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Hello world,

I’m back!  Not sure where I went, actually…nowhere, really.  Life just got in the way.  It has been known to do that from time to time…

I was looking at my Categories and realized that none of them have changed.  I still cook, knit, run, write, and have that ubiquitous “uncategorized” aspect to my life (don’t we all??)  That’s a good thing.  But I have progressed in all categories, and they are all active at this moment.  I still cook, and I still cook mostly vegetarian, but I still enjoy a good peppercorn steak with fries.  I still knit, and have even finished a project or two since the knitted cowl :-).  I’m slow, but I persist.  I still run.  It’s what keeps me sane.  I have a few running buddies, and I truly thank God, or the Universe, or the running goddesses, or fate, or karma…you get the picture…for them.  They are:  Stephanie, Wendy, Lisa, and my daughter, Stefanie, who I am thrilled to say has been and come back from the Canadian military base at Kandahar, Afghanistan.

What else?  I’m always on the lookout for good beans, peas, and lentils recipes –  love my legumes – and still make my Curried Apple Dhal…yum.  I’ve done some fun knitting projects, and am currently knitting a Christmas gift for my daughter…who knew that possum fur made good wool??  I bought a gorgeous New Zealand wool – 60% merino and 40% possum, that actually gets softer the more you handle it!  It’s beautiful.

I graduated with my B.A. (English) in May.  Yay!  That was a long 8-year part-time journey, but oh so worth it.  I work at Dalhousie University in Halifax, and one of the benefits is that my tuition is a taxable benefit.

I am running on average three times per week at 7K runs per day…perfect.  And I try to get in one 10K run per week.  A good week is 28-31 Kilometres.

I took part in NaNoWriMo this year.  My first time, and I am a “winner” (along with the almost 299,999 other participants!). Such a fun adventure.  My novel is a murder mystery, and my word count was 50,557 (you had to write 50,000 minimum).  I intend to expand it to at least 80,000.  I am also now very motivated to continue a murder mystery I began a good 6 years ago…!  This has been a wonderful experience, and could not have come at a better time in my life – no school, my daughter was still in KAF, and I had no other responsibilities other than to myself.

So, now I intend to bring this blog back to life.  Same ol’ categories, same ol’ same ol, but I think…with a new perspective.  And I just re-read my previous post from December 2010…the difference a year made…some things have not changed.  But the energy continues to move forward, and that is the thing that makes the difference.  Life is not static, no matter whether we think it might be in a given moment…it is evolving, and all we can do is go with the flow, and be the best person we can in a given instance.  So, in that vein, let’s welcome this new year of 2012 that is just around the corner, and trust that it will unfold as it should.

Cheers.

So it’s December 30, 2010 and I’m thinking ahead to 2011. I don’t need New Year’s Eve specifically to mark the transition from one year to the next; usually I start the mental and emotional transition about a week prior to the new year.  I like the ending of a year, and particularly the end of 2010 since this was the year I turned 50 (last June).  I thought my 50th year would be somehow special and yet these past six months have been quite stressful, and not entirely happy.  I know…happy is relative…and I would say I’m happy now, but I’m also happy to be exiting the past six months and to be entering the next.  I’m continually reminded of the duality of life and, being a Gemini, it’s part of my psyche to understand it, to appreciate it, and to revel in it in many ways.  But there are times when I’d like life to be a little more one-sided, i.e. I’d like to check off a bunch of stuff that had been on my “bucket list” without necessarily adding anything new to it.  I also don’t have a great track record for finishing things, although I love to start them.  This is particularly true of my creative side – I am one of those knitters who has more unfinished projects and wool stashed in a closet than I care to admit, not to mention the bags of unfinished cross-stitch projects calling my name from the deep recesses of various craft hideaways.

More importantly for me now, though, is that I am just on the verge of completing my Bachelor of Arts degree.  Finally!  I’ve been working on it since 2001, and I hadn’t realized how much it had actually been dragging me down until I completed two of the final three courses in December.  One more to go in January, with graduation in May…yay!  I have already one foot out the university door, mentally, and I am really looking forward to receiving my diploma.  This is a huge item to cross off my life’s to-do list.  I wish I could know for certain that I will be successful in taking the degree forward with my life and securing a “career” from it, rather than getting by in the “job” I’ve held for the past 16-odd years.  I also want to have FUN.  I’ve managed to continue to do a lot in my life while working full-time, studying part-time, and maintaining my fitness level, but I think I had identified with the label of “student” long enough that a part of me is nervous to now remove it…who will I be if I’m not a student?  However, as I have had to let go of a number of other labels I identified myself with over the past 20 years, letting go of one more really won’t be an issue.  It’s more the unknown of what will replace it that concerns me now.

I sometimes wish I was one of those people who knew by age 4 what they wanted to be when they grew up, and their whole life was focused on it, and now they’re the “thing” (doctor, nurse, lawyer) and they love it.  Here I am at age 50 asking myself what I want to “be” when I grow up.  Somehow it’s a more daunting prospect!  I have plans A, B, and C, and I’ll explore all of them in 2011.  Part of me feels excited, but again, that duality of life is present in that I’m also nervous about the unknown – I’m heading into the rest of my life on my own, with less security than I’ve ever had.  Some days I want to just jump into a whole new, exciting adventure, but other days I really feel I need someone to jump along with me, to hold my hand.  Hopefully 2011 will also bring the right intimate relationship to my life.  And that’s the thing about endings – they often create space for a new beginning…a little sign from the Universe that that is in the works would be appreciated!

So, here’s to ending 2010 and cheers to beginning 2011.

Cabled Cowl

And here is the cabled cowl (neck warmer):  I used the recommended wool, Patons Roving, in “cherry”…and it really does look like the colour of cherry popsicles…my favourite :-).  So yes, I had issues with this project, namely that I didn’t think I was making the cables correctly, the operative word, it turns out two months later, being “think”!  Thinking does get me into a lot of trouble, most of it unnecessary.  After repeatedly unravelling the three to four inches I would typically complete, and starting over only to unravel it all again, I finally managed to just keep knitting enough to see the beautiful pattern emerging.  I was doing it “correctly”!  I just had to get out of my own way and let it be.  (Head shaking occuring now…mine, but probably yours too!).

I have a hard time learning the knitting lesson that one has to actually knit the damn thing long enough to see the pattern emerge and, with cables, long enough to see how they intertwine.  Not all cables intertwine quite so much as the ones in this cowl; usually, in a sweater, for example, you will have a vertical row of cables interspersed with vertical rows of stocking stitch, with the plain knitting offsetting the cables, highlighting them.  In this project, the cables form what I call a chaotic effect – continuous cabling throughout…probably what accounts for its being a neck warmer.   It’s half-done now, and I will finish it before Christmas, which will work out fine as here in Nova Scotia the “real” winter weather often doesn’t arrive until after Christmas, so I can console myself with the fact that I didn’t actually need a thick, cabled neck warmer up til now!  I’m looking forward to wearing this, maybe with my navy blue pea jacket.  And the roving wool is so soft and thick…this will definitely be a toasty-warm accessory.  Now, if only I could figure out how to wrap the text around the image!

Here is the mug hugger I made for Stefanie:   I used Patons Decor “Dark New Green” (a.k.a. “army green”), and two “camoflauge” buttons.  I was having some issues with the cables for another project, a neck warmer, so thought I would practice the  procedure on something small.  And I was happy to see that not only was this a fun thing to make, but it was really easy…and Ecco! (as we say in Italian)…here it is!   I will make one for a friend of Stef’s who is also in Edmonton preparing for Afghanistan, and I believe I will contact Ottawa to suggest this become part of regular military kit.  🙂

Yes, I’m kidding about Ottawa!

Back from Oblivion

Wow, hard to believe I’ve been away since August…well, e-away at any rate.  Excuses?  School, for one – taking two half-credit university courses while working full-time can put a dent in one’s free time.  Running…gee, I hope my body will fall into muscle-memory mode when I eventually do get my butt in gear and out on the road.  Sigh.  I was taking a half-marathon training clinic, but for a number of reasons have taken a break from it, and now am in the crunch of schoolwork, with two essays due and two exams coming up, all to be finished by December 10.  Yay!  My motivation is that this means only one more half-credit course before I graduate.

My daughter is in Edmonton at present, undergoing some pre-Afghanistan military training.  She’ll be home for Christmas, but returns to Edmonton in January and leaves for Kandahar in April, returning January 2012.

I’ve been knitting, though!  I made Stef a cute cabled “mug hugger”…using army-green yarn and camouflage buttons :-).  Hey, I stand behind our troops, and she likes military “accessories”.  I wonder if DND would approve camouflage knitted texting gloves??  I’m making myself a cabled neck warmer, which is finally showing signs of life!  More about it, and the pic, at my Knitting category.

Cooking has been more practical lately than creative, although I hosted Thanksgiving dinner here in October, and that was absolutely lovely, if I do say so myself.  Hard to believe (for me), but I had never cooked a turkey before…it was always either my husband or, later, family and friends, so this undertaking was a big one for me.  I loved it!  I made fresh rolls, a pumpkin cheesecake, cooked some standbys like garlic mashed potatoes (thanks, Stefanie, for putting that together!), carrots/turnip, and I tried a new recipe – Brussels sprouts with bacon…yum.  I have been the one to make the stuffing all these years (sausage-apple, this year with the addition of fresh chopped sage), as well as cranberry chutney, so those had to be part of the meal.  Makes me hungry just writing all that :-).

With Christmas approaching, I expect to be spending more time in the kitchen.  I will make my traditional French-Canadian tourtière, and I’m sure some other goodies.  With the term finished as of December 10, I hope to squeeze in cooking, knitting, and running.  Now, enough procrastinating…back to my essay!

So I’m watching a cooking/food show with two hosts – a chef and a nutritionist – who “fix” the unhealthy cooking and eating habits of guests.  This particular episode is about a group of women painters who meet at one of their houses once a week for lunch, with wine, and an afternoon of painting.  The luncheon host, although a passionate artist, has lost her passion for cooking.  Her meal of lasagne and a soup was bland, colourless, and I noticed that while she was preparing it (they filmed her), her voiceovers were all tinged with “Oh, I guess I’ll just make lasagna…”, and “I’m so tired – I want to spend more time in the studio, painting” and “Oh no, I still have to make the soup…sigh”…I think that might contribute to flavourless, colourless food!  She obviously didn’t want to be making it at all.  I was shocked to discover that these women, all in their 50s, meet at the one woman’s house only, and this women does all the cooking every week!  …why aren’t they sharing in this??  They are all creative, lively women – if they each hosted the others at their own homes once every 5 weeks (there are 5 women), the one woman wouldn’t be doing all the work and wouldn’t be so tired.

All the women seem to be somewhat overweight, and all have health issues – inflammatory conditions, high blood pressure, acid reflux, food allergies, etc.  What got me, and what made me start to write this blog (otherwise known today as a rant), is one woman who laughed and said “If I can avoid vegetables altogether, I will”…what is up with that?  How can an otherwise intelligent woman, with great creative ability, a lively personality, and lots of friends, who seems educated and fairly well-to-do, “avoid vegetables”??   What was worse is that she seemed amused by this, maybe even proud of it.

I don’t buy the excuse that kids don’t like vegetables…I think that’s a parental problem, not a kid problem.  I know, I know, kids’ tastebuds aren’t developed…ya-da-ya-da-ya-da…and I get that they might not like intense flavours or earthy flavours like in mushrooms…I get that.  But honestly, there is nothing about broccoli that a kid shouldn’t like, raw or cooked!  How can a kid not like eating a salad full of crunchy carrots, the snap of snap peas, the juiciness of cucumbers, and with the fun of tomato juice dripping down their chin?  And that’s before you’ve added a tangy dressing, one as simple as olive oil and lemon juice with fresh dill.  I think a lot of kids are being fed overcooked, flavourless, not-overly-fresh food.  In Canada…that’s not necessary.  And you don’t have to buy exotic vegetables, or buy out of season.  Even in the autumn, kids would love a plate of carrot sticks, celery, raw cauliflower, and turnip sticks with Ranch dressing, or better yet, a little tzatziki, and a few pita pieces on the side.

I know I grew up in a really good time, when families only knew how to eat seasonally so we learned to do a lot with carrots, turnip, celery, potatoes, and onion in the fall and winter – we learned to make a roast beef go a long way, to use the leftovers for the stew, to make our own gravy.  But I’m also a product of the global village we now live in, where we can get bright red, juicy peppers in December, and a dozen varieties of exotic mushrooms all year long, not to mention spices like saffron, imported from Morocco.  We also have at our disposal innumerable internet resources for recipes, so if you have all the above-mentioned goodies on hand and don’t know what to do with them, there is no excuse for letting them rot in your fridge.  And that brings me back to my point:  the woman who says she avoids vegetables whenever she can…does she not get that she’s a little old for that excuse?  Surely, among all the vegetable choices we now have available in any given grocery store, she can find a few to like…maybe she won’t like jicama, or maybe she will discover that mangoes, although tasty, really aren’t worth all the work it takes to get to the flesh of them…and that’s fine – how about returning to the old standards?  Tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, beets, carrots, celery, onions, to name a few.  She’s the heaviest of all the women, and the one with the most health issues.   She also said she watched her mother have a stroke and knows “it’s not a pretty picture”…Has it never occurred to her to find out how to avoid THAT in her life, rather than avoiding broccoli?  I don’t get it.  This was the same woman who said she is very happy to let the other one do all the cooking, although she only eats half of what is on her plate because she knows she will pay later with acid reflux if she eats all the forbidden foods (hey, I hear there’s a preventative option for that…in the US they like to take a pill that will then allow them to gorge on all the food their body doesn’t want, to circumvent indigestion, acid reflux, etc.  I guess they never heard of simply not eating those particular foods??).

So there was a happy ending to the cooking show:  the chef instilled a sense of fun in cooking for the one woman, who is now able to express her creative side in the kitchen with colour, and without the rigidness of always measuring – she even was able to use her fingers as tools for preparing her meals (and there is nothing more fun than getting your hands full of spices and herbs…okay, well, there is one thing that comes to mind!).  And now I forgot where I was…oh yeah:  the women were taught by the nutritionist how to deal with their health issues by improving their eating and cooking habits, and they learned not to be afraid of new food items, and that so-called “health foods” or organic items are not necessarily “only for granola-bar types”.  A big part of this show was that the women learned to have fun in the kitchen, and that cooking is a really great place for expressing one’s creative side.

Because I couldn’t wait to get started on my rant, though, I missed finding out what I think was a very important aspect of the show – whether or not they decided to take turns cooking for each other!

…can you see my head shaking??   I forgot to add the friggin’ salt to my bread!  It’s not even humid today, so I can’t blame it on that.  Honestly!

I try not to use too much salt in cooking, but geez…you actually need it in baking, especially breads – salt is necessary to keep the yeast fermentation from running amok, and it sort of evens out the gluten so you don’t get all those nasty holes in the baked product.  I came across a recipe for “anadama bread”, something I vaguely remember hearing the name of but had never seen a recipe for – it’s apparently an American bread, the origin of which no one seems certain.  The most amusing story about it that I came across was of a Massachusetts fisherman whose wife, Anna, gave him nothing but cornmeal and molasses to eat every day.  One night he became so angry, he tossed the ingredients in with some yeast and flour and made a bread in the oven while muttering to himself, “Anna, damn her!”  Come on…you know you’re smiling! 🙂

Back to my bread:  So I’ve got two loaf pans sitting on the counter, just taking a few more minutes to rise again, and looking pretty darn good if I do say so myself!  Fingers crossed…I’ll know in about 30 minutes.  This is especially ticking me off because I was making it for my sister-in-law, who just had hip replacement surgery, and I wanted to bring her something warm and homey as she recuperates at home.

Here’s the recipe, which I came across at Simply Recipes (http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/anadama_bread).

1/2 cup cornmeal
2 cups water
1/2 cup molasses
3 tbsp butter (at room temperature)
1 tbsp salt
1/2 cup warm water
1 package active dry yeast
4 1/2 cups bread flour

Note:  I make bread the old-fashioned way, by hand, so don’t know how this would be done with a machine.  I use quick-rise yeast, and the directions for it are:  combine 1/4 cup warm water and 1 tsp sugar in a small bowl.  Add 2 1/4 tsp. yeast (equal to one 8g package); stir to dissolve.  Let sit for 5-10 minutes until mixture thickens and becomes creamy.  Then add to the cornmeal/water/molasses mixture.

To make bread:  In a large bowl add cornmeal and two cups boiled water, stirring constantly to prevent lumps.  Let sit for 30 minutes.

Add molasses, SALT, and butter; stir to combine.  (The warmth from the mixture should be enough to melt the room-temperature butter).  Add the yeast liquid, and mix everything.  Add the flour, one cup at a time, stirring after each addition.  It will become increasingly more difficult to stir the dough with a spoon, so eventually you may just want to use your hands (it’s also very satisfying to get your hands on dough!).

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board, and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes.  (Kneading dough by hand is very pleasurable – physically it’s just fun, but it’s also meditative…there is something almost spiritual about it.)  Oil a large bowl and put the dough in it, cover with a dish towel, and let rise until it doubles in size…about an hour.  This is where more fun comes into it:  take your fist, and just let that dough have it…give ‘er!  It’s very satisfying!  Kerpow!  Splat!  Oomph!  Whack!  Whew…okay, it’s good.  Once you’ve calmed down…form the dough into two rectangles, turn the edges under, and place in the pans.  Let this dough rise again, until it’s peeking over the top of the pans about 1″…again, in about 1 hour.

Bake at 375 for 30 minutes or until the crust, when tapped with your knuckles, makes a hollow sound.

POST-BAKING RESULTS:  It’s surprisingly good!  A nice subtle molasses-y taste, albeit a tad bland, but nothing butter or homemade jam couldn’t cure…hmmm…jam making tomorrow?  The bread itself is a bit dense, owing to the cornmeal, so it’s not as tall as I would have liked, but the texture is beautiful – even, cooked perfectly, and there are no holes.  I think it’s good enough to give away…phew!

Pass the salt, please. 🙂