or maybe Santa is just screwing with my head

My siblings and I are all adults now, but anyone home Christmas morning still gets a stocking and Santa gifts. That’s hardly anyone some years, but them’s the rules. We’ve adopted the practice of one of our in-laws in that we prep stockings for the parents, too, and sneak them downstairs when they’re otherwise occupied. So this year, mulling over possible Santa presents, I came across a garden kneeler. Both parents are enthusiastic gardeners and my mom has a bit of a trick knee these days, so it seemed to be a good option. I meant to order it all month, and December completely got away from me. By the last week, I knew it wouldn’t arrive in DC in time for me to take it with me when we drove south. So I thought I’d have it shipped there.

But then I forgot to follow through on that, too. (We bought our Christmas presents for the siblings on the drive, so that’s pretty much par for the course for Other Half and me.)

We did some other things instead. There’s Mother’s Day coming up, maybe I’ll get it together by then. And then a week or so later, back in DC, I get a text from my mom, thanking me for the garden kneeler.

I don’t answer the text immediately, even though I see it, because, frankly, I’m freaking out a bit. There are two options, as far as I can tell: either I ordered it anyway right before the holiday, and have blacked it out of my memory….or I can now control Amazon….with my mind.

I am genuinely not sure which one terrifies me more. Am I getting some kind of dementia? I check my bank account. No sign of payment. I check my email. No confirmation of order or shipment. Am I just that good? Can I now just think, oh, I need one of those things for that thing, and it will show up in my mailbox?

There’s a third option, apparently. My sister in law remembers that my sister Katie and her boyfriend gave his mom a garden kneeler. Maybe they ordered one for our mom too. Maybe we’re merely telepathic. So I text her, and she says, yeah, I sent one, it’s just a bit late. I’m a little disappointed. Not to not have dementia, that was terrifying, but not to be able to psychically order off the internet, which would be so useful for people with my short attention span. Oh, well. The upside is that maybe my sister will just start ordering things for me, but with her credit card. Also super useful.

And by the way, I totally took credit for the idea in the meantime to my mom. In case you’re reading this: I had the intention first, ok?

 

 

in other news, I still don’t bake

These cupcakes are completely fine.

These cupcakes are completely fine.

“Some people” might go around saying, How do you mess up cupcakes?, but I tend to find these are the same pedants likely to say things like, Seriously, how do you mess up boxed cupcake mix? Well, I don’t know, I guess I’m not as talented as you, Mr./Ms. Perfect. I hypothesize it’s either:

(a)   The Peanut oil I substituted for vegetable oil (surely not!)

(b)   The hybrid of half-and-half and eggnog I substituted for milk (all dairy! Can’t be a problem!), or

(c)   Dumping the bag of powder into the eggnog-peanut oil with a flourish, to then realize, oh #%&*, that was the frosting (lookit, packaging labeling was at fault here too) and then having to add the cake mix to the frosting-eggnog (and when does extra sugar go wrong, except medically?).

Sometimes you need to substitute, just like in Cooking, and if Baking can’t handle that I really see that as Baking’s problem. Adaptability is the key to today’s marketplace, Baking, so get with the program (and get a photo up on Linked In, for God’s sake; so amateur around here).

Actually, they tasted alright, but, according to Other Half, “some people” object to scraping cake off the paper wrappers with their teeth, so I GUESS I’m buying cupcakes for the office holiday party. Don’t say I didn’t legitimately try.

it’s definitely squirrels.

I caught them this year skittering off as I opened the door one morning. I didn’t even carve it this time, so my pet theory they were just art critics is…out, I guess.

pumpkin 2014

 

cheesemaking, part 2: chevre

You know, we don’t have to talk about everything.

lactose intolerant

“I have a cheesemaking kit,” my friend L says. “In case you want to try that sometime.”

I am beside myself. Of course I want to try that sometime, and by sometime I mean immediately and for always. Making our own cheese? Just to have your own cheese on hand at all times? Is this nirvana?

“You do not have a great track record with dairy products,” Other Half says doubtfully. I ignore this. Yogurt is a temperamental diva, subject to fits of temperature (too hot! too cold!) and materials (did you use saran wrap?) and whimsy (apparently). I think we can all agree this is different. This comes in a kit. I am all about kits.

“I’ll bring it over,” she says. She doesn’t know about the hex on my place, which is probably the German word for “Things Go Horribly, Horribly Wrong in this Kitchen”. (Kuchenkatastrophe, my German-speaking friend says, but I’m genuinely not sure that’s expansive enough.)

“Okay,” I agree. I have forgotten about it too.

It really seems simple enough. Milk (that isn’t ultra pasteurized). Rennet (comes in handy kit). Citric acid (ditto). Dissolve citric acid into water, add the milk, heat, stir in rennet. Watch it get all weird and curdled (in a good way). Separate the whey (which looks like lemonade but SO isn’t. Just be cautious when pouring a glass of yellowish stuff in your refrigerator, is what I’m saying, as Other Half probably should’ve been later. Never mind about that.)

“This is the stage when it should be shiny and stretchy like taffy,” she says. We stare at it. Well, it is none of those things. It is lumpy and liquidy and somewhat tacky to the touch, the culinary love child of cottage cheese and preschool paste.

We give it some time. We stretch and squish and fold. It breaks apart in our hands. “It’s supposed to get all stretchy,” she says again.  She’s definitely looking stressed.

“It looks like ricotta,” I say hopefully. I don’t know why, like I might get partial credit if I come up with some kind of cheese! any kind of cheese! it totally counts!

“There is a way to make ricotta,” L says, “and this is not it.”

We manhandle our not-ricotta-and-yet-definitely-not mozzarella for another 15 minutes before she gives in. It’s just not going to be mozzarella. It has different dreams. I start digging around in my cabinet for tupperware.

“You can keep it,” she says grimly. Her disappointment with the situation is palpable.

I, on the other hand, am accustomed to these outcomes, and I am, frankly, delighted it’s edible at all. I can actually use this (and you know how we like cheese! any kind of cheese!). I am not that distressed to get to keep the whole pot.

“Did you make ricotta?” Other Half asks later, when he sees it in the refrigerator.

“Kinda!” I reply.

And we did use it. We put it on flatbread as a white pizza, combining the ricotta texture and the mozzarella taste, which is extremely efficient pizza-making, if you ask me; melted it into cheese toast the next day; crumbled it into a lasagna a few days later.

At about that point it got a little stiff, though: less of a “hard cheese” and more like “drying concrete mix” so we gave up on it. We love our cheese, but we understand there are limits.

I’m prepared to try another round, though. L’s kit makes 6 kinds of cheese, so come on over anytime!  The kuchenkatastrophe always likes a new challenge.

plus, the cats moved to texas

As you may or may not remember (and if not, why not? Do you have lives?) a few months ago I became concerned I might be exhibiting hoarding tendencies. How many recent Pottery Barn catalogs can anyone have under their coffee table at one time (somewhere between 10 and 8,000, is my current guess)? So, how’s the resistance plan going? Well, I’m glad you ask, because it’s definitely not a conversation I enjoyed having with myself earlier this month when I dragged out six boxes of holiday decorations, and maybe you’ll be a little nicer about it. Nothing makes you feel like a hoarder like facing the fact you own an entire box of glitter candles. (But not nutcrackers. I draw the line at goddamn nutcrackers.)

I’m one of those sentimental people (“hoarders”) who feel the need to keep things like play programs and birthday cards, and I’d gotten into the habit of stuffing those things in bags marked by the year. SOMEDAY I would organize those bags into…SOMETHING ELSE. Then I read in The Happiness Project that the author – who used to do the same thing – started file boxes for each member of the family and just made a file per year. That process at least saves a lot of space, and thins the ranks a bit of what to keep.

I decide this is a great idea! and troop off to the Container Store to find a file box or two. Of course, I stupidly didn’t realize there were such a variety of file boxes to be had. Letter, legal, waterproof, plastic, metal, wicker, decorative? Lids, open? Wheels? Stackable? I am standing in the aisle waffling when an employee came along and tries to help, mostly by asking the same questions. Letter, legal, waterproof, plastic, metal, wicker, decorative? Lids, open? Wheels? Stackable? “I dunno”, I stutter.

So he decides to dig deeper. He’s all, what kind of files are you keeping? What are these papers? How many files do you need? Is it for active files? Do you have to access them often? How often is often?

I’m all, what’s with the QUESTIONS, Riddler? Are you going to report me to HGTV? I’m forced to continue shrugging and saying, I dunno, in an increasingly panicked voice, slowly edging away from him. Lucky for me, another hapless organizer comes around the corner and I manage to sic him onto her. Letter, legal, waterproof, plastic? He starts eagerly, and I bolt like hell from the aisle while he isn’t looking. Clearly, I need to think this system through a little more. Let’s not be amateurish about it, ok?

[Note: just so you know, getting rid of things entirely, and not just shifting the blame from one closet to another, isn’t without its perils either. DC has a collection point open once a month for shredding, electronics, and hazardous materials (like paint) lined up in stations; if you’re just dropping off shredding, like we were that Saturday morning we actually got our acts together and out the door, you can skip to the end of the line. So we pull up at the gate and the DC employee cheerfully asks what we have.

“Just shredding, so we’ll go to the end,” Other Half says.

“Ah, you’ve been to this rodeo before, then?” she smiles.

Other Half stares at her. “We saw some bull riders at the Patriot Center once,” he says slowly.

“What?” she says.

“Babe, that’s just an expression,” I intervene hastily. Other Half is not great with the idiomatic expression.

He turns to stare at me. “What do rodeos have to do with anything?” he asks me.

“It’s an expression! You know? Like when you say, oh no, I’ve been to this movie before.”

“What movie? About rodeos?”

“Drive away,” I growl.]

I’ll be packing up the Christmas decorations this week, and that’ll be a good opportunity to decide if I really need holiday themed dishtowels.

Or maybe I just need to get more BOXES.

We’ll talk soon, Riddler.

also, we’re not talking about the fact rats might have been involved

My Halloween pumpkin, freshly carved, on the left; what remained on my front doorstep 4 days later. Good news: in case you were wondering, squirrels are not afraid of ghosts.

Halloween pumpkin Washington-20131031-00450

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