch pad button, sometimes five or so times before it registers, and the monitor tells you whether or not you’re an idiot. The questions can actually seem blindingly stupid, like What sobers up a drunk? and for the most part the test plays it straight. I’d be hard pressed to write an answer sheet that didn’t include such options as Your teenage daughter holding a pregnancy test or Six months in county, but the test rewards you for knowing that coffee doesn’t cut through a bender. CORRECT! it says. When I got one wrong, I sensed its disappointment. I went on, but things had changed between us. We were both older and wiser. Out of 30 questions, I missed two and marched straight back to line 11, where the woman administered an eye test to me, then Pete. Finally she smiled and pointed at Pete, “You did better than he did, don’t let him fool you!” He’d already told me, so we were jake, but for the first time in an MVS branch I was laughing.

Tata: I can’t wait to be a little old lady rocking a Vespa.
Woman: A Vespa!
Tata: I really really want that!

A few hours later, I went to the massage therapist for agony and conversation about compound butter, then Pete and I walked around the farmers market, where I found a case of soft peaches parked on the side of one vendor’s table like an afterthought. It’s my goal to get something into jars every week, I saw that case of bruised peaches as a whole winter’s worth of our favorite barbecue sauce. Pete groaned as I dropped that case into our little red wagon, but we also picked up some nice raspberries and golden plums. For the next five hours, Pete and I made and jarred peach barbecue sauce and plum chutney. This could sound frivolous, but it isn’t: in December, January, February and March, the difference for us between winter misery and happiness is often opening a jar of June, July and August.

This morning’s test seems like weeks ago. My hands feel too far away to type. Pete’s speaking in tongues – either that or he wants to get up early tomorrow and make bread dough. I may sleep thought that.

I hope I sleep through that.

The Things We Want To Do Once

Perhaps the happiest cats are colorblind.

Yes, I’m on vacation, and vacation time passes in the blink of an eye. Yes, I like to spend vacation time in ways that make workaday life better and easier; this morning, for instance, I took down the bedroom drapes and set up the honey-colored sheers to soften eastern light. Tomorrow, I’ll take them to the cleaners, where they’ll vacation for a few weeks. Life moves too fast. That’s not news. This afternoon, I nested on the couch and knitted a cat blanket, then took my yarn outside to sit on the porch, to soak up the afternoon heat, to watch the traffic and listen to dogs walking their people up and down the street. By 6, I’d finished the blanket and felt all the peace a peaceful afternoon had to offer. We had a fantastic dinner Pete whipped up and I fed the inside and outside cats. It was a lovely day.

Then I realized it was Wednesday and I’d missed my civic-minded meeting.

Gave Back All the Things We Have

Our housemate is packing his dishes and making a racket. The pussycats are having a kitty kerfuffle. PBS is showing Julia Child episodes during a pledge so I’ve watched Julia pantomime making bouillabaisse and trussing a rotisserie chicken in a most provocative manner. These are famous recipes I’ve seen before. When she whacked the heads off giant fishes I made the THWOK! THWOK! sound effects because how could I not? You have to. It’s practically a rule.

Daria’s neighbor’s kid came home from school the other day, looking dejected. The kid said to his mom, “You’re gonna get a call from school.” Mom called the school, then called Daria. I heard this the next day:

Daria: The teacher was all upset. Get this: on the playground the kid called his friend crazy, like, “Hey crazy!” If my kid’s teacher called me because my kid called his friend crazy, I’d say, “What are you, crazy?” I’ve got real problems!
Tata: That’s ridiculous.
Daria: I tell my kids that when someone calls them a name and they’re not that, walk away. “Are you crazy? No? Walk away.”
Tata: Ooh, teach them the Charles DeMar method! Remember in Better Off Dead when the lunkhead calls Charles a name and for the rest of the movie Charles can only point at the lunkhead and laugh?
Daria: A permanent state of Point & Laugh. I like it!
Tata: And you only look crazy.

My niece Lois graduated from high school yesterday. Our housemate just stuck his head out in the living room. “I’ve got a marble cheese plate and knife. Wedding present. Never used. You want it?” I said, “We’ll give it to my niece and maybe she can avoid getting a practice husband.” This morning, I went to the massage therapist because intense pain teaches you patience with boredom, and while I usually laugh when things hurt, time flies when I stress test new comic material. I explained that Pete and I drive to the health food store in Princeton for really good milk, which was funny enough, but then I had to explain why.

Tata: Milk used to in highly dangerous glass bottles, like if you didn’t smash the bottle you deserved the dairy goodness.
Dude: Yeah, they used to deliver it, right?
Tata: Exactly, and this milk is organic, from grass-fed cows and this is going to sound weird but the fat floats to the top and plugs the bottle shut. This is an awesome thing.
Dude: That’s like straight from the cow!
Tata: I see you’ve gone to a county fair or two. Good for you! This stuff makes really good yogurt. I make yogurt every week, and the fat content makes it delectable.
Dude: You make yogurt? How do you do that?
Tata; It’s breathtakingly easy, and once you make your own, that crap you get in the grocery store is like 8 ounces of chemically treated bovine betrayal.
Dude: Can you email that recipe?
Tata: Sure do.

When we were commune kids, we had a book I’ve been unable to find online, possibly because the name of it escapes me. It was about being a commune kid, and it made a lot of sense to me. Everyone played a part. Everyone’s effort made life better together. The moral of the story: “Work makes the food taste good.” In 2010, this is the story of nourishing, healthy food: your own effort make it taste better.

To make yogurt, you will need:

    Ingredients
    Cow or Goat Milk. A half-gallon per week per 2 people.
    Light Cream or Half & Half. 1 pint per half gallon of milk.
    Dry Milk Solids. Half a large envelope per half gallon of milk.
    Plain Yogurt with live and active cultures. The grocery store serving cup should say that or you should not bother eating it. Don’t make me mock you!
    Gear
    One bigass soup pot
    One kitchen thermometer
    One wooden spoon
    One plastic whisk
    One kitchen towel
    One ladle
    One spoon
    Containers
    Whaddya wanna eat out of? I like squat 8 oz. Ball Jars. For a half gallon of milk, you will need about 12 8-oz. serving containers and one approximate pint container for the yogurt you need for dollops here and there, and to start your next batch in a week. Thing is: you may already have containers with tight-fitting lids from Chinese takeout or you may want one big container. Do what you like or I’ll have to mock you.
    Warming
    Don’t panic! You do not need a yogurt maker or a crazy expensive gadget. You’re going to need to keep your developing yogurt – which, like a debutante, is deeply insecure only when someone’s watching – warm for 10 hours. After 10 hours, nothing terrible will happen if you’re busy or forgetful, but the yogurt will taste a little more sour with additional warming time. Anyhoo, if your kitchen is warm, you’re fine; if you have an oven with a pilot light, heat it to 100 degrees, turn it off and shut the door. If you have a warm spot near the TV, you’re golden. A heating pad on the lowest setting will be awesome. You get the picture: consistent warm temp for 10 hours. People have been making yogurt on purpose and by accident for thousands of years. You can freaking do it.
    Process
    Combine milk and light cream/half & half in large pot, stirring occasionally. If your thermometer can be placed in the pot, do so. When the milk is warm, add the milk solids, which should dissolve easily. Stir constantly as milk exceeds 150 degrees.
    When the milk reaches 180 degrees, remove from heat. I like to transfer it to a large plastic bowl so the temperature drops quickly but you don’t have to do that. Stir constantly until the temperature drops to between 115-118 degrees. Add contents of your yogurt cup. Whisk until smooth.
    Ladle milk/yogurt mixture into your containers. Keep warm and leave undisturbed for 10 hours, then refrigerate.
    Save 8 oz. of yogurt to make your next batch.
  • I think Lois will be pleased with the three-section grill pan, but not especially surprised.