Monthly Archives: January 2016

pumpkin, flax & walnut muffins

For the past few months, I’ve been throwing away and donating clothes and household items that I no longer use. I’m beginning a new era of my life, and so suddenly a lot of things feel like garbage. While this is a normal process to go through every year or two, there was a certain frantic emotional energy to my process—like a “Hey, shit that I don’t want, get the fuck out of my life” kind of energy. And I’m not done yet either.

In this process, I also reorganized this kitchen cupboards. Which is where I found an enormous can of pumpkin puree. Bygone plans for making a pumpkin pie a few years back, I guess. The can was nearly expired (sounds delicious, doesn’t it?!), and so I decided to make pumpkin muffins, which I’d never done before. And, I’m not going to lie. I don’t love pumpkin. Or squash or sweet potatoes, but I took one look at that can of pumpkin puree, and my body said yes. Maybe it was just saying yes to the Vitamin A. Warning: these muffins turn out sort of…sticky. I used a lot of pumpkin puree (for the Vitamin A). Maybe you want to use less. Maybe you don’t want to make these at all.

I have to make my own recipes because, in a breakfast muffin, I pretty much just want palatable high fat, high fiber, and high protein, with enough gluten (or equivalent) to hold it all together. Other recipes use way too much of sugar and only dollop of the good stuff (walnuts, flax seeds, pumpkin, etc.), and so I have to make my own goddamn recipes my own goddamn self.

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pile of decent pumpkin muffins

Here’s what I did:

Pumpkin, Flax & Walnut Muffins
Preheat oven at 350. Mix together dryish ingredients. Mix wet ingredients separately. Then, combine the two. Lastly, fold in walnuts ingredients. Spoon dough into muffin tin. Bake at 350 for about 25+ minutes or until done. (Insert and remove toothpick. Muffins are done when the toothpick comes out clean.) Let cool for 15 min. This recipe made about 16 large muffins, weighing in at something like 212 calories apiece.

Dry ingredients:
1½  cup gluten-free flour blend
1½  cup oats
1 cup shredded flax
¼ cup flax seeds
1 teaspoon of baking soda
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon of fine sea salt
Lightly sprinkle in ground ginger and ground cloves, cardamom, ginger, and nutmeg to taste.

Wet ingredients:
2 cups pumpkin puree
1 large egg
½ cup sugar
½ cup of brown sugar
½ cup vegetable oil or butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chunky ingredients:
1½ cups walnuts

Enjoy!

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Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz

I recently became re-inspired to ferment something. This happened once, a few years ago, when I tried and failed to make a crock of sauerkraut. I love homemade sauerkraut (my Mom can make it effortlessly). It’s supposed to be the easiest thing to ferment in the history of fermentation (maybe with the exception of fruit ciders). This time around, as I was reading about sauerkraut, I realized what I did wrong the first time: I kept the crock too cold. Last time, I put it directly into the basement to forget about for a few months. My basement isn’t freezing cold, but I guess it stays pretty cool–too cool for adequate fermentation. Months later, it was just a salty muck, and I threw it out.

This time around, as I was studying fermentation, I read accounts of Germans keeping crocks of sauerkraut by the stove. People said they kept crocks in their kitchens, etc., where it was warmer, and then placed them in a cooler location once the sauerkraut reached it’s idea flavor. So, I tried again.

This time, I kept the container (I’m using a glass jar) in the kitchen, and within a day, it was a frothy and bubbly. Recipes said it could be ready in as few as three days, and it’s true! Within three days, I had sauerkraut. I fully intend to keep it in the kitchen until the flavor it just right. When it’s good, I’ll refrigerate it for easy access.

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second attempt at sauerkraut

While researching fermentation, one book kept reappearing and that was Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. So, I got a (very well used loved) copy from the library and read it in one day. The author’s enthusiasm for fermentation is contagious. I like fermentation as much as the next guy, but this book pumped me up even more. The first few chapters provide some good history and context for fermentation. There’s also some nice philosophical musing throughout regarding the divine and omnipresent nature of microscopic organisms like yeast.

The recipes in the book are artfully crafted. I intended to skim through the recipe section (which is the body of the book), but I ended up reading most of the recipes anyway. The book sold me on the value of regularly consuming fermented food and the value of fermenting that food myself. (I didn’t really have to be persuaded.) Here are a few foods with recipes from the book that seem good and completely doable: sauerkraut, honey wine, yogurt, cheese, kefir, buttermilk (and it’s pancakes), sourdough bread, rye bread, cider, apple cider vinegar, horseradish sauce, and yes, even kombucha.

I’m from Oregon, and I know it’s a cliché that everyone in the Pacific Northwest is always fermenting everything, but it’s true! I grew up with a mother who pickled and fermented foods regularly. It’s the way of my people.

The Revenant by Alejandro González Iñárritu

I got to see The Revenant, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, over the weekend because Leonardo DiCaprio and Iñárritu. I started seeing previews for it last fall and knew immediately that I wanted to see it…because Leonardo DiCaprio and Iñárritu. I’ll watch DiCaprio do anything. He gets a hard time from my male peers because the women in their lives made them watch Titanic (which is a great film, by the way), and they targeted their anger at DiCaprio. He became their nemesis, and they’ve overlooked all his work since then. However, while DiCaprio is beautiful, his work as an actor absolutely stands the test of time.

The Revenant (2015) Poster

image from imdb.com

DiCaprio does depth in The Revenant, but the role doesn’t particularly call for range or complexity. He might finally get the Oscar for this one, but it will be one of those that *are on behalf of his entire body of work* because he’s done plenty of roles that were absolutely Oscar-worthy. (From DiCaprio, you can always expect a shriek (his are singularly evocative), and they don’t make you wait for it in this film.)

The Revenant is beautiful. It’s shot only with natural light. The landscapes are breathtaking. Iñárritu frequently includes long clips of running water, scan birds flying through the sky, or unset through the black silouette of a forest–the kind of stuff I would Instagram. In that way, he has a tendency toward over romanticization and daydream and, in this case, it didn’t always fit the grittiness and realness of the film.

I thought Iñárritu’s Birdman was really interesting in that it broke convention, but still felt like an Aronofky film to me. Similarly, The Revenant does not break convention. If you know and love great mountain man films, like Jeremiah Johnson, you’ll notice pretty typical “mountain man tropes” from start to end. The film follows a pretty typical “mountain man movie” trope.

Here’s somewhat of a

***spoiler alert***

In the film, you get a stoic man, completely competent in hunting, fire building, and surviving for months on end in high mountain blizzards. His only drive is to avenge the death of his Indian wife and children–all senselessly murdered in cold blood, of course. He eats buffalo. He contents with wolves and a grizzly. He navigates seemlessly between the friendly and the hostile Natives. He speaks several Native languages. He survives a blizzard inside the carcass of a large dead animal. He stumbles through cold mountain streams. Audiences can’t believe he’s still alive. Audiences marvel at how quickly they themselves would be dead in similar circumstances. In the beginning, the man is stripped bare, by the end it goes unimaginably further. In the end we are all wondering, what now? What was it all for?

The Revenant is relentless. Some of it’s most difficult scenes are seem to never end. Despite it’s length, the film held my attention. I wasn’t dying for it to end. I was engaged throughout. This one’s worth seeing in the theater if just for the magnificent and enormous shots of landscape.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

Oddly (or appropriately) enough, an ex-boyfriend recommended Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari. I like his work from Parks and Recreation, so I finally got around to reading it over the Christmas break. This is probably a useful read for anyone who didn’t settle down in their early twenties–which, at this point, is most of us. In my early twenties, I was getting all the degrees, forging deep friendships, and yes, “dating,” as well as staying in a few serious relationships. Mostly, I was writing and making art. I was not pursuing marriage.

image from amazon.com

I do not look back on the dating eras with any fondness. So, it was validating to read Ansari’s take on modern dating. In his book, he uses a very soft social science approach and couples it with his good humor. Pairing stand up with social science and commentary is actually pretty amusing, if not hard hitting. Oh, and when you’re reading it, feel free to skim through large swatches of some of the repetitive stuff through the middle.

Ansari’s parents are Indian and, like most Indian couples, have an arranged marriage. Like many people in arranged marriages, they report being very happy. Of course, on the contrary, in the US, we’re all looking for soul mates and have relatively low levels of happiness in marriage. Ansari’s exposure to both US and Indian cultural attitudes toward marriage gives him an interesting perspective.

Here are some of the main take aways from the book: technology has expanded our options for coupling, which means we have the potential to find a better match, but it also means we’re paralyzed by options; we’re not great at intellectualizing what we actually want in a partner (i.e. we think we know what we want, but we’re often wrong); the vast majority of men and women pretty much dislike dating and just want the relationship.

This last one was a surprise to me. I mean, I hate dating, sure. But, I would hate dating. I’m an introvert, which means I don’t love going out all the time. I don’t *love* people, which means I don’t particularly love meeting new people. I’m very sensitive, which means the sizing up, and the texting, and the strangers, and the whole process tends to be a bit too soul-violating for my constitution. And so in the end, when it comes to dating, I’m very much just like, “Forget it. Everyone please fuck off.”

But then, eventually, you find your person who gets it and gets you, and it’s all worth it. Until then, it sucks, and it surprised me that most other people also think it sucks. Before reading this book, I thought most people were out there playing the field, meeting new people, and having a great time doing the things I typically don’t enjoy doing. Evidently, most other people don’t enjoy it either.

Here are a few gems from the book:

On previous generations: “People were marrying neighbors who lived on the same street, in the same neighborhood, and even in the same building” (14).

Things have changed: “Until they got married…women were pretty much stuck at home under fairly strict adult supervision and lacked basic adult autonomy…For women in this era, it seemed that marriage was the easiest way of acquiring the basic freedoms of adulthood” (18).

On the prevalence of FOMI (fear of missing out): “…what I see at bars today, which is usually a bunch of people staring at their phones trying to find someone or something more exciting than where they are” (27).

On the influence of technology: “That’s the thing about the internet: It doesn’t simply help us find the best thing out there; it has helped to produce the idea [emphasis mine] that there is a best thing and, if we search hard enough, we can find it” (125).

This and most other social interactions: “I started to despise the bar scene. I had experienced every single version of these nights. I knew all the possible outcomes, and I knew the probabilities of those outcomes” (210).

On passionate vs. companionate love: “Passionate love always spikes early, then fades away, while companionate love is less intense but grows over time…It is love, just less intense and more stable. There is still passion, but it’s balanced with trust, stability, and an understanding of each other’s flaws” (215).

This basically sums it up: “We want a lifelong wingman/wingwoman who completes us and can handle the truth, to mix metaphors from three different Tom Cruise movies” (239).

knitting scarves and headbands in basket weave

This year I made a few headbands and scarves to give away as Christmas gifts. I’ve done this before, but this year there’s a marked improvement in the quality if my stitching. I’m using better yarn (wool and wool blends) and experimenting with different stitches. This year, I learned the basket weave stitch, which is featured here.

For the basket weave, you cast on the number of stitches that you want. (It has to be a number that is divisible by four.) Then you knit four, purl four, knit four until you’ve reached the end of the row. You turn it over, and you repeat: knit four, purl four until you’ve reached the end of the row. In each new row, you’re actually knitting and purling the opposite of what you stitched in the previous row. Repeat this knit/purl pattern for four rows, and then reverse it. Purl four, then knit four until the end of your row. Continue switching it every four rows until you’ve reached the end to create the basket weave texture.

The end result should look something like this:

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basket weave

For my first attempt, I made a scarf that had about seven inches of basket weave on both ends and regular knit stitch for the rest of the scarf. I didn’t love the way it turned out. In addition to the ends, I think continuing the basket weave stitch along the sides of the scarf would’ve created more continuity throughout the piece. So, I’ll continue to experiment with that.

Here’s a picture of the first attempt that paired basket weave paired with a regular knit stitch:

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scarf and headband with Patons Classic Wool (worsted) in Dark Grey Mix

What I think really turned out well was the scarf done entirely in basket weave. For it, I used Patons Classic Wool worsted in Jade Heather and US 7 (bamboo) knitting needles. I made a headband first, and then used the remainder of the skein on the scarf (which could’ve been longer).

Here’s a picture of the scarf and headband that I liked the best:

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scarf and headband in Patons Classic Wool (worsted) in Jade Heather

For the headband, I cast on 16 stitches, and then proceeded with the basket weave until it fit snugly around my head. Then, I cast off and stitched up the ends of the headband with the loose ends of the yarn and tied it off with a simple knot.

For the scarf, I cast on 32 stitches (and this width was absolutely perfect). I then proceeded with the basket weave until casting off at the end of my skein.

I’ll definitely continue with the basket weave. Once you get the hang of it, you can do it pretty mindlessly (while watching tv, road tripping, etc.), and the end result creates a lot of nice texture and depth.