Thursday, May 29, 2008

Please.... Let's Not Talk About Global Warming Today

Honestly, I do believe. Really. But while one half of the country is staggering under the blows of a triple digit heat wave... this nerd is still sleeping with the electric mattress pad, three blankets, and a self-heating hubby wrapped around her. A low of 31 at night is just not something I had planned to deal with in late May.

I'm feeling a tad frustrated at the moment. My tomato plants (started several months ago) are beginning to wither under the strain of being kept inside, the farmers markets have been pushed back several weeks – if not longer - due to poor planting condition, we ran out of firewood for the woodburner a month ago (we have managed to keep the gas furnace off... using small electric zone heaters when forced), and the Prime Geek has been forced to use the jeep instead of the scooter to get to work due to frost covered roads and the occasional ice slick. What worries me the most is for a brief period of time, my town and surrounding areas was beginning to take a turn for the green – but the longer we drag our feet into summer the harder the sell seems to be for more self-sufficient choices.

Eating more locally is a hard push as well. One good week of warm weather is just enough for people to put their guards down and plant – only to lose everything to a hard frost lasting weeks. I have managed to finally source most of my families meat needs locally, so thats at least something. But I'm tired of stews and hot comforting foods. I should have berries, salads, and grilled items filling out our diets – this is not the time of year to be needing heavy comfort food.

Its not all gloom and doom of course. I have managed to score one local item that fills me with glee. During a recent visit from friends (who we are helping to find their perfect wedding venue) we stumbled upon a small local winery not more then 5 miles (okay, 4.71 if you want to be exact) from our front door where I found a marriage made in heaven. I'm a sucker for a sweet red wine and, being female, equally found of chocolate. Somehow the good folks at Viking Vineyard have managed to combine to two into a single glass. Locally grown grapes, locally bottled, heck... the proprietors are local as well. One bottle of Red Kiss is resting on our wine rack.... and if it doesn't warm up soon (and STAY warmed up) I'm going to start collecting this sole local fruit by the caseload! I'm either going to get warmed by the sun, or I'll start working on it internally.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day

As the daughter of a retired Marine ( I learned at an early age to never say "former"... ) I grew up surrounded by the men who had become my father's brothers during his time in active service.

I've never served, and at nearly 30* I doubt I ever will. But parts of the military trickle through your subconscious as you grow. I can spot a veteran at 30 yards. Its the walk, the stance, the unconscious scanning of the crowd around them.

Heck. Almost every Marine pilot has the same dang hairline as my dad.

I've heard the stories - some loudly laughed over at the dinner table, others half heard as my brother and I struggled to still our breathing enough to hear the murmurs that filtered through our bedroom as my father tried to put his own ghosts to rest. The rest can be told in the stiffening jaw, the quiet grip on anothers arm, the ducked head and indrawn breath as a name from long ago is heard. I got really good at reading my father and my "uncles."

I've grown up in the thick of these men and women. I wish I had the right words to say how much I respect them, how much I treasure them...

No poetry, no flowery words, can really say what needs to be said. All I have is this -

Thank you.

And a promise to never forget.

Have a wonderful day today folks.

* Ye gods... that was scary to write. But the important part is nearly... as in almost 18 months. Now the Prime Geek on the other hand....

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Insert Groan Here

There is an actual post that is struggling to be written coherently and hopefully with a touch of humor which should be up in a few hours.... but I just received a call and I thought it might be a good idea to pass it on.

Apparently a friend who's husband runs a gas station got the word that they could raise prices as high as $4.30 in the next day or so. ( its a large chain, so I'm thinking this is a universal) so if you're needing gas for your Memorial Day plans... now might be the time to move your tuckus.

I'm not saying stock up, we're all in this mess together and I don't see it getting easier for a while especially if folks are hording (not to mention great walloping cans of gas in your garage are not the safest things to have on hand) but if you have a long haul and needed to fill up anyway... might be time to motor.

Sheesh. Its gone up $0.20 this week already... now another $0.35.

Glad the bike just needs new headlights and then it can roll.

Off to fill up for the weekend. I have family coming into town and masses of dirt and plants to move.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I'm Blue.... (In other words, a non-green, non-cheap, but plenty nerdy posting)

Da Ba Dee Da Ba Daa?*

Not mentally, I'm pretty cheerful today in fact. No, I mean literally.

Well, partially.

After two years of sticking to strictly “normal” hair experimentation, I finally cracked : called a friend, handed over cash, sat for far too long in bleach fumes, and walked out of the salon looking like the offspring of a drunken Amazon and a peacock.

I've always done odd things off and on to my personal appearance. I've been a blond, a brunette, a red-haired lass, and have done the raven temptress for the last few years. Frankly, at this point I'm not sure what color my hair is under all the assorted gunk I've thrown on it – even my roots come in with differing colors (season, sunshine, heck – even mood has been known to switch my genetic levers and mess with my hair and eye color.). I've streaked it with purple, tried a few weeks with hot pink tips, and had an unfortunate spate of green following a blond attempt mixed unwisely with a job at a pool. I'm blessed with obscenely massive amounts of hair, and genes good enough to mean its pretty much always healthy. Thus... when boredom strikes, the hair is the first to fall. I figure worse case scenario, I might have to chop off a foot or so - it hit the waistband of my jeans a month or two ago... so its not like I wouldn't still HAVE a ton of hair.**

But past experiments with colors not found in nature notwithstanding... what would make a 28-year old housewife choose to make such an odd change?

A few reasons... the first is simple, as is the second. Blue is my favorite color, wearing it makes me happy. So – easy call there. The secondary reason that the Prime Geek gets a goofy smile on his face when he contemplates having a “Blue Haired Chick” for a wife is a bonus as well.

Harmless and transitory, all make it seem like a grand idea for the summer. Toss in working the odd gaming and Ren Faire events and there are even good business practices involved in the call as well.

But... there are two other reasons that motivate my choices to amp up my appearance. First, well, we've covered the height and the busty issue in the past. By coloring my hair an eye-catching color I get to pick what folks stare at first. When the follicles are taking the brunt of the attention, I get far fewer “Hey, you're really tall! Did you know that?”*** or “Are those REAL?****” and the eyes tend to stay pretty elevated.

Secondly? Call it an overwhelming desire to mess with people's perceptions. This nerd is a chameleon who can switch in and out of social situations with relative ease. What I consider my everyday closet, many folks would view as a costuming room for a movie set. I hang out with the nerd and the geeks, mix it up with the preps and the jocks, can slide in with the earth mommas and the techies. I grew up around bikers and business men, suits and street-rats, and the odd governmental official. I hate getting lumped into a set box, and refuse to answer to most labels. Why limit myself?

Far too often people make quick judgments and snap decisions based on nothing more then the cut of a suit or a color of hair. My first intense brush with this was when, at 21, I had added some vivid purple streaks to my black hair. While out running an errand for my mother I came up against a wall of stupidity and malice that took my breath away. I had just opened a door for an elderly women ahead of me when the sun came out from behind a mass of clouds causing the purple to shine in the bright sun. The women stopped thanking me for being a “nice girl” who opened the door for me, and began to curse me out thoroughly. The terms “Slut, nasty, shame to my parents, and better for all if my kind would die so I could hurry up and burn in hell” came out of this vitriolic old women.

I stood there, stunned. Mouth open, frankly gaping, my mind attempted to reboot and got a guttural “What?!?” forced out of my then dry throat. She pointed at my head (ignoring the long skirt, modest button down blouse, and earlier help) as though she had made a triumphant point and rushed away.

I stood there for a moment and watched this women as she scuttled down the street and realized I had but three options. Sink to the street and sob (immediately followed by an emergency trip to the salon and a meeting with a dye bottle), get angry and rush after the odd biddy - shaking her until her teeth rattled (and then explaining to the police what I was doing holding her upside down and shrieking “Show me in the bible where purple is a sin!”), or make the life altering decision to say to hell with what people say and be happy with who I am and stick to it as loud and as proud as I want to be.

You've read some of my work... guess which way this nerd went? From then to now, seven years, I've made it a day to day point to interject a little bit of the odd into people's lives. To show you can be this... AND be that. I can be a nice girl... and a touch ornery. I can be green... and still be blue. I can say what I think is right, and listen to other ideas. Use a touch of chaos to help recreate a new sense of order. So... today is blue day, and a happy one at that.

I've gotten a bit stagnant lately, working a little too hard to be a good housewife, a good writer, a good... whatever. I've gotten a bit lost in what people's perceptions of me are, and now I'm reconnecting with that slightly ornery, sometime trouble making, rabble rousing, babbling bard (who will confuse, confound, but bring you cookies while you try to regroup) deep inside.

A new page is turning, and I think this next chapter is getting written in bright blue.*****

Pictures perhaps in the evening.

*Eiffel 65. Pat yourself on the back if you got the reference.
** Please don't tell me I should donate it. Too much dye to give it away, and I do my charity work in other ways. Thanks anyway.
*** No. Really? Thank God! I thought everyone else was shrinking!
**** These? No, I'm just holding on to them for a friend.
***** And this concludes a post that had absolutely nothing to do with the blog's main thrust, just something I'm working through in my head.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Staff of Life

After requests from a beleaguered big brother and a comment regarding a friend's possible bread and water fast... I figured I have tinkered with my daily bread recipe for long enough and its time to share. Bread prices are climbing steadily, and I refuse to pay $4 for a real loaf of bread (in other words... a loaf I can both spell AND pronounce all the ingredients inside). When even Wonder Bread – fit only for bread balls and ducks – hits $2.89 a loaf, its time to turn on the stove.

Or not... as it turns out for my newest obsession. I mentioned a month or two ago that I had begun to modify a recipe I had found in Rachel Ray's new magazine. A flatbread redolent of garlic with the nice chew of a loaf but the ease of a stove top model. Its a great basic recipe, a little salty for my tastes, but solid. I even made some pretty highbrow grilled cheese sandwiches for our dinner out of the bread. If a recipe with almost a whole head of garlic sounds promising, check out her site and search for Roasted Garlic Flatbread with Spicy Tomato Chutney. But however much the Prime Geek and I may adore the stinking rose... its not exactly multipurpose enough for my needs. Great for dinner, but after a morning when my brain hadn't popped on yet and I fuzzily tried to make a honey and jam sandwich with it... I knew I had to make some changes. (And brush my teeth. Garlic + raspberry does not a happy morning make!)

With some fiddling, I've finally fixed upon our daily bread. It can be tweaked to the needs of the day, can be flavored in any direction... and takes very little time and energy. Best part for my greeny side is the relief from facing a hot oven once the heat of summer begins. The whole batch takes maybe 20 minutes on the stove or electric skillet – this winter I look forward to trying it out on the top of the woodburner.

2 OR 3 Tbsp raw sugar or brown sugar (Heck, honey is great too.) 2 ½ tsp yeast* and ¼ cup warm water (bath tub temp). Mix these three ingredients and set aside to get bubbly.

Heat ½ cup milk (yes... you can use soy or rice. I don't... but I also DO know where its from and can drive to the dairy if I really wanted to. Use what you got, it even works with reconstituted dry milk powder.) with 2 Tbsp softened butter (again, margarine is fine, but I prefer to be able to spell what I'm eating.) How hot? Butter should melt, but don't heat it so high you'll scald yourself if it spills. Once the butter is melted, stir in ½ cup plain yogurt**. By this point, your yeast mix should be bubbling away so add it to the now slightly cooled milk mix.

In a stand mixer*** stir together 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour, 1 ½ cups whole wheat flour, 1 ½ tsp salt, and ½ tsp baking powder. Slowly pour the wet into the dry, switching over to the dough hook as it all comes together. Let the machine knead the dough for 5 minutes while you get things ready for the rising portion of the day. Best place to let bread rise is the microwave. Wet a tea towel and stick it in the box on high for 45 seconds until it steams. Push to the back and close the door. Once the dough is done kneading, it will be sticky – but cohesive. Drizzle either a little melted butter, oil, or spray down the sides of the bowl with pan spray until you can freely spin your dough inside the bowl. Cover with a towel or a sheet of plastic wrap and pop into the microwave to rise. The dough will be ready to cook in as little as an hour or if you forget it and go to bed... should still be fine in the morning.

Up until now, basic bread recipe – right? Here's where things get a little different. Heat a large skillet or griddle DRY. No spray, no oil. You want it around medium heat but not smoking. Pull out your dough and roughly divide it into 16 pieces. (Half it, half again, half those.... you get the idea) Precision doesn't count here. Sprinkle some flour out onto the counter and roll out each dough ball – no perfect circles required, just roll it out however the dough wants to go to piecrust thickness. Pull up the first slice and drop onto the skillet. In about a minute, the dough will be puffing and easy to flip. Flip, cook another minute and then repeat with the next piece.

On my griddle I can cook two pieces at once and usually have time to roll out the next two pieces as the first cook. Takes a few tries, but the swing comes pretty quickly. All in all? About 20 minutes or less from dough to done. Let cool then store in a zip-top bag.

Best parts of this recipe? Makes AMAZING pizza dough (she said quite modestly). For ultra thick crust use the whole recipe in a pizza pan, for a thinner crust use a cookie sheet. I'll post the recipe I made for our dinner Monday night if anyone wants it – a reprisal of the Perky ones Buffalo Chicken Pizza. The recipe is also endlessly adaptable. Want a sweet bread for Sunday brunch? A bit more sugar and 2 tsp of cinnamon in the dough (for extra pizazz toss the finished bread in butter then sugar and cinnamon. Elephant ears without much guilt!) Savory? Mix that 3 Tbsp of roasted garlic into the dough as the original called for. Change up the flours, use flavored yogurts, still in some cheese. Its a pretty bulletproof recipe.

Cheap? Yup. A little less then a buck a loaf (or pizza crust) and makes 16 slices of bread.

Green? That too, thanks to a local bulk food store and its quick stovetop cooking style. Give it a try and see if you can't make those white tubes of packaged goo a thing of the past. Let me know how it works out for you.

*DON'T buy those little 3-pack packages of yeast if you can avoid it. Not only is there a huge amount of packaging for a tiny item... the cost over time is enough to make this nerd swoon. Look for SAF-Instant yeast in a 1 pound package. They usually retail around $3-$5 and kept in the freezer will last more then a year.
**I'm finally jumping and am going to try making my own yogurt this week. If it all works out, that's one more thing I can knock off my grocery list.
***You CAN make this without the mixer... just know it adds another 15 minutes of kneading to get the dough together. I'm a lucky gal who won't be giving up my Kitchen Aide without a fight. Be warned... I'm armed.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

At Least In A Mugging....

They don't expect you to smile. After a week of visitors and visiting, this nerd is feeling a bit like she's been dragged down a few miles of hard road.


In a gunny sack.

With a incontinent puppy.

Who bites.

Now, don't get me wrong. The time to see friends was wonderful, if a bit exhausting - three over for dinner, one all day tennis date, 2 hours each way drive to my parents for the weekend, another 2 hours further south for his family, a late night call and a whirlwind visit immediately following our own return home has me hugging my bed and swearing off leaving the house for a few weeks at least.

Which brings us to the unsettling feeling of being mugged.

Five hours in the car on Saturday, another six or seven on Sunday, a late night work call for the Prime Geek = a metric shit ton of gas. We were staggered over the $3.76 a gallon it took to fill and refill the tank for this weekend, but as I topped off the tank this afternoon a crowd began to swarm the pumps, all hollering in horror that this was the last station to turn its prices. Wondering what they meant I drove up the road to witness it for myself...

$3.99 – 4.19 a gallon. For regular.

I dropped a little over $24.00 to fill up the last quarter in our tank and I'm can't help but feel a little violated. And the truly sad news? No real end in sight... its just gonna get worse from here. Grocery prices are skyrocketing, fuel is going through the roof, and folks are getting a tad squirrelly over an uncertain future.

The Prime Geek and I are luckier then many. While he has a one hour round trip each day to work – he can use the bike on nice days*. My test for my own motorcycle license is fast approaching and once that's done I'll be able to ride the frog around town for most errands. Living in town gives us more options then a lot of people have these days. We're feeling the pinch, but so far we are a world away from the crunch that others are struggling with. Between our steps to gear down, going greener, and the sheer luck that we honestly enjoy figuring out alternatives and making things work we're doing okay.

There is going to be a bit of a change on this site over the next few months. No matter your political stance or view of the “greenies” out there, we're at a crossroads in our country. We all have choices to make, and less room for error in the decisions we follow. We're headed for Chinese Curse territory, and “interesting” definitely is the mildest way to describe the times ahead. There will be more day to day blogging going on from now on, combining the green with the cheap. We'll all get through what's happening, I honestly believe that. Just buckle your seat belts and head towards the nerdiest star on the right.

UPDATE - Three hours later the station has fallen in line with its brethren. $3.97 a gallon and rising.

* And “nice” covers far more time than it used to. Not actively flooding outside is now nice.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Happy To Be A Worm

Thank heavens for Green Beans! An oath I'm sure my mother dreamed she would hear her picky-eater daughter ever utter – but true nevertheless. One of the wonderful bloggers I read on a weekly, if not daily basis, is Green Bean of Green Bean Dreams. (Check out her link in the sidebar over to the right. This lady is one of a growing number of people I read who, if I'm being honest, frankly would like to grow up to be one day.) After months of eco-challenges ranging from how-low-can-you-go winter freeze offs, buy nada for a month, to the oddly stressful stress-less in March, there is finally a challenge tailor made for this nerd. What is it?

May is Be a Bookworm Month. (nifty picture up in the corner is also courtsey of Green Bean) How cool is that? Just agree to set aside some time and read a real honest to goodness, paper and ink, actual hard copy book! Well, an eco/sustainable book or two is the goal. But still. READ! A book!

I'm a nerd, my place is really nothing more then a large private library these days, how more perfect could a challenge be?

Frankly, I'm thrilled. A way to salve my guilty conscious about the long soaks I take with a book propped on a soapy knee at last. In the attempt to green-up my home, my life, get a garden going, get a career (of sorts) moving – reading has taken a back seat in my life for a bit. Now? It's an honest to goodness item to check off on my ever growing daily to-do lists. (And with a back still giving me fits and a case of the twitchies driving me batty as I try to hobble about my chores, the knowledge that reading really IS a required element of my day gives me at least a small sense of accomplishment.)

So, to start May out with a bang (and to continue in my overachiever attitude) I have two books awaiting me upstairs, propped against the side of slowly filling bathtub. The first is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver – the second is Simple Prosperity by David Wann.

After this posts, I'm heading upstairs with my laptop left down in the living room (turned off, of course) so I'll have no interruptions in my evening ablutions.

Have a good night, and do yourself a favor – find yourself a good book, someplace soft, and something to curl up around with.