russian thanksgiving.

November 26, 2012

I worked until 7:30 pm on Thursday, November 22nd, known in the United States as Thanksgiving. Actually, it was one of the most stressful days I’ve had at work thus far. Between jetting into the center of the city for a meeting for which we were late; trying to explain that it would be extremely difficult to cover the entire discipline of Rhetoric and Composition (which as I’ve explained doesn’t really exist yet in Russia) and Writing Across the Curriculum and how to write a research paper in a four-day conference; and rushing back to my school for an appointment with a student (for which I was also late), the day felt a little hectic.

Amidst all my running around, though, I did see a real, stuffed turkey in a store window. And that seemed very Thanksgiving-y.

Actually, missing Thanksgiving didn’t feel like that big of a deal.  After all, my younger sister Alyssa did it last year in London. And if your younger sister can do something and make it seem easy, as the older sister, you’re sort of obligated to just grow up and do it. I definitely missed seeing my family and I really missed Grandma Wiseman’s rolls and Grandma Pat’s homemade pumpkin pie. But, I assume that if I ask (both on the blog and in person) and if I smile real nicely, I can have those things when I visit for Christmas. Maybe knowing I get to do Christmas makes it easier, too.

Luckily, my workday eventually ended and I got to go to an expat Thanksgiving potluck. The night before, I roasted part of a butternut squash while video chatting with my family. I had to roast it in chunks because both my oven and the one pan I own are both small. And the butternut squash was huge. No matter; I roasted the other half over the weekend and used it in soup and my apartment smelled like fall for days and I was happy. With bestie Molly’s help, I decided to make couscous with roasted butternut squash and roasted apples for the potluck.

Expat Thanksgiving potluck was great. We had most of the things you’d expect to have plus some other things–spinach salad, bread + cheese + deli meat, dressing, MASHED POTATOES, rice + mushrooms, pumpkin pie, apple cobbler and chicken (since a whole turkey was not to be found). It should be noted that I can say almost all of those foods in Russian. We accumulated enough alcohol that everyone could have their own bottle of wine. We were young PhD students and young photographers and young journalists and some of us were even young Russians having their very first Thanksgiving. And in the crowded flat with palm tree wallpaper, we talked about our jobs/projects and our families in the States and our lives in Moscow. I barely made the last metro home.

And there was no Black Friday; we just went to work. No one was trampled at WalMart in the midnight rush to get one of three $15 GPS systems for their car. Here in Russia, we just push each other into overcrowded metro cars and run out of things at the grocery store like milk. But no one ever gets trampled.

In other Thanksgiving miracles, my friend Jen had to fly to NYC to get a new visa. Okay, that’s not a miracle–it was probably frustrating for her–but she brought me back crunchy Peter Pan peanut butter.  I love it, I love it, I love it.

A little over three weeks of Moscow life and I’ve started to miss the garden in Lawrence. On days that are cold and rainy, the missing isn’t so bad. But on sunny days, I wish I could bike to the community garden and weed for a minute. Or just sit. Or see Nic, Michael, or Danielle and talk about which bugs are eating which plants or plan for the fall.

Even on the days when I don’t want to actually garden because of the weather, I miss the food. You have no idea how much LCGP swiss chard or kale I could put away if I could somehow access it. Ah, kale…where is the kale in Russia? And the spinach? I’m growing quite fond of cabbage, but cabbage, kale, and spinach are not the same.

Luckily there are lots of vegetables here. Really lovely outdoor markets that line the streets by the metro exits. So I normally stock up on fruit and tomatoes and eggplant and peppers there. I just learned, however, that if you’re foreign, you should wash all produce with iodine, which I haven’t been doing. And I eat a lot of vegetables. I learned this fact while I was telling an American friend about a 3-day long (and counting) serious stomach ache. I believe in my body’s ability to adjust to Russia and/or to fight this off, so I’m going to wait it out. [Today I developed cold/flu symptoms. So, I’m drinking ColdRex, which is a brand from New Zealand and I assume is similar to TheraFlu?] Anyway, I’m going to keep eating vegetables. The produce is good and, maybe I’m being optimistic, but I think the eggs here are better, like just the normal ones from the grocery store. The yellows are yellow. 

Friday night we were out, and I picked up an expat newspaper called element. The writing is so-so, but it’s helpful for giving you an idea of what’s going on in town. And in English, nonetheless. It lists art exhibits and the showtimes for 35 mm, a theater that shows non-Russian films.  And there were advertisements for Irish pubs, pizza restaurants, and American looking bars. Daughtry and Nickelback are coming to town, but I’m not going.

Most importantly, though, I learned that The Slow Food movement would be in Moscow this weekend. Slow Food, the opposite of Fast Food, encourages people to grow their own food and cook meals that take time. And it was at Dorogomilovsky Market, a place I intended on going anyway. While the street-side markets are pretty and quite convenient, I want something bigger, like a Farmer’s Market. And I wanted to see people who like real food.

So, Sunday afternoon, I went. Unfortunately, aside from a few signs, I didn’t see much that seemed related to the festival. Maybe people there were talking about slow food, and it was just lost on me because it was in Russian. Instead, it seemed like what I would expect a normal Sunday at Dorogomilovsky Market to be. Despite not meeting my festival expectations, I still got to see and buy real food.

I began my “buying things in Russia” cycle. First, I wander around, slowly reading Russian signs to get a sense of what’s there and how much it costs. I saw fruit and vegetable stands that all seemed exactly the same. Then there was what I labeled the “pickled stuff” section. Then the dairy section. And then fish. And then I got to the section with enormous slabs of meat and entire chickens. And also rabbits; I’m 99% sure judging by the furry feet.

The second stage of the “buying things in Russia” cycle is when I freak out (internally, of course) and decide that I just won’t buy anything. The vendors here talk to you if you glance their direction, trying to get you to choose their stand, so looking at the produce without being noticed was impossible and examining something meant I’d have to speak in Russian or nod a lot. But then, I played the current scenario in my head–I ride the metro for 30 minutes, walk for 15 to the market, and then leave without purchasing a thing–and that just seemed stupid.

So I moved to the third stage, which is when I find a secluded corner and look up words and phrases in my travel book.  After I’ve practiced the phrases to myself, I use my fingers to save those pages and then I approach someone who looks nice. The bread ladies seemed nice; they weren’t. But, I asked “сколько они стоят?” and bought bread. And then, I went to the rows of vegetable pyramids. And a vendor motioned to my camera, indicating that I should take a photo. So I did. He also gave me a grape. He owned one of the few stand with lettuce that didn’t look like it was from the supermarket, so again I asked “сколько они стоят?” and the woman said “сто,” which I thought meant “100,” but I wasn’t sure so I typed it into my iPhone’s calculator and she said “да,” so I bought it.

By this point, I was feeling quite brave so when I found a stand with spinach (yes….spinach!), I walked right up and said “шпинат?” because that was one of the first words I learned and then “сколько они стоят?” The man said “пятьдесят,” and I double checked again on my iPhone and I was right, it was 50. I bought one bunch, and he asked if I was German.  I walked around a bit more and then realized that since this was the first spinach I’d seen, I should stock up. So, without being embarrassed, I went back and bought a second bunch. And I was so happy about the spinach that when I had coffee with a friend afterward, I asked her to take a photo of me with it; but frankly, I’m becoming quite fond of the Ride to the Fifteenth Floor Elevator Self Portrait. Expect more.

There was a cart of small desserts I’d been eying since I walked into the market. They seemed free, like part of the festival or something. I had walked past the cart three times trying to decide if they were or not. I saw a group of men hovering around them and eating them, so on my way out I grabbed one of the bigger pieces of baklava. Then I heard a woman say something loudly. She was probably talking to someone else, seeing as how the market was loud and many people were yelling and how there was clearly no cash register or stand connected to this cart. But, the thought of being caught stealing in Russia alarmed me. So I exited quickly and purposefully and inhaled the evidence.

Sunday I secured my spot in the group of 20-and-30-something-year-old wannabe/amateur interior designers who dream of the home office that fits their aesthetic and the kitchen that makes up for its lack of counter space by employing shiny hooks and shelves that hang from the walls.

I’ve finally been to IKEA, though I went all the way to Moscow to do it.

My brain is inundated with images of innovative bookshelves, lavender coffee tables, and slender filing cabinets. I don’t know what my perfect bedroom looks like yet, but you can be certain that I’m brainstorming, drawing floor plans, subscribing to the IKEA catalogue.

I wandered the display rooms, pictured myself drinking cups of tea on various couches and baking cookies and homemade bread in all the kitchens. I envied Zooey Deschanel for going there with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the way they tested beds and stoves, and plotted their theoretical home.

Since getting to Russia, I’ve been pretty darn resourceful. In my temporary apartment, I made it a goal to buy as few things as possible, because I didn’t want to move them to a new place. So, I bought foods that could be eaten for every meal—rice, bread, fruit, eggs, cheese—and when home, I ate basically only those things. I saved plastic bags, which are surprisingly useful for keeping your passport/visa sweat-proof and rain-proof in your sports bra when you’re out for a morning jog.

Though it’s only been a few days, I love my new place. It is sunny sunny sunny. The doorways inside the apartment have arches (which almost everyone comments on). It’s only four metro stops from work. I live on the fifteenth floor, which is awesome, and like all Russian apartments I’ve seen, there are three levels of security—a magnet-key gets me in the front door, a gate gets me into my side of the fifteenth floor, and then I unlock my door. No one can get to me. There is a huge, beautiful park (photos to come) across the street and I can see it out of my window.

But since I’m still settling in here, I’ve still had to be resourceful. While I had furniture, sheets, and a few kitchen items the first few days, I didn’t have many basics. Example: On my first night here, I didn’t get home from work until 8:45 because I had to stop at this quasi-mall to buy a towel for showering and then go to the grocery store. After getting yelled at by the Russian cashier for not knowing the word she used for “bag” (it was different than the one I knew), I rode the metro to my stop. I bought eggs for dinner, but once home, I realized I didn’t have a skillet. I did, however, have a pot. So, I had salad with hardboiled eggs.

Maybe that’s not a big deal, but at the end of a day where I moved into my new apartment, went to work, negotiated with the towel lady using only hand gestures and “yes” and “no” in Russian, got yelled at by a Russian cashier, and realized that I didn’t have the main cooking instrument I had planned on using for the dinner I was hungry for, it felt pretty damn resourceful to make a legitimate meal and not just eat chocolate and crackers (I’ve found some REAL tasty Russian crackers) for dinner. The next day, I bought fruits and vegetables from one of the many outdoor vendors and made essentially the same meal. And it was great. One new friend from work gave me extra dishes from her apartment—a few bowls, some mugs, and a lovely Russian tea set. And that was just really nice and it definitely made it easier for me to eat meals here.

I like being resourceful, but I also like hanging up my blazers and frying eggs in a skillet, so two of my friends took me to IKEA. There I was daydreaming. And then, like I assume happens to many 20-and-30-something-year-old wannabe/amateur designers in complete awe of IKEA, I remembered that I am a 20-something-year-old. And that I am renting an expensive, tiny one-bedroom apartment in Moscow, Russia. And I remembered that the 56cm x 70cm x 19cm space in my bathroom would certainly not hold the iron shelf I liked so much. And I realized that in order to implement all the design ideas I had rolling around in my head, I would surely need a mansion. And that anything I buy here—even if it is a dark red nightstand I love dearly—will likely stay in Russia when I go back to the States.

So I got real. I still oooh-ed and aaah-ed at every perfect display room. And I wondered how awesome it must be to be an 8-year-old with a tree house for a bedroom. But I made sure everything I bought had a purpose. And I used the paper ruler they provided and I measured things. And I paid attention to price tags and got out my phone to divide the ruble amounts by 32 to see about how much it was in dollars.

A new friend here claimed that it was impossible for a trip to IKEA to take less than two hours; he suspects this is the reason IKEA has a cafeteria. I nodded politely, as Midwesterners do, and thought “He hasn’t seen me shop.” I hate shopping and so I shop quickly. My ideal shopping day is going to the Gap with Katie W or Clare E, buying the one item I need, and then getting out of there. Thirty minutes tops. So, I thought I could do IKEA quickly, not thirty minutes quick, but quick. How wrong I was; we were there for at least 2.5 hours, and I think I enjoyed every minute of it.

When I saw that I spent 6,173 rubles, I sort of freaked out. But then I realized that was only about $200 and for everything I got, it seemed pretty good. I bought picture frames and a bulletin board. And two plates, one bowl, and two glasses. I got Tupperware, three small cooking utensils, two skillets, pot holders and some kitchen towels. And I needed something for the bathroom so I found these plastic drawers and bought these little boxes in which two pairs of shoes fit perfectly. I bought wooden hangers. And I assembled a metal closet/rack thing in a dress, using a knife with some remnants of a hardboiled egg as a screwdriver.

Can someone please send me a screwdriver?

First day in Moscow.

August 31, 2012

Hello, readers.

I am alive and well in Moscow, attempting to become a Muscovite or an expatriate or something. Maybe I’m partially both of those. Maybe I’m still just surviving. I realize I could/should start a new “Moscow” blog, but I’m quite fond of this one. I don’t expect to find much gardening in like, the coldest place on earth, but if I do, you know I will write about it.

So, here’s where we are with Moscow life: I’ve been here one week exactly. I’ve had a full week of work. I’ve done a bit of sight-seeing. I’ve heard a whole hell of a lot of a language I don’t understand. I’ve learned to say “Спасибо” real well. So much has already happened and my head is kind of all over the place, so there is a lot I could write about. But, I decided that in honor of my first full week, I should write about my first day. And to focus on food because the only thing that really happened to me that day involved food.  And it sort of serves as a transition from gardening. And it’s a basic human need, which is kind of what you focus on when moving halfway around the world. And it’s where I had my first mini “I just moved to Russia” breakdown. Soul baring, here we go.

I arrived super jet-lagged. When you are in the air leaving JFK on your way to Russia, you sort of spend the whole trip wondering what you’re doing with your life. So after riding in a taxi with a driver who only spoke Russian and then trying to get my apartment keys from a girl who didn’t speak English, I took a short nap.

My body/brain were kind of off but I imagine that by this point, it was somewhere around 6:30. So, I ventured out to find food since I hadn’t eaten much except airplane food. Despite what people had told me, very few things are in English here and very few people speak English.

None of the restaurants near my apartment had English menus–and I wasn’t desperate enough for McDonalds–so I decided to cook for myself. The market near my house is small, offering mostly necessities. At this market, everything is behind the counter. So, rather than collecting items myself and then paying for them, I have to ask for each item. The first time I walked into the market, I hovered for about 47 seconds and walked right back out, too intimidated to ask for anything.

I had already upset the cashier at the pharmacy by trying to speak English, so I knew I had to try Russian.  I didn’t want to make the same mistake with the market ladies. I walked in a second time and asked for rice, beans, frozen broccoli, and frozen brussel sprouts in Russian. And when I say “in Russian,” I mean that I said single words (not sentences) and pointed: “Рис,” “Консервированной фасоли,”etc.

The woman at the market smiled at me and said something that sounded like “Italia?”

And I laughed, “No, America.”

And she said “Oh, wow.” And then I slowly counted out the wrong number of rubles and she said “Нет, Нет, Нет” and shook her head, giving me back the extra bills.

I filled the pots from my apartment with water. And I felt really grown up and well adjusted for cooking myself a meal on my first night in Russia. But then I realized I couldn’t cook the food because the stove wouldn’t light. I thought I might need a match but I wasn’t sure and I was afraid of blowing myself up. And I didn’t have any matches anyway.

So I did what anyone would do: I cried to my sister on Skype. And I said I was a failure. And that I was tired. And that the lady at the pharmacy was mean to me. And I asked what was I even doing in Russian anyway since I couldn’t speak the language. And I said was really hungry and I’d bought all this food that I couldn’t eat. And I also said I couldn’t even drink the water because the tap water is dangerous and has to be boiled first and my stove didn’t work.

And Alyssa listened and responded “On my first day in London, I only ate bagels.”

So we devised a plan where I would go back to the market for a third time and at least buy bread, cheese, apples and water.  I went back and I used my travel book to ask for those things. I bought the cheese in the red package because I knew how to say “red,” the loaf of bread in the red plastic, too.  I also bought M&Ms. The ladies smiled at me.

When I said I wanted water, they asked what size and I motioned “big” with my hands. But they wouldn’t let that slide. Instead, they said “пять.” And they made me repeat the word until I said it correctly. And that’s when I realized they liked me, that they wanted to help me learned. So I tried really hard to say”пять” well. I went to that market every day for the first four days, adding a new word or two each time I went.

When I got home, I had a piece of bread and some cheese and an apple. Despite feeling accomplished for being brave at the market, I didn’t feel that great. I cried some. And looked at photos of my friends. And sent emails.

And then I slept 13 hours. I met up with a new American friend from work. We went to a Ukranian restaurant and I had my first real Slavic meal. And he warned me that it would be heavy. We ordered pickled herring and dumplings filled with potatoes and mushrooms. It was delicious and I ate all of it.

This feels like a weird way to start the blog. Like instead, I should tell you that Russia is so great and that I saw Red Square (which I did), bought a babushka shawl (which I also did), ate piroshki (which I do every day) and that I feel really awesome. I mean, that’s the persona we all like to create.

But the first day wasn’t great. It was overwhelming in a number of ways.  I think this experience will be overwhelmingly good and overwhelmingly difficult and overwhelmingly funny and weird. The good parts are really great, and I dread the difficult parts. So when I write about the difficult parts, please don’t worry about me or emergency call me at $4.99 a minute. It’ll get better.

It’s rained almost half the time I’ve been here.  And the days that are considered “sunny” here would be called “overcast” in Kansas. But there are pockets of light.

Now that I’ve gotten sentimental, The Best of the LCGP in Chronological Order, as Told by Kara M. Bollinger. Mostly photos and links, few words. I’ve already written about these things, after all. I’m sure there are more I’ll remember later.

1) Weeding as stress relief. In particular, the spring day I was super pissed about school and life in general and got rid of a huge section of pesky crabgrass. There were many days I got rid of tons of weeds, but this one felt particularly gratifying.

2) Any time friends wanted to visit the garden. The best was when I got to give them food:

Katie W and J Nish during my first Lawrence Garden Tour

The best parties ended at the garden.

3) Winning The Great Corn Debate of 2010 by growing lots of corn.

4) Receiving green beans in the mail.

5) Learning. So much learning. How to cook new vegetables, like swiss chard and collard greens and beets. How to identify edible/delicious weeds (like lamb’s quarters). How to make pickles. How to build a trellis. How to compost most effectively. How to dry and preserve garlic and chamomile and rosemary and all the herbs.

6) My first ever garden mate, Amelia.

7) All the people.

8) Falling in love with peas.

9) Garden Watch Parties

10) Doing things men do, like unloading mulch and/or compost.

11) Ah, spinach.

12) My last spring in the garden.

 

And when I say “attempting spinach gnocchi” I actually mean “succeeding in making spinach gnocchi”…just with some added difficulty and frantic running between the stove and the counter and making a last minute second main dish and cursing in the kitchen. A success…just a minor pitfall.

As I’ve mentioned a number of times, the garden was filled with greens mid-May. The chard, kale, and collards are still doing relatively well, but the spinach and lettuce have either bolted or will likely do so in the next week or so.

Rather than sauteeing the greens and putting them with quinoa or couscous or rice…or on a pizza…or in a quiche…all things I often do, I decided to use some of the spinach to try something new.  Inspired by the gnocchi I had at 715 for graduation, I chose potato-spinach gnocchi as that something new.

In addition to a dinner of gnocchi and a cake, my parents also bought me a lovely Kitchen Aid mixer for graduation. Making gnocchi would allow me to use the new mixer. I chose this recipe by Heidi Swanson, and without considering that it might be a good idea to practice the new recipe first, I invited four friends over for dinner.

Making gnocchi wasn’t as difficult as I had expected it to be. I cooked the potatoes, peeled them immediately (as Heidi Swanson recommended) and sort of burned my fingers. Then, I smashed them with a fork on a cutting board before adding the egg. I have a tendency to cut corners with recipes–to not measure the baking soda or to use the same bowl for multiple purposes–but this time, I followed it perfectly. I boiled the spinach and mixed everything together….actually, it said to mix it by hand, but I wanted to use the Kitchen Aid…so I followed the recipe almost perfectly.

The most time-consuming part came after the mixing: I had to roll out each individual piece of gnocchi on the cutting board and then shape it with a fork. I sat down for this. And listened to Wilco’sSummerteeth. And about an hour later, had two bowls filled to the brim with small, uncooked pieces of gnocchi.  With an hour left before my guests arrived, I ran over to Wheatfields to grab a baguette, leaving the gnocchi in its bowls on the counter.

There are two ways to cook gnocchi: 1) boil it until it floats to the top of the water and then put some kind of sauce on it 2) brown it in a skilled with some butter, garlic, onion, etc. I decided I would do both and started pulling pieces of gnocchi off the top of the piles I’d created in the bowls.

As I got deeper into the bowls, though, I realized that the pieces of gnocchi were no longer individual pieces, but had instead returned into a big ball of dough. Stacking them had caused them to lose their shape. 

At first, I tried to salvage the gnocchi dough, shaping it back into pieces of gnocchi and dropping it into the water or into the pan of oil. I stirred and pulled gnocchi from the pots and pans and then immediately shaped more. I tossed the salad. This is when the cursing began. There’s the scene where Robin Williams is frantically changing back and forth between Mrs. Doubtfire and himself, attempting to convince the social worker that he deserves custody of his children…that was me.

With thirty minutes until my guests arrived, I called them and asked for more time. After messing with the unshaped dough for a few more minutes, I accepted that there was no way I could reshape that much dough in enough time to cook it. I also know these friends, and I knew they would tell me not to stress out. So, instead of playing Mrs. Doubtfire, I quickly made a frittata to ensure that between that and the gnocchi and baguette and salad, no one would be hungry.

And we weren’t. The gnocchi that hadn’t lost its shape was quite good. Never layer pasta dough, though…especially in the summer when your kitchen is kind of warm. I’m not sure what I was thinking…maybe I wasn’t. Not wanting to be wasteful, I put the rest of the gnocchi dough in the freezer; I’m not sure when I’ll have the courage (or patience) to retry.

A couple of weeks ago, I got to churn butter.

Right now, you’re either wowed because: 1) I got to churn butter or 2) I am a 24-year-old and I am excited about this.

Well, for those of you falling under #2, I was not just excited, I was real excited. Be wowed.

It’s always refreshing when someone gives you a gift that says “Hey–I totally get you.” Though my family/friends always get me cool things, Aunt Sandy (of green beans via the USPS fame) and Uncle Kevin gave me that “I totally get you” gift this year.

After I had opened all my gifts and everyone else still had presents left (I’m not sure how I let that happen…), Aunt Sandy said that I had one more present that she had forgotten to wrap.  I thought it was going to be a Carhart sock cap because I had made such a big deal about NYC hipsters wearing Carhart sock caps and totally re-appropriating our Midwestern-ness, but when she handed the present to me, though, it was cold–definitely not a sock cap.

It was a Mason jar full of fresh cream. Uncle Kevin buys eggs from a local farmer. Recently, the farmer gave Uncle Kevin a jar of cream and Aunt Sandy got to churn butter. Now this farmer saves cream for Uncle Kevin and when he gave him this jar so close to Christmas, Uncle Kevin thought  “This is just perfect for Kara.” And it was.

Luckily, Grandma Pat’s house is a veritable antique mall, so I had my pick of butter churns. Actually, I just used the one she said to use because she knows best.

Grandma and Aunt Sandy gave me three instructions: 1) let the cream get to room temperature before churning [Aunt Sandy didn’t do this and she churned butter all day] 2) just when it seems like it will never become butter, you will start to see yellow flakes 3) rinse the butter off…but not with soap. They also promised me it would be fun.

One afternoon, friend Patrick (of STL guest gardener fame) came over to my parents’ house and we churned butter. Most people would either think a) that I was weird/a loser or b) that I meant something dirty by that, but he didn’t. He’s cool like me.

And now…mostly photos. There’s not a lot to explain really…we took turns churning and taking photos.

We also chatted and drank coffee and let my parents’ outside cat into the house.

After about 35 minutes, we started to see yellow flakes/blobs/stuff.

Regarding butter color/yellow-ness: Grandma Pat said that the butter would be more yellow in the summer when the cows were eating different things (grass, corn, etc). The chicken farmer said they are just eating hay right now. I think the butter is super yellow in some photos (and not others) because Patrick’s iPhone is newer/has a better camera than my iPhone.

We weren’t sure if more churning would mean more butter, but after another 15 minutes, we decided to stop.

Then we rinsed the butter off and put it in a bowl.

At this point, Patrick became very concerned about determining what kind of milk the leftover milk was. He did some research: skim milk. We strained the little pieces of butter out of it using a broken reusable coffee filter my dad probably kept because he knew I would one day need it while churning butter, and then let the milk sit for a few minutes. We skimmed the stuff off the top and tried it. The verdict: just like skim milk.

We tried the butter. Wonderful.

When I got back to Lawrence, I shaped the butter into a cow, much like they do at the Iowa State Fair. But I didn’t want to be a show off here on the internetz, so I just smashed the butter cow and put it in a Mason jar. It’s in the fridge.

If you weren’t sure before, I can now confirm that being real excited about churning butter is totally normal. It is cool and fun. Be wowed.

Christmas and such.

December 21, 2011

Christmas and gift-giving/receiving are cool, but shopping is kind of annoying. Especially at the big stores. I really don’t like those monster-sized displays that are all glittery and say some clever slogan about the holidays. I also hate how around this time of year companies just make up weird stuff that people don’t really need. Has anyone ever really mastered those crazy yo-yo things they sell in the mall? And who has ever wanted to pay for bubblegum out of a machine in their own home?

Living in Lawrence allows me to isolate myself from this, which I like quite a bit. I shop downtown on my way to/from working at coffee shops usually. I only go into the stores I like, shopping little by little until I have everything. This is fun because I get to go to the places I like, and I have a legitimate excuse to buy stuff. For example, every year (for almost all occasions), my sister Alyssa (who just got back from London-hooray!) gets something from Wonderfair. I’m not worried about writing this here and her seeing it, because it’s a pattern I’m sure she’s already picked up on.

My friends and I don’t buy each other things very often because we are graduate students and don’t have any money. Or we do something together and let that count as a Christmas present–for example, best friend Molly and I have pretty much got the next few birthdays/Christmases taken care of with all the concert trips we’ve taken. If someone does buy you a gift, you have to buy them a gift, etc, etc, and this huge chain starts that can get hard to keep up with.

However, this year my friend Rachel (of Smachos fame) said she was going to make me a gift. Everybody’s getting all crafty here in Lawrence, KS. So, I decided I’d make people something, too. I wanted to do something garden-related but realized that if I gave people something from the garden in December, it would likely be very dead tomato plants or dirt. I have few friends who would be happy to receive dirt.

What I decided on involved buying Mason Jars, so I was sold. 

I made some friends chocolate peanut butter. It’s essentially the easiest thing ever: roast peanuts, chop/blend them, and mix with melted chocolate.

Other friends got homemade granola. Though I tried a few different formulas, I found this combination to be practically perfect: oats + molasses + oil + unsweetened coconut + craisins + apples + cinnamon. I think molasses might be my new favorite thing.

And what homemade gift did I receive from Rachel?, you ask. It’s real cool. And totally blog related (which is mostly why I’m writing this. I’m also writing this because I did something uncharacteristic recently and got an iPhone, so now I can take super hip photos. I kinda just want to show off how awesome those Mason jars look). She painted the canvas in the photo to say “Watered Love.” I just think it’s great. And the colors are my favorite–brown and green. Our presents matched each other, which was also just great. I’m still choosing the perfect spot in my apartment.

Disclaimer: if you are my friend and you didn’t get chocolate pb or granola, it does not mean I don’t love you. It just means that we haven’t seen each other or that I didn’t think you’d care about granola. I’m almost certain I still love you.

 

Smachos

This is me with my friend, Rachel. She took it at a party, which is why her head is a little cut off.  Rachel and met during my second semester at KU. We worked at the Writing Center and I were in a class together that really served no purpose whatsoever. Then we went to Balitmore together…I think our friendship was solidified when I fell asleep at the airport and drooled all over myself. Or when she took me to Ed Poe’s grave. Or when I took her to a super sketchy market.

The best thing about our friendship is that we have nothing in common. Seriously…nothing. We don’t like to do homework at the same times, we don’t really like the same coffee shops (or coffee, for that matter), we don’t like the same kind of food, we don’t like the same music, and we definitely don’t have the same hobbies (she hates the outdoors…and well…I garden). However, we are both good story tellers and good listeners and good laughers.

Even though she doesn’t really care about gardening at all, Rachel is also one of my most supportive blog readers. If anyone wants to try to compete with her for that title, I’ll gladly host a competition, but at the moment, I’d say she’s somewhere near the top.

Recently, we discovered that even though we may not like the same food, we do like some of the same restaurants downtown. We ate out once together. The next time, I asked if I could cook something for us. The only other time we’d cooked together was to make salsa–few can disagree on tomatoes and cilantro. I knew she would be skeptical, so I had a plan–pizza. She responded with “Can we have pesto pizza?!” so I knew she had been keeping up with the blog (see pesto frenzy here). She agreed on broccoli as a side, “only if it was the same crunchiness as it is in Chinese food.”

She had agreed to bring dessert. About an hour before she came over, she asked if I liked smores. Another true testament to our friendship, I replied “I really don’t.” Just like I ignored the face she made when I said there would be spinach on the pizza, she ignored my “no;” I am lucky that she did.

After dinner, she created her dish, stating “If the only legacy I leave behind is smachos, I’m okay with that.” Smachos= Teddy Grahams + chocolate chips+ marshmallows. Then you bake them for 10 minutes or so…maybe less. Though simple, they are excellent, and as Rachel pointed out, even better when they’ve been in the fridge for a day. Rachel said that I could blog about them but that she had copyrighted them. So, you can make smachos, but all credit goes to Rachel McMurray.

Wisconsin

I went to Madison, WI for a Writing Center conference last weekend. Madison was great for many reasons, but gardenwise/farmwise:

1) The Farmer’s Market is enormous, one of the largest in the country. There, I saw my first brussel sprout…um…tree? I was amazed. Isn’t it beautiful? I wanted so badly to buy one but since we were riding the train, I wasn’t really sure how I’d get it back to KS. I also talked to a nice old lady who explained how they grow. If it’s possible to grow them in KS, that might be next year’s project.

2) Cheese. Cheese could have its own entry. I didn’t know I loved cheese, and then I went to Madison. Imagine how great it would have been if I had gotten to visit an actual dairy farm.

One night we went to this super hip restaurant near the Capitol building: The Old Fashioned. It was so hip that there was always a wait. We had cheese curds as an appetizer. Then, a lot of my friends had macaroni and cheese. I had a grilled cheese.

I ran to Farmer’s Market on Saturday morning at 7 am before the conference to buy it. I ran around the entire Capitol until I found what I thought was the most authentic, most Wisconsinian cheese: Raw Milk Cheddar from a nearby farm. I’m assuming that since it has whole milk, it probably has about a million calories, but it’s so good. I told the people I traveled with that I would carry the cheese in my running tights if I had to, but that was all just for a reaction from them…cheese fits in your hand quite easily.

Since getting back from Madison I have had this cheese every day. I think I have three days worth of cheese left. Then, what happens? I hope they ship here.

Halloween/Writing-Reading

Actually, this has no relation to the garden/etc, but I’ll tell you anyway.

I did not dress up. The party I was supposed to go to was on Friday night and I could not not watch the World Series. So, I got some guy friends to skip the party with me. I was going to be Bruce Springsteen for Halloween anyway, and I’m 99.9% certain that Bruce Springsteen would have watched the baseball game. It is also that time in the semester where I am tired and busy and more inclined to do what I want as opposed to what might be considered most normal or appropriate in social situations (ie most 24 year olds go to Halloween parties).

I did not, however, skip out on Pumpkin cookie, my most favorite Halloween tradition. Sunday night I had a reading in Lawrence (yes–reading in public again!). I read a serious thing again and then a funny thing. Apparently that’s my go to structure. There were lots of supportive friends who came, and though I did not read anything spooky, it was awesome and fun. Afterward, I invited some of my most special, longest-standing friends over. Whoever invented pumpkin cookie (Dawn Bollinger) is mostly a genius.

Success.

In the kitchen.

October 10, 2011

You might remember the end of the summer last year when there was an overflow of basil and I decided to make pesto, chopping all of the ingredients by hand. This took a very long time, and when I made a pesto pizza and used it all at once, I was quite disappointed. Then, I borrowed a food processor, made three times as much pesto in half the time, and praised technology.

Not surprisingly, the basil grew quickly this summer too, so I decided to make pesto again. Friday afternoons are weird. I get home early enough that I feel compelled to do something productive with my time. I am a grad student so I always think I should do one of the following: grade something, read something, email someone, write something, figure out what I’m doing with my life after I finish my Master’s in May (!?!?!?!!), take out the trash, take the recycling, call my mom, clean the bathroom. There are probably more things.

At the same time, though, it’s Friday. Motivation is tough.

For two Fridays in a row, I made “Pesto” my productive activity. Not only was it fun, but I could feel like I was doing something.

Over the summer, best friend Molly gave me her grandma’s old blender. Not only do I not have to chop everything for pesto by hand, but I don’t have to borrow someone else’s food processor and then give them pesto in return (we all remember from history class that sharecropping never works out well for the sharecropper).

I think that this year I might have perfected pesto. I used this recipe, substituting mozzarella for parmesan and almonds for pine nuts. I also think that having dried garlic also really improved the pesto.

I made it twice; both times, I wasn’t hungry for dinner because I had eaten so much while making it.  Last year I froze the pesto in ice cube trays so I could have individual servings. However, I realized that I never really did anything with these individual servings except randomly throw them into stuff when I was lazy and didn’t want to season anything. This time, I froze them in larger servings in Ziploc bags (as the recipe shows), so hopefully I’ll do something a little more complicated with this year’s pesto. Or maybe I’ll just eat it all as a snack and spoil my dinner. We’ll see.