Friday, October 28, 2016

2016 CSA Week 20: The Last Box!

After last week's giant box, we're finishing up the season with something a bit more reasonable.
Sweet potatoes
Beauty Heart radish
  •  Those Beauty Heart radishes have some heat! I have been eating them raw with my lunches, but I just don't know if I can keep doing that. I think I'll keep them and add them to a slaw where they will be cooled down slightly by the sauce.
  • The parsley actually stays for a couple of weeks in a plastic bag, so we'll gradually use it to season some meals.
  • I feel like shrugging with the rest of the basket. The lettuce will get used in Dr. BB's sandwiches, but other than that, most of this basket are storage vegetables and there's no real rush to eat them.
Speaking of storage vegetables, this is what we have right now. It's eight onions, six sweet potatoes, one honey nut squash, and the equivalent of six cloves of garlic. We still have all these onions and garlic bulbs despite me having given away a giant brown bag full of them to my sister and brother-in-law two weeks ago. Welcome to Winter Storage Vegetableland, veggies!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

We picked The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead for our book club and while everyone seemed to find the book interesting and innovative, I don't think any of us LOVED it.
So the main innovative part of the book is the idea that the Underground Railroad is an actual, real set of secret train tracks that run under the Earth, built by slave hands for slaves to reach freedom.  And then we follow one main person do just that. 

I learned a lot, I really did. I think Whitehead did a masterful job of that really hard thing to do in historical fiction in which he weaves in facts and historical figures in a way that's subtle, but real.  I learned lots of slang used by slaves, lots of important black historical figures in the late 1700s, and the various ways of torture used by slaveowners to keep slaves under control. I learned about the hierarchical nature of slave communities and the communication network among slaves.

But man, the main character was just so confusing. She seemed cold and distant and maybe I could buy that. The people she cares for keep being taken away from her, over and over again, and I definitely could see myself shutting down if that happened to me. But then there are scenes in which she emotes so physically that people around her actually know more about her than the readers. It was clinical in a way that made me turn off the feelings part of my brain and turn on the academic side of my brain. I started taking notes on words I didn't know, historical details that were interesting, and just stopped caring about what actually happened to the main character.

I actually think The Intuitionist, which is the only other Whitehead novel I've read, was much more interesting. I didn't know what I thought of The Intuitionist, but I thought A LOT about it after I read it. I honestly still think about it sometimes. I finished The Underground Railroad a week before my book club and I honestly had to give myself a refresher on it before I went because once I shut the cover of it, I just stopped thinking about it.  So I don't know if I'm a Whitehead fan, but I can certainly appreciate his historical fiction/magical realism even if I don't think the characters are drawn as well as I want them to be. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

2016 CSA Week 19: Penultimate Box!

This week's basket is huge. I'm not panicked about it because most of the items are storage vegetables, so if we don't use them this week, it's fine because we can keep using them later. We're nearing the end of the season, so pretty soon we're going to have to actually buy our produce at a grocery store!

Sweet potatoes
Daikon radish
Green peppers

  • We're actually going to stockpile the garlic and onions. I did manage to get rid of a giant bag of them when I was in Michigan last weekend, so we don't have an unreasonable number right now.
  • The lettuce is the best we've had in weeks. I don't usually eat lettuce, aside from an occasional leaf in my tacos, but I might make some chicken Caesar salad for lunches over the weekend.
  • I'm going to use the leeks, along with last week's leeks, in a giant pot of potato leek soup.
  • The sweet potatoes won't last long around here. I'm undecided about whether or not I should make a sweet potato casserole or just roast them to eat as dinner sides. We'll see.
  • I'll eat the green peppers and carrots raw with lunches.
  • I still have most of the giant diakon radish from week 17, but they will keep until February or March if needed. I use them mostly in a slaw that I will attempt to make with this cabbage. This is an unusual type of cabbage, so I don't know if it will be successful, but there you have it.  The rest of the daikons (and the remaining beauty heart radishes from last week) will slowly get eaten raw.
  • We have a butternut squash still from week 17 and I think we'll do a squash risotto with sage.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Homecoming 2016

Next year it will have been twenty years since we left that building as students for the last time. We return as alumni and for me, it's a once a year return. Some of my friends have kids who attend that school and they return day after day to drop off and pick up, for cheerleading practice and football games, for parent-teacher conferences and for PTA meetings.  As the nominees for Homecoming king and queen were announced, one of my friends predicted both of the winners and as I looked at her in puzzlement, she just shrugged. "I have kids who go to this school." As if that explained it. I couldn't have predicted who would have won the year I VOTED for king and queen.

I got there early and walked into the school, past the band members milling around half in uniform and half out, half-heartedly tuning instruments and standing in crooked lines, into the cafeteria, into the bathroom. It smelled the same - hairspray and the undefinable funk of teenager.  I put on my long underwear, a sweatshirt with my high school mascot on it that I purchased for just this game, swiped on some mascara, and walked back out into the cafeteria just in time to see a junior varsity cheerleader fall onto her head after a missed handspring. I nearly rushed over there to help her until I realized that there were already three coaches heading her way.
I don't remember much of the day to day of my life in high school. It's so weird. You spend so much time there and then it all disappears into a poof of shadowy memories and yearbook photos.  We saw a woman there who everyone swears to me that I should know, but I could only shake my head. I don't remember that person. One woman who was in our graduating class passes by and a friend whispers her name into my ear. Oh, for fuck's sake, I think, do I look that old?

I remember these friends, these people who are sitting around me, look exactly like they did back then, I swear to you, but then I look closer. Maybe I am that old. My friend's daughter is one of the sophomore class banner holders during the half-time show. We scream when her name is called, hooting and hollering like we never did when we were actual students at this school. When she came up to us during the third quarter, she rolled her eyes at me when I asked her if she heard us cheer for her.  Her presence, this beautiful daughter of my good friend, her existence is the real clue that yes, we are older.  And that's okay.

We laugh at jokes that are decades old now, we ignore the glares from the guy sitting next to me who is actually watching the game, and we critique the marching band's performance. We clap at the introduction of the parents of the senior football players and cheerleaders. My ears perk as I hear the names of some of my former classmates out there.  We marvel at what a perfect football night it is, I silently marvel at the endless cornfields surrounding the campus, and the crowed trickles out at the end of the third quarter when the result of the game is no longer in question.  This is what Friday nights are about in small towns all across this country and I can't help but be glad for it, for right now.
Oh, we did win that game. 29 - 0.  Go TCHS!

Friday, October 14, 2016

2016 CSA Week 18: Bulbs!

This week is definitely an autumnal harvest.

Beauty heart radish (3)
Leeks (2)
Green peppers (4)
Baby ginger

We only have a couple weeks of CSA season left! And then what will I eat?!  The weather is turning cooler, the trees are starting to yellow, and today was maybe the last day I'll walk to go get vegetables without wearing a jacket.

  • I have left over cabbage from the slaw I made last week, so I'll include some of the radishes and the kohlrabi in another batch of slaw.
  • The carrots and peppers will be eaten raw with my lunches.
  • The romanesco is a cross between cauliflower and broccoli and we'll probably just roast it as a side with dinner one night.
  • I'm going make a potato leek soup with those leeks. I'm actually going to try a new recipe in the slow cooker.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

I Capture the Castly by Dodie Smith

There is a HYSTERICAL Goodreads review of I Capture the Castle that totally sums up my view of the book. I was so underwhelmed by this book, but I wanted to love it because three different people have told me that this is a good follow-up to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, for which my love is deep and abiding.  But I just didn't love it at all. I know this book is beloved in Britain (#82 in the The Big Read), but I guess I'm just not enough of an Anglophile for it to resonate with me.

I found our heroine*, Cassandra Mortmain, to be absolutely insufferable in her faux-naive, "quirky" character. Sometimes she would be journaling her "complicated" feelings (do I love this man? or this man? or THIS one?) and instead of coming across as interesting or revealing, it came off as narcissistic and unaware. Overall, there wasn't a single redeemable character in this entire novel, except for the Heloise the dog.


I was reading this book in the midst of Trump/Bush tapes, presidential debates of looniness, and absolute sexism radiating out of every corner of society coming from men AND women. I heard graphic descriptions of sexual assault referred to as "locker room talk," I imagined a conversation with my dead father in my head in which he defended Donald Trump, and, in case that wasn't a giveaway, I was losing my damn mind. The mantra "you lived through the 2000 election, you are the product of Gloria Steinem and Eleanor Roosevelt, and you are strong" was not enough to keep me going.

And this book reminded me of how far we have come.

Yes, sexist language is rampant. Yes, women are still paid far less for the exact same work men do. Yes, victims of sexual assault are repeatedly revictimized by the criminal justice system if they want to see the perpetrators of the crimes against them punished legally. Yes, the right to choose a form of birth control is still mostly controlled by men (at my last ob-gyn appointment I was asked if my husband "approved" of my birth control method).  Yes, my teaching evaluations are lower than my husband's just because I'm a woman.

But sexist language is no longer acceptable in many homes in the United States. The polls showing support for Trump declined dramatically after the Trump/Bush tape was released.  Some women have the opportunity to live their dreams and aspire to careers their mothers and grandmothers could never have imagined.  You don't have to get married, have a child, and cook and clean every day to be a successful woman anymore. You can CHOOSE that and that's great if you want it. But you don't HAVE to.  Cassandra Mortmain could NOT have imagined a life other than marriage --> children or old maid --> failure.  She is not us anymore.

And somehow that's gotten me through this time. 

*I was grading a student paper recently and she had written "heroine" every single time she meant "heroin" and I was hysterical by the end of paper. She had also confused "hostel" for "hostile" and I just couldn't stop giggling. That is all. Thank you for allowing me to share this teaching story.

Monday, October 10, 2016

"Camping" or The Night of Shivering

We went "camping" on Friday night. If you're anything like me, you're imagining a backpacking trip, attempting to find a flat spot in the woods to find a place to stake a tent, and beef jerky and trail mix.  That is absolutely NOT what we did.

Dr. BB has been sharing his desire for more outdoor activities for several years now. I have enjoyed hiking and snowshoeing, but  my desire for sleeping outdoors was limited to non-existent. During the summer mosquitoes are a real menace and the rest of the year it is too cold. So I have been a supportive, if unenthusiastic, partner in his camping ambition.  My support has been in the consent to buy loads of camping gear AND continuously sewing bags to hold said gear.  I agreeably practiced putting up the tent in the living room four times before we left. My enthusiasm has been limited in that I have no desire to actually camp and so had done no preparation on my own. 

So we drove (CAR CAMPING) to the campground on Friday night, set up camp, had a campfire, and went to bed. The next morning we broke camp and went home.  There was no hiking, no beef jerky, and our campsite was carefully crafted with several good places for a tent.
We made some rookie mistakes. One, we didn't get to the campground until dusk. I had to work until relatively late and we ate dinner before we left home. This saved us from having to cook dinner over our camp stove, but it also meant that we were pitching the tent and starting the fire by flashlight, which was not ideal.  Two, we only bought one bundle of wood and that lasted approximately two hours and then there was no heat.  Three, we were woefully unprepared for the temperatures in the mid-30s that happened in the early hours of Saturday morning. We have nice sleeping bags and were wearing decent long underwear, but it's early October and we're not quite weather hardened. Talk to me in February and I'll probably go out in short sleeves with mid-30s temperatures, but I just wasn't quite prepared.  Lastly, we brought shitty pillows with us because we didn't want our actual pillows to smell like campfire, but we both slept like crap and I wonder how much that could have been avoided if I'd just packed our normal pillows and put them in the dryer when we got home.
So let's talk gear. We've been building up our camping gear relatively slowly over the last two or three years, carefully parceling out our REI member coupons to use for large purchases and funneling all our REI rebate money back into REI purchases (more on a sales pitch for why we are REI members here). Here are some of the larger items we've gotten.

1) REI Half Dome 2 Tent - This tent is pretty well designed (although I don't know what the hell I'm talking about, so take that with a grain of salt) and is super easy to put together. We practiced putting it together a few times in our living room at home and this served us well because we managed to put it together in about ten minutes at the campsite.  There has never been any marital discord surrounding tent assembly or disassembly, so I count it as a win. We purchased the footprint for this tent separately.  I've no clue if the footprint is super important, but after all we spent on this excursion, another $35 seemed reasonable at the time.

2) Sleeping bags and sleeping pads - We got the men's and women's versions of the Kelty Cosmic Down sleeping bags. They're rated to -7 degrees, but that's basically the limit to prevent hypothermia. I'm not sure I'd recommended it for below freezing at all.  We each got the same sleeping pad - a basic version that the guy working at REI recommended to us. Neither of us woke up sore the next morning and each of the pads stayed inflated throughout the night, so I'd say that was a win.

3) Camping stove - We went for a Trangia (25-2 UL). I swear we purchased it at REI, but I can't find it on their website. I almost cried at the price - it was nearly as much as the tent!  But my guess is that someday it will be something I'm happy we spent so much money on?  Maybe. It comes in an adorable package with a couple of bowls, a frying pan, and a TEA KETTLE. That is the selling point for me. Anyway, I did love that Saturday morning Dr. BB was able to make us thermoses of tea while I packed the sleeping bags and pads.

Because of Dr. BB's dietary restrictions, I see food as being the biggest obstacle for us in any camping expeditions that are longer than a brief overnight. We brought our cooler and that's great, but if we're backpacking or bike camping, that's not going to be an option. I'm really concerned about food options when/if we do more "serious" camping.
4) Cooking iron - I remember camping with my aunt and uncle (RV camping at a campground with electricity and water hookups!) and making mountain pies in one of these cooking irons. We put wild blueberries we picked in it, we made calzones with tomato sauce and pepperoni, and we made cinnamon toast with it.  I have VERY FOND memories of it. I failed to account for vagaries of gluten free bread (see: my lack of preparation from above) and we never actually made an edible one on Friday night.  I'm going to attempt to figure it out for next time.
5) Clothing - Look, we didn't buy any clothing especially for this. We live in Wisconsin, so having good long underwear is just a necessity for living here.  I'm a big fan of SmartWool. It is, sadly, not made in the USA, but it's good quality and almost all of my pieces of long underwear are SmartWool (I have some Icebreaker, which is less expensive, but doesn't fit me as well).  I also think you should know that my Windstopper hat makes life bearable. During the fall and spring I wear it almost daily and during super cold winter days, I wear it UNDER my winter hat to help with wind. I love it and whenever someone moves to a cold climate from a warm climate, I send them one in a care package.  I'm a huge proselytizer of Windstopper hats (not so much their gloves, though). 
6) Camping knife- Dr. BB also purchased a camping knife. We used it on the wood to get tinder and, honestly, even though he was using a glove, Dr. BB got a blister between his thumb and index finger. I'm pretty sure he's going to buy a hatchet for this purpose.

Things I Wish We Had:
1) Better pillows - Since we had the car, there was NO reason for us to be worried about how compressed our pillows could be.  Space wasn't an issue, so that was a big mistake.
2) Headlamps - We ended up making camp in the dark, which wasn't ideal, but moving our flashlights around was tedious.  Headlamps honestly aren't that bulky and I think we could find them super useful.
3) More knowledge on starting campfires - Some of this was my fault (no preparation on my part), but I was essentially no help when Dr. BB had some difficulties in starting the fire. It has rained for most of the day on Wednesday and Thursday and we'd even had a brief shower on Friday morning, so all the wood was wet. It took longer than it should have to actually start the fire and by the time we had it going we were FREEZING.
4) Crappy camping clothes - I only own two pairs of jeans. I was wearing one pair, but I was nervous about getting them torn, so I was a bit of a wimp about getting down on the ground. I actually wish I had gross clothing that I wasn't nervous about hurting, so I think I'm going to head to Goodwill soon and get a pair or two of jeans for that purpose. 
5) Camp chairs - Every year when we watch fireworks we lament the fact that we don't have outdoor chairs. We pulled the picnic table as close to the fire pit as we dared, but it would have been nice to have more flexible seating when the wind changed direction and smoke was in our faces.

So, all in all, I'm going to say that I don't really understand the appeal of camping. It is expensive - all this gear added up, despite our REI loyalty and careful coupon usage on the pricier items AND it cost us $40 for one night at the campground and we had to get a state park sticker for our car, which admittedly we already had.  It wasn't really fun - it seemed like A LOT of work for relatively little relaxation. I didn't sleep well and I didn't come out of it refreshed in anyway. Dr. BB suggests that if we camped LONGER it would be better because it won't be just put up camp and take it down, but I have my suspicions.

But Dr. BB really wants this, so I imagine we'll try camping one more time this season while it's still warm enough and then we'll try again in the spring with Dr. BB's ambitions of eventually spending multiple nights out, maybe at a campground further away from our house than ten minutes. I think he really thinks we're going to end up doing bike camping later on, but I don't know about that.

End dissertation.

(As always, no one pays me anything for this blog. These are things we've actually purchased and we actually are REI loyalists.)
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