Monday, May 15, 2006

so, how was your Mother's Day?

A co-worker told me this one:

"My sister has, like, the fiscal responsibility of a total moron, right? She had one payment left on her Cavalier, and she decides she has to be driving something cooler. So she goes to a used car dealership and buys a Corvette. Of course she's this young bimbo, has no idea what she's doing, ends up paying about $15 thousand more than the car is worth, right? So she drives that for two years, all the tires are bald because she can't afford the maintenance on it, then she starts dating this guy at Ford and figures she needs to upgrade again. But she's so upside-down in the car payments, her credit's so bad that she has to buy this totally overpriced, overloaded Ford Explorer just to roll over the payments. So now she's ten thousand in the hole.

"So she gets these checks from her credit card, right? And she buys two horses with them. Yeah. Pays $1100 for these two horses. The thing is, one of the horses is pregnant. So she figures, the one horse will have a baby, and she'll sell it, and recoup some money.

"The horses--one of them's staying with a friend of hers, has some land up by the airport. The other one, the pregnant one was staying at my parents' house. Now I guess when a horse is pregnant and it's getting close to time, you're supposed to not let them exercise and feed them this special diet and all that. But my parents didn't do that. My sister was supposed to come and check on this horse every day and take care of it, but she didn't. She hadn't been up there in a week. So my dad goes out to feed the horse on Saturday morning, and finds the horse had gone into labor overnight. But the baby was like a month past due, so it was too big, and during the delivery, something ruptured, and they both died.

"My dad went out there to feed the horse, and there's the horse dead, with this other horse half out of it, and blood and guts all over the place, because I guess the baby just tore everything up trying to be born.

"And of course nobody told me anything, I just called up my sister on Saturday and go, 'What time you going over to Mom's?' and she starts to cry! And I go, 'What's wrong?' and she's like, 'The horse is deaaaad!!!' and I'm like, 'Well, I'm sorry, but what's that got to do with me and dinner at Mom's?' and she goes, 'Well, can you come help us bury it?'

"And I go, 'No.' Just, 'No.' I said there's no way I'm getting anywhere near that big dead horse. Forget it. So my dad calls up the vet and says, Hey, I've got this dead horse, you know, what can I do? So the vet tells him, Well, how much property have you got, and you have to bury it so far from the property line, or else I guess there's this organization out in Topeka that you can call and they'll come out and pick up your dead horse. But my dad's like, that'll be Monday or Tuesday, and there's no way I'm leaving this dead horse in my barn.

"So I guess my sister called this friend of hers who's a construction worker, and they brought over the backhoe on Sunday and dug this hole and buried this horse. And then I'm the bad son, because I show up a three, like I said I would, and found out they'd already eaten. Because they had to fix dinner 'while the guys were there working.' So I get there and all the burgers are cold because I didn't come help bury the dead horse."

Thursday, May 04, 2006

on bread

As some of you know, I'm generally a low-carb proponent. However this should not be construed to mean that I don't eat bread or I put Splenda in everything. No. This is silly. Substituting one bad chemical for another is not going to get you anything but deprived and cranky.

No, generally speaking I'm opposed to the massive amounts of sugar, fruit juice, corn syrup and corn starch that goes in 95% of the prepacked processed foods found in the supermarket. I'm a proponent of eating real food: butter and meat and vegetables and WHOLE fruits, not juice cocktails, thank you very much. I think we eat too much white flour and corn in this country, and I will admit to a weakness for tortilla chips, but I couldn't tell you the last time I ate a slice of Wonder Bread.

With that disclaimer in place, I was recently introduced to the product of a wonderful Kansas bakery called Wheatfield's that specializes in "naturally leavened" breads. Their ciabatta is marvellous--chewy and crispy and holey, with just enough flavor of its own but not enough to overwhelm the slathering of butter which is of course the entire reason for eating bread. Right?

Anyhoo, I got curious about the use of "natural leavening" as opposed to commercial yeast in bread making. My mother's considered a champion bread baker, but she tends to prefer the soft white "tea bread" styles--dense and slightly sticky, enriched with milk and sugar. Myself, I'd rather have something a little sour, a little richer, and salty rather than sweet. So I went looking for basic methods on how to make your own "natural leavening"--what is generally referred to as a sourdough starter.

This dude's essay is particularly instructive and amusing:
The novel thing about sourdough baking is that it requires that you keep something alive in your fridge. I think of my starter as a pet, kept and fed so that Sandra and I will have all the bread we need. Sourdough "starter" is a batter of flour and water, filled with living yeast and bacteria.

Blend a cup of warm water and a cup of flour, and pour it into the jar. That's the whole recipe! I use plain, unbleached bread flour most of the time, but I've had good results with all-purpose and whole-wheat flour, too.

You should keep the starter in a warm place; 70-80 degrees Farenheit is perfect. This allows the yeast already present in the flour (and in the air) to grow rapidly. Temperatures hotter than 100 degrees or so will kill it. You can take comfort from the fact that almost nothing else will do so.

Within three or four days (it can take longer, a week or more, and it can happen more quickly) you should start getting lots of bubbles throughought, and a pleasant sour or beery smell. The starter may start to puff up, too. This is good. Here's the gist: When your starter develops a bubbly froth, it is done. You have succeeded. If this sounds brain-dead simple, that's because it is. People who didn't believe the Earth was round did this for millenia.

Yes, and their digestive systems were probably happier. If you don't believe me, come hang out in the restrooms about 1 p.m. when all the fat women in my office are purging their Lean Cuisine meals of the day before. That's what corn starch will do for you, friends.

So I'm thinking of baking bread again. Not like my mom does it, but like the ancient Jews did. Starting with the yeast and bacteria off my own hands. That seems appropriate, somehow.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

terrible, horrible, no good very bad morning

I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there's gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
--from, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst.

I dawdled too long this morning because it was rainy and dark, and I'd left the windows of my car rolled down a bit so my seat was wet all along one side, and I changed bags because it was Wednesday and I have tai chi tonight so I packed everything into my gym bag but forgot to get my security passcard out of the front of my messenger bag, so I couldn't get into the building via the stairwell as usual and had the use the front door and the elevator like a tourist.

When I absentmindedly went into the stairwell with my breakfast in hand and realized I still didn't have a passcard and was trapped until some kind denizen came down from the fourth floor, I found myself thinking of Alexander. That was my brother's favorite book when we were kids. There was a time when I could recite the whole thing from memory, but unfortunately such useful brain cells have been overwritten with Social Security numbers and PIN's, bill-due dates and bank balances. I found myself smiling to think of Alexander's petty little problems and how they seem silly to us as adults, but it is nevertheless the little things that drive us nuts. Like a forgotten passcard. Or the cell phone battery running out of juice. Or having to make a detour for gas when you're already late.

Despite the rocky morning, I think it's going to be a good day. We really needed the rain around here, the weather is cool and exhilarating, and I have good hair despite the moisture (that's the good thing about having long straight blunt-cut hair: it looks pretty much the same regardless of atmospheric conditions). I had half a brownie leftover from yesterday so I ate that with breakfast. And I'm wearing my cowgirl boots because my knee is so much better, and a pink shirt and jeans because I am a Tough Chick. And I did my meditation last night like a good little student and I have tai chi class tonight.

Yes, I think it will be a good day.